September Reads

                September was a tough month. Being back at work and being a new mom took its toll and I was just exhausted. I found myself laying on the couch binge watching television more than anything else. And this is something I almost never do. I was just so damn tired. However, I did manage to read four books in the end. Even if one was a book of poems and one was a novella… It’s still four titles in all. I didn’t get to finish my book about the business of writing this time, but I can give myself a pass if that’s the only thing I didn’t get to this month. I can try to strive to be better next month.

If You’re Not Here, Please Raise Your Hand by Kalli Dakos and G. Brian Karas

                This was a cute little book of poems. I’ve read it before, in junior high, I think. I revisited it now because my stepson just started first grade. I wanted to share the poems with him.

                The poems are, of course, very simple since they’re meant for elementary school children. But that doesn’t make them any less enjoyable. I appreciate the simplicity because it allowed me to show a six-year-old that there is poetry he can understand and like.

                It was a quick read for his first week of school and I think it helped him get over the end of summer break sadness.

Summer Frost by Blake Crouch

                I have mixed feelings about this story. Overall, I liked it and enjoyed reading it. But the main character being a lesbian and the gender discussion with the AI felt like they were forced in to be more relevant or appealing to a wider audience. I did come to care for Riley and felt her pain when her partner left with their child. But there were also times when I wanted to smack some sense into her.

                This story was very fast paced. The actual book was short, but it spanned over years. My only complaint about this was that it wasn’t always clear how much time had gone by until you were a paragraph or two into the scene.

                I loved the development of Riley and Max throughout. Max comes so far as an AI that they could be mistaken for a human – a scary thought. And Riley just fell further and further down the rabbit hole until she gave up everything just to lose what she thought she was gaining.

                The shocking twist at the end really got me. I would really be interested to know what happened next.

The Gravediggers Daughter by Joyce Carol Oats

                Wow. This book had a lot going on. I originally bought it as a recommended study on character development. And I was not disappointed. So many crazy events filled Rebecca’s life that I don’t know how anyone could remain strong throughout it all. From the deaths of her parents to the abusive first husband, it was enough to make the best of us lose our minds.

                It took me three tries to really get into this book. Not because it was boring, but it just started a little slow. But I was determined to get to the meat of the story. And it really paid off. Especially when I got to the end and I realized the significance of the beginning.

                This wasn’t an easy read, but I do feel like it was worth the struggle. Rebecca led an amazing life and she raised a great son. Sometimes amazing in a horrible way, of course, but she always found her way through. She knew life was worth living every day.

                The ending dragged a little, like the beginning, but I appreciated the loose ends all being tied up. I do feel like I learned something from my efforts and would encourage other writers to give the book a shot to see if they come out a little wiser.

Q.W.E.R.T.Y by Barbara Avon

                This book gave me a lot of feelings. The loss of a spouse, in such a violent way, is just something that no one thinks will happen to them. It’s so horrible to even think about. Luke expresses his grief over and over because there is no perfect time line for healing. And the ending tore me apart.

                I loved the story. It was so poetic, and haunting, and dark. At times it could be a little wordy, but it only painted a better picture, I think. You were really able to see and feel what was going on. However, there were one or two descriptions that may have overdone it or were too unrealistic. Nothing major, though.

                We travel through space and time with Luke as he comes to terms with what he must do. With his magic typewriter, he’s given the chance to fix things. But he has to understand that what will make it better won’t necessarily make him happy. He struggles with reality at times, but in the end he does the right thing.

                It was a beautiful tale of sorrow.

                Next month I’m hoping to stay more on track with my work. I really need to make a trip to the bookstore to pick up things off my reading list. I don’t want to get behind. However, I just received word that my friend has bought me a copy of Dune! Because, in his words, “everyone should have one.” I can’t wait to read it. I also decided to sign up for audible. Because between the commute to work and working out at the gym, listening to books may be just the thing I need to stay productive.

                Let me know what you’ve been reading. Are there any great new things in the world of books I should look into?

Ghost Story #2

                The building was old, that much was clear. The front lobby might have been redone to give the impression it was still a strong structure, but the bones were deteriorating. The old gym, attached to the back, hadn’t been worked on in over fifty years. There were holes in the bleachers, the old-fashioned lights barely lit up the room, and there was a smell of rot and decay in the locker room. What might not have been clear from all of this, was how many people had died here.

                Junior high wasn’t a pleasant time for most people. It was worse for some more than others. And it was worst for the ones that lost their life in the girls’ locker room of the old gym.

                The first was a young lady by the name of Emma, in 1868, only two years after the school was built. She was found hanging by her neck in the showers. Emma’s friend Mary told authorities that she’d last seen her in the cafeteria. A particularly nasty girl named Margaret had been picking on her. It later came to light that Margaret had bullied Emma since the beginning of the school year.

                In 1883, another girl was found hanging in the shower. Alice had never been bullied. In fact, it later was overheard that some were happy to see her go; that they would no longer be ‘terrorized’ by her.

                The next happened in 1905. And again in 1926. After Carol was found in 1947, the school boarded up the showers to keep it from happening again.

                It’s the year 1993 and Sarah is crying in the corner of the locker room. Her mangled glasses are clutched in her hand as blood dripped from her nose. Anna had shoved her into a wall again, a little harder this time. Then she’d tripped her and stepped on her glasses. She couldn’t take it anymore.

                The door slammed open and Anna walked in, hands on her hips.

                “I found her, Coach Lemon!” she said over her shoulder. “What are you doing in here, crybaby? Skipping class, crybaby?”

                “Leave me alone,” Sarah mumbled and turned away.

                “Aww, poor thing’s upset? I thought you’d be happy to be rid of those stupid, geeky glasses. I was doing you a favor, four-eyes. No one wants to be friend with a nerd.”

                “I said, leave me alone!” Sarah jumped to her feet and ran from the room.

                “Psh. Crybaby.” Anna went over to the mirrors to fluff her hair.

                The lights went out.

                “Hey! Who did that?”

                A crash and a slam and then the lights were back on. Every locker hung open, one door still swinging on its hinges. But there was no one in the room.

                “Who’s there?” Anna said, her voice shook as she lost a bit of her bite.

                The lights went out again.

                Out in the gym, the rest of the class heard a scream. They ran as one to the locker room, Coach Lemon getting there first. There was nothing to see, but a persistent thud could be heard from inside the boarded-up showers.

                By the time someone came to tear down the boards, Anna was dead, hanging in the shower. The word ‘bully’ was written across her forehead in lipstick.

Experiment TCA-276 (pt 7)

                Morgan allowed herself to cry over Rita for only a minute. She had to get to work if she didn’t want to end up just like her.

                First, she dug around the room for anything that could be a weapon. She didn’t find much. Only a steak knife and a set of crutches. Not sure why there were crutches in the break room in the first place, she took a few practice swings with one. They’d do a little damage, as long as her assailant wasn’t carrying a gun.

                Second, she found the emergency exit. Large filing boxes were stacked in front of it; it was no wonder she’d never realized it was here. Screams and gunshots sounded from out in the hall, lighting a fire under her to get the door cleared. She would wait as long as she could for Dale, but if she needed to make a run for it, she would.

                There was a thud as something ran into her barricaded door. Morgan jumped, grabbing the crutch. Another thud and the door rattled. A growl and a snarl made her break out in a cold sweat and grip her weapon tighter.

                More gunshots. But they were outside now. Was Dale here? Or had the zombies escaped?

                Louder growls and more nudges set Morgan into panic mode. Which way should she run? Was she safe either way?

                Before she had a chance to make up her mind, there was knock on the emergency exit door.

                “Morgan? You in there?”

                She swung the door open and fell into Dale’s arms.

                “Oh, thank god!”

                “Come on, we need to get away from the building. I started a fire.” Dale pulled on her arm and half dragged her across the parking lot after kicking the door closed behind her.

                “Why a fire?”

                “To kill the monsters. They can’t be let out of there.”

                “What about the men?”

                “They’re better off dead too. I doubt any will make it out of there. I took care of the ones out here. If anything comes out of that building, I’ll shoot it.”

                Dale helped Morgan climb into the bed of his truck and then took up a guard position to watch the morgue. The fire was taking over the whole building now, flames and smoke billowing up into the sky.

                “I started it in the loading bay to block their exit.”

                “I just don’t understand what’s happening…” Morgan was crying again. Now that she wasn’t trapped and alone, she didn’t feel the need to be strong.

                “Well, I managed a few answers out of one of the men I shot… It seems they found out about this, uh, side effect of some drug trials being done at the hospital in the city. They tracked the bodies here. They wanted to set them loose in big cities. He called it population control.”

                “You can’t be serious. Someone knew that was going to happen to the cadavers and they sent them to us anyway?”

                Dale shrugged. “That’s all he told me. Maybe the doctors didn’t know. Maybe only one person knew and leaked it.”

                Two shadows peeled away from the building and took off across the lot. Dale took aim and fired, but he missed. They disappeared into the trees.

                “Damn. The smoke’s making it hard to see.”

                “Were they zombies?”

                “No, they would have come at us after they heard the shots. Plus, they moved too fast. They must have found a way out without getting attacked by the monsters.”

                “Now what?”

                Flashing red lights were coming their way now. Someone must have gotten ahold of the fire department.

                “Now… we get you home. Come on.”

Experiment TCA-276 (pt 6)

                “What’s that noise?” Rita asked as Morgan re-entered the office.

                “They’re, uh, they’re cutting at the loading dock door. Sounds like a power saw.”

                “They’re going to get in?” Rita tried to move but then clutched at her leg again.

                “Probably, yes. But I called for help.”

                “The police? But I thought –“

                “No, my neighbor.”

                “What’s he gonna do?”

                “He’ll get us out of here.”

                Before Rita could ask anything else, there was a loud crash as metal made sudden contact with the ground.

                “They’re in.” Morgan leaned her back against the door.

                “They’re going to kill us!”

                “Maybe. I don’t think they’re here for us.”

                “The cadavers?”

                “Yes. Whatever that drug trial was… Whatever it did to them… That’s what they want. I’d bet my life on it.”

                There was shouting in the hallway now. Morgan put a finger up to her lips and pressed her ear against the door to try and hear what was being said.

                “Help me with this!”

                “Get the ropes ready!”

                “Everyone get set!”

                Thuds echoed down the hall, Morgan assumed from the filing cabinets being pushed out of the way.

                “On the count of three!”

                “They’re about to let them loose,” Morgan whispered.

                “We need to move!”

                “What?”

                “To the breakroom. There’s a fire exit, at the back of the pantry. It’s also around a corner. We can hide there ‘til your friend comes.”

                “You never mentioned the fire exit before –“

                “Help me up.”

                “Three!”

                Morgan swallowed her objections and hoisted Rita out of the chair, taking on most of her weight. They cracked the office door and peaked out. There was an undulating mass of bodies down at the end of the hall in front of the OR. The men were wrestling against the reanimated bodies, attempting to subdue them. The cadavers were proving to be quite strong.

                “Quick, while they’re busy.” Rita nudged Morgan forward.

                They took off in the opposite direction at as fast a pace as Rita’s injury would allow. Rita was gasping and whimpering with each step, but she refused to slow down. They were turning the corner, the breakroom doors in sight, when Rita slipped from Morgan’s arms. Morgan spun around and stifled a shriek.

                A corpse was pawing at Rita, crawling up her body, jaws snapping, drool and blood dripping from his lips. Rita attempted to push him away, but it was no good. He bit her hand, tearing a chunk of skin away as she swiped at his face. Then he clamped down on her arm, pulling skin and muscle away from the bone. Rita screamed, but he didn’t stop there. He continued until his face was even with hers and took a bite out of her cheek.

                Morgan was rooted to the spot, mouth hanging open. Then one of the black-masked men rounded the corner and shot the body on top of Rita. The bullet passed through the zombie’s back and into Rita’s chest. They both quit fighting and lay limp on the floor.

                The noise startled Morgan out of her trance. She took another step back, eyeing the man’s gun as he raised it towards her face. But before he could pull the trigger, another zombie crawled around the corner and took him down at the knees.

                “Fuck!” the man yelled, but Morgan took the opportunity to sprint the rest of the way to the breakroom and didn’t see what happened next. There were two gunshots, but the man was already yelling in pain. She didn’t look back.

                She locked the door behind her and began shoving all the furniture across the room to block the door. Once she’d moved everything she could manage alone, she collapsed against the opposite wall and pulled out her phone.

                “I’m two minutes away,” Dale said when he picked up.

                “Zombies,” Morgan sobbed out the word.

                “What?”

                “There’s zombies. In the morgue. They got Rita.”

                Dale didn’t respond right away. Morgan tried to catch her breath as he decided whether or not to believe her.

                “Are you safe?” He said at last.

                “For now.”

                “Hang tight. Find a weapon.”

Experiment TCA-276 (pt5)

                Morgan paced the office, biting a fingernail. Rita was pale and sweaty, taking shallow breaths, but her eyes followed Morgan back and forth. Morgan had spent a minute crying after she realized the police weren’t going to come to their rescue, but she’d snapped out of it when she heard the pounding on the other side of the stairway door. Now she needed to make a plan, there wasn’t time to be hysterical.

                The pounding stopped and Morgan looked up.

                “What are they going to do now?” Rita asked.

                “Probably going to look for another way in.” Morgan stared at the ceiling. “Is there another door?”

                “Just the loading dock,” Rita said.

                “I’m gonna go check it out. See if it can be reinforced.”

                Rita nodded. Morgan grabbed her hammer and cell phone and went out to the hall. As she passed the operating room, there were several loud crashes. She hesitated next to the door, looking back and forth between the office and the loading area down the hall. Loud groans and snarls started up on the other side of the door. It could only mean one thing.

                Morgan sped-walked back to the office.

                “More of the bodies have escaped the cold lockers.”

                “How is that possible?” Rita’s eyes filled with tears, but Morgan wasn’t sure if it was from the news or from her sudden movement.

                “I don’t know. But I think I should barricade the door. If they can get the lockers open…it’s only a matter of time before they get out here.”

                “Right…” Rita’s eyes scanned the room. “Can you move the filing cabinets? This desk is probably too heavy for one person… Or there’s a couch in the breakroom…”

                “I’ll try.” Morgan grabbed the nearest filing cabinet, tilting it on its side and started to drag it down the hall.

                It was slow progress, but she eventually had the three filing cabinets blocking the door to the OR. She needed to go check the loading dock before she did anything else. She’d go back for the couch later.

                Morgan ran down the hall, already able to hear voices on the other side of the roll down door. Locks were secured on the chains, so it wouldn’t move easily, but it wasn’t going to keep them out forever. Morgan needed help.

                Her eyes fell on a toolbox in the corner and she had an idea. She fished her phone out of her pocket and dialed her neighbor’s number.

                “Hello?” Dale’s voice was thick and scratchy with sleep.

                “Dale? It’s Morgan. I need your help.” Morgan retreated from the loading dock, not wanting the men outside to hear her.

                “What happened? Flat tire?” Dale cleared his throat, becoming more awake.

                “No, worse. Um…I really don’t know how to explain. There are bad men trying to break in to the morgue. They killed four police officers in the parking lot. No one is answering the phones at the police station when I call back…”

                “Where are you now?” He was fully alert now.

                “In the basement. We’ve blocked the doors, but I think they’re trying to break through the loading door now…”

                “I’m on my way.”

                “Be careful.”

Experiment TCA-276 (pt4)

                “I think they’re breaking in,” Morgan said, leaning out of the office door. “I think I heard glass breaking,”

                “Okay…” Rita’s jaw was clenched and she was sweating as she tried to keep her leg still. “There’s a security door that closes over the stairway… The key pad is on the wall… Type…3-4-6-7 and it will activate.”

                “Okay.” Morgan grabbed her hammer. “I’m going to get a cell phone too.”

                Rita didn’t answer as Morgan left the room. She dashed over to the stairs to setup the door first. She typed in the code and heard a click as the light over the door turned red. A metal panel slid out from the wall and covered the regular door. There was another satisfying click as it locked into place.

                Morgan waited. She couldn’t hear as much noise from upstairs now, but they would realize they couldn’t get down here soon enough. And then there would be an uproar. And then they would try something else…

                Morgan went towards the operating room, adjusting her grip on the hammer. Cracking the door open, she peaked inside. Robert Holt’s cadaver was on the other side of the room, head caved in. But he dragged himself across the floor in slow, jerky movements. At the sound of her arrival, his head snapped around so he could look at her with his remaining eye.

                He snarled. The knocking and growling resumed from the cold lockers as he started across the floor towards her.

                Morgan took a step into the room, one eye on her phone on the counter and the other monitoring Holt’s progress across the room. She snatched up the phone, swung at his head before he could get too close, and ran back to the hall. The door slammed behind her and she slid the lock home.

                Someone was pounding on the door from the stairs now. Morgan kept to the other side of the hall and tip-toed, not wanting to be heard. The men’s voices were loud enough to penetrate the metal sheet, but Morgan couldn’t make out the exact words. She was sure they were coming up with another plan.

                “Okay, I got a phone,” Morgan said as she stepped back into the office.

                “And the door?” Rita said through a gasp.

                “Closed it. They’re on the other side. I don’t know what they’ll do next.”

                “Call for help.”

                “Okay.”

                Morgan dialed 9-1-1 again and waited. The phone rang…and rang…and rang. After every fifth ring, an automated message played.

                “Your call is very important. All operators are busy. Please stay on the line for the next available operator to assist you.”

                But no one ever answered.

                “No one is there,” Morgan whispered as tears began to cloud her vision.

                “What?” Rita was pale and shaking, about to pass out.

                “No one is there…. The people from the trees… they must have gotten to them already…”

Experiment TCA-276 (pt 3)

                “Almost there.” Morgan grunted, hoisting Rita up into the office chair. Rita stifled a cry as her leg caught on the corner of the desk. Morgan grabbed a box and propped her foot up and tried to make her more comfortable.

                “Call the police,” Rita said through clenched teeth. “I need an ambulance. We need help.”

                “Right.” Morgan snatched up the desk phone and dialed 9-1-1. “What should I say? They’re going to think I’m crazy,” Morgan asked as it rang.

                “Uh-“ Rita gripped her thigh, her eyes squeezed shut. “A break in. We were attacked. We trapped them in a room for now.”

                “9-1-1, what’s your emergency?” an operator came on the line.

                “Uh, yeah, my name is Morgan Andrews. I’m at the city morgue. We’ve had a break in. They attacked us and my coworker needs an ambulance. We locked them in a room-“

                “How many?”

                Morgan glanced at Rita and mouthed the question to her, but Rita shrugged. She couldn’t say twenty-five, that would be too unbelievable.

                “Four men.”

                “Okay, units are on their way and we will send an ambulance. Stay calm and call back if anything else happens.”

                “Okay.” Morgan hung up. “Cops are coming and an ambulance. I’m going to go upstairs to wait for them. Are you alright for now?”

                “I’ll be fine.” Rita’s breath was coming in gasps, but she looked determined, so Morgan nodded and headed for the stairs.

                Morgan paced the lobby, watching out the front window. It wouldn’t be long; a town this size with nothing crazy ever happening, she wouldn’t be surprised if the entire force showed up.

                After only five minutes, two police cars pulled into the lot with their lights flashing. Two officers stepped out of each car and drew their guns. But just as they started to rush for the door, shots rang out and Morgan jumped.

                All four officers crumpled to the ground, blood gushing from head wounds. Morgan screamed, but couldn’t look away. Emerging from the trees at the back side of the lot was a group of people dressed all in black. Their heads were covered with hoods and they each held a lethal looking gun in their hands.

                Morgan locked the door and ran back down the stairs, not waiting to see what they did next. She locked the door to the stairway behind her and rushed back to the office.

                “What is it?” Rita asked, eyes widening as Morgan tried to catch her breath. “What happened now?”

                “The cops,” Morgan gasped. “They’re dead. People from – the trees – shot them all.”

                “People from the trees?”

                “I don’t know. Hooded. All in black. Big guns.”

                “Okay, okay, breath.”

                Morgan tried to slow her breathing and grabbed the phone off the desk again to call for more help.

                “Oh no.” Morgan’s hand fell to her side. “The line is dead. Do you have your cell phone?”

                Rita patted at her pockets, grimacing when her leg shifted on the box. “No. It must be in the OR.”

                “Mine too…”