Reality Check. A New Release By Carol Browne

Surreal, fresh, dark, and entertaining is this new psychological fiction novella from Carol Browne. Some moments it’s thought-provoking and other times it’s unsettling, but it is Carol Browne at her finest. The story as well as the cover will definitely give your mind and imagination a great workout. Reality Check is a must read.

Gillian Roth finds herself in middle age, living alone, working in a dull job, with few friends and little excitement in her life. So far, so ordinary.

But Gillian has one extraordinary problem.

Her house is full of other people… people who don’t exist. Or do they?

As her surreal home life spirals out of control, Gillian determines to find out the truth and undertakes an investigation into the nature of reality itself.

Will this provide an answer to her dilemma, or will the escalating situation push her over the edge before she has worked out what is really going on?

BLURB
Thursday, 26th March, 2015.

My house is filled with people who don’t exist.

They have no substance. They are neither alive nor dead. They aren’t hosts or spirits. They aren’t in any way shape or form here, but I can see them, and now I need to make a record of how they came to be under my roof.

Why now? Why today? Because we line in strange times, and today is one of the strangest days this year; this is the day that Richard III, the last Plantagenet king of England, was interred in Leicester Cathedral, with all due ceremony, 530 years after he was slain at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. How surreal is that? I watched the highlights on Channel 4 earlier. A couple of my house guests sat with me and together we marveled at the event. They did Richard proud, no doubt of that.

I left them to it after a while and came up here to my bedroom to start writing a diary: this diary.

Life feels unreal today, as if time has looped back onto photo albums. The house clearly passed must itself and everything is happening now. And if I can set my thoughts down on paper, perhaps I can make sense of everything, make it all real somehow.

Where did it start, this thing that has happened to me? A couple of years ago? I can’t say when. It evolved without my conscious input. The existence of my house guests was a fact long before I began to wonder at it. I do wonder at it now and I know I must keep track of what’s happening before I lose myself in this crowd of imaginary beings.

At first there was only a few of them, and I observed their doings without much concern. I watched them snooping around the place, choosing the most comfortable chairs to sit in, leaning against the furniture, inspecting the bookcases, checking the kitchen utensils, and peering into my photo albums. The house clearly passed muster and they stayed. In time, they knew me down to the marrow. I have never known them as well as they know me. They have an air of mystery, as though they have a life outside my house they will never divulge. Even so, I felt I was safe with them and I could tell them my problems. Tell them what no-one else must ever hear. And so these shades thickened, quickened; their personalities accumulated depth and solidity, as though they were skeletons clothing themselves in flesh.

I no longer came home to a cold, empty house, but to a sanctuary where attentive friends awaited my return. I was embraced by their jovial welcome when I stepped through the door. I never knew which of them would be there, but one or two at least would always be waiting to greet me, anxious to hear about my day and make me feel wanted, and for a while I could forget the problems I have at work (even the one that bothers me the most). Since then I have felt a subtle change.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I really need this to be a faithful account of the entire situation from start to finish, so I have to try to work out how it all began, even if I’m not sure when.

If I cast my mind back, it floats like a lantern through a city cloaked in fog. I must try to isolate the shadowy figures that flit up at me out of the murk. So, let’s begin with the friend I remember first. I was cooking my evening meal. My mind wandered. I remember feeling sad. And there she stood, at my right elbow, peering into the saucepan.

“Watch you don’t burn that,” she said.

I don’t have names for my imaginary friends, just titles, so I call her Kitchen Girl. She’s dark-haired with porcelain skin, and she’s tall and voluptuous. The sort of woman I’d like to be except I’m small with red hair and a ruddy complexion, and I need chicken fillets to convince people I’m female.

I suppose Kitchen Girl is rather daunting, with those fierce blue eyes and no-nonsense approach to everything. I can stand up to her though. I use humour as my weapon of choice and she appreciates wit and banter. I’d like it if she didn’t nag so much, if I’m honest (“Use less salt… keep stirring… is that all you’re going to eat?”) but, criticism aside, I know she’ll compliment me on the finished product as it lies uneaten between us on the table. Long conversations back and forth have been played out while the meals go cold on their plates. Fried eggs congeal and go waxen. Ice cream melts into a tepid sludge. Sandwiches curl up with embarrassment to be so spurned. You know how it is when you get gossiping. Someone wants to talk to me and that’s better than food.

And sometimes, it’s curious, but it’s Kitchen Girl who cooks the food and serves it to me like a waitress. She likes to surprise me with new dishes.

I have no idea how this happens.

Nor why she never leaves the kitchen. But I wish she’d do the washing up now and then.

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Born in Stafford in the UK, Carol Browne was raised in Crewe, Cheshire, which she thinks of as her home town. Interested in reading and writing at an early age, Carol pursued her passions at Nottingham University and was awarded an honours degree in English Language and Literature. Now living and working in the Cambridgeshire countryside, Carol writes both fiction and non-fiction.

Stay connected with Carol on her website and blog, Facebook, and Twitter.

October Writing

We are into the second day of my favorite month. I’ve always loved October. It’s a cozy month. The air is crisp and cool. I get to wear the hoodies that I love. Sure, I can wear hoodies in winter, but it drops to below zero where I live, so I usually need a jacket, too. In October, a hoodie and a pair of comfortable jeans (or long shorts) are all you need.

October, with its earlier sunsets, is a nice slowdown from the fast pace of summer. Summer days seem to last forever, and I feel guilty when I’m sittin’ around being lazy while the sun beats down in a cloudless blue sky.  But now that October is here, and soon nightfall will come as early as 4:30, I won’t have so much guilt on lazy days.

Since I started writing, October has been the month I really hunker down on my work. October is like New Year’s for me. I start anew. I assess where I am with my current project (usually I am behind, as is the current case) and decide which story I will work on next. Will it be one that I have already started or something entirely new?

The book I’m working on now is a short story I had written in college, over twenty years ago. The revision is going on two years now. Although I’d wanted to be finished with the book a year ago, I went through two major changes in plot lines that resulted in the deletion of multiple dozens of pages and countless hours of work. But I have no regrets. The story is remarkably better today than it was at any other time since I began writing it. So don’t be afraid to dump a few, or fifty-five, pages.

Three weeks ago I started a writing course at my local community college. I needed a reset with my writing, and being in a classroom helps to “recharge my writing batteries.” I find inspiration from other writers. It was this time six years ago that I took my first writing class since graduating college in ’99. The course, as well as the students in it, helped to refresh my writing ability, and four months later I had a contract option on my first novella, Her Name.

It is no coincidence that that first class, the current class I am in, and the writing course I took two years ago, were all signed up for in the fall despite being offered in other months.

Writers write no matter the season, time, or day of the week. But for me, there is nothing like October writing.

 

coffee

 

Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

 

Bella Goes To the Park

I recently took Bella, a pit bull at the animal shelter I volunteer, to the park. It was a gorgeous day, and she deserved a reprieve from the mostly noisy and crowded shelter for a little while.

I’ve been spending some extra time with her for the last few months, so every time she sees me walking through the shelter, she goes to the front of the kennel and stares curiously at me, with a tilt of her head, because she thinks I’m taking it her out.

A fellow volunteer once commented that “when Bella looks at you, it’s like she’s looking at your soul.” I knew what she meant. Bella just has those soulful eyes.

 

          Bella 4

Usually, I walk Bella to a park close to the shelter, but this week I decided to take her for a car ride to a park she’s never been before. Lots of new scents! As we walked out of the shelter, the wag of her hard tail quickened when she realized she was going for a car ride. I rolled the windows down just enough for her to squeeze her boxy head out and feel the wind at her face. When I caught her trying to climb out the window, I abruptly closed the windows. No shelter dogs jumping out of moving cars on my time.

 

Bella 2

 

I parked the car, and since I was warned by the director of the shelter that Bella excitedly darts out of cars when taking her out, I proceeded cautiously. Bella, however, waited patiently as I hooked her up to a leash. Once out of the car, she was anxious to get to know this new place.

It’s always so wonderful to watch shelter dogs enjoying their time away from the stressful kennels. Bella sniffed the trees, ate some grass, watched curiously every person we passed, and acted a little too reactively to a dog. But once I got her back into a heel, she found her serenity. She didn’t tweak at all when we passed a group of about 15 geese just five feet away from the trail we walked. Bella was definitely intrigued by the feathered animals, but she seemed happy to pass them by.

Bella liked waking close to the water. She kept looking out over the water. I didn’t blame her. It was a beautiful view.

Bella 3

 

 

 

I will aim to take her for a car ride once a week and get her back to this park she seemed to love so much. My hope is that someday soon it will be her own family taking her for car rides and visiting her favorite park. Until then, I’ll love her like she’s mine.

 

Bella is a pit bull, and that usually automatically means that she’s going to have a tougher time finding a home. That’s definitely been true in her case, because she’s just too sweet of a dog to have been at the shelter for as long as she has. Pit bulls not only have to overcome the stigma attached to the breed, but they also have to endure the many city bans against the breed, as well as landlords who won’t rent to pit bull owners, and insurers that won’t insure properties with the breed.

These are the obstacles these loving dogs have to face while trying to find homes. Is it any wonder why most pit bulls don’t make it out of shelters alive? If you’re looking for a dog, please give the pit bull/pit bull mix sitting in a kennel at your local shelter a chance. Their time most likely is running out.

 

Please support your local animal shelter. Donate. Volunteer. Adopt. Foster.

 

 

Still Think Trump Doesn’t Incite Violence?

As a Presidential candidate, Donald Trump often lamented at his rallies about missing the good ol’ days when people weren’t afraid of hurting other people. As a candidate, he often used strong, violent language to get his base riled up. And it often worked. There were numerous instances of violence against protestors at his rallies in 2016, which Donald Trump encouraged by assuring his supporters that he’d pay their legal fees.

 

Despite this, there were still people who claimed Trump was a unifier, not a divider. That he didn’t incite any violence in anyone.

Yesterday, ABC News published an article where they list 36 criminal cases “where President Donald Trump’s name was invoked in violent acts, threats of violent acts or assault.” They could fine no such cases for either Presidents Barack Obama or George W. Bush.

According to ABC News, “[i]n nine cases, perpetrators hailed Trump in the midst or immediate aftermath of physically attacking innocent victims. In another 10 cases, perpetrators cheered or defended Trump while taunting or threatening others. And in another 10 cases, Trump and his rhetoric were cited in court to explain a defendant’s violent or threatening behavior.”

Defense lawyers are citing the language of the President of the United States as being the instigator, the motivator, of the people who exhibited “violent or threatening behavior against others. Some were so inspired by Trump’s words that they yelled out Trump’s name during the attacks.

That is sick, but if anyone is surprised by this then they weren’t paying attention in 2016. Let’s not make the same mistake in 2020. Our country’s democracy and integrity is on the line.

This article was written before the shooting at an El Paso shopping mall where the alleged gunman scoped out the area before the assault to make sure there was a heavy Hispanic presence. There was. So he shot up the place killing 22 people and injuring dozens others. The shooter was apparently inspired by the President’s anti-immigrant rhetoric that referred to immigrants coming to America as an invasion. People are hurting and killing people because they believe they’re taking orders from this President.

Because we have a demagogue and a racist in the White House, people are harassing, threatening, taunting, physically attacking, shooting, and killing other people because they believe that will make them a patriot.

Welcome to Donald Trump’s America.

 

Please vote in 2020 to take our country back.

 

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Here Comes Mueller

Robert Mueller is scheduled to testify in front of Congress this week. I just finished reading the Mueller Report a couple days ago. I started the report July 3, and continued through the 4th of July holiday weekend. As I read about an American presidential campaign having so many contacts with Russians, and Russians trying so hard to infiltrate the US in order to influence an American election, I thought solemnly to myself, Happy Birthday, America.

This is where we’ve come.

The polls show that most Americans haven’t read the report. Hopefully it’s because of lack of time – family, work, school, life – and not for a lack of interest because what’s in this report should concern us all.

According to the report, the Russians’ attack on the U.S through social media to sow discord on our democracy was “sweeping and systematic.” There were hundreds of thousands of fake accounts on Twitter and Facebook of Russians posing as Americans and smearing lies about Hillary Clinton.

I remember those lies. I got nowhere trying to convince a man I know that Hillary Clinton was not heading a child sex ring in a pizzeria in Washington, DC. But he believed the conspiracy theorists that told him there were tunnels trafficking children into the basement of the pizza parlor. Another man believed it too because he showed up with a gun demanding to see those tunnels. Luckily the owner was able to talk the delusional man down until the police came.

But there were more lies. So many lies. Social media was run amok with Russian bots spreading those lies, and Americans didn’t know the difference.

We know from the report that the Trump campaign welcomed the support of the Russians. It should make every American shudder that an American presidential campaign did not notify the FBI once during the hundreds of contacts between the Russians and those in the Trump campaign or associated to the campaign.

In 2000,  George W Bush’s debate prep book was stolen, and Al Gore received the book while he was preparing for a presidential debate with Bush. Gore and his team immediately turned the stolen materials over to the FBI. Yet not one peep from the Trump team to the FBI about the Russian interference. That should infuriate every person who calls themselves an American.

The report found collusion with Russia, but Mueller couldn’t determine conspiracy, mostly because those questioned had lied, or had communicated with each other through apps where texts disappeared, or they simply destroyed evidence.

I hope Mueller is very clear about this part because Donald Trump has falsely claimed too many times that there was no collusion.  I hope Mueller is blunt about every pointed question he is asked, especially those questions about obstruction. Trump obstructed justice on multiple occasions.

I laughed out loud as I read a part of the report where Donald Trump tried to get then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to un-recuse himself from the Russia investigation and order the FBI to limit their scope to include only future elections. This made me laugh because I remembered as a child when I did something bad and got caught and knew I was going to be punished, I’d yell “Starting now! Okay? Starting now! You can punish me starting now.” I wanted a do over. I wanted my bad behavior from just minutes ago to be forgotten and only my future behavior be judged for punishment.

Donald Trump wanted a do-over too. It’s funny when children try to get away with bad behavior, but when it’s the President of America it’s abhorrent.

America deserves better.

 

American flag on cracked brick wall

Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

 

 

 

 

Shelter Dogs are Not Broken.

A friend on social media recently asked for recommendations for local dog breeders. She described the kind of dog she’s looking for, and since the animal shelter I volunteer at has dogs that match perfectly to those descriptions, I suggested my shelter to her. She was not open to the idea of adopting right now because she has a toddler daughter, but she said maybe when the girl gets “much older.”

I left it at that. I didn’t press her by asking why she thought she couldn’t adopt a dog with a toddler. Everyone has a right to get a dog where they want. I advocated for a shelter dog, as I will always do, but she went the other way. That happens.

That was the end of it until another person, we’ll call her Sally, joined in on the exchange and agreed with the woman that she shouldn’t get a rescue dog with a toddler. Sally said she wouldn’t adopt when her kids were young, and now that she has grandchildren, adopting is again out of the question even though she feels bad for shelter dogs.

I couldn’t keep quiet. I was cordial. No cussing. No writing in caps. But I couldn’t stand by and let these two women imply a falsehood that shelter dogs are more dangerous than other dogs. There is no truth to that. I have never seen any scientific research that states rescue dogs are inherently more dangerous than dogs that come from breeders.

I responded by first acknowledging that people can get their dogs anywhere they want, but I politely asked that they stop spreading this falsehood that families with toddlers shouldn’t adopt. Hundreds of families adopt from my shelter every year, and thousands across the country, and we can’t let the sentiment be that those parents are putting their kids in danger because they went to a rescue.

It is true that some dogs come to my shelter with behavioral issues because of the abuse they endured at the hands of a human, but animals are temperament tested and it is decided which dogs can be in a home with children. Dogs suffering from the effects of an abusive background work with a trainer to help alleviate their issues, and then they are placed in a compatible home. But if a parent is concerned about a dog’s past, shelters are filled with puppies. I know mine always is.

If a person decides not to rescue a dog and be a part of the solution to reducing the number of dogs killed every year, then at the very least don’t deter other people from adopting by spreading untruths about shelter dogs. At the very least, speak up for rescue dogs. Encourage other people to adopt even if adopting doesn’t fit your needs. Donate to your local shelter. Volunteer. Give a shelter dog your time. They deserve it.

Millions of dogs enter shelters across the country and never make it out alive. The odds are already stacked against shelter dogs, please don’t make it harder for them to find homes.

Be their advocate.

We are their voice.

 

I've waited for you

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A Friday Night, a Rock Concert, and an Asshole Boyfriend

I went to a concert last night.  The tickets were general admission seating, and I’d gotten there early enough to secure a spot one person away from the stage. Having a feeling I’d be close to the stage and the speakers, I brought ear plugs with me. Which was a good thing because I needed them. I’ve gone to, and continue to go to, a lot of rock concerts. I need to protect my ears. After the show, walking to my car, I heard a guy complain to his friends about how loud the music was and that his ears were ringing so bad he couldn’t hear a thing. I’d been there many times, which is why I finally got smart and now bring plugs with me.

Anyway, the concert was great. Four hours, five bands.  A great way to spend a Friday night, and for the most part the people around me were cool. Which is important when you’re standing in tight spaces for hours. A short woman who looked slightly older than me was next to me. She was very sweet. She kept asking me if I was okay. Three hours into the show, she offered me a sip of her beer because she noticed I hadn’t left at all to get a drink. I thanked her, but declined her offer. I hardly ever drink when I’m at concerts. I have the bladder of a small child. It’s very annoying. But it was a very nice gesture from the woman.

It just makes the night that much better when you’re surrounded by nice people. People who just want to have fun on a Friday night. I was by myself, as is mostly the case when I go to concerts. Not too many friends like the music I listen to, which is fine. I don’t mind going to concerts alone, but being around friendly people definitely makes for a better experience.

A woman near my own age with long thinning red hair stood next to me, and her boyfriend, wearing a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers T-shirt, was in front of her at the stage. Off the bat, there was something about the guy that screamed dickhead.

The woman and I talked between bands. She was pleasant, but had a sadness about her. Without judgement, I noted traces of addiction on her face, and the more I observed her, the more I wanted to put an arm around her in a comforting way and tell her everything will be okay now. I could see she lived a tough life and probably hadn’t gotten a lot of breaks.

Take in point, in the middle of the show something sailed past me and nailed her right on the head. She threw her hands up and ducked down.  I touched her shoulder and asked if she was okay. She looked at me with tears and asked what that was. I didn’t know, and she used the flashlight on her phone and we looked around the floor for anything, but we saw nothing. Her boyfriend was in front of her and didn’t see anything, not that he would have done much if he had. When the band finished, and she told him what happened, he showed no concern or interest.

She was visibly shaken up about it. The nice older woman on the other side of me inquired how she was and asked what hit her. We never found out. Throwing an object into a crowd is such an asshole thing to do.

Standing in front of me, and next to the redheaded woman’s asshole boyfriend, was a friendly young man in his early twenties. He left his spot, and when he came back he touched me just to get by, and I jumped up. He laughed and apologized profusely for scaring me. Not sure why he caught me by such surprise. I was surrounded by people and should have been expecting to get or touched in some way. But he was genuinely sorry and called me ma’am, and I felt old.

The jerk boyfriend wouldn’t move when the young man got back to his spot, even though that’s a courtesy we were extending to everyone. We’d hold people’s places when they left and make sure no late-comers pushed past us and took spots that didn’t belong to them. The older woman next to me was really nice about saving spots. But the redhead’s boyfriend wouldn’t budge even though the young man had been in that spot since the start of the show. The young friendly man was visibly shocked at the level of dick-headedness, and the two argued. The redhead told me that it didn’t bother her, but that her boyfriend didn’t like that the young guy kept leaving his spot. She said something to her boyfriend and whatever he said back to her upset her and she started crying, though she tried to wipe the tears before they showed. But I saw them, and wondered what the asshole said to her.

The young man pointed to all the space to the left of the guy and forced his way into his spot. I don’t know if the asshole said something to the redhead but next thing I knew the woman suddenly left and never came back. The headline act came on minutes later, and the boyfriend looked back once, saw that she was gone, and never looked back again.

I’m not gonna say I didn’t enjoy the headline act, because I did, but I thought about that woman often while the band played.  Last night was probably not the Friday night she had anticipated. You go to a concert expecting to have a care-free fun night. And then you get pelted in the head with a flying object and your boyfriend makes you cry.

I hope wherever the woman is now, she’s happy. Maybe life will get easier for her. In my limited time of knowing her, I’d say she deserves that.