The Juggling Act That Is GREAT Storytelling

coverUsing my unreleased manuscript An Angel On Her Shoulder, I am showing you my techniques for reworking a story into a more readable, more enjoyable piece. It’s 45+ lessons in about 45 days. (To start at Chapter 1, click HERE.)

To view it best, bring up the two versions in different windows and view them side by side to see what was changed.

Then give me your thoughts in the comment section.

JUGGLING ACT

Most of this lesson needs to come after you read the chapter, so read.

See you at the bottom!


Chapter 35 “FINAL”

 

“Mr. Tyree.” Mallory extended her hand to our guest, but her rigid body indicated welcome wasn’t really on her mind. “Nice to finally meet you.”

“It’s nice to meet you, too, ma’am.” Tyree nodded, shaking her hand and stepping into the house. “And—”

“It’s just ‘Tyree,’ honey.” I said. “No ‘mister.’”

A thin smile crept across her face. “Fine. Tyree. Will you be joining us for dinner?”

I put my arm around my wife. “Mallory’s a heck of a cook.”

Tyree smiled. “Sure. It would be my pleasure. We really should talk, though.”

“After dinner.” Mallory nodded over to where Sophie was playing. “When little ears will be asleep.”

“Got it.”

I hung his rain jacket on the bannister and headed to the kitchen. “Sorry we had to bring you out on a night like this.”

“Well, yeah, it’s getting ugly out there. But I have my car, so I didn’t get too wet. Now, if I had been on my hog . . .”

“Hog?” I pulled out a chair for myself. “You have a Harley?”

“Yeah.” Tyree lowered himself into the seat across from me. “If I’d have been on that, well—let’s just say it isn’t exactly motorcycle weather out there.”

“Softie.” I leaned forward, resting my elbows on the table. “I thought any real Harley rider wouldn’t let a little thing like a hurricane stop him from a nice ride.”

He and I laughed. Mallory handed me a bottle of wine and a corkscrew. I inserted the metal tip into the cork and went to work.

“Well, you’re right,” Tyree said, smiling. “The bike would do it. That thing has some awesome road traction, even in heavy rain.”

“I knew a guy who had a little trailer and a matching rain suit.” I shook my head, popping the cork and handing the bottle back to my wife. “He could go out in the worst weather and never get wet.”

“Oh, I have some of that stuff. I just prefer not taking those additional risks. You know, in an actual hurricane.”

We laughed—again, just Tyree and me.

“I prefer not riding a motorcycle at all,” Mallory said. “Harley Davidson or not, they aren’t safe. And Harleys are so loud. Why is that?”

Tyree threw an arm over the back of the chair and faced her. “That’s just how some of the more obnoxious riders like it.”

“I suppose yours is a quiet one, then? Good.” She handed each of us a glass of wine.

“Uh, mine? Well . . .”

I remembered Tyree said he didn’t drink.

He kept the glass in his hand as he shrugged. “Mine is pretty loud. Really loud. Like it doesn’t have a muffler.” He grinned. “You’ll know when you hear it.”

I smiled, setting my glass down. “Everybody hears you coming, eh?”

“I’m not a big fan of motorcycles, I guess.” Mallory leaned on the counter and sipped her wine. It was unlike her to be so challenging to a guest.

“Aww.” I waved a hand at her. “I rode as a kid, on the bike trails behind our house and down at the park. Motorcycles aren’t dangerous.”

“You rode?” Tyree turned to me, sliding his glass to the center of the table.

“Oh, no thing like a Harley. We had little trail bikes. Kawasaki 100’s. We had a red one and a blue one. My brother eventually upgraded to a 300cc street bike.”

“Nice. You don’t look the type.”

“It was a long time ago.” I helped Mallory set a platter of meat on the table, rising to get glasses of ice water for everyone. “So, y’know, I know a little about riding. But ours weren’t real loud, either. And they weren’t dangerous. It’s the maniacs riding them that are dangerous.”

“I can attest to that!” Tyree said, chuckling.

“This guy I knew, all his motorcycle stuff matched. The little pull-behind trailer, the rain suit, it was all painted to match the motorcycle. Sky Blue. Like baby blue. Here’s this big tough guy, riding his Harley, and all his stuff is baby blue. Not exactly a tough guy color, I don’t think.”

I filled three glasses with ice water and poured a plastic princess cup of milk for Sophie, then returned to the table. “He was crazy, that guy.”

Tyree nodded. “They get pretty intense, some of those riders…”

“What about you?” I handed him a glass. “Are you that intense?”

“Uh, I have a pull behind trailer and a rain suit . . .”

“I knew it!” I shook my head. “Sky blue?”

“My bike’s red, thank you.” Tyree said. “And it doesn’t match the other stuff. The bike is red, the trailer is gray, and the rain suit is orange and black.”

“What, a retro Buccaneers poncho from the ‘Creamsicle’ uniforms in the 70s?”

“It’s for visibity. Orange shows up better in the daytime. And at night.”

“Oh.” I cleared my throat, cheeks warming. “Well, you’ll have to show it to me sometime.”

“Sure thing. Besides, we can’t all drive big black Lincoln Navigators, now can we?” Tyree said. “Did they let you keep that thing when you retired from the CIA?”

“CIA?” Mallory scooped vegetables from a pot into a serving bowl. “Doesn’t that stand for Certified Internal Auditor?”

“Culinary Institute of America,” I said. “I was a secret chef spy.”

“If you were a chef, it was a well guarded secret.” Mallory was finally starting to loosen up. “Okay, you two. Time to eat. Get Sophie washed up for dinner.”

“Come on, little critter.” I went to the couch and hoisted Sophie up. Tyree followed.

The pre-dinner conversation had worked well to get everyone more relaxed. When we returned, we took our places at the table.

Sophie peered at Tyree. “Do you like goldfish crackers?”

He smiled. “Oh, goldfish crackers are my favorite!”

Sophie smiled back. “Mommy, Mr. Tyree and I need goldfish crackers for dinner.”

“Whoa!” Tyree laughed. “Hold on. Don’t do that to me.”

“We’re having pork roast and green beans, sweetie.” Mallory said.

Sophie stuck out her tongue. “Yuck. I don’t like green beans.”

“Well.” Tyree picked up a fork. “Maybe you and I can have some goldfish crackers for dessert sometime. Okay?” He raised his eyebrows and glanced at Mallory. She smiled.

“Today?” Sophie sat up straight.

Not today,” Mallory said as she sat.

“Another time.” Tyree nodded. “Okay?”

“Okay.” Sophie sighed, her little battle lost.

We ate, discussing miscellaneous things, and avoiding the topic on everyone’s mind. When we finished, it wasn’t late, but I convinced my daughter that it was bedtime. The rain outside had made it dark early, so she was easily swayed.

“Say bye-bye to Tyree, sweetie.” I put my hand on her shoulder. “Then I’ll take you upstairs to bed.”

As he squatted down to say goodbye, Sophie surprised him with a hug. “Bye, Tyree.”

“Bye Sophie.”

Her face was sad. She wanted to stay up with everybody else.

“It was nice to meet you,” Tyree said, standing. “I’ll see you soon.”

Sophie leaned toward him and whispered. “Don’t forget the goldfish crackers.”

“Okay, let’s go.” I took Sophie’s hand and walked her up the steps. Mallory put the pot under the coffee maker—to Tyree’s delight. Then, with Sophie in bed, we moved to the living room so we could talk.

“She’s a sweet kid.” Tyree took a cup of coffee from my wife and made his way to the couch.

“Thanks,” I said. We sat down.

He leaned forward to me, lowering his voice. “What are you thinking?”

I guess he wanted to get the lay of the land before Mallory rejoined us.

“I was thinking about evacuating,” I said quietly. “Leaving Tampa and heading to Atlanta until the hurricane passes.”

He raised his eyebrows. “Wow. That’s a big step.”

I nodded.

“What does your wife think about that?”

I sighed. “She thinks it’s a bad idea. And maybe she’s right.”

“Sometimes it’s different for women, dealing with these things.” Tyree tested his coffee. “When that whole winery thing happened, the wreck on your vacation—how did she take it?”

I chewed my lip for a second. “That was different.”

“How?”

“I saw the wreck happen. Sophie and I were headed to the parking lot, but we never made it. When everything happened, she thought she’d lost both of us. That . . . kind of changes things for a person.”

Tyree eyed me over his coffee cup. “Did it for you?”

“In a different way, sure.” I glanced at the kitchen to make sure Mallory wasn’t catching any of this. She had the faucet in the sink running full blast, rinsing some dishes. I felt bad. Normally I’d be helping do that after our guest left, but she launched in, so I guess she had other ideas. “I’m a lot more careful in parking lots. Look, what do you think about all this, the three tragedies, the timing of it all, the recurring dreams—”

“Dreams?” Tyree cocked his head.

“Yeah. What do you make of it all?”

Mallory shut off the water, and picked up her coffee, joining us in the living room.

“Well, let’s put it on the table.” Tyree put his elbows on his knees, wrapping his hands around his mug. “First, I don’t think you folks are crazy.” He looked at Mallory. “When I look around this house, after talking with your husband a few times, and with you, this just isn’t the typical crazy scenario.”

He gazed at his dark pool of coffee. “I have some experience in this type of thing. And I expect people to be skeptical. But something is happening to you folks. Something . . .” He glanced at both of us. “Supernatural.”

Mallory swallowed hard, a strained look on her face. “How do you know?”

“I don’t mean to scare you.” Tyree replied. “It looks a lot like what has ended up being supernatural events—when I’ve had to deal with it in the past.”

Mallory reached over and took my hand. Hers were shaking. “Have you dealt with a lot of situations like this in the past?”

“Some.” He nodded. “Enough to know what they look like when I see them.”

“Whatever this is.” Her voice quivered. “When you’ve seen it in the past . . . what do they want?”

Tyree took a deep breath, looking her in the eye. “They want to hurt you.”

The words hung in the air like a bell tolling at a funeral.

“Or they want something from you.”

I had to remind myself to breathe. “Why? I mean, why us?”

“Why not you?” Tyree sat back, propping an arm on the back of the couch. “Doug, you’re looking at this the wrong way. You too, ma’am. Don’t try to figure out why they’re doing all this. You may never know the reason. They are doing it. That’s the important thing to know.”

Mallory folded her arms and looked out the window. “Oh, that just doesn’t make any sense.”

She was frustrated.

“Hold on, follow along with me a second.” Tyree held his hands out, gesturing with his mug. “Think of a bully on a playground. What’s the sense behind threatening another kid, or stealing a smaller kid’s lunch money? While you try to figure out the reason, you get punched in the nose and lose your lunch money. The best thing is to punch the bully in the nose, right? Or at least to stand up for yourselves.”

She continued to observe the swaying trees in the yard. He glanced at me. I nodded, mouthing the words Go on.

“Well.” He took a deep breath. “The things that tend to do this stuff, these entities—the dark angels, we call them—they have their own reasons for doing them.”

Mallory frowned, her voice falling to a whisper. “Why would they come after a little girl?”

“Maybe they destroy a child so they can become more powerful and move on to bigger things,” Tyree said. “Does it matter? What matters is that it is happening. To you, to your family, your daughter. It’s happening, and it’s going to keep happening.”

He let that sink in. “I know it’s a lot to digest…”

“No.” Mallory sighed. “It isn’t. Not really. I think I’ve been just trying to avoid realizing what it was, hoping it would go away.”

Tyree nodded, sitting back in his seat. “I think if I were in your shoes, I’d feel the same way.”

I rubbed my stomach. Hearing it all out loud was harder than I thought. Again. “Do you think they’re after Sophie?”

“Could be. If they wanted to hurt either of you, wouldn’t that be the best way?” Tyree tapped the side of his cup with his finger. “It could be that she poses some sort of threat to them, somehow.”

My stomach clenched. He didn’t know what the mambo told me, and I felt bad about not sharing it.

Mallory’s jaw dropped. “How can a little girl be a threat to, to . . . to anyone?”

Tyree shrugged. Silence hung in the air. I had heard another answer to that question, but it seemed best to let Tyree offer his own ideas. I could tell him the priestess’ thoughts later.

I shook my head and rubbed my chin. “Sounds like some kind of messed up gang initiation.”

“More like a schoolyard bully.” Tyree watched me, his face expressionless. “Without any kind of real restraint.”

That comparison hurt.

“I’m sorry. That’s just been my experience.”

I’d had enough of that topic for the moment. There were other things to discuss. “Listen, we also need to think about what we’re to do about this hurricane.”

“Should we go to Orlando?” Mallory frowned and glanced at me sideways.

Tyree narrowed his eyes, obviously confused. “What’s in Orlando?”

“Old joke,” Mallory replied, getting up.

When she had gone back into the kitchen, I explained. “The last big hurricane was a few years ago and was headed right for Tampa, so we—I—got the bright idea to go to our friends’ house in Orlando. You know, be out of the storm. Well, we arrive and find out the hurricane turned. It was headed for Orlando now.”

“Hah! What did you do?

“We got back in the car and headed to Tampa. We weren’t at their house five minutes, I’m not kidding. We said goodbye, hopped in the car, and started driving—and it’s raining buckets. I mean, you can’t see three feet in front of the headlights. And I realize we are the only car on the road. I-4, the busiest highway in Florida, and there is not another car in sight.” I shook my head. “That’s how you know you’ve made a terrible mistake, when you are the only car on whole the highway. Meanwhile, the wind was knocking my car all over the place. It was crazy.”

“Good grief. Then what?”

“Oh, well, we survived.” I chuckled. “The next day we looked at the tracking maps. The stupid thing followed us right down I-4. Now it’s a little harder to get my wife to think about evacuating.”

“At least to Orlando,” Mallory said. We all laughed.

I shifted on my seat. “And that’s why I was thinking Atlanta.”

The laughter stopped. Mallory bristled.

“It’s always been our failsafe spot, right? Our disaster recovery plan? Head to Atlanta, get into a hotel, and if we are separated, send our messages to my family in Indiana until we can get reunited.”

“What if the hurricane to comes to Atlanta?” Tyree asked, only half kidding.

“Then we get back in the car and visit my dad in Indiana.” I smiled. “Look, I’d rather be in a hotel in Atlanta dealing with this demonic possession crap than deal with it here and a hurricane too. I think it’s just the lesser of two evils.”

“Well.” Tyree stood. “You two have a lot to talk about, and at least a little time to talk about it.” He turned to Mallory. “What are your thoughts right now?”

“I don’t know,” Mallory said.

Tyree nodded and looked at me.

“I think we take some kind of action.” I got up and shoved my hands in my pockets, studying the floor. “They’ve found us every time they wanted to. There’s no running from them. They will come when they’re ready, not when we are. I think, we have to attack them somehow; or at least put them on the defensive.” I raised my eyes to Tyree. “Are we better off here, like a small army trapped in a fort?”

“Or like ducklings in a clearing cornered by a wolf?” Mallory glared at me. “Out on the open road, vulnerable?”

“I’m not going to continue to let them come after our daughter and not fight back. I don’t care how crazy it sounds or how it looks to anybody else! They weren’t in that winery. They didn’t see the look in his eyes. I think we need to confront the dark angel. I just don’t know how.”

Tyree nodded. “There are ways. But for now, get some rest. Let’s talk again in the morning.”

I walked him to the door. The rains had gotten worse. Looking out from our covered front porch, it looked like a bomb had gone off. Branches were all over the yard, and the wind was whipping the rain into my face. It stung.

“I’d offer you an umbrella to get to your car, but it would get ripped to shreds in two seconds.” I said.

“Don’t worry about it.” Tyree put on his jacket—the orange and black one he mentioned. Before I could be embarrassed at my prior inconsiderate comments about it, he handed me a business card. “Come by my office tomorrow at noon or so, okay? We still have some things to go over. The address is on the card.”

I stuck the card in my pocket. “Where are you staying tonight? Don’t you live in Melbourne?”

“I have a fold out couch in my office. I’ll be fine.”

I thought about asking him to stay with us for the night, but knew it’d be better if I consulted my wife first—and I wasn’t sure of her take on him yet.

Sophie seemed to like Tyree, though, and he seemed to like Sophie. That would make a big difference to Mallory.

He pulled the hood over his head. “I’m going to do some research tonight. If I find anything, I’ll call you in the morning.” He glanced at the stairs. “Is your wife gonna be alright?”

“I think so. This has all been a lot to digest.”

“Let her take her time. Both of you, take your time.” He looked up at the swaying tree tops as they bandied violently back and forth. “Just don’t take too long.”

The he braced himself and ran to his car.

After Tyree left, I went into my office. It was late, but there were notes to write down and plans to think up. Mallory had already realized how tired she was. The conversation had been exhausting, and it was later than anyone realized. She went into the kitchen, away from the office lights, to collect her thoughts.

“Mommy?”

Sophie’s voice was barely audible, as if trying not to intrude, not even with her words. Mallory turned to look at our daughter. In her pajamas, Sophie peeked out from the hallway where she’d been hiding. She looked so sweet and innocent.

“Yes, sweetie?” Mallory said, forcing a smile onto her face. Her tired eyes betrayed her, but Sophie might not notice.

“I heard . . . you and Daddy—and the man—talking . . .”

“Mr. Tyree?”

Sophie nodded. “Did I . . .” Her voice broke slightly. She barely got the words out before she started to cry. “Did I do something wrong?”

I almost jumped out of my chair, but I held back to not make things worse.

Michelle pulled Sophie close. “God, no, sweetie. No, you didn’t doing anything wrong.”

“But Daddy said—” Sophie sobbed. “Mommy, why is all this happening? What’s wrong with me?”

Daddy said.

I wanted to die.

“Nothing sweetie!” Mallory kissed our daughter’s forehead. “Nothing is wrong with you!”

Tears streamed down the Sophie’s face.

Her mother rocked her in her arms. “Nothing is wrong with you.” It was all she could manage. Mallory began to cry, too. She hugged Sophie tightly.

“Everything that’s happening, what Daddy and Mr. Tyree discussed, it’s all just a big . . . it’s all just a problem that we need to work on. All of us, together.” Mallory pulled Sophie away to look her in the eye. “It isn’t your fault. There’s nothing wrong with you. Don’t you think that.” She blinked back the tears. “Daddy’s gonna fix it. We’re going to go away from the storm and go to Atlanta, and everything is going to be all right.”

The two of them stayed there, rocking back and forth in a hug, exhausted, my wife saying the words over and over.

“There’s nothing wrong with you. Everything’s going to be all right.”


Original Chapter 35, An Angel On Her Shoulder

 

“Mr Tyree,” Michele said coldly. “Nice to finally meet you.”

“It’s nice to meet you, to, ma’am,” Tyree replied. “And it’s just Tyree. No ‘mister.’”

She smiled. “Fine; Tyree. Will you be joining us for dinner?”

I interjected. “My wife’s a heck of a cook!”

Tyree smiled. “Sure. It would be my pleasure.” He gave us each a look. “We really should talk, though…”

Michele smiled. “After dinner,” she said, nodding over to where Savvy was playing. “When little ears will be asleep.”

“Got it,” he said, taking off his rain jacket. We walked into the living room.

“Sorry we had to bring you out on a night like this,” I said.

“Well, yeah, it’s getting ugly out there. But I have my car, so I didn’t get too wet. Now, if I had been on my hog…”

“Hog? You have a Harley?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he replied. “If I’d have been on that, well, let’s just say it isn’t exactly motorcycle weather out there.”

“Softie,” I joked, sitting down at the kitchen table. “I thought any real Harley rider wouldn’t let a little thing like a hurricane stop him from a nice ride!”

We laughed. I opened a bottle of wine.

“Well, you’re right,” Tyree said, smiling. “The bike would do it. That thing has some awesome road traction, even in heavy rain.”

“I knew a guy who had a little trailer and a matching rain suit,” I said. “He could go out in the worst weather and never get wet.”

“Yeah, well… I have some of that stuff. I just prefer not taking those additional risks. You know, in an actual hurricane!”

We laughed again.

“I prefer not riding a motorcycle at all,” Michele said. “Harley Davidson or not, they aren’t safe. And Harleys are so loud. Why is that?”

“Oh, that’s just how some riders like it,” Tyree admitted.

“Is yours one of the loud ones?” she asked, handing Tyree a glass of wine.

“Uh, mine? Well…” then Tyree gave in. “Yeah, mine is pretty loud. Like it doesn’t have a muffler. You’ll know when you hear it!”

“So everybody knows it’s you, eh?” I said.

“I’m not a big fan of motorcycles, I guess,” Michele offered, sipping her wine. It was unlike her to be so challenging to a guest.

“Aww,” I said, waving a hand at her. “I rode as a kid, on the bike trails behind our house and down at the park. Motorcycles aren’t dangerous.”

“You rode?” Tyree asked. He took a sip of his wine.

“Oh, not Harleys; just little trail bikes. Kawasaki 100’s. We had a red one and a blue one. My brother eventually upgraded to a 300cc street bike.”

“Nice. You don’t look the type.”

“It was a long time ago,” I replied as I helped my wife set down a platter of meat. “So, y’know, I know a little about riding. But ours weren’t real loud, either. And they weren’t dangerous.” I turned back to Tyree. “It’s the maniacs on them that are dangerous!”

“I can attest to that!” Tyree said, chuckling.

“This guy I knew,” I went on, “all his motorcycle stuff matched. The little pull-behind trailer, the rain suit, it was all painted to match the motorcycle. Well, not the suit; that wasn’t painted. Everything else was. And he bought the rain suit in a matching color: Sky Blue. Like baby blue. Here’s this big tough guy, riding his Harley, and all his stuff is baby blue. Not exactly a tough guy color, I don’t think. He was crazy, that guy.”

“They get pretty intense, some of those riders…”

“What about you? Are you that intense?”

“I have a pull behind trailer and a rain suit…”

“I knew it! Sky blue?” I teased.

“My bike’s red, thank you,” Tyree said. “And it doesn’t match the other stuff. The bike is red, the trailer is gray, and the rain suit is orange and black.”

“Orange and black?” I asked. “Did you buy it back when the Buccaneers were playing in their ‘Creamsicle’ uniforms in the 70’s?”

“It’s for visibity. Orange shows up better in the daytime. And at night.”

“Oh,” I replied, slightly embarrassed. I cleared my throat. “Well, that sounds nice. You’ll have to show it to me sometime.”

“Sure thing. Besides, we can’t all drive Lincoln Navigators, now can we?” Tyree said. “Did they give you that when you retired from your days in the CIA?”

We laughed.

“CIA?” Michele said, overhearing. “Doesn’t that stand for Certified Internal Auditor?”

“Culinary Institute of America,” I said. “I was a secret chef spy.”

“If you were a chef, it was a well guarded secret,” Michele chimed in. She was finally starting to loosen up.

“Okay, you two,” She said to us. “Time to eat. Get Savvy washed up for dinner.”

“Come on, little critter,” I said, picking Savvy up and carrying her to the bathroom. Tyree followed. The pre-dinner banter did a lot to get everyone more relaxed. When we returned, we took our places at the table.

Savvy looked over at Tyree. “Do you like goldfish crackers?”

He smiled. “Oh, goldfish crackers are my favorite!”

Savvy smiled. Then she announced, “Mommy, Mr Tyree and I need goldfish crackers for dinner!”

“Whoa!” Tyree laughed. “Hold on. Don’t do that to me!”

“We’re having pork roast and green beans, sweetie.” Michele said.

Savvy stuck out her tongue. “Yuck. I don’t like green beans.”

“Well,” Tyree said. “Maybe you and I can have some goldfish crackers for dessert sometime. Okay?” He looked to see if that was okay with Michele. She smiled.

“Today?” Savvy asked enthusiastically.

Not today,” Michele interjected, sitting down.

“Another time,” Tyree said. “Okay?”

“Okay,” Savvy sighed, her little battle lost.

We ate, discussing miscellaneous things, and avoiding the topic on everyone’s mind. When we finished, it wasn’t late, but I convinced my daughter that it was bedtime. The rain outside had made it dark early, so she was easily swayed.

“Say bye-bye to Tyree, sweetie,” I told Savvy. “Then I’ll take you upstairs to bed.”

As he squatted down to say goodbye, Savvy surprised him with a hug. “Bye, Tyree,” she said.

“Bye Savvy,” Tyree replied. Her face was sad. She wanted to stay up with everybody else.

“It was nice to meet you,” Tyree said, standing. “I’ll see you soon.”

Savvy leaned toward him and whispered, “Don’t forget the goldfish crackers.”

“Okay, let’s go,” I said, taking Savvy’s hand and walking her up the steps. Michele started making coffee in the kitchen – to Tyree’s delight. Then, with Savvy in bed, we shut to doors to the back part of the house, so we could talk.

“She’s a sweet kid,” Tyree said, walking over to the couch.

“Thanks,” I said. We sat down.

“What are you thinking?” he asked. I guess he wanted to get the lay of the land before Michele rejoined us.

“I was thinking about evacuating,” I said quietly. “Leaving Tampa and heading to Atlanta until the hurricane passes.”

He raised his eyebrows. “Wow. That’s a big step.”

I nodded.

“What does your wife think about that?”

I sighed. “She probably thinks I’m crazy. And maybe she’s right.”

“Well, I don’t think you’re crazy,” Tyree said. “But then, I’ve only known you a short time.” He smiled. Then he added, “It’s different for women, dealing with these things… When that whole winery thing happened, the wreck on your vacation; how did she take it?”

“That was different,” I said. “I saw the wreck happen. Savvy and I were headed out to the parking lot, but we never made it.”

“But Michele wasn’t right there with us; she stayed behind to do the wine tasting. When the crash occurred and I yelled back into the tasting room that there was a wreck with injuries and to call 911, she didn’t know it was me. She looked out the window and saw a body on the ground next to our rental car, and a girl pinned under the van – wearing the same color dress as Savvy. So she had to wonder for a few terrifying minutes if it was her little girl and husband all smashed up out there. Her experience was very different from mine, where I knew we were safe. She quickly found out that we were okay; it was only a few minutes. But she got quite a scare first. That kind of changes things for a person.”

Tyree nodded. “Did it for you?”

“In a different way, sure,” I pondered. “So I can understand not wanting to revisit that place, or not wanting to wear a t-shirt from there. I didn’t really think about it, but it evokes a bad memory for her that just doesn’t have to be remembered. There’s no reason to put yourself through it…”

“It’s not often you get to see something that happens at the full, fast, crazy speed of real life,” I said, “but you watch it unfold in your mind like it happened in a slow-moving, slow-motion kind of instant replay. I mean, everybody’s seen a fender bender, or cars lined up on the interstate that have all smashed into each other. We’ve all seen news reports or those Animals Gone Crazy videos. The ones that show a crazed rodeo bull that hooks a human being and sends them flying through the air. It’s rare for us to witness that in person, but I saw that very thing; just with a pickup truck, not a rodeo bull…”

I looked at Tyree. “What do you think about all this, about what’s happened to us?” I asked. “The three tragedies, the timing of it all, the recurring dreams – ”

“Dreams?” he asked, a little surprised.

“Yeah,” I went on. “What do you make of it all?”

Just then, Michele came over with coffee for herself and Tyree. I sipped my ice tea.

“Well, let’s put it on the table,” Tyree said. “First, I don’t think you folks are crazy.” He looked at Michele. “When I look around this house, after talking with your husband a few times, and with you, this just isn’t the typical crazy scenario.”

He leaned forward. “I have some experience in this type of thing. And I expect people to be skeptical. But I believe that something definitely is happening to you folks. Something… supernatural.”

Michele swallowed hard. “How do you know?”

“I don’t mean to scare you. That’s just what it looks like to me,” Tyree replied. “This, what has been happening, what you’ve described; the recurrence, the timing. Always happening around the same time of year, practically on the same date. It looks a lot like what has ended up being supernatural events when I’ve had dealt with it in the past.”

“Have you dealt with a lot of situations like this in the past?” Michele asked nervously.

“Some,” he said. “Enough to know what they look like when I see them.”

“Whatever this is that’s been after us,” Michele’s voice was a tentative whisper, “When you’ve seen it in the past… What do they want?”

Tyree took a deep breath, placing both hands on his coffee cup. “Well, it’s fair to say they want something. They want to hurt you, or they want something from you…”

“Why?” I asked. “I mean, why us?”

“Why not you?” Tyree said. “You’re looking at this the wrong way. Don’t try to figure out why they’re doing all this; you may never know the reason. They are doing it; that’s the important thing to know.”

“Oh that just doesn’t make any sense,” Michele was frustrated.

“Hold on, follow along with me a second,” Tyree urged. “Think of a bully on a playground. What’s the sense behind threatening another kid, or stealing a smaller kid’s lunch money? While you try to figure out the reason, you get punched in the nose and lose your lunch money. The best thing is to punch the bully in the nose, right? Or at least to stand up for yourselves.”

Tyree could see that I hadn’t shared too much of our prior meeting with Michele. “The things that tend to do this stuff, these entities – the dark angels, we call them – they have their own reasons for doing them. Maybe it’s like a gang initiation.”

Michele grew angry. “Why would they come after a little girl?”

The mambo thought she knew why…

“Maybe they destroy a child so they can become more powerful and move on to bigger things,” Tyree said. “Do you think Michelangelo just started out doing the ceiling of Sistine Chapel freehand? Was it the first thing he ever did? Or maybe there were some sketches and some training and some learning first. Some practice, to work his way up. He was born with talent, but he also had to develop that talent.”

“Maybe this is a perverted being, building up to something bigger,” Tyree added. “Maybe it’s a novice that’s just starting out. Does it matter? What matters is that it is happening. To you; to your family, your daughter. It’s happening, and it’s going to keep happening. On their schedule, not yours.”

He let that sink in.

“I know it’s a lot to digest…”

“No,” Michele sighed. “It isn’t. Not really. I think I’ve been just trying to avoid realizing what it was, hoping it would go away.” She was turning the corner.

“I think if I were in your shoes, I’d feel the same way” Tyree said.

“Do you think they’re after our daughter? After Savvy?” I asked.

“Could be,” he answered. “None of this really started before she came along did it? But even so, that may have just provided an opportunity. If they wanted to hurt either of you, wouldn’t that be the best way? To go after your daughter?”

Tyree tapped the side of his cup with his finger. “It could be that she poses some sort of threat to them, somehow.”

“How can a little girl be a threat to, to… to anyone?” Michele stammered.

Tyree shrugged. Silence hung in the air. I had heard another answer to that question, but it seemed best to let Tyree offer his own ideas. I could tell him the priestess’ thoughts later.

I rubbed my eyes. “Sounds like some kind of messed up gang initiation.”

“More like a schoolyard bully,” Tyree corrected. “Without any kind of real restraint.”

He looked at us sadly. He knew that news hurt.

“I’m sorry; that’s just been my experience.”

I’d had enough of that topic for the moment. There were other things to discuss. “Listen, we also need to think about what we’re to do about this hurricane.”

“Should we go to Orlando?” Michele asked dryly.

I cracked a smile. “Maybe.”

Tyree asked, “What’s in Orlando?”

“Old joke,” Michele replied, getting up.

“During the last big hurricane,” I began,” we saw the track of the storm coming straight for Tampa from Miami. It was like a straight shot. This was before Savvy was born. So I was looking at the weather radar thing on TV, and I said, well, hell, if it’s coming right for Tampa, let’s leave; right?”

“Okay,” Tyree offered, playing along.

“So we hop in the car – my old Ford Escape, I think, a little light SUV, and we head over to a friend’s house in Orlando. I figured, the storm is coming west; we’ll go east. It will pass under us, way to the south, which was the projected path.”

“Only it turned,” Michele added.

“Only it turned,” I echoed. “As soon as we got to our friend’s house in Orlando, we sat down on the couch and looked at the TV, and son of a gun, the stupid hurricane had made a sharp right turn. Now it was headed directly to Orlando!”

“It completely ruined my plan!” I said, laughing. “I planned on having a hurricane party at my friend’s house as we watched Tampa get demolished by the storm, and now it was coming right to where we evacuated to. As soon as I sat down on the couch and cracked open a beer, we had to leave!”

“Leave?”

“Sure! When that thing turned, it was less safe at their house in Orlando than it was at our house back in Tampa! So we left.”

“Hah! What happened?”

“Well, we say goodbye, hop in the car, and start driving. And it’s raining buckets. I mean, you can’t see three feet. Which is when I realize that we are the only car on the road. On I-4, between Orlando and Tampa, the busiest road in Florida, there is not another car in sight. I mean, going in either direction, east or west. Nothing. Not a single car for, like, ten straight minutes. That’s how you know you’ve made a terrible mistake, if you are on the road and nobody else is. What do they know that you don’t? Well, we were right in the hurricane, that’s what! Right in its path. The wind was knocking my little car all over the place. It was crazy.”

“Good grief! Then what?”

“Oh, well, we survived,” I chuckled. “The next day we looked at the tracking maps. We could see the exact points where the hurricane’s eye was, and at what time. The stupid thing followed us right down I-4 for a little while, before heading in its merry way. I mean, we were fine and all; just a little scare. But… now it’s a little harder to get my wife to think about evacuating.”

 

“At least to Orlando,” Michele said. We all laughed.

I got serious. “That’s why I was thinking Atlanta,” I said.

Michele bristled.

“It’s always been our failsafe spot, right? Our disaster recovery plan? Head to Atlanta, get into a hotel, and if we are separated, send our messages to my family in Ohio until we can get reunited.”

“What if the hurricane to comes to Atlanta?” Tyree asked, only half kidding.

“Then we get back in the car and visit my dad in Ohio.” I declared.

“Look,” I added, “we could probably ride the thing out right here. The house is built for that. It’s got all the latest hurricane codes and everything. But I think in this instance it makes sense for us to get away from here. The hurricane, it’s just one more thing we’re having to deal with. Granted, going on the road has its drawbacks, too. We’d have to deal with that. But I’d rather be in a hotel in Atlanta and deal with this demonic possession crap than deal with it and a hurricane too. I think it’s just the lesser of two evils.”

“The only problem is,” I went on, “by the time they announced that the storm is definitely coming here to Tampa, it will almost be too late. We’ll be stuck with three million other people all trying to leave the greater Tampa Bay area on the same interstate and hitting all the same gas stations and clogging up all the same roads, and none of us will get out. But there’s a solution to that: just think ahead a little. Just make a decision, early on, that we’re either going to stay and hunker down, or jump in the car and get the hell out of Dodge.”

I summed up. “My vote is leave now; that way we’re not worrying about a storm and we can just focus on… the other stuff.”

“Well,” Tyree said. “You two have a lot to talk about, and at least a little time to talk about it.” He rose to leave, and turned to Michele.

“What are your thoughts right now?”

“I don’t know,” Michele said.

Tyree looked at me.

“I think we take some kind of action,” I said. “They have found us every time they wanted to. There is no running from them. They will come when they’re ready, not when we’re ready for them. That could be tonight; right now. We aren’t prepared for that. I think, we have to attack them somehow; or at least put them on the defensive. We need to think about preparing for when they attack.”

I looked at Tyree. “Are you better off here, like a small army trapped in a fort?”

“Or like ducklings in a clearing caught by a wolf?” Michele asked. “Out on the open road, vulnerable?”

“How will you know when you’re ready?” Tyree asked. It was almost a test question.

“I don’t, not yet. But I think just knowing that you need to be ready makes a big difference.” I said. “Just deciding that you are not going to sit around and take it anymore… I’m not going to continue to let them come after my daughter and not fight back. I don’t care how crazy it sounds or how it looks to anybody else! They weren’t in that winery. They didn’t see the look in his eyes… I think we need to confront the dark angel; I just don’t know how.”

Tyree nodded. “There are ways.”

“But for now,” he went on, “get some rest. Let’s talk again in the morning.”

I walked him to the door. The rains had gotten worse. Looking out from our covered front porch, it looked like a bomb had gone off. Branches were all over the yard, and the wind was whipping the rain into my face. It stung.

“I’d offer you an umbrella to get to your car, but it would get ripped to shreds in two seconds.” I said.

“Don’t worry about it,” Tyree replied. He put on his jacket – the orange and black one he had mentioned earlier. Before I could be embarrassed at my prior inconsiderate comments about it, he handed me a business card. “Let’s have you come by my office tomorrow at noon or so, okay? We still have some things to go over. The address is on the card.”

“Where are you staying tonight?” I asked. “Don’t you live in Melbourne?”

“I have a fold out couch in my office. I’ll be fine.”

I thought about asking him to stay with us for the night, but it would be better if I consulted my wife first, and I wasn’t completely sure of her take on him yet. Savvy seemed to like Tyree, though, and he seemed to like Savvy. That would make a big difference to Michele.

“I’m going to do some research tonight; if I find anything, I’ll call you in the morning.” Then he asked: “Is your wife gonna be alright?”

“I think so. This has all been a lot to digest.

“Well, let her take her time. Both of you, take your time,” he said. Then, looking up at the rain, he added, “Just don’t take too long.”

The he braced himself and ran to his car.

After Tyree left, I went into my office. It was late, but there were notes to write down and plans to think up. Michele had already realized how tired she was. The conversation had been exhausting, and it was later than anyone realized. She went into the kitchen, away from the office lights, to collect her thoughts.

“Mommy?”

Savvy’s voice was barely audible, as if trying not to intrude, not even with her words. Michele turned to look at our daughter. In her pajamas, she peeked out from behind the couch where she had been listening. Shutting the French doors by the fireplace hadn’t worked.

She looked so sweet and innocent… and vulnerable.

“Yes, sweetie?” Michele said, trying not to let the exhaustion expose the fears she was trying so hard to keep hidden.

“I heard you and Daddy and the man talking…” Savvy began in a whisper.

“Mr Tyree?” Michele asked, knowing the answer.

Savvy nodded. “Did I…” Her voice broke slightly. She barely got the words out before she started to cry. “Did I do something wrong?”

Michelle immediately pulled her close. “God, no, sweetie. No, you didn’t doing anything wrong.”

Savvy sobbed. “Mommy, why is all this happening? What’s wrong with me?”

“Nothing sweetie!” She kissed her forehead. “Nothing is wrong with you!” Tears streamed down the Savvy’s face. Her mother rocked her in her arms. “Nothing is wrong with you,” was all she could manage. Then Michele began to cry, too. She hugged her daughter tightly.

“What good are you as a mother if you can’t even protect your own daughter?” Michele wondered silently.

“Everything that’s happening, what Daddy and Mr Tyree discussed, it’s all just a big…” she searched for a good word. “It’s all just a problem that we need to work on. All of us, together,” Michele pulled Savvy away to look her in the eye. “We’re going to be okay, sweetie. It isn’t your fault. There’s nothing wrong with you. Don’t you think that.” She blinked back the tears.

“Don’t you ever think that,” she repeated. Then she pulled her daughter close again.

The two of them stayed there, rocking back and forth in a hug, exhausted.

“There’s nothing wrong with you.” Michele said. “Nothing.” She whispering the words over and over into her daughter’s ear, with a promise: “Everything’s going to be all right.”

Kneeling in the darkness of the kitchen, she hoped she could convince her daughter.

It was as much reassurance for her child as it was a desperate wish for herself.

 


ANALYSIS

JUGGLING ACT: In this chapter, we have several things going on at first. That can be fun or it can be a mess.

  • Doug is happy to see Tyree, but Mallory is not.
  • While they are talking about the motorcycle – something that might be important later – Mallory deliberately serves Tyree wine.
  • It is Doug’s recollection that Tyree does not drink. (I can’t remember if Doug told Mallory or not, without going back to check. So I’ll check….)

“Ugh.” She set her glass down, pressing the stem between her fingers and causing the glass to turn. “Don’t drink too much.”

“I’m not going to drink at all. I don’t think he drinks, either. It was just an easy spot for him to find, and . . .”

Yeah, I thought so.

Either way, with Mallory’s cold mannerisms, the reader might pick up on some subtle tension. Is she being rude? Doug and Mallory are a good team and they fight like all couples do, but she might be surreptitiously protecting her husband by testing their guest—the man they may be trusting their lives to.

So you have what they are saying contrasting somewhat with what they are feeling.

This is just a subtle way that the actions can go down. The beats between the dialogs.

But with the right reader (and the right looks and interjections between characters), certain readers will pick up on that.

I’ve had it happen where I got an email from a beta reader asking if a scene with a character in another story was a metaphor for the man’s marriage. It was. Very few people picked up on it. Most of them probably wondered why the scene was there – and you don’t want a lot of readers wondering that – but for the few who got it, it really made me feel like I hit a home run. You don’t try to write to everybody. You can figure out who your audience is, one person if you can, then you write to that person.

A TidBit:

Writers using exclamation points are allegedly like people who laugh at their own jokes. Having read the first draft with fresh eyes (after a long “rest”), I agree – and you’ll see I took a bunch out of this chapter.

Let the reader decide from other clues what is and isn’t being emphasized.

The only other thing to add here is another comment about contrast.

We start out the chapter with Sophie almost not in it, and when she makes her appearance she’s cute. She endears herself to Tyree and to the reader again.

So by the end, when she has heard what the adults were talking about and blames herself, everyone’s heart should ache for her.

Mallory has no way to console her except to say that everything’s gonna be all right. But in that same moment, Mallory gives in and says “We’re going to fix it and we’re going to Atlanta.”

The innocence of a child heightens the awful feeling we get when we see the child blaming herself for things that are obviously not her fault.

And of course Doug should feel terribly guilty (but I don’t know if I painted that and get enough).

Use that stuff in your writing. It’s part of the roller coaster ride readers want – if you can juggle it all.

I think you can.

Now:

head shot
your humble host

Let me have your comments. The next chapters will post tomorrow but they will ALL come down shortly after February 15, so don’t dawdle!

You are readers, too. Your input will shape the final product. Be honest.

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Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the amazingly great sci fi action thriller “The Navigators.” Click HERE to get your copy of The Navigators – $2.99 of FREE on Kindle Unlimited!

Available in paperback and audiobook, too!

 

 

7 thoughts on “The Juggling Act That Is GREAT Storytelling

  1. Loved that Mallory was a bit frosty in the beginning, I feel it would have not been in her nature to be so accepting of Tyree right away. The Goldfish crackers was an awesome way to connect Tyree to Sophie, builds a connection that for some reason, I feel will be important later. Sophie now being made aware of an issue seems to be necessary to move headlong into the fray. Yes, Doug was wearing the guilt suit just fine. The fires have been stoked.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think that Sophie and Tyree with the goldfish crackers have established a bond. Perhaps in the way a child knows, she has decided he is going to be around a lot. Mallory made me feel embarrassed but I get the way she was acting. It was as if now, all this had to be real. “Daddy said” in italics conveyed just how much Doug feels terrible that Sophie heard everything.

    Liked by 1 person

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