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Excerpt from My Life With Cats (c) 2017 Holly Gaskin

One day, I asked Mom if I could get a pet kitten. She said she would have to ask Bud (my stepfather). His response shocked her, as it went far beyond a simple “no.” She was clearly shaken up, as she sat me down to tell me what he’d said.

Simply put, Bud hated cats. It wasn’t just that he didn’t care for them. He actually despised them. To illustrate his point, he’d told Mom about a time when he discovered that a feral cat had given birth to a litter of kittens in his yard. His solution? He put the kittens in a burlap bag, along with some heavy rocks, tied it shut, and threw the bag into Long Island Sound! He drowned those helpless, newborn kittens! According to Mom, Bud actually laughed while recounting this story to her.

“Holly, I didn’t know he was cruel!” she cried. Tears were rolling down her cheeks, leaving dark streaks of mascara.

I was shocked speechless. This was pretty heavy stuff for a second-grade kid to comprehend. I had never heard of animal cruelty before. I couldn’t imagine anyone doing what Bud had done to those sweet, innocent kittens. Yet, in a horrible way I could. In my young mind, I could hear the terrified squeals of those trapped babies. I could picture them, trying to claw their way out of that bag, as it sank, their tiny noses breathing in water instead of air, and, one by one, finally losing consciousness forever. I wondered if Bud, my supposedly kind stepfather and servant of the public, had laughed when he threw that bag of kittens into the water. I was afraid of him after that.

Not long after that incident, Mom told me: “You know what I heard? That a man who hates cats doesn’t know how to treat women right.”

Excerpt from Finding My Father (c) 2011 Holly Gaskin

   The cab whizzed right past the place.


   “Stop!” I cried. The knot in my gut tightened.


   I watched the speedometer’s needle gradually drop to fifteen miles per hour, but the cabbie didn’t stop. He stared at me in his rearview mirror.


   “Back there.” I pointed over my shoulder. The building was now out of sight, obscured by the giant oak trees that lined the road.  “That big brick building…”


   “That building abandoned,” he argued, in a thick accent that I couldn’t quite identify. “Old school. They closed. Nobody there.”


   “No, the building next to the school.” I clarified, giving him the house number.


   No response.




   The cabbie sighed and shifted into reverse, driving slowly, illegally backwards, until I said: “Here.”


   I had my seatbelt off and the door open before he came to a complete stop. I couldn’t take another second in the stifling confines of the non-air conditioned taxi. I shoved a wadded-up twenty in the driver’s hand as I scrambled out of the back seat, not waiting for my change. He took off with a grateful toot of his horn.


   I stood there, glued to the sidewalk, wondering if I ‘d left my courage in the back seat. After all the hassle of getting here, I couldn’t take a single step. I saw not a single soul, but I imagined there were eyes peeping at me from behind the curtains of the houses across the street. I spotted Neighborhood Watch signs, and wondered if I looked suspicious, loitering there. The July sun was scorching, almost as unbearable as the inside of the taxi. Already, my forehead was covered with a thin sheen of sweat, and the sleeveless cotton shirt I’d worn with capris and sandals seemed like too much clothing. I was growing increasingly uncomfortable, and more unsure of myself by the second. Was I unwise to have come alone? Or at all? In my panicked state, I thought of running after the taxi and instructing the driver to take me back to my hotel.


   Then I saw Adolph.


   He was sitting on a bench, next to the building’s main entrance, watching me. In spite of the ninety-degree heat, he wore a long-sleeved dress shirt, dark slacks and a necktie. I checked my watch. It was a little past noon, when I’d told him I would arrive. I wondered how long he’d been sitting there, waiting for me. An hour? All morning?


   Thirty years? I pushed the thought aside. No more guilt trips. I’d come here to put all that behind me.


   My hand shook as I unlatched the cast iron gate. I stepped inside, into his world.


   Adolph rose and came towards me. His face was familiar, yet barely recognizable. His brown eyes were like I remembered, except that the right one now strayed lazily to one side. The smooth, handsome face, I’d memorized from a few cherished photographs, was now slack, creased with the lines of three hard-lived decades. The waves of thick, black hair I’d inherited were now wispy and gray. His once strong shoulders (which had given a certain little pony-tailed girl piggyback rides almost a lifetime ago) were now stooped. His right hand trembled wildly, grasping at the air as if looking for something to steady him. My God, how much time had I wasted?


   Standing a few feet apart, taking each other in, we each waited for the other one to speak first. I had dozens of lines I’d mentally written and stashed away for this very moment. Not to mention hundreds of questions. Now I couldn’t recall a single one.


   Adolph spoke first.


   “Howdy,” he said, reaching out his hand.


   I took it in both of mine, and held it to my cheek, struggling to fight back my tears.


   “Hi Dad,” I said.


Excerpt From Tricked (c) 2009 Holly Gaskin

   The house was even more spectacular in person than it had looked on TV. The two-story structure, with its old-fashioned, Victorian design, would have made the perfect setting for a horror movie, even without all the Halloween decorations. Looking up at the two narrow windows on the second floor, Patrick thought they resembled a pair of ominous eyes, studying the crowd below.

   Perched atop the roof, was the famous pumpkin balloon that appeared without fail, year after year. The oversized gourd could certainly give “The Great Pumpkin” a run for its money. In fact, it seemed almost big enough to tether it to a basket and go for a hot air balloon ride. Patrick shuddered to think where the inflatable pumpkin, with its malevolent expression, might carry a kid off to.

   Elsewhere, a life-sized Frankenstein replica towered over the children that surrounded it. A fiber optic black cat, perched on the porch railing, arched its back and made crazy yowling sounds. Gauze ghosts swayed in tree branches; there was just enough of a breeze to keep them in perpetual motion.

   Patrick and Eli weaved their way through the crowd of excited kids and gawking adults, eager to find the faux graveyard. When they spotted the display of a half dozen or so supposed burial plots, they looked so realistic, Patrick wondered if the gravestones hadn’t been “borrowed” from a local cemetery. He leaned down and tapped one, just to reassure himself that it was plastic. There was plenty of outdoor lighting, making it easy for him to read the inscription: “YOU’RE NEXT!”

Excerpt from A Little Company (c) 2007 Holly Gaskin

    Pauline was ten when her father killed her mother.

   She tried not to think about that terrible day, or the day Walter died. There were few distractions, though, in her attic prison, so it took a great amount of willpower to keep from replaying the horrific scenes of last winter. But she knew she would go crazy if she thought about it. Pauline wasn’t about to let that happen.

   Instead, she passed the time by making up pleasant little stories in her head; weaving together fantasies with the few happy memories she had. On occasion, she’d converse with an invisible playmate, whom she imagined was sitting in the tree branches outside her window. Other times, Pauline would recite poems that she’d learned in school. Anything, to keep from remembering.

   Sometimes, she plotted ways to break out of her dreary confines and run away from Poppa, but they all seemed too dangerous to try and carry out. She wasn’t that brave. Even if she did manage to get away, Pauline knew she wouldn’t get far. She had no money, not even a penny. Besides, even if she had enough money to buy a train ticket, a little girl traveling alone would attract attention. Adams was a small town, and she’d quickly be recognized and returned to Poppa. She knew all too well what the consequences would be.

   Although more than enough time had passed for reality to settle in her mind, there was still a part of Pauline that refused to believe what had happened; a tiny, but stubborn fraction of her brain refused to accept not only the past, but also what was happening now. It told her that there was still a possibility she might wake up tomorrow morning to find that it had all been a nightmare; the longest, worst one ever dreamt. But as one lonely day bled into another, that sliver of hope grew dimmer.