WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE PART II

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Here is the second and last part of Tara Whitacre’s short story. I am told the actual title is PLEASE ENJOY YOUR STAY. 

~Time Is On Their Side~

Strange dream. Voices screaming. I opened my eyes and the screen glowed. Tony slept, and Angela… Angela sat upright, face slack, her hand working her head. I looked at the screen. Why do I look? There’s the man, fake smile, styled hair, talking. Talking to me. Telling me to sleep. So I do.
Waking up was painful–even more than the morning before. I looked at the clock, but it wasn’t ticking. I got up and stumbled to the bathroom and just made it to the toilet before vomiting. As I sat, the last of my convulsions worked their way through my body. I began to feel my body. My feet felt sticky and tangled in more strands. I sat back against the bathtub and looked at them; sure enough, again, more tangled hair. I should be concerned, but I’m not. I disentangled them and toss the ball in the toilet.
It landed with a plop. Hair shouldn’t make that sound. I looked and my stomach lurched at the sight of its prior contents. I flushed it and sat back as I watched it swirl. The water settled and so did my stomach. I took a deep breath, but it got stuck in my chest. There’s something in the toilet. I can see it just beyond the hole. Something that is darker than the shadows already there–swirling, twisting, stretching. I rub my eyes and look again. A finger, black and bloated, pokes from the shadows into the light, and then two, three, a thumb and a hand. It crawled out gripping the porcelain with broken and missing fingernails.
It crawled out of the bowl and sat on the seat. I scrambled to find purchase on the tile and started to backpedal. The hand watched me. How? Hands don’t have eyes. It sat, black, slimy, bloated, three inches of wrist sticking up above it. This can’t be real. It dropped off the seat and landed with a sickening plop on the ground. I wanted to scream, to call out to the other two, but my throat closed up as the hand found its fingers and crawled toward me. I pulled my knees to my chest and hyperventilated. It’s close now. I covered my face with my hands and waited to feel it grab me.

The door opened and Tony’s voice overpowered the pounding in my ears. “What are you doing?”

I peeked through my fingers wanting to warn him. Warn him about what? I looked around and tried to figure out what had scared me, and why I was huddled on the floor. I found nothing to justify my feelings.
“Guess I just drank too much,” I said.
He smiled at me, but I didn’t miss the hint of fear coloring the corners of his lips in shadow.
“I hear that.” He came over and helped me up. “I hate to do this, but I’m kicking you out. I have to pee.”

I gripped his biceps as fear slammed through me. “Don’t use the toilet!” I practically screamed. But why?

Now he looked concerned. He held my arms and looked into my eyes.
“What?” he asked. “Tara, go lay down. You’re just hung over and tired.”
I shook my head. The fear had passed to be replaced by embarrassment. I shook my head again, too fast and my stomach lurched.
“You’re right.” I did my best to smile and walked out of the bathroom. I sat on the bed and picked the hair off my feet like it was routine and lay down. I looked at the clock, but it was still not ticking.
Why isn’t it ticking? I got my phone and checked it, but it was stuck on the same time as the bedside one.
What is going on?
I watched the green numbers on the bedside clock. My eyes glued to them, waiting for them to move.
Tony came out of the bathroom and sat facing me. He scratched the corner of his eye gently. “You okay now?”
“Yeah,” I looked at him and saw blood by his eye where he’d scratched. I didn’t trust my eyes, so I said nothing about it.
Time never moved again in that room. We never left. We ate the food they brought, drank what we were given and indulged in our new quirks –Tony picking at his nails, Angela pulling her hair, and me staring. I spent unknown amounts of time staring at the picture. At first it was just a picture, and then the people in it started to move in playful displays of joy. They twirled and danced, laughed soundlessly and spoke unheard words. Mothers rocked their small children as the older children played. I laughed along with them, my eyes bounced from one group of tiny people to another.
I didn’t notice the first couple drops, but I did notice the next couple and it took my eyes off the happy, joyful people and up to the top of the picture. It had started to melt. The colors smeared, ran together, and dripped down. I cocked my head as I watched it work its way down.
I watched it till the sky all but disappeared before I looked back down at the people. The scene had changed dramatically. They were now in a state of panic. Everyone screamed, tore and pounded at the glass as their world came melting down on top of them. The mothers, once holding their small children, now drowned them as they stared up at the fall sky with anguished faces. It melted its way down the building, ever closer.
The panic exploded as the running ink began to pool at their feet. They clawed and pounded on the glass. Their silent screams went unheard. Soon they swam in hot ink. In their madness, they pushed each other under the ink in a desperate attempt to stay afloat.
The melting reached the first couple and melted off as hands and arms tried to keep it at bay. It burned through them until nothing remained. I watched all this in awe. Soon the happy picture was nothing but an empty frame. The bed it hung over splashed was with its ink. The carpet below was soaked through with it. I sat in the middle of the bed and stared at the glass that had just contained happiness and now held a void. I stared and I rocked.
I came back in a suffocating sonic boom. The frame was still empty, or was it? Angela sat against the headboard pulling at her hair. One after another the discarded strands hit the floor and the bald spot, now visible on the side of her head, grew. Tony was in his bed and worked at another nail. He had been prying them off one by one. Nobody found any of this concerning.
Time passes–or at least it must have. We sat around zoned out. Angela had pulled half her head’s worth of hair out. Tony was on his third toenail, having removed all his fingernails. I just sat and stared. I would still come around in small spaces of time–long enough to look around. The carpet was sticky and covered in hair and stains. Any available space was covered in towering piles of dishes and rotten food. The beds were nothing but crumpled sheets, tangled blankets, and a ton of stains from body and food.
I sat in a corner. I didn’t know how I had gotten there, but I sat running my nail gently down a line drawn on the paper. Over and over. When a small pain brought me back from the numbness, my fingers were bleeding. The nails were worn away to the flesh. I looked and saw the same line scratched into the wall around the room, some just barely marking it and some deep into the dry wall. There were pink stains here and there from when my individual fingers started to bleed. I stared at my bloody finger tips and the numbness pulled me in yet again.
The first time I pulled free long enough to leave the room is seared into my mind. It took me on a confusing walk through hallways that twisted in strange patterns and seemed to fold over on themselves. The walls were rotting and oozing, the carpet frayed and missing some patches. Everything smelled musty and long dead.

I found myself in an elevator with a staff member; she stood frozen, her painted-on smile in place.

“Enjoying your stay?” She asked in a voice devoid of emotion.
“Yes,” I stared at her. “I think.” I stared as the ghost of the woman frozen surfaced and screamed in unheard horror. I just stared.
The elevator dinged and the door opened. I looked out on the floor then glanced back at the women with the painted on smile. Her ghost absorbed back into her and she stared ahead. I stepped out onto the floor and watched the door close. I could feel the numbness pulling at me, but the change in smell helped me push it off. From rot and decay to antiseptic, meat, and blood. I looked around the room and took it in slowly.
It was in an infirmary of sorts. People lay on cold metal tables everywhere throughout the room. All were hooked up to bags that ran varieties of drugs through an IV and into their systems.
I walked further into the room feeling paralyzed. There was a women with the meat peeled off her arm to the bone. A man to the right had pieces carefully filleted off his thighs. Another man next to him lay on his stomach, because his back was carved down to his ribs and spine.
There were several like this as I walked on. After countless rows, the injuries changed. Women with their breasts removed, men and women with their buttocks carved off. Everything done carefully. More and more rows. More and more bodies.
I’m getting toward the end. The bodies I’m witness to now have no faces. They are peeled down to the bone. Lidless eyes stared straight up into machines that periodically dripped saline solution into them. Their bared teeth clamped shut as they continued to stare. I reached the end and it came as a set of doors. I hesitated before I opened them.
Behind the doors sat the hotel’s kitchen. People bustled about and shouted out orders and what was needed. They all rushed around with the same painted on smiles as the two women I saw before. I watched as one of these people dropped a human breast onto a cutting board and started to peel the skin and nipple off.
The truth of the situation fell into place. My stomach rolled violently and my vision blurred. Everything started to spin and I hit the floor.

~An Extended Stay~

I woke up back in our room with excruciating pain everywhere. I sat up, or tried to, and ended up just laying still and watching as Tony pulled at his last toenail. He would talk to himself, mumbling some line over and over again, but I didn’t know the language and could hardly hear him anyway.
I rolled away from him and checked on Angela. She’d pulled all the hair from the left side of her head and had given herself a receding hairline. She sat continually pulling one hair after another. Her arm shook from the exhaustion of the repetitive motion, but she didn’t stop. I didn’t need the man in the television with the hypnotic voice. I just shut my eyes and slept.
When I woke up, the pain had significantly worsened. I looked at Tony’s bed, and he was nowhere to be seen. I moved like a broken robot–rough jagged movements. My feet shuffled along the floor knotting up hair as I went. But none of that matters anymore. I checked the bathroom but he wasn’t there.
“Where’s Tony?” I tapped Angela.

Her neck creaked audibly as her head turned.

“Gone.” She looked back at the television and continued to work on the last patch of greasy hair pulling them out one by one.
“Gone where?” She didn’t answer so I pushed her. “Angela! Gone where? Where did he go?”
“They came and got him last night,” her voice was hollow.
“Who?” I looked at her, but she’d say no more. I let her be and sat to pull at the carpet. Once I peeled up a third of the room, I went to sleep. That was my pattern for awhile. Pick at the carpet, sleep, pick at the carpet, sleep.
Meanwhile, Angela was down to her last few hairs. When she pulled her last one, they came to get her. I caught a glimpse of them, painted on faces and tidy uniforms. They carried her off and talked about which cuts they’d use off her first. She went with them mumbling the same line Tony had.
I knew where Tony had gone now, and I knew where she was going. I knew, but I did nothing. I lay in the filthy sheets as my treacherous mind wondered if one of them would end up on my plate for breakfast.

~Checking Out~

Time alone was worse. I watched the wallpaper rot and fall away. I watched myself in the mirror waste away to nothing, my flesh dried out, wrinkled, cracked, and peeled off. My blood fell out as rust-colored sand. My eyes dried out and receded into my skull. I watched all this with disinterest.
I left the room again. I walked the hallways. I bumped into the walls and tripped on the ratty carpet. The silence was deafening. The smells were suffocating. I found the exit after hours. Day? Weeks? Months? I didn’t know. The sun was blinding. The slight breeze hurt my skin. And the sounds! Everything was so loud! I ran along the street running into people and objects. I needed shelter. I needed out of this. I could hear the hotel in my head screaming. Telling me I had to come back. I began to feel numb again, but it only made me run faster. I didn’t want to go back. I didn’t want to go numb.
Somehow I ended up in this hospital. I recount my story only in writing. I can’t tell anyone. They wouldn’t believe me. I get out of here in two days and then I’m on the first flight out of here.
I write as I reposition myself on the bed–the soft bed. It is soft. Isn’t it? I move a little more. Is that metal I’m laying on?
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WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE

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I haven’t posted anything in a while. I have been editing my fourth book, and I tend to work in a left brain/right brain sort of way. When I’m editing I don’t have much creativity, so I couldn’t come up with anything for this blog. I have sent the manuscript off to some agents, so while I wait for them to reject me, I’m posting a short story Tara Whitacre wrote based on a dream she had.  She tends to write children’s stories like The Little Engine Who Could Sneak Into Your Room and Chew out Your Eyeballs. No seriously, she writes horror stories, and she recently got married, so that might explain the dream (just kidding). This is the first part of it. I’ll post the rest later on. Enjoy. And my apologies to Alice Cooper.

WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE

by Tara Whitacre

Please Enjoy Your Stay

~Checking In~

It happened slowly. A misplaced intent. A voice that invaded your dreams. A soft, melodic, opaque scream that is never clearly remembered. A slow numbing feeling starting at the back of your mind and flooding your body. It all happened slowly.

We checked into the hotel on a late Saturday night. The long trip had been taxing, and we slouched under the weight of exhaustion. I think it is why we missed it. How could we have missed it? Tony spoke to the woman behind the desk and got everything in order for our stay. She handed us our cards — she being a non-descript white female with a painted on smile. To describe her further would be a trial. I only glanced and never saw her again.

The room was set up with a dresser, a television and two queen beds. Some awful art hung above the beds and a door at the back of the room lead to the bathroom.

Angela dropped her bags on the faded green carpet and looked around the room. “Well, this isn’t bad.”
Tony nudged me. “Looks relatively bed bug free.” He walked into the room and claimed the other bed.

My last trip like this had landed me in a dump of a hotel and a bunch of unwanted friends in the form of, you guessed it, bed bugs. I’d never had an issue like bed bugs, lice, or fleas before and the experience of these vial creatures left me leery of any space not my own.

I smiled at the floor as I, too, dropped my bags, “Just as a precaution, I’m staying at your house for awhile after this.”

He lay on the bed and chuckled at me. Angela looked out the window at the dismal view. She frowned, a look that never truly hid her ever present smile, and faced the room..

“What should we do?” She looked us over, a bright smile on her face. I had always thought it’d be impossible to get rid of that smile..

I lay on our bed and sighed, “Sleep. Long trip and long day tomorrow.”

Tony nodded his head in agreement and settled more comfortably on the bed. I did the same and pulled the clean smelling blankets up to my chin. Angela frowned, but grabbed her bag and went into the bathroom to get ready for bed. Tony flipped through channels and soon we were all in our pajamas and ready to sleep.

Sleep came unusually easy for me, but, as usual, did not last. I lay on my side facing Tony’s bed. I could see him in the soft glow of the television. He was sound asleep on his back. I stretched out as I tried to figure out what had awakened me. It had been something. My mind had just about grasped the cause of my being awake, when I felt the bed move. I rolled over and saw Angela sitting up, her back against the headboard staring off into space. One hand lay limpy in her lap and the other worked the side of her head I couldn’t see.

“Angela?” I propped myself up on my elbow and looked into her slack face. “Are you okay?”

She stared at the television, so I looked too. I saw a fake man in an expensive suit and neatly styled hair. He told me to sleep. His voice was hypnotic, soft and warm. Before I knew it, I was fast asleep.

Morning came in a sea of melancholy grey. I was the first up. Swinging my feet out of bed brought a pained groan from my lips. Everything, every part of me, felt as if it had spent the night in a vice. Standing up and carefully stretching eased the tight feeling by miniscule amounts.

As I made my way around the bed the feel of the floor suddenly changed. Long thin strands wrapped and twisted around my toes. “What the fuck!”

My steps became awkward as I tried to reach the bathroom while touching the floor as little as possible. Stumbling through the door, I flipped on the light and lifted my feet to inspect them. Hair. Long dark hair.

I wrinkled up my face in disgust and quickly worked to disentangle the strands from my feet. I collected the ball of hair and leaned out the door to see Angela staring at me.

“What’s your problem?” She yawned and rolled onto her back.

I held the ball of hair out for her to see. “Shed much?”
Her hand flew to her head, the same side her hand worried at last night. The image played out fuzzy in my mind and I chalked it up to being tired and not fully awake. Why did I do that?

“I must be shedding.” She sounded unsure but flipped her wrist as if it were the obvious answer.

We should have left…

Tony was still fast asleep in his bed, so Angela and I got ready for the day keeping the bathroom door cracked open to help ventilate the steam. I sat on the edge of the bed and waited for my turn in the shower. She was shaken up about her hair, even though she did her best to hide it, so I gave up my claim to first shower, hoping her time alone would help her come around. I found the remote by carefully sifting through Tony’s blankets to try not wake him up. I sat back on my bed and idly flipped through the channels. Images of a man flashed briefly behind my eyes. I thought nothing of it.

Angela came out of the bathroom in a rush of steam and a swirl of towel. She held her clothing clutched tightly to her chest, ran around the bed and sat as far from the door as she could. Her smile faltered around the edges but burned furiously in the middle. “Finished.”

“That was fast,” I touched her towel. “You’re not dressed.”

Her face peeled back painfully with the force she put into her smile. “I got too hot.” Her words rushed out and barely contained a tremble.

I shook my head as I looked her over and realized she hadn’t even taken the time to dry her hair. “Are you okay?”

Her throat convulsed as she swallowed,. “Yeah, I guess.” She sighed heavily, “I guess I’m just tired. Strange dreams.” She smiled, more relaxed. “Go get cleaned up. If he starts to wake up, I may have to step in to finish dressing. Is that okay?”

I nodded my head. “That’s fine.” Walking into the bathroom, I closed the door till just a few inch gap remained. I walked to the mirror and wiped away the steam to look at myself. Cream colored skin, pale eyebrows, bright blue eyes, and pink lips neither full nor thin. I brushed my auburn hair behind my ears and turned my head left then right watching my face, looking for blemishes and hating my nose. Too big, I’d always thought.

I sighed, turned away from the mirror, collected my towel and started the water. Before undressing I peeked in on Angela. She sat in front of the mirror, completely dressed and carefully applying her makeup. I smiled a little.

I folded my pajamas and sat them on the closed toilet seat and stepped into the shower, closing the curtain tightly. The warm water felt good as it fell down my body. I closed my eyes and enjoyed the feeling. I ran my hands up and down my arms. Suddenly, the smooth feel of my skin started to feel sticky. The sensation confused me. I opened my eyes and to my horror I saw the water had turned to blood.

For reasons unknown, I wiped at it, my hands moved faster and faster as if that would wipe it away. Rationally, you’d step out of the blood and away from it, but rationality had taken a flight from my world and even though my hands worked furiously, my feet remained rooted. The sticky substance coated my body and soaked itself into my hair, clotting the strands together. My hands would wipe and the paleness of my skin would peek through before being covered back up.

I sucked in my breath to scream but nothing came out. It did, however, cut my body loose. Grabbing my towel, I stumbled out of the shower and began wiping at my face. I scrubbed till my skin stung, pulled the towel away and looked at it. My pounding breath froze in my chest, and my panicked thoughts came to a screeching halt.

The towel was white. Rushing to the mirror and wiping away the stream, I stared and I panted, but there was no blood. I batted the curtains away from the shower and the still running water. Clear running water. No blood. Not a single drop.

<I couldn’t figure it out. Had no idea what to think. So I took a few deep breaths, shut off the water, dried off, and got dressed. I couldn’t figure out what had happened, so I let it go. I finished dressing and walked out of the bathroom.

Tony smiled at me as he stepped around me and shut the bathroom door behind him. The click of the door sent a flutter of fear through my chest. I shook it off and started to brush through my hair.

“How do you think the class will go?” I turned and sat on the dresser.

Angela was jumping from one bed to the other, “class is cancelled. The teacher is sick and is still at home three hours away.” She gave a cry of pleasure as she landed on her butt and bounced back up to her feet.

I smiled, her happiness helping me deal with the scene in the bathroom. The bathroom? What had happened in the bathroom? I shook my head and decided it wasn’t important. “So what should we do?” My head bounced back and forth as I watched her.

“We should stay in and play cards. Rent a movie and order room service!” She sounded so happy, and I have to admit, I felt happy, too.

When Tony came out of the bathroom, we both looked at him, unconsciously searching for some sign. A sign of what? He just smiled and we both returned it.

“Are we staying in?” He looked at us and we shook our heads yes.

We spent the day in an unexplained ecstasy. We played cards, jumped on the beds, had a pillow fight, ate till we were bursting and laughed. Oh god did we laugh. We wrestled on the beds, watched countless movies and never noticed the time slipping away. We drank and sang. Danced and laughed as we pretended to fight. When it was done, we collapsed into bed.

It happened slowly….at first….and then…very suddenly.

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COMMUNE-ISM

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People often accuse me of making up the stuff I put on this blog. The reason is: because it’s true. Every post is based on a real incident. I just use literary license to make it more interesting—literary license is what writers call lies, just like politicians call them speeches. Today’s post however, I guarantee is one hundred per cent true…except for the parts I made up.

When I was young I knew a girl who was a big fan of communism and socialism. She said every person is equal and therefore should be paid equally and have the same benefits and success as everyone else. Certain people start out life with a better chance of success than others, she said, so why should the less fortunate be handicapped because of their starting circumstances?

I told her that success had many variables, and while you could and should guarantee equal opportunities, guaranteeing equal outcomes depresses entrepreneurs and work ethic. Even in the communistic countries, everyone did not have equal outcomes. Did she truly believe Leonid Brezhnev was paid no more than the guy digging potatoes out in the field? (Okay, I made that part up. I actually told her that her ideas were silly, she was dumb and a big poopy head.)
About a year after she graduated from high school, some people about an hour away decided to open a commune. This was the early seventies and opening communes was a common fad. My friend, of course, was one of the first ones to pack her bags and head that way. About a year later she told me about it.
The commune was a big, two-story farmhouse out in the country. About twenty people lived there, and they wanted to be as self-sufficient as they could. The house had a wood-burning furnace along with a traditional propane furnace. A big grove stood to the north of the house full of dead trees they could use as firewood. They plowed a huge garden on the south side of the house where they planned on raising enough food to eat fresh and still be able to preserve enough to get them through the winter. They also had chickens for eggs and a few other animals.
The day she arrived, they sat down and chose a leader. The group would vote on all major decisions, but they realized some problems would pop up that had to be handled immediately. They chose Bob to make those decisions. The second thing they did was pick the jobs they wanted. Some people stayed in the house to clean, cook meals and can and freeze garden produce for the winter. Some went to the grove to cut and split wood for the cook stove and stockpile enough to get them through the coming winter. Others, including my friend, worked in the garden..
Every morning she would go out in the garden, pick the peas, weed the corn and water the mariju…the carrots. At night she’d go in the house, eat and sit around with the others playing the guitar and singing Kumbaya. It went well for about a month, then one day she came into the house and nothing had been done. No food had been cooked, the house hadn’t been cleaned, and she could tell the people in the house had spent most of the day smoking carrots.
After that, less people went out to work in the garden and chop wood, and more people stayed in the house. Nothing got cleaned in the house and the only cooking they did was to make brownies. By the time the first frost came and shut down the garden, the crew of people working in the garden had been reduced to my friend and two others.
One day Bob called a meeting. He said they hadn’t put up nearly enough food to get them through the winter. The woodpile was barely enough for the cook stove let alone to heat the house when it got cold. He had planned on selling some of the carrots to pay the bills, but the group had used so much that there was hardly enough for their own use. They were kind of like the Pilgrims in their first winter in America, if the Pilgrims had worn bell bottoms, been high most of the time and listened to Dillion, Credence and Led Zeppelin songs. Bob said some people were going to have to go into town to get jobs, so they would have money to pay for food and propane through the winter..
My friend had never been afraid of a little work, so she and three others volunteered to get jobs. A production plant in town happened to be hiring–I don’t remember what kind, and I am certainly not going to just make something up. They wore plastic aprons on the job and water hit the aprons and ran down onto their feet. Everybody else at the plant wore rubber boots to keep their feet dry, but tennis shoes were all my friend and the other people from the commune had to wear. After two weeks, their feet looked like they had jungle rot from constantly being wet. When they turned their checks over to Bob, they told him that all the people working at the plant were going to have to buy a pair of rubber boots or their feet would fall off. Bob said he was sorry, but they had a lot of bills due right then. Maybe with the next paycheck they could get one or two people boots, and the next paycheck after that they could get another pair or two. Right now they were going to have to suck it up for the good of the commune. Two days later Betty, Bob’s girlfriend, was showing off the new beaded leather vest Bob had bought her. When they got their next paychecks, everyone working packed their bags and left. Six months after she was gone, a herd of wild Sasquatch attacked the commune, tore down the house and ate all the carrots. The commune broke up shortly afterward.
My friend said she still believed in communism and socialism. She just didn’t think it could work with people. (By the way, I made up the part about a herd of wild Sasquatch. It was two or three at the most.)
A couple writing things. I’m working on the last chapter of In The Lake, the sequel to In The Sticks, and then comes the editing. I will be doing a reading from In The Sticks on November 20th to help promote Kindles at a local business. County Ops is again just 99 cents at Amazon.
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THE MECHANIC

mini-Mechanic

 

When I was young, flexible, poor, and had the intellect of cauliflower, I did my own car repairs. That was back in a time when you could open the hood of a car and find the motor, unless you lived in Chicago. (We once took our youngest daughter to the University of Illinois hospital in Chicago for some tests. We stayed at the Ronald McDonald House, and I parked our van out front in the parking lot. I asked the woman at the front desk if it would be all right to leave it there overnight. “That depends,” she said. “Do you want the whole van to be there in the morning?” I moved it to a nearby parking garage with security.)

I used to change the oil, rotate the tires, change spark plugs and plug wires on all my cars. I even dropped a transmission once, got it fixed and put it back on. It worked perfectly when I was finished, sort of—it depended on who you asked and if you wanted the car to move both forward and backwards.

These days I open the hood of a car and I’m greeted by a jumbled tangle of hoses, wires and tubes. I imagine somewhere underneath there is still a motor, but I don’t have the persistence to look for it anymore. Now I take it to a mechanic. It isn’t like in the old days when a mechanic had to guess at a diagnosis of what was wrong with a car, and then start by replacing the air cleaner and working his way down until he solved the problem. There are so many electronics in cars now that the mechanic just hooks it to a computer, gets a printed readout and starts replacing the air cleaner and works his way down.

My wife has a friend who has never ridden in our car without hearing a “funny noise.” It’s always a clicking, rattle or a hum—you have to watch out for those hums. Usually I can take care of the problem by just turning the radio up a little louder, but sometimes my wife insists on a more permanent fix. Then I have to take the car to the mechanic.

Me: My wife hears a clicking noise when she turns to the right if she’s going north on a Wednesday.

Mechanic, nodding knowingly: That’s pretty common in this model of car.

Me: Can you fix it?

Mechanic: I think so. We’ll start by replacing the air cleaner.

Me: How much is this going to cost?

Mechanic: How much you got?

Me: You mean on me? In my checking account? Savings account? IRAs? Mutual funds?

Mechanic: Right.

My wife has an obsession with tires. She’s never met a tire that didn’t need air. She doesn’t believe tires should ever bulge. I could put two pachyderms, a Sherman tank and a tyrannosaurus rex in the back of my truck, and if the tires bulged even a little, she’d think they needed air. Her car has a display screen on the dashboard that gives her information on various things: how much oil life is left, what the car is getting for gas mileage, whether we have enough milk in the refrigerator to get us through the week, etc. One of the statistics is a display of how much air is in each of the tires. They are supposed to be at thirty-five pounds, and when she starts driving, they usually are. As she drives the tires heat up and the pressure will increase. Rarely are all of them at the same pressure at the same time. Sometimes each of them is at a different pressure. Occasionally one of them will go up to thirty-eight pounds.

My wife, pointing at the display. “You have to do something about that,” she’ll say in a voice I’m sure President Kennedy used when he found out the Soviets were putting missiles in Cuba.

So I’ll reach over and shut off the display. Who says I’ve lost my mechanical ability?
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THE MUSIC MAN

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Yesterday I went to my grandson’s marching band competition. He is a really good musician. Maybe someday it will develop into something. My grandson plays the trombone and piano, my granddaughter plays the flute and piano, my oldest daughter plays the clarinet and piano, my youngest daughter plays the flute and my wife plays the clarinet. I have trouble playing the radio. Someone once said that most novelists also have musical talent. That is the reason I call myself a storyteller.
When I was young, I taught myself to play the guitar. Many guitarists have taught themselves to play. Kenny Loggins said his brother got a guitar for Christmas and never played it. One day Kenny picked it up, taught himself to play and in a few weeks he was Footloosing in The Danger Zone. A few weeks after I started playing, I had bloody fingers and people compared my playing to a brain-damaged baboon pounding on a bedspring… and those were the comments I took as compliments. Kenny and I obviously had different teachers..
I can read music, sort of—I’m pretty good at the lyrics; the notes’ parts, I don’t have a clue. I’m an excellent singer. When nobody is around, I sound exactly like Neil Diamond, Elvis Presley or any singer you want to name. I can even hit the high notes in Mariah Carey songs. The problem is, as soon as someone shows up, I sound like a cat that has a Buick parked on its tail–again, I take that as a compliment. Often people hear me sing and runoff to listen to Yoko Ono records just to get the horrid sound of my singing out of their heads..
Once, when my youngest daughter was two or three, I was taking her on a short trip. She was in the backseat strapped down in her car seat, and pretty soon she started to cry. (Kids always cry when they are in car seats, because they look at them like convicts look at electric chairs.) I started to sing to her to try to calm her down. In a matter of minutes the backseat was silent. Since I hadn’t thrown the electric switch, I was rather proud that my singing had calmed her, and then my daughter spoke.
My daughter: What are you doing Dad?
Me: I’m singing to you, so you’ll stop crying.
My daughter: I tell you what. I’ll stop crying if you’ll stop singing.
Proving that, music indeed “hath charms to soothe the savage breast.” After that all I had to do was threaten her with a song, and she behaved perfectly. I think there might have been child abuse charges that were applicable, but I’m sure the statute of limitations has long passed..
When I was in high school, two friends and I had a trio. Mainly we sang at church functions, mostly youth group. They always had us sing last in the program. High school kids have a habit of loitering around when everything is over. When we sang, by the time we hit that last off-key note, the place was empty, and in the picture of Jesus on the wall, he had his hands over his ears..
Our minister heard us sing at youth group once, and asked us to sing at the next Sunday morning service. We were thrilled because most people don’t have the guts to get up and dash out of a Sunday morning service–although there were a few who did. We finished and went back to our seats beaming with pride, until the minister got up and said:
“If you don’t get your life right, you may spend eternity listening to stuff like that and worse.”
He had them lined up out to the parking lot..
My novel County Ops: The Vengeance of Gable Fitzgerald was on sale for 99 cents last week. It made it to number ten on Amazon’s women’s action list. I guess that makes me a top ten author?.
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LIKE CATS AND DOGS

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As I’ve mentioned before, I am not a cat person. I prefer dogs. When we were first married, my wife had a cat. It hated me, so I didn’t feel that guilty about hating it back. It spent most of its days sitting on a sunny windowsill in deep thought. I imagine it was contemplating how to hold a knife without the benefit of opposable thumbs so it could slit my throat while I was sleeping.
A person never really owns a cat. To a cat, a human is just a useful idiot who feeds it. If it had those opposable thumbs to run a can opener, a human would be nothing more than an inconvenience. Some of you cat owners are going to say that you also change the litter box, but actually the litter box is for the benefit of the human. If it wasn’t there, the cat would find a nice flower pot, rug or bedspread to use instead. They really aren’t that fussy.
A dog will run around the house barking frantically when it has to go to the bathroom. It knows if it goes in the house, the human will be mad. Dogs don’t want humans to be mad. If nobody is home, and it can’t hold it any longer, it might go on the floor, but when the human gets home, it will hide in shame because of what it did. A cat on the other hand, uses the litter box solely to do you a favor. If the litter box isn’t there, is dirty or isn’t exactly where it usually sits, the cat has no problem using the carpet in the living room.

“Hey Bozo, the litter box was six inches from where it’s supposed to be, so I left you a present by the coffee table. Maybe next time you’ll be more careful, stupid human.”

For a dog, every time you walk through the door it is Christmas and their birthday rolled into one. They have an enthusiasm not found in any other animal. When have you ever seen a cat, hamster, parakeet or goldfish wet itself and run in circles just because you walked into the house?
“It seems like you’ve been gone since the Johnson administration.” Pant, wet, slobber, pant, wet, slobber. “I didn’t think you’d ever come back.” Pant, wet, slobber pant, wet, slobber. And that’s just when you’ve gone out to get the paper.

A cat really doesn’t care if you ever come home as long as you leave it enough food. With an automatic feeder and water, you can be gone for a month, and the cat is perfectly happy–or at least as happy as a cat can be.

“You’re back already? What, nobody else wanted to put up with you either? By the way, I left you a few presents here and there. Get them cleaned up, because I’m tired of living in this squalor, stupid human.”
If someone has a dog, everyone knows it as soon as they come through the door. It will come up to be petted, slobber on you or smell everyone’s crotch. I know people who say they have a cat, and I’ve never seen it. It’s always, “downstairs hiding in the basement” or “it only comes out at night when we’re sleeping.” Personally, I’d be worried it was spending its nights sitting by the knife block trying to figure out that opposable thumb thing.
By the way, the sequel to In The Sticks is going well. I’m thinking about calling it In The Lake. Also my thriller County Ops is on sale for 99 cents until September 24.
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THE WILD LIFE

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When I was a kid I read a lot of outdoor novels. I read everything our library had by Jim Kjelgaard and Jack London’s White Fang and The Call of the Wild. I always saw myself as that loner out in the wilds by himself with just his trusty dog to keep him company. One day I came across Jean Craighead George’s book, My Side of the Mountain, and it changed my life. The book is about a kid who runs away and lives in the mountains by himself. That is what I wanted to do. I often told people I had read the book and would like to do that myself. Usually people looked at me with shock and surprise. “You can read?” they’d ask in amazement.
Immediately I started preparing for a life of self-sufficiency in the mountains. I taught myself the ancient skill of building fire with just two sticks, half a bottle of lighter fluid and a book of matches. Learning to procure food became essential. I developed my fishing skills to the legendary proportions they are today. I’d gather grasshoppers, crickets and worms for bait and take them to the river. After only a few hours of fishing, I’d have a sizzling skillet full of fried grasshoppers, crickets and worms. I found mushrooms and learned the difference between the good ones and the poisonous ones. The internet did not exist at the time, and no books on the subject were available to me. My mushroom education was simply trial and error. Of course, I was not so stupid as to eat the mushrooms; instead I fed them to my little brother and gauged his reactions. No reactions = good mushrooms. Stomachache, foaming at the mouth and/or uncontrollable muscle spasms = bad mushrooms.
My younger years were filled with daydreams of living in the wild. Many times it saved me from the horrors of learning anything constructive in algebra class. While the teacher droned on about integers, variables and coefficients that I knew I’d never use, in my head I would be tucked safely away in my mountain cave feasting on fried grasshoppers and mushrooms.
As with all dreams the day comes when dreaming is not enough. That day for me came when I filled my oldest sister’s (the mean one’s) jewelry box with Cheez Whiz. At the time I thought it would be a good prank—one we could have a hearty laugh about. The more I thought about it, the more I came to believe my sister would not see the subtle humor and social commentary on rich versus poor. She was more likely to just beat the snot out of me. I tried to clean it up, but once you put Cheez Whiz in a wicker jewelry box it is there for eternity. You can remove some of it, but it will never be clean again. My best option was to finally fulfill my dream and go off into the wilds until she cooled down or became too old and feeble to do any major damage.
Originally my dream called for it to be me and my trusty dog. A dog is always useful. It provides companionship, guards the campsite, assists in hunting and, if things got really bad, I could always eat it—or it could eat me, depending on how big of dog I had. As luck would have it, I happened to be between dogs at the time, so instead I asked my friend Weiner to come along. The choice of Weiner for a partner was not made at random. I put much thought into it and considered all my friends. I chose him because we got along well, we had often camped out together and, most importantly, he was smaller and looked more tender and tasty than any of my other friends.
When we started out I could tell right away that Weiner didn’t grasp the concept that we were leaving forever. I knew this because I didn’t tell him for fear he wouldn’t go. What I said was “Let’s go do some self-sufficiency camping for awhile.” After a couple months he’d figure out the rest on his own. Weiner also had trouble with the term self-sufficiency. I carried a folding knife in my pocket and a belt axe on my waist. What Weiner had strapped to his back looked like a silver-back gorilla covered with a canvas tarp.
Since neither of us drove and there are few mountains in Iowa and even less wilderness areas, we chose a big hill outside town. It wasn’t exactly wilderness, but it was almost two miles from my house, so I was sure no one would ever find us. We set up on the side of a hill and started our campfire. I scrounged up some grasshoppers for supper. When I got back to the campsite, Weiner was digging a can of beef stew out of his pack.
“So how come you decided to do this camping trip all of a sudden?” Weiner asked. “Usually you spend weeks planning these things.”
Guilt-ridden, I confessed about the jewelry box and a mean sister who would beat the tar out of me when she found out.
“So why don’t you just throw the jewelry box away?” Weiner asked still rummaging through his pack. “She’ll just think she lost it or someone took it.” He threw the flap on his pack closed. “You know what? I think I left the can opener at home.”

“You did?” I said in shock. “How are we going to go camping without a can opener? I guess we’ll just have to pack up and go home.”

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