Lost Days – Post 34 (The drawing for the laptop grows nearer!)

ARC Cover for Lost Days!

ARC Cover for Lost Days!

This is the 34th installment of my new book, Lost Days.  The book will be released the first week of December.  I’ll also hold a drawing for a free laptop computer shortly after that.  Join the Lost Days Facebook group to get updates on rules and news. 

 

Ginger looked beautiful.  I’m sure I was the only one who thought so because as far as I could tell no one seemed as fixated on her as I was.  She was still… dumpy, her posture, her build, her overall demeanor was no different than she had been before.  It was her eyes that were somehow different.  They were big, and bold, soaking in the sadness of the moment, and not letting it go.  It was a look of total devastation, and while that shouldn’t have been beautiful to me, it was.  She loved her mother so much it damaged her knowing she would never see her again.  I found it reassuring that someone could love another person so much.  I thought I loved my mother and little brother that much, and even Nana Taffy and granddaddy, too.  But I knew I wouldn’t ever be sure until I stood in a cemetery staring at one of their caskets.  That’s the hell of it, as my granddaddy would say.  You don’t know how much you love somebody until they can’t love you back.  Realizing this, I started to cry in big painful sobs.  Everyone around me assumed I was crying for Ginger and her family, but I wasn’t.  I was crying for me, and when that thought occurred to me, I cried even harder for being such a selfish brat. 

After Ginger’s little brother threw his rose on top of the casket, the family walked away in a huddled mass.  Ginger caught a quick glance of me and attempted a smile.  I nodded and attempted one back.  I was sorry the school had let us all attend.  Everyone but me was there for the wrong reason.   You wouldn’t think a thing like that mattered, but it did. 

Joyner put his arm around me and lead me across the cemetery grounds towards his father’s truck.  It felt good being nestled up against him.  Someone who felt this good couldn’t be bad. 

I saw someone approach out of the corner of my eye and was relieved to see Owen.  He was wearing a pressed black suit.  I did a little double take when I saw him.  His eyes were puffy and red.

“You been crying?” Danny Perry asked Owen holding back a giggle.

“No,” Owen insisted.

He had been.  I knew it.  Anyone with half a brain knew it.   “You changed,” I said.

“Figured you were right,” he said.  “Called mom from school and she brushed off my one and only suit for me.  Doesn’t really fit.”  He tugged on the collar.

“Looks nice,” I said.

“Yeah,” Denise said.  “You look like a normal person.”

“Normal person who cries,” Danny said.

Joyner slapped his shoulder.  “Shut up, dude.”

Danny flinched and rubbed his shoulder.  “Jeez, I’m just jerking his chain.”

“Well, don’t,” Joyner growled.

Owen looked appreciative but confused by Joyner’s action.  He cleared his throat and said, “I gotta go.”  He looked at me.  “Saw your grandparents.  They asked if you were here.  Maybe you can catch a ride home with them.”  He gave me a very serious look.  “Unless you’re riding home with Teddy.”

My heart began to thump.

Joyner didn’t even acknowledge that Owen had referred to him as Teddy.  He just said, “Sure I can give you a ride home.”

“Yeah,” Denise said.  “Let’s ride home with the guys.”

“No,” I barked.  “We’ll get my grandparents to take us home.”

Denise grabbed my arm.  “Can I talk to you for a minute?”

I gently released myself from her grasp.  “In the car…”  I turned to look for Nana Taffy and granddaddy.

“Over there,” Owen said pointing to my right. 

I followed his finger and saw them talking to some people in the neighborhood that I had seen a few times before.  I had to keep myself from taking off in a dead sprint towards them.  I awkwardly said goodbye to Joyner and yanked Denise along with me as I stumbled in my high heels across the uneven grass to join my grandparents.   I glanced over my shoulder once and noticed Joyner staring at me with a raised eyebrow.  Somewhere in my panicked flee, Owen managed to leave without me noticing.  He was nowhere to be seen.  When we reached Nana Taffy and granddaddy, I wanted to collapse into their arms.  I felt as if I had narrowly escaped with my life.  I wanted them to hold me and tell me everything would be alright.  Instead, I greeted them as if nothing was wrong.  The guy I was falling for had something to do with the three goons who broke into Uncle Crew’s room, and could very well have something to do with the death of the woman who’s funeral we’d attended. But I couldn’t tell them any of that.  I just smiled and for the first time in my life wanted desperately to see Uncle Crew.

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Lost Days – Post 33 (With Two Possible Front Cover Designs)

This is the 33rd installment of my new book, Lost Days.  The short description: When Hayley learns her crazy uncle vanished for more than a year when he was a child, the intrepid teen sets out to solve the mystery of his lost days, unmasking a legendary creature in the process.

I’m releasing it in installments every Sunday on this blog, and I also plan to be releasing it in paperback very soon.  Click here to join the Lost Days Facebook Group.  What do you get for joining the group?  For one thing, you’ll be eligible to enter a drawing for a free laptop computer.  For another, you’ll get editorial updates on the current manuscript, and for yet another reason, you’ll get first crack at giving your feedback on various design elements of the cover.  Here’s a taste.  I’ve posted four possible front covers on the Lost Days Facebook page, and to date, the two covers you see below have received the most positive feedback.  What do you think? 

Cover 1 - The hooded girl hits on the mystery element of the story!

Cover 1 - The hooded girl hits on the mystery element of the story!

To my disappointment, Owen was not waiting for me after class.  I thought for sure he would be anxiously standing by the locker ready to tell me what Joyner’s first name was.  In fact, I didn’t see him for the rest of the day at school.  Joyner either.  I began to imagine horrible things.  Owen got too nosy.  Joyner caught on.  He got his three goons to keep Owen quiet, permanently.  I tried to tell myself that I watched too many movies, that I was inventing crazy conspiracies about Joyner that couldn’t possibly be true.  He was a high school kid.  What would he want with Elizabeth Starling’s camera?  I chuckled to myself as I walked the halls. What did I think, that Joyner was some crime boss, some kingpin that had people killed?  He was popular, sure, but I was pretty sure that he wasn’t running some criminal organization after school. 

 

Denise found me after third period.  Those of us planning on attending the funeral had been given the green light to leave an hour earlier than planned because of the anticipated turnout.  My guess was the administration was starting to regret letting the students attend the funeral.  The crowd was going to be large and given the maturity level of most of those in attendance, there was sure to be some embarrassing behavior.  I could see Dr. Claymeyer wringing his hands as he watched the students walk by his office. 

Joyner and Danny Perry caught up to Denise and me as we exited the school.  I wanted to be happy to see Joyner, but I couldn’t quite manage it.  As ridiculous as it seemed, I had the lingering feeling that he was more than a high school kid.  He was the leader of a crime syndicate.  

 

Cover 2 - People just seem to like this girls face!

Cover 2 - People just seem to like this girl's face!

“I’ll drive,” Joyner said.

“Oh,” I said.  “I promised Owen that we’d ride with him.”

“He’ll get over it,” Denise said with a grotesque smile.

“Owen left, anyway,” Joyner said.  I tried to detect something sinister in his tone, but it was flat.

“Left?” I asked.

“Saw him checking out in the office right after second period,” Joyner replied.  He held up a set of keys.  “Got my dad’s truck.  King cab. Satellite radio.”  He winked.

Denise grabbed my hand.  “Of course we’re riding with you.”

“Well, alright!” Danny screamed like an idiot.  He put his arm around Denise and guided her to the truck.

Joyner looked at me with concern.  “Are you okay?”

I shrugged.  “I don’t like funerals.”

He nodded and just said, “Yeah.”  He reached down and took my hand in his.  “Sure you want to go?”

I shivered from his touch.  I couldn’t decide if it was fear or desire.  “No, but I have to… you know, for Ginger.”

He grinned.  “That’s why I like you.  Every other kid in this rotten school is going to the funeral to get out of class.  You’re actually going to support Ginger.”

“What about you?” I asked.  “Why are you going?”

He didn’t even hesitate.  “Because you’re going.”  He kept hold of my hand as we walked to his father’s truck.  The shiver came back, and I was pretty sure it wasn’t fear this time.  I closed my eyes and prayed that he wasn’t a bad guy.

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Lost Days – Post 32 (Join Facebook group for a chance to win a laptop computer!)

This is the 32nd installment of my new book Lost Days.  Here’s the one sentence description:

When Hayley learns her crazy uncle vanished for more than a year when he was a child, the intrepid teen sets out to solve the mystery of his lost days, unmasking a legendary creature in the process.

I’ve created a Facebook Lost Days group.  Join the group and keep updated on a drawing I’ll have when the book is released.  The prize will be a laptop computer. 

I saw Owen outside my second period class, and pulled him to the side.  “What is Joyner’s first name?” I asked.

He mulled over the question.  “T.J.,” he said.

“His first name isn’t T.J.  Those are his initials.  What’s his first name?”  The frantic timbre of my voice was coming off as angry.

Owen became defensive.  “I’m not the one in love with him.  What do I care what his first name is?”

I bit my lip and then broke my promise to Uncle Crew.  “Three guys broke into my uncle’s room last night.  I heard one of them say something about somebody named Teddy?”

“You heard them?” Owen said.

“It’s a long story.”  I leaned against a row of lockers.  “I told Joyner that Uncle Crew was a Bigfoot researcher yesterday.  One of the guys who broke into Uncle Crew’s room said ‘Teddy was right. This nut job is into Bigfoot.’”

I thought I detected a faint smile on Owen’s face.  “Wait a minute… you think the guys who broke into your uncle’s room know Joyner… T.J. Joyner… Teddy Joyner.”

“If that’s his name,” I said.  “What else am I supposed to think?”  I thought of the implications.  “Oh my god, what if Joyner sent them there?”

He smirked.  “Why would Joyner send three guys to your uncle’s place?”

“To find the camera,” I said without thinking. 

“What camera?”

I placed my hand over my mouth.  “What camera?” I asked because I didn’t know how else to respond.

“That’s what I asked,” Owen said. 

The bell rang, and I immediately backed away.  “Gotta go.”

He looked at me suspiciously.  “If I find out what the ‘T’ stands for in T.J. Joyner, you have to tell me about the camera.”

“I’ll just ask Joyner,” I said confidently.

“No,” he snapped.  “If he is Teddy, and he did send three guys to your uncle’s, then I don’t want him thinking you’re on to him.”

“You don’t want?” I asked. 

He fumbled over his words.  “I… you know… It just isn’t a good idea.  Let me find out.”

I reluctantly nodded and then disappeared into my second period class.

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Lost Days – Post 31 (Get a free book)

This is the 31st 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: Due to the unexpected response to last week’s announcement about the free ARC give away for “Lost Days” I’ve decided to double the offer.  I’m giving away 10 more.  Contact me via email with the subject line “Send me a free ARC.”  Remember I can’t send it to you without your mailing address.  You can click here if you want more information. 

“Nice,” was the first thing Joyner said to me.  He met me at the front entrance to the school and walked me to my first class.  He was wearing a suit.  I was a little surprised, because I wasn’t sure if someone of his stature would actually be going to the funeral, but by the looks of everyone in school, they were all planning on going mainly to get out of afternoon classes.  It was almost like the school was buying mourners for Elizabeth Starling.  I hoped it would make Ginger feel loved.  I had a feeling she was smart enough to see it for what it really was.  “You feeling better?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said.  “Nothing serious.”

“Can I give you a ride to the funeral?”

I nodded.

“Got any crazy uncle stories for me today?” he asked.

I chuckled.  “No.  He might not be as crazy as I thought he was.”

“Really?  That’s kind of disappointing,” he said jokingly.  “What changed your mind?”

I looked at him.  Should I tell him about Uncle Crew and Ginger’s mom?  I cleared my throat and only told him half of the story.  “He’s not into Bigfoot.  He’s into owls.”

“Owls?”

“Short-eared… something.”

“He hunts them?” Joyner asked.

“No,” I said.  “He takes pictures of them. Studies them.  He says they’re endangered.  He’s trying to preserve their territory.”

“Cool,” he said. 

“I guess,” I responded.

“He takes pictures of them… where?”

I shrugged.  “Shawnee National Forest.  Little Grand Canyon.  Just around.”

“And he’s got pictures?”

I thought about it.  “I saw some owls, but I’m not sure if they’re the endangered ones.”

“Can I see them?” he asked with unexpected enthusiasm.

“You want to see pictures of the owls?”

“Why not?” he asked.  “Is that so weird?”

I smiled playfully.  “Kind of.”

He smiled back and squeezed the back of my neck.  Shivers went down my spine and I could feel goose bumps pop up all over my body.  As corny as it sounds, it felt like I had never been touched by a boy before, and honestly at that moment, I couldn’t remember if I had been.  “I’ve just never seen an endangered animal before… I mean close up.  I think I’d like to get involved with the cause.”

I looked at him cockeyed.  “Okay, but Uncle Crew isn’t really the type who works well with others.  You might have to help the owls without helping Uncle Crew.”

“I was hoping I could meet him.  Pick his brain, you know.”

“Not a good idea.”

We stopped in front of my class.  “Okay, I’ll settle for the pictures for now,” he said. 

The bell rang, and I turned to go into the classroom when he grabbed my arm.  “When?”

“When what?” I asked.

“When can I see them?” he asked pulling me closer.

I resisted, but he kept pulling.  “Wow, you really want to see those pictures.”

“So, shoot me for caring about one of God’s creatures.”  His tone was hard to read.  I think he was trying to be funny, but he sounded a little frustrated.

I was a little unnerved by his sudden keen interest in owls.  “I have them on my laptop.”

“Cool, I can swing by your house after the funeral and look at them.”

I shook my head.  “I don’t think that would be such a good idea.”

“Why?” This time I knew he was frustrated.

“It’s just that it’s my grandparent’s house, and I really shouldn’t have any uninvited guests over.”  I was pretty sure that Nana Taffy and granddaddy wouldn’t mind if he came over, but I was really unsettled by his need to see the pictures. 

He shrugged.  I think he sensed my tenseness.  “Cool, Friday then.  I’ll pick you up a little early for pizza.”

I nodded.  “Friday.  That’ll work.”

Danny Perry ran by and yelled out, “T, we’ll be late for Mr. Hammond’s class.  He’ll have coach all over us.”

“Coming,” Joyner yelled back.  He smiled and said, “You look really good today.”

I blushed and walked into my class when a bell went off in my head.  ‘T.’

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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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