Finding the Spring of Life Again

body of water near rocks   I was age 51 when I found myself facing a personal crisis of sorts.  It was winter and I was walking the levee in the community where I lived.  I remember it being a very cold day.  The crisis was that I did not know where my life was going and I felt that up until that point I had wasted my life—not for lack of trying but because it seemed that everything I had tried failed.  The river beside which I walked and the sky overhead both were gray, as were the dry hills around me.  The setting reflected my mood.

What shall I do? I thought.  What can I do? was the better question because so many years of opportunity lay behind me.  As I walked and pondered this question, I realized that I had not really followed my heart—not often enough, anyway.  It seemed that each time I had encountered a crossroads and had to make a major decision of some sort that, instead of following my intuition, I would do what I thought was “acceptable” in the minds of others.  And part of those decisions, I realized, was to avoid the label of being called “selfish”.  Apparently, I equated selfishness with following my gut, my intuition, my best judgement.  Consequently, over and over again, my efforts failed and I found myself facing another dead end—just as I faced that day on the levee.  And now I was alone; no emotional or familial network I could look to for support.

I thought of a dozen decisions in the past that I should have made differently but what good was that to me now? I wondered.  More than half my life, gone.  And how much more time did I have, anyway?  Forty years?  Thirty years?  Less?  But even more perplexing was the thought that perhaps I could no longer know what my hearted wanted; I had denied it for so long that my heart had given up on ever changing my path.  I had lost confidence in my own decision-making faculty.  So this is what people mean when they say “I had to find myself” I thought.  I, too, had lost the person I started as.  But when did that Dale disappear? I asked.  So I started tracing my steps back in time:  When was the last time I felt completely myself, like I really knew who I was?

Back and back into my history I went until I discovered the time when my spring of life was clear, un-muddied.  I realized that it was somewhere between the ages of 8 and 11 that I started trying to be the person others wanted me to be and also began believing some of the ways they characterized me and my personality, though I never really thought their characterizations were accurate.  But why would they be wrong?  They saw me from the outside so obviously that was what I projected.  I hope you recognize the flaw in that last statement.

So back to the day on the levee.

What I realized I had to do were two things:  1) I would have to find the Dale who was eight years old again.  Who was he?  What was he like?  And 2) I would simply have to start over, act as if I’m a teen—say someone who is 13 years old, only with much more experience—and build a life with whatever time I had left.  So at age 51, I decided to become 13 again and make the choices my intuition would suggest and stop worrying about how other people (who didn’t really know me) label me.  That’s precisely what I’ve done and, I have to say, it’s worked out pretty well for me so far.  By the way, I’m presently 29 years old in my new life!

Revised Cover

Only one week before Wanderer Come Home launches.  Spent the weekend streamlining the book’s file so hopefully it will run smoothly on all ebook platforms.  I also revised the cover since most people will only see a thumbnail of the book and should at least be able to read it easily.  So, here’s the revised cover.  I hope you’ve had a productive or relaxing weekend.  We launch Monday, 15 August 2022.

Writing Sample

Yes, it’s past time that we have a new writing sample.  Today, I offer Chapter 3 — the big deal.  In this chapter we meet Hunter  and Mandy Carr.  I won’t say much; I’ll just let you read it for yourself.  You may leave a comment, if you wish, in a language other than English and I will read it using the Google Translate tool.  My comments in response will be in English, of course, and hopefully you’ll be able to use a translation tool to understand what I’ve written if you don’t use English much.  Please do leave a comment; I look forward to reading it.  Dale

man standing in front of lighted car

3   the big deal

The ceiling lights of the seventh floor were arranged in the most artful way.  They were tennis ball-sized holes in the ceiling in which hot, halogen micro-lamps were set.  But these recessed lights looked as if the architect had walked around the entire floor, before any walls were constructed, and randomly shot a paintball gun at the ceiling and wherever the paintballs struck, there he placed a light.  The arrangement of the lights reminded one of stars in the midnight firmament.  But despite their seemingly organic and random design, the ceiling lights perfectly illuminated niches holding sculptures, paintings hanging in hallways, floor plants in corners of rooms, planter boxes perched atop half-walls, coffee tables in sitting areas, as well as entryways, signage, drinking fountains and so forth, including the ultramodern fountain, fashioned out of slabs of black stone, that stood in the center of the lobby.  Everything about the seventh floor was plush and expensive.

Matuka & Moore, LLC, occupied the seventh floor of the stylish, new Mercantile Building, located in downtown Clemden.  Matuka & Moore was a brokerage firm which specialized in multimillion-dollar mergers between, mostly, heavy equipment or agribusiness clients.  Hunter Carr was M and M’s top broker and was, at that moment, in the firm’s main conference room, hammering out the final agreement in the biggest deal of his career.

If the deal went through, Hunter stood to earn close to a half-million dollars on its commission.  But if you could have been there and watched him work from outside the thick, glass walls of the conference room, you might have assumed he was leading a creative, brainstorming session rather than a high-stakes negotiation.  You would have assumed that because he appeared very relaxed and smiled as he spoke and even cracked humorous remarks at which the other stern faces around the table smiled tautly.  He was the only animated figure among the group of fifteen dark-suited men and women assembled in that room.

Hunter wore a well-tailored, black suit which looked both perfectly pressed and, at the same time, soft.  He wore an expensive white shirt of Indian cotton and a smart blue tie which had a geometric design of intertwined, monochromatic boxes which conveyed an understated texture.  Mandy Carr always bought her husband a new tie as a good luck charm for occasions such as this and, in Hunter’s case, the charms seemed to work since he was the most successful broker in his firm.

The big-deal meeting ended without flourish.  One minute, they were all sitting stoically as Hunter spoke; then a person on one side of the table commented briefly; then a person on the other side of the table commented briefly; then Hunter made another short remark; then all of the participants began standing.  Some shook hands and nodded to each other hurriedly as they gathered pens, laptops, and cell phones.  All began stowing files and devices in briefcases and, when finished, filed out of the conference room like students leaving a classroom after a bell and in a hurry to be somewhere else.  Three attendees made it a point to shake Hunter’s hand before leaving, but in five minutes, everything was done and Hunter himself left the conference room headed for the men’s executive lavatory, located a short distance down the hall.

On his way to the restroom, carrying his briefcase in one hand, with his free hand he withdrew a cell phone from the inside pocket of his suit coat and pressed the button that turned it on.  The smooth, glass face of the phone lit up.  The men’s executive restroom was gray marble everywhere—floor, walls, and sinks—and gleaming chrome fixtures.  It also had a leather-topped table for holding briefcases, an expanse of mirrors behind the sinks, and an open closet with padded wooden hangers where a CEO or Vice President could hang his coat.  Hunter placed his briefcase on the table then dialed Mandy at home.  Mandy answered the phone:

“Hello?”

“I guess we can’t win ‘em all,” said Hunter tiredly.

“Oh sweetie, really?  What went wrong?”

“Things.”

“So is that it?  Is the whole thing off?”

“Not quite,” said Hunter  “Actually, I’m punking you.”

“What!” Mandy screamed.

“The deal’s done,”said Hunter.  “Mandy, it’s a company record.”

“What?  What?  I can’t believe it,” she said incredulously.

“This was the big one, Man.  The tie worked.  We sign everything next week.  Close to a half-million in commission.”

Hunter held the phone away from his ear as Mandy squealed with delight.

“I can’t believe it.  I can’t believe it,” she said breathlessly.  “Honey, sweetie, can you come home now?”

“Not this minute,” said Hunter.  “I still have calls to make.”

“Okay, it’s three o’clock now.  Can you leave by four?  Please?”

“Yes, I can do that.”

“Good because I’ve got an intimate celebration party planned.  I’ve made a reservation at the Combine for eight o’clock.”

“That was a tad presumptuous, don’t you think, booking a fancy restaurant before the deal’s final?”

“You tell me, Mister Record-Breaker, was there ever any doubt?” said Mandy, a smile in her voice.  “Oh, now I have to go.  I’ve got to let everyone know.”

“I thought you said: ‘intimate’?” said Hunter.

“I did.  And it is.  Only four couples besides us.  That’s intimate.  Okay, sweetie, going to run now.  Be home at four, no later.  Comprende?”

“Si, Senora.”

“Bye.”

The phone in Hunter’s hand, pressed to his ear, went dead.

* *

Hunter and Mandy Carr’s home in Waterford was a Frank Lloyd Wright “Prairie Style” knockoff but a very good one.  It was constructed of flagstone and smooth beams; it had a low-pitched roof and open-beam ceilings; the mood of the interior of the house could be described as airy.  Lots of cedar and glass and a “peek-through” fireplace which heated living room and dining room simultaneously when it was used.  Of course, Mandy Carr had a natural talent for interior design and the Carr residence showcased that gift quite well.  The house was surrounded by mature landscaping of various kinds of flowering shrubbery, a few dwarf deciduous trees as accents, and islands of spruce and fir, placed strategically, to shield the residence from the rest of the world.  It was a nice house at the edge of town.  Hunter and Mandy lived with their daughter, Greta, who was one year away from entering college.

It was seven o’clock.  The Carrs were in the master bedroom finishing dressing for the party at eight.  The master bedroom was a large room which featured one entire wall of exposed flagstone, at the center of which there was a fireplace and mantle and, before it, a cozy sitting area.  Also, Hunter and Mandy each had their own dressing closet and separate bathroom at opposite ends of the master bedroom.  Hunter emerged from his dressing closet.

“How do I look?” he asked his wife.

“You look exactly how I meant for you to look when I laid out your clothes,” said Mandy.  “You look gorgeous and very, very successful.”

Hunter was a handsome man in his late forties.  He wore his straight, sand-colored hair combed back which showed off the graceful braces of his enviable hairline.  That evening, Mandy had laid out for him brown, gaberdine slacks, a starched oxford shirt, a yellow silk tie, a tweed sports jacket, and his Italian, tasseled penny loafers.  He was a work of art and Mandy was the artist.

Mandy had put on her black pantyhose and bra and had finished her hair and makeup but had yet to slip into her black dress, shoes, and bracelet.  She wore her most expensive perfume.

“I’m going out to the pool,” said Hunter.  He had made himself a bourbon and water from the liquor cabinet and wet bar which occupied one corner of their room.

“That’s fine.  I won’t be minute,” said Mandy.

She looked at her husband admiringly.

“Wait.  Come here a second,” she added.

As they came together Mandy wrapped her arms seductively around Hunter’s neck.  She also hooked one leg around his and cantilevered her lower body tightly into his as he stood holding his drink.

“I would kiss you very hard but I don’t want to mess up my lipstick.  You’ll just have to wait till later for that,” she purred in his ear then grinned at him with an open mouth.

“Mm-huh,” agreed Hunter.

He caressed her derrière with his free hand.

“Hunter, Are you okay?”

Yes, I’m perfectly okay.  Why?”

“Hm,” she shrugged.  “I don’t know; you just seem a little tense, maybe.”

“That’s why I’ve got this,” said Hunter and held up his glass.

“Don’t start too early, okay.”

“This is a pretty big day, you know; I feel like celebrating a little,” said Hunter.

“A little is fine,” said Mandy.  “Besides, I’m expecting a blockbuster performance out of you, Mr. Carr, when we get home tonight.”

“So who have you invited to this intimate shindig, party thing?” asked Hunter.

“Well, there’s Kimberley and Sean, Robin and Nick, Karrie and Brandon, and Shelby and Bryan.”

“You invited Shelby and Bryan?”

“Yes, of course,” she said while inspecting her earrings in the mirror.

“They’re not going to have any fun, you know; they’re so damned competitive.  The whole night they’ll be gritting their teeth with envy while fake-fawning over our good fortune.”

“Why do you suppose I invited them, dear?” said Mandy grinning.

“You’re the Devil.”

“No, I’m just devilish.  Besides, if I didn’t invite them, they’d be even more upset.”

“I suppose so,” said Hunter.  “Listen, I’m going to catch a breath of air before we leave; I’ll see you when you’re ready.”

“Okay Mr. Carr.  I’ll be there soon.”

Hunter refreshed his bourbon and water; Mandy went to her closet to put on her dress.  He was about to leave the bedroom.

“Oh, what about Greta?” asked Hunter.

“What about Greta?” said Mandy.

“Well, I mean, where is she tonight?”

“She’s at Naomi’s right now.  But she said something about her and Naomi coming back here for a swim, later.  I think they like skinny-dipping in the pool after we’ve gone to bed.”

“Maybe we should join them,” joked Hunter.

“Now I know why your daughter thinks you’re weird.”

“I was joking!”

“I know.”

“Greta thinks I’m weird?”

“Yes, but that’s normal for girls her age; they think all older men are weird.  You shouldn’t worry about it.  Get some air.  I’ll be ready soon,” said Mandy.

“I’m an ‘older man’ now?” objected  Hunter.

“Sweetheart, I need space.”

“Older man my ass,” grumbled Hunter as he left the room.

On the main floor, towards the back of the house, the beginning of stone pavers demarcated the ends of the living room and kitchen and the start of a recessed patio which extended from inside the house out to the swimming pool in the backyard.  The retractable partition, used only when the Carrs were not at home or during the winter, had already been closed and locked so Hunter had to use the kitchen door to get to the alcove and the pool outside.  Potted citrus bushes—lemons, limes, and mandarin oranges—an arbor, overgrown with grape vines and bordered with lavender and sage, and rattan lounge furniture on the patio, lent the alcove a Tuscan flavor.  When the partition was open, as it usually was, the transition between house and garden was seamless.

In the alcove Hunter inhaled deeply the warm July air of the evening.  The pool was perfectly placid, not a ripple.  The interior of the pool had tiled walls and recessed flood lights which illuminated its crystal water during the evening and at night.  How the clean, calm water so fascinated him Hunter did not understand completely.  But he loved to be near it and to look into its depths.  It soothed him, gave him tranquility, offered him relief from his normal pace of life.

Hunter strolled to the pool’s edge then surveyed its length.  There were no stray air mattresses or pool toys floating on its surface; everything was in order the way he liked it.  He could hear the quiet hum of the filter pump working and inhaled the clean smell of chlorine wafting up from the water.

He walked to the platform of the diving board and up its steps.  In his leather-soled penny loafers he carefully skated to the end of the board, squatted, set down his bourbon and water, then sat himself down on the very end of the board and, finally, picked up his drink again.  He sipped the drink, letting his feet dangle three or four feet above the water’s surface, and stared down at the drain grid below him at the bottom of the deep end.  Getting off the diving board without falling into the water would take a bit more skill than getting on, but he had done it so many times before that, by then, he was expert at it.

“Hunter, sweetheart, what are you doing?” said Mandy quizzically.  She stood on the patio in her black dress and heels with an orange, blue, and pink wrap of silk draped over her slender shoulders.  She was stunningly elegant.

“I’m relaxing,” said Hunter.

“Well love, I’m ready now.  Please don’t fall in.”

“I’ll try,” he said.  He stood and began waving his arms like a maniacal high-wire performer, pretending to lose his balance.

“Whoa-whoa-oa.”

“Oh god!” cried Mandy and instinctively started wobbling towards the swimming pool in her high heels at which point Hunter chortled and strolled off the board and down the platform steps to meet her.  He laughed as he reached out to embrace his scowling wife.

“Humph!” she grunted as she slugged her husband’s arm sharply.

“Ooouch!” said Hunter.  He rubbed his arm but continued sniggering at Mandy’s reaction.  “That hurt,” he laughed.

“That’s for scaring me,” she said.  But then she chuckled at herself and took his arm in hers as they made their way to the garage.

A minute or two later the couple were riding comfortably in the cabin of their silver-gray sport utility vehicle, driving White Chapel Drive in Waterford, on their way to Clemden where they would meet their friends for dinner.  Mandy had tuned the radio to a classical station which, at the moment, featured selections by Beethoven.  They drove eastward so the setting sun threw streaks of orange and violet into the sky behind them.

“Why do you do that?” asked Mandy after a minute.

“Do what?” said Hunter.

“Walk the plank: you know, the thing with the diving board?  What’s with that?”

Hunter shrugged.

“It makes me feel good?”  His answer was a question.

“But why does it make you feel good?”

“I don’t know,” said Hunter.  “I guess because the water’s clean; I can see the bottom.”

Mandy shook her head as she turned to look out the passenger window and watch the landscape pass.

They rode quietly for a few minutes, listening to Beethoven.

“Greta’s right, you know,” said Mandy finally, “you are weird.”

Two couples paused on the pavement in front of the Combine.  The party had ended and they traded small talk as they prepared to part and head home.  The hour was late.

“So what are you guys going to do with all that moola?” asked Shelby.

“Ah, well, we haven’t even thought about it yet,” stammered Mandy as she traded looks with Hunter.

“Probably pay off the mortgage,” said Hunter.

The four of them laughed.  They stood outside the Combine in the pleasant night air.

“What?  No exotic vacation to Kathmandu or the Amazon rainforest?” added Bryan.

“No, see, we never allow ourselves to count chickens before they hatch so, truthfully, we haven’t even spitballed the possibilities yet,” said Hunter.  “But we will, I assure you, as soon as the ink is dry on the contract.”

“Well, we should let you guys go,” said Bryan, his arm draped over Shelby’s shoulder.  “Thank you for dinner and drinks tonight.  We had a great time.”

“Our pleasure,” said Hunter.

Bryan turned to Shelby.  “Well babe, shall we?”

“Yeah, we need to go.  I told the babysitter we’d be home an hour ago.  We love you guys,” said Shelby.

“We love you too,” said Mandy.  “Goodnight.”

“Hey, you guys have to come over for a cookout, okay?  Before summer’s over.  Can we do that?” asked Shelby.

Shelby and Bryan were already walking away, into the shadows, towards the corner of the parking lot where their car was parked.

“Any time,” called Hunter.

“Goodnight,” said Mandy.

Bryan waved before the couple turned and stepped from the curb into the parking lot.  Mandy laced her arm into Hunter’s and they headed the opposite direction to find their car.

“That turned out better than I thought.  I really had fun tonight,” said Hunter.

“Yes you did,” said Mandy.

Just then, Hunter and Mandy stepped from the sidewalk onto the parking lot asphalt.  Hunter’s knee buckled and he staggered sideways but Mandy tugged on his arm and righted him so he caught his balance.

“Thanks,” said Hunter, “I wasn’t expecting that step.”

“Maybe I should drive home,” suggested Mandy.

“Don’t be silly.  I’m fine.  It was dark; I missed the step; no big deal.  Really, I’m okay.  Besides, it’s only a ten minute drive home.”

“It’s twenty minutes or I’m taking the keys,” said Mandy.

“Okay, twenty minutes.  I will drive like the old man my daughter thinks I am.  Will that satisfy you, my dear?”

“Yes it will.”

Like a gentleman, Hunter helped Mandy into her side of the car.

“Thank you, Mr. Carr,” said Mandy.

“You’re welcome, M’dame.”  Hunter bowed like a chauffeur.

* *

At the traffic signal on Cherry Street Hunter made a left turn instead of going straight.

“Ah, sweetheart,” said Mandy calmly, “are we lost?”

“You might be but I’m not,” said Hunter.

“Where are we going?”

“Home.  Haven’t you ever been this way?”

“No, I haven’t.”

“It’s a shortcut.”

“Hunter, please, let’s just go the normal way.”

“I go this way all the time.  It’s at least five minutes faster.  No traffic signals and all that.”

“I prefer traffic signals and street lamps over dark backroads, especially at night.  Please, can we go the other way?” pleaded Mandy.

“Where’s your sense of adventure, Man?  Maybe we’ll find a dark farm road where we can park and make out and I’ll feel you up and give you a hickey or something.  How does that sound?”

“It sounds sophomoric.  And don’t call me ‘Man’”.

“You’re shaving my buzz, man.”

“I said, don’t call me Man.”

“I wasn’t.  I was, like, talking hippie lingo, man.  You know, like, Cheech and Chong?”  Hunter mimicked Tommy Chong’s stoner voice.

“Ha, ha,” Mandy deadpanned.  “Now shut up, Chong, and watch the road.”

They bounced over a railroad track and entered an unlit backroad which was brushy and narrow and bounded on both sides by deep drainage ditches and barbed wire fences.  Into the car entered the pungent oder of cow manure through the ventilation system.

“Oh my god!” cried Mandy who turned up the fan to full blast which only gave the oder more strength.

“It’ll clear out in a minute,” said Hunter.

But no sooner had he said it than the eye-watering stench of skunk overtook the cow dung and caused both riders to curse.

“It’s going to ruin our clothes,” said Mandy.

Hunter pressed the accelerator to run away from the skunk and shot down the backroad through the moonlit countryside.  In a few minutes, they reached the twisted segment of the road which led down to the silver bridge and the Old River.

“Please, Hunter, this looks dangerous.  Can you slow down?” asked Mandy.

“No one’s out here, Man—dy.  I’ll bet you thought I was going to say ‘Man’ again, didn’t you.”

“Just slow down.  Your driving is making my toes curl in my shoes.  Please! slow down.”

They angled left around a bend then straightened out.  Hunter took his foot off of the accelerator and the car began to slow.

“See, no problem.  There’s the bridge now.  We’ll be home in five minutes,” said Hunter patronizingly.

The road narrowed as they reached the iron bridge that had been painted silver.  Hunter cruised across it.  He glanced over at his wife who sat stiffly hugging the passenger-side door.

“Mandy, I was just having fun—” he began to explain.

“LOOK OUT!” she screamed as she jumped up straight in her seat and pointed at something through the windshield.

Hunter snapped his head forward in time to see that the car had drifted right and there before them stood what looked like a ghost.  It was a man, all white, caught in the headlights, eyes wide with terror, holding out one hand towards the car to brace himself for impact and, in the other, holding a fishing pole.

Mandy screamed and Hunter jerked the steering wheel left.  Hunter saw and heard the figure slap the front hood of the car as it swerved past him and missed him.

“AHHHH!” screamed Mandy again.  Then a loud thud as the car hit something on the passenger side.  Hunter instinctively sped up to escape whatever trouble he had caused.

“STOP THE CAR!” cried Mandy.  “Stop!  You have to stop!”

“Did I hit the old man?” yelled Hunter.

“No.  You hit his dog!”

Hunter continued racing up Clemden Road towards Waterford village.

“Dog?!  There was no dog, just a man with a fishing pole.  Did I hit the man?”

“No.  You missed the man.  There was a dog too—”

“I didn’t see it.”

“A black and white dog.  It ran into the road.  You hit it.”

“That bang was the man hitting the hood of our car with his fist.  I saw him do it as we went by.  He was mad,” roared Hunter.

Hunter exhaled.  Perspiration suddenly soaked his collar.  He hooked a finger behind the knot of his necktie and tugged it loose.

“Hunter, you know we have to go back,” said Mandy.

“No we don’t.  Why would some idiot walk his dog on a road like this in the middle of the night, anyway?  It’s insane and it’s not my fault if his dog got—hit.  Besides, you said yourself the dog ran into the road:  In cases of animal verses car, the automobile always has the right of way.  Legally, I’m not even supposed to swerve—for a dog, I mean.”

“Please, Hunter, we have to go back.”

“And do what?  Pay the coot for his damned dog?”

“No.  To make sure he’s all right.  And to offer assistance if he needs any.”

“All that would accomplish would be to open a legal can of worms.”

“We’re not talking about legalities.  We’re talking about right and wrong, Hunter, and I know you know the difference,” said Mandy emphatically.  “We need to do the right thing.”

But Hunter did not turn around.  They rode a minute without speaking.

“You’re sure I didn’t hit the man or another person?” he asked.

“You hit a black and white dog.  It looked like a collie.”

“I don’t think collies are black and white.”

“I don’t know what it was,” said Mandy exasperated.  “It had long hair like a collie.  It was shaped like a collie.  It was black and white in color.  If you don’t go back, I’m not going to forgive you, and you’re going to ruin our night.”

“Our night’s already been ruined by some stupid person who walks his damned dog in the country at night,” said Hunter.

That’s where the matter ended for the rest of the ride home.

Once home, Mandy told Hunter she was exhausted, needed a shower, and was going to bed.

“Besides,” she added, “you’re drunk; I don’t like drunks.”

“I am not drunk,” he protested.  “I know when I’ve had too much.  I wish you wouldn’t let whatever happened at the bridge ruin everything.  It’s not fair to me.  Not tonight.”

“You should have stopped,” she stated once more for the record.

“I need a double,” he replied.

“No walking the plank, tonight.  Do you hear me?  It’s not safe.”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Hunter.

“Good night, then,” said Mandy who took off her heels and headed upstairs to the bedroom.

Hunter found a large bottle of bourbon in the maple liquor cabinet in the living room and carried it to the kitchen.  He mixed himself a double bourbon and water and drank it quickly then made second.  Right away the liquor went to his head and he felt better.

The unfortunate event of that evening faded quickly from his thoughts.  Being alone, at last, he was able, for the first time since that afternoon when the meeting ended, to congratulate himself for the deal he had pulled off.  It had been a complex one.  The clients were not just competitors but also enemies with a hostile history between them and, yet, Hunter had somehow gotten them to recognize they needed each other and that their bottom lines needed the deal he proposed.  Even if the commission had not been the company record that it was, Hunter would have felt great pride in this particular deal.  He knew that very few in his profession would even attempt what he had accomplished that day.  He was extremely proud of that fact.

“Here’s to you, Hunter,” he said and raised his glass, “You pulled off the shleeming, the seeming imposs—ible.  You’re the best.”  He emptied his glass with the toast.  His eyes began to close involuntarily.  “One more,” he said to himself.

He felt excellent and, intuitively, was drawn to the swimming pool, its bright, clear water, the siren of his soul.

The midsummer night air had cooled considerably.  The stars sparkled brightly.  The spruce and fir trees, bordering the yard, scented the breeze.  The swimming pool lay there like a giant television screen, projecting bright, blue light up into the night.  Hunter, a bit unsteady, nonetheless, managed walking the plank successfully without even spilling his drink.  He sat down on the end of the diving board, reached back, picked up his bourbon and water, then smiled at the perfectly still and glowing water and marveled at its beauty.  Though not a religious man, Hunter, at that moment, felt close to God.

Ker-plunk.

His glass had slipped from his hand and fell into the deep end of the swimming pool, staining the water as it sank.  His eyes had closed.  His torso began rotating ever so slightly and his head tilted little by little towards his chest.  An expression of serenity altered his face into that of an innocent child, sleeping.  He had passed out sitting on the end of diving board.  Mandy had already gone to bed.

* * * *

Upon This Path Together

I want to stop a minute to say that this day (of having my first novel published) could not have been possible without the abiding support, care, and love of one person:  Her name is Kathryn.  Writing a book (as some of you know) demands a great deal of time and focus and without those two elements a book simply is not possible.  On a practical level it means hundreds of hours sitting in front of a computer screen and blocking out everything—and everyone—except that screen and one’s own thoughts.  It feels selfish at times to devote so much time and emotional energy to such a project.  But Kathryn has given me the time and space I’ve needed to do just that.  And that is no small gift.  In fact, she’s encouraged me to keep working, to my heart’s content, and finish the project which, finally, I have.

But she has done more than that.  She has listened to hundreds of readings of chapters, still in progress, and entered the world of the story with me and grown to love its characters as much as I do.  She has cheered me when I was discouraged, brought me innumerable cups of coffee and saucers of cookies when I would not leave the computer to eat, and unselfishly applauded every tiny but significant advance towards the ultimate completion of this work.  Not once has she complained about the lawn going without mowing—which it has done often—or any of the other neglects for which I’m guilty.  Instead, she has adapted her world to mine.

person walking on pathway between trees during daytime

Kathryn has walked with me on this path every step of the journey and without her Wanderer Come Home would only still be a hope but not a reality.  So, thank you, Kathryn!  You are such a sweet and gentle soul—one I can never live without.  God bless you, my Love!

Dale

Special Presale for Readers of this Blog!

people inside library

Announcement:

Exclusive early release! My new book, “Wanderer Come Home”, is coming August 15 to major retailers, but the ebook is available NOW at #Smashwords for immediate purchase and reading!  Or download a FREE SAMPLE first before you purchase.

Get it HERE!

Tell others about this EARLY RELEASE and they can get the book, too!

Dale

Great News!

UPDATE:  Wanderer Come Home has passed the vetting process and will now be available through a number of major ebook retailers such as Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, Scribd and others!  Check out the PURCHASE MY COPY tab above to see if your favorite retailer sells Wanderer.

I have uploaded an ebook version of Wanderer Come Home to Smashwords and it has been accepted for publication, though it is presently still in the vetting process (I believe to see if it meets standards for wider distribution?).

man jumping on the middle of the street during daytime

The release date is Monday, August 15th 2022; that’s when it will be available for purchase.  Only 11 days away!  But the book is already listed at the Smashwords retail store where you can read a sample of Wanderer and pre-order it.  See HERE.

I will keep you updated as things develop.  I am so very excited!  This book has been three years in the making and now, finally, I can share it with others like you who love a good story as much as I do.

Thank you for checking out Wanderer Come Home at Smashwords and please leave comments.

Dale

New Cover

Well today, I felt compelled to redesign the cover for Wanderer.  So that’s what I’ve done.  I would like to hear your input on the new design—if you like it better or not as well as the old design.  I might also mention that yesterday I received some great feedback on the book blurbs and it turns out that the first blurb is the more effective one.  Upon reevaluating both blurbs, I agree with the information I received.  The first blurb is much more concise, it opens a lead (a hook) without over-stating it, and, generally, better fits the profile of what we as readers expect from a blurb.  So, at this point, I plan to go with blurb #1.  Thank you, Nate, for your feedback!

Okay, so here is the new cover.  Please let me know what you think.

A Second Book Blurb – Which Do You Like Better?

I’ve written a second blurb.  This one is longer (285 words), isn’t a spoiler at all, and, I think, covers the story better.  But you tell me which one you prefer, please, if you will.  And again, comment on which one causes you to want to read and purchase the book.  Thank you, thank you, thank you very much.

Dale

book blurb 2

Axel Browne is the product of the swiftly dimming era of the 1960s and Vietnam War.  In 1968, he returns from the war but cannot re-acclimate to the American lifestyle so drops out and becomes a wanderer.

But now, at age 70, he realizes his traveling days are probably over.  Seven years have passed since the Christmas Eve of 2010 when he met Miss Plackie while peddling yard work for food, door-to-door, on the outskirts of Waterford, Ohio.  He ends up wintering in Miss Plackie’s toolshed that dismal winter but then stays on and puts down shallow roots.

Wanderer Come Home closely follows Axel Browne over several months of his quixotic history where we find in him a curious hero.  But what we also discover is that Axel Browne harbors a secret—a mystery he has carried since childhood which gradually reveals itself through his interactions with friends, adversaries, and strangers.

But Axel’s story has a countermelody—a strange analogue—told through events in the life of another character and resident of Waterford.  His name is Hunter Carr.  In most ways, Hunter Carr is the antithesis of Axel Browne and, as the story begins, they are complete strangers, having no idea the other exists.  Yet, their stories become entangled even before they meet face-to-face and have the result of profoundly changing the other’s destiny.  It all begins on a fateful night in July on an iron bridge painted silver.

Wanderer Come Home is a story about undying love and a child’s promise, about loyalty and commitment between friends, about death, resurrection, and healing, and about how the mysteries beyond our reality here on Earth shape our lives as mortal beings.

How Do You Like My Book Blurb?

Okay folks.  I could really use your help (that means comments) on this one.  Today, I’ve written a possible book blurb for my novel.  The blurb is a description of the novel, the story, or content of the book.  We read the blurbs to decide if we’re interested in reading the book.  If the blurb is compelling, we purchase the book and can’t wait to crack it open and begin reading.

So, what I need to know is:  After reading the blurb below, do you want to read the book AND would you then purchase it?  Whatever comments you offer will be very helpful to me and much appreciated.  The blurb is still in rough draft form but here it is:

book blurb

At age eight, upon witnessing his best friend, Dixie, being hit by a car while riding her bicycle, a life-changing mystery confronts Axel Browne.  This mystery will shape his life for the next sixty-two years, compelling him on a search for an improbable solution—finding Dixie Larsen whom he believes has been reincarnated.

Fast-forward to 2018.  Now, Axel is seventy years old, lives in a friend’s toolshed, and has all but given up on ever finding Dixie in his lifetime.  Then a second car accident and death of a friend upends Axel’s life once more.  The series of events which unfold from this accident exhume a clue from the past which could resolve Axel’s mystery and lead him to Dixie.

Wanderer Come Home is a story about undying love and a child’s promise, and how the mysteries beyond reality on Earth shape our lives as mortals.

New Chapter Sample

 

Hi.  So here’s Chapter 2 — the errand.  Please scroll down if you wish to read the Prologue and Chapter 1.  They are together in a post, only a little ways below.  Here, in Chapter 2, we meet Miss Plackie and Axel Browne.  Axel is our story’s main character but Miss Plackie plays a significant role, as well.  Comments are very welcome.  Please enjoy!

green grass field and trees

2   the errand

The sun climbed above the yellow poplars at the edge of the garden and began warming the back of Miss Plackie’s house while carpenter bees burrowed holes in the eves of her back porch and floated lazily like soap-bubbles around the hollyhocks.  The grass in her backyard had gotten tall, especially at the corners of things.  It had been an unusually wet May so the weeds as well as the vegetable plants in the garden had all grown quickly and were taller than they normally would have been that time of year.

Miss Plackie’s house rested on two slanted acres of land which lay about a mile and a half south of Waterford village and about two miles southwest of the Old River.  The architecture of her house was typical of those found in the country.  It was an old house now but when it was young someone had planted trees all around it which, after several decades, had dwarfed the dwelling and made it appear squat.  But now the brilliant and varied hues of that spring morning and the clear azure sky lent the place a bucolic peace and made it seem less shabby.

The screen door spring croaked as Miss Plackie pushed the back porch door open.  In front of her were four wooden steps leading down to the grass and a drop in elevation of three feet, certainly enough to break an ankle.  The steps lacked handrails.  She waited a minute, holding onto the screen porch doorframe, and looked down the steps then frowned.  She was trying to judge the distance between the threshold where she stood and the first step in front of her so to negotiate the whole series of steps successfully in her slippers.  She was not entirely steady.

Miss Plackie was a middle aged woman in her fifties.  She could still appear youthful at a distance so that once in a while those who had known her in her youth caught glimpses of the beautiful girl she had once been as she gestured with her hands or turned her head a certain way.  Her hair was full and wavy and fell a few inches below her shoulders.  But these days she seldom brushed it and her once coffee colored mane had become salted with gray.  With age her frame had lost much of its feminine nuance and had grown too angular, now resembling that of a slender boy.

She wore a sheer, pale-blue nightgown.  The gown was froufrou on account of the fake ostrich feathers which edged its cuffs, neckline, and hem.  For footwear she donned clear acrylic “glass slippers” the heels of which gleamed with gold-foil.

All at once as if to say “to hell with it,” Miss Plackie clopped down all four stairs in a way that looked like a skier descending a bumpy slalom.  But she made it safely to the bottom and onto the uneven grass without disaster where she then turned and angled towards the toolshed, trotting briskly across the yard.

The shed was a relatively large one as sheds go, eight feet by twelve or so, having a wide door at the front and a small square window which let in light at the back.

At the shed, Miss Plackie began pounding the door with her fist which in itself could have startled Lazarus to his feet.

“Axel!  Axel, if you’re in there I’d like to see you for a minute.  Axel!  Are you here?” she hollered while still hammering the door with her fist.

“Hold your horses, for Pete’s sake.  I’m coming,” said Axel gruffly.  Miss Plackie ceased knocking and stepped back a foot or two.

“Okay,” she said meekly.

In the backyard a large sycamore tree overhung the toolshed where Axel napped in the mornings.  Miss Plackie had given Axel permission to live in her toolshed since she seldom needed tools and, in fact, apart from the rusty hammer in her utility drawer, did not know if she owned any.  It was late morning but Axel had only gotten four hours of sleep since breakfast.  As usual, he and Dixie had been out all night fishing.  Dixie, too, had found her bed under the card table behind the shed and had been dreaming dog dreams which caused her legs and ears to twitch as she slept.

Axel coughed twice.  Something hard fell inside the shed, hit the floor, and rolled a little.

“For crying out loud, Miss Sharon, it’s only eleven o’clock,” said Axel.

Dixie came running around the corner of the toolshed wagging her tail.

“If you have time I need your help with something—in the house,” Miss Plackie explained.

She leaned forward listening for an answer but all she could hear were Axel’s heavy feet on the plywood floor as he rose from his cot and approached the door.  He sometimes stretched himself on his cot and fell asleep with his boots on; this was one of those times.  Miss Plackie stepped back a bit and straightened herself.

The door of the shed swung open wide enough for Axel to stoop and step down from the edge of the doorway.  Stooping through doorways was a habit learned by a man who had knocked his head innumerable times entering or exiting tight places.  And although Axel was only a little taller than the average man he had knocked his head plenty over the years.

Miss Plackie had always been impressed with the deliberation with which Axel moved.  She waited as he, without speaking yet, stepped down and carefully closed the shed door before turning to face her.  Then he smiled a little to mask the annoyance he felt for having his rest broken.  And seeing him smile, Miss Plackie bought the courteous deception and smiled back warmly and fluttered her eyelashes to express her gratitude to Axel for being as understanding of her needs as he was.  Other men, she knew, would have stormed out of the shed and shouted at her.  But Axel Browne was a gentleman.

Axel had a flat, Nordic face over which it appeared the skin had been drawn more tightly than it ought to be, making it difficult for him to frown.  He stood erect at two and a half inches over six feet and, now, in his seventy-first year of life, his blond hair had become streaked with white, causing the blond that was left to appear slightly yellow.  He wore his hair cropped close around the ears and back of skull but allowed it to grow like wheat on top, a sheaf of which flopped over onto his broad forehead.  He was a large man but not heavy.  He was sinewy like someone who chopped a cord of wood every day.  Broad in the shoulders but flat in the rump, though his thighs and calves were still well-developed and strong.

He wore an old softball team shirt he had picked up somewhere.  It had raglan sleeves that were once red but now faded to almost pink.  The body of the shirt was white—though stained here and there—with “TIGERS” emblazoned across the chest and the numeral “55” printed in red plastic ink, which had cracked and flaked but was still visible, on the back.  The shirt sagged on Axel, down below the pockets of his pants.  He wore a pair of drab green shorts, made of denim, which ended just above his knobby knees.  The shorts had extra pockets on the fronts and sides and Axel made good use of them.  He often stuffed them with fishing gear and sandwiches.  His shoes were a pair of hiking boots, battered but real leather, whose arch-supports were still good.  Axel valued good arch-support.

“Well, now, I understand you have an emergency of some sort which requires my intervention,” said Axel a bit condescendingly.

“Oh now Axel, save the preaching for the pulpit; it’s not polite to talk down to a lady.”

He rolled his eyes.

“What is it you need, Miss Sharon?”

“Well, it’s in the kitchen.  I’ll show you,” she replied then turned and headed in that direction.

Dixie, who had stood by listening to this exchange, appeared to understand at least the end of the conversation.  She barked once then ran across the yard to the porch steps where she waited for Miss Plackie and Axel to catch up.

Leaning on Axel’s arm Miss Plackie climbed the wooden steps and entered the screened back porch.  Axel and Dixie followed.  From there they passed through the mudroom and into the kitchen.  It was an old kitchen with a high ceiling and high cupboards, the top shelves of which required either a tall man and a chair or a woman with a ladder to reach them.  The kitchen was cool and orderly.  But Dixie began scouting the floor anyway for edible morsels, as was her habit.

One of Miss Plackie’s straight-back dining room chairs had been pulled from its usual place at the table and pushed up against the base-cupboard beside the refrigerator.  The upper cupboard door stood open.

“I can’t find my molasses,” said Miss Plackie, exasperated.  “I know I have a whole bottle of it somewhere but I can’t, for the life of me, find it.  I think it has to be up there.”

She pointed to the top shelf of the open cupboard.

“How would it get up there?” said Axel incredulously.

“I don’t know.  Would you please just look for me?  I want to bake a batch of gingerbread cookies today.”

Axel grumbled something about “couldn’t have waited till later” under his breath as he climbed atop the chair.

“And since you’re there,” said Miss Plackie, “if you see my cough syrup or anything else, you might as well hand that down, too.”

“No, there’s nothing here.  No molasses or cough syrup,” answered Axel.

“But what’s that?”

“What’s what?” said Axel.

“That!  I see the top of a bottle up there, towards the back.  What’s that?”

“Oh that’s just an empty bottle of some kind,” he said.

He reached back and pulled down a tallish glass bottle and shook it.

“Looks like it was a bottle of port at one time.  There’s a brown stain in the bottom.  Here you want it?”

Axel handed it down.

“Oh thank-you,” said Miss Plackie, disappointed.  “I’ll throw it away.”

“You want me to check the other cupboards while I’m here?”

“No, I’m sure I’ll find it.”

Axel climbed down, brushed the dust from the seat of the creaky chair, and placed it back at the table in the dinning room.

“Well, is that all you needed, Miss Sharon?” asked Axel.

Miss Plackie seemed lost in thought as she anxiously wrung the neck of the empty bottle she held.

“Yes, I suppose so,” she said softly.

Axel exhaled audibly because he recognized Miss Plackie’s dilemma.

“You need me to go to the ABC store for you, Miss Sharon?” he asked.  His tone had softened into that of a confidante.

“Oh could you?  It would be a very chivalrous gesture if you did.  Are you sure it wouldn’t be a great inconvenience?”

She stood before him anxiously, shoulders drawn, eyes pleading, hair mussed.  She reminded him of a small girl in a princess costume.  Axel felt a pang of pity course up from his stomach through his chest.  He, better than anyone, understood Miss Plackie’s addiction and the embarrassment she must have felt having to rely on someone else to feed it.

“Dixie and I don’t have anything else pressing.  We’d be happy to go,” said Axel.

“When did you think you would—you know—go?” she asked.

“I’ll leave straight from here if that suits you.”

“Why, bless your heart,” said Miss Plackie.  That would suit me fine.  Thank you so much.  Let me find my glasses and pocketbook.”

“You’re welcome; never a problem,” said Axel.

Miss Plackie scurried to the back of the house.  Axel assumed she was headed to her bedroom since sometimes he also heard a drawer being opened and closed when she went to fetch her pocketbook.

“I just remembered, there’s a new guy at the ABC who doesn’t like me,” called Axel in the direction of the bedroom.  “I hope he doesn’t cause a problem like last time.”  Miss Plackie didn’t answer.

A minute later she reappeared in the dinning room clutching a blue, fabric purse which, in shape, looked like an Idaho potato.  It was stuffed full of bills, coins, and coupons which, though she clipped and collected religiously, never redeemed.

“I’m sorry, what were you saying?  I couldn’t hear you very well back there,” she said as she returned.

“I was saying that I’m worried about the new trainee at the store.  Last time I was in, he said I had to have ID or he wouldn’t sell me any booze.  But luckily Gary intervened and let me buy what I needed.  But if that guy’s working by himself today, he could give me trouble.”

“Why don’t you show him my driver’s license?” offered Miss Plackie.

“Thank you Miss Sharon but I don’t think that will help.”

“Oh, don’t worry about it,” said Miss Plackie, “I’ll just write a note like we used to.  Show it to Terry.  He’ll take care of it.”

“But Terry died two years ago, Miss Sharon.”

“Two years?”

“Yes, ma’am,” said Axel.  And he retired two years before that.”

“Oh, my!  Time gets away, doesn’t it.  I’m sorry to hear about Terry: he was a kind fellow.  Well, then give the note to the new manager; I’m sure Terry told him about our arrangement before he, you know, moved on.”

Miss Plackie leaned over the dinning room table and began, with both hands, shuffling objects that cluttered it—books, coupon flyers, scissors, a coffee mug holding pens, doilies, two thin bud vases, half filled with cloudy water, a scattering of wilted rose petals, her prized antique flower bowl, her favorite teacup and saucer, a pile of unopened statements and junk mail, and a stack of outdated magazines (that she still intended to read)—until she found the notepad she was searching for.  She tore a sheet from it and began scratching a note in her hurried hand.  She signed it at the bottom and held it out for Axel to take.

“I feel like a damned schoolboy,” he said as he accepted the note and stuffed it into a pocket.

Miss Plackie then tore another slip from the notepad and in two-seconds completed a shopping list.

“Now, here’s a list of what I need, Axel; there’s something on it for you, too, as a thank-you.  And—”  She opened her blue potato purse and began digging.  “And there’s cash.  Is forty enough?”

“It’s too much.”

“Just bring me the change; that’ll be fine.  So are we set?”

“Well, yes, I suppose we are,” said Axel.

Axel gave Dixie, who had been cooling her belly on the kitchen linoleum, a reedy whistle.  At that signal, Dixie jumped to her feet and ran to the mudroom door where she waited, smiling and wagging her tail, for Axel to let her out.  Dixie always enjoyed visiting Miss Plackie’s house but she enjoyed even more being in her own element—outdoors.

Miss Plackie saw Axel and Dixie out through the mudroom and screened porch and into the backyard.  She stood in her slippers and gown in the tall grass, shading her eyes with one hand and watching as Axel and Dixie prepared to leave.  Axel stopped by the shed long enough to grab his backpack and hat.  He thought about taking his fishing pole and tackle box too but, at the last, decided against it since he knew Miss Plackie would be waiting anxiously at home until his and Dixie’s return.  He whistled again and Dixie took off running towards the path that led to the road that led to the railroad tracks that led to town.  It was a pretty good hike into town from Miss Plackie’s place and the sun, by then, was high and bore down with full force.

Axel set out at a good pace following Dixie.  He bounced his pack once to even its weight on his shoulders then turned and, without breaking stride, gave Miss Plackie a quick salute goodbye before turning back to the path ahead of him.  She smiled and waved weakly at his back.

“Oh darn!” she said to herself, “I should’ve had him pick up a bottle of molasses while he was out.”

*  *  *

Dixie pressed her nose against the glass, looking through the front door of the liquor store and twitched her ears nervously as she waited for Axel’s return.  Axel stood at the checkout counter with a piqued expression on his face, watching the clerk study Miss Plackie’s note.  On the counter between the clerk and Axel stood three bottles: two tall ones containing gin and vodka and a short one filled with a walnut-brown bourbon.

How long does it take to read a stupid note? thought Axel; This guy’s going to be an asshole again, I can tell.

The clerk was a short, paunchy man who wore black trousers, penny loafers, and a Hawaiian-print shirt that was splattered with parrots and palm trees but was mostly orange in color.  He looked somewhere between thirty and thirty-five years of age.  He had a round head and wavy, dark hair but a U-shaped patch of baldness exposed the shiny surface of the top of his pate.  His features in general were rounded; his eyebrows dark and bushy; his eyes bulbous and suspicious and somewhere in color between brown and black.  And overall he wore an air of cocky superiority about him.

Reading Miss Plackie’s note he smirked as if reading a joke.  Your typical Barney Fife, thought Axel contemptuously, as he eyed the man from the other side of the counter.  Then the clerk’s smirk faded and his brows knitted as his eyes shifted quickly back and forth, reading the note again.  Eventually the inquisitor rolled his eyes upward and focused them probingly on Axel.  Axel countered with his most charming fake grin, the kind a schoolboy gives his teacher when he hands her a note from home asking that he be released from class after lunch.

“I’ll need to see some ID,” said the clerk flatly, then returned Axel’s fake grin with his own brand which was more toothy and more sinister.

“Seriously?” said Axel dismayed.  “You’re going to card me?  How old do I look to you?  Seventeen?”

“Don’t get smart with me,” warned the clerk.  “I’m an agent of the State.”

“The state of what?” demanded Axel.

“Let me tell you something, mister:  I’m the one who says who does or doesn’t do business in this store!  And right now you’re about two seconds from getting your derrière eighty-sixed—permanently.  I’m not playing, man.”

“No!  I’m going to tell you something, Mr. Bigmouth!” said Axel, raising his voice and jabbing his big finger in the clerk’s face.  “I was crawling on my belly in the slime and mud and dodging bullets at night in the snake-infested jungles of Southeast Asia defending Liberty against the Vietcong before your daddy’s balls dropped!  And if it wasn’t for men like me doing the heavy lifting in this country, shit-heads like you wouldn’t have the wherewithal to attend your preppy schools and join your cliquey fraternities where all you do for four years is stay drunk and paddle each others’ asses!  So don’t—”

Axel paused to catch his breath and would have continued his tirade if he hadn’t noticed the clerk’s jaw dropped open and a look of stunned surrender frozen on his face.  Axel held his breath for a couple of seconds then exhaled.  The clerk’s eyes bugged and he swallowed hard, apparently expecting the barrage to continue.

“Are you all right?” asked Axel.

“I dropped out,” blurted the clerk.  His voice quavering with emotion.

“What?” said Axel.

“Yeah man, I only attended community college and dropped out after the first year.  I’m not the guy you’re talking about.  I’m just a working stiff like everybody else.  My dad changed truck tires for a living his entire life.  He couldn’t afford university or prep school like you think.”

The clerk appeared on the verge of breaking down.  Axel glanced sideways over his shoulder to reorient himself to his surroundings and to make sure there wasn’t a security guard standing behind him with a .38 trained on his back.

Axel sometimes forgot how he intimidated others when he became upset.  A girlfriend had once told him that when anger or disappointment gripped him, it was as if he turned into a blackhole, sucking out every ounce of air and light from whatever room he was in.  But it was never something he intended.  He didn’t want to be a light-sucking blackhole; he just wanted to say what he felt, like everyone else seemed permitted to do.  But for some reason, his emotions, his observations, his piques, his very thoughts were too amplified to be digested by others, raw.  This passion he felt was only another aspect of his life which had turned him into a human alien on Earth.  In his mind he had never been one of them but neither had he desired to be theirs—and more so since that day in Vietnam in 1968 when he died for four to eight minutes aboard the medevac Huey on its way to the Army surgical hospital—certainly not since then had he bought into the paradigm which everyone else seemed to accept as “normal”.

In a moment Axel’s anger dissipated but, at the same time, he was in no mood to capitulate.  If I get eighty-sixed by this shit-head, he thought, well, it wouldn’t be the first time.  But it would be a pain in the ass, nonetheless.

“Look, I’m just the courier here,” said Axel.  “I’m buying the hooch for Miss Sharon.  She’s my neighbor.  She doesn’t get out much because she’s an alcoholic.  You have her note in front of you which she gave me and I gave you.  We’ve had this arrangement for years with Terry at this store, and it worked fine.  The note bears her signature and telephone number.  Call her.  Call Miss Sharon.  I’ll wait.  I’m not trying to pull anything.  It’ll only take a minute; just call and ask if the hooch is hers or not.  Could you at least do that, please, for an old man?”

The clerk picked up the note and looked at it again.

“How do you pronounce her last name?” he asked.

“Just like it’s spelled:  Plack – ie; rhymes with Blackie, you know, like the name of a cat or something.”

The clerk shot Axel an annoyed glance then cleared his throat.  He picked up the handset of the telephone behind the counter and gave Axel one more stern look.  Axel shrugged as if to say, “Go on”.  The clerk held the handset to his ear for a second or two then placed it back in the cradle.

“Okay, I’ll tell you what,” said the clerk, “I believe you.  But let me ask you this: do Ray and Gary sell you hooch, ahem—I mean—product without identification?”

“They both do, all the time.  But they know me.  It’s never a problem.”

“You know, all you would’ve had to do was produce an ID and that would have been the end of it.  But I suspect that you were already here, in the store, before you remembered that you had left your identification at home, again, because you’re so used to buying product without it.  But I’m a play-by-the-book sort of guy so I’m always going to ask for ID if I think it’s prudent to do so.  You forgot your ID again, didn’t you?”

The clerk smiled slyly.  He wanted an admission of some kind from Axel so Axel gave him one.

“What can I say?  Yes, I left my ID back at the swamp.  And it’s a long way back and a hot day and Dixie and I—”

“I understand.  I understand.  You don’t have to explain,” interrupted the clerk condescendingly.  “But next time bring your ID.  That way all of this unpleasantness can be avoided.  Okay?”

“Yes, sir,” said Axel  “Message received.”  He smiled broadly as he shoved a big hand deep into his pocket to retrieve the money Miss Plackie had given him.

The clerk rang up the items, counted back Axel’s change, then carefully placed each of the bottles into paper bags individually and, afterward, placed all three into a sturdy, solid black, plastic bag with handles and, when he had finished that, pushed it towards Axel.

“Thank you.  Have a wonderful day,” said the clerk impersonally, thus concluding the process.

“Uh, is the receipt in the bag?” asked Axel.

“Yes, I put both the receipt and your note from home in the bag.”

“Thank you,” said Axel who doffed his hat and walked out of the store.

Axel found Dixie dancing with delight when finally he rejoined her outside.  He bent and patted her head and uttered the usual kudos for her being so patient with him.  Then he walked a short distance to a bench which sat against the wall and placed the liquor store bag on it.  Reaching into the bag, he found the store receipt and Miss Plackie’s note, took both out and stuffed them into his pants pocket.  Next he withdrew the bourbon and removed its wrapper and balanced the bottle carefully on the bench while folding the paper bag into a neat square that he then stowed in another of his pockets.  Finally, he lifted the fifth of bourbon up to the light and inspected its rich, clear contents then slid it into another of his empty cargo pockets and secured it by snapping the flap closed.  After that, he turned his attention again to Dixie and, while rubbing the underside of her lower jaw with both hands, squatted low to put his face nose-to-nose with hers and spoke to her in a way other people speak to infant children:

“Why thank you, Miss Sharon,” he cooed.  “You didn’t have to do that.  No you didn’t.  Dixie and I would have gladly hiked ten miles just for the exercise.  Wouldn’t we girl?  But thank you all the same, Miss Sharon, for your generosity.  We do enjoy a nip of bourbon now and then.  Don’t we girl?  Yes, we do,” said Axel to Dixie who wagged her whole rump wildly and smiled with her dripping tongue, hanging from her mouth.

At that moment Dixie might have been the happiest dog on Earth.  And Axel?  Well, he felt like a soldier who had just humped twenty klicks and returned to camp unscathed.  It hadn’t been his worst day.

Thoughts On the eBook Journey

Mid-October, last year, I “finished” my novel.  I had final edited it—the entire book—and believed the work was in its final form.  So, at that time, I began looking for a literary agent.  Of course, before that, I had done some research into Literary Agencies already, but in October I began looking for a representative in earnest.  I did not look far before I realized that finding an agent for my book was going to take months, if not years.  This was true for a number of reasons but primarily 1) I’m a new writer on the scene, 2) at the time, I had no social media presence, and 3) my book is larger than publishers like to deal with.  At that point, I let the manuscript just “rest” on a shelf and turned my attention to other domestic activities.  This was a good thing to do.

Then, a few weeks ago, April, a relative of mine, showed an interest in reading my novel.  But all I had to offer her was my heavy manuscript and, besides, she was used to reading books in ebook form.  The paper manuscript just would not work in this case.  But having April, a member of a book club who reads a good number of books each year, read my work would certainly be an advantage to me and the work.  So this motivated me to look into creating some sort of ebook I could offer her.

As I began working on formatting my novel into ebook form, I realized that this was the ideal first step for publishing my work.  I would maintain complete artistic control, I could afford publishing the work, and I would retain full copyright authority of the book as well.  All three of these are important to me.  So what began as a way to give April an ebook version of my novel has turned into a publishing strategy and I feel very good about it.

But each time I read chapters of my novel in ebook form, I saw the writing in a new light and I spotted mistakes I didn’t realize were there.  For this reason, copy editing has taken multiple chapter readings and careful combing and re-combing of paragraphs to make sure the prose reads just the way I want it to.  And this process is taking me longer than I expected but I know it will be well worth the extra time in the end.  And yes, copy editing is a very different skill and process than creating an interesting story.  Both are necessary, of course, but I must confess I prefer the creativity part much more.

See you around the block.

Revised Cover

This cover, by the way, is my own design.  I have some print design background so I’m not a complete greenhorn.  However, I’m also looking at the predesigned covers though, quite frankly, most of them are very cheesy and none seem to fit my story.  Many do have that “professional look” we’ve grown so accustomed to as book buyers.  I’d love something artistic and simple along the lines of say,  “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger.  If you scroll down a bit, you’ll see what changes I’ve made from the first design I posted a few days ago.

New Chapter Sample

I can’t believe it’s been a week already since I last posted a chapter sample.  And for the sake of simplicity for those who’d like to post a comment, I’ve decided to put all of the new chapter samples in the blog thread; It’ll probably work better this way.  So today, I offer you the Prologue and Chapter 1 – 626 Meridian.  This is how Wanderer Come Home begins.  Please do post a comment below and enjoy!

prologue

Axel Browne died twice before his sixty-third birthday: once from a bullet wound during the war and a second time from hypothermia.  The first event should not have taken his life but did, while both deaths might have been avoided if not for human misjudgment.  Yet Axel Browne survived both of his premature endings.  It would be fair to ask How?

It is somewhere written that if we die before our appointed day, Heaven grants us the choice whether to return and continue our desperate lives here on Earth or move on to more beautiful and fascinating pursuits in the celestial realm.  If this is true, then Axel Browne was either a glutton for punishment or he must have had some compelling reason for living.  Because for the majority of his life he was a wanderer who sought neither career nor home.  Yet both times he had the opportunity to cash in his difficult existence for a better one, he chose to stay.

Whatever it was Axel Browne lived for he needed it more than Heaven.

grayscale photo of bare trees near house

1   626 meridian

Saturday, 24 May, 1986

“Here we are, ma’am,” said the cab driver, “626 Meridian.”

“Sir, Are you sure this is Meridian Avenue?”

“Yes, ma’am, this is Meridian; there ain’t no other Meridian in Mackinaw Ferry.”

“Can you wait?”

“Sure, ma’am,” said the driver.

She looked forward and behind to make sure no cars approached then opened the door tentatively and slowly emerged from the taxi, stepping into the street.

She was a young woman of twenty-something and wore a light denim pintuck jumper.  She was pretty, wavy hair of an amber hue, and freckles to match which spangled the bridge of her nose.  But she wore a worried expression as she emerged from the taxi and looked across its top at the house bearing the number 626.  How shabby everything looked she thought—not only her house but the whole neighborhood.  I remembered it neater; but this must be it, I’m pretty sure she thought.

The cabbie rolled down his window to let in cool air.  The young woman closed her door and walked past him to the front of the car then stopped abruptly as if almost stepping on something in front of her.  She looked down at the gray asphalt but there was nothing but a web of cracks before her.  She stood where she’d stopped and surveyed the street all around and the driveway of the house as if looking for something.

Probably about where I’m standing she thought.  This was where it happened.  Right here.  This was where the car hit me on the bicycle.  And I woke up about—there.  She made a mental note of that spot also.  She paused for a moment, just in front of the cab, near its left headlight.  The cabbie began whistling, perhaps as a way of reminding the young woman he was waiting.

But not until she was satisfied did she move from where she stood and make her way to the front gate of the house and through the gate and over the pocked concrete walkway which led from the unkempt yard up to the porch.  The porch sagged where it mounted to the door.

Just as she reached for the doorbell button, she hesitated and withdrew her hand and covered her lips with her fingertips.  Might Mama or Papa answer? she wondered.  That thought made her feel weak.  What would I say to them if they did?  She looked back at the cabbie who was not watching her but was, instead, staring ahead, whistling and tapping his round fingers on the steering wheel.

You’ve waited too long and come too far to chicken out now she told herself and with that pressed the doorbell button and held her breath.  She heard the bell ring inside the house.

Soon, a short, round woman, perhaps in her fifties, and a little out of breath pulled open the door and gazed at the young woman through the closed screen door.  The woman inside brushed a strand of dull hair upward and off her forehead and exhaled.

“Yes, can I help you?” she said in a high tone of voice.

The young woman was relieved; the woman in front of her was not her mother.

“Yes, good morning, ma’am,” said the visitor.

“Hi,” responded the woman flatly.

“I’m looking for someone,” explained the girl.  “Actually, I’m looking for a family who used to live at this address.”

“This address?”

“Yes, ma’am,”said the girl.

“I don’t see how that could be,” said the woman.  “My husband and I have owned this house since 1970.  And I don’t even remember who owned it before us.  Bob, my husband, might but he’s at work—doesn’t get off till five.  I’m sorry, young lady, but I don’t see how I can help you.”

The woman behind the screen started to ease the door closed on her visitor.

“Ma’am I’m terribly sorry to trouble you,” blurted the girl.  “But I’ve come an awfully long way—all the way from Montana, actually.  And it’s my family I’m looking for.  I used to live here.”

“Oh!” said the woman, “I didn’t know.”  Surprised by this, the older woman again drew the door open.  “But I still don’t see how I can help you, dear,” she said.

“I promise to only take a minute of your time but I have a couple of questions I’d like to ask.  And even if you don’t know the answers, if you could try to answer them, I’d be terribly grateful.”

“Well, okay then,” said the woman, “I suppose I can try.”

The older woman opened the screen and asked the young woman if she’d like to come in.

“Oh no, thank you.  I won’t be a minute,” replied the girl, “and the cab driver’s waiting for me.”

“All right then, but I don’t remember much.”

“Thank you.  I appreciate this,” said the girl.

Finally having the permission of the woman of 626 to interview her, the young woman inhaled deeply then asked her first question.

“Ma’am, the folks who owned this house before you was their name Larsen by any chance?”

“Larsen—hmm, let me think.  Well, we bought it from a woman; I do remember that.  She didn’t have a husband as I recall.  But the name Larsen doesn’t ring any bells.  If Bob were here, he might know.”

“It wasn’t a couple with a daughter who lived here before you?  I guess the daughter would have been about the same age as I am now?”

“Now that you mention it, I think there was a girl but no husband.  That I know for sure because I thought it odd: a woman owning a house by herself.”

The young woman looked puzzled but continued her inquiry.

“So after the owner—the single woman—sold you the house, do you know where she and her daughter went, where they might have moved?”

“Nope, I haven’t a clue.  The lady was gone before Bob and I moved in.  I couldn’t tell you where neither.  She was in a hurry though.  She was asking twenty-one thousand for the place but needed cash she said.  We offered her eighteen cash money and she took it without batting an eye.  But as soon as she got the check she was gone.”

“Had she possibly only owned the house a short time?  Like, say, less than three or four years?”

“Um, well, let me think.  No, I’m sorry; that I couldn’t tell you.  But say, why don’t you describe the woman you’re thinking of, then I can tell you if she’s the one I remember.  Was she your mother?”

“Yes, ma’am, she was.”

So the young woman described her mother as best she could to the woman holding open the screen and the type of clothes her mother usually wore and a couple of mannerisms, characteristic of her.

“Well, you know,” said the woman, “I do believe that was her.  You described the woman I remember to a T, though I only met her a couple of times.  I sure do wish I could tell you more.  Oh now, wait a minute.  I remember her saying she had two daughters but that one was away, though I only saw the one daughter and saw her just once.  But I do remember her mentioning a second daughter.  Are you the daughter who was away?”

“Yes, ma’am,” said the young woman, “I was away.”

“If you don’t mind me asking, where were you?  Sent away to boarding school or something?”  There was a hint of scandal implied in the question.

“Actually I was dead,” said the young woman bluntly.

“Dead?” repeated the woman in dismay.

“Yes, I was away in heaven but I’ve since been reincarnated.  And now I’m trying to locate my family from that previous life.”

“Well, I—I just don’t know what to say to that,” stammered the woman, “but I’m afraid you’ll have to leave now.”  Her face had gone white and her ears red and the corners of her mouth had curled downward and now her eyes bulged with astonishment or anger.

The young visitor tried to thank the woman of 626 Meridian for her time before the door closed in her face.  But then the young woman—apparently used to such indignities—shrugged, turned around, and walked back to the waiting cab.

“To where, ma’am?” asked the driver.

“To the Community Church on Garland Avenue, please, if it’s still there.”

“Yes, ma’am, no problem,” said the driver.

The Cover So Far

I would like to share with you my book cover as it presently is.  If you have suggestions or comments you would be willing to share regarding the cover’s appeal (or lack of appeal) to you as a reader, I would be very grateful for your input.  And may I ask:  How important to an ebook is the cover, anyway?  Thank you in advance for your comments.  Dale