Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Accused and the Damned - Available Tomorrow

First, a big thank you to everyone that has pre-ordered The Accused and the Damned!

Second, just as big a thank you to everyone that has taken the time to review my Eddie McCloskey books on Amazon and Goodreads. The reviews (see here and here) have been very thoughtful and detailed, so I know they'll help potential readers make an informed decision.

Third, I thought I'd give you a little background on the series and TAATD because it's out tomorrow.


When it comes to fictional characters, some slowly evolve over the course of a series (Travis McGee) while others remain the same (Jack Reacher). Each approach has its benefits--the McGee and Reacher series include some of my favorite books of all time--but for Eddie McCloskey I wanted to develop a character that significantly changed over time so that each story presented a new personal challenge
for him. In this way, readers get the opportunity to see him grow or even grow along with him.

In The Unearthed, you could argue that Tim is the main character in the story, or even that the story is more an ensemble piece (and I could see both points). When I finished the book and considered where to go next, I thought Eddie had the most interesting backstory and the most room to grow out of all the characters. So I made the decision to shift the focus of the series to Eddie.

In The Lost, I made things as difficult as possible for Eddie from a personal standpoint. He's forced into the biggest investigation of his life, without anyone from his old team, without any equipment, with one rookie assistant who wants to find something, and his every step is being watched by the entire town, including the man who hired him. To further complicate matters, Eddie uncovers evidence that points in both directions: that the phenomena are paranormal in nature or that they could have rational explanations. So he's forced to peel back layer-after-layer of fact and deceit to get to the truth. Along the way, the story also becomes a murder mystery. To top it all off, an old enemy is coming to take his revenge on Eddie.

In The Accused and the Damned, Eddie is at a professional crossroads. He's started his own business but the bills are piling up and things are not looking good. At the same time, his conscience forces him to take a charity (and career-threatening) case for an old friend. Already faced with an impossible task--to prove a ghost killed someone--Eddie then must square off against a TV personality with a national following in the strangest murder trial the state has ever seen. Want to know where I got the idea for this story? CHECK THIS OUT.


Please keep the reviews coming. I take feedback very seriously and use it to continuously improve my writing.

Thanks and happy reading!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Hilarious Review of Morale Was Down

Normally I'll pull one or two quotes out of a review when posting here or on Facebook to give readers a general sense of the reviewer's thoughts. But last night I read one of the funniest and most creative reviews I've ever encountered.

Big thank you to Steve from Silver Screen Videos for taking the time to craft this postmodern (!) review-within-a-short story written in the second person. Steve is an expert on all things cinema, so if you're a movie buff make sure to check out his website as well. (We had a brief chat over email, for example, during which he pointed me to an early noir film shot entirely from a first person POV!)

Here is Steve's unabridged review of Morale Was Down:

"NOTE: The author graciously provided me with a copy of this book and requested that I write a review.

You're at work one day wondering how to kill the hour you have left until you go to lunch. You could start work on that big project the boss gave you but you realize you won't be able to figure out what's going on until lunch time anyway so you might as well not start. You've checked your e-mail and your Twitter account and your Facebook page and your e-mail again and there's nothing new. And you've gone past your boss's office for coffee three times already this morning and you don't want to give him any ideas that you're spending time at the coffee machine instead of working on that project you've told him is well under way even though you won't even look at it until after lunch. Then you remember that story called "Morale Was Down" by Evan Ronan that you bought on Amazon primarily because some guy wrote a review in the second person that he claimed was just like the style of the story and he said it was about an office just like the lousy one you work at and it's about a boss who's just like your lousy boss.

Anyway, you remember that according to the review, one of the employees brought in a Stromboli for lunch and then said someone stole it. So the big boss at the company orders the jerk of a middle manager boss who's just like the lousy middle manager boss you work for to find the Stromboli because it will help morale at the office, which had been down lately. And, according to the review, the boss spends most of the day looking for the Stromboli except when he gets distracted, which happens a lot just like you get distracted a lot when you're at work. So, you say, what the heck, you might as well spend that hour reading "Morale Was Down" and then saying you were doing research on improving your leadership skills.

And you start to read and you start to think this guy Evan Ronan really knows what it's like to work in an office. And his descriptions of all the different types of employees sound just like the ones you work with, only funnier. And that story. Wow, that boss is even lazier and knows more ways to waste time than you do (of course, you take notes in case you ever have to use some of these tricks). The boss in the story also takes notes but they're not very good notes, and, in fact, most of what he does to figure out what happened to the Stromboli doesn't work out too well either.

So you start to grin. Then you giggle. Then you giggle some more. Then you burst out laughing when that guy Ronan writes about the fake Amber Alert reporting the missing Stromboli that someone posts on the refrigerator door. And that's when you decide this guy Ronan really knows what it's like to work in an office, and his description of office politics is quite astute and hilariously funny to boot. If fact, it's funnier than the cat video you watched six times on YouTube this morning.

And before you realize what's happening, you've finished the story and you look around and everyone's gone off to lunch except for that one guy who's staring at you wondering just which cat video you're looking at that's so funny. So you put your Kindle away and decide that since you've spent all that time doing research, you'll take your full lunch hour anyway. And you also decide you need to do some more research so you decide you'll read "Morale Is Down" again this afternoon instead of working on that project that's not going anywhere anyway.

And you read it again. And again. Because "Morale Is Down" is so funny. And so realistic, like your own office. And that writing style of Ronan's is so fast paced and breezy and tongue in cheek that it even gets the Amazon reviewer to write a review in that exact same style. And you realize it's just so easy to just sit back and enjoy Ronan's clever dialogue and enticing style. And that writing style will stay with you a long time because you're going to remember this story and the missing Stromboli for a long, enjoyably long time. And no matter what happens to the lousy boss in the story, you know that your morale is up, way up, and it's going to stay way up even when something really lousy happens in your real life office. Because that's just the way the story is."

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Character Evolution

When I write thrillers, my main goal is to create a plot that moves at light speed. Readers that can't stop turning the pages are satisfied, and there's nothing more loyal than a satisfied reader.

Beyond that, though, I try to make my characters three-dimensional and give them a wider purpose, something that is happening to them in addition to the main events of the story. That's why Eddie McCloskey, protagonist in The Unearthed series, faces different personal challenges in each book.


In The Unearthed, Eddie shows promise as a paranormal investigator but everyone can see where he's headed: nowhere good, and nowhere fast.

In The Lost, Eddie is a drifter trying to live a quiet existence and piece his life back together. During the course of his paranormal investigation, he is forced to take a long look in the mirror and find his greater purpose.

In The Accused and the Damned, Eddie's paranormal investigation business is struggling and the bills are piling up. He gets the opportunity to go head-to-head with a big-time talk show personality. If he succeeds, his business will thrive. If he doesn't, he has to find a new line of work.

The Hysteria poses a new challenge for Eddie: working with a team again. Except this time it's not his team and the job takes Eddie way outside his comfort zone.

BONUS OFFER: For the next month, anyone that leaves an honest review (good, bad, indifferent, doesn't matter) on Amazon of any of the Eddie McCloskey books is entitled to a free copy of my comedic short story about the absurdity of office life, Morale Was Down.

Here's what two reviewers said about Morale Was Down:

"This is, without a doubt, the most profane and utterly hilarious short story I've read in a very long time."

"Hilarious short story that reminded me a bit of the movies Office Space and Clockwatchers. Nice spoof of an investigation, with all the ridiculous office politics and corporate banalities mixed in. Quick read!"

Sunday, October 26, 2014


Thanks, folks, for grabbing so many free copies of The Unearthed. The book is seriously trending on Amazon right now!

The Lost is also discounted right now through Halloween.

ADDED BONUS: If you leave an honest review of The Unearthed (or its sequels) on Amazon over the next month, I'll send you a free copy of my comedic short story, Morale Was Down.

FREE Today and Tomorrow - The Unearthed

Today and tomorrow you can pick up a free copy of The Unearthed. It's a fast-moving, suspenseful read that's perfect for this time of year leading up to Halloween. In its short time on the electronic shelf, it's already gotten a lot of good reviews, including seven 5-star ones. Here's what readers are saying:

"The haunting in the book was very well done. It is also brutal, which is to be expected, considering the history of the home. There are a few twists and an unusual (but not weird or unbelievable) ending. I pretty much inhaled the book and have already started on the next one. Which, I suppose, is about the highest compliment you can give to an author."

"Ronan's characters are beautifully realized and the dialogue always rings true. The banter between the brothers Tim and Eddie is especially effective. This is Book I of an Eddie McCloskey trilogy. I look forward to reading Books II and III. Evan Ronan is a welcome new voice in the paranormal genre. I can unreservedly recommend this book."

"Part mystery, part ghost story, part thriller. This story takes you on a wild ride into the unknown. The relationship between the two brothers, Tim and Eddie, was so complex and realistic it made a great backdrop for the investigation to unfold. Fast-paced and full of action, I was riveted until the end. Great story!"

"I read The Unearthed in one day...couldn't put it down (except to feed the dogs)! I have already ordered The Lost and am almost afraid to start it during the week; I probably wouldn't get any work done!"

"What a great read! I gulped this down in one night. The plot builds fast and was so intense I couldn't put it down. Fortunately, as soon as I thought I had it figured out there was a hair pin turn. And they kept coming! Nary a boring moment."

"Wow, great story with an ending no one will see coming."

"UNEARTHED is not just a frightening Supernatural, it's also a character study, and oddly, this aspect is probably what I enjoyed most."


ADDED BONUS: For the next month, I'm going to offer my humorous short story, Morale Was Down, for free to anyone that leaves me an honest review of The Unearthed or any of its sequels on Amazon.

Saturday, October 25, 2014


Morale is down. It’s always down, so relatively speaking it isn’t down. But it is down in the absolute sense.
Bitching is up. But like morale, it’s always up, so there again, you can’t say the bitching has increased.
The elevator brings you to your floor, the third.
You swipe your badge to gain access to the office. The clock on the wall actually says 7:06, but from your perspective, you could with a straight face believe it said 7:05. You write 7:05 on the sign-in sheet.
A minute here or there is okay. The company has screwed you over enough times in the past to justify this tiny theft. 
But you have to be smart about it. You can’t do this all the time. You have to steal minutes in dribs and drabs. That’s why Melissa-what’s-her-name-from-Operations was axed. She had Cory-with-the-mustache sign her in thirty minutes early every day. Cory wanted to bang Melissa, that is why he did it. But as always happens with these things, Melissa couldn’t keep her mouth shut, somebody told somebody else, and eventually the secret made its way to Stacy, the office gossip, who told everyone. Stacy meant to email her friend with the secret, but instead accidentally added the general office distribution list.
Melissa was fired.
Cory was fired.
And the poor bastard didn’t even get to bang her.
Last you heard, Melissa is enjoying her new job, working for one of the competitors, making more money, with more benefits, with better coffee, with fewer hours, and with a shorter commute.
That’s what the rumor mill always spits out about someone that has decamped: it is always for greener pastures, higher salaries and better quality of life.
Yes, things are always better somewhere else. The younger employees actually believe this myth. But you’ve worked at two other companies, so you know it isn’t true. Things are the same everywhere. 
Of course, every once in awhile, you imagine this Shangri-La where employees enjoy what they do and are paid accordingly and can climb the corporate ladder to the rung they aspire to.
You’ve started thinking about these things more seriously, ever since your minor promotion.
You head to the kitchen to drop your lunch off. You reach for the door to the fridge, but your hand stops in mid-air because there’s a new note on the door:
If you enjoyed my Stromboli on Friday and want to know where you can get another like it, come see Marvin.
Someone ate Marvin’s Stromboli?
Shit, that isn’t good. That isn’t good at all.
At least Marvin has shown a sense of humor about the theft by leaving that note on the fridge.
But you see, you’re a middle manager, which means a few things. You don’t have any real authority, though your team assumes you can move mountains. The people above you value your input, but they still think of you as a worker bee. The people below you see you as part of management. To your face, they exempt you from blame for the company’s oft-lamented faults and shortcomings. But behind your back, you know they lump you together with the higher-ups and blame you just as much. You know that because that’s exactly what you did when you were in their seats, not too long ago.
Being a middle manager also means one other thing. It’s your job to keep your team’s morale up.
The phone rings. You check the caller ID first. You always check the caller ID first to see if it’s a call you can let trickle its way into your voicemail. It’s so much easier listening to a voicemail than talking to a person. Who calls anymore? Only the people with complicated problems. Everyone else has the good sense to e-mail or IM.
But you can’t let this one go to voicemail, because the caller ID tells you it’s your boss. Or at least that the call is originating in your boss’s office. And you want her to know you’re in the office at 7:11 in the morning. It shows how dedicated an employee you are.
“Hey, Colleen,” you say. 
“Good morning. I was on your side and saw the note on the fridge.”
You’re not sure where this is going, but assuming the worst is always a good strategy when it comes to your boss. “I saw that too. Somebody must have eaten Marvin’s Stromboli Friday.”
“Yes, well…” She lowers her voice. “This isn’t the first time this has happened.”
How many times had someone else eaten Marvin’s Stromboli? And shouldn’t Marvin be taking more proactive steps to safeguard his lunch?
“It’s not?”
“That’s four complaints in the last month. We’ve got a series.”
A series? There is an awkward pause while you wait for Colleen to say more.
She doesn’t.
So you say, wisely, “Wow. What do you think we can do?” Is there even anything you can do?
“This is bad for morale. We need this to stop. I’ll send an email reminding everyone that they should not eat other people’s lunches.”
You don’t want to live in a world where that kind of email is remotely necessary. But there are no other worlds to live in.
You say, “Sounds good.”
“I need you to make inquiries. Discreet inquiries.”
“About what?”
“About the Stromboli,” she says, an edge to her voice.
“Oh. Okay. I can do that.”
“See what you can turn up.”
Turn up? “Sure, I’ll ask around.”
“Good. I want to know who did this by close of business.”
Ah, the dreaded C-O-B.
Colleen ends the call.
Normally, a direct order from a boss is reason enough to take action. But there are days when not even the threat of job loss can motivate you. Those days are usually Mondays. And often Fridays. And sometimes Thursdays, especially if there’s a happy hour scheduled. Tuesday you’re very productive, because you usually aren’t very productive on Mondays and you’ve got to make up for it. Wednesdays are hit or miss.
But anyway, today is Monday. So you’re already not feeling it. And then you think about the nice weekend you had. No, the great weekend you had. You spent it doing exactly what you wanted to do and you didn’t think about work once. You went to a movie and grabbed a few brews with your buds. You met a girl. You went for a jog. You finished a great book and started another one that had promise. So that makes this particular Monday even less palatable.
So that’s one reason why you can’t conjure up the energy to do this.
Another reason is you have to finish all that work you didn’t finish last week. Friday you gorged yourself on pizza at lunch and then spent the afternoon drooling in your office as you slowly came out of your self-induced carb coma.
And finally, probably the most important reason why you don’t have any interest in this assignment is that it’s just a pain in the ass. You’re not a detective, you don’t have access to a crime lab. You don’t even have any real authority to scare anybody into talking. And even if you did, you still wouldn’t catch the thief. You’ve read a lot. You know something like only 10% of all crimes are solved. This isn’t a Wallander novel. 
Those are all the reasons you don’t feel like doing it.
But you have to.
Just after you go through your morning routine.
You check your personal email and work email, in that order. You read the online sports page, even though you know what happened in last night’s NBA playoffs. You check to see what movies are opening this Friday, even though you already know which ones are because you’ve been waiting for one in particular. You’re tempted to test the boundaries of the work server’s firewall by opening some pictures your buddy emailed you last night. 
But you don’t click. You can’t. You know they can track this shit, and though your job can be irritating, you still need it.
You realize it’s already 8:13, and you spoke with your boss an hour ago. You close out non-work related things on your computer.
You stop in the bathroom. Your stall is taken. So you force yourself to use the near stall, the one nobody ever uses.
You recognize the designer sneakers on the floor in the stall next to you. It’s the Inconsiderate Cell Phone Guy. You hear him make a call while he’s blowing one out.
“Hello. I’d like to make a reservation for this evening.”
Inconsiderate Cell Phone Guy is for real. “No, no. 7:30 is no good. Could you do 7:15 instead?”
 Inconsiderate Cell Phone Guy is also Inconsiderate Customer Guy. What difference does fifteen minutes make?
“What kind of wine do you have?”
Alright, that’s it. Normally you keep your ass-roars to a minimum as a courtesy to fellow stall mates, but this guy is a douche bag. As he picks apart their wine selection while dropping a deuce, you let loose as loud as you can in the hopes it will make his call impossible.
But ICPG is unfazed. He continues his conversation with the restaurant manager.
You finish up and while you’re washing your hands, ICPG comes out of his stall, smug grin in place, and puts his phone away.
You don’t know him. He works for a different company down the hall. But still he gives you a smile like you’re friends.
“Guess what I just did? Made reservations for my wedding anniversary tonight and got a deal on their wine,” he says.
“Yeah, I know. I heard you. I was shitting right next to you.”
He frowns. “You were?”
Back in your office, you try to motivate yourself.
You think about morale. How would you feel if someone ate your lunch? And not just any lunch. You’re not talking about a ham sandwich hastily scrapped together in the mind-numbing early pre-work hours of the morning. You’re talking about a fucking Stromboli. Someone ordered that as take-out the night before. No, not someone, Marvin
Marvin came to work prepared to finish his Stromboli from the night before. And now you think about leftover food, especially of the Italian variety. You know it’s better the next day, almost always. You think about the last Stromboli you had. It was fucking delicious. How would you feel if someone had eaten it instead of you?
No, stop thinking about yourself, you selfish prick. Think about Marvin. He’s a good guy. Funny. Always smiling. He makes the people sitting in his row laugh a lot.
Who would do such a thing to Marvin? Maybe the theft wasn’t motivated at all by hatred, just by an empty stomach. Okay, good. You’re already starting to think like a detective. You think about motive for a moment, till you realize it’s fucking obvious why someone would eat someone else’s Stromboli: because Strombolis are fucking delicious.
But maybe there’s more to it. Maybe this was a planned attack on Marvin. Hell, maybe somebody didn’t even eat the Stromboli. Maybe they just threw it out because they wanted to fuck with Marvin.
There’s one way to test that theory. Look in the trash.
You smell the trash can before you even reach the kitchen.
You walk over and realize that, of course, the cleaning crew has already gotten rid of Friday’s trash and replaced it with a new bag. Though that leaves you wondering why the can smells so bad.
The evidence is gone. CSI can’t help you.
Which means you’ve got to do this the old-fashioned way. The Mike Hammer approach. Question, intimidate, get them to talk.
Or something.
You start with the victim. Marvin. Aged…you’re not supposed to know how old he is, because you’re not supposed to consider these things when you’re dealing with someone in an office environment. But of course you know he’s twenty-six. And of course you know his health is poor, and of course you know he’s a Catholic by birth, Presbyterian by choice. And of course you know his mother, relatively young at age sixty, is already in a home. And that he cheats on his long-suffering girlfriend…on second thought, maybe Marvin isn’t such a nice guy.
You keep all this in mind.
Marvin is a big dude. It’s not surprising that he would be eating a Stromboli for lunch, in other words. A silly thought crosses your mind and you dismiss it. There’s no way Marvin made up this story about a theft. Why would he?
Marvin does the quick-click of the mouse before you reach his cubicle, which means he was looking at non-work-related stuff and heard somebody coming. You used to do that and you still do it so you can’t blame him. 
“Marvin, I’m sorry to hear about your…” You let the sentence trail off to express your condolences.
Chin perpetually up, Marvin says, “Thanks. Maybe someone was cleaning out the fridge and just thought it was old.”
You squint, because that’s what the detectives do in movies. “Maybe.”
Marvin’s unnerved by your non-committal response. “You think someone ate it?”
You lean closer. “That’s what I’m going to find out.”
Marvin arches an eyebrow, impressed by what you’ve said. You can’t help but feel good about yourself. 
“So walk me through it,” you say.
Marvin does a double-take. “What do you mean?”
“Walk me through your day on Friday. When did you arrive, when did you put the Stromboli in the fridge, et cetera.”
“Oh.” Marvin adjusts how he’s sitting and thinks about it. “Jeez, every day seems so similar, you know what I mean?”
“Of course. But whatever you can think of.”
“I got in the usual time, around 8.”
(This is a lie. Marvin’s usual time is 8:30. You know this because you check the sign-in logs. You also know that Marvin has a habit of signing in first, then running to Wawa to get breakfast so he doesn’t really start his day until closer to 8:50.)
He is still talking. “So I went right to the fridge to put my food in there.”
“What part of the fridge did you use?”
“Part? Jeez. I think it was the second from bottom shelf, to the left. Oh, and I pushed it all the way to the back, because it’s colder back there. I wanted that thing icy when I ate it. Swear to God that Strombolis and pizza are so much better the next day, after they’ve been sitting in the fridge. Know what I mean?”
“You bet your ass I know what you mean.”
Marvin chuckles. “Anyway, yeah, I put it in at 8.”
“Was it in a bag?”
“A plastic grocery bag. From Giant, I think.”
“Color?” You should be writing this all down you realize.
“You know the weird khaki color?”
“Yeah.” You picture it. You’ve put your frozen pizza in bags just like that. It could have happened to you. It could have happened to anyone. That bastard thief. And to think this could be part of a series…
“Okay, not the weird khaki kind. This one was the yellow kind.”
You wonder why Marvin didn’t just say the yellow kind to begin with, but you’re on a roll with the questions and you don’t stop. “When did you realize it was missing?”
“This is embarrassing…I noticed around 9:30.”
It takes you a moment to realize why it might be embarrassing. 
Marvin continues, “I didn’t have any breakfast, so I was real hungry by 9:30. And you know, I’ve gotta feed the gut.”
Marvin rubs his beach ball stomach.
“Did you talk to anyone about it?”
“I asked around.”
“Who’d you ask?”
“Well, not ask, so much as make comments.”
“Who did you make these comments to?”
“Everybody in the row here.” Marvin gestures vaguely with his hand. “Everybody else probably heard too.”
Everybody else probably did hear, because Marvin’s inside voice is very loud.
“Okay, Marvin, one last thing. Do you have enemies here? Anyone who might want to hurt you?” You can’t think of anyone, aside from Tony. Tony is a lot like Marvin: he’s the comedian on the other side of the office space. They are very much alike, so it’s not surprising they don’t get along.
“No, not anybody.”
You want to ask, but what about Tony? But that would be feeding the witness and from what you know about police procedure, that wouldn’t be good.
But you’re not a cop, are you? So you can play by your own rules. Just like Philip Marlowe. “What about Tony?”
“Tony?” Marvin chuckles. “No, we’re cool.”
“Did anybody say anything to you about it?”
“Just how sorry they were.”
“I’m sorry too, Marvin. I’m sorry too.”
You begin to walk away but think about what other detectives would do. The first one you can think of is Columbo.
“Hey, Marvin, just one more thing,” you say.
He waits for you to ask him something. You don’t know what to ask him.
He regards you with suspicion. “What?”
“What did you…end up doing for lunch?” 
“Uh…I guess I went out.”
“Where’d you go?”
“I uh…where did I go?” He thinks about it. The days spent in an office run together and blend seamlessly. “I ate at the mall.”
You retreat to your office. You really should have been writing all that down, so you scramble to find a pad of paper and pen before you forget anything. 
Between the hours of 8 and 9:30, a yellow—not khaki—plastic grocery bag containing one Stromboli was stolen from the refrigerator on your side of the building.
You think about how many people there are in the office. Around forty-five? That leaves forty-three suspects, because you know Marvin didn’t do it and you know you didn’t do it.
And Colleen, your boss, she probably didn’t do it. And also Vanessa, the health nut, she wouldn’t have taken it. And…you realize you’re profiling here but as long as you profile everybody it’s okay…Louis wouldn’t have done it because he only eats gluten free stuff, and there’s no way that Stromboli was gluten free. At least you don’t think so. You don’t really know what gluten is and so you search for an explanation online and before you know it, twenty-six minutes later, you’re on Wikipedia reading about fucking marsupials and somewhere along the way you find out that zoologists have a difficult time getting pandas to mate in captivity. You have no idea how you got to marsupials from gluten but you don’t have time to figure it out because you already wasted a half hour.
You go back to your head count. Excluding Marvin, yourself, Colleen, Vanessa, and Louis, you’re down to forty suspects. You probably shouldn’t eliminate these people so easily, but you’ve got to get this done by COB. It’s important. It’ll be good for fucking morale.
That still seems like a lot of people to question. There has to be a better way to go about this.
How then to whittle down the suspects?
You think about the board game Guess Who, which you used to play when you were a kid.  That doesn’t really help.
Then you ask yourself who could have taken the Stromboli. Who had the opportunity?
Only the people here between the hours of 8 and 9:30.
You race to the front desk, the thrill of the hunt now getting the adrenaline pumping. You grab the sign-in book and flip back to Friday’s log. You realize you haven’t brought your pad of paper with you to write down the names, so you have to go back to your desk and get it.
You really have to remember to bring the pad with you everywhere you go.
You jot the names down of the people who signed in between 8 and 9:30. There are nineteen on your list.
You realize someone’s standing behind you, waiting to sign in. It’s Stacy, the office gossip, your one-time girlfriend. She’s wearing her hair up, like usual, and is chewing gum. She smells like cigarettes, which sometimes is a turn-on and sometimes a turn-off. You don’t know why.
“Hey did you hear about Marvin’s lunch?” she asks.
You remember to squint. “Maybe I have, maybe I haven’t. But I guess you have.”
You realize you’re not making sense but you can’t let on you realize that.
Stacy looks at you sideways.  “Ye—ah.”
“What did you hear?”
“Kim told me that Corey saw Tony near our fridge yesterday morning. Which is weird, you know, because Tony doesn’t even sit on our side.”
“Hmm. Hear anything else?”
“Everyone is complaining about it, it’s not good for morale.”
You decide to talk tough. “Nothing’s good for morale.”
She eyes you strangely. “Then, someone, I don’t remember who, saw Marvin eating in his car around lunch time. He never does that. He usually sprawls all his food out on the table so no one else can sit with him. You know, because he has so much food, you know.”
You remember why you broke it off with Stacy over a year ago. Deep down, she is a good person. She volunteers at a soup kitchen. But she always has to make these catty comments about people. A stray insult here or there can be funny, but when they become voluminous, it gets to be a little mean-spirited and petty for your tastes.
“What else did you hear?” you ask.
“What’s it worth to you?” she asks, hip to the game and playing along with you now.
You don’t have time for this femme fatale crap. “What’s your job worth to you?”
She folds her arms and puts more of her weight on one leg. “Excuse me?”
You realize you probably went too far. But justice has to be served.
Before you can say this, though, Stacy says, “You know, you interrogating people isn’t good for morale either. I won’t name names, but there are a lot of people around here this close to quitting. You know most of us could get a better job with any one of our competitors. Then where would the company be?”
You don’t answer her question. Instead, you say, “Keep this conversation between us.”

She wears a puzzled expression as you leave.

Friday, October 24, 2014

"This is, without a doubt, the most profane and utterly hilarious short story I've read in a very long time."

This quote comes from the latest 5 star review of my short story, Morale Was Down.

Big shout-out to Birdie Tracy! Thanks for:

-giving a new author a chance
-taking the time to leave such thoughtful reviews
-giving me the opportunity to connect with a reader

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Get The Lost for $0.99!

Friendly reminder to all you fiscally responsible readers out there.

The second book in my paranormal thriller series, The Lost, is normally priced at $2.99. But from 10/24 - 10/31, it will be discounted. During the early part of the discount, you can get it for as low as $0.99.

What's that? You want to know what readers are saying about the book? Here is the link to the reviews, but some highlights:

"The first book of the series is very good, but reading the second shows that rather than resting on his laurels, this author has worked hard on honing his skills.This book is tighter and more focused. Another big difference is how tightly he holds his story cards to his vest. In the first story, you know from the beginning there's something otherworldly going on. I can't say how many times I vacillated between being sure things happening because of some paranormal entity and then being sure things were being caused a human.Then I thought, maybe it's a combination! Finally I settled on just reading the story and finding out.

Do you have to read the first book in the series to make sense of the second? No. But I strongly recommend it because it will explain the relationship between Eddie and his brother, Tim. It's also a good ghost story."

"This is a well-written thriller by an author who knows what he's about. The tight writing and well-rounded characters kept me turning pages into the night. I thoroughly enjoyed the more mature Eddie McCloskey we see in this book. He has quickly become one of my favorite protagonists, one who lends himself perfectly to a series.

With Halloween approaching, I strongly recommend you pick up a copy of The Lost. You won't be disappointed."

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

My WTF Writer's Moment

Once upon a time, someone stole my lunch out of the office refrigerator. Whether they ate it or not, I have no idea. It was such an absurd experience (who would steal someone's lunch?), I thought it the perfect anecdote to capture the essence of office life. So being a writer, I naturally cashed that experience in to use as a premise and then drew from my time in Corporate America to populate the rest of the story. Just to make things a little more interesting, I wrote the story in the second person.

The end result? Morale Was Down.

This 11,000 word short story will normally be priced at $0.99 on Amazon. However, I am offering it for free on 10/23 and 10/24.

Fair warning if you've read my paranormal thriller series, The Unearthed: this short story is quite a departure from those books. Morale Was Down is meant to be a little tongue-in-cheek, a tribute to the bumbling detective story, and a comedic reflection on the daily grind.

And yet, most of the events in this story actually occurred in real life. So while it may seem silly at times, it has a very solid basis in reality. For example, I've known no less than three dudes that talk on their cell phones while they're in the men's room doing their business.

At 11,000 words, this is a quick read that every Corporate American can appreciate. If you give it a try, please leave me an honest review and if so inclined feel free to share your own crazy office stories. The old saying is spot-on, truth is stranger than fiction.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Sunday, October 12, 2014

My Continuing Adventures in YA Fiction

I love reading all kinds of books, and my most recent new genre is YA. A story well-told is a story well-done, no matter the kind of book. That being said, the peculiar rules of YA fiction impose some constraints on the author, including:

-Word choice. No cursing! Teenagers and high schoolers don't curse! (rolls eyes)
-No sex. Because teenagers don't have sex! (rolls eyes again)
-Violence. Violence is actually okay. (Just not sex, heaven forbid)
-Plotting. For a story to be a story, the characters must face an interesting, oft-dangerous, life-changing series of events. But, under no circumstances can they turn to adults for help.

This is not a bitch session about YA books. In fact, constraints often force the writer to think outside the box and generate creative solutions.

In the YA book I'm working on now, I've broken the No Cursing! rule in a few ways. For example:

-Instead of spelling out the word, just saying that somebody curses. This way, the reader fills in the details and the character still seems real. "She had posted the embarrassing picture of him running naked through the woods on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. Harry stared, in shock, for a moment and then said a really bad word."
-Have the characters use code words to signify a curse ... "Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot are you doing?"

I hope to have my YA sci-fi novel, Undo, out next year. Here's the blurb:

UNDO, Evan Ronan's light sci-fi YA novel explores how quantum mechanics complicates one of the most fundamental questions of humanity: identity.

At junior prom, Harry Quinn receives a posthumous text from his best friend with instructions that lead him to a mysterious iPad like device that has two buttons: Control and Z. Harry soon discovers that he can regress to his last significant quantum state and possibly work his way back to the day his best friend died and change history.

But doing so comes at the highest of costs as Harry must undo the past--and himself--one step at a time.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Latest 5 Star Review of The Unearthed

I'm an unknown, unproven author. I understand if you are reluctant to plop $ down on a new author you've never heard of.

Though I think the series gets better as it goes along, each one improving upon the last, I do think The Unearthed is a good book. Yes, it's a familiar premise (haunted house with a violent history), but I compensated for that by crafting three dimensional characters and also creating a killer ending with a twist that has--to my knowledge--never been done before.

But don't trust me, the author. In fact, don't trust any author, ever. We're paid to lie. We're paid to make shit up.

Instead, trust the reviews that have cropped up so far for The Unearthed. Here is the latest 5 star review:

"UNEARTHED is not just a frightening Supernatural, it's also a character study, and oddly, this aspect is probably what I enjoyed most. The premise--a residence which three years ago had been the site of brutal inter-familial violence now seems to be "haunting" the newest owners--has been played before, in fiction and film (The Amityville Horror, anyone? Jay Anson' s "666"? Anne River Siddons' "The House Next Door?" and many, many more) But whether an early author, screenwriter, or playwright has couched this premise is immaterial. What we want to know is: What does Evan Ronan do with it?

Well, Gentle Readers, he gives us character study--and lots of them. He intriguingly weaves backstory, offstage story (the lives of characters away from the House), local history and local color. He gives us himself as a character in the story, and he is unafraid to be vulnerable.

The central question here is not so much "What happened? Why?" It's not even is this house/lot/land supernaturally possessed? No, the real question is: What are these characters going to do? Three years ago, the Moriarty Family chose one bloody irredeemable option. Now what will the new residents, the Rosselli Family, choose?

And what will the amateur ghost hunters they've contracted find? Will either of the ghost hunting brothers recover accurate memory of the accident which took their parent's lives?

There's a tremendous amount of resonance between the earlier family and the current family, and between the earlier family and the ghost hunters' past. Now the reader must determine who--or what--is plucking the strings of these resonations."

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

First Review of The Lost!!!!

For the complete review, CLICK HERE.

This coming from a reader of both The Unearthed and The Lost:

"The first book of the series is very good, but reading the second shows that rather than resting on his laurels, this author has worked hard on honing his skills. This book is tighter and more focused...Do you have to read the first book in the series to make sense of the second? No. But I strongly recommend it because it will explain the relationship between Eddie and his brother, Tim. It's also a good ghost story."

Monday, October 6, 2014

3 Great Reviews of The Unearthed

Don't believe me? Check out AMAZON.

Interested in offering an honest review in exchange for a free copy? Contact me at 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Excerpt from The Accused and the Damned

The Accused and the Damned is available for pre-order now and will be released on Halloween. Just to whet your appetite, here's an excerpt from the book. Fair warning, I'm in the process of finalizing the manuscript so there might be minor tweaks to wording. But no changes to the story. Enjoy the first few chapters of TATD below ...


The woman looked like she was going to hit him.
Eddie’s clients, married couple last name of Chin, sat across from him in their cramped living room. The place smelled of fried food and incense. The Chins would have a tough time meeting the height requirements at Disney World.
But short as she was, Mrs. Chin cut an imposing figure. Upon hearing that all the paranormal activity in their home was most likely perpetrated by number one son, she shot off the sofa like a firecracker and thrust a finger in Eddie’s face.
“My boy no liar. My boy is good boy. He do well in school! He have girlfriend!”
Eddie put on his poker face.
“You call my boy liar! Why would he have beautiful girlfriend if he liar? You get out of here!”
Mr. Chin got off the couch and put his tiny hands on his wife’s tiny shoulders and spoke in a tiny voice full of the kind of patience and wisdom that comes from suffering, hard work and perseverance.
“Let me handle this. I will discuss with Mr. Closkey.”
They tried to get his name but they kept leaving the Mick out of it. He didn’t take it too hard. Their English was infinitely better than his Cantonese.
Mrs. Chin cursed in her native tongue but her husband stared her down and she stormed out of the living room and proceeded to make loud noises in the kitchen about the no-good swindler Irishman who was probably a drunk sitting in her living room.
Mr. Chin started to apologize but Eddie cut him off.
“I know how hard this can be.”
The two men sat in relative calm for a moment, but then Mrs. Chin burst through the door. “Ask the guh-why-low about the feet! What about the feet in snow? You can’t unprove that!”
The woman held a frying pan. Deja vu. It wouldn’t be the first time someone had brained him with cookery if she hit him.
“Ma’am, your son said the footprints in the snow were at the end of November last year. I checked the weather reports. No snowfall was reported.”
She called Eddie a wangbadan. He figured it wasn’t a compliment.
Mr. Chin intervened again. “I will handle this.”
Tiger Mom looked ready to pounce but she retreated once more, loudly, into the kitchen. Several bangs and crashes followed like a poltergeist had set up shop.
Eddie smiled at the man. “I’m sorry, Mr. Chin.”
“Children’s job is to make their parents worry, right?”
Eddie’s parents had passed when he was only ten, but if they’d lived they would have done a lot of worrying over Eddie.
He took in the living room again. The TV had been state of the art, back when color was a luxury. Ratty old sofa that had been through at least two yard sales. Five children still in the house, three of them over seventeen. Two more adults in residence, one of them pushing ninety. And ninety was pushing back harder.
Mr. Chin looking older than his fifty years, which was saying something because he was Asian. Usually they aged better than tortoises. Eddie knew the man worked in a drycleaners that he didn’t own and drove a thirty-year-old American charity case he’d saved from the junkyard.
Mr. Chin was the proud sort, though. Already he was reaching for his wallet. “You said your fee was negotiable and there could be payment plan.”
Eddie could use the money. He could always use the money. The going rate for a paranormal job was better than minimum wage. But not much better. The bills were piling up. He’d have to take a part-time gig to make ends meet if this trend continued.
But he felt for these people. Maybe not Mrs. Chin so much, but he felt for dear old dad. They’d come over from the Motherland a few years back and they were hard-working and trying to chase down the American dream while supporting an extended family.
Before Eddie could say anything, Mrs. Chin’s voice boomed upstairs.
“We pay for school and you do bad and you liar about the ghosts! You no work and you no go to school and you spend all money on this stupid girl …” And then Mrs. Chin switched to Cantonese and Eddie knew the kid was really in for it.
Mr. Chin acted like he didn’t hear his wife’s tirade. His lips formed a thin polite smile.
Eddie could really use the money. And yet he found himself saying, “There is no fee, Mr. Chin.”
Already Mr. Chin was out of his seat. “Oh, no, no you must take something. You insult us—”
“You can pay me back by giving me a client testimonial for my website.”
“Yes, yes. I will do that! I will do that right away!” The grateful man shook Eddie’s hand and Eddie felt good but wondered if he’d been swindled.
The Chins’ son Eric came racing down the stairs, Tiger Mom in hot pursuit. She had a hair dryer in her hand and looked ready to bludgeon her son. Eric zipped past Eddie and burst out the front door. Mrs. Chin stuck her head out and yelled after him but if he had half a brain he wasn’t coming back till the Chinese New Year.
Mrs. Chin came back inside. “I’m sorry, Eddie. My boy is good boy. He just act up sometimes. I’m sorry.”
“It’s no problem.”
Mrs. Chin approached him. “I get you drink? You like beer? You ‘Rish like beer, right? We have best Chinese beer, Tsingtao—”
“No, thanks,” Eddie said. “I’ll be leaving now.”
The Chins thanked him profusely, their gratitude genuine.
Eddie walked back to his car. It was a neighborhood of row homes in South Philly.
Small, concrete yards fronted small units. Cars double-parked on both sides of the street. A deli and catty-corner to it an Asian place offering Japanese and Chinese. Two pubs nearby. Everything you needed only two blocks away. He could smell the nail salons.
This area was changing from Italian to Asian. He could tell by the flags in the windows. The Itals proudly displayed il Tricolore. The Asians proudly displayed their American flags. They’d been here less time but their decorations were more patriotic.
Halfway down the block, he spotted Eric watching him from the doorway of another row home. The kid gave him the middle finger. Eddie was surprised--he thought that gesture had gone out of style ten years ago.
Now that Eddie was no longer Mr. McCloskey, Paranormal Investigator, sitting in the clients’ living room, he didn’t have to be professional anymore.
So he flipped Eric the bird right back.
The kid was not expecting this. It took a moment for the full import to register. Yes, that thirty-something white man who got me in trouble with my parents just signed Fuck You. Eric came out of the row home and four wannabe-Triads swimming in oversized basketball jerseys and sagging gym shorts followed him.
It was about to turn into a bad kung-fu movie.
Eric approached with hands and arms flailing away while cursing Eddie in a mix of Chinese and English, desperately trying to channel an R-rated Bruce Lee. Eddie met the kid halfway. You had to keep moving. If you stopped, the other guy owned you. Eric’s friends crowded behind him to watch the big show.
When they were a yard apart, Eric said, “Do that again, bitch.”
Eddie smirked, gave him the finger again.
Eric’s friends laughed. Eric did not. He gave them all a sharp look that was about as effective as a wet match. Eddie knew immediately that Eric lined up dead last in the group’s pecking order.
The kid had lost face and his boys were laughing at him. He had no choice but to get loud. Eddie wasn’t scared of the kid. A stiff breeze could knock Eric over.
After Sean McKenna had tried to kill him seventh months ago, Eddie had taken up krav maga. The ultimate self-defense system in the world, designed by the Israelis. It’s unique among the martial arts because there are no katas, no forms, no bullshit traditions. It’s all about the practical and ruthless application of necessary, sometimes deadly, force.
One of Eddie’s instructors liked to quip that it was sometimes harder to roll with an untrained fighter. When you sparred in class you got used to mixing it up with trained men who moved in patterns and used only techniques you expected. Whereas the fella off the street was unpredictable and did idiotic things you weren’t defending against because they were stupid.
That was why beginners were so often lucky.
Eric screwed up his face into a grimace. It didn’t work. He looked like he was in pain. “Bitch, I’m gonna fuck you up.”
“Okay, sure. Now I’m gonna do you a favor and give you a pass because you’re just a kid and you’ve got your friends to impress and your parents are my clients. And you aren’t going to take any advice from me because you think at the tender age of seventeen you’ve got it all figured out, but I’ll give it to you anyway: never pick a fight with a man who doesn’t give a shit.”
Eddie might as well have been speaking Greek for all the effect his words had on the kid.
Eddie saw the punch coming before Eric had even made up his mind to throw it.
Eddie slipped the jab and switched from defense to offense in one motion, striking the kid in the gut as painlessly as possible and putting him down. Eric was more surprised than hurt, so Eddie put his foot on the kid’s back to hold him in place and looked up at the not-so-fantastic four.
Eric’s friends were in stitches. One was taking pictures with his cell phone.
No wonder the kid was trouble at home. Among his friends, he was the runt of the litter. Eddie almost felt bad for him.
But not quite enough to take his foot off the kid’s back. “I’m leaving now. Remember I could have done a lot worse to you.”
* * * *
Eddie walked into his apartment a couple hours later. He turned the TV on and made a salad for dinner and poured a glass of water. He sat on the couch and faced the TV.
Gracie Barbitok, ex-psychic and current fraud-buster, was on speaking to a live studio audience about an investigation. Eddie recognized the segment immediately because he’d seen it live several months ago and then had watched it on DVR several times. So this was a rerun, which meant one of the major channels had syndicated her program.
She was fifty but the plastic surgery made her look forty. She had long blond hair and wore a well-tailored suit that showed off her endowments but was still modest, and she pranced around on heels on stage, microphone in hand.
“They are out there,” she was saying. “They are out there.”
The audience cheered and clapped and whooped and Gracie let them, basking in the adulation. She smiled and luxuriated in their praise.
“Here we go,” Eddie said.                                     
He wanted to change the channel but some perverse part of him wouldn’t. Gracie got off the stage and started walking the aisles, touching shoulders and shaking hands as she walked, looking like a politician.
“The world is full of charlatans and quacks and ne’er-do-wells. I know, because I was one of them, earning all my money through fraud and deceit and emotional manipulation. But I changed. Mended my ways. And today I’m here to expose these people so they can never prey on the unwitting again.”
Eddie mouthed the words as she spoke them. He’d watched her show a few too many times.
Gracie ran down the last aisle and hopped onto the stage and with great ceremony did a big sweep with her arms and pointed at the screen backing the stage.
“Today’s fraud is exposed. Giles Tyson!”
Eddie knew what was coming but he still cringed.
Giles Tyson used to work with Eddie and his older brother, Tim, years ago from time to time. Giles had big ideas and a bigger personality, and he and Tim had clashed on investigational protocol. Giles always tried to push the envelope and eventually Tim had told him he couldn’t work on the team anymore. Eddie had last seen the guy six or seven years ago.
A blown-up, unflattering photo of Giles filled the screen behind Gracie. In the picture, his usually coiffed hair was disheveled, he wore two days of stubble, and he was coming out of a nudie bar. Gracie’s team of vultures must have paid top dollar to get such a wonderfully damaging snapshot.
The audience booed and hissed. The regular chant began, “Fraud! Fraud! Fraud!”
Giles had already been proven guilty in their eyes.
Gracie Barbitok took her seat on the far right of the stage and turned to watch the broadcast of her own sting operation. She had the hard-charging style and good looks of Nancy Grace with none of the mainstream criticisms because she went after soft targets: psychics, mediums, paranormal hunters, makers of homeopathic wonder drugs, life coaches, soothsayers …
The footage cut to a long, angled shot of Giles meeting with the young homeowner in her living room about her complaints and fears of the paranormal activity in her house. She was a good actress, sounded just like the dozens of people Eddie had interviewed over the years. She even scared up some misty eyes and tears, prompting Giles to break the first rule of professional conduct:
Never touch the client.
He invaded her personal space and put a hand on her shoulder and in his affected, overblown voice said, “We’re going to get you answers tonight. You can rest assured.”
The live studio audience hissed and booed again. More chants of fraud.
Eddie shook his head. “Giles, as much as I love you, you always were a pompous windbag.”
The footage from Gracie’s sting switched to a montage of Giles running around the house, making outrageous claims, and invading the client’s personal space several more times. Eddie watched in horror. Giles was completely oblivious to his impending demise, about to be hoisted by his own oversized petard.
Throughout the montage, Giles made one ridiculous claim after another. A noise in the basement was the former owner yelling at his wife to keep it down during the ball game. The mysterious orbs of light captured on a photo were the essence of the neighbor’s teenaged daughter who’d “probably always liked the color gold.” The fuzzy, electrical feeling the missus got standing near the washing machine had nothing to do with the fuse box that was only ten feet away—this was the work of “some perhaps malevolent force, trying to make her uncomfortable.”
Giles went on. And on. He offered little proof. It was conjecture without qualification. All style without the CYA boilerplate. At one point, he told the woman that the spirits might be trying to activate the homeowner’s heretofore latent medium-abilities.
Eddie shook his head. Without anyone like Tim to keep the guy in check, Giles broke just about every rule of investigation. And he probably would have hit on the client if he’d gotten the opportunity.
“Giles, Giles, Giles …”
Eddie would have done everything differently. And yet, until this doomed voyage, Giles had enjoyed success and had somehow fostered a good reputation. He was well-known and well-liked by the national paranormal community, and he did a business.
When Giles finally stopped talking, the lights came on in the dark house and Gracie Barbitok was there, mike in hand and camera crew already filming.
Giles had the look of an animal that knows it’s just been trapped.
Gracie Barbitok revealed to the unusually quiet Giles that it was all a set-up and he’d been filmed the entire time. With a dramatic pause, she let that sink in. Her studio audience cheered.
Then Gracie motioned toward the front door. “You can leave now, Mr. Tyson. No one’s forcing you to stay. Or you can sit down and talk to me. Tell us your side of the story.”
Giles looked at the empty chair in the living room, then at the front door. He was forked. If he ran, he was a fraud. If he told the truth, he was a fraud.
Giles faced Gracie, straightened his tie and re-messed his stylish hair, and walked like Charles II on his way to the guillotine. Chin up, proud, stubborn.
And Gracie ruined him.
It was a hatchet job. Sure, Giles had exaggerated but he’d been set-up from the start. All of Gracie’s tricks were good enough that a cursory investigation wouldn’t expose them. Giles had no time to look at wiring or find hidden speakers or do any one of a million things. Not that he necessarily would have, but still.
And, even worse, Giles didn’t help himself during the interview.
“Clients call me for many reasons. But they all want the same thing, Ms. Barbitok. They want to feel special. They want to think wondrous things are happening in their otherwise quotidian existence. They want me to say yes. They want to believe. I give them what they want.”
“So you lie to them and take their money?”
“Lie is too strong a word. We know so little of our universe. We don’t know what happens beyond death. My job is to open their minds to the possibilities.”
Eddie said, “Giles, buddy, you always did speak in italics too much.”
After the episode had originally aired, Eddie had sent Giles a heartfelt email long on condolences and short on criticisms. The guy had helped Eddie out of a jam before, so Eddie figured it was the least he could do to repay the old debt.
Giles had never responded.


Alice Ketcher could still hear her husband upstairs. She was waiting for him to pass out before she turned in. It had been three months since he’d been drunk but you never knew with men. Anson had a mean streak. They’d been in couples counseling at church for the last year. She’d thought that Anson had shown genuine remorse and a desire to change, but here he was back on the bottle.
No matter how much she prayed and tried to forgive him, she couldn’t forget the times he’d scared her. He’d put his hands on her twice. Never hit her, just grabbed her shoulders to shake some sense into her. Murder in his eyes.
The last time had been over a year ago but you didn’t forget a thing like that. He’d been boozed up that night. Alcohol and her husband were a dangerous mix.
Not to mention they hadn’t spoken more than five words to each other in the last two weeks.
“ … seen … shirt?” he yelled from upstairs.
Alice pretended not to hear him. She went into the laundry room. The washer was running and making a lot of noise. She could always lie and say she hadn’t heard him over the sound of the washer.
She jumped at the sound of his voice. He’d poked his head into the doorway. Looking at him, you’d never know about his mean streak. He had a kind, soft face and sympathetic eyes.
“I …” Anson took a deep breath. “I know my drinking makes you uncomfortable. I’m sorry.”
She kept her distance. “That’s okay.”
The cycle was predictable. Falling down drunk followed by scenes of absolute terror then remorse and pathetic, weeping apologies. It was way past getting old.
Anson stepped into the tiny laundry room, blocking the door. She felt how very alone they were in this house. Nearest neighbor was half a mile away. It was times like these she grew furious with the church and her God for frowning on divorce. For pressuring her into staying with a man who frightened her.
Anson studied her, his kind eyes searching for something. She hoped it was for forgiveness. She fought herself not to look past his shoulder and give away how uncomfortable she was. That could send him into a rage.
“No really.” He shook his head. “I just … there’s no excuse.”
She realized he was crying. She closed the distance between them and wrapped her arms around his neck. Suddenly, not scared of him at all.
Had he turned the corner finally?
He spoke into her shoulder. “I want to keep with the counseling. I don’t think we should stop.”
“Okay, Anson. Okay.”
She rubbed his back till he collected himself. “I’m trying, hon.”
“I know.” She just wondered if people were actually capable of change. The fairy tales all said they did. But life was no fairy tale. “I just want this thing gone. I’m not comfortable in this house …”
“I know, baby. I want it gone too. Why don’t we ask Giles to come back out?”
“I don’t trust him.”
“Because he’s my friend, right?”
His eyes changed. The soft sadness vanished and a hardness took its place.
“Anson, he’s a fraud. That lady proved it on national TV.”
Anson just stared at her. It was like he was deciding how to react. She wondered what the options were.
“It’s actually gotten worse since he came out,” she said.
Anson frowned. Not believing her.
“It’s more … aggressive now. Before it just used to visit.”
Anger filling his eyes. “You’re just saying that.”
“I’m not a liar, Anson.”
Then she felt it.
The shift in the air pressure. A tingly current of electricity that bubbled over her body. It was here.
“What?” Anson asked.
Alice was a strong woman who had endured a lot in her short thirty years. Still the hackles on her neck rose every time this happened.
He looked up. “It’s here?”
Alice instinctively reached for the cross that nested in the hollow of her neck. “Yeah.”
Since they’d moved in six months ago, they’d received increasingly frequent visits from something. Alice still didn’t know what to call it. She just wanted it to go away.
“Where?” Anson asked.
“It was here, but not anymore.”
“Kitchen,” Anson said.
“I want to get out of here.”
“Come on, it’ll be okay.”
“I mean it. It’s getting worse.”
“No, it’s not. It just feels that way because it’s around more often.”
“Anson, yesterday it started moving the furniture.”
“I left the dining room for a moment. When I came back, two of the seats were moved out.”
Anson shook his head. “You probably moved them and forgot about it.”
“I was home alone. Why would I have moved two chairs?”
“Just come on. You need to face this.”
“I face it every day. I want the night off.”
“Come on.” He grabbed her wrist.
Reluctantly, she followed him into the kitchen. It was the spirit’s most frequent haunt.
Anson disconnected the camcorder from its charger, then made a face. “Did you forget to plug this thing in?”
She ignored him. She could just feel something … right there on the edge of her senses.
Anson was fussing with the camcorder. “Damnit, this thing’s dead.”
She closed her eyes. Felt. Tried to place the ghost.
The sound of her husband’s breathing, made heavy by drink. The hum of the dishwasher.
“Alice, are you sure it was here?” Anson right next to her.
“Anson, let’s just leave.”
“We need answers.”
“I don’t care what they might be anymore.”
Alice looked into his eyes and saw he wasn’t going to drop this. She wanted to leave. Run away. She could stay with her father. Or her cousin, Billy. She could just go. She wouldn’t miss Anson much.
But she couldn’t leave. She wasn’t supposed to. She was supposed to stay and make the best of things and pray.
Fuck it. It wasn’t often that Alice cursed.
She closed her eyes. She’d never channeled in front of him before. But now she wanted him to see how far this ghost had pushed her. What lengths she was prepared to go to.
Alice folded in on herself. Tried to shut down and open up. Like closing doors but opening windows at the same time.
“Alice, what’re you doing?”
Anson huffed and she ignored him, reached out as far as she could …
“It’s close,” Alice said.


Anson cursed his luck. The first time in a couple weeks--not three months like Alice thought—he’d decided to bark at the moon with the fellas at the watering hole and the spirit had decided to drop by tonight of all nights. Disinhibited by the booze, he’d reached out to Alice and she’d responded. Maybe she still did care for him. But then the ghost. Its visits had been driving them apart, Alice terrified and questioning her own sanity.
“Where is it, Alice?”
But Alice was off in Wonderland. He had no idea what she was doing. Her eyes were squeezed shut. Her body tensed. Hands fisted. At first he thought she was praying but then he took a second look at her.
“Alice, honey …”
Her mouth moved but no words came out.
“What the hell are you doing?”
He put his hand on her shoulder. Through the shirt, her skin was icy. The cold made him jump.
“The hell?”
Alice’s eyelids opened and revealed only milky whiteness.
“Sweet Jesus!”
Anson grabbed her, afraid she was going to faint, but Alice stayed vertical. Her body was as hard and cold as a block of ice. He shook her because he didn’t know what else to do.
“Alice, honey!”
Suddenly her eyes rolled back down like sevens on a slot machine and her knees buckled. She collapsed against him, still icy cold like she’d spent ten minutes locked in a freezer.
“Anson …” Her voice was groggy, faraway. “She’s here.”
Anson got a better grip on his wife and propped her up. “You okay, honey?”
“Anson …”
Anson didn’t like the way his wife looked. Her skin was flushed, she looked about to lose consciousness, and she was unnaturally cold. Was it possible to get spontaneous hypothermia? Anson didn’t think so but he was no doctor.
“Okay, honey, we need to call the ambu—”
Something pushed him from behind. Anson toppled forward and he lost hold of his wife. She spilled onto the floor, almost as lifeless as a corpse.
Anson fell into the kitchen counter, sent the dishes flying. They hit the floor and shattered.
Anson wheeled around, fists ready. Somebody had pushed him. He didn’t know who, and he didn’t know how, but whoever it was the son of a bitch was going to get it.
But there was no one there.
Anson checked the floor where he’d been standing but it was clear. He hadn’t tripped on anything.
On the floor, Alice started moving. He kneeled, gripped her arm. “Slow down, honey. Just stay like that a moment.”
Her eyes were clenched shut and she gripped her stomach like she was about to vomit and she moaned.
Something knocked into Anson’s shoulder and he fell away from his wife. Okay, this time he knew he’d been pushed.
But there was no one or no thing in the room with them.
A chill ran down Anson’s spine. There was nobody else in the house. But that left one explanation, and that explanation terrified him.
The spirit had pushed him.
Alice was right. It was becoming more aggressive.
His wife opened her eyes and the color returned to her face. “I’m going to throw up.”
“Honey, I think it’s—”
Another shove. Anson slipped, kept his balance, then got pushed again. His ass hit the handle on the cupboard.
Another shove, this time from the side. He almost cartwheeled into the kitchen table. His wife screaming. Him yelling.
He was flung off the kitchen table through the threshold. Landed in the living room. The blows weren’t that powerful. If he could see where they were coming from he could have easily braced for them but he was fighting blind.
Then the invisible hand got stronger.
It forced him backwards. The back of his legs hit the couch and he flipped. His feet crashed into the coffee table as he fell off the couch.
His wife hurrying into the room. Despite how lousy he’d been to her, she was rushing to help him. Her love shamed him. He didn’t deserve it. Like all the men she’d ever given herself to, he’d been a no-good son of a bitch.
But that would stop. From now on, he’d be the man she deserved. No more drinking. No more anger. No more intimidating her. He could be better than all that. He could listen. He could provide. He could be a better man. He just had to try.
“Anson, are you okay?”
“Honey, I love you. I’m sorry.”
“I know.” She closed her eyes. “Hold on.”
“What are you doing?”
Alice didn’t answer. Her mouth started flapping again. Her eyes became white slits. Her skin translucent.
Anson felt a pressure on his arm, like the spirit was trying to pick him up. He readied for the next blow but it never came. The pressure on his arm suddenly gone. He looked to his wife.
Alice’s eyes fluttered, like they were trying to unroll. Her arm was cold to the touch again but he held fast.
“Alice, honey, I love you. Alice …”
Her eyes unrolled and she looked at him like she didn’t know him.
He cupped her shoulders.
“Honey, are you okay?”
Alice’s mouth slid open and issued an unintelligible, inhuman sound.
When she spoke it was with a voice not her own. “It’s. Not. Me.”
Anson felt a chilly breath on the nape of his neck and he didn’t know if it was the spirit or his own body working against him. His wife rose on unsteady legs and swayed back and forth.
Anson pushed off the couch and got to his feet.
“Not me,” his wife said.
“Honey …”
Alice screamed like a banshee and flung herself away from him. She stutter-stepped back into the sliding door. The glass spider-webbed.
She doubled over and gasped like someone had slammed her in the stomach and knocked the wind out of her.
Anson ran to his wife, but he was stopped by a shot to his jaw. The blow rang his bell but he managed to stay on his feet.
“Anson, I think it’s—” she started to say.
Alice was thrown violently and knocked the flat screen TV over. She got to her feet and screamed at him to run and was tripped by some invisible foot. She face-planted in the carpet and then her head snapped up like someone had grabbed her by the hair.
Anson raced to his wife, but then the invisible hand thumped him in the chest and he went down. But it was distraction enough for Alice. She got up and took off for the front door.
Anson didn’t know what else to do. He had his cell phone in his pocket. The reception in his house was awful. He prayed the cell would work as he frantically dialed 911.
Before he could say anything, the phone was knocked out of his hand and went under the sofa.


Greg Tolliff had been working the 911 dispatch for three months. In his short time riding the line, the most bizarre call he’d gotten was from a man who’d accidentally driven a nail through his nuts, and the most terrifying call had been from a mother, sick with worry, about her seven-year-old who’d just ingested half a bottle of sleeping medication.
But the call he took that night was more bizarre and terrifying than those two combined.
“9-1-1 Dispatch. What is the nature of your emergency?”
“... help … stop, stop ...”
The woman wasn’t near the phone but Tolliff heard the raw fear in her voice. He perked up in his seat. This one sounded interesting.
“Ma’am, what is your name and phone number?”
The enhanced 911 system provided Tolliff with a phone number, name, and corresponding address, but Tolliff was following SOP in independently verifying this information. Though glitches were rare, sending EMS and local LE to the wrong place helped no one. LE especially didn’t like walking into a scene they didn’t understand. Some nutters were just waiting for the cops to show up so they could suicide-by-police.
“Stop …” 
“Ma’am, are you there? Ma’am?”
“Anson … noooo!”
“Ma’am? Are you there?”
The line was still active, but there was no answer. In the background, Tolliff heard a crash and more screaming.
Tolliff connected to EMS and LE. “Unknown possible medical emergency. 225 Watoga, Cumberland. The nearest intersection is one mile away at Browning Road and Rural Route 57. Repeat, unknown medical emergency. 225 Watoga …”


Dispatch contacted LE. The general call went out to all available units. Officer Billy Towson was on-duty that night, sitting in his cruiser only a mile down the road in his favorite bear trap in front of the local farming collective’s cornfield, passing the time waiting for speeders or drunks.
“225 Watoga, repeat, 225 Watoga. Unknown medical emergency.”
Towson’s eyes went wide. “Officer Towson. I’m a click away.”
Towson put the car in DRIVE and stepped on it. Not all his tires grabbed and the cruiser started spinning. He cut the wheel and got the tires to grab and he rocketed forward.
An oncoming vehicle took the bend in the road too wide and crossed the center line. It looked like a new model station wagon. Towson hadn’t seen too many of those in these parts, where everybody drove a pickup or SUV.
Towson slammed the brakes and swerved right. The wagon missed him by inches. Heart in his throat, Towson heard the screech of brakes from the other vehicle and righted his cruiser. He hit the gas and through the rearview saw the wagon had nearly gone off the road too, but was now under control and had kept going.
“Fucking drunk.” Towson activated his siren and lights and gunned it. Then he had a thought. “This is Towson. Anybody sees a station wagon near Watoga, make a routine stop. Could be related to the Ketcher call.” He doubted the two were related, but being a good policeman meant being thorough.
And someone else could handle the asshole driver. He was more worried about the people residing at 225 Watoga. Especially the woman, Alice.
She was his cousin.


Towson knew from the call that this was an unknown medical emergency. A vague, almost useless classification that could apply to any number of ominous or harmless things and that 911 dispatchers used to cover all bases … and their asses.
Towson had to shout into the CB over the blaring of his siren. “You gotta give me more than an UME, Gary.”
“Possible home invasion.”
Home invasion? Towson hadn’t been expecting that. His first thought was that Anson Ketcher was up to no good again, wailing on his wife. Towson respected their pastor, but the guy was wrong to advise Alice against divorce. God might have frowned on that but Towson was pretty sure God would frown on sweet Alice being some drunk’s punching bag.
“Who called it in?” Towson asked.
“Hold on, the Chief wants to talk to you.”
The Chief was Towson’s father. He waited for his dad to come on the line.
“Son, we don’t know who called it in but we could hear screaming.”
Towson almost broke the steering wheel, he was gripping it so hard. “I’m going to kill the motherfucker if—”
“Billy! That’s enough. We don’t know what’s happened.”
“Yeah, Dad.”
“You’re going to be first on-scene. Two more units on the way, couple of minutes behind you. I don’t know what the hell’s going on there but make sure Alice is safe above all else. I don’t give a shit about Anson and nobody here is gonna blame you for having to choose between the two of them if this is a domestic dispute turning deadly. Understood?”
Towson had already thought of that. “Roger that, Dad.”
“Get her safe, wait for back-up, keep your lid on. If Anson’s somehow involved in this … we can’t afford any fuck-ups. Understood?”
Towson knew exactly what his father meant. No fuck-ups meant following the letter of the law carefully so there were no due process violations.
“I love you, son. Be careful.”
“Love you too, Dad.”
Towson shared his father’s worry. His cousin Alice was the sweetheart of their extended family. A nice girl, with the worst luck. At nine, she’d been diagnosed with epilepsy. At eighteen, she’d been in a horrible car accident that had nearly claimed her life. Some drag-racing punk had plowed into her head-on. At twenty, she’d been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that had nearly taken her as well. She’d lost forty pounds she didn’t have and sat on death’s doorstep for a month until somehow her body rallied. She’d been a bright student and shown much promise but her medical conditions always kept her from maintaining her studies for any continuous stretch.
And she had the bad habit of falling in love with the wrong guy. In high school, that was the star running back on the football team, who tested positive for steroids one time and later developed a nasty cocaine habit. He was serving five to seven for armed robbery currently. Then there was the man accused of running a low-level internet Ponzi scheme who’d fled the state before he could stand trial. He’d taken some of Alice’s money, and most of her heart.
And finally, there was Anson.
Alice and her husband had a bumpy, on-again, off-again history going back to high school, and their marriage was well-known to the local police department and had been the subject of endless local gossip. More than once, Alice had reported domestic abuse, only to later recant and retract her complaints.
So when Towson had gotten the call, he’d assumed Anson had crossed the line again.
Everybody in the family felt for Alice. She’d endured so much and managed to survive cancer. If all that had been in vain, to come to an end at the hands of a loser like Anson Ketcher ...
Towson and his father had been looking for a reason to bust Anson so Alice would be out of his reach long enough to come to her senses and leave him.
But if dispatch was correct, this wasn’t a domestic quarrel. It was a home invasion.
An unexpected visitor at this hour would have been strange, so the home invader probably hadn’t bothered with a disguise and cover story. Daytime home invaders usually pretended to be mail carriers or repairmen. It was an easy way to gain trust and push in. This guy had probably entered at some weak point in the house like the sliding glass door in the back, his weapon already drawn.
A knot formed in Towson’s stomach as he thought about it more. A home invasion was plausible. The Ketchers lived in a large, well-furnished, home that shouted money. The money came from Alice’s father, Towson’s uncle, who was a local, good old boy politician with a lot of clout and even more capital. That made Alice and her husband prime targets for burglars.
Towson had Alice’s cell phone number programmed into his. He called it, hoping to get lucky. The reception out here was shit though and the call wouldn’t connect.
A quarter mile out, Towson could see the Ketcher house. The sprawling home sat alone far off the road and was surrounded by a lot of acreage.
There was a mile of woods behind the home and a bevy of intersecting creeks. Somebody could disappear back there if they couldn’t use the road to get away.
Towson pulled into the mouth of the Ketcher’s long driveway and stood on the gas pedal. He braked to a stop in front of the garage, grabbed his shotgun, and jumped out of the car.
Towson didn’t see any unknown vehicles. Alice’s old Beamer was parked in front of the garage next to Anson’s old pickup truck.
The garage doors were closed. The invader hadn’t come in that way.
Towson rounded to the front of the house and peered through the windows as he raced to the front door. The lights downstairs were on. The front door was shut. The windows along the face of the house all looked intact.
Civilians think burglaries and home invasions are synonymous, but they’re not. Burglars don’t want homeowners to be around during a robbery. They know what they’re after, so they want to get in and out undetected.
Home invaders, on the other hand, want homeowners present so they can be shown where the expensive items are and so the safes can be opened. In a home invasion, robbers come prepared to administer violence.
The front door was open.
Towson bounded up the steps and angled his shotgun at the doorway. He didn’t hear anything.
“Alice? You in there?”
No answer.
He went in.


Towson swept his shotgun 180 degrees and back again to clear the corners of the room. No one in the foyer.
“Alice? Anson? This is Billy!”
He smelled the metallic odor of blood on the air. His heart slipped into fourth gear.
No answer.
Towson pushed through the foyer, saw nobody and heard nothing except for the whirring of the dishwasher.
Towson left the foyer and made a right into the kitchen. Spotted the shattered dishes on the floor. He rounded the island to make sure nobody was hiding then went to the den.
The couch was out of place. He could tell by the exposed indents in the rug. The entertainment center was missing its flat screen TV. The sliding glass door was cracked.
Shotgun aimed in front of him, Towson moved forward. The room was wrecked, but nobody was there.
He turned left and took the long hallway. Checked the bathroom. Empty. Kept going to the family room where Alice worked on her landscapes and portraits.
Her easel was on its side, one of her paintings face-down on the drop cloth. Next to that, Alice herself lying on her stomach.
Her head was twisted at a grotesque angle. Towson knew without even touching her that her neck had been broken.
“Alice …”
He knelt beside his cousin, went through the routine of checking her vitals even though he knew there was no point. She was dead. One eye half-open, the other swollen shut.
If it weren’t for his training, Billy would have crumbled right there. But he knew he had to clear the house and find Anson, so he went cold, professional. Went room-to-room downstairs then checked the second floor. Then doubled back down to the basement. Nobody home.
He heard the sirens in the distance and got on the walkie.
“Officer Towson on scene. Alice Ketcher is dead. Husband is not here. You’d better stop anybody driving in this area.”
He didn’t know what had happened but it sure looked like a home invasion gone bad. Maybe they’d grabbed Anson to use as leverage in case they got cornered.
He recognized Hank Grimm’s voice on the line. “I’m here, Hank.” His own voice sounded alien to him, like it was somebody else speaking.
“Billy, we picked Anson up. Coming to you.”
“What’s he saying?”

“You’re never going to believe this.”