Author Archives: Jo Ann Schneider

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29-Nov-2019

No One Feels Fine at the End of the World

I stared at the broken merry-go-round. Most of the animals had been ripped from their poles and scattered. Half of the circus-tent-like-top lay in shambles. Shards of glass on the ground—a sick testament to how bright the place had once been—glittered in the moonlight.

Weeks of running, of barely surviving, had brought me back. Here.

To be honest I didn’t think I had any more tears to shed, but a single drop of salty water pooled in the corner of one eye and slid down my cheek.

Had it only been weeks? It felt like months. Years.

A lifetime.

If I’d known then what I knew now, would I have ran? Or would I have faced the fate of most of the human race? Died then and there. Not had to go through the nightmare that the world had become.

Would I have saved myself from the burden of the truth?

I’d like to say I would have fought anyway, but if the past month had taught me anything, it was that no one knew what they were going to do in a life-or-death situation until they were there. Staring it in the eye.

Leaving their children to die.

I shook that thought away as I moved forward.

They’d been dead before my brain had processed the fact that there was a monster at the fair. Teeth. Claws. Skin the color of midnight and eyes that burned with hate.

A girl’s body had been hanging from its fangs before I’d had enough sense to even scream. And when I did scream, my voice joined the others.

I forced myself to move forward. I needed to know. I needed to see them.

The head of the purple unicorn my daughter had been writing lay on the blood-stained grass. The back of the lion where my son had been lay a dozen feet away. I didn’t want to think about my wife. I’d banished her from my mind, because even a whisper of her in my heart would break me.

Now it didn’t matter, so I moved along the grass, my eyes taking in the carnage, until I got to the steps that led up to the merry-go-round.

Scavengers had eaten everything that could be eaten. I’d grown accustomed to the smell of death, but was grateful that I didn’t have to tune that out now.

The wood creaked under my feet as I moved onto the platform. I stepped around what was left of clothes and a few body parts, until I reached where the body of the purple unicorn still clung to a once gold pole.

I almost smiled when I saw the seat belt still around the torso of my daughter. Of course my wife would have belted her on. Safety first.

A wave of emotions threatened to rise, and I had to close my eyes and remind myself that everything was gone, not just them.

And it wasn’t my fault.

A howl—piercing and alien—howled in the distance. The hairs on the back of my neck rose. They’d been hunting me for days. I’d managed to lead them away from the refugees, but this would be my last stand.

A broken fence lay beyond the merry-go-round, and beyond that lay the dimension rip that had spewed the apocalypse.

I had been at ground zero.

Why hadn’t I died here the first time?

Another howl. This one closer.

My eyes snapped open and I pulled out a flashlight. It didn’t matter if they saw me.

A light green coat lay on the ground. Arms ripped off and covered in dark stains. My wife. I let my gaze slide from her to the small, tan pants beside her.

Our son.

Just five years old.

The beam of light illuminated something blue and red beside my son. I squat down and reached for it. My fingers trembled as I plucked it from the rough wood.

An action figure of my son’s favorite super hero. It had somehow escaped the carnage. I dusted a layer of dirt off and found it pristine beneath.

I looked at it for a long time. Long enough that howls turned to growls and then to pounding paws on the ground.

“Where were you?” I asked.

Of course I knew superheroes weren’t real, but it’s what my son would have asked.

The growling grew louder, and something howled just outside the merry-go-round.

I held the action figure to my chest. “I’m sorry,” I said to my family. “I’m sorry.”

***

This one ended up a bit depressing. Sorry about that.

Genre – Apocalypse

Random Object – Action Figure

Setting – Merry-Go-Round


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Knives Out Movie Review

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A detective investigates the death of a patriarch of an eccentric, combative family.

 

Why did I come to this movie again?

It’s been a while since we’ve seen a new movie in the theater (barring Spirited Away, which we saw last month) and I’ve been waiting for the holiday film season to start. The hubby showed me a trailer for this movie about a week ago, and I instantly wanted to see it. Between an all-star cast and what looked to be a tightly written murder mystery, how could I resist? When I saw advanced tickets online, I bought them!

5 of 5

 

Characters

It’s difficult to use cookie-cutter tropes for characters and make it work, but Knives Out did a good job of it.

You’ve got the eccentric millionaire (now dead) found by his nurse. A family full of selfish pigs that see themselves as saints ready to squabble over the fortune they believe belongs to them. And then you’ve got the bizarre detective, played by Daniel Craig, who is a strange mix of Colombo and Sherlock Holmes. Almost bumbling, but brilliant.

All in all the characters were pretty solid, if not propped up by clichés.

I do have to say that hearing a horrible, American southern accent come out of Daniel Craig was off-putting. Which I think was their point.

4 of 5

 

Did I care what happened?

Yes. Once the ball really started rolling I was totally engrossed.

5 of 5

 

Plot Holes

I didn’t notice any. Mystery isn’t my strongest genre, so I may have missed something, but part of the fun of the movie is watching the characters trying to plug their own plot holes, which totally distracted me.

5 of 5

 

How many times did I yawn?

No yawning here.

5 of 5

 

Cool Factor

While only filmed in a few, mostly mundane, locations, the film itself was stunning. I could tell from the very first scene that each and every shot meant something. Granted, I’m sure I missed most of the deeper meanings, but I didn’t care. The film quickly pulled me in and gave me a place to settle to watch the plot unfold.

One mark down because I actually guessed the plot from the beginning. So the “wow” moment at the end wasn’t a surprise for me. The hubby didn’t catch it, but a few of my friends did.

4 of 5

 

The End

Like I said, I had guessed the end at the beginning, but watching everyone scramble to keep up with the events of the story kept me entertained.

That being said, the very last scene is such a mirror of the very first scene that I have to give huge kudos to the writers. If you see it, note the very first thing you see and then the very last thing you see. It’s amazing!

4 of 5

 

Overall Enjoyment

This show was like a train wreck that I didn’t want to stop watching. The girl sitting next to me, a stranger, and I were cracking up at the same parts. No one else was laughing. Pretty sure that’s because the two of us were paying more attention than the others.

Going through the roller coaster of murder and cover-up was seriously fun.

Being a writer, I usually watch for the beats of a show. Things like the midpoint and where the character decides to step into a new world and try it out. I didn’t do that with this movie. As I thought back afterward I picked them out, but the film pulled me in so hard and fast that I didn’t care about the beats. That’s a combo of acting, writing and directing.

5 of 5

 

Total: 37

That’s a Black Belt!

 

 


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22-Nov-2019

Clever Boy Impresses Rich Girl with Piece of Paper

“Did you hear that?”

I glanced at my somewhat excitable companion and shook my head. “Hear what?”

“That scraping sound.”

My companion, Lucy, looked at me with her wide blue eyes. Her gaze threatened to rip the air from my chest, and I took a moment to swallow before I answered. “I hear nothing.”

Lucy’s two younger sisters, left in the sitting room as chaperones, stopped their needlepoint, glanced at one another, then at Lucy.

Was this some sort of game? Were they mocking me? I did my best not to look suspicious as we sat in perfect silence listening for the mysterious scratching. My guess was it was one of Lucy’s sisters, but they were doing an amiable job of appearing quite innocent. Which only roused my suspicions.

After half a minute or so, I opened my mouth to speak, but before I got the words out, I heard it. A faint scratching, as if tiny claws on wood. If it had come from the direction of Lucy’s sisters, I would have immediately blamed them, but it instead hailed from the opposite end of the room, near the door.

“Did you hear it?” Lucy asked.

“Probably a mouse.” I shrugged.

Lucy’s sisters both squealed.

A mouse was hardly something to get so excitable about, and I was glad to see that Lucy gave her sisters a stern look before she stood and crept in the direction of the sound. She held her dress just off the floor, revealing her boots almost to the ankle.

I set my gaze firmly on Lucy’s lovely dark curls and followed her.

A writing desk with a chair sat near the source of the scratching. I pulled the chair out and motioned for Lucy to sit. She did so, and I took the liberty of keeping my fingers on the back, feeling both scandalous and daring for being able to feel the warmth from her shoulders on my skin.

Her sisters moved to the places we had vacated and sat with their panicked eyes searching the floor.

We once again waited in silence. I held my breath and ordered my feet to stay still. After another minute, the scratching started again.

Lucy’s sisters screamed.

Lucy jumped, her back brushing my fingers.

I, in turn, stepped away from the chair and followed the sound with my eyes.

“What is it?” one of her sister’s cried.

“It’s a rat!” the other said.

I shook my head. “Whatever it is, it is either in the wall or under the floor.”

That didn’t seem to assauge any fear, and the two sisters pulled their feet up on to the chairs. Lucy frowned at that, but stood and joined me. “What do you think it is?”

“Probably just a rodent,” I said. Then I remembered something I’d seen the doctor use the last time he had checked on my father. A grin spread my lips. “Would you like to hear it?”

“We just did.” Lucy’s laugh was a little too loud.

I pulled open the drawer of the writing desk and looked inside. There I found what I was looking for. I took a piece of paper in my hand and held it aloft. “May I?”

Lucy stared at me. “What are you going to do with it?”

I rolled it into a tube. “A little trick I learned not long ago.”

The sisters’ feet came back to the floor, and they gingerly walked over to us. “What trick?” one of them asked.

“From the doctor, who said he learned it from a man in France.”

Lucy made a face. “France?”

I nodded. “But first I need you three to sit quietly. No moving.”

Lucy watched me for a moment, perhaps attempting to deduce my motives, then waved her sisters back to a couch and once again settled into the chair.

I took a breath and got to my knees.

“What are you doing?” Lucy asked in alarm.

“Shhh,” I said. I held one end of the rolled paper up to my ear and pressed the other to the floor. Then I waited.

The doctor had said the simple trick made it easier to hear a person’s heart beating. He now used a wooden device made for the same purpose, but the paper did the job.

I could hear the gentle creaking of the floor beneath me with astonishing clarity. It groaned when I simply shifted my weight, so I held perfectly still, aware of the eyes upon me, and called upon my patience.

It paid off. The first scratch sounded very near to me.

Lucy’s sisters squealed again, and she shushed them.

I closed my eyes and listened. Sure enough, the pattering of small feet and the scratching of tiny claws came through the paper. I pat the floor not far from my hand, and the sounds stopped.

“What is it?” Lucy asked with a mixture of awe and panic in her voice.

I straightened. “A rodent under the floor.”

Lucy’s eyes met mine, and while the thing had been minor. Barely science, she looked at me with adoration.

I rose to my feet and offered her the paper. “Would you like to listen?”

At first horror filled her gaze, then her eyes traveled to the paper, and she stood. Her fingers brushed mine as she took the paper. “Show me how it’s done.”

“Of course, my lady.” I gave her a little bow, and knew that I had just made the first stride toward an agreeable alliance.

***

I was not happy when I got this combo, and was relieved when I found out the original stethoscope was invented during the regency era, which is between 1811 and 1820.

According to the few histories I quickly read, a doctor in France was uncomfortable having to put his ear on a woman’s chest to hear her heart, so he tried rolling a piece of paper. Which evolved into a wooden tube, then a trumpet looking thing, and then what we use today.

So there you go. History.

And yes, I did have to fudge the setting a bit.

Genre – Regency Romance

Random Object – Stethoscope

Setting – Crawl Space Under a House


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His Movie Star Second Chance Bachelorette

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The holidays are creeping ever closer.

Do you find yourself humming Christmas songs?

Are you ready for a season of Hallmark-Style Romances?

If so, I have something for you!

The last of my Holiday Romances (released under my pen name Karly Stratford) is out today!

Each story is a small town, second chance romance set during the holidays.

This is the story of Preston and Anna. It was love at first sight, but Anna knew he was too good for her, and she ran away.

A stuntman with a heart of gold.

The movie star who let him get away.

99 CENTS THIS WEEK ONLY!

(Always FREE on Kindle Unlimited)

Preston Decker blacked two weeks out of his filming schedule to spend Christmas with his family. His older brothers have recently found love, and they’re pressuring him to get a girlfriend. No thanks, the last one broke his heart. Unfortunately said ex-girlfriend shows up at his house begging him to be a stuntman in her latest film. She’s willing to pay him whatever he wants.

Anna Jordan, or Berry as the world calls her, is producing a film that’s cursed. First everyone got the flu, and now the lead stuntman broke his leg. The only stuntman available who can pull it off is Preston. They’d dated. He was the perfect guy, and she knew she’d never be good enough for him. She also knew he would probably help her.

When Berry laments that the cast and crew are going to be away from their families for Christmas, Preston comes up with a brilliant idea. When things begin to fall apart, they each must decide what they value most. Can they make a Christmas miracle for themselves? Or will they spend New Year’s alone again?

 


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