Letter to the Dead

I was searmailboxching through my stack of notebooks today, looking for some information I needed, when I came across the last letter I wrote to Jeff, my deceased life mate/soul mate. I used to write him as a way of feeling connected to him, but I haven’t done so in a over a year. The letter, dated October 13, 2013, was written three years and seven months after his death. I don’t remember the dream, don’t even remember writing the letter, but here it is:

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Dear Jeff,

I dreamt about you last night. You came into my room, stood at the foot of the bed and touched my blanket-covered feet, then climbed onto the bed, on top of the covers, and cuddled up to me. You were in your underwear, and in the dream, I knew you’d come from where you were sleeping, though I had the impression you’d been with someone, as if you had another life. You said, “I miss you.”

I woke and teared up a bit, but no emotional storm, just an acknowledgment that I missed you too.

Was that really you? Some people would say so, but I still don’t know the truth of (or have any belief in) what comes after. I’ll know soon enough, I suppose. As long as my remaining years seem, I know the truth — they are but a wisp of time. For a long time, I was afraid of growing old alone and dying alone. I know we all die alone; I guess the fear was of being feeble alone, but I’ve chosen to believe that if my end years were going to be difficult, you wouldn’t have left me.

I’m trying to embrace life in a way I never did before — to see it as the gift everyone says it is. I was angry at you recently for leaving me here stuck between my father and my brother as I’d always been when I was young, but it’s nothing I can’t handle. I’ve found a new love (dancing) and I’m walking with a group when I can, which is helping me stay centered. I could leave here, of course, and run away from the men who are bedeviling me, but I’d also be leaving these activities and my new friends, which adds an element of irony to the situation.

What about you? What are you doing? How are you doing? I wish we could talk, catch up, tell our current truths, but maybe someday . . .

Will you still like me? Will you be waiting for me?

Adios, compadre. I love you.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

 

Excerpt from “A Spark of Heavenly Fire”

ASHFborderWith all the talk of Ebola, with all the scares and scaremongering, it’s hard for me not to shudder. I’d spent years researching viruses, bioengineering, bioweapons, and human experimentation (experiments humans did on each other) for my novel A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and though I knew what could happen, I always thought that somehow we’d be able to bypass a real epidemic. It’s still possible, though it’s also possible that by the new year, there will be 1,000,000 victims of the Ebola virus.

Here is an excerpt from A Spark of Heavenly Fire detailing some of the things I discovered in my research. Oh, my. What wondrous creatures we humans are! The red death was my own creation, based on viruses that various scientists had played around with.

Excerpt:

Greg was sitting at his computer, trying unsuccessfully to access the Internet, when he heard someone plop down in the chair behind him. Assuming Olaf had stopped by for his morning chat, Greg smiled as he swiveled his chair around.

The smile faded when he saw Clara D’Onofrio regarding him with red-rimmed, feverish eyes that glowed against her abnormally pale skin.

“Are you okay?” he asked, hoping she wouldn’t take offense.

She made a small gesture with her hand as if to brush away his concern, opened her briefcase, and removed a sheaf of papers.

“I spent most of the night researching biological weapons,” she said. “You would not believe the stuff I found. Did you know that the entire genetic code for the Black Death has been mapped, and the genetic sequences have been posted on the web?”

Greg blinked, then shook his head no.

“Also cholera and smallpox. Smallpox! Who in their right mind would mess around with smallpox? It has killed more people over the ages than any other disease, claiming at least three hundred million victims in the twentieth century alone. Why did the World Health Organization spend ten years eradicating smallpox from the face of the earth when scientists all over the world now mass produce it?”

“If they eradicated it, where did the smallpox come from?” Greg asked.

“They eradicated it in the wild, but a lot of research facilities retained samples, including Ft. Detrick in Maryland.”

Clara riffled through her sheaf of papers and plucked one from the bunch. “It says here the Russians built an underground facility capable of growing eighty to one hundred tons—tons!—of the smallpox virus every year. Get this — they modified it genetically, combining the smallpox with Ebola and Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis, a brain virus.”

“Jeez,” Greg said, feeling sick to his stomach. “As if smallpox by itself weren’t lethal enough.”

“Tell me about it. What’s even worse, the collapse of the Soviet Union left hundreds of biological research scientists unemployed. Many of them took the smallpox with them when they went to work for other countries like Libya, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, India, and maybe even Israel and Pakistan. And of course, the United States.

“Can you imagine what would happen if any of the new strains of the disease escaped from the laboratory? They’d travel around the world so fast and kill so many people, it would make the red death appear inconsequential.”

“No, I can’t imagine it,” Greg said. “To be honest, I have a hard time imagining the red death, even though it’s happening now. It’s too big. Too many have died. I think that’s why I focus on the puzzle aspect — who created it, and why. It’s something my mind can comprehend.”

***

Until November 23, 2014, A Spark of Heavenly Fire will be available at 50% off from Smashwords, where you can download the novel in the ebook format of your choice. To get your discount, go here: A Spark of Heavenly Fire and use coupon code ST33W when purchasing the book. (After you read the book, posting a review on Smashwords would be nice, but not obligatory.)

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Ignore-ance is Bliss

I’ve never liked the saying, “ignorance is bliss.” I’ve always quested after the truth, so ignorance seems like a paltry way of living, though many people seem to cultivate the state. On some matters, of course, ignorance definitely is bliss. If you don’t know who or what ISIS is (I will have to plead ignorance on this; it seems to have slipped into the news when I was successfully not paying attention), then of course you will be more blissful than those who dwell on whatever it is ISIS is doing. Or in the case of Ebola — being ignorant of the matter might keep you focused on your goal of taking a trip to Africa, which is infinitely more pleasant to contemplate than the possibility of bringing home an unwanted and very deadly souvenir.

napBut what if the “ignorance” that equates to bliss is something entirely different from lack of knowledge or information? What if it actually refers to ignore-ance?

And believe me, ignore-ance truly is bliss.

I’m ignoring my father’s eventual decline, just concentrating on what I can or need to do today.

I am ignoring my uncertain future (when my father goes, my current place of residence will go too, leaving me temporarily homeless and without any clear idea of what to do, how to do it, or where to do it).

I am ignoring the sadness of my disconnection from a dear friend because nothing I’ve done or said seems to be bridging the gap.

I am ignoring the book I started writing in July because with everything else going on in my life, I don’t have the proper focus and so that poor lone written chapter sits at the top right hand corner of my blog. Luckily I am ignoring that, too, or else it would taunt me.

I am ignoring my deceased life mate/soul mate. He can take care of himself wherever he is or isn’t, and I am tired of being sad.

It is so much nicer simply dealing with the problems of the moment — or rather, lack of problems. Most of my problems live either in the future or in the past and if I ignore those, then today, right this moment, everything is blissful. I’m still feeling a glow from the dance classes I took this morning. I’m enjoying the perfect weather — calm, clear, relatively cool. And I’m writing this blog in silence ignoring the fact that as soon as my father wakes from his nap, the television will be blaring.

Ah, ignore-ance. Ah, bliss.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Fair Use, Copyright, and Images

I have a friend who freely uses images she finds on the internet to pretty up her blog posts, and at the bottom of each post, she always adds the caveat, “No copyright infringement intended.” That cracks me up because of course she intended to infringe upon the copyright — she blatantly and purposely used the image without permission. That is an infringement. Saying that no infringement was intended does not negate the perhaps illegal use of the image. Even giving credit or providing a link to the original photo doesn’t make the infringement legal.

Yesterday I spoke of “Fair Use” and copyright as pertains to song lyrics and told you how many words of a song written after 1923 you can legally use in your work. (None. That’s right, none. You can use the title, paraphrase the words, write your own songs, or purchase the rights to use the lyrics. Those are your only options. You cannot use a single word of the lyrics without permission.)

Fair use also applies to images, not just written works. Fair use laws allow using bits of copyrighted materials without having to obtain permission, though what constitutes “fair use” is murky and subject to interpretation by the courts. (And oh, just so you know, all original works are protected from the moment of creation, so if the work was never filed with the copyright office, if the work lacks a copyright symbol, the work is still protected.)

According to the US Copyright Office, there are four factors to determine what is fair use:

copyright1       The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes

2       The nature of the copyrighted work

3       The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole

4       The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work.

You can use of some images, such as images public domain images created before 1923 (unless they have subsequently been copyrighted). And you can generally use images in product reviews. Using a product image, such as a book cover, an image of a vehicle, or cold cereal, is necessary for a helpful review. Since the image is not the product and the owner’s rights are only minimally infringed upon, your use of the image falls under fair use.

Some people who post images on the internet do allow you to use their images with only attribution as payment (and they will state as much on the site where the images are posted, generally under a Creative Commons License). Also, many royalty free photos are available from various sites, such as Free Stock Photos, but you need to read the small print carefully to find what each photo requires of you before you use it.

If you use an image of an original photograph or work of art, even if you attribute it to the author and even if you link back to the original, you are in violation of copyright laws unless you have the artist’s permission to use the image. If you don’t have permission, you can be sued. And yes, bloggers have been sued over the use of images. One blogger I know used a photo she found on the internet, thinking it was okay to do so because it is general practice among internet users to adorn one’s blog with such images. When the owner’s lawyer contacted her about the matter, she removed the photo and thought that would be the end of it. But she was wrong. They sued her — and won. She is still paying them off. (And she still owes hefty attorney’s fees.) She was lucky. Others have had their sites removed from the internet in addition to all the other legal hassles.

So, if you do not know for certain if you can legally use an image (and the only way to know for sure is if the image is posted with such information), then don’t. It’s not worth the risk.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

How Much of a Song Can You Quote for Your Book?

In a recent discussion about copyright in my online writer’s group, the writers were speculating about how much of a song’s lyrics they could legally use in their books.

Many of the writers suggested using just a few lines but being sure to give credit, some quoted “fair use” rulings, others said . . . well, it doesn’t matter what they said. The question of how much of a song you can use is not an opinion, but a matter of law. (Even after the correct response was given, the writers continued to speculate, so I finally put an end to the speculation by deleting the discussion.)

Fair use laws allow using bits of copyrighted materials without having to obtain permission, though what constitutes “fair use” is murky and subject to interpretation by the courts. According to the US Copyright Office, there are four factor to determine what is fair use:

music1       The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes

2       The nature of the copyrighted work

3       The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole

4       The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work

My quoting this report could be (and I hope it is) a valid and fair use of the material since I am using it for purposes of illustration in a scholarly article.

Which means you can use song lyrics, right? Wrong. Song lyrics are exempt from fair use because of the shortness of the work. Using a paragraph of War and Peace is miniscule compared to the entirety of the work so fair use applies. Using a few words of a song is like quoting dozens chapters from War and Peace — the portion is too great and therefore fair use does not apply. So what does this mean? If the song is not in the public domain (and no song written after 1923 is in the public domain), you cannot use any part of the song except the title unless you get permission.

It’s tempting to use song lyrics because lyrics are a shortcut to creating mood or to developing a character, but if you don’t want to go through the sometimes lengthy wait for a response to your request (and perhaps be subjected to hefty royalty payments) then you either use the title of the song or paraphrase the lyrics in some way. You can, of course, write your own song lyrics (you are a writer, right?), or if you must quote lyrics, you can use songs in the public domain. (Most songs before 1923 are in the public domain, but check first to make sure someone didn’t copyright the lyrics of a song you might want to use.)

So, short and succinct. How many words of a song published after 1923 can you legally quote in your written work without getting permission? None. Zero. Zilch.

End of discussion.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Writing Outside The Box And The Box Springs

I just watched the most fascinating sex scene ever to be filmed. There was no nudity, no touching, no erotic talk, nothing that resembles any sex act we have ever seen or experienced (unless, of course, I’m even more naïve than I imagine), and yet the scene is sensuous and compelling, the characters are intensely and totally involved with each other, connecting on a level most of us can only hope for. And we are left with no doubt that we have seen two people making love in a mutually fulfilling way.

knifeThe movie? The Girl on the Bridge, a 1999 French movie shot in black and white and shown to US audiences with subtitles. He is a not-so-lucky knife thrower who lurks around bridges to find his assistants, woman who don’t care whether they live or die. She is a depressed young woman who has never done a single thing right in her life, not even drowning herself.

One day on a bridge, they find each other, and their luck changes.

And so does ours, because oh, my — such a poetic way to spend hot afternoon. (Hot because of the summery weather. What did you think I meant?)

I’m not sure the knife scene holds up as erotic if you haven’t seen the buildup during the earlier part of the movie, but if you’re interested, you can see the scene here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CKqQl3D4AzI

It’s a good reminder that we writers need to be able to write outside the box and the box springs.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

 

How to Become a Bestselling (Romance) Author

I don’t know how to become a bestselling non-genre writer, which is what I am — a non-genre writer. (Recently a reviewer took exception to my non-genre status, giving A Spark of Heavenly Fire only two stars because she expected the novel to be romantic/suspense, an action/adventure or a good mystery. She admitted the book contained all of these elements but not enough to tag the story as such. I wanted to leave a “duh” response, but I’ve been around long enough to know that arguing with a reviewer is never a good idea.) But I do know a bit about how to beome a bestselling romance writer since I’ve studied so much of their techniques in my quest to become a bestseller myself.

First, write good story, create or have a cover designer create a compelling cover that says “buy me,” and give your book a thorough edit or get someone to do it for you. A good editing is paramount. With so many romance novels on the market, you need to be a bit better than average to stand out. (Unless, of course, you are the first person to write erotic vampire bondage books or any such novelty, then of course, you can write however you wish.)

Second, finish book two and three in the series, and give them a good editing, also. Then give away the first book in the series to as many people as possible using a Smashwords coupon. Give the book away on blogs, on FB, as a mass mailing, maybe even on Smashwords itself for a short time. Sign up for a giveaway on Goodreads, LibraryThing, and wherever else you can. But this only works after the three books are published because otherwise it doesn’t gain you much of a marketing advantage. If all the books are published and readers like the first book in a series, they will buy the others. There are too many books published now for readers to want to wait for additional books in a series, which is why more than one book in a series needs to be published if you really want the marketing push to count. If the book is professional, one of a published series, is romance and especially regency romance, and has a touch of eroticism (more than a touch is even better), that’s all you have to do. Amazon’s algorithms will do the rest. Theoretically, at least.

Although social networking is often touted as the best way of promoting books, it is slow and doesn’t really help a lot in making you a bestselling author, but it can increase awareness of your books once you become known. Also, a bit of social networking can help you find other romance writers who might promote your books if you promote theirs (such reciprocal promotions have catapulted many romance authors and thriller writers into stardom). You might even find fans who will be delighted to help spread the word about your book for a bit of swag. It’s good to have a blog or be part of a multi-author blog so your readers can keep up with you, though you don’t have to blog regularly, just once a week on a personal blog or once a month on a multi-author blog since for the most part blogging doesn’t sell books.  A Facebook presence or a Twitter account is also nice, but none of these will make you a bestselling author by themselves. Oh, sure, there are people who have made a killing using Facebook, but they are generally those who sell books about how to make a killing on Facebook. And some people play the link (spam) game, posting their book links to thousands of groups on Facebook, but since most of the people in those groups are also playing the link game, the results are variable.

In today’s book world, as much as I hate to admit it, Amazon is the key.

If you don’t have a romance series or if you do have such a series and wish to give your book an extra push, do KDP select but list the book for $.99 on free days. You don’t get as many downloads as you would if the book were free, but the book stats are figured with the regular books not the free books, and so it has a longer lasting effect.

In addition, try giveaway sites like http://readcheaply.com/, 99 cent sites like http://www.pixelofink.com/sskb/ and paid sites like http://digitalbooktoday.com/join-our-team/

This is such good advice, I wish I were interested in writing romance series!

As for A Spark of Heavenly Fire: if you’re interested in seeing if the above mentioned reviewer is correct, until November 23, 2014, A Spark of Heavenly Fire will be available at 50% off from Smashwords, where you can download the novel in the ebook format of your choice. To get your discount, go here: A Spark of Heavenly Fire and use coupon code ST33W when purchasing the book. (After you read the book, posting a review on Smashwords would be nice, but not obligatory

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Excerpt from “A Spark of Heavenly Fire”

ASHFborderStraight from today’s headlines! In the novel A Spark of Heavenly Fire, hundreds of thousands of people are dying from an unstoppable disease called the red death. In an effort to stop the disease from spreading beyond the state of Colorado where the disease originated, the entire state is quarantined. In this dangerous world, Kate Cummings struggles to find the courage to live and to love. Investigative reporter Greg Pullman is determined to discover who unleashed the deadly organism and why they did it, until the cost — Kate’s life — becomes more than he can pay.

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Excerpt:

After an uneventful day at work, Kate hurried home through the silent streets. More than half the houses she passed had fluorescent orange dots splashed on their front doors indicating that someone had died within. Beside some of those doors were small shrines or memorials—artificial flowers, crosses, dolls, teddy bears. Other houses were unlit, mute testimony that entire families had died.

A white unmarked delivery van stopped in front of a house that already had one fluorescent dot on the door. When two men jumped out of the truck and ran up the porch steps, she knew that soon another orange mark would appear next to the first.

She could hear the men lamenting the loss of the Broncos while they waited for someone to answer their knock. It seemed strange that they spoke of such a prosaic matter. Shouldn’t they be crying, “Bring out your dead. Bring out your dead,” as their counterparts during the Black Death had done?

As she neared the house, she could see the door open. An old woman with bowed head and trembling shoulders stood aside to let the two men enter.

Kate had passed the house by the time the men emerged with their burden, but she could hear the thud of the body when they threw it into the van.

She thought of Greg and how he had cradled Mrs. Robin’s body in his arms as he carried her down the alley and how he had gently laid her under a tree.

And how he had said he liked her, Kate, very much.

***

Until November 23, 2014, A Spark of Heavenly Fire will be available at 50% off from Smashwords, where you can download the novel in the ebook format of your choice. To get your discount, go here: A Spark of Heavenly Fire and use coupon code ST33W when purchasing the book. (After you read the book, posting a review on Smashwords would be nice, but not obligatory.)

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

A Wildness of the Heart

We are hungry for new stories that can offer us a way to live more fully in place like a tight, strong rope that will hold our weight while we figure out our next move. We are searching for new terrain… within our own souls that will allow us to find a generosity of spirit, a wildness of the heart that is brave and bold. —Terry Tempest Williams

Not only is the quote a good description of what I am looking for in myself — generosity of spirit and a wildness of the heart that is brave and bold — it is a lovely description of why we love/need stories. Or at least it should be. I do not fully trust authors who say they write only to entertain. There needs to be something else in a story besides merely entertainment or a way of passing the time, something that feeds the soul, something that helps us find the wildness of our hearts. We live in a civilized world, leading civilized lives,  eating civilized foods, and all that civilized-ness starves us. We need lives, food,  places that nourish us. We need stories that feed our wildness and offer hope of something more.

Maybe someday I will be able to write such a story. It’s certainly a goal worth striving for.

book

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Excerpt From More Deaths Than One

More Deaths Than OneDescription: More Deaths Than One: Bob Stark returns to Denver after 18 years in Southeast Asia to discover that the mother he buried before he left is dead again. He attends her new funeral and sees . . . himself. Is his other self a hoaxer, or is something more sinister going on? And why are two men who appear to be government agents hunting for him? With the help of Kerry Casillas, a baffling young woman Bob meets in a coffee shop, he uncovers the unimaginable truth.

Excerpt:

“My dad was a CO in the war,” Beth said proudly.

Bob shot a questioning glance at Scott. “A commanding officer?”

Scott snorted. “Not hardly. I registered as a con-scientious objector.”

“He got sent into combat,” Rose said. “Can you believe that?”

Bob drew back. “Combat? A lot of conscientious objectors, including Quakers have served in the military, but they were usually given duties like medic or clerk. I never heard of any being sent into combat.”

Scott shrugged. “Well, they sent me. I don’t know if it was a mistake or someone’s idea of a sick joke.”

“Dad wouldn’t fire his weapon,” Jimmy said. “He believes killing for any reason is wrong.”

“He won’t even kill bugs or spiders,” Beth added.

Kerry laid aside her fork. “It must have been terrible.”

Rose nodded. “They assigned him jobs of a particularly filthy or menial nature, like permanent latrine duty, trench digging, and retrieval of dead bodies.”

“Someone had to do it,” Scott said.

“I know, but they didn’t have to harass you the way they did.”

“They thought I was a coward, hiding behind my religious beliefs to get out of combat duty.” He sighed. “Maybe I was.”

“No you weren’t,” Rose said fiercely. “It took a lot of courage to maintain your dignity in the face of their hatred. And you always had to dodge bullets and skirt explosions on your way to rescue injured men.”

She turned to Kerry. “During combat he had to get the wounded out of the line of fire and to help the medic care for them.”

Kerry’s eyes widened. “I can’t even begin to comprehend the strength it must have taken to survive not only a combat zone, but the torment of one’s own countrymen.”

“I had my faith to sustain me,” Scott said.

Beth shuddered. “They shot my dad.”

“The bullet gouged a furrow on my thigh, a flesh wound.” Scott smiled. “In the movies they always say, ‘It’s just a flesh wound,’ as if it’s nothing, but mine hurt like the dickens. They wouldn’t give me many painkillers, either. One nurse pompously told me they didn’t want us wounded soldiers getting addicted so they cut back, but another nurse whispered that the hospital workers had used the drugs themselves for fun. They must have received new supplies, because I didn’t notice much after those first few days—they kept me doped—but I do remember being transferred to a hospital in the Philippines.”

“Can you believe they sent him back to Vietnam after that?” Rose said. “It makes me furious thinking about it.”

Scott reached across the table and grasped her hand. “When I got back, my sergeant said to me, ‘Now that you know being a conscientious objector doesn’t keep you from getting wounded or even killed, are you ready to do your duty as a combat soldier?’ ‘I have no control over the actions of other people,’ I told him. ‘If the VC choose to shoot me, there’s not much I can do about it. The only choice I have is whether or not to shoot them, and I will not kill anyone.’ He glared at me and ordered me to get out of his sight and to keep out of his sight, because I disgraced the U.S. Army.”

Scott kept silent for a time while his family gazed sympathetically at him. Bob watched them, thinking the man had more than his faith to sustain him.

Scott drew in a breath. “Everyone still treated me the same until after the next engagement. We were under heavy fire, and many of our guys got wounded. I kept busy hauling injured men away from the front line. Afterwards, the sergeant came to me and said, ‘Glad to see you finally got some balls.’ The others guys stopped ostracizing me as if by getting shot I had passed some sort of test, like an initiation, but sometimes I could hear them snickering at me behind my back.”

“Do you think maybe you changed?” Kerry asked.

“No. Well, in little ways, of course. I became more self-confident, knowing I had never wavered in my beliefs even though my faith had been severely tested, and occasionally I have nightmares that make me sick to my stomach, but for the most part I’m the same as always.”

Kerry pushed aside her plate, folded her arms on the table, and gave Scott an intent look. “What kind of nightmares?”

“I’m sorry,” he mumbled. “I can’t.”

“Sure you can,” Jimmy said. “You always say we can do anything.”

Rose gazed at Scott with anxious eyes. “Maybe you should tell her, dear. You have always refused to talk about your nightmares, even to us, but perhaps it’s time.”

“Go ahead, Dad,” Beth chimed in. “You can tell Kerry.”

“But what if you find out my life is a lie?” Scott asked his wife. “What if you find out I’m an evil person?”

Rose looked at him in astonishment. “Evil? You?”

“In my dreams I am.”

“But those are only dreams.”

Scott held her gaze. After a moment he spoke in a voice so low Bob could barely make out his words. “In one of my dreams, the VC is firing on us. I see a man down. He’s hurt badly and is trying to crawl away. I go to help him, but before I drag him to safety, I take his M-16 from him. I don’t know why. I just do it. Then, as if it’s the most natural thing in the world, I shoot the VC. I see blood spurting out of the men I shoot, and I hear their screams, but I keep shooting. When the rifle is empty, I return the weapon to the injured soldier, who is staring at me as if he can’t believe what he saw. He laughs, and I awaken with the sound of his laughter still echoing in my ears.

“All the dreams I have are similar to that one, but they involve different firefights and different men, as if I killed many times.

“I don’t know what these dreams mean. I don’t know why I dream them. But the idea that I murdered people, even if only in my dreams, makes me so sick I have to vomit. Sometimes after I’ve thrown up I feel as if I’ve gotten rid of the evil, but other times I feel as if the evil is a permanent part of me, and I wonder if somehow I did do those things.”

He looked at Bob with sad, sad eyes. “But it is only a dream, right?”

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***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

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