Lost Days – Post 30 & Special Announcement!

This is the 30th installment of the book I am currently writing. It is Sci-Fi/Adventure for young adult. It is not part of the Oz Chronicle series. Click on the “Lost Days Book” category on the right to read from the beginning. Or you can click here

**Special Announcement: I am going to do a test run of 10 Advanced Reader Copies (ARC).  The first 10 people to email me with the subject line “Send me a free ARC,” I will do just that.  Remember to include your mailing address in the email.  I promise I won’t share it with anybody.  In addition, once I get a final print, I will send you a free signed copy of the final book.  I would love your honest feedback on the book, good or bad.  In fact, for your feedback, I will give you 10 entries in the drawing that I will have to promote the official release of the book.  In the past, the drawing has been for a Kindle. Since Lost Days won’t initially be released in Kindle format, I’m going to go with something different this time, but it will be of equal or greater value.    Keep in mind, your feedback may be showcased on this blog. 

I tried not to think about dressing sexy the next day, but Denise’s voice just wouldn’t stop yapping in my head.  I took longer than I had ever taken to get ready for school.  I tried on six different outfits and even tried my hand at putting on makeup, something I had rarely done.  After several failed attempts, I washed my face and settled on a modest amount of lipstick.  Denise would have something to say about my lack of face paint, but she could eat it.  It just wasn’t for me.  As for the clothes, I settled on a black sweater over a white blouse and black slacks that I’d worn to one of my parents’ divorce proceedings.  Some family court mediator wanted to assess the children’s wellbeing, blah, blah, blah. Anyway mom made us dress like we cared.  It was not sexy because I wasn’t sexy.  I was a dorky kid who wouldn’t know sexy if it punched me in the face.  I did sneak into my mom’s room and swipe a pair of black high heeled boots.  I had worn high heels a few times in my life, and I had some training in walking in them, but I still wasn’t as fleet of foot as I usually was.  They made me feel helpless.  I kept imagining scenarios where I would have to run from danger, and I would be in deep trouble because running was not an option in my mom’s boots.  I would have taken them off, but I was surprised when I liked the way they looked in the full-length mirror.  They really took my outfit to the next level.  I looked tasteful with just the hint of… ‘Whoa.’  I was anxious to see Joyner’s reaction.  I hated myself for thinking like Denise.  Owen was right.  Poor Ginger’s mother was dead.  It seemed insensitive of me to use the occasion of her funeral as an opportunity to seduce the hottest guy in school with a pair of high heeled boots, but there I was prepared to unleash all my underdeveloped feminine wiles on the guy of my dreams.  I was a bad person. 

“Whoa,” was what Owen said when he saw me walking across the school parking lot.  He yelled it without even thinking.

“Shut up,” I yelled back feeling really stupid for trying so hard to look good.

“What… no,” he said as I stopped in front of him.  “It’s just that… you know, whoa.  You look… you look…”

“I look like I’m going to a funeral, right?”

“Sure, sure,” he said.  “Me, too.”

“Those are your regular clothes,” I said.  It was true.  He didn’t dress up at all.  He wore an un-ironed oxford over a Halo t-shirt, a ratty pair of jeans, and black canvas Converse shoes.

He pulled a crumpled red tie out of his backpack.  “Got this.”

“Owen” I said disappointedly.  “You should have at least ironed your shirt.  I can’t believe your mom lets you leave the house like this.”

“Look,” he said.  “Just because you look hot in your fancy clothes doesn’t mean you can tell me how to dress.”

We both stared at each other in disbelief.  He’d just said that I looked hot.  He didn’t expect to say it, and it was the last thing on earth I thought that Owen Doogan would ever say to me.  We were saved from the completely uncomfortable moment when Denise screeched.

“O-M-G, you look amazing,” she said.  “Oops, except for the makeup.  What’s up with that?  You should totally borrow my eyeliner and blush.”

“Forget it,” I said sharply.

She looked somewhat shocked by my tone.  “No, biggie.  The rest of it works.  The sweater…” she reached out and touched it.  “What is that, cashmere?  Nice, nice.  Your butt looks incredible in those pants.  I am impressed.  You look like you actually have a figure, and…” another squeal.  “Those boots.  O-M-G…”

“I’ve got to go,” Owen said.  He turned and trotted away without giving Denise and me a chance to say goodbye.

“What’s his problem?” Denise asked.

“Not sure,” I said watching him enter the school.

“He probably doesn’t know to how to act with two babes like us.”  She held open her coat and showed off a form-fitting gray dress.  “What do you think?”

I gulped.  “Ahhh, it’s not very funerally.”

“But do you think Danny Perry will like it?”

I nodded.  “Unless he’s gone blind in the last 24 hours.”

She grinned and hopped on her toes.  “It’s finally happening, Hayley.  We’re moving out of freaks and geeksville, and settling in very nicely into popular town.”

I smiled politely.  I wasn’t sure if I was all that happy about leaving geeksville.  It was a pretty easy place to like.  In geeksville, all I had to know was the quadratic formula to fit in.  In popular town, I had to wear boots that were killing my feet.

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Lost Days – Post 29

This is the 29th installment of the book I am currently writing. It is Sci-Fi/Adventure for young adult. It is not part of the Oz Chronicle series. It will be out in paperback soon  Click on the “Lost Days Book” category on the right to read from the beginning. Or you can click here

As soon as I got back to my room, I locked the door and retrieved the camera.  I fiddled with it until I found the memory card.  Just because Uncle Crew wanted the camera, didn’t mean I couldn’t make copies of the files and save them on my laptop.  It would be stupid not to.

***

Denise and Owen dropped by the house after school to bring me my homework.  That was their excuse anyway.  Most of my teachers had a class work page on the school’s website.  All I had to do was log into the homepage and get the assignments there.  Besides having to live through the social humiliation and barely edible lunches, I’m not really sure why it was necessary to go to school at all.

Denise had dolled herself up, as granddaddy would say.  She always dressed nice, but she was wearing heels, something she never did.  She also went a little overboard with the makeup.  I wasn’t with her at school.  She looked desperate and ridiculous, and by the way she and Owen were arguing, I had a feeling he let her know more than once that he felt the same way.  She wanted to be part of the in crowd in the worst way, and she seemed determined to go about it in the worst way.

I went through the papers they brought me, and felt honestly sick for the first time all day.  Missing a day at school was like missing seven days in real life.  I had to make up two pop quizzes and write a 500 word paper on the history of the quadratic formula that was due the next day. How knowing the history of the quadratic formula could help anyone, I didn’t know. But since I wasn’t in class, I got stuck with the loser paper.  I wanted to pull my hair out.

“Joyner ate lunch with us again,” Denise said.

“Really?” I said sounding more shocked than if she told me she had discovered a cure for cancer.

“Yeah,” Owen said.  “Yippee for us.”

“All he did was talk about you,” Denise said.  “Couldn’t shut up about you.  Wanted to know everything we know about Hayley Wilkes.  That boy is so in love with you.”  She was bordering on giddy.

I felt a surge of static electricity go through my body.  “What did you tell him?”

“That you’re a nerd,” Owen said.  “You’re smart, and you think you’re funny, even though you’re really not. And that you collect stamps.”

“I don’t collect stamps,” I said.

He smiled.  “Now you do.”

Denise grunted.  “We didn’t tell him you collect stamps.  I told him all the good stuff.”  She winked.

“What good stuff?” I asked feeling really afraid of her answer.

She rubbed her hands together as if she was about to dazzle me.  “Well, you weigh 100 pounds.  Your teeth are naturally straight.  You love to shop.   You were once asked to be a model for Crowley’s Department Store, and your shoe size is six.”

I cleared my throat and counted off all things she got wrong.  “One – I weigh 105 pounds.  Two – I wore braces for three years.  Three – I hate to shop, and four – I was two when Crowley’s asked my mom if I wanted to model a Halloween costume.”

She held up her finger. “But you do wear a size six shoe.”

“Looks like I have some damage control to do when I get back to school tomorrow.”

“Please, he wanted to marry you when I got through with him,” Denise said.  She stood and went to my closet.  “Be sure to wear something sexy and black tomorrow.”

“Ahh, no,” I said.  “I’m not changing the way I dress just because Joyner may or may not like me.”

“It’s not for Joyner… well, maybe the sexy part is, but the black part is for Ginger Starling’s mother.”

“What?”

“The school is letting us off at noon to go to the funeral.  They want as many students as possible to show up so they’re letting us have the afternoon off.  Can you believe your luck?” Denise asked.  “You get to show Joyner how fantastic you look in a little black dress.”

“Plus, score,” said Owen.  “You can get all teary and he can comfort you in your time of utter despair.”  He shot Denise an evil look.

“Relax, dork-o.  It was terrible what happened to Mrs. Starling, but we didn’t know her or Ginger for that matter.  Nothing wrong about using a tragedy to our advantage.”

“Oh my, God!” Owen yelled.  “You are an awful, awful person.  Our classmate’s mother was murdered.”

“O-M-G! Overly dramatic much?” Denise said flippantly.  “Besides, you said your cousin said they weren’t so sure it was a murder now.”

“I said maybe, maybe it wasn’t a murder,” Owen said gathering himself.

“What are you talking about?”  I asked.  “She was beaten.  How can that not be murder?”

“My cousin said the coroner thinks there is a real possibility she fell from an extreme height, 200… 300 feet.  That’s why the body was so badly battered.”

I breathed easy, almost smiled.  There was no murder.  Uncle Crew was wrong.  It was an accident.  She got lost because it was dark and fell.  It didn’t explain the three men who broke into Uncle Crew’s room, but that didn’t make any difference.  That could be figured out later.  The important thing is if she had an accident and fell, that removed the word murder from the conversation.  I liked that a lot. “That makes sense.  I mean the place is called Little Grand Canyon, right?  That means there are cliffs.  Pretty high ones at that.”

“The problem is they found her next to a picnic table just past the parking area.” Owen said.

“So,” I shrugged.

“So the parking area is at the highest point,” Owen said.

“How could she fall at the highest point?” Denise asked.

“Exactly,” Owen responded.  “If she fell, that means someone moved her body.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” I said.

“No, it doesn’t,” Owen agreed.  “You don’t just move a body like that.”

Without really understanding the implications of what she was saying, Denise spoke next.  “Not unless you have to.”

“Why would you have to move a body?” Owen asked.

Denise smiled and batted her eyelashes.  “Maybe she fell on someone’s secret stash of drugs or buried money from a bank robbery.”

Owen furrowed his brow.  “What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about moving the body so nobody will nose around where she actually fell,” she shrugged.  “The last thing you want on top of your buried treasure is a major crime that the police will investigate with all their fancy CSI technical crime fighting crap.”

Owen thought of an insult he could throw her way, but he considered her theory and finally said, “Damn, you might be on to something.”

She smiled.  I couldn’t bring myself to join her.  My emotions were a wreck.  I was as conflicted as ever.  Was Elizabeth Starling murdered or wasn’t she murdered?  If she wasn’t, what were those three guys doing in my uncle’s room?  I felt my stomach turn in knots.  For the first time in a long time, I wished I could go back to my old life when my mom and dad were married.  Back in our house, miles away from this drama.  Same town and same school, but the crazy uncle in the backyard was out of the equation.  He might not be a killer, but he was definitely bad news.  Being in the wrong place at the wrong time seemed to be the story of his life, and I was getting the feeling it was starting to be mine, too.

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Lost Days – Post 28

This is the 28th installment of the book I am currently writing. It is Sci-Fi/Adventure for young adult. It is not part of the Oz Chronicle series. It will be out in paperback soon  Click on the “Lost Days Book” category on the right to read from the beginning. Or you can click here

The next day I was sick. At least that’s what I told my mom.  I knew going to school would be a waste.  Between, J-Rob’s story about Uncle Crew, the camera, and the three thugs who broke into his room, I would have been a useless zombie at school.  Mom wasn’t happy about leaving me at home.  She still felt guilty about moving in with granddaddy and Nana Taffy.  Leaving me with them was just one more thing she was asking them to do for her because she couldn’t keep her husband.  They assured her that they didn’t mind.  They were both retired and had nothing better to do.  Nana Taffy planned on pumping me full of soup and granddaddy was sure ice cream would do the trick.  The last thing they wanted was mom worrying about being a bad mother because she was leaving her sick daughter with two crotchety old folks. 

“We saw you through plenty of sniffles and lady pains,” Nana Taffy said.  “It will be good to get a chance to do it again with our granddaughter.”

I looked at mom confused.  “Lady pains?”

Mom’s eyes rolled back and she shook her head.  “Don’t ask.”

With more coaxing from Nana Taffy and me, mom left for work, and I was relieved when she did.  The longer I was in her presence, the stronger the urge grew to tell her about last night.  Keeping it too myself was tearing me up inside.  It was a huge secret.  I actually found Mrs. Starling’s camera in Uncle Crew’s office.  I believe that’s what people refer to as the smoking gun.

As soon as Nana Taffy left me alone in my room, I got the camera from under my bed and clicked it on.  I quickly went to the menu and found the picture count – 102 images.  I exhaled.  I was actually afraid of what I might find.  But it was too important for me not to look.  I quickly went through the first half dozen or so images that I had already seen and found one I hadn’t seen.  It was one of J-Rob stooped down next to a creek bed.  Again, he had no idea his picture was being taken.  He was looking off camera to his right, talking to someone.  I clicked to the next image, J-Rob in the same position.  He was talking in the direction of a tree.  I saw a figure standing in the shadow of the trees, large, dark… I shook my head.  “Not what you’re thinking,” I whispered.  Not possible.  It was the shadows of the trees playing tricks on me. 

I clicked through ten more images with the same shadowy figures in the background.  Uncle Crew was in some of the pictures.  J-Rob was in others.   There were a few with both of them in the picture.  There were a series of pictures of owls.  They were really very beautiful birds.  The way Mrs. Starling took the pictures, I could see that she really loved them.

With a dozen pictures to go, the scenery changed.   She had taken a picture of a black nondescript sedan parked near some picnic tables.  I can’t explain it, but it looked sinister.  It didn’t fit.  She was trying to say something with this picture. I clicked to the next picture.  It was the license plate of the black sedan.  She was definitely trying to say something.  “Bad guys,” I whispered and pictured the three guys in my uncle’s room.  I grabbed a pen and pad from the nightstand and wrote down the number.  

The last three images were the most disturbing.  They were blurry.  The previous pictures had been taken with care and with the skill of someone who took a lot of pictures, someone who took pride in her talent.  The last three were chaotic and fuzzy.  The stars in the sky looked like streaks of light painted on a black canvas.  One of the pictures was taken below a platform. There may have been the dark figure of a person looking down from the platform, but it was really impossible to be sure.  The very last picture actually made me scream.  It was Elizabeth Starling’s bruised and bloodied chin.  I only knew it was her because of a few strands of strawberry blond hair that fell into the frame.  It was almost as if she took a picture of herself after she had been beaten.

By noon I was going stir crazy hanging out in my room. Nana Taffy had stuck her head in a few times.  Thankfully I had heard her coming and jumped in bed just before she’d opened the door.  Granddaddy even knocked and entered once.  That was the worst.  I felt so guilty about not saying anything about the men breaking into Uncle Crew’s room the night before that I think I managed to make myself really sick when he checked in on me.  I was a terrible granddaughter.

I was looking out the window staring at the garage, reliving the night before.  The camera and its pictures were never far from my thoughts.  The stress of keeping it a secret was becoming too much to bear.  I turned in a huff and snuck out of my room.  I had to do something… anything.  I tiptoed down the steps, through the kitchen, and once again found myself standing at the door to Uncle Crew’s FROG.  I knocked, lightly at first.  Then I summoned up the courage and knocked louder.  Uncle Crew opened the door, and didn’t seem all that surprised to see me.

“C’mon,” he said.

I did, but only two steps, enough to close the door behind me. 

“You still got the camera?” he asked avoiding eye contact with me. 

My chin dropped, and I tried to regain the muscle control in my jaw so I could talk.

“You left the drawer to the filing cabinet open,” he said.

“What camera?” I asked, trying to act as innocent and uninformed as I possibly could.

“Elizabeth Starling’s camera.  I had it in my filing cabinet.  It’s gone.  I-I-I figured you took it.”  He looked mortified by his stutter. 

“I don’t… and what are doing with it anyway?  Isn’t that evidence or something?”

“You didn’t take it?”  He allowed himself to look me in the eyes, but only for a fleeting moment.

“No, how could I?  I don’t have a key to your filing cabinet?”

He smirked.  “How did you know my filing cabinet was locked?”

I tried to hide my face.  I was thinking hard, trying to come up with a reasonable response, and I was sure my face was contorted and twisted as I searched my brain.  “Guessed,” I said.  “That’s what people do with filing cabinets, right?  Lock them?”

“Do you really think I killed that woman?”

He surprised me with the question.  By the looks of him, I think he surprised himself, too.  “No,” I said quietly and with very little conviction.

He nervously took a step back.  “I… it’s hard for me to deny something like that… it’s just the furthest thing from something that I would ever do… but if you need to hear me say it, I guess…”  He was looking down at his hands, picking at his fingernails.  “I didn’t do it.”

I instantly felt bad.  It killed him to even have to stoop to denying it.  “Did you know her?”

“Yes,” he said.  “J-Rob and I were helping her.”

“With the owls?”

His face seemed to brighten.  He stepped forward.  “Yes.  She was looking for proof that there were Short-eared owls in the area.”

“Proof?”

“The feds are selling off some of the public lands.  There’s a lot of debt.” He paced while he talked.  “National forests and parks cost money.  Developers are willing to pay big bucks for that land.  The government sells off little pieces of it here and there and pays down the debt.  Everyone’s happy.  Except, little by little, we lose protected lands.  Our national forests disappear.”

“The owls?” I asked.

“The Short-eared owl is an endangered species.  If there’s proof they’re in an area… well, it doesn’t matter how much money the developers are willing to pony up, the federal government wouldn’t sell the land.”

I sat down at the kitchen table.  “So this Bigfoot stuff…”

He sat down at the table with me and shrugged.  “A hobby.  It’s more for J-Rob than me.  He gets excited by it.  Gives him something to keep his mind from getting cluttered.”

“So, you don’t believe in it?”

He leaned in, rested his elbows on the table and clasped his fingers together.  “I want to believe in it.”

I raised an eyebrow.  “What does that mean?”

“That means I see things that aren’t there because I’m looking for them.  That’s what people do.  They see a mildew stain on a piece of tile and find the face of Jesus. Or they see a ghost when a passing car’s headlights shine through the window.  People see what their minds tell them to see.”

“But the accident…” I stopped myself.

“What about it?” He asked with more than a hint of aggravation in his voice.

“Nothing… okay, promise not to be mad?”

He stroked his stubbly chin.  “What about the accident?”

“J-Rob told me…”

He held up a hand to stop me.  “He told you that I was rescued by Bigfoot, right?”

I nodded.

He shook his head and chuckled.  “It’s true, as far as he knows.  I made it up.”

“Bigfoot didn’t kill a bear?”

He chuckled harder.  “Not to my knowledge.”

I joined him in a good laugh.  I was relieved, but I wasn’t exactly sure why.  “I still don’t understand something.”

His laughter trailed off and he said “What?”

“How did you survive for so long in the woods all by yourself?”

He sighed.  “Not everybody is on the grid.”

“Grid?”

“Sometimes people choose to live outside the watchful eye of big brother and society. Lucky for me, some of those people were within earshot of the crash.  They took me, patched me up, and cared for me.”

“Really?” My shoulders dropped.

“Disappointed?” Uncle Crew asked.

“No, it makes sense,” I said.  “Although, I have to admit the Bigfoot story was more interesting.”

He smiled.  “The truth is very rarely interesting.”

I bit my lip and studied his face.  He wasn’t who I thought he was. The man sitting across from the table from me was normal.  He wasn’t crazy.  He wasn’t a murderer.  He was my uncle. 

He caught me staring at him.  “Is there something on your mind?”

I cleared my throat.  “Some men broke into your room last night.”

His face turned serious, “What?”

I held back some tears and talked a million miles a minute.  “I saw some men break into your room last night.  I… I do have the camera, alright?  I saw you leave last night and let myself into your room, and I found the camera.  I heard these three guys coming up the stairs, so I crawled out the window and hid in the tree.  You should really lock your door, by the way.”

He sensed that I was about to wail, and spoke in a cool, calm voice.  “Take it easy.  Nothing to get upset about.  What did these three guys look like?”

“Couldn’t see them.  I heard them say something about some guy named Teddy.”

“Teddy?  I don’t know anyone named Teddy.”  He turned and looked around the FROG.  “They must have been looking for the camera.”

“Why?”

“Because they killed Mrs. Starling.”

I gulped. “What?”

“Well, somebody had to do it.  Nothing else appears to be missing.  They obviously didn’t want me to know they were here because the only thing that was out of place was the filing cabinet drawer you left open.  Which means they didn’t break in to rob me.  They broke in to find something.”

“The camera,” I said as I put the series of events together in my head. 

“The camera,” Uncle Crew said.

“What should we do?”

Uncle Crew stood up and walked from one end of the kitchen to the other.  He nervously tapped his thigh as he walked.  He had no idea what to do either.  “Nothing,” he finally said. 

“We can’t do nothing,” I said looking at him curiously.  “We should tell granddaddy… and the police.  I could call Owen.  His cousin could come over right away.”  I went from vowing to myself that I wouldn’t tell anyone about the camera to wanting to tell the whole world.

“No,” he barked.  He quickly gathered himself and spoke calmly.  “I will take care of this.  Bring me the camera, and I’ll get rid of it.”

“Get rid of it? But…”

“It’s not safe to have it here.  J-Rob and I will take it out to the Little Grand Canyon tonight and live it where they found Mrs. Starling’s body.  The police will find it and that will take care of that.”

“But your picture is on it,” I said. “The police will ask questions.”

He shrugged.  “I’ll just tell them the truth.  No big deal.”  He sat down and looked at me intensely.  “You have to promise me not to tell dad or your mom or anyone else.”

I nodded knowing full well it was a promise I wouldn’t be able to keep.  When I did, I saw him do something I can’t recall ever seeing him do before.  He smiled.

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Lost Days – Post 27

This is the 27th installment of the book I am currently writing. It is Sci-Fi/Adventure for young adult. It is not part of the Oz Chronicle series. It will be out in paperback soon  Click on the “Lost Days Book” category on the right to read from the beginning. Or you can click here

I don’t know how I ended up in my uncle’s FROG.  I waited until everyone had gone to sleep in the house, and I snuck down to the garage to return the clippings to the toolbox.  When I reached the door to exit the garage, Uncle Crew and J-Rob came barreling down the stairs.  They threw some things into the bed of J-Rob’s truck and then left. The temptation was too strong, I had to snoop around in Uncle Crew’s room and get more answers.

So there I was, breathing so heavily that I was almost hyperventilating, staring into the dark room.  I didn’t even know where to begin to look.  I was new at this.  Up ‘til then, taking the clippings was the worst thing I had ever done.  Now I was breaking and entering.  I tried to convince myself that it was alright because the door was unlocked.  I wasn’t breaking.  I was just entering.  That made it okay, didn’t it?

“You’re a jerk,” I whispered.  I said it out loud in an effort to admonish myself with more authority.  Maybe if I heard myself say it, I would turn around and leave.  It didn’t work. 

I spotted the boxes in the corner of the room and decided that was as good a place as any to start.  I opened the first box and found a dozen or so plaster casts of footprints wrapped in bubble wrap.  I carefully unwrapped the one on top and examined it.  It was huge, four times the size of my own foot.  I turned it over and found the measurements written in marker.  Eighteen inches long.  Eight inches wide.  At the bottom, someone had written, “Sample of a total of 1,536 tracks found near Missoula.  Average stride, 63 inches.  Estimated weight of ape, 650 pounds.  Height unknown.  Tom Slick Group.”  I carefully rewrapped it and put it back.

I went through three more boxes and found more of the same.  The fourth box contained baggies full of hair strands, bags of dried mud labeled “Scat,” and one bag that contained a tooth that was as big around as my thumb.

It was all very interesting, but did nothing but confirm that Uncle Crew was completely insane.  I stood and scanned the room for something else to investigate.  I stepped forward and accidently kicked a black thigh-high two-door metal filing cabinet.  I tugged on the handle of the top drawer. It didn’t budge.  Same with the second drawer.  I immediately assumed that since it was locked that it held some deep dark secrets that would clarify the mystery that was Uncle Crew.  I searched the immediate area for the key.  I went to the desk and opened all the drawers.  Each one was full of a hodgepodge of office supplies, candy, and folded maps, but nothing that even remotely resembled a key.  I was about to give up when I remembered once watching granddaddy reach under the kitchen table and pull out a key to his liquor cabinet.  I stooped down and looked under the desk hoping that it was one of those like-father-like-son traits that people always talk about.  The room was dim, but I could make my way around.  Under the desk, there was virtually no light.  I ran my hand across the underbelly of the desk and felt for a… key.  It was there.  I quickly pulled it free from the tape and stuck it into the keyhole in the filing cabinet.  I felt the lock tumble free and I opened the top drawer.  My eyes zeroed in on an expensive digital camera sitting in an otherwise empty drawer.  I pulled it out and fumbled for the power switch in the poor lighting.  It clicked on and I started pushing buttons until an image popped up on the small screen.  It was a shot of some trees punctuated by a beautiful sunset.  I thumped a button and jumped to the next picture.  Another outdoor landscape, cliffs this time.  I advanced to the next picture and the next, all nature shots.  I stopped on one that was of an owl in a tree.  An owl.  I swallowed.  I thought about the ceramic owl in the Starling’s kitchen.  The next image made me gasp.  It was a picture of a smiling Ginger Starling.  This was her mother’s camera.  Uncle Crew had Elizabeth Starling’s camera locked in a filing cabinet.  I could think of only one reason why.

My mind started to race.  What was I supposed to do with this information?  I had to tell someone, didn’t I?  He had a murdered woman’s camera.  A camera the police said was missing.  I took a deep breath.  “Get a hold of yourself, Hayley.  This doesn’t prove anything.”  I exhaled. 

I stared at the image of Ginger for a long time before I worked up the courage to click the advance button again.  It was another landscape.  Then another owl.  Another owl.  And then… a picture of Uncle Crew.  It was taken from a distance.  He had no idea she was taking his picture.  He was bent down looking at something on the ground.  The next image was Uncle Crew and J-Rob.  They were going through their backpacks.  I was about to click the button again when I heard someone walking up the steps.  I froze.  I stood and rocked on my toes.  I had no idea what to do.  I needed to hide, but where.  Everywhere I looked seemed like a bad idea because I would be trapped in the room until Uncle Crew left the next day.  I headed toward the bathroom, but stopped when I saw a window.  I hurried to it and looked out.  There was a tree just a few feet away with a branch that looked big enough to support my weight.  I stuck my head through the shoulder strap of the camera and opened the window.  The footsteps were louder, and I could hear voices.  I quickly crawled through the window and felt around in the darkness for a firm footing on the branch.  It was big, but still relatively narrow.  I found my footing and turned back to shut the window.  I heard the door open and pulled the window down just before the door snapped shut.  Then I heard a voice.  It was a man, but it wasn’t Uncle Crew or J-Rob.  It was a voice I had never heard before. 

I stooped down and scooted back on the branch.  Beams of light criss-crossed the FROG.  There were three men dressed in black. It was impossible to make out their faces.  They were whispering.  As I reached the trunk of the tree, I heard one of them say “Teddy was right. This nut job is into Bigfoot.”

I stayed in the tree, trying to catch a glimpse of the three men, moving as close to the window as I dared.  They were as discreet as I was.  They chatted quietly, too quietly for me to hear most of what they were saying.  Occasionally I would hear a word or two, but not enough to make sense of what they were looking for.  It was clear they didn’t know Uncle Crew, but they did know of him. 

They left after a good thirty minutes.  I crawled back, opened the window, and entered the FROG, expecting it to be ripped apart.  It was as neat and tidy as it was before they came.  Whoever they were, they didn’t want Uncle Crew to know they were there.  Judging by the frustrated tone of their whispers before they left, they didn’t find what they were looking for.  I could only assume that they would be back. 

I was faced with a real dilemma.  Did I tell Uncle Crew that I saw three strange men in his FROG and did nothing while they rummaged through all his belongings, putting myself in the position of having to explain why I was in his room myself?  Or did I keep my mouth shut about the whole thing to save my own skin? 

I absentmindedly reached up and adjusted the camera that was hanging around my neck.  That’s when I remembered that Uncle Crew had a dead woman’s camera. The camera police were looking for.  That didn’t exactly make him a boy scout.  In fact, I was pretty sure it made him the bad guy in this whole thing.  Why would I want to help him out by telling him there were men in his room going through his things?

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Lost Days – Post 26

This is the 26th installment of the book I am currently writing. It is Sci-Fi/Adventure for young adult. It is not part of the Oz Chronicle series. It will be out in paperback soon  Click on the “Lost Days Book” category on the right to read from the beginning. Or you can click here

There weren’t many places I could be alone in my grandparents’ house.  I couldn’t trust Grover to keep his mouth shut about the newspaper clippings, and I would have to explain too much to him anyway.  There was only one place I could go. I stuck my head in the kitchen and told Nana Taffy I was going to Owen’s to study.  She insisted I take a sandwich with me.  She couldn’t let me skip dinner.  I tried to argue, but she wouldn’t let up.  I finally relented and nervously stood behind her in the kitchen while she prepared me a meatloaf sandwich.  My stomach turned at the thought of it.  She packed it in a baggy and handed to me.  I nearly knocked Grover to the floor as I bolted out the door and headed toward Owen’s house. 

When I arrived at his door, he answered holding a plate of bean burritos.  He was surprised to see me. 

“What’s the matter your boy friend have an ass-munch meeting?”

“Downstairs now!” I commanded.

He took a bite of one the burritos and considered my tone.  “Why?”

I grabbed his arm by his flimsy bicep and pulled him to the door leading to his basement.  “Going downstairs with Hayley, ma!”

“Ask her if she’s hungry?” his mom yelled.

At the bottom of the stairs, Owen asked “You hungry?”

I didn’t answer.  I tossed my backpack on the couch.  “Look, you have got to swear to me that what I am about to show you and tell you, you will never tell anyone, ever!”  I jabbed my finger in front of his face to emphasize how serious I was.

He swallowed a mouthful of burrito and looked at me as if frightened for his very life.  “Okay… sure.”

I closed my eyes and mapped out what I was going to say.  “My uncle is a Bigfoot researcher.”

“I know,” he said.  “My cousin told me.  Said he had a bunch of cool crap in his room.”

“You’re not hearing me,” I said.  “My uncle believes in Bigfoot.  He thinks he’s seen it.  Observed it like some scientist or something.”

“Cool.”

I placed my hands on my hips.  He wasn’t getting it.  “It’s not cool.  It just proves that my uncle is crazy.”

“Why?”

“Because he thinks Bigfoot is real.”

“It is,” Owen said chomping down on another burrito.

“What…no, listen to me.  I think my uncle believes he was raised by Bigfoot.”

Owen nearly choked on his food.  “What?”

I sat down on the couch and unzipped the backpack.  “He was in this accident when he was a kid.  His mother was driving, and their car went over a cliff.  She was killed, and Uncle Crew was thrown from the car.”  I couldn’t bring myself to continue.  It was too ridiculous.

“And?” Owen finally said.

“And,” I started.  “There was this bear, and it was about to… eat Uncle Crew… I guess, and this thing… attacked it.  Killed it actually.”  It sounded so stupid I chuckled involuntarily.

“You’re saying your uncle was about to be mauled by a bear and Bigfoot came to his rescue,” Owen said dropping down on the couch next to me. 

“I didn’t say it.  J-Rob said it.”

“Who’s J-Rob?”

“My uncle’s friend.”

“I don’t get why this means your uncle was raised by Bigfoot.”

I pulled out the newspaper clippings.  “My uncle was missing for over a year.  They found the car and granddaddy’s first wife.”  I looked intently at Owen. “Who, by the way, was decapitated in the accident.”

Owen rubbed his neck and said sarcastically, “That’s pleasant. Thanks for that.”

“Welcome to the image that’s burned in my brain.  Anyway, J-Rob didn’t say it out right, but I think he was trying to say that this… Bigfoot thing took care of Uncle Crew that year or so that he was missing.”  I placed the small stack of clippings on my lap, and handed him the one Grover had shown me.  “Check it out.”  His eyes zoomed across the article.  I started to read the next one. 

Campers Find Child’s mitten Near Colville – Authorities are baffled by the discovery of a missing glove that was identified as belonging to a missing Stevens County boy.  The boy has been missing for 52 days, and most had given up hope that he would ever be found alive.  The discovery of the glove has given his father, Hank Stanton, hope that his son is alive somewhere in the Colville National Forest.  

Owen retrieved a clipping from my lap and began to read.  “Footprints,” he said.

“What?”

He turned the clip toward me.  “They found giant footprints around the site of the crash.”

I took the clip from him and read in disbelief.  “There’s no way… Yep, see, I told you this is all a bunch of BS.  Says here that a forest ranger in the area said that people often times misidentify bear tracks as human tracks.  Something about the back paw overlapping the front paw.”  I held up my finger.  “It says, and I quote, ‘This coupled with the presence of melting snow can cause bear tracks to take on a distinctly human shape.’”

He shook his head.  “What is it going to take to convince you it’s real?”

“When there’s a big hairy ape standing on two legs with giant feet staring at me two inches from my face,” I said.  I picked up another article and read about some kids driving through some old country roads and swearing they saw a little boy standing on the side of the road, another article about the dangers of driving on lumber roads, citing the accident as a perfect example of what can go wrong, and a bunch of clippings about articles of clothing and torn fabric that reportedly belonged to my uncle.  I could imagine granddaddy suffering the emotional rollercoaster that the whole ordeal must have caused him.  He would probably just get to the point where he was ready to let go, and accept the fact his son was dead, and then evidence would pop up that suggested he was still alive.  The authorities never had a plausible explanation as to why the evidence would appear in various spots in some of the most remote areas of Washington and British Columbia.

“Bingo!” Owen yelled. He started to read.  “Two teenage boys claim to have spotted the mythical monster of the woods, Bigfoot, in Colville National Forest with what appeared to be a small boy.”  He handed me the clipping.  “There’s a picture.”

I looked at the article and examined the picture.  It was of a blurry, large dark mass standing between two trees.  It could have even been the shadow of one of the trees.  “How surprising, a fuzzy picture of Bigfoot,” I said sarcastically.

“That’s not the point,” Owen said.  “Your uncle’s friend said that Bigfoot saved your uncle from a bear.”

“So.”

“So, here’s confirmation that your uncle was seen with Bigfoot.”

“By two teenage dweebs.  C’mon, that doesn’t prove anything.”

We went through all the articles and found more of the same stuff.  All of it was interesting, but none of it shed light on what really happened to Uncle Crew during the time he was missing.  I don’t believe he could have survived by himself for that period of time, and I sure as hell didn’t believe Bigfoot helped him. 

“Have you seen the film yet?” Owen asked.

“What film?”

“The Patterson film I told you about.”

I groaned. “Owen…”

“C’mon,” he said standing.  He made his way over to the computer in the corner of the basement.  I reluctantly followed.  He grabbed the mouse and opened the web browser.  Within seconds he had the clip on the screen.  I watched as the image shuttered and shook.  Then it stabilized.  A large ape-like creature walked along a creek bed and behind some fallen timber.  The creature looked back at the camera and continued on until it was out of frame. 

“Well?” Owen said.  “What do you think?”

I shrugged.  “Looks like a guy in a gorilla suit.”

It was Owen’s turn to groan.  “Are you kidding me?”  He re-started the video and stepped through it.  “Look, you see the muscle flex in its thigh.  You can practically see the tendon in the knee, and do you know what these are?”  He pointed to the chest as the ape looked at the camera.

I squinted and looked closely.  “What?”

“Boobs!” Owen said.  “It’s got breasts!”

“It does?”  I asked and moved in closer to the monitor.  “Yeah, it does,” I practically shouted. 

“What do you say now?”

I shrugged again.  “Big deal.  I’ve seen a million costumes in movies as good as this one.”

He shook his head in disgust.  “Sure you have, today.  This film was shot in 1968.  Have you seen Planet of the Apes from back then?  That make-up doesn’t even come close to this, and it was a big Hollywood movie.”

I patted him on the back.  “Owen, don’t get me wrong.  I think it’s cute that you believe in this stuff, but you might want to dial it down a notch or two.  You’re about to drift into the J-Rob and Uncle Crew crazy zone.”

His cheeks became flushed.  He angrily pushed himself back from the computer and stood up.  “You…” he started in a high-pitched voice, cleared his throat and dropped it an octave.  “You’re just being stubborn for stubborn sake.  If you want to know what happened to your uncle, you’re just going to have to break out of your comfort zone and accept the fact that some of the things you thought weren’t possible just might be possible.”  He turned in a huff and went back to his plate of burritos. 

I sat down at the computer and looked at the blurry face of the ape on the screen.  How could anyone seriously believe this stuff was real?  “Okay,” I said.  “Let’s say that this is real… Bigfoot, I mean.  How could it care for a four-year-old boy?  It’s just an ape.  Apes can’t take care of humans.”

Owen sniffed a burrito and took a bite.  “‘A,’ they’re not just apes.  They’re pretty smart.  Smart enough to remain a mythical animal in North America even though there have been people here for thousands of years.  Twenty percent of people believe in them, and the other eighty percent think that the twenty percent is crazy.  And ‘B,’ there is such a thing as feral children you know. Children raised in the wild by wolves or dogs or whatever.   Other animals have done it.  Don’t see why a Bigfoot couldn’t.”

The door to the basement opened and Owen’s mother yelled down.  “Hayley, honey, your mother just called she wants you to come home.  Should I drive you?”

“No, Mrs. Doogan, that’s alright.  I can walk.” I collected the newspaper clippings and placed them in the backpack.  I slipped my right arm through the strap and draped it over my shoulder.  “Not a word of this to anyone, Owen.  Not even Denise.”

He chuckled.  “Especially not Denise.”

I started up the stairs, but stopped when Owen called out my name.

“Hayley, why are going out with Joyner on Friday?”

“Why…” I shrugged my shoulders.  “He asked me.”

“Do you like him?” he asked.

I thought about the question.  “I want to like him,” I said.

“Why?”

“Because life’s easier when you hang out with a guy like Joyner. People look at you differently.  Treat you nicer.”

He shook his head.  “Didn’t think that stuff mattered to you.”

“Kind of surprised me, too.”

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Lost Days – Post 25

This is the 25th installment of the book I am currently writing. It is Sci-Fi/Adventure for young adult. It is not part of the Oz Chronicle series. The first draft is completed, and it is currently under review by my agent, so the final version of the book will most likely look a bit different than what you read here, but I thought you might like to see a work in progress. Happily my agent is busy with another one of my projects at the moment, and she hasn’t been able to give me feedback on “Lost Day”s as of yet.  Click on the “Lost Days Book” category on the right to read from the beginning. Or you can click here

J-Rob turned the truck into the driveway and coasted to a stop.  “Don’t know where you think I’m going with this story.”

“The ape… the Bigfoot thing… you’re saying it took care of Uncle crew the year he was lost in the woods.”

“More like 13 or 14 months.”

“Whatever!  Is that what you’re trying to say?”

J-Rob frowned and shook his head.  “Ride’s over.  Story’s over.”

I groaned in frustration and placed my hand on the door handle.  I turned to him before I pushed the door open.  “Do you honestly believe in this Bigfoot stuff?”

“Don’t have to,” he said.

“Why? What does that mean?

He held up his hand and spread his fingers.  “How many fingers I got?”

“Why?”

“Just answer the question.”

“Five,” I said.

“How do you know?”

“Because… they’re right there.  I can see them.”

“Exactly,” he said.  “I don’t have to believe in what I can see.”

“Show me,” I said.

He seemed startled by my request.  “I… Crew wouldn’t ever allow that.”

“He’s not the boss of Bigfoot.”

“Sorry, I can’t do it.  Crew wouldn’t ever talk to me again.  A guy like me doesn’t have many friends.  I don’t need to go around pissing off the ones I have.”  He shifted the car into reverse.  “Get on out so I can get Mrs. Starling’s suit to the funeral home.”

I stepped out of the truck, and he eased out of the driveway, and puttered down the road.  The rain had eased to a drizzle.  I stood and watched J-Rob’s truck until it was out of sight.  I contemplated his outrageously ridiculous story and realized I hungered for more.  I had to know what happened.  I trotted to the garage.  Granddaddy’s car was gone, which meant he wasn’t home.  I ran to the side door and stealthy entered the garage, careful not to arouse the suspicions of Uncle Crew who I was sure was upstairs in his room surfing the internet looking for information on Bigfoot.  I didn’t even dare turn on a light.  I stood in the doorway, waited for my eyes to adjust to the dark, and then made my way to the toolbox.  I planned to grab a few articles, stuff them in my backpack and then race upstairs.  I opened the tool box, and marveled at the number of articles and notebooks inside.  I scooped up as many articles as I could and gasped as I heard Uncle Crew walking around above my head.  With my heart beating a million miles a minute, I carefully put the articles in my backpack and shut the toolbox.  I was tempted to take one of the notebooks, too, but I felt like I was already pushing my luck.  I stood, exhaled to calm myself, and headed toward the door.  I was just about to exit when one of the tires on granddaddy beat up chunk of car caught my attention.  Something about it suddenly intrigued me.  I stepped in for a closer look and then suddenly knew what that something was.  It was a snow tire.  This was the car that plummeted over the mountain and killed granddaddy’s first wife and turned his son into a raving lunatic.  He’d kept it.

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Lost Days – Post 24

This is the 24th installment of the book I am currently writing. It is Sci-Fi/Adventure for young adult. It is not part of the Oz Chronicle series. The first draft is completed, and it is currently under review by my agent, so the final version of the book will most likely look a bit different than what you read here, but I thought you might like to see a work in progress. Happily my agent is busy with another one of my projects at the moment, and she hasn’t been able to give me feedback on “Lost Day”s as of yet.  Click on the “Lost Days Book” category on the right to read from the beginning. Or you can click here.

Crew and his mother, Maggie, were headed home from the Cascade Mountains in Washington.  It was a long trip back to their house in Bossburg, Washington.  Against the advice of friends and family, Maggie left early in the morning in a snow storm, mostly at Hank’s insistence.  He hadn’t seen his wife and son in two days, and he was anxious to have them home.  He had outfitted the car with snow tires and maintained it himself.  He was sure it was snow storm worthy.  So early in the A.M., before the sun was even up, she buckled her four-year-old son in the passenger seat and they headed down the mountain. 

Maggie was navigating the roads fine during the first 20 minutes of the trip.  The sun was starting to rise, but the snow fall started to pick up, too.  There were times when she couldn’t see past the beams of her headlights.  During one of those times, she took a wrong turn and ended up on an old abandoned lumber road. By the time she realized it, she couldn’t find a place to turn around.  She started backing out the way she came.  She didn’t know that the road was built on the edge of the mountain.  One miscalculation and they would be sent over the side of a steep cliff. 

She made the miscalculation when she noticed that Crew had managed to unbuckle he seatbelt and was standing up in the seat.  She reached over to buckle him back in, and turned the steering wheel just slightly to the left. The front wheel went over the edge of the cliff.  She screamed, jerked it back to the right and caused the back wheel to go over the edge.  They balanced long enough for her to believe that if she could just carefully crawl over to the passenger side, she could distribute the weight just enough to keep it from plummeting to the forest below.  Just as she was visualizing exiting the car with Crew in hand, he hopped over to her lap.  The car swayed gently and then slowly tumbled over the side.

It free fell for fifty feet until it rammed into towering ponderosa pines, bouncing through the treetops like a pinball.  Crew says there are two memories from the crash itself that he cannot shake. One, the horrible crunching sound the car made as it plummeted through the trees.  The other was the site of his mother being decapitated by a jagged, fractured section of the windshield. 

The car soared downward, and was headed for a fatal collision with the forest floor when the axel snagged on a freakishly strong branch and jerked the car against the gravity that was pulling it down.  The violent connection sent Crew sailing through the now glassless windshield.  His limber frame plunged twenty feet and then landed in a pile of fallen and decaying pine needles.  He was alive, and thrown into circumstances he could not comprehend.  He lay on the forest floor for several minutes in shock staring at the mangled car swaying in the trees above him.  His mother’s severed head stared back down at him, her hair caught on the deformed steering wheel.

It was a huffing sound that brought him out of his stunned state.  He rolled over and pushed himself up with his chubby little arms.  He was dazed, and had trouble keeping his feet once he was able to stand.  His head was throbbing, and his vision was now blurred as the blood rushed to his head.  A brown blob appeared from behind a row of trees.  It sauntered toward him, lumbering, making the huffing noise that first stirred Crew.  The dizzying effect slowly died and his vision cleared.  The brown blob was a bear of gigantic proportions.  At the age of four, he had no idea what kind of danger he was in.  He staggered across the uneven ground and approached the animal with an unconcerned curiosity, even feeling a little hopeful.  All he saw was something big.  Something with more of a chance to reach his mother than him. 

The bear stopped when it saw the small boy fearlessly approaching.  It sniffed the air.  The sound of the crash had stirred it from its slumber.  It was as confused as the boy.  The bear gave a warning grunt.  The boy did not stop. The bear stood on two legs and extended its front paws.  Still the boy approached.

“My mommy,” he said.  “Get her down.”

The bear roared.

This was sufficient enough to frighten the boy.  He began to cry.  He took a tentative step back. 

The bear got back down on all fours, shook its head violently and charged.  It didn’t bite or claw at Crew.  It head-butted him and sent the boy flying through the air. 

Crew rolled across the ground.  He massaged his ear, the part of his body that had taken the brunt of the impact.  He stuck his bottom lip out and pouted in pain. 

The bear swatted a massive paw in Crew’s direction, missing him, but only by the smallest of margins.  It raised up again, and prepared to bring the full weight of its body down on Crew. Then the giant beast grunted and fell to the ground with an animal of equal size attached to its back.

Crew scrambled to his feet and ran to the nearest tree. Even at his age, he knew he should hide himself, but curiosity got the best of him.  He wanted to see the two massive animals fight.  He hugged the tree and watched the bear right itself.  The other animal rolled across the rugged terrain and crashed into the underbrush.  It grunted and made a strange warbling sound.  The bear roared and pinned its ears back.  It stood on two legs.  The other animal emerged from the underbrush also standing on two legs.  Then it walked on two legs.  At first Crew thought it was a man, but it was covered in a thick pelt of hair.  The shoulders were wide, and the neck was non-existent.  It had a flat wide nose with very pronounced nostrils, and its head ended in a point.  It was an ape, an ape that walked on two legs.

The bear, standing on two legs, was a good foot and a half taller than the ape.  The two monsters squared off.  The bear relaxed its posture and started to revert to an all-fours stance.  The ape seemed to know that it had to act quickly.  As long as the bear was on two legs, it had no balance.  The ape charged, threw its shoulder into the bear’s ribcage, knocking it to the ground on its back.  It flailed and frantically swiped at the cold air.  The ape moved fast.  It pounded the bear’s chest fiercely with its fists.  The bear roared intensely as it rolled onto its feet and charged the ape.  The ape moved to the side and grabbed a grapefruit-sized stone.  It raised its hand in the air and smashed the stone down on the bear’s head in a blink of an eye.  The bear yelped in pain.  The ape repeated the death blow with lightning quick speed.  The bear’s yelps now sounded like screams.  Crew turned away just before the ape delivered the final blow. 

Seconds after the forest grew silent, Crew slowly turned to watch the ape lifting the bear’s front leg and letting it fall, lifeless to the ground.  He it did over and over again.  The ape sniffed the bear’s paw and hoot-growled.  He grabbed the dead bear by the scruff of the neck and started dragging it into the bush.  Crew stepped away from the tree. 

“Get my mommy down,” he said pointing up at the mangled car dangling in the trees.

The ape stopped.  It looked at Crew and let out a short low-pitched whistle that ended with a pop.

Crew pointed up again.  “Mommy.”

The ape looked up.  It examined the object in the trees with great curiosity and then returned its attention to Crew.  It grinned comically and nodded its pointed head.

Crew’s lower lip started to shake.  He rubbed his eyes with his chubby little fingers and said “Mommy” for the last time.

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