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Fantastic Women

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Blurb

Meet Beth Azen, Elenda Murphy, and Mary Robbins. Three women not that different from any other.

From mountains to city, single to widowed. Struggling with ghosts and family heritage. Facing hopes and fears of the future.

Ordinary lives. Ordinary problems. 

What happens when ordinary gets more than a little strange?

Includes the novellas Songs in the Mountain, Legacy of the Land, and In the Pines.

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Chapter 1
Chapter 1 Beth Azen leaned back in the squeaky office chair, rubbing her burning eyes. The desk itself wasn’t much more than a countertop wedged in between overcrowded shelves and rows of filing cabinets. The town hall’s scanner was old enough to give off a sharp, hot plastic smell after a couple of hours. She’d worked in more than one musty archives room over twenty years as a writer, but this one in her native Hartstown, Virginia, had to be the most compact. Access to over a century of Boun County’s history was worth a bit of discomfort. Worse than her sinus rebellion against the aromatic space, Beth’s fingertips were raw from handing dozens of glass plate negatives. The plates were a bit larger than a paperback and about a quarter of an inch thick, but heavier than they looked. The greenish edges were straight but wavy, like they’d been melted out instead of cut. Even through the sweaty blue gloves, she felt like she’d been rubbing sandpaper all day long. Her nerves were just as frazzled. Beth wasn’t sure if it would be worse to break one of the negatives, break the glass of the scanner trying to place one of them, or cut herself with who knows what had been on the razor-sharp edges for over a hundred years. Most of the negatives didn’t look like much, with one side smooth and the other rough with varying shades of black and gray. The images Beth extracted from the persnickety things were gorgeous, though, more sharp and clear than almost any other medium. Photographers willing to lug chunks of glass though the mountains back then had her full respect. Beth wondered if the to-be-scanned pile would ever be smaller than the finished stack in the box beside her on the gray carpeted floor. She always got to this point in a long project, when she felt like she was never going to get to the end. Knowing she’d get over that helpless feeling eventually didn’t make any difference. Beth took a sip of cold coffee, at least two cups past too much, and got back to work, taking out another of the delicate slides. The town manager didn’t want anyone to bring in music or even use earbuds like most places did, but Beth didn’t mind. She constantly had a song in her head, from the time she woke up until she fell asleep, and probably all night long, too. She’d heard it described as some kind of brain disorder on the radio a while back, but that didn’t make sense to her. She couldn’t imagine how bored people got if they didn’t have something to listen to. She lined the rectangular piece of glass up against the side of the scanner, put a blank sheet of paper over it, and lowered a huge square light to a couple of inches above everything. The lamp was bigger than what her dentist used, and the heat added to the closed in feeling in the tiny room. Nothing else she’d tried would bring out the old images. Putting together a massive book of images with the town historical society wasn’t one of Beth’s typical non-fiction writing projects, but she enjoyed her side trips into book design and publishing. Her parents and her hound mutt Janie certainly appreciated her staying home for a few months instead of traveling for research. And she enjoyed the chance to wear her most comfortable faded jeans, old flannel shirts, and sneakers without asking about anybody’s dress code. She flipped through the other photos on her screen while the scanner whined and clicked. This corner in the Virginia coalfields struggled even now, but the poverty a hundred years ago was horrifying. The rudimentary houses and muddy roads didn’t bother Beth nearly as much as the faces of the men, women, and children. So many of them seemed much older than they could have been, understandable with a hard way of life and dangerous work logging or coal mining. The kids in particular looked as old as the photographs. Seeing that era coming to an end didn’t disturb Beth at all. A chirpy Minnesota-nice voice from right behind her did. “Hey Beth! How’s it goin’ today?” “Doing fine, Tina. You?” “Great! Just checkin’ to see if you need anything.” Tina had moved with her husband a year ago when he started teaching at the new optometry school in town, and she clearly loved everything about the change of pace from northern city life. Beth appreciated the interest, especially compared to being isolated in a cold, dank basement like she’d been on past jobs, but sometimes Tina was a little too eager to help. And today her strong, flowery perfume was one too many aromas in the tiny space. “I’m good, thank you,” Beth said. “Just let me know, then.” Tina grinned and spun on her heel, her long blonde hair and pink gauze skirt throwing up a bit more of that thick aroma. Beth tasted the scent on the back of her throat, even over the strong coffee, and her head was swimming. She rubbed her temples, trying to fend off a headache. When the scanner clicked again and stopped, Beth froze.

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