Thursday, February 26, 2015

Nerds in the Wild (Conclusion)

Last week, we left Zeke and Ron in a tent on a rocky ledge in Golier Canyon snug in their sleeping bags listening to raindrops pelting the tent overhead. Peaceful scene, right? Well, just wait. We’re in Zeke’s “head” when the concluding installment begins.

I woke in what must have been the middle of the night. It had stopped raining, at least I couldn’t hear water hitting the tent. Of course, I couldn’t hear much of anything because of a dull roaring sound. It took a minute to understand it was the noise of the creek even though the shelf where we lay was ten feet above the water. But maybe not. It sounded closer – and angrier – than that peaceful little trickle of yesterday.
Then I realized my butt was wet. Wet and cold. That’s what had awakened me. I put my hand out and dipped my fingers in half an inch of frigid liquid.
“Ron!” I yelled. “Get up! There’s water in the tent.” I fought my way out of the sleeping bag and stood in the water. And my feet had been about the only part of me that wasn’t freezing. I heard Ron splashing and cursing around in the darkness.
“Glasses! Can’t find my glasses.” That all came out in a moan.
Then I felt the tent move. Not much, but just a little. Hell, it shouldn’t be moving at all. The water was now up around my ankles.
“Get out!” I screamed. “The tent’s about go.”
“Glasses! Gotta find my glasses!”
I found the zipper and managed to get it halfway up. “Forget your glasses. Save your ass!”
I fought my way out of the tent into a freezing wind. I was pretty sure it had stopped raining, but water still pelted my face. Whipped up by the wind, probably. Ron blundered out of the tent and almost shoved me down into the creek. The clouds had cleared and a moon directly overhead provided a little light. I felt blood drain from my face as I looked across the canyon at a broad expanse of boiling water. Yesterday’s playful creek had become an angry river. And we were standing in it.
I turned and ran into Ron. “Run,” I said. “Climb the walls. We gotta get higher.”
“G-grab our packs,” he stammered.
Even as he said it, our tent swayed before the wind and then was gone. We watched with our jaws sagging as it floated briefly before collapsing from the weight of the water inside. It was out of sight within ten seconds.
Just as I started for the wall of rock behind me, a deep booming sound halted me. “What’s that?”
“D-dunno,” Ron stammered. “Maybe thunder.”
It came again … and again. A booming, thudding grinding sound. Getting closer. And then I understood.
“That’s not thunder. Move. Climb for your life!”
“What is it?”
“Climb, man, climb! Don’t waste time talking.
I’m not sure how we did it given the combination of total darkness eased only by the moon’s faint glow and rocks still slippery from the rain, but we began to ascend the nearly vertical walls of Golier Canyon. All the while the terrible booming came closer and closer.
I reached a ledge and paused to grab Ron’s collar and drag him up beside me. I had no idea if we were high enough, but I’d done all I could. I wasn’t going to be able to climb another inch. So I started praying while the wind tried to snatch us off our precarious perch.
The booming grew louder and louder until it was almost ear-splitting. My chilled blood ran even colder. Ron let out a moan as a wall of water rushed toward us, an occasional boulder the size of a truck occasionally visible inside it.
“Oh, shit! Climb,” Ron yelled.
“No!” I shouted. “Don’t move. If we’re not high enough, it’s too late now.”
“We might fall if we try to climb. Stay still.”
The ten-foot wall of muddy water seemed to creep toward us. It was like watching death approach at a slow, deliberate pace. But I knew there was nothing slow about it. And the booms filling our ears weren’t death drums, they were boulders and tree trunks and who knew what else striking the canyon walls while being swept along by the power of the water. Why wasn’t I terrified? Why was I calm?
And then it reached us. The angry wall passed right below our feet, but leaping waves reached up to snatch at us. We were drenched anew, but we remained glued to the wall of rock at our backs. And then I saw a tree, reduced to a sodden log rushing for us. Someone moaned – I think it was me – as a long, cable-like root scraped the canyon wall not twenty feet ahead of us. We clutched cold wet stone and watched in awe as the log tumbled, and the whipping root rose and passed just over our heads.
And then the torrent was past. The booming receded, echoing up and down the steep canyon walls. And with the passing came fear. The absolute terror that had refused to come as we stared Death in the face. I started shivering violently, but didn’t know if it was fright or cold. Probably both. We were without boots and coats, but thank goodness we’d slept in our clothing. Even so, we were soaked to the skin and whipped by a brisk, cold wind.
The water level dropped rapidly after that, but it stubbornly refused to fall enough for us to clamber down to that rock shelf where we’d pitched our tent. There was no way to go anywhere. We were stranded. Would we freeze to death before cramping leg muscles pitched us off the ledge into the torrent below?
I was still calculating the odds on that when I heard the faint sound of a helicopter.
Ron and I considered skipping school the next Monday, but that would merely delay the inevitable. Dweebs and nerds and geeks – and we were all three – came in for more than their share of harassment at Belvedere High, and our recent adventure brought us more than usual. But it also occasioned a few “glad you made it” and “close shave, man” comments.
We had handled things pretty well at school until Friday’s edition of the Belvedere Weekly Gazette came out. The lead story opened with the words:
“Local Belvedere High students, Ezekiel Harmer and Ronald Smylie (both 17) were caught in Saturday’s flash flood in Golier Canyon and had to be rescued by …

Thanks for reading. Hope you enjoyed the story and recognized a few people you know. And take a moment to give me some feedback on the story … be it good or be it bad.

New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Nerds in the Wild (Part 1)

How about a short story this week. Actually, for the next two weeks. It’s two-parter, so I’ll finish it on the 26th. Enjoy.

Creative Commons-3
I cursed under my breath. The car was a mile behind us, the only vehicle in the canyon’s parking lot. That worried me a little. Where was everyone else? This was Saturday. There should be lots of nature lovers out. Like the local jocks we’d overheard talking about this great trip they took up Golier Canyon, making it all sound adventurous and manly.
Now, it just seemed like work. Loaded down with a spanking new backpack that rode heavy on my shoulders and rose half a foot over my head, I was tired and had aching feet. My brand new boots were rapidly raising a brand new blister on my right heel.
“Ron,” I wheezed, “we’re the only ones up here.”
“Yeah, isn’t it great?”
I glanced at him. His cheeks were unnaturally red and sweat fogged the thick lenses of his bottle glasses.
“Why isn’t anyone else up here?”
He stopped and leaned back to look at the tiny patch of sky visible above the canyon’s steep, soaring walls. Unbalanced by a pack with the price sticker still on it, he would have fallen over backwards if I hadn’t propped him up.
“Maybe the weather scared them off. It’s supposed to rain, you know.” He waved a hand in a vaguely westward direction. “But that’s over in Howard County.”
“Yeah, like the rainstorm knows where the county line is,” I said, heavy on sarcasm.
I quit bitching in order to concentrate on where to put my sore feet on a path composed of nothing but loose rocks. When we came to a flat shelf high above the creek rushing down the floor of the canyon, I rebelled.
“That’s it. I’m not going any farther.”
He turned eyes magnified by a factor of two by his bifocals on me. “Zeke, you’re such a wuss.”
I dropped my pack it to the ground, shucked the canteen, and loosened my father’s military web belt laden with a knife and compass and a GP locator. Why did I need a GPL in a canyon you could only go up or down? But Ron had insisted.
“I’m not a wuss,” I said. “I’m a geek, and so are you. I need to be surrounded by computers and IPhones and Wi-fi and things electronic.” I waved my hand around. “Not by rocks piled on stones and limestone stacked on …” I ran out of geologic terms and stopped.
“This is nature, man. Enjoy it.” He surveyed the area, which was no more than about a fifty-foot square of stone, containing a few strands of grass and two scraggly pines for shade. “Not too bad. We can set up our tent here, I guess.”
I bent over to pick up my pack and jumped backwards. “Whoa!”
“What? What is it?” Ron’s eyes went owlish.
“Snake. There. On a rock.”
He gawked at the tightly coiled serpent watching us from ten feet away. “Man, she’s big one? What kind is she?”
“Those button thingys on its end are probably a clue. It’s a rattlesnake, dodo. Tell it to go away.”
“How do I do that?”
“Wave your arms or something. This trip was your idea, man. Do something. And why did you call it a she?”
“Well, she could be. Snakes have males and females, too, you know.”
“What clued you? The long lashes on her eyes or the delicate curve of her fangs?”
“Zeke, stop being shitty. Throw a rock or something at her.”
Even after the snake got tired of our throwing stones at it and slithered down toward the creek bed, I was uneasy. What if this was a rattlesnake roundup place or something. Still, I was too tired to start walking again.
We put up the tent we’d purchased yesterday afternoon. Actually, we popped up the tent. It was one of those all-in-one things that actually pops up. Well, that’s the way the sporting goods salesman explained it, but since it didn’t have wires and resistors and sensors, we had a little trouble with it.
The tent was no sooner up than it began to shower. Mid-morning quickly began looking like twilight. I gazed straight up into boiling, seething clouds that seemed to scrape the top of the canyon walls before scrambling inside our temporary home. Despite myself, I began to enjoy the pitter patter of the drops gently assailing the canvas sheltering us. Except it wasn’t canvas. It was some kind of fancy new material. Before long, the drops got louder and came down harder. Our shower had turned into a rain. Soon, it became a deluge.
“Crap, Ron, this is never going to stop. I’ve half a mind to head back to the car.”
In the gloom of the closed tent, I saw him shiver. “That’s a cold rain, man. You’d drown or freeze before you got there. Besides, it’ll stop soon, and tomorrow morning we can go exploring.”
“Explore, my ass. I just wanna go home. I’m hungry, and all I’ve got is hot dogs and fixings. We can’t even build a campfire. How am I gonna cook the weenies?”
He brightened and rummaged around in a pack – my pack, as a matter of fact – to haul out a black, cast iron skillet.”
“No wonder my backpack was so heavy. What do we need that for?”
“To cook the fish we’re gonna catch tomorrow.
“You made me haul that up the mountain? Why didn’t you put it in your pack?”
“No room.” He opened a can of something that looked like Sterno but had a different name on it.
“It’ll take forever to roast a weenie on that.”
“Uh, uh.” Ron dumped the whole can of nauseating-looking gel out into the skillet and put some scraps of paper in the stuff. It didn’t seem to want to start, but eventually, he got it going. The flames were a little high, but reached nowhere near the top of the tent. The entire enclosure was instantly a bit cozier. He had a couple of wire hangers that worked just as well for cooking weenies as they did for roasting marshmallows. Before long, I was full of weenies and buns.
“What’s that smell?” I asked as I leaned back to relieve the pressure on my stuffed gut.
“What smell?”
“Oh, Geez! The tent’s on fire.”
“There! Underneath the pan.”
Well, it wasn't actually burning, but it was going to be. Soon. Wisps of smoke oozed from beneath the iron skillet.
Ron lunged for the handle. “Unzip the tent!” 
I had my hand on the zipper when he let out a yelp and dropped the skillet. Burning goo flowed sinuously out of the tipped pan onto the floor.
Our fancy new tent might be waterproof, but it sure wasn’t fireproof. Flames danced merrily. When they penetrated the first layer of the floor, the soft cushion of air that kept us off the ground instantly escaped and settled us on jagged pieces of rock.
I grabbed my canteen and emptied it on the flames.
“Nooo!” Ron howled. “Water spreads it. Smother the fire.”
I shrugged out of my coat and threw it on the burning mess. In a few seconds, the flames were out, but my coat was ruined. Charred and smeared with a pink goop, I wouldn’t even put it on again.
The rest of the day dragged by like an inchworm. Or maybe a quarter-inch worm. We had no computers. Our phones wouldn’t work. Ron had forgotten to bring his checkers, and I’d left my chess set behind. There wasn’t anything to do but stare at one another, try to ignore the smell of charred material, keep out of the water oozing up through the burnt hole, and occasionally talk to one another. It was still raining when we gave up and crawled into our sleeping bags.
Just before I surredered to exhaustion and fell asleep, I heard him  ask if I thought that rattlesnake could get in through the hole in the floor.
Please try to contain yourself until next week. And keep on reading. We authors are counting on you to do lots of that.

New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

A Blue Quarter

Today, February 12, is an important date in a friend’s life. I asked Don Morgan’s permission to publish the post he put up on his own blog as if it were mine. He kindly gave me permission to do so. You can also read the post on I’ll go silent now and let him speak.


February, March, and April. A quarter of a year. A blue quarter for me. I'm  a little morose because my wife, Betty, died six years ago today. I considered using “passed on” or “left us” or some other euphemism, but that would serve no purpose. She died, pure and simple. Her death came  after a four-month struggle – two months in the University of New Mexico Medical Center’s ICU and two months at Kindred Hospital, where she passed away around 5:30 a.m. on February 12, 2009.

One month and one day later, March 13, would have been her birthday celebration. April 8 was our wedding anniversary. So – the Blue Quarter.

Each year, I expect the sadness to dissipate … to go away. It doesn’t. It changes in subtle ways. Lessens a little even. But it never goes away. In my “slow to catch on manner,” I’ve  learned a few things from this bad stretch of the year. None of them rise to the level of earth-shattering life lessons, but perhaps sharing some of them will be cathartic – at least for me.

·       I am a survivor. After a long marriage like ours, this was no longer a certainty. We had become very reliant on one another, each contributing in his or her own way. I surrendered too many routine chores to her because she did them better and more efficiently. I didn’t cook (and still don’t), but I haven’t starved yet. Laundry machines and driers and dishwashers were beyond me, but I’ve been able to tame the ornery beasts. At least, my shirts don’t have rings around the collars and my dishes appear clean. I seldom did housekeeping but now … well, let’s not discuss that one.

·       My two sons and I have drawn closer, developed relationships that are different from the ones we shared before. Each has handled her passing in his own way … quite different from mine, incidentally. But we share things we didn’t before. That was likely my fault, so it almost seems like my reaching out to them is to assuage guilt feelings over the lack of depth in our prior relationships. Perhaps that is true, but regardless of the cause, I am on a better standing with each of my sons now.

·       I’ve built a new life. I am not the same person I was when Betty was alive. At least my lifestyle isn’t. I’m less insular; a tad more social. Before her death, we shared one another’s interests and activities. I now concentrate on my own. Even though I’ve moved on, I haven’t left her behind. I think of her often, although not daily, as once was  the case. And I’m comfortable with that because I understand that in some way I honor her memory by doing so. After all, she left me strong enough to stand on my own.

·       This blue mood I experience each year is good for me. It reaffirms the life we once shared together. It wasn’t perfect. In fact, we were probably the typical dysfunctional family. But what we had it was ours, and it lasted for a very long time. Besides, as is also proper, this quarter grows a little less blue and a tad more reflective each year.

I could cite a slew of lesser lessons, but that’s enough self-indulgence for the time being. I simply wanted to honor my wife by sharing this with people who are important to me. 

Thanks for bearing with me.


There is nothing more for me to say, except thanks to the other Don. And to ask you to keep on reading. That’s what keeps authors (and he’s one, too) alive.


New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

On the Way to the Boot Heel Country

A couple of weeks ago, we visited Columbus, New Mexico through the eyes of JB Vinson. The excerpt was from THE CITY OF ROCKS, the third in my BJ Vinson series. The following scene is from the same book (beginning of Chapter 5), and occurs the next day as our Confidential Investigator hero departs Columbus on the way to the M Lazy M Ranch on the trail of a kidnapped duck. Ah, but not an ordinary duck. Quacky (as she is known) represents big bucks.
     Ranchers, like farmers, generally rise with the sun, so I was on the road early Monday, breezing west along Highway 9 over a landscape dominated by creosote, locoweed, and wildflowers. The bright sky was spotted with scattered clouds. The blue silhouette of the Cedar Mountain Range shadowed the horizon.
     The weathercast this morning had predicted a high of ninety-nine degrees, but the temperature had not yet climbed to that point as I drove into the country that had once sheltered the likes of Curly Bill, Old Man Clanton, and Dick Gray, desperados who hid out in the caves and canyons of the Boot Heel. Somewhere ahead of me was a black oak with large knotholes where the outlaws left messages for one another in what is still called Post Office Canyon.
     I passed a sign noting I had crossed into Hidalgo County, a landmass of about thirty-five hundred square miles populated by fewer than six thousand residents; a place known for its large ranches. The Gray Ranch, which was now called by its original name of the Diamond A, was 321,000 acres—a staggering 500 square miles. Alongside that, the M Lazy M was a piker.
I turned south on Highway 81. The ranch was a fair drive from Hachita, the closest town, and as I had a considerable amount of work to do, I phoned Del to let him know I intended to take Bert Kurtz up on his offer to remain overnight. He wanted to clear it with the insurance company to make sure they wouldn’t consider it a conflict of interest should Mud Hen be involved in any sort of scam. He promised to call me back.
     The M Lazy M lay hard against the Mexican state of Chihuahua just short of the Hatchet Mountains in the upper reaches of the Boot Heel. A cattle guard, flanked by a tall adobe arch bearing the ranch’s brand—two capital M’s, the second one lying on its side—marked the main gateway to the spread.
     I paused to snap a photo of the entrance before heading down a well-graded gravel road toward what I assumed would eventually lead to the ranch house. I stopped several times to take pictures of the road and anything else of interest. Like crime scene investigators, PIs can’t function without loads of photos.
     I traveled another ten miles with no sign of habitation; although white-faced cattle grazing in the distance identified this as a working ranch. At the end of the road, I encountered another fence, behind which loomed an odd-looking structure, one that had appeared to have grown from a modest home into something of a monstrosity as succeeding generations of Muldrens left their stamp on the edifice, building first with wood, then with fieldstone and brick. The latest addition was in adobe.
     The place was reminiscent of Gothic novel cover art, although the graceful cottonwoods and sycamores scattered about the broad yard softened the effect. Even so, their towering presence on this landscape of stunted bushes and twisted piñons was almost as bizarre as the building itself. They had obviously been carefully nurtured by the first M’s, possibly even the Lazy M, until they dwarfed every other living thing within sight.
 Interesting country, isn’t it. Come visit it, and see all the other wonders of this beautiful state. But above all, guys …keep on reading.


New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Blog Archive