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Image of the character Diana Kats from the mystery novel "The Catsitter's Conundrum."

Diana Kats (Kitty’s daughter) is separated from her husband (by prison bars). She’s getting by.

Hello, Wyrdwood neighbors! I’d like to introduce you to Diana, the adult daughter of Kitty Kats. She has a slew of troubles but still finds time to help her mother investigate crime. The following is Chapter 2 of THE CATSITTER’S CONUNDRUM.


Ice cream—the dinner of the gods. The best thing I had to look forward to that day was ice cream for dinner. I had moved back in—much to my shame—with my mother.
Sitting at the kitchen island with a bowl, a spoon, and a quart of vanilla-caramel-chip ice cream, I scooped a spoonful from the container, bypassed the bowl, and ate it directly.
Apparently, someone’s house was on fire. The sirens had woken me from my nap, but I couldn’t be bothered to go confirm it.
Mom had run off earlier and was probably exercising her morbid curiosity, gossiping with the neighbors.
Mini-Mimi yipped. She was my teensy Yorkshire terrier. She yipped again.
I looked down to where the dog waited on the floor. “You know the rules. Mom first.” I pulled another scoop and proceeded to savor it, making eye contact the whole time.
Mimi whined and squirmed.
“I know,” I said. “I probably should’ve gotten double chocolate fudge. It might’ve made me feel better.” I licked off the spoon. “Next time,” I promised myself.
Mimi let out a cry that resembled a baby’s.
I peered down at her. “Really? That’s how it is? Oh, all right.” I put a small spoonful of vanilla ice cream in the bowl, dug out the sneaky chocolate chip and ate it, then moved the bowl to the floor. “Don’t snarf it. That’s all you’re getting.”
Mimi had already consumed the ice cream before I’d even finished speaking. The Yorkie-brand vacuum did her best to lick the bowl clean.
I leaned on the counter and saw myself reflected in the microwave door. For the first time in my life, I looked my age—thirty-two. Old.
To avoid myself, I turned my attention to the kitchen at large. I’d grown up there. I had memories of baking cookies with Mom, of learning the family chili recipe from Dad, and of cooking a disastrous boeuf Bourguignon for my first boyfriend when I was sixteen. This was after he took my virginity, and he never showed up for that dinner. I’ve hated French food ever since.
At thirty-two, I saw the kitchen as shabby. I noted the spaghetti sauce spatter on the wall behind the stove, the worn traffic patterns in the linoleum, and the way the counter-top laminate had chipped and come unglued. It looked like I felt—dulled and abused.
A glance to one side revealed the boxes containing my belongings—everything that mattered and too much that didn’t. Like an iceberg, the true extent of my baggage hid under the surface, sitting squarely on my heart.
Three days earlier, a much-appreciated friend had helped to move me in. For the first time in over thirteen years, I returned home—not just to visit, but to stay indefinitely. I had failed at the esteemed institution of marriage.
A fat drop of melted ice cream fell off the spoon. I looked down and noticed the papers lying there, a drip of Heaven on them. I wiped the ice cream up with my finger and said, “Waste not, want not,” then stuck it in my mouth.
I stared for a moment at the papers without seeing them. They slowly came into focus, and the top sheet had the word “OVERDUE” printed in red. I picked it up and looked it over. With growing alarm, I stuck the spoon back into the ice cream and examined the entire pile of delinquent bills.
The front door opened and closed. Mom had returned. She appeared in the doorway and stared at the quart of ice cream. “Di,” she said. “Your dog pooped in the foyer again. And you’re eating ice cream? Did you eat dinner?”
“What is all this?” I asked, holding up the bills.
Mom blinked, confused. Then she crossed to the island with purpose. “Give me those,” she ordered. “They’re nothing to worry about.” She snatched them from me.
“Mom, what’s going on? Are you in trouble?”
“The only person in trouble here is you, kiddo. You show up on my doorstep in the middle of the night with your suitcases. Your boxes are cluttering up my dining room. Your dog is pooping in my house. And now you’re going through my personal papers? We obviously need to establish some boundaries.” Mom clutched the bills to her chest.
“Since when did you and Dad use credit cards?”
“Not me. Your dad. Look, I’ve got it under control. The estate is going to… His life insurance… It’s complicated. Just don’t worry, okay? I’m handling it.” Mom opened a drawer in the little desk on the far side of the kitchen and stuffed the papers inside.
I said, “You know, I can help you if you need it.”
“With what? You don’t have a pot to piss in.” Mom went to the sink and turned on the water. She didn’t, however, do anything with it. Instead, she fisted her hands against the edge of the counter. That meant she was fighting to be patient. I recognized the posture well.
“Seriously, Mom,” I said. “I can help.”
With her back to me, her voice sounded low and tight, “How about you start by getting a job?”
My hackles prickled. “I’m trying!” My inner teenager raised her ugly head, and Petulance was her name. “It’s not my fault no one will hire me!”
A thick silence hung between us, and I imagined my mom grinding her teeth. Eventually, she said more lightly, “Answer my question. Why are you eating ice cream before dinner—and worse, why’s your dog eating ice cream?”
“Because I’m depressed.” I gazed down at the container. “Want some?”
“No. I’ll be having a healthy meal, thank you very much. Would you like an omelet?”
“Is there bacon and cheddar?”
“Then yes, I’d love an omelet.” I dipped into the ice cream one last time and licked the spoon. “How’d the fire turn out?”
“The Ortiz house burned down.”
“Aw. I loved that house. Why didn’t you take Mimi with you to pee.”
“I didn’t have time.”
“Mm. Anybody hurt?”
“No, thank goodness. It seems no one was home.”
I slid off my stool and bent to pick up Mimi’s ice cream bowl.
Mimi’s tail wagged.
“You’re welcome,” I whispered and took the bowl to the dishwasher. By the time I returned to my seat, a black cat had leapt up and was licking the ice cream straight out of the container.
“Um, Mom?” I grabbed the tub away from the cat, earning an angry hiss. I recoiled but saved the ice cream.
“What?” Mom had her head in the refrigerator.
“Whose cat is this?”
“What cat?”


Portrait of Kitty Kats and her daughter Diana Kats, smiling and leaning into one another. They are beautiful and casual.

Portrait of Kitty Kats and her daughter Diana Kats.

Hello, Wyrdwood neighbors! Please allow me to introduce you to Kitty Kats, one of three main characters in my paranormal mystery series. Kitty is quickly becoming one of my best friends as I learn more and more about her. I think you’ll like her too. The following is Chapter 1 of THE CATSITTER’S CONUNDRUM.


There was a stranger on my front stoop. His voice squeaked when he talked. He said, “You have until Friday, you know?”
I pulled the door shut and headed down the walkway. He followed me to the sidewalk, undaunted by my cold shoulder.
I’d made it clear by my body language that I wanted nothing to do with him and his narcissistic bowtie. He probably thought he was on the cutting edge of fashion, and I didn’t want to be the bearer of bad news.
“Did you hear me, ma’am?” he asked. “You have until Friday.”
Ma’am. The most passive-aggressive insult in the English language.
I stopped under a streetlamp and turned to face him, squaring off, chin tucked in tight. “Why are you here?” I glared and stuck my hands to my hips.
He halted before plowing into me, but only just barely. Swaying, he took a step back to keep from toppling.
I waited for his answer. I couldn’t believe he’d shown up at my house at dinner time, just to tell me something I already knew. Did he think I’d write him a check on the spot? Did banks do business that way?
“I’m doing you a favor,” he said. “You need to understand that your home is on the verge of foreclosure.”
“Why you? Why now?”
The question turned his face into a mask of dark shadows. No more Mr. Nice Guy—as if there’d been any true niceness from the start.
He said, voice low, “I wanted to see your reaction.”
“My reaction?” A sick feeling churned in my belly. “You wanted to see my reaction when you told me the bank was going to take my home from me—the home I’ve lived in for thirty-three years?”
“I know who you are. Who your daughter and son-in-law are, and I know what they did. I wanted to witness your family’s karma catching up with you.”
In my mind, I unhinged my jaw, swallowed him whole, and then belched loudly.
Aloud, I said, “You know one of his victims.” “Uh huh. My mother.”
I had no words to reply. Of their own accord, my fingers reached out and brushed down the sleeve of his jacket, perhaps trying to comfort him or let him know that I understood.
He jerked away from me, turned on his heel, and stalked off.
That hurt more than anything else he’d done, unreasonably so. The man—whose name I never actually caught—had been one in a long series of recriminations. I was guilty by association.
No one seemed to understand that I was also a victim of my son-in-law’s grift.
I took a deep breath of the savory evening air. Someone had their fireplace going. This would have pleased me if it weren’t for the worry suffocating all my joy. If the bank foreclosed on my home, I and my daughter would be homeless. My throat closed up, and my hands shook.
I hadn’t thought to grab a jacket. I had chugged out the front door as soon as I’d seen that bowtie standing on my stoop. I’d pretended I was going for a walk. I didn’t want him in my house, judging me.
Because I didn’t want to run into him again, I ignored the cold air and just kept walking, pumping my arms as if I could punch away my troubles with each swing. I did psychic violence to my son-in-law with each step.
When I first spotted the dancing orange-red light behind the curtains at the Ortiz residence, it mesmerized me. I stopped and stared for too long, trying to figure out what I was seeing. When the flames slithered up the curtains, I understood. House fires are terrible monsters that start small but grow quickly and consume everything in their path. Like most elements, fire goes about its business with neither judgment nor mercy—until stopped.
I’d never seen a fire so heartbreaking as the one that engulfed the Ortizes’ beautiful old Victorian. That house had stood happily for over a hundred years. In my mind, it cried out in pain and fury.
I patted my pockets—no phone. I’d left it at home. Fortunately, another neighbor had called 911.
Sirens filled the neighborhood, echoing off houses, and the fire took over for the sun as it set, lighting the neighborhood.

One moment—that’s all it takes for your life to suddenly become unrecognizable.
My husband and I had moved into the neighborhood when we were first married. We’d spent thirty-three years there, raised our daughter there, and then my Bob had died there. As I watched fire devour that house, I felt it like a wound to my world. It may as well have been my own home burning. Metaphorically speaking, my home was burning to the ground, and there seemed to be nothing I could do about it.
Tears welled and flowed down my face. They blurred my vision, twisting the sight of the flames into a bad acid trip. It was all just too much!
Until it wasn’t. I come from stoic Oregonian stock, so I mustered, wiped my eyes with my sleeve, and joined two of my neighbors to watch the spectacle. They glanced up as I approached, nodded, and then went back to spectating. The atmosphere was somber.
“I hope everyone got out,” I said.
Harut replied, “No.” Contrarian by nature, he often confused “yes” and “no.”
“No stench of burning fat. No one in there.” Harut’s full name was Harutyan Mushyan. His aralez ancestry—winged dogs—showed in the prominence of his nose. If anyone could smell burning fat, it would be him. He was proudly Armenian, lived three doors down from me, owned a high-end shoe store downtown, and had four children. His wife Bettina stood silently in the circle of his arm. I’d never heard her speak.
“That’s a relief.” I made a face.
Harut shook his head.
I said, “I’m supposed to catsit tonight for the Garretts. I hope the fire doesn’t spread.” The Garrett house occupied the lot next door to the Ortizes.
Harut said, “The fire department has it under control.”
The Chapman-Silva couple arrived to stand with us.
“What happened?” asked Rose Silva.
I shrugged, “Not sure.”
Margo Chapman asked, “Anyone in there?”
“I don’t think they were home. Their car’s gone.” I smiled at the women. In their seventies, they had been in the neighborhood longer than Bob and I had. They were good neighbors, kept their lawn mowed, and only occasionally hosted raucous parties on their backyard deck—Wine & Bridge & Whine Parties, WBW for short. While Margo was a hundred percent human, Rose had magickal blood. I’d never heard what kin she came from, but the green sparkles in her eyes gave her away despite the cataracts that had begun to thicken there.
Rose commented, stretching her neck to peer around, as if that would help her see better. “I don’t see the Ortizes.”
“They’re not home, sweetheart,” said Margo, raising her voice to be heard.
Another neighbor joined us.
“Hey, Mike,” Margo greeted the man.
“Hey.” Mike Cook waved half-heartedly. To humans, he looked like a large and looming lumberjack. To anyone with magickal blood, he was an orcneas, a bulky race with tusks that protruded from his mouth. Mike had decorated the ends of his tusks with black stone balls that reflected the firelight. The rounded tips made the tusks resemble—a bit shockingly—small arching penises. Whether that had been his intention or not, no one had ever had the nerve to ask him.
Mike had purchased his home in the late eighties and had raised six kids there. His wife, a normal human, needed a wheelchair to get around—a situation completely unrelated to her having birthed six kids.
Mike said, “The old lady sent me out to find out what’s happening.”
“Fire,” Margo replied.
The rest of us nodded in agreement. We stood side-by-side, watching the drama unfold.
The firefighters dragged out their hoses and sprayed giant streams of water at the burning house.
Rose hugged herself. “Please don’t let it be arson. That’s the last thing we need.”
“Their boy is eight now,” said Harut. “That’s the age.”
“What?” I asked. “The age where you burn the house down?”
“Playing with matches.” Harut shrugged. “I’m just saying.”
Mike didn’t take his eyes off the fire. “I bet it’s insurance fraud.”
Margo put an arm around Rose’s shoulders. “They recently sold their boat, you know? Might be they need money.”
Rose stuck out a long-nailed finger and pointed at a car parked down the street. “Isn’t that Sherrie Abbasi, the girl who babysits for them?”
I followed Rose’s finger to the young couple. They were leaning as one entangled unit against a dirty sedan.
Mike said, “By the steamed-up windows on that car, I’d say she and that boyfriend of hers were getting it on.”
“Suspicious,” said Margo, nose tipped high in the air.
A new fire-department vehicle pulled up to the curb. A man in a sharp uniform got out. He scanned the looky-loos until his attention came to rest on me. He smiled and nodded.
I gave him a small smile and an even smaller wave.
Margo, Rose, Harut, Bettina, and Mike looked back and forth between us.
After a beat, Rose asked, “You know the fire chief?”
“Used to,” I replied. “Long time ago.” In my mind, I added, Not long enough. The wounds of high school never quite healed nor did the loves. Forty years may have passed, but the man still made my stomach flip every time I saw him. I, of course, had become skilled at ignoring it. I was married.
And then I remembered—I wasn’t technically married anymore. Death had done us part.
I dropped my chin as a wave of sadness washed over me. I took a deep breath then immediately regretted it. Smoke from the fire filled my nose. I broke into a series of coughs serious enough that Margo put her hand on my back.
“You okay?”
“Yeah. It’s the smoke.”
“We should probably go inside,” suggested Mike without moving.
No one else moved either.
The fire chief headed for the fire trucks. His name was Elias Kariuki, but everyone called him either Eli or Karaoke (a bastardization of his last name and—unforgivably—one of his favorite pastimes). He preferred Eli. He’d always been cruelly handsome, but in his uniform, with his shaved head and muscular body, he was torture. Why did men age so much better than women?
I had once managed to tolerate the pencil-thin mustache he’d insisted on growing in high school—and still stubbornly wore. He was a Normal, but his physical and mental prowess made up for the lack of magickal blood. When honest with myself, I had to admit that Eli Kariuki was the one who got away.
“Hush,” I told myself.
Margo asked, “Excuse me?”
“Nothing.” I waved it off and watched Eli stride across the lawn, backlit by the raging fire. The firefighters admired him, it showed, and it put those butterflies back in my belly. For a moment, I was in high school again at the Homecoming beach bonfire, watching Eli laugh and rassle with his buddies. He’d been big even then, a football player; and I’d been a band nerd, flute.
We’d done plenty of rassling ourselves, in the back of his parents’ Dodge. My mind suddenly filled with an image of us, our clothing askew, bodies on fire, and the windows so fogged up that the rest of the world ceased to exist.
“Stop it!” I told myself. That was a long time ago.
That time, Margo side-eyed me but didn’t say anything.
A loud bang startled us all into jumping. One of the upstairs windows had exploded. The house was beyond saving, but at least the firefighters were keeping the fire from spreading to other homes.
“Well,” I said. “I’m going home. My daughter has moved back in.”
Margo nodded sagely. “I heard what happened. So sorry.”
“I warned her about that man.” I shrugged as if to say it was out of my hands, wrapped my arms even tighter around myself, and headed for home. That man was my son-in-law, and he had killed my husband.


Want to continue?
Meet Diana Kats

Horror stories never felt so good as when written by some of the wiliest writers out there. This anthology contains eleven stories that will make you grateful for your cozy blanket and hot chocolate.

Book #3 in the Wily Writers Presents series.
Be sure to collect them all!

TALES OF EVIL! (get yours)

Expect the Unexpected!

In this light-hearted mystery series, a widowed fifty-something catsitter and her divorced thirty-something daughter solve mysteries in and around paranormal Wyrdwood, Oregon.

Catsitter's Conundrum cover image

absolutely delightful

“I found myself knee-deep into the story and loving it. … Kitty Katz, her Daughter Diane , and of course, Muse the King of cats, are absolutely delightful.” —Cat B on Goodreads (stars n/a)

A good mystery with a hint of romance…

“A good read which gets more and more exciting as the book progresses. … A good mystery with a hint of romance told by the characters in turn, cat included of course (I enjoyed the different views on the action).” —Anne Kavcic on Goodreads (4 stars)

…really liked the characters…

“I really liked the characters and especially the way Kitty treated the cats. The paranormal element adds an interesting twist since there [are] Normals and those with the spark living in the same town. I can’t wait for Kitty’s next cat sitting adventure.” —Jeanne on Goodreads (5 stars)

I like Kitty.

“She isn’t your usual paranormal mystery/urban fantasy heroine. She isn’t a take charge kick butt type person. She is much more mellow and go with the flow, though that hasn’t always worked to her advantage.” —Vintagebooklvr on Goodreads (3 stars)

…a purr-fectly delightful mystery…

“…a purr-fectly delightful mystery that earns a solid four stars for its quirky characters, engaging plot, and the enchanting allure of a peculiar town.” —Rahel Charikar on Goodreads (4 stars)

…turns this genre on its axis…

“Fantastic little read! Having no idea what to expect of this cosy murder, I was pleasantly surprised to find a book that turns this genre on its axis with magical characters in the town of Wyrdwood.” —Alyson Walton on Goodreads (4 stars)

Genre: paranormal western (shifters)

They called it the “wild” west for a reason. For a young bobcat shifter, the hardest part was fitting in and staking a claim on her territory.

Where You Can Find It


It’s been a while since I had the opportunity to write in the White Wolf universe. When the developer, Bill Bodden, asked me if I’d like to submit something, I jumped at the chance. Reconnecting with the World of Darkness took me back to a time when I was just beginning my writing career. It was like going home. Warm and fuzzy, and toothsome. I hope you enjoy my story.


My darlings,

As I write this, Mr. McGraw—your sire—is lying dead on the road, at the mercy of wolves. The outlaws who invaded our home will be far downstream by the time the river thaws. After today, I will no longer be Mother. You must commit this to memory and then burn it. It is for you alone. It is your birthright to know me and to know how this land came to be yours, but if these words fall into the wrong hands, your enemies could use it against you in the cruelest of ways.

I was both your mother and your father, and no other person matters. Nevertheless, I will tell you about the man who delivered you into my belly so that you might understand the sacrifices it takes to survive in this decaying world. Myrtle was my twenty-seventh name, given me by a madam in Boston who said, “Never use your real name when whorin’. It’ll taint your soul.” She chose it for me because of the plant’s association with Aphrodite, the goddess of love, and if that ain’t a laugh, I don’t know what is.

No one living but me, the First Mother, and now you, know my birth name—Deòiridh. It means “pilgrim.”

I was Myrtle when I met Mr. McGraw in the saloon in Florence. I’d come to Idaho to get away from the War of the Rebellion. It was the autumn of 1861, and word had spread about gold in the hills. The men there prospected, and the women took advantage of the men’s needs. Everyone was making a profit in those early days.

For me, their money didn’t satisfy. I saw the signs. The Cahlash was seducing them with gold, enticing them to spread their disease into the wild west. It wouldn’t last. Anything that shines that bright never does.

That first Winter was the hardest. Cold as a Chaya. It snowed for over a hundred days straight. Many men refused to take shelter—sure they would miss their chance at striking gold. Instead they lost feet, hands, noses, and ears to frostbite, lost their sight to snow-blindness, and lost their lives to the cold. Food ran short. Many survived on flour paste and spruce tea.

Occasionally, I hunted in bobcat form and provided extra meat for the women in the saloon, but I had to be careful. They couldn’t know I’d tracked and killed the prey myself, so I made up stories about the men I’d favored to get it. The saloon was a regular target for robbers who thought they deserved food more than womenfolk. We learned how to hide our stores in the snowbanks and cover our tracks.

Mr. McGraw became a regular in my bed. He thought my brown skin and female body gave him rights over me, and I let him think it. My subservience made him all the more eager to have me. I took his beatings without complaint and did everything for him that a good wife would—for a fee.

Continued in “Mother’s Homestead,” in CHANGING BREEDS: WILD WEST TALES.

Genre: horror
Year written: 2002
Year first published: 2011
Honored: Listed among the Honorable Mentions in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year, Volume 4, 2011

Where You Can Find It

  • on Kindle
  • Fear of the Dark, anthology published by HorrorBound Magazine publications, edited by Maria Grazia Cavicchioli and Jason Rolfe, 2011. (paperback CAD$15; ebook CAD$5)


This little story started as an attempt to write horror from the viewpoint of a child. I realized pretty quickly that I couldn’t maintain a pure PoV for Jeanie, a seven-year-old girl, but I did the best I could, peppering the telling with the world as she would see it. Because it was so challenging for me to write from a child’s PoV, I tried changing media and wrote “Crack-o-Doom” as a comic script. Ultimately, it was the short story that got accepted for publication first.

The Story

Jeanie is about to have the worst night of her life, and it begins with two loud cracks of thunder that frighten her. She can’t get away from the storm, try as she might. Everyone is looking for her, calling after her, but Jeanie doesn’t know whom to trust, so she runs into the woods with lightning striking all around her.

What Jeanie doesn’t understand is that this storm has been brewing since before she was born, and its fury is tied to her very soul. All it takes is one bolt of lightning to change everything.


The sky grew ominous and cast a gloom on the farm. Jeanie’s mom had told her not to leave the yard. “There’s a storm comin’, kiddo. Stick close.” The smells of imminent rain and eager pine mingled. The leaves on the oak trees turned up, thirsty and ready.

“Storm comin’,” seven-year-old Jeanie told the dogs through the tall fence. She entered their pen, careful to close the gate behind her. Daddy’s labradors, Sissy and Sassy, were excited. Their tails wagged their thick bodies, and their chocolate snouts snuffled her all over.

The dogs had run down any grass that might have once grown there. They’d dug around, looking for moles and buried bones. Mangy-furred tennis balls lay strewn amidst chew-toys missing appendages and ears, and there was an old red kickball in the corner, half-deflated.

Jeanie set her doll, Dolly, to one side and got down on her hands and knees at the entrance to the doghouse. She pulled out the two woolen blankets, bringing a flow of dirt and dog-hair with them. She stood and shook out the first one. It tossed up a cloud of fur and dust, and the wind blew it at her. She turned her face away—eyes, nose, and mouth scrunched together.

She folded the blankets in uneven squares and put them back inside the doghouse, pressing their edges into the corners and smoothing them as flat as they’d go.

The first big blast sounded. Boom!

Jeanie froze in place, and her heartbeat accelerated. “Crack o’doom,” she said. Jeanie’s Daddy had taught her to say that whenever she heard thunder. He had said it would keep her safe.