“I can’t tell what any of the stops are called. They’re only in symbols.”
“They should have American letters.”
“Not American, English letters, and those are based on the Latin alphabet.”
“Fine, Einstein. Do you see any letters?”
“No, only symbols. Which one is our stop? I thought you looked all this stuff up.”
“I did. Don’t be a jerk. The webpage said all the maps had English spellings. Our stop is S-h-i-n dash K-i-b-a. The resort is near there.”
“Well, I don’t see any letters I can read and can’t tell where it is. Why don’t you come over here and look at the map? We don’t need more picture of the station.”
A sigh emanated from the other side of the sign, and the sound of the camera shutting down pinged in the empty station. A tall, stringy young man with thick rimmed glasses came around to have a look. His nose crinkled, lifting the frames as he peered at the lines with various symbols representing the stops along the way.
“Huh. Well that sucks. I’d try to ask somebody, but I haven’t seen anyone for a while.” The thought sent him down another path of confusion. “That’s odd, isn’t it? These stations are usually filled with people.”
The other young man, much shorter than his counterpart, looked around and seemed to notice they were alone for the first time. “Yeah, that is weird. You know what though? I don’t care. Where is the stop? Can’t you tell by looking at the lines?”
The tall man looked back to the map. After a moment, he shook his head. “I’m not certain, but I think this one is our stop.” He pointed to the end of a line on the east side of the map.
“Great. We can just head that way and maybe there will be people who can help us there.”
The tall man continued to look concerned but nodded his consent. He was about to try puzzling out the schedule for the train when a horn sounded down the tunnel and a train came barreling out soon after. The brakes began to squeal, the train coming to an abrupt stop near the end of the station platform. No other trains stopped at this station, so it must have been theirs. The doors opened. No one exited. The men couldn’t see anyone on the train. They looked at one another, shrugged, and stepped on board.
The ride was uneventful, assuming one considered the fact that the train was empty even though it should have been full of commuters.
“Maybe it’s the time of day,” the short man mumbled after the third stop where no passengers got on and they couldn’t see anyone through the windows. “Everyone must be at work or something.”
The train slid into their stop and the doors parted. The two men again exchanged a glance and stepped out onto an old wooden platform, nothing like they expected. All the previous stops were modern, underground subway stations. This stop was above ground and the planks of wood creaked under the men’s footfalls. A set of stairs led away from the platform. At the bottom of the steps was a wooden frame. This side of the frame was blank, but the tall man expected the front side said the name of the station. Past the frame was a forest. A trail from the bottom of the platform steps meandered through the trees and out of sight.
“Is this where we were trying to go? It doesn’t look like a resort will be anywhere near here.” The short man said, the unease clear in his voice.
“I don’t know where we are. I don’t see any signs either. Maybe we should get back on the train.”
The short man nodded, but before they turned around the train doors closed. The locomotive rumbled off into the distance.
“What are we going to do now?” the short man whined.
“Let’s see what’s down that path.” The tall man pointed at the trail at the bottom of the stairs. “Maybe we can find someone.”
As they passed through the frame at the bottom of the steps, a cold gust of wind hit them. “Why is it cold? We’re in the middle of summer,” The short man complained.
They continued walking. Coming around a turn in the woods they stopped short, confused at the scene in front of them. A group of people, monks maybe, stood in a semi-circle facing away. They wore white cowls that shimmered in the light. Before the monks was an open pit that contained a smoldering fire. A soft chant filled the air. Off to the side of the path, was a series of cages, two were open and empty, but the others contained huddling men cowering as far from the doors as possible as though they could prevent their fate.
A fate the men witnessed when one of the monks broke away to open a cage and grab one of the prisoners. A growl emanated from the monk as he hauled his poor victim to the edge of the pit and tossed him in. The screams jarred the two tourists from their stupor and they both screamed along with the dying man.
The monks turned in unison to face the men. Their faces were obscured by the cowls but looked like unhuman beasts. The men thought they saw smiles spread across the faces of the terrifying monks. They backed away as the monks moved in their direction. They glanced at the two, now three, empty cages and gulped. Worse than the beastly, grinning faces, the monks continued to hum as they approached. The men’s feet felt glued to the ground, and they watched with horror as the monks approached them.
The spell was broken when a train horn sounded behind them. They turned in unison and bolted back to the train station as fast as their legs could carry them. The tall man passed through the wooden frame and up the steps first, followed soon after by the short man. The short man turned to look back at the monks, but they were gone. Then he ran into the tall man, knocking them both to the subway floor.
Both men looked around in shock at the station. Porcelain tiled floors and walls replaced the wooden planks and railings. A ceiling with fluorescent lighting blocked out the sky. Looking behind them, the men saw an escalator crawling up towards an exit above. On the tiled subway wall was a large rectangular sign that read “Shin-Kiba Station”. Signs for their resort were everywhere. People milled about, waiting for the coming train. A few stopped to stare at the two Americans falling over themselves and then continued with their lives.
So, I got a few books the other day. A couple of themes here. The Bad Guys are for my son, who says he hates reading, but he has already finished three of these. I got them four days ago. I don’t know if he has any clue how happy I am about this. I’ll be getting the last three in the series today so he can get them done before the movie comes out on Friday.
Space battles is the other theme. I don’t plan to write many space battles, but I don’t want them to sound horrible. After some looking around the internet and asking people everywhere, I decided on The Lost Fleet series by Jack Campbell, which made the top of a list of good space battles on GoodReads. The Honor Harrington books were also up there and I have the added bonus of her being a female space protagonist, which might give me a comp, maybe. I hope. Finally, I got the first Expanse book. This was a top pick of my husband, who felt the space battles in the show were the most realistic he’d ever seen. I’m assuming they are similar in the books and I’ll find out. I was also eager to read it because the show is awesome.
I wrapped up my purchases with the Asimov magazine. I want to read more sci fi short stories and there are a couple of magazines out there to keep me busy.
I picked up the space battle books because of a recommendation someone in my critique group gave me. Yes, I joined a writer’s critique group. Mostly, it has gone well. The pros are that people are receptive to the storyline (or what they’ve heard of it so far) and they generally like my writing. The cons are that I’m too tight of a writer, which was no surprise. Science writing (not scifi) is tight and I need to find ways to loosen up. The way information is presented in the critique group is too spaced out. People forget what happened last week and only get 2000 or fewer words each week. Not enough words to progress very far and too much time in between to remember things. It’s also hard for people to connect with the characters with both of those issues. For example, I don’t have a good physical description of some of the characters for a few chapters. I wanted it to be that way and it reflects when the main character, Sophie, sees them clearly for the first time. But since they only get a little bit each week, they are getting a bit annoyed that they don’t know what the characters look like. Some of that I should be addressing and other parts I can’t do anything about.
Another pro of the group is the variation of opinions on certain things. One person wants Sophie to be strong and independent, not one to freak out and cry. Another person wants her to be accurate to 11-year-olds (she’s 11). I’m trying to put her somewhere in the middle of all that. She’s independent and overall a strong person who is also 11. I think some of the things she goes through would make anyone curl up in a corner and cry for a while regardless of age and so once in a while she will.
Anyway, I’m off topic. In my story, there is a mention of battles and one of the guys suggested looking through accounts of the current war in Ukraine for descriptions of battle to use. I think he may have not realized I was talking about battles in space. Regardless, it gave me the idea to read up on space battles and now you know why my book selection this past week was heavily themed.
Other things: I’m almost finished with Chuck Wendig’s The Book of Accidents. It’s very Stephen King-like. I don’t like it as much as Wanderers, which was amazing, if I haven’t mentioned it before, but it’s still good.
We saw The Secrets of Dumbledore this weekend. Not my favorite movie in the series. I’ll avoid spoilers, but I wasn’t impressed with the story line and didn’t understand why certain scenes were happening or why they were deemed important. The crab shuffle was funny and my son crab shuffled out of the theater and entertained some of the people in the room.
Update on my book: I have decided (again for those who know I’ve been all over the place on this) to make my book into a series. This was advice from an agent who reviewed the first ten pages for me. She seemed very enthusiastic, but like the critique group, only has a limited view at the moment. Still, she felt it would work best as a series and I’ve felt that way for a while. So my job lately has been to expand the section that would be book 1. Problems I need to address include expanding the storyline to fit a full length novel, building the world more, building a stronger conflict, climax, and resolution. I’m not really changing the storyline at all, just making it fuller. It’s something I feel is totally attainable in the story. Still, I’m not the fastest editor and I get bogged down in the fine details of editing/rewriting. I need to try and spew out the ideas and then come back and change things. Yep, that’s what I should do. I’ll try to see what I can do today and this week.
I hear my dad say loudly in frustration. I am just putting on my coat for him to take me to school on his way to work.
“I can’t find them anywhere!”
I hear him moving things around in his room. A moment later he rounds the corner and sees me.
“Do you know where they are? Did you take them when you went out last?”
“No,” I respond. “Did you check your pockets?”
His eyes get big. I know he isn’t really mad at me, but he’s gone past the red line of his frustration.
“Of course, I checked them!”
He’s nearly yelling now. He throws his hands up and storms away from me. I hate when he gets this aggravated. There’s no reason in him at this point. I watch him storm around a moment longer before he decides to go look through the window of the car to see if they are locked inside.
I’m hefting my backpack onto my shoulder and watching him walk down the sidewalk. It’s cold out and I see him shove his hands angrily into his pockets. He stops walking and his head drops to his chest. I can see his breath as it blows out in a huff. He turns and looks at me. The fire in his eyes is gone.
“I found them. Let’s go,” he says with defeat in his voice.
I chuckle as I follow him to the car and try not to tease him too much before he drops me off at school.
“Damn, that thing is ugly,” Bob said while sipping his coffee. “And you’re planning to bestow this atrocity on someone in our office?”
I laughed. “Yeah, it’s great, isn’t it? They said it was a gag gift exchange. I’ve had this thing since the ballgame last summer. I don’t know what to do with it.”
The ugly atrocity in question was a garden gnome. Not just any garden gnome, but a limited edition San Juan Kickers garden gnome. They handed them out to the first 500 fans at a weekday game last summer. I wanted to believe this was some inept marketing guy’s attempt to get more fans through the gate, but some people seemed excited to get theirs. I would have passed on the hideous thing except my daughter wanted it. Once home, it was placed in the bottom of the linen closet and forgotten until last night when I realized I hadn’t gotten a gift for the office Christmas party.
It was my first office Christmas party for this company. The white elephant gift exchange was anonymous and gag gifts were the norm the guy from the cubicle next to me said. I thought the gnome would work perfectly. It was still in its box and pristine. I couldn’t imagine a better thing to give away.
I put the box back into the gift bag along with a few candy bars to sweeten up the gift and stood to leave. Bob wasn’t coming. He was Jehovah’s Witness and skipped the parties. I can’t imagine he feels left out after seeing the garden gnome.
The meeting room was festive, and everyone was excited to be at a work party and not actually working. I put my bag among the others and grabbed a drink from the refreshment table. After thirty minutes or so of mingling, the boss moved to the front of the room and cleared his throat. The conversation slowly dwindled.
“Merry Christmas everyone! This has been a great year for the company and I’m so glad to be celebrating the holiday with you today. We’re going to begin the gift exchange in a few moments. Find seats so we can figure out the order everyone will grab a gift.”
After much shuffling around, everyone was seated. Then, a hat with folded numbers was passed around. I got number 20, which meant I was more likely than not to get the gift I wanted because I would be able to trade with another person instead of picking a random gift. Hopefully, I wouldn’t be going home with another item to put at the bottom of the linen closet. Still, this was all about gag gifts, so maybe.
The person who drew number one was the office administrator. Everyone loved her, including me, and I hoped she avoided my bag. Luckily, she took a small, wrapped box that held a pretty little bracelet with morse code beading that spelled out “I’m Awesome”. Ok, not much of a gag, but cute.
The next person picked the biggest gift bag. Inside was a matching fuzzy robe and slippers. The HR rep who got them said he would give them to his wife if no one took the gift from him.
A few more people took their gifts and I was growing more and more concerned. None of the gifts fell into the category I would call “gag” gifts so far. I leaned to the person next to me.
“I thought these were supposed to be gag gifts.”
“Oh, no, they can be, but they don’t have to be. A few of these will be funny, but more cute funny than haha funny,” he said.
I nodded. My gift might not go over too well, I thought to myself.
The next person took my gift, and I could tell my worries were correct. The gnome came out and there were a lot of exclamations of how awful it was around the table. The woman who got it looked disappointed. She crinkled her nose and set the beast down in front of her. Her only hope was there might be a crazy fan of the Kickers or garden gnomes somewhere at the table. I felt awful, but at least the exchange was anonymous.
The next day, Bob stepped into my cubicle.
“I heard the gnome went over well.”
“Really? People are talking about it?”
“Yeah, they don’t know you gave it, but they were disgusted by it. I would go with a nice candle next year.”
I nodded. That would be a better idea.
The next year, I wandered into the office Christmas party once more. I was prepared this year. I had a candle ready to go, lavender. I wasn’t going to disappoint anyone.
When it was my turn to grab a gift, I picked up an unassuming gift bag. I reached in and pulled out a wrapped box.
“Oh, it’s double wrapped. Must be special,” the administrator said in a teasing voice.
I laughed and proceeded to rip off the paper. I sat back in my chair as everyone around me laughed at the gift. I certainly deserved this. The gnome had come back home.
If you told me I would read an 800-page novel and want more, I would wonder how it would work. And yet, here I am wanting more from Wanderers. This novel is a pandemic/apocalyptic story written before the current pandemic that made me shudder at times with its accuracy of the way people respond to things in a modern pandemic society.
Wanderers starts in rural Pennsylvania where a young girl starts walking from her home without shoes and not responding to anyone around her. Others quickly join her on this journey. Quickly, the unaffected characters realize stopping these wanderers is not an option. They cannot interfere with the journey or disastrous consequences arise. As the flock increases in size, the nation becomes uncomfortable with these walkers and their keepers, the family and friends that can’t leave their loved ones to wander alone. The CDC and other government agencies become involved in trying to figure out what is going on. Others believe the walkers are a threat to the planet and attempt to interfere with the journey. This becomes confounded when another, more sinister illness arises that threatens the very existence of humankind.
Wanderers is told from the perspective of various characters over the course of around a year. Each story is dynamic and engaging. Some of the characters, I hated and dreaded interacting with as a reader, while others I worried about as danger approached them. I was struck with the similarities I see in the current pandemic, and this made the novel even more engrossing and disturbing. I recommend this book if you are a fan of pandemic, apocalyptic novels (ie. The Stand, Station Eleven, etc.). In August, the sequel to this is coming out as well. It will be called Wayward.
Who knew having my breasts cut off and implants shoved in the hole would be painful and take a while to recover from? Typing hasn’t been impossible the last couple of weeks, but it’s been tiring and might not have been the best of ideas, so I really haven’t written anything.
Plus side. My cancer is gone. I have 5 years of anti-estrogen pills to come (Tamoxifen for those who care), but no cancer cells as far as anyone can tell. Even the pills aren’t giving me a huge benefit, but it is more than nothing so here we go.
Back to the surgery part though. Damn. My biggest surgery up to now was an endoscopic gall bladder removal. Mastectomy is like getting hit with a truck in comparison. I had the least impactful version of the procedure, too. I want to commend anyone who’s had this done and especially those who had larger procedures than I did. It’s a rough recovery.
My least favorite part are the drains. They came out yesterday and it was glorious. I was able to sleep on my side and on a flat surface again….mostly.
Been watching some fun TV in the meantime. We finished Truthseekers (Netflix), a British comedy paranormal show. Malcolm McDowell’s role is hilarious. Also keeping up with Ghosts (CBS), a sitcom about a couple who inherit an east coast mansion with plans to turn it into a B&B. The wife (Rose McIver) has an accident and develops the ability to see all the ghosts in the house. It’s cute and funny. I’ve been enjoying Next Level Chef. I love cooking shows and it gets worse when I’m sick or injured. My husband loves them too, but he gets hungry and wants to go get nice meals like the ones in the shows so he also gets a little frustrated by them.
I’ve been reading too. I need to write some reviews for those books. They include Wanderers by Chuck Wendig, Time Burrito by Aaron Frale, and Dust and Grim by Chuck Wendig. I’ve been reading the Woodsword series of Mincraft books to my son as well. I have 5, yes 5, books in my currently reading list, the 4th Woodsword book, Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir, The Book of Accidents by Chuck Wendig, Insomnia by Stephen King, and When Things Go Dark edited by Ellen Datlow.
My goal over the next couple of weeks is to get back into my main WIP. There is a workshop in March that I am thinking of doing that will need a finalized (or as close as I can get it) first 10 pages. It will get me some face time with an agent so I think it will be a good learning experience. Almost ready to hit this whole writing thing full speed. We’ll see where it takes me.
Thanks for reading this if you do. I hope everything in your life is on an upswing.
I remember wanting 2020 to end. I was done with everything about 2020. I left my job in 2020 to teach my son. My father-in-law moved in with us in 2020, and we discovered he was well into dementia. My brother-in-law was diagnosed with cancer, chondrosarcoma to be precise. He had his hip replaced and was told he would likely be ok if his 6-month scan was clear. To top it all off, there was the enormous elephant in the room, covid. That was 2020. 2021 would be better. Right? …..Right??
We spent the year lining up our woes and evaluating how long until they would be fixed. The approval of the vaccine in late 2020 started us down that path of thinking. Now, at the end of 2021, I can safely say that line of thinking isn’t the best approach. Some things resolved, other things popped up, and still others simply evolved. The light at the end of the tunnel always seems to push back.
What is better at the end of 2021 than it was at the end of 2020? Well, all of us being vaccinated is a big plus, but with Omicron looming large, that leaves a bittersweet taste in my mouth. My son is back in school. Being with kids and other people have helped him with socializing and we’re getting more time to unwind. My father-in-law was moved into memory care in October, which is better for all of us. It is a guilt-inducing act, but he’s better taken care of, we’re not nearly as stressed out, and my son is getting more attention from his “happier” parents.
That word, “happier”, deserves quotes because the driving factor that forced us to move my FIL out was my cancer diagnosis. Breast cancer, detected by a routine mammogram in June (actual diagnosis at the end of July). I spent the last half of 2021 dealing with the insanity that a cancer diagnosis brings on. I spent the last quarter of 2021 in chemo. I’ll spend the first part of 2022 recovering from a double mastectomy and reconstruction. The good side is the cancer was caught super early, is highly treatable, and shows no signs of having spread.
People have told me I’ve had a great attitude about the whole thing and to some extent that’s true, but it really did break me for a while. I accomplished little to nothing in August and September. My outward persona though was calm rationality. I needed that. It’s part of who I am to be calm in the storm on the outside. Inside, I was a mess.
Another reason I was trying to keep it together was because in April(ish), my brother-in-law’s cancer came back. My family was getting a double hit of cancer and it was hard for everyone to deal with mentally. That 6-month scan was clear as we hoped, and the beginning of the year, we all thought he was in the clear and simply needed to get through rehab and regain the strength in his leg. Then, he had more pain than he expected, they scanned again, and the cancer was back. He went through chemo, and when that didn’t work, they took his leg. My first appointment at the Mayo Clinic Breast Clinic in Scottsdale was the day they amputated his leg. It was a hard day for all of us. Again, we thought he would be in the clear after the amputation. Again, the cancer came back.
In November, two days after his 42nd birthday, he died at home with his wife and older brother at his bedside. My husband and his sister made it out in time to see him and say goodbye. Then, a couple weeks later, they had his wrap party (Jon worked in the movie industry) and my husband attended that. I missed it because I was in the middle of chemo.
So, we leave 2021 with a couple of good things, a lot of things to look forward to that will hopefully stay in the near future, and without Jon. We hope for a better and brighter 2022, but if the comparison between 2020 and 2021 is any indication, it can go either way.
The following is a short story written for Santa’s Secret Pen 2021.
Your breath hangs in the frigid air as you step out of the car. The drive to the campground was uneventful. The bridge over the river wasn’t slick with ice like you expected. You could have stayed at the campground near the entrance to the park, but that is on the other side of the lake and farther away from the area you hope to explore.
No one else is camping because of the big winter storm the day before. With no other severe weather in the forecast, you asked, even begged, your friends to come, but they didn’t want to camp in the cold. They tried to convince you to stay with them at home in the warmth, but you decided to camp alone. They have all your information in case there is trouble. You only plan to stay two nights. It will be fine, you told them.
The silence is calming. No electrical noise, no cars or machinery, no people. Just you, the wind in the trees, and a few cold-loving birds. You can even hear the distant sound of the river, however faint. You love this campground. It is far away from civilization but not completely remote.
During the summer, the sites fill up every night. One must book their spot months in advance. The popularity is due to the massive amount of summer amenities the campground provides. There is a lake nearby with stables and a rental cabin for water sports, hiking and fishing supplies, and other activities, like beach volleyball and horseshoes. The stables hold a herd of trail horses and some calmer horses for riding lessons in the summer. The horses have another home for the rest of the year. There is so much to do that families come here in droves during the warm months.
Hiking is the biggest draw of the area. The most travelled paths end at a natural cave. A hundred and fifty years ago, outlaws used the cave as a hideout. The cave itself isn’t very deep, but with the surrounding forest, supplies an excellent place to hide out for days or weeks while avoiding the law. An intricate path system winds through the woods to the cave and all around the lake and river nearby. It takes weeks to hike them all. When you were younger, your parents brought you here a few times each summer. They said you’d get through all the paths by the time you grew up. This never really happened as you always wanted to go to the cave, but spending time here never got boring.
In the winter, the park is empty. Wintry weather is unfamiliar to the people of your state, and they avoid leaving their homes when the rare winter weather hits. That massive storm yesterday left a thin layer of snow on the ground. You imagine that people from more northern states would scoff at your fear of this light dusting, but it is better that people avoid going places. No one around here knows how to drive in the snow, even a tiny bit of it.
You revel in the empty campground as you began pulling your gear our of your little Honda Civic. The car isn’t the best for driving in the snow, but you have more experience than most locals. You attended the University of Michigan for school and this trusty car made it through four winters before you graduated and came running back to warmer weather.
After you prepare camp, you set off for your first hike. You want to see the cave in winter. Like most others, your parents avoided camping in the cold, so this is like hiking a new area. Trudging through the woods, you notice that you are the first one disturbing the snow. As you suspected, no one has been here since the storm. You climb the small rocky hills for half an hour before reaching the cave.
Granite rocks and boulders dot the surrounding forested hills between the leafless trees. The cave stands out as different from the landscape around it because a much larger outcropping of boulders surrounds it. From a distance, it looks like the hill behind it collapsed and left a jagged cliff face.
At the base of the cliff is a carved out hollow. Since the outlaw days, people still use this hollow as a campsite, even though the forest service prohibits camping in and around the cave. The hollow blocks the fire light from view and protects against the elements. To make the place more appealing, there is an opening at the back of the hollow into a series of tunnels. The tunnels are short overall but intertwine with one another and become confusing if one loses their bearings. To keep people from getting lost, the park placed occasional wayfinding signs inside to get people out when they did lose their way.
You roam the cave for a little while. There are remnants of a campfire in the hollow and a lot of trash in the cave. When you leave, you take a bag of trash out and will take more before the end of the trip. The selfishness of others is no longer surprising, but you still try to make things right.
After making it back to camp, you make lunch and then head out to the lake, which is remarkably close. You take fishing gear in hopes that you can have fresh fish for dinner tonight. The lake isn’t frozen. A little ice hugs the edge of the lake and surrounds the taller plants that stick out of the water.
A small dock juts out into the lake, and you go to the end. Peering across the water, you see only a deer on the other side of the lake drinking. Behind it, another deer stares at you as you drop your baited hook into the water.
An hour later, you walk back to camp with four bluegills to clean and fix for dinner. Bluegill is your favorite fish, not because they are better tasting than other fish, but because they remind you of your grandfather and fishing near his house by another lake as a child. You loved waking up early with him to fish. He would clean your catch in his boat house and your grandmother would bread and fry the fish for dinner accompanied by fresh vegetables from their garden. Those were some of the best meals you ever ate.
After eating your fish and canned veggies, you clean up the camp. There aren’t bears in the area, but other wildlife will come after any food you might leave out. You put the trash in the campground bins a little way down the road and then walk back to the campsite. You put your cooking gear and other food items back in the car and settle down next to the fire until you are ready for bed. You plan to hike most of the next day.
Darkness encompasses you when you wake up. You aren’t certain what woke you, but after a moment you hear it. Something crunching in the snow, but so light that it barely registers in your ears. At first, you think it is an animal, a deer or racoon. Then, you hear it rummaging through your belongings outside. While you aren’t worried about bears, cougars and bobcats are common in the area and will get into gear. You begin to worry, but whatever it is continues out of the camp. Eventually, you fall asleep again.
The next morning, everything seems disconcertingly undisturbed. You were certain the animal went through your belongings, but everything is exactly the way you left it. Even more unsettling, there are no footprints in the snow. After a while, you decide the wind must have blown snow into the footprints and the animal, because it must have been an animal, was just nosing your gear. It didn’t get into anything.
You hike all day, taking new routes your parents never got around to taking. At dusk, you return to the campsite. Exhausted, but hungry, you rebuild the fire and cook a simple dinner of hotdogs and more canned vegetables. Eating in the circle of light from the campfire, you look out into the darkness and feel uneasy. What if it wasn’t an animal the night before? You hadn’t seen any tracks and didn’t think anyone else was around, but it didn’t stop your mind from worrying about others in the woods. The hairs on your neck stand on end and you feel like someone is watching you from everywhere in the woods.
You hurriedly finish your food and clean up. Instead of walking down the road to dispose of the garbage, you put it in the car and get into the tent. You know you’re being irrational. No one is out there, and if they were, your tent would not protect you one iota. After lying in the dark listening to the wind in the trees for what seems like hours, you finally fall asleep.
You wake up again to the rummaging sound. You nearly yell to scare the animal away when a tiny cough stops you cold. There is a person in your camp. You grip your flashlight in your fist, ready to use it to blind someone or as a weapon to ward off an attack. Your knife is in your pack outside, and you curse yourself for leaving it on the table. Like the night before, the person doesn’t stay long and moves off into the forest. You decide to stay in your tent and check the bag in the morning for missing items. Clearly, the person isn’t trying to get at you and you’re too scared to confront them in the dark without a plan. Besides, you’re leaving in the morning and want to avoid a confrontation if you can. A phone call to the ranger in the morning will suffice for dealing with the situation.
The sunlight wakes you up in the morning. You don’t remember falling back to sleep. You open your tent to see fresh snowfall, and not just a little snow like the storm the other day, but a few feet are now burying your tent, the table, and your car. When you open the flap more, snow pours in. You push as much of it out as you can and begin clearing a path to your pack. Looking at the car, you realize you aren’t leaving today and if the temperatures don’t rise, it may be many days. You curse your reliable little sedan for not being a four-wheel drive.
Forgetting the nighttime visitor, you start to plan for the next couple of days. There aren’t phone signals out here, but your friends know which campground you are at and will alert the authorities when you don’t make it back home this afternoon. Even if no one shows up to help, the temperature will rise this afternoon and melt most of the snow. As much as you expect a rescue or to be able to leave soon, you don’t want to be unprepared.
You take stock of the situation. There is food for a week without fishing and you can still do as much of that as you like if the lake doesn’t freeze. You still plan to conserve food and water. It would be a shame to have this freeze last longer than you planned food for and end up starving if you can’t manage to catch any fish.
Since food isn’t an immediate concern, you start clearing the campsite of snow. First, you clean out the firepit and look for dry wood to light a fire. The warmth should help melt the snow in the area. Then, you knock all the snow from the tent and clear the area near the door. Next, you clear a wide path to the car. You move the snow from the top and open all the doors to make sure they aren’t frozen shut.
Taking the food, you go back to the table and clear it off as well. You finally notice your pack and remember the nightly visitor. You check the contents. Still nothing is amiss. Nothing missing. Nothing damaged. Everything in the same place you packed it in last. You wonder what the visitor is doing when he comes to the campsite.
There is plenty of daylight left so you clear a path to the lake. You’re glad to live in an area where lakes rarely freeze and even this larger storm won’t do the trick. You fish and manage to catch a few hungry crappies. They won’t give you much meat because they’re small, but it will save a little bit of the canned food if things get dire.
You collect a good amount of wood and stash it under the table to help keep it dry. The fire has died down while you were fishing, and you build it back up to make dinner and continue to warm the area. Unfortunately, the temperature never went up during the day and as you watch the sun sinking towards the horizon, you wonder how long it will take before the snow melts.
By the time dinner is ready, the space feels almost cozy with warmth. You eat and look at your pack. You worry the visitor will come again but doubt it. The snow is deep and difficult to manage in the daytime, at night it will be worse. The only path to and from your camp is the one you made to the lake to fish.
That night you hear him again. More coughing. It’s getting worse. You nearly confront him this time, but he might attack you. You really don’t want to run away in the snowy woods at night. It is a recipe for a cold death. You hear a zipper and wonder if he’s getting in your pack this time. More rustling and then he leaves the camp. You wait a while and sneak quietly out of your tent.
This time, there is a sign of your visitor. He disturbed the pack this time. It seems bigger than before. You open it to look inside, while trying to keep an eye out for the visitor in case he comes back. There is a blanket inside made of animal skins and some food. There are some berries that were foraged from the woods and cooked fish. Your visitor seems to know you need help. You take the pack to the tent because you might need it and won’t want to trek through snow to get it in the morning.
Before getting back in the tent for the night, you look around the edge of the campsite with your flashlight to see from which way the visitor came or went. The only path in the snow is your own to the lake. In the morning, you will check to see if there are any paths off your own. Maybe you missed other paths before because he was using yours until he was away from the camp.
You can’t sleep well. Your dreams are full of monsters and bad people jumping out of the dark at you. You wake again in the middle of the night to the sound of wind in the trees and look outside enough to know it is snowing again and hard. You zip the tent and snuggle as deep as you can in the sleeping bag with your new blanket hoping the storm won’t last long. Your sleeping bag is warm enough for the cold, but the blanket seems to help trap a lot more heat in and you drift off as you warm up.
By noon, the storm dies down, but now the snow in the camp is a few feet deep again and drifted against the door of your tent. You dress as warmly as possible. Pushing against the snow drift, you unzip the door and push outward to prevent as much snow as possible from falling inside. You are marginally successful. You trudge through the snow to your car, realizing how deep the snow is in the surrounding forest. Your efforts the day before helped reduce the accumulation of snow in the campsite.
The amount of snowfall is shocking. The state hasn’t had this much snow in years, if ever. In fact, you could add up the last ten years of snowfall and it would match the amount that’s fallen in the last week. You worry you may need to stay for a long time if no one shows up to help you out.
The doors of your car are frozen shut. You can’t get in to get at your food or any other supplies inside, including a cooking pot that you would have used to heat water to unfreeze your doors with. You nearly panic because your fishing gear is in there too. Then, you remember the food the visitor left in your pack. You breathe a sigh of relief.
Your next plan is to get a fire going. Luckily, your matches are in a waterproof container in the pack. The wood under the table is thankfully dry, and you get a fire lit. Then you begin to clear snow from the campsite to try and keep any future snow from piling you in deeper. You clear around the car as well, avoiding piling up snow towards the road. The car is red, and you hope someone might see it from above or the road.
You eat small bits of the food as you get hungry but try to save as much as possible. You aren’t certain if you’ll be able to get into the car or be able fish if the lake is too frozen.
With that in mind, you begin to forge a path to the lake. It takes triple the usual time to get there, but you’re happy to see the water only has a thin layer of ice near the dock. You can cast past the ice if you can get your fishing gear.
By now, you’re well into the afternoon and decide to try and unfreeze the car door. You will struggle to eat if you can’t get in there. You make it back to camp and rebuild your fire. You try to get a bigger fire this time in hopes someone will be looking for you and that you can warm the campsite. The snow didn’t show any signs of melting today in the surrounding woods and so you don’t hold out hope of being able to leave any time soon. You wonder, not for the first time, why no one has come to find you.
The car doors are still stuck. You look around the camp for something to heat water in but can’t find anything useful. You decide to try and use a burning stick and cross your fingers that you won’t damage the car in the process. You grab a long, thick branch and put on end in the fire. It is damp and you wait for the fire to dry it out before the end catches. Eventually, you have a flaming stick in your hand and make your way to the car. You hope it will be hot enough to melt the ice and allow you to open the door. You move the flame along the edge of the door and watch as the ice melts. After a few minutes, you try to open the door. Nothing happens. You go back to the fire because the fire on the branch has gone out. A few minutes later, you’re back at the car. This time, when you try the door, you hear the ice cracking and after a big tug on the handle the door pops open.
You are happy you’ll be able to eat. Risking animal visitors, you take all the food out of the car and store it in the tent. You know this is risky, but you don’t want a repeat of today. You think about trying to fish, but the sun is setting fast. You will go early in the morning.
That night, the visitor’s cough is worse, but you aren’t as scared as before. Since he left you food and a blanket, you feel he isn’t a threat. You peek out to get your first look at the person who keeps visiting without announcing himself. There is enough light from the moon and stars tonight to see him clearly and you startle at his appearance. He isn’t very tall and is wearing an odd assortment of clothes made of animal skins. He’s carrying a spear but not in a threatening manner. He’s got his back to you and is looking at the table so you can’t see his face, but you think he has a beard. You have your pack in the tent with you, so he isn’t rummaging around as much as before. You see him set something down on the table and begin to walk off towards the cave. You consider following him but decide against it because you aren’t dressed for the cold right now. You might tomorrow night since you seem to be here for the long haul.
In the morning, you find two fish lying on the table. They have frozen overnight, so you think they will be fine to eat once you prepare and cook them. After making your fire, you set the fish on a rock nearby to thaw and begin to prepare for the day. After eating, you head to the lake to get a few more fish. Then, you plan to go to the cave. Maybe you can find the man and thank him for his help. You can find some edible berries along the way as well. You’re happy it didn’t snow more, and the temperature seems to be rising this morning. You hope the snow will begin to melt and let you go home.
You have a good morning fishing and have extra to take to the man if he is there. If not, you’ll try to freeze the extra fish to eat later. You get some lunch and then head to the cave with a packet of fish. It takes a while to get to the cave because there is no path through the snow. You wonder how this could be since you saw the man go in this direction. When you get to the cave, you realize no one has been here since you were here last. Still, you enter the cave and look around. The same trash and indications of recent occupation are here, but they haven’t changed. You pack up a small bag of trash and head back to camp.
The temperatures keep rising today and you begin to hope to get out of the campsite in the next day or two. You prep and pack the fish in snow in your cooler to freeze overnight and cook some for yourself for dinner. That night, you sleep in your clothes with plans to confront the visitor if he comes again. You have the fish ready to give to him as well. You try to stay awake, but doze in the tent. You’re awoken by horrible coughing outside. You quietly exit the tent. The man bends over the table in an uncontrollable coughing fit.
You clear your throat and startle him. He turns to face you and raises his spear slightly. Then he drops it to his side and resumes his coughing fit. He has a long beard and rough looking skin that has been exposed to the elements for a long time. After a moment he regains control.
You try to thank him, but he looks past you with a glazed look in his eye, turns, and walks out of the camp. You try to follow him, but it’s dark still and he’s travelling faster than you would have expected. He doesn’t cough anymore that you can hear. You also notice that there are no footprints left behind him. This gives you the chills, which are made worse by a barn owl swooping overhead screeching.
The man’s general direction is the cave. When you arrive, there is a small fire at the entrance, and you see the man lying on the ground with a blanket wrapped around him. As you approach, you hear him gasping and wheezing. Suddenly, he goes rigid. His hands grasp at the dirt and his chest. You rush forward to try to help somehow, but the spasm is over almost as fast as it came on. He’s collapsed against the earth now and doesn’t seem to be breathing. As you get to him, you barely notice the fire isn’t giving off any heat. As you kneel next to the man to take his pulse, he and the fire disappear, leaving you in starlit darkness.
The ground in front of you is now empty and the night is dark. You try to look around some, but stupidly didn’t bring your flashlight when you followed the man out of your camp. You don’t see anything or anyone and don’t hear sounds other than the whisper of wind in the trees. You make your way back to the camp and spend a fitful night in your tent.
The next morning you walk out of your tent to see the snow has nearly melted. You can drive out of here today. You pack up everything and are almost ready to leave when you’re hit with a sense of guilt about the previous night. What if the man needs your help still? You walk back out to the cave and find nothing again. Maybe it was a dream, but you’re pretty sure it wasn’t. You see your own tracks in the snow that lingers in the hill’s shade. You were here, but where was the man? Did he really disappear?
You get back to camp and start up your car. As you approach the bridge, you realize something is wrong and stop. The bridge is out. A tree fell across it and collapsed the middle. A crew is on the other side. They see you and smile and wave. They are excited to see you. They knew you were on the other side but haven’t had a good opportunity to get across. Your friends alerted the authorities to your absence a couple of days prior. The crew had been working on a way across the creek but kept running into hurdles.
Within an hour, you can get across the bridge but without your car. You will get that back once they repair the bridge. Your friends have come to greet you at the ranger station down the road. You’re sipping hot cocoa with them when you notice a board in the station with a lot of old pictures posted of the people who used the caves back in the day for shelter. You see a familiar face among the pictures. Tom Jessup was a train robber who often used the cave to hide out. He died there one winter, probably of pneumonia. Tom Jessup is the same man you saw at your camp. In his picture, he’s even wearing an animal skin coat like the one you saw on your visitor the night before.
(Note: This book is a little older being published in 2001. The version of the book I read was the original. A reissue was published in 2020 and has addition commentary by Joe Hill and Owen King, which I cannot speak to at this time.)
I’ve read a lot of writing guides. Well ok probably not a lot, but more than a lot of people I would venture. I’m not an English major or anything related to that degree. Those folks have me beat. The books that immediately come to mind are The Elements of Style by Strunk and White (I mean, who doesn’t think of that book first? No seriously, if you haven’t gotten a copy, I highly recommend it. The Rules are very helpful for editing.) and the APA Style Manual (Riveting, exciting, couldn’t put it down. Just kidding. Yes, I’ve read the whole thing a few versions back as I was teaching it at the time). Everything else is a slew of science writing guides, a few writing guides from the handful of writing courses I took as an undergrad, business books and training manuals from my time as a manager that include some writing guides, and a few chapters here and there by renowned scientists giving well-intentioned advice for how to be a scientist.
On Writing popped up for me as recommended reading for a writer and was sold to me as a writing guide. Since I am attempting to renew a hobby of writing with an eye to making it a career and I enjoy Stephen King’s work, I picked up a library copy and started reading it as if it were a guide. I don’t think that’s a fair place to start as it is so much more than simply a writing guide.
The book is broken into four sections. The first is a memoir of how King got into writing and the earlier part of his career. The second is a style guide for writing. The third is more memoir about later life and writing. The final is an example of writing from first draft through the initial editing steps.
I ate up the memoir section. As long as an author can tell interesting stories that don’t get too bogged down in their personal philosophies, I really enjoy memoirs. Personal philosophy is fine, but I like to pick it out of the story more than have it be the story. King fits my preferred style in this regard. His stories show how he built his love of writing and which genres he preferred. They show his background and the life he led, which fed into the way he develops his characters. He doesn’t seem to be trying to convey a philosophical message, but there is certainly some underlying theme to the way the stories are told.
The second section was told more from the top of King’s soap box, but he spent time to convey his points in a meaningful way. The section is about the different components of writing, which he calls his toolbox, with a heavy reliance on the rules from The Elements of Style. The top of the toolbox are the more basic tools, spelling and grammar. Lower down you get into more involved writing style, including tense, character development, and plot development, etc. All of these, I ate up. I didn’t agree with everything he said, but his points were meaningful as I ponder the way I put words to print. I’m being more mindful of how I say something in a sentence. I’m asking more questions about how a reader may interpret a sentence. Will they understand my meaning? Am I being concise in the way I communicate something? Sometimes, these need to be done in the long form before editing to something shorter and that’s ok. Sometimes, I need to remind myself of that.
One section that I, as a newer creative writer, would like to have seen was more detail about rewriting. I am a published writer but for scientific journal articles. The process of writing is different. I’ve rarely tossed the original version for a rewrite. The articles are broken up into specific sections with regimented ways to include information. The hard parts, for me, were writing the introduction (the story that led to the hypothesis that we tested) and the discussion (the interpretation of the data and how it fits with the current literature in science). The discussion was typically the most likely to be rewritten, but it was not an overly daunting thing because a discussion was about 2,000 words, and I can write 2,000 words in a few hours if I know what I want to write. When it comes to rewriting a 90,000-word manuscript, I freeze. How do people do it? Do they really rewrite the manuscript from the beginning? Do they go through the original and pull out the parts they want to keep? The process, I’m sure, is different for everyone, but I would love a good guide on rewriting.
The third section of the book moves back into memoir-mode and was about living as a writer but focused on King’s near-fatal accident in 1999, when he was hit by a van as he was walking along a rural road near his home. The battle to regain his motivation for writing through the pain of recovery is inspiring. This book was in jeopardy of falling out of existence during that time. I’m so glad it didn’t. Given the date of publication, I was left wanting more memoir. King’s story isn’t finished yet.
I highly recommend reading this book if you’re a King fan and want to learn more about the person behind his books. The first and third sections alone are a highly entertaining trip through King’s experiences leading him to write and as a writer. He doesn’t shy away from his failings and that makes him even more relatable.
I also highly recommend this as a writer and wish I picked it up before. The focus is on fictional writing, but the concepts apply across fields and genres. As I mentioned, the second section has changed the way I view my own writing. I don’t have to take his advice, but I ask more poignant questions about my writing as I’m going along. All of that, for me, is a reason to love this book and take as much from it as I can. I hope anyone else reading it can as well.
Who decided this was a good idea? Oh yeah, I did. I should be working on some of the many WIPs I’ve started in the last year, but my brain is scattered to the far reaches of someplace big and distant. So instead, I’m going to sit here in mumble about life and things for a bit and then continue to try and figure out how to build this webpage.
Ahh the page. I’m a little frustrated with it at the moment because it said I could change things after I started and then I couldn’t figure out how. So I started over. I’m calling it Glorified Chaos because it makes a ton of sense. I don’t know what I’m going to put on the page. I got the idea from author websites that I enjoy perusing. I don’t have anything published in the creative realm yet so I thought I would put my short stories here until I’m trying to sell them. I’m also writing book reviews as an exercise. There’s a lot of random stuff to put here and it’s all based on my mood and what I’m up to. In other words, my chaos.
What is my chaos?
Right now my chaos ranges all over the place. On the bad end are the ever-present pandemic, cancer, dementia, death, and everyday annoyances. On the good end are an amazing family, an attempt to reshape my career, and light at the end of the tunnel that has been the last two years. If it seems my bad outweigh my good at the moment, you’d be right. I’m trying hard to embrace the good and look forward to relief from the bad. That light is bright and I see good things ahead.
The Fun Stuff
What might you expect from me on this site?
I want to be a writer, so there should be a lot of focus on writing. Every time I sit down to my computer to write, I’m honing the skill. I’ll use this page to practice and to post things that are not yet published. Most never will be, I’m sure. I keep feeling a bit fraudulent when I say that I’m trying to become a writer, because I already am. First, I don’t think you have to be published to be a writer. Second, I am a published writer, but not in the way I’m working towards. That history of publishing in science should help me along the way. I’m used to writing and editing. I’m used to having my work critiqued by others. The new is that I’ve never had to get an agent or publisher for the work in the same way as one would for a novel and that ultimately is my goal. I want to write novels and I would like for them to be traditionally published. So, at the end of the day, I’m going to try and use this site to help me to that goal.
Reading is a big part of writing. Knowing how others write helps build the skill and also helps one know what other people are interested in reading. I’ve been in a reading slump for a while, but am now back to reading a few books at once. My library card has been getting a lot of use recently. To further help with writing, I’m going to be writing reviews for the books I read. I wrote a review for Stephen King’s On Writing the other day and I’ll post it here.
Gaming- I love playing video games. I think there is a place for gaming reviews by a middle aged woman. Sure, people will read those. Ok, maybe not, but more writing practice.
Cooking, wine, exercise, parenting, etc. I can see writing up blogs on all the things I’m doing if for no other reason than to procrastinate doing them.
I think that’s enough for now. Feel free to respond. Be nice. I reserve the right to police my site as I see fit.