Feet First

He looked down the cliff’s face to the water. It wasn’t the distance that concerned him; he’d gone into water from far higher than the 30 feet it looked to be.

No, what concerned him was the dark surface. It might mean deep water.

It might mean shallow water with a dark bottom.

Even deep water could have jagged rocks, old tree trunks, any manner of solid sharp debris.

If you have no choice but to go in, it doesn’t matter whether the water is deep or shallow, or so he told himself. What matters is that you go in feet first. An injury to one or both legs could be survived. Head injuries, out here in the middle of nowhere, probably not.

The first arrow hit the dirt close enough behind him that he heard it, felt a tiny shock in his feet. They would wait until they were close enough before loosing any more.

He leaped.

And as he went over the edge feet first, one foot snagged in the tangle of a tree root sticking out, flipping him completely, holding for less than an instant before he dropped again.

Head first.

The Time in Maggie’s Room

Maggie knew her father hadn’t meant her to fall. When he pushed her into the room to pull her door closed she had stumbled over the rug, hitting her head against the corner of the oak armoire. The sound of his own heavy boots must have covered the noise of her fall, for why else would he have locked the door and walked away without first determining that she was unhurt?

Weak and wobbly, she pulled herself up by the massive knobbed handles on the doors of the armoire, then stumbled to her bed, more falling than sitting. Her head didn’t hurt, but the spinning wouldn’t stop. Closing her eyes helped. She rubbed her temples, which didn’t.

Her stomach reminded her that she was stuck here until supper. It seemed hours since she’d fallen, but since supper was promptly at six and her father’s quite unreasonable burst of anger had befallen her at five, she had not long to wait.

Normally comfortable, her boots pinched, as if she’d had them on too long. She drew her feet up on the bed one at a time to unlace them, dropping them on the floor. Another wave of dizziness lurched through her stomach. She rubbed her temples, eyes closed.

As the dizziness passed, she stopped rubbing and opened her eyes. Surely it must be near six.

Her clock read 4:15.

She must have forgotten to wind it this morning. It was her habit to wind it each day, but as is the case with habits, it had become unconscious, automatic, and so she didn’t remember winding it. May as well wind it now, estimating the correct time, and set it properly from the hall clock downstairs before bed tonight.

It was ticking. The clock was ticking when she picked it up. She had indeed wound it this morning. But why was the time wrong? It was not old. Her father had given it to her in the spring upon his return from the city. Surely it would keep better time than this.

Yet something was amiss. The ticking of the clock was clear in her ears and her fingers.

And now it pointed most definitely at 4:14.

Maggie returned the clock to its place on the table and felt behind her for the bed, climbing up to sit crosslegged, head bowed, face in her hands. She rubbed her temples, rubbed her eyes, shook her head, pinched her cheeks, tugged at the shorter hair in front of her ears.

Wiping her eyes, she looked again at the clock.

4:13.

Terpsichore Antipodes

I’ve pushed the button on yet another book, both Kindle and paperback versions. That’s the title up there.

Hold on, hold on. Don’t go rushing off to empty your wallets. The paperback isn’t live yet, though Amazon has created a page already. (Update: oh ho, the Kindle version is live.)

Another reason to hold your horses (and wallets.) This is nothing like I’ve ever written before. It is an experimental stream-of-consciousness romantic mystery novella. What’s it about? It’s about 20,000 words oh ho.

Here’s the sample from the back cover:

… more … “Terpsichore Antipodes”

Pintles and Gudgeons and the Man Overboard Drill

My dad’s bigger boat, a Lightning with a 27′ mast, wasn’t ready for sailing yet so we took the little 12-footer. It was a buoyant little beast, capable of carrying four adults: Brett and I and our dad, and our friend Paul. Paul loved sailing and as a result was rooked into a boatload of unnecessary adventures. He spent a lot of his time with us wet.

We always packed food because sailing made us hungry. It’s only a mile across San Diego Bay from the boat ramp where we launched so we sailed over to Silver Strand State Park to have lunch on the beach.

I was at the tiller because Dad wanted to be the first one to step ashore. I realized as we were approaching the shore that the bottom inclined so gradually the rudder was going to hit ground before the bow touched the sand.

I said, “We’re running aground.”

Nothing happened.

I said it again. “We’re running aground.”

Still nothing.

I said, “Hey, we’re running–”

… more … “Pintles and Gudgeons and the Man Overboard Drill”

The Monkey in Menswear

“The darker blue looks good with your eyes.” Jenna, back from checking the handbag sale, held a tie up with both hands, draping it across the bridge of my nose.

“Thank you. They’re not usually worn that close to the eyes but if it gets us out of here—”

“There! That’s him!”

The tip of the tie whipped my ear as my wife spun to see what nut was yelling behind us.

“This gentleman?” from the security guard standing next to Old Yeller (okay, young yeller, but that doesn’t flow the same.)

“That’s him.”

The guard took a step back and measured the guy with his eyes.

“Him. Right there. In the suit I know he didn’t buy here because we don’t sell anything that sharp.”

Jenna did semaphore with the tie. “What did my husband do?”

… more … “The Monkey in Menswear”

Fortnight

  • 3-day convention in Tucson
  • 3-day drive
    1. Tucson AZ -> Tucumcari NM
    2. Tucumcari NM -> Kearny MO
    3. Kearny MO -> Cameron WI
  • 3 days with friends in Cameron, in a big old rambling farm house and a nameless puppy waiting to be given to our host’s granddaughter as a graduation gift (she named him Winston.)
  • 4 days house-sitting at a gorgeous home buried deep in the woods with 2 friendly cats and 1 that’s a bit cranky
  • 1 of those evenings out on the lake, seeing osprey, kingfishers, great blue herons, turtles, and a muskrat

Today:

… more … “Fortnight”

Crummy Cake Communication

Country folk have odd recipes, but we always eat good.

My mom had two cakes she introduced us to when I was a kid. She called them Mayonnaise Cake and Tomato Soup Cake.

Yeah, that’s how we reacted, too. Allow me to expand: the mayonnaise is used as a substitute for eggs and oil in a chocolate cake with coffee in the batter. A thick, dense, moist explosion of coffee-chocolate flavor. Frosting would be pointless. Vanilla ice cream works. We’d stir them together, unknowingly creating a cookies and cream experience 30 years before anyone was selling it.

My father was most precise in his speech. It was from him that I learned to look for the right word, the difference, for instance, between “loping” and “trotting” or “thinking” and “pondering” and such shades of meaning which give depth and clarity to our communication.

(That’s called “setup” so you’ll wonder, as I relate this, where it comes into play.)

… more … “Crummy Cake Communication”

How Not to Hit Your Child With a Sledgehammer

Railroad ties make a good retaining wall. Heavy and thick, they’re impregnated with creosote so they’re nearly rot-proof. Peg them together with 3/8″ rebar and they’ll be there 20 years later (according to this picture. Neighborhood has sure run down since I lived there.)

The process is to lay down the first layer of ties, drill holes where the pins will go through, lay down the next layer, drill, and repeat. Somehow, I kept performing the miracle of drilling the holes exactly where they needed to be. Stupid confidence sometimes turns into wild good luck.

I’d finished the fronts of the walls, tied into the sides next to the steps. I do not remember why (trauma, perhaps) but as I neared the end, I asked my teenage son Tristan to come help.

“Here, hold this,” I said, with a 3-foot chunk of rebar placed in the top of the hole in the railroad tie.

… more … “How Not to Hit Your Child With a Sledgehammer”

Lemon Grove Killer Van

We worked in the back of a great big van, more like a delivery truck. Not as big as a moving van, but far bigger than a passenger vehicle. Workbenches, grinders, air and power tools of all kinds, bins of parts and whatnot. It was convenient for work, being totally mobile. For driving, not so much. The van was awkward, felt top-heavy, and it as a nightmare to back up. I could always hear stuff shifting, rattling, pinging as we hit bumps or turned corners.

After lunch at a new place one day I headed out the back exit of the parking lot.

There was no back exit.

… more … “Lemon Grove Killer Van”

How to Make Your Father Run a Red Light

We sat in the dark back seat, watching the digital clock (made of actual light bulbs) atop the bank in Chula Vista. It was a long red light. We’d seen the time change from 7:03 to 7:04 and all four of us started counting the seconds until it changed again.

Quietly, in the back seat: “57, 58, 59” and then, not quietly at all, the four of us shouting “Now!”

At that moment, the left turn light changed to green.

Dad stomped on the gas.

We weren’t in the left turn lane.

… more … “How to Make Your Father Run a Red Light”

Fragility and the Geese

If you park your truck facing the sun and leave your beans and rice on the dashboard the Texas summer sun will warm it to eating temperature and melt the butter by lunchtime.

We’d heard the geese but couldn’t see them. Climbed down from the roof, dropped our tools somewhere they wouldn’t get hot, got our Mexican food from his truck and sat in the shade to eat.

I said something almost funny. Probably about as witty as “Duck, it’s the geese!” though it’s been so long I don’t remember.

… more … “Fragility and the Geese”

2-for-1: Food, Family, Fear, and Whiskey Waffles

Hurry up, get in, let’s go. Two stops to make today.

Ladies first: Elizabeth Kaiser joins me in the post Food, Family, Fear. They’re connected, oh yes indeedy.

Then, my friend and editor and occasional drinking buddy Tom ‘BentGuy’ Bentley interviews me about my books, process, and tastes. And we talk waffles. And whiskey.

Inside My Brain: Phil B and Cheryl C Take a Scary Trip

Today’s stop on the tour is with Cheryl “Burnt Mountain” Campbell.

Cheryl is the hardest working author I’ve ever met. (And, in fact, we have met, when she drove from Maine to Wisconsin to meet the fam. I was touched and impressed. There was Strongbow Cider involved.)

Her books are good and getting better.

Her comments on my revealing psychological ramblings in the post just make it better.

Go. Read. Comment.

Detailed Review of A Still, Small Voice

Faith Blum has written a detailed review of the latest Phil Brennan book.

I would have preferred 5 stars. Her review, though, is done right: some opinion, but mostly, details that will help any reader decide whether it’s right for them.

Read and comment, eh?

Author Spotlight at AutoCrit

I’ve been a faithful user of AutoCrit ever since I first heard of it. In my opinion, the best automated editing and feedback tool an author can have.

Jocelyn from AutoCrit interviewed me about my long relationship with them and my writing process. Even if you’re not an author, there’s plenty there about Phil Brennan’s latest shenanigans.

Phil Brennan On Tour: A Still, Small Voice Blog Tour

Join friends and I this week on a tour round the web with Phil Brennan’s second story, A Still, Small Voice.

Today, Lia London uses the phrase “flamboyantly unassuming” which I find buoyantly amusing. Give her interview with me a read, and chat in the comments, eh?

Better to be shot in a room full of people than in a dirty alley

The hand on my knee was firm. Then, it was crushing. Then, it started to slide the kneecap right off. Despite the pain, I didn’t cry out; in a bizarre comedic moment I wondered if the thing shoved against my ribs was called a ‘silencer’ for more than one reason.

Another survival tip for you, kiddies: no matter how funny you find yourself, don’t smile when the bad guys are interrogating you under physical duress. They don’t like it, and things go downhill fast.

Mr. Big (as in the leader) gestured vaguely toward the bathroom hallway Siobhan had gone down (where was she??) and Mr. ReallyBig the thug dragged me from the booth and shoved me ahead of him down the hallway toward a greasy door at the end.

I had a little more experience with being meekly led to the slaughter, and I wasn’t walking to my own funeral this time. Better to be shot in a room full of people than in a dirty alley (or maybe the alleys in Galway aren’t dirty; I didn’t remember) or down by the ocean where they’d never find you.

I say I had experience with the concept. I had none with the execution of it. I jerked away from Mr. ReallyBig and ran for the door. Which was locked. I think. I don’t know; it wouldn’t open.

The pain in the back of my head was amazing. At first I thought he’d shot me; then I realized he’d just slugged me with the gun. Not enough to knock me out; contrary to what you see in the movies, that takes more than a light tap. But enough to make me reconsider my flight and, instead, bend over with my head between my hands. I’m no tough guy, I’m an academic, remember?

This is an excerpt from Through the Fog. To read the whole story, get your copy at Amazon or just sign up for my newsletter and get it free.

A Little Step Before a Leap

The apartment was bigger than it looked in the photos online. Real estate must be cheaper in a small town than in the cities. I didn’t know. I’d never lived anywhere but one big city and apartments were even more expensive than renting a small house. It didn’t make any sense to me, but I guess if you’re willing to pay for the benefit of not having a lawn to mow, someone might as well take your money.

I also wasn’t used to having the super live offsite. Though she wasn’t the super, she was the apartment manager. Or owner. I should get that straight. She and her husband lived down the street in a nice little house by the lake.

“Right up the road if pipes burst or you lock yourself out,” Mrs. Wright had said. Mr. Wright was housebound so she had taken care of our business arrangements.

“Now, there’s lots of young men for neighbors, dear, but they’re polite and well-behaved or I wouldn’t have them. So you just make yourself at home.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Wright. I’m not worried about them.”

One eyebrow twitched, and she smiled.

“No, I supposed you’re not. I’m off, then.”

Maybe her intuition works better than mine. Maybe I was advertising more than I realized.

No young man was getting anywhere near me until my heart grew back in the hole left by the young man I’d just left forever.

This is an excerpt from next year’s romantic mystery Anacrusis.