Harpy & Julianne’s Tomato War, excerpt

Tomato war coverHarpy & Julianne’s Tomato War
a short story
Purchase on Amazon

Link to story

My website: Janelle Meraz Hooper

It’s spring! and I thought my readers who garden would like to see a few lines from my new short story. It isn’t on my website yet, but it is available on Amazon.

Harpy and Julianne’s Tomato War
Janelle Meraz Hooper

AN EXCERPT- 1970, Lawton, Oklahoma…On a street in the older part of town, Harpy & Julianne, two gardening senior citizens, wage war over seemingly little things like roses and tomatoes. The trouble began with nineteen cats and prize roses and culminated with a dog named Killer, a racehorse named Moon Dancer, tomatoes, and lemon cake.

“…Everyone had a hustle in their bustle and the air pulsed with excitement when it was Tomato Festival time in Julianne’s hometown of Lawton, Oklahoma. A parade began the festivities that was followed with a tomato-growing competition, and canning competition. Vendors of every sort lined both sides of the streets and artists set up white tents for their art show in the park under the leafy trees. Near the picnic tables, all of the different organizations sold food to raise money for their clubs. The polka club sold sausages and sauerkraut; the Flamenco Club sold a Mexican plate with beans, rice, and enchiladas; The Mahjong Club sold a stir-fry dish served over white rice; and the Comanches sold fry bread. Live music ranging from classical to blue grass floated over the excitement, each style melding into the next.
On the outdoor stage, music teachers held their students’ yearly recitals in music, voice, and dance. Next, children would line up on the same stage to show off their skills in the Asian martial arts, wrestling, and baton twirling. The fun would culminate in a barbecue and a street dance when the sun went down and it cooled off. While the adults danced, a big movie screen showed cartoons for the kiddies, most of whom fell asleep with homemade ice cream all over their faces before Tom caught Jerry or the Roadrunner outwitted the Coyote.
Julianne especially liked the parade. Luckily, the floats and marching bands always lined up on “A” Avenue, right in front of her house, so she had a front row seat without leaving her porch. It seemed that every year at least one of the floats had some sort of mechanical crisis—usually a flat tire—or a decoration that failed to stay put—or a sound system that didn’t work. Each time, the men on the parade committee would descend upon the float that threatened to hold up the start of the parade in an old pickup. Its back was filled with all kinds of quick-fix items known to be useful from years of experience: hammers, saws, staplers, rope, wire, two by fours, and especially duct tape. As soon as the crew would fix one problem, another distress call would come in from another float. Every crisis and its resolution made for great entertainment for Julianne and the friends she invited to share her front porch.
They were a happy bunch and they’d all been friends for years. Belle had been one of Julianne’s bridesmaids. Trude and Vera were sisters who each brought their husbands every year. And, of course, there was always Joe. Joe had gone to high school with Julianne and they’d both gone on to graduate from Cameron University together. Of course, it was just Cameron College back then. The guest list was the same every year and every year Julianne sent out handwritten invitations to Potluck on the Porch! BYOP (Bring your own pot!)
Harpy, Julianne’s cranky next door neighbor, never joined Julianne and her friends even though he was always invited. He stayed inside his house with the windows and doors closed saying that all the racket the kids made interfered with his baseball game. The stubborn man didn’t have air conditioning, and Julianne wondered how he could stand the heat in his little house with the doors and windows shut tight. It had to be sweltering in there. Maybe he filled his bathtub with ice cubes from his fancy refrigerator and listened to the baseball game on the radio in his bathroom. But it didn’t really matter to Julianne what he did…or why. Harpy was just like that. He didn’t like kids. He didn’t like her friends. He didn’t like Julianne. He especially didn’t like her cats! Other than not liking Julianne because of her cats, the only other reason she could figure out for his hostility toward her was he didn’t like it when she wore her nightgown and robe on her back porch when she fed her cats in the morning. “You’re dragging your robe through the cats’ water!” he was known to shout from his back porch. Why did he care? Why on earth he went into such a tailspin over a little wet lace around the bottom of her robe she’d never understand…”

Available on Amazon Kindle. Suitable for all ages.

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Old Joe’s Pink Cadillac- expanded version

9-26-12 Old Joe cover


My website: Janelle Meraz Hooper

Dear Readers,

I’ve expanded my short story, Old Joe’s Pink Cadillac, and made it available on Amazon. Note: This is one of the back stories for my Turtle Trilogy (A Three-Turtle Summer, As Brown As I Want: The Indianhead Diaries, and Custer & His Naked Ladies).

A few lines from Old Joe’s Pink Cadillac, expanded version…

“…Ben’s effort to see that Joe was well and had everything he needed was always appreciated by the old guy. He didn’t have a phone, so on hot nights, Ben would walk across the alley to say hello and make sure the old man had ice for his icebox. During the summer, ice and water could be lifesavers when temperatures in the Oklahoma town could be over a hundred or more in the daytime during the summer, and the town’s senior citizens were sometimes known to suffer from dehydration.
Most of the time, Ben’s offer to bring Joe some ice wasn’t needed because Joe had bought a block of ice after work and had hand-carried it all the way home. Upon Ben’s arrival, Joe would pull two bottles of beer out of his icebox, and he and Ben would go outside and sit on Elizabeth’s hood to cool off. There, in the dark, they’d listen to the crickets chirp, and the cats fight and hiss at each other on the Victorian’s porch. Sometimes, houses away, they’d hear a couple squabbling until they both decided it was too hot to fight.
Too hot to love.
Too hot to sleep.
Eventually, cats and people would quiet down for the night, and Ben and Joe would be left under a star-filled sky with only the crickets, lightning bugs, and a few mosquitoes for company…”

Amazon Kindle, suitable for NA (New Adult) & up.

Author’s note: I drew on my memories of growing up in an Oklahoma town for this story. About 35,000 people without the army at the time, and less than 8 miles from Fort Sill.

Also new on Amazon: Harpy & Julianne’s Tomato War, Kindle. Suitable for all ages.

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A few lines from As Brown As I Want: The Indianhead Diaries

browncover-pix3from Walt this oneAs Brown As I Want: The Indianhead Diaries
The Adventures of Little Paintbrush and Snake Belt

My website: Janelle Meraz Hooper

See:  As Brown As I Want on Amazon

A few lines from As Brown As I Want: The Indianhead Diaries: The 2nd book in my Turtle Trilogy. Participant in the 2004 Oklahoma Book Awards. Published by iUniverse.

A fictional autobiography/black comedy about a little girl straddling two worlds between a murderous white father and a Hispanic family who loves powwows…

…Ruth, one of Mom’s Comanche friends, has invited us to a big powwow where they put up tepees and camp out for days. Mom says we’ll all go for one night and sleep in Ruth’s mom’s tepee. We can’t stay longer because Mom has some shirts to finish for a band down in Texas. Besides, at powwows, she has to pass for Indian.

       She only knows one Indian word Ruth taught her that’s supposed to fit in anywhere, but Mom says she starts to feel uncomfortable after the thirty-second “Huh!”

       Carlos and I think that’s real funny because Mom says “Huh?” all the time anyway because she can’t hear. Carlos and I don’t know any Indian words, so we’re not supposed to talk to any grownup Indians at the powwow.

       We’ve been going to these powwows for years, since Mom is such good friends with Ruth and her mother, Mildred. Sometimes, we’ll be out driving in the country in Mildred’s old Hudson when another car will pass us in a cloud of red dust. When they realize they’ve passed Mildred, they’ll slam on the brakes and spin around right in the middle of the road to chase us down and tell us there’s a powwow somewhere or other. Lots of times, we’ve left for the dance right from that very spot. When you’re with Mildred, you never know where you’ll end up but, wherever it is, you know it’ll be fun, and if Mildred’s cooking, you know you’ll eat well. She always carries a couple of wrought iron skillets in the trunk of her car, in case someone gets hungry...

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Gets Tickled and the Fish Trap


This is one of my favorite stories. Sadly, due to world events, it’s always timely…

Gets Tickled and the Fish Trap
From the book Free Pecan Pie and Other Chick Stories
Amazon-Paperback and Kindle.
Janelle Meraz Hooper
Free Pecan Pie and Other Chick Stories, Amazon


Downtown Tacoma, the year 2100…
The injured veteran took a crumpled piece of paper out of his pocket and checked the address. This was it: 2121 Pacific. He stepped back and surveyed the shiny, black glass that fronted the structure. There was no sign above the door. Who ever heard of a bus station with no sign?

He shrugged and entered the building. Instantly, he found himself in a Northwest Country Bus Station—a company that had been gone for years—with empty wooden benches for waiting passengers on one side and a 1950s style luncheonette, complete with chrome stools and plastic counter, on the other. Even the waitress wore a starched pink uniform with white trim on the sleeves and a flower folded from a printed handkerchief pinned over the pocket. She smiled at him and motioned for him to sit in the chair nearest the cash register. He noticed that every seat at the counter was filled, but no one was eating. Instead, they all seemed to be waiting for something.

Somehow, the young vet felt that he was part of the reason for their wait, although he couldn’t imagine why. Another strange thing: all of the other diner patrons were Indians. They smiled as if they knew him. When he looked around some more, he saw that the view out the plate glass window had changed from the busy Pacific Avenue to a view of Commencement Bay that was actually behind them.

The waitress said softly as she passed the veteran, “You’re next, Honey. You take care now.”

He heard a rattle above his head, then a loud, girlish giggle. Looking up, he saw a huge Indian fish trap, woven out of twigs. The Indian next to him cried out in delight when a live salmon fell from the huge basket onto the counter in front of him. There hadn’t been any salmon in Puget Sound for years. The Indian picked up his thrashing fish, put it under his arm, and left. The next Indian moved up to sit in his place.

When the first fish fell, the veteran was sucked up into the trap. Just then, another vet came hesitantly through the door. The waitress smiled at him and motioned for him to sit in the first chair by the cash register. The waitress said softly as she went past him, “You’re next, honey, you take care now.”

The Indian next to him smiled and shook his hand. “I am Running Water. And you are Pete.”

“How did you know?”

“We’ve been waiting for you.”

“Why am I here? Where am I going?”

“Up there.” Running Water looked toward the fish trap.

Just then, there was a rattle up above, and a huge fish fell down in front of Running Water. At the same time, the vet felt himself being pulled up toward the ceiling. With a friendly wave, the Indian picked up his fish, put it under his arm, and left.

The next Indian moved up. Another soldier came through the door and was seated.

Meanwhile, Pete found it slow going as the trap narrowed. He was surprised that he wasn’t in pain. At the top, his head bumped against the inside of the lid of an old iron pot-bellied stove. The lid rattled as Gets Tickled opened it. With no effort, she pulled Pete through the small hole into her kitchen that had a huge pile of live salmon in the corner.

“Who’s down there now?” she asked Pete. “Oh, it’s Rock’s Hard,” she said as she peeked through the hole. “He and his wife are alone now.” She picked up a smaller fish and threw it down. Rock’s Hard waved and called, “Thank you, Gets Tickled.” A loud giggle answered him. He picked up his fish and went home.

The vet that was leaving the bus station just as Pete came in was still in Gets Tickled’s kitchen. Both men felt themselves pulled toward the beach outside Gets Tickled’s front door.

“Hi, I’m Pete.” Pete said to his fellow vet.

“Good to know you. I’m Charley. Have you noticed your pain is gone? Mine is.”

“Yeah. When I first felt myself being pulled toward that contraption downstairs, I was sweatin’ it. I’ve been in constant pain for months and I thought that being pulled up to the ceiling was going to kill me, but I didn’t even feel it.”

“The trip didn’t hurt me either.” Charley agreed.

Check this out,” Pete said to Charley as they approached two new lounge chairs, “lounge chairs with our names printed on them—just like Hollywood.”

The two stretched out in the comfortable chairs and felt the warm sun soak into their skin. Their clothing changed to swimsuits.

“There’s quite a few of us here. I have a feeling we’re all veterans.” Charley said as he looked around the beach. “Maybe we should go over and introduce ourselves.”

“Good idea. Just let me rest here for a little bit first. I want to savor this body that for the first time since the war isn’t hurting me anywhere.”

Pete fell asleep and Charley watched him softly breathe in and out. While Pete slept, another man appeared. So did a new lounge chair with the name “Frank.” Charley shook his hand and said hello.

“What the hell am I doing here?” the befuddled man asked. “First I’m getting off a plane in the middle of a desert, the next thing I know, I’m going through some crazy fish basket in a bus station diner.”

“Were you on duty there?” Charley asked.

“Hell, no, I was there to pick up the body of my brother. He was killed in the desert war.”

“You went over there to pick him up? That’s unusual.”

“I know, but my mother has some kind of crazy idea that a man’s spirit is still alive for days after he dies, and she didn’t want my brother to be alone. She begged me to go pick him up.”

“Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. You must have been pegged as a vet who fit the criteria of the rest of us.”

“What criteria is that?”

“I don’t know.” Charley admitted. “We’re hoping to find out more later on tonight.”

“Are we dead?”

“We’re not alive. I know that because I’m no longer in pain. Are we dead? Don’t know. Must be.”

“This, whatever it is, is a mistake. I’ve got to get back. I’m not dead. I’m not even sick!”

Pete looked over to see that the whole crowd was moving toward tables laden with food. He was famished.

“Let’s go eat. Maybe we’ll find some answers while we’re over there.” Charley said.

Pete opened his eyes, saw the newcomer, and leaned over and shook Frank’s hand. Nothing after today would surprise him; he supposed that the newcomer got there the same way he did.

“Pete, this is Frank. We need to see if we can get him back down through that fish basket. He’s here by mistake.”

“Frank, you must have a hell of a story. I can’t wait to hear it, but let’s eat first.”

It was a happy group of soldiers that gathered around the food-laden table. The whole scene was like something out of a 50s beach movie.

“Hey, here he is, back from the frozen level,” a man named John waved to a friend. “I told you you’d be back.”

“Damn, it was so cold there I almost got frostbite on my nose. But it was beautiful.”

He turned to Frank, Charley and Pete, and explained as he shook their hands and said a quick hello, “Hi, I’m George. I got permission to go to a winter level because I’d never seen snow when I was on earth, and I wanted to experience it. John warned me that I wouldn’t like it.”

“There’s different levels?” Pete asked. “Where are we anyway?”

“That’s a common question around here. The best we can figure, we’re in some kind of a holding pattern for vets. Maybe some kind of a dimension/purgatory kind of thing. None of us really knows.” John loaded his plate while he talked.

“How long have you guys been here?” Charley asked.

George shrugged. “It’s hard to tell. Maybe minutes. Maybe days. We’re not sure if they have time here.”

“That’s fine for the rest of us, but Frank is here by mistake. How do we get him back on earth?” Charley asked.

“I don’t know of anyone who has ever gone back. Sometimes, one of us switches to another level just for fun, like George.” John laughed. “Frank, can you remember how you got here?”

“I was slightly injured while I was in the desert, but I wasn’t a soldier. My brother was killed over there.” Frank’s eyes searched the beach for his brother.

“Is his brother here?” Charley asked John.

“No, you guys are the only new men here. He could be on another level.”

“If he’s not here and not on another level, I wonder why not?” Pete asked. “Aren’t we all soldiers?”

“Yes, but if you look around, there’s not enough of us to account for all the battle deaths. We think that there’s a common thread that brings us all here, but we don’t know for sure what it is.”

“Is it possible that there’s a level we don’t know about? A … er … lower one?” Pete quietly asked, glancing at Frank.

“Could be. For right now, let’s try to figure out how to get Frank back home,” John suggested.

“Any ideas?” Charley asked.

“There is a girl here who seems to be the hostess. Maybe she’ll help us out with Frank. Here she comes now.” John lifted his arm and waved over a young woman wearing a swimsuit with a baggy khaki shirt pulled over the top for modesty. “Hey, Lauren, can we talk to you for a minute?”

“Hey, Guys, what’s up? Not enough food?”

“No problem there,” the man joked as he surveyed the laden table. “We’ve got a stowaway here. This is Frank. He’s not a soldier. He wasn’t even injured.”

“Where were you?” Lauren asked Frank.

“I was in the desert, picking up my brother’s body. He was the soldier.”

“Do you remember anything?”

“I just remember that I picked up a little boy who was crying and helped him find his mother. All of a sudden, I was flying up into some sort of basket. I ended up here.”

“I’ll see what I can find out.” Lauren made a note on her clipboard.

“Have you seen my brother?” Frank asked Lauren.

“No, Frank, I haven’t. I’m sorry. Only a few vets come here.”

“What few is that?” Charley broke in to ask.

“Only soldiers who were trying to save someone else’s life. We have other levels with soldiers from the other sides of the battle lines. We keep you guys separate so you can get some rest.”

“We’re dead and we still can’t get along?” Charley asked.

“Dead? What makes you think you’re dead? You’re just moved to a different level, away from your real body, while you either go through difficult surgery or recover from a coma. Didn’t you see your medical charts behind your lounge chairs?” Lauren pointed to a pocket in the back of each chair. “I’m sorry I wasn’t here to greet all of you, but we ran into a problem down on earth, and I had to go back.”

Turning to Frank she said, “Let me check this out. I’ll get back to you.”

Sometime during the night Lauren gently shook Frank’s shoulder. “Wake up, Frank. You were right. This was a mistake. You’re going home.”

“That’s great. How?”

“I’m going to have to guide you back down the fish trap. After you end up in the bus station, you’ll be on your own. While I’m down there, I have a pickup to make. There’s an Arab boy who would be too frightened to make the trip by himself. I’ll hand deliver him to the Mid-Eastern level. He could be the boy you helped.”

“What did he do?”

“He stepped in front of his mother to protect her from gunfire.”

“Sounds like him. When will he be able to go home?”

“He won’t. At eight-thirty tomorrow morning the whole Mid-East will be gone. Some maniac will use nuclear weapons and misjudge their power. Palestine, Israel, Iran, Iraq—all of them—will be contaminated for thousands of years.”

“Isn’t God going to stop it?”

“I don’t think so. From what I hear, He’s had it with all of them.”

“That’s a story to take back home.”

“Sorry. You won’t remember this conversation or this place when you get back to earth.”

Lauren’s voice began to fade and Frank began to hear his wife’s voice plead as she shook his arm, “Frank, Frank! Are you okay?”

Frank opened his eyes to find he was stretched out on a sidewalk on Pacific Avenue surrounded by 911 medics. Had it all been a dream?

“Honey, what are you doing in this part of town? We were supposed to pick you up at the airport—and where did you get this big fish—isn’t it a salmon?” his curious wife asked.

Frank looked over and saw a huge salmon flapping around next to him on the sidewalk. “Honey, I swear, I’ve never seen that fish before in my life,” he said.

No one but Frank heard the girlish giggle that floated down between the office buildings. A big smile moved across his face, but he didn’t know why.

The end

Read the book- This story was originally published in my short story book, Free Pecan Pie and Other Chick Stories. Paperback and Kindle (etc.). Published by iUniverse. Suitable for YA and up.

My website: Janelle Meraz Hooper

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Christmas in the Antique District


7-01-09Kindle pie coverFree Pecan Pie on Amazon
Christmas in the Antique District
From the Book Free Pecan Pie and Other Chick Stories

Amazon-Paperback and Kindle. Published by iUniverse.
Janelle Meraz Hooper

See all my books: Janelle Meraz Hooper

    Sandie opened the door to the basement closet of the antique store to get the artificial tree her boss had sent her after—and quickly shut it again. The tree was covered with rat droppings and, although the closet was dark at the back, she could hear movement that she was pretty sure wasn’t reindeer.
Oh, Lordy! What am I going to do?  Sandie thought. She needed her job, but her mind and body both rebelled at going anywhere near that disease-infested tree.
Looking for a way out, she ran over in her mind what her boss, Rodney, had said that morning as he descended the stairs from his apartment: “Today, we decorate for Christmas! When you get a chance, go down to the basement closet and get the tree!”
Well. There wasn’t much wiggle-room there, unless she got so busy that she couldn’t leave the shop floor to go downstairs. She knew that wasn’t likely.
“Where’s the tree?” Her boss asked when she came up empty-handed.
“I thought I heard customers up here,” she lied.
“Yeah, some coffee-sippers came in, but they left,” he said, as he took a big gulp of his rum and Coke.
“About the tree,” Sandie said hesitantly, “when I was taking it out, I saw it had rat droppings all over it, so I left it there.”
“Oh, just take the tree out and beat it on the sidewalk—they’ll come right off. It’ll look great when the lights are on it. It always does.”
What she had to do, Sandie decided, was distract her boss until the assistant manager, Laurie, came in. She was a friend and would be a lot more sympathetic to her qualms about getting rabies from a Christmas tree than Rodney was—she was sober. Sandi hoped Laurie came in soon; if she didn’t, it was going to be a long day. Luckily, Rodney discovered that his glass was empty, and he went back upstairs to his apartment to fill it.
For the rest of the day, Sandie sat on a platform at her hostess desk and watched the Christmas tapestry of the rich, poor, and homeless run up and down the Seattle sidewalks. The windows in the store ran from floor to ceiling, so she had a panoramic view of the trendy area filled with antique shops.

There was a cold wind, and the street people leaned over their shopping carts that held all of their possessions to keep the sharp wind from biting their faces. One man had tied a rumpled Christmas ribbon to his cart. As a homeless woman hurried by with her basket piled so high with black plastic sacks that she couldn’t see over it, the wind blew open her scarf that was wrapped around her face, and exposed a black eye. One of the street people was in the middle of the street, poised as if to run a race. Puzzled, Sandie didn’t realize until the last second that he intended to ram, headfirst, into her store’s large window. It happened so fast; within seconds, he charged the shop window, and left Sandie with nothing to do but scream. The man’s head hit the glass full force, but the glass didn’t break. The impact shook the whole building, and Rodney leaned out of his apartment door to see what had happened.
“What was that noise?” he asked.
Just then, the man hit the window again. Didn’t he know how dangerous glass was? Chances were that he wouldn’t just cut his head, he could decapitate himself!
“Oh, that happens a lot this time of year,” Rodney nonchalantly said when he looked at the dazed man. As he turned to go back to his kitchen, he said, “It’s cold out. He’s trying to get arrested so he’ll have a warm place to sleep tonight. Don’t worry; he won’t break the window. It’s a special glass that wouldn’t break if he had a hammer. And don’t worry about him coming in here to keep warm while you’re alone. They all know they can’t come in here. I’ve taught them that much.”
Sandie’s heart was still thumping violently as the dazed man stumbled down the sidewalk in search of an easier window to break. All day she spent anxiously watching windows and doors: the window in case the street person returned, the front door so she could catch the assistant manager as soon as she got back from her furniture set-up, and the door to Rodney’s apartment. It had gotten very quiet upstairs. Apparently, he’d passed out for the afternoon.
There were few customers, so she had lots of time to think. What would she do if she had to go get that tree and beat it on the sidewalk in front of half of Seattle? She decided she had no options. She’d do it, if she had to; she needed the minimum-pay job. She wouldn’t be happy about it though. Once, she’d had a good middle-class life, but now she was on a long financial slide after a lengthy illness, and she dreaded the extra humiliation of having to beat that turd-infested tree on the sidewalk.
A few minutes before closing, Sandie gathered her things. The assistant manager came through the door just as she was putting on her coat.
“Laurie—we need to talk. Rodney wants me to put up the Christmas tree and it’s full of rat droppings.”
“Oh,” Laurie laughed, “he says that every year, and every year I go out and buy a tree out of petty cash and put it up. He never even notices that the tree is real. Don’t worry about it; I’ll pick one up tomorrow.”
On her way to her car, Sandie walked alongside some homeless people pushing their carts. She had a couple of bucks in her pocket, so she looked for the man who had tried to break the shop window, but she didn’t see him. Maybe he had succeeded in getting arrested. She hoped so. It was sure to get down to the twenties before the night was through.

She felt guilty that she’d been so upset over a silly tree. But who could say? Every homeless person started from some point in his life. Maybe that Christmas tree in the basement closet would have been her first step.

 This story and other holiday short stories can be found in my mixed media book, Free Pecan Pie and Other Chick Stories, paperback and Kindle. Suitable for YA and up, clean. Popular with teachers.  Published by iUniverse.

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