Monday Musings: Anyone Can Write, Writers Can’t Not Write

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by Kathleen Valentine

content_writerIt happens every now and then. I am talking to someone and, when they find out I am a writer with over two dozen titles available, they say, “I’ve been thinking about writing a book.” Usually this conversation is not headed in a positive direction. I tell them whatever seems appropriate at the time. “Where do you get your ideas?” they ask. Like Ray Bradbury, my problem is not getting ideas, my problem is not tripping over them when I get out of bed in the morning. Then they ask the question that makes me a little crazy, “But how do you know what people will buy? How can you be sure your story will be successful?” The truth is you don’t and that’s fine.

I’ve been a writer all my life. As a little kid, I wrote plays for the other kids in the neighborhood to act out in our garage, to a very patient group of parents sitting in lawn chairs in the driveway. In high school I wrote for the school newspaper and I also got a lot of compliments from teachers on various papers I wrote. In college I was the editor of my campus literary magazine, and over the years I wrote reams and reams of very bad poetry. After a brief infatuation with Samuel Beckett, I wrote an absolutely awful existential play that even the kindest writing teacher I ever knew told me to burn.

I wrote letters, I wrote journals, after a workshop with Julia Cameron I wrote three years worth of “morning papers” (I still have some—they’re embarrassing) and then, when I was in my forties I started writing short stories. I did this for a friend who was going through a rough spot in her life. I made my stories very romantic and atmospheric just as a special little gift for her. She loved some of them, some she said needed work, but eventually I edited and edited and edited until I culled them down to the stories In My Last Romance and other passions.

It wasn’t until a couple years later that I decided to write a novel. As a kid spending summer vacations in a Great Lakes seaport town with my godparents, I had developed a romantic fascination with the working waterfront. Later, I went to college in that town and my fascination around that rough part of town (rough back in the Sixties) grew. The locus of my fascination was a bar called the Mermaid Tavern. I was too young to go into bars then and too scared even if I wasn’t too young. But I vowed someday I would.

Years went by and I lived several states away when I had occasion to return to my old stomping grounds. By then I had plenty of experience going into bars and I was determined to at last fulfill my fantasy. But, alas, it was not to be. It was now the mid-Eighties and urban renewal had sanitized my old neighborhood. I went back home heartbroken and disillusioned. But the Mermaid Tavern had imprinted itself on my writer’s soul and I could not let it go. I started writing and I could not stop.

It took ten years for The Old Mermaid’s Tale: A Novel of the Great Lakes to become a reality, but, see, that’s the thing. I couldn’t NOT write it. The story owned me. It had chosen me to write it and I couldn’t turn away until it was done.

This is what I believe: we are all called to do certain things in life and we have to do them. We can push ourselves to do other things, of course, but the thing we were meant to do won’t let us alone until we do it. Maybe you were meant to paint, or dance, or cook, or raise chickens. You can do other things, but it is the thing that you cannot NOT do that is crucial. You can think about writing but, if you are a writer, you’ll write regardless of anything else.

Thanks for reading.

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God and the Hurricane, a story by Caleb Pirtle III

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Golgotha Connection, by bestselling author Caleb Pirtle III, cover imageThis is the story of a newspaper, a reporter, an editor, and a storm.

It’s all true.

I know.

I worked at the newspaper.

I worked with the reporter.

I reported to the editor.

I’ll never forget the storm.

The reporter was young, idealistic, full of passion, and had an unquenchable thirst for covering the big story, which he had never covered before.

He was tired of store openings and ribbon cuttings.

He was bored with civic club meetings.

Front-page, above-the-fold by-lines did not come from writing sidebars about voting machine gaffes and poll watcher feuds at city elections.

He wanted to be knee-deep, battling the odds, flying by the seat of his pants, smack dab in the middle, matching wits with a hard-core news story that all the world was watching and waiting for him to write.

The newspaper, if you counted circulation for the morning and evening editions combined, was the largest in Texas.

Revered.

Respected.

More awards on the wall than walls in the building.

The editor was a legend.

He was tough, hard-boiled, and considered every column inch in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram as a sacred patch of paper real estate. He seldom smiled. He had a no-nonsense attitude when it came to producing each issue of the daily newspaper. He treated his reporters as both children and enemies.

He spit out words with the hiss of a rattlesnake and the force of a pistol shot.

He could take a bad newspaperman and turn him into a star reporter or out on the street.

It was all up to the reporter.

It didn’t matter to him.

Charlie Boatner, quite simply, was the best damn editor I ever knew.

The storm was a monster.

A hurricane.

The first of the season.

A mean momma named Audrey, and it was headed straight toward the Louisiana coast with nothing but the wind to slow it down, and the wind had been sucked up into the eye of the storm, full of sound and filled with fury, growing angrier with each passing minute.

The editor handed the reporter a map. “There’s a storm coming,” he said.

“Yes, sir.”

“A big one.”

“Yes, sir.”

“It’s headed toward Cameron, Louisiana.”

“Yes, sir.”

“You’ve got less than ten hours to get there. Stop and buy a raincoat on the way.”

The reporter sat huddled with police, firemen, emergency hospital units, and the Salvation Army when Audrey came rushing ashore. The sky was a dark shade of ebony, streaked with scarlet, and sounding, the witnesses said, like a freight train on the loose, always a freight train.

Cameron had been warned. Cameron scoffed. Cameron had seen hurricanes before.

Cameron had been warned. Cameron scoffed. Cameron had seen hurricanes before.

There had been no calm before the storm, only the storm, and when it arrived, there had been no escape. Waves were fifteen feet high when they hammered the coast. Tides had reached eight feet. Roads were swallowed up and lost. Rain was blinding. Floodwaters were teeming with snakes, cottonmouths,–poisonous and deadly. Roofs were rolling down the streets. Buildings lay shattered. Wood had been ripped into splinters. Bricks were lethal weapons in the wind.

Cars parked on the street disappeared.

Houses disappeared.

All signs of life disappeared.

Cameron disappeared.

For two days, the reporter fought his way through floodwaters and amidst the devastation, talking to whomever had survived, and he found so few of them, and they had so little to say. Shock will do that to a man.

At twilight, he dutifully made his way to the only phone he could find still working in the wreckage and called his editor. He hadn’t had time to write the biggest story of his life. He only blurted out what he had seen and heard. He left it up to the re-write man to make sense of it all. The reporter couldn’t.

The third day, the sun broke clear, and the reporter walked through the savaged ruins of a town. Only two buildings had been left standing. One, thank God, had been the old courthouse. Those who survived had been sheltered in the basement and hallways and in  the courtrooms.

He slowly counted the names of the dead. It had risen every hour. And now there were three hundred and eighty-two of them. There would be more.

The reporter wrote his story in longhand on the back of a soggy notebook. He was tired. He had not slept in two days. He was wet. He was beaten down. He was numb. He had been knee deep, battling the odds, flying by the seat of his pants, smack dab in the middle, and matching his wits with a hard-core news story that the whole world was watching and waiting for him to write. He had been swept up in the death, the dying, the destruction, the drama, the emotion of it all.

He called the office. “I have the wrap up,” he told his editor.

“Go ahead.”

The reporter began to slowly dictate what he considered the finest lead he had ever written or read. He said in a calm voice: “God and I stood on a hill this morning, overlooking the ruins of Cameron.”

A pause.

“Forget the hurricane,” Charlie Boatner snapped.

A pause. Longer this time.

The reporter frowned.

“Interview God,” Boatner said. “And send pictures.”

He hung up the phone.

§ § § § § § § 

Caleb Pirtle III, bestselling author of Secrets of the Dead and Golgotha ConnectionCaleb Pirtle III is the author of more than sixty books. He is a graduate of The University of Texas in Austin with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He served as sports editor for The Daily Texan and became the first student at the university to win the National William Randolph Hearst Award for feature writing.

Pirtle joined Stephen Woodfin to found Venture Galleries, dedicated to publishing books, as well as provide a venue and forum where other authors can promote and market their novels.

Pirtle has written three teleplays: Gambler V: Playing for Keeps, a mini-series for CBS television, Wildcat: The Story of Sarah Delaney and the Doodlebug Man, for a CBS made-for-television movie, and The Texas Rangers, a TV movie for John Milius and TNT television. He wrote two novels for Berkeley based on the Gambler series: Dead Man’s Hand and Jokers Are Wild. Other novels are Secrets of the DeadWicked Little LiesGolgotha ConnectionFriday Night Heat, and From the Dark Side of the Rainbow.

Pirtle was a newspaper reporter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and travel editor for Southern Living Magazine.

 

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Love Is a Mystery, by Caleb Pirtle III

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Caleb Pirtle III, bestselling author of Secrets of the Dead and Golgotha Connection

Caleb Pirtle III

As far as I’m concerned, every great story has these elements:

A man.

A woman.

A love story.

A gun.

A murder.

A mystery.

Authors sit around for days, holding their breath, banging their heads against the wall, snapping No. 2 pencils with their fingers, searching through the maze that winds through the back of their minds, slamming into one dead end after another, trying desperately to nail together a plot that reaches out, grabs the reader by the throat, and won’t let go.

It’s tough.

It’s debilitating.

It’s an exercise better off forgotten.

Just walk the streets of your hometown, big or small, listen to the gossip down at the post office, real or imagined, read archived issues of the newspaper from years past.

The stories are there. They’ve been waiting a long time. They’ve been waiting for you to find them.

My hometown was no different.

Tragedy, during the year of our Lord 1939, lurked like a grim shadow in the presence of M. W. McVey, an independent oilman and president of the Kilgore Chamber of Commerce. He had been described in the newspaper as a sportsman from California, was one of the town’s social elite, a man of prominence, an oilman who had the honor of drilling the oilfield’s twenty-five thousandth well in a lot downtown behind the Longhorn Drug.

McVey had borrowed a quarter of a million dollars to drill several wells on town lots, only twenty feet wide and forty feet long, no more than ragged scraps of land barely large enough to hold a derrick.

His wells were jammed together and pumping for all they were worth. But new federal regulations ushered in a new and compromising problem for the oilfield. No one saw it coming, but a revised law ruled that wells must be spaced five to ten acres away from each other if an oilman had any hopes of receiving the money owed him for the oil he produced.

So many of McVey’s oil wells were suddenly earning only a scant fraction of their production. All he had were a bunch of holes in the ground.  And his cash flow began drying up. He began to fear that he would never be able to pay off his debts. He could no longer look at his friends, eye to eye. Frustration set in like poison from a snake bite. He was dying inside but had no place to hide. Not in a small town anyway.

So many wells.

So much money.

And none of it his, not anymore.

He grew despondent.

Then depressed.

His honor had been attacked as only a bad debt could assault it. His pride had been struck down and stepped on. M. W. McVey had been Mr. Kilgore. Now he was a financial outcast.

McVey’s wife and her maid found him unconscious in the bedroom of his home. A bullet had shattered his skull. A .38 automatic pistol lay at his side.

Kilgore was stunned. The questions were the same on every street corner, spoken in hushed tones, particularly among the morning gossips at the post office.

Was his death a suicide?

He left no note.

Or was it murder?

A shroud of stoic silence draped itself around Kilgore, leaving that night a mystery that would never be fully understood. Those who may have known the truth Golgotha Connection, by bestselling author Caleb Pirtle III, cover imageweren’t talking, and those who were talking didn’t know the truth.

In later years, an accountant who had worked closely with the family indicated that McVey had pulled the trigger himself so that his wife could live comfortably on his life insurance. His death, however, could have been an accident, a mistake, or intentional. It still remains an enigma.

Surrounded by the rigors of the boom and the echoes of approaching war, McVey was quickly forgotten, nothing but a faded name in a faded obituary, a story that no one talked about anymore.

The mound of dirt had barely settled down around his grave before the regulations were modified and returned to the way they had originally been before a bullet ended the life of M. W. McVey’s. He had been only six months away from being a rich man again.

The claims on his debts had already been settled for ten cents on the dollar. His creditors no longer had any right to McVey’s oil money.

And the wife he left behind suddenly became a very wealthy widow.

The secret behind her smile has never been answered. Then again, perhaps she smiled only to erase the strain of loneliness, the pain of a broken heart.

It was, of course, a time when the poor went to jail, strangers rode the rails out of town, drifters didn’t hang around for very long, and the rich walked free. A rich widow would never go to prison. She couldn’t. What would she do with her fur coat?

The elements are all there for a great story.

A man.

A woman.

A love story.

A gun.

A murder.

And a mystery.

If I don’t write the damn thing, I should be shot myself.

§ § § § § § § 

 

 

Caleb Pirtle III is the author of more than sixty books. He is a graduate of The University of Texas in Austin with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He served as sports editor for The Daily Texan and became the first student at the university to win the National William Randolph Hearst Award for feature writing.

Pirtle joined Stephen Woodfin to found Venture Galleries, dedicated to publishing books, as well as provide a venue and forum where other authors can promote and market their novels.

Pirtle has written three teleplays: Gambler V: Playing for Keeps, a mini-series for CBS television, Wildcat: The Story of Sarah Delaney and the Doodlebug Man, for a CBS made-for-television movie, and The Texas Rangers, a TV movie for John Milius and TNT television. He wrote two novels for Berkeley based on the Gambler series: Dead Man’s Hand and Jokers Are Wild. Other novels are Secrets of the DeadWicked Little LiesGolgotha ConnectionFriday Night Heat, and From the Dark Side of the Rainbow.

Pirtle was a newspaper reporter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and travel editor for Southern Living Magazine.

 

 

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The Horse – A Short Story by Stephen Woodfin

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Stephen Woodfin

Stephen Woodfin

On the third day of the second month, two years after her mother’s death, in a cabin built of logs from the high mountains, in a sanctuary gated apart from other young successful professionals in a north Dallas suburb, Charlise Jackson decided she would find a man unknown to her, her father.

She let down the folding ladder into the attic, climbed up the wooden steps and walked to a far corner where her mother’s trunk, padlocked, rested in its spot. She used the heavy cutters she purchased at Lowe’s to strip the lock off the footlocker.

In the bottom of the chest, beneath the high school annuals, she found a brown manila envelope with a brass fastener. Inside the folder, she located her birth certificate and moved next to the window to read it.

Someone had taken a black Sharpie and crossed out her father’s name. But, she had enough to work with, a hospital, a date.

Through the miracle of the Internet over the next couple of weekends, she narrowed the possibilities until she downloaded the GPS coordinates into her Garmin.

The next Sunday morning, she rose two hours before sunrise, packed a Duffel bag with a day’s provisions and headed east. By eight o’clock that morning, she sat in her car in Kilgore, Texas, next to a curb in a quiet neighborhood where a small frame house, in bad need of a paint job, beckoned to her.

When she rang the bell, she heard feet shuffling. She could tell someone had come to the door and was watching her through a crude peephole four and half feet from the floor.

In a minute, a gray-haired woman in her seventies opened the front door and stared at her through the latched screen.

“I’m Charlise Jackson.”

“A blind person could tell that,” the old woman said.

“Can I come in?”

“Why?”

“I want to talk to you about my father, Charles Hamilton.”

“If he’s your father, why isn’t your last name Hamilton?”

“My mother and he never married.”

“Is that what she told you?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Come in, then.”

The woman led Charlise to the kitchen and motioned at a chair next to the table. It had a red plastic seat cover frayed around the edges.

“You want some coffee?”

“No, ma’am. I don’t want to take any more of your time than I have to. I tried to call ahead, but I couldn’t reach you by phone.”

The old lady looked at a land line phone with a circle dial that sat on a stand in the hallway.

“I never answer it. In my experience it’s always bad news. I got enough of that already.” She leaned against the checkered tile kitchen counter and waited for Charlise to continue.

“Does Charles Hamilton live here?”

“No, honey. He don’t. I can take you to his place, if you’d like.”

“I’d like that a lot, Ms..”

“Mrs. Eudora Hamilton,” she said. “I’m your grandmother.”

Eudora took Charlise by the hand and helped her out of the chair. She never released her grip as she led her out the back door and walked her to an old truck.

“You can ride shotgun, Charlise,” she said.

Mrs. Hamilton rolled her window down, rested her left arm on the window ledge as she backed out the driveway and puttered down the quiet street. Four blocks from her house, she turned off the road through an entrance flanked on both sides by large iron gates that never closed. She followed the meanderings of the street until she stopped near a small plot, a headstone, a vase of plastic flowers.

“This is it,” she said.

Charlise got out of the truck and walked to the headstone.

“What did you know about him?” Eudora asked her.

“Nothing. Momma said he ran off with another woman before I was born.”

“Sounds like your momma may have had a little trouble with the truth, baby,” the old woman said. She knelt down and arranged the plastic flowers in the pot. She alzheimersWarrior revised resized for kdplooked up at Charlise. “Your daddy was a good man. He missed you every day of his life. But his three rules got in the way.”

“What rules?”

“He loved three things: horses, your momma and whiskey. He had a rule for each one. Bet on the horse, marry the woman, drink the whiskey. He was at the track in Shreveport the day he met your mother.”

“But he didn’t marry her,” Charlise said.

“Oh, yes, he did, darling. Your momma woke up the next morning, made a beeline to her rich daddy. He had an annulment filed before dark the next day. He made it clear to Charles that he was a dead man if he ever came around his little girl again.”

“So then what?” Charlise asked her grandmother.

“Rule three for the next thirty years,” Eudora said.

Charlise ran her hand across the granite grave stone until her fingers felt an etching in the smooth rock surface. She leaned close to it and realized it was the outline of a horse. She had a question in her eyes when she looked at Eudora.

Mrs. Hamilton put her arm around her granddaughter’s shoulder as she spoke. “He told me a few days before he died that only a fool would place a bet until he knew all he could about the horse.”

 

horse

 

Stephen Woodfin practices law, writes books and blogs in his home town of Kilgore, Texas, in the United States of America.

Woodfin attended Dallas Baptist College (1974), Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (1979) and Baylor Law School (1986). He sometimes tells juries that he went to seminary to get God on his side and to law school to enlist the Devil’s aid. His wife of twenty-six years is an occupational therapist who provides pediatric OT services. He is the father of three daughters.

Woodfin is the author of six fast-paced thrillers.  These include LAST ONE CHOSENNEXT BEST HOPETHE REVELATION EFFECTMONEY IS THICKER THAN BLOODTHE WARRIOR WITH ALZHEIMERS: THE BATTLE FOR JUSTICE and THE LAZARUS DECEPTION.  He has also published a collection of short stories.  One of the stories in this collection first appeared in the Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Collection, where it placed fifteenth out of over 7,000 entries. The Kindle Book Review recently selected his novel LAST ONE CHOSEN as a Top Five Finalist in the thriller genre in its Best Indie Books of 2012 Awards.

You may follow Stephen on Twitter @stephenwoodfin, visit his Amazon author page or check out his blogs.

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Vanity, a Short Story by Caleb Pirtle III

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Caleb Pirtle III, bestselling author of Secrets of the Dead and Golgotha Connection

Caleb Pirtle III

Mildred Kitchens was in the vanity business, and Rachel was the most vain woman in town.  Always had been. The face of a cheerleader. The legs of a runway model. Tall. Thin. No matter what she ate, Rachel was always thin. Long auburn hair that draped across her shoulders. A smile that could knock a man dead at thirty paces and usually did.

And Rachel never saw a mirror she didn’t like.

She may have grown a little older.

The reflection in the mirror hadn’t.

And if she held her head just right, and a gentle splash of sunlight touched her face and wound its way through the curls of her auburn hair, Rachel was, as she had always been, the loveliest woman in Crystal Springs.

She knew it.

So did everyone else.

“Look at Rachel,” they would say.

“A beautiful lady.”

“She’s more beautiful every day.”

“Always had such class.”

“And she still looks so young.”

“I wish I knew her secret.”

Only Mildred Kitchens knew her secret. She should. Mildred Kitchens was in the vanity business. She operated a small beauty salon on a back street across the alley and behind the Savings & Trust in the small town.

But she just didn’t do hair.

Not Mildred.

She did faces as well.

And Mildred possessed the deft hand of an artist and was, it was whispered far and wide, something of a magician when it came to mixing just the right combination of powders and lotions – some she concocted herself – lipstick and rouge, eye shadow and sparkle gloss.

An old woman would walk into her salon.

A young woman would walk out.

At least, they felt that way, and the mirror on the back of the shop told them so, and beauty was no longer merely skin deep. When Mildred finished with them, beauty attached itself to the bone.

She didn’t merely hide wrinkles. She erased them.

That’s why Rachel had been coming to see Mildred for so many years.

“Keep the wrinkles away,’ she would say.

The women both laughed.

And Mildred kept the wrinkles away.

They had grown up together in Crystal Springs, Mississippi, had even swapped dolls back and forth as young girls and shared mustard and onion sandwiches.

But they hadn’t gone to school together.

Rachel was white.

Mildred wasn’t.

Rachel graduated from the University of Mississippi with a degree in marriage.

Mildred went into the vanity business.

Some people in town collected stamps and coins and designer dolls.

Rachel collected husbands.

She had buried two, left one outright, and another suddenly showed up at the train station one morning with a suitcase and a bullet hole in the sleeve of his suit coat and bought a one-way ticket West.

“Where to?” the agent had asked.

“Don’t care,” the man said.

“We only go as far as Tucson,” the agent said.

“That’ll do,” the man said.

Rachel only laughed it off. “It wasn’t really a fight,” she said. “It was just a simple disagreement.”

“What about?”

“I wanted him dead. He didn’t want to die.”

She laughed again.

Rachel had said on more than one occasion that she remained in Crystal Springs just so the gossips would have something new to talk about over knitting, quilting, baking, and coffee each morning, trading opinions about which men were worth keeping around and which ones had run out of gas. Men ran out of gas a lot in Crystal Springs, Mississippi.

Mildred Kitchens could always count on seeing Rachel before every party, grand opening, celebration, or social gathering in town. During holidays, Rachel often came in to the salon twice a week, maybe more.

“Keep me beautiful,” she would say.

“I’ll keep you just the way you are, Miss Rachel,” Mildred would tell her.

And Rachel smiled. The way she was happened to be just fine.

Rachel always preferred to be front and center during the most special of occasions, and this one was the biggest of all, a high society collection of fine frocks and Golgotha Connection, by bestselling author Caleb Pirtle III, cover imageneatly pressed suits. It was important for Rachel to look better than the rest of them. She had always trusted Mildred to make her beautiful, and today would be no different.

Mildred added one final touch of rouge. It looked so natural. The lipstick was flawless. And her hair had never looked better. A touch of gray perhaps, but hints of auburn still shone through.

Those who saw Rachel all said, as usual, “She’s such a beautiful lady.”

“She’s more beautiful every day.”

“Always had such class”

“And she still looks so young.”

“I wish I knew her secret.”

Mildred Kitchens stood to the side and out of the way. She kept smiling, which is what a woman does when she’s in the vanity business. Here was a woman who had always reflected her finest work. She was still smiling when she gazed on Rachel’s face for the last time, just before they quietly closed the lid to the coffin.

 

§ § § § § § §

Caleb Pirtle III is the author of more than sixty books. He is a graduate of The University of Texas in Austin with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He served as sports editor for The Daily Texan and became the first student at the university to win the National William Randolph Hearst Award for feature writing.

Pirtle joined Stephen Woodfin to found Venture Galleries, dedicated to publishing books, as well as provide a venue and forum where other authors can promote and market their novels.

Pirtle has written three teleplays: Gambler V: Playing for Keeps, a mini-series for CBS television, Wildcat: The Story of Sarah Delaney and the Doodlebug Man, for a CBS made-for-television movie, and The Texas Rangers, a TV movie for John Milius and TNT television. He wrote two novels for Berkeley based on the Gambler series: Dead Man’s Hand and Jokers Are Wild. Other novels are Secrets of the Dead, Wicked Little Lies, Golgotha Connection, Friday Night Heat, and From the Dark Side of the Rainbow.

Pirtle was a newspaper reporter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and travel editor for Southern Living Magazine.

Stop in tomorrow, February 14 for a very special Valentine’s Day story by Natasha Brown, bestselling author of Prodigy (The Shapeshifter Chronicles Book 1).

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In His Boots – a Short Story by C.R. Hiatt

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CR Hiatt

CR Hiatt

When I was growing up, there was always a white index card taped to the refrigerator door with the following quote: “To truly understand a man, first you must walk in his shoes.” Like all kids, I didn’t give the words a second thought – at least not until I became a man, myself…

Fog hovered over the cemetery like a thick blanket of doom to the already dismal day. Hundreds of Firefighters wearing Class-A uniforms; were lined up on the grounds with their hands in a steady salute toward the wooden casket holding the man they called a hero.

My name is John Travis Ryan … that man was my father.

I sat next to my Mom with an arm draped around her for support. Her eyes were bloodshot red with more tears threatening to spill at the sound of Taps playing in the background. We watched, stoically, as Pallbearers folded the American Flag into a triangular shape with only the blue field showing. The Honor Guard handed the flag to the Chief who then presented it to my mom, as he offered his condolences. He then gave me a firm handshake. “Your father was a good man, J.T.,” the chief said to me, using the term that everyone at the firehouse called me. “You’re the man in the house now.”

I nodded, solemnly. “Yes sir, Chief,” I responded out of respect. The chief had no idea what was going on in my mind. How could he? To the Chief, and all the firefighters who flew in to pay tribute, my father was a fellow brother. One who stood on the front line; went in when others were running out, no matter what the call. He was a man who put the uniform first, and the lives of others in front of his own.

To me, he was the man who put the job ahead of his family.  Selfish of me, I know, but I was angry. From as far back as I could remember; he was never around. Between the two 24-hour shifts at the firehouse, training with the teams (Dive Team, Water Rescue, Ice Rescue, Search & Rescue – there was always a team); then being on call when the alarm sounded – birthdays, holidays, scouts, and every sporting event that mattered to me. If there was a storm, crises or catastrophe, mom CR Hiatt Book coversand I were on our own, while he was off helping others. On the rare occasions he was home; all we did was bump heads. Mom tried to make me understand.  For years, she tried explaining that some people just have a calling, like soldiers who choose to go off to war. “Being a fireman was your father’s calling” she said, “helping those in distress.”

That only angered me more.  “Just face it, mom,” I snapped at her during one of our final arguments on the subject. “He chose the fire service over us. He sacrificed us; period, end of story.” Then I stormed off, and headed into the garage. That was when I noticed a box with my father’s name on it. I had never seen it before.  Curious, I looked inside. My Mom had cleared out his locker at the firehouse. His bunker gear, helmet and fire boots were inside, along with a newspaper article:

LIEUTENANT, JOHN RYAN, LOST HIS LIFE SUNDAY MORNING, AFTER SAVING A FAMILY OF FOUR; THEN RETURNING TO SAVE THE LIFE OF A FELLOW FIREFIGHTER, AS FLAMES SHOT OUT THROUGH A TWO-FAMILY HOME DURING A WINTER STORM

 

A loud crashing noise interrupted my concentration, and shook the house. I peered out through the garage door window, and saw the front end of a car ripped like an accordion into a tree. Electrical wires dangled, sparks shot out from underneath, and the female driver was unconscious – her head planted on the steering wheel. I was immediately worried about a fire, and knew I had to help.

At the same time I was punching 911 on my cell phone, I threw on the bunker gear, and stepped into the boots. As I charged outside, hoping to get the woman to safety, the words on the index card hit me like a ton of bricks.

“To truly understand a man, first you must walk in his shoes…”

boots

CR Hiatt is a writer of screenplays and action-adventure/mystery-thriller novels. Gone at Zero Hundred 00:00 and Fireworks on the 4th, the first two books in the YA mystery-thriller series featuring McSwain & Beck, are available now. CR is currently working on the third in the series, Lethal Hostages, an adult action-adventure romance, I Am Not a Spy, and a full-length novel of the short story featured in this post, “In His Boots.”

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