The Stalker

Ely is a small, friendly town. Sure, there’s a lot of gossip and small town blues, but it’s not so bad. I was raised here, had my first kiss here and… had my first haunt here.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “He’s going to go off on some fake, cheesy Halloween rant.” I want to assure you that this is anything but fake and cheesy. This is the story of Halloween 2006, and it’s not something I will soon forget.

I have a best friend. He’s been my best friend since the third grade. His name? Well, to protect the innocent, we’ll just call him Sterling (though some of you reading this might know his real name). Sterling is a nice guy. He’s always been taller me. He’s part Native American, part white. He’s sharp, but rarely serious.

The only reason I’m telling you this is because he was there. You see, we were seniors in high school. Now that I think about it, it seems like such a long time ago. As seniors in high school, we thought we were pretty cool. Don’t get me wrong, we didn’t operate on principles of mean-spirited exclusivity, but we didn’t hold back much either. If we wanted to go somewhere or be with somebody or do something, we just did. I don’t remember much fear or worry about what people thought that day in age.

One of the things we would sometimes do is walk. We would go to a park after dark, screw around, hassle some freshman maybe, then walk around town like we owned the place.They were simpler times.

To understand Halloween 2006, you have to understand the week before. The week before, we walked. I remember parking my car at Steptoe park, getting out, traipsing across the field and trying to find something to do. That’s always the kick in a small town isn’t it; finding something to do? With nothing found, we just walked, meandered, moseyed about town.

There are a few places in Ely that get a little darker at night than the rest of the town. Sure, it’s a small town, but that doesn’t mean it is without its light-less corridors. This night, we happened to find one of them.

It was a dirt alleyway. There are several of those in Ely–though I am not sure why. The light was bright above us on the street as we looked down the dirt path. There was another light, just the same, across the way. Perhaps we thought it a shortcut to our destination, perhaps not. Either way, we turned down the path.

We were quiet as we crossed through the alley. The dirt and gravel echoed in the air as it crunched under our feet. A dog barked. I may or may not have barked back. We may or may not have laughed. The silence returned. All was silent, but the crunch, crunch, crunch of our steps.

Sometimes, you get that feeling. We all know that feeling; the one where you just know there is someone watching you. Sure, you’ve alone, but someone is there now. We’ve all felt that feeling. About two-thirds of the way down that alley, that feeling was strong.

I looked to Sterling to see if he noticed. When he stopped stepping, I followed his lead. The crunch, crunch, crunch of footsteps, however, continued behind us. Bumps appeared on my arm. I became acutely aware of my breathing, my pulse, my heart. Standing hair on the back of my neck sent chills down my spine.

Perhaps worse was when the feet stopped behind us. I remember not wanting to turn around. I didn’t want to move, breathe or make a sound. It’s funny how quiet the world becomes when you hold your breath. It’s funny how loud it soon seems to be, especially when someone else behind you is breathing.

We seemed to turn at the same time, but there was only black behind us, all the way to the light on the other end. We weren’t fans of the alley at that point, so we quickened our pace toward the light. Three sets of footsteps moved though, not two. There was such a stench.

The light came quickly. We had so very nearly reached it when I decided to look back. There he was; a man in a long black coat. He smiled at me with crooked teeth once Sterling and I were safe under the light. I tapped Sterling on the should so he would stop and turn around.

The man asked if we could help him. He didn’t seem weak or in trouble. Sterling, always a nice guy, told him that we could. I didn’t trust it. I knew in my gut that this wasn’t going to end well. We couldn’t trust him. I knew we couldn’t trust him. I was angry at Sterling for offering assistance.

The man thanked us, then turned around and walked back down the alley, the smell retreating with him.

I asked if we should follow him, but Sterling had the idea to just wait in the light. I suspected his earlier display of chivalry was little more than false bravado. Never-the-less, we stayed. After several minutes passed by, we figured he wasn’t coming back, so we left, continuing our walk and heading to our homes at the end of the night.

The week and weekend passed by fairly uneventful. On Halloween night, however, we were once again out wandering the streets of Ely, Nevada. Once you pass a certain age, there aren’t a lot of Halloween options, especially not in Ely. By nine or so, all the trick-or-treaters have made their rounds and are returning to their little homes to gorge themselves on sugar for a week straight. By ten or eleven, the teenagers are done with their mischief. We were walking at eleven thirty.

This time, we chose a different route. Sure, we still started at the same old park, wandering through its fields before roaming the streets, but we avoided the aforementioned alley. As I said before, there are a lot of those dirt alleys. By the time midnight rolled around, we were tired and ready to call it a night. Neither of us were too worried, then, to cross down another dirt road behind a row of houses; especially since this particular dirt road gave us a nice light, right in the middle of the path.

Now, before we continue, I need to let you know something. I am not a superstitious man. I don’t think I was then, and I am definitely not now. I can’t speak for Sterling, but what we saw next is the one thing in a lifetime of events that could convince me otherwise.

The dirt road was just like any other. Our footsteps crunched. The was little shelter from the chill of the night. The air was dry and scentless, and we talked as we sauntered down it. The night was normal enough for two costume-less gents about town on Halloween.

We passed through the first few paces of the trail with no substantial event occurring. We approached the light in the center. We crossed through it. About three-quarters of the way, down the road, there was a familiar stench. I blamed Sterling, but he wasn’t laughing. His eyes were wide and he cursed–a rare occurrence for him. That is when I remembered.

There, in the light was the man from week before. He wore his same long, black coat. His hair was long and mangy, a detail I hadn’t noticed previously. He didn’t seem to notice us.

It took me a few moments to realize what he was doing. My body reacted with sweat and breathlessness before my mind could process the knife he held in his right hand, thumbing the blade with his left. He stared intently at the edge of the knife, as if he was studying it.

There are those moments in dreams, in terrors, when you cannot catch your breath. You try to breathe, to scream or speak, but there is nothing. I lived that moment. I lived that moment as I watched this man, knowing something sinister was going through his mind.

When I finally found my wind and resumed respiration, it was not done quietly. The man must’ve heard me, because he looked up, smiling his demon smile. He stepped toward us in a sprint, gripping the knife as his coat flew back from the wind.

At that point in time, I was in much better shape than I am now, so I ran. I ran and ran and ran, with Sterling one pace behind me. I don’t remember when we stopped hearing him or where we might have lost him, but we made it back to the car.

On the way home, we assumed it was just a prankster out for Halloween and said nothing to each other of the familiar stench that passed through the car on the drive home. I slept soundly enough, but was not prepared for what Sterling would tell me the next morning.

We both got to school a little early to hang out before class. Sterling looked at me we cold eyes, telling me about what happened to him when he was trying to sleep the night before. At that time, his bed faced the window in his bedroom. He had kept it closed and was out cold when he heard a tapping on the window. Sterling says he opened his eyes to a rising window and a building breeze. The man’s face, the man from before, shown in his window. It smiled, set down the knife on the windowsill, and left.

I didn’t believe him at first; especially since said knife could not be produced. After all, Sterling has been known to concoct stories. We went about our senior years just fine after that, not thinking much about the strange occurrence. I graduated and went off to college in Idaho. Sterling spent some time down south with his brother. Then Halloween 2007 came.

There was a pretty girl I was dating at the time, to protect the innocent, we’ll call her Ruby. She lived in an apartment complex right next to mine, only separated by an alley. I was lucky enough to have a room with a window so I could look out and see her if I wanted. Sometimes I’d wave at Ruby across the way, as we both had apartments on the top floor, both number 306. I thought that was kind of funny and interesting.

Anyway, I had just gotten home one night from her place. We had been talking about costumes and parties and whatnot, decided our plans for the upcoming Halloween holiday. I went up to my room to see if she was in her’s so I could wave across the way, blow kisses, that sort of thing. She wasn’t there, but there was a noise in the alley and a slight stench. The craziest part is, when I told her this story, she started seeing the man too… and I still do, from time to time.

Today Marks a Milestone

There is almost nothing as exciting as finishing the final touches for a novel. After hours and hours of typing and editing and staring at a black and white screen, it’s finally ready. It’s finally time. Today, I finished the final edit for “Ecce Signum.” I am extremely excited to be releasing it this Friday and am currently in the process of going through the publishing checks.

This will be my second published novel. As I wait for the publication day to come, I wanted to make a couple of exciting announcements:

First, with “Ecce Signum” now under my belt, I will begin work on “Shadow of Freedom,” the much anticipated sequel to “Shadow of Truth,” on November 1st.

Second, I am working to be able to publish one or two novelettes/novellas between November 1st and the expected publication date of “Shadow of Freedom” (Christmas, 2014), and will be expanding on this in future posts.

I am eagerly anticipating this Halloween and am preparing for the next big novel. Saludos!

Today, an Exercise in Prompts: The Daily Post’s “Doppelganger Alert”

Every now and then it’s fun and helpful to participate in a writing challenge. When “The Daily Post” blogged this post this morning, I couldn’t resist:

“You step into an acquaintance’s house for the first time, and discover that everything — from the furniture, to the books, to the art on the wall — is identical to your home. What happens next?”

Here’s my take:

“This is my wife, Jaime,” the acquaintance says, pointing to a beautiful woman beside him. Her looks are enough to momentarily distract you from the odd circumstance.

“Nice to meet you,” you reply. Your head spins. You’re dizzy and taste metal in your mouth. Something strange is happening to you, but you can’t show signs of discomfort. George, your acquaintance, was kind enough to invite you into his home. Being new in the city means needing to find friends. You can’t screw this up.

“How about some coffee?” Jaime asks. She stares at you strangely as she asks the question, as if trying to convey a message that is lost on you.

“Coffee would be…”

“Great,” she says, finishing your sentence. “You two sit and chat, I’ll be right back.”

There’s a flash. A moment replays in your mind. Jamie is there, she’s bringing coffee. The moment ends, Deja vu. It’s more than the feeling. You know you’ve been here before.

“Everything alright?” George asks, noticing your hesitation.

“Fine, I guess,” you reply.

“Come have a seat.” He ushers you over to the blue couch, your same blue couch beside that same blue recliner set up in the same way as in your twin home. “I’m glad you decided to join me,” he says as you sit.

“I’m glad you invited me,” you reply.

The couch feels odd as you release your weight to its support. Its as if you’re on air. Yes, that’s it. You’re hovering. It’s all a fantasy.

“You seem a bit skittish my man,” George says. “You sure you’re okay?”

You swallow hard. Why are you breathing heavy? Why is your pulse so quick? “I’m fine,” you manage to speak out.

“I’ve got coffee,” Jaime says.

The smell is intoxicating. You know it. You recognize it. It’s the same coffee you use, in the same mug. Stranger still is your memory of her perfume blending in its scent. You’ve only just met and there’s no woman in your home, so why does it feel so familiar.

“Thank you love,” George says.

Jaime simply smiles and sits beside you, distant from her husband. ‘Is she scared of him,’ you wonder. You shake off the thought. It’s a normal night in a normal home. All else is coincidence. It must be. There is no other explanation.

As you reach for the mug Jaime has placed on the coffee table, she touches your arm. “Tell us about yourself,” she suggests.

You lean back from the mug to answer her question. “I’m brand new to the city, just moved here from Greenville.”

“How are you liking the city?” she asks.

“Quite well,” you reply. “People seem,” you pause, “friendly.”

You reach for the mug again. Perhaps a sip of coffee will bring normalcy to this whole, strange situation. Again, Jaime stops you. “I bet you miss home. Is it strange not to be home?” She asks.

“Jaime, leave the guy alone,” George says. “Have your coffee before it gets cold,” he suggests.

“It’s fine Robert.” You turn to Jaime. “You know, its the strangest thing…”

“Jaime, can you just let the boys talk?” George interrupts.

Her grip is tight on your arm as she says, “I suppose so,” and stands. Jaime leaves the room, turning to look at you for a brief moment before disappearing all together.

“Now that we aren’t being pestered, you can enjoy your coffee,” Robert says.

You reach for the mug a third time.

“Or,” Robert begins, “you can leave it.”

“Is there something wrong with the coffee,” you ask, suddenly suspicious.

“The coffee is normal,” he replies.”It’s good for you.” Robert takes another sip from his mug.

“Maybe I just ought to have some water,” you suggest.

His face flickers and fills. “Water is overrated,” he says. “Coffee is what everybody drinks.” His words are stuttered and broken, but stern and loud.

“Jaime!” you call out.

“Jaime isn’t real!” He yells, now flickering like an image on a broken projector. “Now drink the damn coffee!”

“What are you talking about?” you ask.

“If you don’t, she’ll be gone.”

“I need a glass of water,” you insist, suddenly more thirsty than you’ve ever been. You stand and move toward the kitchen.

“This isn’t your house! You can’t just do as you please!” George yells as he begins to follow you.

You come around the corner and see Jamie in the kitchen; your kitchen. It’s all so precise and exact. She hands you a glass. You see the faucet.

“I’ll kill her!” George yells. “I’ll end her right here! You’ll do as you’re told.”

The water begins to run smoothly from the faucet. George is solid and gripping Jamie’s neck. There’s something about her that endears her to you. She is so familiar, so lovely, so perfect. For Jaime to live, you would do almost anything; almost.

“I’m free,” you say as you fill the glass.

George lets out a yell as you put the rim of the cup to your lips. He pounces toward you. The water touches your tongue. He disintegrates into thin air, as does Jaime. You’re back home. Yes, it’s your home. There is no twin house, no acquaintance, no doppelganger. There is only you.

………………………………………………………………………………………….

Okay, now that I’ve taken the challenge, I have to extend it to you, my reader. If you wish to try the exercise, please post your response to the comment section for this post.

So You Want to Write a Book: Seven Rules for Novel Success

One of my earliest memories is writing my first book. It wasn’t a novel or novelette. I was maybe five. My favorite books at that age had fuzzy hair to feel, and shiny pictures, and scratch and sniff stickers. Therefore, my first book included all of those elements using smooth tape, smelly markers and whatever fuzzy things I could find around the house (I don’t remember exactly, but fuzzy things could have included some ill-gotten cat hair). I loved that book. I loved it so much I made another one, and another one. Literally, from the minute I could read, I have been writing.

Fast forward about twenty years. I’m living all alone in a studio apartment above a house in Fairview, Oregon. Aside from my job–which I detest–and spending time with my friend T.J., my life is pretty boring. I don’t even have cable. After years of perfecting poetry and attempts at two novelettes, I decide that I’m finally ready to write my first full-length novel.

The idea was simple enough to conjure up. “I’ll just write a novel,” I thought, as if it would be so simple. I attacked the page with feverish enthusiasm, writing whatever came to mind. Shortly after its inception, however, I got bored and couldn’t figure out where I was going with the few thousand words I had now put to paper. The desire to complete a book was so powerful though that I refused to give up. I had to find a way to keep going. So, I started a blog. My book became an ebook which I updated every week for readers who followed.

It was a brilliant device! Now I had a reason, motivation to keep writing the book. No matter how stuck I got, or how tired I became, disappointing my audience was not something I was willing to do. More still, I didn’t want to disappoint myself. Failure was not an option. I pressed forward, writing “Shadow of Truth” to its completion.

By the time I was done with the book, I had learned that writing a book isn’t as easy as it might sound. It’s hard, time consuming, grueling work. It takes patience, foresight, research, planning, and hours and hours of editing. Then, after the book is written and edited, you still have to think about what you’re going to do with it. Did you write it just for fun or to be able to say, “I wrote a book”? Do you want to publish? If so, you’re work isn’t done. Do you want to keep writing? Is there going to be a sequel? Now you have questions to ponder and probably more work to do.

For me, the answer was easy. I’ve been writing since I was five. Writing is what I love. It’s how I want to make a living. So, after all the pitching to agents and marketing and eventual publishing of “Shadow of Truth,” I decided to write another novel. Actually, I set the outline for three novels–one being the sequel to “Shadow of Truth,” another being a love story with the working title “The Love Hermits of Foggy Bay,” and the third being a thriller that is to be published on Halloween, 2014 entitled “Ecce Signum.”

I have now finished writing a second novel. It’s nearly 20,000 words longer than my first novel and was written in a fraction of the time. The writing in more professional. The characters are more developed and the words came so much more easily. Why? I followed a few rules that I learned when I made my outlines. These rules will not only help you get your book idea off the ground, but will help it be a much smoother, more professional experience.

Rule number one: Show up to work. – We all have good days and bad days. Writer’s block isn’t a myth, nor is the strange phenomenon we commonly refer to as “having a muse.” However, if you want to successfully write a book, you have to show up to work. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Eat, Pray, Love,” describes this rule eloquently in her 2009 Ted Talk “Your Elusive Creative Genius” saying, “Don’t be afraid. Don’t be daunted. Just do your job. Continue to show up for your piece of it, whatever that might be.”

Rule number two: Keep track of everything. – This was probably the biggest difference between my writing book one and book two. While writing “Shadow of Truth,” everything I wrote was research this, place event, write. It made for difficult and sometimes sloppy writing. However, with “Ecce Signum” I learned that if I keep a notes page running as I am writing, everything is clearer. Every new character, location, organization or important bit of information I introduce in the story is noted, described and outlined. Not only does this help later on in the book when you have to mention something from before or need to work in some foreshadowing, but it also helps to build depth. Your characters will be more real. Your locations will be better designed and your plot will be deeper if you simply keep track of them as you write with a short, concise synopsis that serves your purposes.

Rule number three: Know your characters. – If you are keeping track of everything, you are going to have a character log. This will include a description of your characters traits, aspirations and their roles in the book. However, as the author you must understand your characters on a deeper level. If you were to be asked a question about your protagonist such as “What would Bob Johnson do if he were in a life or death situation?” You should be able to answer that question. You will have to answer those questions as your narrative progresses. An important skill of an author is character development. The best way to develop a character is know the character as well as you know yourself.

Rule number four: Get writing. – Sometimes I get so concerned with all the details that I forget the most important thing; the writing. I would get so lost in my own head while writing “Shadow of Truth” that I would be pondering more than I was writing. Though pondering is important in some aspects, its amazing what happens when you just put your fingers on the keyboard and go. If you’ve shown up to work, you know your characters and you are keeping track of everything, the words will come.

Rule number five: It’s okay to make mistakes. – This fits in a lot with rule number four. People think that in order to write a book, everything has to be perfect on the first draft. That is simply not true. Though it’s understood that your grammar will not be perfect the first time through, it should also be mentioned that your plot, characters and story line don’t have to be either. That’s what editing is for. If you sit around trying to make everything come together just right before you start writing, you’ll never get your book done. Write what comes to you until the book is complete, doing your best to have a coherent first draft, then perfect your words in editing. On that same train of thought is…

Rule number six: You don’t have to have everything figured out before hand. – Just like its okay to make mistakes, it’s also okay to not know everything that’s going to happen in the book from day one. Having a rigid structure and plan might help you in some ways, but in others it will actually impede your ability to create a good story. It may sound strange, but as you write and get to really know your characters, plans can change. In fact, I changed the main antagonist (basically the “who done it”) in my recent novel as I neared the end of the book just because it made for that much better of a book. Have an idea, yes, but allow it to be a dynamic one. Allow it to change and progress as the story progresses. Your words will flow easier and your writing will be better.

Rule number seven: Have fun (cliche I know) – If you aren’t having fun writing your book, if the story doesn’t interest you, then what’s the point? It will come across in your writing as well and your audience won’t enjoy a book that bored you to tears. For me, this means creating fiction that is thought-provoking and allows me to research things in which I am interested. For you, it might mean writing a great romance or fantasy world. The best thing about writing is the best thing about reading; the ability to be transported to somewhere you never could gone otherwise. Writing has the added benefit of allowing you to create that place for yourself and others. Enjoy it!

Whether it’s a lifetime passion or a simple bucket list item, writing a book is an amazing feeling. If you follow these seven rules and really apply yourself, I have no doubt that I’ll be reading your new novel in the coming months. Now get out there and get writing!