22 January 2018

Up Helly Aa - a New Age Viking-Scot Tradition

Up Helly Aa

A New Age Viking-Scottish Tradition

Up Helly Aa  takes place in Lerwick, Shetland on the last Tuesday in January every year, with only breaks for the death of Queen Victoria (1901) the First and Second World Wars, and postponements for two weeks in 1900 for influenza outbreak and for the death of George V, and  one week for the death of Winston Churchill.
Though the festival has a very ancient Norse feeling, Up Helly Aa is a tradition that only originated in the 1880s. Since that time, the fire festival has been an annual event in the Shetlands.   The current festival held in Lerwick grew out of the older Yuletide tradition of Tar Barreling, which took place at Christmastime and New Year.   

Rowdy lads would drag barrels of burning tar through town on sledges and making mischief.  As this grew out-of-hand, the rites were abolished around the mid-1870s.  After a few years, people began to miss the festivity so they obtained permission to have a torch procession, the first one taking place in 1876.  

Soon, that was expanded into Up Helly Aa Day in 1881.  The first Viking galley was burned in 1889 at the end of the parade at the Market Cross.   Early Galleys were made from a light timber frame of discarded wood, and covered with canvas.  Modern Galleys are built and painted by local tradesmen.  Work starts at the end of October and continues two nights a week until completed.  

The torches in the parade are constructed from hessian sacks, with concrete “shoulders” to ensure they stay in place during the procession.  The Monday before Up Helly Aa, all the torches are soaked in fuel to ensure they burn well and last long.

Each year sees it grow in popularity.

20 January 2018

The Invasion of Falgannon Isle - excerpt

         He arched a black brow, mocking, signaling awareness of her fear.  Worse, B.A. read in those pale gleaming eyes her response pleased him.  “If you’ll point my companions and me in the right direction?”

  “’Tis directions you need?”  B.A. felt devilment twitching at the corner of her mouth.  Someone unfamiliar with her might mistake it for a dimple.  “Start up Harbour Hill, turn right and follow the cobbled road.  It takes you where you need to go.”

Tilting his head in thanks, a sexy smile tugged at his soft, full mouth.  A mouth that conjured images of long, deep kisses.  “I shall see you later?”

  Sooner than you think, B.A. vowed silently, ignoring what that smile did to her heart.
  If he or his companions attached significance to snickers when they passed, there was no indication.  The three men started up the hill road―  the bloody dogs falling in, yapping and bounding about them, followed closely by the putt-putt-putt of Wee Dougie’s scooter playing caboose.

B.A. waited until they moved beyond the range of the store, then rushed to the porch to watch.  With strong athletic strides, they quickly passed the postcard perfect homes and businesses.  The cobbled road circled the southern tip of the island, with the neat row of whitewashed, two-story, stone buildings lining the inner curve.  Doors kept opening, Falgannonians coming to eyeball the Vikings and their bizarre entourage vanish around the bend.

Hurrying back inside, B.A. headed to the counter to see what answers the envelope held.  Closest, Michael the Fiddle peered at the expensive vellum as if it would pop open and a jack-in-a-box would spring forth.  B.A. joined him in glaring at the envelope.  She needed a nice long stick to touch it, make certain it was safe.  Maybe whack it a few times just to be sure.

  Clearly, Michael shared her sentiment.  He snagged a pencil from the cup by the register and poked it.  

  B.A.’s mouth flattened in a frown as she snatched it away and lifted the flap.  While her eyes scanned the photocopies, the shawl dropped off one shoulder.

  Eyes alight with assessment, Callum leaned his hip against the counter.  “Interesting bloke, wouldn’t you agree, B.A.?”

“As interesting as a panther on a leash.  I feel I should count my fingers to see if any are missing.”

“Oh, aye, B.A., ‘tis easy to discern how uninteresting you found this Desmond feller.”  Seeing the silk clad breast proclaiming her arousal, Callum and Michael exchanged knowing male glances, and then burst into gales of laughter.

Adjusting the shawl, B.A. stuck her tongue out at them.  Struggling to summon a scathing retort, she failed to live up to her fame for razor-edged repartee.  Distracted, she studied the copies of legal documents and letters between Sean and Mershan.

Robbie the Butcher tottered inside, keen to see what she sussed from the envelope.  “A wicked lass you are, B.A., sending them to trod the town circle.  Another five minutes they’ll be coming back.  Quick, what’s it say?”

  “It appears an arrangement Sean set up last winter.  The Vikings are here to survey the land on the eastern slope of the isle.”  She rattled the pages in the air.  “How has this not turned up before?  Nothing was in the investment portfolio forwarded to me upon Sean’s death.  While I gave him leave to invest the island’s money, I don’t believe he’d dare undertake something of this magnitude without my permission.”

Willie the Writer rushed through the door.  A beloved islander joke, he churned out bestselling cowboy romances set in the U.S. under the penname Willa Macgregor.  A hoot, since farthest west he’d ever been was Belfast.  “’Tis a naughty lass you are, B.A.  The villagers are hurrying to see the excitement.  I fear the lads will jump to the conclusion it’s the Yank lasses finally come.  Expect tempers when they discover it’s only a wee Viking invasion.”

  The racket of Wee Dougie’s scooter grew audible in the distance, as the crowd rounded the far bend, giving B.A. no time to gather wits.  She needed to ring her brother, the family’s solicitor.  He would know whether this was legit, or if Desmond Mershan was nothing but a snake-oil salesman.

  She reached for the phone on the wall, only Callum, Robbie, Michael and Willie cried in unison, “Blower’s down!”

  “Still?”  She questioned, “Where’s Jock the Repair, MacGyver of the East?  With the matchmaking project, we need to be online 24/7 not seven hours out of twenty-four.”

“He’s fixing Davey the Weaver’s washer-machine.  B.A., since we’re discussing our sorry state of communications on our fair isle, you ken the system needs redoing.  Several lads are saving for their own laptops, and with the Yank lasses coming they’ll expect some conveniences.”

Willie bragged, “Dell is sending me a grand laptop with bells and whistles.  Ordered a copy of new The Hobbit video game.  I get to be Gandalf and kill Orcs.”

“Only you, Willa, would want to be Gandalf and not Aragorn.”  Michael shook his head.

  “You should be getting a Mac,” Robbie chided, “support the homeland businesses.” 

  Despite the irritation of the situation, B.A. smiled.  Her islanders had it fixed in their brains, since the computers were Macs they naturally were a product of Scotland.  She’d given up trying to correct them, and left them to their bit of merriment.

“B.A., this Desmond feller won’t appreciate being sent on a wee tour of our downtown business district.”  Robbie moved to keep an eye out for the procession marching down the road.  “Who were you going to ring, lass?”

“My Brother the Solicitor.  Moot now.  These papers seem to be a contract between Mershan and The Montgomerie.”

“Contract?” several queried.

“If it’s real and not a scam, Sean sought to up the income for the island by turning us into an exclusive tourist spot.  Mershan’s come to judge if it’s feasible to place a hotel on the eastern tip of the isle.”

The irksome putt-putt noise increased, silencing the whole store.

  “Would you look at this?  ‘Tis like a bloody May Day parade,” Angus called, stepping out on the porch.

B.A. came up behind them, watching Mershan and his Viking bodyguards stalk down Lower Harbour Road in determined strides, The Escape Artists still barking and rollicking about them.  In the lead strutting proudly was The Cat Dudley, a feline parade marshal, and yes, a large portion of the isle’s populace was in tow.  Eleven were on bicycles, while Ian and Brian Fraser rode on horses.  Wee Dougie, on that blasted scooter, trailed after the islanders afoot.

Rushing behind the counter, B.A. checked in the off-chance Jock the Repair had duct-taped the phone to working in the past few minutes.  No such luck.  She stood tapping the envelope against her chin while the din outside grew louder.

The invaders approach, she mused. 

Metal-tipped cane clicking on the wooden floor, Angus the Ancient tottered back inside, leaving the door open.  “You've done it, B.A., sending them Vikings on a Gooseberry Fool’s walk.  That black-headed feller has steam rolling out his ears!  Dunna ken him to be thrilled a’tall being the butt of your joke, lass.”

Silence descended causing B.A. to turn.  Suddenly, the whole storefront shook with the force of a small blast.  For a fleeting second, B.A. wondered if they’d suffered an earthquake.  But no, someone had slammed the door with such violence it sent everything on the shelves rattling.

Not seismic activity, but another force of nature.  He stood there.

  Her stomach dropped.  Maybe she had been a little abrupt in handling him.  Well, it was his own bloody fault, setting off so many wild emotions within her!

“Now you’re in for it, B.A.,” Angus the Ancient chided, waving a shaky finger at her.
Mershan’s leather jacket was off, draped in the crook of his arm and partially over the duffle he carried.  Lasers of fury, the ice-green eyes targeted her, and in spite of sexual-tension crackling in the air between them, she was reasonably positive it wasn’t lust.  Though his chest rose and fell, she noted it was controlled anger not the exertion of the walk.  He hadn’t broken a sweat on the kilometer circle of the tiny village, showing his peak physical condition.

All the better to throttle you, B.A., her mind whispered, as she suppressed the instinct to run.

“He’s right,” Mershan growled, “I’m not happy.”  He dropped the bag and coat on the floor, as if needing both hands free.

  All the better to wrap around your neck, B.A., echoed through her brain.

  Desmond took a step toward her.  Instinctively, B.A. took one back.  She feared no man, but for the first time in her life one rattled her.  

  Frozen in her fight-or-flight response mode, it took seconds to recognize that an odd creaking came from overhead.  Jerking her gaze up to the ceiling, her eyes locked onto the old shark’s jaw, suspended by a wooden peg from the rafter.  Hung there before she was born, it suddenly dropped, hurtling straight at them.  She stood, too stunned to move.  With feline reflexes, Mershan yanked B.A. aside, shielding her with his body.  Razor sharp teeth just missed them.  However, chunks of the brittle bone ricocheted into the pyramid display of soup cans, sending them scrambling and dodging again.

  Twining around Desmond’s ankles, Dudley squalled when his tail was stepped on.  Reverting to his nasty little self, he protested the injury by sinking his claws into the back of Desmond’s right calf, and following with his patented vampire-bite. 

The man howled.  The cat yowled.

  Kitty still dangling from his leg, Desmond tottered, dancing over chunks of bone.  B.A. had inferred, long ago, Dudley had fixed in his brain the source of all evils in his kittydom originated with Callum.  Thus, she wasn’t surprised to see it shriek and then launch that fat tabby-striped body at his ‘nemesis’ thigh.  Glomming on, Kitty clung, a parody of a stuffed Garfield toy stuck to car windows with plastic suction-cups.  No time to regain footing, Desmond ducked trying to avoid Callum’s wild flailing.

  Callum, with the wee beastie hanging on for dear life, stepped on a rolling can of tomato soup.  Flying backward, he collided into the off balance Desmond.  The men and cat then crashed into the five-tiered rack of the large jars of sweets.

B.A. gaped in horror as canisters filled with jawbreakers, gumballs and jellybeans bounced and scattered, everyone dancing to dodge the confections and shattering glass.  Hard candies acted like ball bearings, while softer jelly and cream-filled sweets squished to a slippery slime.  Standing proved treacherous.  Her eyes went wide as Desmond hit the jawbreakers.  He skidded once more, flapping his arms as if to take flight.  The only thing that flew was his feet, high into the air.  He went down hard, cracking his head on the floor.

Content with the chaos he created, Dudley leapt to the countertop, flopped down on his hip, and stuck his hind leg up in the air.  With a loud sneeze of disdain, he began giving it a tongue-bath.

“Demon-cat!  I’m going to burn you in the Wicker Man come May Day,” Callum snarled from his knees.

For several heartbeats, B.A.’s mind reeled, waiting for the invader to get up.  He didn’t move.  No rise and fall of his chest.  Step-by-cautious step, everyone made their way over to the felled man and peered down at his still form.

Resembling creatures Scully and Mulder tracked for the X-files, the villagers crammed against the store’s door and bay windows, pressing noses to the glass to witness the Marx Brothers antics inside.  Chuckling, they deemed it the most excitement on Falgannon since the Floating of the Sheep in June, when they prepare them for sheering by tossing them into the creek.

  “B.A.,” Angus the Ancient muttered in reproach, “you've gotten yourself in a pretty pickle!  Gone and murdered the Vikings leader.  ‘Tis ashamed you should be.”

#ScottishRomance  #ParanormalRomance #ScottishContemporaryRomance


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17 January 2018

Thinking Out of the Box - Author's Promoting 101

For years I've heard authors complain that nothing they do seems to improve their sales.  After thirteen years in the business, I have come to the conclusion no single thing will.  There is no magic biffity-boppity-boom and suddenly you are selling like hotcakes.  So what do you do?  Work.  Sorry, that is the raw truth.  Another sad truth?  Indy published, Small Press or Tradition published, it doesn't matter.  It's all going to fall on you.  Your money, your time.

Writing THE END is truly just the beginning of your journey as an author.  If you are a hobby writer (and I am not putting that path down) then marketing probably won’t be pressing for you.  But to the career writer, you must accept that you will likely spend as much time promoting as you do writing.  It’s a hard fact all new authors have to face.  There are days I do nothing but  promote...promote...promote.  It’s not fun, it’s grinding, and often you simply have no idea if any of it has impact.  So lose the idea I am going to offer you a golden key or a witch’s recipe to help you sell more books.  What I will do is impart some ideas to make you think about how you promote.  Most of this is old ground, but I continually see authors asking these same questions, even from authors a decade in the business...so one more time.

(Full Page Romantic Times ad 2009)

Paid Promotions —

There are various venues, which promote books for you.  I have gone that route with full page ads in The Romantic Times, Realm of Fantasy, and even history and Scottish magazines.  Did they help?  To this day I am not sure...lol.  Sad fact.  Actually, I did see heavy traffic to my website the day The Romantic Times came out.  So the ads I did with them drove traffic to my door.   

(Half Page Ad for Romatic Times 2007)

All my novels had high sell-through.  Sell-through is that point where your book begins to earn the publisher money, after all their expenses are covered.  My novels all have gone into third printings, and the Historicals are now in the fourth printings.  Was that because of the magazines ads?  I simply do not know.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Frustrating, eh?  Maybe the ads were just a brick in the wall to building your brand.

As I said, most venues of PR leave authors scratching their heads.  So unless you have a $1000 or more to toss around you may not wish to consider this option.  If you do think you might want to opt for magazine ads, consider going in on ads with several authors—from the same publisher/ have the same subject matter.  I have done several of these.  Did they help?  Same redundant answer.  Possibly.

Positive side—you reach a lot of people all over the country.

Downside—high cost with no real assurance of a return.

(Double Page Ad in Realm of Fantasy Magazine 2009)

Reviews and Review sites—

There are a lot of places that offer reviews for free (NEVER pay for a review!).  Some also offer other author services, such as a web page on their site, or special showcase, chats, etc.  There have probably been fifty—maybe a hundred—over the last decade.  A lot didn't survive a year or two.  If you are looking into promotional packages with an author’s promo site, ask questions.  How much traffic do they have?  How will they promote you?  How often? 

Many have come and gone, but there are some solid ones that were there when I began and are still going strong.  Romance Junkies is one of the best.  Another top one is The Romance Studio.  I have done individual PR promos with them, but have also bought full service packages and have been very pleased with them.  Night Owl Romance is another I used and felt gave me plenty for my money.  As with print PR—be sure to weigh how much you are comfortable with spending for advertising.  Maniac Readers and Long and Short Reviews are two more I would recommend.  Two others I recommend that are more professional writing communities that let you promote all you need: Booktown and Authors Den.

Plus side—some of these venues have a big following, message board on Yahoo, website and social media presence.  Side Note:  Many of the social media pages are open to join free.  So check around.  You can find a lot of PR groups or pages on Facebook you can use.

Down side—they often are heavy with authors, too, so are not reader groups.  Meaning you are preaching to the choir.  Authors are there to promote their books, too, not buy yours.

Blogs and blogging—

Blogs were super hot ten years ago.  Now, everyone has them.  An author’s web site and blog are losing their importance in PR scheme of things.  Several reasons.  Most people seek out authors on spots like Authors Central on Amazon.com, or Facebook and Twitter.  These are updated frequently so they get fresh information and have a more personal feel.  Also, the average reader doesn't have time to read the blogs of 20-30 authors every week.  Generally, I use my blogger account as a personal showcase of what is happening in my life.  When I post about going to the Renfaire, or special restaurants or happenings in my town, I get as many if not more hits on those posts.  I give people a personal hello, what is happening, what books are out or coming.  I post excerpts or promotions.  Image intensive posts tend to get more attention.

Plus side—you can post daily where a website is more static.  You can get information out there quickly, run contests, and get PR rocking.

Downside—when you are doing frequent postings on a blog, requiring long articles, organized with images etc.—that is time away from your writing.  Since PR is already a big drain on your time, you have to make choices of what is more important.  Using your words takes those words away from your novels.  It has also been proven people respond to quicker, sharper posts, than long reading.  So keep that mind.

Social Media --

You might say well, duh.  Everyone knows about Facebook and Twitter.  So I won’t spend a lot of time pushing them.  But are you using Google Plus?  Google has groups and chat options, but I mainly use it as an information site, doing promos and such.  I often get more hits off postings there than either Facebook or Twitter.  Are you using Linkedin?  It’s less social and more business feel, but you can promote.  The neat thing about Linkedin is I can set it so my account reposts all my posts to Twitter—neat way to save a little time.

Right now my Linkedin account posts to Twitter.  My Blogger posts to Amazon Central, Booktown and Goodreads.  Twitter can be set up to post to MySpace and Facebook.  Word of warning--if you do that watch promo posting.  You are likely already posting to Facebook, but if you set up Twitter to post there too, you end up with double posts and someone will scream you are spamming everyone.  You can create a professional page on Facebook.  With a professional page you can add more people than you can on a personal page, and you can actually set your books up to sell right from the page.

Yahoo Groups

they are showing some age after two decades and really no improvement for about ten years, but they still work to find reader groups and promo groups.  Again, you will run into the authors stampede, but you do what you can at times.  There are two means of postinggoing to the individual group and posting on the message forum.  This is sent out to everyone on their list, and remains on the forum board.  Or you can be an mail box memberallowing you to post and reply through your own email, but if you chose this option you cannot post on the forum boards.  If you join at the Yahoo Groups site itself, you will have both options available.

Authors Central on Amazon.com—

They provide you free of charge an author’s page.  You can load about half a dozen photos, bio information, and set up your book list.  You use their claiming option to claim your books, and they will place them on your page, so when a reader checks in, they will have every thing about you in one spot.

Book signings—

Book signing are another option.  Personally, I do not enjoy them, but I know many people who love doing them.  The downside is getting people into the bookstore (which requires PR to do!)  Unless you or the store promotes the event, don’t expect a line like Stephen King gets.  You might try to organize a multiple author signing.  That tends to be a bit more fun.  Also, check and see if you have any big book fairs near you.  Don’t just offer to do a book signing at the local bookstore.  Offer to give a master class in romance writing, or how to realistically write a specific time period.  This will draw people in that are interested in learning to be a writer.  

But all these options are in the box thinking, and by my title I said we would be thinking out of the box.  Here is where you have to put your thinking cap on and see what venues are out there where you could do signings.

What events are happening in your area?  A farmer's market?  A craft fair?  Small shop Saturdays or events around holidays?  See if your local tea room might want to have a book signing.  Your local library branch?  You might combine it with a talk on how to get into publishing, or something along those lines.  One I have suggested to Historical writers—Renfaires.  There is a natural target.  They are into history, reenacting, costumes—you have someone who speaks your language.  I once discussed this targeting your audience, and Jacquie Rogers decided to go after rodeos, which is perfect for Western writers.  So is your county fair.  Many offer booth space for very a reasonable price, and often can do multiple days.  

One of the best book signings I did was at Keepers Seafood and More, just outside of my town.  I went there expecting not to sell a book.  I was totally surprised, selling hundreds of dollars of books in just three hours.  

The point being, you simply don’t know what will work until you give it a try.  You could organize a book launch party.  Tea rooms or cafés are a great place to hold a launch party.  Have a sheet cake and several pots of tea or punch, and invite people in to help you celebrate.

Craft fairs are another place.  These tend to pop up around late autumn and holidays.  They are generally merchandise orientated, but most are very open to you having a booth to promote your books.  Splurge on Vista Print poster—sometimes you can get them for $10 or less.  So far, I haven’t found authors going in this direction so you generally have a good showcase.  Books, especially, sell well around Christmas, since they make great presents.

Getting your name out there— 

Not just as you are a romance writer—get you name into various other venues.  There are a wide variety of options.  Some might even pay you.  Consider penning an article for a magazine.  Today it is easy enough to check out magazines on-line.  Writer’s Digest accepts articles.  But don’t just focus on  romance writing venues.  Pen a short story for Alfred Hitchcock Magazine or Ellery Queen Magazine for example.  By getting into a different genre you widen your exposure.  Look at area magazines.  There can be a wide range of different focuses, from ones covering a whole area such as Southern Writers Magazine, to others more localized.  There is a monthly magazine that covers my county.  Maybe you have a historical society that puts out monthly pamphlets.  Consider doing an article for your local newspaper.  Consider doing seasonal recipe story about what people ate then and include recipes.  Same for Western writer – especially good in the summer—Cowboy tips to open-fire cooking.  Look for a fashion angle.  See if you can tie in your period clothing to an article about women’s changing fashions.  These are just a few suggestions to help you think outside the box.  Getting your name—your brand—out there can be done outside of the normal perimeters of fiction writing.  Check out the magazines or news sites you haunt next time.  See what submissions they accept, how to submit.

(Romantic Times Half Page Ad - February 2007, shared with Cynthia Breeding)

Bottom line, it’s ALL work.  Sorry, there is no way around it.  Writing The End isn’t the end of your dream.  You have birthed you baby, now you must continually feed and nurture, and like all children they require a balanced diet.

Several bestselling authors I know were not big overnight successes.  It took years for them to sell.  Years to build an audience.  Most will tell you without a strong backlist they would have never made it to the top.  That means never stop promoting all your novels, stories and novellas.  Keep your works in print so the readers can find you.

Selling takes three things 1) talent/skill.  Talent you are born with.  Skill can be learnt.  Never stop honing your craft.  2) Opportunity, being at the right spot at the right time.  An editor may want a Scottish novel now, but two weeks from now the door has closed.  3) Determination—it’s grinding work, but if you don’t do it, what happens?—generally nothing.  Marketing is not hard, it’s persistence and time.  It takes a bit of imagination.  Don’t look at other authors and say, “What are they doing?”  Ask instead, “What they not doing?”

Don’t be afraid to try some PR venues that haven't been done before.  You just might surprise yourself.

16 January 2018

Riding the Thunder - excerpt

Asha’s grip on Jago’s waist tightened as the voice filled her brain.  Not now, she prayed.  

Before, when she’d been assailed with the memories of Laura Valmont at the pool and the drive-in, she had totally zoned out.  At the pool Jago had been there; he would've caught her if she’d fallen.  In the car, she had faced no physical danger, but here, losing consciousness, and slipping into a past that happened over four decades ago, could be costly.  She might fall from the bike, or cause Jago to lose control.  The prospect was scary.  She gritted her teeth and tried to fight the images.  

Oh, please not now.  Her mind tore in two.  Part of her was on the back of the motorcycle with Jago.  Another part was channeling images from Laura and the 1960s.

Tommy, I’m scared.

Asha was scared, too.  She faintly shook her head as if she could dispel the overpowering recollections of Laura, but the insular feel of the helmet made it harder to fight the flashes.  The narrow, winding road Jago had taken seemed familiar, so familiar, though she’d never been on it before.  However, Laura Valmont had, in a fire engine red Ford Mustang.

Pulling back from the past sucking at her, she grew aware Jago had picked up speed.  The sense of everything zooming by in a blur was dizzying.  Her arms tightened about him and held on for dear life.  Please, stop!  Oh, bloody hell, please stop!  She wasn't sure if the thoughts were hers or Laura’s.  

She tried not to squeeze Jago too tightly, yet it was hard to judge.  Instead of bringing the motorcycle to a halt, he gunned the engine.  The bike almost jerked on the back wheel.  She gasped as the Harley roared down the road.  They were nearing the cliffs.  Have mercy, Jago surely wouldn't take the old abandoned road?  Glancing up, Asha caught sight of the reflection in the review mirror; she then risked turning her head to see.  A dark truck bore down on them, keeping pace with the motorcycle’s flat out speed.  As the pickup gained on them, Jago again goosed the Harley, nearly causing the back wheel to spin out on the wet pavement.  The monster leapt forward, keeping them out of harm’s way.

Asha held her breath as the truck inched closer and closer.  Her heart racing like the motorcycle engine, the sound of the tires on the wet pavement, the rumble of the Harley―all blended into part of the nightmare from the past.  She swallowed her own panic.  It doubled as she tasted the terror of Laura Valmont.

A scream ripped through her brain as she struggled for the last vestiges of reality.  She could not lose consciousness at this high velocity.  She would die.  Jago would die.

We’re together.  We’ll always be together.  Just like the song, our love will never die.
Never die…Never die…Never die…

Just as Asha opened her mouth to let her scream meld with Laura’s, Jago cut the bike to the left and shot down a narrow side road, barreling down the dilapidated lane.  The truck thundered on past.  Jago skillfully spun the bike in a 180-degree turn, so that he sat, legs braced, facing the mouth of the small road.  He waited, gunning the Harley, clearly fearful the idiot driver might come back.

 Shocked by the experience, and still being drawn into the past, Asha climbed off the bike, barely aware of what she was doing.  Some part of her mind recognized Jago’s concern; even so she couldn't stop as her steps carried her toward a strange, deserted building at the back of the nearby lot.  It called to her.  Without knowing why, she had to go to it―was compelled to go to it.  Strange, the structure being out here in the middle of nowhere...similar in fashion to The Windmill.

The damp weeds of the field were up to her thighs.  Most were dead, except for the creeping honeysuckle and wild rose briar on either side of a faint path, some patches nearly over her head.  Several long canes reached out, almost snatching at her; she dodged as her steps carried her on.  Broom Sage, Queen Anne’s Lace―all dead, long dead, and not just from this past summer, but the summer before that and likely several summers long ago.  Judging by the looks of the derelict land, it hadn't been cleared this decade, possibly a decade or more before that.  Who knew when the last time it was used? 

The building wasn't cared for, only half-heartedly secured against vandals.  As if no one ever came here; no one cared if they did.  So weathered, the wood of the plank siding was a colorless grey.  Plywood had been nailed across the front of the place, covering the windows and doorway.  Someone had spray painted a peace sign and the words Hell no! We won’t go! in red on one warping board.  The Vietnam era?  The paint was fading away.  

Asha paused at the bottom of the steps, contemplating if the porch was safe, but then decided to go around to the back instead.

Behind her, she heard Jago calling, but his words were carried away on the waves of memories fighting to surface within her.  As she circled around the side, she heard a flapping noise.  Her steps slowed as she neared.

The sound came from an odd addition to the building.  Originally, she’d judged, the structure was a simple L-shaped house.  Possibly someone had lived here once.  At some later date, the extension― what looked like a small pavilion―had been grafted onto the back.  There were no walls to this part of the structure, just sheets of unpainted plywood covering the two open sides.  One wooden panel had been pulled half down, hanging diagonally by a single nail.  Behind the boards was a heavy circus tent quality canvas, gray from age and ripped in a couple places.  The wind caused the end to flutter, the metal grommets of the rings knocking against the wooden post.

Asha hesitated for a moment, uncertain if she wanted to pull back the sailcloth and see what lay beyond.  Just as she worked up enough nerve, Jago touched her arm.  Her mind snapped back.

“Asha, are you all right?”  He reached out and brushed the back of his hand to her cheek.
She offered Jago a fleeting smile, trying to reassure him, only her attention remained divided.  The clanking of the metal grommets against the poplar wood post was a siren’s song, calling her.  

  In a sad voice, she told him, “It seems so small now.”

“What’s small?”

She heard his words―ignored them.  Moving forward, she grasped the canvas and lifted it back.  In a flash, everything about her surroundings shifted, changed―as they had by the pool.  Instead of the dingy, forlorn pavilion, the white canvases were rolled up to the roof and tied back, leaving everything open to the night air.  Colored Christmas lights were tacked along the poplar wood rail that ran along the outer edge of the small skating rink.  Eydie Gormé’s Blame It On The Bossa Nova played over the speakers hung on the walls.  The skaters could rock to the music while going around and around.  Laura loved the dizzying sensation, loved the spinning colorful lights, similar to the feeling of being on a merry-go-round. 

 No, no, the bossa nova…

Then she saw him, standing by the post, watching her.  Tommy.  So handsome.  And she loved him more than she loved life.

“Asha, damn it.”  Jago jerked her around by the arm to face him.  “What the hell is wrong with you?  And don’t bother telling me you need a soda.”

With a faint shudder, Asha’s mind returned to the present.  She glanced about the dingy building.  No Christmas lights.  The hardwood floor was ruined by the decades of the lack of care and intruding rain.  No music.  No skaters.  No Tommy and Laura.  However, Tommy Grant and Laura Valmont had once stood here on a hot summer night over four decades ago.  For some strange reason she was being shown their young lives, their special passionate love.  

Though all about her was now back to normal, an oppressive air of sorrow lingered; it pushed against her mind to where a tear came to her eye.  She wasn't sure why seeing a beautiful memory like the one she had just experienced should leave her so profoundly shaken.  The couple’s love was so clear, so beautiful.  Laura and Tommy were extraordinary people.  Though these flashbacks left her rattled, she felt Laura was giving her a gift.  That gift should bring joy, happiness.  Instead, she was overcome with a poignant, heartbreaking sadness.

Silent tears streaming down her face, she smiled at Jago, trying desperately to hang on.  Just hang on.  “I wish I had known them.”

Poor man, he stared at her, totally confused, fearful.  “Who?”

“You’re now sorry you went to bed with me, eh, Jago?  You’re scared I’m crazy as a loon.”  She reached up and touched his beautiful face, cupped his cheek.  “I’m not sure I can explain, since I don’t really understand myself.”  Dropping her hand, she walked in a small circle.  “This used to be a skate rink.  They came here on summer nights.  Played music.  Mostly the girls skated.  The guys just watched them in their tight Pedal Pushers.  They decorated with strands of Christmas lights, made it festive.  Others would park their cars out here, and would sit on the hoods observing, too.  The nights would flicker, alive with lightning bugs, turning everything magical.  It was a gentle time.  A happy time.”

As she talked the images grew so strong, the music filtered around her.  “’I wonder what went wrong, with our love, a love that was so strong,’” ― she sang the lyrics to the tune she could hear.

“Del Shannon’s Runaway,” Jago identified.

Asha’s head whipped back to him, almost hopeful.  “You hear it?” 

  If he could hear it, too, maybe she wasn’t going insane.  She gave him credit.  He listened for a minute, but then shook his head no.

“You’re hearing Del Shannon?” he asked solemnly.

She chuckled, trying to make light of the bizarre situation.  “Actually, no.  You’ll think I’m totally nuts.  I’m now hearing Alley Oop.”

“Alley Oop?”  Jago huffed a small laugh, but concern filled hid dark green eyes.  “Sorry, I missed that one.”

“I’m sure it’s on the jukebox at The Windmill.  I’ll play it for you when we get back.”  She smiled, fighting the tears.  Her tone sobered.  “I’m not crazy, Jago.”

“You just go around hearing Alley Oop?”  He shoved his hands in his back pockets and looked at her, guarded.  “I read once about a guy, his tooth was turning his mouth into a radio.  Somehow, he was receiving music through his filling.  Maybe you need to have your fillings checked.”

She shrugged.  Walking to the rail, she put her hands on it and gazed out at the abandoned property.  “It might account for the music.  Only, it doesn’t cover Tommy and Laura.”

“Tommy and Laura?”  he echoed, his disbelief rising.  “The lovers from that song on the demented Wurlitzer?”

“Yeah, Tell Laura I Love Her by Ray Peterson.  It was very popular in the early ‘60s.”

“Maybe you’re fixing on that song for some reason?”

“Tommy Grant and Laura Valmont.  They used to come here.  They were very much in love.”

“Used to?  Were?” he challenged.

A flock of birds were suddenly flushed from the stand of trees, the crows’ caws filling the late afternoon sky.  Jago took her elbow.  “Come on, we can figure out Tommy and Laura later.  We need to get out of here.  Now.  The sun is already starting to go down and I don’t want to be out on the bike after dark.  Do you know anyone with a black pickup truck?  A Ford.  Not a new one.”

“Around here?  Half the farmers, most likely.  There are some trucks that are from 1940s still in use.”

“I think we were being followed.”

“That nut in the truck?”

“Yeah.  This morning I noticed a black truck in the drive-in, parked in that corner where it could look down on the bungalows.”  Jago encouraged Asha to sit in front of him this time, clearly not trusting her to safely hang on behind him. 

“I wouldn’t worry about that.  Colin drives an old Ford truck.  It’s black.  That was likely him cleaning up the trash left from the night before.”

“Any reason to think Colin might mean you harm?” he asked as he handed her the helmet.

She shook her head.  “Sorry, you’re barking up the wrong tree there, Jago.  Colin would never hurt me.  There isn't anything he wouldn't do for me.”

He shrugged, unwilling to let go of his doubts.  “Colin is in love with you.  Maybe he resents you letting me into your life.”

He gunned the engine and set the Harley wheeling down the road.