Mystery in McCook: The Death of Ida Fitzgibbons

 

 

You don’t have to go far to find a mystery.
For me, it was a single page in a book.

I was reading James W. Hewitt’s IN COLD STORAGE. The book dives into the 1973 murders of Edwin and William Hoyt in McCook, Nebraska. It is a superbly written investigation into the grisly, yet mostly unknown case. However, Hewitt briefly mentions another death that took place in that small town only months earlier. This is the mystery that keeps me up at night.

The Scene:

On the night of April 25, 1973 a woman on the 900 block of West 1st street reported a fire at her neighbor’s house. That neighbor was 80 year-old Ida Fitzgibbons. A fireman reportedly broke into the house, ran upstairs to open some windows for ventilation, and then came back down the stairs only to fall waist-deep into a hole burned into the floor. Next to the hole, he spotted the elderly Fitzgibbon’s body. She was nearly nude. Her lower extremities were burned. Her ankle was broken. A section of clothesline was wrapped around her neck and knotted in the front.  She had been stabbed in the chest with a wooden-handled knife still stuck in her body.  However, at the end of an official investigation, her death would be ruled a ‘suicide’.

The Victim:

Ida Fitzgibbons was a woman that ‘looked 13 years younger than her age’. However, she had  pretty much lived the life of a recluse during her golden years. According to her nephew, John Fitzgibbons, Ida saw no reason to stay in McCook. She was planning on returning to her home town of North Platte, NE, had already bought a house there, and put her McCook home on the market. Tragically, those plans would be cut short.

The Investigation:

You know how the saying goes – ‘at the heart of every conspiracy lies a botched investigation’. Ida’s death was no exception. Again, I have to state my belief that not all law enforcement professionals are idiots nor are they bad at their jobs. We need to realize that they are people just like us and can make mistakes. The guy who makes your sandwich might make a thousand sandwiches perfectly. Yet, if they screw up your order ONE TIME, they will forever be known as the incompetent sandwich artist. However, a death investigation is one hell of a sandwich. That being said, the investigation into Ida’s death is quite the head scratcher. I found myself getting confused just in the TWO pages that Hewitt devotes to it in his book. So naturally, I dug a little further.

First, let’s take a look at the family tree of law enforcement officers that were involved in the investigations. It helps if you have a flowchart handy.  Sheriff William Tumblin and Deputy Sheriff Don Haegen were first on the scene. They examined the house and attended the autopsy which was first conducted by McCook physician Dr. John Battey. According to a report by Tumblin, Battey had concluded that the death was ‘very obviously’ a homicide. And the McCook Gazette ran with this theory in its headlines on April 26th, 1973.

Enter McCook Police Chief Bill Green. Green himself was a former F.B.I man with over 25 years of experience. Allegedly, Green was upset with Tumblin and Haegen’s quick judgment of homicide and promptly had the two removed from the case. He also brought in Nebraska State Patrol Lt. Donald Grieb of North Platte to handle the investigation.  When he was given the case, County Attorney Clyde Starrett said that Ida’s death was ‘probably a homicide’ but decided to put together a coroner’s jury to make the final decision.

This jury remained deadlocked 3-3 and couldn’t come to a decision on whether a crime had been committed or not. So, they turned it all over to the Nebraska State patrol and in December of 1973 the State Patrol sided with the McCook police in saying their outcome of suicide was correct.

According to Green, some of the determining factors included:

  1. All doors and windows were locked when the firemen arrived
  2. The knife wounds seemed self-inflicted
  3. The clothesline had been tied in the front of her neck and loose – making it possible for her to have tied it.
  4. Her broken ankle could have been caused by a fireman tripping over the body
  5. There were no signs of a struggle.
  6. The deceased could have been despondent over loss of a brother and sister, the prospects of caring for an ailing sister, and disposal of house if she moved.
  7. Miss Fitzgibbons had few friends.

Yet the people of McCook were not so convinced. Sheriff Tumblin himself was the biggest critic of the investigation saying that it had overlooked the physical evidence and facts. Tumblin would soon resign from the State Patrol over their handling of the case and continue to advocate for another investigation.

The Hoyt Murders:

Just over five months later on October 3, 1973, human remains were found floating in the Medicine Creek Dam just twenty-five miles northeast of McCook. The dismembered body parts were later identified as Edwin and Wilma Hoyt – a McCook couple that had gone missing ten days earlier.

What was going on in that town with a population just around 7,000?  Was there a bloodthirsty cult of ‘devil worshippers’ running loose? McCook was in a panic. The town went so far as to strongly suggest that Halloween parties be held indoors and at churches. Door-to-door trick or treating was abolished.

Luckily, the Hoyt murders would soon be solved. Harold and Ena Nokes would ultimately be charged with the murders in spring of 1974. Their connection to the Hoyts was that they were Kay Hoyt’s lovers. Kay Hoyt- as in the daughter of the slain couple.  It is my personal belief (and many others) that Kay was involved with the killing of her parents, but I’ll let you read James Hewitt’s book and make your own decision.

But what about Ida? To this day, many question the way her death was handled.  Even Paul Harvey (yes, THAT Paul Harvey) discussed the case on air, stating “It is easy to see why the authorities had difficulties settling the case. The Police Chief was Green. The Sheriff was Short. The coroner’s physician was Batty, and the Mayor was Blank.”

Aftermath:

Many people were not convinced of the official ruling of Ida’s death as a suicide. Even then- Governor J. James Exon wasn’t buying it and ordered the release of a 280 page transcript (which I have yet to read) of the original findings. The report was made public in 1978 by Red Willow County Attorney Mike Freeman and clearly noted the problems with the investigation. Also in 1978, A Legislative Committee led by Rep. John DeCamp (who would later investigate the infamous Franklin Cover- up) called out the investigation as inadequate, suggesting a cover-up.  Ida’s death  would inspire two bills before the Nebraska Legislature which would authorize the employment of a state examiner and four district medical examiners who could investigate to determine the cause of almost any death not attended by a physician.  However, the two bills would die due to lack of interest.

To this day, Ida Fitzgibbons’ death officially remains a suicide.

Thoughts:

Now, let’s take one more look into this perplexing case.

The last time Ida was spotted alive was by a neighbor entering her house alone at 5:35 p.m. At 6:50 p.m. the fired was spotted and emergency crews were contacted. That time frame allows roughly an hour and fifteen minutes for the act to occur.

When firefighters arrived they claimed that all the windows and doors were locked. However, later the responding official could not remember if he had to cut a screen and unlock a window or not. Fitzgibbons’ nephew John stated that it was Ida’s habit to keep everything ‘locked up’. From what I’ve read, the fire was allegedly started by the burners of her electric stove being left on and igniting the kitchen curtains hanging above. However, according to the map below (from a 1978 article of the Omaha World-Herald), the hole was burned in the middle of the house in the next room. Again, my understanding of housefires is amateur at best, so we will go with the official report on this fact.

 

Image from the Omaha World-Herald

The knife found in Ida’s chest was one from her own kitchen and the handle was burned so badly that fingerprints could not be taken. All of the knife wounds were on the right side of Ida’s body (she was right-handed) and barely ‘nicked’ the heart. According to Investigator Grieb, the wounds showed signs of ‘hesitation marks’, meaning that the stabber (that’s a technical term) hesitated while inflicting the wounds.

The clothesline around Ida’s neck was allegedly loose. Grieb stated that you could ‘put two fingers between it and the neck’. Unfortunately, the ends of the line were charred by the fire so they could not compare it to some clothesline found in Ida’s basement. No accelerant was found at the scene. All of Ida’s valuables, including her purse were still in the house. Nothing had been taken.

During the autopsy there was no soot found in Ida’s lungs. That suggests that she had died before she could inhale any smoke. There was no blood at her broken ankle wound. This suggests that she could’ve been dead before the injury occurred. Her official cause of death was ruled ‘internal bleeding’ acquired from the stab wounds.

Keep in mind, that most of these facts were reported by Investigator Donald Grieb who was put on the case after Tumblin and Haegan were booted.

In most crime investigations a lot of weight is given to the accounts of those who first arrived on the scene.  Sheriffs Tumblin, Haegan, and even Dr. Battey were all convinced that a homicide had taken place.  One interesting observation is that when a Catholic priest was called in to perform Last Rites on the body, officers observed him “looking at the body … turned on his heels and walked out … no prayers or anything.” This priest later disputed the statement and said that he did offer prayers over the body and he did not feel that the death was suicide.

But can we really put a lot of credence into the observations of first responders? Can not their minds be swayed by the violence and danger of the moment? Shouldn’t we wait until after a proper investigation is conducted before we make our own conclusions? Sure, most of the time. The problem arises in such situations as Ida’s death when we are told that the investigation lacked integrity.

Not much is known about Ida. We can only guess as to her frame of mind during those final days. We do know that, on the day before her death, Ida made two trips. First, she went to a local bank, cashed in U.S. Bonds, then had the cash deposited into a North Platte account she shared with her sister. Next, she met with her lawyer to see about writing up a will. Investigator Grieb thought that these were the acts of a sad woman ‘despondent over the deaths of her kin’. However, her nephew John, said that she had just found out that her siblings had not written out a will and the lawyer told her she could write it whenever she had time. She had the time, so they just did it then. This recollection was confirmed by the attorney’s wife.

It’s hard to believe that an 80 year-old women, with no known illnesses, would commit suicide in such a violent way. This was my knee-jerk assumption, but you know what they say about assuming. So, I looked up some statistics.  According to a study published in the American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology the suicide rate of individuals 65 and older is increasing. Out of the 678 suicides studied 78 (11%) were 65 or older. 12 (15%) were female. While a majority of the cases were people suffering from various chronic conditions 20 (26%) had a documented psychiatric illness with depression accounting for 18 (90%) of these suicides.

Here are the statistics that surprised me. The number one method of suicide was a gunshot wound 66(85%).Hanging, incised wounds, and drowning are all far behind. Overdosing 5 (6.4 %) and carbon monoxide poisoning 1 (1.3%)rates were far lower than I had expected. Statistically, the idea of Grandma peacefully heading into the Great Sleep is a wishful one at best.

Herein lies the rub. As I’ve stated in other investigations, suicide is the slippery variable in the equation. We cannot accurately predict if a person is suicidal or not. Some seemingly happy people kill themselves. Some downtrodden people push through it. There is just no way of knowing.

The case of Ida Fitzgibbons – we are left with more questions than answers. Is it possible that the old woman who lived alone had had enough and decided to end it all? Possibly. Was the investigation into her death a shady one? Known details would say otherwise. And who decided that the investigation was botched? Two Sheriffs and a shocked town?

It’s easy to get worked up over such a tragic event. Our sensibility tells us that there’s no way that an elderly woman would end her life in such a manner. Sometimes we don’t want to digest the ugly facts.  I know I didn’t.

For now, I keep the case of Ida Fitzgibbons in the front of my filing cabinet. Maybe someday more evidence will come to light and we’ll find out just what happened on that April night. But 45 years is a long time for ghosts to settle in the shadows.

 

 

 

Sources:

In Cold Storage (2015) Hewitt, James E.

The Year They Cancelled Halloween (2006) Sehnert,Walt, McCook Gazette

Murder? Suicide? McCook Death Still A Bizarre Puzzle (1978) Santiago, Frank. Omaha World-Herald

Elderly Suicide: A 10 Year Retrospective Study (2001) Bennett, Allan T. M.D; Collins, Kim A. M.D

 

[This post was originally published at The Underexplained website on 3.19.18]

MISINFORMATION AND THE MISSING: DON’T BE THAT GUY

[This post was originally published at The Underexplained website on 11.17.18]

 

Misinformation.

 

 

‘Ain’t nobody got time for that.’

I’m using the above meme reference on purpose this time. Don’t worry, I’m not going to take the time to get on my soapbox here. Anybody who has ever listened to my podcast, read my articles, or has half a brain shares my stance on how we are living in the cursed era of MISINFORMATION.

Just know that there are many things we can do on our own to PUT A STOP TO IT!

For starters, you can STOP POSTING ABOUT MISSING PEOPLE WHO ARE NO LONGER MISSING! Seems simple enough, right? Then why the hell are my social media feeds full of outdated posts?!

It takes a single click – a simple thirty seconds of work – to verify if a post is correct or not. If a lazy asshole like myself can do it, you can too. That’s why I’m going to start calling people out on this shit!

I get it. We want to feel good about ourselves. In a time of ‘thoughts and prayers’ it’s easy to simply share a missing persons post and BOOM we’ve done our good deed for the day.

However, let’s take a look at the other side of our actions.  Imagine that your child was was missing but now was found. Perhaps they ran away and you were one of the lucky ones that was able to be reunited.  Now, days (weeks, months) later, you’re on Facebook and you come across a post with your child /loved one’s face.  It’s probably going to bring back some bad juju. It’s going to trigger you.

Or even worse, what if your child had been found dead? Once again, here’s their smiling image and it takes you right back to that horrible moment in time – all because some ‘well -intending’ jackass wanted some post karma.

PLEASE, KEEP SHARING INFORMATION ON MISSING/ENDANGERED LOVE ONES!!!

See, I used three exclamation points so it must be important.

JUST MAKE SURE THE INFORMATION IS CURRENT AND CORRECT!!!

Google it. Check a few websites first. There are plenty of reputable sites out there with proper information. Personally, I use websleuths.com or the NAMUS database.

The missing need us to be their voices. They need our eyes to be opened – actively searching for them. The worst thing we can do is spread misinformation during their dark time of need.

RABBIT HOLES AND CONSPIRACIES: THE DEATH OF KENNEKA JENKINS

 

 

[This post was originally published at The Underexplained website on 11.14.2017]

 

Kenneka Jenkins

Age: 19

Found Dead: September 10, 2017

The world wants more out of the death of Kenneka Jenkins.

At 01:30 a.m. Friday, September 9 Kenneka Jenkins arrived at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Chicago. She was attending a birthday party with friends. Three hours later her mother, Tereasa Martin called 911 and was told to wait longer before filing a missing persons report which she did later that morning. At about 1:15 p.m. the police contacted the hotel to conduct a search for the missing woman.

Approximately twelve hours later, Kenneka Jenkins was found dead in a freezer in one of the unused kitchens at the hotel. Her body was sent off for an autopsy.

This didn’t matter to a world obsessed with getting justice.

Not familiar with this case? Go google it, I’ll wait. You’re certain to come across a barrage of Youtube conspiracy theories and click-bait fueled misinformation. While the world waited for answers, the hotel went ahead and released hours of security camera footage. The online community devoured it.

I had stayed away from it. Then, I was asked by one of the true crime Facebook groups I’m in to take a look at the case. Silly me. I thought that since I had years of experience working with security camera systems I could just spend an afternoon observing footage and then offer my opinion.

Dear God, I was wrong.

It took me several days to get a hold of any raw video. I swam through countless hours of Youtube screenshots full of viewer commentary – reports of ‘ghost’ suspects edited out of the video by the hotel – misinterpreted images of employees carting around ‘black body bags’ – proclamations that her ‘friends’ at the party had locked her in the freezer, etc.

Then came the conspiracy theories.

She was killed because of her involvement with the Black Lives Matter movement.

She was an Illuminati sacrifice -yes, that one is out there.

I shut off my browser and I just watched the raw footage. What I saw was a young woman, very intoxicated and very lost. Nobody is looking for her. Nobody cares. She’s just a broken child looking for a way out of the hotel.

There was no tampering of the video. There was no phantom attacker. There was no conspiracy.

Protests erupted in front of the hotel.

Lawyers called for blood – blood of the hotel, blood of the police.

The internet cried foul.

Yet, at the heart of it all was Tereasa Martin – a mother that demanded answers, rightfully so.

I read through the medical examiner’s report. This is where you can silence all the media. This is where the answer lies in numbers printed on a page. The examiner’s report is where your heart breaks.

CASE NO: ME2017-04241

NAME: Jenkins, Ken’neka L.

AGE: 19

RACE: Black

SEX: Female

What follows is a profile of any daughter or sister weighed and measured to the ounce.

Then, at the bottom:

BLOOD ALCOHOL CONCENTRATION (BAC) 0.112 g/100mL

TOPIRAMATE 3000 ng/mL

CAUSE OF DEATH: Hypothermia due to cold exposure in a walk-in freezer with ethanol and topiramate intoxication as significant contributory conditions.

MANNER OF DEATH: Accident.

On the same day I read through the examiner’s report, new photographs of Kenneka were released. The unflinching photos showed her disheveled body the way it was found in the freezer. Somehow, they had been posted directly to Kenneka’s public Facebook profile.

We’re upset. I get it. I’m angry too.

But should we let our emotions cloud an objective eye?

It’s a knee-jerk reaction to forgo facts such as ‘paradoxical undressing’ when we come across images of a dead girl with her clothing pulled loose. Paradoxical undressing is when narrowing of blood vessels supplying the extremities cause an increase in bodily temperature. Thus, the victim, burning up, attempts to strip their clothing. This is the last act of someone suffering from hypothermia before death.

‘It can’t be’.

‘She looks like she’s been attacked’.

And more conspiracies are born.

We hop online and spout out theories that MUST be true. The untrained eye sees a spot of fluid on her stomach and well, it HAS to be semen. We need to take a breath and look at some facts.

Topiramate (known as Topamax) is an anti-seizure medication that Kenneka had no prescription for. It can also cause drowsiness and lack of coordination. We know that the medication was found along with alcohol in her bloodstream.

This is our culprit.

The linchpin of this case lies in how she obtained the topiramate/alcohol mixture. There’s been plenty of speculation into this very question. Ever since Kenneka was found, the internet has been flooded with live video/audio captured by the phones of people attending the party that night. Accusations have flown left and right on Facebook and other social media venues.

Somebody at the party that night offered Kenneka a drink knowing that it was ‘spiked’.

That’s where the crime lies.

Keep in mind that the majority of this video has been submitted and studied by the authorities. So far, they haven’t had enough evidence to act on. It’s easy in this day and age to not trust the police. We hear stories everyday where cops are gunning down unarmed citizens or planting evidence. I’m not going to get into the idea that Kenneka’s race is a factor in this investigation, but it’s out there.

I’m not saying we should blindly trust law enforcement. But, shouldn’t we at least give them some time to do their jobs?

Should the hotel be held responsible? Was it negligent in leaving that freezer running in an unused kitchen? Should hotel employees have stopped her from roaming around when she was obviously intoxicated? Will there be justifiable civil lawsuits filed?

I can’t say.

Let’s not let the tragedy of Kenneka’s death be overshadowed by conspiracy.

The true sadness lies in the fact that she was put in such a hazardous situation to begin with. She blindly went to a party with people she considered to be friends. These ‘friends’ dropped the ball – to put it lightly. I find it hard to believe that their intents were not malicious, but we can all agree that certain steps were not followed.

There’s an unwritten code that when you go to a party with friends you look out for each other. That code was broken.

The night I finished researching Kenneka Jenkins’ death I went upstairs and talked it over with my teenaged stepdaughter. We discussed the importance of knowing your surroundings – of being able to trust those around you. I made sure she knew that no matter what type of situation she was in she could always contact me and I’d come get her, no questions asked. We told her to never ever drink a drink she hadn’t made herself.

We can teach our sons and daughters about these dangers. We can open up a dialogue with them.

We can make sure that some good comes out of the tragic death of Kenneka Jenkins.

A FRESH LOOK AT OLD CRAP

I’ve failed.

Sorry, I’m a human with low constitution.

I can’t say no to a bag of Doritos. I still smoke a pack a day.

Sometimes, a story idea goes cold.  In my defense, I never said that my tips are a fool-proof system to guarantee publishing. BUT, before I spend the afternoon flogging myself I’d just like to say that I’M STILL WRITING.  Using my previously mentioned 3 month rule, I retired one project and started another. However, one of my starting projects is still moving along near the 100 page mark (which is a BIG deal for me).

This ‘new’ story is actually an idea I’ve played around with on and off for years. This is good because I figure there must be some importance to a story idea that comes floating back every six months or so.

 

THIS MEANS SOMETHING!

 

However, taking a new look at old material can be bad. Well, for one thing – it’s OLD material and there was a reason it was shelved in the first place. BUT, if we take a metaphysical look at the universe, as I tend to do, we are not the same person we were six months ago. WOAH – look out Alan Watts. I have changed. My skills have changed. My life experiences have changed.

BUT IT’S STILL OLD MATERIAL, right?

Well, here’s what I did when approaching this old tale from a new point of view. I kept some of the characters, setting, and timeline and decided to start filling in the gaping holes with some new philosophies I’ve picked up during my recent esoteric studies. Not quite the nuclear option, but pretty close.

A few days ago I was working on this idea – more like banging my head against the computer screen out of frustration. I was stuck in an old series of events. Without giving much away – I was literally writing through my character’s first day – 24 hours of important events that set up the rest of the story.

I was bored by lunchtime.

The prose was forced and it read like so. Here I was, yawning my way through the opening. Here’s a DUH tip: If YOU’RE bored with your story and YOU know all the awesome stuff that’s going to happen down the road- just how do you think your reader will feel when they’re bogged down with a Nicholson Baker-like description of what your character eats for breakfast? They won’t get very far. Your book will be shelved and you’ll be forever known as the writer, Mr. Boredom McBoringFace.

So, I did something new for me. I completely broke with the story line. I opened a brand new document and began telling a separate story involving another character in the main storyline. I was free! I didn’t have to fit it in to my main character’s opening day. Hell, it’s written like its own separate story.  For days, I had been itching to tell this narrative that happens further down the line and I went ahead and did it AND it felt pretty damn amazing!

I’m pretty much a pantser when it comes to writing my stuff. If I do outline it’s a rough one at best (mostly a family tree with some major plot points I want to tell). Yet, I usually still write the story out in linear fashion. Now, I believe that this is what’s been slowing down my writing output. I get stuck. I get frustrated. I pick up lonely plot bunnies at the local bar.

Currently, I have three word documents open that have three different characters all in separate narratives. They’re all in the same story, they’re just taking different paths to get there. Perhaps this new method in dealing with old material will play out successful. Then again, maybe it will fail miserably. At least then I’ll have a great number of pages towards something new.

So, if you’re stuck with an old story you think is important enough to keep working on – try flipping the order – play around with the perspective. It’s your universe, you can create it however you want. There’s no rule that says you can’t write a story from the ass-end up. You just have to write it.

Happy writing all!

PROFANE BRACKETS: A TIP FROM MY FAVORITE TEACHER

Picture of the Author as a Stupid Teenager

 

I need to tell you a little about my High School English teacher, Thomas Hammond. He was one of those teachers that comes along and truly influences your life even if you’re a stupid kid who doesn’t realize it at the time. He was an awesomely awkward man straight out of a Far Side comic panel. We’d spend most of AP Literature laughing at all the sexual innuendo hidden in centuries old poetry. He introduced me to John Irving. And, he’s influenced my writing to this day.

Mr. Hammond was a writer himself. Most of his writing centered around academic papers. He would talk about the single book he had published – a dry volume on coin collecting. He claimed that the book was so boring that he inserted a 20 dollar bill in the middle of it just to see if anybody would read it. To my knowledge, that book still sits in the University of Nebraska at Kearney Library with said money still tucked inside.

Unfortunately, like all of life’s great teachers, he died way too soon.

But, there was one piece of his wisdom that stuck with me.

He explained that whenever he got ‘stuck’ while writing a rather long paper, he’d type in a long line of bracketed profanity in ALL CAPS. That way he’d later remember where he had left off. Of course, you had to remember to go back and clean out the text before you published!

[Brackets]

I still use them today. They are true lifesavers whether you’re on a writing roll or ready to toss your laptop out the window.

My usage of brackets was simple at first. I’d read through a chunk of horrible text and leave the [THIS SUCKS- REWRITE IT LATER] note. Or, if I my writing had took over several different documents I’d jot down [ADD SUCH AND SUCH PART].

If I was writing a fancy historical tale I’d use {} just to keep it period.

It’s only been during the last year or so that my use of brackets has really helped my writing flow. How many times has your writing rhythm been jarred because you had to stop and think of a character name? How many hours of writing have gone of the rails because you got sidetracked with some nifty new idea that didn’t quite fit in to the current narrative and you didn’t have that scrap paper nearby to scribble it in?

Just use brackets!

Hell, sometimes I’ll be speeding along and forget a minute character’s name that I haven’t used in fifty pages. So, they temporarily become [BAD GUY 7] or [THAT DUDE YOU MENTIONED EARLIER]. I bracket it and I keep on writing.  Some of my popularly used brackets include, but are not limited to:

[EVIL SOUNDING BIO-TECH COMPANY]

[NEBRASKA SMALL TOWN NAME THAT YOU HAVEN’T USED YET]

[DON’T FORGET TO TIE IN METAPHYSICAL CONCEPT]

[THIS IS CRAP. FELL ASLEEP READING IT. REWRITE LATER]

You get the idea. Just be sure to go back and insert the proper text later. I usually do this when I’m in doing a read-over or have had some time to google awesome names. Brackets are an excellent tool to utilize when you’re blazing through the words and you don’t want to get hung up on one thought. They allow your inner-critic to speak up, if only for a second.

Give them a try the next time you’re writing.

You’re still writing, right?

SCATTERBRAIN: MY PLAN TO KEEP SHINY INSPIRATION AT BAY

 

It never fails.

You’re making good progress on your story, storming past your word count goals…

Then BOOM! SHINY NEW IDEA!

Ugh. I don’t know how many solid stories I’ve killed because of this type of self-sabotage.  I’ve got folders full of half-finished manuscripts and unused book covers. Even worse, who knows how many times I’ve boasted on the Facepages that a ‘brand new story from me will be available soon’, only to have it fizzle out a week later.

That’s the curse of being a creative. Our brains are wired differently. Combine that with a need to be constantly stimulated and you’re doomed to never finish a single book. I’ll watch a movie and think ‘man, I want to tell a story like that’. Or I’ll wind up sliding down another internet rabbit hole inspired to write a book that solves it all.

A movie. Another book. A song. A mood – all of these things can inspire us.

So, what can we do when our brain is so-easily sidetracked by IDEAS. Ideas are a good thing, right? I’d rather have a million ideas than no ideas, right?

Not so fast, Tyler Perry.

I’m the guy who takes over an hour just to decide what I want to watch on Netflix. And don’t even get me started about my experiences at an all-and-everything-you-can-eat buffet. There’s just SO MUCH to choose from. Maybe I get halfway through a plate of tacos and decide I want pizza. So, go get a piece of pizza -easy. But, then you have a perfectly good plate of tacos just sitting there. Maybe, after I get the pizza I’ll find out that the tacos were better. But the market says Pizza will sell better than tacos. Perhaps, after I get home, I’ll realize that the tacos would’ve been easier on my stomach. My whole night was wasted with Pizza!

Silly analogy, point made.

This time around, I’ve decided to take action against the bombardment of shiny happy sidetracks. Let’s hope it works.

Consider it meal prep.

This is what I’m doing currently.

I keep two or three projects open on my desktop at all times. Each of these projects is a different genre. You see, my biggest problem is jumping from one genre to the next. Maybe I’ll feel like writing something spoopy this morning, but at night I want to dabble in some literary fiction (yeah, right). So, I have these three projects going for whenever the mood hits me to write a certain style. BUT I DON’T DEVIATE FROM THOSE TWO OR THREE MAIN STORIES. Put it this way, I keep a slice of pizza, a taco, and a bacon cheeseburger sitting on my desk for whenever a certain craving hits. No fried chicken. No Chinese.

Sure, you’re thinking, but what if you get struck with the perfect idea while you’re writing on these few stories? That’s what the notebook I mentioned in a previous post is for. I’ll scribble it down, maybe even let it simmer for a night or two, but I always return to my main work.

THE THREE MONTH RULE.

This is a new one I’m working on. You can’t eat nothing but tacos for your entire life (well, I probably could). I’ll give each of these two or three projects my undivided attention for three months. Then, if nothing comes of them, I’ll get out one of those awesome ideas I scribbled down and work on it. Three months is more than enough time for a middle-aged asshole like myself to dedicate to a story. However, what I’m finding out so far – is that I’ll have made so much progress on these two or three main stories in that time, that I’ll want to finish them before moving on.

I’ll keep you posted if this plan works. Current status: Crime Thriller (75 pages), Absurd Adventure Thingie (50 pages) and Horror project (10 pages) – one month in.

 

How’s YOUR writing coming along? Let me know.

THE SQUATCHES OF MADISON COUNTY

 

Here’s proof that I actually finish what I start.  An awesome Facebook writer’s group that I am lucky enough to be in, holds a weekly Short Story Sunday event. About a week ago, I began working on THE SQUATCHES OF MADISON COUNTY. Today. it is done! It is my ‘tribute’ that is half syfy channel movie and half satire of what I consider the WORST novel ever written. Don’t take it too seriously.

Given it is 17 pages long, I have both posted it in full on this post AND will share it via PDF for people who don’t want to stare at a black and white blogpost to read.  Get the PDF HERE.

Also, for those of you unfamiliar with my work – this story is considered R rated for language, graphic violence, and brief silly nudity.

Thanks for reading.

 

THE SQUATCHES OF MADISON COUNTY

1.

He didn’t look like the rest of the men that worked at the power plant. There was a solid warmth to his silence – the smallest glimmer of cheer in his blue eyes. Sure, she had seen hundreds of red flannel shirts and brown beards stop in the shop for a thermos of Columbian dark roast before they started their 6 a.m. shift. Maybe it was the black camera bag he had slung around his shoulder or the way it he ordered a triple shot of Ethiopian espresso. He had done this before.
He didn’t watch sports.
He had a well-learned vocabulary.
Linda pressed the roast and waited for the filtered well water to run through the strainer, but her eyes were on the early morning stranger. He sat at one of the hand-carved wooden tables, looking over a VISIT MADISON COUNTY brochure.
Her curiosity broke the silence.
“Passing through?”
“More of a short stay.” He answered, “Depends on what I find.”
“And just what are you looking for?” Linda didn’t know where the words were coming from.
“Wildlife.” He said, making his way to the counter. “
“You with game and parks?”
“No.” He chuckled. “Nothing that official. I just have a hobby for it.”
Linda carefully poured the steaming brew into the waiting cup. Good thing she could do this in her sleep. Her attention was stuck on the stranger. He should’ve been cutting logs with an axe or living off the land, not bird watching.
“Well, make sure you come back in the morning for the best coffee in Iowa.” She chimed, almost worried that she’d never see him again. Silly thoughts.
“Will do.” He took a sip of fresh espresso. “That’s just good enough to come back for.”
With that he left, camera bag and all.
At that moment, Linda didn’t know that her life would never be the same but she hoped it wouldn’t be.

2.
“Goddamnit!”
Sheriff Trevor Banks wasn’t looking for trouble.
But it had found him.
Right on the tip of his pecker. After a long night of chasing meth heads out of the woods, he had stopped next to the first wide oak tree to take a piss. And there he saw it – lying in the blood soaked bush at his feet.
Carl Henderson – or, more accurately, Carl Henderson’s head – just there, looking up at his balls with a terrible scream frozen to its face.
Banks no longer had the urge to pee.
He radioed for back up, knowing damn well it would be at least twenty minutes before anybody showed up.
Banks zipped up, and walked the newly-discovered crime scene. A few steps away he found an arm, a leg, and a mess of guts tossed around the vegetation. It was Carl, alright. Banks spotted the man’s DENVER BRONCOS ball cap nearby.
Carl Henderson was a shady dude. He was familiar to Banks due to his love of driving his truck after a night of drinking, and exposing himself to the teenagers that frequented the woods. But nobody deserved to die like this. He had been shredded. Still, there was plenty of Carl Henderson still missing – a good sixty percent of him.
Then, a sound – footsteps crunching dead leaves behind him.
He drew his pistol, aiming it into the darkness.
“Sheriff! Stop right there or I’ll shoot.”
The crunching stopped. A deep voice answered.
“Deric McDowell – freelance photographer. I’m not armed.”
“Come closer. SLOWLY!” The portly Sheriff ordered.
Deric appeared with his bright red flannel shirt and fancy camera in hand. In that second, he saw the gore.
“Jesus Christ!” He was surprised to find such a sight in the peaceful Iowa woods. “What the hell happened here?”
“Don’t know.” Banks lowered his gun. “Maybe I should ask YOU?”
“Seriously?” Deric was appalled at the situation. “I was just taking some pictures. Been down around the creek all day. Making my way back out to my truck when I found you here.”
“Did you hear anything?” Banks asked, not sure about anything.
“Honestly, no.” Deric. “You’d think something like this would’ve been noisy as hell, but I didn’t hear anything but the owls.”
“Well, wait here.” Banks barked. “I got backup coming. We’ll need an official statement.”
Banks carefully nudged Henderson’s screaming head with his boot. It certainly wasn’t a clean cut. The flesh hung jagged around the reddish black tree stump wound.
“Goddamn tweakers!” He scowled. “I just chased a group of ‘em off not an hour ago. Should’ve busted ‘em while I had the chance.”
“No.” Deric squatted over the arm, snapping a picture. “This wasn’t done by a human.”
“You think a critter done Carl Henderson in?” Banks spat. “We haven’t had a mountain lion sighting in over a decade?”
“This wasn’t a mountain lion.” Deric replied. “But, I’ve got an idea of what did.”

3.
Linda was well aware of the gruesome death of Carl Henderson long before the stranger showed up at sunrise. Something was bothering him. His calm smile had been replaced with a clouded brow. Had she not been the only one who didn’t get any sleep last night? His camera was gone, replaced with a large stuffed backpack.
“How about I add another shot for free.” She said, as he swiped his debit card. “You look like you could use it.”
“Do I look that bad?” Deric forced a smile. “Guess you head about the murder last night?”
She nodded.
“Figures. I know how small towns work.” He almost sounded upset. “I came across it last night. Now, Sheriff Banks wants a bunch of us to head out into the woods. A ‘search and capture’ operation, he calls it.”
“That’s awful nice of you to offer your assistance.” Linda started his order.
“Didn’t really have a choice. Sheriff Banks needs all the help he can get when it comes to intelligence. I’m no Jane Goodall, but I have a good idea how creatures work.”
Deric stopped. He wanted to tell her all about his theory – explain his reason for coming to Madison County in the first place, but he’d only come off as crazy. Still, there was something about her that led him to think she’d actually believe him – an intelligence hidden in her, dare he say, pretty angular face and I-really-spend-an-hour-to-make-my-auburn-hair-look-like-I-just-threw-it-in-a-ponytail look. Intelligent women like her stuck in small towns like these weren’t pouring coffee because they wanted to. She had ended up here and was making the best of it. She probably spent her evenings with the words of Steinbeck and the films of Alfred Hitchcock. Still, as liberated as she seemed, he didn’t want to let her into his world of cryptid theories and alternative history.
Shit, he was staring again.
Just then, a group of burly locals lead by Sheriff Banks busted in the door with their thermos’ swinging. It was as if an episode of Duck Dynasty came to life. Deric backed away, he could smell the Coors Lite and Tea Party politics thick in the air.
“Mornin’ Linda.” Banks yelled. “Give us your strongest stuff. We’re heading off into the woods to catch us a killer.”
His cronies mumbled half-awake behind him.
“I see you’ve met our new expert.” Banks giggled. “Bastard thinks we’ve got a bigfoot running around Madison County,”
Deric shriveled. So much for coming off as sane.
But Linda ignored the old bulldog fart in the khaki uniform. She was in no mood for such colorful conversation.
“Sad that Carl Henderson got killed.” She spoke softly over the buzz of the espresso machine.
“Yeah, we haven’t had a murder in this town in over ten years and I tend to keep it that way.” Banks did take his job seriously.
“Wasn’t that Brad Carlson?” One of the bearded brigade asked.
The place snapped silent. Sheriff Banks made an attempt to swat the inquiring goon.
“Sorry, Linda.” The man replied. “Brad was a good man.”
Linda said nothing, clenching her jaw as she poured Deric’s order.

4.

“I don’t get it.” Deric said, as the group of searchers stopped at the famous brick red Roseman bridge.
“The bridges?” Banks caught his breath. They were about to head into the swallowing grove of trees.
“I mean, they’re just bridges.” Deric pulled out his camera, snapping a few shots of the covered bridge, now standing sadly over a pidly stream next to the oval parking lot.
“Yeah well, without these bridges we’d just be another Iowa town.” Banks rounded up the men. “Writing that book put us on the map, by the time Clint Eastwood finished that film we were able to pay for a new Sheriff’s office.”
“The book was shit.” Deric poked. “I’ve read Hallmark cards with more depth.”
“Honestly, I never read it.” Banks replied. “Did see the movie though. Man, what I wouldn’t give to soak in a bathtub with Meryl Streep.”
The men entered the bridge. Although, it would’ve been easier just to walk around the thing. The sun disappeared briefly as they moved under its signature roof. Deric could smell the old wood and dirt that held it together. He noticed scratches all along the frail walls.
Bill Loves Emily
Seniors 2010 Rule
Hail Satan 666!!!
Suck my DICK JANICE
Then, he saw other incoherent signs – triangles and spirals scribbled up the white trusses.
“It is sad.” Banks continued. “There used to be 19 of ‘em. Then the world changed. Highways were built and these babies were useless. We had to move the bridges just to preserve them. We’re down to 6. Fuckin vandals and arsonists. They’ve killed ‘em. It cost over a hundred grand just to restore this one right here. Now, we’ve got video cameras monitoring them at all times, just in case.”
The privately-owned gift shop clumped to the side added a tacky charm.
“You say you got security cameras?” Deric asked. “Ever think of watching the footage to see if our killer is on tape?”
“Sure.” Banks huffed. “None of them work. Just for show.”
Of course.
The men had reached the trees.
“We’re spreading out from here.” Banks commanded the rag and tag party. “Three groups of two. Camera Man and I will lead. If you come across ANYTHING give a holler. Now, you’ve all been deputized, but I don’t want no dumbass shooting’ until I give the order. Understand?”
There was a grunt of agreement among the men.
And with that, they headed into the woods to find whatever had ripped Carl Henderson to shreds.

Deric scanned the woods for clues.
Banks tried to not trip over the underlying brush.
Deric was in his zone. An associates degree in ecology, and six years working for the Game and Parks Agency of the greater Rapid City area had made him well-versed in the ways of tracking. Honestly, he felt more comfortable out here in these woods than he did behind a desk.
But, Deric was on a greater quest for knowledge. He had spent the last fifteen years of his life studying the ways of the mysterious. He read books on cryptozoology, attended lectures held in Holiday Inn conference rooms, and studied the great cryptid trackers that went before him. Something had happened to him fifteen years ago. Something that he dare not discuss with this Bumpkin Sheriff. A tragedy that drove him all the way down to Iowa.
He stopped. There, in a patch of mud next to a moss-covered oak, was his first clue – a giant footprint. It was classic sasquatch at least 36 inches long and 12 inches wide complete with toe impressions.
He snapped a picture.
“You still convinced we’re looking for some tweakers?” He snapped at Banks, pointing at the print.
“Fuck me.” Banks shook his head. “You’re still set on that bigfoot nonsense?”
“It’s NOT human.”
“Probably bear.” Banks said. “I’d believe that.”
“When’s the last time you saw a bear in Madison County?”
“Probably long before I ever seen a bigfoot. Which is exactly never.” Banks pushed the wide brim of his hat with the tip of his revolver. “Why the hell would a bigfoot be all the way down here in Iowa?”
That was the million dollar question. That’s why Deric was here.
The sightings posted on obscure internet forums…
The killings…
Something squatchy had been going down in Madison County for the past ten years.
“Global warming, drawing them out of their natural habitat?”
Deric knew that sounded ridiculous as soon as it came out of his mouth.
“You are a liberal sonofabitch ain’t ya.” Banks laughed, squashing his boot into the middle of the print. “Now, let’s find some evidence I can use.”

They continued on, reaching the point where the trees choked out the afternoon sunlight. Deric slipped on a headlamp while Banks charged through the darkness. They had found nothing. Deric could hear the other men growing restless, telling dirty jokes and farting.
Then came the sound.
The hollow thunk of wood against wood echoing through the woods.
The famous ‘knock’.
The men stopped. Deric picked up a rather long branch and smacked it against a tree.
“What are you doing?” Banks was not amused. “You’ll give us up.”
“I’m communicating.” Deric explained. “You ever hear a bear knocking on trees?”
The time passed in silence.
Then, another knock – closer than the last. It was probably ten feet to their left.
Banks readied his pistol. Deric peed a little. Whatever was out there, it would soon show itself. Banks ordered his men to remain steady over the radio.
In future tellings of the story, nobody was clear on what came first – the screaming or the roaring, but together they were a terrible sound never to be forgotten. Deric and Banks bolted to their left to get a clear shot of what was happening. There was no way they could save the others.
They broke through a clearing, only to be greeted by flying body parts. Deric was smacked in the head by an arm that wasn’t his. There, not five feet in front of him, stood the beast. It was at least nine feet tall hunched over what was left of Buddy Carson – the town’s only used car salesman. Covered in black fur and matted with blood, the creature was busy ripping out all the squishy insides of Carson’s still screaming corpse.
The rest of the men circled around the scene. Frank Graham lay paralyzed in terror as the monster devoured his second cousin.
“What the fuck are you waiting for?!” Banks yelled. “FIRE”
And just like that, the air filled with the smoke of flying lead. Deric hit the dirt, not wanting to be clipped by a wayward shot. The beast stopped, merely irritated. It turned towards Deric giving him a clear look at its horrible face. It was a squashed thumb of purple brown flesh covered in teeth and flashing black eyes.
It was coming for him.
Closer, Deric could smell it – sulfur and fresh blood.
A thunderous boom rocked the earth. The roaring stopped. The creature fell to the gut-soaked ground. Randall Bevins (Madison County, Iowa’s best-known car mechanic) stood on the other side of the fallen creature. A rather large rifle sticking out from his side, still smoking.
“My daddy used this rifle to kill Buffalo back in the day.” He grinned.
The beast was dead.
The men cheered.
Deric slowly approached the sasquatch with a mixture of intrigue and sadness. Here it was, a rare specimen indeed – a lifetime of study – gunned down by a handful of rednecks in the middle of Iowa. It just laid there, its face stuck in a grimace of pain and surprise – a nine foot six hundred pound furry pile of loss.
He carefully clipped a hair sample and slipped it into a Ziploc bag. The stupid proud hunters rambled on about what they were going to do with it.
“Sheeyit, we’re gonna stuff this sonofabitch and stick him in the center of town!” Banks howled to the party’s agreement. Deric wasn’t so sure. This creature needed to be studied. He wasn’t going to let a handful of morons ruin scientific progress.
The men took turns standing in front of the sasquatch, posing for pictures with their trophy. The whole thing made Deric sick.
Their celebration would be cut short.
The shadows twitched behind the men. The air broke with the horrid cry of a wounded elephant. First it was Randall, then Frank – a line of men exploding one after the other, spraying the chilled outside with their insides. Revenge. Deric could see one beast, then another, then another…
“RUN!” He bellowed, but the remaining others were already ahead of him.
He took off, darting blindly through the darkness. Broken branches and bones scraping against his skin. That smell. That sound. The creatures were right behind him. He could feel their hot stinking breath against the sweat of his neck. The woods were nothing but a spiraling collection of howls and nightmares. The trees transformed into living things, set on keeping him from making it out.
What was it? Ten? Twenty? Thirty minutes forward? It could’ve been twelve hours. Deric ran with one thing on his mind – survival. Finally, he saw a break in the trees. A maroon lego structure in the distance – the Roseman bridge!
Somehow, that fat fucker Banks had pulled ahead of him. The two men pushed onward, until they were safely inside the bridge, then collapsed. Deric hit the boards, his lungs torn and his muscles on fire.
“How many of those things are out there?” Banks choked, rolling next to him.
“Three or four.” Deric replied, trying to catch his breath. “A hundred.”
They were foolish to think this silly wooden bridge would save them.
He felt something else. His head pulsed. It felt as if his brain was shaking inside his skull. His vision bubbled around the edges, slipping under purple water. A hum vibrated through his ears. He looked over at Banks, who was oblivious to the pressure change.
Deric dug his hands into the boards, chunks of black rock filled his hands. He was overheating.
At that moment, he saw the creature -a single sasquatch stomping out of the trees. The men were sure at that moment that they were dead. The mountain of fur and wrinkled flesh stopped at the other end of the bridge.
Banks fired a number of shots in its direction.
Then, as quick and clear as it appeared, the creature was gone.
Broken, Deric crawled towards the entrance of the bridge. His truck was out there somewhere. He had to get to that damn truck. It meant survival.
On hands and knees, he pushed out onto the concrete. The world filled with a blinding white light. This meant two things: either he was dead or about to get ran over by a car.
Deric passed out.

5.

He came to surrounded by the pleasant warm softness of down pillows. His eyes opened to a dimly lit world that smelled of cinnamon and apple. He had died and gone to old fashioned heaven.
“Deric?” A woman’s voice flowed through the amber atmosphere. “Deric? You’re awake.”
He instantly recognized the comforting face that swam over him.
Linda, from the coffee shop.
“I think so?” Words struggled to form.
She had found him unconscious at the bridge, taken him home, and nursed him back to life. He could feel the tightness of bandages crisscrossing his chest. His forehead burned with antibiotic ointment.
“Sheriff Banks? The others? Where are they?” He asked.
“Banks was able to drive himself home.” Her face clouded. “The others weren’t so lucky.”
The terrible incident crashed back behind his eyes. The roar of the beast pounded his eardrums.
“I’ve got to get back to the bridge.” He snapped, trying to lift himself up.
His legs were nothing but aching jello.
“Just lay here, you’re safe.” Linda reassured him.
He wasn’t so sure.
“I need my bag. I have to make some phone calls.” Deric was still in fight mode.
“You don’t have to do anything but just stay here and get better.” She smiled, rolling down the covers to get a complete picture of the damage.
Oh Jesus, he realized he was naked except for his boxers.
He grabbed her arm.
“Stop it.” She giggled. “Nothing I haven’t seen before. Besides, who do you think undressed you and put you to bed.”
He hated being so vulnerable. First, he was chased by a group of man-killing sasquatches, now he was exposed to a rather beautiful woman. He didn’t know which was worse.
She had to admit, it was more than a tending to his wounds, that drove her to strip the mystery man. The slightest twitch of excitement sparked behind her ribs. He was quite the specimen, not like the beer bellied simpletons that she served every morning. He was broad, toned like a man who made his living outdoors. Yet he felt safe. There was a comfort to his smile and bright blue eyes.
She ran her hands carefully down his chest covered in black curls. There was strength to him – security. Linda made it all the way down to where things got interesting before he stopped her.
“Linda.” He sighed. “I don’t think this is very….”
She quieted him with a gentle kiss against his forehead.
“…scientific.”
“Shut up.” She ordered. Her face directly in front of his. “It’s the best medicine.”
He surrendered, kissing her full on the lips.
Yes, Deric was well aware of an animal’s need for physical pleasure.
Of course, the two of them made love. They made love like two middle-aged people that haven’t made love in over ten years do. They stumbled, fumbled, and felt the discomfort of cracking joints. They laughed as they tried and failed to recover their teenage acrobatics. There was the pain of Deric’s injuries and all the unpleasant odors of biological preparedness. But, Linda offered him a loving touch he had not felt in decades and he gave her all the measured carefulness a widow could ask for.
They carried on right there in Linda’s bedroom well into the night, oblivious to the glowing eyes that watched them from outside the window.

The entire universe consisted only of the two new lovers cradled together in the bathtub. Linda cuddled the adventurer between her legs as he rested his head against her soapy breasts. The water tinted pink underneath the soap bubbles due to his slight blood loss. Two glasses of YellowTail Pinot Grigio rested on the side of the tub.
It was story time – time for Linda to finally open up. She owed him that much.

“My husband.” She started.
“Brad Carlson?” He asked.
“Bradley Franklin Carlson.” She nodded. “I loved that man. The town loved him more. He came from a long line of money, but he sure as hell didn’t act like it.”
Linda sipped the wine. Deric could sense a drop in her body temperature.
“We met Junior year at Iowa State. He was an engineering student…smarter than any man I ever knew. So, we got hitched and moved out here to be close to his family. He put all of his engineering skills and even more money into this town, restoring the bridges, building the new jail etc….”
“He bought that coffee shop for me -fifth anniversary present. He knew how bored I was out here and he wanted me to have a ‘hobby’.” She giggled. “Don’t get me wrong, he was a good man, just busy all the time. He truly loved me, even after we found out I couldn’t have kids. That didn’t bother him. He just went out and remodeled the town square.”
“He was the town’s number one boy.” Her voice trailed with memory. “But, I saw a side of him nobody else did. I knew there was trouble.”
“Trouble?” Deric was trying to stay interested as his lover spoke highly of her husband.
“He had problems. Depression, I guess you could call it. Really bad. He wasn’t violent or angry. He’d just lock himself in his office for days and not speak a word to me. He’d go for long walks in the woods.”
She sighed. Deric felt a tear roll hot down the back of his neck.
“Then one day he didn’t come home. I knew immediately that something was wrong, but his parents said just give him a little more time. I didn’t. I sent Banks out looking for him. They found his car abandoned next to the Roseman bridge. Then…nothing.”
“It took six months – six whole months of not knowing anything – six months of living with a hole inside my stomach. Two hunters found ‘him’, although there wasn’t much left of him, just some bones half buried in the mud.”
“Did they ever figure out what exactly happened to him?” Deric asked.
“Nope.” She shook her head. “But since they only found half of him I assume it wasn’t anything natural.”
Of course, Deric was drawing parallels between Brad’s weird demise and the events earlier that evening.
“Well, after what happened to us out there I believe anything is possible.” He said.
“Call it strange.” Linda sighed. “But, I think you showing up here happened for a reason. We have to figure out what’s going on out there in those woods.”
Deric finished his glass in one swallow.
Did they have the strength to handle the answer?

6.
Deric was up before the sun. He didn’t want to bother Linda with his research. There was no way he was just going to stay in bed with his new lover when all this chaos was going on around him. He needed answers.
First things first, he had taken a picture of those rocks he had kept from the bridge and emailed it to a colleague who knew more about mystery rocks than he did. The rocks resembled small chunks of polished obsidian lined with green emerald veins. Now, in the faded hue of dawn, the veins almost seemed to glow.
He had also tried his best to draw out the symbols that covered the tresses. There was no way these cryptic markings were just the careless vandalism of some punks.
Despite Linda’s insistence, it was no act of chance that led him to this stupid town. It was a calculated journey of 15 years. Every single shred of data had brought him here. Back then he was a simple ranger for the South Dakota Game and Parks. He was content with spending his days tracking brown bears and his nights chasing local girls at the casinos.
Then, the bears started disappearing.
At first, he was certain it was just a case of asshole hunters sneaking onto the reservations. His investigation had made him plenty of enemies on both sides. Even after cracking the skulls of a handful of drug running poachers, he still hadn’t found any answers.
Then, IT happened.
Deric had spent the entire week camped out in the wilderness keeping tabs on a single brown bear. He waited for said band of hunters to show. And he waited. Nothing. Finally, on the eighth night, he got his answer. After it all went down, he wished it had been poachers. No, it was far more bizarre. It had been storming fierce that night. The sky was full of electricity and the ground was nothing more than liquid mud soaked under hours of constant rain.
A crack of lightning had struck his tent pole, sending him running out into the open. There, he saw the monster – the towering hairy beast that now chased him through the bridges of Madison County. It just stood there, looking at him. Deric froze, his rifle still back in the tent. Another flash of lightning lit up the sky and the creature was gone. That was it. The next morning, he drove back out to the spot only to find a half-digested bear and a trail of huge footprints that disappeared half a mile back into the woods. And those symbols – spirals and triangles burned into the grass where his tent once sat. He took pictures and video of everything and turned them all into headquarters along with his account of what happened that night.
Nobody believed him. They accused him of hoaxing the entire thing. Already on their bad side with his constant prying, he was fired. All of his evidence had been destroyed by the government.
So, he spent the last decade or so traveling the country, working odd jobs, and posting his findings on internet forums. South Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and now Iowa – they had all experienced similar phenomenon. But Deric always found himself a day late and a buck short. Now, he was tits deep in the middle of it.
There was a frantic knock at the door. Something important.
“Deric! Deric! I know you’re in there! Put on your pants and open this door right now!”
It was Sheriff Banks.
He opened the door to find the lowly lawman shaking in his boots, a bandage wrapped around his head.
“You gotta come see this!” He hollered.
“See what?”
“The bridges. They’re gone!”
It all made sense now, at least to Deric.

7.

“Got the call this morning.” Banks spoke while he guided the speeding Bronco through the streets. “Security company that’s been watching the bridges called the station…said some crazy shit was going down at the bridges – said they were shootin’ straight up into the sky. First Hogback, then Holliwell, and Cedar. I made it out to Imes bridge just in time to see it with my own eyes. The whole ground shook, and then…then… the bridge blasted fire out of the bottom just like a goddamn rocket! BOOM it flew right off. Believe me or not, I don’t rightly care. I know what I saw.”
Soon, the buildings of the town disappeared behind the truck, as Banks hit the highway.
“There’s only one left, far as I know.” He cried.
Roseman, it’s where they were heading now.
“I knew it.” Deric mumbled to himself.
“You KNEW it?!” Banks struggled to keep the vehicle upright. “Then perhaps you should start explaining it to me, ‘cuz we got five whole minutes before we get there.”
“Well, I figured it out just this morning.” Deric explained. “I found some rocks when we were at Roseman. I was going to get them analyzed but looks like I ran out of time. These rocks, they were unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. I’m pretty sure they were an unknown element from…from outer space.”
“Outer SPACE?!” Banks squealed. “Like aliens and shit?”
Deric ignored the terrified Sheriff.
“There were also these weird markings. I’ve seen them before in South Dakota. I figure they’re some sort of ‘cosmic code’…”
“And what about all them sasquatches.” Banks asked, taking the last exit before the bridge.
“Well, they tend to show up in places that have a lot of recorded ‘ufo’ phenomenon. A connection CAN be made.” Deric couldn’t believe how easily he was having this conversation.
“Fuck me, we got bigfoots from outer space.” Banks slowed the truck. The Roseman bridge was just ahead, still on the ground. “That’s great. How do we kill ‘em?”
“Not sure we can.” Deric replied. “You saw what happened last night. Who knows how many we got running around in these woods.”
“Wrong answer.” Banks stopped the engine.
The air was soaked with electricity. Greenish grey clouds slowly swirled around the bridge. Deric could feel the currents tickling his body as soon as he stepped out of the Bronco. Banks pulled a couple of shotguns out of the back and handed one to Deric. Deric felt naked without his bag full of gear.
The two men made there way to the bridge, not sure of what was going to happen next.
But Deric had a pretty good idea.
It wasn’t good at all.
The trees were shaking, rolling with an unseen force. Then, he saw the creatures breaking through the brush. One, two…ten…an entire army of Sasquatches heading right towards them.

Linda was ten minutes behind them.
Banks knocking at the door had stirred her awake. By the time she made it into the living room the two men were already gone. Deric’s laptop was open on her coffee table. His bag of gear sitting neglected on the floor.
The police scanner she had kept running on her kitchen counter since the day Brad disappeared, cracked with urgent voices.
“Banks….all available units….Roseman bridge. Bring all weapons…..fuck…call the National Guard!”
She threw on some clothes and blew a kiss to the picture of Brad that hung over the front door.
It was time to solve this mystery.

8.

By the time she arrived at the Roseman bridge, the apocalypse had already begun. Patrol cars were strewn about like children’s toys. Gunfire rang out from every direction. There were men off in the distance, screaming as they were being disemboweled.
What the hell was happening in Madison County?
Then, she saw Deric. He was hiding behind Sheriff Banks’ Bronco not ten yards away from her reloading a shotgun. He spotted her.
“Get away from here!” He screamed. “It’s not safe!”
But it was too late. A blur of black fur and blood smashed against the windshield of her Subaru before she even had time to think. The shattered glass sprayed across her shocked face. She was now inches away from the monster – a howling hairy giant right out of her camping nightmares.
Something pulled her from the car. She was on the concrete and looking up at…Deric.
He fired a round into the sasquatch’s chest, knocking it back at least five feet.
“You’ve got to go, now.” He ordered, firing at another monster, then another. The world was full of those horrible things.
“These things killed my husband.” She replied, getting to her feet. “I need to be here.”
“Fine.” He gave up, tossing her a Glock pistol. “Then you might as well be armed.”
There were so many of them. Linda didn’t want to admit that they were surrounded, but the odds were stacked against them. She shot wildly into the air.
“We have to get to the bridge.” Deric yelled over the carnage. “It’s our best shot at surviving.”
He wasn’t about to admit to her that he had absolutely no proof in the truth of that statement. Still, he pulled her against him and the two backed their way towards the last remaining covered bridge in Madison County, shooting every step of the way.

Inside, the bridge almost gave them a sense of security. The sound of pure howling bullet-riddled chaos was gone. There was only the slight hum of an unknown power source. It was coming from the boards below their feet.
The bizarre symbols began to light up one by one, until the entire bridge interior was lit up green and blue.
“What the fuck is happening?” The always calm Linda was losing her shit.
“The bridges – they aren’t bridges.” Deric explained, moving them towards the center. “They’re spaceships. Those sasquatches are…well, these ‘bridges’ are what brought them here to Earth centuries ago. I figure we must’ve spooked ‘em when we killed a couple last night. Now, they’re heading back.”
“So, you’re telling me we’re on one big spaceship, right now?” She screamed over the hum.
“In theory.” He replied. “Now, find a spot to hide. We can pick them off as they come in.”
“What if the spaceship takes off while we’re still on it?” She snapped, jumping against the wall where she was hidden behind a large truss.
“If you got a better idea, I’d like to hear it right now.” Deric growled, and found a spot across from Linda. “Now shut it. I think they’re coming.”
But they weren’t coming. The sounds of giant gears and machines groaned to life behind the walls. Linda’s stomach slipped down around her ankles. She felt as if she was on one humungous elevator racing to an absurdly high penthouse floor.
The bridge was lifting off the ground.
Then, to add to their hopeless predicament, the ends of the bridge started to rise. The doors were closing.
They had to abandon ship pronto. Deric shrugged a giant ‘fuck it’ and hopped out onto the middle of the vibrating structure. Linda followed. They had about five feet of hole to roll out of before they were shut in completely.
They headed for the opening, escape was only a few steps away.
However, they weren’t alone. A single beast leapt from the rafter above, smashing the ground as it landed right between them and the closing door. Deric knew just by looking at the creature that it was some sort of ‘master’ squatch. It rose to over ten feet of grey-white hair. It’s skin underneath was beet red and its eyes burned green.
Deric fired a single shot at the creature’s wide chest. The bullet sparked against the flesh, exposing a shining silver skin underneath. Of course, the alien bastard was a cyborg. The shot barely stunned the super squatch. It erupted in a digitalized roar, flailing its massive arms in the air.
“Run!” Deric howled at Linda. “I’ll distract him.”
Linda bolted for the door, trying to avoid the beast’s electrified mass.
The monster swung a face-sized fist, cracking her squarely against the back of her head. Linda crashed hard against the wall. Her world glitched fuzzy. With her out of the way, it charged towards Deric. Deric kept shooting to little avail. The bullets merely swatted away like flies.
Closer.
Deric crouched to his knees, fishing the last two shells out of his flannel shirt pocket. Now, the beast was standing over him, watching the human squirm with slight amusement. There was nothing Deric could do at this point.
“RUN, BABY!” Were his last words as he jumped on top of the killer giant.
But, Linda couldn’t run. She was still groggy from the hit to her head. It was all she could do to sit there and scream as she watched on with horror. The squatch raised Deric over its head then slammed him over its enormous knee. Deric’s body tore directly in half, covering the walls with all the goodies that once kept him alive.
The second man she had ever slept with was dead.
The doors sealed shut.
She sobbed like she had never sobbed before. This show of emotion seemed to puzzle the sasquatch. Sadness was new to him. He crossed over to the woman.
“Kill me you hairy sonofabitch!” She screamed. “You killed my husband then you killed Deric. You might as well kill me too.”
But he had other ideas.
He picked her up as easily as a bag of groceries and carried her over to the far wall. A glass-like pod rolled out of the wood. He gently placed her inside the pod and just stood there, observing her.
The fight had left her. She was completely broken.
The craft shook as it began its ascent. Soon they would be far far away from the Bridges of Madison County.
Fuck it, she thought, I never liked Iowa anyway.

FINIS

NEXT: LIKE WATER FOR CHUPACABRA!!

WHY DO YOU WRITE?

 

How’s the writing coming along?

Are your fingers catching fire while typing away glorious word after word?

Sweet.

Are you pounding your head on the desk trying to get a single comprehensive sentence on paper?

I hear ya.

Me? I’m wrapping up a short story and about fifty pages in to my manuscript. Things are pretty good right now, but I’m sensing a great big puddle of ooey gooey slow-down hanging just around the corner.

It’s times like these that I have to step back, roll my shoulders, and dig down deep for some inspiration. All the inspirational blog posts and spiffy quotes can’t help me. Somebody once said writing isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon – more like trying to run a marathon with a three hundred pound man on your back and a rabid dog snapping at your genitals.

This is what I do, when the eye-rolling self-critic pays me a visit. I step away from my work and I ponder one single question:

Why the hell am I doing this in the first place?

In a world full of deadlines, chores, and social obligations (ones where you have to wear pants), it’s easy to lose sight of the reasons we started. Time to refresh. Answering this question should be a fun exercise for you that involves little or no crying.

Did you start writing because it helped you cope with trauma? Did your fifth grade teacher encourage your skill? Was it to pick up girls? A gazillion dollar book deal?  I’m not going to judge. I can eat an entire bag of Doritos in one sitting.

For me, the reason was simple: I loved telling stories. I enjoyed the way it felt to affect somebody’s emotions with the words I strung together. Before I could even spell, I was typing away at my mother’s old army green typewriter then acting out these pretend stories in the living room for my captive audience. I loved telling my childhood friends ghost stories while we hid under our fancy blanket forts. As I got older, I joined the speech team because I got a kick out of entertaining others. I somehow managed to obtain a Theater degree.

But storytelling, for me, was so much more than that. I cherished all night house parties in which friends would gather around bottles of whatever and discuss all the stuff that seemed important to lost twenty-somethings. We’d huddle in garages, smoking cigarettes and sharing tales of adventure. We were storytellers.

Ok, this is going to sound really cheesy, but this is what I do when I question just why the hell I started writing. I picture an ancient campfire. Old shamans are sitting around this fire, telling stories. Somewhere in that fire, my story is hiding – waiting to be told. Because we are a people created by story. Religion, politics, philosophy- the entire human experience, is rooted in story. These stories continue on now. Hell, I fear that as a society, we are heading towards a very scary time – a time where the story will lose its power. When the last tower falls and the last people are scavenging around for food, our stories must continue on. I’m a part of this. My books, my short stories, and the tales I pass on to the next generation may not seem like much, but it’s a passing on of a tradition that started millions of years before.

Pretty neat, huh.

Once I remind myself that my current projects that seem like such a burden at this time are stories that need to be shared with others, the motivation returns. I can push onward.

So, take a break, talk a walk, and have a conversation with yourself about why you write.

Then, get back to writing.

You have a story to share.

MY FAVORITE WRITING TOOL

An artsy photo of my trusted notebook.

 

I think it’s easy to get overwhelmed in today’s over-stimulated world. Maybe you wake up in the morning, brew a pot of coffee ( or single serve cup), check your email, maybe browse Facebook, take a poop, then sit down for some quality writing time. You fire up the laptop, tablet, (or in my case) the trusted old desktop. Perhaps you find your favorite streaming music service and start your WRITING playlist.

Dude, we’ve clicked like a hundred buttons before we even write a single word!

Now, this isn’t going to be one of those simplify-the-chi in your life posts -don’t worry.

I have embraced technology. While I am in awe of those people who write their first drafts in pen and paper, I NEED my word processor. I need to feel the keys. I can’t write a paragraph without my hands cramping to near-leprosy levels. HOWEVER, there is one writing tool I cannot live without and that is my faithful notebook.  Ironically, it was given to me by the wife as a Christmas present because I could easily upload the pages to Evernote (another e-tool worthy of its own post). BUT, I don’t use it for its technological ease. I use it because it easily fits into my work lunchbag.

The thing never leaves my side.

Why?

Because, as a writer, my head is always full of stupid ideas. I never know when inspiration is going to strike. How many times have you been out in public or at work and had NO way to capture that James-Patterson-sized idea? You can’t always count on the always-present clean cocktail napkin in which to scribble everything down. Phone batteries die. Besides, even if you have a phone to jot down that idea, you have to open an app, type it out, etc. By then the idea could be nothing more than a jumbled brain fart. You’re certainly not going to remember it by the time you get back to your writing station. You just won’t.

Oddly enough, it was reading that started my notebook carrying habit. I am always reading whether it’s fiction or the latest true crime volume. So, I began jotting down my thoughts in the notebook as I read. I write down things I liked, things that sucked, and ideas I wanted to further flesh out.  At my age, with all the illegal substances I’ve done, my memory is shot.

I highly recommend carrying around a notebook at all times. It doesn’t have to be anything big or fancy. Hell, when I worked retail I used one of those tiny spiral bound pocket pads for capturing my inspiration.  The funny thing is, once I started my daily practice of keeping notes – MY WRITING INCREASED IN BOTH QUALITY AND QUANTITY. I was no longer wasting time at my desk outlining and struggling to remember what direction I wanted to go. It was already there on paper! I could pick up right where I had left off.

Besides, losing a 99 cent notebook is a much smaller crisis than running a thousand dollar smartphone through the washer and dryer.

All those technological tools are great – Evernote, OneNote, Scrivener, Microsoft Word, Google Keep etc… But isn’t it nice to declutter every once and a while?

I remember the Y2K scare. I remember visiting a local coffee shop during Christmas of 1999 and seeing a hopeful message on their sign display: We’re Y2K ready. We have plenty of pencils.

How about you? What must-have tools keep you writing?

 

You’re still writing, right?

YOUR FIRST NOVEL IS SHIT!

 

Oh, not YOUR first novel.  Your first novel was a literary masterpiece. It was the polished golden manuscript of which all other first novels fell short.  As soon as you hit publish it soared to the top of the mighty Zon’s charts and you haven’t had to work a day since.

This post is for the rest of us.

Hell, let me get my tongue out of my cheek and rephrase that intro. MY first novel was pure crap. A month after I self published it sank to the depths of obscurity with hardly a thud.  Maybe you’re struggling with the ‘first novel’ jitters and you’re desperately looking for some tips on getting it out the door. You must be desperate – you found this blog post.

I’m no expert, but I AM pretty good friends with failure. So, I put together a neat little list of the things I wish I’d known before I published. Before you go creating a pen-name just to distance yourself from that first published turd, give these pointers a once-over.  (Yes, this list only applies to those of us crazy enough to self-publish. I’m sure the big publishing houses have an army of people to fix these potholes).

1.GET EDITED .

Dear God, I cannot stress this enough. I took the ‘dumbass-of-all-trades-master-of-none’ route with my first novel. I stupidly thought ‘hey, I’ve got an advanced college degree with years of literature knowledge. I’ll just edit my own manuscript’. NO. Just NO! You want to know what’s not awesome? Reading over your novel years down the road and finding so many grammatical errors it looks like Bobcat Goldthwait dictated your words through a Speak N Spell.

Pay to have someone PROFESSIONALLY edit your manuscript. Not your wife. Not your cousin Buddy that’s taking community college courses in short story writing. Not your friend Ted, who says he’ll do it for beer – actually PAY someone who knows what they’re doing to give it a looksee.  You can find actual real-life editors that are able to perform desired surgery for fair prices. They’re out there and they will help you out. Those squiggly blue lines in MS Word don’t cut it.

 

2. GET AN AWESOME COVER.

Lesson learned. Dumbass me thought I could skillfully slap together a nondescript cover using the latest in free graphic design programs. Sure, there are worse covers out there, but there are a million better ones – ones that are selling.

DON’T do a crappy cover. You don’t want to end up on one of those AWFUL BOOK COVER blog posts.  No artsy stock photo with your title plastered over it. No cutesy filtered snap of your dog. Again, there are plenty of artists out there who will make you a cover at a reasonable price. Take a look at what’s popular in your genre. If I see a generic ‘I made this with photoshop’ cover (like my first novel) I’ll probably skip reading the book.

ALWAYS MAKE SURE YOU PAY YOUR ARTIST! EXPOSURE IS ONLY ACCEPTABLE IF YOU’RE RUNNING AROUND YOUR FRONT LAWN NAKED!

 

3. AT LEAST HAVE AN IDEA OF HOW YOU WANT TO MARKET YOUR BOOK.

Let’s continue with the self-depreciating ammunition. I did little to no market research when I released my first novel. I was sort-of known in amateur horror writer circles. I had a small group of people ready to get their hands on my debut masterpiece. My beta-readers had faith in me. So I published. About twenty of my co-workers and family bought physical copies (that I had to pay for AND ship). Three weeks later, my numbers were non-existent. I had no long lasting plan for the future.  Now, if you aren’t writing to sell this isn’t so important. If you’re happy with publishing your family history for just your family then I’m happy for you.

In the months before you publish, do some research. See what your readers are reading. Follow some big-time authors in your genre. Observe what they’re doing. There are plenty of social media groups out there for book promotions, blog tours,  book reviewers etc…that will give your book a chance. Now, I’m not talking about all-out advertising tips because, well, I suck at marketing. Maybe somebody who’s good at it will share their expertise down the road.

YOUR MOTHER BUYING TWO COPIES OF YOUR DARLING PROSE DOES NOT A PROFIT MAKE. I should know, my mother DID buy two copies of my book.

 

4. WRITING A TRILOGY? AWESOME, BE READY.

So you’re writing the next WHEEL OF TIME series – hail you!  Just be sure you have MORE THAN ONE book ready to go before you pull the trigger. This is a tip you might not even have thought about. I wish I had.

I wanted my novel to be the first of a horrible trilogy. It was full of holes and the ending was, well OPEN ENDED. I had intended for most of those questions to be answered in following volumes. But, all I had nailed down was that first book. I mean, I had a general outline and plenty of awesome ideas to keep the story going. As I mentioned above, I published that first book and then BOOM – a whole lot of nothing happened. Life got in the way. That bitch of a muse wandered off into new territory. Those volumes were never finished.

Have faith in your writing. I do. If you want to tell the next Lord of the Rings – have your books written out FIRST. There is nothing worse for a reader than investing all that time into a proposed series that never goes anywhere.  It DOES happen.

 

Again, I’m no pro, and I’ll never claim to be one. These are just the major things I wish I would’ve thought through before I got bitten by the publishing bug. Learn from my mistakes.

Now, get back to writing. You’ve written today, right?