Title: The Beguiler
Author: Jo Michaels
Genre: Urban Fiction/Apocalyptic Fiction
Editor: Tia Silverthorne Bach with INDIE Books Gone Wild
Publication Date: November 5th, 2018
The Beguiler: https://amzn.to/2qvmdtj
Hi, I’m Jo. Let’s forget all the “Jo Michaels is blah, blah, blah” stuff and just go with it. I’m a voracious reader (often reading more than one book at a time), a writer, a book reviewer, a mom, a wife, and one of the EICs at INDIE Books Gone Wild. I have an almost photographic memory and tend to make people cringe at the number of details I can recall about them and/or their book(s). My imagination follows me around like a conjoined twin and causes me to space out pretty often or laugh out loud randomly in completely inappropriate situations.
I have a degree in graphic design, and my journey to the end was one few students who begin that program ever complete. However, this was one case where my memory and OCD tendencies helped me. Graduation was one of the most amazing days of my life. But, my most amazing day was when my now husband proposed. Every little girl dreams of being Cinderella someday, and he pulled off the proposal of fantasies.
At the risk of sounding cliché, I’m going to let it out there and say how much I absolutely adore the man I’m married to. Along with my children, he’s my whole world.
I’ve lived in Louisiana, Tennessee, and Georgia, but I’ve had my feet in almost every state. Traveling is something I adore, and have plans to someday see the Mongolia I’ve written about in Yassa.
One of my favorite things is hearing from fans! You can find me on social media most any day of the week. Connect! I’d love to hear from you.
The Beguiler: https://amzn.to/2qvmdtj
Chapter One ~ Mom and Dad
Little Shelia Morgan stood in her living room, using her chubby, six-year-old arms to hold her teddy bear while she cried. Recordings of her dad’s violin music played in the background and people kept walking through the room and hugging her. It was making her more scared than she was when Aunt Ivy told Shelia she’d have to go live somewhere else because her parents wouldn’t be coming back again.
Aunt Ivy and Uncle Melvin didn’t come around very often. Shelia didn’t know why, but she’d been to visit them once and didn’t like it there. Their house smelled like old people, and Aunt Ivy hated kids. As Ivy sat in Shelia’s mother’s favorite recliner and chatted, the child watched with intensity. Aunt Ivy never smiled at anyone coming in and hadn’t shed a tear since the news of the deaths had come. Shelia couldn’t figure it out; even the police officer had cried when he’d given them the terrible news. She knew her mother and Ivy were sisters but had no idea why she wouldn’t be crying. It all seemed wrong somehow. All Shelia knew was, she did not want to go live with her Aunt and Uncle—not ever.
A nice lady from Child Services showed up after everyone left and offered to help Shelia pack her things. They chose seven outfits, two pairs of shoes, and a few photographs to put into the tiny suitcase. When the locks clicked, Shelia began to cry in earnest. It all felt so final, and the “click” seemed to lock it into place in a way nothing else had. She launched her little body at the social worker and cried into her shirt.
The woman pet Shelia’s hair and whispered, “It’s okay, baby. I know you’re scared. You’re gonna be okay. Shh…”
Shelia jerked back and looked the lady in the face. “I don’t have to move with Aunt Ivy and Uncle Melvin, right?”
“No. I found you a really nice place to go where you’ll be very loved.”
“But Mommy and Daddy won’t know where to find me as angels,” Shelia said, stepping away and wiping her nose on her sleeve.
“They always know. But if it makes you feel better, we can leave them a note, okay?”
Shelia’s head bobbed up and down.
“Do you have paper and pencil?” the woman asked.
Racing around the room, Shelia gathered her drawing paper and crayons. She sat down, and the lady helped draw a picture telling the angels where to find their little girl.
The lady held Shelia’s hand, and they walked out to the car where she was put in the back seat and buckled in. Aunt Ivy watched from the porch as they drove away but never lifted her hand to wave.
After a time in the car, Shelia saw they were turning up the driveway of a little blue house with a swing set in the yard. She was hustled out of the car and brought to the door.
The lady that answered was thin, tall, and pretty, wearing a flower-pattered apron over her t-shirt and jeans and no shoes. There was flour on her nose, and the scream of a baby could be heard from the depths of the house.
She smiled and squatted down so she was Shelia’s height. “Hello there, Shelia. I’m Mary Alice. It’s nice to meet you.”
“Hi,” said Shelia. She turned and grabbed the other lady’s pants, feeling shy.
Mary Alice stood up to talk to the social worker. “I’m sorry to hear about her parents. We’re happy to take her in. I’m so glad you called me.”
“Yes, it’s a tragic story. Poor kid. She’s too little to even understand what’s going on. You have my number; call me if you need anything.”
Turning and looking down at Shelia, the social worker said, “You’re going to stay with Mary Alice. She’s really nice, and there are other kids here you can play with, too. Don’t be scared, honey. We told your mom and dad where they could find you.” She peeled the child off her legs, turned Shelia and the suitcase over to Mary Alice, and left.
Shelia stood on the porch and cried, her teddy bear dangling from her hand.
“Sweetheart, why don’t you come on in, and I’ll introduce you to the other kids.”
Tilting her head back, Shelia looked up into the twinkling eyes of Mary Alice before taking her hand, sniffing, and nodding.
“There’s a good girl.”
In the kitchen, there was chaos. The baby was still crying, and two kids around Shelia’s age were running around, whooping and hollering.
“Janet, Michael! You two stop that! You’re makin’ Cleo cry!” Mary Alice said. She snatched the two mid-stride and deposited them in front of Shelia. “This is Janet; she’s eight. This is Michael; he’s five. That,” she said, gesturing to the baby in the highchair, “is little Cleo; she’s just seven months. My husband’s name is Herb, and he’ll be home later. You can meet him then. Do you want somethin’ to drink?”
Shelia shook her head and clutched her teddy bear to her chest.
Janet narrowed her eyes at Shelia and the bear.
Mary Alice threw up her hands and said, “Okay. Ya’ll go outside and play. I gotta get this baby to stop screamin’ or I’m gonna tear out my doggone hair.”
Janet and Michael bolted for the door, but Shelia hung back. Instead, she curled into a corner of the couch where she cried into her teddy bear’s fur until she fell asleep.
Sometime in the middle of the night, someone moved her, and she woke up in a bed with bright, colorful sheets on it. When she opened her eyes, she began to cry again until she remembered where she was and why. Those thoughts made her want to snuggle back under her covers and go back to sleep. Maybe forever.
Instead, she got out of bed and went in search of a bathroom. She did her business and was on her way back when she found her path in the hall blocked by Janet.
“What?” Shelia asked.
“How come you sleep all the time? You sick or somethin’?”
“No, I’m sad.”
“How come?” asked Janet.
“Because my mommy and daddy went to stay with God, and they didn’t take me with them,” Shelia answered, her voice faltering.
Shelia relaxed into the buttery leather of the couch and closed her eyes. A voice that seemed too far away was like a mosquito buzzing in her ears, and she just wanted to shut out the woman’s words. Shelia took a deep breath and let it out in a rush.
“Now, Shelia, you need to remember what happened when you were little. Hypnosis has never hurt one of my patients, and it might help us unlock what’s in your head, making you sad.”
“Look, lady, I’ve been to countless shrinks like you. They all say they want to help me fix this and help me fix that. Nothing’s wrong with me.” Shelia lifted herself into a sitting position. She adjusted her too-tight shirt and squirmed.
“That can’t be true. You’re battling some kind of personal demon. The problem is: you won’t tell anyone what’s really making you sad. Is it moving out of your aunt and uncle’s house?”
She snorted. What a ridiculous thought!
Dr. Candy sat forward in her chair and leaned forward. “Why did you snort like that? Did I ask a stupid question?”
“Um, because those two treated me like a slave? I cooked and cleaned and mowed and washed my whole life while I lived under their roof. I was happy to be out of there! I thank God every day Ivy didn’t spend the money from my parents’ house being sold.”
“But there must be something you’re repressing or you’d be happy now,” said the doctor.
Repressing, my ass, thought Shelia. She knew damned good and well what demons she was battling. Sinner! For the previous few months, she’d been trying to work off the weight she’d put on since her twelfth birthday. Seven years of overeating in an attempt to disgust Melvin had taken its toll. A lot of good that did. That bastard still came after me. She hid her thoughts with a smile. “I am happy. Why would you think I’m not?”
“Your posture, the way you never have a kind word to say about your relatives, and the look on your face right now,” answered the doctor.
“So I’m uncomfortable in my skin. Big deal. I’ve been working out.”
“I’m not talking about your weight, Shelia. I’ve read in your file that you were in a foster home after your parents had their accident. Can you tell me what happened there?”
“Nothing. I cried in bed for a day, and then I was taken away and given to that pair of vipers that call themselves my family.” Shelia bit her bottom lip at the memory of Janet and her fear of being taken away from Mary Alice; that little girl had obviously seen horrors Shelia couldn’t even have begun to imagine at that age. She thought she’d learned just how the girl had felt and why. Thinking about anyone doing something to Janet like Melvin had done to Shelia made her shudder.
Dr. Candy pressed for more. “Tell me about the years you spent with your aunt and uncle.”
“What are you pushing me for? You have everything in your stupid file, right?”
“I want to hear what you felt, not read what your papers say.”
“Fine! I got taken away from a real nice lady and put into the hands of slave drivers. I cleaned, cooked, and took care of the house from age six to age eighteen. Never did they give me anything I wanted. I wore second-hand clothes and got a haircut once a year. Because of them, I couldn’t even make a friend and keep one. Is that what you want to know?” Shelia was breathing hard as she finished her speech and hoped like