Julie Paschen

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BiographyA founding Boulder County Fiction Writers member, Julie owns a regional publishing and marketing company that primarily publishes magazines, soft cover non-fiction books, and works with organizations seeking marketing solutions. She has degrees in media communications, marketing, business and educational leadership. Currently, her commercial fiction effort is a forensic mystery series set in Colorado. Her plots are filled with unique characters who find themselves in remote locations with, of course, a dead body on their hands.

Writing

Excerpt from:   TIWICAKTE (dee-wee-chah-kday) meaning Murder, WAKAN (wah-kahn) Mystery – BONES IN WATER

 

September Prologue

Chance Oatmony ran his one good hand through his grizzled hair as he hobbled through his garden plot in the half-light of early morning. Thirsty pumpkins grew in the south patch on his right and the three sisters – corn, beans, and squash, grew together in mounds on the north side. His pie pumpkins had sugared early because of the dry summer, their sweet creamy flesh nearly ready for roasting. The cycle of Colorado monsoons had finally come to help his garden, but the storms were late. Even though it was well into September, the greenish-black thunderclouds threatened severe weather almost every afternoon.

As Chance passed through the center of his garden he spied a pretty little pumpkin, a ghostly white Lumina, and knelt with starchy knees to collect her. He used his right hand to stretch the vine connecting her head to the mother plant, then used the same hand to take out his pocket knife and saw the girl free. White pumpkins made a creamy soup that he loved. He pressed his thumbnail against her powdery blue-veined flesh and she dimpled nicely. His Red Warty Things were getting big too. He’d need a hatchet for them, and for the orange and green striped Cinderellas with their juicy pulp. He’d keep an eye on of them now, they would ripen early, like they did the year that he’d lost his left hand.

Damn his stiff knees, it was hard as hell to stand up again. Chance had to leave the Lumina on the ground as he braced to rise with both his right hand and his stump. He planted his right foot, and pushed up, joints resisting, but he made it upright with a ‘crack’, picked up his girl by her prickly stem, and clutched her under his stump’s armpit.

The dawning sun looked like half of an orange bubble on the horizon as he crossed the remaining short grass between the garden and the rainwater cistern. The cistern tank was fifteen feet above ground on a platform of timber he’d built himself back when he’d had two good hands. Beneath the cistern he set down his pumpkin and slowly stripped off his clothes, ripping his t-shirt over his head with his hand and stepping out of his boxer shorts. The Colorado clay felt smooth under his bare feet when he pulled off his socks and walked beneath the cistern faucet. He drew a bracing breath, and opened the stopcock full.

Night-chilled water coursed over his body so forcefully his mouth gaped into a silent scream. Tears stung his eyes. The cold water numbed his skin. He started scrubbing. Compulsively scouring the stench of alcohol from his pores three times with a cake of Granny’s Lye Soap. He lathered his armpits, rubbed foam over the glassy skin of his stump, and soaped up the creases around his genitals. His skin color changed from fleshy, to crimson, to a mottled blue. He shut down the flow of cold water.

Covered in goosebumps, his body both hurt and felt better at the same time. He gathered his nightclothes in his hand and slopped away from the newly muddied spot without drying or dressing. When he returned to his cabin he realized he’d left his white pumpkin.

Chance walked through the door he’d left ajar and dropped his dirty clothes in the wash basin, closing the door behind him with his stump. His hand felt like it was still there, like he was pressing it against the wood with a fully open palm. ‘Phantom sensations’, Doc called it when he felt the hand, but he’d never gotten used to whatever it was. Since the fight and the accident that took his hand, he’d gone to work every week day, drank every weekend, and sobered every Sunday for church. When he sat in the back pew he felt guilty about what he’d done, but he never felt forgiven.

He felt sweaty and a little shaky as he stood in front of the yellowed mirror of his medicine cabinet. He shaved his graying stubble with a straight razor, torquing his lips to the right to stretch his jowl, scraping with the blade at an angle. On the flip side he nicked his throat, the angry red line oozing fresh blood. He splashed cool water on the cut and put the razor down. Some whiskers still stood in defiance but he ignored them. Instead, he uncorked a dark flask of homemade after-shave, his own brew of witch hazel and bay rum, covered the mouth of the bottle with his palm, tipped and righted, then splashed both cheeks, smearing the cauterizing liquid over his upper lip and down his neck. The witch hazel soothed his razor burn and the bay rum helped to mask smell of hard liquor that he would seep from his pores the rest of the day.

With the sun full up, Chance slipped on a tired blue suit and brushed old dandruff from his shoulders. The left sleeve was already pinned so that the cloth wouldn’t flop at the end of his stump. He smoothed his thinning hair with a pocket comb and tucked a folded white handkerchief into his breast pocket so that one corner peaked above the deep blue. His reflected image looked like hell in the mirror, but it was good enough for church.

Mild temperatures greeted him outside as he headed west along a tongue of aggregate gravel that stuck out from his cabin and licked the edge of the Weld county road. It took him a good while to walk to town, about an hour and a quarter. At the juncture with the county road he stopped to light a petition candle at the shrine he’d built in memory of his only child, a daughter who died right after she was born. He liked to think she would’ve enjoyed the gentle pink of the rosy quartz he’d used to build her shrine. He bowed his head briefly and said a quick prayer. Then he crossed over Weld County Road 61 to cut through open prairie and head for the southward bank of the Crow River.

The late summer grass was tall in some places and dormant in others. Hairy spikelets of brown buffalo grass and spiny burs of puncture vine grabbed at his legs as he tramped along. His shoes kicked up turpentine smells from the sagewort he crushed, but at last he made it to the sandy loam along the river and the going got easier. Following the water’s flow south, he had just another mile to go.

Wannabe willow tree babies and cottonwood saplings grew in thin straws along the water’s edge, but they were out of his way as he walked over the exposed soil. He covered the distance to town quickly and soon rounded the first curve in a sharp ‘S’ shaped section of river.

“What the?” he stopped when he saw it, not sure if it was real. He moved closer. As he stared, there was no mistake about what he saw sticking out of the ground. His throat tightened and his right arm throbbed. He recognized the remains of a severed human hand. It was a right hand, with skeletal fingers covered by leathery skin as black as soot. Chance rubbed his stump gently. The hand still had attached fingernails. After a moment, he pulled the handkerchief from his pocket and scooped up the hand, brushing away dirt and a leaf stems that stuck to the ragged edge of the wrist. At first he didn’t know what to do with it, then he slipped the hand into his left suit pocket and hurried toward town double quick.