Della Adamson, the Early Years

Sometimes, when suffering writer’s block, I like to put my mind on a different project to clear out my brain and let ideas percolate. One of the best ways for me to do that and still feel like I’m accomplishing something when I’m on a deadline is to write little bits of flash fiction about other characters in my current WIP. I wrote a ton of these for Sideshow. Some of them may find their way into larger works in the future, but for the time being, I’ve decided to share a few of my favorites with you.

Shay Number 5

Della Adamson. Act One. A New Beginning

Della kept her eyes closed as the train left the station. She had no desire to have a last look at Montgomery, West Virginia as it faded away behind the train. Years ago, when she had been a little girl, Montgomery had been everything to her. It had been the “big city” and the people who came from there had been interesting and sophisticated. Now, she understood just how small it was. Sure, it was larger than where she grew up, a town that had been named for a kind of coal that hadn’t been profitable for over 100 years, but still, Montgomery wasn’t an escape. Not even Morgantown, the city printed on her ticket, was a true escape. She felt strained and confined by the entirety of West Virginia, the United States, the planet earth. She needed to get away, though she couldn’t say why, and where to was nothing more than a dream.

She had been in school when it happened the first time. Miss Hawthorne, the fresh out of Glenville State, and not all that much older than Della herself, algebra teacher, had been explaining the quadratic equation, and Della suddenly felt unable to breath. Her heart pounded so hard that she could hear it in her ears and her mouth grew dry.

“Is something wrong, Miss Adamson?” Miss Hawthorne had asked sternly, and Della became instantly aware that she had slumped from her desk.

Getting to her feet and brushing off her skirt, Della shook her head. “No, Miss Hawthorne. Just a dizzy spell.” A red flush of embarrassment gathered in her cheeks.

“Do you need to see the nurse?”

For a moment, Della scanned the room trying to decide what to do. All of her classmates eyes were on her. Usually, she appreciated the attention, but this time the whole thing made her feel profoundly uncomfortable. She tried to take a deep breath, but her lungs felt too small. “I suppose,” she whispered, trying to sound poised, despite how she felt inside.

Elegance in all situations, her mother often repeated. Della tried her best to replicate this. Usually it was her temper that got the best of her, but this time, she felt sick. She needed desperately to lie down, and could have done so right there in the classroom, but she refused to allow something as small as illness make her appear anything less than the refined lady her mother had always taught her to be. She excused herself from the room and did not allow the dizziness to overtake her again until she had finally made her way into the hall. Instead of going to the nurse, she walked out of the school and went directly home.

The attacks came with regularity after that. There appeared to be no pattern to them. Della would find herself overcome at town social events, at the meat counter of the deli, in aisle of the general store, at night before she went to bed, and in the morning as she readied coffee for her father and older brothers before they left for work. She began to feel constantly suffocated and never seemed able to take a full breath. She decided then and there that the only way to solve the problem was to leave.

After she felt that a sufficient amount of time had passed, she pulled a small battered brown leather suitcase from under the chair in front of her and snapped it open on her lap. Inside she had packed everything in the house that had belonged to her: a few changes of clothes, a string of pearls, a pair of red kitten heels, two battered Agatha Christie novels with creased and folded covers, and, hidden underneath it all, an old photographBarnum & Bailey postcard of her mother in a tarnished silver frame. She took the photograph out now and examined it. It had been taken many years before Della had been born, before her mother had even met her father. She wore a tight fitting leotard and a long flowing skirt with a slit up to her mid thigh. Mrs. Belinda Adamson didn’t dress like that anymore. She would have been scandalized for Della to even consider wearing such an outfit. Still, there she was, looking proud as could be, and standing on a small, obviously swaying wire. The faces were too similar. She may have aged, but there was no denying that the woman in the picture and Della’s mother were one and the same. As a young girl the picture had perplexed Della, until she had eventually, piecemeal, worked its backstory out of the now austere woman.

The picture had been taken during her days as a circus aerialist. She had been born into a family of them and had been trained, along with her brothers and sisters, to perform acrobatic feats of daring high above the crowd, much to their awe and delight. At the time, Della had found the tale almost as impossible to believe as the thought that her mother would have ever worn such an outfit. It boggled the mind to think of her mother, whose long limp grey skirts practically always touched the floor, who always told Della to never draw attention to herself, performing in a circus. Everyone who knew Belinda Adamson knew her to be a taciturn woman with a melancholy streak a mile wide. She was the sort of woman who faded swiftly and easy out of a stranger’s memory. She didn’t seem like the sort at all. However, as time went on and Della watched, she became clued into small hints that the story was true after all. For one thing, her mother had amazing reflexes. If one of her brothers dropped a glass, she could catch it from halfway across the room.

“Do you know how expensive these are?” She would admonish in a stern voice.

For another, she had a strength that her small frame did not even begin to imply. She could lift the beds to vacuum under them and maneuver heavy buckets of milk all the way up from the store because the milkman did not come far enough up the mountain to deliver them. It did begin to give Della pause.

Her sister, she had told Della one day, when feeling charitable to her questions, had managed to stay in the business even after the Depression had shuttered a good three-quarters of the shows in the country. She had said it with such disdain that Della could easily see she did not approve of this choice, but it struck Della as an odd thing to look down one’s nose about. It wasn’t like her mother had chosen a particularly lucrative profession either, marrying a miner and having his five-boy-one-girl brood. In fact, she thought this mystery aunt probably had a far better measure of things than her mother did.

She tucked the picture away, thinking now of that aunt, trying to remember her name. Christina? Or was it Elina? Sophie? She wasn’t sure. All she knew was that she taken up working with an Irishman named McClure, who ran a traveling carnival. Her mother had talked about her siblings so rarely and under so much duress that it was possible, Della thought, that she had even this wrong. She shook her head and tucked the photograph away, snapped the suitcase shut, and tucked it back under the seat in front of her. She would have time to worry about the next step when she reached Morgantown, where a carnival called McClure’s Amusements was camped out for a weekend.

She would miss her mother, but more than anything she needed to breath.

Side shows at the Vermont state fair, Rutland (LOC)


Three Epiphanies

In honor of a few people I love and admire


The farm boy tuned out the Frenchman talking to his company. He was more interested in seeing where he was. He had never set foot outside Ohio, but he knew this place. He knew it better than he was willing to admit. His father had left through the same port that he was entering now. His father had become a man by leaving, but he was still a boy; a boy who woke up each morning to milk the cows…and there were no cows in the infantry.

He dared not speak, tell a soul what he was thinking when he saw the words: Le Havre. The other boys had looked at him funny when they heard his last name. They still treated him with an air of suspicion. They were wrong, of course. So very wrong. But, what would they do if they knew Alsatian soil could have been his home?

But it wasn’t his home. He knew that too. He owed France nothing. He belonged to France even less than he belonged to Ohio.

Ohio. He never thought he’d miss Ohio.

He thought of home and all the deferments piled up on the kitchen table: only son. He knew it wouldn’t keep him out forever. Not as the list of names in the Times and the Reporter continued to grow. And now here he was.

The Frenchman was babbling on still…and must have seen something in his eyes. “Where you from, son?” He asked, sounding far too much like the farm boy’s own father.

“Strasburg,” he said, not thinking.

The Frenchman lowered his eyes and touched the farm boy’s shoulder.


The blinking light almost looked like a star as it went overhead.The other men had cowered below deck, but not him. He wanted to see it. He had to see it.

“What if the Commies have bombs on it?” they had all asked.

He knew it couldn’t hurt him. He was strong. He was brave. He had managed to survive this far. And besides, the satellite was something bigger than what they were doing.

Taking a deep breath of the salty air, he pressed against the rail and watched the reflection of the stars out in the black water. He wondered vaguely what it would be like to escape to space. Escaping to sea hadn’t been enough. And yet…

At home there was his wife

and a baby girl.

He wasn’t running from them. He’d just forgotten how not to run. He’d try to forget for a little while longer as Sputnik raced across the sky.


She didn’t know why she wore bright red lipstick. It clashed with everything about her complexion. But she was here to do something and it seemed to make them happy. Happy was really all she could give most of them at this point.

The last man she had seen had lost half his face in a mortar blast. He hadn’t even known it. He’d just looked at her…like she was some kind of angel. But she was mortal. And her brother was out there. And the men she loved. Someone loved that man too.

The least she could give was red lipstick.

She carefully closed the door behind the doctors as they rushed in. They told her nursing would bring fatigue, but she had never imagined fatigue could be like this.

The Aromatherapy Project: Pine

[Pine is the first story in the Aromatherapy Project. ]

Jane the Collie was not sure she approved of what the children were up to: out of their tents and galavanting around so early in the morning while all the adults slumbered. They had disturbed the nice calm, contemplative morning. Now they were trying to light a campfire while dewy fog still hung over the lake. She rested her head on her forelegs, keeping a watchful eye on the pair of them.

Little Lydia was shivering in the crisp morning air and staring impatiently at her brother as he attempted to start a fire in the pit using two rocks he had found. “It’s not going to work,” she said, arms crossed partially in defiance and partially to keep out the chill. “It’s too wet out here…”

James looked up at her through hooded eyes. “Because it’s morning,” he replied as if to imply that he had already considered his sister’s complaints.

“You need dry kindling.”

“I can do it with the stones.”

“No, you can’t,” Lydia pressed, a slight whine breaking through in her voice.

Setting the stones down for a minute, James gave his sister a skeptical once over. “What would you know about?”

“I’m a girl scout,” Lydia said with a shrug.

“And I’m a -boy- scout,” James replied. “That’s better.”

“It’s not,” Lydia muttered under her breath as she walked away from the empty fire pit and towards the woods. James had been acting this way the whole trip and it made her furious. The two of them used to be friends, but now he knew more things than her and mentioned it too much. Being a boy didn’t seem to be a good enough reason to Lydia, who was only a year older but was in fourth grade and could name all of the state capitals in alphabetical order and read high school books. James couldn’t do that.

Carefully, she trudged to the edge of the forest and she noticed something furry and auburn rushing to join her. For a moment she hoped against hope that it might be a fox, but when the dog brushes against her leg, she had to laugh. “Jane…silly puppy…” The collie did not leave her little girl’s side as she wandered into the evergreens.

The morning air was thick with the scent of aging pine trees. It made Lydia almost giddy just to smell it. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. The forest was dark and foreboding, but suddenly she wasn’t afraid. How could she be with her tiny memory rushing back to her mother arranging pine boughs on the mantel each winter. “It keeps out the dark, and cold, and all the bad things,” she said as she playfully tapped Lydia’s nose with a stray pine cone. Lydia was never really sure what bad things her mother might be referring too, but she knew that pine made her safe and here she was, surrounded by it.

Jane paced a small perimeter around Lydia. Her senses were more attuned to the forest and she could smell that more than pine was present here. Unlike her little girl, she did not feel safe. Facing one corner of the small clearing, Jane snarled with her ears back, letting out a low protective growl.

Lydia was unnerved by this. She had felt nothing but safe a moment ago and now one of her most ardent protectors was warning that there was something nearby to fear. “Jane…what is it?” she asked in a quiet, frightened voice.

Of course, Jane had no answer other than another low growl. Lydia didn’t have the heart to give pretend voice to Jane’s wants and needs as she so often did. She merely crossed her arms tightly against her body yet again and moved closer to the fluffy, auburn collie whom she loved so desperately. “Lydia stay right where you are,” she thought she heard a voice saying from above her. The voice was not familiar and she dared not look up to see where it came from. She did not question it. She knew she had to obey.

There was a rustling very close by in woods. It sounded like dry pine needles crackling under the weight of a heavy boot. More than anything, Lydia wanted to run as fast as her legs could carry her back to the campsite, but the voice simply repeated. “Stay right where you are.” Even Jane had gone silent now, though her ears were still back and she appeared ready to spring if the occasion warranted.

The crackling continued to draw closer for what felt like an eternity. Then, almost as though it were repelled back by an invisible force, whatever was causing the sound sped away in the opposite direction. Lydia stayed in place until she heard her mother’s voice calling from the campsite.

Lydia sat curled up with Jane near the fire as her parents prepared breakfast. James, having been reprimanded for trying to start a fire without permission, was also nearby, sulking in his chair and looking profoundly unmoved by the proceedings. He was the first to see the Park Ranger’s car pull up to their campsite, however. He jumped to his feet and started to race toward it.

“James!” Their father shouted, causing James to immediately halt his progress. He did not look forward to two stern chats in one morning.

The Ranger smiled in a concerned fashion at the boy when he got out of his car and closed the distance between himself and family. “I’m sorry to bother you fine folks, but I’m afraid I have to ask you some questions.”

“Is there a problem, officer?” Their father asked.

The Ranger shook his head, but Lydia could easily see that he was not being completely honest. “We’ve been tracking an escapee through the woods. Desperate, dangerous, and armed. Bad combination. From what I can tell he came up this way.”

“Escapee?” Both parents asked in one unsettled voice.

Slipping his hat from his head, the Ranger nodded. This time looking somewhat more sincere. “Have you seen anything?”

“Nothing,” Their mother stated, looking worriedly to James and Lydia. Lydia dared not to meet to her gaze.

“Call me immediately if you do?” The Ranger held out a card containing his mobile number as both parents nodded.

Lydia held tightly to Jane’s neck as she glanced toward the safety of the pine trees.