Weekend Serial — Atonement in Zugzwang: Episode 5, Featuring John W. Howell

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Image by Teagan
Image by Teagan

Hello, everyone.  Welcome back to our weekend sanctuary.  It’s in the weirdly magical town of Atonement, Tennessee. 

Today’s random reader things are from a blogger-author I’ve been privileged to collaborate with several times.  That goes all the way back to Pip’s adventures, set in the 1920s, which were my first blog serials.   I’m talking about John W. Howell, author of many thrilling and suspenseful novels.  You’ll find more on his latest, including purchase links, at the end of this post.

Throughout my many blog serials, John has always been great at choosing random reader things.  The things he gave for today are: bugle, Mason jar, and Sears catalog.  As I said, he chooses terrific things — that bugle will be back.

If you missed the previous episode, then click here.  Special thanks to  Chris Graham  for making the image below, Three Glowing Pigs in the Forest

Atonement in Zugzwang

Episode 5

Image by Chris Graham
Image by Chris Graham

The moon sank low on the horizon.  A breeze stirred Deme’s fine short hair.  She trotted down a series of pig trails, rather than take any roads.  When it was dark, otherworldly pigs glowed.

She was worried about the meeting place.  Honeybell would have said it was too exposed.  However, her best friend couldn’t know about this adventure.  Honeybell liked rules a tad too much.

One more turn on the trail, and Deme met Moccus at the place he specified.  It was a small used car lot on the outskirts of Atonement, Tennessee.  The unexpected location sent a tingle of excitement.  The pigs weren’t supposed to go so close to the edge of town.  Unconsciously she wagged her twisty tail.

“Nice of you to show up, Deme.  Couldn’t resist having some fun?  I’ll never tell,” Moccus teased with a wriggle of his right hip which had a single brown spot.  “What took you so long?”

However, before she could answer, Moccus used a brass bugle to sound the call “As Skirmishers March.”

“What are you doing?  That’s loud enough to wake the dead.  Someone will see us,” Deme demanded, trying in vain to cover her ears at the loud rapid-fire notes.

“That’s the general idea,” Moccus muttered to himself, but seeing Deme’s reaction he became more serious.  “That was a bugle call from the US Navy.  It’s used for maneuvering troops in the field, or aboard ship as a call to deploy for a physical drill.”

Deme gave a derisive snort, refusing to be distracted by minor details.  However, when she heard leaves rustling not too far away, her otherworldly blue eyes narrowed.

“Moccus, I’m not sure I like where this game is headed,” Deme started but then she gasped.  “That’s no ordinary bugle.  I know what it is.  That’s the horn that sounded the cavalry charge at the Battle of Waterloo!”

Deme stamped a cloven hoof in frustration.  Moccus grinned.  Deme went on in a rush before she could change her mind.  It really was a delicious prank that the other pig had devised.

“You snatched it from the antiques Wirt Riley collected didn’t you.  What you’re doing is disrespectful.  And what about that new woman?  She’s his family and she loved him when she was little.  Don’t you think this will cause her heartache?”

“Come on, Deme.  Pepper Riley is an enlightened human.  She understands life and death, at least as it is for humankind.  Besides… You know it’s huge fun.  You should have seen the looks on the humans’ faces when they realized old Salty was missing!”

Torn between concern for others, and the love of making mischief, Deme hung her head.  She refused to look up as dragging footsteps drew close.  A car door opened, setting off a honking alarm.  Deme couldn’t help watching as Salty Riley got into the vehicle.

Moccus was already snorting gleefully.  A security guard came out of the sales building.  His flashlight cast beams of light all around.  Seeing the lights, Deme couldn’t suppress a snorting laugh.  The two otherworldly pigs darted under a nearby car.

“What the hell is going on out here?” the guard shouted when he saw a man sitting in the open car.  “Salty?  Salty Riley?  Are you drunk or something?  But wait a minute.  I heard that you were de— …dead.”

The guard let out a shriek.  He dropped his flashlight and ran screaming back to the building.

Moccus quickly sounded a retreat call on the bugle.  Salty Riley slouched away.  Moccus and Deme rolled with laughter.

“I just thought,” Deme abruptly stopped laughing.  “Don’t they have security cameras?  We’ll be seen!”

“Deme, I’ve got it covered.  The cameras won’t catch us.  We’re too short to be seen between the cars.  And if they did, the humans wouldn’t pay any attention to a pig,” Moccus assured her, but then he grunted quietly to himself.

“Moving old Salty is for a purpose.  A more serious purpose than you know.  And it might be a way for me to atone,” Moccus murmured as Deme hiccupped a giggle.

“What?” Deme asked.  “I didn’t catch what you said.”

Moccus tried to imitate the guard’s face instead of answering.  Just as another fit of grunting giggles came over the pigs, police sirens could be heard in the distance.  Deme and Moccus scampered away.

♣ ♣ ♣


Jar of Random Things photo by Teagan
Jar of Random Things photo by Teagan

Skurownk-skurownk noises bounced from the kitchen, which was open to the living room, and echoed up against the big metal staircase.  I paused in the middle of dragging a chair, to cringe at the racket I was making.  I never liked loud noises.

My late uncle’s kitchen had not been completely cleaned out by the people who were hired to store his valuables in the First Bank & Trust.  There were a few non-perishables in the cabinets.  That morning I was hoping hard to find a container of coffee.  I positioned the chair under a cabinet that I couldn’t reach.

Argh!  Why did he put these cabinets so high?” I groaned.

Stretching, the tips of my fingers brushed something that felt like it would contain coffee.  I brushed at it until I pulled it close enough to grasp.  Then I noticed something glass behind it.  Tiptoeing and reaching farther I got my hand around the glass.

It was a Mason jar, which was filled with…

“My God, what is this?” I exclaimed.

“That’s a witch’s jar—” an unfamiliar voice began.

I was so startled that I shrieked.  Then I lost my balance because I was stretching so far.

A pair of solid, strong hands grasped my legs, steadying me.

“Woah!  Gottcha, you’re alright.  Let me help you down,” he stated.

I collected enough of my wits to see that the man wore the uniform of a deputy sheriff.  That only improved the situation slightly.

“How did you get in here?” I demanded when maybe I should have been saying thank you.

“The back door was open, and it looked like you were going to fall.  Which, I might add, you nearly did,” he replied.

“I wouldn’t have if you hadn’t scared me to death!  Now what are—”

“I’m sorry ma’am.  Let’s start over.  Deputy Fletcher Hodge,” he introduced himself with a tip of his hat.  “Given the situation with your late uncle, my condolences by the way, the sheriff told me to do a perimeter sweep of your place.”

His unflustered manner relaxed me.  I also noticed that he was short, almost a head shorter than me.  I read his name tag aloud.  It identified Fletcher N. Hodge.

“You can guess what the N is for.  My dad was vertically challenged, and he figured I would be too.  He gave me the middle name Napoleon to remind me not to take my short height too seriously,” he elaborated with a crooked smile.

Muttering an apology, he took the Mason jar from my hands and placed it on the long granite bar that separated the cooking area from the rest of the downstairs part of the erstwhile gas station.

“You wouldn’t want to break this,” he explained with a bleak expression.

“Did you say something about it being a witch’s jar?  What does that mean?  What’s in it?” I asked all the questions in one verbal bundle.

“They’re also called protection jars.  You learn a lot of strange things, as law enforcement in Atonement, Tennessee,” he added at my perturbed expression.  “That unpleasant looking stuff inside it is broken glass, along with a few drops of blood and then urine, both from the person doing the protection spell.  The jars are meant to be buried somewhere on the property, but a dark unused cabinet will do.”

“Eeew!  Can you tell me what was going on with Uncle Salty that he felt the need for so much protection?  First the security alarm system, then storing his stuff in the bank’s vault, and what I think is bulletproof glass?  It is, isn’t it?” I asked, getting more upset as I listed those things, and Fletcher nodded.  “And now some kind of witchcraft protection.”

“That’s a Wiccan spell, so it would be white magic.  If that makes you feel any better,” he replied.  “Look, Ms. Riley, I can understand you being upset.  But I never knew your uncle to be involved in anything unlawful or immoral.  Frankly, I’m as puzzled by his sudden obsession with security as you are.  I do get the impression that someone must have threatened him.  But I haven’t found anything to indicate that anybody meant him any harm.”

The deputy was about to say more, when a loud knocking came at the glass door in front.  From where I stood, I could see that it was Maudie Rocket.  She was agitated so I hurried to open the door.  Fletcher Hodge followed on my heels.

“Pepper, have you seen the news?  Oh, that’s right you don’t have a TV here” Maudie began, but she turned a circle, glancing around the place before noticing the deputy.  “Oh, my.  Good things in small packages.”

Fletcher gave her an impish grin.  I breathed a sigh of relief that Maudie had not offended him.  As Maudie put her hands around his bicep, murmuring appreciatively, it finally occurred to me that the deputy actually was cute.

“What were you saying about the TV?” I asked Maudie.

My friend looked hesitantly from me to the deputy, and then back to me.

“I thought you would have heard, but I see that’s not the case,” Fletcher began.  “Wirt Riley was seen during the night, at a used car lot on the edge of town.”

“But that’s impossible… Isn’t it?” I started but gave an uneasy glance at the protection jar.

“They showed security video on the TV,” Maudie interjected.

“Ms. Riley, the attending physician was certain that your uncle died.  There’s no doubt.  Please, just don’t let this upset you.  We’ll get to the bottom of it… whatever it is,” Deputy Fletcher Hodge assured me.

♣ ♣ ♣


The deputy declined my offer of a cup of coffee, although Maudie pressed him to stay.  While I busied myself with the coffee pot, Maudie prowled at a bookcase.  I supposed the books had not been worth much, because they had not been packed up with Salty’s other possessions.

A moment later, my friend perched on a barstool and flipped through a Sears catalog.  It was a very old one.  Bemused, I recognized it.  Many of the pages had items circled by a red crayon.

“I remember the day when I was little… Uncle Salty and I looked through that catalog.  He called it a ‘wish book.’  He told me to circle all the things that I liked so that Santa would know what to bring me,” I reminisced aloud.  “He was shipping out shortly after that.  He wouldn’t say where, but it was faraway.  He said that job might bring him a really big payday.”

♣ ♣ ♣

Episode 6 will be driven by random things from photos provided by the marvelous Fraggle!  Don’t miss it.  Wishing you a wonderful weekend.  I love to hear from you, so friendly comments are encouraged.  Hugs!

♣ ♣ ♣

The Last Drive by John W. Howell

John Howell cover Last Drive

The Last Drive universal links

Kindle:  relinks.me/B0BPRDTBFH

Paperback:  relinks.me/1733573127

♣ ♣ ♣

The Atonement Series

Atonement kindle covers Cat eyes shelf 2023

Atonement, Tennessee

Full series of e-books with one click:  relinks.me/B087JV25JT

Kindle:  rxe.me/HGSVA8A

Paperback: relinks.me/1481826948

Also in Spanish, translated by Olga Núñez Miret! The title for the Spanish-speaking market is Expiación y Magia

Atonement in Bloom

Kindle:  rxe.me/5RRBLH

Paperback:  relinks.me/1726882128

The Glowing Pigs, Snort Stories of Atonement, Tennessee

Kindle   rxe.me/LTBDNH

Paperback   relinks.me/1725891972

♣ ♣ ♣

This is a work of fiction.  Characters, names, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, locales, or events is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2023 by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene

All rights reserved. 

No part of this work may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission.  Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights.

All images are either the property of the author or used with permission, or from free sources.

56 thoughts on “Weekend Serial — Atonement in Zugzwang: Episode 5, Featuring John W. Howell

    1. That was something I learned about decades ago. Although I saw the phrase used once recently and it was nothing like this protection jar. There was probably a bit of a spell with the instructions for the jar, but I don’t remember it. The contents wasn’t likely to be forgotten! Hugs.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha! That’s something I never thought I’d hear about those pigs, Marian. 😀 Thanks very much.
      What to do next…? I’ve no idea, but I know it will have something to do with “blue ladies.” Seriously, I totally don’t know. Hugs.


  1. It’s great to see John Howell here, and you’re right, Teagan, his contributions are always excellent. I love Chris Graham’s pigs as well. And what an episode! Now we know a bit more about the disappearance of Pepper’s uncle, but we have even more questions. I can’t wait to see where the story goes from here!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Pepper does seem to be developing a stoic side. (Even characters are pantsered here.) That combined with her propensity to ask questions… maybe she’s super analytical, and because of that tends to be very literal… Hmmm. I’m happy the pigs have a friend in you, Noelle. Hugs.


  2. “Pig trails.” Lol. I was laughing from the start, Teagan. Those glowing pigs are irresistible. And Salty’s appearance was a surprise. A fun episode. I’m hooked and can’t wait to see what happens next. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A wonderful episode, Teagan. A witches’ jar was a complete surprise and added to the mystery of old Salty’s focus on security. You did a super job with the three items, and I loved the tie in to Navy calls. Thank you so much for having me with you today. I’m looking forward to next week and more of Moccus’ tricks. We know there is more given his statement “Moving old Salty is for a purpose. A more serious purpose than you know. And it might be a way for me to atone.” Hugs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. LOL, yeah, I can’t figure out who the heck he’s trying to protect himself from, John. Real world smugglers from his merchant marine days? No… not that. It’s got to be something with a supernatural angle. The vampires who apparently want access to the town?
      I know *why* he is valuable/important… but I’ve no idea yet who would want to harm him because of it. Sorry — just pondering.
      Thanks again for the great “things.” Wishing you continued success with The Last Drive.” Hugs.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This was a wonderful episode, Teagan. My mind is rushing through thoughts of what this can all mean. More coffee and I’ll convince myself to wait until next week. I do love the glowing pigs, but Moccus scares me a bit. The deputy made a nice entrance. It will be interesting to see how he can help (and what Maudie has planned). All around a good read – thanks! I hope you have a nice weekend.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, Dan. That’s great feedback about Moccus. I do intend him to have an occasional hint of a sinister vibe. So what you said validates me on that issue.
      I’m not really sure about the deputy yet. With the plot, there has to be some law enforcement involvement. Plus Sherrif Robbin was fun to write, and hopefully Fletcher will be too. Yeah, it could go any direction with Fletcher. Wishing you and yours health and happiness. Hugs.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Robbie. Thanks so much. Haha, Deme is used to being the ring-leader for mischief. Moccus must really be something if he’s even worse than her. 😉
      Yes, Fletcher will be back. Sherrif Robbin was (only in my head) so tied to Ralda that it didn’t feel right to have him in this story. Fletcher had a very small part in Atonement in Bloom, so he’ll be the “law enforcement lead player” for this story. Have a wonderful weekend. Hugs.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.