Meet Will Hillis (a character sketch – Until Summer)

He wants to be kind and not feel anger all the time, but the scars run too deep.

As her older brother, Will sees himself as Meredith’s protector. He does all he can to fill the gap created by a missing father and to keep her and their little brothers safe from men who seek to harm them. So many things happen, though, that are out of his control. Still, when she gets hurt, he blames himself. It’s a burden no boy should have to carry. He loves her and she loves him, but will that stop the lies that echo in his head?

Until Summer is a story of love and hope against the darkness of trauma and addiction. You can find it on Amazon for Kindle and Kindle Unlimited and in paperback. Check out the free 3-chapter preview.

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Q&A: What is your favorite genre?

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Author Q&A: What is your favorite genre?

Science fiction. I’ve loved stories, especially stories about space and other planets, most of my life. This true whether you are talking novels or cinema. Honestly, when I was younger (middle school / high school), I did judge a book by its cover. I would go to the library or the bookstore and often select a book if it had a spaceship on the cover.

As an adult, I do more research into the book and don’t concern myself with the cover as much. 🙂

I write a lot of science fiction (if you’re interested in my works, a great place to start is my novelette Of Stars and Space available exclusive on Kindle ($0.99) and Kindle Unlimited). I also read and write general fiction / literary fiction works. So, I’m not exclusive to SciFi, but it is my favorite and has been for a long time.

How about you? What genre do you love the most? Drop a comment below. Also, if you have a question for a future Q&A about writing or books, I would love to hear it.

The Smuggler – a short story (writing prompt Wednesday)

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Here is this week’s story for Writing Prompt Wednesday (prompt at the bottom)

“Stop looking over your shoulder,” I whispered through gritted teeth.

Jon glanced forward again and down. “We’re being watched,” he replied. “Two officers, seven o’clock.”

I didn’t bother to turn. I knew better. “Gee. Wonder why?”

Jon was next in line. A Customs agent peeked up from his post and motioned him through the turnstile.

“Stay calm,” I said as Jon started toward the counter with his bag. I hated taking new recruits, especially when there was a good chance of a situation going south like it had. I couldn’t blame Jon too much. He was doing well until the blast. Now, we were only a few feet from freedom and the best payday I ever had, if only he could play it chill.

The agent was about to stamp Jon’s passport when one of the officers approached. Great. I felt a towering presence. Behind me stood another officer, at least a foot taller than me.

“Pardon me, sir, but I need you to come with me.”

I smirked.

A few minutes later, we sat in a cold room at a metal table that held our bags. The officers hadn’t handcuffed us, but the tall one stood at the door with his arms crossed. His body language made it clear that we would not be leaving soon. I glanced at the clock above the door. It took eight minutes until another man stepped into the room, wearing a white button-down shirt and black tie. A badge rested on one hip and a gun on the other.

He tossed my passport onto the table. “Mr. Benjamin Anderson.”

“That’s me.”

He did the same with Jon’s. “Mr. Jonathon Warhol.”

Jon gulped and nodded.

“Why you nervous, kid?”

“I… Because… I…”

“He suffers from chronic anxiety,” I said.

“I didn’t ask you, Mr. Anderson.” The man didn’t press Jon further, though. Instead, he turned toward me. “Brazil is a restricted country.”

“Restricted,” I replied, “but not illegal.”

“You travel there often.”

“I love the culture.”

“Mmm. And the purpose of your trip?”

“I’m part of an organization that works with an orphanage in Guarulhos. I have paperwork to…”

“I’ve seen your paperwork.”

“Then, might I ask, why are we being detained?”

The man, who had yet to share his name, narrowed his eyes. “You and Mr. Warhol checked out of a hotel in Guarulhos shortly after an explosion nearby.”

I nodded. “It was very chaotic. We were fortunate to make it to the airport in time. I haven’t seen much news. Were many people hurt?”

“Yes. Five were killed.”

“That’s tragic.”

The man grunted. “We’re going to search your bags.”

I shrugged. “Go ahead. We didn’t have an opportunity to wash our clothes, so you might want to be careful.”

Jon fidgeted, but I leaned back and folded my arms as the tall officer approached and opened our luggage. He removed our clothing, felt around the inside of the case, and called for another agent with a dog. The dog ignored our suitcases but whined and scratched at Jon’s clothing. The officers then unfolded every item and searched through the pockets, but all they found was a pack of chewing gum. It was a waste of our time and theirs.

The man in the tie didn’t look happy. “You may go. Sorry for any inconvenience.”

I grinned as I repacked my case. “Always a pleasure.”

As we headed for the airport’s exit, I texted an unspecified number in my phone that we were ready for our ride. A red minivan met us on the loop outside the terminal. Jon didn’t say much, but I chatted with the driver. Her name was Samantha. Of everyone I knew, she was the fastest through the busy streets of Chicago.

Our destination was an office building three blocks south of Willis Tower. Samantha dropped us off outside, and a man named Bryan greeted us and escorted us to the fourth floor. We sat in another room with our bags on the table, but this room was well-lit and cozy. I prided myself on having nice furniture at home, but these chairs put mine to shame.

We didn’t have to wait long before Robert Reynolds, a chunky man who I was sure slept in a three-piece suit, entered with a big grin. “Another successful run?” he asked as he keyed a special code on the locks of our luggage.

“We had a few problems.”

“I heard.”

“Our contact was compromised.”

“But you took care of her?”

“Of course. There was unfortunate collateral, but we weren’t seen.”

“Good. We’ll have to find a new location, though. Guarulhos isn’t safe for us anymore.”

I nodded but sighed. “Understandable. I’ll miss it. I love the nightlife there.”

“How were these new cases?”

“The dogs didn’t even find anything.”

“Good. Good.” He popped open the case, but instead of clothes, there were rows of tiny brown bags. Robert’s smile grew even larger. “Beautiful.” He tossed me a bag. “Here’s your cut.” He then glanced at Jon. “How’d my nephew do?”

“He’s not going to work out.”

“What?” Jon whipped his head toward me.

“Sorry, kid,” I said. “You’re the reason we were stopped by Customs.”

“That’s too bad.” Robert snapped his fingers.

“But…”

A large man grabbed the front of Jon’s shirt and lifted him from the chair. Jon protested and begged as tears filled his eyes. The large man was undeterred in dragging him from the room. I knew better than to ask what would become of Jon.

Robert tossed me another bag. “You get his as well.” He then motioned for a woman who held a smaller case. She set it on the table and opened the lid. Leaning forward with a grin, I thumbed through stacks of one-hundred-dollar bills. “Go buy you and the Missus a nice steak.”

“The nicest,” I replied.

It was after dark when I made it home to Bourbonnais. The lights were off. It didn’t surprise me that Jacquie and Matthew were in bed. My wife worked early, and Matthew had preschool. I set one of the bags Robert gave me on the kitchen table along with the case of money. I took the other bag to the counter, ripped it open, and inhaled the aroma. Measuring two tablespoons, I hit the button to start the machine.

Soft footsteps crossed the wood floor behind me.

“Hey, babe,” I said and turned. My toothy smile faded as I saw Jacquie with a gun pointed at my chest. Tears flooded her cheeks. “What are you doing?”

“I’m sorry, Bennie. I already called the police.”

“Why would you do that?” I asked.

Her hands trembled. With her finger on the trigger, that worried me more than Jon’s anxiety.

“I saw on the news,” she said as she sniffed. “The explosion… I can’t…” She bit her lip. “I can’t do this anymore. That’s blood on my hands if I do nothing.”

I heard sirens and sighed. Then, I chuckled. “You remember our first date? We went to that little café in Evanston. I introduced you to blonde roast. You said it was the best coffee you ever drank. It was a year later when President O’Brien issued that executive order making coffee illegal. He never should have done that, but look around, babe. That decision drove up the prices, and my work is why we can afford this house and Matthew’s private school and that favorite necklace of yours.”

The sirens cut off, but red and blue lights flashed through our windows. Jacquie lowered the gun, took a seat, and sobbed as fists pounded on our front door.

“ATCF, open up!”

The door flew open, and agents rushed in. I held up my hands and lowered myself to my knees.

“I love you, Jacquie. I always will. Tell Matthew that daddy loves him. Take care of our boy.”

The coffeemaker dinged.

The government would cut me a deal. If I named names and agreed to testify, I’d only serve twenty-five years.

But as officers handcuffed me on my kitchen floor, I knew what my arrest meant. I inhaled the deepest breath I could. I loved the fragrance of coffee. Sadly, though, I had drunk my last cup.

Today’s prompt is from: https://www.writtenwordmedia.com/500-writing-prompts-to-help-beat-writers-doubt/#5

Coffee is illegal and you have to single handedly smuggle it into the country.

Meet Gary Westmorland (a character sketch – Gary and Collin vs. The Interdimensional Aliens)

When you live in a town as small as Smithville, sometimes your last name means people don’t give you much of a chance.

Gary Westmorland is a good kid who tries to avoid trouble (though there was that fire alarm incident). The problem is, everyone knows his dad is Bryce Westmorland, a man who can’t seem to stay out of trouble. When people look at 10-year-old Gary, instead of seeing a boy who tries his best, they see trouble waiting to happen.

Everything is about to change, though, when an alien named Martin shows up and asks Gary the question: “Come on, kid. You want to save the world or not?”

Adventure follows as Gary, his cousin Collin, and their new friend Martin set out to stop Mavis, an evil alien from another dimension, and her hoard of dragons. Gary will soon learn that he is the only one who can wield the weapon that will stop Mavis from taking over our universe, but fear and self-doubt threaten to stop him.

Gary and Collin vs. The Interdimensional Aliens is a story of overcoming fear and finding strength in reliance on others. You can sample the first chapter by clicking here, or purchase the book on Amazon for Kindle, Kindle Unlimited, or Paperback: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08J3TDVX1.

You can now follow me on Facebook: facebook.com/bergmanwrites

Q&A: What authors are your favorite?

Author Q&A: Who have been your favorite authors as an adult?

Michael Crichton. When I was a teenager, Crichton was at the height of his popularity. I enjoyed reading many of his books, especially those with more of a SciFi flair. That carried into adulthood. Unfortunately, he passed away a few years ago but the books his estate has released since his death have been fun to read too.

CS Lewis. I didn’t read Narnia until I was in college, but I love the stories Lewis tells in that collection, as well as his Space Trilogy. Till We Have Faces is probably my favorite work among his fiction. I have also benefited greatly in my spiritual life from his non-fiction.

Ray Bradbury. I read Fahrenheit 451 as a high school assignment, and picked up Something Wicked This Way Comes on my own soon after. As an adult, though, I’ve come to enjoy his short story collections such as The Martian Chronicles (which inspired a work of my own called Of Stars and Space) and The Illustrated Man.

Fredrik Backman. I think Beartown may have been the first Backman book I read, then I went back and picked up some of his “older” writings like A Man Called Ove. There is something about his storytelling and style that resonates with me. He is on the short list of authors from whom I will purchase a new book without even reading the description.

How about you? Who have been some of your favorite authors? Drop a comment below. Also, if you have a question for a future Q&A about writing or books, I would love to hear it.

The Supervillain’s Song (Writing Prompt Wednesday)

I found this prompt from a defunct page on Tumbler. There wasn’t a link or attribution, so I don’t know who it originates with. If you know, I’d love to hear to I can give credit! Prompt: Tell the story of why a supervillain sings a song in the shower to get prepared for the day.

Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.

“Richard.”

Beep. Beep.

“Richard!”

“Hmm?”

“Your alarm, babe.”

“Oh.” Beep. Beep. Bee… “Thanks.”

I watched from the doorway as my husband sat up on the side of the bed and stretched. For ten years, he and I have been married. For ten years, I have returned to the room to wake him after he slept through the alarm. I’m not sure why he even uses one.

But Richard Barnhart, if nothing else, is a man of habit.

“Coffee’s brewing.”

He cocked his head and grinned, gazing at me through squinty eyes. I blushed. My sister told me before I married Richard and every week since, “You could do better, Janie, you really could.”

Maybe Richard struggled with work and sometimes went days without showering. He could be a bit quirky, but he was also charming. That goofy grin and his sweet words melted my heart. When he made me mad, I couldn’t stay angry long.

And Richard Barnhart, if nothing else, is a man of commitment.

That’s hard to find nowadays, but he loves me, and he loves our son, and not once have I had a doubt about that.

“I’m making muffins,” I said. “Do you want eggs or sausage?”

“Eggs, please.”

I smiled and blew him a kiss. He returned the gesture.

Jonathon, our seven-year-old, sat at the kitchen table. It was Monday. Jonathon, without fail, asked for blueberry muffins on Mondays. They were my favorite breakfast, so I was happy to oblige. He drew on a sheet of paper with colored pencil—a scene with tall buildings, a bright yellow sun, and two men fighting in the street. One wore a brownish-gray guise that resembled an armadillo. The other sported black tights, a matching cape, and a purple mask. He held a laser gun of some kind that fired at the armadillo.

“Who wins?” I asked.

Jonathon glanced up, grinning from ear-to-ear. It was his father’s grin, that same charm. “The Darth Avenger, of course!”

“Of course.” I chuckled and patted his shoulder before I grabbed an egg and a frying pan.

The pipes clanked as Richard showered. It wouldn’t be too long before we heard his voice echoing through the walls. He sang the same song every day.

I love my husband, but Richard Barnhart, if nothing else, is a man who cannot carry a tune.

Still, he belted: “Woah, we’re halfway there! Wo-oah, livin’ on a prayer! Take my hand; we’ll make it, I swear. Wo-oah livin’ on a prayer! Livin’ on a prayer!”

Jonathon used to ask why daddy sang the same song every day. I would smile and tell him that it was our song. We often struggled to pay the bills. It frustrated Richard, but the song reminded us that we had the most important thing already.

He finished his shower. I pulled the muffins from the oven and slid the egg onto his plate. Richard emerged from the bedroom wearing a black Spandex suit with a matching cape. “This looks awesome, hon,” he said as he kissed my cheek and grabbed his plate and coffee. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” I beamed, but my grin quickly faded. I pointed to the growing stack of bills on the counter. “Several of those are second notices.”

He nodded. “I know. I have a bank job today. That should take care of the pile and the next month’s.”

“What if the Amazing Armadillo shows up?”

“I got that covered.” Richard glanced at Jonathon. “Isn’t that right, son?”

“Yeah!” Jonathon’s eyes grew big. “Dad has a new shrink ray!”

“Is that what you’re drawing?” I asked.

Jonathon nodded.

“Okay.” I placed my hand on Richard’s chest. “Just be careful.”

“Always am.” We kissed. “Love you, hon.” Richard pulled on his purple mask and headed for the door, singing as he walked. “Oh, we’ve got to hold on, ready or not. You live for the fight when it’s all that you got!”

Richard Barnhart, if nothing else, is a man of hope.

Photo cred: unsplash.com/@peterlaster