Is that the truth or what?
You’re exhausted, and then you see another obstacle…
The winners summon the strength and press on. The also rans say that’s it.
Is that the truth or what?
You’re exhausted, and then you see another obstacle…
The winners summon the strength and press on. The also rans say that’s it.
I was presenting at a writing seminar Saturday and this came up, so I’m reposting it so they can find it easily.
This post has become THE standard for creating a text conversation in your story. It was viewed over 22,000 times in 2017 and has been viewed almost 10,000 times already in 2018. It is the #1 Google result when someone types “how to show a text conversation in a story.”
YOU helped make all that happen!
your humble host
We know how to write a sentence: noun, verb… a period at the end.
We know how to show dialog when our characters speak.
Dan scratched his head. “We do?”
“Yep,” she said.
There’s NO uniform way.
Oh, The Chicago Manual Of Style (CMOS) has a suggestion in the Q&A – but it sucks.
And other authors are trying to nail it down, especially the YA writers. Or they write around it.
Look, anybody can do this:
“how r u,” he texted;
“ha ha Daddy I can’t believe you use ‘r u,’” she replied.”
AWFUL. You wouldn’t use so many tags in a conversation showing speech, or regular conversational dialog, but here it’s supposed to be okay?
I (accidentally) used…
View original post 1,526 more words
Heather Kindt grew up in Derry, New Hampshire, but now resides in the mountains of Colorado with her husband and two children. She loves writing YA fantasy and humorous fiction.
A terrific story she called “Ruby Slips and Poker Chips” won our July 2017 Word Weaver Writing Contest; she went on to publish the entire novel under the same name shortly thereafter.
HEATHER KINDT: I began Dreamers about seven years ago. In the file on my computer, I only had a page and a half done. When Dan announced that the contest could involve suspense, I brushed off the old file and finished the first chapter of something that I hope someday can become a book.
When I won my first Word Weaver contest in July, I answered this question and probably had a similar response. With Ruby Slips and Poker Chips and The Weaver Trilogy I didn’t really plan out the writing beforehand. I’m a teacher so don’t tell my students I just said that. Now that I’m writing a little bit each day, I’m trying to be more intentional in my writing. The Ender, which I’m writing right now, contains complicated plot points so I need to know where they are going. I still try to let my characters drive the story at times, but I have to be in control of where it is ultimately going.
In my office, in my bed, in the giant beanbag and sometimes standing up because it’s not good to sit a lot and I’m on a health kick.
I’m glad you asked. My current goals are to continue to promote Ruby Slips and Poker Chips, which is doing very well in its reviews on Amazon. I also want to finish The Ender by June or July so I can publish my YA trilogy.
Encouragement. I receive encouragement from my husband who has had my back since the beginning. Dan has been my newest cheerleader, but he also provides honest critique, which moves my writing forward. My fans also give me encouragement. Words in reviews that have meant a lot to me are “Amazing read. Light, witty with real life thrown in the mix. Worth more than five stars” and “Keep writing Heather Kindt and I will keep reading.” These words keep me typing every day. Thank you to those of you who have left reviews. They mean a lot to authors.
Success to me is having people read my books and gaining some sense of joy from them. I think it’s true for most authors that they write because it is something within them that they want to share with the world. This is true with most artists. I feel alive when I’m writing and if I could make it a career, that would feel like a success to me.
Both Dreamers and Ruby Slips are written in the first person. I love the reader being able to go along on the journey with the main character. It’s my favorite way to write because I become that character as the writer even if they’re nothing like me. My first draft of The Weaver was written in the first person. I decided to rewrite it in the third person because I wanted the reader to see in the heads of other characters. In the first book, you hear from Laney and Jason. The Watcher and The Ender are told from Laney’s, Jonas’s, and William’s perspectives. I decided to do that because the first book starts off in reality and it takes awhile for Laney and the reader to discover she’s living in a fantasy world.
I’m going through my midlife crisis, but I think it’s a good thing. Most people go out and buy a Porsche or get a Botox injection. I’m obsessed with setting goals. I’ve totally changed what I put in my body and I’m working out. I’ve also set goals for my writing. Keeping to my goals is tough when most days I’m away from my house from 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. with my job as a teacher and I have two almost teenagers at home. But I’m determined and I know that’s more than half the battle. And yes, this keeps my house a disaster at times.
I want to write stories that people get lost in and fall in love with the characters. I HATE scary stories, except Stranger Things, but I love fantasy and romance. I love to write what I love to read.
And of course, my interview with her after she won the July Word Weaver Writing Contest.
This story is equally good if not better. I think it’s the best thing I’ve read from Heather, and I hope it finds its way to becoming another one of her terrific full length novels.
The other judges didn’t know she wrote it, though, since I take the names off the stories once they become finalists, so you can rest assured that the following story is a good one.
Hugging my knees to my chest, I struggled to push the agony aside, betrayed by the sweat-drenched sheets wrapped around me like a chrysalis of iron. The hollow sound drummed through my head . . . solitude . . . isolation . . . panic. The sounds wanting to escape from deep within had to be suppressed out of fear of lengthy explanations to the higher-ups. The neon red lights of the clock alerted me to the fact that I only had a precious few hours of sleep before I had to face the dreaded day looming before me.
But the sleep that lay behind my drooping eyelids filled me with more dread than my first day at a new high school, so I rolled over to turn on the light and read a book. Flipping to my bookmark, I tried to focus on the fictional world before me, but my dream refused to give up its hold on my thoughts.
I tossed the book to the side and stormed into the bathroom. My hair was in a state of disarray from the tossing and turning. My eyes pointed to my sleeping deficiency—hollow, bloodshot, rimmed in an unflattering shade of gray. Sure, they still held on to their turquoise. My father told me once that they reminded him of the ocean at the family’s get away in the Caribbean. Now the water of my eyes seemed to be shark infested. Nothing that eye drops and a little dab of cover-up couldn’t fix.
I had a dire need to stay awake, even though my eyes threatened to close half a dozen times reading my book. There was no way I was going back to the place I had just been, and had been every night for the past month. It haunted me. Every time I dreamed, I found myself in a tiny room, gagged and bound. The room reeked of sewer. The odors vivid even in my conscious state. But the persistence of this dream scared me more than anything. I didn’t dream in black and white, I didn’t dream about random images, and my dreams didn’t connect the loose ends in my life. From as early as I could remember, I dreamed about the future.
The alarm woke me at six, but my sleep had been dreamless. I took a shower and then opened my closet and sighed. Hanging, neatly pressed, on a wooden hanger was my school uniform—the green and navy plaid skirt, the navy sweater vest and my white polo picked out by my mother from some high-end catalogue. Wearing the hideous uniform at high school in DC would have me shot. My parents insisted that I attend Woodland Academy, a private school that the country’s elite sent their stuck up children. Back in Washington, I went to public school, because my parents trusted the teachers with my education. Here, in Colorado, the school of my parents’ dreams was right down the road. How convenient.
From my top desk drawer, I removed a tattered spiral notebook and opened it to the page marked with a paperclip. I wrote down the date—August 20th. Doomsday. To the list I added click. Tiny room—bound—gagged—sewer stench—click. Possibly a door handle opening? If this were my future, I collected every clue I could recollect to the page.
“Lucy. Breakfast’s ready, hun.” My dad poked his head in the doorway. New fancy suit. New job. He’d started a month ago at some high-powered, top-secret military position in Colorado Springs.
“I’m coming,” I grumbled, trying to secretly let him know with my eyes that I’d rather walk across hot coals on top of a nuclear warhead than step one foot into Woodland Academy. To start a new school as a junior with the country’s so-called elite was suicide.
Mom cooked up a full breakfast in our fancy new kitchen listening to some self-improvement podcast on her phone. Through the sliding glass doors off the breakfast nook, Pikes Peak stood in all its grandeur. The landscape was definitely an improvement on the beltway, but I’d take my friends over the mountains any day.
“You could learn how to ski.” My father was forever trying to convince me why this move would make my life better. The moves always made my dreams worse—move vivid. Whatever was coming was getting closer.
“I’ll probably fall and break my leg.” I rolled my eyes. “In Washington, you wanted me to bike to school. We all know how that turned out.” The first time on the bike path, I hit a rock and flipped over my handlebars, ending up in the ER.
“I know this move is going to change our lives, Luce. To be able to live so close to nature after living in the city will do something for our souls.” My father was a tree hugger at heart, despite his outward appearance. He grew up in a wealthy home and had to live up to his parents’ expectations. Christmas at Grammy and Pa’s house were what one would call interesting, and not in a good way.
“Whatever.” I threw my favorite pillow into the cardboard box that would be picked up by the movers later that day. I loved my room looking out over the Potomac River. Now I was going to be buried in snow nine to ten months a year. Maybe a sled dog would be more appropriate than a bike.
I scooped scrambled eggs and added a couple of pieces of bacon to my plate. Sitting down in my Colorado kitchen, I felt alone in a vast wilderness. My mom would drop me off at the Academy each day on her way to her new job at a local boutique. It was the kind of place that sold high-end clothing to the tourists and local snobbery.
The ride in the car to school took all of three minutes, which I could have walked, but my mom said it would look better if we showed up in our BMW. I let out a breath, tired of the show that accompanied my dad’s status.
The large wrought iron gates that read Woodland Academy opened for our car after the man in the security gate found my name on the list of new students. My mother found a parking space near the building that read office.
“Good morning. May I help you?” The woman behind the counter wore a pantsuit in the same shade of blue as my uniform. Her nose literally stuck up so far I could count her nose hairs. I wondered if my mom would kill me if I offered the poor woman some tweezers.
“Yes.” My mom stepped up to the counter. “This is Lucy Thorne. She’s registered to start school here today.”
The nose hair woman removed a folder from a small stack she had on the counter, my name typed on the label. “I have a few things for you to sign, Mrs. Thorne, and then I will escort Lucy to her first class.”
We walked in silence across the campus to a brick building named after some wealthy benefactor. “This is where your Language Arts class will be.”
The classroom was on the second floor and when we reached it, the woman motioned the teacher to the door. “This is Lucy Thorne. She’ll be joining your class. Could you please send out Miss Johnson?”
“Hi, Lucy. I’m Mr. Hastings. It’s nice to meet you.” He shook my hand. Mr. Hastings appeared to be in his early thirties. I noted his receding hairline. We remained in the hallway while Mr. Hastings went to fetch Miss Johnson.
“Bree, this is Lucy. Do you mind being her tour guide for the day?” The woman plastered on a fake smile.
“Of course.” The girl turned to me. “I’m Bree.” She was tall with long blonde hair. Typical rich girl pedigree.
“I’m Lucy Thorne.” I felt self-conscious even though I knew my mom made sure before she left that my appearance was picture perfect. In Washington, I’d be dressed in ripped jeans and a t-shirt, ear buds around my neck. At the Academy, I already sensed that I couldn’t have one strand of hair out of place.
“There’s an empty seat next to me.” Bree smiled. Was it fake? “We’re discussing Of Mice and Men.”
The woman from the office opened the door and every eye in the classroom was on me. Not normally being self-conscious, I had butterflies fill my stomach. I didn’t notice individual faces, but the class as a whole. It was like a giant, well-dressed wave ready to swallow me up.
“Students, this is Lucy Thorne. Her family moved here from Washington and she will be joining our class.”
In my peripheral vision, a couple of guys whispered something. One of them elbowed the other and laughed. Heat burned my cheeks. I followed Bree to my chair by the window.
I hadn’t read the book, so I took notes and then absentmindedly doodled death threats to preppy boys in the crisp composition book.
As time passed, I realized that my doodles began to represent my repeated dream. The word click was scrawled all over the paper along with words associated with it. But if I created a Wordle, the two largest words would be CLICK and DOOR. Who was coming through the door in my dream?
“Lucy?” Mr. Hastings raised his eyebrows, probably expecting an answer to some question that I had no clue how to answer.
I threw my hands over my drawings and directed my attention to my teacher. “Could you repeat the question?”
A few muffled giggles sounded throughout the classroom.
Mr. Hastings frowned at the class, and then smiled at me. “I asked you what book you were studying in Washington.”
“Oh.” I kept my eyes on my hands that were covering my notebook. “Animal Farm.”
He set his chalk down on the desk in front of him and ran his hand through what hair he had left. “I’d like to see you after class, Miss Thorne.”
The class shuffled out when Mr. Hastings released them. Using bells seemed below Woodland Academy.
“Here’s a copy of the book we’re discussing. Please have it read by Friday.” Mr. Spalding also handed me the syllabus and the rules of the classroom. Now I knew what I’d be doing every night for the rest of the week.
“What’s your story?” Bree asked on our way to lunch.
“You know. Dad’s got a high paying government job. We move around a lot.” I readjusted the leather strap of my bag on my shoulder. “They made me go here because we live down the street.”
“Do you live in Woodland Hills?” Bree stopped, wide-eyed. “That’s where I live.”
“Yeah. Do you want to walk home together once I get my mom over the feeling she needs to drive me?”
“She’ll get over it. They all do. And it’s not that bad here.” Bree waved at a couple of students passing by. “You’re going to get the cold shoulder from a some people. Especially Sam.”
“Who’s Sam and why will he give me a cold shoulder?” I wasn’t sure what I’d done to piss off someone already.
“Sam’s a girl. You know, Samantha.” Bree leaned in close as we walked up the stairs of a large historical looking building. “You’re dad being here made her boyfriend have to move.”
“What? How did that happen?” Great. A revengeful mean girl had it out for me and it wasn’t even lunch yet.
“Sam and Levi dated since freshman year. His mom held the job at the base that your dad just started. It was all a big conspiracy and things were supposed to remain confidential, but you know how rumors fly in a place like this.” Bree stepped into an alcove leading into one of the classrooms.
“Why did she lose her job?”
“She was getting all hot and heavy with one of her superiors. Instead of getting rid of her boss, they got rid of her. Levi had to move to El Paso.” Bree wrinkled up her nose in disgust.
“Ewww.” Early in her father’s career, they’d lived in the Texas military town. It was warm, but their front yard consisted of dirt and scorpions. “So now she has it out for me? It was his mother’s fault, not my dad’s fault.”
“She wants to blame someone else.” Bree shrugged her shoulders. “Right now, you’re majorly on her radar.”
This was all I needed. First day of school and I was on someone’s hit list. Wasn’t it bad enough that I had to wear knee-high socks?
The cafeteria was surprisingly small and intimate with round tables scattered throughout the room. It also included docking stations for phones and laptops, a small lounging area, and a coffee shop. Bree claimed two seats at one of the tables near the center of the room.
I felt eyes on me, so I didn’t glance up on my way to the buffet. I call it a buffet because it was nothing like the food service at my high school in Washington—no lunch ladies, no hairnets, no liquid slop trying to be passed off as meatloaf. Most of the people replacing food on the line reminded me of waiters at the fancy restaurants we went to when my dad had a family business meeting.
The food was divided into sections—gluten free, vegetarian, dairy-free, and so on. “So where’s the normal human being section?”
“You’re not a vegetarian? I thought the schools in Washington were a little more evolved.” Bree used the tongs to scoop salad onto her plate.
“No, I like all kinds of foods.” I took the tongs and placed two leaves from the salad bowl onto my own plate to show her I could be progressive. “I’d just like to have a cheeseburger.”
Moving forward in the line, I left Bree and began my quest to find decent food.
A short girl with long dark hair and crystal blue eyes glared at me, leaning toward the girl next to her but speaking loud enough for everyone to hear. “Not only is her dad a job stealer, she’s also a line cutter.”
“Excuse me?” I held my tray in front of me, wondering if I should accidently dump it on her shirt. “Do I know you?” She was no match for me. I made it through public school.
“Sam.” The girl inclined her chin in my direction. “And I don’t care to know you.” She clicked her heels and about-faced. The other girl attempted to keep up with her as she crossed the room.
The rest of the day went by without any other uncomfortable confrontations with the infamous Sam. Syllabus after syllabus was crammed into my binder, to be poured over that evening or at least glanced at. I ignored the continuing whispers and stares, which I now believed all stemmed from the pint-sized troublemaker I’d encountered in the lunchroom. If I was going to survive this school year, things were going to have to change.
That night, I lay in bed flipping through page after page of boring syllabus. I picked up Of Mice and Men, thinking it would lead me into peaceful, dreamless sleep. Yeah, right.
I choked on the rag in my mouth. The rope around my wrists cut deep as I twisted my hands back and forth, trying to break free. There was no way to block the ungodly smell that permeated every pore in my body. But then it came . . . the click.
Tonight was the night I’d find out. I twisted my body against the ropes that held me to the chair, trying to see what was behind me, but it was no use.
Footsteps echoed through the room landing on the concrete near the door. They were coming closer. My captor? My heart was about to burst out of my chest. Squeezing my eyes shut, I feared the worst.
But then he spoke. “Lucy?”
He knew my name. I lifted my eyes to a dark-haired guy around my age. It was longer, and untamed. He wore clothes that would never be caught dead on the school campus—ripped jeans, a Grateful Dead t-shirt, and a flannel. Not the dirty old man I expected.
He raised his hand to my face and I flinched. He drew his hand back away and used it to draw a switchblade from his back pocket. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
I’d heard that one before, at least on TV shows. I screamed, as well as anyone can scream through a gag in their mouth. I wanted to wake up—to be back in the world with mom and dad, Bree, Mr. Hastings, and even Sam. If this was my future, I didn’t want any part of it.
“Shut up, or they’ll know I’m here.” The guy started cutting through one of the ropes that bound me to the chair.
Maybe he was telling the truth. My heart raced with hope this time.
The ropes lay on the floor in a heap of gained trust. I didn’t move, but widened my eyes. He lifted his hand to my face again and untied the rag in my mouth. I gasped for air.
“How did you know I was here?” I wasn’t even sure why I was there yet. My dreams didn’t tell me what led me to this point.
He crouched down and his deep brown eyes peered into mine. This time he let out the breath. “I’ve been dreaming about you for a long time.”
DAN ALATORRE: For me, I love the snark! A main character that is three dimensional, flawed but aware of the flaws; pained, yet able to crack a joke – that goes back to what readers loved about detective Philip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep – and again when Humphrey Bogart played Marlowe on the big screen. Classics are classics for a reason. They are worthy of emulation.
I liked the setup and the fitting-in awkwardness of the main character, but also the defiance. I wanted to read more – always a good sign.
JOHN WINSTON: Authentic Dialogue: Spot on, flowed well = 10. I got into the characters and story. Character development: Great job of developing the characters, especially Lucy through their dialogue, thoughts and actions = 9. Setting and description: This was the best part, great descriptions and settings mixed in with dialogue and action and it flowed well = 10
See you tomorrow!
Over a week ago, I’d received a call from Eugene Bryan requesting that my archaeological team join him immediately in America at some field site in rural Tennessee. Curiosity got the better of me. Eugene’s request to pull my team out of Spain and rush them to some pasture in the States, well…it caught my attention. And being that he was a friend who had once pursued ancient ruins with my parents when they were younger, I now felt an obligation to honor his summons.
I arrived in the middle of the field and discovered Eugene pushing around what looked to be a fancy version of an old-fashioned mower with a computer attached. He clearly wasn’t cutting the grass. It was an expensive ground penetrating radar system, and it could create a map of what rested beneath the surface.
“Dr. Whitcomb!” He offered one wave of his hand but did not pause in his slow walk across the field in his garish-patterned sweater and 1970s era corduroy pants.
I walked through the grass towards him. The countryside should have been bustling with life, but it felt lonely, like that of a crypt. I brushed away the thought and tried not to laugh at the ludicrous appearance of my sponsor. He was an eccentric rich man though I’d never heard my parents mention how he’d achieved his wealth.
“Mr. Bryan, thank you for having me.” I didn’t bother offering my hand as I fell into stride with the man. He didn’t shake hands.
“Call me Eugene, Ally. There is no need to stand on formality. We are family.”
We weren’t family. This man, who didn’t shake hands, had always seemed weird to me. Knowing that things could quickly fall into uncomfortable silence around him, I continued, “What have you discovered that prompted you to invite me all the way here?”
“Take a look.” He gestured towards the screen of moving images that sat atop the contraption he continued to push, covering every bit of ground. “There is something there, a large something, and I’m hoping this machine,” he patted the handlebar, “and your expertise will tell me what lies beneath the dirt.”
I frowned at the screen and could make out what appeared to be a long continuous straight line and then something solid. He had made enough passes back and forth across the area that I could see that something square or rectangular-shaped sat waiting several feet below the dirt and grass. However, with every pass he made, the structure grew bigger. “I think you have some sort of building, Eugene.”
“Precisely, but of what sort?”
I scanned the open pasture. There had been no digging here. The ground remained undisturbed. “How did you find this?”
“I had a hunch.” He explained no further as he finished scanning the area. “Well, would you look at that? It’s a large rectangle.”
“Who owns this property? We will need permission and permits before we go any farther.” I’ve been told many times that I am all work and no party. That may be true, but my current grumpiness derived from a feeling of being misled. Over the phone, Eugene had implied that I was coming to an active site, but no earth had been upturned here.
“I’ve taken care of all that.” He waved my questions away as he walked me towards a sturdy canvas tent.
I sighed, inwardly knowing that I would have to go into town the next day to make sure he’d done just that. My reputation depended upon my forthrightness and my respect for the land.
“This will be headquarters for us, and you and your crew can set up your tents in that area right there.” He pointed to the empty clearing beside a large open-sided tent.
I nodded and checked my watch. My crew consisted of Joe, who explained every mystery away as proof of alien existence, and Kaylee, a young woman who always complained about dirt but had made digging in dirt her profession. They would arrive soon with our tents and the most rudimentary of exploratory tools.
While I waited, I veered away from Eugene to do a proper walk of the site and surrounding area. This place felt off, or maybe it was the job itself, and I could not put my finger on the problem. The land was beautiful. The wide open field was surrounded by walnut and cedar trees. Wild blackberry bushes mingled with wild roses and honeysuckle vines, creating what I imagined would soon be a fragrant natural border. I found no clues as to what could be lurking beneath the ground here, and so, when my crew pulled into the muddy makeshift entrance, I abandoned my fruitless search and headed towards them.
“Eugene, these are my assistants, Joe and Kaylee.” I introduced everyone as they were swiftly unloading the gear in an attempt to beat sunset.
They were well trained. Neither of them needed direction from me on how to set up camp.
“Good, good. Everyone is here. In the morning, we will break ground.” Eugene rubbed his hands together with excitement.
“We need more information before we begin. What is the history of this property?”
We were far enough away from town that I doubted we’d run into gas or water lines, and I hadn’t seen any electric lines, but it didn’t hurt to have facts. Not to mention that the large rectangular shape could simply be the foundation of a house or where someone built a basement but never built a house. Eugene was loaded with money, but I saw no reason to spend it until we knew what we were dealing with.
With a jolly smile, he insisted. “We have all the information we need. This property has been owned by the same family for two hundred years. Before that, no one is known to have lived on it except maybe the Cherokee.”
“So, we could be dealing with a house foundation.”
“Absolutely not. I’ve done all the research. There has never been a house here.” His insistence caught my attention. I suspected that Eugene was withholding information.
Joe, having overheard the conversation, looked at me in earnest when he approached and said, “This could be it. The proof I’ve been looking for.”
“Proof, my boy?” Eugene’s eyebrows rose.
“Aliens,” I sighed. He thinks that every unexplained occurrence relates back to aliens.
“It’s going to rain,” Kaylee snarled as she, too, approached where we all stood in the main tent, looking out over the field. “I suppose tomorrow will be a muddy work day.”
Normally, I would laugh at both Joe and Kaylee, but I didn’t have the heart. I felt a little paranoid.
We had supper around a fold-out card table and listened to Eugene tell stories of his adventures around the world. Several times we attempted to bring the conversation back around to the excavation at hand, but he had a way of diverting our questions off to some other topic. After several fruitless attempts, we all readied for bed.
Later that evening, while sleeping fitfully in our tents, a terrible cry wrenched into the night, jerking me from my sleeping bag. Grabbing a flashlight, I quickly unzipped my tent as a bone-chilling wail permeated the silence. Disheveled, my crew joined me.
“What the bloody hell is that? Is that a woman screaming?” Kaylee asked. Her teeth chattered as she shivered at the chill in the air.
Joe opened his mouth to reply, but I held my hand up to him and spoke instead. “I am not sure. It isn’t aliens, Joe.”
“It sounds like a woman. We should…” the screeching ended abruptly, and Kaylee’s words fell short.
We stood there, trying to decide what we had just heard when a cracking of limbs sounded off to our left. Kaylee inhaled so sharply it made an audible sound.
“Hello,” I peered out into the darkness, shining my flashlight in the direction we’d heard the rustling.
“Don’t shoot!” Eugene joked as he walked into the beam of my light with his hands held up high.
“Did you hear that?”
“It sounded like a woman screaming, like a woman being murdered.” Kaylee muttered.
Eugene shook his head and laughed. “I didn’t hear a thing.”
I did not believe him. The sound had been so loud that I could still hear the haunting screams ringing in my ears. The echo of it could have been heard quite far away.
“You really didn’t hear it?” Joe looked Eugene straight in the eyes.
“No, my boy. I heard nothing but night crickets.”
Joe’s eyes grew wide. “Then it must have been…”
“Joe!” Kaylee and I both exclaimed.
I wasn’t in the mood for theories. Instead, I debated on going to investigate the sound.
Eugene must have seen it in my face. “I wouldn’t worry about it, dear. The sound you heard was probably coyotes. We have them here, you know.”
Coyotes were a perfectly plausible explanation, but I didn’t believe it. “Maybe, but I’d rather have a look around to be sure. I’d hate to think that anyone was in distress, and I did nothing.”
“No, no,” Eugene emphatically insisted. “It’s much too dangerous at night. If you must search, do so in the morning.”
I shook my head. His warnings made sense, especially if it was coyotes out there in the dark, but I hadn’t heard a pack of animals. I’d heard a woman screaming, and I didn’t believe that he hadn’t heard the sound. I couldn’t rest until I was sure.
Joe and Kaylee must have been in the same mindset as me, as they were already tugging on boots and grabbing head lamps and lanterns. If it was animals, maybe all the lights would deter them from thinking we looked tasty.
Within moments, we were ready to set out on our trek through the dank darkness. A slow drizzle began to fall. Eugene remained unusually quiet as he followed behind us. This, too, felt strange to me. He knew this property better than we did, yet he did not lead the way.
Our way through was hindered by wet slosh, grass and mud. The rain made visibility poor. I’d stopped along the way to pull my honey-colored hair back into a messy bun. I didn’t think sleep was in the near future for any of us, so I fastened it out of my face and out of my mind in order to get down to business.
“We should really go back,” Eugene urged as we ignored him and trudged on in the muck.
We were nearing the edge of where I knew the rectangular shape rested beneath our feet and would soon be to the hedge of blackberries. I began weighing the dangers of proceeding into the woods and was startled by a manlier scream.
“Ladies, don’t look,” Eugene commanded. “Don’t take one step closer.”
I realized he’d been the one to scream, and rather than listen to him, I focused the beam of my flashlight down onto the ground in front of where he stood. There, just at Eugene’s feet, was a woman, bruised and battered, and most definitely not breathing.
I dropped my flashlight as I lowered to the woman to listen for her breath, preparing to administer CPR. At the periphery of my conscious, I heard Joe placing a call to 911. Kaylee had come around to the body, ready to help me keep up the rhythmic compressions should I tire out. In the background, Eugene mumbled to himself. His words were unintelligible.
It seemed like it took hours for the first responders to arrive. We were in the middle of nowhere Tennessee, so maybe it did take longer than usual, but it didn’t matter. Even with Kaylee’s help, we’d been unsuccessful in reviving the woman, and she was declared dead before her poor body was placed into the ambulance.
I was still sitting back on my knees on the wet ground when an officer approached me.
“I’m Chief Hawkins.”
“Dr. Ally Whitcomb.” I answered as I stood up and made a useless attempt to brush off my sopping pants. I cast a glance over to see that my crew and Eugene were being interviewed by detectives.
“You’ve had quite a night,” the police chief observed. He was a quiet sort of man, the kind whose presence instantly calmed a situation.
“You could say that. It’s not exactly what I expected to find on a pastoral dig.”
“Yes, I heard that old Eugene asked y’all to come down and plow his old place up. I’m not sure what he is hoping to find. Would you mind telling me what happened tonight?”
“Not at all,” I complied. I began the story with the loud screaming, and I paused after I got to the bit about the coyotes. Chief Hawkins just nodded as if coyotes could have indeed made those kinds of screams. So, I continued telling every minute detail I could recall until a thought occurred to me. “Wait! Did you say this property belongs to Eugene?”
“Yes, it’s been in his family for a very long time.”
“Why would he ask me to come excavate his own property? Wouldn’t he know what is here?” I asked no one in particular. Chief Hawkins nodded as if he’d wondered the same thing all along, but he made no comment on the matter.
“When are you supposed to break ground?” Chief Hawkins asked.
He nodded again and then took his leave from me without giving me any reassurance on how or why the woman had been murdered.
As dawn approached, we’d all been told to stay close to town, so as much as I wanted to grab my crew and head back to Spain, it wasn’t possible. Until we were given clearance by the police, we could not go anywhere.
“I suppose we should all get some rest.” Now that the body had been removed and the sun rose in the sky, Eugene had stepped back in as the authoritative figure at the site.
“I don’t think I will be sleeping for a long time,” I admitted. “Might as well get to work.” I wanted to ask him about his property, but hesitated. Previous attempts to gain that information had been thwarted.
“Come now,” Eugene said with an unusually bright smile. “Don’t you come across dead bodies all of the time in your line of work?”
Suspicion rose within me at his blasé response. After his initial scream upon finding the body, Eugene hadn’t seemed bothered in the slightest that someone had been killed on his property.
“Sure, but they aren’t usually murdered within earshot,” Kaylee snapped. She was covered in mud. The rain had dissipated, but everything was a begrimed mess. Her mood would not improve until she got somewhere warm and dry.
Eugene scoffed at Kaylee and chuckled. Grabbing the keys, he winked at me and tossed them to Joe. “Start her up. We marked the edges yesterday, so you won’t hit the structure. Let’s see what we are working with.”
His excitement worried me more than anything we’d encountered so far, including the dead woman. Eugene already knew what was under the ground. I could see it all over his face. We were a part of a game, his game. I just didn’t know what that was yet.
Soon, smooth concrete came into view, and not long after that, Joe was able to hop down off of the bulldozer and use a smaller version of the ground penetrating radar to confirm that it was a hollow structure, like that of a building.
This should have thrilled me. Even my crew had that tell-tale gleam in their eyes that only occurred right at the brink of discovery, and Eugene had grown quiet, rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet rather than speaking.
“There must be an entrance,” Kaylee spoke as she looked to me.
“No, Joe… no.” I half-hoped that someday we did stumble upon proof of alien life forms, if only just to fulfill Joe’s dreams.
I turned to Eugene to implore, “Thoughts?”
“I’m not sure what you mean. I agree that there must be an entrance, but I’ve no idea where that could be.”
I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from telling him to cut the crap. And then I realized what he’d just said. Where that could be…but not what side the entrance was located? Full on panic struck me. Eugene knew where the entrance was located. He knew what waited beneath the ground. I needed answers, now.
By all accounts we were digging up a large rectangular building. It stood to reason that the entrance would be on one of the four sides. I recalled how undisturbed everything had been and looked to Eugene once more. “The entrance isn’t on the building. It is somewhere else. Where is it Eugene? You went through all of the trouble of having us fly to America. Why did you have us come all the way here?”
I expected him to brush my questions off as had been his way since we’d arrived, but he only met my gaze with that infernal smile he always had plastered on his face.
“My, aren’t we impatient! I thought you, Ally, would be the one to understand, the one to take the time to uncover the beauty the way it should be, to discover it as it was meant to be discovered.”
The hairs on my arms and the back of my neck rose high.
“Very well, follow me, children, and all shall be revealed.”
I should have refused.
Eugene bid us to follow him into the woods past the inviting tree line and thorny wild rose bushes. Longing for clarification, I motioned for my team to follow me, and, feeling cautionary, I simultaneously reached into my pocket and pressed the emergency button that would dial the Chief of Police on my cell phone. I’d saved the number as an icon on my screen. Being careful, I did not pull my phone out of my pocket as we followed dutifully behind him, and I prayed to all of the gods I’d unearthed in previous shrines that there was enough signal that Chief Hawkins could hear us walking, that he would somehow sense that I wouldn’t call him by accident. I had a bad feeling. Since my arrival, Eugene’s behavior had been strange, and now, I had this inkling that we could possibly be in some danger.
“Where are you taking us, Eugene?”
“You’ll see, soon.”
I cursed inwardly. I’d hoped he’d reveal something for the Chief to go on, but he’d not. “You are taking us pretty far into the woods.”
I said this loudly, hoping it would help the Chief. I didn’t dare say more.
“Mr. Bryan, erm Eugene,” Joe began. “It’s an awful mess today. Perhaps we should go back to camp and get some rest and start again tomorrow.”
Joe’s voice shook a little, which further validated my worries. Until now, it had been only me who had been suspicious, but now I could tell by their demeanor that both of my crew were also concerned.
“Why would we do that? We’re here.” Eugene announced with a chuckle.
The entrance consisted of two leaning old rusted storm cellar doors surrounded by leaves, twigs and bracken curling and spiraling across them, like a crypt long forgotten. Eugene easily opened the dilapidated entry, creating even more anxiety to course through me. This entrance to the supposed “unknown” structure had been used recently and often.
Without a word we followed Eugene down into the darkness as the cellar doors closed behind us. We were forced to creep in the silent oppression, listening only to the sounds of our racing hearts and ragged breaths while smelling what surely was the awful, unmistakable scent of death. Along the way, I had begun to beat myself up for not having the foresight to put a stop to this charade earlier. We should never have followed him down to this pit. I’d had a bad feeling from the beginning, and now, we were underground in the middle of nowhere, walking into what I imagined would be a horrific death. I opened my mouth to shut this mission down. For the first time ever, I did not care what waiting in the unknown. I did not even care if my suspicions were unfounded. “It’s time we…”
“We’re here.” Eugene’s excitement filled the cold space. “This isn’t the way I’d hope you’d discover my treasure trove, but, Ally, I’m so glad it is you. I’d always hoped your parents could come here. But alas, they were the ones who got away. Not you, Ally. I knew I could depend on you.”
Darkness thickened around us, and I fought an urge to tell my crew that I was sorry, though I didn’t know for what, when Eugene struck a match and lit a couple of old oil lanterns, casting an eerie, dull light around a large chamber illuminating an unimaginable sight.
“What the hell?” Joe wrinkled his face in disgust. “Ugh, the scent of death.”
“Eugene? What is this?” I looked around at what must be thirty, maybe forty concrete cavities, exactly like a crypt, filled with bodies crammed into each one. There were no coffins, nothing to preserve or decompose the bodies, just dead people shoved carelessly into cold caverns. I’d entered many such places in my line of work, but nothing compared to this horror. These weren’t bodies from the past. In various examples of modern clothing such as blue jeans and t-shirts, these dead were relatively fresh in my way of thinking. All had died within the last thirty or so years.
“Bodies are everywhere,” Kaylee whispered. I could hear frightened sobs building in her chest.
“My masterpiece,” Eugene’s laughter caused my heart to skip a beat. “I wanted to leave this so that, someday, when an archaeologist such as you broke ground here, I would be remembered, immortalized.”
His voice was steady.
As he revealed his thoughts to me, I froze in disbelief. Standing before me was not the man that I’d considered a family friend. “You want to be remembered in the annals of time as a serial killer? Where is the glory in that?”
Suddenly, my disgust with him banished my fear of imminent death, at least temporarily. This ghastly crime scene made a mockery of my life’s work.
“Killer?” He seemed honestly stunned. “No, look around. These are all different, but perfect, specimens of the 21st century. Once they decompose, scientists and other archaeologists will have examples of every age and culture currently in our world to study.”
Bile rose in my throat. I didn’t want me or my team to become part of this macabre exhibit. “I see.” I said, but I didn’t. “They aren’t ready yet. Why did you have me come now?”
“You are a top-notch archeologist, famous in your field. You, my dear Ally, complete the collection.”
The fear returned instantly. My heart thumped so loud my ears pulsed. I looked around for an escape and noticed Joe and Kaylee. “Let them go. They have nothing to do with your masterpiece,” I begged.
“So that they can go and tell the authorities? Now, Ally, dear, why would I do that? Wouldn’t that ruin this experiment?” Eugene’s smile disgusted me.
He began walking towards me, his hands outstretched as if he planned on just grabbing my throat to choke the life out of me. Without moving, I glanced around. There were no weapons that I could see. For that matter, none of the dead bodies looked as if they’d been assaulted beforehand.
Keep him talking, I thought.
“What happened with that woman last night?”
For the first time since we’d arrived the night before, his grin faltered. “She was suspicious. They never suspect a gentle old man.”
Eugene froze, staring behind me. His hands still held in the position to reach out and choke me, when a shuffle from behind caught my attention.
“Drop your hands, Mr. Bryan, and step away from Dr. Whitcomb.” Chief Hawkins spoke calmly as other officers filed into the room, moving Joe and Kaylee back through the tunnel to escape.
A prayer of thanks ran through my mind. Chief Hawkins was a dull, quiet man, but Eugene’s strange behavior must have made him apprehensive as well. I hadn’t been sure he’d pay attention to my call.
“Dr. Whitcomb, step back, please. Go with one of my detectives.”
I didn’t hesitate to obey Chief Hawkins’ orders and quickly made my way out of that macabre cavern
“Ally!” Kaylee and Joe rushed over and embraced me.
We stood silent for a minute, absorbing the atrocious twenty-four hours we’d just had. Soon, Chief Hawkins came up from the opened cellar doors with Eugene handcuffed before him. Two of the detectives then took the disturbing man, who was no longer smiling, off in the direction of where I supposed their police squad vehicles were waiting on the outside edge of the woods.
Chief Hawkins walked over and handed us a business card, “Here, this local bed and breakfast will have rooms available. Hot showers, food, and rest wait for you. Come to the station tomorrow to give your statements.”
He turned to face us once more.
With a brief nod, Chief Hawkins motioned for us to follow him out of the woods back to where our belongings could be found.
We walked in silence for a few minutes, too stunned to make any real comment on what we’d just witnessed. The ground was still muddy, but this time, Kaylee made no complaint.
“Geesh!” Joe shuffled disappointedly.
We all stopped. Even Chief Hawkins paused.
“What, Joe?” I asked, knowing what his reply would be.
“Why couldn’t it have been aliens?”
DAN ALATORRE: For me, I loved the Indiana Jones element, a dusty scientist who finds herself in pretty deep, and by her own hand. I found the main character very likable, which is key. Victoria has a good storytelling voice, which is a big plus. I think the story moves along well, a fun story that anyone can enjoy!
ALLISON MARUSKA: The mystery of the underground building was compelling. The MC using her phone to get out of her predicament was smart.
JOHN WINSTON: Show not tell: Perfect blend of show and tell = 10. Beginning, middle, and end: This was a great short with well-defined and executed beginning, middle and end, that flowed seamlessly = 10. Rising Tension: Great gradual escalation from beginning to the end. (If I were the author, I’d try a darker ending with maybe the Chief not making it in time. Yikes!) = 9. Clear goal: The goal was clear early on; Ally knew something was wrong and that was reveal to all at the climactic end = 10. Setting and description: Good descriptions of setting, which I think were important to this piece. I could see everything clearly as it unfolded.
See you tomorrow!
Post your answer in the comments section below – and have fun this weekend!
Anne Clare lives with her husband in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, where she spends her time chasing her three children, reading, writing, teaching, serving as a church organist and choir director, and procrastinating on her housework. She blogs about writing, World War 2 history, and ‘momming’ at https://thenaptimeauthor.wordpress.com/ .
Anne Clare: A little of both! The bones of the story came from a chapter halfway through a novel I’ve been working on. However, I had to adjust quite a bit of it to make it work as a short story – giving more background details in some places, and eliminating the bits that weren’t necessary for this story arc. I enjoyed looking at this section in more detail, and I think that some of the changes will have to make their way into the longer piece.
I’ve completed one novel to date. The process was…interesting. The following steps sum it up.
That’s it! I AM hoping that the next book will skip the plumbing and insomnia. I’m trying to make fewer involuntary library donations, too.
I spend most of my time as a stay-at-home mom, and focused writing time is scarce. I found that journals and notebooks do pretty well for a first draft as they are easy to transport and hard to break—I’ve filled lots of pages out in the yard while I watch the kiddos play. Otherwise, I like to work late on my laptop with music that fits the mood of the piece I’m working on.
I love stories. I grew up in the middle of a cornfield (no, I’m not exaggerating) and lived off of books. I’d like to create excellent historical fiction for others to enjoy. It would be nice to have them published with a fabulous-looking cover, too!
I like to have music playing in the background. It doesn’t need to be instrumental, but it needs to fit the mood of the piece I’m writing, and I need to know it well enough that I can tune it out if I need to.
Since I’ve been focusing on historical fiction, research has helped drive my stories. I’ll read about a fascinating event or place, and start asking myself what might happen to someone who was there. If I get stuck, I research my time period further, and see what ideas present themselves.
Writing success is being able to read something I’ve written and enjoy it, and to know that it is the best work I could do. If I’m not satisfied with my work, in the end it won’t matter what others say. Of course, if it moves on to publication, to others enjoying it, and (dreaming big here!) to paying for itself, those are excellent bonuses!
Along with the endless edits on my first book, blogging, and poking at some short fiction, I’m slogging through the first draft of my second historical fiction novel. It’s set in WW2 Italy, and involves a POW escape. I have the story arc set, but I have TONS of research materials to find and sift through. Library time!
I’ve been following Dan’s blog for several months. I’ve been impressed with his informative, encouraging posts. When he announced that the theme for this contest was ‘mystery/suspense,’ I immediately thought of the story I submitted. The contest sounded like a great opportunity to have my work critiqued, and to connect with other writers.
I entered a MUCH earlier (and much uglier) draft of my first book into the 2016 Athanatos Christian Writing Contest. I was pleased to make the first judging cut, but I didn’t make the finals. Their thorough feedback showed me why, and gave me many ideas for improvement. I’ve submitted part of the current draft into another contest—I’ll find out the results in the fall.
If I can come up with an idea to fit the topic, I’d be happy to enter another Word Weaver Contest.
Dan’s critique was very helpful. His notes were thorough and covered both grammar and style. He was encouraging and noted the story’s strengths, and was kind with his suggestions.
“explores the world of writing, one stolen minute at a time,” as well as her exploits in getting published.