Legally Blind #2 – What the Heck is Wrong with Me?

I’m not particularly shy about talking about my eyesight and the problems I have because of it. But I very rarely ever go into the actual specifics of what’s gone on with my eyes unless people specifically ask. It’s one of those things I’ve lived with for so long that I tend to be oblivious when it comes to people’s curiosity. That I’m kind of oblivious about people in general anyways doesn’t help matters much.

My mom and dad tell this story about taking my brother and I to the airport when we were four and five or so, maybe a bit older. We were in the terminal and my parents pointed out the window. “Look, boys,” they said, “do you see the planes?” We nodded, really excited, but here’s the thing – we were looking at the wall.

That was my parents’ first clue something might possibly be wrong with our eyes.

There are a thousand more stories like that I’ll tell you throughout this blog, but that was the first big Magoo moment for both of us. Turned out we had severe astigmatism thanks to bad genetics and progressively worsening macular degeneration. You can look it up for a more specific medical definition, but for simplicity’s sake, let’s say it’s the retina’s slow breakdown.

Bunches of people suffer from macular degeneration. You could probably throw a rock right now and hit someone who suffers from it, knowingly or not. By the way, please don’t. This blog assumes no liabilities from your rock-throwing shenanigans.

We just happened to get hit with a whopping dose of it, and unfortunately for both of us, it grew progressively worse throughout the years. Surgery was never really an option. We saw a surgeon when we were teenagers, who referred us to another doctor in Tijuana (which probably should have been the first warning bell of our search for the cure). We didn’t even get to take in a donkey show before the other doctor told us, “oh hell no.” Well, in more doctory terms than that, but you get the point.

My brother’s vision started to settle a bit as an adult. He’s had a scare here and there, but thankfully, he’s stayed relatively stable and I kid you not, I thank God that it was me He jabbed with the Eye Poker of Doom. Ryan still drives. Ryan’s got a steady job where he can see the screen. Ryan regularly plays games without too much of a fuss. He might not always have those blessings but he does today, and that’s awesome.

My life kinda went a different route. Not a bad one, mind you – without what happened in my early twenties, I very much doubt I’d be wrapping up my fifth novel in just under a year.

When I was in my third year of college, I sat down to play a game of Literati with my mom. You know, the old Yahoo game back when Yahoo was still kind of relevant and doing awesome things instead of churning out other people’s articles in clickbait formats? Good times, right?

That was the last game of Literati I ever played.

I had this funny little niggling floater in my right eye. Now floaters, for those of you who haven’t seen them, are just little irregular splotches or lines of color that creep up in people’s eyes sometimes. It happens for a variety of reasons, but it usually signifies minor – very minor – things going on in the back of your eyes. When one of those floaters doesn’t go away, take my advice and GET YOUR ASS TO THE HOSPITAL NOW.

I didn’t. I waited until the next morning. The spot grew worse, obscuring most of the vision in my right eye. I tried to drive, but I quickly panicked and called upon some dear friends of mine to help haul my ass around the small college town I was living in. The optometrist there advised me, trying to avoid heaping too much panic in his voice, to go to a much bigger hospital an hour’s drive away. So my friend Adrianne drove me even further, and I saw a very nice specialist who became very cross that I hadn’t come in very much earlier, because as it turned out, I had a detached retina, and that’s the sort of thing you want treated yesterday.

Terrific.

Surgery happened like that. Thanks to the support of my hometown and the kindness of several very specific people behind the scenes, my mom was able to fly down immediately. I wanted to pick her up from the airport myself, but when I tried to drive, a small child ran out in front of a parked car a football field away. The kid was never in any sort of danger, but that feeling of the child just suddenly exploding into my sight made me pull over, sweat rolling down my face (and not from my giant ass running several miles, thank you), and cry. Yes. Cry. Like a baby. A goateed baby with magnificent hair and an exquisite taste in video games.

All jokes aside, that was probably one of the worst days of my life that didn’t involve anything horrible happening to people I love. I hate that day more than I hate what came afterwards, and what came afterwards was my private hell. But thankfully some very nice things happened before and during, so it all kind of balances out.

My friend C-Flo (and yes, that’s really his nickname) borrowed a truck from another friend named Tate (God, I miss you, Missouri, and your lovably crazy names), and we hauled ass to Kansas City to pick up my mom. Keep in mind, this wasn’t just a truck, but a freakin’ goliath of a beast, wildly, hilariously over-the-top with exhaust pipes coming up out of the truck bed like two erect steel dongs. It didn’t so much drive down the rode as tore ass. My mom, bless her soul, absolutely loved it. And C-Flo, too, for that matter.

We got back to my car, my mom took me to the same big hospital in Columbia, MO, one of my all-time favorite cities that I’ve visited, and there, I was promptly knocked out completely for most of a day. Not just knocked out, but put in a freakin’ coma, more or less. They had me on a breathing tube thing. When you’re not expecting that when you wake up, it’s not exactly the most pleasant “hey, how ya doin’?” I yakked. Not just a little, apparently, but my guts led a freaking revolution and I put on quite the show.

A while later, I came back to again. Here’s where I talk about the surgeries I had, and this is going to make some of you squeamish, so be warned.

With a detached retina, what the surgeon did essentially was wrap a rubber-band type thing around my eye to sort of shove it into a facsimile of the shape it should be in. But with the delicate structure of my eyes and the years and years of macular degeneration, there was a good chance the same thing would happen to me again, so the doctor decided to strengthen what’s called the lattice structure of my eyes with a few thousand hits of laser. You read that right – thousands.

What he was doing, essentially (I still don’t understand much of the specifics), was sealing up all the little tears, holes, and stretched-thin parts. And with regards to my eyes, there was a veritable shitload. My eyes looked like, medically speaking, Johnny Depp’s Saturday night hookup. He spent a lot of time in there, and his efforts have saved my eyes from a lot of future problems.

But.

The detached retina didn’t go away. It got better, certainly, and now it only distorts a central portion of my right eye (mind you, a big central portion, but not nearly as bad as it was before the surgery). My left eye is now more sensitive to light in some really curious ways. It doesn’t hurt my eyes, but the way my two eyes discern light is night and day, in an almost-literal kind of way. What vision I have in my right eyes, around the edges, sees light the “right” way, in that dark rooms are dark and light is just something that’s there. My left eye… hm. How do I describe this? You know the feeling you get when you walk into somewhere dark when you’ve been out in the bright sunshine a while? What I see with my left eye is like a mild version of that. It doesn’t affect the vision itself in any way, and it’s so slight as to be negigible if I have my right eye closed, but the difference is there.

We’ll talk another time about the recovery from those surgeries, as that three month period afterwards and my college year that followed deserve to be talked about, ugly warts and all. I promised you complete honesty with this blog series, and that includes me at my most despicable and miserable.

What’s happened since then has been less interesting. My degeneration continues, but it’s slowed in my thirties, to the point where I’ve actually had the same vision the last couple of checkups. A small win, but I’ll take it. I’ve had one scary bleeding incident in my left eye, back when I worked as the county’s clerk and recorder, but by and large, I’ve been scare-free since the surgeries. I think peripherally my vision is fading a bit in ways that aren’t easily quantifiable. Even though it was never great to begin with, I think my distant vision is getting a little tiny bit worse, which troubles me, but in a way so vague and indistinct that it’s near the bottom of my to-care-about list. Not like we can really do anything about it anyways.

Right now, I do have a cataract in my left eye. That’s the most troublesome development in recent memory, but it may force my hand eventually into getting a risky surgery that could wind up stabilizing my eye. Right now, the risks are too great – I have vision I can operate with now, but if things went wrong with my eyes, I’d have to adapt to trying to function with near total blindness. Oddly, that thought doesn’t scare me as much as you might think – again, fodder for another blog, but I’m not scared of the future. I’m just preparing for it.

And that’s it! Got any questions about the specifics of any of this, hit me up! I’m happy to answer any questions you might have.

-Cameron Lowe

Legally Blind #1 – Fighting to Stand Up

Today, I opted out of receiving SNAP food benefits for the first time in several years. I’ve been receiving public assistance through Social Security and various government programs since I lost my job locally back in 2009. That’s a frustratingly long time, but these programs have allowed me to maintain some degree of dignity by providing me with a roof over my head, heat in the winter, and food in my admittedly enormous belly.

It’s also afforded me a rare opportunity to try to hone my writing skills. I’ve spent a large portion of those years writing, scrapping projects, writing more, and scrapping even more dumb stuff. I’ve gone from writing pure garbage to writing what I hope is slightly less stinky stuff. It’s an opportunity I’m extremely grateful for – I’m not a guy you want to have flipping your burgers (which would probably be true even if I had 20/20 vision – I’m a terrible cook). I’m not great with my hands. I can barely hammer in a nail without something exploding. Office work is hit and miss for me, but living in as small of a town as I do, it’s not work that comes up very often. So I turned to writing, and in the last year, I’ve actually started to make a go of it in the self-publishing world.

It’s been a fascinating experience, alternating between incredible highs (I was ranked #1 in my sub-genre during a recent freebie day, an accomplishment I still can’t comprehend) and some lows I really wasn’t expecting. Every good creative writing teacher will tell you it’s hard to break kinto the business – damn near impossible, in fact – but what took me completely by surprise has been the support from wild corners of the Earth I really wasn’t expecting. Family I haven’t spoken to personally in years (not out of family drama, but simply because we’ve drifted apart) have bought my books even if my writing clashes with their own personal beliefs. Friends I haven’t spoken to since high school have picked up copies, and it always makes me grin like an idiot taking packages to the Post Office for them. I’ve had pictures come in from as far as Britain of people who have read my paperbacks. It’s been a humbling and awesome experience.

But there are unexpected negatives to this process too, ones I certainly couldn’t have predicted and which have left me feeling like I’ve been through a mental battle royale. I came into this expecting nothing from anybody – every kindness given to me in that regard has been a blessing, one I didn’t want to think was owed to me by any stretch of the imagination. I understand my novels aren’t to everyone’s tastes, and that’s fine! That said, it’s human to want to share in my accomplishments or to just want to hear a friendly “how’s the sales going?” When those who I’m close to attend an event where I’m doing a book signing and choose not to even do so little as come over to say hello, it can feel like a slap in the face.

That’s a funny redundant expression, isn’t it? Slap in the face. Where else am I going to be slapped? The spleen? My big toe?

One other aspect that’s been particularly trying in 2017 is figuring out the reporting side of things. In the space of about a month, the Office of Public Assistance sent me a mountain of paperwork – some of which was repeated, like sign-up forms for voter registration and such. What I believed was a relatively straightforward process in previous years became a mild pain in the ass as I sent in requested forms and copies of my earnings, only to receive more requests for the same information I’d just sent in days or weeks later. All this, and last week I received a letter stating that I’d missed a scheduled phone appointment to review my case in regards to SNAP benefits.

Huh? I’d given them every form they’d requested, every possible shred of information they could possibly need, and still, I had somehow missed something. Not exactly surprising given my forgetfulness, but I really thought I was on the ball – and I was. Here’s the kicker – there was never an appointment I missed. It was an outdated form, one sent to people who needed to call in for a case review. Instead of changing out that form, they made me feel as though I’d done something wrong in the midst of this heap of never-ending paperwork they wanted from me.

I called in, and went through the exact same questions I’d just filled out a couple of weeks before the phone interview. The exact same questions. No joke.

In the end, I had screwed up my reporting. I confused their office’s rules for reporting with those of Social Security. It’s probably a basic level screw-up, something I should have known about, but keep in mind I’ve only been self employed for a year and this is all very new to me. Although everything got straightened out in the end and I still qualify for benefits since I spend more per month than I’m earning on my self-employment, I’ve been mulling it over in the week since and I’ve decided that maybe it’s time I try to stand on my own as far as SNAP is concerned. I only earned $16 from it per month, but that was still a hard decision because $16 is bread, milk, lunch meat, and a condiment or two for a couple of weeks’ worth of meals. But it’s the right decision at this time because I’m finally starting to see good returns on my novels. Not enough to break past what I’m spending on them per month, and it’s a whole hell of a lot from a living wage.

I’m enormously happy with my decision, and proud of myself. Sixteen dollars from my advertising budget might mean less eyes on my novels, but it’s a step closer to me standing on my own two feet again, which was the whole point of this endeavor when I started writing The Ghost at His Back in earnest. The next step is an enormous one. I want to be off Social Security entirely, but getting to that point is a worrying prospect simply because there are so many pitfalls like the one I just stumbled through. Being blind, I can earn a certain amount before my benefits are cut off, but book sales are never a guarantee.

I think I can do it, though. I’m scared, to be honest. I’ve accomplished so much this last year, and I don’t want to see that slip through the cracks because of my own misunderstandings about the way the system works when a person is trying to make something of themselves. This isn’t a regular job – I’m not going to be able to count on a solid paycheck, I’m not going to be able to count on the next project being a well-received one, and I’m certainly not just going to be able to flip a switch one month and say, “Yes, that’s it, no more Social Security forever!” Nothing in life is certain, especially success.

But I think the trying will be fascinating – or at least, I hope so. That’s where this blog series will come in. Some days, I might use it to gripe about the business and tax ends of being blind. Other times, I might use it to talk about the day-to-day of being a legally blind writer with a small amount of vision left to him. I hope it informs, and if you’re in a similar boat, I hope it’s a commiserative effort. Feel free to share your own stories, be you disabled or just trying to get back on your feet. You’ve got a friendly ear in me.

Just don’t expect me to actually be able to see you, that’s all.

-Cameron Lowe

First (very rough) chapter of Band of Fallen Princes

While I’ve put Excision on hold for the moment, I’ve begun work on the fifth Rankin Flats novel. Here for your viewing pleasure is the very first chapter, unedited and raw. Keep in mind, I haven’t checked this for errors and some scenes will undoubtedly change, especially that school chase. That said, you can see what I’m going for here. Enjoy!

Chapter 1
1985

The two boys snuck into the hospital room like a pair of thieves, as though the squeaking of their sneakers would break their friend even more. Not that it would have been possible. What the bullies did to Ronnie could never heal. He sat up in bed, pillows propped behind him, another donut-shaped one peeping out from under the thin sheet covering his legs. The buzzing yellow halogen light above his bed highlighted the gleam of tear streaks down his face, though his eyes were red and dry now. He rocked gently, hands interlaced on his knees, and hummed to himself, something tuneless.

This was not the Ronnie Cooperman they’d known, loved, and hated two days before. That boy would have turned and flung out an arm and a heel, smiling as though he were a catwalk model. This boy didn’t even acknowledge them, so lost was he in his own little world. Or maybe it was just them that had changed, their youthful, bombastic naivete now replaced by the reality that this world could and would do horrible things to them, unspeakable things.

Brett took up a spot near the wall. He folded his arms, imagining he was wearing a one-armed leather jacket like the Road Warrior. Mad Max wouldn’t have let this happen to one of his friends. Or maybe the moment called for him to be more of a John Matrix type, getting revenge on the dickheads who did this to Ronnie. They’d only been palling around for a few years now, but Ronnie was always good to go hit the Silver Dream Theater or the arcades. After Ronnie had called and told him what happened, he’d hung up gently, walked three feet, and thrown up the tuna fish sandwich and chips. For the rest of his life, he’d associate the smell of tuna with that day, and it always made him nauseous.

Maddox grabbed a chair and dragged it across the freshly waxed floor. He brushed his long hair out of his eyes – if he didn’t get it cut soon, his dad would whip his ass, but the girl he was just starting to realize he liked said it made him look cute – and smiled tentatively. “Hey, Ronnie.”

Ronnie stopped humming but he didn’t turn to look at either one of them. “Hey,” he whispered. His voice was still ragged and raw from screaming.

Maddox reached out, his hand stopping in mid-air once before he touched his friend on th shoulder. Ronnie jerked away instinctively and Maddox held up his hands, palms out. “S’okay, Ronnie. We’re not gonna let them hurt you.”

“Where’s your mom and dad?” Brett asked.

Ronnie shook his head. “Dad won’t come see me. Told me on the phone it was all my fault for being a f-f-faggot.” His chest hitched but he didn’t cry. “Mom was here, but she was drinking and they kicked her out.” That was a real shocker. Ronnie’s mom hadn’t come out of the bottle since she’d said, “I do.”

“It’s not,” Maddox said. He cleared his throat. “Your fault, I mean. They’re the fuckdicks.”

That got Ronnie’s attention. He broke his gaze from the window and glanced at Maddox, the hint of a smile strumming at the corners of his lips. “Fuckdick?”

“Meant to say fuckstick, but I like that better.”

Brett smiled to himself. Maddox was the kind of guy who knew exactly what he was saying at any given moment. If he’d meant to have said it, he would’ve. That had been to draw Ronnie out. He was the best of the three of them at playing their emotions, something he was grateful for at the moment. “Petition to make fuckdick the official name for fuckdicks all across the world?”

“Motion seconded,” Maddox said, his voice squeaking just a little bit. He was the first of them facing down puberty and it was hitting him hard. He cleared his throat and said in a much deeper rasp, “Motion seconded.”

Ronnie couldn’t help a laugh. “Motion approved.” But his smile was gone just as fast as it had appeared and he started rocking back and forth again.

Maddox scooted closer. “What do you want us to do, Ron?”

For a long time, neither Maddox or Brett thought he’d answer, but finally Ronnie whispered, “I want to kill them.”

“Yeah, no kidding, so do we,” Brett said.

“No.” Ronnie hands were shaking now as he gripped his knees tighter and tighter. “I mean it. I want to kill them. Especially Jared. I’m going to try, I think.”

Brett shot out a nervous laugh, but the look Maddox gave him shut him right up. He cleared his throat. “Uh. Man? You’re twelve.”

“Do you want to know what they did to me?” Ronnie hissed. “What they put in me?”

“No, no,” Brett said, waving his hands. “I-”

Someone knocked on the door. They could hear someone panting even before it swung open. Dash Pendleton, heaving air from the climb up the hospital steps, stood there with a hand in one pocket, like he was playing with his dick. Beyond him was a ludicrously muscled man, maybe in his forties, hair shorn close to his scalp like a soldier’s – probably because he had been one, if this was Pendleton’s dad. Brett sucked in his breath at Dash’s presence, and Maddox gripped the sides of his chair and half-rose to protect Ronnie. Dash hung around the bullies that’d done this.

“You,” Maddox said, finding a backbone he didn’t know he’d ever had. “Get out of here.”

Dash held up a hand weakly. Enormously fat, he was a stark contrast to his father, though he definitely had some of his pop’s muscles in there somewhere. Maddox had once seen him beat up a boy two years older than he was and laugh when he’d been hit by another. “I wasn’t… there,” he gasped. “Would’ve… would’ve…”

Dash’s father shoved his son into the room. “My boy has something he wants to say.” His voice was a low growl, just as intimidating as his frame.

Swiping at his forehead, Dash nodded. “I wouldn’t have let them do that to you. I’m sorry.”

Maddox sneered at him. “Took your dad pushing you down here to say that, though, huh?”

“Nope,” Dash’s father said, this time with a little pride. “My boy wanted to come. But he would’ve had a damn heart attack if I hadn’t given him a ride. I’m here to make sure he didn’t pass out on the stairs.”

“Dad,” Dash huffed, looking at his feet. He scooted over to the unoccupied bed in the room and plopped down. A nurse came into the room and Dash’s father pulled her back outside, letting her know they were friends of the boys. As the door closed, Dash said, “What can I do? I mean it. Anything.”

“How do we trust you?” Brett snapped. “You’ll just run off and tell Jared. Is he waiting outside for us? Huh?”

Maddox shot to his feet. “He’s right, you fuckdick.” He stormed across the room, his fist balled up with his thumb covered by his fingers. “I should beat the tar out of you right now.”

Instead of fighting back when Maddox swung at his shoulder, Dash surprised them all by crying. He brushed aside Maddox’s second feeble attempt at a punch and wiped at his eyes with the back of his arms. “I don’t even like him,” he said. “I just sort of hung around with him because, you know, black kid from California here in Montana, that’s like, that’s like…” He cried harder until he was blubbering. Baffled, Brett grabbed some tissues from the box by Ronnie’s bed and brought them to the big kid. He plucked them out o his hand and blew into them with a great big wet honk. “He wanted me around to beat kids up for him. He doesn’t like me and I don’t like him.”

“Jeez, all right, man, you don’t gotta cry about it,” Brett muttered. To Ronnie, he said, “I don’t know, what do you think? This is kinda your, you know… thing. You want him out of here?”

Ronnie was staring at Dash, his mouth scrunched as if he’d been sucking on a lemon. “You swear you won’t go blubbering to Jared?”

“I swear. I’ll protect you guys. From here on out, even if you guys don’t like me, I’ll never let that turd brain get near you.” The tears slowed and Dash looked up. “All of you.”

Maddox glanced first at Dash, then Brett, and finally Ronnie. “All right,” he said. “Let’s give him a test.”

* * *

“Come on, you fat sack of crap!” Maddox screamed at Dash. “Come get me!”

Dash and Patrick thundered through the halls of the school. On his last legs, Dash gasped, “I’ll… catch up.”

“Fatass,” Patrick sneered. He jerked his head at the direction they’d just come from. “Go back and hit the other hallway. If he double’s back, we’ll grab him between us.”

“Good… thinking,” Dash panted.

The other bully darted after Maddox. What he and Jared had done to Ronnie had awakened something in him, something deeper and uglier than he’d ever known he was capable of. He wanted to do it again. When that dipshit Maddox had called him and Dash out, it was on. He wondered what he could use on Maddox, the same way they had with that mouthy little shit. Track season was just getting started. Maybe one of them had left a javelin laying around. Spurred on by this thought, he raced even aster.

Maddox fled for his life. Brett had volunteered to be the bait but both boys knew Maddox was faster. Brett’s own part in all this was simple, but his timing had to be spot-on. And Ronnie… well… he would again have to take the worst of it, but the promise of revenge fueled him with everything he needed.

The front doors. Everything hinged on this moment, and on Brett. He let loose with a shriek, the loudest he’d ever produced, and hit the crash bar hard enough to send a little shiver up his arm. He grabbed his walkie talkie from his belt and gasped into it, “Almost there, Ronnie.”

“Gotcha.”

Inside the principal’s office, Brett perked up when he heard the shriek, faint as though it might be. That meant Maddox was still free of Patrick. Part one complete. “Holy shit, did you hear that?” he asked the principal.

The old man glanced up from Brett’s file on his desk. The boy had been inquiring about taking some advanced courses sooner in his high school career, and he was buried in the boy’s grades. “I did hear something,” he murmured. “Come on, then. Not leaving you alone here.”

Brett held the door open for the principal and tried not to smile.

Patrick caught the door just as it was closing and streaked after Maddox. “Run all you want, you little bitch, I’m still gonna tear your asshole open like we did with your faggot friend.”

They rounded the corner of the building, passed the gym, and only slowed when they approached the big double doors at the rear of the building. Dash crashed through them, grabbed Maddox before he could react, and growled, “Gotcha,” in his ear, his breath hot and stinking of garlic.

“Nice,” Patrick shouted as he caught up. “Get him down on the ground. I’m gonna go back to the gym, see if it’s locked. Then we’ll-”

“Then you’ll do crap, fuckdick,” Ronnie said as he came out the doors, a knife in hand. His gait was still off, his steps ginger and slow.

“Two on two, huh?” Patrick asked. “More like five on two with Dash here.”

“Actually…” Dash let go of Maddox and grabbed Patrick’s shoulder instead.

“What-?” But Patrick had no time to finish the sentence. Ronnie produced a slim folding knife from his pocket and extended it. “Oh man, no, hey-”

Ronnie lowered the knife until it was at Patrick’s groin. “You’re lucky I’m not cutting that thing off,” he whispered, and jammed himself in the leg with the knife and twisted.

“He’s got a knife!” Maddox screamed. “He cut my friend!” He grabed the knife from Ronnie and shoved it at Patrick. The other boy had no choice but to grab at it. If he didn’t, the blade would have cut his balls.

The principal shouted down the hallway, “You boys! Stop! I’ll have you all expelled!”

“He stabbed me,” Ronnie cried out. “He stabbed me because I was gonna tak to the police about what they did, I’m bleeding-”

Dumbfounded, Patrick shook his head frantically. “They did this, they set me up, I didn’t have anything to do with this.”

“Bull,” Dash grunted. “I tried to stop him, but he was crazy. He wanted to jam that thing up Ronnie’s butt. He was trying to cut his jeans off him. I swear, I didn’t mean for it to go this far, I tried to stop him-”

“Enough!” the principal roared. “The knife. Give me the knife.”

“I’ll kill all you little shits!” Patrick shouted. He struggled away from them and held the knife out defensively. Maddox’s eyes went big. He hadn’t expected this. The others took a step back, suddenly uncertain. “Get back!”

“Just put it down, son,” the principal said, trying to calm the situation down. He stepped forward. “You just gotta calm down.”

Whatever Patrick intended next, they never knew. He leaped forward, though, knife gripped in both hands, and the principal slugged him in the forehead, hard and fast enough to drop him to the ground. The knife skittered across the ground and Dash tackled him. Under his weight, Patrick couldn’t move and lay there snarling half-syllables of profanity.

Standing above them, Maddox glanced between Ronnie and Brett, his eyebrow raised. Brett nodded almost immediately. Ronnie followed only a second later. Dash was now one of them.

* * *

They met that night outside the hospital. Ronnie’s leg wound hadn’t been serious and they’d released him as soon as he was bandaged up. A little spring had returned to his step, but his friends still caught him looking off into the horizon from time to time.

Dash sat astride his big green bike, legs to either side as he chewed on a Clark Bar. “Is it kinda weird for me to say that was fun?” he asked, spraying out bits of peanut butter and chocolate.

“If by fun, you mean pee my pants terrifying,” Brett said, and shrugged.

Ronnie snickered, surprising them all. “You were terrified? All you had to do was talk to the principal.”

“Yeah, but… old people.” Brett shuddered. “The smell alone.”

Dash slugged him on the shoulder. It was meant as playful, but his fist still hit him with a meaty thump. “Sorry.”

Ronnie looked down at his feet. “I’m still serious.”

“About what?” Dash asked.

“Killing Jared.” Ronnie gave him a challenging look. “If you know what he did, then you’d agree.”

Dash chewed on that a while. “We’re not just talking about setting someone up. Killing someone… we gotta be a lot smarter about it.”

Stunned, Brett glanced between the two of them. “Wait. You’re actually thinking about this? We’re just kids. We’re not the Manson family.”

“You’re right,” Maddox said. His grin in the dying light showed only a little bit of teeth. “The Manson family got caught. We won’t.”

Brett took a step back. “No way you guys are serious.”

Ronnie didn’t say anything and Dash just kept chewing on his candy bar. Maddox gripped Brett’s shoulder. “It’s okay. Walk away if you want.”

“Crap, you guys are serious,” he whispered.

Dash tossed his candy wrapper into the bushes. “Jared’s evil,” he said like he was talking about the sun being bright.

“What does that make us, if we kill him?” Brett asked. “No, this is wrong.”

“It’s looking out for us,” Maddox said. “Like we say we always do. Someone’s screwed with one of us. It’s up to us to set things right.”

“Yeah,” Brett said uncertainly, “but murder?” He sighed. “I’m not saying no. But I want to hear what the plan is, first.”

“All right,” Maddox said, and slapped his friend on the back.

Dash grinned. Ronnie stuck out his hand. Brett stared at it for a moment, sighed again, and shook it.

* * *

Thirty some odd years later, Brett tossed a folder on the table between the three remaining members of the Band of Princes. “You won’t want to see.”

Ronnie ignored the comment and opened the folder with his good hand. His yellow-and-gray prosthetic one squeezed into a fist as he took in the sight of what had once been their de facto leader.

Blinking away tears, Dash muttered, “Motherfuckers.”

Headless, Maddox swung by his feet from a rope in front of a heavily graffitied building. The pictures were of different angles. One centered on a tattoo they were all familiar with. They’d been there when he got it, and they’d each gotten one of their own. A jack with no suit, inked into his abs.

“The cartel?” Ronnie asked.

“Looks like it,” Brett said. “We killed some of theirs, they kill one of ours.”

Dash brushed away his tears. “What does it mean?”

Brett settled into a chair and folded his hands. His voice was very quiet, very controlled. He had to lead now. The other two would fall apart if he didn’t.

“War.”

Excision progress report

Hey folks! Sorry the website’s been a bit dead. For a few months there, it felt like I was always hitting the ground running with the business end of this thing. Now that all four of the first Rankin Flats novels are out on paperback, I’ve been able to breathe, settle in, and do some serious writing the last couple of weeks.

Excision, the first in my post-post-apocalyptic series Animus, is shaping up nicely. This is a much larger novel than anything I’ve done before, both in terms of scope and the sheer size of the sucker. If you were comparing novels, I’m at probably the halfway point of For All the Sins of Man, but I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface of what the book is actually about.

Since this series is going to be one-offs told within the same universe, it means I have a lot of world-building and storytelling to do. With the Rankin Flats stuff, I can usually get away with a little foreshadowing of future events, but in this one, everything needs to be compacted within one story, and that’s going to create some bloat.

Hopefully, though, I won’t be keeping you waiting too much longer. I’d originally planned or a late March release, but that’s now looking more like maybe late April. regardless, I hope to get it in your hands this spring. Can’t wait to introduce you to Needle, Josiah, Veronique, Lilia, Seline, and Abel. They’re a weird bunch, but a whole lot of fun to write about.

Bone Carvers is out now on Kindle!

…and you can get your hands on it right here!

When Garrett’s former FBI ally Shannon Oliver goes rogue (not to mention insane), she decides her months-long fight with the Legion needs to come to a close in a spectacular fashion. Knowing she can’t do this alone and believing Garrett wouldn’t help her, she comes up with a cunning, dark plan – kidnap the woman he loves and turn themselves in to the cannibalistic Legion.

Locked in a brutal race against the clock, Garrett must find Hamber, a town cloaked in dark magic hiding it from the eyes of all mankind, save those who are invited in to become their next supper. Can Garrett find the illusive city in time to save Brianna from the city of the damned? You’ll have to find out by picking up your copy today!

The story behind Bone Carvers

It’s weird being done with Bone Carvers, because that story has been rolling around in my mind for fifteen years. My mom and I were driving from Montana to Missouri and came across the creepiest little town (which will remain nameless, because I’m sure the people there are great and I don’t want to get murdered).
 
Almost all the buildings looked terribly damaged or unkept, but in really fascinating ways. They seemed normal, but once you got a closer look, the foundations were cracked, the paint on the walls was almost non-existent, and almost no one had maintained their lawns in weeks, if not months.
 
We stopped at a gas station to get sodas or whatever, and almost everything inside was out of date and dusty. We eventually got so weirded out we just decided that whatever we needed could wait until the next place.
 
That real story became a novel I actually wrote in… mmm… 2009 or 2010. It was a miserable piece of garbage, but it had some good elements in it. In that version, a widower and his daughter flee the memories of the wife he felt he had to kill. she’d developed brain cancer that had left her wild, vicious, and more than a little abusive to their daughter, so rather than watching his wife and daughter both suffer, the man killed her in her hospital bed.
 
When they fled across the country, they wound up in a small town – Hamber – where the man’s daughter disappears after he goes in to get food and gas. His search for her is aided by an assassin on the run from the law (who later became the foundation for Garrett Moranis, the protagonist of my novels), but as they peel back the layers of Hamber, they realize the place is under the thumb of some great and terrible demon half-trapped in their world and looking for a human host in the daughter.
Most of these elements didn’t make it into the final product some seven years later. Obviously the leads changed to Garrett, Brianna, and Murphy, the heroes of my Rankin Flats series. But there are definitely elements of that original story that bleed through the paper, so to speak. The gas station plays a pivotal role in introducing the weirdness o Hamber. As mentioned, Garrett has roots in one of the characters in that novel, but Kyo was a much more brutal, strange character and badly written in every regard.
In a way, finishing  Bone Carvers helps me tie a bow on a period of my writing that went unfulfilled. I can now move on to other stories, fresher ones, and can bank that one in the win column. At least I hope it’s a winner, anyways. It’s far more brutal and horror-centric than the prior novels, but I like it regardless. It has teeth.
Lots and lots of teeth.