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!

 

Sneak Peak at “Time Crunch” (Part III)

This is an excerpt from my latest young adult thriller, Time Crunch. (Be sure to check out Parts I and II if you haven’t read them yet!) 

Chapter One: The Jet

Mr. Scherrer–the eighth-grade math teacher–grinned smugly.

“Okay, here’s a good one . . . Steve is going to paint the city’s cylindrical water tank. If the tank is ten feet tall with a radius of fifteen feet–and if one gallon of paint covers ten square feet–how many gallons of paint does Steve need to buy?”

Time Crunch Ebook CoverKids around the room instantly bent over their desks, punching at calculators and scribbling on scraps of paper. Near the back of the room, Chase McCord scrunched his nose. He’d seen a peculiar gleam in his teacher’s eyes and knew the problem couldn’t be as straightforward as it seemed.

Trick question, he thought. But what . . .

He quickly sketched a cylinder to represent the water tank.

Looking for the surface area, he thought, visualizing the formula.

He frowned.

But there has to be more to it than that.

Several students had already finished their calculations and were waving their hands, hoping to be called. Students able to solve the teacher’s notorious challenges were excused from the day’s assignment, which would be at least an hour’s work at home.

Surface area, Chase thought again. Not of a cylinder … but of a water tank!

He grinned, knowing he’d nailed it. Surface area described the “skin” of the cylinder. But a water tank would be sitting on the ground … so you wouldn’t have to paint the bottom!

He began punching his calculator, figuring the surface area without the bottom of the tank. He then figured out the amount of paint he’d need, coming up with 164.85 gallons.

He began to raise his hand, but quickly stopped himself.

Point 85 gallons?

Really?

No one was going to buy .85 gallons of paint.

He quickly rounded the number up and raised his hand.

“Max,” the teacher finally said to a boy in the front row. “You had your hand up first. What’ve you got?”

“He needs 235.5 gallons.”

Mr. Scherrer sucked in his breath and scrunched his nose. “Oooh! So close!”

Max’s face fell, and half the hands in the room dropped as students with the same answer checked their notes, wondering where they’d gone wrong.

The teacher took another few answers—none of them right—then turned to Chase.

“Mr. McCord, you’re smiling at me. Like to tell your classmates where they slipped up?”

Chase felt a rumble of appreciation for his teacher. Mr. Scherrer hadn’t asked for Chase’s answer: guessing he’d figured out the trick, he was asking for Chase to explain it.

“Good one, Mr. S.,” Chase said. “It’s a double trick question. The first thing is that since the tank’s sitting on the ground, you don’t have to paint the bottom”—

There were moans from students who’d fallen for the trap, and Max actually slapped himself on the forehead.

—“and when you calculate the amount of paint you get a decimal, so you have to round up to the nearest gallon.”

There were more groans as frustrated students realized they’d been fooled again (and most of them now realizing—like Chase—the question had been way too easy).

“Well done—”

The teacher stopped as a sullen-looking man strode into the room.

“Excuse me for interrupting,” the principal said. The man looked around the room, spotted Chase, and crooked his finger. “Mr. McCord, would you come with me, please? Bring your backpack.”

Surprised and a little worried (being pulled out of class by the principal was rarely a good thing), Chase stuffed his books and papers into his pack, then followed the gloomy man from the room.

“What’s going on?”

“You’re not in trouble,” the principal said. “But your father’s called and excused you for the rest of the day. Someone’s coming to pick you up.”

“Really? Why?”

“Don’t really know,” the principal said, though his voice suggested he didn’t approve, whatever the reason.

The man turned down a hallway … and not the one leading to the office.

“Where are we going?”

The principal used the same brooding voice. “Apparently, you’re not being picked up by car.”

Huh?

Chase didn’t know how to process that, but heard a rumble like approaching thunder before he could respond. The noise increased, becoming so loud it began shaking the building. The principal opened a door leading outside, motioning for Chase to lead the way.

The thunderous noise was coming from the sky, and Chase looked up to see a jet aircraft approaching the school football field. Rather than streaking through the sky, the strange plane was actually slowing as it dropped toward the grass. Chase saw the engines rotate, pointing down to allow the craft to land vertically.

Ah, he thought. One of Mr. Wolff’s new toys.

Mr. Wolff—the father of Chase’s best friend Zach—was CEO of a company that built exotic airplanes. Mr. Wolff often took Zach on business trips, and Zach—in turn—sometimes invited Chase along.

“Gotta have someone to hang out with,” Zach once explained. “You know, when dad’s in meetings.”

As a result, Chase had often flown on the company’s unique airplanes, though never on one able to take off and land vertically.

Haven’t even seen one of those!

The jet kicked up wind like a hurricane—dust and leaves and frenzied bits of paper whirling across the field—then settled softly to the grass. The whine of the engines subsided as a startled gym class gawked from behind a fence.

“Zach came to get me?” Chase asked, raising his voice to be heard over the engines.

“Don’t really know,” the principal said in the same glum voice.

After a moment a clamshell door opened behind the flight deck, dropping a set of steps to the grass. Chase expected to see Zach come bounding out of the plane, but instead a tall, thin man in a white shirt appeared. The man looked around, spotted Chase, and began waving.

Chase looked up at the principal—

“Sorry ’bout this!”

—then sprinted across the grass toward the jet.

The man in the door was the pilot, a man Chase met during an adventure a few months earlier. Chase raced across the field and up the steps.

“Captain King! Hi!”

“Hello, Chase,” the pilot said, shaking Chase’s hand. “It’s good to see you again.”

“You, too.” Chase glanced past the pilot into the flight deck: the copilot—a man Chase didn’t know—was adjusting knobs and flicking switches. A skinny birdlike man sat just behind him, pecking away on a laptop. “Where’s Captain Carter?”

“On another assignment today—”

Chase had already turned away, looking back into the cabin. Eight tough-looking men in jungle-camouflage fatigues were sorting through some kind of supplies. But—

“Where’s Zach?”

“Zach’s not here,” one of the men called. He was a gruff-sounding man with a face that could have been made from an old football. He gestured to Captain King, who gave Chase a clap on the shoulder before closing the door and returning to the flight deck.

The brusque man dropped into a seat and motioned for Chase to join him.

“What’s going on?” Chase asked as the engines began spooling up.

“We’re not actually joining Zach and his father, as you probably thought,” the man said in a voice like broken gravel.

“Then where are we going?”

The man nodded toward the other men before turning back to Chase.

“This,” he said, “is a rescue mission.”

I hope you’re liking this! I’m already working on the third book to the series, and I hope you’ll take a look at Time Snap and Time Crunch!

 

Sneak Peak at the Sequel to “Time Snap!” (Part II)

People keep asking, “Is it done yet?” And for the past couple of weeks I’ve been saying, “Almost!” (Every time I finish a “final draft,” I think, Gotta go over it one more time …”)

ReverseI’m talking about “Time Crunch,” of course, which is the sequel to “Time Snap.” But I’m just about there. (The problem is that there are a lot more dinosaurs in this one, and I’m trying to keep everything accurate and factual. But if you’ve ever tried researching dinosaurs, you realize no one really knows what they’re talking about. Take T-rex, for instance. Every site you read will give you different facts regarding its size, weight, eating habits, and just when did they live? It’s hard knowing which numbers to go with.)

Anyway, I’m just double-checking a last few things, and we’ll be done. In the meantime, here’s the second part of the prologue. (If you haven’t read Part I, you might want to back up and take a look before reading on!)

PROLOGUE PART II

THE DINOSAUR stood perfectly still, but Zach could see its eyes moving, flicking back and forth like a bird’s as it searched the trees. Zach could see the animal’s nostrils, which were at the very end of the snout.

Just like a tyrannosaur’s …

Paleontologists once thought tyrannosaurs spent so much time in the water their nostrils must have been high on their heads, enabling them to breathe. But Zach knew from experience that a tyrannosaur’s nostrils were at the end of its snout, further evidence of its ability to sniff out prey.

So this thing might be able to do the same thing, he thought grimly. It does, and

There was a sound like distant thunder, and Zach glanced up before realizing: That’s not thunder! That’s a growl! The thing’s growling! What—

There was a soft crunch behind his tree, the sound of something stepping on a dry stick.

Zach’s stomach dropped.

Oh, crap!

He kicked himself, realizing he’d been so focused upon the shoulder-slashed animal that he’d let the other one—the one he’d been running from—sneak up behind him.

Can’t believe I’m so stupid! he thought glumly. He scrunched even closer to the tree, trying to make himself as small as possible. There was a heavy chuff and—

I can hear it breathing! It’s so close I can actually hear it breathing! And—

—he became aware of a foul, sickly odor like rotting garbage.

Holy crap! I can actually smell it!

He tried easing beneath a heavy fern, praying the animals wouldn’t spot him, but knowing they didn’t actually have to see him. If they could smell even half as well as tyrannosaurs, he didn’t have a chance.

THE DINOSAUR WITH the slashed shoulder remained perfectly still, its eyes locked on a spot behind Zach. It was still growling—

But not in fear, Zach thought, breathing rapidly. But in warning

There was a rustle of leaves … not from behind, but from the side. Zach tried to look without turning his head. There was a crack—and a crunch—and a third dinosaur stepped from the trees. The animal had a black nose and jagged, snaggled teeth.

Snaggle Tooth abruptly lowered its head and bellowed.

Zach cringed beneath the fern, clamping his hands over his ears. The first dinosaur—Slash—snapped around and roared in reply. A second later the unseen dinosaur roared, then stepped past the tree, an enormous red, three-toed foot crushing plants and ferns just inches from Zach’s hiding place.

Zach clenched his fists—fighting not to react—as he gawked through the leaves. Snaggle Tooth had taken another step, showing rows of crooked yellow teeth as it snapped its head back and forth. It roared defiantly, then abruptly raced forward. Zach felt the ground shake as the enormous dinosaur rushed through the brush toward him.

Zach screamed—

Aaaaaaiighhh!”

unable to stop himself. It was pure reflex, but it didn’t matter. The red dinosaur roared, then charged forward. The animal was the color of dried blood, and Zach gaped, amazed at its speed.

The dinosaurs slammed together. Snaggle Tooth buckled under the impact and Big Red was instantly upon it. Red clamped down on Snaggle Tooth’s shoulder, sinking its teeth deep into the flesh. It shook its head, trying to rip through the tough muscle.

Snaggle Tooth roared in fury. It twisted away, lashing out with a clawed foot that ripped Red across the belly, shooting a spray of hot blood into the air—

There was a terrible roar—a shriek like a rusty saw biting into rocks—and Slash tore into the clash, snapping at Red’s neck, then slashing at Snaggle Tooth with a powerful clawed foot.

Zach was staggered by the violence of the fight, and he shrank back in the brush. The raging animals were just thirty feet away—a writhing mass of twisting, surging bodies—flinging broken branches, torn foliage, and uprooted shrubs into the air as they battled.

Zach began to wheeze, but couldn’t tear his eyes from the struggle; couldn’t believe animals could fight with such savagery.

Slash abruptly lost its footing and fell, but was instantly up again. It crouched, ready to leap back into the fight, but the other two were tangled together in a vicious tangle of snarling, slashing rage. In their fury they collided with the leaping dinosaur. Slash was thrown backward toward Zach, legs and forearms clawing at the air.

Zach curled into a ball, certain he was about to crushed, but the dinosaur caught itself and leaped back to its feet. It spun around, its powerful tail whipping through the brush and striking Zach across the shoulder.

“Oof!”

It was like being hit by a speeding truck.

Zach flew through the brush—arms and legs flapping uselessly—and landed hard on the opposite shoulder. The impact drove the breath from his lungs in a painful whoosh. He rolled over, shook his head clear, then looked up just as another tail snapped toward him. He ducked, then rolled away as Red crashed onto its side, exactly where Zach had been a split-second earlier.

“Ah!”

Zach began army-crawling like a four-legged centipede, but Snaggle Tooth and Slash were suddenly in front of him, a crazed, horrible ball of snapping jaws and slashing claws—

Zach spun around, but Red blocked the way as it again barreled into the clash. Zach screamed as a massive foot crunched down on his leg—

Aaaaaaiighhh!”

mashing it hard into the dirt as the animal rushed past.

Zach screwed his eyes shut in agony, then wrenched them open again. Hot tears stung his eyes, from both the pain and the terror.

There was a rotting log just ahead, and Zach scudded toward it, dragging his injured leg. The dinosaurs seemed to be all around him—first over him, then to the left, then to the right—and there was nowhere to go. He flattened himself beside the log just as one of the animals crashed to the ground, the log keeping it from mashing Zach into jelly.

Zach struggled to breathe as the fight raged on. A heavy foot crashed over the log, a curved claw catching Zach across his injured leg, but was just as quickly gone again. Zach fought the urge to curl into a ball, forcing himself to lay flat alongside the log, knowing it was the only thing keeping him from being crushed. It was—

One of the dinosaurs abruptly slammed to the ground, directly on top of the log, smashing Zach’s face into the dirt.

“Geghhhh!”

Zach tried to breathe, but the dinosaur was crushing him, squashing his lungs. He could feel the animal’s hot, rough skin against his arms and neck, felt something wet soaking into his shirt.

There was a horrendous roar as the dinosaur twisted—

“Geghhhh—”

—grinding Zach even deeper into the dirt. The dinosaur lurched—

Geghhhh!

—and was back on its feet. With a terrible shriek it charged the others, kicking Zach’s log as it leaped.

Zach gasped for breath. Crushed by the weight of the dinosaur, his ribs burned like fire, hurt so bad he was certain one or more of them was broken.

He coughed—thought he tasted blood—then gathered his strength and crawled through the crushed, mangled ferns toward a nearby tree. He hurt everywhere, certain he was suffering injuries worse than strains, sprains, and bruises.

He dragged himself behind the tree, breathing hard. His shirt was wet, and sticky, and when he touched it his hand came away red with blood. He cringed, but thought: No, it’s not me … it’s from one of the dinosaurs!

The fight was still raging fiercely in the trees, just feet away. The animals were roaring, bellowing, screeching, snorting—

Zach had never heard such horrible sounds, prayed that he never would again. He glanced back around the tree just as Red bit down on the back of Slash’s neck, then buckled as Snaggle Tooth rammed in from the side, folding the crimson dinosaur like a soggy taco.

Zach turned back for the forest, away from the fight. He took another breath, then staggered away, keeping the tree between him and the raging dinosaurs.

Finally, when he was well out of sight, he tried hobbling a little faster. He was beaten up, banged up, bruised, battered, torn, and crushed, feeling like he’d been run over by a freight train.

Man, he thought as he dragged his injured leg through the brush. This isn’t fun anymore

 

So there you go! I hope you’re as excited as I am! Watch for “Time Crunch” around the end of May, 2019!

Virus!

Skimonster1117_ebookMy book “Virus!” came out about a month ago, so I’m a little late getting this posted. But what a kick! If I ever wrote a book that was “pure adrenaline,” this is it.

When I began writing, I remember thinking, “I’ve got to start this story at ninety miles and hour . . . and keep getting faster!” You’ll have to decide for yourself how well I did, but I know there were nights I couldn’t get to sleep because I was so hyped up over what I was writing. (One young reader told me that he’d read the whole thing in about two days, and that when he was finished he “chuffing for breath,” as if he’d been the one doing all the running.)

Made me laugh.

I do have to make special mention of a few key characters. “Brady” was inspired by a young man I know, and so were “Sid” and “Ethan.” (I’ve actually been trying to work Ethan into a book for quite a while, and I’m glad he finally made an appearance.)

And Hunter . . . oh, man. If you ever met the young woman who inspired Hunter, you’d think I actually toned her down quite a bit. I used to joke that when she became older, that no young man would ever propose marriage to her. That instead, she’d simply inform some lucky guy one day that they were going to be married, and that was that.

I’m not sure if things actually worked out that way, but I have my suspicions . . .

I hope this book is as fun to read as it was to write!

Time Snap Interview

After reading Time Snap, an eighth-grade reader named Max interviewed me for his English class. Here is part of our conversation:

Max: Do you outline your stories?

Depositphotos_11147084_xl-2015

Shane: No, never. Sometimes I’ll have an idea where I want my story to go, but I like the surprise of making things up as I go. A lot of times I’m as surprised as anyone by what happens. Have you read my book, Demon’s Treasure?

Max: Oh, yeah. That’s the reason I was excited to read Time Snap.

Shane: Cool. One of the main characters started out as one of the “good guys,” and one of the “bad” guys ended up being a hero. When I started writing, I had no idea that was going to happen. And when the guys “flipped,” I remember thinking, “I can’t believe that just happened!”

Max: Did anything like that happen in Time Snap?

Shane: Not exactly. But I was surprised by  the dinosaurs that kept popping up out of nowhere. I didn’t really know I’d be writing about them until they came jumping out of the darkness.

Max: Like the “dinobirds?”

Shane: Exactly! One minute Chase was sneaking up to that clearing in the woods, and the next instant those dactyl-things were dropping out of the sky. I really didn’t know ahead of time that was going to happen. Scared the bejeebers out of me.

Max: What about the tyrannosaur?

Shane: The tyrannosaur was different. I knew he was going to play a huge part, so he was part of things right from the start.

Max: Do you have any favorite scenes?

Shane: All of the scenes with the tyrannosaur. They were so much fun to write. I love action sequences anyway, but the rex added an extra jolt of energy. I just had a great time with them.

Max: So, I’m not supposed to ask where you get your ideas–

Shane: Really? Why not?

Max: It’s supposed to be too obvious a question, I guess. Like one you get asked all the time? But I’m curious . . .

Shane: It’s okay. I actually like hiking around the desert looking for fossils, and when I’m doing that, I can’t help thinking of dinosaurs. You know, picturing what things must have been like back in the day. And then picturing what it might be like to actually run into a bunch of them. And then finding a way to make it happen . . .

Max: And you really found pieces of–what are they called? Fossilized poop?

Shane: Coprolites? Oh, yeah. I use them for paperweights.

Max: The girls are gonna think that’s gross–

Shane: But the guys will love it!

Max: Yeah. Um, so do you have any weird writing habits?

Shane: A few, I think. At least I think they’re unique to me. The first thing, probably, is that I can’t write at the computer. I have to write everything out longhand, and then type into the computer later.

Max: How come?

Shane: Probably ’cause that’s how I learned to do it. I started writing before we had word processors, so it’s still easiest for me to write everything out first. It takes a lot more work that way, but for me, it’s a tough habit to break.

Max: Anything else?

Shane: Well, I can do my editing when I’m sitting at my desk, but when I’m actually writing–when I’m actually creating stuff–I hate being cooped up. I like going to ballgames and sitting in the bleachers and doing my work there. Before I moved to the country, I often went to one of the local malls and found a table in the food court where there were a lot of people around and worked there. I don’t know why, but being around lots of people like that always sparks my creativity.

Max: Isn’t that distracting?

Shane: Sure. But it’s also energizing. I can come home from the mall, or a ballgame, and feel like I’ve got a lot done. But when I’m cooped up at my desk, I get bored, and tired, and it’s easy to get lazy.

Max: So is there going to be a sequel to Time Snap?

Shane: There wasn’t going to be. But I’ve been surprised by how much people like reading about dinosaurs. I actually had another project I’ve been getting ready to jump into, but I might put that off and do another dinosaur book.

Max: Sweet! Will you tell me when it comes out?

Shane: Count on it!