25 November 2015

The Echoes

So, I started this short story in response to a writing prompt that I found. For reasons that will become obvious later, I put the prompt at the bottom of the page.

The Echoes

Today, I didn't get fired. I'm thankful for that. It means I had a good day. Since it's Friday, that means I had a good week. To reward myself for another week employed, I spent the evening relaxing. I ordered in a pepperoni pizza, read a few chapters of the Bible, and watched the Giants game on ESPN.

As I get ready for bed, I wander through the house, following the echoes.

In the bathroom, I stare in the mirror. In the corner of my eyes I see the overhead light shine off my wife's long dark curls. She helps our son, Silas, brush his teeth. He is big enough to do it on his own but you have to cherish the times when they ask for your help. If you don't savor every moment, you long for them after their gone. The last diaper, the last bedtime story, the last walk in a stroller. I brush my own teeth and make my way downstairs.

I have a nightly ritual for checking the doors and windows. You have to make sure everything's locked up in the city. I flip off the television as I pass through the living room and hear the echoes of cartoons and lullabies. In the kitchen, I lock the back door flip off the outside light. My eyes adjust to the dark but if I stare hard enough I can see the pile of leaves in the backyard. It's a perfect jumping pile. As I look up to find the Big Dipper, I hear the laughter. Squeals and giggles and heartfelt belly laughs. Silas was having fun.

I move on to close and lock the dining room windows and flip the light on and off quickly in the laundry room. There's no window in there, but my nightly walk includes all the rooms in the house. I scowl at myself as I pass by the coat closet on my way back to the stairs. There's no window in the coat closet and there's really no reason to check it for intruders. It's not big enough to consider a room. Plus, I hung my coat in there only a few hours ago when I got home from work.

My counselor says that challenging myself to deviate from my routines will eventually help me overcome some of my obsessive behaviors. The temptation to run back down the stairs, start all over, and this time include the closet nearly overwhelms me. But I trudge onward through the upstairs hall.

Silas' room is a yellow, green, and orange safari adventure. Soft light filters out of the elephant nightlight. Overall the room is tidy, except for the unkempt bed where my son slept. A waist-high bookshelf full of bedtime stories and early chapter books doubles as a night stand with a humidifier for Silas' breathing. I sit gently on the bed for a moment, staring into that nightlight. My son's soft wheezing fills my heart with love until I'm ready to leave. I check his window with a quick glance out into the yard below. Nothing unusual lingers or lurks in our backyard. The picnic table and pile of leaves look the same from up here as they did from the kitchen.

I shut the door softly and move on to my wife's home office. The lemony smell of Becca's favorite candle dances around the room but I check and see that the flame is no longer lit. Her desk is messy but I resist the desire to organize and clean it up. The window is already locked so I move on.

Finally, I am back in our bedroom and I lock the door. I squeeze my eyes shut tight and wait for silence to take over the house. It always does eventually: the creaking, the footsteps, and the soft whispers disappear. Tonight is different though. Instead of fading away, the voices, clomping of feet up the stairs, and the eery lullaby melody grow louder. Clearer.

The strange singing in the kitchen is from a woman. The feet stomping up the stairs belong to a child. I jump in confusion when a knock sounds on my door. Silas' voice calls out.

“Daddy, let me in. Mom's got that scary look again, the one where she starts singing that creepy song. Daddy, please let me in!”

I stand up but hesitate in moving towards the door.

“Daddy, please, you promised you wouldn't let her hurt me again!”

I rush forward and open the door. Silas bolts through the door and practically plows me over to get the chair from my desk. As he slams it under the doorknob I drop to my knees and yank him around to look at his face. He has pale blue eyes and high cheekbones. I can barely see him through the tears forming in my eyes, but when I sweep his bangs away from his forehead, I know he is not my son. He is not Silas. The woman singing downstairs is not my Becca.

Silas and Becca have been dead for five years. A tragic accident at an amusement park took them from me while I was working overtime to pay off student loans. But I always hear their echoes. The way I figure it, when you love your wife and son, they dig themselves deep into your heart. Death can't take their sounds, their smells away from you. It can't take their laughter or singing. Their bedtime prayers. Their echoes and memories strewn about the house are as much a part of my ritual as the door locking and window checking.

I don't get the time to wonder further though, as the boy runs to the desk and scoops my phone up. I hardly know what to say or do as he dials 911. A loud bang on the door reminds me that, according to the boy, there's an armed and dangerous woman outside that door. I drag my chifferobe and dresser up to the door without dislodging the chair. Instead of eery singing, the woman is now snarling, spitting obscenities, calling the little boy vile names and making death threats.

I turn back to look at the boy but he's already hanging up the phone. I blink in confusion and he stares back at me. As the door starts making little cracking noises, he rushes over to the window. My bedroom window leads to the roof above the kitchen.

“We can go out this way,” he says. “Come on, she'll kill you if you stay here.”

I follow the boy out the window and onto the roof. The wind is chilly but the recent drought has kept the roof tiles dry. I lead the boy over to the side nearest the detached garage. If we need to make a grand escape, I'd rather go by car than on foot. I help the boy slide to the edge of the roof and lay down on my stomach to lower him to the ground. After he hits the ground safely with a dull thump, I drop myself quickly and start running towards the car.

The boy follows me and I struggle to get my spare key from underneath a loose cobblestone in the path alongside the garage. We rush inside, shut and lock the door. That won't stop whoever she is for long, if she realizes we're out here. Now, I have to throw myself on the garage floor to find the spare car key in it's magnetic box under my bumper. We get in the car and I press the automatic door opener. Scared that the crazy lady is already onto us, I lock the car doors and start creeping towards the garage door as it slowly lifts off the ground. As soon as I can, I slip the car underneath the door and peel out.

I don't see anyone in my rear-view mirror or side mirrors. Hopefully, the maniac was still trying to barge her way into my bedroom. I glance over at the boy who got me into this mess and finally declare, “How the heck did you get into my house? Who are you? Why is there a nut-job breaking down my bedroom door? How did she get into my house!?”

“I'm sorry,” he says. “I was hiding in the coat closet. I snuck in earlier today when I ran away from her. I wasn't gonna steal anything, I swear. I just wanted to borrow a phone but you don't have a landline and I couldn't find a cellphone. When I heard you coming into the house I hid in one of the bedrooms. Your son's bedroom, I guess.”

I'm still lost. Before I can point out that he really hasn't answered any of my questions, he continues.

“I didn't think she'd actually come looking for me. I thought I could wait until you fell asleep, borrow your phone to call the police, then sneak out and find some place to meet the cops.”

Finally, I get a word in. “But who are you? Who is she? I mean I can see why you're running from her but...” I taper off.

“Oh, right, my name's Jack. Sorry, it's been a long time since I've talked to anyone. I live across the street. Well, not really. The lady who lives across the street from you kidnapped me years ago. I've been in her basement. I can see your house from my window. I never had anything to do so when I watched out that window I would pretend to be friends with all the people I could see.” He glances over at me to gauge my reaction and continues. “I kind of pretended you were my Dad.”

When I look over at him, his face is red and I notice he has freckles like Silas used to have. He's about ten, the age Silas would be today. Even in my shock and confusion, I feel bad for the boy. I can't even imagine someone stealing my son and hiding him away in a basement. It was hard enough to lose a son to a known end, let alone never knowing where he is. If he's even alive. “Your parents must be crazy with worry.”

“Yea, my Mom's probably pulled all her hair out by now.”

“What about your Dad?” I wonder aloud.

“He died before I was born,” Jack answers. “Sorry I caused you all this trouble. I don't even know your name and here I go breaking into your house and getting you nearly killed by Nadine. That's her name, by the way. She made me call he Mother but her name is Nadine something.”

“Seth, that's my name, and I'm glad you broke in. I wish I had known you were down there, I would have called the cops.” I give him a small smile to show him I'm not mad at him. “How did she get in my house, though?”

“I don't know. I guess maybe she snuck in before you got to locking all the doors and stuff. When she gets that glassy look in her eyes, she can be very sneaky.

We finally pull into the police parking lot. If any cars had been dispatched to my house, I had not seen them go by us. With how many different roads and routes that could be taken in the city, it's not overly surprising that we missed whoever was headed out to check out Jack's call. When we go in though, it's all paperwork and questions for hours. I'm interviewed by the police; at one point, they go so far as to accuse me of kidnapping Jack. Apparently, the state of my house, which they searched, Jack's statement, and my own statement finally leads them to believe me though. I'm walking out of the interrogation room and heading back to my car, when I see Jack waiting in a chair in the large outer reception area. I walk over and sit down nearby.

“My Mom's on the way. There's going to be all this stuff going on: doctors, news people, cops. But the only thing I can think about is what I'm going to say to my Mom. They said I've been gone for over a year. Do you think she'll remember me? What if she married some guy and had a new son by now?”

We both pause and look up for a moment as Nadine is dragged by in handcuffs. The cop with her looks like he had a rough time subduing her. Bloody lip, black eye. I'm glad I didn't have to fight her off.

“Jack, hey look at me,” I wait for him to comply. “Your Mom has never forgotten you. I'm sure that some things have changed while you were gone but your Mom loves you and that could not have changed no matter how long you were in that basement.”

While I was talking, I didn't notice the young woman come and stand a few feet behind me. “Jack!” She cried. “It really is you!” As she scooped her son into her arms like he was just a toddler, I watched them both burst out in tears and nervous laughter.

I tried to quietly sneak away. While I was happy God had allowed me to play a part in this happy reunion, I wanted to minimize my intrusion into the life and privacy of what are essentially two strangers.

“Seth, wait!” Jack cried out.

I turned and tilted my head as I often do when confused. Before I could figure out what was happening, Jack had ran up and jumped into my arms. He hugged me hard and I couldn't help but hug him back. He had been through quite the ordeal and he reminded me a lot of my own little boy.

“I heard what you told him back there, about how I would never forget him. I can't thank you enough for helping my son escape from that woman. I'm Sarah.”

While I don't know what exactly to say, because I didn't do anything all that special, Jack's Mom asks me to sit with them for a minute. We chat about anything and everything. I find out they are local and that Jack will be going to school at a nearby private school. Sarah hadn't remarried or had any other children. Her baggage of a missing son, like my own baggage, had kept her from the dating scene. While we talked over police station coffee, Jack repeatedly kept looking over at me and giving my a mischievous, knowing grin. Until finally, he came over and whispered in my ear.

“You should ask my Mom out on a date.”

“Maybe we should be friends for awhile first, OK, bud?” I stammered.

Sarah's sweet smile and following laughter reminds me that no one knows a child better than their parents.

Today's writing prompt: As you climb into your bed late at night, someone hurriedly knocks on the bedroom door. “Dad, let me in! Mom's coming, and she's armed! Please, dad! You promised!” You are single without children.

Prompt Source: From the depths of pinterest, unsure of origin

15 May 2015

Apple VS Samsung

Hi all,

I recently (or relatively recently) posted about my minor annoyance with both Apple and AOL. Today, I thought I'd tell you a bit about my newest experiences with Apple and Samsung.

So a couple of weeks ago, I was due for a cell upgrade. I previously had the Samsung Galaxy S3. It was a pretty neat phone, but that could just be my own sentimentality. After all the S3 was my first smartphone. That's right: I actually waited until 2013 to get a smartphone. After a couple of years, the S3 started running slowly and having battery life issues. The battery thing was probably due to my status as a graduate student in the deep, dark basement. No service kills a phone faster than any app I've ever used. (Update BestFiends kills battery worse than No Service!) And the running slow was my own fault, since I had bogged down most of the memory with photos and videos.

Regardless, I went to the Verizon store with every intention of getting a new phone, probably the S5. I had the advantage of seeing it firsthand when a friend upgraded her S3 to the S5. Because of the draining battery and possibly a minor irritation with the awkward-to-navigate settings menu, I knew I would at least check out all the other available phones. I walked through the store and saw another Samsung that looked a whole lot different from the S3. After checking it out for awhile, I noticed it was called the Galaxy S6 Edge. Alright, whatever, so they came out with an S6. I also checked out the S5, a Blackberry, a Windows phone, an HTC etc. I briefly glanced at the iPhones. I'll admit, I didn't give them much thought because I'd rather not provoke a divorce.

Eventually, a sales associate came out. I asked questions about the differences between the S5 and S6 what the purpose of the edge screen was on the S6 Edge, and more. He told me that the hardware differences between the S5 and S6 were big (though mysteriously and disappointingly, no specs were quoted). He also said that the edge screen has no purpose. The phone is $100 more and it's just for looks. Oh and by the way, we have none in stock. We also don't have the S6 in stock. We have basically nothing in stock. You'll have to go to BestBuy. (Uhm, OK?! Usually, my only complaint about Verizon is their prices, but this experience was weird.)

Showed up at a BestBuy Mobile and talked to their representatives (which took seconds rather than 10's of minutes). The edge screen does have a purpose, in fact more than one. It functions as a night clock, notifications bar, a color coordinated emergency contacts lightup thingy, a newsfeed for News/Twitter/other stuff I don't use. Out of curiosity, I had them tell me the difference between the iPhone6 and the S6 Edge. Now, I've done no external research to verify, but the guys at BestBuy tell me that the camera is twice as good and my processor is an octo-core (8 cores) instead of dual-core (2 cores). I would guess that means my processor is about four times better. That's right, I said my...so I bought the S6 Edge. After a few weeks, I'm impressed. The graphics are better, the battery life is better, the curved screen is sweet, and the price was reasonable. I guess I'm a Samsung enthusiast, for now.

20 February 2015

AppleID vs AOL

Argh. Sorry in advance, this is a frustration rant about email/usernames. Read if you're interested in my Apple VS AOL plight.

Today, my ambivalence toward Apple as a company has changed. Usually, I couldn't care less. I don't know how to use an Apple computer because I've always had a PC. That's fine I guess. I use my iPad primarily as an eBook reader. It's pretty cool; I like it. I've never had an iPod or iPhone. Because of my husband's distaste for Apple (though he has an iPod, has had an iPhone, wanted a Macbook, and yes bought me that iPad), I have never actively sought out any Apple products. It's not that I dislike them; it used to be that I couldn't afford them. Now, I'm use to PC and Android and that's fine with me. Or at least it's usually fine with me.

Though I've never bought any Apple electronics, I've always used iTunes. I tried Windows Media among other players and just genuinely prefer iTunes. The setup is easy to navigate; the store is good. I've had some issues with songs duplicating themselves in my library or the file not being found but that was my own poor organizing skills. Alright, fine.

Well, today I got a cute email from Apple saying that my AppleID needs to be changed because "AOL will no longer support your ability to sign in to the iTunes Store, App Store, or iBooks Store." It also went on to state that if you logged in with your usual AOL email, "You will automatically be taken through a few short steps to complete the process." I figured this was a minor annoyance that could easily be fixed. Instead of using my email as my username, I'll just switch it to my typical moniker and have my contact email as my AOL email.

Nope. Apple doesn't work that way. You see, your AppleID HAS to be a valid email address. For most people, I guess that's probably not a huge deal. Just switch it over to whatever other email address you use. Here's the problem. I only use AOL email addresses. Oh sure, I used to have some yahoo account that expired from infrequent use. Yea yea, I have a school email. I would, however, clarify that I use my school email primarily for school business only. This is because school email addresses have a tendency to expire after you graduate. I don't want to lose access to my Apple account merely because I graduated and moved on with my life.

So, what are my options? Lose my account. Nope, like I said, iTunes is my music player. That's also how I install apps on my iPad or buy books in iBooks. Make a new email address. With whom? Yahoo? No, I always forget to sign in and then it expires on me. MSN? Same problem. Hotmail? Eh. Oh wait, what is that random email that I get on my smartphone? Gmail. I have a Galaxy, an Android phone, with Google written all over it. That means, somewhere out there, I have a gmail address. Of course, I don't get emails in my gmail account, except for the ones from gmail telling me the terms and conditions have changed or one of my YouTube subscriptions has uploaded a new video...and I only check those because I literally have to click on a notification and they pop up on my screen.

*Sighs* Well, fine then. I guess I'll change my AppleID to my gmail address. Thanks Apple. Thanks AOL. You guys are obnoxious.

So, I guess today my ambivalence toward Apple turned into minor frustration at their ridiculous username VS email ID setup. Will it negatively affect my perceptions of Apple (or AOL even) as a company? Probably not. But it was annoying enough to rant about on a public blog.

P.S. When I tried to contact customer support, Apple advertises an email contact. However, when you go through all their contact prompts, they distinctly refuse email contact and force you to call them. No thanks, I really just wanted to send you a whiny email telling you to get your act together and make yourselves compatible with my regular email.

16 February 2015

Memories and Nightmares - A Short Story

I woke up startled. Not like one of those minor startles but instead with a full-blown nightmare quality gasp. My wide eyes shifted between the three people leaning over me. One of them was saying something. My head hurt too much to sit up and I felt a slow warmth behind my neck.

“Emma?” he said, “Emma, can you hear me?”

I wonder who these people are. Also, why does the one up front keep calling me Emma? It looks like I'm on the floor of a home improvement store. But how did I get here? I work in an office doing secretary tasks for a bunch of accountants. It's not glamorous but it pays the bills and keeps me busy.

“Emma?” Front guy says again.

“My name is Claire. What happened?”

“Uhmm...your name is Emma.” He points to my shirt. “See, it's even on your name tag.” Another guy, actually a rather cute guy, behind and to the right of the first man, points to a nearby ladder. “A customer knocked you off the ladder because he wanted you to mix his paint.”

“But I'm just a secretary,” I mumble.

“Nah, Emma. You work here. But you manage the hardware stock; you're not a paint mixer,” cute guy says. As he says this, I see a team of paramedics weeding through the customers with a gurney and red medical bags.

At this point, I start getting scared. These people have me confused with someone else. They'll get the paramedics confused. My insurance will throw a fit. I hate hospitals and I don't want to go alone. I want my best friend. If I'm going to a hospital, I need Noah.

“Where's Noah?” My heart starts pounding as the medics start getting closer.

While first man and cute guy seem confused, the third guy who looks about a hundred years old, looks annoyed. “I don't have any employees named Noah. If you've been lollygagging on the job to flirt with some boy --”

Cute guy cuts him off. “Emma doesn't lollygag. I'm sure Noah's a family member or something.”

The paramedics show up and start asking questions. What happened? Where does it hurt? Can you wiggle your feet? I'm too overwhelmed and confused to help. Instead, I start crying. “Please, just get Noah,” I say while the strange men are explaining to the paramedics how I fell off the ladder and seem to be disoriented about who and where I am.

“I KNOW WHO I AM!” I yell, finally getting their attention. “My name is Claire Robbins. I live on Birch Street in Evanstown. I work as a secretary at the offices of Schmidt and Klein. The only thing I'm disoriented about is who on earth you people are and why you keep calling me Emma. Please. Please, just get Noah. I need Noah.” While most of that was angry and I even got sarcastic air quotes in for the word 'disoriented,' I ended in a whispered plea. In my anger, I had sat myself up. Apparently, I had hit my head well enough, because the dizziness from sitting up turned into black static-like spots in my vision.

The second time I woke up, I found myself in a hospital bed. The initial panic I had felt toward the paramedics and the hospital seemed a little silly now. But then I remembered how weird all those people were acting and the anxiety started to creep back in. As I looked around, I realized my wrist was cast and I had a bandage dangling in my face. Using my good hand, I found the rebellious bandage belonged to a long strip that wrapped around most of my head.

As I tucked the bandage out of my way, a man I had formerly missed coughed from the corner. More fear crept up as I realized this was the cute guy from the home improvement store. However, I finally had the presence of mind to look at his name tag. His name was Devin.

“Uh, hi?” I said.

“Hey Emma, you had us all pretty worried there.” As he leaned closer and kissed me on the cheek, he whispered, “Especially me.”

I guess he must have sensed my panic because he sighed and leaned back. “You still don't remember who you are, do you?”

“But I do. I'm Claire Robbins,” I reminded him.

“Em, the doc said it might be awhile before your memory comes back,” he sighed deeper this time, as if it hurt him that I couldn't remember. “Maybe I could try to help you remember?”

Silent tears fell from my face but I nodded slowly. He picked up a cell phone from a night stand between the bed and an uncomfortable looking chair. He said, “This is your phone. I'm going to pop open the camera app, ok? After a few clicks with his thumb, he turned the phone toward me. “That's the self-facing camera. See, that's you?

As I looked at the stranger in this makeshift mirror, I felt a twinge of familiarity. Like perhaps I spent too many mornings trying to hide that small scar on my cheek with makeup and long bangs. “How'd I get this?” I wondered.

“Oh man, that one was a doozy. Uh, you snowboarded off a roof,” he looked away.

I snowboarded off a roof?” I repeated.

“You don't believe me?” He wondered. Again, he looked kind of depressed by the whole situation and I felt kind of bad for him. He seemed to really believe I was this Emma girl. And he liked her; it was pretty obvious.

“Sorry, I'm not really sure what I believe anymore. I mean I specifically remember being Claire. I know about the kind of life I lived as Claire and I remember my best friend. I have memories of the crazy things he conned me into doing.” Though I gave him a slight smile, Devin frowned and walked to the window. He looked stormy, standing there with one hand on the back of his neck and the other swiping at his face and dark hair. After a few shuddering breaths, he came back over and pointed out a scar I hadn't noticed on my good forearm.

“Last year, we went hiking and you tripped over this huge rock. I couldn't figure out how you didn't see it. Do you remember what you told me?” He asked.

I couldn't hold his gaze, he was too intense. Though most of my fear had started to dissipate, I still couldn't conclude that this guy wasn't bonkers.

“You said it was my fault for being so tall, dark, and handsome. Then you laughed and threw a pine cone at me,” he recalled. With a whisper, he finished the memory, “I was your best friend.” His sincerity hurt.

He picked up a worn leather wallet from the nightstand. “This is yours.” He hands it to me. I flip if over in my hands a few times. It does look like the type of wallet I would carry. I unfold it. The first thing I see is a driver's license. The picture is the same face I saw in the cell phone's camera. The name agrees with Devin though, Emma Hughes.

In addition, the picture is obviously one of those cheesy barely-old-enough-to-drive licenses. I remembered taking this picture. I had just passed my road test and my Dad had said he'd help me buy a car after I got my license. I was thinking of all the used car shops we would navigate. I had gotten a job a year prior and saved up $3000. It wouldn't get me anything fancy but Dad said he'd pay the registration and insurance for the first year.

I pull the license out of the sleeve and notice I had other cards crammed behind it. A library card, a bank card, an employee ID from the home improvement store I first woke up in. The billfold hid a stack of wallet photos and one single letter shaped paper. The first photo was of a young girl, maybe a tween. I got the feeling she was my cousin but I couldn't pull her name out of the fog of my memory.

I flipped through the rest of the pictures slowly, forcing myself to guess at names and relationships. Until finally, I pulled out the last snapshot. As I stared at it, everything came rushing back at me in a blur of information. I started crying and Devin took our wedding photo from my hands. He pulled me into a hug as I told him. “I remember. Oh, Devin, I'm sorry.”

After we calmed down a bit, his curiosity got the best of him, “What was that last piece of paper you had?”

“It's a letter I got earlier today. Read it.” As he opened it, he started reading aloud.

“Hey Emma,

I just finished reading the advanced copy of Slamming Doors that you sent me. I absolutely loved it! You did such a good job with Claire and Noah. You must have been so deep inside their heads to get everything across to us ignorant readers. Though I had to laugh because I knew from the very beginning that you based the two of them on you and Devin. He's going to love it when he sees the dedication. I assume you're still planning to give him his copy for the big 3 year anniversary. Can't wait for the party!

Congrats again on the publication!
Love, your brother,

15 February 2015

Daddy, do you think you're going to die?

Hi, this is the prologue to the, as of yet, untitled thriller/mystery novel that I'm currently working on. Thanks for reading.


“Daddy, do you think you're going to die?” my four year old son, Jeremiah, asks. In shock, my mouth opens and closes silently while I search for eye contact with my boy through the rear-view mirror.

“No, Jer, I'm not going to die. Why would you think that?” I wonder quietly. My wife is slumped next to me, asleep after our early morning departure.

“Well, ever since Uncle Bill died, Mom's been praying for you a lot. I can tell she's worried,” he answers honestly with his small brow furrowed under a ruffle of bangs.

“I know Jer. That's why we just moved to the farmhouse. I'll always be a cop, son. But a cop here in the sticks is different than a cop in the city. It' still dangerous but it's safer than Philadelphia.”

“I'm proud of you, Daddy,” Jer whispers before falling asleep in his car seat.

What I've told him is true. There's no active threat on my life. No criminals fresh out of prison with a grudge and a black-market pistol. No politician conspiracies or otherwise crazy circumstances are following me from Philadelphia to our new home in rural Vermont. I was simply a beat cop in the city but Jeremiah is right. The death of her brother, who worked in the same precinct as me, took a nasty toll on my wife. Long after the natural stages of grief, she was still withdrawn, emotional, and constantly anxious. It took some prying on my part to learn she was afraid my fate would be the same as Bill's and long before she would be able to handle widowhood.

Cop wives are strong. Stronger than a lot of women ever really have to be. My wife is no different, she knew who I was when we married. We've had close calls before, like when a drug addled teenager decided to play a racing video game in real life. To make matters worse, the drugs gave him an indignant, furious road rage that resulted in three smashed police cruisers, one of which was mine. Other incidents occurred; other cops died. I guess none of that really hit home until Bill died.

We talked about moving for awhile, saved up some money, and finally took the leap. We bought a small fix-it-up farmhouse in our hometown Georgia. Don't let the name fool you, it's a small town in northwestern Vermont. So, this is kind of like a belated homecoming really. Except neither of us has any family left to come home to. We were both only children and lost our parents during high school. It's part of what brought us together. We have old friends out here though, like Noah, who became a cop in our hometown and helped me get my new job. He's the kind of friend you grow up with and maybe part ways for awhile but when you get back together it's as if you were never apart. In my opinion, those are the best kinds of friends to have.

With any luck, and a whole lot of faith in prayer, the serenity and peace of the mountains will help my wife heal and prepare for me to go back to work. I won't start at St. Albans PD for another week. Right now, we're on our way to a secluded cabin in Mt. Mansfield State Forest. It belongs to Noah, passed down through his family for generations. He said we could “rent” it for free. I promised to make him a gargantuan steak and grilled corn.

When we were young, my wife and I enjoyed camping and hiking in these woods. I suspect the clean, familiar atmosphere will wash away some of her fear and depression. The last year has been hard on all three of us. But I know this mini-vacation and our new home afterwards will be a life changing decision. I pray it's the best decision for our family. For my son.

10 February 2015

Running Is Ugly

Hi, this is a short story I came up with awhile ago but only just jotted down. Thanks for reading.

There's nothing good about running. Oh sure, doctors say that it's good cardio. So is hiking or biking or just about any sport that really gets you moving. But running is ugly. You dress in ugly outfits, sweat profusely, and pant like a dog. In my opinion, no one looks good running. That includes scantily clad women in yoga pants and especially topless men in short shorts.

However, my job requires me to run. Sometimes. But when it does, I have to be ready. After all, I can't let a murderer or thief get away just because I hate running. And I can't necessarily leave all the running up to my partner. It used to be that my partner and I would train together. We'd run the trails and parks around the city to keep us in shape. We'd meet up before work or after a paperwork laden shift, run a few miles, and eventually huff and puff our way home. Being the gentleman that I am, I always ran her home, even on mornings when we went before work. You can never be too careful. And in our line of work, you lose a lot of trust in humanity.

One of those days where I struggled with my view of humanity, happened last summer. We were working a bank robbery, where a\the thief killed the teller simply because she wasn't fast enough under the pressure of a large rifle pointed at her face. During the gunfight between police and criminals, my partner jumped in front of a bullet meant for me. And I am exceedingly grateful. The bullet that landed in her hip, was aimed at my head. Now, we barely run together anymore. That's more my fault than hers. You see, my partner now runs with a hitch. She has a specific lilt in her step that slows her down. Some people call it a limp. Others call it a disability; she laughs at those people. Regardless of what you call it, I use the reduction in her pace as an excuse to run by myself more often than not. But it's really just that, an excuse. And that aggravates me. I know I should be able to run at her slowed pace in penance for her saving my rear end, I still can't do it. I fight with myself day after day over this seeming disloyalty and ungratefulness. I want to be a better man than that.

But, what it really comes down to, is what I don't tell her. I hide behind an arrogant mask of speed records and lap times to keep her from knowing that she's changed me. The real reason I can't run with my partner anymore is literally because of that limp in her step. When she walks, you barely notice it. But running makes it much more apparent. And despite the fact that running is ugly, when my partner runs, it's beautiful.

31 January 2015

That's Not How Writing Works

So, I've been brainstorming another novel. With the aid of social media and search engines, I stumbled across useful tools that I didn't know about when I wrote my first novel (Micah's 45). Story worksheets. Character trait lists. Plot outlines. Setting charts. All sorts of wonderful things in paper or PDF format meant to help you organize your thoughts. Of course, when I started to think about this book, I had nothing more than a premise (killer stalks family) and a clincher sentence. That's similar to how I started Micah's 45, so it didn't really bother me. I sat down and just started typing. and it worked. Now, I did shortly have to come up with an outline (for the class that started Part 1 of Micah's 45) but it was far off base and even generalized so much as to be vague. I had no idea where the story was going until it got me much closer to the destination.

Yes, you read that correctly. Until it got me much closer to the destination. I was halfway between the land of sleep and normal life when an imagined scenario became the final chapter. So, I wrote the final chapter down. I still had no idea how I was going to get there. In fact, the ending seemed unexpected, bold. It was not what I had planned; I didn't have any idea how it fit with the rest of the story.

Then, why did it frustrate me when I couldn't immediately answer so many of the worksheet questions? I guess, somewhere along the way, I forgot how writing really works for me. I see something: a premise, a clincher, maybe just a character or a particular scene. And then I imagine all the ways that could have come to be. You start investigating the character(s) and you weed your way into their lives. I should clarify at this point that you investigate your characters, NOT stalk the real people who may have inspired a character. Don't be creepy; that's not cool.

It's possible that what I'm saying sounds awfully mystical to normal people. But I just don't seem to know a better way to describe it. As you write, you become better acquainted with your characters. As they grow and develop, your story grows and develops. Sometimes, your characters do something you didn't expect or want and sometimes you gets stuck because you're trying to force a character to do something that they just wouldn't do. That makes the writing hard because you have to keep an eye out for inconsistencies.

For example, in the first drafts of Micah's 45, I made Micah's speech too eloquent and cultured for a teenage girl with her personality and background. This problem is a good reason to encourage multiple revisions. But not just editing revisions. I mean full-blown self criticism bordering on the depressing. Everything from "Does this overall outline/plot/character/scene make sense?" to "Will other people think this story is implausible and stupid?"

But, for me, this flamboyant approach to writing works. And, for the most part, stringent adherence to worksheets, outlines, charts, and lists is just not how writing works.

P.S. Thats my opinion and my experience; you're free to politely (please and thank you: inappropriate comments will be deleted) disagree and teach me your ways, if you're so inclined.

02 January 2015

The Difference Between Graduate School and Undergrad

Lately, I've been reminiscing about the good old days. For me, that would be my years in undergrad. (I never understood people who wished they were back in high school. Horrible acne, bad nicknames, raging hormones. Trying to find a group you fit in with. No thanks...glad God me through all that in one piece.) After my first year of undergrad, I moved back in with my parents. They lived within walking distance of campus, allowed me to do my laundry without making sure nobody stole my underwear or dumped my clothes on the floor, and in general didn't seem to mind having their adult (an entire 19 years old) child around. After all, I was still living with them over summer/winter breaks. With a little assistance, I got my driver's license, bought my own car, and got my first job. Now, this is important.

If you remember the title of this blog post, that is. You see, during undergrad, I not only had time to go to class and do homework, I also had enough time on my hands to work a retail job. Not only that, but I also participated in the Physics Club and kept up enough of a social life to meet and date the man who eventually became my husband. The point is: I had time. And plenty of it.

Graduate school is different, though. Not only did I officially move out, but I also realized how little time there is in a day. For the first two years, I took the classes I would need for my Master's degree. My daily schedule went as follows: get up, get dressed, take the train to school, do homework in the library until class, go to class, back to the library for more homework, eat lunch if you remember/have time (which rarely happened), more homework, more classes, go home, eat dinner, more homework, shower and bedtime. That doesn't include the two semesters of teaching introductory labs. I know the only reason I even survived those is because God somehow carried me through it. Though I've mentioned in previous blog posts that much sweat and tears went into my getting off academic probation, in reality it was the grace of God that got me out of that mess.

Which brings out another point. In undergrad, I barely had to focus on my homework to get good grades. I could watch TV and write essays, skim through papers I was supposed to read, and quickly finish most assignments without even working with other students. Not graduate school. I quickly learned that I had to work from deadline to deadline, practically stalk the smartest kid in my program, and go to enough office hours that my professors probably got sick of me. GRAD SCHOOL IS HARD. Ridiculously hard. I'm sure some people breeze through it or maybe are in programs that come easier to them but grad school is more work and harder work than undergrad.

Now that I'm no longer in classes (thank God again), I do have more time and energy. Instead of classes, I "work" as a researcher in a laboratory. I put quotations on work because at this point in the degree program it becomes almost like a normal job with a boss and coworkers and meetings. Except it' really not. My "boss" is actually my adviser (though if I want my degree I probably should treat him like a boss because he does have the power to say, "Kid, I don't think this is going to work out, you should start looking for another group to work with." Though I don't expect that to happen (my adviser is almost as awesome as my undergrad thesis adviser), I still have to work hard and do my best. After all, being fired from a retail or fast food job might not hurt my career options but being kicked out of a research group really would. My "coworkers" are other students like me and my "meetings" can be anything from group update meetings to seminars I attend.

Finally, I'd like to make a distinction that I find myself explaining a lot to people who don't know much about grad school. You can't just transfer programs after starting one. You can't score low grades and get away with it. You can't really "switch majors." If you're working in a research group, you can't just "transfer to another school" because your friends want you to move back home. In some ways, there's much less freedom for mistakes or mind-changing in graduate school. But in other ways, you have more freedom than ever to learn exactly what you want to learn. In summary, grad school is good. But grad school is hard. Don't assume that just because you were a straight A student in undergrad means you will be in graduate school. Don't assume you're going to have extra time for a ton of different activities (at least not right away). But, like me, you'll eventually figure it out and find your groove.