BOOM! The first draft of The Closeout Kings is done!

I just typed “The End” on the first draft of C. Hoyt Caldwell’s next book, The Closeout Kings! And, it is such relief! This one has been hard because of the subject matter.  Trying to make a story about human trafficking enjoyable is as hard as it sounds.  Is it any good?  No.  Not at this stage.  This is the first draft.  First drafts are normally dreadful.  I have some rewriting to do, but the story officially has a beginning, middle, and END!

You’ll notice two things about this post. One, I called the book The Little Deputy and the Closeout Kings in a previous post.  The little deputy has been pulled from the title.  Not because she’s less important than the closeout kings, but because graphically I couldn’t pull off the long title when it came to designing a cover.  Plus, The Little Deputy and the Closeout Kings sounds a little like a children’s book.  It just doesn’t fit the genre.

The other thing that you’ll notice is that I’m talking about C. Hoyt Caldwell on my R.W. Ridley blog when in the past I said I wouldn’t unless something big happened.  Well, completing a first draft is big so there.  Stop judging me.  There’s a possibility that I may rescind that rule anyway.  I haven’t made a final decision yet, but I am leaning that way.

Now for the fun part.  I created a couple of cover options for this book, and posted them on Facebook.  I was stunned and pleased by the great response I got from my Facebook Friends.  They gave me some really good feedback and based on that I’m down to two possibilities.  Take a look and let me know which one you like better.  I’ve made them about the size they’d be on an online retailer’s website because that’s where about 99% of my sales come from.

Do you like cover A or cover B?

Do you like cover A or cover B?

 

New book project here I come

I’m taking my usual Oz hiatus (except for the Lou diary entries) by working on a non-Oz project.  This one is a dark Young Adult book about an alien invasion called Tree Readers.  I actually started this story months and months ago but lost my focus when I had to jump back on the Oz bandwagon.   I’m planning on wrapping TR and sending it off to my secret agent man to see what he thinks.  In the meantime, here’s a little sample (typos included).

The messages are in the trees.

.

Stanley Keenan was six the first time he helped his father kidnap someone.  It was a kid about his own age named Bobby Darden.  His father spent weeks training him how to win the kid’s trust.  They’d go to the park every Tuesday and Saturday at the same time Bobby would be there with his mother.  Stanley slowly got to know Bobby.  He liked him.  He was fun.  In a lot of ways, he was Stanley’s best friend.  In fact, he was the one who first called Stanley Key.  It was a nickname he would use for the rest of this life.

After six weeks of becoming Bobby’s buddy, Key lured him to a line of trees on the North side of the park, and his old man appeared with a couple of ice cream cones.

Bobby was in the back of Key’s father’s RV before he knew what was happening, lapping up the ice cream like it was his last meal.  For all Key knew, it was.

Bobby and Key played in the back of the RV while Key’s old man drove out of town.  Bobby was assured that his mother had asked Key’s father to take him on a trip to Six Flags.  She wanted to come but couldn’t because of work.  Bobby thought his mother was the coolest parent on the planet at that moment.

Little did he know that she noticed her son missing ten minutes after the abduction.  She told herself that he had just wandered off.  That she would find him soon.  She was sure he would be just around the corner, doing something he shouldn’t be doing because that was his nature.  If there was trouble, Bobby could find it, but it was usually harmless fun.

The minutes passed and she grew more and more anxious.  The volume of her voice got louder.  The urgency in her tone was more pronounced.  The other parents started to take notice at this women darting from tree to tree calling out her son’s name.  Their hearts began to pound.  A mother had lost her child. Could anything be worse?  They all scooped up their own children and began to help in the search for the poor woman’s child.

They wouldn’t find him.  He was growing restless in the back of Key’s father’s RV.  He had been happy and content with the thought of going to an amusement park at first, but several hours had passed, and he began to miss his mother in spite of himself.  He had never gone so long without so much as a phone call from her.  Looking out the window of the RV, he could see that it was dark outside.  Darker than he had ever seen it before.  Something was wrong.  He was only five, but he could feel it.  Key tried to keep Bobby’s mind off his mother by showing him his comic book collection, but Bobby couldn’t even pretend to care about the stupid comic books.

“I want to go home, Key,” Bobby said.

Key gripped his latest Superman comic.  “Don’t you want to go to Six Flags?”

Bobby shook his head.  “Not anymore.”

Key’s hands began to sweat.  His father told him that this might happen.  He warned him that Bobby would beg to go home, but it was his job to keep him happy and quiet.  “What about the roller coasters?”

“We can’t ride ‘em.  We ain’t tall enough.”

“Sure we can,” Key smiled.  “My dad said so.  He knows the guy who built all the roller coasters.  They got us special passes.”

Bobby looked down.  “I don’t care.  I just want to go home.”

“Don’t say that so loud,” Key said.  He looked at his father to see if he heard.  If he had, he knew that was it for Bobby.  They’d pull over and his old man would make sure that Bobby stopped asking to go home.  One way or another.

“Tell your dad,” Bobby said.

“I can’t.”

“I just want to go home.”

Key covered Bobby’s mouth with his hand.  “Shhhh.”

“Everything alright back there boys?” Key’s old man asked.

“Yes, sir,” Key answered.

“We’re just about there.  Just talked to Bobby’s mom on the phone.  Good news.  She got off work and she’s waiting for us near the gate.”

Key breathed a sigh of relief.  “There, you see.  Your mom’s waiting for us.”

Bobby managed a smile.  “Good.” His eyes darted from Key to Key’s dad.  “Does your dad really know the guy who built the roller coasters?”

Key nodded.  “Says he does.  They served in the army together.”

“Your dad was in the army?”

“Still is.  That’s why we move so much.  He’s always going on secret missions.”

“Wow,” Bobby said.  “Cool.  Does your mom go on secret missions, too?”

“Nah,” Key said.  “She died when I was born.  It’s just me and my dad.”

The two boys felt the RV slow and eventually come to a stop.  Key’s father unbuckled his seatbelt and moved to the back of the vehicle.

“You boys wait here.  I’ve got to do some business.”  He moved to the door and then turned back to the two boys.  “Don’t even think about going outside.”

Both boys nodded.  They slowly moved to the front of the RV after Key’s father exited.  They watched him through the front windshield as he approached a black four-door car.  Key’s father turned back to the RV.  Bobby and Key ducked down so they wouldn’t be seen, but they weren’t sure why.  They had been instructed not to leave the RV, but Key’s old man didn’t say anything about not looking out the windows.

They watched intently as Key’s father leaned inside the car.  He appeared to be talking to someone, but the boys couldn’t see anyone.   Bobby reached out and grabbed Key’s arm.  He scooted closer to his best-friend.  His grip on Key’s arm got tighter as his father raised his voice.

Key’s old man stood up and wiped the sweat from his brow with his sleeve.  He headed back to the RV and the boys could hear him mumbling.   Both boys yelped and jumped when he opened the side door.

“Bobby,” Key’s father said.  “Can you come here, please?”

Bobby Looked at Key.  What should he do?  He didn’t want to go outside.  It was dark out there.

“Bobby,” Key’s father said.

“I don’t want to go,” Bobby whispered.

“It’s okay,” Key said.  “My dad’s in the army, remember?  He’ll protect you.”

Bobby considered Key’s logic and then stood up.  He ever so slowly stepped toward the door.

Key’s father reached out his hand and gave him a reassuring smile.  “It’s okay.”

Bobby reluctantly grabbed his hand and allowed himself to be guided out the door.

Key crawled into the passenger seat and watched as his father placed his hand on Bobby’s back between his shoulder blades and walked him to the black car.

Bobby looked back once and Key was sorry he did.  He was scared for him.  Key didn’t like that feeling, being scared for someone else.  It tied him up inside, and he wanted to roll down the window and beg his father to bring Bobby back, to take him home where he belonged, but he didn’t.  His father told him he would feel that way. He told Key that doubt was normal.  But he promised him they were doing the right thing.

“The greater good,” he called it.

Key’s father opened the trunk of the car, bent down, and whispered something in Bobby’s ear.  The small boy hesitated and then to Key’s amazement crawled into the trunk without so much as a gentle shove from his father.

That was last time Key saw Bobby Darden, but it wouldn’t be the last time he saw that black car.

What my brain currently looks like

I’m in the homestretch of writing a new book, and I’m having an exceptionally good time with this one.  It’s one of those cases where I can’t wait to start writing every day.  I don’t want to give too many details, but as a little teaser, these are the images that keep running through my brain. 

A few of the images that are dancing through my writery heard

Lost Days has officially launched!

We have lift off... of my new book, Lost Days!

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.

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Lost Days – Qualifying Question… for real this time!

Read a book! Win a laptop computer!

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.

7. The answer to the qualifying question can be found in either the paperback version of the book, Lost Days or in Lost Days – Free PDF Version

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 lostdays@rwridley.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.

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The qualifying question for the laptop drawings…

Read a book! Win a laptop computer!

…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.

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Lost Days – Post 38 (Win a Free Laptop!)

lost-days-4b-web

Read a book! Win a laptop computer!

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.

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Lost Days – Post 37 (Win a free laptop!)

lost-days-4b-web
Read a book! Win a laptop computer!

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.”

I shrugged.

“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.

“Holy… whoa!”

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?”

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Lost Days – Post 36

lost-days-4b-web

Read a book! Win a laptop computer!

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.

“Really?”

“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.”

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