Diving Stories


In my book “Demon’s Treasure” there are references to “BCDs” and “octopuses.” (Yeah, and that’s the correct word, there.) A BCD is a diving jacket. Push a button and it fills with air, letting you float on the surface (or hover just above the ocean floor). Push another button, the air bubbles out, and you sink. Diving made easy.

I took my diving lessons in a swimming pool with a bunch of prank-playing jokesters. One in particular, a kid named Nick. I’d be kneeling on the bottom of the deep end of the pool, and Nick would sneak up behind me and push the inflate button. My vest would swell up like a balloon and I’d go shooting for the roof like a missle from a submarine.

Great fun.

(One night I was down in the deep again, and I’d made certain Nick wasn’t anywhere around. But while I was working, he swam up behind me and hit the button.


My vest swelled up to the point of bursting and I went flying out of the pool. I went up so fast I actually shot out of the water. As luck would have it, an old lady happened to be walking by when I went exploding from the water. She screamed, slipped, and fell on the wet cement. And guess who got yelled at. Yeah. Me.

I kept looking for ways to get even, but Nick wasn’t just crafty, he was wary. He always had an eye out for me.

One night though, I was hovering near the surface, watching him. He was on the bottom of the deep end practicing with the “octopus.” An octopus is actually a spare breathing regulator . . . the thing you breathe through when you’re underwater. Some divers have a spare for times a partner might run out of air. Nick was practicing a skill where he’d spit out his regulator, then reach behind him, feel for the air line, and place the regulator back in his mouth. This is important if you ever lose your regulator underwater.


I was watching Nick practice when a huge blop of hair came floating by. It was disgusting . . . but it gave me an idea. I grabbed the hairball, swam down behind Nick, and stuffed the hairball into his spare regulator. Then I swam around to face him and–through scuba sign language–told him I just wanted to watch him work. He nodded, spit out his regulator, reached behind him, stuff the regulator back in his mouth, and took a couple of breaths.

Wrong regulator.

I motioned for him to do it again, and he did.

Wrong regulator.

I gestured for him to do it again and . . . he couldn’t find the regulator. He reached farther back, twisting around, trying to find the air hose. After several seconds his eyes started to bulge and his face started turning blue. He was getting desperate. He flailed wildly around then finally grabbed a regulator, stuffed it into his mouth, and took a huge gulp of air–

Except he got nothing but hairball.

His eyes got as big as saucers and he just about exploded.

But he never did prank me again.

Strange Lights

skiMy book Demon’s Treasure will be out in a few days. In it,  a couple of characters beginning talking about strange sea mysteries such as ghost ships (like the Flying Dutchman), the Bermuda Triangle, and (one of my new favorites) the Bloop. (Gotta read the book to hear about that one!)

Anyway, it all got me thinking about something strange that happened to me several years ago.

I used to guide cross-country skiers on overnight wilderness treks. The trail was two and a half miles long–all uphill–and ended at a huge, two-story lodge. The lodge was about a half-mile away from a 400-foot cliff called the Overlook, that looked down upon our parking area.

One night a group of Boy Scouts arrived to ski, but by the time we had them outfitted and ready to head uphill, the second group we were expecting still hadn’t shown up. We decided to send the kids in anyway, with all of our guides but two. My friend Art and I stayed behind to lead in the second group when they arrived.

It was about ten-thirty at night when everyone skied off, and Art and I settled into the cab of our truck to wait. It was a nice night, cold and overcast, just right for skiing. Art and I passed the time talking, and after a while happened to glance up toward the Overlook. There, on top of the cliff, we could see lights, as if skiers with headlights had gone to the edge to look over the country.

Art and I exchanged glances, both of us realizing our guys hadn’t had been gone long enough to have reached the lodge, let along travel the extra half mile to the Overlook. We had radios, so we called up to our guides who said they were still half a mile or so from reaching the lodge.

“Is anyone else up there?” we asked. “You see any tracks?”

“Huh-uh. We’re pushing new snow. No one’s been up here.”

Well, we thought that was pretty creepy, but could only imagine someone had to be up there.

The lights eventually disappeared back into the trees. Our second group of Scouts never did show up. so around midnight Art and I skied in alone. Once we reached the lodge, the guys wanted to know why we were asking about tracks. When we told them, they exchanged wary glances, then told us a story of their own.

The ski trail follows a winding stream, and about halfway to the lodge reaches a dam. The trail zigs and zags up the hill, crosses over the dam, then heads back into the trees and up another mile to the lodge. It had snowed during the week, and the guys were pushing about 16 inches of new, unbroken snow as they skied. As they neared the halfway point, they turned a corner in the trail to where they could see the dam. And up on top was a light, as if someone was standing there wearing a headlight. As our guys came into view, the light turned as if someone was turning their head to look down at our guys.

The guides figured the same thing Art and I did, that someone else was simply on the mountain. They lost sight of the light as they started up the hill, but once they reached the top . . . nothing. No one there. And no tracks, either. No sign that anyone–or anything–had been there.

Well, that kinda freaked everyone out.

The next morning we skied to the Overlook, expecting to find the tracks of whomever had been there the night before. But (yeah, you guessed it) no tracks there, either. No sign at all that anyone had been there.

The experience gave us something to talk about around the fireplace. We never could come up with a good explanation, or even a reasonable theory. But when writing about the Bloop I thought back to that night. And imagined skiing around in the dark, knowing someone–or something–might have been out there . . . watching me.



I have in my office a painting of the mountains at night. It looks nice from a distance, but if you get close you can see a coyote howling at the moon. Most people never notisquatchce it, but it’s one of my favorite parts of the picture.

I like to include little things like that in my books. Things most readers might never notice, but that people who know me (and know my writing) can spot and chuckle at. I call them “Barkerisms.”

For instance: any time I mention “time,” I rarely use a random number. Almost always the time will be a palindrome (a number that’s the same frontwards and backwards), like 6:46, or 9:29. (And that’s just because I used to be a mathematician.) If the time isn’t a palindrome, it might be something like 3:10 (someone’s birthday), 7:11 (c’mon . . . you oughtta get that!), or 12:25 (Christmas). So the next time you spot the time mentioned in one of my books, see if you can’t figure out the hidden meaning.

A huge Barkerism is Bigfoot. I didn’t mean for it to happen, but after a while I noticed that nearly every one of my books mentioned Bigfoot. They’re usually just subtle references, like “He raced through the trees like a kid fleeing Bigfoot,” or “He had the expression of a guy who’d just been bit on the butt by Bigfoot.” Saucer Crash takes place in 1947, which is 11 years before anyone coined the term “Bigfoot.” But I found a way to sneak him in anyway. (It’s subtle and you have to look close, but it’s there!) So the next time you see me mention Sasquatch, you can think, “Barkerism!”

I also love nicknames. In Demon’s Treasure (soon to be released) there’s a huge dude who kinda looks like Sasquatch. (Hey! There’s a Barkerism!) But rather than constantly reminding the reader that the guy’s a monster, one of the characters is always referring to him as Kong, or The Missing Link, or Apezilla, or . . . well, you see where I’m going. I had fun looking as many different ways as I could to say “Caveman.” In another book coming out this spring, there’s a tyrannosaur; but one of the characters never says the word “tyrannosaur.” Instead, he’s got a whole slew of different nicknames to have fun with instead.

I’ll mention one more: alliteration. That’s just a fancy term for words that rhyme. Here’s a couple of sentences I had fun with: “He was covered with more grime and slime and goop and poop than the floor of an old school bus.” (Hear the rhymes?) And from Demon’s Treasure: “Jansen’s arms and legs had been sliced and diced by the rocks and coral. The captain had actually turned pale when he saw Jansen’s collection of slashes, gashes, and other grotesqueries.”

Anyway, if you happen to read one of my books, be on the lookout for the next Barkerism!