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Kittens


I’ve never told anyone this before; not when it happened, not since.


When I was 13 our cat had 9 kittens. They lived in a box in my sister’s closet. When they were about a week old, a visiting child took them out of the box and put them on the cold tile-over-concrete floor to play with them. They all got sick. One by one over the next week 6 of them died, one every day.

I cried myself to sleep every night for a year. More than 45 years later it’s still hard to think about.


Bells

His mother picked up his sister from our house. She said he’s not answering his phone we have to go.

His mother, young enough to be my daughter, cut him down.

His sister ran to the neighbor, my friend: he’s dead he’s dead.

My friend knelt over him in the hallway for two hours doing CPR until the paramedics came. Two hours.

The paramedics worked for two hours before they gave up.

My friend texted me. He just didn’t have the strength for the phone call.

I told my wife. She cried.

We talked. We told our daughter. She cried. Her first death.

My wife said I have to be there. We went over.

We hugged everybody. Everybody hugged everybody.

There was no crying left.


Three months later I wrote this song.

I finally cried.

Bells

I really don’t blame him he chose not to call
he’d been there for hours crouched in the hall
he sent me the message my heart tore in two
said someone was dead he said it was you

there should have been bells
so everyone would know
’cause the silence is killing me
since you had to go

Why didn’t I see you were so lost?
Would have done anything, paid any cost
But I never asked, and you never said
And some days I wish, it was me instead

there should have been bells
so everyone would know
’cause the silence is killing me
since you had to go

no matter how black there’s always hope
but it’s hard to see at the end of your rope
in the middle of love now there’s a hole
silence so loud taking its toll

there should have been bells
so everyone would know
’cause the silence is killing me
since you had to go


Unheroic

When I found out he had two weeks to live, I didn’t go see him. Not that I don’t know what to say; I’ve had training in dealing with bereavement and grief and death.

I should have gone. But one time I thought about it, I felt like I didn’t know him well enough to matter. Another time, I let the unorthodox family situation stop me; wasn’t sure who’d be there and how they’d be feeling or acting. Another time, I felt overwhelmed because though we weren’t close, I’d thought we would be; he was a good guy, smart, good conversationalist, sense of humor.

Talked myself into it. Excused myself out of it. Talked myself into it. Waited too long.

In the end I just waited too long to do the right thing.

They say heroes dash into burning buildings or flaming cars to rescue people without thinking. They act before they have a chance to get scared. My first impulse when I heard was, I have to go see him.

But I gave myself time to think, and I kept thinking until it was too late.


How Evil Can You Get?

In Story Robert McKee talks about “the negation of the negation” (NotN). It’s not mathematical, the multiplication of two negatives leading to a positive. It is the end of the line in the emotional or moral value of the internal story.

Take the normal “worst case” scenario, and find the thing that’s so much worse it’s unthinkable.

In “living dead” stories, that’s often the fate worse than death: damnation, or living death.

McKee talks about four stages, from The Big Win through Not So Much to Real Bad and finally, the NotN. For instance, in a love story you can have true love, indifference, active dislike/hate, and the worst thing in a normal romance, hate masquerading as love.

Scifi adventure: success might be beating the aliens. The other end of the spectrum might be seeing your whole race enslaved by the aliens, in a manner which prevents mass suicide. Nope. You’re slaves, maybe even eternally because they gave you live-forever-juice.

For many stories, the NotN is going to be, if not unique, at east customized.

The lighter the story the less devastating the NotN. For instance, in my book A Long, Hard Look

  1. Success: Phil solves the case and gets the girl.
  2. The likely case is he doesn’t solve the case, but at least he gets the girl.
  3. Worst case, you’d think, is he doesn’t solve the case, doesn’t get the girl.
  4. What happens is he stands in a room full of his girl’s family and is helpless to prevent one from killing another, and in the end, his girl leaves because he reminds her of his failure and her family’s brokenness.

Not only does the case get solved too late to prevent another death, the girl despises him and runs away.

Figure out what your readers will assume equals “success” and if you choose a happy ending, deliver that and more.

Know, or define, what they’ll expect as the “less than success” the hero is worried will be his fate.

Know what your readers expect as a worst case scenario. That’s failure.

Make your protagonist suffer that failure, then give him a way out.

Then, come up with something so unimaginable your readers never saw it coming, couldn’t foresee it, won’t believe their eyes.

And aim it straight at your hero.


Loss

Found out this morning that a dear friend and spiritual mentor died yesterday.

We were supposed to get together for lunch soon. I keep thinking about what we would have chatted about, how much we laughed when we visited.

Death is not, as many claim, a natural part of life. Death is unnatural, an enemy.

This space is too small to hold everything I believe about life and death and love and loss. I’ll just say I’ll miss him, and hope all the rest of you are happy and well.


Hole in His Chest

His habit was to pop out of bed the instant he awoke. Today it felt good to lie there, eyes closed, sun glowing through the window onto the bed.

bedroom-dark-light“Know what I want to do today?”

The room was silent.

She’s still sleeping, he thought. Lazybones.

He rolled over to put his arms around her, knowing she’d open one eye, give him the grumpy face, then snuggle into his chest.

Her side of the bed was empty.

He opened his eyes.

Properly awake now, he threw himself down on her pillow.

His wounded animal cries made no difference. He’d done this every morning since he’d been able to sleep again, and it made no difference.

She was still dead.


The Time Between

someone else I know died and this one sort of forced itself out

I don’t believe in any angel of death
Don’t believe in any great Grim Reaping
I know it comes to us all
But I believe what some folks call
Eternity ain’t forever, they’re only sleeping

I don’t believe in Fates snipping threads
I don’t believe your time has gotta come
If it was set at birth
What’s living worth?
That’d be unfair to the smart, too kind to the dumb

I made a choice to write and sing this song
And you can choose to listen
Or even sing along
We’re making our own way
Every day
Doing what’s right
And knowing what’s wrong

Songs like this sorta make you squirm
No one likes to talk about the end
Hey, I’m with you
I’m uncomfortable too
And we’ll both get through it talking friend to friend

I made a choice to write and sing this song
And you can choose to listen
Or even sing along
We’re making our own way
Every day
Doing what’s right
And knowing what’s wrong

We’ve all lost someone we love, and we miss ’em
The hole some people leave is surreal
While I’m done singing this rhyme
You ought to take the time
To tell the folks you love the way you feel

I made a choice to write and sing this song
And you can choose to listen
Or even sing along
We’re making our own way
Every day
Doing what’s right
And knowing what’s wrong


Breathing

whaletale

He drove the harpoon into its great white head
Over and over and it still wasn’t dead
Tangled in the lines as the beast went down
If he didn’t kill it now he was gonna drown

Maniacal hatred for he great white whale
The end of its life was the end of his tale

What if the whale had loved Ahab?
It’d never submerge
If the whale had loved Ahab
It’d give up the deep
So Ahab could keep—
If the whale had loved Ahab
Been able to purge
The notions that surge and flood
In the blood
If the whale had loved Ahab
We’d be on the verge
Might take the leap
Maybe we’d all keep
Breathing

Life and death for the captain and crew
It was life and death for the great whale, too
It wasn’t a hunt to fill any need
It was vengeance, it was anger, it was lust, it was greed

He vowed to hunt it to the end of the sea
And now it’s life and death for you and me

What if the whale had loved Ahab?
It’d never submerge
If the whale had loved Ahab
It’d give up the deep
So Ahab could keep—
If the whale had loved Ahab
Been able to purge
The notions that surge and flood
In the blood
If the whale had loved Ahab
We’d be on the verge
Might take the leap
Maybe we’d all keep
Breathing


Perpetual Prey

canopyAs he scrambled through the underbrush the jagged tear in his leg soaked his boot and, worse, left a clear trail for the monster on his trail.

The same question circled his brain over and over: loop back and get behind the creature, or drive like a madman straight away from it?

His inability to decide stemmed from his unfamiliarity with the beast. Was it sentient, reasoning, a strategic foe, or simply a mad animal looking for a meal?

Pushing through the dense jungle since waking before dawn to the stench of the taloned thing behind him, he fought the mental fog brought on by lack of sleep. The animal had dogged his trail for a week, if his count of the days was right.

Precision wasn’t his strong suit.

Death was.

Continue reading “Perpetual Prey”