Here is the video of the results of the first drawing for the computer. It was shot in my palatial garage… studio.
The official launch is underway. The “BUY” button has been activated and you are free to buy the book from Amazon! Here’s the extended description of the book:
While snooping in their Granddaddy Hank’s garage one afternoon, Hayley Wilkes’ little brother Grover discovers a decades-old newspaper clipping. It details the tragic death of their grandfather’s first wife when the car she was driving careened off an icy mountain road in Lake Roosevelt, Washington. Yet when her body was discovered, something was missing: her four-year-old son, Crew. Searchers could find no trace of the boy and gave him up for dead…until the toddler was discovered in the woods, alive and well, fourteen months later.
Since then, everyone has considered Crew to be a bit “touched” in the head. Hayley thinks he’s downright crazy―and not in the fun way. And for a teenager trying to fit in, being related to such a nut isn’t doing her social life any favors. Nonetheless, she can’t help but be fascinated by her uncle and intrigued by the mystery of his past. How could a little boy survive for an entire year in the woods? Someone must have taken care of him, but who? The more time she spends with Crew, the more Hayley realizes he’s tormented by those long-lost days. Determined to ferret out the truth, she launches an investigation into the heart of a forty-year-old mystery. As she digs for clues, Hayley forms a tentative friendship with her crusty uncle and comes face-to-face with a legendary creature whose mere existence has long been the source of fevered debate.
Led by a precocious young heroine and packed with quirky characters, family drama, and more than one very scary monster, Lost Days is an endearing and surprisingly relatable coming-of-age story about the strength of family. More importantly, this intriguing young-adult novel suggests that being different may not be so bad after all.
First things first, an important rule to follow:
PLEASE, DO NOT post the answer to the qualifying question on Facebook or any other public forum, including, but not limited to blogs, messageboards, other social media sites, etc. And don’t send out a mass email to friends and family with the answer. They always make their way back to me, and it makes things very awkward.
And now for the qualifying question:
What is the name of the Bigfoot that injures Owen?
Obviously, you will have to have read the book in order to know the answer, and that is the point of the contest. You are welcome to purchase the book by clicking here, Lost Days. But purchasing the book is not necessary. I would never make you purchase the book. That would be a real jerky thing to do. You can download the PDF for free by clicking here, Lost Days – Free PDF Version
Here are the rest of the rules:
1. You must be a member of the Lost Days Facebook group in order to be eligible to enter the contest.
2. Lost Days Facebook group members must provide the correct answer to the qualifying question to be officially entered in the drawing.
3. There are no limits to the number of times Lost Days Facebook group members can attempt to correctly answer the qualifying question.
4. Spread the word bonus – If you provide the correct answer to the qualifying question, you can earn extra entries for each member that joins the Lost Days Facebook group based on your referral.
5. You must provide the correct answer to the qualifying question by January 4.
6. A video of the drawing will be posted on the Lost Days Facebook group on January 10.
8. PLEASE DO NOT post the answer to the qualifying question on Facebook or any other public forum, including, but not limited to blogs, messageboards, other social media sites, etc. And don’t send out a mass email to friends and family with the answer. They always make their way back to me, and it makes things very awkward.
9. Send the answer to email@example.com with the subject line “I know the answer.” The subject line is very important because it helps me streamline the process, so please remember to use it.
10. The qualifying question is… What is the name of the Bigfoot that injures Owen?
11. Second Drawing: The second laptop will be for the top 10 people with the most Spread the Word Bonus Points. What are Spread the Word Bonus Points? Simple, whenever someone joins the Lost Days Facebook Group and leaves a comment saying “I’m a fan because (your name) sent me.” You get a Spread the Word Bonus Point (provided you answer the qualifying question correctly). To give everyone ample time to get the word out, I am holding the second drawing on January 17. BTW – You can start spreading the word now.
…Will be posted on Friday. Sorry, I didn’t mean to tease you. I just wanted to give you a heads up. Actually, I did mean to tease you. Don’t hate me. If you’re confused, and don’t know what I’m talking about, click here to get up to speed.
This is the 38th installment of my new book (launch is this week) Lost Days. I hope you’ve been reading carefully because the answer to the qualifying question is in one of the previous posts. Qualifying question for what? For your chance to win a free laptop computer. Click here to read the rules for the drawing. Basically, you read Lost Days for a chance to win a laptop! If you don’t want to read the free online version, it will be available for sale on Amazon this week!. Good luck.
I didn’t sleep a wink after Grover and I turned the lights off and settled in for the night. My brain fought with itself all night. I went from thinking the pictures were real to knowing they had to be fake and back again over and over until all my thoughts felt like racecars speeding around in my head. It was maddening. No matter what I did, I couldn’t shut it off.
I gave up trying to sleep about two in the morning. I sat up and watched Uncle Crew’s FROG from my window. He didn’t go out probably because three guys had broken into his room a couple of nights before. He was waiting for them to come back. They wouldn’t. Even I knew that. They hadn’t found what they were looking for, and there was no reason to risk getting caught looking in the same place twice.
J-Rob stepped out on the stoop at the top of the stairs a couple of times and smoked a cigarette. I drifted back to our conversation on the porch. I played every word over along with every motion he made. He had a lot of nervous ticks. Comes with being crazy I guess, but there was one that seemed out of place. A few times he would pat the pocket of his coat, the pocket that had the jump drive in it. Then it hit me. He meant for me to find that jump drive. He wanted me to see the pictures.
The natural question followed, “Why?” I thought about putting on some shoes and running outside to ask him, but I knew he would deny it.
His face glowed orange each time he took a drag from his cigarette. If he saw me watching him, he never let on. I didn’t know much about him, but I knew he loved my uncle like a soldier loves his commander or a boy loves a hero. If I had to guess why he gave me the jump drive, it was so I could help. He would never betray Uncle Crew by asking me outright, but if I volunteered, then he was off the hook.
I quickly ditched that idea. How could I possibly help? I was a kid, a test-taker still trying to make my way through Homer’s Iliad and the quadratic formula. I couldn’t help myself through high school, how could I help them… with whatever it is they were doing.
I tried one more time to lay back down in bed and fall asleep, but this time all I thought about was Joyner. I hated myself for believing that he could actually be interested in me. What a jerk I was. I felt like a complete and total fool. The horror slowly engulfed me as I realized that I would have to see him at school.
I gave up trying to sleep and quietly left the room. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I just wandered through the house aimlessly until I reached the living room. I didn’t turn on the lights, choosing instead to sit on the couch in the dark. The pale light of a half moon shined through the window. I sat and listened to the sounds of the early morning. The house settled causing barely audible pops and the wind outside whirled. It was amazing to hear nothing make so much noise. I heard a floorboard creek and almost let it pass without a thought. It suddenly dawned on me that floorboards don’t creek on their own. I became stiff. Another creek. Something out of the corner of my eye moved. I turned and saw a dark figure swaying by the fireplace. I screamed. The figure jumped and sprinted past me. I was screaming with more intensity as I realized that it was a real live person hiding in my grandparents’ living room. The man jerked the front door open and disappeared into the darkness just as granddaddy and mom came rushing down the stairs.
“What the hell…” granddaddy started to say, but stopped when he saw the front door wide open.
“Honey,” mom said running to my side.
I was a blubbering mess.
Granddaddy eased up to the door and peered outside. He shut it when he realized no one was there.
“What happened?” mom asked sitting next to me and allowing me to bury my face into her shoulder.
“A man,” I said as I sobbed.
“Man?” Granddaddy said. “In the house?”
I nodded pointing over to the fireplace. “He was over there.”
I heard the kitchen door open. Uncle Crew and J-Rob barreled into the room.
“What’s going on?” Uncle Crew asked.
“Heard some wild screaming,” J-Rob added.
Granddaddy looked at me with more concern than I have ever seen in an adult. “Hayley said she saw a man in the house. Front door was open when I came down the stairs.”
J-Rob didn’t hesitate. He ran to the door and opened it. Growling like a wildman, he jumped out onto the front porch in an attack posture. If I hadn’t been scared to tears, I would have been laughing. He stepped back inside. “Nothing. I’d say he’s halfway to Peoria by now.”
“What did he look like?” Uncle Crew asked.
I shook my head, and attempted to say that I didn’t know, but all I could manage was a series of squeaks.
“We should call the police,” mom said stroking my hair trying to calm me down.
Granddaddy grimaced. “Police have been out here enough.”
“But a man was in your house, daddy,” mom said sternly.
“I know,” granddaddy said, “And they’ll ask questions, none of which Hayley’s going to be able to answer because she didn’t get a good look at him. It’ll rouse the neighbors and just bring us attention I’d just as soon avoid.”
“Daddy, call the police,” mom demanded.
Nana Taffy came down the stairs holding Grover’s hand. “What happened?” she asked.
Granddaddy rubbed his grizzled face. “A lot of excitement. No one’s hurt…”
“A man broke into the house and daddy refuses to call the police,” mom said.
“A man?” Nana Taffy said pulling Grover in close. “Oh my. Why would he do that?”
“Who knows? Probably a drunk got lost on his way home,” granddaddy said.
“A drunk?…” You could hear the outrage in mom’s voice. “It could have been a burglar or rapist or serial killer for all we know.”
“Connie!” Nana Taffy shouted as she covered Grover’s ears.
“It was me,” Uncle Crew said.
I looked up at him astonished.
“What do you mean, it was you?” granddaddy asked. “You were in the house?”
“No,” Uncle Crew said. “They’re after me.”
“And me,” J-Rob added.
Granddaddy dropped his shoulders and shook his head. “No one’s after you boys.”
“No,” I said. “It’s true. Someone is after them.”
“Enders,” J-Rob said.
Granddaddy started to shuffle toward the stairs to go back to bed. “Sun will be up in a couple of hours. We should try to get some sleep before it’s too late…”
“They broke into my room the other night,” Uncle Crew said. He hesitated before he continued. “Hayley saw them.”
All eyes turned to me. “There were three of them.” I cast my head down feeling ashamed now for not telling them sooner.
“You saw them from your room?” mom asked.
“No,” I looked to see if Uncle Crew would step in and save me, explain what I was doing, how I was able to see the three men, but he simply nodded. “I went up to Uncle Crew’s room after he and J-Rob left the other night…”
“Why would you do that?” Granddaddy asked.
“Sh… she had her reasons,” Uncle Crew said trying to suppress a nervous facial tick. “We’ve talked about it.”
I didn’t know if he was trying to save me or keep the subject of the camera from coming up. “They broke into the FROG while I was there… I mean I wasn’t exactly in the room when they came exactly. I was hiding in the tree right outside the back window. I couldn’t see any of them.” I considered telling them about Joyner, but quickly changed my mind when J-Rob spoke again.
“Gotta be Enders,” he said.
Granddaddy turned to him and asked in a strained voice, “What’s an Ender?”
“Assassins,” J-Rob said. Uncle Crew squirmed. “Of sorts,” he continued. “They work for developers, the timber industry, oil companies, any outfit trying to get their hands on government land.”
“This isn’t the time, J-Rob,” granddaddy said.
“Tell ‘em, Crew,” J-Rob pleaded.
Uncle Crew had a look in his eyes like someone was pointing a gun at his head. “They… they clear vulnerable protected lands from endangered and at risk wildlife.”
“You mean like Bald Eagles?” mom asked.
“No,” Uncle Crew said with slightly more confidence. “Lower profile endangered species. Animals that don’t get a lot of attention except from a few animal rights groups.”
“And by vulnerable protected lands,” Nana Taffy said. “You mean what?”
“I mean those government-owned, protected lands they’re considering selling to pay down the federal debt. The Enders eliminate any evidence of endangered species from those areas and the developers make their case that there’s no reason to keep the land under protected status.”
“Why do you call them Enders?” Grover asked.
“Because,” J-Rob said, “they end entire species just to make a stinking dollar.”
“And this has to do with Bigfoot?” mom asked.
“No,” I said. “Owls.”
She looked at me ready to ask how I knew, but I didn’t give her a chance.
“That’s what Elizabeth Starling was doing in Little Grand Canyon. She was collecting evidence that an endangered species of owl used that area as its habitat.”
“They don’t just end animals,” J-Rob said sounding disturbed.
Mom jumped up. “Daddy did you hear that. The men who killed Elizabeth Starling were in this house. You have to call the police.”
Granddaddy considered her demand. “I’ve heard a lot of things here tonight. Not a lot of which I put much stock in.”
Nana Taffy said sternly, “Hank Stanton you pick up that phone and call the police. The neighbors be damned. I promise you that if I have to do it myself, you will not soon live it down, do you hear me?”
He grumbled and marched past everyone and headed for the kitchen to make the last phone call he ever wanted to make.
This is the 37th installment of my new book (launch is in about a week) Lost Days. I hope you’ve been reading carefully because the answer to the qualifying question is in one of the previous posts. Qualifying question for what? For your chance to win a free laptop computer. Click here to read the rules for the drawing. Basically, you read Lost Days for a chance to win a laptop! If you don’t want to read the free online version, it will be available for sale on Amazon next week!. Good luck.
After I caught up on my homework, I went out on the front porch to get some fresh air. The sun was long gone, and there was a chill in the air. I wasn’t exactly dressed for it, but I didn’t care. I folded my arms and sat on the steps.
J-Rob’s truck pulled up in front of the house. The gigantic man extracted himself from the cab, and started walking to the back of the house. When he saw me, he stopped to talk.
“You’ll catch your death dressed like that on a night like this,” he said.
“I’m fine,” I said.
“You should at least have a sweatshirt on.”
“Crew gave me a good talking to, by the way.”
“What for?” I asked.
“For telling you about the accident. He wasn’t pleased. You ain’t much on keeping secrets are you?”
I chuckled. “I guess not. Doesn’t matter anyway.”
“Why because he told you it wasn’t true?” J-Rob said kicking the ground in front of him.
I looked surprised. “You know it’s not true?”
It was his turn to chuckle. “I know he tells people it’s not true.”
I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, right, I get it.”
“You get what?” he asked.
I shivered as a gust of wind blew through me. “Nothing,” I said. “Uncle Crew was raised by Bigfoot.”
He took his jacket off and threw it over my shoulders. “Not quite, but close.”
His coat smelled like cigarettes and coffee, but it was just what I needed. I grabbed the lapels and pulled it in tighter.
“You think like everybody else?” J-Rob asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Do you dress like everyone else, think like everyone else, laugh at all the same jokes?”
“No,” I said. “What’s your point?”
“My point is me and Crew is just like you. We don’t think like everyone else. The difference is they threw us in a hospital because we thought differently. You ever been to one of them… hospitals?”
I shook my head.
“Ain’t no fun,” he said. “When you first get there you try to convince everyone you don’t belong there by converting them to your way of thinking. You know what you believe is 100% ironclad truth. But after awhile, you just want to fit in, so a little at a time you pretend to come around to their way of thinking just so they’ll stop looking at you that certain way and whispering behind your back.”
“So, Uncle Crew…” I started, but J-Rob interrupted me.
“Is just trying to be like everyone else even if he has to pretend.” He started to walk away.
“Wait, don’t you want your coat?” I asked.
“Keep it,” he said. “I got another one.”
He was gone before I could insist. I thought about following him, but it was too cold. I slipped my arms through the sleeves and welcomed the warmth the coat brought, even if it stunk to high heaven. Obviously, J-Rob was not familiar with dry cleaners or laundromats. Mixed in with the cigarette and coffee was the faint smell of body odor. I stuck my hands in my pocket and felt something that I thought was a lighter. I pulled it out and was astounded to see a jump drive. J-Rob didn’t seem like the type that could find the power button on a computer let alone own a jump drive. A voice in my head told me the right thing to do was find him and return the drive, but a louder voice in my head was screaming at me to look at what was on the drive. The screaming voice always wins out in my mind. I pulled myself up and ran up to my room.
Grover was nowhere to be seen so I shut the door and hurriedly turned on my laptop. I stood in front of the computer trying to will it to boot up faster than normal, but instead it seemed to be taking far longer than usual. The login window appeared, and I was so nervous and excited I typed it in wrong twice. I sensed myself getting more and more frustrated so I stopped and collected my thoughts. Slowly and taking great care to hit the correct keys, I typed in the password and opened the Windows desktop. I stuck the jump drive into the USB port and waited for the system to recognize the new drive. Everything was taking twice as long as it usually did. As soon as the system read the drive and allowed me access to it, I opened it to discover one folder with the name “LGC Field Study.” I opened the folder and found 14 images. Before I could look at them the doorknob turned. I slammed the laptop shut, and groaned louder than I intended when Grover walked in.
“It’s my room, too, you know,” he said insulted that I took exception to his presence.
“I shouldn’t have to share a room with you. I’m in high school.”
“Writing love letters to your boyfriend?” Grover asked.
“I don’t have a boyfriend,” I said looking down at the laptop. That was the first time I heard myself admit that out loud. A lot had changed in a day. I went from thinking the greatest guy in school had a thing for me to thinking the greatest guy in school wasn’t that great, and may have had ulterior motives for wanting to get to know me.
“Looking at more of your pictures?” Grover asked.
The question caught me off guard. I fumbled for a reasonable answer and finally just said, “Stop asking me dumb questions.”
He looked at me mischievously. “Let me see what you’re hiding.”
“No, dip wad.” I moved the laptop behind my back.
“I’ll tell mom.”
“And I’ll tell mom you have one her magazines.”
“Go ahead,” he smiled. “I put it back.”
“So, I’ll tell her you had it. She’ll believe me.”
“And I’ll tell her you’re doing something on your computer you shouldn’t be doing.”
I grunted. “I’m not playing, Grover! This is serious stuff.”
“I’m not playing either,” he said. “Show me.”
I balled my hands up into fists and thought about leaping out of the bed and socking him in the eye, but instead, I just cleared my throat and said, “Fine, but I swear to god, you are dead if you tell anyone.”
“Cool,” he said jumping on the bed.
I lifted the lid to the laptop and awoke it from its sleep. The file was still open. I clicked on the first picture and Grover said it best.
We stared at the picture for a long time without saying a word after that. I was trying to process it. Uncle Crew was squatting down next to a… something huge. It was covered in hair or fur or whatever you call it… it was…
“Bigfoot!” Grover yelled.
I quickly clamped my hand over his mouth. “Shhh! It’s not Bigfoot,” I whispered. “It’s a fake.”
He looked up at me and shook his head. “No way that’s a fake,” he said with my hand over his mouth.
I removed my hand. “It has to be.”
“Open another one,” he said excitedly.
I did as requested and we both gasped. There were two apes or guys in gorilla costumes or whatever they were wearing. These two were standing next to J-Rob. I laughed nervously. They were two feet taller than him. They were really big guys in really big costumes. I could feel sweat forming on my brow. They had to be fakes. They just had to be.
“Two Bigfoots,” Grover said.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” I said with a fake chuckle.
“Another one,” he said pointing to the mouse pad. “Open another one.”
I huffed. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to have to see more of those things. I was mad at them for looking so… real. But if I didn’t click on the next picture, Grover would have had a hissy fit. I opened it. An ape with breasts squatted next to the ape laying on the ground. Uncle Crew was off to the side. The female was holding a large Tupperware container and appeared to be scooping some kind of mushy food out. She was twice as wide as Uncle Crew.
“Boobs,” Grover shouted.
“Shut up,” I growled.
“These are real,” Grover said. His teeth were almost chattering he was so excited. “Bigfoot is real.”
I didn’t deny it this time. I clicked through the pictures, and saw more of the same. It became clear to me that the ape laying on the ground was injured or ill, and Uncle Crew was tending to it. The other apes looked on with concern and curiosity. The faces of the creatures started to get to me the more I studied them. They were ape-like in their features, but they were human, too. The faces were leathery, and the brow ridges were prominent. But the noses were more human than I was comfortable with.
I clicked on the last picture and saw a female holding a baby. It was beyond cute, but I was still utterly disturbed by the whole thing. I tried to convince myself once again that they weren’t real.
“Wait ‘til I tell Tommy Dixon,” Grover said.
I jerked him up by his collar. “You can’t tell anybody about this, you understand?”
He looked at me scared out of his mind. “Let go of me.”
“Promise me you won’t tell a soul about this.” I could feel the veins popping out on my neck.
“Okay, okay, I promise,” he said.
I let him go. “We don’t even know if it’s real,” I said more for myself than him.
“You’re crazy,” Grover said. “Nobody could fake that.”
“They can fake all sorts of things. Ever heard of Photoshop?”
“Of course,” Grover said. “Learned it at computer camp last summer. Never saw nothing like that, that’s for sure.”
“That doesn’t prove it’s real,” I said. I pulled the jump drive out of the USB port and held it up. “What do you want to bet that old J-Rob is pretty good when it comes to Photoshop?”
This is the 36th installment of my new book, Lost Days. The Advance Reader Copies have been printed and are on their way to me. I’ve giving some free copies out to the folks who have joined the Lost Days Facebook group. They’re also the only ones eligible to enter a drawing for a free laptop computer. Join the group today and get in on the fun!
“What do you mean we can’t go out with Danny and Joyner?” Denise was screaming.
“It’s complicated,” I said into the phone. “Just trust me.”
“Trust you?” There was panic in her voice. “You’ve been acting really weird lately, Hayl. How am I supposed to trust you?”
I sighed. “I can’t really go into it now…”
“No,” she roared. “I’m going. This is my one chance to get out of the social dungeon I’ve been in my whole life. I’m not passing it up just because you have cold feet.”
“You’re not going, Denise,” I was so stern I almost convinced myself I could prevent her from going.
She wasn’t buying it. She laughed. “What? You can’t tell me what to do. I’m going. Be a bitch and stay home!” She hung up the phone.
I looked at the receiver for a few seconds before I hung it up. My grandparents didn’t have anything as high tech as a cordless phone, so I’d been tethered to the kitchen wall throughout the entire conversation. Nana Taffy was at the sink washing dishes. She was dying to know what was going on, but to her credit she didn’t ask. She pretended to be so wrapped up in removing the grease from a frying pan that she didn’t have time to take interest in my squabbles with my silly friends.
I jumped when the phone rang shortly after I hung up. I picked up the receiver. “Hello.”
“Comet?” a familiar voice said.
“Dad?” I asked, but I knew it was him. He was the only one in the world who called me comet. I hated it, and I hated him. I was in disbelief when I heard his voice.
“Yep, it’s me. How are you, comet?”
“Fine,” I said not really caring if it was the truth or not. I didn’t like discussing any part of my life with my father.
“I tried calling your cell phone a couple of times, but I could never get through.”
“Maybe because I don’t have a cell phone,” I said gritting my teeth together. I couldn’t believe how little he knew about me.
“Really? Since when?”
“Since never,” I said.
“Is there a reason you called,” I snapped.
“Yes, I’m your father. That’s why I called.”
“Whatever,” I said.
“Don’t get smart with me, young lady. Your mother called me. She’s concerned about your living situation. She thought it might be a good idea if you and your brother stayed with me for awhile.”
I was too busy processing what he said to answer.
“It’s just not a good time for me, honey. I’d love nothing more. It’s just with work… things are really crazy.”
I laughed. I was confused, relieved, and devastated all at once.
“Tell your mother for me, will you? I have to go, comet. I love you.” He hung up.
I stood against the kitchen wall with the phone to my ear long after the call ended. He didn’t even ask to talk to Grover.
Mom walked into kitchen and looked at me with a puzzled expression. “Who are you talking to?”
I didn’t understand the question until I heard the dial tone. I slammed the phone on the cradle. “You’re stuck with us,” I said trying to sound like I didn’t care that she was trying to pawn us off on dad.
“What?” she asked.
“Dad said things are too crazy at work right now. He can’t take Grover and me off your hands.”
“That was you father?” she asked.
I nodded and attempted to leave the room, but mom stopped me.
“Sit down, young lady.”
“I’ve got homework,” I said as she grabbed my arm.
“Sit down and hear me out,” she said as if she were begging.
“Fine,” I said in as snotty a tone as I could muster. I flopped down on the nearest chair and rested my elbows on the kitchen table. Nana Taffy finally gave up the charade that she was too into cleaning pots and pans to care what was going on. She joined mom and me at the table.
“I called your father because I was concerned,” mom said.
“I bet,” I said sarcastically.
Nana Taffy didn’t like my tone. She raised her voice at me for the first time that I can remember. “That’s enough, Hayley Wanda Wilkes.”
I blushed, partly because I was embarrassed that my grandmother had just scolded me and partly because I hated hearing anyone use my middle name.
Mom closed her eyes to gather herself. She let out a quick breath, opened her eyes, and continued. “The police have been here twice in the last week. I don’t feel comfortable exposing you and Grover to that sort of thing. I just thought it would be better if you stayed with your father for a while, until your uncle can sort this out.”
“You think Uncle Crew did it?”
“No,” she said. “That’s not it. Crew would never hurt anyone. I know that. I just don’t want you and your brother to have to worry about this sort of thing. It’s an unusual situation, and to be honest with you, I’m completely confused by it, and I’m an adult. This can’t be fun for you and your brother.”
I leaned back in the chair. “Doesn’t matter, anyway. Dad’s too busy to take us.”
She gently placed her hand on my thigh. “Honey, your father is an… asshole.”
“Connie!” Nana Taffy shrieked.
“It’s true!” mom said.
Nana Taffy’s face was beet red. “Of course it’s true, sweetie, but I don’t approve. Call him a jerk or butt nugget even… I just don’t… please don’t use the ‘A’ double ‘S’ word.”
Mom looked at Nana Taffy cock-eyed. “Butt nugget?”
“Is that not a term?” Nana Taffy asked apologetically.
Mom turned to me and we both busted out laughing. We laughed until we started crying, and then mom wrapped me in a bear hug. “Honey, I just want to do what’s best for you.”
The emotions from the funeral came back in full force. “You’re what’s best for me,” I said sobbing like a baby.
Nana Taffy couldn’t take it anymore. She left her chair and placed a strong hand on both our backs. “My girls,” she said. “No one goes anywhere.”
This is the 35th installment of my new book, Lost Days. The Advance Reader Copies have been printed and are on their way to me. I’ve giving some free copies out to the folks who have joined the Lost Days Facebook group. They’re also the only ones eligible to enter a drawing for a free laptop computer. Join the group today and get in on the fun!
Uncle Crew wasn’t home. I changed into a pair of sweats and a Chicago Cubs t-shirt shortly after my mom chewed me out for borrowing her boots without asking. I was so shaken by the funeral that I wrapped my arms around her and begged for her forgiveness. She agreed after looking at me like she’d just found out I had a brain tumor.
I decided to crawl in bed and sleep for the rest of my life. The covers had barely settled over me when Grover and Owen walked in. I yelped in surprise.
“Owen’s here,” Grover said.
“I can see that, dink,” I said sitting up.
Owen, still dressed in his suit, examined me wide-eyed. The way I reacted when he walked in, he must have thought he caught me in the nude.
“You okay?” Owen asked.
“Hold on,” I said. “Get out of here, Grover.”
“No,” he said. “It’s my room.”
“It’s my room,” I said. “I just let you sleep here.”
He folded his arms over his chest and grimaced. I was never going to get him to leave. “Okay, you can stay, but it just means that I have every right to beat the living crap out of you if you repeat one word of what we say.”
He put on a stoic face and nodded.
I returned my attention to Owen. “I’m fine. Pissed off, but fine.”
“What are you going to do?” he asked.
“Wait for Uncle Crew to get home and talk to him.” I noticed my laptop on the night stand, and suddenly remembered what it contained. “The pictures,” I said opening it and turning it on.
“Pictures?” Owen said sitting on the bed.
I looked at Grover. “Last chance to leave because I promise you, I will give you the beating of your life.”
“I won’t say nothing,” he said.
I clicked on the image viewer and opened the album of pictures from Elizabeth Starling’s camera. I handed the laptop to Owen without telling him where they came from. He started to click through the images. He turned to me when he got to the picture of Ginger Starling.
“Is this…?” was all he could bring himself to say.
“Where did you…?”
“Uncle Crew,” I said.
Grover looked at us dumbfounded. “Stop talking in code.” He walked over and sat next to Owen. “Who’s the girl?”
We didn’t answer. Owen continued to click through the pictures. He didn’t make any comments. He got to the last one and started scanning through them again. At one point he pursed his lips together, and I could tell he was going back and forth between a series of pictures. He turned to me with a furrowed brow. “There are some pictures missing.”
“What?” I said darting forward and looking over his shoulder.
“You see this file name?” He asked as he pointed to the upper left hand side of the screen.
“Yeah,” I said.
“It’s IMG00012,” he said.
“Yeah, so,” Grover said.
Owen clicked to the next image. “This one is IMG00026.”
“So,” Grover said again.
“It should be IMG00013,” I said in a haze.
“Right,” Owen said. “It’s the default naming protocol. Images have sequential numbers.”
“Sesquent-what?” Grover asked.
“In order,” I said. “The images should be numbered in the order in which they were taken. It jumps from 12 to 26.”
“Which means someone deleted 14 images,” Owen said.
“Oh,” Grover said yawning. “Guess they were bad pictures.” He stood. “I’m leaving because, for top secret stuff I’m not supposed to tell anyone, it’s pretty boring.” He stomped out of the room.
“Image number 12 is a picture of your uncle,” Owen said. “Picture number 26 is of that other guy.”
“J-Rob,” I said.
“Which means 13-25 were probably of them, too.”
I turned and sat back-to-back with Owen, pressing my feet against the wall. “Uncle Crew deleted them.”
“Looks like.” I could sense him turn his head toward me. “You okay?”
“That’s the second time you’ve asked me that since you got here.”
I heard a car pulling into the driveway. I jumped up and nearly knocked Owen to the floor. I darted out of the bedroom and headed down the hallway to a window overlooking the front yard. Owen wasn’t far behind. It was a police car. Owen’s cousin was helping Uncle Crew out of the backseat.
“What’s going on?” I asked Owen.
He looked at me dumbfounded and simply shrugged.
I ran down the hall and bounded down the stairs. I was on the front porch so fast I wasn’t even sure how I got there. I looked to my left and Owen was standing right beside me. He hopped off the porch and made a beeline for his cousin. Uncle Crew made brief eye contact with me and then quickly dropped his head. He stomped awkwardly down the driveway toward his FROG.
I heard the door to police cruiser shut, and turned to see Owen climbing back up the porch steps. “Well?” I begged.
Owen looked at me sheepishly. “My cousin brought your uncle in for questioning. There was a call to 911 the night Mrs. Starling… died. The server crashed and they thought they lost it so nobody heard it until this morning when some IT guy was able to recover the call from one of the corrupt hard drives.”
“I don’t understand. Are you saying someone called 911 about Mrs. Starling the night she was killed?”
“Yes. The best they can determine the caller used Mrs. Starling’s cell phone to make the call. My cousin said the second he heard the voice he knew who it was.”
Owen nodded. “Apparently, he wouldn’t talk, and they didn’t have enough to hold him.”
I leaned back against the porch railing and folded my arms over my chest. “They think he killed her,” I said to no one in particular.
Owen rested on the railing next to me. “Do you blame them? I thought you were leaning that way, too.”
“I was… this is all my fault. I should never have said anything to anyone.” I grabbed Owen’s arm and squeezed. “You can’t tell anyone about the pictures.”
“Okay, but honestly, Hayley, it’s not looking too good. The three guys last night, the camera, the missing pictures, your uncle is mixed up in something. And, even if he didn’t kill Elizabeth Starling, it’s pretty clear he’s involved in some way. You’re going to have to tell someone sooner or later… someone besides me.”
I didn’t say a word. I knew he was right. I didn’t want him to be, but there was no sense denying it. Uncle Crew was hiding something. I couldn’t stand by and do nothing. I felt an obligation to Ginger Starling to find out what he was hiding because I was pretty sure it would lead to the truth of what really happened to her mother.
Dateline Chucktown: R.W. Ridley is giving away a free laptop to promote the release of his new book, Lost Days! Watch the video below and then join the Lost Days Facebook group!
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.