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Tuesday, 14 May 2019

☀ Blind Walls - Bishop & Fuller

Thank you for joining us on the Virtual Book Tour for Blind Walls, a Paranormal Urban Fantasy / Magical Realism by (, Wordworkers Press, 226 pages).

Don't miss our interview with authors Bishop & Fuller.

PREVIEW: Check out the book's synopsis and the excerpt below.

The authors Bishop & Fuller will be awarding a $25 Amazon/BN gift card to a randomly drawn winner via Rafflecopter during the tour.   Please do take part: comment on our post and follow the tour where you will be able to read other excerpts (☀), interviews (ℚ), reviews (✍) and guest blog posts (✉).


|| Synopsis || Teaser: Excerpt || Authors Q&A || About the Authors || Giveaway & Tour Stops ||

Synopsis

It's a monstrous maze of a mansion, built by a grief-ridden heiress. A tour guide, about to retire, has given his spiel for so many years that he's gone blind. On this last tour, he's slammed with second sight.

He sees the ghosts he's always felt were there: the bedeviled heiress, her servants, and a young carpenter who lands his dream job only to become a lifelong slave to her obsession. The workman's wife makes it to shore, but he's cast adrift.

And the tour guide comes home to his cat.

Teaser: Excerpt

One


     As always, I stood by the Here sign under a fig tree sprinkled scantily with small ripe figs. Behind me, as always, I felt the looming massive labyrinth of Weatherlee House.
      Being a short man, I habitually assumed a military stance, stretching myself upward at least a quarter of an inch. My clipped hair, which I'm told is mostly gray, added gravitas to my otherwise bland face, or so I imagined. My tour guide's uniform—crisp navy blazer, burgundy rep tie—bulged only modestly at the midriff. A brass name plate, over the buttoned pocket where my heart might be, labeled me Raymond Smollet. Today I didn't wear my hat. The hat was optional. My round wire-rimmed black glasses were the only discordant feature in my demeanor. The fact is that I am blind.
      The figs and my necktie hue I knew only by report. The wire-rims made my nose itch. I had tried wrap-arounds, but my supervisor Mr. Bottoms said they looked creepy. In fact, Management surely discerned that I looked even creepier with wire-rims, hence they preferred the wire-rims. I could intuit patrons peering in sideways at my fixed milky orbs, a perfect match for those haunted-house billboards that sucked them in. People would pay top dollar to tremble their way through alien worlds where the only true risk was blurring a snapshot.
      Today was the final day of my life and now the final hour. Final, at least, for life as I had lived it. I stood cockily under my fig tree on the brink of my retirement—a Friday that marked the completion of thirty years as a tour guide of Weatherlee Ghost House. The forthcoming jaunt would be my final tour of the day. My pocket beeper would burble at four p.m., and I could trust my instinct to have my ducklings back at the gate precisely when the ancient garden bell clanged its perpetual five o'clock clang. Friday afternoons were generally scant, and I would allow the patrons a few minutes' grace after warning that if they needed the bathroom they should "pee now or forever hold your pees"—one of my little wisecracks. It sometimes roused a titter and in some souls an urge to pee.
      Final day, final hour. I had a devilish urge to mark it somehow, the way we played jokes the last night of the high school play. I might neglect to remind my group of their bladders and then mock their whimperings. I might pretend to get lost. Or after a lifetime of spouting the market-tested Legend of Weatherlee House, I might tell them the plain unvarnished truth. That yearning lay deep in my bowels, though I would never risk it: better to fall into the rut of my rhythmic spiel and let the clock run out.
      Time to begin. Eight tourists, I could tell from the shuffles and snorts. From a few sighs of exasperation, I already envisioned a mom in a floppy hat, with her surly daughter chewing a wad of gum as if to torture out its confession. You've made it through four tours today, I told myself: best to play it for yawns, phone it in and then creep home to my little rooms, feed Gertie (my ancient cat) and get an early start on drinking myself to death.
      Retirement yawned up to suck me down—just one last feeble yawp of my thirty-year stint as Mouthpiece of the Dead.

      #

      I'm quite aware that I'm telling this story to myself, as I'm the only one who can be forced to listen. I'm also aware that I'm the least compelling character in my life, though like most men I live by the illusion that I'm the only true human, the star of the show, all others being merely my supporting cast or my stage crew. Blindness aids this delusion.
      Skilled memoirists start with a mid-life crisis, then backtrack to getting born. But I prefer to begin with my childhood, since from there the story has nowhere to go but up. I was the only tangible consequence of Mr. and Mrs. Barnett "Barney" Smollet, who termed themselves middle-class by virtue of their wall-to-wall carpet. We moved from Ohio to Arizona to allow my father to die amid cactus. When he complied, my mother brought us to Santa Cruz, California, to be near her sister, whom she despised. Simpler to hate each other at close range and save the long-distance charges.
      My earliest recollection is of a violent crying jag. I was curled on a bare floor while a babysitter tried to calm me by flipping the pages of a catalog. She pointed to the picture of a football. "That's a football," she said. I kept on crying but stopped by the time I'd finished high school.
      In my adolescence I envied boys who could blame their hand-wrought guilt on religion, so I went one Sunday with Billy to his church. Billy might have been my first lover if I'd had the least notion of what it entailed and if I could have jumped the line of females enraptured by his gold-flecked irises. The preacher was a skinny old man with a shock of hedgehog hair. His topic was The Seven Last Words of Christ. (Now it would be The Seven Last Tweets.) That visitation of spirit did nothing to sidle me closer to Billy's thighs, but it did offer me vital insight to my future career. I learned that you could spout pure drivel if you spouted it loud and clear.
      I was also attracted to girls—anything anthropoid would do—and in high school I achieved a few feels before trotting off to the collegiate hunting preserves. But girls terrified me. I would become an intimate sister inside their minds and feel their nakedness long before I ever saw a girl naked. Males were safely armored. I feared them, but we could maintain a mutual anonymity. I could make love without actually being there.
      In those days I still had my sight and could see my pathetic longings with great acuity. College I managed to survive with only a single lackluster suicide attempt, trying to overdose on aspirin. I had no great ambition. I double-majored in theatre and heartbreak, faring better in the latter.
      After graduation I was hired in the local school district's business office, typing, filing and managing deliveries to the schools. I was meticulous in my work and was well liked, or at any rate people said hello. The job was a snug cocoon from which the worm might emerge one day with translucent wings. But this prospect was shattered by my arrest. On a pre-Lib Saturday night the police raided Harold's Lounge, and I was one of two dozen gentlemen nabbed for disorderly conduct, a.k.a. being queer. I told my mother I hadn't known the nature of the establishment, but my employer was not to be fooled. Innocent children might be polluted by a pervert typing purchase orders. I was given the opportunity to resign—to pursue other interests, my letter said—and two weeks' severance pay, generous by prevailing standards. So ended my career in public education. The case was dismissed.
      At that time I lived with my mother in a small two-bedroom cottage on what was then the outskirts of Santa Cruz. As a child I had wallpaper depicting cowboys and Indians. In my teens it was repapered with hallucinatory spaghetti of intersecting vines. In my twenties I stripped the walls and repainted them dark green in a thick impasto, like a stubbly beard over a skin disease. When my mother died I saw no reason to move, and so I have occupied the same bedroom up to the present day. Same desk, same bed, a corner armchair on the verge of collapse—the only concession to my approaching antiquity. Recently I brightened my room with chartreuse curtains, which of course I can't see but can envision the dubious effect. The rest of the house, except for meals in the musty kitchen, is long forgotten.
      I was past thirty, immature for my age, and had bounced through a straggle of jobs that required little more than staying propped upright. Still, I held hopes of a career that would make all those high school jocks who'd scorned me swallow their bubblegum in envy, bubble and all. From time to time I had acted in amateur plays—which offered a few liaisons, including Kenneth, the neurotic pharmacist who brought me to Harold's—and so it happened that Roxanne, one of my theatre friends, called to tell me they were hiring at the "Ghost House." She worked box office there.
      At that time I was not at all blind—no more so, at least, than the average man. I was hired for the garden crew, and at first those little floating specks in my eyes appeared to be dancing gnats. But at night they swam in the murk like tiny fish, and soon they bred swarms. Luckily I was soon promoted, and at some dim tick of the clock I led my first group of tourists into the twisted intestines of Weatherlee House.
      From there on, nothing of any consequence occurred for the next thirty years.
      By the time I was stone cold sightless I had spent several years telling the same story five times daily, five days a week. The weekend staff were younger, more lovable, more vicious—so vision was no real advantage. I had hopes, as my diagnosis progressed from "Let's hope" to "Tough shit," that the cliches of blindness—the echolocation of bats, the olfaction of bloodhounds—might emerge, but I only heard the creaking of floor joists, smelled mildew and cheap perfume. Still, before utter darkness fell, my frail theatrical background brought me a degree of popularity. I had learned to feel my way through the maze, offer shuddersome cheeriness to my groups, and I had learned to see.
      Not literally, to be sure. I would never be able to spot the soup stains on my shirt. But I came to trust my mental delineations. I could see—or at least imagine—each little clutch of gawkers whom it was my duty to astonish and amaze before shedding them like dandruff. Spurred by their scuffs and grunts, I could conjure up my past life's catalog of hairdos, noses, buttocks and hats into stereotypes that would follow me up the stairs and down the halls and into the heart of the sorry dead beast.
      Stereotypes are small-minded but as convenient as plastic bags. In my head I beheld most of the women in wide hats, flowered blouses, polyester slacks, carrying small water canteens from which they took butterfly sips. The men would be in safari jackets, Hawaiian shirts, Bermuda shorts, or those flat cartoon burglars' caps that executives wear to confirm they're on vacation. Few made any distinct impression, though I recall a lady who said she had slept with her dead husband—slept beside him a final night—and next day they buried him. That image still came to me at times, alone in my swaybacked bed.
      I never asked names and they never offered, so I named them secretly, each one, each tour, each decade. Like the TV in bars or airport lounges they couldn't be turned off. Each day after work I envisioned them all, no matter how much I drank. I strove earnestly to please them—my flock, my squad, my brood—while hating them as only a passive man can hate.
      Soon, within the demise of sunlight, my world took shape. Freed of vision, I could create my own picture shows. My imagination ran rampant in its pajamas, scurrying down the passages. I could see the woodwork, the turrets, the exquisite dadoes, the iridescent glow of the Tiffany windows. I could even see movement in the empty rooms as you might see a cat flashing across the highway: ripples of serving maids, carpenters framing the stairs we climbed, nailing each tread in place as we stepped upward on it. Eventually I saw the little lady herself: Sophia Weatherlee. On this final tour.

      #

      "Okay? All here? Anyone not here, speak now!" I got a few chuckles, or it might have been stifled coughs. "Fair warning, I tell jokes the way some people belch. Nervous habit." Dead group, I could tell, wondering what they were in for. I never aimed for guffaws at my wisecracks. They simply moved my pilgrims to think He's quite a character, and that helped with the tips.
      "The structure you will enter was built by Mrs. Sophia Weatherlee over a span of nearly four decades. Born in 1839, she married the heir to the Weatherlee Repeating Arms Company in 1862. Their only child, a daughter, died of a rare wasting disease, and she lost her husband a few years later. Seeking counsel from a Boston spiritualist, she was advised that in order to stay alive she must live with the sound of hammers. Why hammers? We can only guess." I paused a moment to let them guess.
      "Keep in mind that Weatherlee rifles were the weapon of choice in the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, the First World War and the winning of the West. They killed hundreds of thousands, millions perhaps—all bad guys, we assume. Mrs.Weatherlee fancied, perhaps, that she had to frighten away their angry spirits with the clatter of construction. Or to confuse them with convoluted arteries. Or to offer them free lodging. We know not what. Did they tap at her window? Did she hear?" Another pause. No more shuffling: they were hooked. In thirty years you develop a knack.
      "And so she migrated to California, bought a small farm near Santa Cruz and began construction of Weatherlee House, where we now stand in awe. Anyone not in awe?" No laugh, but I'd made my point, a veiled threat to the unbeliever. "Her carpenter crews worked seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day, for thirty-eight years, until her death in 1922. Despite the advice of her spiritualist, she did in fact die. She must have been quite surprised." I laughed. My little hoot gave the joke an extra poke, so I got a few chuckles. The last time I'd ever hoot it.
      "I should mention: no smoking, no photographs, no chewing gum. And please stay together. People do get lost." With a slightly ghoulish intonation: "This is not recommended." I stressed that if anyone needed to leave the tour they should ask for safe escort. "The rules are there for reasons that may not be apparent," I said with a trace of perversity. It was the story they paid for, not the architectural pastiche. A labyrinth with no horned beast at its core would be a waste of plywood.
      I entered through the plain green door that must have once been a servants' entrance. The group followed, and I heard the lady in the floppy hat pick a fig. I stopped in a small bare room with empty shelving along one wall and waited for my gaggle to gather.
      "Pause here, please. Here you see a door which is five feet six inches in height. Not remarkable, considering that Mrs. Weatherlee was only four feet eleven. Of course people were much smaller then. All of us were, I suppose." I chuckled."However, what may surprise you is this." I tapped my knuckles on it, then opened the door to a solid brick wall. "This must not have been a place where Mrs. Weatherlee cared to go."
      They followed me. I always felt a twinge of astonishment that they did. Strange that nobody questioned my blindness. Perhaps they were sightless themselves. Perhaps they were accustomed to being led by the blind. Or perhaps I wasn't blind at all: the blackness that held me was reality.
      "Careful on these steps. You'll notice the four-inch risers, a concession to Mrs. Weatherlee's arthritis." My covey climbed the midget stairs, and we came into the small rotunda with archways to corridors gallivanting in three directions. The mansion's original furnishings were long gone, so Management had sprinkled the rooms with mismatched antiques. Here would be a rocking chair with ottoman and on the curvature behind it a narrow stained-glass window—the brilliance of priceless Tiffany. A pleasant nook where a quaint old lady might sit and read, philosophize and die.
      When my tourists had coagulated I continued my spiel. "So in summary: Weatherlee House contains one hundred sixty rooms in four stories plus basement. Forty bedrooms, two ballrooms, forty-seven fireplaces, fifty-two skylights, ten thousand window panes, two thousand doors, seventeen chimneys, six kitchens, three elevators and, significantly, thirteen bathrooms. Once rising to seven stories, with an estimated three hundred twenty rooms, it sustained severe damage in the 1906 earthquake. Its floating foundation saved it from total destruction. I would advise that we all maintain floating foundations. I'm joking of course."
      I heard a creak from the rocking chair, turned and saw her.
      Sophia Weatherlee reached out and stroked the colors in the air. Her hands showed age—half-bent fingers, liver spots, a roadwork of blue veins, skin the texture of chicken skin. But the hands didn't match the face. Even without the heavy powder that caked it, her face might have been thirty years younger—round, smooth, delicate features with only a hint of cheekbones. The hair was abundant but dutifully fixed in a bun, tinted pale blonde with an underglaze of gray. The eyes, though, were sisters to the hands. Deep, ancient, knowing eyes that had looked on death. That looked on it every day.
      "Mrs. Weatherlee's inheritance made her one of the wealthiest women in . . ." I continued speaking but didn't hear a word I said. I was seeing what I had never seen before.


A House of Haunted Ghosts

Blind Walls
Pre-order the ebook by 31 May for ONLY 0.99!
OUT on 1 June 2019

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About the Author

Conrad Bishop & Elizabeth Fuller’s 60+ plays have been produced Off-Broadway, in regional theatres, and in thousands of their own performances coast to coast. Their two public radio series Family Snapshots and Hitchhiking off the Map have been heard nationally. Their books include two previous novels (Realists and Galahad’s Fool), a memoir (Co-Creation: Fifty Years in the Making), and two anthologies of their plays (Rash Acts: 35 Snapshots for the Stage and Mythic Plays: from Inanna to Frankenstein.)

They host a weekly blog on writing, theatre, and life at www.DamnedFool.com. Their theatre work is chronicled at www.IndependentEye.org. Short videos of their theatre and puppetry work are at www.YouTube.com/indepeye. Bishop has a Stanford Ph.D., Fuller is a college drop-out, but somehow they see eye to eye. They have been working partners and bedmates for 57 years.

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