The Hidden — Chapter Four (Pt 1) — T.D. Barton & Derek Barton

TH 4

CHAPTER FOUR – ZELDA:

Zelda awoke with a terrible headache.  This “fresh country air” had done nothing for her allergies.  Nate was crazy about the idea of living out here in the sticks, though and he was so cute about it that she just had to go along.  He had insisted they leave the city and build an entirely new life.  

“It’ll be a fresh new start,” he’d told her.  “The money is one thing, but we need more than money – we need each other.”  Nate had been nearly fanatical about the idea.  Frankly, it didn’t make that much difference to her where they lived, as long as they had a chance for happiness.  But she had to admit things were much better between them since they’d left the city.  Here their life seemed simpler, less complicated.  Nate laughed more and Zelda found herself taking time to look about and appreciate her life.  She had actually planted a flower garden!

In the city, they had dreamed of a time when they could lay back and spend time together doing the things they’d always wanted.  Now, suddenly that time had come and best of all they were still young enough to enjoy it.

Throwing on a light robe, she shuffled to the kitchen to put the coffee on.  Country living was nothing new to Zelda since she had grown up on a small farm in southern Illinois.  But her ambition to be on the stage had made her quit those rural climes and move to Chicago, where she met, fell in love with and married Nate.

Back home her friends had teased her about becoming a famous movie star, but that had not been her true dream.  Ever since her first appearance in her ninth-grade production of “Oklahoma!” she’d been fascinated with the idea of being in live productions.  Acting out the lives and loves of fictitious characters who were nothing like her gave her a marvelous feeling which she was unable to achieve in real life.  

In the theater, she could live an exciting life with virtually no risk.  It wasn’t Zelda Miller out there on stage, it was a charmer in a play.  If the audience booed, it was the character they disapproved of and not her.  But she need not worry about the audience disapproving because Zelda was a natural.  She was almost always chosen for the lead role in whatever production she tried out for.  Acting came easily to her as natural as breathing or walking down the street.  

Zelda sometimes thought it was easy for her to assume the role of someone else because she had no personality of her own.  She’d never told anyone this of course — not even her parents who were so proud of her.  In fact, everyone was proud of her when she put on a good performance in the various school plays and civic productions.  They would applaud thunderously while she took her bows, and she was the center of attention for days afterward whenever she came to town for shopping with her mother.

She received lots of attention from her peers.  The girls all wanted to be her friend and the boys paid extra close attention while she spoke.  

The adults of the town were quick to voice their approval as well.  The men would exclaim, “You sure were good the other night!”  And the women would hug her and congratulate her mother saying, “You must be so-o-o proud of little Zelda! Why I wouldn’t be surprised to see her on the silver screen someday.  Maybe put this little town on the map, eh?  She certainly has the looks… and the talent!”

Of course, her mother was proud of her Zelda and she encouraged her to do all she could to get into Northwestern University.  She helped her fill out the applications and she made sure Zelda spent lots of time with the Northwestern representative during “College Night” at school.  She bragged to all her friends and relatives about Zelda’s acting prowess and her prospects for a glamorous career – the kind Zelda’s mother never had.

But looking back, Zelda wished everyone could have been proud of her and given her such attention just for being Zelda – plain old Zelda Miller from southern Illinois.  What was so wrong with that?  Did she have to become somebody famous to get their attention?  

Maybe the reason she’d moved to Chicago and pursued a career in acting was not that she wanted it so much but because it was expected of her.  She couldn’t let her parents down or disappoint her teachers.  Hell, the whole damned town depended on “Little Zelda” to become the next Marilyn Monroe and give them all something to be proud of.  Well, it wasn’t fair to put that kind of pressure on a person – to make her responsible for the justification of their own existence.  

Small wonder that when the time came to prove herself in the big city, Zelda’s accomplishments fell somewhat shy of everyone’s expectations.  It was one thing to be a celebrity in a small town production, but it was something else entirely to be just one of many faces in an acting class — all talented, all sharing the same ambitions and aspirations, all competing for the lead roles.  

It was worse yet to be number thirty-seven in a cattle call with the lights glaring in your eyes and three people sitting way back in a darkened theatre passing judgment on every move you made, every note you sang.

Miss… Miller?  Is that a natural tremolo in your voice or are you simply scared to death?

Perhaps that was why when she’d met Nate, working in a local supermarket it had been so easy for her to fall in love with him and his dreams of the future.  Marrying Nate was a way of saving face, both within herself and with the folks back home.  After all, no one could blame her for abandoning her career to marry the man she loved.  

In fact, it was kind of romantic and rather noble.  She was like the heroine in the romance novels her mother was so fond of.  Poor Zelda Miller had so much potential and could have been a star, but she gave up all that glamour and fame to be Mrs. Nathaniel Malone… almost poetic really.  Too bad it was a lie.  The truth was, she’d lost faith in her dreams and herself.  Marrying Nate was the smartest thing she could have done.  

There was no use pretending she was going to make a big splash on the stage either here in Chicago or anywhere else.  The one thing her mother and all that attention back home had not prepared her for was competition – stiff competition with hundreds of other would-be Marilyns who were quite willing to do literally anything to get what they wanted.  Zelda was just not that aggressive or driven.  It was easier to change her goals than to see them through to fruition.

And she’d been happy actually.  She really did love Nate.  He was kind, gentle and so intense in his quest for a better life for each of them.  Until recently, his dreams had been enough to sustain them both.  He was full of energy and eagerness, and he had vision.   The kind of vision that you could hitch onto and let yourself be gladly pulled along.  Nate promised her the kind of life any girl would hope for:  a home and family and the kind of security that sounded so attractive to a young girl who had been thrust out into the vast, hard world alone.  

Zelda had been feeling overwhelmed and out of her element.  What Nate had offered her sounded so warm, safe and comfortable when compared to the cold cruel arena of the performing arts.  She rationalized that, even if she were to become a big star someday, everyone knows that its lonely at the top.  And loneliness was something she was too familiar with and could most definitely do without.  

So She had married Nate, and shared his vision… for a while.

One day however she had glimpsed sadness in his dreamy blue eyes.  Nate, just like her, was starting to lose faith in himself.  His confidence was slowly running down.  He was like a radio-controlled toy with a failing battery; sometimes the current would flow and he would charge ahead as though nothing was wrong while other times he would wake in the morning with no juice at all.  He was pressing all the right buttons, but nothing was happening.  The signal was dead.  That was before the lottery came along and changed their lives entirely.

After dressing, Zelda prepared a simple breakfast of poached eggs and toast.  They may be living like country folks, but she wasn’t about to start cooking like some country farm-frau, serving stacks of pancakes and such.  She called Nate in from the yard.  

Shutting the lawnmower off, he tramped through the front door looking so damn pleased with himself she had to smile.  Nate looked healthier these days and more handsome than she could ever remember.  He was spending a lot more time in the sun and it had streaked his light brown hair with flashes of golden blonde.  It fell stubbornly across his forehead, despite his constant attempts to swipe it back out of his eyes.  This habit, combined with the freckles splattered about this lightly tanned cheeks gave him a boyish charm which she found quite appealing.

“That’s it?” he asked seating himself.  “How’s a hard-working, grown man supposed to survive on a breakfast like this?”  His words were harsh, but she knew he was teasing.  Both of them had been working on trimming back their diet – low fat-this and diet-that.

“You are not a hard-working man anymore, Mister Malone,”  She ran her hand lovingly across the back of his neck as she joined him at the table.  “You’re a man of leisure… with LOTS OF MONEY!  And that’s why I love you so much.”

He took her hand and kissed it, his mouth full of breakfast.  “Well, who cares why just as long as you stay!  What’ve you got planned for today, Hon?  Just what does the wife of an independently wealthy land baron do in her spare time?”

Zelda smiled and then looked at him seriously.  “She goes shopping of course!  What good is all that money if you can’t spend it like it was going out of style?”

His laugh made her feel warm inside and she leaned across the table and kissed him.

“Good, good!  Go on into town and buy yourself something extravagant.  I’m sure you’ll look radiant in it.  Just don’t run off to Paris without me,” he warned her.

“Actually I had in mind something like groceries. We’re low on a few things.  But I might take some time to poke around some shops while I’m in town.”

“Okay, sweetie.  I’ll be working in the yard all day anyway.  So, have a good time. But first, I’ve something to show you in the bedroom…”  His leer made her feel even warmer inside.  

The town of Snyder reminded her very much of her own small hometown in Illinois, only it was not quite the mirror image of what she remembered. The bank was on the south side of the street instead of the north.  However, it was still directly across from the post office.  And the curve in Main Street was on the wrong end of town. But there was the Amoco station, right where it should be on the corner.  The Lutheran church, the one she and Nate kept saying they were going to check out one of these days was on the east side, by the highway.

Looming large over everything, its rusty tin siding providing an ominous backdrop for the rest of the buildings was the ancient feed mill. As Zelda drove past, she considered it. Surely, it must have been one of the first buildings erected in Snyder. Its pointed roof stretched high into the air, providing home and aerial playground to hundreds of swooping, careening pigeons. Driving beneath them with the sunroof down, Zelda prayed silently that none of them held a grudge against transplanted city types, moving into their little town.

Zelda decided at that moment, she didn’t like the mill. If there was one thing she could change about Snyder, it would be the presence of this hulking giant with the dark windows, looking upon the world with vacant eye sockets, staring gloomily from an enormous rusty skull.

Still, it was somewhat similar to the one in her hometown, right down to the huge, antiquated “Supersweet Seeds” sign clinging tenaciously to the side. She supposed these archaic, malevolent-looking monstrosities were a necessary evil that all small midwestern towns must endure, but it brought back memories that were not all good ones.

There were times in her past that she would rather not remember. When she left for the big city, she thought she was leaving behind all those bad times — the bad things her subconscious strived so hard to blot out. But occasionally and with increasing frequency, she found those memories coming back now that she had returned to small-town life.

One thing that was different was the new shopping center on the west edge of town where Zelda parked in front of the grocery store. She’d already browsed through the antique shops downtown and the ladies apparel shop here in the center. Now it was time to get down to business with some groceries.

As she walked up and down the aisles, examining the labels and comparing package sizes, she thought about her life with Nate. She marveled at how different things were going to be now that they had money. They would be able to travel — she’d always wanted to see Europe! Or maybe they’d spend time on cruises. But, best of all, they would have time for each other and, maybe now, they could think of having children and building a family. This was something they had been putting off until they were financially secure.

Well, you don’t get much more secure than seven million dollars, thank God, thought Zelda, whose biological clock had been ticking for some time now. Her life with Nate was becoming idyllic, but she needed to be a mother to make it complete. No matter how rosy their financial future, it was the one thing their money couldn’t buy. It was the one thing she needed above all else.

These thoughts were running through her mind as she approached the checkout-counter with her cart full of groceries. While standing in line, she spotted a poster, obviously home-made, asking the whereabouts of this child:

Susie Dawn Chamness

Age 11

Last Seen: Aug 3, 1993

Below the picture was printed instructions on who to contact with any information and a reward was offered. The picture was black-and-white, but the spirit of the little girl shone from it all the same. Her face was beaming with eagerness, and her long golden curls fairly glowed. But something deep within her pale eyes showed a hidden sadness, perhaps a longing, as though she had knowledge beyond her years — knowledge of something she would rather forget.

As Zelda stood looking at the angelic face of this child she tried to put herself in the place of her poor mother. How tragic it would be to give life to a beautiful child like this only to have her snatched away when you’d learned to love her with all your heart, as surely her mother must. This sort of thing was all too common in the city, but here in this rural community, it seemed out of place.  Zelda wondered…What could have happened to her way out here?

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The Hidden — Chapter Three — T.D. Barton & Derek Barton

TH CH 3

 

CHAPTER THREE — PASSING THROUGH:

Shortcut, my ass! Thought Roger Spearman as he disengaged his cruise control and lugged the big Lincoln down a side road off state road thirty-eight.  The car had electrically operated seats with lumbar support and air-ride suspension.  She also ran like a raped ape out on the open highway, but his swollen bladder felt every bump and jostle of this badly neglected strip of asphalt.

Gawd!  I am really out in the boonies this time. 

His back seat was littered with shiny cans.  They were the spent casings of a twelve pack of silver bullets which is how Roger always referred to his drink of choice – never as Coor’s light.  He’d drunk it in bars from Richmond to Portland, in dives too numerous to mention.  From sleazy southern tonks to the glass and chrome décor of the some of the finest northern hotel lounges, his routine was nearly always the same.  He would park his large and somewhat doughy butt on a bar stool and demand a “cold silver bullet”.  When the bartender had filled his request, Roger would smile and salute, drain off a huge, adam’s-apple bobbing gulp and quip, “Ahhhh!  That one had my name on it!”  Sometimes this line would elicit a chuckle but it was usually of the polite variety.

Now at this moment, though, the beer sloshed in Roger’s stomach, and his over-worked bladder cried out for release.  He could swear it was splashing at the back of his throat.  As his headlights dimly illuminated the dark road before him, he did something he hadn’t done since he was a small child.  He reached down and pinched off his penis, hoping to staunch the flow of hot liquid that threatened to burst forth.

This would be his third stop since leaving Indy where he bought the beer.  There had been one stop at an ancient Union 76 station in Martinsville and another at the Starvin’ Marvin’ in Bloomington.  At forty-six, his kidneys weren’t what they used to be.

He would have been a lot better off to stay with the interstate, but no!  He had to go and listen to McNally.  Chester McNally had worked this area before and claimed that the best route between Chi-town and Louisville was to run 65 to Indy and then skirt the city on the 465 bypass.  Halfway around, you jump off on 37 and take it south to Paoli, a wide spot in the road, where you would then pick up 190 for a straight shot over to Louisville.

“Nothin’ but Podunk towns from Bloomington on down,”  McNally’d assured him. “No speed traps or state cops either.  And hell!  The local mounties don’t know a radar gun from a squirrel rifle.  It’ll cut forty minutes outta your trip.”

Well, father south it might be all right, but so far there had been too many stop lights and small towns to suit Roger.  Once he got this big boat rolling down the road, he liked to keep it that way – cruise control on a steady seventy-five and the air and the tunes at full blast.  So after threading his way through Bobby Knight’s hometown, he started looking for a way to cut back over to 65 and get the show on the road.  Once back on the interstate he might just have to push that cruise control on up around eighty or eighty-five to make up for some lost time.  His radar detector, Cobra lay coiled on the dash, its red eye blinking steadily.

At Bedford, the dual-lane ended and so did Roger’s patience.  He pulled over and whipped out his Rand-McNally (certainly no relation to Chester!) and found a squiggly gray line which was designated state road 38 and seemed to wind its way in the general vicinity he wished to pursue.  The sound of tires spinning on gravel joined with the hissing crack of his last bullet as he opened it and headed out to cut his losses.

But 38 never made it to the interstate, it petered out with a detour somewhere south of a town called Snyder.  For the last hour, he’d been wandering the back roads, turning first one way and then another trying to find his way back to the highway.  Every time he thought he was heading in the right direction, he wound up back in Snyder and his frustration was reaching a seething peak.

Ordinarily, he would have asked directions in town but it was late and they’d rolled the streets up here a long time ago.

The road he was on now though seemed to show some promise.  He was almost positive it was running in the right direction and there were few of those sudden right-angle turns that were common to the smaller, less-traveled routes.  As he cruised slowly along beneath a bright, full moon, he searched for an area away from any houses where he might stop to relieve himself.

He was a salesman and as such he was not a bashful man in most things, but his bathroom habits were something else entirely. He suffered from what is sometimes called “shy kidneys”, and it was difficult for him to relax in a public restroom.  Many times he stood awkwardly waiting with sweat blistering his brow, while the man at the next urinal finished his business and went to wash his hands. Usually, he would be so locked up by this time that he would have to wait for the sound of the door slamming shut as the man left before his straining muscles would ease their iron grip on his bladder.  It was a source of great shame for him and he’d never discussed it with anybody.  Now he looked for an isolated area, knowing full well that, if he suspected for an instant he might be surprised, he would be unable to perform the function.

Luckily, he was having no great difficulty finding a secluded spot, there were few houses in the vicinity.  He passed a darkened farmhouse and his headlights swept the mailbox.  The name Burchill stood out in large reflective letters on its side, but Roger didn’t bother to read them, his mind occupied by more pressing matters.  He grunted as the car bounced through a series of potholes beyond the house and ground to a halt.  He shut off the engine and swiped a beefy hand across his face.  It came away wet.

“Jesus!” He groaned aloud.  “My back teeth are floating!”  His hand slipped once on the door handle and then he jerked it open.  As he heaved his bulk up and out of the car, an empty can rolled out of the back and went clanking underneath the car.  He paid no attention.  Roger Spearman was many things, but an environmentalist was not one of them.

The warning buzzer screamed at him to remove his keys from the ignition and he slammed the door silencing it.  Immediately the interior lights blinked out, leaving him alone in the deep dark on a country road in the middle of nowhere.

“Hold on baby, hold on!”  He mumbled through clenched teeth as he swayed drunkenly around to the back of the car.  He staggered comically, one hand still clutching fiercely at his crotch while the other fumbled with his zipper.  He leaned up against the rear bumper, hissed in a sharp breath as he released his death grip and fumbled his penis out into the night air.

The twelve silver bullets did their job and he didn’t have long to wait.  He sighed with relief as the thick stream arched through the moonlight and splattered in the gravel at the side of the road.  Roger stepped back, spreading his legs a bit to avoid being splashed and chuckled to himself.

“That must be why they call it pee gravel!”  He wisecracked.  “Here all these years I’ve been spelling it wrong.”

As the pressure eased and his leg muscles relaxed, he began looking about.  It had been a scorcher of a day, but now the night air was cool and sweet.  A gentle breeze wafted through his sweat-dampened hair and fluttered the cheap tie that hung loosely over his round belly.

Behind him across the rod lay a cornfield and before him stretched a well-worn pasture that ran on back to the edge of the yard at the farmer’s house.  A full moon drifted through the sea of clouds above and brightly illuminated the evening sky.  As Roger squinted and peered out into the pasture he saw what at first appeared to be huge rocks scattered here and there.  Upon closer examination, they appeared to be cattle, sprawled sleepily in the moonlight.   He resisted the childish urge to “moo” at them, but the thought made him smile.

He stood there, head tilted back, shoulders bunched, swaying slightly neath the stars until a noise from the darkness brought him out of his reverie. The stream of urine was cut off sharp, like someone kinking a garden hose.  He jerked his head around and scanned the road both ways.  Nothing but darkness lay either way and he began to think about just how alone and isolated he was out here.

It was well past midnight, and not a soul was stirring for miles.  There appeared to be no other houses on this god-forsaken strip of back road and no one on earth knew of his whereabouts.  He was lost and drunk in unfamiliar surroundings – a bad combination.   If anything were to happen to him way out here, no one would ever know.  Slowly like the dark stain growing in the road beneath his feet, fear began crowding into his brain.  He cast an apprehensive glance behind him into the dense growth of corn and then turned to look at the cows again.  Was it his imagination or had they moved?  They seemed to be lying loser now than they were before.  Now he found himself wanting to look in every direction at once.

Maybe he was just being foolish but all of a sudden this idea didn’t seem to be such a good one.  He could swear someone was watching him.  He could feel their evil little eyes upon him as sure as he could feel the night air, cold and clammy on the back of his neck.

Something definitely moved there in the corn!

There was a sly, subtle rustling sound and then… thump.   A heavy footfall.

Roger stared into the corn, his breath caught high up in his chest here his heart hammered mercilessly.  In desperation, he burned his gaze into the impenetrable curtain of stalks until his eyes nearly bulged from their sockets.

Nothing.

But there was something.  He knew it.  He was as certain of it as he was of his own name.

“Stop it, Roger. Cut it out!  There’s nothing out there, you’re just getting yourself spooked, that’s all.”  His mind raced into denial.  He was standing beside the road, penis in one hand and his head craning around to gape stupidly at the corn.

Slowly he let out a shaky breath and tried to finish his business. But, in an instant, he could see it was no use.  His nerves had him as locked up as if he’d been standing in front of a crystal urinal in the middle of Carnegie Hall with a thousand women watching his every move.  He stuffed himself back in his pants and decided to finish this somewhere else – preferably in a nice, brightly lit men’s room.  He would find his way back to the highway and head for the nearest truck stop or late-night restaurant.

Roger’s hand had just reached the door handle when the rasping chorus of insect noises abruptly halted.  Total silence rushed in to take its place and every hair on his body leaped stiffly to attention.  He halted in his tracks and waited, jangling nerves stretched and thrumming in his ears.

His horror-stricken mind screamed as his ears picked up the unmistakable sound of claws scratching the surface of the road behind him.  It was like dog’s nails on the sidewalk, only slower.  With agonizing stealth, they slid along the gravelly asphalt and clicked loudly.  He was dimly reminded of the click of baseball cleats on a lock-room floor.

Something big was behind him in the pitch black.  He could hear it breathing — slow and heavy, a trace of a gurgle at the base of it.  Deliberately, he forced himself to twist and look, his taught neck muscles reacting sluggishly to the command.  His head wheeled like a heavy turret atop rusted bearings.  He could almost hear the squeal of corroded metal as he forced his fat jowls to swing around to face the nightmare at his back.

As recognition flashed across his pallid features, a scream boiled up like steam and slammed its way out of his throat.  His bladder let go completely this time.  There were no issues with nerves to lock it up!  He turned back and scrambled madly for the door.  He could feel the beast charging forward as he yanked the car door open and dashed to throw himself behind the wheel.  Instinctively knew he wasn’t going to make it.

For the first time that night, Roger was right.

An enormous weight struck him from behind and propelled him forward, striking into the edge of the door.  The sharp corner of the window frame was driven hard into his chest and his breastbone split wide allowing his frantically pumping heart to be impaled.

The interior light glared like a beacon in the night, illuminating the blood which gushed from Roger’s chest and spewed in two strong streams from his nostrils onto the white upholstery of the car and running down the side window and door.  He flailed his arms and legs frantically for a brief moment, like an overgrown beetle, pierced upon a stick.  Then he slumped forward and expelled a huge, steamy breath – his last.  By the time the creature sank its teeth into the side of his neck, Roger Spearman was already dead and gone.  His eyes rolled heavenward and his body limp as a ragdoll.

As the creature drug his fresh meal back into the corn, no one was around to hear the sounds of the feast.  Even the cows scattered about like statues in the pasture slept blithely unaware of the carnage.

As the night wore on, the door ajar buzzer in the Lincoln droned on and on.  The battery was strong, six hundred and fifty cold-cranking amps of direct current power, so the interior light continued to glow bright and clear all night long.  The light attracted several moths and a bevy of June bugs swirled about and occasionally cracked their hard backs against it.  The crickets resumed their night chorus carrying them out in long ratcheting sighs which ebbed and swelled on past sun up.  And the moon contuned to sail high above, amidst iceberg clouds, watching over the darkened field as it had for eons.  The cool and aloof, silent observer to the long summer night.

Gradually the clouds drifted away and the sky lightened.  Off in the pasture, some of the cattle were beginning to regain their feet.  Roosters began crowing in the barnyard and a small pride of farm cats prowled along beside Sam Burchill as he walked out across the road and down to the abandoned car.  He gave only a moment’s notice to the dried blood that caked along the door and puddled in the driver’s seat.  His face remained an impassive mask as he climbed in and turned the key.  The big motor roared to life an purred nicely as he pulled it around to the back of his barn.

Sam left the car idling as he climbed out and slid the big red door back on its track.  Inside was a wide, open room with a few farm implements parked back in the shadows.  A flock of pidgeons flapped frantically about in the rafters overhead.  They stirred up dust which speckled the few shafts of light that lanced through the gloom.  The barn smelled of old wood and dry rot – warm smells that had percolated in the summer heat.

He pulled the car inside and killed the engine.  Hay fell softly down from the loft, sifting through the cracks in the ancient loft floor, as he pulled a musty old tarp over the car.  One red taillight peeked out from beneath the cover, reflecting the morning sun shining in from the east.

Sam didn’t seem to notice and didn’t even give a backward glance when he left the barn.  Darkness enveloped the Lincoln again as he pulled the door closed and trudged slowly up to the house amidst the swarming cats.  There was blood on the side door.  A splash from the garden hose would wash it out of existence.  Wash away the last small traces of Roger Spearman.

But first, this was a working farm and there were chores to be done.

The Hidden — Chapter Two Cont’d — T.D. Barton & Derek Barton

TH CH 2

 

Nate continued down the path, listening to the buzzing of the insects which heralded the last dying days of summer. As he walked, he glanced down to note imprints in the soft soil and a smile brushed his lips. Even a city boy like him could recognize deer sign when he saw it. From the looks of things, there were a lot of deer using the path.

After all, he mused, why not? Deer were abundant in this part of the country.

So much so, that farmers like Sam Burchill, the man who rented these fields from the former owner and now from Nate were constantly pressing for more lenient hunting laws to “thin the herd”.

Burchill was a large man with beefy arms and an amiable personality. When he shook hands with Nate, his grip said I am not a man to be trifled with, but you have nothing to fear if you treat me fairly and with respect. In many ways, he was like most of the area farmers — simple, but kind-hearted men who kept to themselves unless you asked for their help or their opinion.

“A deer can eat his weight in corn every day,” Burchill had educated Nate, during their meeting several days ago. “Damn things’ll eat their way through a cornfield, hop over into yer beans while bustin’ down yer fence in the process.  Then they’ll take out half an acre for desert and finish up by jumpin’ out in the road in front of yer wife’n kinds in the family pickup, causing you more grief than a bull in a china shop. What he don’t break, he shits on!”

Nate doubted it was as bad as all that and he had nothing against deer. He hadn’t had much experience with farmers, but so far, it seemed when it came to complaining, any old excuse would do.  In fact, he had hoped, by following the path as quietly as possible, to get a glimpse of a deer before it bounded off into the brush.

 

What a laugh, he thought to himself. If anyone had told me a few months ago that I’d be following a deer trail like some sort of modern-day Davy Crockett, I’d have told them they were out of their mind.

The smile left his face replaced by a look of curiosity. There was something else on the ground which made him wonder:  nestled among the deer tracks was a large boot-print heading in the same direction Nate had chosen.

Who else could have been following this path? Was Sam Burchill using the trail to inspect the corn? The thought somehow didn’t seem likely. Again he experienced a strange, uneasy feeling that he was not really alone out here.

Suddenly something big buzzed by his ear and he cringed like a child. An enormous insect, the size of a hummingbird swooped through the air and flew out of sight around a bend in the path.

“What in the hell was that?” Nate asked himself aloud as he chased after it to get a closer look. Prying apart two stalks of corn, he peered over a couple of rows until his eyes focused on the strange insect.

It wasn’t an insect – it was two! Joined together in reproductive bliss, a pair of large, green-backed dragonflies dangled from a leaf. Nate scrambled to pull his camera out of the bag slung around his neck. He willed his fingers to stop trembling as he fumbled with the connections on his 50MM lens.

“Hold on there, babies,” he soothed as he worked to install his 70-135MM zoom. “Just keep right on doing what you’re doing. That’s it, take your time, I’m almost ready… Show her what you’ve got, big guy… Hang in there…”

“Hah!” He swung the camera to his face, thumb and forefinger twirling the focus ring. As the coupling insects came into view, they leaped into the air and drifted off into the corn to continue their nuptial flight.

“Damn lightweight!” Nate swore as he began to remove the lens and then thinking better of it, he decided to leave it in case he encountered a deer… or anything else.

“Wham! Bam! Thank you, ma’am!” He called after them. And then to himself, he muttered, “Just a flight to the moon on gossamer wings.”

Today Zelda had taken her new Geo Tracker into town for groceries when Nate had decided to take this walk into the corn.  He had been puttering around in the flower garden in the backyard and then stepped out into the cornfield to relieve himself.

It’s my land, my field, he had thought smugly.  Nobody’s around for miles.  If’n I wants to pee, I’m agonna pee!

He had gone a few rows in and opened his fly.  There he’d stood gazing up at the stalks which were a full two feet above his head. He smiled in satisfaction as the heady aroma of urine rose to blend with the smell of corn, gypsum weed and fresh earth.  Something in the solitary beauty of the place had touched a nerve deep in his primal soul and made him long to travel deeper into the corn, following the rows west until he reached the edge of his field.

How strange that sounds:  my field…He mused.  And it was just one of several!

He ran back to the house, changed into a pair of shorts and tee shirt, opting to go barefoot so as to travel more quietly in case there were deer.  With that in mind, he had grabbed his camera bag but had paused in the open doorway.  He had debated on getting a canteen or maybe a thermos of cold water… Nah!  Never mind.  Better to travel light as possible, he had quipped.

Returning outside, he’d been amazed by how excited he felt about this adventure.  He had never been in the center of cornfield or any field and the prospect of this brush with the unknown made him feel quite alive.  His pulse raced; the world came into sharper focus than usual.  Everything stood out, crystal clear and sparkling in his vision – a living, moving, high-resolution photograph that he could walk through and touch.  Even his hearing seemed to take on heightened acuity.  The wind sang in his ears and the calling of crows from across the road was impossibly near.

At the berm entering the field, he had taken a deep breath and plunged in without a backward glance.  At a depth of five rows into the corn, he’d turned to look back, and was amazed to find he couldn’t even see the house or the buildings on his farm.  So tightly together were the plants spaced, they virtually engulfed him in a dense curtain of foliage, effectively marooning him in their own strange, alien world.

Here, the only sounds were those of the corn rustling and the insects singing.  The only smells were that of the corn and the earth.  The only light that entered was what the plants themselves allowed to filter through their broad leaves.  He’d wondered at the sheer peculiarity of it.  Time had no meaning.  It might just as easily be 1933 as 1993.  In fact, it could be anytime in the last two centuries or as long as man had been cultivating corn in straight rows and growing stalks that towered over his head.

Nate had toyed with the idea that if he concentrated hard enough and used his imagination, he could traverse the centuries.  When he stepped back out of the corn he might have traveled in time to the year 1880 and Billy the Kid or Frank and Jessie James could be waiting to gun him down.  Or maybe he would step out into the middle of a great civil war battle and General Lee’s boys would be lined up on the hillside, waiting to give vent to a blood-curdling rebel yell.  The possibilities were amusing.

He was mystified by the total isolation of it.  It piqued his sense of adventure.  He was at the same time awestruck and somewhat terrified.  The hair on the back of his arms came alive, crawling slowly up toward his shoulders and his mouth dry as a dessert tasted like the bottom of a birdcage.  Plunging ahead, he’d crossed five more rows and at a depth of ten turned and began walking west.  The leaves on the stalks, as he pushed his way along the row had a tendency to slash into his skin, leaving tiny lacerations like paper cuts.  But he found that by holding his arm out at a right angle to his body and using his forearm as a shield, he could deflect the leaves and thereby protect his face and eyes.

He had continued on for some time like this, pausing only occasionally to halt his labored breathing and cast furtive glances about his when some noise or other made him wonder if he were alone out here in the corn.  The oppressive atmosphere and spookiness of the place had just begun to make him wonder if this had been such a good idea after all when he stumbled across the path.

Fully five feet wide, it ran at an angle across the rows and on out through the field.  Almost no corn grew along its length, only occasional patches of nightshade and clumps of burdock or milkweed.  Bordering the path, stalks had been trampled and were either leaning at impossible angles or pressed all the way flat to the ground.

After his initial surprise at finding it and a bit of confusion as to what may be its course, Nate made the intuitive decision that it must be a deer trail and realized this was just too good an opportunity to pass up.  He immediately abandoned his original plan to follow the rows west and instead set off along the path to see where it might lead.

And after many twists and turns first one way and then another, it was petering out. The corn suddenly became much shorter and then ended abruptly at the west edge of the field.  Nate emerged into a clearing of such simple beauty and charm he felt totally overwhelmed.

The clearing occurred at the intersection of four cultivated tracts of land.  Before him stretching nearly to the horizon lay a bean field, its plants turning from deep green to a dazzling, golden yellow in the fullness of the late-summer days. Off to his right or northeast, more soybeans were planted but this field was much narrower than the field to the west.  It ended at the beginning of a huge tract of a wooded area, shrouded by the seasonal humidity in a hazy purple mist.  It was an extremely dense growth of forest and Nate was shocked that he owned such wild acreage.

He’d seen the plat maps, of course, and he knew there was timber on his land.  He’d even taken driving tours of the perimeter, but nothing had prepared him for this majestic stand of tangled growth.  His newly acquired property bordered the Hoosier National Forest, a vast area of natural wilderness stretching between Brown County State Park to the north and Starve Hollow State Recreation Area to the south.  Beyond this stand of timber lay miles of wooded area, this being just the very edge of that sprawling expanse of natural wonder. Nate made a mental note to someday explore those woods and maybe hike on out into the state-owned lands beyond.

Behind him to the east and south, stretched acres of ripe and tall corn, the ears bursting wide from their leafy husks, awaiting the picker.  After this to the southwest, the corn continued on out of sight, blending softly into the horizon.

These two immense acreages of cornfield were separated only by a fence row along which at intervals grew clumps of brush and scraggly trees.  They seemed to cling together like shipwrecked survivors on a shoreline of patchwork colors.  An occasional oak graced the presence of these smaller trees and here at the edge of the corn lay an entire grove of elms.  It was an island oasis in a sea of farmland.

After the clearing, which stood at the conflux of the four fields, the fence row divided the two bean fields edging the forest.

Above it all lay a boundless domed sky of deep blue, dotted here and there with clouds so white and fluffy they looked as though they’d been whipped from rich, thick cream.   The sun lay midway down the western sky, still warming the land and not yet coloring it with the amber tones of sunset.

The vastness of this land compared to the teeming city streets which bore him thrilled him in a way he could never express and it welled up inside him until he felt he would burst from happiness.

This was something he would have to share with his wife.  At the first possible opportunity, he was going to bring Zelda back here and show her why they’d come out here to the country. Yes, this was what it was all about!

A faint growl carried on the light breeze.

He spun around, scanning the stalks and the path intently.

Was there someone… there… in the corn?  Was that a movement?  His mind raced and his hands curled into balled fists.

Nate stood quite still for some time staring hard into the rows.  His breathing stilled and his heart quickened and instinctively he rose on tiptoe and pricked his ears, straining to hear what he could not hear – to see what he could not see.

In his college psychology class, they’d called it the fight-or-flight instinct.  It was a vestige of a time long ago when man was more often the hunted than the hunter. But that was in the dim past. Today all this instinct did was create chronic anxiety complexes in busy executives, too stressed out by their hectic schedules.  It was something common to city dwellers, so caught up in the rat race that they had to see shrinks to learn to relax.

None of that consciousness-raising crap for Nate Malone, thank you!  Mr. Malone has moved to the country for early retirement.  These days he spends his time wandering his broad estate and tending to the business of his land holdings.  He snickered, laughing at his fright and turned back to the clearing.

He walked toward the trees and again was somewhat taken aback by what he found there.  In the center of the clearing, someone had recently built a small campfire.  There were more of those boot prints he’d seen before.  Nate frowned and picked up a stick to poke at the dead embers of the fire.  A little wisp of smoke arose and Nate began to feel uneasy again, realizing that the fire was still warm.

Whoever had camped here and built that bed of cornstalks at the base of the tallest elm hadn’t left all that long ago.  In fact, they may still be watching, hiding in the corn.  That would explain the sounds Nate had heard and the strange feeling he’d been having all day that he was not alone.

What kind of person camps way out here away from anyone?  Nate wondered.  A hobo?  Or maybe someone on the run from the law?

Suddenly he began to wish he’d brought some form of weapon with him.  Turning slowly in a 360-degree arc, he searched as far as his eyes could reach in all directions.  It would be pretty hard to hide in the bean fields unless they were lying down.  The forest was a definite possibility…

And so was the corn…

It would be ridiculously simple for whoever made those prints to have ducked into the corn to wait and see just who was invading the privacy of his camp.

What if I had committed a crime and was on the run?  He mused. What if I was a cold-blooded killer and someone had just discovered my little hideout?  How would I react to a situation like that?   Depending upon how desperate this guy might be, I could be in real danger here.

 

Now, wait a minute, Nate.  You’re letting your imagination run away with you.  You’re probably much more in danger of being sprayed by a skunk out here than you are of being attacked by a psychopath.  No doubt, I’ve just stumbled across some vagrant’s bedding and he left early this morning, headed for town or someplace he might cadge a handout.

All the same, he decided that whoever owned this camp would not be all that pleased to welcome an unexpected visitor, so he took one more look around the clearing and headed back down the path for home.

As he followed the path back the way he’d come, he discovered little traces of the man who’d left his prints in the soft earth:  here was a wooden match, farther along he found some coffee filters, and then a popsicle stick.  All of these things supported his theory that a tramp had been the culprit.  After all, it was pretty hard to imagine a sadistic murderer blithely sucking on a popsicle while he planned his next atrocity against the poor unsuspecting public.

The closer he got to home, the more at ease he became until eventually, his spirits were soaring again. He found himself getting anxious to get back so he could tell Zelda all about his experiences and the wonderful little clearing.  By the time he reached the spot where he’d initially discovered the path, his feelings of being watched had all dissipated.  He felt jubilant and strong as he turned from the path and followed the tenth row east again to a spot he guessed to be behind his house.

Nate’s guess had been pretty good.  He stepped from the corn at the edge of his yard just about fifty feet from the where he’d entered.  As his toes sank into the soft green grass, he noticed the Tracker parked in the driveway.  Excitedly, he ran for the house.

“Zelda!” He called.  “Honey, I’m home.”  He felt he’d just lived through a great adventure.

***

So this was where the new Meat lived.

Dzhankah had been right not to attack it.  This one would be missed.  It belonged.  Had he given into his desires others would have come looking for it when it didn’t return.  Early as a cub, he had learned well his hunting ways.  He knew to only attack the strays – the ones who would not be missed.  Although he had never seen this one before, it became apparent to him that this one was part of the community – that it lived here in this house.

Meats were always a welcome addition to Dzhankah’s diet, but not if the cost were discovery.  This was the most important thing of all — they do not know of his existence.  For as much as he reviled them and looked down upon them for their simpleness, he knew that when they are aroused, they could be quite dangerous.

If they knew who had been pilfering from their herd, picking off the occasional loner or runaway child, they would not rest until he was tracked down and destroyed.  Dzhankah would not let this happen.  Not ever!

So tonight he would settle for venison again.  And tomorrow… tomorrow he would wait, he would watch and maybe he would find his opportunity. 

THE HIDDEN — CHAPTER TWO — T.D. BARTON & DEREK BARTON

TH CH 2

 

CHAPTER TWO – THE PATH:

Our lives are finite, limited things, but the path that appeared in front of Nate continued on forever. He stood in fascination, gazing down its curved length. The path wandered to the left and then swept back to the right again until out of sight.

No one would be able to see him there in the corn. His brow furrowed and he scratched his head in wonder. That had been part of the appeal of this hike in the first place. No one could see him or could have known he was there. Never in his life had he been granted a luxury to be nowhere, unseen and unnoticed. Isolated from the billions of men and women who swarm over the surface of this planet.

He had always been a child of the city — the great metropolis, Chicago. Born from urbanite parents who were themselves the offspring of immigrants from one of the great cities of Europe. There were no farmers in his family tree. No country gentlemen cast their genes into the pool of his ancestors. His recent acquisition of this sprawling farm in the rolling heartland had left him overwhelmed and out of his element.

Even before the first installment of the lottery winnings arrived, he knew that the first thing he intended buying was land. Somewhere deep down inside himself, his very being longed for stability and security of land ownership.

This had nothing to do with real estate values, tax deferments or any such financial considerations. This was about being in touch with something solid – something that had permanence and could bring meaning to his existence.

City life had bestowed a blithe obduracy upon everyone he knew including himself. It was to the point that all aspects of living held a vague blandness. There were no colors left in his world, only a miasma of smoky shades of dull brown and gray. His life had become a living embodiment of olive drab. Nothing shocked him anymore or touched off the spark of life necessary to maintain human existence.

From the time Nate quit college halfway through his sophomore year and took a job in a grocery store, his life seemed to stall. At age thirty-two, everything was planned out for him with no surprises.

First, he had started out stocking shelves.  He gradually ascended up the chain of command and earned a promotion to Night Crew Supervisor. Recently, he was promoted to the post of Head of the Produce Department. But still, he was trapped in a meaningless job and a do-nothing lifestyle.

As a result, his marriage suffered teetered on the brink of self-destruction. Night after night, he dragged home to find his wife, Zelda, waiting for him. They would alternately argue about trivial things or cling in desperation to each other. They did not understand what had become of the closeness they once had shared.

At first, she had believed in him.

“Someday,” he would promise, gazing into her quiet brown eyes. “I’m going to turn it all around — to make it happen for us, somehow. You just hang in there with me ‘til then, honey. I’m going to be something… something big…”

Zelda’s gaze would soften and her eyes would become dewy as a glimmer of trust would appear. She would smile as if to say, it doesn’t matter, my dear if you do these things or not because I love you. I may not always have confidence in the things you say, but I will always love you.

At least, that was how it had been early on.  As time went on and after so many speeches or promises, the degeneration of their relationship continued, he had been noticing it took longer for that glimmer to appear in her eyes. The look of trust had devolved into something more akin to patient commiseration or even reproach, depending on her mood.

God! How he hated THAT LOOK!

Some nights, in his dreams he would turn to Zelda for something and she would fix him with THAT LOOK.  He’d wake up in a cold sweat and he’d turn to her.  Invariably, she would be lying with her back to him, snoring lightly. Her dark hair a nest on the pillow beside him. He would wrap his arms around her and pull her close.  Ignoring her soft moans of protest as she continued to sleep, he’d bury his face in her back and pray that things would be normal once again. That he would wake in the morning to a world of bright colors.  Would somehow find a way to put his life back on track before he lost the love of this beautiful woman.

He felt deep down inside that he’d already lost her respect. The idea of waking in the morning and seeing pity in those eyes was a concept he didn’t even want to consider. Not if he were going to get any sleep at all. So he would close his eyes and pray.

Eventually, his prayers would bleed over into dreams. THAT LOOK stalked him relentlessly until the morning alarm would rescue him. Bleary-eyed, exhausted and defeated, he would trudge off into his gray world once again.

Something crackled in the corn a few feet to his left, breaking his train of thought. He whipped around to look – nothing was there. Suddenly, he was struck by the knowledge that no one knew he was out there in the cornfield, all alone.  An unsettling sense of dread crept over him.

He glanced around, feeling as though someone or something was watching him. His gramma used to say someone was “walking on her grave.” It was certainly as silent as the grave out there.  It was mid-September and summer had settled in for the duration. The days were sluggish, over-confident and unmindful of the fact that autumn lay just around the corner and would soon move in to send it packing like some fat old uncle who had overstayed his welcome.

The sun beat down out of a china-blue sky, baking the ground and making the light-brown leaves of the corn curl at the tips.  What breeze there was could not penetrate the rows of corn, but skimmed overhead brushing the tassels. The leaves whispered a soft, scraping sound as they whisked together.  In his disquieted state, the whispering mocked him in small voices — exchanging sinister plans below his range of hearing.

He stopped and peered into the corn, holding his breath and straining his ears to pick out the slightest sound. But all he could hear was his hammering heart and the plants rustling.

Shaking it off, he forced a laugh. He spoke aloud to ease his nerves. “You’ve just got a case of the willies.  Truth is, it is safer out here than walking down any street in Chicago!”

Chicago! Not only were they safer from crime here, but safe from the malaise that had swept into their lives, smothering the fires of their existence.

Here, we get the chance to start all over! Nate thought to himself. The lottery winnings had been a windfall, not only financially but spiritually. At last, they would have the wherewithal to achieve their dreams. It was like being set free from a terrible prison. Confinement of a heart without dreams was more oppressive than the vaulted walls of any concrete and steel institution.

But now we’ve bought our own land of dreams.

Here was a brilliant world of colors. In the early morning dew, sparkling yellow, violet, pink, lavender and white flowers were sprinkled about the entire countryside by a bright-eyed Mother Nature. Deep greens, dappled with sunlight in the late afternoon spread like plush tapestry across their front lawn. Bright, blue skies turned azure in the evenings. And finally, as the sun slipped past the horizon, it drew curtains of golden reds and oranges along behind it.

So abundant were the colors and the air so clear in this rural utopia, it sometimes hurt his eyes. But no matter. When the brightness did overwhelm him, he would close his eyes, lean back and drink in the freshness of the air. This acted like a magical balm upon his spirit.

This setting was going to do more for their morale and their marriage than anything else his seven-odd million dollars would buy.

It was when he bought this place that he really hit his jackpot.

***

 

Dzhankah didn’t know this one — this Meat was new, but Dzhankah would follow. Follow and observe…Stalking was his specialty.

His nostrils burned with the scent of him. It was heavenly sweet and tantalizing.  The fat, succulent flesh basted with a fine coating of sweat. And underlying it all was the enticing, heady aroma of adrenaline which coaxed and urged him to throw caution to the wind. Pounce, rend and tear the tasty morsels from the bone.

Afterward, oh what a joy to lie amidst the corn rows licking the sticky, cloying blood from his face and claws. Gnawing contently on a bone, pushing it far into his mouth so that his strong molars could crack and splinter it. The pulpy red marrow exposed, ripe for sucking…

But no! Not yet. His instincts checked his actions.

Survival was patience and caution; not by being impulsive. The time to determine opportunity had not yet come. There would be a time for feasting of that he was quite sure.

Drool escaped his lips, strands dripped slowly from the tips of his protruding canines and ran down along his chin to the edge of a leaf where it stretched into a sparkling string.

He leaned forward, straining with the effort to control his hunting lust…

2017 Bio Blog — Derek Barton

JJ 2016 #2

 

Recently I noticed a trend on Youtube.com where writers were making vlogs and answering questions about themselves as well as writing rituals and practices.  So, I thought I would do this as well and even throw in some random personal questions.  You can learn a few things I do as well as learn something new about me at the same time!

I will start with the writing ritual questions first and then get down to some random and fun facts about me.

  • When do you write?  I am a night owl which is perfect for my writing as I need the quiet time to be free of distractions.  These elements help me to immerse into my writing zone.  With my day job I am fortunate that it starts later in the day and I can sleep in!  Usually, I write from 11 or 11:30 pm to 1:30 to 2am.
  • How do you review what you wrote the previous day?  There is a lot of sound advice out there on how to produce more material on a daily basis.  The best tip so far that I picked up suggests to work non-stop and do not edit until you have completed your manuscript.  I cannot say that it was easy to resist the edit bug, but Consequences Within Chaos‘s first rough draft took me three years to write (I wasn’t as serious about writing and producing as I am now).  The Bleeding Crown, my sequel’s rough draft has only taken five months… I would say that this is proof enough that it helped me crank it out much faster.
  • What song is your “go to” when you are feeling uninspired?  I prefer to listen to classical music when I write.  Nothing but instrumentals.  At first, I used Pandora, but now I like to find large blocks of “epic music” on Youtube.  I let them play in the background as I work.  Depending on the type of story or my mood this can vary, but I do not have a “go to” song necessarily.  Soundtracks from Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings or Braveheart also have been able to motivate me.
  • What do you always do when you are struggling with writers’ block?  To avoid writers’ block and staring at a blank screen, I work up detailed outlines.  There are many benefits to outlines and developing character backgrounds.  Prepping is the key to getting into that writer zone — that moment your writing flows from your fingertips and there is no struggle to find the right word or dialog.  I have already seen the scene in my head and now I can concentrate on relaying it in the best descriptive details I can.
  • What tools do you use when you are drafting?  I used Microsoft Word like everyone else at first, but now I prefer the writers’ program called Scrivener.  It seems that there is no middle ground in opinions on it.  You either LOVE IT OR HATE IT.  I love it!  It has a great setup to store the work, organize the notes, templates for character write-ups, outlines, everything all in one file and place.  With Word, I had a million files.  Scrivener also lets you have split screening which comes in handy often.
  • What are the things you cannot live without when you are writing?  Pretty much what I have already discussed:  Scrivener has become an integral part of my work.  And Outlining a must.  Before I realized that I work best with a map of my story, I failed to complete most stories and/or lost interests or energy in the storyline.
  • How do you fuel yourself during writing sessions?  Diet Rockstars and Popsecret Homestyle Microwave popcorn.
  • How do you know when you are done writing?  For a typical writing session, I am done when my eyes are blurring and I cannot easily put a sentence together.  I strive for a certain word count (or if I am feeling energetic, I try to do a particular scene in one shot).  My goal is 750 to 1,000 words in a session but it depends on the night, the scene I am writing and my energy level.
  • How do you persevere on projects to finish them?  Again, outlines have become the “light at the end of the tunnel” for me.  However, they can be a detriment as well if you let it completely control your writing.  In some cases, writers have complained that they are too confined by the outline or they get thrown off if they have an idea that flows outside the outline.  Or if you do like I did at the end of my first book — I kept seeing how close I was and I literally blazed through the last part to just get to that “The End” statement.  It didn’t lend itself well to the story and took a lot of rewriting.  Now that I am more experienced I have a little better control of myself.  Whatever is the case, one important factor to remember is that outlines are constructs for your use, not words set in stone.  If something strikes you suddenly and it isn’t in your outline, then simply add it. See where the idea takes you in the outline.  It is much easier to amend, add or subtract from an outline than if you change your whole story, rewrote a massive amount of text to only find out it doesn’t work after all.   As you can see, I approach writing now much more on an organized, structured viewpoint (I have poured myself into reading a lot of advice books and writing craft material).  With my word counts per day and scheduling, I know roughly when I am going to be done. I would have to say that of the various stages in writing, outlining has become my favorite.  Building that foundation produces that momentum and drive I need to finish.  I know how the idea is going to end and now I just have to write it out so that I can share that fantastic story and ending with you!
  • How do you keep consistency in your novels?  Scrivener has become a large help with keeping notes and such, but I also utilize Excel charting, Pinterest for story sources and Word files for isolated notes (you can import these into Scrivener as well).  Also, I read once that if you go back through your manuscript after you write it and plot out all the events on a timeline as they occur in the prose, you will see any possible plot holes or events that happen out of order.
  • How do you handle when you are stuck in your plot?  OYYY That is so hard to get through.  I have encountered that when a question occurs to me that I haven’t determined the answer for yet or it has happened when I haven’t really fleshed out the outline enough for that part of the story.  Take a short break, move on to the next part or go back to your outline to further think of ways to move through the block.  Give yourself some distance from it so as to give yourself another vantage point to see the issue.  Also, sometimes you can hit up other writers to bounce ideas off or you can hit the internet for possible answers or options.
  • How do you come up with ideas to fill out your outline?  Pretty much the same answer as the above question.  Maybe think of a new subplot that would add to the story that you could weave into the outline?  Be careful though.  Don’t add filler or fluff just to make word counts.  Readers will see right through that.  Make the quality just as important as the quantity as well.  Filling up the outline takes a lot of thought and this is where I have had “writers’ block” and frustration, but ideas eventually come.  Some writers let their subconscious mull it over as they sleep or during the day while on their day jobs.
  • How long did it take to write your first draft and how many edits?  I already said that the first draft was three years, but it took another two years of editing, refining, reworking and adding to the story.  Then I had to determine which path I was going to take:  Traditional or Self-publishing.  I am truly happy with the self-publishing route and the entire process has been very fulfilling.  I have learned a massive amount about my writing, myself and the writing industry over the last year.  It has also enhanced my work and my techniques.  I am passing a lot of what I learned in blogs like this so you can also jumpstart your own paths.
  • How long do you wait to revise your first draft?  This time I waited over 5 weeks (it was not easy) but was way worth the “time off” to recharge, work on other projects and was a bit of an award for working so hard.  Now I am in the heart of my first edit.  Industry experts suggest 6 weeks.  It just so happened the first of the month came up during the fifth week so it felt right to start then.  The first time I didn’t take any time off after writing to wait to edit.
  • Is there a genre that is outside your comfort zone that you think would be fun to write?   Currently, I am a horror/medieval fantasy writer and I love both.  I like to write horror just a tad more but I love to read fantasy so much that I write fantasy stories for me.  I used to read an Ed McBain’s detective novels (87th Precinct) and Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes series has also inspired me to write in the “hard-boiled grim detective” genre.  I will be writing my Elude Novels during the NaNoWriMo Challenge this November.  I have been excited about it and so far I have gotten some really positive reactions from the samples posted online.

Now for some more personal stuff and random questions 🙂

  • Where were you born?  I am originally from a small town called Warsaw, Indiana.  I moved out to Phoenix, Arizona in 1996 and have loved it for over twenty-one years!  Summer year round is amazing.
  • What is your favorite pizza toppings?  I am a huge Hawaiian Pizza fan but it doesn’t take much to please me with pizza — just throw a couple types of meat and some cheese on it and I am there!
  • If you could eat anything right now, what would it be?  I love Snow Crab Legs!  Thanks go to my wife for showing me the great wonders of crab.
  • Where have you traveled outside the country?  I haven’t done much traveling, but I have been to Rocky Point, Mexico and various parts of Canada.  I would love to see Australia and Scotland in my lifetime though.
  • Who has been the biggest influence in your life?  Why?  The two authors that really influenced me are from two opposing genres — Stephen King, of course, made me dream of being a writer — many writers and would-be writers growing up in the 80s would agree with that.  I devoured every novel or short story I could get my hands on.  In my late twenties, I started reading fantasy and that became my new obsession.  I read and collected everything by R.A. Salvatore.  These two authors definitely shaped my writing voice.
  • What do you think is the best television show created?  I am really invested in the Game of Thrones series which should not shock anyone.  My favorite before that was Dexter (you see a theme here?  Fantasy/Horror.  I cannot seem to escape this trend!).  I have also really liked Penny Dreadful, Star Trek, Breaking Bad and the Walking Dead.
  • What do you like to do in your free time? What are your hobbies and interests?  I am a huge fan of racquetball, pickleball and tennis.  I also love hiking and occasionally I like to lift weights — which I need to make more routine!  Movies and video games are also a great source of inspiration and entertainment.  Absolutely love my family and spending time on the weekends with them especially.
  • Proudest moment in life?  Can’t help but say the moment when I first held Jessiena, my two-year-old daughter!  Every element of my life has led up to this wonderful little life in my hands and I wouldn’t have changed a thing!!
  • Do you have any tattoos and/or piercings?  I have a large shoulder tattoo that I am very happy with.  I designed it — it has a black Celtic knot in the center of a ring of three black, tribal dragon heads.  The knot represents the many convoluted ways you can take in life and the dragon heads represent the three aspects of my Past, my Present and the Future me.
  • Favorite holiday or time of year?  October and especially Halloween is the best for me.  It really brings out the creative side of me and I like to work up new costumes each year.  They tend to be nearly all undead but with twists or unique differences.  So much fun!  My wife is also going to dress this year (she hasn’t in a long time).  She will be doing the Day of the Dead look maybe.  Jessiena will be a tiny scarecrow.  She’s going to be so adorable!

Okay, I think that will do.  Hope this was useful and you got some helpful writing tips.  Or at least a little fun for your day!

Happy Halloween, Everyone!

Halloween 2015

Elude #4 — Derek Barton

Capture 4

 

Vicente was out of breath. The heat was exhausting and oppressive.  It was as if he was being smothered under thick wool blankets. He leaned against a park bench, gasping and his mouth gaped open and closed like a pet gold fish.

My lungs feel like they are filled with embers, he agonized.

The sun sunk below shapes of Camelback Mountain and disappeared from view, but Phoenix still baked alive in the twilight.

Shadows popped up everywhere and lengthened into jagged, rotted teeth.

There was no one in the park. He looked about him, paranoid and anxious.  Encanto Park was never this empty. Even in the early AM hours, bums and addicts roamed around the grounds begging for handouts or cigarettes.

Four, parked cars sat abandoned in the parking lot. The car owners were also nowhere in sight.

Ahead was an unlit, brick structure which served concessions and towels during the day to the squealing-with-delight kids that were lined up for the community pool. The ebony glass front reflected back at him, the interior empty and soulless.

He stood up and walked away from the bench. Pulling up his hoodie, he swiveled around and glanced again at the surrounding area as he crossed the lot.

This isn’t right, his instinct whispered inside.

His eyes couldn’t find anything wrong except something about the street lights that bordered the park. They were powering on, but only emitted tiny cones of light. At this hour, Vic was sure the park’s own tower lights should have been on. Patches of pitch black swallowed entire sections of the park.

An iron fence surrounded its interior. There were eight basketball courts, the hoops were silhouettes in the sky like forgotten soldiers in formation in front of the racquetball center. Behind the center, white lines which marked the tennis courts were barely visible.

No traffic came down 15th Avenue on the west side of the park grounds. In fact, Vic could not hear a single noise — car, person or otherwise. It was as if the city as one held its breath.

Night compressed upon him. Air thickened, wrapped its arms around him and the only noise he heard was his own heartbeat. More of the buildings in the distance were swallowed in pitch black. A charcoal wave washed along the western horizon, dots of light snuffed out one by one. They popped and twinkled away like shooting stars.

His skin prickled and an energy radiated through him. Fear lifted the hair on the back of his head. Involuntarily, he walked backward, away from the sight. After hours the gates were closed and the fences padlocked. This didn’t deter him. He heaved up and thrust his body up and over the top of the gate with a practiced precision.

He could see a set of cement dugouts above the dips of a skate park ahead. It wouldn’t be comfortable, but they would provide a little shelter and a place to sleep tonight. He tried to pretend all was safe and right.

“Park is closed.” A husky voice came out of nowhere behind him.

Vic spun on his heels to face it.

No one was there. His eyes strained to peer into the gloom.

He blinked. He blinked again.

The high rises of the eastern horizon were darkening. Their lights were not turning off but were diminishing. Fading as if their energy sources were drained to nothing.

All around the park, the city shut its bright eyes and slept inside the ebony blanket he saw earlier.

“Park is closed.” This time louder, the voice rasped over his right shoulder.

Vic spotted a lanky figure that hovered in the murky shadows of the racquetball center. The stranger surrounded in inky mists hadn’t been there moments before.

He couldn’t make out any features but he guessed by their stature that it was a man with a thick curly beard. Yet, he didn’t make any movement or sound.

“Hello?” Vic called out. In spite of being on the run and shouldn’t be attracting any attention, he felt compelled to react.

No answer.

“I see you!” He shouted.

The Beard started forward, his feet making no sound as they skimmed over the concrete. “I see you too.”

Enough of this!

He charged to the left, sprinting through the sands of the volleyball courts.

“Where are my hands, Vic?” A high-pitched woman’s voice followed after him, terse and angry.

He skidded to a stop and spun around, his eyes frantic and searching.

“Who’s there? Who said that?”

“You know who.”

The voice came from a lump of shadows where someone sat in the sand at the base of a park lighting pole. She struggled to her knees and bucked forward and staggered to her feet. Light played over her gaunt and bloody features. Dirt caked her cheeks and patches of white skull gleamed through her thinning blonde hair.

“Give them back to me. Give me my hands!”

What the hell is this?

“Park is closed.” The Beard had gained on him and was only a few feet away. His features were still obscured in the smoky mist that swirled about him.

Vic retrieved a serrated knife from his waistband and brandished it. “Get the fuck away from me!”

He swung the blade back and forth in a semi-circle of threat in front of him. His arm trembled.

“That isn’t your knife. Not the one you used before.”

Another feminine voice came at him from below, down by his sneakers.

A naked body, missing arms and legs, thrashed in a pool of syrupy blood.

“Where is the knife you used on me before you stuffed me in the trunk?” she garbled up at him, choking on ropes of clotted blood that oozed out along with her words.

Vic shrieked and leaped backward.

“Why did you do this to us?” He snapped his head up seeing another woman hung from a light pole in the tennis court area.  Her body on display in its mini cone of light.  Blood dripped in endless streams from dozens of cuts and lacerations. She was strung up with a white and blue-striped nylon rope.

“I DON’T KNOW WHO YOU ARE, BUT I DIDN’T DO THIS!” He screamed at her. Screamed at the top of his lungs, “I DIDN’T DO ANY OF THIS!”

“We all saw you.” They chanted as one back at him. A hand clamped down on his leg above the ankle. He felt the cold of her skin through the material of his jeans.

Vic twisted to escape, but his leg remained locked in her icy grip.

He shrieked again when he felt another set of crawling fingers work themselves up his right shoulder. A severed hand, pale and with freshly done fingernails, grabbed at his face, covering his mouth. He lost his balance and fell with a loud splash into the sand.

Two new, bulky shadows crowded over him.

“Make this easy, buddy. Tell us where the others are and we’ll work a deal out with them.” The fat detective said as he chuckled and drank from his Circle K foam cup.

“We don’t have to hand you over,” Kemp, the skinny black detective said as he knelt next to Vic. He poked a thumb at the thrashing body which was rolling closer. “You left her teeth. She’s going to use them.”

NOO! His mind screamed. Reality like a mirror cracked and splintered into shards. The world bucked up and down under him.

Pain exploded in his head and a lightning flash of agony blinded him. He rolled over onto his back groaning and clutching at his forehead. Rivulets of blood pumped up between his fingers. Daylight pierced his vision and speared directly into his brain.

As his headache blossomed into a migraine, he understood that the morning had arrived. He was laying in the concrete dugout among spit out gum and patches of dried dog piss under the stone bench which he had used as a bed.

The graphic nightmare replayed over in his head again. Not a single detail had faded. No dream had ever come so close to reality before for him. His breath was still ragged and his body trembled from the terror.

A familiar voice was inside his head. It spoke independent and on its own…

“Park is closed.”

Vic sat straight up.

“I see you.” The voice repeated, this time it followed with a giggle.

At eye-level, a serrated knife had been placed on the bench. It hadn’t been there when he had gone to sleep.

It was his knife though. The knife he left at the house he shared with Cat, packed away under his bed. Someone retrieved it, placed it by his head and left while he was tortured by the nightmare.

His lips pressed into a thin line and his jaw locked when he spotted two distinct and wet, bloody finger prints on the handle.

WHO THE HELL IS DOING THIS TO ME?

Elude #3 — Derek Barton

Blog pic 21

 

Elude #3

Vic felt the stiff metal of the chair pressed up against his back. The sweatshirt stuck to his skin and chafed around his neck. Inside the interrogation room, it was dead still with no AC blowing through the vents.

Just another old trick that they play. Keep the suspect in the room, make him sit there worrying about what he had been brought in for, what do the police know… Literally to make him squirm and sweat.  Vic surmised.

Then they will enter all smooth and nonchalant. Offer up a cold soda to get me to relax a bit. One of the cops, the good cop, will offer to take the can or glass away to throw away. Secretly they are gathering more evidence for fingerprinting and DNA for later.

He frowned and adjusted his chair.

Stop that! His mind scolded. They are watching you. Remain cold, emotionless. Don’t give them anything to work with. When they come in, you have to be the investigator. You’ve got to learn what they know.

His skin crawled with the feeling of their eyes upon him, observing him through the two-way mirror. Judging him not only on his past history, but by his race as well. He understood the reality of things. Yet, he still hated it, but he wasn’t going to fool himself to thinking that he would not be held accountable to a social stereotype either.

The last day and night had become surreal. It was as if he drove to that wealthy neighborhood and parked his car in another parallel reality. Nothing had made sense since he had stepped into her house.

He had to find answers if he was going to get through this and out of the elaborate steel trap that he was in.

A subtle knuckle rap at the door announced the entrance of the case detectives. The first was an older white cop with a scruffy, grey goatee, brown and unkempt hair above a set of sharp blue eyes. The detective following him stood a good five inches taller. A black and athletic man, close-cropped hair and a strong jawline. Although he seemed more of a younger, model-type, there was a sense of confidence that surrounded him.

Each had a drink in one hand and several manila folders tucked under the other arm. They joined Vic at the table, sitting across from him and opened their file folders without a word.

I am this week’s guest star on Law & Order. Madre! Vic made the dumb joke inside.  His nerves were ragged. Outside, he remained stone and stoic.

“Vicente Vargas, age 23,” said the black detective in a monotone announcer voice.

“Before we start, champ, you want a drink or something?” the other “Good Cop” offered with a shark grin.

There it was… and so we begin.

He shook his head with a tiny movement.

“You sure? Kind of hot in here, no?”

Vic stared away from them and did not acknowledge the offer. The longer he could drag this out, the better his chances were of getting information to be slipped out.

It was the exact tactic the two seasoned detectives were angling for.

Good Cop stepped up, “I’m Detective Chad Ellis. This is my partner on this case, Detective Payton Kemp.”

He still gave them nothing.

Detective Ellis continued to lead the conversation. “I see… you are a person of few words. Okay… Well, let’s not start that way. The more open you are with us, the more we are going to be able to help you out, Vicent.”

“Vicente.” Corrected Detective Kemp.

“Uh, yeah, sorry.” Ellis coughed into his hand and restarted, “Why don’t we go over the facts and then you can fill in some details for us?”

His eyes remained locked on Vic’s, looking for any signs of cracks in the foundation. The scan was penetrating and precise. Those eyes were focused, experienced and yet somehow haunted.

Like Cory Tames, Vic mused. The kid had been a meth junkie since he was eleven years old and had been serving his sixth drug sentence when he met him.

When Cory talked to you, his mouth said one thing, yet his eyes were alive with ghosts running around in his head. You almost could see them flash by.

There was something that the heavy-set detective had seen that reminded him of Cory. Something still hovered over him. Ellis hadn’t let go of it and it had stained his soul. Vic made mental note – Could I use that somehow?

“Yesterday evening around 4:30 to 5:30 pm, at 1718 Lioness Estates Drive, Shari Renee Thomas was stabbed to death. She had been butchered inside her parent’s house. At 2828 S Margo Drive, Vicente Anthony Vargas parked his 2007 Chevrolet Cobalt. Inside it, Officer Dan Reccard discovered her body.” Kemp read aloud to the room, then he sat back in his own steel chair.  Both detectives waited and watched.

Don’t give them anything. Vic repeated to himself in his head. Shari Thomas, remember that name. Wait.. They said she was killed between 4:30 to 5:30. I wasn’t there until after 6! I can use… No, they may be baiting me. Giving me false rope to hang myself. Dammit!

“Vicente, listen. You are in a world of hurt here. I want to understand what happened. Help yourself and take my advice. Now is the time to tell us your side of things. Tell us what she did.”

Their game of pleading, threatening, bribing, pretending went on for another half hour. He didn’t give them anything.

A knock at the door interrupted their little performance. After he answered it, Kemp rushed out of the room holding another manila folder. Five minutes later he returned and whispered into his older partner’s ear.

“Yeah? No shit?” Genuine surprise came out.

They both turned to look incredulous at Vicente.

Bullshit. Bullshit games, my main man, whispered Rory again in the dark recesses in his head.

Kemp returned to sit at the metal table across from the young Hispanic.

“You aren’t giving us much choice here, bud. I know we asked you earlier if you wanted your lawyer and you refused, but maybe this is your ploy. Are you a gamer, Vicente?”  Ellis started.

Vic felt more sweat gather at the back of his neck. He still averted his eyes, staring at the back of his hands in front of him. Something had changed, shifted in their favor.

“I know you are smart. You know a lot of the system since you did your earlier stint. Did you get taught some legal magic in jail? You learned some good tricks that will work this all out?” Kemp jumped in with a mocking taunt.

“Thinking that if there’s no lawyer maybe you can say that we didn’t allow you counsel or didn’t advise you to get one?” Ellis pointed at a corner in which a camera was directed at them, a tiny red light blinked.

“It’s all on tape. Just like the recording of you leaving the Thomas residence. “ He paused again to let that sink in.

“You need to start working this out with us, Vicente.”

Stone cold silence. No show of emotions.

Kemp turned in his chair and looked at Ellis. “Samantha Troy? Do you think…?”

Ellis scrunched his face and then shook his head slowly. “I hadn’t thought of that, but why?” He shifted back to Vic, leaned over the table and clasped his hands in front of him. “We have the body. Are you going to admit to this? Perps like you have gotten themselves away from the death penalty by being cooperative and leading us to the other bodies.” His tone was flat and matter-of-fact.

Yet, when he said “Perps like you” an expression flickered across his face. A crack in his practiced foundation. A glimpse behind the detective mask to the disgusted and angry hero wanting justice. That look scared Vicente. It was an honest and deep emotion — brief but revealing. He exposed a truth: they have actual hard evidence.

Oh god, I am in so deep!

Vic met the detective’s gaze for the first time, his top lip involuntarily trembled. “I didn’t hurt that girl. I didn’t know her.”

“Who is this then?” Kemp slid a head shot of a dead woman at him. A pretty, red head with cloudy white eyes stared up at the photographer, but Vic felt those dead eyes pierce into him.

I don’t know you!

“Who’s hands are these?” Kemp slid another photo of the hands from the backpack.

The older detective slapped his hand down on the pair of pictures startling Vicente. “Why do you have them if you had nothing to do with their murders?”

“WHAT?” Vic blurted. “Murders?”

“I am going to run her DNA and find out her name soon enough. You would save us a lot of time, you would give her family closure and you would go a long way to bettering your situation, IF YOU TELL ME WHO THIS WOMAN IS!” Ellis pointed at the cut hands.

Two dead girls. And they think there’s more.

“Is this Samantha? Did you kill Samantha Troy?” Kemp asked in a more even tone.

It was like a one-two punch followed up with an uppercut to his jaw. The detectives had him boxed in and on the ropes. He even felt like the room was spinning.

“I want a lawyer.” He rasped.

The detectives sighed in unison. They felt that they were on to something. A confession, a rant, a breakdown, something… It had been close in hand. Whatever it was, it didn’t happen and their window had past.

Kemp spoke out loud for both Ellis and their prisoner to hear, “He’s scheduled to be brought downtown on the transfer at 9 am. We can speak with him and his lawyer then. Give him time to rethink his story and be more willing to save himself the needle!”

Vic lowered his face into his hands.

 

***

 

Bernice Baxter was a bitch.

She knew it, she embraced it. It normally made her job and her life easier. Or at least easier to get her way. People did not like conflict and many would give way rather than stand up to you.

Once more and for the seventeenth time that morning, she looked at her watch. It was 8:12 AM.

From behind her she heard the familiar jingle of The Price Is Right playing on the television in the front room. With her hands on her hips, she glanced over her shoulder. She saw Anna Witherspoon, Bernice’s shut-in patient who sat propped up on the couch with three pillows behind her. She giggled and smiled through her oxygen mask at the TV as the show began.

The rotation of “Idiot TV” was starting — first The Price Is Right, then The Jerry Springer Show and then Judge Judy all before the lunch hour. These shows were dumbing down America she felt and were exactly what was wrong with this country.

Don Witherspoon, Anna’s oldest son was overdue from his work shift.  He should have been there by 7:30 AM.

Bernice hated her work taking care of elderly. She was always disgusted and dismayed at how the body deteriorated at the end of life and it often required a lot of care support.

Days like this one she wondered again how she fell into this line of work and how she managed to stay in it. Her lack of bedside manner had kept her out of any nursing positions, but her lack of ambition had stalled her life early in her twenties. Her late husband had kept them afloat with his antique shop. Now a widow and making due with her low wages, bitterness was her true obsession in life.

“Can I have some cereal at least?” A petite, brunette girl whined from the upstairs hallway near the bedrooms.

“Shut it!”

“But—”

“Shellie, I don’t get paid any extra for you to eat. I am not here to take care of you.” Bernice berated her in icy tones.

Don’s only child was a seven-year-old oddball. Currently she had the girl sitting in the corner on a little footstool.

Bernice didn’t like her from the start. If she had been seven years old too she would have gathered a group to jump Shellie and would have beat the snot out of the brat. In her day, that was just what you did to the oddballs — the ones that didn’t quite fit in and they didn’t get why.

The mousy girl always had her face in a computer screen or eyes glued to her smartphone. That morning Bernice had walked in on her watching Youtube videos on the basics of computer hacking. When she had reached for the laptop, Shellie had shouted at her and pulled away.

Bernice had slapped her a hard sharp smack across the top of her thigh. The girl’s shorts would hide any marks or bruises that formed.

She smiled knowing that the girl would be too modest to undress in front of her daddy so there was little chance of being discovered accidentally. Shellie was smart though. She wouldn’t say anything to Don and risk getting worse from Bernice. This wasn’t the first time one of her patient’s had a brat to deal with.

Bernice Baxter was a bitch.

“Next we will have our winners Spin the Wheel after these messages from our sponsors!” Drew Carey bellowed in the background.

Don Witherspoon burst in out of breath through the kitchen door. The clock on the stove said 8:26 AM.

He was covered in sweat and his beige uniform had several patches of sweat.

“I am so so sorry, Ms. Baxter!” He apologized.

“No more,” she shook her head in emphasis. “I am quitting. Not only are you late again, but your daughter kicked me this morning! And on top of that, I am going to be stuck on the 202 an extra hour due to the morning traffic! Too much. I am done!”

She’d practiced the speech in her head almost a dozen times while waiting. He had no one else to go to. Timing was critical and finally she had enough to threaten to quit… unless he offered her more money. She had him by what her Eddie would have called “the short hairs”.

Swiping her big green purse from the table, she brushed rudely past him and out the door toward her rusting 2006 Chevy Impala parked on the street.

He raced after her begging for another shot. She made him suffer until she reached for her car door handle. Finally turning to face him, “The only way I can put up with Shellie and your mother any more will be if you pay me an extra $2 an hour. NO LESS!”

Don blanched in surprise and then sagged in defeat. He shook his head in agreement. “I will have a talk with Shellie, I promise. Can you come by tomorrow? The register locked up today and I will have to go in to the laundry mat early tonight to balance out the drawer. Please?”

“Fine.” She didn’t care about the extra time tonight. Her victory elation overshadowed the inconvenience.

As she drove away she watched him in her rearview mirror. “Dumbass!” She laughed and then headed for the freeway.

At 9:12 AM, Bernice pulled out from the onramp and merged into the rush hour crowd.

It was hot already, the radio stated it was nearing 96 degrees. She frowned and punched the button to look for a country music station.

At 9:16 AM, the Impala lurched forward and sputtered like it had a gas hiccup.

“What the hell?” She shrieked. However, the car continued to race along at 48 mph. There were no red engine lights or any other dashboard signals to account for it.

“I just got this damn thing an oil ch—” The wheel yanked to the right on its own and the car brakes plunged to the floor by themselves.

Car horns blared and deafening tire screeches surrounded her. The Impala skewed to a parked position in the fast lane. Cars whizzed by close and narrowly avoided her.

Bernice screamed and smashed her foot on the gas to try to get the car moving again.

Nothing…

“Oh dear lord!” She mouthed the words as she tried the door handle. Her breath taken away from her intense terror.

The door wouldn’t open, all were locked.

The Impala growled and then revved fiercely as if it were alive and had a mind of its own.

Again Bernice screamed as the car ripped across the three lanes of oncoming traffic. It barreled through the cement barrier.  Flung forward, she broke her sternum on the steering wheel at the same time the air bag deployed.

At 9:17 AM Bernice Baxter’s car nose dived through the air, plunging over 80 feet onto the unaware traffic below.

The blinding air bag prevented her from seeing the impact of her car as it plowed through the front cab of a long, grey prison transport bus. A bus headed for the downtown Phoenix Jail.

Bernice Baxter blinked for the last time as her eyes filled with blood. She hung against the bus’ hood and partially out of her shattered driver-side window. The back door to the bus burst open and men clad in orange jumpsuits fled in all directions down the freeway ramp.

Flames flickered and scalded her pulped legs as engine oil and fluids flooded the ground.  Her skin darkened and her flesh sizzled like bacon.

She didn’t feel the heat or the pain.

Bernice Baxter would never see her extorted raise.

Bernice Baxter had finally ceased being a bitch.

 

***

 

At 9:20 AM as Don Witherspoon scolded Shellie on how her abusive behavior had cost him, a miniature, green light blinked three times in a rapid series on her laptop. It had laid abandoned in the sheets of her bed.

A fire engine horn blast followed by the sounds of several wailing police cars could be heard somewhere north of their house. Neither of them noticed nor heard the emergency sirens.

Neither of them noticed nor heard the single bleep and soft hum of a file download beginning.

2017 Bi-Monthly Goals for July & August — Derek Barton

Blog Pic 7-10-17

July & August Bi-Monthly Goals

Recently, I came across an interesting video blog on Youtube from fantasy novelist, Kristen Martin. She outlined her “bi-monthly” goals for the months of January & February. I liked the process a lot and I could see how it would be a great motivator for me.

The main aim is to break down your “bigger picture” goals into easier, more obtainable goals. These can be both professional as well as personal. The other part to the process is to publicize them as this gives you a sense of accountability. If I can accomplish at least 12 of the 15 goals then that is 80% which is a “winning” and successful score!

I will be revamping these again in September. I will give you a rundown of how I did and then a new or revised list.

Here are my goals for the next two months:

1. Finalize my Chapter Outlines for The Bleeding Crown: I am a big time “plotter” as they say in the industry. I write faster and have better quality of work if I know where I am going in each chapter.   You can think of it like a road map.  Some authors write by the seat of their pants (“pantsers”), but when I did this, I found I would always get lost. Then I would lose enthusiasm for the story and not finish. For this story, I know exactly where I am heading and how I want it to end. The difficulty is to determine all the little steps along the way on that road getting to the finale!

2. Complete the First Rough Draft of Bleeding Crown: I have been putting a lot of effort into writing the first draft and have three quarters of the story down. Unfortunately, I am quickly coming up to the end of what I had written for the outline. Thus, goal #1 and goal #2 go hand in hand. If I don’t do #1, I won’t get near #2. Sighhhhhh

3. Complete 52,000 words written (52 days * 1000 words):  This ties into the other goals, but even if I finish The Bleeding Crown, I have my Elude series.  I want to accomplish this so I have even more on my site and Amazon for my readers to dig into.  A 1,000 a day is actually not that hard for a lot of writers (Stephen King does over 3,000 every day), but that IS his only career… HA!  Once I can comfortably do this on a daily basis, I will be increasing it.

4. Outline first two books of Elude Series:  A lofty goal for me, but without the stretch goals I won’t know for sure what I can actually accomplish or not, right? I am enjoying this genre as much as I enjoy my fantasy work (both have my biggest love – horror).  I was inspired to write the Elude story after reading Stephen King’s novel Mr. Mercedes which is a great “grim detective” series (he also added a lot of horror elements to this genre story too!).  The novels are all going to be relatively short (under a 100 pages each) as I want them to be an on-going series and I want to build that anticipation element to it.  Plus right now “short is in” on Amazon and writers are finding success with this approach.

5. Write out three more Elude Sections: I am including the first five sections of the first book for Elude on my blog. Would love to hear your thoughts, suggestions or if any of you have questions about the story. Another appeal to this work is that it takes place in my city Phoenix! I moved here when I was 26 and fell instantly in love with it. Now I can take you, my readers, on a whirlwind tour through Vicente’s eyes!

6. Compile and create an Ebook on the Writing Craft from my past blogs: I have kind of already done a part of this. I put my self-publishing and writing blogs together, but have not edited or refined them in any way. The idea is to put them in a non-fiction ebook. It will be my take on the writing craft and what has worked well for me and what has not gone according to plan.

7. Design bookmarks for my books: I do have a couple of bookmarks already that I can sell when I get back into the comic-con game. But I want more and will be coming up with some new ideas from the books. I want to sell these also from my site.

8. Get the character portraits from artist by August and start getting Poker Card and Calendars made: This is another lofty goal as there are a lot of characters from Consequences. Plus, he’s also got a busy schedule and life! This is my goal, but it does require some successful production from him as well.

9. Complete two Giveaways (one on Kindle Review and my own Indie Book Giveaway): I have signed on for another book giveaway on the site Kindle Review. It’s called A Midsummer’s Dream. A cool production that I am happy to be a part of. The other giveaway, of course, is my own, The Indie Fantasy Book Giveaway, which I have been heavily marketing. It has been slow growing, but I am seeing some success with it. This will also help me out on building up my email mailing list. I do love the website traffic I am seeing from the giveaways. This month has already broken my all-time records for most visitors in a month!

10. Complete one Newsletter a month: July’s was already sent out last week and I should have another one out in the first week of August.

11. Read one writing craft book a month: Reading about my writing to me is incredibly essential. It has raised the level of my writing in a short time. It has helped me learn what the current trends are and given me the tools to produce a more polished product than when I started writing again back in 2010.

12. Prepare for book convention in Tucson: I would like to go this convention, but not sure how financially set we will be for me to do so. We have had some setbacks lately and it has stalled my participation in the comic-cons or book shows. Not only do you have to pay to take part and reserve a table, but you also have to pay for the inventory to sell. There is also expenses for travel and any hotel accommodations to consider if you are not doing it locally.

13. Get booth banners: Again this is an investment I would like to make, IF I can get back into the comic-con circuit by the end of the year. I may have to stall on this one and let it go on future month goals coming up.

14. Strive to walk 3 miles a night, workout set at least once a day: The heat in Phoenix this year has been devastating. Last year we did have one or two days over 120 degrees. This year it has been over 120 degrees off and on for a week and a half. The days it hasn’t reached 120+ has still been very oppressive. When I try to walk at night, I have gotten severe headaches. This heatwave won’t last forever, but it sure does feel like it. I moved to get summer year round (lived in the Icy Hell of Indiana for 26 years) – I don’t regret the move, just cannot wait for our normal weather to come back. This fitness goal is to help me with my bigger goal of losing weight. I want to lose 40 by the end of the year!

15. Create a book trailer video: Another high bar goal, but I have been toying with the idea. I have a lot on my plate and with my day job, it doesn’t give me a lot of “free time” to experiment and toy with the technology out there. It may happen, especially since I now see it is not that hard or even expensive to do. The time to research and find all the images is the obstacle.

This is a lot of minor goals, but if I can accomplish this in two short months, then my overall success for the entire year will be very fulfilling indeed. I realize that there is a good chance that most of these will not get completed, but it still helps having them written out so that I see my targets and the road ahead that I need to take.

2017 INDIE FANTASY BOOK GIVEAWAY!!! — Derek Barton

Contest Ad 2017

Starting Saturday, JULY 1ST, you can enter into my INDIE FANTASY BOOK GIVEAWAY which will have 6 WINNERS!!

Top Winner will receive $100 Amazon Gift Card, 8 EBOOKS (2 Best Selling Fantasy Ebooks and an Ebook copy from each of the 6 above-listed authors.)

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KM WEILAND — Dreamlander

DEREK BARTON — Consequences Within Chaos

SUSANNE LAMBDIN — Seeker of Magic

NESA MILLER — Alamir

NATALIE WRIGHT — H.A.L.F:  The Deep Beneath

LS O’DEA — Lake of Sins: Escape

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EMILY R. KING — The Hundredth Queen

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D O  N O T  M I S S  O U T !!

 

Elude #2… — Derek Barton

Capture hh

Like a bolt of lightning, Vic sprinted back into the house, nearly knocking the screen door off its hinges.

He blazed a path through the living room, hopped over a clothes basket in the hallway and bulldozed open the back porch door. The heavy footfalls of the police officer hadn’t left his ears and he could hear them chasing after him.

“OH MY GOD, VICENTE! WHAT DID YOU DO?” Cat screamed from somewhere in the front of the house or the front yard.

“Stop!” Reccard called out to him, he already sounded winded.

Vic kept his pace and scrambled up and over the backyard gate. When his feet hit the gravel of the alley way, he shot to the west. His best chance was to get closer to the campus, get among a crowd. He needed time. Time to know what had just happened and time to think of his next move.

Above all, Vic didn’t want to go back to a cell or have to leave Cat again. Until today, he put faith in the idea that things were going to work out for them. Cat would get back into her schooling, finding herself and making a career. He would be careful, avoid trouble and maybe even do something to better himself.

But was that all dusted? He wondered to himself as he pelted headlong to the end of the alley.

There was a struggling strip mall a few blocks west that was his first goal. The parking lot would be busy enough at this late hour of the afternoon. He would make for the Spry’s Grocery Store. Plenty of shoppers getting tonight’s dinner.

Sirens blared at the other end of the alley behind him. A police cruiser barreled down the from the other end of the alley trying to play catchup.

Not breaking stride, he cut right at the end and pumped his legs faster. He had to get to that parking lot first. He heard several dogs beginning to bark at the commotion and the siren.

What the hell was in his car? His thoughts whirled around the image of blood dripping in a steady stream from holes in his trunk. I didn’t see anything in the house and no one came after me. How can this be happening?

Three blocks ahead he saw the sign for the grocery store and the various tiny, oddity mall stores. As he knew it would be, cars were streaming in and out of the lot. He weaved around them and then made a straight line for the entrance.

Sweat poured down his neck and between his shoulders. His black curly hair was matted at the sides around his ears. Vic crossed the entry and stopped catching his breath. He knew he had out ran the first officer, but he only had seconds before they arrived in the lot.

He tried to not attract any more attention but walked in a brisk pace toward the back. Below the neon sign for the Produce, an arrow pointed toward the restrooms. A man in his late fifties guided a cart with stacks of open boxes through a set of double plastic doors.

“Excuse me, didn’t see you. Need a window in one of those swinging doors,” he complained.

Vic nodded only and swung around him. In the back, lighting was very poor. One of the fluorescents flickered and buzzed like an angry bee. A cloying, rotted citrus smell bowled into him and nearly made him gag up his late lunch. More stacks of fruit boxes take up the majority of the room and line two of the cement walls. A desk and a corkboard covered in Postit notes saddled the other wall. An open doorway led to an even darker, back stock room and docking port. He could see a glowing-red exit sign above a metal set of double-doors.

Without thinking, he pushed the door open and triggered a piercing alarm.

Damn! Damn damn damn, he cursed to himself. He knew better. This would be obvious; he’d just blew his advantage.

“HEY KID!” The produce clerk returned to the room and called after him.

He dashed to the left, avoided the sloping dock ramp and went parallel to the back of the strip mall shops. Around the corner at the back end, he shot up and over a low, cinder block wall. He landed on a tree-clustered, dirt bank. Ahead of him he spotted several two-story town houses.

You ever in a race, change it up – find new clothes fast! It will give you another chance to confuse’em.

Another pearl of jail time wisdom from his former cell mate, Rory James Cole.

He froze in his tracks as an idea popped into his head. Rory’s younger brother, Durojaiye “DJ” Cole might be willing to help him out. The two had been in the same grade in Brinton Middle School, but Vic had hung out more with Rory back then. And the police wouldn’t have him as one of Vic’s known associates.

Looking through a window of the nearest town house, it appeared empty. He removed his shirt and wrapped his fist in it. Praying to himself that the owners didn’t have an alarm, he broke the back door’s window pane.

Once inside he was quick with a decision and raced upstairs. There were three bedrooms. He chose the master bedroom.

The walk-in closet had exactly what he wanted: a pullover ASU sweatshirt, grey sweatpants and a baseball cap.

They won’t be looking for another college student, they will be looking for a hispanic kid in a teeshirt and jeans. He grinned to himself.

When he begun to untie his sneakers, he discovered that they were stained red with gore.

He rummaged through the dirty clothes thrown on the floor and lucked upon some oversized sneakers. He also discovered hidden among the dirty clothes a matching ASU backpack.

He stuffed a few more extra sets of clothes in the backpack.

Next to the bed was a black oak dresser with a lamp, several worn out paperbacks and framed photos. He picked up a photo of a young couple on a white sand beach. Seeing the smiling faces of the occupants gave him a twinge of guilt and he started to go for his wallet.

“Shit. No. Sorry, I may need this money. You aren’t on the run from the police.”

He spoke the words, but it was Rory, always the survivor, that was inside his head. Don’t be no damn fool!

He left by the front door and walked with faked confidence. He carried the sneakers and stuffed his shaking hands in his jeans pockets.

Several blocks over he made a beeline for the entrance to the Tempe Town Lake Park. More sirens were working their way through the neighborhoods and closing in. He lowered the brim of the baseball cap another inch down.

The sun had finally dipped below the horizon and the park lights were stubborn to show themselves. He crossed over 1st Street, cutting through another pair of town house complexes.

In the shadows of the shoreside, he threw his jeans and sneakers into the flowing water of the man-made lake.

A police helicopter flew west of him, headed to the neighborhoods by the grocery store no doubt. Instinct still told him to take the extra steps and remain out of the light of the streetlamps.

Now that he had accomplished goal number one, he rested at a metal picnic table. It was one of his unique strengths: calm under pressure. His mind was quick to compartmentalize most situations, or obstacles. Time after time, it walked him through situations in juvie or jail.

I can’t stay here long, he determined as his mind worked through his options. Light Rail! Yeah, that’s good. It will take me over to DJ’s neighborhood and I can still keep within the crowds.

***

“Yeah? That does sound just like Rory.”

The two were in the living room on beaten down leather couches. A haze of Mint-Madness vape smoke floated through the room. DJ pulled again on his brass vaporizer.

Unlike his brother who was a beanpole and looked like he missed too many meals, DJ was near 5’7, stocky and with short, tight dreads. He also had a never-ceasing smirk on his lips.

“Your brother with just a few words could get a prison riot started in a convent!” Vic lamented and laughed.

“I know, right?”

“But he never failed me or left me out there to hang. I owe him a lot. When is his trial date?”

DJ got up and crossed to a cluttered kitchen counter. The court summons was buried in mail and loose papers.

“Uh… here.” He snatched it up and read it to himself. “Next May. May 9th.”

Rory was facing his fifth appearance in court for a Breaking and Entering charge. This conviction would garner him the designation “career criminal”.

The two went quiet and DJ plopped back down on the couch with a bowl of cheese puffs.

“You sure it’s cool for me to stay on your couch tonight?”

“Sure. Sure.”

“I will be out before 5. They’ll never know I was here and you won’t get any heat for this.” Vic was grateful on the chance the kid was taking on his behalf.

“Would you mind handing me that bottle,” DJ pointed at a Coors that stood on the corner of a glass coffee table. “So… you didn’t even know this girl?”

Vic shook his head and rubbed at his nose with the back of his hand. “I went in the back door — there was a note telling me the front door was broken. And when no one answered I tried to find her.”

“Dude… you went inside?”

“I don’t know what the hell I was thinking. Too much sun baking my head today I guess.”

“What is your plan for tomorrow?”

Vic took a long drink from his own Coors bottle. “I don’t know, at least not yet. I freaked out. Panicked with that cop right there looking at that puddle.”

DJ ate the last puff and stood up. Yawning, he said, “I am going to check the news on the computer and see what they are reporting. I can tell you in the morning before you leave. Get some rest. I am sure that this will work out. You didn’t do anything.”

He stated this as a matter of fact, but his eyes asked the question.

Vic replied in a hushed tone, “Nothing.” Then he raised his empty bottle with his own inquiring eyes.

“You will want to take it easy on those. Clear head is going to save you in the morning. Here, give me that backpack. I will throw those clothes in the washer. You never know what might be on them… College students are walking STDs these days, you know?”

Five minutes later, DJ called out from the back of the apartment, “Oh, hey! Are you hungry? I got some free pizza in the fridge.”

“Free?”

He chuckled, “They delivered this pizza here when you were in the shower, but I didn’t order it. The driver said his shift was over anyway and he was going to report the owners as a ‘no show’. So he lets me just take it.”

“Glad my luck is rubbing off on you.” They laughed, but it felt forced and awkward. He was beyond exhaustion and the day’s events were starting to hit home.

“JESUS DUDE!” DJ cursed.

There was sheer terror in his voice.

“WHAT’S WRONG?” Vic shouted back.

When there was no answer, he worked up his courage and went to find his friend.

DJ stood next to the washing machine, the backpack spilled open on top of it. A pair of pale white hands, butcher-cut at the wrists, were nesting inside.

“You son-a-bitch!”

“I… No, this…” The beer lurched up in his stomach and he vomited suddenly into the corner of the room.

From over his shoulder, Vic heard, “I am at 1984 W Dunlap. I need a police officer NOW!” DJ spoke into his cell phone.

He then put a hand over the phone. Through clenched teeth, “Do the right thing, bro. Turn yourself in.”

Vic could not even look at him. His eyes remained locked on the bloody stumps. The finger tips were painted in bright pinks, yellows and polka-dots of blood.