Miracle

Here’s the first chapter in a story that I started several years ago.  This was way before I committed to finishing a novel and was probably the umpteenth novel that I had started and abandoned.  My biggest problem was that the story didn’t have the feel that I wanted it to have.  I’m revisiting a lot of my old work to see what is salvageable.  Maybe I’ll finish this one.  Who knows?

 

“Awwww, God!” the large woman exclaimed as she walked down the aisle of the airplane and saw the baby sitting with its parents across the aisle from her seat. “God damn it, Shirley, we’re sitting next to another baby on this flight too. I cannot believe our luck on this fucking trip,” she continued in a quieter voice as she made her way to row 27.

“Fuck!” Shirley hissed under her breath cutting her eyes at the couple with the baby as she whispered in large woman’s ear. “I tell you Angie, after that last flight, I wanted to cut out my ovaries and shove them down that baby’s fucking throat. It just wouldn’t stop crying. Parents should fucking stay home. They shouldn’t travel with those little shits.”

Shirley rolled her eyes as she approached row 27 and slammed her bag into the overhead in protest.   Angie pulled her lips back in a smirk of disgust as she slumped down in her aisle seat across from the fawning couple and their infant. She kicked her bag hard under the seat in front of her for emphasis.

“Maybe the flight’s not too full and we can move,” Angie suggested suddenly excited and hopeful in the same breath. They watched eagerly as the rest of the passengers loaded onto the plane and became less and less enthusiastic as one after another came through the boarding door.

“Damn it!” Shirley hissed. “This fucking plane is packed. There’s no way we’ll be able to move.”

Angie shifted in her seat and started to stand up but she was wedged between the arm rests. She wiggled and pushed the armrest down. “Can I push that armrest back?” she asked nodding her head toward the armrest that separated her seat from Shirley’s.

“Why?” Shirley asked.

“Because they make these damn seats too fucking small and I’m very uncomfortable. We have to sit next to that god damned baby, and I’m closer, so give me a fucking break.”

“Okay, but you have to stay on your side. The last flight you took up half my seat.”

“Shut up. These seats are too small.”

“Your ass is too big.”

“Bitch!” Angie hissed.

“Slut!” Shirley whispered.

The two women sighed angrily and looked away from each other. None of the surrounding passengers seemed to notice the heated yet hushed exchange between the two. Across the aisle, John and Mary Dobson sat with their six-month old daughter, Grace. She was lying with her head on her mother’s shoulder facing the aisle absorbing her surroundings. It was near her nap time, and her eye lids were getting heavy.

Angie grabbed the in-flight magazine from the seat in front of her and snapped it open still disgusted with Shirley. She looked up and saw Grace staring blankly at her. She smirked at her disapprovingly and gazed back into her magazine cursing her bad luck and her careless friend. Grace’s eyes shut slowly and she drifted off to sleep quietly sucking on her pacifier.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the boarding door has been closed. Please turn off all portable electronics including cell phones, laptops,” the flight attendant began. She rambled on with further instructions as passengers shifted around in preparation for takeoff. Angie grabbed her seat belt for the first time and tried to buckle it but the belt was not big enough to get around her. She was embarrassed. Not only were the seats made too small, but the seat belts were not long enough for normal-sized people she thought.

“Excuse me,” she said to a passing flight attendant. “This belt is too short.” The flight attendant looked down at her and shook her head affirmatively acknowledging the problem.

“Just a moment,” she replied and she hurriedly went to the back of the plane and moments later returned with a seat belt extension.

“I didn’t need this on the last flight,” Angie explained as the attendant walked away.

“That’s because you didn’t wear your seat belt on that flight. You big moron,” Shirley interjected.

“Fuck you!” Angie hissed quietly.

Shirley sighed angrily and turned to look out the window.   She smiled slightly at the pain she had inflicted on Angie. The two had spent two weeks together traveling around the country on a mission for their church in Birmingham. When the trip began, they couldn’t wait to start traveling together, but after two weeks, they had grown weary of each other. Now that they were heading home, they had apparently reached the breaking point in their relationship.

Angie kept looking over the next row glancing at the baby as the plane taxied toward the runway and prepared for takeoff. She just knew it’d start screaming as soon as they began their ascent and its ears started popping, but so far the baby slept contentedly on its mother’s shoulder sucking on its pacifier in a slow rhythmic motion.

The plane paused at the end of the runway and its engines started to groan louder as it slowly moved forward gathering speed as it rolled down the runway. It lifted off the ground and floated in the air as the landing gear retracted into its body. Angie could feel her ears begin to pop as it ascended and she winced expecting the baby to startle awake suddenly and scream as if it had been stabbed in the ears with tiny daggers. Instead, the baby continued to sleep peacefully.

After a while, Angie relaxed. Shirley was still looking out the window, or so she thought. Angie glanced around at Shirley and realized that she had fallen asleep against the window. Angie searched for the seat recline button for her seat and realized it was on the armrest she had pushed up between the seats. She struggled to reach the button, but after pulling the armrest down against her side, she was able to push the button with her left hand. The seat groaned as it reclined and Angie shifted to get comfortable.

“Excuse me,” a woman said. “Excuse me, Ma’am.”

Angie looked to her right and the infant’s mother was talking to her. “Yes?” Angie asked unsure if the woman was talking to her.

“I’m sorry to bother you, but my daughter’s pacifier just fell out of her mouth and I cannot reach it without waking her. Would you mind handing it to me?”

Angie looked at the baby and saw that it was still asleep but its mouth hung open as if the pacifier were still there. She thought about the crying that would certainly ensue if the baby awoke without its pacifier. She looked at the floor and saw the pacifier at the foot of her seat just in the aisle, and she reached down to grab it.

“Thank you,” the woman said presuming that Angie was going to get the pacifier for her.

Angie struggled to reach the pacifier as it was just beyond her reach. She tried to sit up so that she could bend over and extend her arms, but the seat in front of her had been reclined and prevented her from getting up.

“I can’t reach it,” Angie exhaled breathing heavily from her effort.

“I’ll get it,” a flight attendant said as she approached from the rear of the plane. She picked it up and handed it to the mother who thanked her quietly.

“God damn! They make these planes so small,” Angie thought as she laid her head back in her seat. She watched the woman put the pacifier back in the baby’s mouth after she cleaned it. “Thank God. Hopefully, that damn thing will sleep the whole flight.” She closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep.

The plane had leveled off at its cruising altitude and most passengers had settled in for the flight from Chicago to Birmingham. The flight attendants busied themselves with preparations to serve drinks and snacks to the passengers. Mary Dobson held Grace firmly in her arms listening to her tiny breaths as she slept. She loved how the baby girl felt against her body. She was still enamored with being a new mother, and she dutifully cared for the little girl’s every need, but Grace wasn’t a difficult baby. She already slept through the night, was rarely fussy, and seemed to absorb the world around her with the gleeful innocence that only an infant could indulge.

Mary glanced over to her husband, Joe, who thumbed through a magazine. Sensing her attention, he looked up and smiled. “So far so good,” he said. Mary just smiled and nodded slightly not wanting to disturb Grace. This was Grace’s first flight, so they were unsure of what to expect. They’d heard horror stories of traveling with infants and had been on the receiving end of such horror when they had traveled before Grace was born, but Grace was different. She simply wasn’t a difficult baby.

In many ways, Grace was a miracle baby for Mary and Joe. They had been married for almost ten years and spent most of that time trying to conceive a child. They had endured many tests and special procedures to get pregnant to no avail, and just when they were about to give up, Mary became pregnant with Grace. Despite such good fortune, the pregnancy was fraught with stress as Mary and Joe worried about the fate of their pregnancy. Mary had had many false starts only to lose the baby shortly after conception, but the pregnancy had gone surprisingly well and Grace was born a healthy, normal baby.

Mary’s mother, Thelma, insisted that God had graced Mary with the baby and suggested that she name the baby Grace in honor of “the good Lord” as she put it, but Mary had resisted such notions. Mary had grown up in a strict Southern Baptist home and had drifted away from the religion as she grew up and now she wanted no part of its “cult of eternal damnation” as she had told Joe.

For his part, Joe understood Mary’s reluctance, but he also loved the name Grace since his beloved grandmother’s name was Grace. After much discussion, Mary relented and named the baby Grace, but she was quick to tell her mother that Grace was named after Joe’s grandmother. Thelma quietly told everyone in her family that Grace was named in honor of “the Lord”. She couldn’t care less about anyone in Joe’s family because they were Catholic, and if there was anything she hated more than Lucifer himself it was a Catholic.

As Grace slept in Mary’s arms, Joe looked up from his magazine and surveyed the scene outside the window as the plane leveled out over the plains of Illinois and headed south toward Birmingham. The clear blue sky provided miles of visibility. Joe could see the perfect square plots of farmland below and the amazingly straight roads that linked the sparse farm houses. He thought that they could not have picked a better day to fly out of Chicago. The weather was perfect. He had checked the weather forecast for Birmingham, and while it was supposed to rain early in the day, the forecast called for clearing in the late afternoon and clear skies for the rest of the week. The temperature was considerably warmer in Birmingham, so he was looking forward to enjoying some early spring warmth outside without his heavy coat.

“Did you pack the receiving blankets?” Mary asked abruptly interrupting his daydream.

“Yes,” Joe replied nonchalantly.

“In the carry-on?”

“No, in the checked suitcase.”

“Do we have any blanket in the carry-on?”

“I don’t know.”

“I think it’s too cold for Grace,” she fretted. Joe looked over her shoulder at Grace and looked back to Mary.

“She looks fine. Is she shivering?”

“No, but I’m cold, and if I’m cold, then she’s likely twice as cold,”

Joe had grown used to Mary’s constant fretting over Grace. To say she was overprotective was a nice way to say she was obsessive compulsive. Joe bore the brunt of most of Mary’s obsessive antics. He always had to fetch the blanket or hat, check the child-proofing, and ensure that Grace wasn’t cold, wet, hungry, or locked in the jaws of some wild animal. When Grace was first born, he was eager to help. After all, his involvement in the pregnancy, aside from the worry, was very limited. He almost felt guilty that Mary had to carry the child and endure all of the pain of childbirth, so the least he could do was fulfill his duty as the provider for the family. But after almost four months, he had grown skeptical and tired of Mary’s fretting.

“I think she’s fine. If she were cold, she’d start crying. That’s how babies tell us there’s something wrong.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’m sure,” he said. “I read that in one of the parenting books.”

Joe had learned to invoke the “parenting books” reference when Mary obsessed over trivial matters. It seemed to put her at ease and kept him from being bothered. She seemed satisfied with his answer and settled back into her seat with her hand rubbing Grace’s back softly. Joe returned to his magazine.

As the plane sailed over southern Illinois and into Tennessee, the weather changed dramatically. It went from clear skies to cloudy with intermittent thunderstorms. The quiet, smooth ride gave way to occasional bumps and jerks as turbulence shook the plane.

“We are experiencing some rough air and we expect it to continue until we begin our descent, so we are turning on the seat belt sign and ask that you stay in your seats for the duration of our flight,” the captain announced shortly after the plane hit the first rough patch. “Weather in Birmingham is rainy with scattered thunderstorms and a temperature of 72 degrees.”

The plane jerked and rattled for several minutes after the captain’s announcement, but Grace slept peacefully with not so much as a twitch to indicate that the turbulence bothered her. Another baby further back in the plane began to cry as the plane rumbled. After the captain’s announcement, most passengers continued on with their conversations, reading, or whatever they were doing, but as the turbulence continued and worsened, the cabin became eerily quiet with only the cries of the baby in the back of the plane providing any background noise beyond the high whine of the engines.

Many passengers stared out their windows. Some had worried expressions that only grew deeper as the turbulence continued. Others grew tense and tried to rest in their seats only betrayed by their white knuckles as they gripped their arms rests. The turbulence grew stronger and dislodging several canisters and utensils from the galley in the back of the main cabin. One lady gasped out loud as the canisters thumped on the floor and rolled down the aisle. No flight attendant attempted to retrieve them since the captain had asked them to remain seated until they found a smoother flight path.

“That fucking captain doesn’t know how to fly a goddamned plane,” Shirley hissed obviously rattled by the turbulence.

“No kidding,” Angie agreed. “I wish he’d get this thing under control. I have to pee.”

“Well, if we go in for a rough landing, you may as well piss yourself. You don’t want to risk a ruptured, full bladder.”

“Ha. Ha. Do you have to make a crude joke about everything?”

“I’m just trying to lighten the mood.”

“Well, it’s not helping. I’ve got to fucking pee and it makes me very uncomfortable.”

“Don’t be a bitch. You’ve been a bitch ever since we left St. Louis. What’s your fucking problem?”

“I have to pee. That’s my fucking problem. Why don’t you just shut the fuck up?”

“Bitch!” Shirley hissed and turned to look out the window. They exchanged their words in hushed tones, but the emphatic nature of their comments clearly indicated they were fighting. No one around them seemed to notice.

Angie let out a disgusted and exasperated sigh and turned her attention up the aisle where she noticed a young woman crying. It wasn’t a vocal cry and wouldn’t have been noticeable had she not looked directly into the young woman’s face. The tears were streaming down her face, and she could see that the woman was talking to herself. The woman crossed herself.

“Why is she praying?” Angie thought to herself. “It’s just a little turbulence. We’ll be fine. Maybe she’s never flown before.” The woman looked up and noticed Angie staring at her.

“God bless you,” the young woman whispered pressing her hands into a praying position under her chin and looking across the rows at Angie. Her smile was weak and tears were still dribbling down her face.

Angie shook her head and looked away unsure how to respond. She had gone on quite a few missions with her church and had flown each time, but never had she encountered such a response to turbulence. The young woman’s actions frightened her. In the deep recesses of her mind, she thought she should pray too.

She looked directly across the aisle at the baby. It was still asleep on its mother’s shoulder. The mother looked anxiously around the cabin as the turbulence persisted and her husband quietly tried to reassure her stroking her arm and saying things to her that Angie could not hear.

“This is definitely the worst turbulence I’ve ever experienced,” Mary told Joe in a subdued, nervous voice.

“It will be fine. The captain said he was trying to find some smoother air. I’m sure it’s just a matter of time,” Joe coaxed.

“What about the oxygen masks? Will there be one for Grace?” Mary asked suddenly stricken with the fear that she may have to decide between getting oxygen for herself or her beautiful baby.

“Don’t worry about it,” Joe admonished. “We won’t need them.”

At that moment, the plane jerked down as if they had just reached a dip in the roller coaster they were riding. While the sudden drop wasn’t far, it forced more than a few screams from several passengers and jarred open one of the overhead compartments at row 20. A handbag and a briefcase with several books fell from overhead. A man in the seat below the overhead grunted loudly as the bags smacked him on the head and shoulder. He looked okay after the impact, but the incident raised the fear level in the cabin. One woman in row 21 prayed loudly. A man in row 25 forcefully assured his preteen children that they were going to be okay.

Angie looked down in the floor at the bags that had fallen. The briefcase had come open and its contents were strewn down the aisle. Two books from the briefcase slowly edged down the aisle to the rhythm of the shaking cabin. She noticed that one of the books was a Bible. A bookmark with a cross on a tassel was wedged midway between the pages. The Bible was worn with dog-eared pages and had the name “W.J. Bryan” embossed in gold on its black cover. Angie sighed nervously and tried to reach the Bible from her seat, but her large body could not bend far enough within the confines of the seat.

“Can you put your seat up?” Angie asked the lady in front of her. The lady turned back to Angie clearly frightened by the turbulence and gave her a look as if she had just said something in a foreign language.

“Your seat. Can you put it up so that I can reach that Bible in the floor?” Angie asked using her beefy hand to tug at the seat back. The woman appeared to snap back to consciousness and recognized what Angie was saying and dutifully raised her seat back to the upright position.

Angie had a few more inches in which to bend and try to retrieve the Bible. The book had slid closer to her seat, but Angie still could not reach it. She would have to unbuckle her seat belt to reach the Bible.

During the these few nerve-wracking moments, Shirley had pushed herself back in her seat and closed her eyes silently praying that the turbulence would end soon. Shirley considered herself a devout Christian, but her superficial piety was often betrayed by her behavior. In fact, she was really a convenient Christian, one who used the religion when it fit her needs, praying when it seemed like she would get some benefit from it. She was a crude, bitter middle-aged woman who felt cheated in her life. She had never been married, never had much in terms of a relationship, and had always felt slighted by everyone she had ever met.

Shirley had never been particularly religious in her life, but she had joined Birmingham Baptist because she had thought it would be a way to meet people who accepted her for who she was even if who she was wasn’t what they wanted. While everyone in the church seemed to take her in, they were more interested in damnation and converting others to their religion than they were in understanding that Shirley was a lonely woman who needed companionship more than she needed God.

After a few months in the church, she had become disappointed that it didn’t fill that void she had felt inside her. Then, she had met Angie, and although they often quarreled, they had become best friends. Angie really was the only friend Shirley had. Angie seemed to understand her and to appreciate what it felt like to be a victim shunned by society at large. Angie appreciated her knack for finding the worst attributes in other people and tearing them down from the high pedestal upon which they perched. Angie understood her because they were very similar.

Shirley opened her eyes and looked over at Angie only to find her seat empty. Angie was on the floor in the aisle of the cabin on her hands and knees facing the rear of the plane with one arm draped over her armrest. She grunted as she appeared to reach for something. Her large rear end filled the aisle, an unnecessary reminder that Angie was severely obese.

“What are you doing, Angie?” Shirley screamed trying to look at the floor behind her row. “Get back in your seat! You’re gonna get yourself killed!”

“Shut up! I’m holding onto my seat,” Angie retorted. “This Bible fell out of the overhead and I’m tryin’ to get it.” She stretched for the Bible, but each jerk of the plane pushed it further away. She would have to let go of her seat. The plane lurched suddenly jarring the cabin once again unleashing a series of screams and cries from the passengers. Angie kept her grip on her seat but now she clutched the armrest with both arms. Her legs were weak with fear and her heart raced. She could see the Bible had inched down a few rows behind her and come to rest against the seat of a little boy.

During the commotion, baby Grace continued to sleep. Mary’s attention moved from worrying about Grace waking up to worrying about whether or not they were going to land safely. Joe did his best to comfort her, but as the plane lurched to and fro, he, too, became worried. He was a veteran air traveler thanks to a sales job that often took him to many different cities and towns around the country, but he had never experienced such a tumultuous ride. He was getting more nervous each time the plane lurched unnaturally. He could tell the plane was descending although it was a little early to do so since they were still well outside Birmingham, but he figured it was just a maneuver to get out of the rocky airspace.

Joe squeezed Mary’s hand lightly and acknowledged the worry that consumed her face. “I love you,” he said.

“I love you,” she replied feigning a smile. She felt her heart in her throat and her breathing seemed difficult as the plane lurched again. The plane rattled like car on one of those old wooden roller coasters except this was no carefully engineered joy ride that everyone sought for the thrill of it. Baby Grace continued to sleep nestled on Mary’s shoulder and seemingly oblivious to the fear that washed over the cabin.

Joe could feel the plane descending at a faster pace as the rattling continued. The pull of gravity was unmistakable and his stomach seemed to lurch forward as the whine of the engines fought the pull downward and struggled to control the aluminum bird. Neither the flight attendants nor the captain had made any announcement in a while, and this worried Joe. Normally, in such situations, the captain makes an announcement to calm the passengers’ nerves. This fact worried Joe even more. Was the situation so dire that the captain was focusing all of his energy on landing the plane safely?

Joe shook these thoughts from his head and looked around to distract himself. He saw a rather obese woman struggling to gain her feet across the aisle from Mary. “What the hell is she doing up?” Joe thought to himself.

The woman had long, tattered hair that hung haphazardly around her chubby face.   You couldn’t tell where her chin ended and her neck began because of the rolls of fat that hung off her face like rolls on a Roman shade. She wore thick glasses that magnified her pinhole eyes making her appear cartoonish. She had a hairy mole that clung to the side of her left cheek like a grotesque spider. She was short and almost as big around as she was tall. Her stomach rolled out like the aftermath of an avalanche and her breasts lopped to each side like obscenely large sock puppets long since abandoned. It had to be impossible for this woman to see her own feet. Joe winced as he took this all in, but for the brief moment he watched Angie, he was distracted from the worries at hand.

Angie finally regained her feet despite the continuous rumble of the plane and side stepped her way slowly to the Bible, which was still lodged next to the seat of the little boy. She bent down awkwardly to pick up the book and grunted as she folded into herself. She raised up almost out of breath and felt a sense of relief at having retrieved the book. She peered down at the little boy who looked up at her obviously frightened.

“It’s okay, son. God will help us through this,” she smiled as she started back to her seat. In truth, the boy was as much afraid of Angie as he was the shaky ride. To him, the rattling was something akin to one of the amusement rides he had ridden at Disney World last summer. He didn’t understand the need to be worried. He did understand that he just witnessed a large, monstrous-looking person slowly edge her way toward him only to stop at the last moment and return to her seat. He was just happy that she didn’t hurt him.

As Angie backed into her seat and slumped down hard, the plane began a more rapid descent and the rattling increased. The whine of the engines sounded different now as if they were sputtering or struggling to stay engaged. The plane felt like it was gliding toward the earth. The cabin lurched downward and Angie momentarily hovered out of her seat. The sensation made her panic as she struggled to find and buckle her seat belt. At that moment, Shirley grabbed her arm and began to cry uncontrollably repeating, “Oh God! Oh God!”

“Help me buckle my seatbelt, Shirley!” Angie screamed. Shirley was in full panic and didn’t hear her. In fact, the whole cabin was consumed by the din of people panicking. People cried and some men cursed the crew for not telling them what was wrong. The baby in the back broke into a loud cry as if it had been doused in scalding hot water. Other children screamed for their parents who could only offer limited comfort as they were overcome by their own fear. It seemed that the passengers all reached the realization of their fate at the same moment. The plane was hurdling to the ground and there was nothing they could do to stop it.

“Goddamn it, Shirley! Help me!” Angie screamed. Shirley buried her face into Angie’s arm and cried uncontrollably. Shirley’s grip was painfully tight around Angie’s arm, and in an instant she thought about pulling her arm away, but she knew she could not move away without getting out of her seat again. Instead she wrapped her right arm across her body and put her hand on the back of Shirley’s head and began to pray incessantly as tears streamed down her face.

Across the aisle, Mary had already begun crying before the latest descent began. Joe had tried to comfort her, but he had given up as the situation appeared graver by the minute. He had insisted that he hold Grace in the event that they had a crash landing because, he reasoned, he’d be more likely to hold onto her since he was stronger.   He held the baby in his arms tightly as Mary leaned against him crying and trying to reason away the fear that engulfed her. Grace stirred slightly and cooed into Joe’s ear. The sound had an odd calming effect on him.

Joe scanned the plane to locate the nearest exit. It was behind him. He thought back to the safety instructions the flight attendant provided and rehearsed his escape from a burning plane in his mind. How would he manage to get himself, his wife, and most importantly, Grace out of the plane once it landed? He assumed that the plane would land roughly and that there would be a chance to escape. Unfortunately, his assumption was incorrect.

The plane banked to the right in a jerking motion and righted itself just as quickly. It continued to descend and rattled incessantly with each twist and turn. Each move elicited cries from the passengers as the gurgling engines gave no indication that the plane would recover. Outside, the rain that had begun over Tennessee pounded the plane hard. Visibility was near zero in the torrential downpour. The plane flew a slow descent into northern Alabama as it struggled to make it to Birmingham. Over Eden, Alabama, fifty miles north of Birmingham, the plane began a more rapid descent and began tilting side to side as if the pilot had lost control and was just trying to keep the plane steady.

The chaos in the cabin erupted into anarchy. One man at least ten rows up from Mary and Joe cursed loudly wondering why the pilot couldn’t get the plane righted. Others prayed loudly begging, screaming even, for their god to save them. The baby in the back had screamed continuously for most of the last ten minutes of the plane ride. Other children begged their parents to get off the plane.

Grace stirred and rubbed her nose with her tiny fists. She looked up from her dad’s lap at her parents. Joe squeezed her tightly. Mary cupped her tiny head with her hand trying to focus through all the tears. “I love you, my little darling,” Joe said leaning forward to kiss her head. Mary leaned in and kissed her head too.

“I love you so much my beautiful angel,” she said. “I never believed in God, but I hope that if there is a god that he will always be with you.”

A man on the left side of the plane saw it first. The ground. Coming fast. He screamed, “Oh Shit!” In that instant the shock of hitting the ground reverberated through the plane with tremendous force. The plane rolled and broke into many pieces as seats and people were flung in all directions. The odor of jet fuel consumed the entire plane and a flash of intense heat torched the cabin as the fuel exploded shortly after the plane struck the ground. Those passengers that remained in the main part of the airplane were burned to death immediately as the intense flames shot through the cabin. Their bodies melded with the seats and became unrecognizable from other charred parts of the wreckage.

The tail section of the plane had broken off on impact and had rolled away from the main section that had burned immediately. The break in the tail section occurred at row 27, but one would struggle to identify the row itself. The mangled section of the plane was twisted and crushed much like a race car after one of those horrific end-over-end crashes at dizzying speeds. Inside the fuselage, many seats were emptied. Their occupants ejected by the force of impact or the subsequent rolling of the tail away from the main wreckage. The bodies that remained were mutilated and crushed by the compressed metal body of the airplane.

Angie’s seat was empty. Shirley’s headless body slumped in its seat crunched between the rows which had shifted violently forward on impact. Something had impaled the fuselage where Shirley’s window had been leaving a ragged hole that dripped with rain from the downpour that continued at the crash site. Mary and Joe still sat in their seats lifeless and slumped forward. Mary was impaled with a piece of the fuselage, while Joe’s right leg had been ripped loose and dangled from the opening in the tail section. Grace was nowhere to be found.

The burning section of the airplane crackled and popped as the rain battered the remaining shell of the fuselage. No one had survived. No one wandered among the wreckage trying to make sense of what had happened and thanking whatever god they worshipped for saving his or her life. No one wailed in pain begging to be saved. The chaos in the seconds before the crash had ended in an instant with 153 people losing their lives. Or so it seemed.

The residents of Eden had heard the plane descending over their town and many near the crash site had wondered why it was flying so low. The sound of its engines was not normal reasoned many since they often heard planes in the flight path into Birmingham. The torrential rains made it difficult to see where the plane was in the sky, so many remained in their homes despite the plane’s apparent distress, but once they heard the impact and ensuing explosion, many residents near the crash site came running from their homes to see what had happened.

John McDermott raised cattle on his farm in north Eden and had heard the plane flailing in the sky above. He had stood by the large bay window in his living room trying to locate the plane in the sky, but visibility was too low because of the heavy rain. The sound of the engines seemed to get louder as he looked on and suddenly he saw the plane glide into the pasture behind his house and explode into a ball of fire. It was far enough away that he could not see the wreckage, but he felt the jolt of the impact and explosion. He saw the flames shoot up above the trees in on the horizon. His house shook briefly and the bay window rattled when the plane hit. It happened so quickly, he was stunned. He stood frozen for a few seconds before he darted to the phone to dial 911.

“There’s been a plane crash near my house!” he said hurriedly when the dispatcher answered.

“Can you give us your location, sir?” the dispatcher asked assuming the authoritative, calm tone that John had heard on so many 911 calls on TV.

John gave her his address and explained what he saw. She asked a few questions about the type of plane and if he could see the wreckage now. The dispatcher assured him that emergency personnel would be there soon and advised him to stay away from the wreckage because it could be dangerous.

Immediately after John hung up the phone, he slipped on his boots, jacket, and hat and rushed out the door to his pickup. He needed to find the crash site to see if he could help any survivors. He drove down his driveway from his house and turned toward the gate that led to his pasture. Several cows were huddled near the gate enduring the rain as they ate the grass. He hopped out of his truck shielding his face from the pouring rain and unlatched the gate. He waved the cows aside to move them away from the gate and returned to his truck to drive through. The clueless cows watched as John got out of his truck again and returned to re-latch the gate. He quickly returned to his truck and spun the wheels as he drove off toward the crash site.

The ride through the rain-slicked pasture was bumpy and slippery. John’s truck slid side-to-side as he went up and down each little hill in the pasture. He drove as fast as he could following the plume of smoke that danced fiercely on the horizon. Finally, he reached the far edge of his pasture where the field merged into a stand of trees. He couldn’t drive any further. He put the truck in park and cut the engine. He jumped from his truck into the muddy ground below and started running toward the smoke. He could smell the jet fuel almost immediately. The rain pelted his face, so he put his hand up to squint at the horizon trying to locate the wreckage. He could see a clearing up ahead as the pasture continued beyond the trees and that’s when he saw the first part of the fuselage.

The clearing was as broad as the pasture behind his house and extended to the forest that abutted his land in the distant horizon. The wreckage of the plane was strewn across the entire field. The tail section was closest to him as he stood at the edge of the trees. The tail was mangled but remarkably identifiable compared to the rest of the plane. The main section of the fuselage lay further down the field, but it was nothing more than a black hulking piece of twisted metal after the explosion. Pieces of the plane including metal, luggage, seats and other items covered the field. John squinted as he peered through the rain trying to determine if there are any survivors. It was remarkably quiet save for the faint crackling of the fire that had remained after the initial explosion of the crash.

“Hello!” he screamed. Nothing. The rain began to let up for the first time in hours. He looked up at the sky, which personified the gloomy nature of the tragedy before him. He broke into a jog as he moved closer to the crash to look for survivors. He kept his eyes on the tail section as he approached it preparing himself for the inevitable carnage he would see. He had never seen a dead person outside of a funeral home, and even then, the deceased were usually old relatives who had died of natural causes. He didn’t know anyone who had died in such a violent fashion as a plane crash.

John didn’t pay attention to the ground below him and abruptly kicked a piece of the wreckage, which caused him to fall face-down to the ground. He caught himself with his hands as he squished the muddy earth with his weight. Mud splattered up onto his face and temporarily obscured his vision. He pushed himself up to his knees and used the arm of his jacket to wipe his face clean. His vision returned. The rain had completely stopped. He rested for a brief moment until he saw the baby.

At first, he thought it was a baby doll from one of the children that must have been on the plane. It had landed in a very muddy section of the field and lay under a piece of the fuselage that had pierced the ground and stood upright in the field. The fuselage provided a canopy and the baby lay under it submerged in about an inch of mud. It was still and quiet. John froze the instant he saw it and prepared himself for the gruesome sight of a young life ended mercilessly in a violent crash.

John rose to his feet and made his way to the baby anxious of what he would find. As he reached the fuselage, he looked down at it and wondered how it could have made it through the crash remarkably unscathed.   The pink outfit the baby wore was torn in spots and covered in mud, but beyond the numerous scrapes and scratches on its hands and face, there appeared to be no serious injuries. He bent down to pull it from the mud when it suddenly turned its head and began to cry. John jumped, startled that the baby was still alive.

“Good God almighty!” he exclaimed. “You’re alive! Oh my God!” He quickly removed his jacket and wrapped baby Grace in it. She continued to wail uncontrollably. John began to run back to his truck with the baby coddled tightly in his arms. If there was any chance of saving her, he had to get her to the hospital soon as possible. He ran as fast as he could with Grace in his arms praying along the way that this baby would make it. All along he was thinking that this was a miracle. God had led him to this little baby for a reason. It was his duty to ensure she survived. A miracle indeed.

 

The Road Ahead

A few friends have asked why I’ve decided to start a writer’s blog, Facebook page, and Twitter feed now when I haven’t published anything and there’s nothing to “sell”.  That’s a very good question and I realize that all of this may seem presumptuous, but there are actually some good reasons for doing this now versus later.

First and foremost, every author today needs a platform.  Typically, that platform involves a blog, a Facebook page, and a Twitter feed at the very least.  Your platform provides an avenue to communicate with your audience and establish that connection with your readers.  This connection is critical if you hope to market your work at some point in the future.  There are millions of books and authors out there and they are all vying for the attention of readers.  A platform helps you get that attention.  If a reader likes your work, they’ll likely follow you in some way and they’ll be the first to get your new book when it comes out.  In fact, most agents today want to sign authors who have already established a platform, so it becomes the proverbial chicken of the egg question.  Do you need a platform before or after you have your first book in publication?  The answer depends on who you ask, but the safe bet is that the sooner you have a platform, the better.

The reality is that a platform doesn’t just appear overnight.  You can put all the pieces in place and still be stuck in an empty room with crickets chirping.  You have to build content that attracts people to your sites and then you have to promote the sites.  It takes time and effort, and if you want to have any momentum by the time your work gets published, you have to get a running start.  That, in a nutshell, is the key reason I’ve started building my platform at this point.  The road to publication is long and arduous.  It may be years before I get to that point, but I will be ready when I get there with a platform that has a strong history of content and engagement.

The other reason I’ve started my platform now is more subtle and psychological.  For years I’ve been writing in the shadows.  I’ve enjoyed it immensely, but I’ve always told myself that I’d get around to publishing some day.  I’ve been writing a blog for over ten years, but beyond that none of my writing has seen the light of day.  I always seemed to put it off to another day “when I had time.”  A couple of years ago, I committed myself to getting published.  There’s something liberating about making a personal declaration to do something, but there’s something even more motivating in telling the world what you plan to do.  No one wants to fail in plain sight of friends and family, but exposing yourself and your dreams to others helps keep you accountable and certainly motivates you beyond those inevitable down moments when everything seems impossible and difficult.

The road ahead certainly seems exciting, but it’s equally frightening, and I’m putting it out there for everyone to see.  I can’t think of anything more motivating than succeeding in the face of daunting odds.  These are the challenges that make life all the more enjoyable.  I can’t help but believe that my passion and enthusiasm for writing will ultimately lead me to great personal satisfaction.  Anything worth achieving takes a lot of work, and this platform is just the beginning.

Drone

Vijay unlocked the door and entered his house, his parent’s house actually, and for the first time in his life, he was home alone.  He felt a little scared but mostly elated because his parents had finally relented and let him be at home by himself.  He had turned thirteen on his recent birthday, clearly old enough to be trusted.  He didn’t need someone to watch over him anymore.  He wasn’t a child.  He was thirteen for crying out loud, practically an adult.

He shut the door behind him letting its heavy edge bang against the frame.  The thump reverberated through the empty house.  Had his mom been home she would have admonished him for slamming the door, but she was still at work and he could do as he pleased.  He liked that.  He dropped his backpack on the kitchen counter and immediately rummaged through the refrigerator looking for something to eat.

He found some leftover vegetable samosas stuffed into a plastic container on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator and he smiled.  He loved samosas.  He took four of them, they were rather large, and placed them on a plate before he heated them in the microwave.  As the microwave hummed, he stood in the center of the kitchen and looked around him energized by his new-found independence.

His stomach constricted, partly from hunger, but also from the fact that he was alone in his house for the first time.  Only the sound of the microwave cut through the silence that blanketed the house.  He looked into the dining room and saw the pale shadows that lingered over the glossy table.  He glared at the TV with its gray-black screen eerily reflecting the sofa and the big window behind it.  Finally, he looked out into his backyard through the kitchen window before the microwave let him know that his samosas were ready to be devoured.

He sat at the small kitchen table hunched over his plate eating his mid-afternoon snack, his mind racing to determine what he would do first.  He thought about walking to his friend Albert’s house down the street, but he remembered Albert was still at band practice after school.  He sulked for a moment as he thought of other things to do.  He couldn’t be bored on his first day by himself.

Vijay returned the empty plate to the sink and washed the greasy food stains from his hands.  As he rubbed the soap into his palms and let the warm water flow over his hands, he looked out of the kitchen window again.  The deep blue sky contrasted perfectly with the flowering trees and the warm breeze that ruffled their limbs.  He could smell the flowers in bloom even though the windows in the house were shut tightly, an artifact of his walk from the bus stop to his front door.  He stared into the endless blue sky when a thought finally took root in his brain.  He knew what he wanted to do.

After a quick jaunt up the stairs in his home taking two steps at a time, he slammed himself onto the floor before his bed and reached under it to retrieve one of the best gifts he had ever received, a quad-copter drone.  He carefully pulled the drone from under his bed and sat it before his bent legs and switched it on.  A dull blue light reflected off the black, ominous body of the drone assuring him that he had battery power.  Likewise he flipped the switch on the controller and the small video screen came to life showing a featureless, up-close shot of the carpet in his bedroom.  Vijay smiled like a lion that had just spotted some helpless prey.

Outside in his backyard, Vijay placed the copter onto the patio table and stepped away studying the remote before he brought the drone to life.  His father had bought the drone for him for his thirteenth birthday.  It had been a present that came with a stern warning.

“Do not spy on anyone, Vij.  Do you understand?” his father had said.  Vijay had responded that he understood, but the curiosity of potential got the best of him.  He imagined investigating the lives of the neighbors around him.  The pull of the forbidden leered irresistibly at him encouraging him to try it just once.  He tucked those thoughts into the back of his mind that day when he and his father went to a nearby park and played with the camera-bearing drone.  They took videos of themselves from up in the air and snapped shots of the park from angles that were otherwise inaccessible.  His father had been so impressed with the fidelity of the camera and the steadiness of the shots that he downloaded the videos and pictures and put them in the family photo collection.  He even posted one shot of himself and Vijay piloting the drone on his Facebook page.

Now, Vijay stood alone in his backyard with nothing but the memory of his father’s warning standing between him and his desire to explore his neighborhood.  Without another thought he pushed up the sliding switch on the remote, and the copter whirred to life emitting a low hum as the rotors cut through the air.  He leveled his thumb against the left joystick and the drone lifted straight up into the air.  He let it settle a good twenty feet above him before he pushed the other joystick and the airship jolted to the right into his next-door neighbor’s yard.  The copter zigged and zagged for a moment as Vijay regained familiarity with the controls.  After a few moments, he piloted it expertly along the rows of homes down the street from his house.

The steady journey down the line of manicured, fenced backyards dampened his imagination.  He had concocted scenarios in his mind of shocking revelations seen from the air and safely relayed to the video screen on his remote, but most of the houses appeared empty save for the occasional pet.  The Murphy’s dog lay in one of their patio chairs sleeping comfortably.  Another home had a bubbling fountain that glistened in the sun, which caught Vijay’s attention.  He hovered over it for a moment even swooping down to get a different view before he became bored and flew off to the next house.

It didn’t take long for Vijay to get bored of the whole endeavor and return the drone to his own backyard where he landed it on the patio table and switched it off.  He sighed as he laid the remote on the table next to the copter and disappeared into the house for a drink of water.  He stared at his drone from the patio door as he downed the water, and he wondered what he could do next.  He swore that being at home alone should be much more exciting than this.  It had to be.

He pulled his cell phone from his pocket and checked for any texts.  Nothing.  Albert was still at practice.  He slid it back in his pocket as an idea took hold in his brain.  He instantly decided to walk to the park he and his father had used for their maiden drone flight.  He felt it would be much more exciting to launch the drone there and explore the surrounding area.  He pulled his phone out and texted his mother that he was going to the park.  He waited impatiently for a response, but he didn’t give her much time before he was out the door and on his way to the park.

A few minutes later, Vijay arrived at the mouth of the park on the north side closest to his house.  It stood largely empty save for a few toddlers gathered on the rather small playground equipment.  They played and squealed aimlessly as their mothers ringed them and chatted with each other on the warm spring day.  The mothers largely ignored him, and he kept his distance.  Young mothers were often wary of teenagers, and they’d certainly be concerned if his drone got too close to one of their precious children.

The park stood in the center of a neighborhood of relatively new houses, a thin strip of green that broke the monotony of similar rectangular houses with fenced backyards.  Other than the swath of green space in the midst of the cramped development, it offered few of the amenities of a real park beyond the tiny playground equipment on the southern edge of the field.  Kids mostly used it to play baseball or football, depending on the season, and occasionally, parties of neighbors would wheel their propane grills to the clearing and have summer cookouts.  Vijay had never paid much heed to the park until he got his drone.  He had been too old to have much interest in the playground when his family moved to the community.

The drone whirred to life once again and Vijay stroked the controller until the copter was floating above the park.  He looked at the video screen and saw himself standing in a sea of vibrant green as the copter ascended higher and higher.  He navigated the drone along the trees lining the park getting a sense of what the field would look like from space.  He imagined he was mapping the area, noting the key features that made the park and the neighborhood unique.  The drone traveled south from him toward the playground and he could see the children playing on the swings and slide.  They appeared even smaller from the aerial vantage point than they did from where he stood.  He noticed one of the mothers look his way and he guided the drone away from the kids back toward him.

He pushed the drone higher above the trees and into the backyards of the houses that abutted the park and skimmed along the line that the fences drew through the neighborhood.  The drone hovered and Vijay used the joystick to turn it around and scan the neighborhood.  He began snapping photos of the area, slowly turning the drone to get a panoramic view.  He decided he wanted to compare his pictures to the aerial shots in online maps.

He dropped the drone lower and snapped more intimate photos of the houses and the yards below it.  Vijay watched the screen on his remote as he took his pictures, but one photo froze him in his tracks.  A man, not entirely visible with the drone camera, stood at his patio door, motionless, but apparently unaware of the drone’s presence as he looked through the glass.  Vijay kept the camera pointed toward the man waiting for him to do something, anything that might be interesting.

The man disappeared into the shadows of his living room.  Vijay hovered the drone for a moment longer, and started to whisk it to the next house when the man appeared at the door again.  Vijay paused and watched.  He didn’t really understand why he kept the drone there, but something compelled him to see what the man would do.  As if on cue, the man opened his door and stepped out onto his patio looking directly up at the copter.

Vijay froze instantly.  He knew at that moment he’d been caught spying on his neighbors, exactly what his father had told him not to do.  He had violated his father’s trust in him and he felt immediately ashamed.  The act of getting caught had made him very aware of what he had done.  The drone hovered in that instant of realization as he stared at the man through the screen on his remote, but before he could pull the lever on the controller to move the drone away, the man raised his arm and leveled a gun at the drone.  Vijay didn’t recognize what was happening at first, but by the time he flicked the lever, the man had shot his drone down from its perch in the air.

Vijay heard the shot echo in the air around the park.  The house in question was just on the other side of the trees that lined the edge of the green space.  He heard a yelp, several actually, in the direction of the children playing in the park.  He looked over at them still shocked by what he had seen.  The mothers were scampering to gather their kids and leave the park.  Vijay stood there watching them frozen in fear.  He couldn’t believe what he’d seen.

The camera had gone black once the shot had been fired, but Vijay twisted the levers on the controller hoping that his drone was still functional.  He looked above the trees but saw nothing.  He flitted through the pictures on the controller screen until he came to the one taken of the man standing at the patio door.  He stared at it closely.  He didn’t recognize the man.  He flipped forward to the next few pictures.  He had subconsciously snapped shots of the man’s backyard as he hovered.  He had a picture of the man reappearing at the door and stepping out onto his patio, but he didn’t have a picture of the man firing at his drone.  He stared at the last picture with the man’s face in clear view.  He looked threatening, troubled even.

Vijay glanced down at the playground.  The mothers and their children were gone.  He was alone in the park.  He looked across the street and around him, but there was no one around.  Had the gunshot scared everyone off the street?  His heart continued to race at what he had seen.  He took one last look at the man in the picture and switched the controller off.  His drone was gone.  He dropped the controller to his side and returned to the sidewalk leading toward his house sullen and despondent.  He didn’t know how he was going to explain the loss to his father.  He certainly didn’t want to tell him the circumstances under which he lost his toy.

He looked down the street toward the houses that abutted the park.  A lone figure cut the horizon at the corner of the street.  It stood still as if looking for someone or something, but it was too far away for Vijay to tell if it was the man in his video.  A streak of fear shot up his arm and constricted his chest, and he broke into a run back to his house.  He looked over his shoulder before he bounded up the steps to his front door.  No one was behind him.  He felt relieved as he shut and locked the door behind him.

Still shaken from the incident, Vijay squirreled himself away in his bedroom.  He hid the controller in a desk drawer and plucked his laptop from his desk.  He sat on the bed and surfed the Internet trying to distract himself with some videos on Minecraft strategies, but he really couldn’t focus on the videos.  He knew in his heart that he was in the wrong.  When he was discovered, and he would be, his father would be furious and his mother would cry.  He’d be grounded for a long time.  The only bright spot in all of this was that his father was out of town until the weekend, and since his mother always had a hard time being harsh with her only child, he knew he’d have a temporary reprieve until his father returned home.

In the distance he heard a siren, and his heart sank.  He knew the man had called the police and it was only a matter of time before they traced the drone back to him.  The women in the park had seen him piloting the copter and could easily describe him.  He had that distinctive look that was easy to describe given his Irish mother and Indian father.  The police would canvas the neighborhood house by house until they eventually reached his.  It was only a matter of time.

The tension made him fidget and restless.  He paced in his bedroom and when that became too confining, he paced the hallway and downstairs to the living room.  He tried to distract himself with the TV, but even the Cartoon Network couldn’t hold his attention.  The nervous energy rattled him and every passing car he heard outside sounded like a police cruiser arriving to take him away.  Finally, before he expected his mother to arrive home, he spread his homework out on the kitchen table and began working on it, or at least pretending to do so.  Maybe, he thought, if his mother saw how diligently he was working on his homework, she wouldn’t believe that he’d been spying on the neighbors that afternoon, or at the very least, she’d be a little forgiving for his one mistake.  These thoughts made him work harder.

Eventually, he heard the familiar sound of the garage door opening and he knew his mother was home.  He quickly finished the last math problem on his homework and waited for her to walk through the door pretending to be deep in thought.  She walked into the kitchen with a grim, worried look on her face.  In that moment, he thought she knew what he had done already.

“Oh, thank god, Vijay, you’re here and you’re safe,” she said furtively, visibly shaking.  She put her bag down on the counter and hurried toward him hugging his head into her as he sat at the table.

“What’s wrong?” he asked sheepishly, afraid of what she might say.

“Someone was killed down the street.  I heard about it on the radio on the way home.  Police are all over the neighborhood.  I started panicking after I heard it, but there was nothing I could do.  I wanted to call you, but my cell phone battery had died.  That was the longest drive not knowing if you were safe or scared to death.”

She hugged him again.  He felt her body shaking, heard her heart beating rapidly, and listened to her short, clipped breathing.  Tears streamed down her face.  He inhaled her perfume and sighed a sense of morbid relief.  No one would care about his drone incident in light of the death in the neighborhood.  He vowed never to do something so stupid again if he escaped this one mistake unscathed.  He decided he wouldn’t make any confessions because there was a good chance he was in the clear.

His mother finally calmed down and ran through her typical evening routine with her son minus her husband.  Vijay’s father traveled a lot for his job, so his absence wasn’t unusual.  They did just fine by themselves.  After dinner, she settled in front of the TV and flicked on the local news.  Vijay finished the last of his English homework and joined his mother on the couch in front of the TV.

Their neighborhood made the top story on the evening news.  Vijay watched the news anchors hand the story off to a reporter at the scene.  He immediately recognized the area surrounding the reporter and felt shock at how close the crime was to his own house.  The crime occurred near the park he had been at that very afternoon.

“Mark, Joyce,” the reporter began, “police are still on the scene here in the Cherry Hill neighborhood trying to gather clues about what happened in this usually quiet subdivision.  Details are sketchy, but we do know that a husband and wife, were found shot to death in their living room this afternoon by their daughter who returned home from school.  Police aren’t saying much at this point, but based on interviews at the scene, no one has reported seeing anyone enter or leave the house this afternoon other than the two victims.  Some neighbors did say that they heard and reported a single gunshot in the vicinity of the victim’s home before the bodies were discovered, but no one could pinpoint where the gunshot originated from.”

The reference to the single gunshot startled Vijay and he concentrated on the scene around the reporter.  The video footage switched to an aerial view as the reporter continued piecing together the story of the murdered couple.  Vijay saw the stand of trees that lined the park and the row of houses that shared their backyards with the green belt.  The line of the fences looked familiar and he realized that his drone had flown in the very area where the couple had been murdered, but he couldn’t tell if his copter had been in their yard.  The yards all looked the same to him.  He struggled to remember what he had seen.

“The police are asking anyone who may have been in the area around three or four this afternoon to consider if they saw anything that might be helpful to them in this case and come forward…,” the reporter spoke into the camera.  He said more words, but Vijay tuned him out.  All he could think about was the man who shot down his drone.  Fear seized him.  He just knew that the man was the murderer, and he had a picture of him on his camera.  He began to shake, so much so that he left the room for fear that his mother would notice how the story rattled him.  He’d crumble the moment she asked any questions.

Vijay ran up the stairs to his bedroom.  His stomach ached and he felt sick, but he ran to his room anyway and shut the door behind him.  He stood before his bedroom window and looked out into the fading light of the evening.  The neighborhood gave a false sense of calm and serenity as most people were in their homes having dinner or settling in for the evening.  The unusually bare sidewalks gave him pause.  Everyone knew the killer still roamed the streets and that had changed typical evening routines.  The killer.  Vijay shivered.

He flipped on the lamp beside his bed brightening his room in the shadows of the evening.  He pulled the remote from his desk drawer and turned it on.  He stared intently as the tiny video screen came to life and began to scan the pictures he’d taken earlier.  The mental images from the newscast still floated in his mind, so he compared his pictures with what he’d seen on the news.

The news helicopter’s aerial shot of the victims’ house revealed two patio chairs with bright red cushions in the backyard.  Those cushions stuck in his mind as if they were familiar, so Vijay studied the pictures on the tiny screen to see if he could spot those same markers.  Maybe he was in a different part of the neighborhood and all his worry was for naught.  Maybe his mind was just playing tricks on him, a way of making his guilt surge and inflict well-deserved pain on him.  A guilty conscious does not go quietly.

None of the backyards he had photographed had red cushions, but when he came upon his first picture of the man behind the patio door, he could see a reflection of red in the glass.  The next few photos pulled back from the door as the drone had floated above the fence line.  His camera remained fixated on the house until the photo where the man stood below the drone right before he shot it down.  Vijay could clearly see one of the red cushions to the man’s right before he raised his gun.  Vijay gasped and stared deeply at the picture.  He had a picture of the killer.  The realization of his conundrum physically shook him.  Fear tightened its grip on him shortening his breaths and inflating his heart beats.

To go to the police with the picture would all but ensure he would get into trouble with his father for disobeying him, but to not go would withhold critical evidence that would help the police catch the man who had ruthlessly murdered two of his neighbors.  He didn’t know the victims and this somehow made his decision more nuanced, but in his deepest heart, he knew what he had to do.  He had to go to the police and suffer the consequences with his father later.  It was the right thing to do.

Despite the obvious moral obligation, Vijay debated his decision with himself.  A part of him wanted to hit the delete button and forget about it all.  The police would eventually catch the killer.  They had other means of identifying who had done it.  Vijay had seen a lot of episodes of C.S.I. and he knew detectives were whip-smart when it came to catching killers, but he also knew that some killers got away with their crimes, and he felt that the evidence he had would ensure the killer in this case would not walk away.  He zoomed in on the man’s face in the picture.  He didn’t know the man, but he was clearly identifiable in the photo.  Vijay would recognize him if he saw him again.

Despite the dread he felt, Vijay decided to confess to his mother so that she could call the police and turn over the evidence.  As he steeled himself for the obvious scorn he would face, the doorbell rang.  Maybe the police were already at his house asking questions like they had of other neighbors.  He felt relieved to some extent.  The guilt that plagued him would melt away once he confessed, and although he’d have to work hard to earn the trust of his parents again, they’d at least feel good about the fact that he did the right thing and helped the police solve a crime.  He suddenly felt an odd sense of pride.

He turned off the remote and the screen blipped to black, but he kept it tightly in his left hand as he opened the door to his bedroom and started down the stairs.  He could hear voices in the foyer below.  A man, authoritative like a police officer, talked seriously with his mother.  He slowly made his way down the stairs dreading the confession and the inevitable look of disappointment that his mother would weigh upon him once she understood the magnitude of his disobedience.  He hated disappointing his doting mother.

He turned the corner on the stairway landing and took the last few steps into the kitchen.  He saw his mother talking to a tall man in a black leather jacket.  At first she didn’t notice Vijay, but she glanced over at him mid-sentence and abruptly shifted her train of thought nodding in his direction as she said, “Here’s my son right now.”

The man in the black leather jacket turned with a smile already formed on his face to greet Vijay.  He extended his hand as Vijay’s mother smiled uneasily at the introduction, still shaken by what had happened in her neighborhood.

“Nice to meet you, Vijay,” the man said.

Vijay stood back frozen in place refusing to extend his hand.  Fear enveloped him and prevented any words from escaping his mouth.  His mother reached for him unsure of whether to admonish him for being impolite or to ask him what was wrong.  She touched his arm and he flinched as the man who shot down his drone withdrew his hand and pulled a gun from under his jacket.

A Writer Runs Through It

Recently, my nine-year-old daughter came home and informed me that she’s writing a book.  She promptly pulled out her spiral-bound notebook and asked me if I wanted to read what she’d written so far.  Of course, I did.  I read the pages she’d written smiling from ear to ear as I read each word.  I was beyond proud that my own daughter had the urge to write stories and share them with the world.  I encouraged her to keep writing and told her I’d read the entire thing when she’s finished.  I selfishly hope she keeps at it.  Every parent longs to pass something they enjoy onto their kids.  Most kids resist and eventually rebel, but some come back around later in life.  If the only thing I leave behind for my daughter is a love for writing, then I will consider that a win in the father column.

Grace 203

The B Book was her first “favorite” book.  I can still recite the book by memory.  I’ve read it easily over a hundred times between both kids.

I’ve been reading to both my kids since they were born.  I read to them each night before bed until they were old enough to want to read on their own, and now my wife and I sit in our bed with them each night about 30 minutes before bedtime, and we all read as a family.  Not only does the ritual provide a means for everyone to wind down after a day full of activity, but it also establishes a relaxing habit for my kids.  I hope they carry the joy of reading with them throughout their lives because reading is critical for a lifetime of learning.  My daughter has taken to reading so much that we often have to tell her to put the book down and go play, eat her dinner, or talk to her friends.  She’s that into it.

Given her predilection to reading anything and everything, it should be no surprise that she’s interested in writing.  She’s only nine, but my interest in writing really exploded when I was nine years old.  I would write mostly silly stories, but I loved creating my own little world.  I could see a lot of that wide-eyed excitement in my daughter when she described her story.  I listened intently as she told me what she planned for her book.  She understands the basic elements of a story already (I didn’t when I was her age), and I hope she stays with it if only to teach her the importance of persevering in the face of the inevitable obstacles that every writer faces in the pursuit of a novel (or any story for that matter).  It’s hard work, and it’s very easy to get discouraged, but the rewards of finishing something you’ve poured your heart into are immense.

No matter what happens with her book, I will be proud of her just the same.  Just having the idea that she can write a book about something she has dreamt up is enough to make me excited for her.  These are the seeds of creativity that can flourish for a lifetime whether she ever writes a book or not.  Knowing her as I do and seeing some of the same flickers of imagination in her that I felt as a child, I think it’s more than a passing fancy.  Once you get the bug to create, it’s not easy to just let it go.  I’ll have fun watching her grow nonetheless.

How I Write

I’ve been writing for a long time, but it was only within the last two years that I decided that I would seriously dedicate my time to finishing many of the stories that I had started and stopped over the years.  My ideas are a dime a dozen.  I have many of them written in my online notebook, in an offline notebook, and on many scraps of paper that I have scrounged from hotel rooms, conferences, and other miscellaneous places over the years when ideas sprung from my ever-wandering mind.  They often strike at the most unlikely moments like a bolt of lightning on a cloudless day.  Sure, some hit at the proverbial times, like in the shower or in the midst of a long run, but many make their presence known at 3 AM in a sudden spurt of wakefulness or in the middle of a terribly boring meeting at work.  All I can do is diligently write them down and see where the ideas take me.  Eventually.

Two years ago while in the midst of making yet another excuse for why I couldn’t write a novel (I don’t have time!  I’ve never done it before!) or turn any of my ideas into stories worth sharing, I decided to do something about it.  For someone who hates excuses more than anything, I sure did let myself get away with that for so long.  Finally, I put my foot down and made a commitment to write every day.  I decided to get up 30 minutes earlier every day during the week and dedicate an hour to just writing.  I didn’t put any pressure on myself to write some specifically; I just told myself to write, and I did.

So the habit began.  I get up at 4:30 AM every morning during the week.  I have breakfast while I check work email and read the news.  Then, I put away my work laptop, grab my trusty personal laptop, plop in my favorite chair, and start writing with a big cup of coffee on the table next to me.  While getting up at that hour may sound torturous, it’s actually a very nice routine that I find relaxing and often the most fulfilling part of my day.  The house is quiet.  I’m alone with nothing but my thoughts to guide me.  It’s easy to get lost in whatever world I’m creating and interact with the characters that come to life on the screen before me.  I’m a morning person by nature anyway, and this routine taps into one of the lucid periods of my day.

In the two years since I started this routine, I’ve completed three novels of at least 80 thousand words each, and I’m halfway through another one.  During this time, I’ve also done multiple edits on all of the novels based on feedback I’ve received from beta readers or editors who have looked at my work.  Most importantly, I am finally seeing those ideas of mine come to life.  It’s amazing to watch the stories transform from a few paragraphs to a hefty novel.  Oftentimes, the stories end up in totally different places than where I first imagined them, but that’s part of the magic of writing.  You just never know where you’re going to go.

Writers tend to divide themselves voluntarily into two semi-religious camps: (1) fly-by-the-seat-of-the-panters and (2) outliners.  I’m an outliner of sorts.  I take my idea and turn it into an outline by chapter where I map out the general arc of the story.  I also write character summaries that tell me everything I imagine a character to be down to her eye color and the dimple in his chin.  Once I have these things in place, I start painting in the color of the story.  While I may like to have such structure to guide me, I don’t let it dictate and control the story.  I’ll often go off on a tangent, decide I love that tangent, and alter the course of the story because of it.

My stories are also not immune to being influenced by current events.  The novel I’m drafting now, The Weight of Regret, was conceived to begin in a nursing home where a grandson found a long-lost grandfather as the story unfolded about a man who had abandoned his family decades earlier.  However, a recent news story about a man found in a ravine in Utah intrigued me enough to change the whole setting of the novel.  I think the story is better this way.  I’m not afraid to pivot if I can make the story better.

While I may do a lot of upfront work, I would be remiss if I pretended that I had everything mapped out from the beginning.  Writing is much like black magic.  You just don’t know where you’re going to end up.  A relatively minor character may take hold of my imagination and I may end up with a stronger protagonist in a seemingly secondary character.  That’s the joy of writing.  There are rules, but then, there aren’t any, so to speak.

One last thing that helped me get over the hump of writing a novel was letting go of perfection in the first draft.  I just pour out my mind on the page.  I let ‘er rip.  I don’t edit or judge as I’m writing in that first round.  That helps me get the foundation for a good story put down, and I rely on the multiple edits done after the first draft to craft the story.  It’s like a lump of clay.  You want to get the basic shape first; then, you nip and tuck until you have a beautiful vase.

How I write is kind of disciplined, but then, it’s not.  That’s the paradox of being a writer, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Long Winter

Here’s the first chapter from my novel, That Which Binds Us.  I’ve just finished the latest series of revisions and will begin querying agents soon for this novel.  Let me know what you think.

I knew my son was trouble from the moment he was conceived.  Unlike the pregnancies with my two older children, I fell ill almost from the point of conception with him, sicker than I had ever been in my life.  The misery refused to subside or at the very least it segued into a final trimester of extreme discomfort that tugged on every last fiber of my being and pushed me to my knees in fits of agony.  I wanted that child out of my womb in the worst way, but he denied me even that courtesy.  My due date came and went with no signs that he’d arrive anytime soon.  Finally, after a week of waiting for a natural end to my agony, my doctor forcibly removed him by C-section.  He had tormented me as long as he possibly could, a tendency that he never outgrew.

His birth offered little relief.  The effects of the C-section, my first and only one, left me doubled over in pain for a while afterward, and the phantom discomfort that remained tortured me for many months more.  Adding to my misery, he refused to sleep on anything resembling a regular schedule.  A fussy and impossibly implacable baby, he failed to sleep through a single night without waking up or needing an unreasonable amount of attention at odd hours until well past his fifth birthday.  He left me constantly fatigued, so I miserably vowed to never have another child.  And I didn’t.  He retained the title of my youngest child, the last of three.  I couldn’t fathom going through that again and surviving.  I doubted I’d survive him, but he had certainly destroyed any romantic notions I had held about cute and cuddly infants and the joys of motherhood.  With him joy dissipated somewhere along with the euphoria of discovering that I was pregnant for the third time.

Over twenty years later he sat across from me with a dour look on his face periodically staring down at his fidgeting hands, one of several nervous habits that he had developed over an angst-filled childhood.  All grown up, at least in a chronological sense, he said few words and maintained a distant, cold demeanor, even to his own mother.  I had never imagined I’d be in a place like that with him.  Never.  The reality tore at my heart and made me want to cry, but I had to be strong for him.  He needed me, just like he had needed me all those years ago as a fussy baby.  I was all he had left.

“Where’s everyone else?” he asked refusing to look me in the eye.  He rarely looked people in the eye when he spoke to them.  Confidence had always betrayed him.

I froze for an instant.  I knew he would ask about them, but I had never really prepared an answer.  “They couldn’t make it today,” I lied.  I immediately hated myself for lying to my son, but the truth was so painful that I couldn’t even utter it.  My heart ached as I watched him absorb my response.  He didn’t flinch, but he blinked fast like he was trying to fight back tears.  He had been an emotional child, more so than even his sister who choreographed histrionics to great effect.

“They’re not coming to see me are they?”

“They will.  Just not today.  This is hard on them too, you know.”  Another lie.  I couldn’t tell him the truth in his fragile state.  Neither of us needed to hear the agonizing truth out loud.

He finally looked up at me.  His face, freshly shaved and smooth, betrayed his intense yet shaky disposition.  His youth shocked me momentarily.  He barely looked twenty years old despite what the calendar said.  He should have had his whole wonderful life ahead of him, but he didn’t.  Not anymore.  Ferocity glowed in his eyes when he said with uncharacteristic certainty, “I know they’re not coming.  They’ve never believed me.  You’re the only one who’s ever believed me.  Besides, they’ve never visited me before.  Why would they come now?”

At once I understood how alone in the world he felt.  My heart ached more, if that were possible, and I wanted to reach out and hug him close just like when he was a little boy, but I couldn’t.  Those sleepless nights flashed in my memory.  At once he morphed into that little five-year-old, small and fragile.  I lay next to him hugging his tiny body close to mine trying to rock him to sleep.  The pain of exhaustion from sleep deprivation filled every crack and crevice in my body.  I repressed the urge to lash out against him and tell him to let me sleep, but in those few lucid moments, when I looked at him lying against me, sleeping fitfully yet hugging me close, I felt a love that was immeasurable and inconceivable.  That love trumped everything else.  I loved my son no matter what, and I would always take care of him.  Always.  No matter what.

He fell silent again.  He’d never been much for words, a predisposition that revealed itself very early in his life.  He celebrated his fourth birthday before I coaxed full sentences out him.  Our innate connection blossomed and thrived, but few others grew beyond mere coexistence.  Even his father failed to build that paternal bond with him as a kid, but my husband neglected our youngest son for reasons beyond his Tommy’s control.  The difficulty of his birth and childhood certainly furthered my husband’s discontent, but it only amplified the awful truth.  My husband never wanted Tommy.  Nevertheless, I kept searching for answers in the past, and I wondered what went wrong.  How did this happen?  I shook the thoughts from my head.  Turning to the past proved as vain as predicting the future.

“How are they treating you?” I asked.

He looked irritated by my question.  He furrowed his brow and tightened his lips into a straight line across his face.  His lips were so pale that they blended into the skin on his face.  A sigh escaped before he responded to me.  “Okay, I guess.  They keep me separated from the others.”

“That’s good.”

“Why?”

“You don’t want to get hurt.”

“There’s no one to talk to.  I’m alone.  Even the guards don’t talk to me.”

“I know, but…” I began.  My logic implicated certain things that I refused to consider, so I changed my response. “…it’s a tough place.  I’m not sure you’d want to talk to anyone anyway.”

“What if I’m here forever?  Is this all I have to look forward to?”  He looked frightened and desperate as he said it.  I wanted to reach out and hug him close just like I did when he was frightened by thunderstorms as a toddler.  I thought of how tiny he used to be, how he used to fit perfectly in my arms and I would roll him up into a ball with lanky arms and legs protruding in all directions and kiss him until he laughed.  I’d tickle him too.  He’d run from me and I would chase him around the house laughing and shrieking like we’d been made for exactly that.  The joy and innocence of those fond memories forever faded into a past that seemed so inexplicable at that very moment, so ephemeral, as if they never happened.

“You won’t be here forever.”

“How do you know?” he said.  Exasperation and frustration seeped from his words.

“Did you do it?”

“No!” He said emphatically.  He sat up ramrod straight in his chair and stared directly into my eyes for the first time.  I saw something frightening in his penetrating stare.  He didn’t blink or falter or give any signs that indicated that he was lying.  I believed him.  I had to believe him.  I looked away briefly, relieving the tension of the moment, but I could feel his intense stare on my neck.  I imagined it burned me, an injury on top of all injuries.

“Then, you won’t be here forever.”  I turned back to face him and tried to sound as self-assured as possible for his sake.  Inside, I trembled with fear because I just didn’t know.  I could only hope.  That’s all I had.  His whole life rested on my hope.

I looked at the clock on the wall behind him.  “Our time is almost up.”

His mood noticeably shifted from detached to gloomy.  I could see the fear building in his eyes washing away the brief intensity he had just displayed.  I’d seen that fear before, more than once.  When he was nine, he broke his dad’s beloved recliner playing with the lever repeatedly until the stress of the persistent back-and-forth wore on its aging mechanical parts and the back just flopped into the down position permanently.  The old, ugly chair had unnaturally possessed my husband since before we were married.  I secretly cheered its ignominious death, but my son became inconsolable once he realized what he had done.  His father had warned him several times to leave it alone, and my son had ignored him.  I tried my best to assure him that his father would be fine once he got over the initial anger, but Tommy ran to his room and hid there waiting fearfully for his father to return home from work.

I couldn’t get him to come out of his room.  He’d talk to me from behind his bedroom door, which he cracked open only enough to allow my voice to pass through, but he had the look in his eyes of a trapped animal left for a certain death.  I’m sure if he could have gnawed his way out of the situation, he would have.  When my husband finally came home, the sight of his favorite chair limply askew in the den incensed him to the point of irrationality.  I tried to calm him down and lay the blame at the fact that the chair had outlived its useful life, but my husband, always in pursuit of reasons to punish Tommy for being born, remained angry beyond reason.  He stormed Tommy’s room and gave him a beating that still makes me cringe to this day.  All of that over a damn chair.  I hated that man for his ridiculous emotions, but the chair fiasco would pale in comparison to what he did to Tommy later.

I looked away from my son for a moment trying to shake the ugly memory from my mind.  His father was so brutal to him.  My husband never treated our other children that way, and Tommy noticed it, knew it to be true.  Maybe that was what put him on the wrong path.  Maybe my husband’s neglect and abuse led him astray because he so desperately sought the attention that every son should get from his father.

I’d been silent for longer than usual, and Tommy looked at me expectantly, wondering what I would say next to make him feel better or wondering why I hadn’t said anything at all.

“Mom, are you okay?” he asked.  His question didn’t bear a trace of curiosity but conveyed a need for reassurance.

A grim look formed on my face.  “Yes, I’m fine.  I just wish you weren’t here.  I wish I could take you home with me.”  My eyes suddenly swelled with tears, but I willed them to stay put.  I didn’t want Tommy to see me cry yet again.  He needed me to be strong, determined, not awash in emotion.

“Me, too.  I’m scared, Mom.”

“I know, honey.  I know.  I’m going to talk to Mr. Lawson tomorrow and see what he plans to do for an appeal.  He told me that he would appeal when we were leaving the courtroom the other day, but he didn’t say much more than that.”

“Does he think I will get out of here?”

“He didn’t say, but he’s a good lawyer.  If anyone can get you out of here, he can.”  I tried to sound hopeful, but my knees wobbled on shaky ground.  I really didn’t know Mr. Lawson too well, certainly not well enough to discern if he were a good lawyer or not.  I had picked him out of a long list of lawyers I had found online and called him on a whim.  He sounded sure of himself and willing to take on Tommy’s case, so I went with him.  He’d been nothing but professional and fearless since he began defending Tommy.  Nothing had deterred him, not even the publicity and the public outrage had cowed him away from defending my son.  He was the only one other than me that believed that Tommy was innocent.  I desperately needed someone else to believe in us even if I had to pay for that privilege.

Tommy frowned at me as unconvinced as the judge who presided over his trial.  More words pressed against his lips, but he refused to let them loose.  His fingernails were chewed close to the quick, and the edges of some of his fingers were blood red from where he had pulled the skin away.  The sight made me wince in pain.  He’d always messed with his nails.  I used to get after him when he was a kid about chewing his nails.  He could just never shake that disgusting, nervous habit.

“Please leave your nails alone, Tommy,” I said shaking my head at him.  I looked down knowingly at his hands.

He met my disapproving expression and clasped his hands together trying to hide the evidence.  “I can’t help it,” he said in a whiny voice just like when he was a young boy.  For a moment, I imagined he was nine again.  He wasn’t like most nine-year-olds.  He loved his mother more than most boys his age.  He wanted to be with me rather than run outside and play with the neighborhood kids.  We’d sit on the couch and watch my favorite shows together and he’d cuddle up next to me.  I would hold his warm little body next to mine and feel the love emanate from him.  He’d fall asleep on me and I’d just sit and watch him sleep.  I had wanted him to be like that forever.  He was my baby.  My last chance to be a mother who was needed.

My older kids stopped cuddling with me by the time they were five or six years old.  After my daughter grew out of it, I wanted another baby just so I could hold it in my arms and feel needed again.  My husband and I never planned on having a third child, but my carelessness led to a surprise one morning that confirmed we’d be welcoming another baby to our family.  While I was excited, my husband was not.  He lamented the thought of going through bottles and diapers again and questioned whether or not we should go through with the pregnancy.  I would not entertain any such options and told him we were having the baby whether he wanted it or not.  Despite the sickness and the endless sleep deprivation, I cherished my youngest child.

“Time’s up,” a guard said walking up behind Tommy.  I didn’t see him there at first and his deep voice startled me.  Tommy clinched at the table in front of him and looked at me fearfully.  His eyes welled quickly and the tears rolled down his cheeks.

“Mommy, please get me out of here,” he said frantically.  His chest heaved heavy breaths and the panic made his body tense up.  The guard tried unsuccessfully to pull him away, so another guard came around the partition to help get Tommy back to his cell.  Most of the time, he went away with the guard without incident, but occasionally, he’d have these emotional breakdowns.  I could never predict when they’d happen, but they always surprised me and left me on edge.  Images of him as a petulant nine-year-old temporarily juxtaposed with the grown man who flailed before me in drab prison clothes.  My heart wrenched.

“Don’t leave me, mommy!” Tommy screamed as they dragged him away.  He was cuffed and chained, so his efforts were futile, but I could see the tension in the chains and the fear in his body.  He wanted to fight and get away, and in my deepest heart, I wanted him to get away and come back to me.  I wanted him to be that little nine-year-old boy that loved to cuddle with his mother again.  I wanted to hold him close to me and take him back home where he belonged, but instead, I sat there in front of an empty booth with smudged glass perforated by tiny concentric circles holding my face in my hands and crying silently.  I cried for Tommy and the injustice of it all.  I couldn’t let this happen to my son.

I finally gathered myself enough to get up from my seat and leave the room, but the image of Tommy crying for me as he was dragged away haunted me.  The raw and uninhibited fear in his voice rattled in my head.  He didn’t belong there.  He was not a hardened criminal.  If the other inmates ever got around him, they would surely hurt him.  The thought scared me.  I hoped the guards protected him.  Mr. Lawson had assured me that they would keep him isolated from the others given the nature and notoriety of his case.  I had to believe him.

Tommy’s reaction reminded me of Jillian.  I didn’t want to think of her, but I did.  Tommy had that same look when Warren accused him of hurting Jillian.  Tommy swore he didn’t, and I believed him, but Warren just couldn’t let it go.  He insisted that Tommy was lying.  Warren had always been jealous of Tommy because I gave Tommy so much attention, but Tommy was the baby in our family, and unlike Warren, Tommy was frail and small.  Warren could be intimidating like his father, and he used that advantage to scare Tommy.  I’d never forgiven him for the way he treated Tommy after Jillian’s baseless accusations.  You couldn’t believe everything a little girl said.  They made up stuff and lied.  Little girls could be just as manipulative as grown women.

I didn’t want to think about Warren.  It angered me that he hadn’t supported his brother at all.  He hadn’t called me to check on him or even make any overtures that he cared in the least.  I didn’t know if he had reached out to my husband, but I doubted it.  Frank would have told me.  He would have made it a point to tell me just so he could hurt me more.  He would have used Warren as a dagger to thrust into my broken heart.  Never mind that he had abandoned his youngest son when he needed him most.  It was all about who was right and who was wrong with Frank.  I wondered if our marriage had always been a sham.  It pained me to think that I gave the best years of my life to that man.

I trudged out to my car beyond the pale steel fence topped with razor wire that engulfed the ugly low-slung buildings on the prison grounds.  I shuddered as I fought the cold wind and sat down on my icy seats.  The gray skies promised more snow as the wind whistled around my car.  The engine rattled to life fighting the cold itself as it mustered the energy to pull out of the parking spot.  With Tommy locked away, despair lingered over me like the clouds that blanketed the sky, and the seemingly endless, godforsaken winter drained every last ounce of hope that I had.

I pulled out of the parking lot and headed down the road to the Interstate, but I watched the garish, angry prison with its barbed wire and high chain-linked fence get smaller and smaller in my rearview mirror.  The distance that grew between me and my son made my heart ache.  Leaving him there seemed so wrong, yet I could do nothing to help him at that moment.  He was at the mercy of the system until Mr. Lawson could make his appeal and hopefully the truth would prevail and he would be free again.  The truth would prevail.  It had to.  My son was just a young man who had been wrongly accused.  I couldn’t let this happen to him.  I wanted my son back home with me.

As I turned onto the Interstate on-ramp, it started to snow again.  My wipers groaned and scraped away the snow that clung to the remnants of the ice from earlier in the morning.  The wipers didn’t help my view as the dirt and grime from the road simply smeared across the windshield.  I pulled the lever for my wiper fluid and nothing came out.  I could barely see, but I moved forward anyway peering through the small clean spot near my line of sight.  Once my car heated up, I was able to get the ice off my windshield, but the snow came down harder, and I wondered out loud when the long, awful winter would end.