First Chapter Friday: Carousel Tides

This is the book about the haunted carousel.  Except the carousel isn’t exactly haunted, and, though I adore carousels, especially old wooden carousels, what I really wanted to write about was a rock.

A rock and the town of Old Orchard Beach, Maine.  That’s where the rock is — Googin Rock (or Googins Rock, according to some), a genuine, actual, historic rock* — Old Orchard Beach.

I adore both town and rock, though I’ll allow both to be an acquired taste, and I said for, oh, five years, maybe, that one day, I’d write about about both.

In 2007, someday arrived.  I wrote the book; sent it to our agent, who sent it ’round, and it was roundly rejected until, in 2009, it found a home with Baen, and was published right around Halloween, 2010.

If you like this taste of the Maine coast, you can continue the story in ebook format, from Baen ebooks and the Usual Suspects.  Carousel Tides is also available in trade paper — from the Usual Suspects — and as an audiobook, from Audible.

Full disclosure:  Carousel Tides is the first book in a trilogy.  Carousel Sun follows and the story concludes in Carousel Seas.

Enjoy!

___________
*5. Oct. 1675 – “Battle of Googins Rocks” Capt. Wincoll of Kittery and 11 militia men marching on the seashore to aid settlers at Pine Point are attacked by 150 Saco Indians. By hiding behind the rocks successfully drive the Indians off without the loss of a single man, even though the tide is rising.  (More info here)

Excerpt from Carousel Tides, © Sharon Lee 2010

ONE

Tuesday, April 18
High Tide 2:29 a.m.
Sunrise 5:54 a.m. EDT

I almost missed the left onto Route 5, which would’ve been embarrassing as hell. Luckily, I recognized the intersection before I was through it, snapping dry-mouthed out of a quarter-doze. Luckily, the Subaru answered quick to the wheel.

Luckily, there wasn’t anybody else fool enough to be driving this particular stretch of Maine highway at this particular ungodly hour of the morning-or-night. If there had, I’d’ve been toast.

Route 5 twisted, snakelike, between parallel rows of dark storefronts and shuttered motels. I pushed myself up straighter in the seat, biting my lip when the pain knifed through my chest, and tried to stay focused on the matter at hand. Not long now. Not long.

Going home, after all this time.

No matter how many words they use to say it, people only ever leave home for two reasons. Money, that’s one. Love—that’s the other.

The reasons people come home again . . . it could be there are more than two. Me, I was worried about my grandmother. Worried enough to risk a homecoming. Trust me—that’s some kind of worried.

Mind you, the crisis or calumny that Bonny Pepperidge—that would be Gran—couldn’t settle with her off hand while cooking breakfast wasn’t something that was likely to roll over and play dead for the likes of me. Still, there was the bothersome fact that the phone had rung empty the last six times I’d called—and it was just like Gran not to bother with an answering machine or to pick herself up a cell—and the downright terrifying reality of the foreclosure notice from Fun Country management.

Perfectly reasonable for Fun Country to contact me; my name’s right there on the lease as co-owner. But I’m only an Archer—a half-Pepperidge, and not the best half, either. It’s the Pepperidges who’ve owned and operated the merry-go-round at Archers Beach since right around the dawn of civilization, Maine time; and Gran who’s had the care and keeping of the thing since well before I’d been born. The size and shape of the disaster she’d allow to threaten the carousel was—almost unimaginable.

Unfortunately, I’ve got a vivid imagination; and Gran’s my last family, so far as I know. Given the combination of circumstances, I could no more have stayed away than flown to the moon.

Not to say that Gran didn’t have a lot of friends in town—as old or older than she was, some of whom didn’t look kindly on me. And of course, there was the family lawyer. But Henry’d been out of town when I called, according to the message on his answering machine, due back some days after Fun Country wanted their money.

Which is why I was here, driving uncertainly down Maine Route 5 at oh-my-God-o’clock in the morning, toward the home I’d forsaken, and trying not to think of what was likely to be waiting for me there.

The headlights picked out a deserted parking lot on the right. I pulled in next to the boarded up ice cream stand, “For Sale” sign hanging at a crazy angle from the storm shutters, slid the car into park, and fingered my cell phone free of its pocket on the outside of my backpack.

I hit speed dial and held the unit to my ear, listening to my grandmother’s phone ringing, ringing, ringing on the other end.

Sighing, I thumbed “end” and sat holding the phone in my hand, staring out into the dark. No doubt about it, I was going to have to go in—back to Archers Beach, which I hadn’t left on the best of terms. That would teach me to burn my bridges.

Or not.

I slid the phone back into its pocket, ratcheted the stick down to drive and pulled back onto 5. Soonest begun, soonest done, as the saying goes. And the devil take the hindermost.

Mist began to creep across the road as I went on. I kept my foot on the gas, and I won’t say I wasn’t holding my breath when the Subaru crossed the town line, which was a waste of perfectly good anxiety—nothing out of the ordinary happened, unless you count an increase of mist.

Breathing carefully, I turned off Route 5 and headed down into town.

The street lamps were out on Archer Avenue, and the Subaru’s headlights illuminated swirls of sea mist pirouetting before boarded-up storefronts. At the bottom of the long hill was the Atlantic Ocean, hidden by a full-fledged fog.

I rolled the window down, shivering in the sudden cold breeze, and took a deep breath of salt air. My eyes watered—which was the salt, or maybe the breeze—and slammed on the brakes as a dark form loped across the street directly in front—but no. It was only the mist, playing games.

I took my foot off the brake and let the car drift.

At the bottom of the hill, where Archer Avenue crosses Grand, I tapped the brakes again. It was five-ten by the clock on the Subaru’s dash; twenty minutes shy of Gran’s usual rising time, though I told myself I no longer expected to find her at home. That last phone call, made just outside the town line, had been pretty definitive. Even Gran isn’t stubborn enough to ignore her phone ringing at four-thirty in the morning.

I should, I thought, go straight on to the house, but habit decided me otherwise. Habit and the fact that I could hear Gran’s voice just as plain as if she sat in the passenger’s seat beside me—“Did you pay your respects to the sea?”

The fog played its game of hide and seek as I felt my way ’round Fountain Circle and pulled the Subaru head first into the center of the five municipal parking spots that face the ocean across a wide stretch of fine, pale sand. In Season there would be signs posted, warning drivers of a ten minute limit on parking, and a strictly enforced tow away policy.

In April, the signs were still in the Public Works garage, and you could park facing the ocean for weeks, and nobody’d notice. Or care, if they did.

I put the Subaru into park, turned off the engine, and sat, taking stock.

My head throbbed and my chest ached—nothing unusual, these days. Not to mention that I was standing on the chancy edge of being ’way too tired, which driving three days non-stop’ll do for you, even if you’re in the pink of health.

Damp breeze danced in the window, chilling my ungloved hands. Faintly, very faintly, I could hear the sound of the surf, slapping and sizzling against the sand.

Walk light on the land,” I whispered to myself, which was something I hadn’t done since I was a kid, new-come to the Beach and afraid of it all. “Walk light on the land and everything’ll be fine.”

Or not. And it wasn’t like I had a choice, anyway. Peril Number One, and counting.

I rolled up the window, popped the door, grabbed my cell, on the vanishingly small chance that I’d get a call; and went down to the water.

The tide was going out. I slogged through shifty dry sand to the firm wet stuff, the fog running cold fingers across my face; a blind thing trying to puzzle out my features. Turning up my collar, I pushed my hands deeper into my pockets, wishing I’d remembered how cold an early morning in April could be, here on the Maine seacoast.

Shivering and out of breath, I stopped at the water’s edge, the toes of my sneakers on the tide line. I shook my hair back out of my eyes, squared my shoulders, and waited for what the sea might bring me.

Wavelets struck the shore and fizzed. The breeze swung ’round, freshened, trying to push the fog back out to sea.

A wave smacked against the sand, sudden as a shotgun blast, and water splashed over my sneakers.

Swearing, I jumped back, and looked down.

Wet sand was all I saw; that, and a little rag of foam.

I bit my lip. What had I expected? It was my good fortune that I’d gotten nothing worse than wet shoes.

I pulled the cell phone out of my pocket and took a look at its face: five-thirty-five. The sea had taken its own sweet time getting back to me. Turning my back on the water, I squinted uphill, barely making out a blue smear that was the Subaru, waiting patiently where I’d put her. To my right, the Archers Beach Municipal Pier hove out of the fog like a ship out of stormy seas; to my left Fun Country sat like a broken dream, sea mist toying with the shrouded rides. The carousel was invisible, gray steel storm gates absorbed by the gray fog.

I lifted my soggy right foot and shook it; did the same for my left—and stood for a moment, weighing the cramped agony in my chest against the long slog back up to the parking lot. Up above the fog, a gull screamed an insult, and somehow that decided it. I turned right and started walking, keeping to the damp sand, but well out of the splash zone. Under the Pier I went, making for the townie side of town, and one particular old house facing the water across the dunes.

“ ’Mornin’.” The voice was deep, soft as the fog itself.

Gasping, I spun, wet sneakers skidding on wet sand. The owner of the voice stepped out of the fog and raised his hands—one empty, one holding a Styrofoam coffee cup—and stopped where he was, letting me get a good look at him.

Tall—’way taller than I am—broad and powerful-looking. His face was high-cheeked and brown; his black hair cropped, except for a thin braid that snaked across his shoulder, falling almost to his waist. His jeans were as soft as salt and weather could make them, and he wore a brown leather jacket open over a green work sweater. He looked to be maybe thirty, thirty-five. I didn’t recognize him—but, then, there wasn’t any reason why I should.

“ ’Morning,” I answered, on the general principle that it’s prudent to be polite to guys who’re bigger than I am. “Pleasant day for a walk.”

He laughed, deep in his chest, and lowered his hands. “Well, it’s not. But I was up anyway, hoping it would clear in time to go out.” He had a sip from his cup, and jerked his head at the fog-shrouded ocean. “No going out in this, and by the time she burns off, the tide’ll have turned.” He gave me nod. “I fish Mary Vois’ boat for her, since the sea took Hum, couple years back.” A pause for another sip from his cup. “Don’t believe I’ve seen you around before. Visiting?”

It was on the tip of my tongue to tell him that my business was none of his—and then I thought better of it, recalling small town manners that were rusty with disuse. He’d given me info, and now he was asking for info in return. Fair enough.

Visiting,” I agreed, trying to reckon how much I needed to put on the table to balance my social debt. I was ’way too tired for that kind of subtle calculation, though, and in a couple seconds I gave it up and just told him what passed for the truth. “I grew up in town, and my grandmother’s still here.”

Don’t say.” He sounded genuinely interested, which of course he would be. Parsing lineage is an ancient Maine pastime. “Who’s your gran, then?”

Should’ve seen that coming. I sighed lightly, but forked over. It wasn’t like it was a state secret, and if I spent more than two hours in town, he’d hear it from somebody else anyway. “Bonny Pepperidge. She runs the carousel.”

Sure she does!” He grinned. “You must be Kate.”

Yep, I’m Kate. And you are?”

Borgan.” He gave the name readily enough, and between it and the information that he fished Mary Vois’ boat, I had enough to pin him down for any townie I met. Just in case I should need to, which I really hoped I wouldn’t.

I could use a cup of coffee,” I said, which was nothing less than the truth. The fog had chilled me straight through while we’d played Twenty Questions, and I was shivering inside my denim jacket. “Anything open this early?”

Borgan held out the Styrofoam cup. “Bob’s.”

There wasn’t any reason why I should’ve been startled, but I was. Exhaustion, maybe. “Bob’s is still there?”

Was ten minutes ago.”

Well, I’m going in the right direction, then.” I cleared my throat and gave him a civil nod. “Morning.”

See you around,” he answered easily, and raised his cup to his lips.

Social obligation discharged, I put my face into the wind and began to walk. Happily, Gran’s house on Dube Street was only three blocks up from the Pier, and Bob’s Diner was conveniently located at the bottom of the street. I’d check the house first, I thought, and glanced over my shoulder.

All I saw behind me was the shadow of the Pier, black inside the fog.

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First Chapter Friday: Barnburner

So, back in 1994, having nothing better to do with my time (the Liaden series was, according to Those Who Know, dead, forever dead, and Lee and Miller were washed-up authors), I outlined (insomuch &c) three kinda-cozy mysteries, set in the fictitious town of Wimsy, Maine, which is situated between the very real towns of Waterville and Winslow, Maine, on the shore of the equally fictitious Big  Smoke River.

If you like what you read here, you can purchase and download the rest of the book from Baen ebooks, as well as from Amazon, BN, Kobo, and iBooks (here’s a universal link).

Excerpt from Barnburner, © Sharon Lee 1994

1989
Central Maine
1

THE PICKUP TRUCK HAD been blue once, but general neglect and six winters of road salt had scrubbed it down to gray. It was lacy with rust around the wheel wells—salt again—and clanged like a sheet metal convention the long way down the drive and into the dooryard.
I rinsed out the coffee mug and put it to drain, pulled the plug in the kitchen sink and wiped my hands down the seat of my jeans.
“Harry’s here,” I told Jasper, a banality he vanquished with a single flick of his right ear. Jasper’s ears are very expressive. Mostly they express Jasper’s irritation with his present body servant. Jasper had been quite happy with his former servant, my Aunt Jennifer, and had been inclined from the first to lay blame for her sudden and unexplained desertion squarely at my door.
I inclined my head as I passed him in his window-perch—”Your Majesty”—worked the latch on the ancient plank door and stepped out onto the porch.
Harry was standing on the truck’s risky back bumper, bent over the gate and swearing so matter-of-factly that she might have been holding a Sunday social conversation with the rusty bedboards.
“Gotcha!” she announced as I came down the porch steps.
Awkwardly, she gathered a brown paper shopping bag into her arms and came upright, swaying with a certain Chaplin-esque precaritybefore simply stepping backward off the bumper.
I stretched my legs. Harry hit the ground, tottered—and grinned up at me as I grabbed her shoulders.
“Damn good thing you happened by. I’d’ve bruised my ass.”
I laughed. “What’s in the bag?”
“Beans,” Harry said, with relish. She headed for the porch, bag cradled against her chest.
“Beans,” I repeated, eyeing the bag with misgiving.
“Cull beans,” Harry expanded, setting the bag on the top step and treating me to another grin. “Least, it’s what they said down to the company. Bought a sackful for the sheep, opened her up just now—damn beans are just about perfect. Thought you could use some, with winter coming.”
The Maine year is measured by winter—it’s either coming, just gone, or here. In this case, Harry’s point was made with a Mainer’s understatement: it was mid-October, and winter breathing down our necks.
“Brought twenty pound, thereabout,” Harry said, pulling her flannel shirt straight. “Go on and bring out some bowls. I’ll sit an hour and help you pick ’em.”
Twenty pounds of beans, I thought, dismally. What on earth was I going to do with twenty pounds of beans?
It was impossible not to take the beans, just as it was impossible to decline the offered assistance. Manners, Jen, I told myself severely and started into the house.
“Glass of cider?” I asked Harry, holding the door open on my fingertips.
“That’d be fine.”
Haroldene Pelletier was Jennifer Pierce’s oldest friend and I had inherited her, with the house and Jasper, when Aunt Jen died, two years ago. She was a stocky, gap-toothed woman with shoulder-length gray hair squeezed flat under a succession of well-used peaked caps. Today’s hat was blue, with a faded GMC logo over the bill. It looked about as old as the usetabe-blue pickup.
I handed Harry a beer mug filled with cider and sat down on the step, the bag of beans between us. I waited until she’d had a sip before handing her the largest of Aunt Jen’s nesting pottery bowls.
“Good cider,” she said, setting the mug down with a thump.
“Morris brought it by yesterday.”
“Morris” is Mainer for Maurice. This particular Maurice is DuChamp, owner of Old Smoky Orchard, and, as far as I knew, the last of my aunt’s living bequests.
“Well, we’ve had our differences,” Harry said, which was her standard Morris line, “but I will say Morris DuChamp knows how to behave.”
She unrolled the top of the bag and reached in, pulling out a fistful of beans. She opened her fingers and showed me: pale beans with a scattering of faded red freckles along the seam, liberally mixed with stones, sticks, bits of hay, and beans that were nowhere near “perfect.”
I set the enameled colander one step down, hooked a leg up, planted the opposite foot two steps down (“High pockets,” Harry said, the first time we met. “Just like your aunt.”), and nestled the second-largest bowl in the crook of my knee.
“What kind of beans are these?” I asked, gamely reaching into the bag and hauling out a fistful.
“Soldier,” Harry said, head bent over her hand. “You got a good recipe for baked beans in your aunt’s card tin—’Thena Gagnon copied it out for her. Bean pot used to be in the bottom of the hutch.”
At first, it had frosted me utterly that these people—these strangers—knew more about the contents and keepings of my home than I did. Now and then I still had the urge to move everything in the house completely around and then hold a potluck for the neighbors. It was only the bone-deep belief that the neighbors would work day and night to put everything back “right” that saved the house and Jasper from disruption.
I opened my fist and began to sort. Sticks, stones and icky wrinkly, dried-up once-beans were the easy discards. They clattered into the colander like sudden hail.
Now, for the harder choices. I chose a pristine, plump specimen from the pile in my palm and dropped it into my bowl. Another… another.
The next one was slightly wrinkled. I consider it; flicked it into the colander.
“You be at the meeting tonight?”
I sighed down at my little clutch of beans.
“It was on my sheet yesterday,” I said, sounding almost as grumpy as I felt. “I guess it’ll be on my sheet today.” I discarded a cracked bean and a wrinkled one and hesitated over a pea-sized specimen before dropping it into the bowl.
“I wish Reverend Stern would get a life,” I grumbled.
Harry sniffed. “Always poking his nose into other people’s houses,” she said, sorting beans with efficient flicks of her finger. Her bowl was filling rapidly; the discards to the colander alarmingly few. “That way in elementary school. No use looking for him to change now.”
“Maybe he’ll move away,” I suggested.
Harry raised wide eyes to my face. “Whatever for?”
I grinned, sourly. “Yeah, why move to a city and be just another crank when you can be a big fool in a little town?”
Harry gave a crack of laughter. “Boss fish eats better than the minnows,” she commented and shook her head. “Where does that man get his money?”
“He goes to Boston once a month and robs a bank.”
“Wouldn’t think he was bold as that.”
I hiccuped against a laugh and threw Harry a grin. “You’re probably right.”
“Not as if they didn’t come asking for notice,” Harry said, reaching into the bag for another fistful of beans. “He’s quiet enough, but her—she might as well have popped the Reverend in the nose and had done with it.”
Him and her were Scott and Merry Ash, who’d bought the old Johnson place at the top of the Point Road. They’d moved in at the end of mud season—which is called April in most of the rest of the country—and started fixing the place up: roof, shingles, dooryard steps. They’d cleared the rubbish out of the abandoned kitchen garden and put in a modest planting, to the general approval of the neighborhood.
Scott acquitted himself well under interrogation by the old men who held morning court at Christie’s Donuts. He had admitted to planning for a sheep or two, an herb garden for Merry, setting in more vegetables, maybe starting a hive.
Nice young couple, the preliminary verdict went out from the donut court. Want to do right by the land.
Then Merry hit town.
In this age of Christian fundamentalism, Merry Ash is a Witch or—her preference—a Wiccan. Which is to say, a person embracing a specifically non-Christian—some insist, pre-Christian—belief system. Wicca honors a Goddess and a God, and a Wiccan keeping to the letter of her Rede honestly strives to “harm none.”
Wimsy is home to half-a-dozen assorted pagans that I know of, and probably twice that many who prefer to keep their beliefs quite, quite secret. What set Merry and Scott apart was that neither of them attempted to hide their affiliation. Indeed, Merry set out to educate others about her beliefs, and quickly became one of the more popular—and controversial—speakers at the local schools.
But trouble, when it sprang, didn’t spring from a Wiccan-versus-Christian matter at all.
It exploded out of the abortion debate.
Reverend Stern was pro-life, militantly so. He picketed the Wimsy Medical Center, there being no “abortionaries” on this side of the Smoke. He’d had a heart attack in February which had kept him close to home all summer, but before that he’d traveled extensively throughout Maine and the rest of the continental forty-eight, to the relief of the greater portion of Wimsy’s townsfolk, organizing rallies at other hospitals, medical centers and clinics.
In June, he’d taken his fervor to the streets, organizing a couple dozen staunch supporters to march as a bloc in the annual We Are Wimsy Day Parade.
So, picture it: Reverend Stern and his followers, with their placards of graphically ravaged fetuses, jostling through the crowd to find their place in the parade queue—and coming face-to-placard with Merry Ash and the founding membership of Gaia Coven.
The Wimsy Voice had been there, which meant me and Dan Skat. Dan won Best Grab from the Mid-Maine Newspaper Association for the shot of Merry wrenching Reverend Stern’s placard out of his hands.
Merry was ticketed by Officer Vince Kellor and had to pay a fine for littering. After she beat the placard to death against the side of the post office she left the pieces scattered around the parking lot.
If she’d thrown the bits into the rubbish bin, Vince told the Voice, he’d have had no cause to write any tickets. Far as he knew, there wasn’t no law against busting placards. As for the placard in question having belonged to Reverend Stern before its demise—”The gentleman was not able to prove ownership.”
“You know,” Harry commented, dry-voiced. “I bet some of them beans’ll cook up just as good as those pretty ones you’re keeping.”
I started, recalled to the present, and looked up guiltily.
“Too picky, huh?”
Harry sighed. “I don’t know how them folks in the city get on.”
“Too picky,” I concluded, and felt a sweep of nostalgia for the bright, wide-aisled supermarkets of my hometown.
Gamely, I reached into the bag again, deliberately chose a wrinkled bean and dropped it into my bowl.
“Bad enough they write letters back and forth to each other, clogging up the whole newspaper,” Harry continued, back with Scott and Merry and Reverend Stern. “But when he comes knocking on doors and quoting Scripture at me during my supper-hour—” She shook her head, and hauled another fistful of beans out of the bag.
The letter-writing war had been closely followed by all of Wimsy. Merry, at least, stuck to the abortion issue, and if she did from time to time cite her authority as a Wiccan High Priestess, it was no less than Reverend Stern did, by claiming a first-name relationship with Jesus.
But the Reverend just couldn’t leave well enough alone. Merry looked like getting the best of him in the abortion debate, to judge by the letters that poured through the Voice’s editorial desk, and he’d veered off into “Thou shalt not suffer a Witch” territory.
This had proved to be an unexpectedly fruitful field and the Reverend had tilled it and tended it with the devotion of a fanatic all the long, letter-writing summer.
But even that fertile territory had started to dry up after awhile. Folks started to write less fevered, more normal letters to the editor; Gaia Coven opened a co-op on Main Street; those who did went upcountry, late summer, and raked blueberries for their winter’s cash. The staff of the Wimsy Voice breathed a cautious sigh of relief.
Then Scott applied for the town’s permission to fix his barn.
Since there were significant portions of former barn still standing, this should have been a formality. Scott went to Town Hall on Thursday, filled out the form and paid his three dollar fee. Friday morning, the clerk posted his request and two others like it on the public notice board. There it was destined to remain until the next Friday, by which time anyone with objections should have come forward and said their piece.
Reverend Stern didn’t stop with saying his piece to the Wimsy Town Clerk. No sir. Reverend Stern took to the streets, to the churches and, yes, once again to the letters page of the Voice.
“Calling a whole meeting over a barn,” Harry grumbled, sorting beans like a dervish. “Think even Butchie Stern’d have more sense than that.”
I choked. “Butchie?”
She looked at me from under her lashes, sidewise-sly. “What we called him in elementary school.”
“I love it.”
“Don’t you go using that in no story,” Harry admonished. “Have him after me in the editorials.”
She flicked the last bean from her palm to her bowl and rubbed her hands down faded denim thighs.
“Time to be getting on,” she said, putting the bowl up. “This here’s enough to get you started.”
She swigged the dregs of her cider and stood. “You look up that recipe, now, and let me know how you like them beans.”
“I’ll do that,” I said, unwinding from the step and walking with her toward the faded blue truck. I smiled as she hauled herself into the driver’s seat. “Thanks, Harry.”
“You betcha. See you at meeting.”
I blinked in surprise. “You’re going?”
“Wouldn’t miss that show for the world,” she said and started the truck with a roar.

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