The Fictorians

Texas Heart Shot

19 September 2014 | No Comments » | Quincy Allen

There’s a ton of preamble I could put here, but let me set this tale with three twenty-year-old college students living for two months in the deep backcountry of Alaska. Deep. I’m talking deeper than Deliverance deep, but without any amorous hillbillies. To get there, we drove seven hours over an undulating strip of ragged pavement stretching across tundra under stormy skies. We flew 120 miles in a single-engine crate to land at an airstrip cut out of thick forest. We rode ATVs another seven miles to an extinct mining camp built and abandoned in the 40s. We took up residence smack-dab in the middle of the Wrangell Mountains.

We laid modern sleeping bags over rusty cots and draped mosquito netting over our heads. We coated ourselves in mosquito dope (that’s repellent to normal people) and spent a good portion of our days digging into the side of a riverbank and panning for gold. I could relate how I almost drowned in the river. I could tell you of the rainy afternoon when one of my buddies fired his .44 magnum past my head while we were sitting at our rickety dinner table.

However, this story about is the still vivid memory of watching that same guy—the one with the .44—sprinting down one side of a mountain saddle and up the other in hot pursuit of a wounded mountain goat.

I’m literally laughing as I type this. Don’t worry, though, this story has a happy ending.

About three weeks into our trip, my buddy and I got it into our heads that we’d go hunt and subsequently eat a mountain goat. His uncle (a then-resident of Alaska and facilitator of this trip) had encouraged us to break federal law and go poaching.

Yes, it was a monumentally stupid idea.

What can I say? We were twenty-year-old big-dumb-males taking advice from a questionable source. The uncle in question had fled to Alaska in the 70s to escape the draft, squatted an entire mountain valley, married an eskimo, and then sold the squatted land back to the government for some millions of dollars.

But I digress.

One bright, sunny morning, my buddy and I set out on “The Hunting Trip”… me with my .357 and he with is open sight 30-6. We hiked all morning from our already elevated campsite, through mosquito-infested underbrush and the occasional sign of grizzly bear, in search of our prey.

We hiked over several peaks searching for any sign of mountain goats. After the third peak, we were starting to get a bit discouraged, and, frankly, I was running out of steam. The thought of butchering a goat on the side of a mountain and hauling it back to our camp was starting to feel like an even worse idea than when we started.

However, my buddy is one of those guys that simply doesn’t give up. Ever. He’s what I like to refer to as dogged and relentless. He was committed, therefore, I was too. At the crest of the fourth peak, he stopped dead in his tracks, held up his hand and went down into a crouch.

The game was afoot, as Sherlock would say. Of course, Sherlock Holmes would have been smart enough not to be in that situation to begin with. We crept over the lip of the peak, and a small group of lazily grazing mountain goats came into view high on the far side of a grassy, rock-strewn saddle. They were a few hundred yards away. My buddy whispered that we needed to move closer so he could take a shot. We went into crouches, inching our way down the hill. Obviously, crouching would ease the suspicious minds of the goats. I should add that they just kept grazing. We were probably the first humans they’d ever seen.

Eventually, about 150 yards away, my buddy slowly unslung his rifle and went down onto one knee. It was an up-angle shot, so he couldn’t lay prone. I paused about ten feet behind him, crouched low, and held my breath as he took aim.

Seconds ticked by. More seconds. I looked at him, wondering if he was having second thoughts.

BANG!!!

His first shot rang out, echoing across the mountains around us. Adrenaline pumped through my system. I looked up the hill and saw a small cloud of dust drifting away about thirty feet high and to the right of the nearest goat. To my surprise, the goats shuffled left a bit and went right back to grazing. My buddy quickly chambered another round and took aim.

BANG!!!

“High and to the right again,” I said over his shoulder. His shot was closer this time—about twenty feet—but the goats still seemed oblivious. They shuffled a little farther left again and went right back to grazing. My buddy darted forward thirty feet and took aim.

BANG!!!

Another miss, I thought. I was laughing inside. The shot hit about ten feet behind one of the goats, and this time it ran up the hill and curved back, finally settling down and looking around, roughly fifty feet from where it had started.

I just couldn’t believe it: three misses and the goats apparently unaware of what was going on. It was laughable, ridiculous, comical. I felt like I was in a sit-com episode. And we weren’t even finished.

My buddy quickly took aim again, clearly frustrated by the failures.

BANG!!!

He snapped a shot off, and this time the goat bolted.

“You hit it!” I shouted. However, the expectant “prey dropping to the ground” moment didn’t happen. We were shocked and appalled to see the whole heard tearing straight up the mountain.

All I could do was stare. The first thing I thought was that the goat was injured and would end up dying miles away. It would have been wasteful on our part, even shameful. It was about that time I realized what a bad idea the outing had been. I keep reminding myself that twenty-year-olds are not well known for comprehending consequences.

My buddy, however—the dogged and relentless one—did more than stare. He went streaking after them, losing his straw cowboy hat in the process. Did I mention he was on the track team? Javelin thrower. Weight lifter. Runner. He raced down what was left of our side of the saddle and started up the other just as the goats disappeared over the next ridgeline. My buddy didn’t even slow down. He tore up the far side of the saddle, rifle in hand, intent on finishing what he started. We were pretty much committed now, but I knew that there was no way I could keep up with him, let alone the goats.

As he was halfway up the other side, he shouted back, “Head back to camp!” I have to admit, I was torn. Part of me wanted to follow along and help. However, common sense got the best of me. I retrieved his hat and headed back where I waited with our other friend, the one smart enough not to go. Naturally, my buddy came back empty-handed, but we at least got the rest of the story, which was a relief to us all.

“Did you get it?” I asked with mixed feelings about the whole thing.

“No,” he replied.

“But what about the goat?” Our folly was really starting to hit home. “You hit it.” I was worried that it would die out there and we would be responsible for wasting that life.

“It was a Texas heart shot,” he replied, a great deal of embarrassment on his face.

“A what?”

“A Texas heart shot,” he repeated. “I grazed its ass. Barely nicked it. It’ll be fine.”

It was too much. I’d already told the friend who stayed behind what I could, and at that point the two of us just cracked up. We couldn’t stop laughing.

To this day, we still talk about “The Hunting Trip” in Alaska where there is at least one mountain goat who would rather not have met humans. It is our belief that he lived a long life with a wary understanding of how stupid twenty-year-old big-dumb-males can be.

Haunted Hospital

18 September 2014 | 1 Comment » | fictorians

A guest post by Paul Genesse.

Haunted hospital

I worked the night shift in a haunted hospital for ten years. The building was over a hundred years old and thousands of people had died there. I’m not going to mention the name of the facility, but it’s a famous hospital in Utah, where I started working in the late 90’s.

I ended up on a cardiac floor where people didn’t die that often, but we had the most code blues of any other non-intensive care unit in the whole facility. People with heart conditions are on the brink of death and their hearts often give out suddenly.

We nurses were always on edge, and whenever a patient said, “I’m going to die tonight,” we would always reassure them in their room, but when we left we would freak out and go and tell someone immediately. Very often, when the patient made that ominous prediction, they were right. A few hours later, they would die. It was super creepy.

I had several personal experiences with the supernatural while working there, and I collected a lot of the stories from that hospital over the years. One of strangest involved a close friend of mine, Nick (not his real name) with whom I worked with for many years. Nick was working the night shift when a doctor in a long white coat walked down the hallway toward a dead end section of rooms with no exit. My friend was sitting down and was nearly half-asleep and thought it was odd to see an MD coming at that time of night, around 3:00 AM, to see a patient.

A few minutes after the doctor walked by, a call light went off in that section. Nick answered the call by going to the room immediately. The patient was wide awake, with all his lights on. Moments before the patient had been in a deep sleep. Nick asked, “Do you need some help?” The patient was excited and said, “My brother just came to visit me.”

There was no sign of the brother in the room. Nick was confused, as he did not see anyone leave the area. The brother was not in the bathroom or in the other three rooms in that section. There was no way he could have left without Nick seeing him.

Nick said something like, “Where is he now?” The patient had a stunned expression on his face and said, “My brother has been dead for seven years!”

The brother had died in the same hospital, but on a different floor. Nick asked about the conversation they had. The dead brother told his younger sibling that he should not worry, and that he was going to survive this illness.

The patient went home a few days later.

This even really happened. The man lived through his health scare and went home.

Nick was a skeptic about ghosts until this event, but not any more.

I could go on about ghost stories in this hospital, and I’ll tell a few more.

A friend of mine, Emily (not her real name) was working in an ICU at this hospital and witnessed haunting activity in a specific room soon after a particularly nasty and disoriented male patient had died. The ghost would touch staff, creep them out with an ominous presence, and scare the current patients staying in that room—who would ask who the tall man was. Emily would ask for someone to go in with her after some frightening experiences. That’s how scared she was.

Once, this nasty ghost was seen manifesting as a full-bodied apparition in the doorway of the room where he died. This event freaked out a different nurse really badly. As far as I know, this was the first time anyone had seen the ghost as a full-bodied apparition, but the strangest thing about this was that the spirit had a breathing tube (an endotracheal tube) dangling from his mouth. He seemed to be choking and reaching out for help as he stood in the doorway. The man was very tall and big, so he was quite intimidating.

 

Emily quit her job and transferred to a different hospital. She could not face the haunting activity any longer.

I could go on as I have a stack of stories about supernatural events, including poltergeist activity, disembodied voices, apparitions, and more.

I’m so glad I don’t work at that hospital anymore. Whenever I walked into that place, dark and troubling energies would hit me. I had to learn how to block them out. To this day there are reports of supernatural events there, especially on certain floors that are now abandoned. The security guards who patrol the place have seen and heard all sorts of disturbing things—people calling for help when no one is there, and they see shadows moving in abandoned patient rooms. TV’s and call lights go on randomly in vacant rooms all the time.

Healthcare workers are pretty tough people overall, but just walking down to the cafeteria in the middle of the night was frightening for some of my friends. Those dark hallways filled with shadows and that odd vibe was especially disturbing for the more sensitive staff.

Some people are skeptical about ghosts and the supernatural. I think that’s fine and very reasonable. Not believing in the paranormal is a great defense mechanism. You don’t see things when the more sensitive people do. Personally, it’s worked for me in the past. I’d much rather not see scary things, even though, at the edge of my peripheral vision, I know they’re there.

Paul GenesseGuest Writer Bio: Paul Genesse is the author of The Golden Cord, The Dragon Hunters, and The Secret Empire, the first three books in his Iron Dragon Series. He has sold several short stories—many of which involve ghosts—which appear in various DAW anthologies, and elsewhere. He’s been on a few paranormal investigations and may have once encountered a demon—which turned out to be research, as he’s the editor of the five volumes in the demon-themed Crimson Pact shared multiverse anthology series. He works full time as a cardiac nurse, but has worked as a copy editor, computer game consultant, and naturally he enjoys speaking about writing at conventions, and doing school visits. Friend him on Facebook or find him online at paulgenesse.com.

Life vs Story

17 September 2014 | No Comments » | frank

Great SunsetWe’ve seen some incredible stories this month. I know I’ve enjoyed them.

Reading through the posts so far this month, I’ve been left wondering why real life is often so much stranger than fiction. Fiction is make believe, but it has its limits. They’re not the same limits set in our physical world or we’d never accept things like time travel, hobbits, and big magic. Yet those wonderful figments of our imagination are believed and embraced while some events that transpire in real life are rejected as ‘unbelievable’.

Why is that?

In fiction I can have purple unicorns or good fairies or soul-sucking demons and readers will clamor for more. But I cannot have serendipitous coincidences, unexpected miracles, or meaningless tragedy without risking the breakdown of credibility.

As authors it’s a critical element to understand. If we get it wrong, we knock our readers out of the story and they dismiss us as hacks. If we get it right, we suck people into our worlds and spin tales of wonder that can enchant for a lifetime.

First, it’s a matter of setup.

We define our worlds and transport the readers into them. We can set any boundaries we want, and sometimes we set some pretty wild ones.

I developed a story with my kids once that included a completely random magic system. We had a blast with that one because no one had any idea what might come next. It included assault rainbow ponies, fajita blaster go-karts, fifty foot pits of jell-o, and much more. And since we had defined it as a random chance based experience, all of that was believable.

The catch is, once we define the boundaries of a story, we cannot cross them. Once we build a world within those boundaries, everything that happens must be ‘believable’ within the context of that world.

So why are things that happen in everyday life not ‘believable’ in fiction worlds?

That’s the second piece to the puzzle. Life is not story.

Real life is unpredictable, chaotic, and often downright unfair. We don’t know what’s going to happen, and no matter how skilled or prepared or determined the protagonist of our lives might thing we are, there’s no guarantee we’ll win the day, get the girl, or live happily ever after.

A great example for me of the difference is the emotional balance of characters verses the emotional roller-coaster that is life. In a book we don’t like to see characters cry, even though in real life that is a very natural occurrence. We like our protagonists to be level-headed, calm, and kind all of the time, even though many people who should be adults regularly act like spoiled brats or worse.

Third, and most importantly, stories are entertainment. Reality is life.

We escape the stresses and challenges of reality through fiction and therefore it cannot be as unsatisfying as life often is. Authors take readers on an emotional journey that can drag them through the deepest abyss and transport them to the highest levels of heaven, but in the end we need to leave them feeling satisfied or fulfilled. If we don’t, then we’ve failed in our mission.

Life has to be lived, but Story needs to be enjoyed.

The Strangest Part of Real Life is that it Happens Every Day

16 September 2014 | 1 Comment » | Matt Jones

1930348_21385808146_2396_n After High School, I joined the U.S. Air Force as a means to attend college. I signed up as a computer programmer, knowing even then exactly what I wanted to do in life. Sadly, due to one of those strange twists of fate, they didn’t have room in that career field and offered me another. Since I spoke Japanese, I could change my job to a Cryptologic Linguist. This would mean I would be able to perfect the language I loved but didn’t master, as well as giving me the chance to live and learn in Japan. I jumped at the chance. Sadly, nobody warned me at that time that recruiters lie.

I went to basic training at Lackland AFB before going to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey California. I was excited and ready for the challenge, or at least I was, until they gave me my language. Arabic. I was told that only officers get Japanese since we’re not actively “watching” them. So, I began my life as a trainee linguist who began to understand how easily the government can betray. I begged for at least Chinese, which was a language they did offer, but by that point I was simply a number and those in charge could care less what I did.

After a year of learning Arabic in the classroom, and studying Japanese after class, I was pulled from my class. I didn’t want to be there, and they didn’t want me. My sergeant at the time swore I would get the worst job possible. They asked me what jobs I wanted and I chose Electrical or Software Engineering. Instead they pulled my Top Secret clearance, which they paid insane amounts of money for, and made me a bus driver. 2T1x1, or Vehicle Operator to be precise.

The job was simple. Think of a cross between a rent-a-car for people visiting the base and a taxi service. The good side was that the base I was assigned to had lots of downtime, which meant I had plenty of time to go to school.

The story so far is simple. Quick back-story I guess. Maybe not even all that exciting. For me it was more insulting than anything. Shortly afterwards, however, things got exciting. The Army was short on manpower and the Air Force offered their troops as a stopgap. I went from bus driver to gun truck operator. I was part of the team that drove the armored vehicles with the big weapons on top.

When I first got to Camp Anaconda, a base north of Baghdad, Iraq, we were being actively bombed every day. It became commonplace to see missiles flying overhead or hear explosions sound from just across the way. Nobody really talked about those explosions or those involved in them. You just moved on.

One time, I was at the MWR (Morale, Welfare, and Recreation) tent doing what any good soldier does in his off time: playing a first person shooter. It was a usual day until we all heard the tell-tale sign of a missile. A whistling sound followed by an impact. We opened the door to see a still smoking missile, about a foot high, buried in the ground a couple feet from the door. The fact that it didn’t explode wasn’t uncommon since most of the weapons being fired at us were old and derelict. We quickly evacuated and went on with our day, refusing to believe that we were one spark away from not returning home.

My job was to drive in the convoys in my armored Humvee with a 50cal mounted to the top. You rarely stop on these missions and after hours of staring at the road through armored glass, everything gets distorted. When you do get to stop, you hold the brake pedal a little firmer than usual since, to your eyes, the world is still rolling along in your peripheral vision. I’ve had a couple encounters where I would do a full day’s drive just to find out that the convoy directly after us was hit by a roadside bomb. Children you meet on the way would beg for candy and then flip you off as you drove away. Everyone, and everything became a threat. Months after returning I would steer clear of plastic bags and cardboard boxes someone left on the road.

My one deployment lasted just under a year and was filled with many similar stories. It was a unique and challenging experience. It was a time that I’ll never forget and one that definitely shaped my life. The part that is really strange to me is that my experience was roughly calm. I’m sure there are thousands who go through much worse than I could ever imagine. After experiencing that, I watch these films of war and can somehow relate. Some may say that I was protected by plot-armor. The protagonist of my own story who avoided these deadly experiences because the plot said I should.

Fiction can be strange, but it’s bound by rules. My story is true, but nobody would buy it. I didn’t save anyone. I didn’t help advance an overarching plot. I didn’t do anything special at all. I simply lived my life and was extremely lucky that I passed all the rolls of the dice that could have ended that. And these things happen all the time. It might not be exciting enough for a mass market, but it was hell of a thriller for me.

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