Scandal at Maple Valley Episode 8

There are eight very exciting days in the Maple Valley calendar year. It goes without saying that the residents of our small town each have our own favorite, but we celebrate them all as one big family.

The Hands-On Father’s Day Project is a happily anticipated event. Mother’s Day is celebrated with equal fanfare with the treat of the day being the bran-pistachio-raisin cupcakes every family bakes. Mandel Creighton Day is difficult to describe, but the excitement is amazing. Wooden Spatula Day begins with each Maple Valleyan going out on our front porch, waving our wooden spatula (which all residents receive when they settle in Maple Valley) and loudly singing “I’m a hap-hap-happy Maple Valleyan, Maple Valleyan, Maple Valleyan, I’m a hap-hap-happy Maple Valleyan, and here I’m gonna stay!” There are seven verses but we only sing four on Wooden Spatula Day.

Derby Dan Day is a commemoration of the life and times of Derby Dan Herkelour. Dan built the now famous Maple Valley water tower.

Of course the Maple Valley Independence and Founder’s Day Celebrations are almost here, but the happiest of all official celebrations is the first day of tourist season.

A very special day enjoyed by everyone but not on the official calendar, is the day The Old General steams into town for the first time. The minute we hear the whistle, we all run to the middle of town to catch sight of The General as it chugs toward town, throwing fluffy clouds of smoke and steam high into the air.

No matter what’s happening in Maple Valley, the sound of The General’s whistle seems to say everything is going to be alright.

The General spends the off-season in Watkinsburg in an engine house for maintenance. Several people faithfully work to restore the locomotive to full operation every year. It’s extremely important for the work to be done carefully. Last year, somehow, when the smoke stack funnel was replaced on the engine, it wasn’t fastened. As the engine rolled into Maple Valley, the funnel fell from the top of the engine and hit the fence behind Ya’ll Sit Cafe, knocking it down. Shorty Cloverton was using a large charcoal grill behind the fence that tipped over and the fence caught fire. Luckily, when the fire crew arrived the fire was easily brought under control, but the fence and grill were destroyed. The engine maintenance crew actually took what was left of the grill back to the engine house to use as a reminder.

Speaking of Ya’ll Sit Cafe, Ira Thibbers, the man who was hit by glass when Shorty slammed the front door of the restaurant after arguing with Hannah about who waited on Sylvia last, has decided not to sue Shorty. He threatened to take the restaurant from the Clovertons in court. He found out it was a little more difficult than he thought. When Ira met with Attorney Wilken Silvers, he asked if Ira had hospital records from the emergency room.

“I didn’t go to the emergency room,” Ira said.

“I thought you were injured by the flying glass,” Silvers said.

“I was.

“If you were injured, why didn’t you go to the emergency room?”

“I just went home and Erlana put a band-aid on my cheek,” Ira said.

“When you say you were injured, what exactly do you mean?” the attorney asked.

“Well, I was sitting in the restaurant eating. Shorty and Hannah started arguing in the kitchen. They kept yelling until Shorty left and slammed the door. The glass in the door shattered and a piece of the glass hit me on my cheek. It started bleeding, and I told Shorty I was going to sue him,” Ira said.

“Was your only injury on your cheek?”

“Yes.”

The attorney told Ira he didn’t have a case and suggested he let it go and save his money. Shorty apologized to Ira, they shook hands and that was the end of it.

Law suits are not something that usually happen in Maple Valley. People threaten to sue, quite often as a matter of fact. When people live in a small community and spend a lot of time together, sometimes things happen and tempers get riled, and they say things they don’t really mean. Then it becomes a matter of pride when someone says they’re going to sue, they almost have to follow through with it just because they said they would. They wouldn’t want the other person to know they don’t mean it right from the start. Law suits are not something people in Maple Valley joke about. The good thing about it is they don’t usually last very long.

With the excitement of The General coming back to town, it was almost possible for us to forget a mystery still hangs over Maple Valley. The investigation into the disappearance of Sylvia Meisner is moving slowly. Sheriff Terkinberry asked detectives from Tandleville to join him at the burned car to search it again this morning. He hopes that some piece of evidence, no matter how insignificant it may seem, will help in some way.

They spent hours combing over the wreck and found exactly nothing. The fire damage was complete. It’s almost as if every inch of the car was torched, not just burned as a fire would normally search for something to eat. The sheriff decided it’s time to move the car to a proper place to be taken apart. He’s beyond desperate to find answers.

Scandal at Maple Valley Episode 7

The folks in Maple Valley are working in preparation for the start of tourist season one week from Friday. The last few repairs on the railroad line are finished and inspections led to full certification for passengers on the General. Officials from the National Railroad Safety Association left town this morning and everyone is breathing a little easier.

The petition to postpone the start of tourist season circulated by Beulah Filden fell flat. Beulah bit off more than she could chew. She was only able to secure twenty-one signatures, not a majority of the fine citizens of Maple Valley. She was headed off at the pass by Stew Hanmin, the chair of the town council. When he heard about the petition, he called the other members of the council who each called the remaining citizens who hadn’t already signed the petition. No more problem.

Beulah has a reputation as a trouble-maker who opposes just about everything. Two years ago she decided the annual town picnic had served its purpose and it was time to stop it. She started a rumor the state health department was coming in on the day of the picnic to shut it down. A few people helped stir things up and the picnic was almost cancelled. When Mayor Thrashborn called the state and discovered there were no concerns, he was furious. He called Mrs. Filden into his office for a meeting with the sheriff and a couple town council members. He also had the town’s attorney, Hardin Sievers, there just for effect. It worked. Beulah left the meeting looking as if she had been taken to the woodshed, which she was.

The woodshed experience didn’t last long with Beulah. She left the meeting and found her friend, Lulane Hilvertosh, and told her everything. Lulane and Beulah love being in the middle of things. Since Lulane’s meeting with the state police about Sylvia Meisner’s burned car didn’t go anywhere, she is now looking for something new to fill her time.

Plans for the Maple Valley Founders’ Day Celebration are well under way. One minor, or maybe major hiccup concerns the main entertainment group, “Buck Wills & The Wagoneers,” the famous country stars. Randy Herbdahl, the chairman of the entertainment committee had the responsibility of contacting and scheduling the band, which he thought he did. Last week, his wife, Nora, found the letter he thought he mailed six months ago inviting Buck Wills & The Wagoneers to Maple Valley for the Founders’ Day Celebration. Tickets have already been sold for $20.00 each, and the concert was sold out within three weeks. If it turns out the Buck Wills group can’t come, the Happy Harmonettes will have to fill in. Randy Herbdahl is scrambling to make sure Buck Wills & The Wagoneers come to Maple Valley. He’ll have a hard time explaining what happened if they don’t. He sure doesn’t want the problem to be discovered by the town gossips.

As if an additional problem was needed by the folks of Maple Valley, a box car in the morning freight train from Hogantown headed to Watkinsburg derailed in the tunnel near three tower bridge. Officials from Santa Fe Railroad arrived within two hours and a crane was brought in to put the car back on the tracks. It is unknown at this time whether the track was damaged.

The investigation into the disappearance of Sylvia Meisner continues. Sheriff Terkinberry demanded the burned car remain where it is. There were several people who complained about it, supposedly for concerns of visitors to Maple Valley seeing the car. The sheriff continues to insist the car stays put.

News of Sylvia Meisner’s disappearance has finally gone beyond Maple Valley. Even though the story promotion by Lulane Hilvertosh with WREK-TV didn’t go anywhere, strangers showing up in Maple Valley are asking questions. Two men in suits were walking through town and talked to a couple of people. Someone called Sheriff Terkinberry and he caught up with them. It turns out the two men were agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Wow. FBI agents in Maple Valley! The sheriff asked them why they hadn’t contacted him before talking to citizens of Maple Valley. They explained that because Maple Valley is a nationally recognized tourist destination the jurisdiction over the town reaches the federal level. The sheriff told them it was baloney and warned the two agents not to return to Maple Valley without contacting him first. Pete Terkinberry didn’t actually know whether what the agents told him was true or not. He just didn’t like the idea of anyone digging into his missing persons case without him knowing about it.

It’s quite odd that the celebration planners of Maple Valley did not separate the beginning of tourist season from the Maple Valley Independence Day Celebration by more than two days. Seven to ten days would have been much better. Quintin O’Dillmotte continues dropping hints to remind everyone just how great a job he is doing in preparation for the celebration. Virginia Nodderway asked Quintin if the celebration was going to include crape paper. She asked loud enough for plenty of others to hear and they laughed, giving Virginia exactly what she wanted.

Some work is being done on Sylvia Meisner’s house. The roof needs repair and the deck boards are being fastened securely again. With Sylvia missing and having no solid clues of her whereabouts, neighbors are working together with hopes that doing some helpful work for Sylvia will also help bring her home.

Maple Valley is a fascinating place. Perhaps every good and bad thing one might find in any other small town can be found here. Hopefully, more good than bad.

How to Write a Good Scandal

If you’re going to include a scandal in your story, to be convincing, certain characteristics should be included. Without them you may end up with scattered details and no scandal.

How can you include just enough detail without giving away too much?

How many pages should it take to discover and resolve a good scandal?

Is the scandal damage permanent or does the resolution absolve everyone?

Here are some helpful characteristics:

  1. Surprise. For a situation to be truly scandalous, it should be a surprise. Something upsetting has happened no one was expecting. The bigger the surprise, the better.
  2. Expectation of Continued Behavior. Nothing is a scandal that does not include people everyone knows. People on the fringes will jump in and involve themselves if the scandal is juicy enough. People have unwritten expectations of others, especially those in some kind of authority. If that expected behavior is suddenly interrupted by opposite or at least divergent behavior, it becomes scandalous. A good scandal will take on a life of its own and spontaneously regenerate. Each telling of the story includes details added, perhaps unwittingly, by the person sharing it.

3. Feigned Concern for Those Involved. “I shouldn’t be telling you this…” When you hear those words, you know you’re on the edge of a scandal. If you’re writing about a scandal, be sure to give everyone an opportunity to show how concerned they are by telling the story again.

4. Reputation. The subject of a scandal should have a reputation, if nothing more than being a good neighbor. If a person is a scoundrel anyway, they only have that reputation and it is their expected behavior. No scandal here.

5. Gossip Worthy Details. People who live in a way that is the opposite of behaviors supposedly taken by those involved in a scandal love to talk about them. “Did you hear…” Include those words in your characters’ conversations and you will contribute to the growth of the scandal.

6. Exaggeration. “You know, I once met John Scandalous, and he told me…” The character says he met the central figure in the scandal when the truth is he heard him speak at a conference and never actually met him in person. Obviously, you will include this detail in the description of your exaggerating character so that he takes on a scandalous nature of his own. He is now a liar.

7. The ‘Glad It’s Not Me’ Syndrome. “There but for the grace of God…” People love to be included without being touched by the scandal. “I’m so thankful I don’t…” “One time, I was thinking about…” Characters talk with each other about their own weaknesses just enough to touch the shadow of scandal without being swallowed.

8. Threatened Values. A real scandal touches innocent bystanders by shaking the foundation of their values. When a respected individual takes an unexpected and opposite behavior, other people suddenly feel they may be capable of the same things.

9. Threatened Status Quo. Every day, people wake up, go to work, clean house, rake leaves, feed the dog, stop at all stop signs, pay bills, talk to friends, go home, eat dinner, go to bed, sleep, wake up, go to work, clean house, rake leaves… until someone doesn’t. The status quo keeps everyone moving in the same direction with a sense of well-being until someone takes a different behavior. A scandal shakes the status quo.

10. Threatened Personal Perspective. A good scandal will cause your characters to question the way they view the world. Everyone interprets the world through the lens of their own experience. Behavior labels depend on perspective. A good scandal will fall outside reasonable perspectives.

11. Scandal Life. A scandal should only last as long as it contributes to the life of your story.

12. Resolution. A good scandal may or may not be completely resolved. The details may hang over the story to keep everyone guessing, especially your characters. If someone is murdered, that’s not a scandal, it’s homicide. There is no possible resolution to a murder other than the “who did it?” question being answered.

There you have it. If you’re working on writing a scandal to disrupt your characters’ lives, include these elements and you’ll have a memorable scandal that will keep your characters talking and your fans reading.

Scandal At Maple Valley Episode 6

Even though Maple Valley is a tourist destination for thousands of people each year, it is a real town where people live and it does not escape the characteristics of small town life. People know things about their neighbors they probably shouldn’t know. Things the neighbors would rather keep quiet. Some people make it their business to involve themselves in one way or another in everything. And since a lot of folks in Maple Valley are related, they often say things like, “I’m just looking out for the interests of my family,” which couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s often a distant family member who becomes the subject of suspicion among those who feign concern.

If it were possible to capture all of the troubling characteristics of small town life in one person, her name would be Lulane Hilvertosh. No problem, no concern, no circumstance, no question in Maple Valley escapes the probability of being made much larger, providing the capacity to pull in more innocent casualties than when Lulane Hilvertosh gets involved, which is almost always.

Lulane took it upon herself to call the State Police and WREK-TV’s award winning journalist Marty Kue (whose full name is Martin Kuezanskowitz) and asked them to meet her at three tower bridge to discuss the disappearance of Sylvia Meisner. She told the State Police she had official authority to discuss the case. Not true. The fine people at WREK know Hilvertosh very well as she considers herself a gifted reporter, a total lack of any journalistic education notwithstanding. The only reason anyone gives her any attention is her ability to cause trouble. It’s more an effort to control the damage than to gain any useable information.

It’s difficult to understand why the State Police don’t arrest her for filing a false police report, or contacting the police under false pretenses. She’s definitely not trying to help.

The photos showing the actual meeting between officers from the State Police and Marty Kue were secretly taken by Mayor Thrashborn’s secretary, Wanda Cablelance. She understands what a danger someone like Lulane Hilvertosh can be.

The State Police will have to meet with Mayor Thrashborn officially, even though it is a waste of time, because a report was officially made by Hilvertosh. If the officers don’t follow through and meet with the mayor, Lulane will find out about it and the end will be far worse than the beginning.

In the process of capturing the photos of the secret meeting, Miss Cablelance happened to catch Stevie Mickletan sitting on a bridge beam. Shortly after the photo was taken, the police officers made Stevie come down and told him not to climb the tower again. That was also a waste of time. Stevie Mickletan climbs the towers every week.

Official photos of Sylvia Meisner’s house were taken by Sheriff Terkinberry’s photographer, which is his wife, Kathy. They took pictures of the front, back, and side of the house. It wasn’t until they looked at the photos, as seen above, they realized how close Sylvia’s house is to the scene where the burned car was found. In fact, if one looks closely enough, you can see three tower bridge in the background just behind Verklin’s Antique Store.

An obvious question hangs over the investigation. How was a heavily damaged burned car placed under the bridge, just beyond an active railroad line without anyone seeing it? No one saw anything. At least no one is willing to say they saw anything. That alone troubles Sheriff Terkinberry even more than the fact Sylvia is still missing. If someone did see, or worse yet, was involved in placing the car under the bridge, that means someone in Maple Valley is involved in the disappearance of Sylvia Meisner. The sheriff almost cannot bear to think about it. He knows everyone in town very well. He considers most of them to be his friends.

As if the mayor and the sheriff needed something more to consider, Beulah Filden gathered her closest friends, all two of them, and started a petition to postpone the opening of tourist season. So far, they have nineteen signatures. Since there are only fifty-one official residents of Maple Valley, they are well on their way to a majority of those supporting the delay of the season. While it might be honorable to make such a gesture, practically, it’s not going to make any difference, other than blocking the necessary finances so needed by Maple Valley to survive. Once the signatures are presented to the mayor, a meeting of the town council will have to be called and a vote taken. We don’t need this!

It’s almost as if everyone in Maple Valley is holding their breath, waiting to see what happens next. There is still talk about having a psychic come in to help. Most folks think it’s a ridiculous idea.

The sheriff is still considering doing a door-to-door search. Since the thought of someone in Maple Valley being involved crowded his mind, he is thinking more seriously of opening every door, whether the residents agree or not.

Sheriff Terkinberry spoke briefly with Dr. Ham Gerlein, the medical examiner from Colmash County. Dr. Gerlein is responsible for several counties including Kertok. The sheriff gave him the details of Sylvia Meisner’s disappearance as they are known today. Since there is nothing to medically examine yet, and official meeting has not been called.

It’s hard to imagine things getting worse in Maple Valley. What we know for sure is that Sylvia Meisner is still missing. The fact that not a single person in town knows anything is becoming harder and harder for Sheriff Terkinberry to accept. While he is not really concerned about his position as sheriff, he is the kind of person who hates to stir something up if it’s not necessary. It is becoming more and more difficult to resist.

Scandal at Maple Valley Episode 5

It is a terrible shame the word “scandal” connects to Maple Valley in any way. The citizens of this small town, completely happy to continue in the ways we know, are now, through no fault of our own, tossed together into a chopper yearning to leave nothing recognizable in its wake.

The very name, Maple Valley, evokes thoughts of sweetness, calm, and rest. Indeed, until two weeks ago, anyone would have agreed with my assessment. Now everything is upside down. Everyone is walking an unfamiliar path. Distrust among life-long friends is beginning to dance around the edges of awareness. This kind of shadow does not belong in Maple Valley. Yet, here it is.

We’re looking over our shoulders. Security is seeping away. It’s amazing how quickly unanswered questions begin scratching at the fabric holding everything together. Sylvia Meisner has been missing sixteen days. Life will quickly return to normal when we know the facts. Maybe.

Be that as it may, today is Father’s Day. The lovely folks of Maple Valley have celebrated Father’s Day in the same manner for the last forty-seven years. Since Deaton Habley created the “Hands-On Father’s Day Project,” everyone knows what to expect year after year. Yesterday, all of Maple Valley gathered at the fire station to sign Father’s Day cards. To be sure no one is left out, each resident receives a card. Men, women, boys, girls, and fathers receive cards delivered personally by volunteers. It’s very important to citizens of Maple Valley that no one is left out of any kind of celebration. Even individual birthdays are a community project. It gets tiring, actually.

Mayor Alvin Thrashborn delivered his annual Father’s Day message to the community gathering at Verklin’s Antique Store. Verklin’s is the best place for the community to gather because Claudia Verklin has a new porch, built two years ago by Wayne and Verle Shones of Shone’s Construction. Mayor Thrashborn is quite a good public speaker. He has learned to use hand gestures since taking the “You Can Speak More Convincingly” class at Kertok County Public Library. The class is taught by Dr. Wilson Erkish, Professor Emeritus, Retired, of the Kertok County Community College, which closed due to lack of students nearly twenty years ago. The mayor has even been invited to speak to the Ladies Who Mean Well group that meets on the first Tuesday of every month.

At the conclusion of Mayor Thrashborn’s speech, the Happy Harmonettes sang, “Daddy Was a Scoundrel,” an original song written by Annimae Twisherman, who sings tenor in the group. She wrote the words and the music, which is quite an accomplishment of which all the residents of Maple Valley are quite proud.

When the ceremony at Verklin’s Antique Store was over, all the folks walked together to the basement of Maple Valley Church where we enjoyed a fine breakfast of pancakes, eggs, and kiwi. This year the breakfast was prepared by the “Golf Innovation League” which is open to men and women. The group meets every week at the Maple Valley Links. The members do not play golf, but share in discussions about how the game might be made more meaningful for those who do not participate.

The meal was enjoyed fully, then we all returned to our homes. We have a lot of work to do in preparation for the tourist season which starts next Friday. The Old General, the 1880 Vintage Steam Engine, will begin pulling fully restored passenger cars loaded with happy visitors to Maple Valley. The Old General was the locomotive derailed by the boys who piled rocks on the tracks. That was not a happy day in Maple Valley.

We are all hoping for the best for Sylvia Meisner. Sheriff Terkinberry is getting almost no rest, and that worries some of the folks who know him well. He is determined to begin his investigation again, from the beginning. He has decided to leave Sylvia’s car where it is until she is found. The thought of missing something that might lead to her return alive keeps him awake. He doesn’t know whether she’s alive or not. No one does. The sheriff is doing everything he possibly can to bring Sylvia home.

Scandal at Maple Valley Episode 4

O’Dillmotte Funeral Parlor “Where We Lay You Down Easy” is buzzing with activity. Quintin O’Dillmotte, the proud provider of burial services for the citizens of Maple Valley and all of Kertok County, has been on the phone for hours.

No, Sylvia Meisner’s body has not been found, dead or alive. Quintin O’Dillmotte is chair of the Maple Valley Independence Day Celebration Committee, which is just a few weeks away. This is O’Dillmotte’s second year as chair. He hopes to outshine the extravaganza, or disaster, depending on how you look at it, that took place last year. Quintin’s main project was to have every home and business in Maple Valley draped in red, white, and blue crape paper. The town was absolutely beautiful. WREK TV – “Your Source for the Latest”, came with their cameras and a reporter. When it started raining the results were displayed for everyone. It took weeks to remove all the soggy crape paper, and long boney purple fingers are still visible.

One might think after wreckage like that everyone would demand a change in the leadership for the Independence Day Celebration Committee. Not so. No one else wants to do it.

It’s not like O’Dillmotte’s has funerals lined up for weeks. The last services Quintin provided was four months ago. Palmer McCashtin, 98, passed peacefully, surrounded by Coozie, Twisto, Meeka, Bobo, Lealea, and Moe, three cats and three dogs, respectively. Townsfolk were helpful after the sad event. Each of the animals found a home in Maple Valley before old Palmer was laid down easy.

Tourists who visit Maple Valley often ask about O’Dillmotte’s Funeral Parlor. It’s not often one sees a funeral business decorated with bright colors and shrubs cut in the shape of dolphins and unicorns. Visitors are also curious about the slogan, “Where We Lay You Down Easy.” It’s not difficult to explain. Funeral services at O’Dillmotte’s cost $147.98, and in four easy installments, that’s just $36.99 each. You see, Quintin O’Dillmotte is also a carpenter. He makes the coffins himself, which are all identical. He also owns the cemetery, which is located just the other side of three tower bridge. The property has been in the O’Dillmotte family since the earliest settlers made a home in Maple Valley. In their time of grief, families do not have to ponder coffin styles, cemetery plots, sermons, music, or transportation. Each funeral is exactly the same as the last, all provided by Quintin O’Dillmotte. Somehow, the folks of Maple Valley are completely happy with the services he provides. Oddly enough.

The business of planning the Maple Valley Independence Day Celebration keeps Quintin completely occupied. Yesterday, he contacted Master Kafflen, head of the local Young Hopefuls Club, which is a preparatory platform for those who wish to be Young High-Minded Individuals one day. Sylvia Meisner was chosen as a delegate to the National Convention of High-Minded Individuals. Master Kafflen’s real name is Able, but since the leader of the Young Hopefuls Club is known as the Master, Able prefers to be called Master Kafflen. No one argues with him, it’s not worth the trouble.

Quintin hopes to have a parade and wants the Young Hopefuls Club to lead the procession. They will be followed by the Retired Equine Services Organization, which includes three horses and their owners, the Cake-Bakers Anonymous Support Group, the Happy Harmonettes, which is a quartet of women, all in their eighties, who have been trying to sing together since high school. They hope to one day be invited to perform outside Maple Valley. This year, O’Dillmotte is working with great effort to have a trailer with a public address system and plans to invite Derwood Finster, master bird-caller, perform in the parade as the Grand Master. Finster is well known for having appeared on the WREK TV Children’s Hour with Mr. Dimples.

The Maple Valley Independence Day Celebration is obviously in very capable hands, the previous year, notwithstanding.

Sheriff Pete Terkinberry is still recovering from his dealings with the Burthrap twins. Right now, he is sitting at his desk in his office, considering how he might have handled the situation differently. The Kertok County Sheriff’s Department is in Pete’s kitchen. He doesn’t mind having his office at home, it saves having to drive the county patrol car anywhere, saving money for the county which tends to be in short supply.

The sheriff is thinking it might have been advisable to stand outside the Burthrap’s house and let the twins fight it out. Then, if either of them were hurt, arrest the other for assault. But since Ver and Vee are known around Maple Valley for their arguments, the uproar over the sheriff arresting one of them would be worse than the damage either could possibly do to the other.

Sheriff Terkinberry is still listening to discussions about what might have happened to Sylvia Meisner. At this point, the most outrageous has been the suggestion to ask a psychic where Sylvia might be. Pete laughed at the idea initially, but is actually thinking it might provide something for folks to talk about, taking their attention off themselves.

The sheriff has not decided whether to move the car from under three tower bridge. He’s fearful of destroying evidence, even though he has searched the area many times. He’s feeling the urge to search it again.

Scandal at Maple Valley Worse – Episode 3

“It was your fault!! You shoved me first!” Veronia screamed.

“Liar! You’re always lying!! You never stop lying! You pushed my hand away! Liar!” spewed Vernita.

“Ladies, ladies, please” said the sheriff.

“Oh shut up, Pete, who asked you?!” Veronia and Vernita hollered in unison.

“Actually, it was Gil and Nona Merthon next door who called and asked me to come here. They heard you fighting and thought I should come and make sure you’re okay,” the sheriff quickly added, hoping to divert the girls’ attention from each other. It didn’t work.

“You always have to be first! This time, you’re not! I’m right! I know I’m right! I don’t care what you say! screamed Veronia even louder.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about! You’re so stupid! Why do you have to be so stupid! And gullible! That’s you, gullible Ver!” ranted Vernita.

The sheriff raised his hands as if to ask a question, or to give up, but instead stepped back and folded his arms across chest. He was beginning to think he might have to call for backup. Except there is no backup. Sheriff Terkinberry is the one and only police officer in Kertock County. And since he grew up in Maple Valley, just like everyone else, they all call him by his first name, instead of “Sheriff Terkinberry,” which makes him angry but he really can’t do anything about it.

“Ladies, please, let’s all sit down and talk this through like the adults we are,” the sheriff pleaded.

The girls both turned and stared at him, then shouted, “No!”

Veronia and Vernita Burthrap, identical twins, are known to everyone in town as Ver and Vee. When the girls were toddlers they couldn’t say each other’s names, it sounded like “Ver” for Veronia, and “Vee” as Vernita. The names stuck. Except for a mole on Veronia’s left ear, it is impossible to tell them apart. They wear their brown hair long, so glimpses of the mole are hard to come by. The girls, now in their thirties, are known for their arguments. This one is another in a very long stream of screaming competitions.

“And you never believe me!!” Vernita loudly added.

“What’s to believe?! You’re always wrong! I know I was the last one to talk to Sylvia!! Not you!!” Veronia screeched.

Now the sheriff was standing at full attention.

“Wait a minute!! Stop yelling right now!!” Sheriff Terkinberry thundered so strongly it seemed to shake the house.

For a moment, Veronia and Vernita looked like frightened kittens.

“You two are arguing about who saw Sylvia Meisner last?” the sheriff hissed through his teeth.

“Yessss!!” the girls both shouted together.

“One at a time!!!” the sheriff screamed. “Ver, you first.”

Veronia gave Vernita a satisfied smerk as if the sheriff telling her to go first confirmed everything in her favor.

Veronia straightened herself as if preparing to give an important speech. “Well, Sheriff Terkinberry, I know I am the last one to have spoken with Miss Meisner before she disappeared. I saw her driving out of town,” she said, nodding at Vernita with an ‘I told you so’ look.

“What do you mean you saw her driving?” asked the sheriff.

“Well, I was on third street at the end of town, and Sylvia was driving her car and I waved at her, and she waved back,” said Veronia.

“You waved at her? Did you actually talk to her and did she talk back to you?” pried the sheriff.

Visibly uncomfortable, “Well, in a manner of speaking, yes. I waved, she waved, that is a conversation,” Veronia said.

“Hah!! I knew it!! You liar!! You lie, you lie, you lie!! Just like always! You lie about everything! You liar!! You didn’t talk to her at all! I knew it!!” Vernita shouted triumphantly before the sheriff could stop her.

The sheriff continued. “Ver, waving at each other is not exactly a conversation. Did you verbally talk with Sylvia that day?”

“Well, no,” Veronia said quietly, looking down at her feet.

Vernita quickly jumped in, “Wellll, I did!! I did ver-ba-lly talk, with my mouth forming words, words that made sense, to Miss Meisner” Vernita said, mocking her sister.

“Where and when did you talk with her, Vee?” asked the sheriff.

“I was at the market getting a few things. As I was walking out, she was walking in,” answered Vernita.

“And what did you say? What did she say?” the sheriff continued.

“I said, ‘Hi, Sylvia,’ and she said, ‘Hi.'”

Pete Terkinberry stared at them. “Let me get this right. You two are arguing so loud the neighbors called the police. You’re screaming about who talked to Sylvia last, like it’s some kind of trophy, and neither of you actually talked with her?” the sheriff asked, his volume rising with each detail.

“I am the one…” Vernita started to say.

“Stop!!” the sheriff yelled with his hand up as if halting traffic. “Stop right there! Don’t either of you say another word! You have no idea what you’re talking about! I am getting calls from all over town because everyone is arguing about who saw and talked to Sylvia last!!” the sheriff said loudly as if trying to convince himself this is actually happening.

“You two lovely ladies who are nearly inseparable, you even say the same things at the same time, for crying out loud, are just about to start punching each other! This is ridiculous!”

For the first time, Veronia and Vernita looked at each other with something other than venom, and their gaze dropped to the floor.

“Here’s the truth,” the sheriff said. “It appears that something terrible has happened to Sylvia Meisner. We don’t yet have any idea what that is, or how it happened. All we have is her smashed and burned car. And all this arguing around town isn’t helping bring her back. Everyone is acting like a bunch of brats thinking only of themselves, trying to make the story about them rather than actually trying to help Sylvia! Hannah and Shorty Cloverton were fighting over who was the last one to wait on Sylvia at the Ya’ll Sit Cafe! Shorty slammed the front door so hard the glass broke out and shattered all over the floor. Ira Thibbers was sitting near the door and a piece of glass hit him! He’s talking about suing Shorty! This is crazy!!” the sheriff hollered, visibly shaken.

I have lived in Maple Valley all my life, just like everyone else. I’ve never seen anything like this. Bad stuff has happened before, all right. Like the time a couple buddies put rocks on the railroad tracks and derailed the old steam engine that brings shoppers into town. Wow, that was bad. This is different. I live in a house three doors away from the Burthraps. Them arguing isn’t anything new, but what they’re fighting about is.

Sylvia has been missing for two weeks. Because her car is wrecked, everyone thinks she must have died. Maybe her car was stolen, whoever took it crashed and it burned. That doesn’t answer how the car ended up under three tower bridge. At this point, your guess is as good as mine.

Scandal at Maple Valley Grows – Episode 2

Obviously, the nature of scandal is to grow. In the history of mankind, not a single scandal germinated lacking ravenous hunger for more flesh. Think about it for a moment. What is scandal if not the fodder for gums to flap over, giving each gum owner the satisfaction of being the one with the latest and best information. The telling widens a little more with each sharing, making the teller a little happier. The eyes of the tellees widen slightly, thereby informing the teller the telling is working. Scandal is a glorious, living creature.

At this point, the scandal in Maple Valley has not disappointed. It’s expanding sufficiently to allow a few people who don’t know Sylvia Meisner to be included, each in their own way having a crucial part. It matters to no one that these have never actually met Sylvia. Sylvia Meisner. The woman who has been missing for two weeks. But, you see, this is a very important element of scandal that cannot be overlooked. With each reiteration, the circumstances become more and more about the tellers, less about the central figure. So, reiteration becomes iteration. Each telling is a new story. Each teller becomes a creator, bathed in their own endless concern.

The scandal surrounding the missing Sylvia Meisner has given Maple Valley a breath of fresh air. Towns people have a story everyone is talking about, so they aren’t wondering if someone is talking about them. In a way, Sylvia is helping people by not being here. We all have something to talk about! Fred Crickston isn’t worrying about his garden anymore. (There hasn’t been any rain in Maple Valley since the middle of April.) Anabel Wizzleby no longer cares that choir members aren’t showing up for rehearsal of the musical score she wrote for the upcoming start of tourist season in Maple Valley. The Reverend Shermer of Maple Valley Church hasn’t mentioned dwindling offering totals since Sylvia first disappeared. Folks are gathering on the street corners again. The scandal celebration is bringing new life to Maple Valley.

Scandal news always has its key voices, the few who are held in high esteem for their ability to stir. Within an hour of Tom Swagmon and Patty Philers discovering Sylvia’s burned car under three tower bridge, Wanita Havertons and Velma Kreitzhammer were connected by their umbilical phone cord. They knew Sylvia was missing, what she was wearing, her hair style, the color of her purse, style of her shoes, and most importantly, what she was thinking when she left Maple Valley the night before. Velma called Gwendalyn, yes, that Gwendalyn, Mayor Thrashborn’s second wife. Wanita called Arleta Forner (Gwendalyn and Arleta are not speaking to each other, and haven’t spoken since the town picnic three years ago when Arleta said Gwendalyn obviously forgot to put salt in her three-bean salad), and the scandal embers quickly became a roaring flame to the delight of all.

We are only certain of two things. Sylvia is missing. The burned car under three tower bridge is hers. She bought it used two years ago at Brimmerton’s Auto Sales in Maple Valley. Oh, that’s another scandal we don’t have time to talk about right now. Just ask Wanita about Henry Brimmerton. Better yet, don’t. No matter, Henry Brimmerton has been selling bad cars to Maple Valley residents for more than a generation. His father, Albert, sold bad cars before him.

No one has heard from Sylvia Meisner for two weeks. The car has revealed no secrets. Maybe that’s the way it was meant to be.

Scandal at Maple Valley – Episode 1

Sylvia Meisner has been missing for two weeks. She lives alone in Maple Valley. Alone, but not alone. As it is with so many small towns, everyone knows everyone in Maple Valley, and there are plenty of folks who make it their business to know the business of everyone else.

It is challenging enough living in a small town, but many of the residents are related in one way or another. Sylvia Meisner is in her mid-thirties. She’s never been married but she has enjoyed the company of several men over the years. Sylvia is the niece-in-law of Mayor Alvin Thrashborn. Alvin has been mayor since the thirty-seven full time residents of Maple Township voted to become a town and changed the name to Maple Valley. Thrashborn’s second wife, Gwendalyn, is the sister of Arleta Forner, who owned Forner’s Drugstore until it burned down fourteen years ago. Arleta is Sylvia’s mother.

There was talk around town that Alvin had a “thing” for Sylvia. Oh, no one ever saw anything, really, but Alvin did seem to brighten when Sylvia walked into a room. Everyone knows what that means. And in Maple Valley, everyone notices when someone brightens.

Sylvia is an artist of sorts. Many of the signs around Maple Valley were created by Sylvia. She has a small studio behind her house where she paints. Oddly enough, Sylvia makes signs for businesses that don’t exist. They are shops she believes should be real, so she paints signs for them. For example, “Tom’s Used Blenders & Other Interesting Items” was one of her first. There has never been a used blender store. Anywhere, ever. No one complains because the signs add color to the neighborhood.

For whatever reason, Sylvia is gone. No one has seen her for two weeks. There wasn’t any concern at first. In fact, it was several days before someone said, “Have you seen Sylvia lately?” When the answer was, “No, I haven’t, come to think of it” the phones started ringing. And, believe it or not, there is no cell service in Maple Valley, so it happens to be the only town within five hundred miles that still has telephones hanging on walls. They ring the old-fashioned way, obnoxiously loud.

Everyone continued about their daily activities but concern about Sylvia grew. Last Tuesday morning, something happened no one has been able to explain. Two people were walking along the tracks near three tower bridge and found a car. The car, or, what’s left of it, is smashed and burned. At this point, there are no answers. No one knows where it came from or how it got there. Monday night, nothing. Tuesday morning, a burned car.

It wasn’t until officials looked more closely someone said, “That looks like Sylvia Meisner’s car.”

Sure enough. After a quick search, the car was confirmed to be Sylvia’s. There was no sign of Sylvia. Nothing remained in the car except charred seats and a melted steering wheel.

The two who discovered the car, Tom Swagmon and Patty Philers were questioned almost as if they were suspects.

“How could we have moved the car there?!” Tom hollered at Sheriff Terkinberry.

“When was the last time you saw Sylvia Meisner?” asked the Sheriff.

“Pete!” (Terkinberry’s first name. He and Tom Swagmon were best friends in high school.) “It’s me! Pete! You idiot! We have no idea where Sylvia is!” That was the end of the questions.

Sylvia doesn’t have any family outside Maple Valley. She went to school here. She stayed here. The farthest distance she has ever travelled out of Maple Valley was to Hamshover, Missouri, where she attended the “Young High-Minded Individuals” national convention. No one ever thought of Sylvia as being high-minded, but evidently someone did. She was invited as a delegate.

Sheriff Terkinberry is suggesting a door-to-door search for Sylvia. Since no one has seen or heard from her in two weeks, it’s hard to imagine a search like that is going to do anything but make a lot of people uncomfortable. After all, it’s very hard to burn a vehicle in a small town without someone noticing, and no one did. The car was destroyed somewhere else and moved back to Maple Valley. But why would someone do that? Is it meant to convey a message? And where is Sylvia?

Maybe the answers are close by. Maybe not. If something happened to Sylvia, something terrible, we may never know. But that doesn’t dismiss us from the responsibility of finding out as much as we can.

The problem with Maple Valley, especially with troubling circumstances like this, is that folks are better at making things up and calling them facts than really finding the truth. These days, truth is tougher to uncover in Maple Valley.

How to Avoid Writing Enemies

Let’s be honest. A lack of time really isn’t an enemy to writing. Literary masterpieces were written in the same amount of minutes in a day we have now. Poor use of the time is the real enemy. I am a master at finding all kinds of things to do instead of writing.

It’s amazing how much time is available to binge on Netflix reruns. It won’t matter if we just watch one more show. It would be irresponsible to stop watching now that we’re really into the plot. Let’s just keep watching to see what happens.

There is always something more demanding than writing. Projects on the house are endless. Errands requiring no more than thirty minutes turn into an afternoon after a trip through Starbucks, an unplanned stop at Home Depot, waiting at the train station long enough to catch a freight run-by, and deciding to pick up a few things at the grocery store. Once I’m finally headed home, I remember something I should have purchased so I turn around and go back.

Remember, poor use of time is the enemy. That’s not to say errands aren’t important and we shouldn’t spend any time watching a favorite show. It’s just amazing, however, how fast the time flies when we’re doing things that don’t produce good writing.

How do you stop wasting time? (C’mon, I know you do it too.) Start with a plan. Decide on a time and place during the day you will commit to writing, and only writing, and then stick to it. Don’t let a fleeting idea lead you to start scrolling the internet. Jot the idea down (on a real piece of paper with a pencil – remember those?) and don’t click away from the screen you’re working on.

If you work at it, you can get really creative with your writing opportunities.

Here are some options:

1. Early morning – a quiet house can be a writer’s best friend. Allow enough time to write without rushing.

2. Late at night. Same idea.

3. On your lunch break at work. Here’s where a real piece of paper and a pen might work for you. Pick up an inexpensive journal and use it when you only have a few moments of writing time between bites.

4. Use your phone. I have lists of writing topics in my reminders app. It’s easy to jot a line and come back to it later.

5. Dedicate a weekend to writing. If you have a busy family life, maybe a full morning or afternoon will work.

6. A writing get-away. Do you have a RV? A cottage? Do you have a friend with a cottage? Do you have a tent? Do you have a car? (I have spent many afternoons at the train depot with an iPad on my lap. And I’ve even been lucky enough to see several trains!) Do you have a garage? A yard? Do you have a closet? Is there a local library? You get the idea.

7. Your favorite coffee shop. Every writer’s idea of the perfect setting is the laptop on a table with a steaming brew close by. Coffee is the universal inspiration for fantastic writing.

8. A doctor appointment. Really. Do you have any idea how many hours you have wasted waiting? Waiting rooms should be called writing rooms. Then patients might begin to understand they are not required to handle magazines that have been fingered through by very sick person within fifty miles. Writing while waiting is a great idea!

9. A dentist appointment. It’s the same idea as the doctor’s office with a few variables. At the doctor’s office you don’t have the option of breathing that wonderful mixture of novocaine, formaldehyde, alcohol, polycarbonates, cleanser, and sweat. Fear can be an incredible writing motivator.

10. Church. If you go to church, maybe go back to what we used to do as kids. Draw during the sermon. Instead of drawing, write. (Just a caveat, it probably wouldn’t be a great idea to laugh out loud at your own whit when you write a brilliant line.) It might be a little bit like when the preacher was being all fake humble and said, “Now, folks, I know you have heard preachers who were much better than I.” And an old woman in the back said, “Amen!” (That really happened at our church when I was a kid. Remember it like yesterday! (Wait a minute, I can’t remember anything about yesterday.) I remember it like it was over fifty years ago!

11. If you’re a student, write at school. Your teachers will think there’s something wrong with you. When I was a middle school counselor, I loved encouraging students in their writing. There were a few that were actually brilliant, at least I thought so. It was worth every minute to read and then watch the glow on their face as approval washed over them.

12. The car wash. What do you do while you’re sitting in your car being pulled through the whale’s mouth, swallowed, digested, then spewed out the other end? See? You could use those few moments of solitude to write!

13. Family reunions. NO ONE likes family reunions. If someone tells you they do, they’re lying. “You look just like your father!” “I remember changing your diaper once when it was running all down your leg! What a mess!” “You don’t remember throwing up on Uncle Elmer, do you?” “I once thought you stole money out of my purse! I’m so sorry, I know you didn’t really do it. It was your brother!” Hearing Aunt Mable fart during the saying of grace was worth it. And the time a calf was born during the prayer. That was a classic. Family reunions are only meaningful to grocery store owners. More pineapple chunks, cottage cheese, Jello, potatoes, mustard, celery, and baloney are sold during family reunion season than at any other time of year. Use the family reunion to sneak into the haymow and write. (Alone.)

14. The bathroom. C’mon, seriously. What if, instead of scrolling, reading news, deleting emails, rereading texts, checking bank accounts, writing grocery lists, looking up the definition of “fart”, or sorting photos, why not write?

Our lives are full of opportunities to write if we just look.

Do you have a treehouse? What a great place to write!