Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Story Behind The Redeeming Power of Brain Surgery by Paul Flower

For most of my life, I’ve lived in southwest Michigan’s beach country. Here, during the summer, wealthy tourists from Chicago and other big Midwestern cities mingle with small-town locals––blue-collar workers and rednecks. I spend a lot of time standing in lines at stores wondering if the guy next to me might have murdered someone.

That was the inspiration, or at least the fuel, that led to my novel, The Redeeming Power of Brain Surgery. It portrays twin brothers who grew up here. Today one is a wealthy Chicago brain surgeon and the other works in a factory in their southwest Michigan hometown. The brain surgeon has come home to make sure their horrifying, decades-old secret stays buried.

I wrote the first draft about 30 years ago. Back then I had a growing family, a busy job as an advertising copywriter, and a goal of becoming a novelist. But I couldn’t get a publisher to buy this novel and couldn’t find an agent to represent it. The big publishing houses ruled the industry. Publishers wouldn’t look at manuscripts that weren’t represented by agents; agents wouldn’t represent authors who had not been published.

Over the years that followed, I was told several times that it was a very intriguing book, but no one would bite. By the early 2000s, I pretty much had given up on The Redeeming Power of Brain Surgery ever being published.

Then in 2009, the economy crashed just as the digital age put the squeeze on the advertising industry. I lost my job and was forced to become a freelancer.

One day, as I was was browsing craigslist for writing opportunities, I found a post from Jennifer Baum, an entrepreneur who was launching a publishing house, Scribe Publishing, in suburban Detroit. She was looking for manuscripts from Michigan authors. After another quick edit, I sent her the finished manuscript for The Redeeming Power of Brain Surgery. She bought it.

I have always loved this story and its characters. But its publication is as much a result of market factors colliding as perseverance. I lost my job, in part due to the digital revolution. Scribe Publishing and similar independent publishers are a result of that revolution. In a way, so is The Redeeming Power of Brain Surgery.




About The Book


The Redeeeming Power of Brain Surgery

TitleThe Redeeming Power of Brain Surgery: A Suspense Novel 
Author: Paul Flower
Publisher: Scribe Publishing Company
Publication Date: June 1, 2013
Pages: 250
ISBN: 978-0985956271
Genre: Susepense
Format: Paperback, eBook (.mobi / Kindle), PDF


Book Description:

Jesse Tieter, M.D. has carefully constructed the ideal life. But lately, neither his Chicago-based neurology practice nor his wife and son are enough to suppress the memories that have haunted him since he was a little boy. He can't stop thinking about that summer day in 1967 when his father died.

So Jesse is heading back. Back to the town and the place where a long-repressed horror occurred. Back to make sure his twin keeps the family's secret buried.

But what will he uncover along the way?


Book Excerpt:


His son’s hand felt like a lie. Lately, to him, everything felt this way. The look of sadness on his wife’s face, the burn of a drink in his throat, the whine of a saw in the O.R.; nothing seemed true. Nothing was real anymore. He felt out of balance, too. Even now, the school building, the flag slapping against the heavy fall sky¬¬—everything was tipping away from him. It was as though he’d gotten up that morning and screwed on his head carelessly, as though he hadn’t threaded it good and tight. While shaving, he’d cut himself, a discrete, semi-intentional knick just under the curve of his chin. He’d stood there like an idiot, eyes feeding the message “blood” to his brain, nerve endings responding with “pain” and the logic center unable to formulate a response.

“Dad? Daddy?”

“Uh? Wha’?”

“Pick up the pace. Chop chop. Move out.”

Now, as he snaked through the crush of other parents and children, he had to look down to convince himself the boy was there, attached to the hand, flesh and bone. The red hair, “his mother’s hair” everyone called it, was sliced by a crisp white part; his head bounced in beat with his sneakered feet. The child was so painfully real he couldn’t be a lie.

It amazed him that his son looked so much like his wife, especially the tiny mouth, the way it was set in a crooked, determined line. He was a kid who liked to have fun, but he could be fierce. Today, the challenge of a new school year, of third grade, had brought out the determined streak. This was good. They would need that streak, he and his mother would.

“Whoa.”  The tiny hand now was a road sign, white-pink flesh facing him, commanding him. Far enough. He obeyed. Squatting, arms out for the anticipated embrace, he suddenly wanted to tell everything. Tears swam. His throat thickened. The earth tilted and threatened to send him skittering over its edge. There was the slightest of hugs, the brush of lips on his cheek then the boy was off, skipping toward the steps as though third grade challenged nothing, caused no fear, as though the world was in perfect balance.

He walked back to his Lincoln Navigator with the exaggerated care of a drunk who didn’t want anyone to know his condition. He got behind the wheel and suddenly was no longer in his 50s; he felt 16 and too small, too skinny and insignificant to handle the giant SUV.

He nosed the vehicle toward home, alternately trembling and gripping the wheel as he merged with the morning traffic. The plan struck him now as odd and silly, the challenges too great. His hands, already red and scaly, itched fiercely. Get a grip, he told himself. Get a grip.

His tired mind—when was the last time he’d really slept well?—jumped from one stone of thought to another. Was everything covered at work? The bills—had he paid them all? Did his wife suspect anything? Yes. No. Absolutely. Of course not. Relax. Relax. He left the expressway at the exit that took him past their church and wondered if the church, too, was a lie. What of the wedding there so many years ago?

Through a stoplight and past a Dunkin’ Donuts, his gaze floated around a corner. A flash of inspiration—hit the gas. Let the tires slide and the back-end arc around. Let physics have its way until the big vehicle broke free from the grip of gravity and danced head over end, coming to a stop with him bleeding and mercifully, gratefully dead inside.

No. He had something to do. Had he figured the angles right? Gotten the plan tight enough?

A horn jabbed through his reverie. He had drifted into the turn lane of the five-lane street. He jerked the wheel and cut across traffic into the right lane. Tires screeched, horns screamed. A black Toyota streaked past on his left, the driver’s fist, middle finger erect, thrust out the window.

Rage, sharp and bitter, bubbled in his throat. He hesitated, then jammed his foot on the accelerator, cut the wheel hard, and sent the Navigator careening into the left lane.

A staccato barrage of profanity pounded the inside of his skull. He bit his tongue to keep the words in. His heart hammered and a familiar, dizzying pressure filled his ears. The SUV roared ahead, past one car, past a semi then another car, quickly closing the gap on the speeding Toyota. He couldn’t see the car’s driver but he could imagine him, some stupid, simple-minded schmuck, eyes locked on the rear-view mirror as the lumbering Lincoln grew larger, larger, larger. The instant before he would slam into the smaller vehicle, he jabbed his brake and turned again to the left. There was a squeal of tires and more horns bleating behind him; the semi rig’s air horn bellowed angrily past. Ramrod straight, eyes fixed ahead on the now-slow-moving car disappearing tentatively around a curve, he brought the Navigator to a shuddering stop in the center lane. He tensed and waited for the resounding WHUMP of a crash from behind. None came. Face flushed and eyes gleaming, suddenly rejuvenated, he accelerated quickly then eased the Navigator back into the flow of traffic—no looking back.



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About The Author

Paul Flower
   

Paul Flower is an author, advertising copywriter/creative director and a journalist.

He has written and produced award-winning advertising for print, radio, television, outdoor, the Web––really, just about every medium––for business-to-consumer and business-to-business accounts.

His news features have appeared in regional and national magazines. His first novel, “The Redeeming Power of Brain Surgery,” was published in June 2013 by Scribe Publishing. Visit Paul’s website at paulflower.net.  

Connect with Paul:

Author Website: paulflower.net 
Author Page / Publisher Website: http://scribe-publishing.com/brain/ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/paulflower.writer 
Twitter: https://twitter.com/flowerpaul Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7137509.Paul_Flower  

 

The Redeeming Power of Brain Surgery

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Story Behind Super Steve by Doug Cudmore

So, the inspiration for my book started with full lungs and an empty bank account.

I’d just taken a year off of university to find myself, and all I found myself was a lousy job as a busboy at a trendy downtown restaurant where young lawyers enjoyed humiliating the staff, with a dingy bachelor apartment that ate most of my income. As winter settled in, I also found myself with pneumonia, which meant I was housebound and hacking for a month, living off canned food I could just barely afford.

As spring arrived, I admitted I’d been defeated by the big city, and prepared to move home; as I did, ads for the new Batman movie (an old campy one, not the newer Christopher Nolan kind) came out. I looked up at a giant billboard and thought, “Damn, if I ever became a hero, I couldn’t afford to skip work; even if I could, I might well just become a villain.”

Of course, I grew up fine; went back to school, got married and had kids, became an editor at the biggest newspaper in the city that once came close to kicking my ass. I went back to that restaurant and tipped my busboy a $50. But I never lost that question: what would a real, 9-to-5, rent- or mortgage-paying person do if they suddenly had the power to save the city? And what would the city do to him?

Finally, I hit my 40s, and it was time to actually write that book or sign up for a lifetime of “what if”. I jammed in late-night or early-morning writing sessions between school drop-offs, long hours at the office, coaching, playing with the kids. And then jammed in rewriting and editing. To be honest, with just enough hours in the day as it was, I could either sign up for the long, spirit-crushing process of looking for an agent and then a publisher, or I could put it out there myself, see what happened, and enjoy the process of writing Super Steve II. I went with the second choice.



About The Book

Super Steve
  

TitleSuper Steve 
Author: Doug Cudmore 
Publisher: Independent Self Publishing 
Publication Date: January 5, 2015 
Pages: 328 
ISBN: 978-0993993527 
Genre: Action / Crime / Thriller 
Format: eBook ( ePub / .mobi - Kindle), Paperback   


Book Description:

It starts like just another in long string of Friday nights: Steve Janson again fools himself into thinking he'll go for a stress-busting, head-clearing run, only to end up at the local Sav-N-Lo picking up a pack of Doritos. But when he ends up bleeding on the floor after a robbery gone wrong, and a mysterious stranger saves his life, he finds himself living every man’s dream. Or is that nightmare? In either case, he’s a superhero. 

The darkly comic Super Steve asks: what if a regular person suddenly found himself stronger, faster, smarter than his fellow mortals? If nothing else (and, increasingly, there is nothing else), Steve is that average man, someone who clings to his sense of stand-up-guyness. He still puts in the overtime, even as the desks around him empty at the soon-to-be-extinct Metroburgh Green Pages. He makes sure his deeply pregnant wife and his baby-to-be live comfortably, even as his mountain of debt grows Himalayan. Sure, being the calm face that keeps everything alright gnaws at his slowly expanding gut some days, but it’s nothing a couple of MetroLagers can’t numb.   

And at first, saving school busses and pulling kittens from trees suits Steve perfectly. But as crime grips the city – an agitated former Occupier freeing the people’s money; a disgruntled ex-geologist with a knife to grind; a military man determined to keep the streets safe, no matter how unsafe they get in the process –the demands grow unbearable. As Steve’s wife grows suspicious of his late-night activities, as his boss threatens his job if the absenteeism doesn’t end, as his finances spin out of control after a gadget-buying spree, he is forced to ask himself: Must he sacrifice Steve Janson to be a hero? Or does he have to sacrifice the city in order to live with himself?  
 

Book Excerpt:


You would even, on your own time, write a report, “How the Green Pages can cash in on geographic technology,” which had been sitting for three months in Bryce’s office.
You would be a man trapped on a small, sandy career island that was eroding away; your only options would be dive into the ocean and hope there was another, larger island somewhere just past the horizon. Or to stay and hope the waves stopped rising. And you were the type to grab a palm tree and pray.
You’d work away at your desk this Friday, save for a sneak next door for a foot-long Tuna Supreme from Senor Sub, with a Coke and Doritos to aid the gentle expansion of your midsection. And finally, after the last AAAA Auto Service ad was laid down, you’d take the commute in reverse, back to your semi-slice of heaven.
Key in the door.
Yes, if you did that, you’d be deep, deep inside the brain of Steve Janson.
Once you turned that key and opened that door, though, you could try Steve’s heart. Because, like usual, you’d see Sally Janson sitting at your little dinner table. She would be sipping a diet iced tea and battling an iPad Sudoku in her pale green scrubs, but as you crossed the threshold she’d get up to meet you in your home’s tiny entryway. She would have had one hell of a day – hauling the kicking person inside her was enough for any woman in this late-summer heat, but she, god bless her, would have found the time to hit Target, grab another carful of unidentified baby gear for you to assemble, and then, as her feet swelled, would have got groceries and done the dishes. And still, when you arrived, she’d rock herself up, walk over and give that kiss. You’d kiss her back and ask, “How was your day?”, smell the clean of her sandy brown hair and, lately, feel the growing bulge of her six-month belly as she pressed against you. Then you’d gulp down the night’s meal together before it was time for her night shift as a paediatrics nurse at Metroburgh West General. You’d give her another good, solid kiss goodbye, not just lips this time, and she would head out the door.
If you took in those 60 minutes, plus the off-nights together and holidays as they came, you’d get inside the heart of Steve Janson.
Then you’d be back on your own until 6:30 crashed down again.
But if you wanted to get into Steve’s lower intestine, gall bladder and fist-sized chunk of the liver, you’d need to be that bullet.
Steve Janson would have the idea – actually Sally Janson would have the idea, which she would repeat so often that it became Steve’s idea, as well – that he was going to be around for a long, long time, if not for himself then for her and your son or daughter. And so, to battle his days of inactivity broken by short bursts of glucose and cheese, Steve would have to exercise.
That early-August Friday at 9:16 p.m., Steve would slam his home’s ill-fitting front door and perform a quick succession of knee bends and hamstring stretches. He would feel fresh, strong – he liked the idea, if not the practice, of late-night summertime runs – so he would take the three porch stairs in one leap, tune into Songza and take the first, too-fast strides of the evening. “The Sign” would blast through the headphones; Sally had left the playlist set on “Early ‘90s Bubblegum”. He would stop, scroll quickly to something more masculine before his ears were hooked, but by the time he found “Jock Anthems”, Ace of Base would have taken over. He’d head down the block to “Life is demanding/without understanding.”
After the first four dozen power strides, Steve’s body would, per usual, start to despise him, a hatred that only grew for the first 10 minutes of each work-out. One of two things always happened after he warmed up: Either he would be ready to push, and his legs would kick, his heart would settle into its familiar pace and the world would float by; or he would not, at which point a pallid film would form across his forehead, his legs would sputter, and he would use the emergency $5 in his pocket to hunt for snacks.
No matter how brilliant he felt at the start, option two was the almost guaranteed winner on Friday nights, leaving him searching for something salty at the local Sav-N-Lo.
That would be the scenario tonight. He would walk through automatic sliding doors, and the sweat he’d worked up would evaporate as the heat was replaced by perfume-laced mid-sized-box air. Steve would walk down Aisle 4, Oral Care and Shaving Supplies, until he reached the pharmacist’s counter at the back. He’d turn right, passing a thick-bearded man with an ER’s worth of home medical supplies crammed into his shopping cart. He’d arrive at the snack aisle, pause in front of the Doritos, trying to decide between Cool Ranch and Zesty Cheese.
That is all he’d have to do.
And hollow-point you? You’d have to coil silently in a handgun, tucked inside a windbreaker pocket, hung on the frame of a more drunk than angry young man riding shotgun in a Black 2001 Honda Accord pulling into the Sav-N-Lo parking lot. You and your gun would sit cozy as your owner and his two associates hopped from the car, threw black balaclavas over their heads and strutted through those sliding doors. Then you’d be running and, as you approached the check-outs, you’d be thrust toward the ceiling, shining in the fluorescent light as your owner yelled:
“This is a robbery! Everybody be cool, nobody gets hurt.”
Back at the chips, Steve would freeze, and slow-motion-drop the fiery orange package he’d selected. He’d think, “What the hell am I supposed to do in this situation?”
“Empty your fuckin’ registers, gimme your fuckin’ wallets and purses, ahright? Quick-Quick-QUICK!” your owner’s friend Jack would yell, pulling out canvas bags and tossing them on the treadmills of the two storefront checkouts. “Get with the fuckin’ program!” The panicked clutch of customers nearby, and the two dowdy checkout ladies in their pale blue Sav-N-Lo pinnies, would start to comply.
Then some woman, a decade past middle age, with large round bifocals and shining burgundy hair, the one clutching an InStyle, would not get with the fuckin’ program. She would defiantly refuse to release her floral-print handbag. There were pictures of loved ones in there. They weren’t going anywhere.
So Jack – and his temper – would whip out a pistol and get involved.
“I said give me your purse, bitch. Your purse,” he’d yell.
“No, please, no, please. My grandkids … ”
“Give me your fuckin’ ” and his pistol would make solid, fleshy contact with her skull. “I said give me your purse, bitch.” Jack would laugh, stoop over her unconscious body, grab the handbag, toss it in his sack.
As the woman lay on the floor, your owner would aim you down for a second. The plan was, as had been discussed at length during the drive here, that the guns were for show. Taking out old ladies was not part of the plan. But your owner couldn’t argue niceties when the shit was going down.
Burgundy Hair’s friend Henrietta would start to scream, looking at the small pool of blood, but – “Shut the fuck up!” – her screams would turn to panicked whimpers. “Anybody else get any ideas, this is what we got for y’all. Now give us our money!”
The loot bags would fill up, from the tills and the pockets of those standing nearby. And then you and your gun would wave at the onlookers, make sure no one got close as your owner and his other accomplice, the non-angry one who was high as hell and just there for the laughs, backed toward the exit. But that pistolwhipping would have riled Jack up. He would be an aisle into the store now, well within sight of the still-frozen Steve, yelling and demanding more money.
And Jack would have the car keys.
“What the fuck you lookin’ at, old dude?” he would yell at the homeless man. Jack would smash the shopping cart over, sending gauze, syringes, ibuprofen everywhere; a roll of medical tape would scoot past Steve’s running shoes. “I said what. The fuck. You lookin’ at. Old dude.”
The homeless man would stand straighter, taller, and calmly ask, “What are you doing?”
“What did you say, motherfucker?”
“I said what are you doing? Coming in here, terrorizing people? Do you know how violence ends, my good man? Do you? Because it doesn’t end well.” Then the old man would grab a clutch of bills from inside his jacket pocket, toss them at Lou. “There, sir, is your money.”
Jack would stand speechless for a half-second. He’d flinch toward the old man with his gun, stop, move to pick up the scattered tens and twenties at his feet. But just as quickly his anger would trump his greed, and he’d slam the butt of his gun into the side of another head. “Fuck you,” he’d yell, as blood splayed off the temple of the old man, who crumpled to his knees. “Fuck you.” And the robber would raise his pistol for one last smack.
But before he would connect
Steve would bolt. If you asked him later, he wouldn’t be able to tell you why, exactly, against three armed men. But he sprinted to his right, in an impossible attempt to save a life.
And this is where you would shoot into action.
Your owner would have almost backed out the front door by now, on his way to freedom, hoping his damn accomplice inside would be out in the 60 seconds left before the police likely arrived. But then he would see some guy, 5’10” or so, black hair and running gear that only drew attention to his small mound of belly, bursting toward your associate. And your trigger would be pulled.
Crack.
And you’d be flying through the air, spinning at a speed imperceptible to the jaw-dropped cashiers. You’d shoot past the magazine covers (People had “Teen Moms of Denver star shares exclusive baby pics”; the Star went with “Darren left me: Teen Mom Post-Partum Heartache”); past the Archie Double Digests; past the salted and unsalted nuts; you’d pass down the aisle, burst into the back of a package of Classic Lays, shatter through dozens of greasy chips, and at almost the same instant explode through the front of the yellow bag.
And then you’d be inside the lower intestine, gall bladder and a baseball-sized chunk of the liver of Steve Janson.
That’s how you’d do it.
And, as you lay there, torn to shrapnel, you’d hear “Oh fuck, oh fuck bro” and the sound of sneakers running, and the rev of the black Accord disappearing into the Metroburgh night.
Steve would grab his bleeding belly and, through the thick haze of shock, would rasp the words to nobody nearby: “Tell Sally I love her.” And he would start to feel the warmth of the death’s arrival.
Then the crazy old man would right his toppled cart, his smooth hands would hoist the fading Steve Janson into its basket, and the two of them, and you, would sprint into the darkness of the Sav-N-Lo Mart parking lot.
XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
Gasp.
As the squeal of tires and the flash of headlights shoved him back into consciousness, Steve bolted upright.
Gasp.
GASP.
He grabbed for his shredded belly, to stanch the deadly flow of blood, to reach in, search for the bullet, dig it out. But he couldn't free his hands; they were pinned to his body, tightly wound in something. He couldn’t tell.
As his mind battled to make sense of the situation, his eyes struggled into focus. Everything was black, save one piercing white light overhead. Its glow flipped left to right as Steve rocked in a bid to free his arms and stop the life from pouring from his gunshot wound.
In the kind of few seconds that seem like forever, he worked both arms free and shot his hands to the bullet hole just above his navel. His fingers prepared to grope intestine and organ; instead, they hit skin. Soft, nacho-fed, lightly haired skin. His digits looked for that fatal gap that must be somewhere … there … on his torso … up … left … right ... but found nothing unusual except for a thin, inch-long cut just below his bottom left rib.
He was certain he had just been shot. Or fairly sure, though he now lacked evidence. Maybe that was just something that had entered his heat-stroked brain after too many wind sprints … no. He didn’t do those anymore. And he was bound, by something, left in the dark. If that much had happened, he had likely been shot. Probably. He concluded that, if he didn't want to get probably shot or bound again, he'd need to get out of here.
He GASPed another big hit of air – the oxygen blended with sinus-pinching taste of anaesthetic and a rusty hint of blood, making him nauseous even as it cleared his brain. He gasped again – each one tasted better – and looked at that light. Its glow turned from formless orb to floating ball to the familiar form of Metroburgh municipal streetlight. Steve followed its pole to the ground – his stare caught onto a string of decorative porch lights as they disappeared down a street in the background – and to the black ground below.
So there was a streetlight here, he thought. What else? His eyes couldn't make that out yet, and his legs didn't have the strength to explore.
So instead, his eyes teamed with his fingers to determine the identity of the restraint: A simple cotton sheet, soft, warming but industrially rough, like you’d find on a low-rent hospital bed, light yellow with pink and white stripes across the top. It had been swaddled around his torso and upper legs; it still bound his calves tight. It felt fresh, clean, except for the part that had once been around his belly but now drooped to the side. That was crusted with something dark, like a giant scab. Blood? His fingernails scraped; he brought a sample up to his nose. Yes, blood. Dried. A lot. Steve's brain panicked again and his hand shot back to his belly; no, still just soft pink flesh and tiny cut.
And then Steve’s brain provided a fresh reason for concern - why was his hand hitting skin? Why not the sweat-wicking runwear Sally bought him last birthday? He looked quickly down, making his head swim again; once he recovered, he got an eyeful of his full, naked self, upper thigh straight on up. He grabbed the folds of blanket off the bench and covered his shame.
So now his panic had a thick overlay of creepy. Steve’s mind shot back through the last few items in his memory. Running. Snack food. Yelling. Gunshot. No “getting naked” on the list. Dear god, what had he, or somebody, done in the interim, he wondered.
As he wrapped the blanket folds around him, ensuring all important bits were covered, Steve forced himself to concentrate. He was shot. Or not. But most likely. Just not wounded. But wrapped. In something bloody. And he was naked. Where? Horizontal brown boards. A bench a park most likely. He looked to the horizon again and objects finally started to clarify ... the sturdy steel A of a swingset... a couple of baby swings hanging down ... a big red corkscrew slide ... by his bare feet, which he now determined were sitting on sand, a broken pink Fisher-Price play kitchen, stacked high with filthy toy pots and pans, buckets and shovels ... a worn yellow Tonka truck … a couple of Frisbees that had been converted into digging devices.
Steve knew this spot. Bryan W. McCain, Sr. Urban Play Parkette, tucked away two blocks from his semi. He was close to home. Thank god. Still, he was in a playground. At night. Naked. Except, of course, for a blanket covered in dry blood.
“C’mon, give me another pull, asshole.”
“Calm down, man … … … alright, here you go.”
“Ah, that’s the shit. Got this from some hopped-up Moldovan dude downtown, bro.”
Steve jumped to his feet, momentarily dropping his blanket. The mumbled conversation of two hoodied just-past-teens hit his ears; it sounded as though they were right next to him. He swung his stuttering gaze 360 degrees, until he spotted them approaching; they were still a good quarter-block away, though, passing under the last streetlight before the parkette. Their smoke wafted up, hung in the humidity.
Steve made himself an impromptu diaper, bunching the blanket around his groin, and darted for the hedge at the parkette’s south end. He crouched between its evergreen prickles and the seven-foot security fence behind, tied the blanket in place. Then he crouched further, into a ball, and waited.
Lucas Stumph, just off his shift at GasMart, and his cousin Nick DeBergh, not currently working nor interested in the concept, slouched into the parkette and dropped onto the bench Steve had occupied just seconds ago. They enjoyed a nice, long joint and the inane conversation that it brought – cars they’d never drive, lingerie models they'd never screw. After five minutes, Nick, his 259 pounds living on the border between husky and obese, was taking one long last pull when something caught his eye.
The park light glimmered off a big, light yellow form behind the bushes.
Nick nudged Lucas, whose sallow cheeks and sunken eyes gave an outpatient impression, nearly knocking him onto the ground. “Bro,” he said, pointing, “What is that?”
“What?”
“Behind the bushes, bro.” Nick got up, pulled down the bottom of his Area 51 t-shirt so his belly was covered. “Check it out. Looks like ... a dude in a diaper!”
“Oh fuck, yeah,” Lucas said, laughing a deep, ganja-laced laugh. “Hey Diaper Dude!” he called. “What’s in the bushes?”
Steve could now see he was hardly hidden. He was cornered, though; the two men stood between him and the parkette’s gate, and as they strolled toward him his escape route was slowly, stumblingly cut off.
“Hey, Diaper Dude!” Nick called, delighted at his discovery. “What you doin’ in there, man?”
“Yeah, uh, hey guys,” Steve responded with an understated wave. “How’s it going?”
“Hey.” Lucas was curious. “Are you one of those dudes who dresses up like a baby and have some chick change your diaper?”
“Yeah, you a perv?”
“Hey, it’s nothing like that —”
But Lucas’s face turned angry. “Yeah, what the fuck, bro. Doesn’t your niece play at this park?”
The two not-quite-teens now walked more quickly toward Steve’s failed hideout. "Yeah, fuck, dude, Brytney plays here all the time. Hey, get the fuck out here, pervy Diaper Dude!” Nick demanded.
Steve stood, put his hands out to the side in a plea. “Look guys, I –” But there was no point in trying to reason. Lucas ran the last 10 steps left between himself and Steve, pulling out a small pocket knife as he did and saying, “Let's fuck this dude up.”
Steve was out of options; couldn’t reason, couldn’t run, couldn’t do much damage against a loser with knife. But in the last millisecond before his torso took its second blow of the night, an electric surge shot through Steve’s legs, while another hit his brain. And he jumped, up, back and, with unknown energy exploding from his quads, he cleared the fence behind him with room to spare, just as the knife sliced the space where he had stood a half-second before.
Steve came down in the ankle-deep sod of the unkempt backyard behind the fence and, in disbelief, stared Lucas in the eye, this time with the safety of a seven-foot sheet of metal diamonds between them. “What the fuck?” Lucas said.
And just as fast as he’d cleared the fence, Steve came to his senses, turned, ran. He needed to get home, back to safety, he couldn’t take the streets and risk the neighbours spotting him. But with this bizarre new strength coursing through his legs, apparently allowing him to clear fences in single leaps, he could take the back route. So he sprinted across the first, dark, 24-foot-wide back yard and hurdled with ease over the five-foot privacy fence at the other side. Stuck the landing. Good, he thought, now there were two fences between himself and the stoners. He could take time to gather his thoughts. Until the motion-sensor light snapped on and the Chihuahua in the rear window began a piercing yip.
Steve hurled himself over the next fence, again with ease, but this time crashed down on an above-ground pool; the sound of his body hitting the water was loud enough, but coupled with the clatter of the now-collapsing structure, and the whoosh as gallons of water poured into the yard, it was enough to stir more neighbours. Backyard lights flicked on almost instantly up and down the block; any second now, annoyed homeowners would come out with their dogs or cats or baseball bats.
As Steve cut through the rushing water, he realized he just needed to cross one more yard and he would hit the back alley that dissected his block, leading straight to his backyard. As the demolished-pool owner slid his screen door open, Steve cleared another fence. And again he stuck the landing, onto an upturned rake.
“Hey!” yelled the pool owner as Steve disappeared.
“What?” yelled the owner of the final yard, who was sitting on his candlelit deck, enjoying a glass of chilled Cabernet with his wife’s best friend.
“Ahh!” yelled the wife’s best friend.
And “Damn it,” yelled Steve as two rake prongs shot into his bare right foot. He leapt over the last fence with such force that he topped it with five feet to spare, and, with the alley on the other side being blessedly empty, he turned right, toward home, and broke into sprint, a dead sprint, faster than he'd ever sprinted before. Then it occurred to him that his bleeding right foot would leave a track leading to his own backyard. So he broke into a hop, a dead hop, faster than he'd ever hopped before, to the safety of his own gate.
As he arrived at the back of his house, Steve realized his key was exactly wherever his running clothes now resided. So he picked up a fist-sized rock from Sally's decorative garden and, as quietly as possible, punched it through a glass pane on his door. He reached through the resulting hole, slicing the side of his hand in the process, and turned the knob from the inside. Then he pushed the door open and allowed himself the sweet, agony-filled relief of a collapse on his kitchen’s cold tile floor. He lay there for 10 minutes at least, panting and seething with the sharp pains in his foot and hand, and flinching, convinced he’d be caught, as he heard a smatter of neighbours searching the alleyway.
But they never came knocking. And so, when his will returned, Steve sat up to survey his damaged body, slid over to the cupboards and pulled out tea towels, wrapping them around his wounds. After a minute or two of applying pressure, he staggered to his feet and, leaning on the faux-marble countertop, tried to think of what he could possibly do next. As he looked around the room, trying to settle on a course of action, he noticed the voicemail light flashing on the kitchen phone; he grabbed the cordless receiver, thinking maybe an answer resided there, in the receiver.
The robot voice told him he had four. Unheard. Messages.
#1 was Sally. “Hey, hon. Just heard from downstairs that some guy was shot at the Sav-N-Lo. I know you were being a good boy and running, but give me a call back at the desk, okay?”
#2 was Sally, a touch more panicked. “Hon, just thought I'd hear back from you by now. Guess you’ve gone for a long one. Good for you. Call back, okay?”
#3 was Sally, really scared. “Steve, please call, okay? Someone just said they heard some runner might have got hurt, but they didn’t bring anyone in. Why don’t you take your stupid phone with you? Call me right now, okay?”
#4 was Sally, on the edge of tears, five minutes ago. “Steve, I'm really scared, okay? I was asking around now, no-one knows anything ... call me, okay? C-” Steve deleted the last message before it played out and dialled the maternity ward.
He stood, the rumpled sheet half-clinging to his waistline, and stared at the wreck of himself in the mirror above the kitchen sink. As the rings progressed, so did this thought process – from “Poor Sally” to “Maybe she'll know someone who can help me” to “What am I going to tell her? That I woke up naked in a park and just ran through our neighbours’ yards?”
“Metroburgh West Maternity.” A too-familiar nurse spoke on the other end of the line.
“Could I speak to Sally Janson, please.”
“Steve?”
“Yes, hi Martina.”
“Oh, thank god. Sally’s worried sick,” his wife’s best work friend replied with her usual agitation. “She was just heading home to check on you, I'll see if I can catch her.” The line clicked, then filled with Latin-tinged classical guitar.
Steve waited, watching his reflection as the flamenco magic filled his right ear, and discovered the line he had felt on his abdomen just minutes ago was gone.
“Honey! Steve, is that you?”
“Yes, hon-” and he noted, just above the non-cutline, a scrap of paper, safetypinned to the top of the blanket near the top of his left thigh, something he’d missed in the madness of the night.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine –” on the paper, the hand-scrawled message read “Call me. 701-565-7232.” 701 ... North Dakota.
Sally buzzed in the background. “Oh, I was so worried. Where were you?” she accused with just-relieved terror. “I called and called. The police said that some runner had been shot, and you never answered the phone, and I …”
North Dakota. A disappearing wound. Naked in a park, a children’s park, with him blacked out and maybe eyewitnesses, to something or anything …
“… but they never found anyone, and I thought maybe you’d just crawled off somewhere, and …” sobs.
Steve wasn’t a lying man, at least not with the people that counted. Once the lies started in a relationship, they never stopped, he’d learned from a rather nasty college girlfriend. But there wasn’t another choice right now. He just needed a small one; he’d figure a way back to the truth later on.
Sob.
“Oh hon, I'm sorry. I am so sorry. I just bailed on the run and crashed upstairs. I must have slept through all your calls. Really, are you okay?”
“Yes,” she said in a smaller voice now. “Don’t ever do that again. Okay? You sleep with a phone on the pillow.”
“I promise.”
“Oh god, I’m so embarrassed,” she said, wiping a mix of tears and eyeliner from her cheek with the back of her hand.
“Don’t be, hon. Do you need me to come over? Get you a decaf?”
“No, no. Really, don't come down here. I just need to get back to work. Be up when I get home, okay?”
“You got it. Love you.”
“Love you, too. And keep that phone on your pillow. Asshole.” Vulgarity meant the fear was gone.
“And pancakes for when you get home.”
They hung up.
“How you doin’, honey?” Martina asked.
“Fine, really,” Sally replied, grabbing a tissue from the nursing station. “I feel so silly.”
“Don’t, Sal. He needs to grow up and treat you right.”
“Oh, he’s just a man,” Sally replied. She let out a sigh and forced herself to her feet, headed out for a night of towelling down birthing mothers and soothing birthing fathers.
And Steve looked back at himself. God, he would need a better story by the end of Sally’s shift. First, he’d have to explain the wounds ... speaking of which, the pain was gone now, all praise endorphins. He unwrapped the tea towel from his hand – not only was the pain gone, the gash was, too. He unwrapped the towel from his foot. No rake holes, either.
His shot, skewered, sliced body was fine. Not just fine. Perfect. He glanced around the kitchen to make sure the wounds had been real, that this wasn’t just a hallucination formed by the leftover vapours of whatever had left him unconscious. But there were still the bloody towels, the bloody sheet, the broken window. Those were real. And, if he was going to keep Sally from asking any more questions, he would have to dispose of them.
But before the sweaty, blood-crusted blanket was trashbagged, he unpinned the note, walked the strange message upstairs, slipped into his pyjamas, and tucked it amidst the nail clippers and spare change and unread novels in his bedside table.
And he pulled it out for one last look. 701. North Dakota. Add that to the top of the night’s pile of what-the-hells.



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About The Author
  
Douglas Cudmore


Doug Cudmore is a veteran journalist who has worked in business, entertainment, and urban affairs and crime. He is also a long-time comic-book lover. You can visit his web site at www.dougcudmore.com   


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