Digging Up His Brother-In-Law in San Francisco’s Pioneer Cemetery

Humans are the only species that buries thier dead. 

After Phineas Gage died (1860), he was buried in Lone Mountain Cemetery in San Francisco. Six years later, his brother-in-law, David Shattuck, along with two physicians (past mayors) dug him up.

Gage’s traumatic brain injury (1848) made him famous in neuroscience and psychology fields.

Once he learned of his patient’s passing, Dr. Harlow (who treated Phineas) asked to have the body exhumed for the advancement of science. Phineas’s mother received this request and saw that it was carried out.

What is it like to unearth a member of your family?

Excerpt from Phases of Gage: After the Accident Years

David Shattuck (husband to Phoebe Gage / brother-in-law to Phineas Gage)
Lone Mountain Cemetery, San Francisco 1867

On a misty morning in November, I found myself in the Lone Mountain Cemetery looking down at my brother-in-law’s tombstone. Doctor Coon and Doctor J.B.D. Stillman stood at my side, each with a shovel in hand.

Guards stood at the closed entrance gates affording us privacy.

Coats came off as digging commenced. At first, I felt that I was committing an unforgivable sin. But as my back strained and my hands developed blisters, those feelings subsided, until my shovel made contact with something solid.

The other two paused, nodding to one another, then resumed. Once space was clear, the two doctors were about to lift the coffin lid when I interrupted. “Wait! Gentlemen, please bear with my squeamishness. Before you open it, would you prepare me for what I am about to see?”

Doctor Coon looked uncomfortable. He glanced at Doctor Stillman who replied, “Why, David, you need not see anything.”

“No,” I disagreed firmly. “I promised my wife that I would follow it through to the end.”

“She never needs to know,” Doctor Coon replied softly.

“I’ll know. Please, just tell me.”

“Very well,” the man sighed as he wiped his hands on his vest, “By now, all of the body fluids will have dissipated. The clothing will be intact. Likely, dry skin will still cover the skeletal remains. Hair will be present.” Coon paused to see how I was taking it. “Shall I describe what we’ll do next and the skull removal process?”

Squeezing my eyes shut, I nodded.

“Once the lid is off, the first thing I will do is hand you the iron bar. Next, I will test the skull to see if it separates from the spine. If not, Doctor Stillman has tools for that. I will remove any organic matter that freely separates. Doctor Stillman will take the skull and place it inside the box.” Coon paused, waiting for my response.

“Understood. Proceed,” I said gravely.

It took all three of us climbing inside the hole to pry the lid up and place it off to the side. I was surprised to see Phineas’s body exactly as Doctor Coon described.

Mummified-looking remains wore Phin’s clothes. But it no longer looked like the man I remembered. When I hopped out of the hole, Doctor Coon handed up the bar. It was ice-cold to the touch, heavier than I remembered.

Not wishing to watch more of the proceedings, I held it up, running a finger over the words etched on its surface.

This is the bar that was shot through the head of Mr. Phinehas P. Gage at Cavendish, Vermont, Sept. 14, 1848. He fully recovered from the injury & deposited this bar in the Museum of the Medical College of Harvard University. Phinehas P. Gage Lebanon Grafton Cy N-H Jan 6, 1850

I remembered Phin’s story about the engraver he hired to do the work, misspelling his name. I could hear Phineas saying, ‘When mistakes are made, it’s the good man who doesn’t get angry, but figures out how to move forward from there.’

I chose to focus on memories rather than listen to the doctors going on about their ghoulish activity.

“Mission accomplished,” Doctor Stillman proclaimed loudly, breaking into my thoughts. He and Doctor Coon replaced the coffin lid. “Let’s get that hole filled.”

When we finished, Doctor Stillman offered to take the skull with him to process it for travel.

I promised myself at that moment, that ‘the skull’ would remain inside its box until it was delivered to Doctor Harlow. I didn’t care to, ever, look at it, or have any member of my family see it.

Without my noticing, a murky fog had rolled in. The city beyond the cemetery walls had been engulfed in a chilly, dull, gray blankness of a November day. Seagulls could be heard high above in the blue sky that must be up there. Our boot steps sounded muffled.

Doctor Stillman cradled the box in front of him like a wise man on his way to deliver a gift to the baby Jesus. Doctor Coon carried shovels and a bag of tools. I kept pace with the others, Phineas’s bar grew heavier every minute.

A raven landed on a tombstone nearby. It shrieked, raising its wings like it expected a token in exchange for letting us pass.

When the guards opened the gates, the metal hinges let loose a high-pitched protest. I wondered if the flaming gates of hell would sound that way if this deed took me to that entrance.

Worse yet, would Phoebe ever forgive me for this?

The Gage family was one of many who were affected by grave removals in San Francisco.

With growing pressure to make efficient use of valuable real estate, the dead of San Francisco had to make way for the living.

By the end of 1948 bodies in several pioneer cemeteries were moved to a mass grave site forty miles south in Colma, California.

Thousands of tombstones were recycled. Civic uses included; the sea wall at Yacht Harbor, breakwaters at the Aquatic Park and Marina Green, construction of a Wave Organ, as fill bedding for the Great Highway, as paving stones in the storm drains at Buena Vista Park and erosion control at Ocean Beach.

Phineas Gage’s niece, Delia Presby (Shattuck) Oliver’s gravestone appears on Ocean Beach when heavy storms move sand out to sea. It was last uncovered on June 4, 2012. The lettering — still legible — reads; Delia Presby, wife of, F.B. Oliver, Died, April 9, 1890, Aged 26 yrs., 10 mos. 27 days, — Rest –

aac-5185

Wave Organ in San Francisco - photo by Kārlis Dambrāns - https://www.flickr.com/photos/janitors/15174001514
Wave Organ in San Francisco – photo by
Kārlis Dambrāns – https://www.flickr.com/photos/janitors/15174001514

 

Background Research:

Encyclopedia of San Francisco – Removal of San Francisco Cemeteries
http://www.sfhistoryencyclopedia.com/articles/c/cemeteries.html

1950 Location, regulation, and removal of Cemeteries in the City of San Francisco by William A. Proctor
Department of City Planning
City and County of San Francisco
http://www.sfgenealogy.com/sf/history/hcmcpr.htm

oddfellows-1180x500

A Second Final Rest: The History of San Francisco’s Lost Cemeteries film by Trina Lopez
http://trinalopez.com/finalrest.html

KQED Radio Program: Why are all of San Francisco’s Dead People Buried in Colma?
https://soundcloud.com/kqed/bay-curious-has-colma-always-been-for-san-franciscos-dead

Transcript: https://ww2.kqed.org/news/2015/12/16/why-are-so-many-dead-people-in-colma-and-so-few-in-san-francisco/

History of Erosion on Ocean Beach by Bill McLaughlin Surfrider Foundation, San Francisco Chapter
http://public.surfrider.org/files/a_history_of_coastal_erosion_at_ocean_beach_0412.pdf

 

Delia Presby (Shattuck) Oliver’s Gravestone:

91507663_133905039892

Ocean Beach Headstones – Weird San Francisco History

http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Tombstones-from-long-ago-surfacing-on-S-F-beach-3618805.php

122 Year-old Gravestone Washes Up on Ocean Beach
http://www.missionmission.org/2012/06/04/122-year-old-gravestone-washes-up-on-ocean-beach/

Find a Grave

http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=91507663

Other San Francisco Cemetery Information:

Still Rooms Slide Show by Photographer Richard Barnes – Bodies found during the construction of San Francisco’s Legion of Honor
http://www.richardbarnes.net/still-rooms/mtjfumzj50oowcnkvam1c2ewduv6l5

Additional Gage Resources

Lisa’s San Francisco History Research Sources on Pinterest:

 

 

Advertisements

Hitch’n

whn

“My entire life has been lies,” thought JJ as his boots tapped out a rapid tattoo. “It’s a sham, a false reality that everyone has purchased a slice of. There is no path to success. It’s just consumption, power mongering, and environmental destruction.”

JJ had left a monument in the center of his neatly made bed. His diploma from Wharton University, crumbled into a ball, and his wallet. Inside it was $250 in cash, his credit cards, and his driver’s license. JJ’s vehicle registration and passport completed the assembly. On top of everything, he’d left a cryptic note, Mom, you won’t be able to find me where I am going.

At the time that JJ had written it, he’d been seething with anger, wanting to lash out. Even in that highly charged state, he realized that it sounded like a suicide note. He didn’t want anyone to assume that he’d taken the easy way out. JJ added, When I find what I am looking for, I’ll be in touch.

His backpack was light. It contained a Swiss Army knife, a flashlight, a set of magnets his father had given him on his sixth birthday and the tiny ceramic jar (containing his baby teeth) that his mother had saved.

On the deserted road, a car’s approach could be heard from a long way off. Confidently, JJ made a fist with his thumb pointing up, holding it out.

A wind kicked up in all directions. The air buzzed and crackled. But JJ didn’t look around, he kept striding. A bright light appeared in front of him.

That made him stop. A large bubble, about fifteen feet in diameter, emerged. It undulated as if it were alive, growing increasingly fatter, straining at its surface.

With a pop, it burst. In its place, stood JJ’s dream car.

It made no sound as it crept forward, stopping at his side. The driver’s side door opened. When JJ leaned down to peer inside, he only saw darkness. For a moment, he thought about his note, maybe it was a suicide note…maybe not.

JJ got in.

_______________

Vistual Writing Prompt:  WritetoDone website – in 350 words or less, write about what happened next – November 2016

Guest Post – Underneath excerpt by M.N. Arzú

short story cover art3

Daybreak usually found Neil Thompson walking down the shore. At this early hour, the deserted Maine beach was his and his alone. Thoughts about everything and nothing formed and vanished in his mind along with the waves. At fifty-two, few were the pleasures left to him from his childhood, and fewer the moments he actually got to enjoy them.

He loved this part of the beach, his own private sanctuary off the beaten path.

Further down the beach, the waves were washing against a large object, but the dim early light and the seaweed distorted its form. Frowning, he wondered if the sea would reclaim it or if he would find trash polluting his little piece of heaven.

Wind beat on the back of his neck as he tucked his hands into the pockets of his jeans. He left footprints that quickly washed away, while taking his time to reach the mystery item the sea had so generously brought to his feet.

His heart slammed in his chest when he finally realized what he was looking at: a dead body. Frozen to the spot, he stared as wave after wave crested over the white chest and dark trousers of a man’s corpse, and all he could think about was how much he truly wished the sea would take it back.

Holding his breath, he tried and failed to look away. His stomach felt too tight and heavy while his mind navigated a strange mix of morbid curiosity and utter disgust.

A particularly large wave crashed beside him, drawing him from his thoughts and reminding him that the tide forgave nothing on these ever-changing shores. A full minute passed before he resigned himself to the grisly duty of dragging the dead man out of the ocean’s grasp. He would need to call in the authorities on what was becoming anything but a normal day. Quickly, he dialed the number and waited impatiently.

Holding his phone in one hand, he reached for the man’s shoulder with the other. Movement met his touch, and he jerked his hand back in shock. Life still clung to this body. The man was still breathing.

“9-1-1, what’s your emergency?”

The voice on the phone caught him off-guard, and he almost dropped it.

“Sir?”

“Yes! Hello? I’m Neil Thompson, I’m at the beach. I’ve just found a man here. He was brought in by the tide. I think he’s still breathing, but I—I don’t know what—”… to do…

The words stuck in his throat.

He’d honestly thought those were trousers. Through the dark seaweed, a hundred shades of blue glinted off each scale as the sun rose in the early hour, the sea no longer able to disguise what Neil had ignored before: A tail.

Longer than legs would have been, the tail rolled lazily with the tide, somehow at an odd angle. Instinctively, he took two steps back, almost losing his balance. Every fiber of his being screamed for him to turn around and run, but he was trapped in his fight or flight instinct.

Gentle waves reached them again and again as Neil struggled to breathe. Where knees should have been, a deep gash ran horizontally, torn flesh and scales the testimony of a gruesome accident. Closing his eyes, Neil swallowed bile.

In his ear, the dispatcher kept asking questions, though God knew about what. He wished yet again that the sea would take back what it had brought in.

“Mr. Thompson, paramedics are on their way, but we need an exact location.”

Hysterically, he looked around, a tiny part of his mind deciding this must be a prank. Somewhere, nearby, cameras were recording his reaction and one day soon he would be watching this on reality television, laughing at his gullible self.

And yet, no matter where he looked, or how much he wished it wasn’t, the beach was deserted.

This is real. God, this is real!

“Mr. Thompson? Can you hear me?”

Neil looked down at the man who wasn’t a man, coming to grips with the fact that myth had crossed into reality, and no one but him was witnessing this bizarre twist in his life.

“Mr. Thompson!”

“Yes!” he answered, snapping out of it. It didn’t matter if this was the strangest day of his life, he could only guess the man in front of him was having his worst.

“I’m here,” he reassured the dispatcher, giving his address and a good estimate of how far he’d walked away from his home. “I’m across from Cluney’s store. I’ll stand by to signal the ambulance, you won’t miss me.”

“Okay, Mr. Thompson, this is what I need you to do while help is on the way.”

The operator listed off tasks: get him safe, check his breathing, check his responsiveness to touch. Maybe there was more, maybe Neil only half understood what the woman was trying to tell him, but he had the insane need to correct his early statement. You’re not coming to aid a man.

She kept asking all kinds of questions, expecting him to do all kinds of things.

Placing the phone in his shirt pocket on speaker, he mentally went through the instructions from the dispatcher on what he needed to do. Finally, taking a deep breath, he fixed his eyes on the lifeless face. Several bruises were starting to turn purple alongside the right temple, certainly the product of one hell of a collision. Neil had to talk to him to see if he could get a response.

“Hey…” Neil whispered, his voice deserting him.

“Hey,” he tried again, sounding slightly louder. “Well, crap, I don’t know what I’m doing…” he murmured. Shutting his eyes tightly for a second, he took a moment to get his racing heart under control. He positioned himself above the head, and with trembling hands, he reached under the ice-cold armpits.

“Okay, okay, here’s the deal: I’ll move you out of the sea, and you don’t bite my head off, okay?”

The man was heavy, and with some considerable effort, Neil dragged him out of the water. Part of Neil expected the tail to turn into legs. Part of him expected those eyes to pop open and sharp teeth to start gnashing at him.

None of that happened.

He took his phone out and went back to the dispatcher. Drowning people swallowed a lot of water, she informed him. Neil had to move his unconscious victim onto his side in case he vomited.

Neil stared at the tail on his victim, and almost laughed. This man was the furthest thing from drowning that one could get. In fact, maybe he should be pushing him right back into the sea.

“Mr. Thompson, do you understand?” the dispatcher asked, concerned.

“Yes,” he said, absently nodding.

He’d just found a mermaid—merman—yet no one would ever believe that something so fantastic could happen to someone so mundane.

Turning to look down the road, he strained to hear the ambulance sirens, but all he heard was the sea. He still had time.

Hanging up, he deftly turned his phone camera on and began gathering proof of what he was witnessing. No one would ever doubt what he’d just seen.

* * *

To the untrained eye, the hospital Emergency Room was nothing more than a chaotic arrangement of people shouting at each other and working their shifts on caffeine alone.

Well, that last part is true, Gwen Gaston thought, the last drops of her coffee still tasting like heaven. She’d been crazy for a fourth cup of liquid energy since two patients ago.

From her vantage point on the opposite corner of the ER entrance, Gwen watched gurneys and paramedics come and go, their patients delivered to the capable hands of her colleagues. Being the ER on-call surgeon guaranteed she never got bored, which was the main reason why she’d applied for the position two years ago. She’d been missing the adrenaline from her early days as an emergency doctor, and the intricate puzzles and challenges each ambulance brought to her hands.

Her timer went off, the cue for getting back to work. She threw the empty paper cup into the nearest trashcan and rubbed her hands in anticipation.

She was overweight and out of shape, and she knew she didn’t look like the ideal surgeon to handle the turmoil of the ER; half her diet consisted of an unhealthy dose of soda and chips to compensate for long hours at work, but damn, was she good at what she did. Most days that included patching people up from the inside out, six cups of coffee, and a good measure of yelling.

The speaker overhead chimed and a man called a code blue for the trauma room. Her phone began buzzing with an alert at the same time: they needed her to start prepping for emergency surgery. She walked faster.

“What do we have?” she asked to no one in particular on her route to her new patient, slipping out a pair of latex gloves.

“Some idiot in a mermaid costume half drowned down the beach,” one of the paramedics told her. His partner looked anything but amused. In fact, the guy looked downright scared.

“Okay, he’s stabilizing now. Can someone get that tail out of the way?” Dr. Bill Shore ordered, sounding calm and collected despite such an odd request.

She entered the trauma room and the smell of the ocean hit her before she could even take a good look at the man. She’d been expecting a half-assed costume made out of cheap plastic in pinks and yellows, adorned with shiny fake gems to complete the look. What she wasn’t expecting was how real the disguise looked. It was decorated with hundreds of tiny bright scales, complete with thin lateral fins that were torn everywhere. The length of the tail reached all the way down to the floor where people narrowly missed it with their shoes.

“What did you page me for?” she asked, mentally shaking her head at the crazy things she had to put up with in her line of work. This close, she could see small clusters of scales framing the youthful face and parts of his shoulders, which then disappeared down his back. His ears were pointy, and his skin almost translucent.

“We’ve been having a hard time with his vitals, and I could really use your help figuring out where he’s bleeding. We can’t seem to keep his blood pressure up.”

Gwen’s fingers expertly palpated the abdomen, looking for the elusive internal bleeding. Intrigued at what she felt, she started listening with the stethoscope a moment later, while monitors kept pace with a weak heartbeat and shallow breathing. Bruises adorned the right side of their patient’s head, and she would bet good money that his right wrist was broken.

What the hell is this? She thought as she kept moving down, unable to identify the internal sounds. Something was seriously off, she just couldn’t put her finger on what.

“Can someone page neurology, please?” Bill ordered.

“Are they filming something nearby?” Jackie, the senior nurse on staff asked, while touching the line where skin became tail. “This costume is definitely professional. I can’t find where it comes off.”

Still listening, Gwen’s eyes fixated on the middle of the tail, where she could see sluggish blood pooling onto the gurney. That gash was bleeding real blood.

Bingo!

“It might be painted on the skin,” Gwen absently explained. She stopped listening and started seeking where real muscle became part of the disguise. Her hands methodically felt beside and beneath the smooth texture of the tail, imagining how two legs would be able to fit in the narrow outfit. Where knees should bend, she unexpectedly felt a pulse.

She looked up at Bill, who was busy checking the monitors.

“I need to see what’s going on down here,” she said, signaling the tail.

“Okay, on three!” Bill said, and deftly they moved their patient onto his side. The back was as meticulously decorated as the tail, the blue scales following the spine in a narrow line, all the way to the back of his neck. The deep gash ran from one side to the other, cutting through several layers of tissue.

“Let’s clean this wound,” Gwen ordered to their other nurse, Oscar. It unnerved her that she could be fooled by an elaborate Halloween costume. She pressed down on her newly discovered pulse point, and saw the tail twitch further down. Blinking, she pressed again, sure she was imagining things.

It twitched again.

“We really need to get this thing off,” she heard Bill saying, but he sounded so far away. “Gwen, how bad are his legs?”

“I can’t find—”she started to say, sounding equally far away. The gash hypnotized her, forbidding her to even blink. Some forty percent of the tail had been cut deep, and her surgeon’s brain automatically calculated the odds of keeping the limb or amputating it.

For the first time, Gwen saw that tail as part of a body.

“Gwen?”

“It’s not a costume,” she muttered, bewildered, but only Oscar turned to look. Everyone else kept going at it as if they were treating a human.

“What?” Bill asked while he listened to the lungs with his stethoscope.

“It’s not a costume,” she repeated louder, turning to look at Bill with round eyes. “It’s—it’s real!”

Only Oscar understood her, moving away immediately, his eyes going as big as hers.

“What are you talking about?” Bill asked, forgetting his stethoscope.

“The ta—tail is bleeding,” she forced herself to explain. “There’s a pulse, even a reflex. Bill, I can’t find any legs in here.”

This time, Jackie moved back. Frowning, Bill moved next to her to take a closer look.

“X-rays,” they said at the same time.

Hesitantly, Oscar helped her and Bill to place their patient on his back. Two seconds later, they cleared the room to evade the momentary radiation.

“I’m sure this is perfectly logical,” he told Gwen, looking through the door at the impressive tail that still touched the floor.

“Birth malformation?” she offered, equally locked on their patient’s body. “With that length?”

“Someone’s playing a prank on us,” he muttered, entering the room once more. Behind them, only Oscar entered willingly.

“Or maybe he was playing a prank on someone else and it went horribly wrong…” she reasoned, looking at the monitors, “You can’t fake these vitals.”

By the door, Jackie made the sign of the cross. On the hall outside the room, the paramedics argued with each other about who’d been right.

This is becoming a circus.

“Bill?”

“We’re not dealing with a Disney character!” he snapped. She silently agreed: she doubted she’d ever seen a Disney character with abs like those. She chuckled at the stupid thought, barely containing a full blown hysterical attack.

“Get the labs done,” he told Jackie, the poor nurse looking paler than their patient while she fled the room.

“Get another gurney,” Gwen ordered Oscar. “We need to level off that tail.”

More people crowded the door, blocking anyone who was actually trying to work. The news of what was going on in the trauma room was spreading like wildfire.

“This is getting out of control,” she warned Bill, for the first time chaos taking over their highly tuned and efficient ER.

“Listen up!” Bill roared, walking towards the door, towering over everyone. “This is not a mermaid, and this is not a freak-show! Get back to work and let us save this man! NOW!”

They cleared out in two seconds flat.

“Are you sure?” Oscar asked, bringing the gurney Gwen had asked for into the room.

“YES!” Bill shouted, impatience showing through. “And whoever suggests otherwise—”

He didn’t finish, but the meaning hung in the air. Silently, Oscar helped her get the tail up.

“Here, let’s see…” Gwen murmured, clinical eyes looking for a better angle into the wound. They turned their not-mermaid onto his side again, and methodically she assessed the damage.

“He needs the OR,” she said aloud—for his not-tail, she privately added.

“He’s going to need a whole lot more than that when he wakes up and explains what the hell is going on here,” Bill murmured under his breath.

She couldn’t agree more.
__________________________

The excerpt that you’ve just read is the first chapter the book Underneath, a merfolk tale.  If you liked it, there’s more!

I had the pleasure of reading the entire manuscript as Michelle was creating it. It’s fast paced and good to the very last drop.

Follow the links below to learn about M.N. Arzú and how to get her books.

underneath-blog-cover

Buy this book on Amazon

Follow M.N. Arzú:

Author Website & Mailing List

Amazon Author pageauthor_photo-rt-2

Facebook

Twitter

Author Interview

More by this author – The Librarian Book Review

 

 

 

 

An injured merman is found washed up on a beach in Maine.

Merfolk have been hiding in plain sight for centuries. Now they are now torn between sacrificing one of their own—or telling humanity the truth.

Underneath, a merfolk tale takes the reader on a journey through secret societies, conspiracy, investigation, parental love, and coming-of-age

1850 – The Rising Phoenix – San Francisco

October 28, 1850 

Dearest Wife ~ 

There have been two more fires. San Francisco, like a phoenix, continually rises from the ashes. The damages, this time, are thought to exceed $15,000,000. I can comfortably speak of the numbers. Not so—of the personal toll.

Too many friends have been taken by fate or by their own hand.

Remember the Patterson family? After their home burned, Mr. Patterson shot his wife and their baby daughter in the street. He was found lying dead on top of them.

Thomas Maguire – who owns the Jenny Lind Theatre – has lost everything six times! He jokes that one day he will write a play about it. I appreciate his candor and I admire him for not succumbing to hopelessness.

1906 earth quake

Our warehouse fell to the flames. We had to have guards at the burn site every hour of the day and night so that no one would build on our ground.

There is much talk about forming a fire company with volunteers and of construction methods that will withstand conflagration.  

I ache with missing you, but I am glad that you have been spared the agony and upheaval here.

 All My Love, Reece

William_Coulter_-_San_Francisco

_______________

Writing Prompt: 200-Word Tuesdays – June 2016 prompt theme: Wrinkled Paper

This letter is an excerpt from a book in progress. Haylee is a monster story with scene settings that are historically accurate.

Haylee is a mysterious and rare Traveler. She is time shifted from 1984 to San Francisco in 1850. While there she meets and marries Reece Keener (Haylee and the Traveler’s Stone). Having returned to her own time – Haylee and the Crystal Carrier’s Consort (working title) – Haylee discovers a series of letters that her husband wrote.  This letter is one of that series.

History of the San Francisco Fire Department – Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco

Only the Treehouse Knows – 200 words

treehouse cover

“T’was an ‘venture coming ‘her when we was kids.” Bill parked his diesel pick-up at the road side.

Sweltering, moist heat engulfed them when they stepped out of the air conditioning.  Bill’s crooked finger pointed at something over the rooftops. “Ya can jus make out the tree over ‘ther. Was jus open fields back then.”

“Is that where it happened?” Shayden asked as he took off his mirrored aviator sunglasses and squinted.

Bill said, “Some thirty years ago, now.”

Shayden pulled his phone out of his pocket, zoomed in on the tree and started snapping. “Do you still live around here?”

“Yep, ‘bout four miles away.”

“Have you heard of any unusual things happing in the area?”

“Ya might could say that,” Bill snorted. “It’s not some’thin people in these parts like to talk about much.”

“Would you show me what it was that you wrote in about?”

Bill scanned the road for traffic, then with his mouth pressed in a harsh line, he began unbuttoning his work shirt. He pulled the fabric back to reveal the lumpy spot in his side.

Shayden’s eyes opened wide, he swallowed audibly. He looked to Bill and held up his phone; Bill nodded.


Story Prompt: @200WordTuesdays on Twitter

Theme: Empty fields & nostalgia

Numbers Cruncher

Alberto had everything a man could wish for ─ notoriety, beautiful women, and Numbers Cruncher smflashy cars. His biggest problem was a father who expected perfection.

When Alberto was in fifth grade, he scored 100% on a math quiz. He remembered his father standing proudly, while proclaiming, “When you are older, you will work for the family as a numbers cruncher.”

Four years after graduating from UCLA, Alberto continued to work as an accountant in his father’s office. Last year, he’d been, ‘number one.’ His coworkers constantly pestered him to hold up his finger so that they could laugh.

Alberto sat in the hushed waiting room. He shoved his hands deep into his armpits and settled his forearms over them like a chicken adjusting its wings.

Tony, his cousin, sat opposite him drumming on a case that sat in his lap. He smirked at Alberto.

To Alberto, Tony looked like a sausage stuffed into a three-piece-suit. They’d been best friends when they were kids. Once puberty hit, Tony spent time bulking up at the gym and training to become an EMT. Tony steadily climbed the ladder in the family business because he was good at carrying out orders and cleaning up messes.

Alberto found it difficult to breathe. The seat of his chair felt like it was made from a pin cushion with the pins sticking in his ass. They were waiting for the tax preparer to check Alberto’s work.

His father strode into the room like a general about to address his troops.  Not making eye contact with Alberto, he gestured in Tony’s direction. The sound of the zipper releasing its teeth had Alberto pushing against his backrest and shaking his head.

“No! No! No!” he screamed.

Tony opened the case. Nestled in a velvet lining, gleamed a razor sharp chef’s cleaver. Tony lunged for Alberto as his father lifted it and adjusted it in within his grip.

The struggle to free Alberto’s left hand was over quickly. Bracing it flat on a nearby table, Tony nodded to indicate that he was ready. Alberto’s one remaining finger ─ his index ─ lay exposed and vulnerable.

“Father! I beg you!”

His mouth formed a grim, straight line and he responded while raising his arm, “It’s our way, son. This is the price for making mistakes.”

 

————————–

Story Prompt: @GHowellWhite1 Twitter Prompt

Theme: Pen a story from the point of view of an accountant. Genre: Horror

Author & Character Dialog

As I write, it’s like I am watching a movie, except that it involves all the senses. I see everything from each characters’ point of view. I hear, touch, smell and taste the surroundings. I feel all the feelings.

The characters seem very real as they are doing what they are doing. But having one of them interact with YOU is a very different experience!

In this writing exercise, it was the first time that I ‘talked’ to my main character. Her responses came instantly and naturally – just as if we were really having a conversation with one another.

Give it a try, it will add another level of dimensionality to your peeps.

____________________________________

 

Wake up Haylee.diagol cover sm

“Go away Joey, I am trying to sleep.” Haylee flung a warm pillow out from under the covers. With no specific direction in mind, the soft projectile was meant to disrupt the cat’s plan to get her out of bed.

I thought we could talk for a few moments.

“Joey! Come on!” Haylee complained.

This isn’t Joey.

“Huh?” Haylee responded. She cracked her eyes into thin slits and scanned the room.  Accustomed to hearing voices in her head, she took a moment to assess the quality of this particular one. It was not totally foreign; she’d heard it before…

Now that she was focusing on it, she understood that it was not Joey or any other animal.  Animals didn’t form words and complete sentences. They sent a series of flowing visual images with emotions attached.

It wasn’t a thought from any of her victims either.  After being absorbed into her mind during Haylee’s unusual feeding process, they were mere memories. When she was finished with them, they didn’t make new ones.

Re-asserting her tight clamp-down on those, Haylee was suddenly wide awake.  She threw back the blankets and scrambled out of bed. Already wearing sweats, she threw on a jacket, slipped into a pair of shoes, and ran a comb quickly through her dark, curly mass of hair.

She was out of the apartment in less than ten minutes.  The streets of Berkeley, California were not as busy as they usually were at this time of day, but there were enough people around to make Haylee feel part of something larger. Thinking that the voice was a dream remnant, she let relief trickle down her spine.

You are going to Josh’s office aren’t you?

Haylee stopped in mid stride. A forty-something, dark skinned man carrying a to-go coffee grumbled, “Watch where you are going, Miss!”  He extended his hot cup away from his body while barely avoiding a collision.

“Sorry,” she muttered.

“Who are you?” Haylee asked, looking up and all around. The coffee man, glanced over his shoulder, frowned, and picked up his pace.

I can’t tell you that, but I want you to know that I am someone who cares.

“Are you my mom?”

Not exactly.

“Alright, whoever you are, what do you want and why are you talking to me?”

A pair of female students, seeing the young woman gesturing and speaking out loud, crossed to the other side of the street.

I want you to know that when I kill you, you won’t suffer and that your time here has had a much bigger purpose.

You are going to kill me? I don’t think so. I’m dying because all of the women in my family have some weird inherited thing that happens after they give birth. “

A husky blonde came out of a store with her son. They emerged near where Haylee was standing. The precocious boy pointed. “Mommy, that lady is talking to a ghost.”

The mother shushed him and hurried them toward their car.

That’s right. Why do you think that is?

A suspicious look crossed Haylee’s face. “I don’t know….  Do YOU?”

People are staring Haylee; you should keep walking. Yes, I am the only one who does.

Instead of walking, Haylee began to jog.

“Are you saying that it was your idea that I die at the age of twenty-three?”

You could have lived for a few years more if you hadn’t returned the souls that you stole.  But it was the right thing to do.

“Not that I believe you, but did you also have something to do with my time jump to 1849 and…Reece?” her voice broke a little on the last word.

Of course. That is part of the story arc for the women of your lineage and the crystal fragments that you possess.

“Then you know about the Travelers and why they do what they do?”

Yes, and you will too before too much longer. 

Haylee, who had started running at top speed, stopped to rest when she felt the energy of the voice begin to pull away.

“Wait! Are you saying that I’m not real? That my dad, Gori, Josh and Serena aren’t real either?

You’re real to me and I love you all. You are like my children.

“I don’t accept this.”

I’m sorry.

“If this is true, why do I have to die?  I don’t want to die! There’s so much more that I want to do!”

I know.

“Josh needs to know about this! He thinks he can help. He’s started a research project.”

That is exactly what he needs to be doing. His work is going to be an important part of what happens next. But you won’t be able to tell him about this conversation because I have to wipe it out of your mind.

“What? Why?”

I need you to go into Haylee and the Last Traveler with no memory of it having taken place.

______________________