And if they were brownies, that meant I wasn’t really awake at all. They were a type of fairy that visited people in their dreams. Situating my blankets, I settled my dream self against the headboard and faced the brownie closest to me. “What can I do for you?”
He grinned and hopped down from the footboard onto the bed walking across my leg to get nearer to me. “You assume we need your help?”
I shrugged. It was an assumption, true, but I was a Neutralizer. What else was I to think? “I certainly didn’t call for you.”
Another brownie, this one a little chunkier, started laughing, banging his spear against Beck’s chest of drawers with each guffaw. “We do not come when asked. We come when necessary.”
“Maybe it’s just because I’m still asleep, but I don’t really understand.”
“You’re in danger.”
Those words were spoken by all fifty-something of them. Their voices all sounding in unison was a little creepy, especially since this was a dream. “I can take care of myself.”
“It will swallow you up. If you don’t get out now you’ll go under.”
Just before the turn of the twentieth century, a man by the name of Arthur Stilwell was in the process of building a railway to connect Kansas City to the Gulf of Mexico. His original plan was to purchase the Houston East and West Texas Railroad and then to create a port terminal in Galveston, Texas. Stilwell’s plans changed when, as he recounts in his autobiography:
I was warned by my nightly advisors not to make Galveston the terminal of the Kansas City Southern Railroad, because that city was destined to be destroyed by a tidal wave.
You see, Stilwell claimed that from about the age of four he received messages from spirits that he called “brownies.”
As a child, he would warn his mother that relatives would be visiting days before the persons would actually arrive. He also pointed out his future bride when he was just 14 years old, and in fact within five years Jennie Wood became his wife.
As to the railroad, Stilwell said that the brownies advised him to end the railroad at Lake Sabine and to build the terminal at the site that is present-day Port Arthur. He followed their instructions, “not deviating from the plans revealed.”
Just five years later, the hurricane of 1900 devastated Galveston Island, killing around 8,000 people.
On April 7, 1924 Time Magazine featured an article titled “Brownies” which related the guidance Stilwell received from his nightly visitors. Other authorities at the time, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, believed Stilwell might truly have been psychic. I even located for auction a copy of one of Doyle’s books which was inscribed to Stilwell: "Yours in the great cause of Spirit-/Arthur Conan Doyle,/May, 31/22”
You can learn more about Stilwell and the city of Port Arthur, Texas at the Museum of the Gulf Coast.
Gulping down the last drink of coffee, now cold, she motioned to the waitress for more and then scooted across the booth closer to the next table. There were five young guys gathered around the table next to her, all of them vying for the attention of just two pretty girls.
“Bet you guys have been down Sara Jane Road, haven’t you?”
One of the boys, rubbing his obviously full and slightly chubby midsection, smiled cockily. “’Course we have, lady. Everyone’s been down Sara Jane Road.”
Stirring some cream into her coffee, she nodded. “And did you see anything? I mean I’m sure you went down the road with your lights off and all. Did you see her?”
A kid next to him punched him in the arm. “Yeah, Keith, did you see anything.” There was a certain nasty, low tone to his voice.
Keith blushed and Johana recalled there were other reasons one might take a trip down Sara Jane Road. The seclusion near the bridge could provide much desired privacy for a pair of young lovers. Boys¸she thought.
“Aw, c’mon guys. You know what I’m asking about. Tell me about Sara Jane Road. Tell me the legend.”
I have a vague memory of driving Sara Jane Road when I was a teenager. We didn’t turn the headlights off and we didn’t see Sara Jane. Still the legend exists and most of the folks I’ve asked from the “Golden Triangle” recall different versions of the story. The most prominent one was of Sara hanging from the tree having killed herself in grief for losing her baby to the Neches River. Still, there are many variations of the story and its impossible to know if any or none of them are true..
In 2007 the Port Arthur news ran an article about Sara Jane Road and reported that local historian and author W.T. Block’s mother was in fact Sarah Jane Sweeney Block. Mrs. Block, however, never had a child die in the Neches River and in fact lived to be ninety-nine years old.
The inspiration for the characters in Dark Road Winding are rooted in my own family history as well as my husband’s. Grandpa H.M.’s character was written in homage to two very special people. First, my own grandfather, Henry Mel Hardin who departed this earth not long after I graduated high school. Somewhere in my mind Grandpa H.M. looks a lot like my Pawpaw. In the story, H.M. is an ex-con who spent most of his life in the federal penitentiary. That didn’t just come out of nowhere either. My hubby’s grandfather went to prison for counterfeiting and until his junior year of high school my husband didn’t even know he existed! Still, when his grandfather was released back into society, he made his life anew, becoming a true springboard for my husband to get an education and to make something of his life.
The connections don’t end there. The deceased matriarch of Johana Suzanne’s family is Mother Hall and she’s described as a feisty woman who did things her way. I never met my Pawpaw’s mother, a woman fondly referred to as Mother Turner, but I’ve read and heard about her and I imagine she was quite a woman.
The characters and story I’ve told in Dark Road Winding are all entirely my own and a fabrication of my fervent imagination. That said, I’ve tried to pepper the story with spices of my childhood and my family, all to give a flavor for my beloved Southeast Texas roots. I hope you’ve enjoyed.
I’ll be looking for a good urban legend for my next book in this series. So, if you’re from Texas, living in Texas, or just know an interesting ghost story that takes place in Texas, I’d love to hear from you. Just comment below and tell me all about your favorite Texas urban legend. Or, send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Queen Nefertiti is one of the most well-known of the Egyptian royals, mostly because of the beautiful bust of her which now resides at the Egyptian Museum of Berlin. The 3,000+ year old bust presents Nefertiti as a woman of extraordinary beauty. Unfortunately, it is housed in Germany, despite multiple requests that it be repatriated to Egypt, something my husband, a museum professional, feels strongly about.
But in more recent news, archeologists have claimed to have discovered evidence of a possible hidden chamber behind the tomb of Tutankhamen, Nefertiti’s step-son or even possibly her son. Efforts to investigate this possible secret chamber are still underway, but there are some very interesting theories. To appreciate those, we must first know a bit about the Queen herself.
Nefertiti was the wife of King Akhenaten, and is believed to have been one of the only pharaohs’ wives to have wielded power nearly equal to the king’s. Her husband went to great lengths to display her as his equal. The two of them began a revolution of sorts by advocating the worship of a single god, Aten, instead of multiple gods. Egyptologist Dr. Christopher Naunten states, “They were closer to being Gods in their own right than any other pharaohs.”
Most of the pharaohs of the time before and after Nefertiti have been accounted for, but the queen’s body has never been located. Some evidence suggests she may have been buried in a place hundreds of kilometers away from the Valley of the Kings. The Armana tomb was made to house multiple burials, but her body has not been definitively identified as one of those that were there.
Still, there are reasons to believe that Nefertiti could have been buried in the Valley of the Kings. Some evidence suggests that when her husband Akhenaten died, Nefertiti ruled in his stead, possibly even dressing as a man for that role. So there is speculation that the hidden burial chamber was hers, and that when her son Tutankhamen reigned, he possibly assumed the goods and treasures from her chamber as his own. There is even a strange theory that the famous King Tut death mask was actually hers, and that the impression of her face was removed and replaced with that of the boy king.
I’d already created Red’s character for the Hotel Paranormal/ Lynlee Lincoln story, Escaping the Ashes even before I realized she would be Egyptian, so I was worried about her physical characteristics. Red hair and fair skin. Interestingly enough, there is evidence that some Egyptian mummies were naturally fair skinned and had red or even blonde hair. So, I needn’t have worried. Red could very well be Egyptian.
One last bit of trivia – when I began developing the part of Atreus in this story, I just intended that he would have been a slave of Queen Nefertiti. But when I began studying the tombs of the Egyptian royals, I came across the term ushabty or ushabti. These were small funerary figures placed in the tombs. Meaning “followers” or “answerers,” these were intended to carry out tasks for the deceased as they transitioned into the afterlife.
Happy reading, all!
When one of my editors went through Shifty Business, she commented on how “real” the airplane scene was and how she empathized with Gerry. There’s a good explanation for that realism. I’ve felt it! My husband is a pilot and just before we were married he purchased a 1958 Cessna 172—a “classic.” Now the hubby is an excellent pilot, but we’ve had some events that make a person like me awfully nervous. I tapped into those when I wrote the flying scenes.
Also, the airplane Nicky flies is an “old straight-tail.” Any pilot will know what that means and most of them sigh with nostalgia and remember the first one they ever flew. I sometimes think all pilots must have started out in an older Cessna 172. It’s a much-beloved airplane, sometimes called the Impala of the skies: durable and easy to fly.
So my dear husband calls our airplane American Pie II. His Cessna came off the assembly line the same month Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper went out on the Winter Dance Party Tour which would eventually lead to their deaths in an airplane crash… an airplane called American Pie. It may seem like a bad omen, but that “beautiful old bird” took us many a mile. And the story about her name is always a fun one to tell, especially since the Big Bopper was from my region of Texas and Buddy Holly was from the hubby’s hometown of Lubbock.
Don’t you just love how small the world is sometimes?
The hubby and I sold that gorgeous plane a few years ago and I know that he missed her a lot. Still, it gave us a lot of fun and adventure for about 20 years!
Post-Prohibition Era diagnoses of alcoholism were grim. Some believed it might be an allergy of sorts to which some were more susceptible. Most medical and psychiatric experts believed the condition was incurable and terminal. Those with limited resources were resigned to state hospitals or charities like the Salvation Army. If you had financial support you might get more aggressive treatment including the “purge and puke” method with barbiturates and belladonna.
Still most of the time those resulted in relapse and eventually death associated with the condition. In the beautiful story, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn when the doctor notes that the father’s death certificate will read pneumonia and alcoholism as the cause, the mother begs him to leave the word alcoholism off for her children’s sakes. It’s a heartbreaking scene.
Eventually, though, a group of alcoholics, starting with Bill W. and Dr. Bob began to experiment and find success by applying the theories of The Oxford Society to their illness. A Christian fellowship movement, The Oxford Society’s tenants were described by their founder as follows: “All people are sinners”; “All sinners can be changed”; “Confession is a prerequisite to change”; “The change can access God directly”; “Miracles are again possible”; and “The change must change others.”
Many of the beliefs of The Oxford Society were adapted for the problem of the alcoholic and although the two groups diverged in the later 1930s, many of the edicts of the twelve steps have some connective tissue to The Oxford Society.
I learned about Alcoholics Anonymous through The 75th Anniversary Edition of The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. Originally published in 1939, this book provides a description and definition of alcoholism as well as a step-by-step explanation of how the twelve step program works. It then relates story after story told in first person by members of the group. I can honestly say that listening to those accounts was a moving experience and I learned and gained more from The Big Book than I could ever have imagined when I started writing All the Wrong Reasons. To find out more, please check out my A Pen and a Prayer blog post here.