Sunday, January 27, 2013

Chapter 1: Seven Minutes Later

She frantically runs around the house gathering the important things. The sound of many horses hooves draw ominously closer. The man says, “Hurry! You must hurry!”

Dressed in 19th century garb, she is soaked from head to toe from the deluge outside. “I am almost done,” she replies frantically. “How close are they?”

“They are near!” He sweats profusely as he carries the hastily packed bags to the wagon. “You do not have time for much more.” He places a lever-action rifle next to the driver’s seat.

“I know! I know! I am almost done.” She slams the cupboard shut and throws her mortar and pestle in an open bag. “Where is the book?” she asks for the tenth time.

Lightening splits the sky and an ominous crack of thunder quickly follows “Already in the wagon with the amulet. Hurry!”

“Alright, I think that is all of it.” She quickly surveys the room for any forgotten items. Clothes that wouldn’t fit in the bag hang haphazardly out of the open drawer of the oak bureau. Dishes are scattered around the sink, some clean, some recently used. It was clear the occupant had been in a hurry.

He leads her out to the waiting wagon and pats the horses’ noses, “I will create a diversion while you make your retreat.” He pulls her into an embrace, likely their last. “I will miss you.” A tear rolls down his cheek and mixes with the rainwater. “I love you.”

They kiss in the torrent for the last time. “I love you too.” The sound of hoof beats is deafening. She mounts the wagon. “Come find me when it is safe!” she calls over her shoulder. He does not hear because he has already disappeared around the corner on his way to stall the posse. She picks up the reigns and calls to the horses. The wagon heads west under the angry midnight sky. When she reaches the tree line at the end of the family property, she looks over her shoulder and sees the night illuminated by fire, which was undoubtedly her burning house. She hopes her lover got away safely from the posse.

Jenna Sims awoke and shook her head, trying to clear the cobwebs left by The Dream. The Dream never really seemed like a dream at all. Instead, it felt more like a distant memory  brought forth while she slept. She doesn’t know the man or the woman, but in The Dream it she watches the woman from afar and is the woman at the same time. She propped herself up on a pillow. Jenna knew The Dream did mean one thing though; something significant was about to occur in her life.

She looked at Randy sleeping next to her. The last iteration of The Dream was three days before they met. She thought back to that weekend in early December. It was close to the end of her first term at school and socialization was not at the top of her list. A classmate was having a Christmas party and invited Jenna, but she didn’t want to go.  School had been the top priority since starting at the Art Institute, and final exams were approaching, so she needed to study. One of her friends convinced her to go, “After all, it’s almost Christmas break,” she told Jenna.

After a fair amount of cajoling, Jenna finally agreed to give the homework a break and go to the party. Upon arrival, she made the perfunctory greetings to classmates she knew, then pulled a Bud Light from the cooler and took a post by the snack table, near the artichoke dip. After some people watching, she began to wonder why she came to the party rather than studying, as she should be doing. She closed in for more carrot sticks and dip and, when backing away from the table, ran straight in to Randy, spilling beer down his front side. Embarrassed, Jenna turned to apologize and her hands began tingling the instant she saw him. Randy Yarborough stood a few inches shy of six feet with sandy-brown hair that he kept parted on the side. The stubble of a beard covered his angular face and his brown eyes projected an air of boyish trustworthiness.

Randy also felt an electric attraction when the short, raven-haired klutz turned to him. She stood a little over five feet tall with jet-black hair, cut just below the neckline. Her high cheekbones and velvet skin gave her a natural beauty that required little makeup, which suited her fine. He couldn’t get past her deep emerald-green eyes though, which were like magnets that wouldn’t allow him to release his gaze. Her eyes locked with his for a brief second as well, and there seemed to be an understanding between the two of them in that moment. Once the moment was over, Jenna realized that she had run into him and switched back to embarrassed. Red-faced and hands still buzzing, she apologized profusely. He told her it was all right and asked her name. Mortified, she continued asking for forgiveness, so he said she could buy him another beer if would make her feel better. They both laughed and the tension from her gaffe dissipated like a heavy fog lifting. They ended up talking for the rest of the party and did not notice all the other guests had left, until late in the night when the host told them it was time to go. They walked to a nearby all-night diner for coffee and dessert and talked till dawn. They parted for their respective homes with a plan to meet for dinner and had been together ever since. The Dream revealed to Jenna when she had met her soul mate. She wondered when he would come to the same realization so they could make it permanent.

She questioned what The Dream could mean this time. It seemed premature to be foreshadowing her graduation from the culianry arts program at the Art Institute, which was still a month-and-a-half away. Still she thought, it has been a long almost-two years. Maybe the dream surfaced because she was so excited about finishing school and embarking on her career at last. The approaching graduation finally felt real when she registered for her last term, needing only two more classes to graduate. Maybe the dream meant she should submit her application to the Full Moon Steakhouse, her dream job.

Her pondering ended as Randy stirred next to her. “Good morning.” She smiled at her soul mate. Randy replied with a still-tired grunt. He worked as a warehouse supervisor at Net Sales, a full-service online shopping company in Seattle. The night prior, he had to work late because one of the automated product fetching machines broke down, forcing manual product retrieval and machine repair to occur simultaneously. An ‘all hands’ situation. “How are you?” he asked once he could open his eyes.

“Fine I think,” she replied. “I had The Dream last night.”

This woke Randy up. Jenna told him about The Dream and its significance. He knew she had dreamt it a few days before they met, but never since they had been together. He remembered her telling him that she had also dreamt the night before her grandmother died two years prior. “What do you think it means? Maybe it has to do with your graduation.” He had been holding down the fort while she attended school and was ready to pass the torch, or at least get some help carrying it.

“Over the years I have learned that it means what it means, and I try not to speculate.” That was not entirely true she thought. She always tried to guess and was rarely right. She just did not want to voice that to Randy.

“Well maybe it means we’re going to win the lotto,” he said, trying to lighten the mood. “I’ll pick up a ticket today.” Randy tried to shrug off the apprehension, but he knew she put a lot of stock in The Dream and wholeheartedly believed that it was the sign of significant event that was coming in her, in their lives.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Prologue: Bitter Premonition

This was it. Spring break of Jenna Sims' senior year was just around the corner, and she didn't intend to waste it. After all, this would be one of the last bits of freedom she would be able to enjoy before life's responsibilities-like college,work, a boyfriend/husband, etcetera-came rushing full force on the heels of high school. As of late, thoughts of the future weighed heavily on Jenna's mind and she looked forward to a reprieve in the form of a spring break camping trip with her best friends: Veronica Waters, Anna Starr, and Jessica Dalton.

Jenna felt like a square-peg in a round-hole world throughout most of her school years, which made it difficult to bond with anyone, but this unlikely set of friends accepted her as-is, with no questions asked. To outsiders, rather than looking like a tightly knit caste of friends, the four resembled more of a random group of misfits who banded together against the ills of the world. Veronica always had her nose in a book and preferred the fantasy genre that described adventures of fairies, dragons, and the likes. The artist, Anna, saw things as they were and tended to draw her world with charcoal in black and white.Jessica, the motor-head, loved anything with wheels and an engine, which meant she could usually be found in or under her Jeep, or carving trails on her dirt bike. Jenna completed the quartet and loved experimenting with culinary inventions in the kitchen. Although each of their individual interests seemed vastly different from the others', their diverse personalities meshed perfectly creating harmony and formed an inseparable bond between the four of them.

Each girl looked forward to the camping trip with anticipation and talked about it incessantly for weeks prior to the break. All four members of the group agreed three days at Lake Easton campground, which was just on the other side of the pass, would be the respite needed to regroup before the end-of-year push. Although the plan was for each to provide a meal or two during the outing, Jenna volunteered to do a lion's share of the cooking. The thought of testing her culinary skills in a primitive setting excited her and she had ideas of things with which she would like to experiment.

At last, finals were over and teacher conferences were done, marking the start of spring break. The quartet planned to leave bright and early at 10:00 am Monday,well, bright and early in high school girl-think. They took the weekend to prepare by gathering and packing equipment, and shopping for provisions and sustenance items they would need during the trip. Jenna spent the better part of Saturday afternoon at the supermarket squeezing tomatoes, sniffing melons, and examining the wide selection of cheeses to find the right compliment for her planned menu items. She returned home with five overstuffed grocery bags and began the process of separating the various items into piles for each of the intended menu dishes to ensure nothing had been forgotten.

Sunday morning, Jenna searched the garage for elusive camping equipment, none of which was where she thought is should be. She was thankful that Aunt Donna took the day off because she needed help finding all the gear, and she swore it would be stored in one location upon the completion of the trip. Aunt Donna raised Jenna since the age of three after the death of her own mother. Donna didn't mind providing help because she enjoyed the time with Jenna and knew it would not be long until she was ready to spread her wings and fly from the nest. Finally, with a little perspiration and a lot of dust, all the gear was located and packed. Jenna finished preparations by putting the food into a plastic bin for ease of transport. She called the other girls to make sure they had everything they would need, and reminded them to pack for sunburn-hot and blizzard conditions because the unpredictable Northwest spring can produce either, sometimes in the same day.

With all the readying done, Jenna was tired but excited by the end of the day. After a particularly grueling yawning session, she told Veronica she had to get some rest and hung up the phone. She quickly did her nighttime routine and jumped into bed. Although exhausted, Jenna had a hard time falling asleep due to the multitude of lists she mentally checked and double-checked to ensure she had not forgotten anything for the trip. Slumber finally found her around 2:00 in the morning and shortly thereafter, The Dream began. In The Dream, Jenna could see a woman, yet Jenna was the woman at the same time. She scurried around the house gathering things of importance. Garbed in mid-nineteenth century clothes,the woman was frantic about an impending danger. She had to pack quickly because they were coming. Jenna didn't know who they were, but was sure they wanted to hurt her. Jenna twitched in her sleep while The Dream played out.Hasty packing complete, the woman fled from harm's way on a wagon drawn by two horses. Jenna bolted awake just after the woman turned to see her house ablaze in the distance as she made her escape.

The Dream was always the same. She always saw the woman, who was her at the same time, frantically packing. She watched the woman load and mount the horse-drawn wagon. Although she was always terrified in The Dream, the people who wanted to hurt her never reached the woman. Sometimes Jenna woke before seeing the burning house, but The Dream never went beyond the woman turning to see the night sky aglow from the fire of her home in the distance after her decampment.Some might consider The Dream a recurring nightmare, but it did not occur frequently enough to earn the clinical title of 'recurring'. However, what The Dream did do is always foreshadow a significant event in Jenna's life. The first time she remembered having The Dream was at three years old, a few days before her mother died. Since then, Jenna dreamt it a few other times preceding influential occurrences in her life, but The Dream never delineated between positive or negative experiences, it simply meant that something important would happen soon. Over time, Jenna learned to keep her guard up once The Dream reappeared.

She sat up in bed. Crap! she thought.Through the window, she could see the sun hinting its ascent from behind the horizon with the promise of a perfect Northwestern spring day. This can't be. I've been looking forward to this trip for weeks. Although The Dream was not specific regarding the event, Jenna's initial gut feeling was that the danger was associated with the camping trip. This assumption raised several questions though: Was she the only one in peril or did it extend to the group? Did the danger lie in cancelling her plans or could the hazard be avoided by going on the trip? What about Aunt Donna? Would she be all right without Jenna staying home? These were exactly the type of questions she hated after The Dream occurred. The Dream was a major contributing factor to the reason she felt square-peggish, and often felt it would be better not knowing something was on the horizon, like real people.Instead, she was given a gift in the form of a clue that something important was imminent but with no context. With little context anyway, since she always received a tingling feeling in her hands when the crossroad introduced by The Dream was reached. Yet, the tingling still did not give any indication of the best course of action to take or whether she should do anything at all, they just felt prickly announcing the situation was at hand.

Jenna donned her robe and walked down the hall to Aunt Donna's room. She gently rapped on the door, "Aunt Donna, I have a problem." No response. A little louder, "Aunt Donna?"

Donna was not a morning person and, after a few unflattering snorts, sleepily replied, "Wha...?"

"I have a problem," Jenna bit her bottom lip, which she did when she was unsure of herself.

"Yes Dear. What is it?"

"I...Ihad The Dream last night."

"Oh no." Donna was not a big fan of The Dream either because of its ambiguity."So what are you thinking?" Donna was fully awake.

"I don't know." Jenna was almost in tears. "I hate The Dream. It's impossible to worry about everything, to guess what it could possibly mean," frustrated tears rolled down her cheeks.

Donna pulled her in for a hug and tried to give comfort, "I know. It seems impossible."

"The worst of it is that I always worry it could mean I might lose someone I love,like with mom." She cried in earnest.

"I know," she stroked Jenna's hair, "It's frustrating. Let's go make some coffee and think this through." Donna had to get all the neurons firing if she was going to be any help.

A couple of cups of coffee later, they sat at the kitchen table trying to figure out what to do. Jenna was torn between going on the camping trip to protect her friends at the outing or staying home to protect Donna. Another option was to scrub the trip altogether if she could get the other girls to agree. She tried to think of a way to tell the others they should cancel without sounding freakish or paranoid.

The sun had fully risen revealing a bright blue, cloudless spring sky, a Northwest rarity, meaning Jenna only had about two hours before the girls would arrive to pick her up. Donna tried to get her to eat some toast but she was not hungry. A sickening knot had settled in the pit of Jenna’s stomach as she went through the motions of preparing for the day. She cried out of frustration in the shower because she had no idea what she should do, but a decision had to be made soon. She got dressed and still hadn't decided what she would do, if anything.

Jenna was in a somber mood as sat on the front porch waiting for the girls to show up. The sun felt good on her face but did little for her churning stomach.After a bit, she could hear the rumble of Jessica's Jeep and she watched it turn the corner onto her block. As soon as it was in full sight, the tingling in her hands began.

The closer the girls got to Jenna's house, the more intense the tingling in her hands grew. By the time the Jeep reached the driveway, Jenna felt as if her hands were physically buzzing. It was at that moment that she decided to go with the gut feeling that had been building in stomach all morning; she had to convince the others to cancel the trip.

Jessica turned off the ignition. "Where's your stuff?"

Jenna stammered, "Um...uhh...we have to...umm...a change of plans."Regardless of their friendship, she hadn't the foggiest idea how she should phrase her plea so she didn't come off like a crackpot.

"What?" Anna asked.

"We can't go." Jenna thought it best just to get it out there.

Anna repeated her question, "What?"

"Yeah, what are you talking about?" Jessica added.

"Something bad is going to happen. I can feel it. We should do something else," Jenna pleaded.

Veronica put down her book and joined the conversation. "Something bad? What makes you say that?"

"What do you think is going to happen? And how is it that you think you know this?" Anna said.

Jenna had never revealed The Dream and its significance to her friends. She also thought this was a terrible time to tell them. It was hard for her to think though because her hands felt like they were plugged into an electrical socket.She had to do something and do it now. "I had a dream, a err...a special dream. I have this same dream any time something big is about to happen in my life.It has never been wrong."

"A dream? A freakin’ dream? Like a Final Destination dream? You know that is only a movie right?" Jessica was skeptical. "It was only a dream girly, go get your stuff."

"What's really going on Jenna?" Veronica asked. "You wanted this break as much as the rest of us and now you're changing your mind?"

“I really don’t think we should go,” Jenna was committed now. “Look, you can be mad at me or hate me or think I’m a creep,” she was sure her shuddering hands were audible by now, “but I know something terrible will happen if we go on the trip.”  Tears rolled down her cheeks, “Please don’t go. I’m not going.” The instant she announced her decision, the hand tremors ceased. She stood in the driveway looking at her friends, who were all looking back at her incredulously.

Jessica broke the silence. "This is crap. Don't go then Jenna. We will tell you all about it when we get back and nothing happens to us," she punctuated the statement by waving her hands over her head, and then turned to the other two, "Let's get out of here."

Veronica, forever the glue of the group, said, "Hold on Jessica. Maybe we should talk about this and figure out what's going on."

Jessica replied, "Stay and talk if you want. I'm going camping." She got in the Jeep.

Anna looked worried, as if she half-believed the premonition. Jenna caught her eyes and mouthed, "Don't go," to which Anna replied with a shrug, as if she had no choice.

Veronica was sympathetic, but yielded to the group’s unofficial leader, "Sorry Jenna," she said and ran for the Jeep.

Jessica started the Jeep and backed out of the driveway. She stopped in the road and turned to Jenna, "Last chance."

Jenna only shook her head no and emitted a feeble, "Please..."

Jessica responded by dumping the clutch and speeding off. They left Jenna sobbing in the driveway, wishing she had been able to stop them, and dreading the next few days when whatever was going to happen happened.

Jenna stood in the driveway for a long time just crying and staring at the tire marks the Jeep left in the road. She hoped the gut feeling that had enveloped her stomach all morning had been wrong. She didn't want the last memory of her friends to be that of an argument where she tried, unsuccessfully, to discourage them from going on a trip that was months in the making. Second guessing took over her mind. I should have done more, laid it all on the line. Or I should have stood behind the Jeep and physically stopped them from going. Not knowing what else to do, she finally went back into the house to figure out how to occupy her week.

Since the time off for the trip had already been granted from The Perk, where she was a barista, Jenna's manager had already filled the schedule and couldn't give her any hours. That left only two options; stay home and sulk or go and help out at Aunt Donna's bookstore. The latter seemed the better choice. Interacting with other people would occupy her mind infinitely better than watching endless hours of mindless television and allowing her thoughts to run free, inventing multitudes of scenarios of what could go wrong for her three friends during the trip. Although the four days at the bookstore passed quickly, the camping girls were never far from Jenna's mind, but with each passing day allowed her to relax a bit more. Maybe the dream wasn't about the camping trip at all, the thought of which gave Jenna chills because that meant The Dream foreshadowed a different event.

On Thursday, Jenna left the bookstore in the early afternoon because it was a nice day and she felt like cooking. She still had all the groceries meant for the trip and hated to see them go to waste, so she headed home with a sweet and spicy edamame-beef stir-fry recipe in mind. While she was cutting the yellow bell peppers into strips for the mixture, her hands began tingling wildly.Within seconds, the phone rang. Jenna immediately knew what the call was about.

"Hello?" she said reluctantly into the receiver.

Mrs.Dalton's weary voice was on the other end, "Jenna?"


"This is Jessica's mom," she paused to sob. "There's been an accident..."

"Mrs.Dalton, no..." Jenna didn't want to hear the rest, but she already knew.

"It was a drunk driver. He hit the girls head-on while they were on their way home,"she struggled against the urge to cry. "None of them..."Jessica's mom fell into sobs and couldn't finish the sentence.

"Oh my God! I'm so sorry," Jenna fought to maintain control herself.

"I just thought you should know..." She didn't wait for an answer before hanging up the phone.

Jenna held the receiver for a long time until the shrill REET, REET, REET reminded her the handset was out of its cradle.She looked at the tear-blurred phone in her hand as if it was the first time she had ever seen one. The shock numbed all of her senses and it sounded as ifthe noise came from another room or even across the street. It didn't matter at the moment because her friends were gone, not just gone, but also stolen from her. She hung up the phone and the mental inquisition started. Why the hell didn't they listen? What good is The stupid Dream if it can’t be used to help people, especially loved ones?Why them and not me? How will I go on without them?

The next few days passed slowly but in a blur. The weather turned to the typical Northwest grey of spring, which seemed appropriate for the girls’ funerals and perfectly matched Jenna's state of mind. One thing Jenna wondered, once she was thinking clearly again, was why Jessica’s mother called her when she found out about the accident; how she knew Jenna was not with the rest of her friends on the camping trip. At the funeral, she asked Mrs. Dalton how she knew to call.Mrs. Dalton told Jenna that Jessica called when they arrived at the campsite to let her know they had made it safely. She told her mother that Jenna had changed her mind and decided not to go. Jenna did not press the matter further,but hoped that Jessica had not relayed how she tried to convince the others to cancel the trip. Jenna didn't want Jessica's mother to have to live with that burden.

The rest of the school year was spent in a grey haze, similar to the drizzly Seattle springtime, and Jenna simply went through the motions, surviving day-to-day. She did what was necessary at school to make it to graduation. She also worked as many hours at The Perk as her manager would allow, just to keep her occupied. She helped out at the bookstore on her days off. All because she didn’t want idle time to think about how unfair it was for some drunken idiot to rob three girls of their existence, especially when they were only beginning to blossom. The thought of the injustice made Jenna’s blood boil. Worse yet, he was virtually unscathed from the accident. “Just a few scratches,” they said.“He was very lucky,” they said. Jenna didn’t call it luck though, instead she thought of it as a travesty of the natural order. She did her best to keep it pushed to the back of her mind so she could merely function.

Time passed and graduation day came. Veronica, Anna, and, Jessica were the only students from the graduating class who died. Their smiling pictures were shown and favorite music played in tribute at the ceremony, which served only to tear the scab from Jenna’s heart that had only recently begun to form, and she was painfully reminded how empty she felt without them. Around graduation time,Christopher Stark was standing trial for driving under the influence and three counts of vehicular homicide. Although Jenna knew she couldn’t handle being present in the actual courtroom, she did pay close attention to news coverage of the trial. The image of the three girls' parents’ reaction in the courtroom would be forever burned into Jenna’s mind, when the judge announced the sentence of five years probation for the crimes. As it turned out, one of Stark's relatives was a detective or something and pulled some strings to get his sentence lightened. This is not right! she thought. How can he walk free when my friends never had the chance to plead their case; to tell a jury why they should be allowed to live? Jenna was repulsed and thought it unacceptable.A sickening knot of rage grew in her stomach. She silently vowed that someday;somehow, the deaths of Veronica Waters, Anna Starr, and Jessica Dalton would be avenged.

The Players

      Cooking Athanasia is the book I have been working on for the past year or so. I decided it was time to introduce it to the world, so I created this blog. Many of you have already seen the prologue from the book, which was the Bitter Premonition story in my Reality Check blog. I will post it in its entirety in another post for whose who may have missed it. I also thought this might be a good opportunity to introduce some of characters from the book, so without further ado:

  • Jenna Sims: You met her at the end of her high school years in the prologue. She is a 24 year old culinary arts college student and she has a hidden secret so clandestine, even she doesn't know about it.

  • Randy Yarborough: Jenna's live-in boyfriend. He is a manager at a full service online shopping company and willing guinea pig for testing Jenna's homework.  

  • Aunt Donna: Raised Jenna after the death of her own mother, Donna's sister. She is the owner of The New Age Enlightened bookstore. 

  • Scott Kennison: He is a marketing representative for PH Cosmetics, based in San Francisco. He possesses an equal passion for gaming tables and whiskey.

  • Kelly Elias: She is the Marketing Director at PH Cosmetics and Scott's boss. She hates the world because she thinks it unfair that she alone is saddled with the burden of righteousness.

     There are a few more players who will be revealed in the following weeks as I post the first few chapters from the book. Next week will be Chapter 1.

Thanks for reading!