Handmaiden of Death

In June, I finished my started projects, cleaned house, and did everything I could think of to enable me to dedicate July to writing my new novel. I wrote for five days, then life, with a mocking laugh, stole my free time.

My elderly father developed prostate complications, and while he was in the hospital, his general practitioner decided to use the opportunity to do other tests. And since my father decided he had the right to refuse any treatment, he declined to sit in a chair or walk down the hall. And so he developed pneumonia, which extended his hospitalization.

He is home now, but mostly bedridden by choice. He can still walk, but both my sister, who came to help out, and I insist that one of us be there because he refuses to use the walker. Not a problem, really. He prefers to stay in bed except when he feels the need to empty his bowels, and so often, that feeling comes from his body sending him the wrong signal or perhaps he is simply misinterpreting what he feels.

During the past few years, I’ve seen way too many people in the final stages of life — a brother, my mother, my life mate/soul mate, and now my father. The first three died of cancer, and my father is simply wasting away from old age, his once strong body slowly shutting down.

To be honest, I find the end of life horrific, both for the dying and the tortures they endure(d), and for me as a bystander and future victim. I know this is the cycle of life — conception, birth, growth, decline, death — but something in me cannot grasp (or accept) the idea of decline.

heavenOne of my favorite end-of-life scenes is from the movie Soylent Green where the sick and dying are taken to beautiful rooms and treated to a visual and musical montage of forests, wild animals, rivers, and ocean life, scenes that had long disappeared from earth because of human overpopulation. And then the sick folks were gone, peacefully and instantly. That seems a much better and more humane way to die than waiting for the body to eat itself with cancer or to begin decaying while the body is still alive. (In Biblical times, executioners would strap a dead man — the “body of death” — on to the one convicted, and as it began to decay it would begin killing the living man . . . by decomposition. So vastly different from a Soylent Green death!)

In our culture, we basically have no recourse but to let the body do what it will. And rightly so, I suppose. Who among us is wise enough to say who is to live and who is to die? I remember another story I once read where the aged mother had told her daughter she didn’t want to live as a vegetable, and if that ever happened, then she wanted her daughter to end her life. One day the mother did end up paralyzed with no means of communication, but she found a quiet joy in her greatly condensed world. And then her daughter killed her. Ouch.

My sister had a rough time with our father last night, and tonight is my turn to be on call. We got a long-range wireless doorbell and gave him the button to push when he wants us. We women move the doorbell from room to room depending on who is to answer his call. It seems strange to be handmaidens of death, but that is the role we have accepted for now.

Despite all this, I’m still hoping to work on my book a little more this month, though exhaustion — for me, anyway — is not exactly conducive to literary endeavors.

***

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.

Conversation With Rami Ungar

Author Rami Ungar are doing a blog exchange today. He is interviewing me on his blog, and I am interviewing him on mine.  On his blog, I answer the questions you always wanted to know about me, such as how I got into writing and what books I would take with me if I were stranded on a desert island. So be sure to check out my interview: Conversations with Pat Bertram.

Meantime, meet Rami Ungar.

snakeRami, What is your book about?

“Snake” is about a young man (and I mean young) whose girlfriend is kidnapped over the phone. Later events cause him to have a break with his sanity and he becomes a serial killer, determined to hunt down every member of the mafia family that has his girlfriend. It’s a very dark thriller, and it’s very unusual to have the serial killer as a protagonist. I’m hoping that will allow people to enjoy the story more, though. Fingers crossed, at any rate.

What inspired you to write this particular story?

I guess maybe it was the movie “Taken”. Yeah, there are plenty of similarities, but it’s definitely it’s own story. That’s actually what I wanted: I wanted to create a much darker story than “Taken” portrayed, though that was pretty dark in itself. I like to think I’ve succeeded in that respect. We’ll see what the reviewers say.

What was the most difficult part about writing the book?

Probably time and school work. You want to devote all your time to writing, but inevitably things get in the way, and you end up taking several breaks. In the end it took me six months to write this book, though if I’d had more time to work on it, I might have gotten it done in half the time.

Tell us a little about your main characters.

First off, we have the Snake, our very unconventional protagonist. He’s gone through a great change, and it’s why he’s the killer he is now. I purposely did not reveal his real name in the novel, because I wanted to imply that we all could become like the Snake under certain circumstances.

There’s also Allison Langland, my main character’s girlfriend. Unlike other damsels in distress, she’s a bit more proactive. She doesn’t waste away in a cell hopeless or hoping to be rescued. She’s a fighter, and I love that about her. I think that’s also why the Snake loves her, come to think of it.

Did you do any research for the book? If so, how did you do it?

I did plenty of research on New York City, where the story takes place. I also did research on serial killers and psychopathy, the better to understand what sort of character I was constructing. I even had a forensic psychologist and profiler give me his diagnosis on the Snake based on crime reports I created. All in the name of authenticity.

What about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Well, it’s an unusual story, so I think that might get people interested. And if people really take the time to check it out, I’m sure a few of them will end up enjoying the story and identifying with the characters. That’s the hope, anyway.

What are you working on right now?

I’m writing another thriller novel, as well as editing the sequel to my previous novel “Reborn City”. I’m also working on interviews, blog posts, and articles. As usual, I’m busy as a bee.

Are you writing to reach a particular kind of reader?

I guess I’m aiming for readers who like what I like. That means Anne Rice, Stephen King, and James Patterson, with a dash of manga and anime. Don’t know how many people are like that, but I’m trying to find them.

What, in your opinion, are the essential qualities of a good story?

I could probably spend hours philosophizing about that. There are many, many components that are needed to make a good story. But in brief, a good mastery of vocabulary, spelling, and grammar, a good plot and wonderful characters, and hard work will make for a good story.

What advice you would give to an aspiring author?

Read, write, work hard, and never give up.

Where can people learn more about your book?

Where Snake is available: http://www.amazon.com/Snake-Rami-Ungar/dp/1495434931/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1402622066&sr=8-3&keywords=rami+ungar

Blog: http://ramiungarthewriter.wordpress.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RamiUngarWriter
Twitter: https://twitter.com/RamiUngarWriter

The Night of Three Moonrises

moonbAfter I wrote my I Wish post where I mentioned that it felt as if I were losing control, as if bits of me were floating off into the ether, a friend suggested I go to Tao Road and gather a bit of Dao, the big picture, the harmony of the whole. I couldn’t do it right away, but on Saturday night I went to Tao Road and walked far out into the desert to watch the full moon rise. It was a perigree moon, (more commonly known as a super moon), a full moon rising at its closest point in its orbit around the earth.

It was lovely. Just me, the desert floor, the knolls in the background, an immense and immensely bright yellow moon slowly creeping into view. I lifted my arms in the port de bras I’m learning in ballet, and framed the moon in the circle of my arms. For just a moment, it seemed as if the moon and I were one, and then it drifted up out of my embrace.

As I walked back to town, the moon disappeared behind a knoll, and I stopped and watched it rise again. And ten minutes later, it disappeared behind a higher knoll, and I stopped to watch it rise a third time.

Such a magical evening!

Of course, here I am again, in the hell of my life, but I have the memory of that triple super moonrise to give me light. And hope. And courage.

***

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.

Questioning the Cops

Strange morning. But then, that’s redundant since my entire life has taken a turn into strangeness.

The cops were here about my brother. They suspected him of turning off a neighbor’s gas as retaliation for her ignoring him after he called her a lewd name. (When my father took a turn for the worse and my sister came to help out, it seems as if my brother had what appears to be a psychotic break from reality. He does things that he completely believes he never did, such as slashing my sister’s tires or calling people awful names.) His turning off their gas created problems with the water heater — which doesn’t make any sense to me, but that’s what they said — and the heater had to sheriffbe replaced. He’s also made forays into other neighbors’ back yards. All that in addition to his “poltergeist” activity around the house, such as banging on windows, incessantly ringing the doorbell, calling through the locks.

The cops wanted to talk to my brother, but I didn’t feel up to dealing with his reprisals, so I said he wasn’t here. The truth is, I knew he wasn’t here — at the first sight of a cop car, he runs and hides, usually some place where he can hear what is going on. They asked if they could come in, and I said no. They seemed surprised at that. There isn’t anything to hide here in the house, but wasn’t a social call, and they hadn’t been invited. So I went outside.

They explained the problem and asked for his last name. I didn’t tell them — it’s not my name to give. Then they asked for my name. I said “Pat.” They wrote that down, then asked for my last name. I didn’t want to give it to them. I explained I was in no way responsible for my brother’s acts, was in no way responsible for him, that he was 64 and a grown man. They said they understood, and asked again for my last name. Again I hesitated, and they said they only needed it for their records to show who they talked to. I told them that in all my dealings with the local cops up to that point, my first name had been satisfactory, and they retaliated by telling me those were not criminal investigations, and this one was. If I didn’t give them my name, I could be arrested for impeding a criminal investigation. So I gave it to them.

Then they asked for my birth date. This really sent alarms through me. My stress level, for reasons I cannot fathom, reached critical levels, and I could feel the tears gathering behind my eyes. (Tears seem to be how I process changes and stress.) I said, “So, are you going to be investigating me now?” They said no, and again told me that I could be arrested if I didn’t give them the date. I said it wasn’t fair. Suspects could lie. Cops could lie. But as a bystander I couldn’t. They said that it wasn’t a criminal offense if I lied about checking to see if my brother were in the garage, but that it could be a criminal offense to lie about my birth date.

In all such discussions about my brother with the local cops during the past year, and especially during the past weeks after I began writing my book about a murder at a dance studio, I’d never paid attention to their uniforms, and that would be an important detail for the book. So I studied them. Dark green slacks. Light olive drab shirts. Yellowish-gold “Sheriff’s Department” insignias on their right upper sleeves. Gold deputy stars above their left pockets. Black rectangular nametags above the pocket on the right side. Heavy black equipment belts.

Then I started asking them questions. I figured it was only fair. I told them I was writing a book about a murder that will take place at a local exercise studio and asked what would happen after we called 911. They said officers would show up fairly soon, and the number of officers would depend on how busy they were. They said they’d remove us from the scene, take personal information and fill out a detailed report about our relationship with the deceased, what we’d been doing just previously, if we knew what any of the others witnesses had been doing. Then they’d probably take us to the police station to be questioned by detectives. I asked if we’d each be in a separate car, but they thought we’d probably be taken in pairs with warnings not to talk to each other. I asked if the radio would be on, that in movies, the police radio is always squawking. They said it would be silent so that we wouldn’t be able to get any information. At the police station, we’d probably have to wait for an hour for the detectives to arrive.

I asked for a description of the interrogation room and about the color of the walls. (Cream.) I said one of my detectives would have a lovely first name that I wanted to use for the story, but I noticed they only used the first initial on their nametags and business care. They said it was up to the detective whether she’d give her name or not.

I guess about the only other thing I needed for a sensory description was how the cop car smelled, but I wasn’t about to ask them to let me sit in it to find out. For all I know, they could have used that as an excuse to take me to the station.

One cop told me that as much as he would love to talk about police procedure, he had to get back to business. He said at some point I’d have to have my brother evicted, but as we talked, I learned what I already knew — that in the end, they couldn’t do anything. They would remove him from the premises after the eviction went into effect, and when he came back, they would arrest him, let him go, and when he came back, they’d arrest him, let him go ad infinitum. They told a story about a guy with mental problems who sounded much like my brother. The panhandler had been arrested and let go on a regular basis. This went on for many years without his ever having served jail time. Eventually, the family begged for the cops to arrest him and take him to a penal mental institution.

Luckily, long before we would reach such a point, my father will be dead, and I will be out of here.

But for now, I’m very proud of myself for turning things around and questioning them.

***

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.

MS. CICY’S NIGHTMARE — Chapter 1e

Ms. Cicy's NighmareMs. Cicy’s Nightmare is a fictional work in progress set at a dance studio where I take classes. All the characters have real life counterparts (except perhaps me as the narrator. I’m not sure how real I am). I have everyone’s permission to use their names. Here’s hoping I end up with as many friends at the end of the project as I have now. If you’ve missed any of the story to date, you can find it here: Ms. Cicy’s Nightmare

***

“I don’t have any secrets,” Royann said. Royann is our lady in red — not only does she love the color, she is passionate, simulating, impetuous. Her zest for life keeps her on the move and keeps a huge smile on her animated face. But now, beneath her relentless optimism, I sensed a strain, as if she did indeed, have a secret she was keeping even from herself. Or perhaps the strain came from continued dealings with an ex-husband who had divorced her after forty-two years and seven children. He’d hidden their considerable assets so she ended up with only her social security and small pension, and he was trying to take those from her, too. Royann seems radiantly happy now that she’s remarried, and yet there is that telltale strain.

The exotic notes and strong percussion of Arabic music sounded in the studio. Cicy stretched with us then moved to the center of the floor and led us in a series of steps — figure eights with our hips, common motion, hip lifts, rond de jambes. Afterward, we practiced the dance we knew, the one we’d performed on stage.

As we danced, I thought how much I would miss Jan when she was gone, then I paused midstep. What the hell was wrong with me? I wasn’t going to kill Jan for real. It was a story, a game.

Ms. Cicy stopped the music. “You’re not together. When you dance in a group, Pat, the group has to act like one person. Let’s start again.”

To be continued . . .

***

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.

MS. CICY’S NIGHTMARE — Chapter 1d

Ms. Cicy's NighmareMs. Cicy’s Nightmare is a fictional work in progress set at a dance studio where I take classes. All the characters have real life counterparts (except perhaps me as the narrator. I’m not sure how real I am). I have everyone’s permission to use their names. Here’s hoping I end up with as many friends at the end of the project as I have now. If you’ve missed any of the story to date, you can find it here: Ms. Cicy’s Nightmare

***

Although I took six classes from Ms. Cicy, I shared only one class with Jan, Arabic dancing. On Tuesday ballet class came first at 10:00am, and Arabic followed immediately after. While some of us were taking ballet, Jan had a different class with a different teacher, and she arrived at Ms. Cicy’s studio right after her other class, already dressed in her belly dance skirt.

Samm usually took ballet, but she missed class occasionally due to other obligations, and the morning I shot Jan’s photo was one of those occasions. A few others whom you have not yet met (I’m trying not to commit the unforgivable authorly sin of introducing too many characters at once, and I am failing miserably) came when their schedules permitted, but I’d never missed a Tuesday class. I don’t know what I hoped for — maybe grace or strength. I was too old to ever become a ballerina and I didn’t have a ballet body or even ballet feet. Ms. Cicy had to keep reminding me to point my toes, and when I stood on the balls of my feet, my heels barely lifted off the ground. Regardless of my shortcomings as a ballerina, I approached the class with all the dedication I could muster. I’d even made myself a black ballet skirt to put myself in the proper frame of mind and body.

After stowing my camera in my dance bag, I unwrapped my ballet skirt from around my waist and donned my orange and turquoise Arabic practice skirt. I stood at the barre and waited for class to begin. Samm found her place at the barre behind me.

“When did all this happen?” she asked.

I turned to face her. “When did what happen?”

“I don’t know how it all started with Jan. Was it your idea?”

Corkey had been silent during the picture taking and the between-class bustle, but now she spoke, sounding surprised at Samm’s question. “You were there. It started a couple of months ago when we all went to see the Trocks.” By “Trocks” she meant Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, a glorious and gloriously funny all male ballet troupe. “When we were at lunch before the show, someone mentioned that Pat was a writer. Jan suggested she write a book about us and even volunteered to be the victim.”

“Oh.” Samm slid one slim leg behind her in a deep lunge and stretched her body forward. “I sat at the other end of the table that day, so I didn’t know.”

“I didn’t know either,” Marilyn said. Marilyn was a quietly cheerful woman who seemed to take everything in stride despite the major losses she had suffered. Or maybe the loss of her husband and best friend had taught her to take things as they came. Either way, she was easy to talk to and easy to be around. “My son and grandson met me that day, and I ate with them.” Her greenish eyes twinkled with pixyish delight. “Maybe we should all tell Pat a secret that will come out during the story.”

Samm continued to stretch, and Corkey drew tendus on the floor with her properly pointed feet. Their so obvious non-response to Marilyn’s suggestion made me wonder what secrets they were hiding. Was it my obligation as a writer to pry out those secrets, or did my obligation as a friend demand that I leave them alone?

To be continued here: Chapter 1e

***

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.

MS. CICY’S NIGHTMARE — Chapter 1c

Ms. Cicy's NighmareMs. Cicy’s Nightmare is a fictional work in progress set at a dance studio where I take classes. All the characters have real life counterparts (except perhaps me as the narrator. I’m not sure how real I am). I have everyone’s permission to use their names. Here’s hoping I end up with as many friends at the end of the project as I have now. If you’ve missed any of the story to date, you can find it here: Ms. Cicy’s Nightmare

***

Samm, a lithe woman of unknown years (unknown to me, that is) with wonderfully flawless dark skin, entered the dance studio. She was the type of woman who could randomly pull two or three unmatched items out of her closet and look as if she’d spent hours dressing herself for a Vogue photo shoot. That day she wore her purple practice skirt, which wrapped twice around her hips (mine barely wrapped once, if you must know), a maroon scarf tied into a turban-like affair, and a bluish-purple long-sleeved shirt with the tails tied at her waist. It wasn’t only her age Samm was quiet about, but her earlier years, too. Perhaps she had been a model at one time. Or maybe she had reason to be secretive — a woman with a sordid past.

Samm watched me take the photo of Jan in her death pose below the barre, then asked, “how are you going to get Jan into that exact position when she’s killed?”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” I admitted.

“Maybe she was trying to reach the barre so she could die dancing,” Samm said.

Jan gave a little laugh. “That’s too true to be funny.” Then, more seriously, she added, “Dying while dancing is how I’d like to go out. I just wouldn’t want to die on stage with all those people watching like a friend of mine did.”

Dying to Dance would be a good name for the book,” I said. “Or maybe Sashaying with Death. Or Death en Croix.

“Why does it have to be death.” Cicy said with a moue of distaste. Ms. Cicy is our teacher, a 77-year-old with the body of a woman half her age and the legs of a teenager. When she dances, you can almost see the years melt away, and she is young again.

“Maybe we could call it Ms. Cicy’s something,” I said

Ms. Cicy’s Nightmare.” Cicy giggled, sounding about seventeen. “Maybe you don’t really kill Jan. Maybe I wake up and find that I dreamt the whole thing.”

“Great title,” I said, hoping the teacher wouldn’t notice I didn’t comment on her idea about Jan’s death being a dream. It’s a time honored ending, of course, but I thought if I were going to go through the trouble of killing Jan, it should be for real.

Glee lit Cicy’s beautiful dark eyes. “I could be the murderess. I have experience.”

I felt my jaw drop. Cicy had experience with murder? It seemed impossible that anyone who danced with such expressive moves — moves that spoke of life — could have a history of violence.

“It was a murder weekend,” Cicy explained. “I was the murderess, a princess from a foreign country. I even wore a tiara.”

I blew out a breath of relief, glad I didn’t have to alter my impression of the dance teacher, at least not yet. “But why would you want to murder Jan?”

Cicy exchanged glances with Jan, who had risen and was smoothing her skirt. “Maybe she stole my choreography.”

I understood the need to protect one’s work any way one could, yet in truth, Cicy routinely gave us her choreography. Every step she taught gifted us with her work.

Still, such an irrational theft, as minor as it might seem to the danceless, could be a killing offense, especially if Jan were to give Cicy’s work to a rival instructor. (I’ve lost track of how many dance classes Jan took. Three or four from Ms. Cicy, and at least a couple more from other teachers. In the dance world, such promiscuousness could be motive enough for wanting someone dead.)

I am new to dance, but even I had experienced the deep emotions dredged up by dancing. In just a few short months, dancing had become a need, a pilgrimage, a soul quest.

“Do you know how long it will be before the cops get here,” I asked Jan, thinking how disappointed I would feel if class had to be cancelled.

“A long time. Maybe a couple of hours.”

That seemed excessive to me, but I figured Jan should know since her husband is a retired criminalist.

I looked around the dance studio. The place wasn’t large, perhaps fifteen feet wide by sixty feet long. Mirrors lined one long wall and a barre stretched across the opposite wall. A small nook at the back of the studio had been furnished as a miniscule waiting room, and a corner had been cordoned off with a counter and cabinet for an office. Pictures and posters hung on the walls, but other than that, the studio was empty.

“If we have to stay here for a couple of hours waiting for the cops, we might as well have a class,” I said. “The floor will be mostly bare since Jan’s body won’t take up much room, we’d be dressed for the occasion, and our minds would not yet have processed the truth. I like the idea of a group of aging women dancing in the face of death.”

By this time, the rest of the class had arrived. All eight women stared at me with various shades of disbelief, but I shrugged off their attitude. This was my story, my murder, and I could choreograph it any way I wished.

Jan shook her head with mock sadness. “I am truly hurt that no one will mourn me.”

“Of course, we’ll mourn you,” I told her. “But it will have to wait until after class.”

Jan smiled, but I don’t think she thought my comment funny.

To be continued here: Chapter 1d

***

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.

MS. CICY’S NIGHTMARE — Chapter 1b

Ms. Cicy's NighmareMs. Cicy’s Nightmare is a fictional work in progress. All the characters have real life counterparts (except perhaps me as the narrator. I’m not sure how real I am). I have everyone’s permission to use their names. Here’s hoping I end up with as many friends at the end of the project as I have now. If you’ve missed any of the story to date, you can find it here: Ms. Cicy’s Nightmare

***

Before belly dance class the next week, I asked Jan how she wanted to be killed. Since she’d initiated this lethal game, I thought it only right that she got to choose the means of her demise. So much fairer than the way life works, wouldn’t you say? I mean, few among us get to choose our own end. Life, the greatest murderer of all times, chooses how we expire, whether we will it or not.

Jan laughed at my question and said she didn’t care.

Death is often messy — and smelly — with blood and body wastes polluting the scene, and I did not feel like dealing with such realities. Besides, the murder was to take place at Ms. Cicy’s dance studio, and I didn’t want to be haunted forever after by the scent of a gruesome end for Jan. It would put a damper on the pure joy of dancing, and I couldn’t allow that to happen.

So . . . no blood, body wastes, smells, or any unpleasantness. It would be a nice gentle murder befitting our nice, gentle victim. Poison, perhaps, or a blow on the head. Neither of those means of murder would be particularly gentle on Jan, of course, but then it’s not her sensibilities I’m worried about. After all, she’d be dead and beyond such matters.

I continued to fret over motives. It seemed inconceivable that anyone would want Jan dead, but I kept on with my preparations for her murder. One day I brought my camera to class so I could take a photo of her would-be corpse lying on the studio’s wooden dance floor. When Jan walked into the studio, dressed in her green and beige silk belly dance practice skirt, I asked if she’d play dead for me. I expected to have to take several shots to get the pose I wanted, but she sank to the floor as gracefully as she did everything else, and lay in the ideal pose.

Right then I knew I could kill Jan. She was just too damn perfect.

To be continued here: Chapter 1c

***

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.

If You Like the Movie “Enemy” . . .

If you liked the movie Enemy, you might enjoy my novel, More Deaths Than One. Both stories are about doppelgangers of a sort. In Enemy, Adam sees his other self in “reel life” while In More Deaths Than One, Bob sees himself in real life.

Insomniac Bob Stark has returned from eighteen years in SE Asia and is sitting in a coffee shop in the middle of the night reading the current newspaper when he sees an obituary for his mother, a woman he buried twenty-two years previously. He goes to her funeral and watches the service from the shadows of a lilac bush.

Clustered with their backs to him stood a man, a woman, and six children ranging in age from about two years old to about sixteen. The obituary had mentioned six grandchildren, Bob recalled. Were these six his brother’s offspring, by an ex-wife, perhaps?

One of the children, a pudgy little boy, reached out and yanked the pigtails of the taller, skinnier girl slouching next to him. She slapped him. The next moment they were rolling on the ground and pummeling each other.

The woman turned around. “Stop it, you two.”

Bob sucked in his breath. Lorena Jones, his college girlfriend? What was she doing here? How did she know these people? He certainly hadn’t introduced her to them.

Feeling dizzy, he studied her while she scolded the children. Deep lines and red splotches marred her once satiny smooth face, and her body appeared bloated, as if she had not bothered to lose the extra weight from her last pregnancy or two. Despite those changes, she looked remarkably like her college picture he still carried in his wallet along with the Dear John letter that had ended their relationship.

Lorena nudged the man next to her. “Robert Stark, don’t just stand there. Do something.”

The man she called Robert Stark turned around to admonish the children.

Bob stared. The other Robert Stark seemed to have aged a bit faster than he, seemed more used, but the resemblance could not be denied. He was looking at himself.

Although some of the themes of the movie and my book are similar — identity, individuality, irony — my story is much easier to understand, though still surprising. Best of all, you don’t have to deal with spiders, real or symbolic.

***

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.

MS. CICY’S NIGHTMARE — Chapter 1a

Ms. Cicy's NighmareMs. Cicy’s Nightmare is a fictional work in progress. All the characters have real life counterparts (except perhaps me as the narrator. I’m not sure how real I am). I have everyone’s permission to use their names. Here’s hoping I end up with as many friends at the end of the project as I have now.

***

I didn’t want to kill Jan — it was her idea. I’ve literarily killed hundreds of thousands of people, so it shouldn’t have been difficult to murder one dainty older woman, but the truth is I couldn’t think of a single reason to kill her. She is charming, kind, with a smile for everyone, and the ghost of her youthful beauty is still apparent on her lovely face.

It’s not that I object to killing, you understand. I could easily kill my verbally abusive alcoholic brother, and as a matter of fact, I almost did so today. He broke my bedroom window and screamed obscenities at me while I cleaned up the glass. At one point, I hefted a platter-sized piece of glass and considered Frisbeeing it at his neck, but it seemed like too much trouble. There would not only be the glass to clean up, but all the blood and his dead carcass. So not worth it!

Besides, there’d be no mystery to his death — anyone who heard that relentless verbal assault would understand my need to kill him. The only mystery would be if I could get away with the crime.

Killing someone no one would ever have a reason to kill, like Jan — now, that would be a true mystery. And a challenge.

I blogged about the possibility of murdering Jan, of course. I blog about everything — blogging is my outlet, my support, my discipline. Readers expressed the opinion that killing off one’s friends is a good way of losing those friends, and I had to agree. Alive, Jan is so much sweeter — and sweeter smelling — than she ever would be dead. Besides, I enjoy dancing with Jan, both in the classroom and onstage. (Okay, so our class danced together on stage only once, but it was special for all that.)

The day after I decided not to kill Jan, several of us dancing classmates went to lunch together. When we turned to leave the restaurant after munching on salads and sandwiches, I accidentally swung my dance bag and narrowly missed hitting Corkey, a tanned, elegant blonde a couple of years older and a couple of inches shorter than me.

Corkey deadpanned, “I’m not the one who volunteered to be the murder victim.”

That cracked me up, and right then I decided I had to follow through with the project. I mean, really — how could I not use such a perfect line?

To be continued here: Chapter 1b

***

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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