Return to Sender
by Mindy Halleck
1955 ~ Father Theo Riley never wanted to be a priest, nor a killer. The former boxing champion and Korean War veteran gave up more than a career when he went into the Army. He lost the only thing he ever wanted: his love, Andréa Bouvre. Friends thought Theo entered the priesthood to mend his broken heart or atone for the massacred orphans he couldn’t save in Korea.
However, the truth is much darker and more damning, tied to a blood debt and family secret that has haunted Theo since he was a boy. He drinks to forget he ever had a life of his own—waits for death, prays for mercy, and hopes for a miracle. He gets all three when a child goes missing, another shows up on his doorstep, and the love of his life drives back into his world; the seaside hamlet of Manzanita Oregon.
Theo’s dream reunion with Andréa becomes a nightmare when a serial killer who considers himself a holy man targets the town and everyone Theo loves. Drinking days decidedly behind him, Theo and some old warriors set out to send evil back to hell and a few good souls to heaven in RETURN TO SENDER.
POV of protagonist, Theo Riley:
All night I listened for cars, footsteps, noises that didn’t belong. All night, every sound reminded me of Korea’s Karst Caves: sounds, smells, threats hidden in every echo. I tried to recall in which letter I wrote to Andréa about the noisy bats. Was it October ’52, or later?
The children had been terrified of the Daubenton bats that built colonies inside the caves. At night, the scratching sounds and flapping wings was as threatening to them as the sound of footsteps and the CCF running up on us at night was to me. The nun told them the bats were good luck, there to protect us, that they stayed awake at night to keep watch.
The oldest boy, Hai-bin, was the first to call me “Teo.” He rolled his eyes back in his head when the nun said that. In any other world, he’d have been a budding teenager full of angst and attitude, not an undernourished warrior ready to fight, ready to die, not old enough to understand the meaning of either. Not old enough to understand any of Korea’s madness. But then, who was?
As the days, nights, and weeks had gone on, those brave orphans folded the strange noises from the waking Daubenton bats into that place where they carried the heavy, heavy burden of acceptance—they slept through the night with those mysterious guardians taking flight above them. They slept. It became part of their new existence. An existence brittle and rickety as the bamboo bridges that sooner or later would lead us back to a world ablaze outside those caves.
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One of the themes in Return To Sender (RTS) surrounds the topic of coping and healing from grief, which I know well. I became interested in how people deal with loss when my cousin who was like a sister to me, died in 1996. Her death left me in a maelstrom of depression, a sense of my own mortality that frightened me to the core. We were the same age.
Soon after her funeral I traveled to our ancestral homeland, Ireland, to grieve and to write. I did a one month writer’s residence and met the most remarkable people. Most were poets, singers and writers – all tragic bards in some stage of grieving a loss. But the rest were fishermen, cab and bus drivers, bartenders and even a beer loving priest, who all, in their own matchless way dealt with grief. One, my host, spent her mornings in her backyard where she had buried every dog she’d owned over thirty years, (eleven total). There she had a not-so-quiet communion with them as she smoked her rolled cigarettes, drank gin-spiked tea, told them her woes and listened to the waves meet the rocky Burren from her tragic Irish Sea. I can still picture her sitting on one of her many headstones; tattered red and purple coat, slippers and a red knit (pointy) cap, and billows of smoke above her as she talked to her dear departed, ever devoted pets.
I’ve since been fascinated in how people heal from (deal with) loss in their own unique way. In RTS I have each character that is dealing with tragedy, have a distinctive way of coping; Pearl with her two cups of tea, Mrs. B with her old love letters, Imogene with the candles for her dearly departed, and of course, Theo with his letters all marked, Return To Sender. All of these things are grief containers. It’s important to note that there is no correct way through sorrow, the only correct thing is that one finds their path and embarks on that journey to wellness, whatever that is for them. That woman in Ireland called her carefully rolled cigarettes her ‘sticks of sorrow’. She smoked one with each sitting, then carefully put out the flame of that sorrow and buried it in the dirt. That back yard so close to Ireland’s stony Burren and the shallow sea contained her sadness. I have grown increasingly convinced that in this life there’s a certain brittle beauty in the inevitable dance we all do with grief.
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AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Mindy Halleck is a Pacific Northwest author, blogger and writing instructor. Her short story, The Sound of Rain, which placed in the Writer’s Digest Literary Contest blossomed into her first novel Return to Sender. Halleck blogs at Literary Liaisons and is an active member of the Pacific Northwest writing community. In addition to being a writer, Halleck is a happily married, globe-trotting beachcomber, antiquer, gardener, proud grandma, and three-time cancer survivor. www.MindyHalleck.com
Mindy’s Amazon Page: http://www.amazon.com/Mindy-Sitton-Halleck/e/B004W4LK90/