Crash at Roswell

July 3rd marks the 73rd anniversary of the UFO crash at Roswell, New Mexico. I’ve always loved the mystery surrounding that story, and I thought I knew most of the facts. But one day I was reading and–almost as a footnote–discovered that rancher Mack Brazel wasn’t alone when he found the wreckage. A young boy was with him.

I had never heard that before, and I instantly wondered what it must have been like for that kid. And I began work on Saucer Crash that very night, telling the story of the Roswell crash through his eyes.

SaucerCrash01Saucer Crash is a middle-grade book, but it won’t insult your intelligence if you’re a little older. But with the anniversary coming up, I’ve posted the first chapter here.

Hope you like it!

 

July 3rd, 1947

CRACK!

The rumble of thunder rolled over the desert like the growl of an angry dinosaur. Fourteen-year-old Will Proctor listened as the thunder died away, then shook his head.

“That was nothing,” he said. “Had to be ten miles away.”

“Ten miles?” Will’s ten-year-old brother Ben looked worried. “Are you sure?”

“Oh, yeah. Ten miles at least.”

“How do you know?”

“Well, it wasn’t very loud, for one thing. And it was nearly a minute from the time we saw the flash ’til we heard the thunder.”

“So?”

Will looked over patiently. Ben wasn’t usually frightened by thunderstorms, but this one was especially fierce. And there was a … strangeness … to it that made Will’s skin crawl. He suddenly shivered, though he wasn’t really cold.

Ben was sitting beside him, hunched on the porch with his knees drawn up to his chest. He’d pulled his sweatshirt down over his legs so only his head was visible.

Will looked up as another rumble of thunder rolled in. Rain pounded the roof of the house and poured over the eaves. Will could smell the dust being stirred up by the rain, as well as the acrid ozone from the lightning.

Summer thunderstorms were not uncommon in the desert of New Mexico. And Will usually enjoyed them. He liked watching as the lightning flashed and the thunder boomed.

But this storm was different. It was wild and strange and eerie in a way Will had never seen before.

Almost as if the heavens were angry about something.

 

WILL LOOKED DOWN at his little brother and tried to sound reassuring.

“It’s like this,” he said. “Light travels faster than sound. That’s why you see the lightning before you hear the thunder.”

Ben scrunched his nose.

“But if you want to know how far away the lightning is, all you have to do is count seconds,” Will continued.

“Count seconds?”

“Until you hear the thunder. When you see a flash of lightning, start counting like this: one little pony, two little ponies, three little ponies … like that. It takes about five seconds for the sound of thunder to go a mile. So if you count to ten before you hear it—”

“It’s two miles away?”

“Right. And if you count to fifteen?”

“Three miles!”

“Right.”

Ben was searching the sky eagerly now, anxious to give it a try. The sky lit up almost instantly as angry flashes split the darkness. The brilliant streaks lasted a full second or more, but Ben was already counting.

“One little pony … two little ponies … three little ponies …”

Twelve, Will thought to himself as Ben counted. That looked a lot closer than the last one … I bet it’s twelve seconds . . .

“Ten little ponies … eleven—”

Crack!

The thunder crashed loudly, followed by five or six seconds of lesser rumbles.

Despite the ear-splitting crack of thunder, Ben looked excited.

“Two miles!”

“Two miles and change,” Will agreed. “Right between here and Mack’s place.”

“But closer to ours!”

“Yup … closer to ours.”

Five minutes ago, Ben would have been frightened that the lightning had struck closer to their place. But now it was a source of pride.

Will looked around as the rain picked up—falling even harder now—and thought about Mack Brazel. Mack was a gangly rancher who lived five miles down the road. Will helped him with his sheep.

Mack had a family, but he was the only one who lived in the desert ranch house. His wife and sons lived in Tularosa because the school was better there and, besides, the ranch house was too small for the whole family.

“Do you think Mack’s sheep are scared?” Ben asked. “You think they’re scared of thunder and lightning?”

“I’ll bet they are. Tomorrow, Mack and I’ll probably spend the whole day roundin’ ’em up.”

“Poor things,” Ben said as thorny branches of lightning split the sky, one right after another. He used his fingers to count so he could continue talking. “I’d hate to be out in the desert on a night like this.”

The first crack came at nine seconds. Ben looked over with a crease of worry on his face.

“It’s a little closer,” Will admitted. “But it’s still nothing to worry about.”

“Do you think Mack gets scared?” Ben asked. He scrunched himself up inside his sweatshirt. “Being out there all by himself and everything?”

Will shook his head.

“I don’t think Mack gets scared of anything.” He looked at Ben and grinned. “But one of his dogs sure does.”

“Which one?”

“Tuck.”

“Tuck? Really?”

“Oh, yeah. He hates loud noises. I’ll bet he’s hunkered down under Mack’s table right now.”

“Poor thing.”

“Yeah.”

Ben hesitated, then asked, “What about Big Owl Man? Or the Eight-foot Skeleton? Think Mack’s scared of them?”

Will looked up as another flash of lightning peeled back the night. Big Owl Man was a legendary monster said to live in the desert. The Apache Indians who once lived there said the Big Owl Man was part-owl/part-man, carried a club, and gobbled up naughty children for breakfast.

Will didn’t think the Eight-foot Skeleton was an Apache legend, but it was just as unsettling. The story was that an eight-foot human skeleton wandered the desert on moonless nights with a glowing lantern nestled within its ribs.

When he was younger, Will had been frightened of the stories. But not anymore. After all, he reasoned, how could a skeleton be eight feet tall?

And why would it need a lantern?

He reached over and tussled his brother’s unruly mop of hair.

“Naw, Mack’s not afraid of anything.”

“He’s not afraid of skeletons?”

“Nope.”

“Cougars?”

“He’s got dogs and a rifle.”

“Wolves?”

“Ain’t no wolves to be scared of.”

Ben looked up as a crack of thunder crashed over the desert. His voice was quiet. “Is he scared of thunder?”

Will shook his head. “Thunder’s nothing to be scared of, Ben.”

 

THERE WAS ANOTHER FLASH of light, another, and then another. Will wasn’t counting the seconds, but the lightning seemed to be striking farther away now. Strike after strike after strike. They were coming so fast it was impossible to tell one from another. The thunder became one long, angry rumble, punctuated by occasional sharper cracks. The rain began falling even harder, pounding the dry desert and pouring off the Proctor’s roof like a waterfall.

“My gosh,” Will said. He had to raise his voice to make himself heard over the rain. “This is incredible! I’ve never seen—”

Before he could finish the sentence the entire sky lit up. The flash was so bright it stung Will’s eyes. He winced, throwing a hand up in front of his face. There was suddenly a strange smell in the air, the smell of ozone.

The hair began tingling on Will’s arms and neck.

He whirled around.

“Ben! Get down!”

“What?”

Will didn’t take time to explain. He pushed Ben down on the porch and dropped flat on top of him. Ben jerked his elbow in surprise, striking Will in the eye. Will recoiled in pain—his eyes filling with tears—then ducked his head and held on tight.

The sky lit up again. The flash was so bright Will could see it even though his eyes were closed. From the inside, his eyelids appeared blood red and full of spider webs. The thunder followed instantly, a terrifying, ear-splitting crack that shook the house and rattled the windows. The blast was so loud it crushed Will’s ears.

There was another flash—an instant, terrifying explosion of thunder—and Will felt the porch shake. The windows rattled. A pot fell from the windowsill. Ben was flailing wildly beneath him, lashing out with an elbow that caught Will in the other eye. Will ducked his head out of the way and held his brother even more tightly.

There was another crack of thunder, and another. The crashes sounded like cannon fire as the sky lit up brighter than the sun in the middle of the day.

And then, finally, the storm seemed to recede. The thunderclaps became muted as the lightning began striking farther away.

Will held onto Ben for another moment, then slowly lifted his head. The house was still standing, the rain still falling. Ben was crying. Will relaxed and tried to sit up, but the younger boy cried out and held on.

“It’s okay,” Will said. He pulled his brother close and hugged him. He looked into the darkness. “It’s okay,  the worst of it’s over.”

The door flew open and Mr. Proctor burst onto the porch.

“Will! Ben! Are you okay?”

“We’re fine, Pa,” Will said. Over the sound of the rain he could hear his little sister sobbing in the kitchen. “Just a little startled.”

Mr. Proctor knelt on the porch and began checking his sons for injuries. Ben threw his arms around his father’s neck, still whimpering.

“Will, what happened to your face?”

“My … what?”

Mr. Proctor squinted in the darkness. “Your eye’s cut.”

Will reached up and touched his left eye. His fingers came away wet with blood.

“Oh,” he said, surprised. “I was holding Ben down on the porch and he sorta smacked me.”

He stood and stared into the darkness: the lightning was flashing above the clouds now. It was like watching campfires through thin curtains.

He looked back at his father.

“What just happened?”

Mr. Proctor shook his head. “I don’t know, Will.”

“That didn’t even seem like thunder. It was … different. Do you think an airplane might have crashed?”

Mr. Proctor frowned. The Roswell Army Air Field was about seventy miles to the southeast. The base was the home of the 509th Bombing Squadron. The Enola Gay—the bomber that dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima—had once been stationed at Roswell, and people said the army still stored atomic bombs there. If an airplane carrying such a weapon had been caught in the storm …

Well, who knows what might have happened?

 

HE TURNED AND LOOKED southwest. The White Sands Missile Range was about 200 miles that way. White Sands was a top-secret missile base. No one knew what the army did there, but there were plenty of rumors. And who knew what might happen if one of the army’s secret experiments went haywire?

“I don’t know, Will,” Mr. Proctor said. “But I can’t imagine an airplane flying around on a night like this.”

But Will wasn’t listening anymore; he was looking steadfastly into the darkness.

“What is it?” his father asked.

“I don’t know, but …”

He pointed.

“Something’s glowing way out there on the desert.”

Ben was instantly alarmed. “Something’s glowing? Like a lantern? Like the skeleton?”

“No, Ben, it’s not the skeleton …”

Mr. Proctor squinted but couldn’t see it. “Are you certain?”

“I think so. Maybe. Do you think the lightning could have sparked a brush fire?”

“It’s possible. But I don’t think so. With all this rain, I can’t imagine anything being able to burn.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right.”

On the other hand, Will thought, if a missile—or an airplane full of fuel—had gone down out there, it’d take more than a little rain to keep it going up like a bonfire.

He squinted but was unable to see the dim glow anymore. The night sky was black as ink and the fiery glow now seemed more imaginary than real. He wasn’t certain anymore that he’d actually seen anything.

He peered into the sky. It was hard to be certain, but it seemed as if the storm was beginning to let up a little. The rain wasn’t falling quite so hard and the lightning strikes had tapered off, only flashing once every half-minute or so.

“Why don’t you come on in, Will?” Mr. Proctor asked as he stood and lifted Ben. “You’ve got to be up pretty early in the morning.”

“Yeah, sure, Pa. I’ll be right in.”

Will watched as his father carried Ben inside the house, then stood on the porch for another minute. He watched the sparks of receding lightning and listened to the ominous rumble of distant thunder. The air smelled wet and dusty and a little bit moldy.

As far as storms went, this one seemed normal again. But for several minutes it had seemed strange in a way that left him feeling uncomfortable. It had been disturbing and quite a bit frightening.

Now he wondered if it had really been as strange as it seemed … or if it had just been his imagination.

He shivered again.

 

Well, there it is! I hope you like it and–whether you believe the story of the crash or not–with the anniversary coming up, remember to keep your eyes to the sky!

Virus!

In a case of life imitating art, I published Virus! about a year ago, long before the current pandemic came about. It’s a middle-grade novel and I hesitated to mention it at first (I didn’t want to frighten anyone who might already be worried about getting sick).

But it’s a fun book with a happy ending, so I thought I’d post the first chapter in case you’d like to take a look.Skimonster1117_ebook (And just for fun, Justin Bieber gets a little attention, like with this line: “Listen to Justin Bieber? He’d rather have rabies!”)

 

BRADY WILLIAMS poked a finger at the eighth-grade vocabulary list.

“Excruciating,” he said. “The English assignment was excruciating.”

Ethan Brown pulled a face like someone had stuffed a pair of sour gym socks under his nose. “Um, I don’t think Mrs. Poppleton will like that one.”

“Well, say math assignment, then. ‘The math assignment was excruciating.’ ”

Ethan nodded. “Okay, yeah. That’s good. She’ll like that.”

He bent over his paper and began writing.

Brady stretched and turned back to the list. The assignment was to use each of the week’s vocabulary words in a sentence. Which, he thought, was excruciating.

The trouble was that none of the words were, like, normal. They were words that no one ever used.

Like agonizing.

And officiate.

And capacious.

Actually using words like that in a conversation?

He shook his head.

A kid could get beaten up for talking like that.

 

HE SIGHED AND got serious with the list. Right away he spotted an unusual word and grinned.

“Climate,” he said as soon as Ethan was ready to write again. “We have a tree, but Dad won’t let me climate.”

Ethan wasn’t really paying attention. He had the sentence half written before he looked up and wrinkled his nose.

“What?”

“Climate! Get it? We have a tree, but Dad won’t let me climb it?”

Ethan rolled his eyes and began erasing what he’d written.

“Oh, come on,” Brady teased. “This stuff’s agonizing. Gotta have a little fun.”

“Yeah, I know.” Ethan brushed a pile of eraser shavings from his paper. “But my folks are gonna ground me from football unless I get my grade back up. I’ve gotta have an A- by next week or I’m off the team.”

“Paid off during the oral quiz last week …”

“Well, yeah, that’s true.”

The week before, Mrs. Poppleton surprised the class with one of her dreaded oral quizzes. Giving them no time to prepare, she called students one-by-one to the front of the room, gave them a word, and waited for them to correctly use it in a sentence.

It was about as fun as doing burpees outside when the grass was wet. And most of the kids kept their heads down, hoping they wouldn’t be called upon. After several students had stumbled with their words, she called on Brady.

“Debate,” she said.

Without missing a beat, Brady said, “I use debate to catch de fish.”

The class exploded with laughter. One boy—who’d just filled his mouth from a water bottle—snorted the whole thing over the girl in front of him.

Mrs. Poppleton tried to look upset. But then she’d broken down and laughed with everyone else. Best of all, she’d realized it was pointless to go on. And she gave the whole class full marks on the quiz.

 

BRADY GRINNED, then glanced at Mrs. Poppleton, who was busy grading papers. Around the room, most of the other kids were chattering quietly as they worked. As long as the work got done, Mrs. Poppleton didn’t mind people making a little noise.

Brady looked back at Ethan.

“Can’t stop thinking about the game last night,” he whispered. “Forty-four to seven. … Man, it doesn’t get better than that!”

“And against the best team in the league,” Ethan agreed. He gave Brady a quick knuckle-bump. “I mean, I knew we could beat ’em. But forty-four to seven? We creamed ’em! Tom Brady will play me in the movie!”

“Tom Brady? Not Aaron Rodgers? Sheesh, you’d be lucky to get Justin Bieber.”

“As long as the girls notice, I don’t care.”

“You must’ve thrown for like nine hundred yards.”

“A hundred forty-seven,” Ethan replied. “My dad kept track.”

“Still pretty awesome. Your arm sore?”

“Little bit,” Ethan said. “But what about you? You ran for … what? Four touchdowns? Five?”

“Just four.”

“Almost five, though. You popped the ball outta that kid’s hands and ran it all the way to the four-yard line. If that putz with the goofy helmet hadn’t knocked you outtabounds, you would’ve had a sick snatch-n-score.”

“I can’t believe he caught me,” Brady exclaimed. “He must’ve been flyin’ down the field.”

“Oh, he was haulin’, man. And then he hit you like a freakin’ bulldozer. The way you went crashin’ into those Gatorade buckets? I thought you were dead!”

“You’re not the only one. You know how some people see stars when they get hit?”

“Yeah …”

“I saw super novas! And—I think—I saw Elvis.”

“Elvis?”

“Elvis Presley. You know, the guy who—oh never mind.” Brady shook his head ruefully. “Anyway, he mashed me like week-old Cream of Wheat.”

He looked around to be sure no one was watching, then lifted his shirt to show off his ribcage. “Check out this freakin’ bruise …”

“Whoa!” Ethan’s eyes bulged as he leaned in for a better look. “He did that?”

“Him or a Gatorade bucket.”

“That’s wicked! Does it hurt?”

“Little bit.”

Ethan whistled softly, then pulled his shorts up over his knee to reveal a purple mark the size of a grapefruit. “Look at this.”

“Wow,” Brady said, marveling at the size of the bruise. “When did that happen?”

“Fourth quarter? When that clod with the hairy arms chased me outta the pocket and down the sideline? And then ran me over like a Mack truck?” He tapped the bruise. “Yeah, I came away with this.”

He grinned ruefully.

“My mom totally freaked when she saw it.”

“I’ll bet,” Brady said. He knew Ethan’s mom was insanely overprotective. She didn’t like Ethan playing football and was always looking for excuses to make him quit. She fussed over minor cuts and scrapes like an ER surgeon treating a javelin through the head.

The ultimate helicopter mom.

 

ETHAN TAPPED Brady’s left hand, which was wrapped with gauze. “So what’s this? You get cleated or something?”

“What? Oh, this?” Brady lifted his hand and looked it over. “Weirdest thing. I found a ferret in our window well yesterday.”

“A ferret?”

“You know … one of those long, furry animals that look like a cross between a squirrel and a wiener dog?”

“Yeah, I know what a ferret is. What’d it do, bite you or something?”

“Yeah. I thought it was tame. But when I tried to catch it, it took a chunk outta my hand.”

“Had a little Brady for breakfast, huh? What’d you do with it?”

“Took it to the vet. It had a tattoo in its ear—”

“A tattoo? Like a gangbanger tattoo?”

“No. Like a number. Or a code. I figured the vet would know what it meant. Probably know what to do with it.”

He turned his hand back and forth, giving the bandage another look. “It didn’t look bad last night, but it was kinda red and puffy this morning. So I wrapped it up.”

He lowered his voice confidentially.

“Didn’t want to gross out the girls.”

“Pus?”

“Some.”

“Kewl … I hope you don’t get rabies.”

“Yeah, I was worried about that, too. I’ve had a tetanus shot. But the vet thinks I should get a rabies shot, too. You know, just in case.”

“Ouch. What’s your mom say?”

Brady looked around before answering. “She doesn’t know yet.”

“You didn’t tell her? Brady—”

“Shhhh!” Brady gestured frantically for Ethan to keep his voice down. “Man, if I’d told her yesterday, she would have hauled me straight to the doctor. I might have missed the game!”

“I know, but holy cow, Brady … rabies! That’s scary stuff, man! You can’t be messing around with it!”

“I know, I know … I’ll tell her tonight.”

Ethan pulled a face and Brady said: “Really, man. As soon as I get home.”

Ethan frowned, but said: “Okay. I hate to get on your case, but rabies is bad news.” He checked to be sure no one was listening. “I heard about some little kids that found a sick bat and took it to school. And they all had to have shots.”

“It bit ’em?”

“No! And that’s the point. All they did was touch it, but with rabies that’s all it takes.”

“It doesn’t have to bite you?”

“Huh-uh. Not with rabies. That’s why you can’t take chances.” He rolled his eyes. “I can just see you getting rabies and biting someone at the next game.”

“Probably get a ten-yard penalty for giving a kid rabies.”

“At least. Have to put the name ‘Cujo’ on your jersey.” He glanced at a girl across the room. “Has Hunter seen it?”

Brady blanched. “Not yet.”

“Gonna show her?”

Brady pulled a face. “I do and she’ll haul me to the doctor.”

He peeked at Hunter Caldwell through the corner of his eyes. Hunter was the newest girl in the school. And next to Brady’s friend Sid, she was also the smartest. She had the energy of a bottle rocket, and a wardrobe that was the envy of every girl at the junior high, the senior high, the nearby college, and half the women at the local TV station.

The problem was that she was possessive, and she considered Brady her own personal property. Even worse was the fact she was a huge Justin Bieber fan.

Like huge.

Brady shuddered.

Even though he secretly liked a girl named Ellen, he didn’t mind being friends with Hunter. He didn’t mind eating with her at lunch, sitting with her in class, or even talking with her on the phone as long as he didn’t have practice.

But listen to Justin Bieber?

He’d rather have rabies.

 

BRADY SIGHED. He was about to make another joke, but stopped as he looked across the room. “Oh, oh … somebody’s in trouble.”

Ethan followed Brady’s gaze. Mr. Gum, the assistant principal, had just stalked into the room. The man had once been a marine drill sergeant, and he barked at junior high students like they were green recruits on their first day of boot camp.

The principal marched to Mrs. Poppleton’s desk and rasped something just loud enough for her to hear.

Mrs. Poppleton’s eyes went wide. Her face froze and she stiffened in her seat.

Mr. Gum lifted the radio he used to talk with the office. He turned his back and began speaking, his voice low enough no one could hear what he was saying.

Like everyone else in the room, Brady was focused on the man like a laser beam. Something was obviously wrong. Not only that, but—

He just looked at me!

Brady felt the hair prickle on the back of his neck. The assistant principal had turned around again. His eyes flicked across the room and Brady was certain that—for a split second—they’d focused on him.

The room suddenly felt unusually warm.

What’s going on?

Brady glanced at Ethan, then looked back at the principal. The man was looking away now, and though he seemed casual … he almost seemed too casual.

Like he knows something’s wrong, but doesn’t want to worry anyone.

And he almost seemed to be trying not to look at Brady.

Mr. Gum’s radio beeped and he held it to his ear. He listened for a moment, spoke a single word, then turned and looked at Brady.

“Mr. Williams? The principal would like to see you in his office.”

Brady blinked as his blood turned to ice. “Me?”

Now,” the former marine snapped, the drill sergeant to a lazy recruit. “And don’t stop on your way there!”

Chills crawled along Brady’s spine like huge, hairy spiders.

“Mr. Williams,” the man barked, “Mr. Huff wants you now!”

Brady stood and nodded. “Should I take my backpack?”

Now!” the man snapped.

“Ohh-kaay!”

More confused than ever, Brady gave Ethan a worried look, then kicked his pack beneath his desk and walked from the room. He felt the eyes of his classmates boring into his back as he left.

 

WHAT’S GOING ON? Brady wondered as he walked down the hall.

He defied Mr. Gum’s orders and stopped at the drinking fountain.

It didn’t make sense: whenever a principal needed to give someone a good chewing out, he just called the kid’s teacher over the intercom. Or maybe sent an aide to the kid’s room with a note. Never once had Brady seen a principal actually show up to collect a student in person.

Am I in trouble or something? he wondered. What did I do?

And—something else occurred to him—why isn’t Mr. Gum coming with me?

Brady stopped and looked around, noticing for the first time that the halls were empty. Deserted.

Weird, he thought.

Even in the middle of class there were always people in the halls. There was always someone heading for a bathroom, getting a drink, or retrieving supplies from a locker. And that was in addition to the troublemakers who’d been kicked out of class and told to sit in the hall.

But now?

Not a soul.

Brady glanced around as he walked, the sound of his footsteps echoing hollowly against the aluminum lockers that lined the halls.

The classroom doors

Brady stopped and looked up and down the hall. The doors to the classrooms all opened outward. And most teachers left them open during class.

But today …

Every door in the hall was closed.

It’s like we’re locked down or something, he thought.

He turned and saw that someone had quietly closed Mrs. Poppleton’s door after he left.

He felt a cold knot begin twisting in his stomach. Something was obviously wrong, but he had no idea what it could be.

He rubbed the ferret bite on his hand—

Feelin’ kinda itchy

—as he walked. He came to an intersection and noticed that the math and science wings were deserted, too.

And the doors are all closed here, too!

Brady stopped, thinking it over. With violence in schools occurring more and more often, most schools had lockdown procedures. Whenever there was a threat, teachers shut and locked their doors until the building was safe again.

But why now? Brady wondered. If we were locked down, Mr. Gum would have known it. He wouldn’t have let me out of the room.

He was about to move on when there was a sound: the click of a boot on the tile floor. He turned as a man dressed in camouflaged army fatigues stepped into the hall behind him. The man had a face like granite (no expression at all). And he had a weapon (a pistol or something) strapped to his belt.

And clipped to the other side … well, it looked like a gas mask.

What the

Brady stared at the soldier for a moment—

Is it career day or something? Someone’s dad returning from Afghanistan? The National Guard recruiting eighth graders to fight ISIS?

—then realized the man’s expression wasn’t completely granite. There was a flicker of … what? Concern, maybe?

Fear?

Worry?

Brady wasn’t certain, but it seemed the man didn’t want to come any closer. Brady frowned—

Navy SEAL you ain’t, dude!

—then continued walking toward the office, the soldier following at a wary distance.

Brady began walking faster, the soldier’s boots clicking ominously behind him. He turned the corner into the school lobby and froze.

Mr. Huff—the principal—was standing on the far side of the lobby. Normally a firm but friendly man, his face was drawn and twisted, lined with fear. A dozen soldiers holding rifles were standing around him.

One of the soldiers, a man with stars on his cap—

A general?

—was glowering at Brady through cold, hard eyes. His voice was sharp as broken glass.

“Is that him?”

Mr. Huff was staring straight at Brady, his eyes wide with terror.

He nodded.

And pointed.

“Yes, that’s him.”

And then: “Hurry … get him!”

 

So there you go! Like I said, it’s a fun story with a happy ending. I hope you’ll take a look!

 

SKIER DOWN!

The one question I’m asked more than any other is, “How many of your stories are based on real life?” And the answer is, Lots of them! Many of the incidents in my dinosaur books were even inspired by actual (and usual ridiculous) events. (The adventure with”Vampire Wasps” in Time Jam was actually inspired by a memorable and–yes–painful experience.

Anyway, the ski resorts all shut down early this season, but in a normal year things would have just wrapped up. With that in mind, I’ve attached a tale from my Ski Patrol novel, Outtabounds. This is one that was indeed based on an actual, harrowing, and very nearly tragic incident. (Names and places have all been changed, of course!)

Chopper

A PATROLMAN at the bottom of the mountain was pulling the canvas cover over a snowmobile when he noticed a man approaching. The patroller smiled and said: “Hi. Can I help you?”

“I certainly hope so.” The man spoke with a distinct New Zealand accent. “One of our mates seems to be missing. We were wondering at what point we should push the panic button.”

“Oh? When did you last see him?”

“About eleven-thirty. He skis better than the rest of us, so he nicked off. Our car’s still in the lot and he’s got the keys, so we know he hasn’t returned to the hotel.”

“Have you looked into any of the bars? Restaurants?”

“We’ve nipped in and out, yes, but there’s no sign of him.”

The patroller—a man named Hardman—sighed. Most missing adults eventually turned up at home or in a nearby watering hole. Chances were this one would too. But the car in the parking lot was a disturbing detail.

Worse, Lower Sweeps had already begun: there wasn’t much time left to mount a search.

He took a notebook from his pocket. “What’s your friend’s name?”

“Wendt … Jonathan Wendt.”

“Age?”

“Thirty-eight, give or take.”

“What’s he wearing?”

“Um, red coat, black pants … black helmet.”

“And where did you last see him?”

“About halfway down the run. The one you call … what is it now? Rodeo?”

“Does he have a cell phone?”

“Yes.”

Hardman lifted an eyebrow, but the man shook his head.          “We’ve been ringing him for the best part of an hour, but he hasn’t responded.”

Hardman nodded. “Okay.” He lifted his radio, then changed his mind and pulled out his cell phone. With the amount of information he needed to convey, the phone would be more efficient. He scrolled through his list of contacts, pressed CALL.

The phone rang three times.

“Dispatch, this is Ben.”

“Hi, Ben, this is Jeff. I’ve got a possible missing person.”

He heard a soft curse from the other end. “Okay … what have you got?”

Hardman relayed the information, then heard muffled voices as patrollers at the dispatch desk talked it over.

“Jeff?” Ben finally asked.

“Yes?”

“Can you stay with your guest?”

“Sure.”

“Okay. Why don’t you take him over to the clinic. Call us back from there.”

“Okay. Thanks, Ben.”

Hardman could picture the chaos he’d just created around the dispatch desk. Chances were, the missing man was lounging in a nearby bar, working his way toward a mild hangover. But until he was located, sweeps would be interrupted, dozens of sweepers placed on standby, and plans made to sweep the entire mountain again.

Even as he thought this, his radio rasped to life.

“Patrol Dispatch to all patrollers. We have a possible Code Green”—patrolspeak for a missing person—“stop all sweeps and stand by.”

Hardman looked up into the darkening sky. The sun had already set and it wouldn’t be long before the mountain was cloaked in blackness. Decisions would have to be fast and furious. On top of that—

There was a sudden burst of noise from the New Zealander’s coat.

“Ruddy Rudy,” the man said, fumbling for his pocket. He looked at his phone and shouted, “It’s him!” He punched at the screen. “Hello? Jonathan?”

Hardman could hear a voice, barely audible, rasping from the phone. “ ’Ello? ’Ello? Are you there?”

“Jonathan?” The man from New Zealand practically shouted at his phone. “Jonathan? Is that you?”

“Nathan …”

Hardman could hear the injured man gasping, could hear pain and confusion in the distorted voice.

“Nathan … I’ve … I’ve taken a bit of a spill.”

“Are you all right, Jonathan?”

There was a lengthy pause before the halting voice returned. “I’ve taken a spill, mate. … My head … I seem to be bleeding …”

“Where is he?” Hardman prompted Nathan. “Ask him where he is.”

“Jonathan, I’m with a medic. We need to know where you are.”

They waited, but there was no response.

“Try again,” Hardman prompted.

“Jonathan? Jonathan! Are you there, Jonathan?”

There was no response.

Hardman lifted his radio as Nathan continued calling to his friend.

“Patrol Dispatch, Seven Sixty-two.”

“Dispatch.”

“Ben, we’ve made contact with the missing man. He’s still on the mountain and he’s hurt, but we’ve lost contact again. We don’t know where he is. Stand by and we’ll get back to you.”

Hardman looked at the New Zealander, who shook his head: he’d been unable to regain contact.

 

FARTHER UP THE mountain, Chase listened to the radio traffic: even though most patrollers carried cell phones, important traffic was usually broadcast over the radio so others were able to keep track of what was happening. By keeping informed, patrollers could often anticipate and even prepare for calls before actually receiving them.

Like everyone else, Chase had stopped his sweep; he was standing at the top of a steep, empty run. He knew things would be happening fast. Worst case, everyone would be transported back up the mountain by snowcat or snowmobile so every run could be swept again. If the missing man was not found, helicopters with infrared, thermal imaging, or whatever they used would be called in.

Everyone was in for a long night.

Which would be even worse for the injured guest.

 

NATHAN’S PHONE began chirping and the New Zealander punched at the screen. “Jonathan?”

“ ’Ello?”

“Jonathan? Jonathan! Where are you?

“I … I’ve been trying to … to make my way down the hill.”

“Jonathan, listen carefully: do you know where you are?”

“I’ve reached a lift. It’s closed. There’s no one here.”

“Look for a name, Jonathan! Do you see a name on the lift?”

“Says Quickdraw.”

Hardman stabbed at the transmit button on his radio, completely ignoring correct radio protocol.

“Ben! This is Hardman. The missing man is at the bottom of Quickdraw. He’s hurt, he’s bleeding, he’s barely functioning.”

“Ten-four!”

“Keep him talking,” Hardman urged Nathan. “Tell him to sit down and stay put. Tell him help’s on the way.”

 

CHASE DIDN’T HESITATE. As soon as he heard “Quickdraw”—the lift at the bottom of the box canyon—he turned his skis and shot down the hill. He reached up and keyed his radio as he skied.

“Dispatch, Seven Forty-seven: I’m on the ridge just above Quickdraw. Be there in five.”

He sliced through the snow, feeling neither the wind nor the snow on his face. He topped a rise and spotted a lone figure sprawled on the snow near the bottom of the lift.

Chase swept up to the man, popped off his skis, and knelt beside him. There was blood on the snow, blood on the man’s face, coat, and snow pants. Chase tapped the man lightly.

“Sir? Hello? Can you hear me?”

No response.

Chase glanced at the man’s chest, saw it expand and retract again.

Still breathing!

He popped off the man’s skis, carefully eased him into a supine position, and gave him a quick once over. He noted the blood frozen and crusted around the man’s nose, ears, and mouth, which he recognized as classic signs of head trauma. The bleeding seemed to have stopped. Chase didn’t see signs of bleeding anywhere else, and there weren’t any obvious deformities—signs of broken bones—in any of his extremities.

Chase leaned back and keyed his radio.

“Dispatch, Seven Forty-seven.”

“Dispatch.”

“I’m with our injured guest. I need a trauma pack and backboard, and let’s bring in an air ambulance. We can land it here below the lift. Guest is male, about 40 years old, breathing but unresponsive, probable head trauma. Vital signs to follow.”

“Copy your backboard, trauma pack, and air ambulance. Patrollers en route.”

Because of the severity of the man’s head injury, Chase knew the spine was also compromised. Under normal circumstances he would have directed someone to hold the man’s head still until he was secured to a backboard. But by himself he didn’t have that luxury.

He slipped off his backpack and med pack, then pulled off his coat. He molded this firmly around the man’s head to keep it from moving. That done, he assessed the man’s breathing and heart rate—both elevated as his nervous system compensated for the loss of blood—then made another search for injuries. There was a soft spot on the man’s head—just above the left eye—which Chase recognized as a depression fracture.

He checked to be certain the man’s airway was clear—that it wasn’t obstructed or filled with blood—then began checking more closely for any less-obvious injuries. After several minutes a patroller skied up with a trauma pack strapped to her back.

“Still unresponsive,” Chase reported as the other patroller kicked out of her skis. “Hypovolemic, probable skull fracture. Let’s get him in a C-collar, and then get some Oh-two onboard.”

“Ten-four.”

Two more patrollers skied up. Then three more, one towing a toboggan loaded with additional supplies.

“SkyRescue is inbound,” one of the new men reported. “Be here in five.”

Two patrollers were already positioning chem-lights to mark the landing zone in the growing twilight.

“Thanks,” Chase said.

As the first responder, Chase took charge of the scene, directing the other patrollers as they tended to the man’s injuries, affixed an oxygen mask, and then secured him to a backboard. It wasn’t long before he heard the thump of rotor blades and looked up to see a red, black, and white helicopter swooping low over the ridge with landing lights ablaze. He checked over his shoulder, glad to see two patrollers scrutinizing the landing zone, checking for debris.

There was a rush of wind as the helicopter settled onto the snow, and then the engine noise quickly died.

Chase looked through the swirl of snow. The pilot was his friend Taylor, the man as focused as a laser beam as he shut down his machine. A flight nurse and paramedic leaped from the chopper.

“Probable depression fracture above the left eye,” Chase warned, though he knew the flight crew wouldn’t take his word for it—they never did—and planned to assess the patient themselves.

“Okay, got it.”

Chase stepped back as the nurse and paramedic took charge and finally allowed himself to relax. He stretched a kink from his back, then walked over to the helicopter. Whiting had stepped from the chopper to watch the action.

“Working a little late, aren’t you?” the pilot asked.

“Yeah, well, things were a little too quiet. Just thought I’d liven things up a bit.”

The two shook hands.

“Well, ’preciate your thinking of us. A little flight time always beats sitting around playing cards … even in this weather.” The pilot nodded to the where the nurse and medic were working over the injured skier. “So what’cha got?”

Chase quickly recounted the tale, earning a whistle from the pilot.

“Wow,” Whiting said. “Guy’s lucky you found him.”

“No question. If he hadn’t regained consciousness we might not have found him ’til spring.”

The flight nurse whistled for the pilot’s attention and made a quick twirling motion with his finger.

“Oh, oh,” Whiting said. “Looks like we’re going hot.” He shook hands again with Chase. “Guess I better get serious.”

“Yeah.” Chase jerked a thumb toward the clouds. “Feels like the wind’s picking up. You be careful up there.”

“Always.” He turned back toward the chopper. “Least I won’t be fighting the crazy holiday traffic.”

Patrollers and flight crew quickly loaded the injured skier into the chopper and—minutes later—Whiting skillfully lifted the helicopter into the air. In seconds it had disappeared into the gloom.

Chase looked around. For the first time he realized he and his crew were stranded in the bottom of the box canyon. He’d no sooner had the thought than the growl of snowmobiles filled the air, the machines apparently dispatched to tow the rescuers back up the hill.

Ah, he thought. Good to know Ben’s on the ball tonight.

 

An investigation showed the the injured guest crashed in the trees high up the mountain. He was unconscious and hidden when the patrol sweepers skied by. No one’s fault, and just one of those things. The scary thing to me was that there was no warning. One minute we were closing down the resort at the end of a long but exciting day, and the next we were racing to save a man’s life. It was a lesson to me on the importance of always being prepared. And always remembering, “Today could be the day you’re called to save a life. Will you be ready?”

Outtabounds

It was just ten degrees when I took my dog cross-country skiing around the farm this morning. (I actually had to scrape ice off the bottom of my Karhus!) But the sun was bright and the skiing was great. I usually spend the time thinking through whatever book I’m working on, but this morning I kept going back to Outtabounds, my ski-patrol novel. (The tag line is, Not afraid of ski lifts? You will be . . .)

Anyway, this is the prologue. I hope you like it!

 

PROLOGUE

Twenty-four years earlier . . .

Ebook CoverTEN-YEAR-OLD Jeffrey Christopher crouched over his skis as he raced down the snowy hillside. A bump appeared on the side of the trail and he shot toward it, tucking his poles beneath his arms like an Olympic racer. He waited until the last instant, then pushed up with his knees and popped into the air, whooping with excitement. He landed in an explosion of snow, zigged and zagged to slow himself, then turned his skis and braked to a stop.

He turned and looked uphill.

“C’mon, Dad, hit it!” he shouted. “Hit it!”

James Christopher knew he’d be taking the jump the moment he saw Jeffrey heading for it. The boy loved watching his father fly through the air as much as he loved being airborne himself. James wasn’t really interested in bumps and jumps anymore—growing old sometimes did that to a man—but risking life and limb (and watching his father do the same) seemed hard-wired into his son’s DNA. It made the boy smile. And that was all the reason James Christopher needed to take the jump.

He was Jeffrey’s hero and he knew it. Jeffrey once told a friend his dad was “the best skier in the world!” After that, James would have taken an Olympic ski jump blindfolded rather than disappoint his son.

He bent his knees as he made his approach, then hopped and popped into the air. He splayed his arms and legs—a classic spread-eagle—and landed cleanly. He braked hard, spraying Jeffrey with an icy shower of fresh, frosty, sparkling powder.

“Yes!” Jeffrey exclaimed, grinning from ear to ear. “That was great!”

James smiled. He looked back up the hill for a moment, then turned back to his son. “So where do you want to go?”

“Loose Moose!” Jeffrey said without hesitation.

“Sounds good,” James agreed. “Let’s go.”

James took a moment to catch his breath as Jeffrey planted his poles and pushed off. He knew before asking that they’d be hitting choose Loose Moose. It was their signature run. Narrow monkey trails snaked through the pine forest on both sides of the creamy corduroy, and father and son both enjoyed darting between the trees, ducking beneath snow-laden branches, hopping fallen logs, and slicing through piles of loose powder before blazing back onto the groomed run again.

James breathed deeply—the air seemed unusually thin this morning—as he followed Jeffrey down the slope. Whenever they skied together, James insisted on Jeffrey taking the lead. He enjoyed watching the little firecracker, for one thing. But he also preferred being uphill in case the boy took a spill. It was much simpler to reach him that way than if—

James gasped, abruptly overcome by a wave of nausea and dizziness. He wedged his skis to slow himself, suddenly confused and out of breath. His chest began to burn, felt as if it were being crushed. He braked to a stop and bent over his skis as he tried to catch his breath. His head swam. His ears rang and his chest flamed. He could feel his heart pounding.

He had no way of knowing it, but an aneurysm—a weak spot in the aorta below his kidneys—had burst and begun spilling blood into his abdomen. The result of a genetic defect, the aneurysm had gone undetected for years. But now—weakened by a recent infection and aggravated by the stress of hard skiing—it had given way.

His heart began pumping faster to compensate for the diminishing volume of blood. The extra fluid in his abdomen created pressure against adjacent veins and arteries, further slowing the circulation of blood and depriving his body of oxygen.

Searing pain slashed through Christopher’s chest and he fell to the snow, gasping and clutching at his coat.

Jeffrey turned to look back uphill just as his father collapsed.

“Dad!”

The boy slammed to a stop, popped off his skis, and struggled to run back up the slope. He sank to the top of his ski boots with every step in the soft snow but didn’t quit. He clawed his way up the hill with all the speed he could muster.

“Dad!”

By the time Jeffrey reached him, his father was unconscious.

“Dad!”

Confused and frightened, Jeffrey shook his father, then shook him again, desperately trying to wake him. There was a shushing sound and he looked up to see a skier slicing down the hill. The boy stood and frantically waved down the passing skier.

“There’s something wrong with my dad!” the boy cried as tears coursed down his cheeks. “Please, you’ve got to help him!”

The skier took one look at the man lying crumpled on the snow. He could see blood trickling from the corners of the man’s mouth and knew the situation was more serious than a broken leg or a sprained ankle. Certainly beyond any help he could offer. He knew he could stop … but he didn’t know first aid.

But he knew where to find someone who did.

“Stay here,” he said. “I’ll get the ski patrol.”

Before the boy could respond the skier planted his poles and shot down the hill, relieved to have a task he could handle.

Jeffrey knelt beside his father feeling lost and alone and more frightened than he’d ever been in his young life.

Hot tears seared his eyes.

“Dad,” he whispered between sobs. “Oh, Dad …”

***

CHASE ROGERS slalomed through the fresh, creamy snow carrying a mongo—a steel bar used for driving holes into hard snow and ice. The bamboo poles and plastic ropes that marked closed and out-of-bounds areas were constantly working themselves loose, and keeping them buffed out was a never-ending chore.

He skied easily, enjoying the feeling of long skis on groomed snow. He stopped frequently to pull up the slack in a sagging rope or use the mongo to drive a new hole for a leaning pole. The sun was high in the sky—bright and warm—and it felt good on his face as he hopped over a rise and onto the face of a steep pitch.

There was a skier down on the snow near the bottom of the hill, someone kneeling beside him. Chase was a rookie ski patroller, but he’d skied long enough to recognize the scene of an accident. Forgetting the ropes, he turned his skis and within seconds reached the stricken skiers.

A young boy looked up with swollen eyes, instantly recognizing the red coat and white crosses. A look of overwhelming relief flooded the boy’s face.

“It’s my dad!” the boy cried, choking on his words. “Please help him! Hurry, please!”

Chase punched out of his skis, a million thoughts whirling through his mind. The man on the snow appeared unconscious, and there was no mistaking the blood trickling from his mouth. Chase knew he was facing a dire situation. Knew he needed help and knew he needed it fast.

He reached down to his chest harness and keyed his radio.

“Wrangler Patrol, Seven Forty-seven.”

A scratchy voice rumbled back. “Wrangler Patrol.”

“I need an Oh-two pack, backboard, and toboggan at the bottom of Powderkeg.” And then, though he knew it was unnecessary: “Please expedite.”

“Copy your Oh-two, backboard, and toboggan. Ten-four, patroller en route. Wrangler Patrol clear.”

Chase dropped beside the man on the snow. He took in the blood trickling from the man’s mouth, the clenched eyes—

He looks like he’s in pain.

—and the lack of discernible breathing. He shook the man roughly.

“Sir? Sir! Can you hear me?”

Nothing.

“He just fell!” the boy cried frantically. “He was grabbing his chest!”

“How long ago?” Chase asked.

“I … I don’t know! Five minutes? Ten? I don’t know!

“Okay,” Chase said. “Just relax.”

He placed his ear close to the man’s mouth and watched his chest. He heard no sound of breathing, felt no breath upon his cheek, saw no telltale movement of the chest.

Damn!

Chase quickly tilted the man’s head, pinched the nose shut, and blew two breaths into the mouth, ignoring the stubble of whiskers against his lips. The breaths went in and Chase saw the man’s chest rise.

Chase placed his fingers alongside the man’s neck and felt for a pulse: nothing.

He moved his fingers, felt again.

Nothing.

He ripped open the man’s coat, placed his hands in the center of the chest, and straightened his elbows: he shoved, compressing the man’s heart.

One, two, three

He winced as the man’s ribs cracked under the pressure, but forced himself to focus on his work.

four, five.

He repositioned himself alongside the man’s head and blew again into the whiskery mouth. He felt the breaths go in and saw the chest rise.

It’s working!

He quickly returned to the man’s side, positioned his hands and shoulders, began compressing the chest.

One, two, three

He knew help would be coming. Knew too that he couldn’t stop working. Couldn’t stop unless the man began breathing on his own or someone arrived to take over … or until he himself dropped from exhaustion.

He completed five compressions—the accepted protocol of the time—blew twice into the man’s mouth, began another cycle. He knew—he’d been warned—that cardiopulmonary resuscitation was a difficult, draining procedure. But he was surprised by how quickly he was tiring. His arms began to ache, his back already burning from the strain.

Five compressions, two breaths, five compressions, two breaths, the motions becoming automatic, his actions almost mindless. He couldn’t stop. He struggled to ignore his tiring muscles and focus upon his work.

Get oxygen into the lungs, into the blood.

Keep the blood circulating.

Breaths.

Compressions.

Breaths.

Compressions.

Breaths.

His shoulders burned, his aching elbows, knees, and back howling for relief. He began to worry that he’d become too tired to continue. The thin mountain air was insufficient to sustain him, the cold draining his strength as rapidly as the strain of performing CPR.

Focus! he ordered himself. I’m not stopping!

He’d seen the look in the kid’s eyes—the boy had looked at Chase with an expression of trust and confidence—and Chase was not going to fail him. Not for anything. No matter how tired he became.

Come on! he thought as he blew into the cold mouth. Breathe!

Breathe!

He continued compressing, breathing, compressing, breathing, compressing, breathing. He became dimly aware of movement around him.

People.

Activity.

Voices.

He wanted to look, to see what was happening, but couldn’t tear his eyes away. Was too tired, too numb, too exhausted to do anything but continue the rhythmic cycle of chest compressions and breaths.

One, two, three

More motion.

A hand gripping his shoulder.

A voice.

“Chase …”

“No,” he whispered numbly. “Can’t … stop …”

“Chase,” the voice repeated, a little more urgently. “It’s okay … we’ve got it. Stand down …”

“Can’t … stop …”

Hands gripped his shoulders, began pulling.

No!

“C’mon, Chase, it’s okay. C’mon, man, let go … let go, Chase … we’ve got it.”

Chase felt himself being pulled away. He resisted, struggled briefly, finally let go. He blinked, saw people in red coats kneeling over the stricken man as they continued administering CPR. More breaths, compressions, breaths. Someone feeling for a pulse. More breaths, more compressions. Other skiers had stopped to watch and a patroller had his hands out, shooing them away.

After several minutes a grizzled patroller—the patrol doctor—motioned the men performing CPR to stop. The doc placed a stethoscope against the unconscious man’s chest. He listened, repositioned his stethoscope, listened again. By now a rescue toboggan had arrived and a patroller was preparing it for transport … but without the urgency Chase expected. It was several moments before he realized why.

It was over.

He sat back on the snow as icy beads of sweat trickled down his back feeling … what?

Distress?

Failure?

Defeat?

None of the words seemed exactly right.

He was completely, utterly drained, both physically and emotionally. He looked to the side and saw the man’s son kneeling in the snow beside his father. Tears streaked the boy’s cheeks, the young face flushed and filled with anguish. The boy looked like he was on the verge of losing control.

After a moment the boy looked up and their eyes met. For a brief, horrifying moment Chase thought the boy might show some sign of anger that Chase had been unable to save his father. But despite his grief the boy managed to mouth the words, Thank you.

It was as if a dam suddenly burst within him. A flood of emotions overwhelmed him and Chase collapsed on the snow. He began to cry, sobbing like a baby.

He was twenty-two years old.

It was his second day on the job.

 

Wow . . . reading that always takes me back to the mountain. Anyway, I hope you like it! You can read more details here!

Brex and the Snowboard

I was doing a Q & A with a

local school not long ago, and one of the kids asked if I ever use real stories in my books. Right away I thought of this story, that made it into Time Jam. It’s a silly story–and pretty disgusting!–but it really happened!

EXCERPT FROM TIME JAM:

“No, seriously, man.” Zach peeled a blackened chunk of pterosaur steak from the engine and tossed it onto a growing pile of burnt flesh and filthy rags they planned to burn later. “This has gotta be, like, one of the top five most disgusting jobs I’ve ever had.”

Snowboarding
Snowboarding sport photo

He shuddered as he plucked an unidentifiable piece of pterosaur from the engine, holding it between two fingers the way he’d hold a dead snake.

“Probably top three.”

Chase laughed again. “Top three? What in the world is number one?”

Zach didn’t even pause to think about it. “Snowahlamie Mountain.”

Chase stopped what he was doing, suddenly nauseated. “Oh, jeez,” he said. He not only knew what Zach was referring to, but ranked the experience as his own number one.

“Hey, don’t hold out,” Captain Jenks said as he tried to loosen a stiff bolt. “What happened?”

“Last winter,” Zach said. “Me’n Chase and my ten-year-old cousin Brex were snowboarding at Snowahlamie Mountain. Out in Utah?”

“Dinosaur country,” the pilot said. He gritted his teeth as he leaned against the stubborn bolt. “Okay …”

“There’s a big lodge halfway down the mountain,” Chase added. “And one of the underground sewer lines burst.”

Zach: “It wasn’t real deep, and all the warm … sludge … began eroding away the dirt, and the snow—”

Chase: “Making a hole about five feet across—”

Zach: “And filling it with … sludge—”

Chase: “But people coming down the hill couldn’t see it.”

Captain Jenks stopped work on the bolt to listen.

We saw it,” Zach said, nodding to Chase. “And just barely missed it. But because it had just happened, the resort didn’t know anything about it—”

Chase: “We didn’t know what to do—”

Zach: “So Chase called nine-one-one.”

Captain Jenks: “You called nine-one-one?”

Chase spread his hands. “Hey—who you gonna call?”

Zach laughed. “And the poor dispatcher thought we were prankin’ her. Chase kept saying, ‘Seriously!’ and ‘I’m not kidding!’ and ‘This is for real, man!’ ”

Captain Jenks: “So what happened?”

Chase: “Dispatcher finally called the ski patrol—”

Captain Jenks: “The ski patrol?”

Chase: “Yeah, I didn’t get it either.”

Zach: “But then we looked up the hill—”

Chase: “And here comes Zach’s little cousin Brex.”

Chase and Zach exchanged somber glances.

“He was flying down the hill,” Zach said. “I mean, if it was the Olympics, he would have gotten the gold.”

Chase: “We started waving and yelling—”

Zach: “But he thought we were telling him to go faster—”

Captain Jenks could see where the story was going and began to chuckle.

“Yeah,” Zach said, seeing the pilot had figured it out. “And he went right in—”

Chase: “Massive belly flop—”

Zach: “Right into the … sludge.”

Both boys shook their heads.

“We had to help him out of the hole,” Zach said. “I mean, he was literally drowning in it—”

Chase: “Flopping around like a fish—”

Zach: “Splashing his arms—”

Chase: “Still strapped to his snowboard—”

Zach: “And man … it was horrible.”

“You can’t even imagine how bad it was,” Chase said. “A ski patrolman finally came to help—”

Zach: “His name was Chase, too—”

“Yeah,” Chase said, remembering. “He took us down to the patrol locker room where they have showers so we could clean Brex up and stuff. But still”—he shuddered—“it was the worst! I mean, I’ve never, ever, been around anything so disgusting.”

“We just threw his clothes away,” Zach said. “I mean, who’d want to ever wear ’em again?”

Chase: “We found him some stuff in lost-and-found to wear home. And poor Brex drenched himself in cologne and aftershave every day for a month, thinking he still smelled like … well, you know.”

Zach: “It was like a mental thing: no matter what he did and no matter how many times he showered, he was certain he could still smell it. For like a month!”

Chase shuddered again, then turned back to the gooey mess in the engine.

“You know, come to think of it,” he said, getting back to work, “this really isn’t all that bad …”

Ooh! I can’t read that without shuddering! And remember, it really happened! And it reminds me of the time . . . well, we’ll save that story for another time!

“Time Jam” Interview

When Time Snap first came out, my young friend Max interviewed me for his school paper. We talked again when I finished Time Crunch, and with Time Jam now available, Max asked for another visit.

 

SHANE: Well, here we are again.

MAX: Yeah, and thanks for the advanced copy. That makes things easier for me. So … I know you said Time Jam was harder to write than your Ebook Coverother books. How was that?

SHANE: Y’know, when I wrote Time Crunch, I hardly felt like I was working. I didn’t know in advance what was going to happen, and every day I got up excited to get to work to find out what was going to happen next. There were a lot of times I’d finished writing a scene and think, “Whoa … I can’t believe that just happened!” But the whole time, the scenes were just flowing together, almost like someone else was doing the writing, and I was just typing it into the computer.

MAX: So what was different this time?

SHANE: Well, I still didn’t know what was going to happen. But I had to work a lot harder for it.

MAX: Is that why it took so long to finish?

SHANE: Exactly. I had to think about it a lot more. I still don’t know where a lot of the ideas came from. Looking back, I can’t remember what prompted certain events and situations—and when I look at them, I even wonder how I ever thought of them—but I know they didn’t come as easily as they did in Time Crunch.

MAX: What was the hardest part?

SHANE: The editing. And rewriting. Ernest Hemingway said he rewrote the ending to A Farewell to Arms 39 times before he was satisfied. That’s sort of what I felt like. When I wrote the final draft, I went back to punch up the beginning—that’s the page most people read—and ended up going through the whole book again. And then I did that two more times.

MAX: So are you satisfied?

SHANE: Let me put it this way. One of my personal “curses” is that once I finish a book, I can’t go back and read it just for the enjoyment of it. No matter how much I’ve tried to polish it, I know I’ll find parts I’d like to rewrite.

MAX: So you really don’t ever read them again?

SHANE: No. And I’d really like to. But even when I’m just reading, I can’t help thinking like an editor. And it makes me miserable to find a sentence or paragraph that needs a little something and know I can’t do anything about it.

MAX: Not to change the subject, but I noticed this book is a lot different than the others.

SHANE: Yeah, I tried out a few new ideas.

MAX: Like the quotes from Zach’s science fair paper below the chapter titles …

SHANE: Right. And then the chapters from the tyrannosaur’s point of view. The quotes just seemed necessary. I didn’t want people to forget that this wasn’t just another walk in the woods; that something awful and terrible was about to happen. And I didn’t want the tyrannosaur to be just another nasty animal in the forest. I wanted her to be just as important as Chase and Zach and Tali.

MAX: Let’s talk about Tali …

SHANE: Well, you remember Klorel, in Time Snap? People are always asking when we’re going to see her again. I couldn’t get her into this story, but Tali fit right in. And I liked having her there to torment Chase and Zach a little.

MAX: So, are we going to see Klorel again?

SHANE: We might. But you know the way I work: I don’t like to plan that far ahead. If and when she shows up again, it’s going to surprise me as much as anyone.

MAX: Speaking of which, I can’t let you go without asking about the ending …

SHANE: Well, that surprised me, too. I don’t want to give anything away, but it just kind of happened. I was pounding away on my keyboard and BOOM! It happened. And I remember thinking, “Oh, oh. Now I’m in trouble …”

MAX: Sooooo, is it fair for me to ask—

SHANE: All I can tell you is, I don’t know either. But I’m excited to find out!

Sneak Peak at “Time Jam”

It’s almost here! Time Jam, the third book in the Chase McCord series (and the follow up to Time Crunch) is almost here! Just waiting for the cover to come back and it’ll be available. I’m so excited I can’t wait, so I’ve included a sneak peak here:

 

Prologue

“It’s called the Chicxulub Asteroid. It’s pronounced CHICK-shuh-loob, and it’s important because it killed the dinosaurs.”

—Zach Wolff’s Science Fair Paper

SHE WAS CALLED Tyrannosaurus rex, and she was hungry.

Standing still as a rock, she watched the meadow from inside the trees. A warm breeze blew in from the grass, strong with the scent of grazing animals, and Tyrannosaurus eagerly breathed it in. The smell of prey quickened her pulse and she bared her teeth in anticipation.

Depositphotos_133745638_xl-2015Across the meadow a pair of enormous alamosaurs were stretching their necks deep into the forest. Nearly a hundred feet long, the alamosaurs were able to pluck limbs and leaves from trees other animals were unable to reach, happily munching on greens available only to them.

Tyrannosaurus could have reached the alamosaurs easily, but she made no move toward them. Either animal would have provided her food for several days, but she was aware of more vulnerable prey.

The breeze shifted, bringing with it the scent of horned triceratops, stealthy albertosaurs, spike-headed chasmosaurs, and duck-billed segnosaurs. Tyrannosaurus didn’t know the animals by name, but she knew which were prey, which were hunters, and which—like the alamosaurs—were unimportant.

Along with the rich, earthy smells came a chorus of noisy honks, hoots, bawls, squeaks, and bleats as grazing animals rumbled about the meadow. Tyrannosaurus listened intently, recognizing the sounds as calm and unworried.

None of the animals had yet detected her.

Tyrannosaurus had the keen eyes, nose, and ears of a skilled hunter. But the soles of her feet were equally perceptive. She could detect the tremors of lumbering alamosaurs and stampeding triceratops from as far as twenty miles away, and she was often aware of prey long before she could see or smell it.

But there were no tremors of fright from the ground now: the surrounding forest was peaceful.

And so she waited.

***

A NEW SMELL drifted by, the scent of a male tyrannosaur. Tyrannosaurus lifted her head. There were times when she would welcome the male, but this was not one of them. This was her territory and she was not in season: if the male came close, she would drive it away.

Flies buzzed around her eyes and she blinked, but

other than that remained perfectly still.

Tyrannosaurus was a patient hunter.

A pack of feathered dromaeosaurs abruptly rushed through the clearing. Dromaeosaurs were sleek, agile predators that—like Tyrannosaurus—walked on two legs. They were fast enough to catch small animals and—hunting in a pack—could bring down a triceratops, or even a lumbering isisaur. But today they would feed upon whatever the tyrannosaur left behind.

Tyrannosaurus saw the dromaeosaurs, but paid them no mind. Like the huge alamosaurs, they were unimportant.

There was a rustle of grass and Tyrannosaurus turned her head, aware of movement outside the trees, just out of sight. Her ears flicked and her nostrils flared, testing the breeze. The approaching animals were anatosaurs, and there were several of them. Adult anatosaurs were almost as large as Tyrannosaurus, though slow and awkward. They had broad shovel-like bills filled with teeth, but the teeth were not meant for fighting, but foraging.

And they were prey.

Tyrannosaurus remained still. The anatosaurs plodded into view: green animals with purple heads and thick, muscular tails. Most of the animals were fully grown, forty feet long and eighteen feet tall at the hips. But there were several juveniles and even a few tottering infants, only recently hatched. Many of the animals were walking hunched on two legs, though a few rumbled along on all fours.

Tyrannosaurus watched patiently. She lacked the ability to plan an attack. Her actions were driven purely by instincts honed and sharpened over millions of years.

But those instincts were precise, powerful, and deadly.

And they guided her more effectively than any teacher.

***

MORE ANIMALS PASSED, the middle of herd now in front of her.

And Tyrannosaurus sensed it was time. She crouched, loading her powerful legs like springs, then exploded from the trees. With a terrible roar she rushed into the meadow, directly into the unsuspecting anatosaurs. The startled animals panicked, bleating and honking in terror, bolting in all directions. All of the animals were on all fours now, their heads low to the ground as they galloped for safety.

Tyrannosaurus ignored the confusion, focusing upon a single animal, a juvenile. The young anatosaur bleated in fear as the tyrannosaur thundered toward it, and at the last instant turned sharply, unexpectedly, and raced off in a new direction.

Tyrannosaurus rushed past, just missing the animal. She whirled around, but the young anatosaur was already several yards away, speeding for the trees. Tyrannosaurus was fast, but only for short distances, and the fleeing anatosaur was already out of range.

The tyrannosaur roared angrily—

Another animal abruptly rushed past, confused by fear and panic. Tyrannosaurus sprang forward, snapping at the anatosaur’s neck. The animal honked and tried to turn, but Tyrannosaurus was moving fast. She slammed into the anatosaur, knocking it to the ground. The animal rolled and struggled to regain its feet, but Tyrannosaurus was already slashing with her powerful jaws. Able to crunch through solid bone, her yellow teeth sank into the warm neck—

And that was that.

***

TYRANNOSAURUS FED GREEDILY. Her teeth were strong—able to hold tight a fighting, struggling animal—and she could tear off and swallow more than five hundred pounds of meat in a single bite.

Most of the other animals fled into the forest when Tyrannosaurus attacked. But the dromaeosaurs—along with several smaller scavengers—had gathered nearby, waiting patiently for the giant predator to finish her meal.

By nightfall, there would be little left of the unfortunate anatosaur.

***

IN TIME, TYRANNOSAURUS stepped away from her kill. Blood dripped from her jaws, but her belly was full. She looked around the meadow, growled at the dromaeosaurs, then turned and lumbered into the forest.

If she had looked into the sky—and if she’d cared about such things—she would have seen what appeared to be a bright spot like a small moon or a large star. She wouldn’t have understood, but the object was a rock—an asteroid eight miles across—hurtling toward the Earth.

In a matter of days, that asteroid would cause her death … even as it destroyed the world around her.

 

Wow! I hope you’re as excited as I am! The book will be available in just a few more days! Please watch for it! https://www.amazon.com/Shane-Barker/e/B005I6WGR6

“Time Jam” Update

People have been asking for an update on “Time Jam,” the follow-up to “Time Snap” and “Time Crunch.” It was scheduled for release this month (October, 2019), but even as I work on the final draft, I keep finding things I want to be “just a little bit better.” I was Silhouette of Brachiosaurus and Iguanodonreally happy with “Time Crunch,” and I want to be absolutely certain that “Time Jam” is just as fun. I’ll need just a little more time with it, but I hope to have it ready before Thanksgiving.

In the meantime, here’s a quick snippet to give you an idea what it’s all about:

CHASE TURNED, JOINING his teammates as they squeezed through the crowd toward the showers. He was almost to the locker room when a hand grabbed him by the arm and jerked him to the side.

“Hey–”

He turned–surprised–to see Zach Wolff standing there with wide eyes.

“Hey, Zach–”

“Chase!” Zach hissed through the noise of the boisterous crowd. “C’mere! We’ve gotta talk!”

“Give me a minute,” Chase said. “Coach wants to talk to the team, then I’ve gotta take a shower–”

“Chase, listen,” Zach insisted. “We’ve gotta chance to see The Asteroid!”

“An asteroid?” Chase glanced toward the showers before turning back to Zach. His friend was flushed with excitement, but not because of the ballgame. “So what?”

“Not ‘an’ asteroid!” Zach whispered, his voice urgent. “Thee Asteroid!”

A knot of rowdy kids collided with Chase, nearly knocking him over. He shot them an irritated glare before turning back to Zach.

“What are you talking about?” Chase asked impatiently, anxious to rejoin the team. “What asteroid?”

“The Asteroid,” Zach said for the third time. “We have a chance to see the Chicxulub Asteroid–the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs!”

 

WOW! I’m so excited about this book! It’s different in a lot of ways from anything I’ve done before, and I can’t wait to share. If you haven’t yet checked out “Time Snap” or “Time Crunch,” give them a look. And be watching for “Time Jam!”

 

Moon Lake Adventure

I spent this past weekend at exotic (and mysterious) Moon Lake, speaking to a group of 11-year-old Scouts. Great kids! I had a great time (and even looked for the legendary Moon Lake Monster, but without luck).

bearAnyway, I opened my talk with one of my favorite Scouting stories, which went something like this:

A bunch of years ago I spent 18 days backpack through Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. Now, there’s a lot of bears at Philmont, so you can’t keep any food in your tent at night. Yeah, you do that and every hungry bear on the mountain’s gonna try crawling into your tent with you.

So every night before you go to bed, you’ve gotta take all your snacks and candy and anything else that smells like food and put it in a burlap sack called a “bear bag.” Then you take the bag about fifty yards out of camp and hoist it into a tree. That way, if any bears come wandering by, they spend the night trying to get into the tree instead of your tent.

At first, we were all really good about loading up the bear bag, ’cause none of us wanted some nosy bear sneaking into our tents. But there were a couple of problems. First, we weren’t seeing any bears. We weren’t seeing any tracks. And after a couple of days we started thinking maybe there really weren’t any bears, and that they were just a story made up to scare everybody.

And second, sometimes you’d put six Snickers bars into the bear bag, but you’d only get three back the next morning. So we all started getting a little lax about loading our best snacks in the bear bag.

One night after everyone had gone to bed, I went out for a little night hike. When I came back I was trying to be as quiet as I could, so I didn’t disturb anyone. There was one tent on the outskirts of camp, and as I got close I could hear a couple of the guys talking inside. One of the boys was saying, “Dude, quit moving around . . . you’re kneeling on my glasses!”

“Oh, sorry, I thought you were wearing them.”

“I am wearing them!”

Well, I started to walk around when I heard one of the kids go, “Shhhhhhhh!

And man, I froze, ’cause I believe in Bigfoot and I was sure someone had just heard him. But nothing happened, so I finally took another step and heard, “Shhhhhhhh! There it is again!

And this time I realized, “Ah, they hear me!”

But just to make sure I took another step and sure enough, “Shhhhhhhh! There it is again!

Followed by: “What do you think it is?”

“I bet it’s a bear!”

And a horrified voice: “I didn’t put all my stuff in the bear bag!”

“Where is it?”

And in pure panic: “It’s right here!

And the next second ZIP! went the zipper, and the next instant Pop Tarts, licorice, candy bars, power bars, raisins, bubble gum, and trail mix comes flying from the tent.

The next morning, we all searched the bushes for whatever was left of the guys’ snacks, but never did find any of it, which proved there was a bear in camp.

But I sure ate good that week.

Time Crunch Interview

A couple of months ago an eighth-grade boy named Max interviewed me for his English class. Now that he’s a big ninth grader, he came back for a follow-up.

Shane: The last time we talked, I hadn’t planned on writing a sequel to “Time Snap.” But you sort of  got me thinking about it and, well, here we are.

Time Crunch Ebook CoverMax: I was so excited to read it! And thanks for the free copy, by the way.

Shane: No problem. 

Max: So you said you did a lot of things differently this time. What did you mean by that?

Shane: When we talked before, I told you that I always write my first drafts longhand, then type it into the computer later. With “Time Crunch,” I sat down in front of the computer and started typing. And I didn’t print out any pages or do any editing until I had the whole thing done.

Max: Was it hard doing it that way?

Shane: No, it was actually kind of fun. I didn’t write an outline or anything, so I didn’t really know where the story was going. I’d get up every morning excited to get to work to find out what was going to happen.

Max: You really didn’t know?

Shane: Not a bit. The characters would get into trouble or find themselves in a jam, and I’d start writing faster than ever just to find out what they were going to do about it. It was pretty exciting. I mean, for me it was like a reader going through it for the first time. I didn’t know what was going to happen next and I couldn’t wait to find out.

Max: So did everything turn out the way you thought?

Shane: I’m not sure, since I really had no idea how things were going to turn out. But there was one character I was sure was going to be a bad guy. I had in my mind that he’d turn out to be a jerk, and I kept waiting for him to do something mean, but he never did. So that really surprised me.

Max: There are a lot more dinosaurs in this book . . .

Shane: Oh, yeah. Like I said, I didn’t set out to write a series. But once I realized how much people liked the dinosaurs, I thought I’d better get back to work. So this one is set in the Mesozoic Era, and aside from the people all the main characters are dinosaurs.

Max: You said this is going to be a series?

Shane: It is now. The third book, “Time Jam,” will be out in October, and there will be at least one more after that.

Max: That’s awesome!

Shane: Yeah, I’m pretty excited. Like I said, it sorta just happened, but I’m happy with the way things are going.

Max: Is it a series that you have to read in order?

Shane: No, I’ve tried to write each book so that it stands alone. I’d like to think someone could pick up the second or third book and jump right into the story. And then maybe like it enough they might go back and read the others.

Max: Is it hard doing that?

Shane: It’s not hard, but I have to keep reminding myself there might be readers who don’t know the whole backstory, and I don’t want them to get lost.

Max: Can I back up a little bit?

Shane: Sure.

Max: You said you wrote this on your computer . . . what did you do next?

Shane: I’m a brutal editor. Once I had a first draft, I printed it and then went to work editing and polishing and rewriting and trying to make it better.

Max: But you didn’t do that on the computer?

Shane: No, to me it’s just different when it’s on paper. But having a hard copy lets me do the editing wherever I want. I take my dog mountain biking in the hills every morning–well, I bike and she runs–and when we get back I’ll pull out a chair and work on my books for a while. And we go camping a lot too. But I’ve always got my pages with me, and I try to get a lot of work done while we’re out in the hills.

Max: So you wrote about dinosaurs called “Siats?”

Shane: Siats meekerorum. It was discovered in Utah and was named after a mythical man-eating monster in Ute mythology. Siats means, “man-eating monster.”

Max: Sounds wicked.

Shane: It’s a good name . . . almost as good as “Lythronax.” That one means, “King of Gore.”

Max: That sure paints a picture.

Shane: I know, right? That’s one of the fun things about dinosaurs.

Max: So, you must have a lot of fun doing this . . .

Shane: You have no idea. I mean, writing can be a lot of work, and when I’m editing and polishing and trying to make things as good as I possibly can, sometimes I’ll agonize over a single sentence, trying to get it just right. But overall it’s a blast. I’m just really having a good time.

Max: And “Time Jam” will be out next month?

Shane: It’s gonna be tight. But that’s what I’m shooting for.

Max: So, um . . .

Shane: Are you going to get another free copy?

Max: Am I?

Shane: Count on it.

Max: Sweet!