Word counts and other distractions

Griffin Paul Jackson

I’ve wasted hours upon hours looking up word counts. Finally, I made a list. I want to share what I’ve found so that you won’t waste time looking yourself. Here are the numbers on highly-praised literary fiction, fantasy and science fiction. Now you won’t need to scour the web to find them again.

Literary Fiction

  • The Old Man and the Sea 27,000
  • A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens – 28,000
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell – 29,000
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck – 30,000
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – 47,000
  • Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut – 49,000
  • Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe – 50,000
  • The Bluest Eyes by Toni Morrison – 52,000
  • Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck – 55,000
  • As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner – 57,000
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy – 59,000
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding – 60,000
  • Their…

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Chapter 5: Stank You Jesus

Stank you

“Saints don’t stop praying. The Lord is nigh,” Sister Katrina sang softly as they all followed in unison. Marie had no clue why the Lord was nigh or what that even meant but she sang along anyway, “Saints don’t stop praying. He’ll hear your cry. For the Lord has promised, and his word is true. Saints don’t stop praying. He’ll answer you.”

There were at least twenty saints in the circle that night, all holding hands and singing along. Twenty was a pretty good turn-out at a Monday night prayer. But in comparison to the fifteen hundred that showed up on Sundays at Sanctified Apostolic-Pentecostal Church, it really wasn’t all that impressive. Robert had told Marie many times that only the faithful few came to services like this, and that he was of those few faithful. As head of the household, he made sure that “his” children followed suit. In fact, Marie and Jason didn’t miss a single service unless Robert was sick. He even went so far as to nickname himself Brother Faithful until Pastor Hartford bestowed on him the more prestigious title of Minister.

Robert took the appointment very seriously. Everything from the clothes he wore to the music he listened to had to be holy. However, he did watch movies and shows that Marie and Jason were never allowed to watch—mainly because of all the hardcore profanity and gorgeous naked women. When Yvonne got on him about it, Robert dismissed her saying that it was necessary for him to watch so he could “learn the enemy”. He made Marie and Jason, on the other hand, watch movies about biblical stories instead of regular cartoons, and when they were disobedient, he forced them to read the Bible for however many hours he saw fit. Soon both Marie and Jason grew to view the Bible as a punishment, and wouldn’t read it unless they had to. Robert even turned the phrase “Good Morning” into something to be avoided. One day he had gotten the revelation that “Praise the Lord” shouldn’t be exclusive to greeting saints at church—it should be said at home as well. Every morning, Marie and Jason were to say “Praise the Lord” to each other and to Yvonne and Robert. If they failed to do so, the punishment was a beating. Marie didn’t mean to be defiant, but the change didn’t come natural to her and she slipped up often. Even Yvonne couldn’t remember to say it all the time. Mercifully, Robert gave up trying to enforce that new policy and left “Praise the Lord” where it belonged—at church.

As Marie sang along with Sister Katrina and the others, she let her eyes wander around the sanctuary. She didn’t need to pay attention to the words in order to keep up, they sang that same song every Monday night so she knew it better than any other. She looked at all of the saints gathered in the circle. All the women, including Yvonne, were in baggy t-shirts and jean skirts that nearly touched the ground. The sisters never wore pants in church or any skirt that went above the knee or any article of clothing that was formfitting because it was a sin. The men wore jean pants and t-shirts with the exception of Robert who insisted on wearing a button-up—being that he was a minister now, he felt compelled to hold himself to a higher standard than a common brother. The only children in the circle were Marie and Jason.

Marie’s attention drifted up to the pulpit behind which were several rows of chairs for the choir and suspended on the back wall was a huge wooden cross shrouded with a purple sash. She hadn’t set foot on the pulpit since her mother’s wedding, only knelt down at the altar in front of it. She subconsciously loathed the altar as her eyes lingered on the stools at the foot of it. Robert made her and Jason kneel on those stools and pray every Sunday morning before service. Marie didn’t have a lot to pray about but she would stay there as long as she could stand the boredom. She knew that if she got up too early Robert would send her back to pray some more. She and Jason used to be allowed to pray next to each other, but Robert started separating them when he caught them laughing one morning. He had thought they were playing around, but Jason had been ripping some wicked farts before God and there was no way they were keeping a straight face during that.

“Do we have any prayer requests?” Sister Katrina asked as the singing died down bringing Marie’s attention back away from the altar and Jason’s farts. As usual, each person in the circle spoke at least one prayer request. Marie was always nervous when her turn came; she didn’t like speaking out in groups. But to avoid saying the wrong thing, she would listen to the other prayer requests and mimic some of the ones she thought were good.  Just about everyone prayed for the body of Christ so she made sure to include that in her requests. She didn’t know they were talking about the church when they said that. She always pictured the dead body of Jesus laying in a tomb somewhere. She wasn’t sure why they needed to pray for a corpse but she never asked.

Once every request was made, it was time for the group prayer. Everyone bowed their heads, closed their eyes, and Minister Franklin led them into the prayer. Minister Franklin was the loudest while everyone else whispered “Hallelujah” and “Yes Lord” and “Thank you, Jesus”. Then the whispers got louder and louder until they turned into shouts. Marie just sighed. This is going to be a long one. After about fifteen or twenty minutes, she opened her eyes to amuse herself by watching the saints around her. They all had funny looks on their faces. Some looked angry, others like they were in pain, and a couple looked like they were smelling stinky feet. But all of them were yelling and shaking. Four of them were swinging their arms like they were getting ready to skip down the yellow brick road, one brother was marching in place bringing his knees up so high and so fast that Marie was curious to see if he would end up knocking himself out, and Minister Franklin was spinning around in circles. She had seen this happening so often that it wasn’t scary to her at all, in fact, she and Jason had more to worry about trying not to laugh at the show. She had been told that what the saints were doing was called being in the spirit, and it was to be taken very seriously. Everything related to God was supposed to be taken very seriously or they would have Robert to deal with. In fact, they had gotten in trouble on the way to church that night for that very reason. Robert was playing one of his gospel CD’s and the man introduced the singers as the Red Bud Combined Choir. The only problem was: Marie, Jason, and Yvonne had heard them announced as the Red Butt Combined Choir. With the image of a choir full of red butted baboons flashing through their minds, Robert finally had to pull the car over and yell at all three of them to stop them from laughing.

The shouting and dancing went on for what felt like forever, until the group slowly began to disperse into various corners of the sanctuary for private prayers. Robert went and dimmed the light of the chandeliers that hung in rows along the high vaulted ceiling, and Sister Katrina took Marie and Jason into the study that doubled as a tarrying room. It was either that or pray at the altar where Robert would come and yell in their ears, “Cry out to Him!” He seemed to get angry at them if his command didn’t appear to make them pray harder. “Don’t play around with it, cry out to Him!” He would shout. In a desperate attempt to appease him, Marie would think of the saddest thing she could imagine to make herself cry, though she would pretend to still be praying. Robert bought it every time and would leave her be.

But Marie and Jason were not just there to pray that night; they were on a mission: to tarry for the Holy Ghost. They had been trying to get it for years. Sister Katrina had explained it all to them. In order to go to Heaven they had to repent, get the Holy Ghost and be baptized in Jesus’ name. Because they were so young, the pastor would not allow them to be baptize until they first got the Holy Ghost to make sure that they were truly repentant. And the only way to prove that they had the Holy Ghost was if they were able to speak in tongues. Not stammering or stuttering, but a fluid language that came from God. And Marie knew better than to make one up, because Robert had told her that his Holy Ghost could tell whether or not her language was real. Marie and Jason had the option to either say “Hallelujah” or “Thank you, Jesus” over and over again until it turned into that holy language that they couldn’t understand. Whichever phrase they chose, they were instructed to say it fast, because the Holy Ghost wouldn’t come if they repeated the phrase slowly and annunciated every syllable. Marie didn’t question this at the time, but years later she would experiment and find that God also accepted speedy repetitions of “hot potato” in exchange for his holy language.

So almost every Monday night and many times at home she and Jason had tried to speak in tongues. To Marie, it was easier at church because Sister Katrina was always right there to keep them motivated and focused. At home, they were pretty much on their own and their minds tended to wander. Many times Yvonne had to come over and correct them because “Thank you, Jesus” had drawled into “Thank you, Juice” and “Stank you, Jesus”.

“You have to be sincere,” Yvonne would remind them, “Don’t just repeat empty words or else God won’t give you his spirit.” But not long after their mother’s admonition, juice was getting thanks again and Jesus was stank.

Once inside the study, Marie and Jason took their seats at the long wooden table—the same one that Marie first sat at the night her mother married Robert. After a brief review from Sister Katrina about what they were doing and why, they bowed their heads and started repeating the words. They had done this so many times before but they always came with the expectation that this would be the night where God’s magic would happen. This time it was—for Marie at least. All she could remember was saying “Thank you, Jesus” over and over. She didn’t know how much time had passed before the words changed.


She heard her name but she couldn’t answer.


It was Sister Katrina’s voice. Marie felt her hand on her arm so she opened her eyes. They were the only two people in the room.

“Do you know what you just did?” Sister Katrina asked her.

“I spoke in tongues,” Marie said having become conscious for the first time that night of the foreign language she had been speaking.

“Do you know what you have?” Sister Katrina asked.

“The Holy Ghost,” Marie said smiling then. “Can I go tell my Mommy and Daddy?”

“They already know,” Sister Katrina told her, “They came in and heard you a while ago.”

When Marie came out of the study, Yvonne and Robert were waiting for her in the foyer. They both looked so proud of her, which was a rare thing—she couldn’t even remember a time before that that Robert seemed that pleased with her. Both Yvonne and Robert hugged her.

“Can I be baptized tonight?” Marie asked eager to complete her transformation.

“Of course you can,” Robert smiled.

Marie walked with her mother, Robert, Sister Katrina, and Deacon Scott to the Hartford Hall. The hall was used as an overflow room on Sundays, a classroom on Wednesdays, a banquet hall on special occasions, and a baptismal room seven days a week. Jason was already there when Marie went inside. He was seated at the front of several rows of chairs that had been left there from Sunday in the arms of one of the sisters. His cheeks were red and when Marie smiled at him, he just stared back at her, his eyes puffy.

“What’s wrong with Jason?” Marie asked her mother.

“He cried so hard because you got the Holy Ghost and he didn’t that he threw up,” Yvonne told her. Marie felt sorry for him, but it wasn’t enough to dampen her excitement over finally getting what she had prayed for all those years. Yvonne took her up the stairs onto the front platform, and into one of the changing rooms so she could get ready. She took off her little black dress with the apples and rulers and pencils on it and Yvonne got her into the light blue gown, swimming cap, and white socks. When Marie came back out onto the platform, most of the base panels had been removed to reveal the huge in-ground pool. Deacon Scott was dressed in the customary t-shirt and rubber overalls that all the deacons wore when they baptized people, and he was already waiting for her in the pool. As she stepped down the stairs into the water, she felt her legs and arms instantly get goose bumped. It was freezing in there. But her nervousness at that moment outweighed any other discomfort. When she met him in the middle of the pool, Deacon Scott showed her how to position her arms across her chest, told her that she could pinch her nose if she wanted to when the time came, and explained that he was just going to dunk her under really fast and bring her right back up. She didn’t like the idea of being pushed underwater, but she wasn’t backing out now.

“I now take great pleasure in baptizing you in the precious name of Jesus Christ,” he said gripping the back of her gown and placing a hand over her arms, “Upon the confession of your faith and for the remission of all of your sins.”

Then he looked her in the face and nodded. Marie pinched her nose and shut her eyes. In one swoop she was dipped backwards into the water and brought back up just as quickly. She could hear the claps of everyone that was watching, and caught a glimpse of Robert taking her picture. As she started back up the stairs and out of the water, she felt the chill fade quickly to warmth. She thought it was God’s magic. When she told Robert about it, he said that it meant that she was now on fire for Jesus.

It was the happiest moment Marie could remember up until then. She was tired of being in sin. Tired of being the bad little girl that was always so disobedient. She was saved now. And she just knew that her Holy Ghost would make her do all the right things so she wouldn’t get in trouble. Daddy won’t have to spank me anymore. To Marie, that thought alone was almost better than the idea that, as of that night, she was no longer on her way to hell.

Chapter 4: Please Don’t Come, Mommy

don't come

Marie sat in Mercier’s backyard chalking tri-colored daisies on the pavement, trying not to think.

“It’s almost night time. Maybe she’s not gonna come today,” Jason said scribbling circles in the square of pavement next to her.

Marie just nodded keeping her eyes on her artwork. The sunlight on her flowers grew dimmer and dimmer making her think that Jason might be right. Maybe Yvonne wasn’t coming for them.

This was the most dreaded day of the year for Marie—the last day of summer vacation. Granny and the aunts may have lost the right to every holiday, but they demanded that Marie and Jason stay with them the full three months of every summer while they were out of school. For Marie, that was three months of complete paradise.

She’d wake up in a real bed every morning to the warm glow of the sun pouring through Maddie’s sheer, apricot curtains. Then she’d get the savory aroma of Granny’s sausages sizzling in their cast iron skillet. She’d find Mercier busy in the den with her bowl of grits, picking out the black ones as a favor to Granny. And Jason, well, he would have been running around naked for at least the last half hour already. Granny and the aunts made sure Robert never found out about that little bit of debauchery.

Neither Marie nor Jason had any chores to do, although they loved helping Granny repot and water her daylilies, and helping Mercier raid the nectarine and cumquat trees. Their only real responsibility was to have fun—all—day—long. They watched cartoons—real cartoons that didn’t involve Moses or the Ten Commandments. They were given so many toys and games, they couldn’t find time to play with them all. They laughed out loud with no one telling them to shut up. They danced to Prince and Michael Jackson without getting spanked for “sinning”. They even enjoyed Mercier’s Spanish, piano, and reading lessons, because, unlike Robert, Mercier never asked them if they were stupid when they messed up.

By the afternoons, Marie would snuggle up to Mercier and Granny’s fluffy frames to watch Oprah and listen to them gossip and slurp on peppermints. By the evenings, she would devour Granny’s fresh cut fruit and steak dinner, Mercier’s famous vinegar and oil salad, and an assortment of sweets from Maddie’s loaded candy jar. And she would finish off her nights with a warm bubble bath and cuddle into bed with her stuffed animals, thrilled to do it all over again tomorrow.

Being with Granny and the aunts was like being in another world; Marie’s own personal Disneyland. She wished it were her life all the time. So free and happy every day. But that only made it that much harder when the time came to leave.

Marie looked up from her tri-colored daisies when she heard the hum of an engine and the sharp hiss of breaks in the driveway. Her heart dropped into her stomach when she saw from beneath the yard gate the tires of what she knew had to be a red Saturn. She looked at Jason, and not a word needed to pass between them for them to know what the other was feeling.

“Marie. Jason,” Granny called out from the porch, “Your mother’s here.”

Marie dragged herself up from the pavement and helped Jason pile all the chalk back into its bucket. When she finally came in the house to greet her mother, Marie tried to smile at her but it shaped into more of a grimace. Next to Robert, Yvonne was the last person Marie wanted to see. But Marie was grateful that Yvonne agreed to stay for dinner; that would afford Marie at least two more hours in paradise before she had to go “home”.

When the time did come to say goodbye to Granny and the aunts, Marie was no less than devastated. Her eyes started to blur with tears the moment Yvonne pulled out her car keys. Jason snuggled up under Mercier as if he hoped he might get left behind if Yvonne didn’t see him.

“Oh you’re going to see them all again for Thanksgiving,” Yvonne cooed attempting to mask her embarrassment, “Don’t cry.”

Marie just wailed louder, and Yvonne had to pry Jason’s death-grip off Mercier. Granny whispered something to Maddie who nodded, her brow furrowing. Yvonne took both children by their arms, whisked them over to a corner, and squatted to their eye level. Glaring at both of them she said in a low and barely controlled tone, “You shut this crap up now, or you won’t spend another summer here again. Do you understand me?”

Marie and Jason nodded sniveling and stifling their moans.

“Now kiss Granny, Mercier, and Maddie goodbye,” she said rising back into her chipper coo.

The children did as they were told, hugging each of the three dears as long as they could without another cutting glare from Yvonne. Marie made her way to Maddie last. As she hugged her, Maddie hid her lips in Marie’s hair and whispered, “Is Mommy or Robert hurting you?” Marie hesitated as Robert’s warning reverberated in her mind: What happens in this house stays in this house. You are disobedient, you get spankings. Period. Don’t let me find out you’ve been running your mouth. You think we abuse you? I’ve never “beat” you. But I can.

“No,” Marie whispered back. Maddie pulled back enough to look her in the eyes, her concerned gazed repeating the question. Marie just shook her head.

“Okay munchkins,” Yvonne sang, “Time to go.”

Once strapped in the car, Marie forced a smile at Granny and the aunts waving on the porch until Yvonne pulled out of the driveway. Marie knew Yvonne was livid. She didn’t say a word to them the entire forty-five minute drive home.

When they arrived, it was like stepping back into a nightmare. The shack was dimmed and stank of mold and herbal tea. No bed, no cartoons, no toys or steak dinners.

“What they do now?” Robert barked the minute they came in the door and he saw the look on Yvonne’s face. Marie knew this act. Yvonne wanted Robert to ask that question and exact the punishment that made her feel better about herself.

“They only cut up like that because they have to come home to rules,” Robert barked when Yvonne told him what happened. “Just mad cuz they can’t watch TV and eat ice cream all day. I’m telling you that mother of yours spoils them. That’s why they pretend like they forget how to act when they get back here. We gotta train ‘em all over again after every summer. I told you, they don’t need to be down there the whole three months.”

On and on he went ranting on everyone’s conduct—except Yvonne’s and his own of course. Because they were good parents, and they were in the right.

“What did I tell you would happen if I got another report of you acting up Mercier’s?” he said finally focusing his rant on the children.

“We’d get a spanking,” they whined in unison.

Robert nodded towards the bedroom as he loosened his belt buckle. Knowing resistance was futile, they shuffled passed him silently and took their usual positions bent over the bed. Marie lay there shaking and forcing her mind to go back to her paradise. She wondered what Granny was doing at that moment. Watching the news in the family room sitting in her favorite rocking chair. Maybe sipping her black tea as Auntie Maddie gathered up the last of Marie and Jason’s toys into boxes to await their next visit. Mercier had probably fallen asleep in the den with a copy of Reader’s Digest in one hand and a magnifying glass in the other. Marie shut her eyes as tears streamed down her cheeks. She prayed with all her might that when she opened her eyes she would be there snuggled up under Mercier. That this nightmare was nothing but a dream. Then she opened her eyes and looked up just in time to see Robert raise the black belt and bring it down on her behind.

Chapter 3: The Grinch


“I would take an ornament and put it on the tree and you would come right behind me, pull it off the branch and put it back in the box. Then on Christmas morning, all we heard was ‘Open it up’,” Maddie would say imitating Marie in a baby voice. “Half the time they weren’t even your presents, but you handed everybody a box and told them to open it up. And don’t let somebody tell you ‘no’. You would throw yourself on the floor and have a tantrum. You wouldn’t stop until old cousin Tia got on the floor and started hollering with you. You looked at her like ‘wait a minute, lady, you’re stealing my show’ and then you got up and stormed off like an angry midget.”

Marie would have given anything this particular year to have spent it with Maddie, Mercier, and Granny, but instead she and Jason were spending it with Robert—well sort of. He had closed himself up in the bedroom saying that he was in too much pain to come out and spend Christmas with them and Yvonne. Marie and Jason just considered that another one of their presents.

Yvonne had had the house decorated since November with her little figurines of Santa and Mrs. Claus, the nativity, nutcrackers of all sizes, and snow men—which were her favorite. She had a tree that she let them decorate with about fifteen or twenty ornaments, because the tree was only about three feet tall and they had to leave room for lights and garland. But Yvonne liked it anyway and nicknamed it her Charlie Brown tree. She had done her best to make the house feel as cheerful as the holidays had been when they had lived at Mercier’s house. But there was no competing with Auntie Maddie’s ability to turn a house into a winter wonderland.

In addition to the six-foot, lit and elaborately decorated tree, Maddie had everything from a train to a carousel to moving and talking Christmas characters to a completely lit village with little porcelain people standing in front of all the buildings. She hung wreathes and bows on all the doors and stockings with everyone’s names on them over the fireplace. She even left milk and cookies for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve that magically disappeared by the time they got up the next morning.

But this Christmas Marie and Jason were still grateful to have the cheer that came from their mother opening her famous Café Poopoo, talking in her French accent, and serving them a hot breakfast with sprinkled cookies in the shape of Christmas trees. Almost every TV station was playing some holiday movie or cartoon, and she let them watch while they ate.

When they finished, she let them open their presents. They had only about two or three a piece, but Marie didn’t mind. She knew Granny, Mercier and Auntie Maddie would more than make up for that the next time she and Jason visited them. Maddie knew that those three sweet ladies would buy her and Jason toys and clothes and books all throughout the year and hide them in their special places until the week before Christmas when Auntie Maddie would gather them all into her room to wrap them. But she would only bring them out on Christmas Eve when she was sure that Marie and Jason were asleep to give the illusion that Santa had brought at least some of them. Maddie even went so far as to sign a couple of the tags on the presents as being from him. But the one year that Marie could never forget was the one in which Granny and the aunts had bought them so many presents that they all couldn’t fit under the tree. Instead, Maddie had to organize the presents into two piles that nearly touched the ceiling with a piece of construction paper that had Marie and Jason’s names on them taped to the center of each pile so they’d know whose mountain of gifts belonged to whom.

When she opened the presents from her mother, Marie always made sure to be grateful and act surprised even if she wasn’t. This year was a bit harder, because she already knew what she was getting. That was because Yvonne had taken Marie and Jason with her when she bought some of the gifts and told Marie that they wouldn’t get the items until Christmas. And with Marie and Jason’s larger gifts that Yvonne had bought in secret, there simply wasn’t enough room in the house for Yvonne to hide them that well.

In addition to their gifts, Marie and Jason each had a card signed by “Mommy and Daddy”. In Christmases past, Robert would at least scribble his signature next to Yvonne’s, but judging by the handwriting, Marie knew that her mother had done it for him this year. Either way, she didn’t want to make Yvonne feel bad. Seeing her mother sad because of something Marie had said or done was almost worse than getting a spanking from her.

Marie and Jason played with their new toys and had them meet some of their old ones. Jason was happy that Marie had gotten a Barbie since he had been wanting one to go along with his GI Joe. Robert had hit the roof when Jason had asked for a female doll. Robert said he wasn’t going to let Jason end up turning gay by playing like a girl. But neither Robert nor Yvonne knew the real reason Jason wanted girl toys. Marie did though. She and Jason understood a bit more about sex than their parents realized. Being devout Pentecostals, Yvonne and Robert felt it was better not to discuss such topics but rather focus the kids’ attention on the Bible. However, when the two of them were able to play under a little less supervision, Marie and Jason both knew GI Joe was going to help Ballerina Barbie out of her leotards.

Yvonne laughed out loud as Marie and Jason put on plays with their new toys and made them do all sorts of silliness. Soon Yvonne was in tears and digging through her purse for her inhaler. She took two puffs when she found it, then sat back to watch the children continue. Marie loved seeing her mother put a hand to her chest with her huge smile and her face ruby red.  Marie performed to the pinnacle of goofiness just to hear her mother’s bursts of laughter that trailed into breathless wheezes the harder she laughed.

Then the bedroom door opened.

“Keep it down, I’m trying to sleep,” Robert said glaring down at Marie and Jason even though their mother had really been the loudest one.

“Oh, don’t be a Scrooge,” Yvonne rasped to him still trying to catch her breath. He turned his glare on her.

“I’m hurting!” he said, “These pills aren’t working.”

“I’m sorry,” she said, “We’ll try to be more quiet.”

He turned and lurched back into the bedroom slamming the door behind himself. Marie looked over at Yvonne who stuck her tongue out at the door as if Robert were still standing there. Marie and Jason both stifled a laugh. They tried to resume their play quietly but Yvonne decided to join in this time. She was the master of goofiness. She made GI Joe sound like Donald Duck and Barbie like a drunken hillbilly. And before Marie knew it, she and Jason had forgotten all about Robert, and they were laughing twice as loud as before.

Suddenly the bedroom door flew open so hard that it hit the wall.

“I told you kids to shut up!” he said his face as red as Yvonne’s then, “Get on the bed!”

“It was my fault,” Yvonne said no longer smiling, “I was making them laugh.”

“Stop trying to cover for them,” he said, “They need to learn to do as they’re told.”

Yvonne opened her mouth to protest again, but Robert ignored her.

“I said get on the bed!” he hollered.

Marie and Jason scrambled up from the floor, ran passed him into the bedroom, and bent themselves over the bed. Marie watched as he came in and shut the door behind him. He did that a lot, especially if he didn’t want their mother to interfere or if the beating was going to be long so that the neighbors wouldn’t hear them screaming.

Robert took the black belt from the hook. Marie knew that one very well by now. The leather had so many cracks and tattered threads from being used on their bottoms so often that Robert couldn’t wear it anymore.

“Your lives would be so much easier if you would ever learn to just do what you’re told,” he said with an eerie calmness as he formed the belt into a loop.

Both Marie and Jason were shaking and crying by now. No matter how many beatings Marie got, she could never get used to it. It was terrifying every time. As Robert came to stand behind them and raised the belt, Marie saw Jason put his hands over his butt.

“Move them!” Robert ordered.

“No,” Jason whined. So Robert whipped the belt across Jason’s hands forcing him to snatch them back out of the way.

“In fact,” Robert sneered, “pull your pants down. Both of you. Underwear too.”

They stood up and did as they were told, crying a little harder then. They bended back over the bed, and Robert started on Jason first. But after only about five swats he had to pause to tell him to shut up. Jason was so loud that Marie’s ears were ringing like the screams were coming from the blare of a stereo with bad speakers. When Jason went silent, Robert started up the beating again. Marie counted the swats. There were eleven so far without counting the first five. They were coming so fast Jason didn’t seem to be able to catch enough breath to scream as loud as before. Marie looked up at Robert.

“Put your head back down!” he said. He never let them look at him while he was beating them. Marie heard him hit Jason with two more swats then nothing. She turned her face a little to see if it was her turn. It was. Robert had the belt raised and was staring down at her behind. She buried her face in the bed and tightened her butt cheeks. The first blow came down so hard it knocked the wind out of her. Her mouth flew open but she couldn’t scream. It felt like a boulder being dropped on her behind then came the stabbing and burning sensation.

He hit her again and again and again. The pain seemed to worsen to more unimaginable levels every time. When she could get up enough breath for a scream, it was muffled by the blankets her face was still buried in. She thought maybe he didn’t think she was hurting badly enough yet. So she lifted her head with the intention of screaming louder. But it wasn’t a normal cry that came out. It was a word. Mercy. Marie hadn’t meant or even thought to say it, yet it came out of her mouth over and over again. Suddenly, she realized she couldn’t feel the belt anymore. She could still hear it hitting something, and thought maybe Robert had started back on Jason again. So she opened her eyes. Jason was looking at her confused though still crying. The belt wasn’t hitting him either. It was hitting the bed frame. Every time she yelled out “mercy”, Robert missed her and hit the bed. Finally he just gave up.

“You both stay on this bed until I tell you, you can get up,” he growled, “And while you’re there, pray to God to help you learn how to be obedient.”

Marie watched as he threw the belt into the closet and stormed from the room slamming the door behind him.

“How did you do that?” Jason whispered to her as they started easing their pants back up over their throbbing behinds.

“God saved us.”

The Road Not Taken

The Road Not Taken

By Robert Frost

Two roads diverge in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;


Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that, the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,


And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubt if I should ever come back.


I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.



Just. Keep. Writing.

Great advice and motivation for all of us out here daring against every opposition to follow our writing dreams.

Victoria (V.E.) Schwab

Hey there, lovelies!

I know it’s been awhile since I posted. I’ve spent the last few months buried under deadlines and finishing up coursework–so far this year I’ve gone to grad school, and written and edited THREE books, all coming out next year–and getting ready to head back to Nashville.

But in the slivers of space between, I’ve been reflecting a lot–about writing, publishing, advice–and I wanted to talk about a piece of advice that I know seems trite, but is honestly the best I can give. I’ll try to explain why.

Five years into my publishing career, I finally feel like I have my feet under me, and because of that, I’m often asked for advice.

When writers–aspiring, debut, and established–ask for insight, I always say, “Just keep writing.”

And I know that sounds like a very Dory thing to say, but the fact of the matter is, if…

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