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The Keys: Voice of the Turtle
by Karen Hulene Bartell
Hours after arriving in the Florida Keys to help her cousin Keya create a turtle preserve, Ruth discovers a washed-up body and not one, but two apparitions—Maita, the angry victim’s spirit, and Bart, a swashbuckling ghost. Ruth’s curious ability to connect with the ghosts may help them move on, but how?
Keya is in a probate battle over her turtle-nesting beach. Land-hungry relatives want it bulldozed and developed. Like Ruth, she has a special gift—she can talk to animals. Between Ruth’s help and Keya’s unique ability, they work to save the property, but is it too late?
Can Keya save her beloved turtles? Can Ruth find Maita’s murderer or help Bart solve his 400-year-old mystery? There’s more than meets the eye to Keya’s land. Add in a dashing sailor who believes in her, and Keya may have more than she bargained for…
“After the annulment, yes—that’s when they diagnosed the PTSD—and psychologists had talked to us right after the bombing.” He scowled. “But they were only interested in regrouping the crew, getting us back in action. Though they prescribed thirty-day furloughs, our R & R didn’t start for another few weeks.”
“Why was that?” Her spine stiffened.
“After the attack, the crew had to stay aboard the Cole, working night and day just to keep it afloat. If not for our actions, that ship would’ve sunk, but because we were stuck there at the scene of the blast…surrounded by the sights, the smells”—he glanced at her—“we relived the nightmare on a daily basis.”
Wincing, Keya momentarily closed her eyes, as if shutting out the images. “How did you manage?”
“I flipped a switch—shut it out mentally—just like the day of the bombing. I had a job to do, even if it was hazardous.”
“Emotionally, you mean?”
“Emotionally, physically—every way.” Despite the balmy evening, a shudder slithered down his spine. “After the attack, the ship had no light, no ventilation, and no air conditioning. The heat was stifling. The ship’s interior was so hot the food began to rot. Between the reeking perishables, the smoke, the acrid odor of leaking fuel oil, and the putrid stench of death…” Momentarily closing his eyes, he drew a cleansing breath. “It was bad.”
She shook her head slowly as if commiserating.
“Not a day has passed without reliving those memories. They’ve robbed me of my peace of mind”—he caught her eye, assessing her reaction—“and robbed me of my marriage.”
“I can identify. Though I haven’t survived a suicide bombing or annulment, I have survived the death of a spouse, the loss of the person I love, and I can empathize. Healing takes time.” She took a deep breath as if grounding herself. Then her eyes probed his. “Are you coming to terms with those flashbacks now?”
“I’m starting to—like a turtle peeking out its shell.” He attempted a smile, trying to lighten the mood and give himself some mental space, but the ruse backfired. The memories crowded in on him. “I’m still bitter about the attack. I want justice, not only for those who lost their lives, but for those of us who stopped living our lives because of it.” He searched her eyes.
Keya stifled a groan in her throat. “We’ve all been wounded and known loss, but I can’t imagine the horrors you’ve experienced.” As if donning a gasmask, she put on a smile. “Thank God it’s behind you.”
“That’s the point. It wasn’t then—and it isn’t now.” Still trying to gather his disjointed memories into a coherent story with a beginning, middle, and end, he struggled to find a redeeming pretext for the incidents. “A second shock hit us when we got home. Because the flight to the States took just a few hours, we had no time to decompress. Returning from deployment, from war—whether declared or not—we had no time to adjust, no transition from one life into the next.
“After we landed, I remember feeling so displaced in civilian life that just walking through the airport seemed surreal, like an out-of-body experience. Even on the taxi ride home, I remember trying to make sense of it, asking myself over and over, ‘What the hell am I doing here?’ ” He stared at her. “Sometimes, I still wake, asking myself, Why did I survive and not the others?”
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About the Author:
Author of the Sacred Emblem, Sacred Journey, and Sacred Messenger series, Karen is a best-selling author, motivational keynote speaker, wife, and all-around pilgrim of life. She writes multicultural, offbeat love stories steeped in the supernatural that lift the spirit. Born to rolling-stone parents who moved annually, Bartell found her earliest playmates as fictional friends in books. Paperbacks became her portable pals. Ghost stories kept her up at night—reading feverishly. The paranormal was her passion. Wanderlust inherent, Karen enjoyed traveling, although loathed changing schools. Novels offered an imaginative escape. An only child, she began writing her first novel at the age of nine, learning the joy of creating her own happy endings. Professor emeritus of the University of Texas at Austin, Karen resides in the Hill Country with her husband Peter and her “mews”—three rescued cats and a rescued *Cat*ahoula Leopard dog.
Connect with Karen:
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/author/karenhulenebartell