Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Marvelous Tale of Agatha Jones, Wonder-Chef of Whitby

Written and Illustrated By Stephanie Mesler

Part Six
Published September 21, 2014 (c) Stephanie Mesler

Agatha’s Kitchen was closed for thirteen days following her son’s birth.  Ag spent those thirteen days adoring her boy and wondering how anyone could think any child too demanding or too finicky.  Her boy, Jems as she had already started calling him, was the most good-natured and beautiful being on Earth.  From the day he was born, Jems slept through the nights, never once waking to be fed or changed.  Each morning, it was the sun peeking through her shutters that awakened Ag from the most restful sleep she ever had.  She would roll over to check on Jems, who slept in a bassinet beside his mother.  Each morning, she would find him laying there, smiling, just waiting for his mama to wake up.  Then he would happily submit to the morning routine, which included feeding, a bath, clean diaper and clothes.  Then, the boy would lay quietly on a blanket beside his mother while she read a collection of poems she had always loved.  

Somewhere around mid-morning, Nancy Carvewhinkle would arrive at Ag’s home to marvel at how rested the new mother appeared and to see what help she could be, always expecting to find some level of chaos in the home of the widowed mother of a newborn who eschewed the hiring of servants. Ag's home never was chaotic though.. Somehow, the dishes were always washed and the floors neatly swept.  There was never a lack of food in the pantries or ice box. The new mother was calm, collected and seemingly without any need of assistance with the new babe. It all seemed to come easily to Agatha Jones.  

Mrs. Carvewhinkle was happy to see such smooth sailing in the life of this woman and happy to be allowed just to hold wee Jems for a couple of hours each day while his mother cooked, because other than the days of the labor and birth, Agatha never missed a day at her stove.  She took advantage of the days Agatha’s Kitchen was closed to try out new recipes.  There was a butter bean and rosemary pie Mr. Carvewhinkle said was the best meal he’d ever eaten that did not contain meat; also a tomato tart topped with the mildest of smooth white cheeses, served hot with yeasty rolls and braised beef; there was steamed salmon over rice with broccoli, all topped with a creamy pink sauce.  There were new deserts too, the best of which was rosewater ice cream that brought tears to Winey Whybrew’s eyes. 

“You have a real gift,” she said to the cook.  “You are a real chef, a great wonder.”  

“Why thank you, “ said Ag, touched by the woman’s kind words.  

“Seems to me,” continued the midwife, “your food is too good to be sold at the counter of a butcher shop.”  

When Ag did not ask what she meant, the woman continued, you should shut down that take-out kitchen you are operating.  It attracts the wrong types!”  

Ag did not need to ask what Winey meant by that comment.  The woman had already made known her opinion of Agatha’s Kitchen’s current clientele.  Somewhere between hours 6 and 9 of her labor, Ag had endured a scolding from Winey Whybrew about attracting the “wrong sorts” to her business.  "A young mother should not be associating with those whose children would be a bad influence on her own!"

“Open a restaurant, you should!  A cafe or a great dining hall,” the old woman continued.    “You could hire staff to serve the food and help in the kitchen.  I bet your new restaurant would put Whitby on the map.  We could give those smug snoots down to Scarborough a run for the tourists’ money.  Might even teach those muckety mucks over in Leeds a thing or two!”  

Ag wasn’t interested in showing anyone anything, but it did occur to her that a town such as Whitby was always in need of new industry and the jobs it created.  She liked the idea of employing some of the townfolk who need employment.  Of course, she’d never consider closing the take-out business she operated at Carvewhinkle’s.  In fact, she had every intention of expanding it.  

Day thirteen of her recovery from childbirth, Agatha walked beside Nancy Carvewhinkle to the butcher shop, where Mr. Carvewhinkle jumped right over the counter to hug the new mother and greet the new baby boy. “He’s a big one!” the man cried.  “A real bruiser!  I’ll have him slinking a cleaver in no time!”  

“You’ll do no such thing,” growled Nancy Carvewhinkle stepping between her husband and the babe, preventing the big man from scooping the child right out of its mother’s arms.  “You’ll wait ‘til he is full grown before putting a tool in his hands. Even then I hope he shows no interest.  This boy will be refined, as refined as his good mother!  She reads poetry to him already, you know!" Then, pushing her husband toward the wash basin, she said, "Go wash your hands and put on a clean smock before you hold him!”  

Mr. Carvewhinkle did as he was was told while his wife sat in a rocking chair she had bought and placed in a corner by the front door for the sole purpose of rocking Jeremy Jones while his mother worked.  Agatha herself started cleaning the shelves and counter where her meals were sold each day.  When Mr. Carvewhinkle appeared to take his own turn holding her son, Agatha made an announcement.  

“Agatha’s Kitchen will reopen tomorrow.  This time next month, we’ll have expanded the business to include a full-service dining room, which will be open for tea and for supper.  I am hoping I can count on you two for help.”  

Of course she could!  There was never any doubt.  

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

From Under The Sheets: A Night For A NightMare

Illustration by Vicki Barnes
A Night For a Nightmare
by Stephanie Mesler

It’s the right sort of night for a nightmare,
when spectres of old times are right there,
next to your bed, weaving memory’s threads,
like spider webs dangling just over your head.  

Sitting up in the dark, turn to face them,
these demons of best forgot jetsam.
Open your eyes; let your gorge rise!
The horror of yesteryear plays its reprise

In the gloom of the hour for witching,
your mind digging burrows for pitching
your sanity, lost, your dreams are tossed!
Banshees from hell your slumber accost!

Questioning all past decisions,
bury yourself in derision;
for choices not made the price you have paid
is counted in hours when peace is betrayed.

The wind whistles, shaking the rafters.
Rain pelts panes like the laughter
of those you despised.  You wished their demise.
Now you find they saved a surprise.

They bring you at midnight reminders
of how you could have been kinder.
Scarier yet, they come to suggest
myriad ways to pay your old debts.

You’ll start by tossing and turning;
soon your brow will be burning.
Dripping with sweat, your earnings collect
in the form of wee hours when slumber is vexed.

When morn streams at last through the window,
felling the walls of your Limbo,
a bugler plays taps but you have rolled craps.

Back in your bed you finally collapse.  

Make Under The Sheets a part of your haunting tradition.  Get your copy today!  
Hard copy from Amazon
Ebook from Lulu

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Marvelous Tale Of Agatha Jones, Wonder-Chef of Whitby

Written and Illustrated By Stephanie Mesler

Part Five
Published September 14, 2014 (c) Stephanie Mesler

Ag blanched.  “Castor and Curry!  Surely, you don't take castor oil in your tea!”

“I don’t,” admitted the midwife, “but you should.  That babe of yours is soon to be born.  Drink the tea and he’ll be born sooner.  Sooner means smaller and smaller means safer, when it comes to the mother’s own health.”

Agatha could not argue that point, so she choked down the tea.  Sitting on a brocade covered settee across the room from Winona Whybrew, the young mother-to-be felt as though she were being examined by a magus intending to make magic with her very soul.  Of course, that is exactly what was happening, though Agatha would never have known to call Winey a magus.  So far as Ag knew, the woman was just a local healer, one known for successfully delivering dozens, if not hundreds, of Whitby babes.

For the next four weeks, Ag continued to do as the midwife suggested.  She drank Winey’s tea with each of her meals, each evening applied a tincture of evening primrose oil and cumin to areas of her body that she did not think ought to smell of stew.  Also at the midwife's behest, Agatha walked miles and miles down bumpy roads, these miles in addition to those required to to deliver her gastronomic creations to Carvewhinkle’s Butchery.  When Ag had been pregnant for close to twelve lunar months, she had almost gotten used to it.  The midwife was becoming alarmed.

“That boy of yours is determined to cling to your insides!” she exclaimed.

“Of course he is,” said Ag, lovingly patting her own belly.  “And why shouldn’t he?  He knows he is safe in Mum’s belly.  Warm and cozy too.”

“And lazy,” said Winey.  “I’ve seen this before and I tell you that child will be the laziest soul on earth if we don’t force him out into the light soon.  He’s got to learn to breathe for himself before he can do anything else!  The longer you allow this to continue, the more dependent he will become!”

Ag continued caressing her belly and looked not in the least bit concerned by the midwife’s dire predictions.

“Do you want the boy tied to your apron strings all his life?” demanded Winona Whybrew.

When Agatha needed to consider the possibility before replying, the old woman grabbed her patient by the shoulders and shook her.  “Snap out of it, Mum!  You have to start thinking like a mother and not a love-sick dolt!  It’s time for you to do what’s best for your boy!”  Then, she steered the younger woman into her home and told her to get ready to meet her son.

The midwife and her hound disappeared into her office for a few moments.  Agatha heard the dog moan from the other side of the closed door, but that was nothing unusual.  That dog moaned all the time.

When Winey reappeared, she held a small glass in her hand.  “Drink this,” she told Agatha Jones.  “Drink every drop.  You won’t like the taste and neither will your brat.  We’ll dose him with it every hour until he decides he would rather fight his way out of your womb than be forced to taste it again.

“But…,”  started Ag.

“There are no more buts!” decreed the midwife.  “Drink up!”

Agatha did, shuddering hard as she drained the tiny glass.

Across the room, the old woman could see the baby’s foot kicking his mother from the inside.  “Good,” she said.  “The boy is angry.  Let’s hope he is angry enough to come out and tell us all about it!”

“What’s is that stuff?” asked Ag, wanting to rinse the taste from her mouth.

“A brew of Black Cohosh, Squawvine, Dong Quai, Butchers Broom, Red Raspberry and the key ingredient, Hound Dog Piss. It’s not easy getting the piss from old Rocco, I can tell you, so I hope one dose was enough!”

Hearing his name, the hound plodded into the midwife’s parlor where he collapsed in a heap at his mistress’s feet.  He snored louder than either of Ag’s husbands and that was quite remarkable.

The hours went by, Winey insisting after each full rotation of the clock’s  hands that Agatha consume more of the vile birth causing concoction. If it’s possible, Rocco enjoyed this even less than Ag and her baby boy enjoyed it least of all.  When the mother finally started labor 15 hours after her first dose of the “medicine,” Winona Whybrew called for backup.  “This is the most recalcitrant brat I’ve ever had to deliver,” she whispered to Nancy Carvewhinkle who’d come to help with the delivery.  “I imagine it will take both of us and a team of draft horses to pull him out when the time comes.”

In the end, the horses were not needed but it did take both women, each holding firm to one fat baby’s leg, to get Agatha Jones’ son to let go his mother’s innards and face the moonlight.  When he did, he actually looked up at Nancy Carvewhinkle and laughed out loud.  When the midwife used a pair of silver scissors to snip the cord that attached him to his mother, the boy bit the old woman’s hand.  He was born with a full set of pointy baby teeth and a strong instinct for self-preservation.

Right after telling the midwife there was no need to drown the boy -- bad luck moon notwithstanding -- Agatha Jones held her son for the very first time.  The child found his way to his mother’s breast in record time and the mother decreed that his name would be Jeremy.  As he fed, the boy gazed adoringly up at his mother.  Nancy Carvewhinkle was charmed.  Winona Whybrew, possibly influenced by her stinging hand, was not.  “I tell you now, you’ll one day regret letting that child live.  He’ll be your ruin,” she predicted.

“Shhh…” said the butcher’s wife.  “Don’t wreck the moment!”

“That boy will wreck many moments,” the midwife hissed, but even she could see how happy Agatha was with her newborn.  She decided to keep her counsel until the time came when Ag would want her help again.  Winey was absolutely certain that day would come.

The boy fell asleep with a full tummy and the new mother passed out from the exhaustion of the labor and joy of the birth.  It was not the last full night’s sleep she achieved.

Friday, September 12, 2014

UNDER THE SHEETS is out in time for the Haunting Season!

Under The Sheets 
by Stephanie Mesler and Vicki Barnes
 is on the market at last.


It will soon be available from other booksellers, including Barnes and Noble and Smashwords, but why wait?  Support not one, but two, indie artists by ordering your copies today!

Monday, September 8, 2014

A Poet's Diary: You Can't Buy This Book...YET!

I am happy to announce that Under The Sheets has been uploaded and reviewed, edited, proofread, re-submitted, re-edited, proofed and reviewed and is finally, at long last, ready to be published.  There will be a BIG announcement in a few days.  

Under The Sheets is my first collaboration with artist, Vicki Barnes.  The book is divided into two sections --  "The Dark Side" and "The Lighter Side Of The Dark Side."  Each story and poem in the book is accompanied by original artwork from Vicki Barnes.  Some of the pieces are intended to frighten, others to amuse, still others to startle.  We hope you enjoy Under the Sheets as much as Vicki and I enjoyed creating it.  

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Marvelous Tale of Agatha Jones, Wonder-Chef of Whitby

Written and Illustrated By Stephanie Mesler

Part Four
Published September 7, 2014 (c) Stephanie Mesler

Three days later, Mr. Carvewhinkle hung a wooden sign from the awning outside the butcher shop. It read, Purveyor of Fine Food From Agatha Jones’s Kitchen.  Each day, he provided the cook with a good hunk of meat which Agatha would start to simmering in her kitchen before the sun rose over Whitby.  On her way to the market every morning, Gwendlyn Seedsmith stopped by Agatha Jones’ former hovel too.  Ag would inspect all the fruit, vegetables and herbs the woman had to offer and she would choose what she needed to prepare the day’s offerings from Agatha’s Kitchen.  Once the food was cooked, she would send word to Mrs. Carvewhinkle, Nancy, who’d been hired on as Agatha’s assistant.  The two would load the day’s food in a wagon.  There was usually some sort of stew or meat pie, occasionally a soup.  There were always bread and dessert.  

Then the daily show, which had begun simply as a way to transport and sell the food Agatha prepared, would begin.  Each day except Sunday (which Mrs. Carvewhinkle had decreed Agatha’s day of rest even if she was an unchurched heathen) the women would carefully pull the loaded wagon up the city's broad street to Carvewhinkle’s Butcher shop.  Along the way, townsfolk would smell the aroma of Agatha’s food.  They could see the pastries and breads piled on top of all the hot food buried beneath.  Mouths would drool and people would start to murmur among themselves.  Everyone wanted to know what Agatha had cooked that day. Many of those villagers would form a line behind the wagon and follow the women to the shop.  They would wait eagerly outside for Mrs. Carvewhinkle to reappear with a number of food containers.  

“Now, listen up, all ye starving heathens -- Missus Jones has prepared a real feast today but there is only so much to go around and when it’s gone, it’s gone.  There’ll be no arguments when I say we are done serving for the day.  Anyone caught fighting over food, anyone who cuts the line, and, most significantly, anyone who irritates me, will be escorted from the premises by me husband, Mr. Carvewhinkle.  Worse yet, you'll be barred from Carvewhinkle's Butchery and Agatha's Kitchen for a fortnight.”  

At that point in his wife’s speech, Nimrod Carvewhinkle would fill the shop door, wearing his bloodied butcher’s apron, carrying a large carving knife in one hand, a mallet in the other.  It was Mrs. Carvewhinkle who scared them more.  

Then, Mr. Carvewhinkle and Agatha would take their places behind a counter in the butcher’s shop and Missus Carvewhinkle would pass large bowls to the first two people in line for the day’s wonders from Agatha’s Kitchen.  Two by two, customers would enter the store carrying their bowls, pay Mr. Carvewhinkle, and step down the counter to Agatha who would fill the bowls with whatever she had prepared, grouse stew, beef brindle, cod a la francaise.  The possibilities were endless and delicious.  Then, she would hand each customer a bag containing bread, any side dishes she had prepared to accompany the main course and, of course, dessert.  

When Mrs. Carvewhinkle ran out of bowls, which never took long at all, she would announce to those gathered, “Well, that’s it for today, then.  Come back and try again tomorrow,” unless it was a Saturday, of course, in which case she would say, “Well, you’re out of luck because that’s all there is until Monday. Come back then for another chance.”  

Then, the large woman would sway between the shop doors and wait for the last customers at the counter to depart with their meals.  When they were gone, she’d close the doors behind them, turn to Agatha and Mr. Carvewhinkle and announce, “Well that was almost too much fun to be work!”  And she would laugh so hard at her own joke that her belly would shake.  This always made Agatha smile.  

That is how every day went for the next five months.  Then something happened that changed everything for everyone.  Jems was born.  But we’re not quite there yet.  First, we must talk of the midwife of Whitby.  

Winona Whybrew was hideously ugly.  She had a nose long enough and narrow enough to turn the pages of a book.  Her eyes were tiny and set too far apart and her chin had the point of a ripened banana.  Luckily, her face was mostly obscured by the barricade of black frizz that fell from her scalp to her bodice, uncombable without the generous application of pine oil which explained the woman’s odd scent and the damp stains she left wherever she leaned back while sitting.  

Winey, as she was called by those who knew her,  was not the shortest women in Whitby but she was shorter than most and she weighed less than any twelve-year-old girl before coming of age.  Still she managed to have jowls that hung from her jaw, rendering her neck all but invisible.  Not that anyone had any desire to see it.  

“I wondered when I’d be meeting the wonder-chef of Whitby,” exclaimed the woman when she saw who had come to call.  Winey stood in the doorway of her home next to her usual companion, an old dog called Rocco.  Hounds are known for their lethargic and  sullen natures.  With no provocation, they moan like dental patients under the knife without anesthetic.  They laze about all day acting put-upon if anyone expects them to move.  Still, most people thought the dog more pleasant than his mistress.

“Excuse me,” said ag, standing in the old midwife’s foyer.  

“You are Agatha Jones, aren’t ye?” asked Winey.  

“I am,” said Agatha.  

“And you’re about eight months along, aren’t ye?” asked Winey.  

“I am,” said Agatha again.  

“So, being the town’s only midwife not yet burnt at the stake or drowned for a witch, I’ve been expecting ye.”  

“ I see,” replied Agatha, now wondering if maybe she should have gone to one of the local physicians instead.  

“Come into my parlor,” said the midwife.  “Can I offer you a cup of castor and curry tea?"  

Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Poet's Diary: Gator Granger lives!

I just finished the first draft of  "Gator,"  a short story in The Ballad of Donny Granger universe.  Gator is a sequel to "Velma And Bal, Those Crazy Kids From West Virginia," which appears in Under the Sheets, an anthology due out any minute.  I am really pleased with "Gator," so pleased in fact that I think it will have its own follow-up story.  I may do a sound recording of "Gator" sometime soon.  It will eventually appear in a collection.  That is years in the future though.  Not sure I want to wait that long to share it.  I'll keep y'all posted.  

I've spent the morning and the first hours of my afternoon at a local coffee shop, writing.  This came after a discussion yesterday with some other writers who have been dealing with distractions and disruptions.  In offering suggestions to them, I decided to take my own advice about changes of venue being good for work. Once in a while, I pay attention.  Sometimes, the coffee house gets a little loud.  Nothing a pair of firing range ear plugs won't solve.  Hah!  

You may have noticed fewer posts on this site.  I find I need to cut back some.  I was wearing myself out trying to be super-blogger.  My energies are better spent on compelling projects than on mandatory word counts, even self-imposed word-counts.  I hope you enjoy what I do post, but there will be less of it for a while.