Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Night My Family Died and How Fat Duck Nearly Broke My Neck….

In The Blog Tonight: The Night My Family Died, how Fat Duck Nearly Broke My Neck, my upcoming appearances,  my movie review of I am Number Four, an update on and excerpt from Ripped From My Cold Young Fingers, Thanks to Alex Le Soum, the UK author of Space Turbulence, who reviewed The Santa Shop, and more…
The Night My Family Died: I was taking my first creative writing course. My college professor was an older woman who was constantly glancing my way in class, almost as though I was an oddity to be categorized and explained. She once asked me to read a portion of a story aloud but then rather than critiquing my segment as she had with the other students, she fell silent. Another day, she asked the class to write a story within the duration of the class. I finished mine and received the highest grade in the class. She then said, “We know you can create a free-flowing narrative, but I’m betting you’ll have a tougher time with structured non-fiction.” She assigned a standard “problem, argument, summary” format. I found it fairly straightforward excercise so wrote both a factual essay about the “problems with” nuclear power and a spoof about the “advantages of” nuclear power. Of course, children that glow in the dark thereby saving energy, and children with muliple extra limbs for harvesting the garden were positive points. Needless to say, I had hurdled another of her challenges. We were about halfway through the semester when she asked us to write a true essay about our past. This is more or less what I wrote…
From the time I was an infant, I remember being frightened of noises at night. I can’t explain why but I always felt that my family would one day be in danger. There were six children in my family back then, and I was barely seven when it happened. I heard a constant loud tapping on one of the second floor windows. It was really late at night, and I instantly knew this was the moment I had always feared. I sat bolt upright in bed and tried to pinpoint the sound. It was coming from one of my sister’s rooms on the other side of the second floor. Someone was trying to get in our house. I had to let my dad know!
I was so frightened that my tiny body was nearly frozen with fear, but I somehow forced myself to peer out my bedroom door. I could hear someone, maybe several someones, moving around. The strangers were already inside.
And they were between me and the stairs to the first floor!
Not knowing what else to do, I crept along the backside of the wall to my older sister’s room. Sharon was sprawled across the bed with blood covering her chest. They had slit her throat.
Gasping for breath, but not daring to scream, I forced myself to keep breathing. Some how, some way, I had to get my three other brothers and sisters to safety. I could hear pounding coming from the next room. Fear clamped around my chest, I crept to my brother Ralph’s room…and had all I could do not to faint. He was dead. Blood covered his pillow. His head was gone.
Not much more than a zombie now, I knew they were all gone, and probably my parents, too. There were a couple of loud thumps, but I no longer cared. I went to the next three bedrooms and confirmed what I already knew. Each and every one of my siblings was dead. Brutally killed in the middle of the night, right in our own home! I didn’t know why I hadn’t been slaughtered yet, but I knew it wasn’t fair. How could it have happened. Why us!
I ran to my room, but not from fear…I was beyond that. I ran because my head and my heart couldn’t take any more. The intruders had already killed everyone, taken everything from me. My most raw, darkest fear had come true. I crawled under the covers and rocked back and forth. At first, the noises I made were just gutteral reactions to pain…
At this point, just moments after I had turned my handwritten essay in, my professor looked up from her desk. “Is this true?” Her lips were quivering. “Did this really happened to you?”
I nodded…
I made those gutteral sounds for maybe an hour, maybe longer. But then I began to pray. I hadn’t been a religious kid, not really, but I had nothing left to do. My world was shattered. My entire family was dead. I prayed and I prayed. I prayed for it to be a dream, for God to somehow come down to Earth and make things okay again. I prayed to not be scared anymore, but most importantly I prayed for the lives of the people I loved. I had never realized how much I loved and needed each and every one of them until that moment. From the deepest most sincere core of myself, I prayed for things to go back to the way they were.
Two or more hours must have passed. The intruders had come and gone, and somehow they had missed me. For some reason, fate and those murdering thugs had left me to suffer through this terrible ordeal…alone. Finally, drained, a husk of a person, I pulled my covers away from my head and prepared to relive the nightmare all over again.
Like the walking dead, I trudged out into the hallway and heard banging. I looked and could see a tree limb tapping loudly against the glass. Not an intruder?
Holding my breath, I moved cautiously into my older sister’s room. I stared and couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The red ribbon from one of her stuffed animals was stretched across her throat. I hadn’t seen blood at all! Her chest rose and fell in steady breaths. I hurried to my brother’s room and found not a headless boy, but my brother with a pillow over his head and a red tee shirt draped partway across that same pillow. And from room to room I went to find unlikely but logical reasons for each and every one of my violent visions.
My family was and remains alive and well.
And my professor? She finished reading that essay then stood in front of the entire class and said, “I want you all to hear something. This is the way we should all hope to write someday. And for the rest of this semester, this young man can do anything he wants. He has a perfect grade in my class.”
To this day, I could be hooked to a lie-detector machine and couldn’t tell you truthfully that event NEVER happened. Was it an answered prayer or just a waking dream?
Logic says one thing, but….
This true story was posted earlier at the website. I’d like to thank Susan A. for asking if a dream had ever influenced one of my stories. This was my response…one dream may well have influenced my very life.
Fat Duck Nearly Broke My Neck: Unfortunately, Fat Duck has gotten into the recent habit of sitting on his hay bale most of the day and forgetting where he belongs at night (I know, I know…last week he seemed to be trained!) The last few days, I’ve simply swatted him off his bale and walked behind him as he waddles toward the porch. Once he sees the stairs, he remembers where he belongs and flies up, one step at a time. Quite cute, and I’ll film it soon (now that the mysterious battery problems with my son’s Flip camera have been solved; it appears you can’t just plug it into the USB port and expect the standard, non-rechargeable AA batteries to recharge. Oops ) Just before last Sunday’s blog, I was in a rush—as I always seem to be–to get to my email, blog and chat session on time, so I forgot Fat Duck on his bale.  When the family realized I had abandoned him, they tried to get me away from the blog, but I suggested that my fourteen-year-old son could handle it just fine.
Unfortunately, Fat Duck had found his way out onto the 25-foot-long stone dam that separates our brook and pond. My son tried but couldn’t nudge him off with an aluminum fishing net, so he called for help. Flustered, I went outside to take care of it myself…in the dark…with no flashlight…and, as usual, fearless and clueless. In the pitch black, I pushed through the branches at the end of the dam and marched right out onto the foot-and-a-half wide dam that consists mostly of loose mortar and lots of missing stones.
My son, of course, shined the flashlight at me from the other side of the brook, blinding me, while I tried to coax Fatty to hell off before I killed myself. As you might have guessed, he ignored me…right until I tripped and fell head first. I got a face full of butt feathers as Fatty flew off and landed handily on the grass. I, in the meantime, landed in the pushup position on a rickety stone shelf with my hands barely catching the edges. It’s true that my brook and pond are relatively shallow (maybe two feet of water and another two of muck) and I likely wouldn’t have drowned, but a face full of granite sure wouldn’t have been much fun. As I recovered myself and marched Fatty to the porch, I noticed with some frustration that he didn’t seem to be in any pain at all. He happily fluttered up the stairs, once “remembering” what to do, and was soon waiting for me beside his cage.
I closed him in for the night, winced from a pulled side muscle and went inside.
Upcoming Appearances: I don’t have a time yet, but I will be appearing on the radio blog in the very near future. I’ll keep you apprised of a time when I have it.
Movie Review: I am Number Four – 2011, based on a book by Pittacus Lore, a pseudonym for James Frey and Jobie Hughes.
 My rating «««« (four out of five stars)
John Smith (Alex Pettyfer) is an unsettled teen who along with mysterious Henri (Timothy Olyphant) seems to be in hiding and off the grid. We soon learn that John is one of a number of alien teens sent to our planet to escape a frightening alien death squad. The story begins with John accidentally giving away his alien nature, which forces him and Henri to immediately pull up stakes and move…barely in time to avoid certain death. Henri leads them to the small town of Paradise, Ohio where he seeks information of some kind. Tired of being ostracized and alone, John rebels against Henri’s orders and says he’s going to school. There he meets beautiful Sarah (Dianna Agron), and starts to realize he is more different and more powerful than he ever imagined. Aliens descend upon the town and what happens next may well decide the fate of our world.
I have to admit I liked this well-cast movie quite a bit. I am admittedly a fan of most hero movies (excepting most military-only plots) and this one left me feeling that my daughter’s movie rental fee was well-invested. In my mind (especially since HBO’s Deadwood), Timothy Olyphant can do no wrong…but his character Henri seemed to be both under-utilized and under-developed. John Smith was a convincing screwed up kid who winds up embroiled in a mess beyond his control and not of his making. The plotlines seemed believable, given the unbelievable premise, and the supporting cast did a good job, even with shallow character set-ups. If you liked Jumper (which I did), I’d say you should see this movie. A little slow to begin, but once it churns along the payoff is worth it.
Rent this movie and settle in for a good dollop of action and entertainment.
“Ripped From My Cold Young Fingers,” update & excerpt: For those of you that are curious how “Ripped From My Cold Young Fingers” is coming along, I’m now about 67% done with my review of the first edits (3 more much faster, I hope, rounds to go). It looks like I’m still at least a week out from completing this, maybe two . I hope you’ll agree the time is worth it. Here’s an excerpt from the latest edits…
Though all houses in Under-Heaven look pretty much the same, it turns out that under certain circumstances, a house can be expanded―downward, to be exact. I learned that the day my Uncle Finneus arrived. At first I thought I had imagined it, but then I heard knocking sounds a second time. It wasn’t coming from either my front or back door.
“Grandma?” I said.
We were sitting across from each other in the living room. For a moment, she looked as baffled as I felt but then nodded and pursed her lips.
“This should be interesting,” she said.
Mystified, both by the knocking that seemed to be coming from my kitchen and by her comment, I got up to investigate. She followed.
“Open your basement door, Nate,” she said. “Whoever is down there can’t come up unless you allow it.”
“But I don’t have a basement door.”
“You do now,” she said.
The pounding had grown louder and more insistent. Together, my grandmother and I crept more than walked into the kitchen. A wood grain door now adorned what used to be a blank hallway wall.
“Go ahead,” Grandma Clara said. “Let’s see which member of the family has managed this little feat.” She motioned with her chin.
Hesitantly, I turned the knob and eased the door open.
A smartly dressed man with a curled mustache and a formal suit stepped energetically into my kitchen. He was tall and, all the way from his shoes to his top hat, was garbed entirely in black. Maybe I had been in Under-Heaven too long, but that much black nearly hurt my eyes. His shoes were polished to a brilliant sheen, and his suit looked so neatly pressed that I imagined he must never dare to sit down. His hat had a flat top like I remembered seeing on a circus poster once. He was what my mother might have referred to as a “dandy.” He removed his hat and bowed, revealing immaculately combed and greased-back dark hair with a perfect part running down the center. His mustache was trim and looked to be curled with wax at the edges.
“You must be, Nathaniel,” he said popping his hat back atop his head and extending a hand. I glanced to my grandmother. She nodded. I shook his hand.
“I’m Finneus T. Buckland, previous of Earth-fame, known as the inventor and distributor of Buckland’s Amazing Bottled Tonic, the finest medicine known to man—up until that time, of course.” He tipped his hat and bowed again with a flourish.
“Still haven’t got that foolishness out of your head, have you, Finneus?” Grandma Clara said.
“Well, well,” he said. He eyed her up and down. “It certainly is less than pleasant to see you here, Clara.”
She gave him one of my favorite warm smiles.
“Pleasant or not, you old cur, get over here and give me a hug.”
He did as instructed but made a face toward me as he dramatically extricated himself from her grip.
“I came to meet my nephew, not to frolic with haggard old angels,” he said, turning his attention back toward me.
“How are you, young fellow?”
“Fine,” I said. I could sense there was something very different about him, at least very different from anyone else here in my Under-Heaven. “Are you from Hell?” I asked. It was an uncharacteristically bold statement for me, but something I would find happening more and more as my exposure to my uncle grew.
He laughed a deep and cheerful belly laugh.
“We like to think of it as the other heaven,” he said.
Grandma Clara was grinning like a young girl. I wondered at the connection. Did angels fraternize with the damned?
“You know each other?” I asked.
“He’s my grandfather,” answered Grandma Clara.
“Correction,” Uncle Finneus said. “I was your favorite grandfather.”
“Since my other grandfather was dead before I was born, you were my only grandfather.”
“That, notwithstanding,” Uncle Finneus said, raising his chin in mock indignity, “I was still your favorite grandfather, was I not?”
“You haven’t changed an ounce,” she said to him. “I’m going to go now, but don’t you warp my grandson too much, you hear.”
“Now, Clara. You know all the warping comes from above. We folk down below keep things in a much better per¬spective.”
For a brief moment, I was terrified. Even if it weren’t for the man’s dark color and origin, how could she leave me with a complete stranger like that? I opened my mouth to object, but she spoke first.
“You’ll be okay with him,” she said, “but keep your eyes open, Nate.” Grandma Clara winked at Uncle Finneus. “He’s a slippery old coot, and a bit more dangerous than most, given that he’s so likeable.” She flashed a goodbye smile at Uncle Finneus, and then faded away. I was a little shocked. Other than the one time when I had been sick, she had always used the back door.
My surprise at her exit must have shown because Uncle Finneus said, “Don’t fret that none, young fella. She was likely just showing off a bit for my benefit.”
“Can you fade, too?” I asked.
“Doesn’t matter much,” he said. “Crawl and skulk is what they’ll tell you I do best, and they wouldn’t be entirely untrue about that, either.”
“Why do you say you’re my Uncle if you’re Grandma Clara’s grandfather? Wouldn’t that make you my great, great—”
“Save all the greats, young man,” he interrupted. “I prefer the term Uncle and that’s what we’ll be sticking with. Grandfathers are old and withered fellows―two things I am not. I’m currently in the youth of my death, and I shall not have you labeling me otherwise. Are we clear on that?”
“Yes, Uncle Finneus,” I said with a grin. How could anyone not have liked this man?

Thanks Alex Le Soum (London, UK) for your kind review:
Author of “Space Turbulence,” a science fiction murder mystery (The Kolian Chronicles)
Alex’s review…
««««« (five out of five stars)
Fantastic read, 23 May 2011
This review is from: The Santa Shop (The Santa Conspiracy) (Kindle Edition)
Downloaded this book to my Kindle last Friday. I started reading it during a lull on a visit to an elderly relative, I had intended only to read a few pages, but the story drew me in so completely that before I knew it I'd read the whole thing. I loved the unexpected twist at the end, really clever. Truly a very emotive story, brilliantly crafted. I whole-heartedly recommend this to everyone...and not just for Christmas reading. This is a great book for any time of year.
Wrapping up: Those of you that were following my Facebook posts, emails, or chat notes tonight know that we had a tornado watch here in Maine as I created this latest entry to “The Perfect World.” The warning time has passed and we have, thankfully, come through unharmed. Once again, I’m convinced that Maine is one of the safest places in the US to live. It’s now 12:30 am (I know, crazy late) and I’m typing the last words while my dog Patsy barks like a lunatic in the living room a few feet away from my office. I flip the light on and, sure enough, there’s the beautiful red fox in the driveway only a couple of feet from Slugger my yellow tabby cat, who strolls in the house like it’s no problem. One night, a year or so ago, Slugger actually chased a larger fox across the yard. When I dragged him in, he squirmed to get back out his cat door–I guess so he could go play with his murderer. Needless to say, I held him tight.
My Thanks: I once dreamt of writing for a living. Though a lot of my time is spent writing for nonprofit corporations and charities around the country, work that I will continue to do long after my need passes, each and every day more of my income comes directly from readers of my books. Please know that I couldn’t be more sincere in my appreciation.


  1. I look forward to the blog addressing "free time." Sadly, I don't see that happening anytime soon. Excellent short stories and intro to for the upcoming release. Carry on.

  2. Thanks for popping by, Jeff. I spent a couple of months blogging seriously but have just returned to it. I'm trying to blog a little more often with a single subject. So far, the response has been good. I really appreciate hearing from you :-)


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