Today, sadly, we step out of order and bring you a real writer with actual talent. Dr. Paul Bennett has long been an embarrassment in our group, as he’s never been known to drag his knuckles or cadge a free beer at a Wisconsin supper club. Nope. He’s just a darned fine author with a sense of good and evil that escapes the rest of us.
***Author’s note: Today’s post is the beginning of our Halloween journey where the members of the Fondue Writer’s Club each take a turn with a new Halloween story every other weekday. I lost the draw and go first.
It is my fervent hope that Stephen King enjoys this post and does not sue me or curse me. Ha ha, just kidding around here, World Famous Author****
IT ALL STARTED WITH AN EMAIL
I was thoroughly enjoying the latest Stephen King book when a jarring sensation bit me: he’d incorrectly used a word. It dawned on me that he had also done so in another chapter, but I’d ignored it. By the time I finished the book, I found two more errors in usage.
I have an eidetic memory, and as I sat there in my seat on the airplane, I started riffing through other disturbing moments in reading his books. Largely they were technical matters that were improperly described, or acts of objects that were outside the realm of physics in the setting of the story.
After the plane landed, and I had eaten dinner at the hotel, I got my laptop out and pulled up his books on the Kindle application and fast-scanned them to find if I’d really recalled the errors correctly. I had.
Not only did I note them, but I wrote them down. At the end of the evening, just after midnight, I took a sleeping tablet and got ready for bed. I had a bottle of water, and hopped into bed. I hate hotel beds. I couldn’t fall asleep. So I got up, composed an email to Mr. King and sent it. (Writers never throw anything away, and someone had given me their sheet of email addresses for agents/publishers/authors some years ago. I didn’t know if his anonymized address still worked, but it was worth a try.)
As I finished the email, I started to get very sleepy. I scanned it, chuckled, and sent it before crawling under the sheets.
The next morning it had not bounced back. I reread it to see how witty I had been, for it was meant as a tongue-in-cheek jibe at a man who had done more in literature in his first year than I’d done in my first decade. It wasn’t witty. In fact, it was despicably mean spirited and bitter. Damned sleeping pill had lowered the inhibitions and the worst me had done this work. I hoped he’d never read the thing and went off to the series of meetings scheduled for the day.
Late that night, after a boozy business dinner with my boss and a client, I popped open my laptop to watch some movies and noted the email icon flashing in the corner. I clicked on it, figuring it was follow up from a vendor we’d met that afternoon.
Hello Mr. Know It All:
I got your email this morning, and must admit it caught my whim to answer it. But the further I got into it, the less inclined I was to smile. You’re right: you suck as an author. I read both your books today (how did you ever get away with selling them as novels versus very long short stories?) and wasn’t impressed. Perhaps instead of hectoring your betters, you should sign up for one of my writing seminars. It surely couldn’t hurt your pitiful efforts at being a writer.
Since you pointed out my “misuse” of several words, and some plot holes, I’ve below refuted each one that any nosy moron has brought up in my works. I send this to all the idiots that do what you did. You see, you aren’t really all that bright, or original, and I’ve seen all of these before.
[ED: He then went on to address every book he’s ever written, and a couple of movie versions as well. As to the plot holes, he replied “Authors, real authors, have powers of creation that surpass the holes. Only little people dwell on them as you have. We call it “mystery” and if you could write at something above an 8th grade level you might be able to deploy this tool.]
That’s the last thing I remember about that night. Because when I woke up the next morning the battery was dead on the laptop and my hangover was worse.
I called down for room service and waited for the cart. After gagging down the cranberry juice, I left the rest on the cart and decided a shower might help before trying to eat anything else.
Ten minutes later, feeling only marginally better, I got out of the shower and went back to eat my breakfast.
As I left the bathroom, I heard a whistling sound and looked toward the desk where the tray was sitting. As I tried to focus my bleary eyes, I heard thunking noises in the door to the hallway behind me, and felt a blow to my forehead.
The clatter of the spoon hitting the floor brought me out of my fog. As I looked behind me, the knife and fork were still quivering in the steel fire door required by codes. Each was imbedded in the door. My head rang like a bell, and I felt a gush of blood from my hairline. I returned to the bathroom and saw a wound in my scalp. Thank God it was the spoon and not the knife that hit me there: I would have been killed.
Looking again at the door, I realized the bar and the lock were both set: I had checked them before entering the shower, thus I must be alone. What kind of crazy magnetic force could have caused this?
The answer may have been playing on my previously dead laptop: on the screen was the movie CARRIE. It was playing a final scene starring Piper Laurie in her white night gown.
I’d just started cleaning up the head wound when the door to the hallway thundered as though Zeus was calling.
I figured it was the management coming to complain about all the racket. I was wrong: I glanced at the laptop and saw Jack Nicholson screaming “Here’s Johnny!” as the blows to the door increased.
A moment later I heard gunfire in the hall, and it was darned good timing. Whomever it was with the axe had cut through the fire door, dislodging the fork and the knife. The hole was only an inch wide, but that was bound to change.
The cops in the hallway interviewed me, got me a paramedic to treat the wound (they figured the broken door was the cause and I wasn’t going to argue) and after giving my statement I packed my crap and checked out.
The airport seemed a long way away, and the shuttle bus didn’t leave for another twenty-six minutes. I called for a ride service, saw it was one minute away and felt my heartbeat calm for the first time in an hour.
Unfortunately, I could have used the adrenaline, because the ride share car entered the driveway, revved its engine, and leapt toward me. I jumped to the right and it clipped my left hand as it rocketed through the assembled crowd of those checking out for the day. Crashing into the fountain behind me, I heard the shrieking of torn metal as it pulled loose from the bodies and concrete and saw the panels pop back into place and the headlights reassemble as it pulled free of the tangled bodies and marble fragments.
I’d seen that movie as well, so I ran back inside the lobby and watched the car ram its way through the concrete pylons and the lobby doors in its attempt to kill me.
The only thing that saved me was the gas tank pulling loose on the pylons and the car bursting into flames as I ran out the coffee shop entrance. The lobby was in flames, and my hand hurt like hades. But I was alive. I didn’t even notice the little girl standing next to the car with murder, and flames, in her eyes.
I was nuts by then and would do anything to escape that hotel. I ran into traffic and waved my bum hand over my head, clutching my bag with the good one. A woman stopped and asked if she could help. I asked her for a ride to the nearest ER to get my hand treated.
I was in luck. She was a nurse, and her apartment was just a block away. She promised to get me fixed and take me to the airport. I was so frazzled that I blindly accepted.
I was exactly three steps into her apartment when two things happened: I saw a publicity poster I’d used at a signing years before hanging on the wall – it had vanished before I could reclaim it from the bookstore window. The second thing was the prick of a needle in my neck and the lights going out.
I awoke an hour later zip-tied to the bed. This woman was not as attractive as Kathy Bates, but she did have an eight pound sledge hammer in her mitts, and my legs sported a piece of 4×4 between the ankles.
I wasn’t too happy about what was coming, but at that moment her Dachshund leapt through the air and tore her throat out. Foam pouring from its mouth, it resembled a certain dog in a book. Once it had managed to exsanguinate her, it jumped at me. I wrenched my hands so hard that the flesh peeled off like a glove on the left one and I managed to escape that restraint. I caught the dog in mid air with a backhanded batting motion, and it spiraled out the window next to the bed. We were twenty floors up, and I’m sure the broken glass killed someone below. If it didn’t, the six pound dog would do the trick on the crowded sidewalks.
I’d detail the rest of the day, but it involved a trip past a pet cemetery on the way to the hospital to get the skin on the back of my hand put back, and that taxi driver isn’t ever going to be right again.
I mean, between the clown peering out of the sewer, the balloons floating into the open driver’s window and blinding him, and the earth bubbling over the graves, it was not an auspicious moment for the poor man. He thought that escaping ISIS was the worst he’d ever face, and I came along.
I ran into the lobby of an old building, grabbed my phone in my bloody hand, and pecked out an apology to Mr. King. I vowed never to talk trash about another author as long as I lived. And then I locked myself in the janitor’s closet and shook for two hours.
My phone pinged an incoming email alert, and I opened a browser to see an email from himself:
Dear Know It All:
Apology accepted. Don’t go into any elevators until tomorrow, November 1. Some things don’t just turn off on a dime and that book is not yet published.
I emerged from the closet at dark to find the streets full of zombies looking for candy, not brains. My hand hurt like the dickens, and I hoped they could still graft the skin back on, as I’d soaked it in a bucket while hiding.
I promise to be good from here on out. And to never, ever, go to Las Vegas.
What kind of heroes? The kind who were on duty for FDNY on 9/11. Joseph Hudak was kind enough to spend a long time talking to me and not once, not a single time, did he tell me who he was or why I should buy him all the beer he could ever drink. Nope, a humble, nice guy who was more concerned with how the people he trained and worked with were treated than any accolades.
I also Fan-boyed the women of the Patterson Fire Department. Now, why would I do that? I loved watching them on LIVE RESCUE on A&E. I thanked them all and they were kind enough to chuckle and tell me in a lilting southern drawl that they weren’t from “that Patterson.” Oh. I meant Patterson, NJ. They laughed as they told me about all the other fan-boys who had thanked them and talked about their awesome dept. Instead, I realized that these three under-thirty women risked their lives as volunteers for their department. That’s pretty humbling. And they were sweet about it. Every time we ran into each other for the next two days we all smiled and waved.
So, what were we doing there? Pathfinder Resilience is the real deal in getting first responders up to speed in their ability to deal with trauma. Other programs all deal with it after the fact and try to “fix” broken people. We layer on the armor inside and out, and get them toughened up and smartened up to either avoid the bad things through mental agility, or to know how to “swim to the side of the pool” when they’re thrown into the deep end.
I love my job. I am so blessed to do this work. And after talking to dozens of people from different departments this week, it was clear to me that we are needed. I saw the pain in eyes, both young and old, male and female, as they told me their stories of trauma. Mind you, this is from people who aren’t big on sharing with outsiders. But I guess they trusted me because I look like Santa and shared my story with them.
If you are a first responder, the parent of a first responder, or the spouse of one – or the child of one – and want to talk about what we do to help them, shoot me a comment on the blog. Mark it personal and I’ll get back to you.
We not only work with departments, but we work with individuals. Our goal is to lower depression and PTSD for our first responders, and take suicide off the table.
I honestly can’t wait for every class I mentor. I’m now the Senior Mentor, and I train the trainers. What a ride. I get paid to help people get better.
The work world of retirement is back for a few weeks. I have two new classes to mentor, some work to do with training mentors, work on an audio book (it’s a great book, but I signed an NDA until it releases), and taking care of my beloved following a joint replacement.
Oh, did I mention… well, other stuff as well.
I apologize for the light posting. But wanted to share this with you all:
I was at the airport, and the guy waiting for an Uber next to me asked about the shirt I was wearing. Turns out he’s a former cop who left after 13 years on the job because the job wasn’t the same anymore. Too stressful. We talked about Pathfinder Resilience and what I do there.
And then I prayed for him. In public. At the airport.