Category Archives: how-to writing

How I Got Back On Track With Writing Resolutions

My quivering computer awaiting my first words of 2014.  (Photo credit: Sandra Bell Kirchman)

My quivering computer awaiting my first words of 2014. (Photo credit: Sandra Bell Kirchman)

At the end of 2013, I am sitting at my computer, wondering how to sum up the year and whether or not I should set some goals for 2014.

Why did I fail to reach so many goals in 2013?  Was it because I took too big a bite, trying to do NaNoWriMo, and an online magazine column, two novels, three blogs, and a book of flash fiction stories?

Was it because of my body betraying me in a number of poor health ways?

Was it because I couldn’t get organized and had a mess on my desk and a clutter in my head?

As I ponder, I decide that each of the above reasons had something to do with falling woefully short of my goals. A small something.  How did I arrive at that somewhat startling conclusion?  Because I have really wanted to accomplish something in the past…a number of somethings…and ended up finishing them ahead of time.  Each of these goals had been as big as 2013’s targets.

"Witchcanery" by Sandra Bell Kirchman, First Editiion, pub. 2007 by FantasyFic

“Witchcanery” by Sandra Bell Kirchman, First Edition, pub. 2007 by FantasyFic

The key here was “wanting.”  I really wanted to accomplish them.  So did that mean I didn’t want to accomplish my writing goals for the past year?  No.  I definitely did want to finish my Nano entry and ended up in emergency instead.  The entry was the sequel to my published novel Witchcanery.

I had, in the past, had customers (fans) who made me promise that I would write the sequel to Witchcanery before they agreed to buy it.  They had read the dust jacket and wouldn’t even start such a “fascinating book”–their words, not mine–unless I agreed to do the sequel.

So the sequel had been in the works for several years and I had promised myself that 2013 was the year Witchcanery, Baby! would explode into being.  (As you probably know, you have to complete 50,000 words before you achieve the NaNoWriMo goal.) I got as far as 22,000+ words before Mother Nature pulled the plug on me.

And seconds after writing those last words, I received an epiphany.  There is a difference between “wanting” and “being dedicated to.”  And therein lies the difference.  I have been dedicated to accomplishing many things in the past, and EVERY SINGLE ONE was accomplished.

These goals ran from marrying the man I love, to finishing, editing and publishing my first book (which happened to be Witchcanery).  I have wanted many things in the past (and many of them were important) things like pierced ears (ouch!), continuing my volunteer work, losing weight…some I achieved or received…others I did not.

What's my priority?

What’s my priority? Photo credit: Stuart Miles |

Now, here’s the kicker.  I felt fulfillment for EACH dedicated goal I achieved. Not many of them gave me real satisfaction if I achieved them.  I wanted a couple of writing courses, which I acquired after a small struggle.  I was sorry I had spent my money on them.

So what does this discrepancy mean to me?  It boils down to one thing for me.  It’s the difference between needs and wants, as simple as that.  And something I have know about since I was in my 20’s.  If I perceive it as a need, even subconsciously, then, being the survivor that I am, I will make sure I accomplish it.  If it’s only a want, I will prioritize it as to how badly I want it.  Even then, there is no guarantee I will get it.

So I’m sitting here, feeling a tad smug for having figured out what went wrong in 2013 (and quite likely how I messed up with my goals in other years).  I have a chance to right all the wrongs, like Ebenezer Scrooge after the visit from the Ghost of Christmas Future.

Proposed bookcover for "Witchcanery, Baby!"

Proposed bookcover for “Witchcanery, Baby!”

So the first thing I will put on my list for 2014 is completing Witchcanery, Baby! You want to know what happened there?  I was trying to complete it in 2013 for the wrong reasons…because fans wanted this sequel, because I had written in some parts for friends whose husbands had passed, and it was very comforting to them.  So I had to finish it, right?

Wrong!  It’s like dieting.  If I try to lose weight because my husband wants me to, or my kids, or my best friend (for some strange reason), then it’s not for me.  Body weight is personal…so is writing.  If I finish a story because I NEED to, then I have the write…er, right…of it.  And now, all the other reasons don’t matter.  I know I need to finish this story.  I can hardly wait for Dec. 31, 2014 to find out if it worked.  I’ll keep you posted.

So, how about you?  What keeps you from accomplishing your New Year’s Resolutions or any goals you decide to earmark for completion?  Here’s a post by Daphne Gray-Grant that I just read about using the right word when making goals.  I think it might help.


Rocky Road chapters being discontinued — Read why

shocked-smileyI found out, while reading Anne R. Allen’s blog today, something I didn’t know.  It stunned me, and I could feel the blood draining from my face as I read it.  If you are an author, specifically a fiction novelist, you would probably be interested in finding out why.

I won’t keep you in suspense; the agony of it is impact enough!  Here’s what Anne had to say in her blog (and here’s the link to the entire blog, Social Media Secrets, Part 3: What Should An Author Blog About?).  Below she is talking about what NOT to blog about:

Your Fiction WIP. Especially if you hope to attract an agent. Not only do agents not have time to hunt for novels in the blogosphere, but they generally won’t take a novel that’s been blogged because it’s already “published.” (Selling novels is a different process from selling nonfiction—which is generally based 99% on platform—so the rules are different.

Some writers ARE able to attract a blog following by posting some short fiction or poetry, but I don’t recommend you do it exclusively, because people skim blogs and usually won’t read denser stuff. Plus you are giving away first rights and can’t enter it in contests or submit to journals after putting it on a blog. It’s better to post work in progress on a place like Wattpad which is password-protected and therefore not “publishing.

“But especially don’t blog your unedited, unfinished novel hoping for praise or critique. You’ll thank me later when you’re at your editing stage. Honest. (If you want critique, I suggest you join one of the many online groups for the purpose, like

If you haven’t been reading the Anne R. Allen blog (with Ruth Harris), I highly recommend it.  This woman is absolutely chock full of valuable information about blogging, writing in general, fiction writing, non-fiction writing, publishing, literary agents, contracts, legal obligations and clauses (and when to get a lawyer) and anything else to do with these matters that you can think of.  Every blog of hers soothes me (or excites me as the situation calls for).

However, what I really wanted to talk about is why I am discontinuing publishing my WIP novel The Rocky Road to the End of the World here.  Obviously, the above quote from Anne will give you a clue.  But what it means to me is I won’t be able to try and sell first rights to this book to any publishing house.  Or I won’t be able to promote my book as first-time ever on the book stands, if I self-publish.

Right now, I feel drowned in disaster, especially considering that all the short stories I’ve written in the past three years have been published on my blog. I was planning on trying to sell them either as an anthology of my short stories, or a short, read-one-at-a-time e-book on Kindle.  And I won’t be able to enter the short stories in any contest.  Now it’s a mess which I will have to clean up.

I’m very sorry to disappoint you re Rocky Road.  If you are a writer, however, perhaps you can regard this as a serious matter and a lucky heads-up with respect to your own writing.  I will be reverting to my how-to’s and anecdotes in this blog.  Thank you for sticking with me.

CHAPTER SIX – A Hard Lesson, Learned the Hard Way

CHAPTER SIX – A Hard Lesson, Learned the Hard Way

 (from the novel, The Rocky Road to the End of the World)
Copyright (c) 2013 by Sandra Bell Kirchman
All rights reserved.

         My eyes had barely closed, when Mark patted my shoulder.  “Alex, wake up.”  I jerked awake and sat up stiffly, which produced a groan of protest from Tilly.

“It’s too dark for me to continue in unfamiliar territory.  I don’t want to switch on the lights on the Jeep in case looters spot us.  We just can’t tell where they might show up, and the Jeep is a pretty good prize for anyone heading north.”  Mark rubbed his eyes and yawned.  “I’ve pulled the Jeep over on the other side of the ditch, and I hope we’re hidden by trees here.  It might just be a small patch or it might be a huge forest.  I can’t tell, but it’s the best we can do for now.”

I patted his hand.  “You’ve done great, Mark.  Do you want me to stay up and watch, first shift?”

“I don’t think so,” Mark replied.  “No point in staying up to watch when you can’t see past your nose, it’s so dark.  I would if the moon was out, but you know what a light sleeper I am.  It’s almost as good as being away.”  He laughed, and I smiled, glad that he could still make his little jokes.  “Let’s get some rest, and we might make reasonable time tomorrow.  I hope we can find some purple gas, though.  I don’t want to use our last few cans of regular gas.”  He yawned again, practically inhaling all the Jeep’s oxygen in the process.  “I hope the dogs will sleep okay.”

I hoped they would too and fell asleep practically before I finished the thought.

My dreams were scattered and unresolved, pretty much the way my day had been.  What woke me up was Oreo whimpering in his sleep.  I shouldn’t have taken him our of his carrier then; he was still sleeping along with everyone else.  Mark always said I worried way too much about the dogs.  In retrospect, it was a hard way to learn a lesson I’ll never forget.

I reached past Justin, who apparently slept like the dead, as we had already seen the previous day.  By twisting quietly and kneeling, I could just back and slip open the door of the carrier stacked sideways behind Justin’s seat; Oreo cautiously pushed it open with his nose.

Usually he bounded and/or wiggled his way to me, his tail waving with delight.  This time he crept…past the gap between Justin’s seat and the rear door.  I picked him up, just about breaking my puckering string in the process.  Oreo was a husky little bundle.  Tilly greeted him quietly and Oreo pressed against me, trembling.  How terribly hard this was on him.  He hated the car, and twenty hours in one was almost too much for him.  I felt I should have let him out when we stopped for a little exercise and a potty break.  I have to admit I didn’t want to face Mark with such a request.

Oreo shivered and whimpered again, and I knew what the main problem was.  He had to go out, and not just pee this time.  I didn’t know what to do.  I looked over at Mark and he was sleeping as if he too were dead.  He must have been exhausted.  He wasn’t a youngster anymore, and dealing with people stressed him out.  I began to realize what I had done to him by inviting Justin and Patty to ride with us.

Oreo whimpered again, more urgently, and I made up my mind.  I quietly opened the door and let Oreo down on the ground.  Tilly thought that was a great idea and jumped down as well.  Her silvery coat glowed in the moonlight.  I look up and thought, damn, it’s almost as bright as day.  This is not a good idea.  Oreo had run ahead to find the “perfect” spot for a poo.  I picked up Tilly and trotted after him.  I could see well enough to spot him in the underbrush and I let Tilly down to do her own little duty.  Just as I was picking her up, the sound of someone crunching through the brush made me spin around.

“All right, lady,” a man said, emerging into the full moonlight, “you’re gonna help me get that vehicle.”  He waved his gun at me.  “I will use this if I have to.  I want that Jeep.”

I gasped.  “You’re the man from our last rest stop.  How-how did you catch up to us on foot?  It’s not possible!”

He gave a low chuckle and couldn’t resist a macho boast.  “You never saw me in my old beat-up Chevy.  I came to, just as your tail lights winked around the bend, and followed you.  I’m not stupid enough to attack a vehicle full of possibly armed bozos, so I was just waiting for my chance.  And you’re it.”

He grabbed me roughly by the arm and thrust me ahead of him.  “You’re going to go back to the car and wake up the driver and tell him he has to come out.  Tell him anything…like, you twisted your ankle and can’t get back in the car by yourself with the dog.  That’s it.  Give him the dog.  That’ll distract him.

“Get moving, and limp like you mean it.”

I had almost blurted out about Oreo still in the brush, then thought better of it.  It would serve no useful purpose letting him know about the dog, and maybe Oreo might startle him at a good time.

He gave me a push to get me started.  I stumbled and started limping.  At the same time, a whirlwind of growling fury flew at us…at the man, actually.  I had never seen Oreo in a killing rage, but he had only one thing in mind: to get this terrible man away from his beloved Mommy.

The man pivoted with a startled exclamation just as Oreo grabbed his shin.  From the sound of it, my dog must have taken a chunk out of the leg.  Oreo may have been small, but he had very sharp teeth.  The man was yelling, I was screaming, then there was a shot.  I stood still for a moment, staring at Oreo crumpled on the ground, a dark stain on his side oozing heavily, smearing his fur.  I dropped to my knees, still holding Tilly and set her carefully against me.  She was trembling and didn’t want to go anywhere.  She nuzzled Oreo.

I felt the pulse at his carotid artery, but there was nothing.  I held my hand to his little nose but felt not even a whisper of air.  The pain of his passing crushed my heart, and filled my eyes with tears that would not fall.  I thought I was having a heart attack, but I didn’t care.  My little baby was dead, and it was my fault.

The man jabbed cold steel against my neck.

“Get up, lady.  You are just lucky I don’t put bullets in you and the other little mutt here.”

I got to my feet and trembled, feeling sick to my stomach, and stood there.

“Now turn very—“

Another shot rang out and the man’s body slumped against me.  I convulsively pushed him away, and Tilly yipped as his hand swiped her on the way down.  He lay still at my feet, right beside my baby.  The nightmare enveloped me, my life was running right out of me.  I wanted to scream my sorrow until I had no voice.  I knelt on the ground, sobbing.

A hand gently gripped my shoulder.  “Are you hurt?” Mark asked.

I shook my head, unable to get any words out, the sobs building up into something I didn’t think I could control.  Mark walked over to the man and pushed him onto his back with his boot.  Kneeling down, he felt for a pulse.  He stood up and shoved him again, a monumental disgust showing in his motions.

“Oreo?” Mark asked, bending over to touch the still dog.

That’s when the dam burst.  I cried as I hadn’t since my mother died twenty years ago.  My heart felt like it was about three sizes too large for my chest, and I had trouble catching my breath.  My beautiful little Oreo, such a gentle, sweet soul, and he was gone…and it was my fault.

Mark touched me on the shoulder again.  I looked up and saw the sorrow on his face.  I made a huge effort to get myself under control.  Oreo had been Mark’s little buddy.  He was always telling Oreo, “It’s hard looking after da wimmins all day.  Us guys gotta stick together, right, Buddy?”  A shudder went through me but I clamped down on it.

“Babe, we better get going.  We don’t know if that guy had any friends around, or if all this noise is bringing someone to investigate…or loot.”

I nodded my head vaguely.  “Sure, Mark, soon as we bury Oreo.”

Mark was silent, and I looked up at him again.  His stunned expression faded quickly to a look of hopelessness.

That look shocked me into a state of realization.  I was putting him another corner.  Here I had not only gotten Oreo killed, but I was jeopardizing Mark, the other two people, and the other two dogs with my sentimental notion that a burial was necessary.  I just couldn’t stand the thought of wild animals tearing his little body apart.

Mark jumped up.  “Wait here, I have an idea.”  He ran back to the Jeep while I felt Oreo again to make sure he was dead.  From the placement of the entry wound, it looked like the man had got Oreo with a purely lucky shot, right in the heart.  He was definitely dead.  I tried to convince myself that nothing that happened to his body now was going to hurt him.

Mark returned, carrying Oreo’s carrier, still with the pee pad and the quilt and blanket.

“You’re worried about animals eating Oreo, right?  We don’t have time to bury him, but we can put him in here, bundle him up, and put the carrier, tightly closed and locked, up in a tree.  That will keep him safe.”

Tears streamed down my face.  “Thank you, Mark,” I said softly.

It didn’t take us long to wrap him lovingly in his blanket and for Mark to put the carrier up in the limbs of a burr oak.  It was silly, I know, but I liked the idea of the pretty place we’d found for him.  He had loved barking at strange noises and he loved sitting in the sunshine in our beautiful backyard.  He would feel somewhat at home here.  Oh, damn!  I shook my head and hurried back to the Jeep.

Tilly had followed Mark back to the Jeep and he had put her inside.  She sat on my seat waiting for me.  I needed my dogs now, and Mark sensed it.

“We should probably let Ling Ling out to do her thing,” he said.  “I think with just one other dog, we can let her loose in the vehicle.”

Gratefully, I took her outside.  She wasn’t interested in playing, she was too sleepy.  She quickly did her job and hopped into the Jeep and onto my lap.

By now, both Justin and Patty were awake.  They wanted to know what had happened.  Mark explained quickly to them, and they both offered condolences to us about Oreo.  I didn’t want to talk about it now, so I changed the subject, while Mark backed us out of our spot and back onto the road, heading north.

“Mark’s driving without the headlights on because the moon is very bright tonight,” I explained.  “Hopefully, no one will spot us.  Good thing the Jeep is dark green.”

“Yeah,” Justin said.  “Too bad there isn’t much wind.  The sound of the Jeep will carry.”

Mark agreed.  “There’s not too much we can do about that.  It’s a smooth-running vehicle, but they’ll hear it whether it’s night or day.  If it becomes too much of a liability, we’ll have to abandon it.  But it’ll be at our timing and our choice of location.”

Apparently, Justin wasn’t too fond of the idea of leaving the Jeep, because he was fairly quiet after that.

And I sat there, hanging on to Ling Ling as if my life depended on it, the empty void inside me paining like someone had severed something vital.

* * * * * *

(Author’s Note:  Sorry for being late with this installment.  I had an accident which cause me to rest more than I normally do.  I don’t want to say what it was, but my gluteus maximus and a fall downstairs were involved.) 



CHAPTER FOUR – Potty Breaks Can Be Hazardous to Your Health

CHAPTER FOUR – Potty Breaks Can Be Hazardous To Your Health
(from the novel, The Rocky Road to the End of the World)
Copyright (c) 2013 by Sandra Bell Kirchman
All rights reserved.

         “So, Justin, what’ll it be?” Mark said finally.

After a long moment, Justin replied in a low voice, “I guess I’ll stay.”  Then right away, “Sorry, don’t mean to be begrudging.  I really appreciate you letting me stay.  I’ll try and make it worth your while.”

“That’s fine, Justin,” I said.  “Just stay healthy.”

“Uh, so, Justin,” I heard Patty say, as I turned to face the front, “how long have you lived in Spiritvale?”

“A couple of years,” he murmured.  Their voices sank to a pleasant buzz, and I relaxed into my seat.

“Need me to drive?” I asked Mark.

“No, I’m good,” he said.  “I’m not sure how much longer we’ll be able to use the Jeep, though.  Get some rest while you can.”  He looked worried, and I conceded his right to look that way.

“I’ll try,” I answered doubtfully.  Honestly, I was as worried as Mark looked, and I was being inundated by all the what-ifs.  What if we ran out of gas?… What if I broke a leg?… What if the dogs couldn’t keep up?… I was very good at what-iffing.

The car cruised to a stop, and I woke up.

“Why’d we stop?” I asked, not sleepy anymore.

“Two reasons: I need to take a leak, and the news is getting worse.  I’m not sure we should stick to the road anymore and I want to take a look at the map.”  Mark got out of the car and disappeared into the brush.

“Wha’s happening?” Justin called sleepily from the rear seat.

“Nothing major,” I reassured him.  “Mark had to take a leak, and he wants to take a look at the map.”

“Me too,” Justin said urgently.  “Excuse me, Patty.”

As he disappeared in Mark’s general direction, I glanced at the sky and realized I had been sleeping for at least a couple of hours.  It was getting dark.  There was a smell of dampness in the air, signaling rain sometime in the near future.  It would be a bad time to leave the Jeep, I reckoned.

Justin and Mark arrived back at the Jeep and got settled in.

Patty laughed.  “Those gas station maps aren’t much good for anything except to give you a general idea of where the main roads go.  They don’t show most of the grid roads.”

“Yeah, I know,” Mark replied, unrolling a large white map.  “Turn on the overhead lamp, Alex.”

Reaching up, I clicked the ceiling light on.  “Don’t worry, Patty,” I said.  “Mark is an expert in tracking, hunting, map-reading, and survival.  We couldn’t be safer in anyone else’s hands.”

Patty grinned and the light of it almost illuminated the interior of the Jeep.  “That’s good to know.  For once, I’ll be able to tell my folks I used my head.”

“Yep.”  Justin nodded approvingly.  I suspected they had shared their life stories.  They seemed very comfortable with each other.  I wondered if Mark and I would feel comfortable with each other again.

After making a few notations on the map, he handed it to me.  “I think we’ll keep on going as long as we can.  I’ve marked out a route that should keep us away from crowds.  You can’t tell about the farmers living along the route, though.  You can bet they’ll all have guns.  Hopefully, they’ll be sleeping.”

I was the only one who knew that Mark was kidding, but the other two took comfort from his remark.

“I’m going to fill the gas tank with the reserve I brought along.  We don’t need it yet, but I don’t want to have to stop once we get going, and I won’t be going into any towns for gas.  With luck we’ll find a deserted farm with purple gas available.”

“Purple gas?” Justin asked.

“A low grade of gas that farmers are allowed to use in their tractors, etc.  Not legal for ordinary vehicles, but I don’t suppose anyone will be objecting,” Mark replied.  “Now, if anyone has to take a leak, take it now.  Alex, take the dogs out to stretch their legs, and feed them.  As for us, perhaps Justin could rummage through the food sack and see if there is anything we can eat as we go…chips, beef jerky, stuff like that.”

I thought quickly.  “Well, maybe while Justin is working on our food orders, Patty and I can take a pee.  When I get back, I would appreciate help with the dogs.”

Patty nodded and hopped out of the car.  I grabbed a box of tissues and followed her.  When we were finished, I spotted a small glade just yards away from the side of the highway.  With all the dense brush and trees surrounding it, I thought it would be perfect for the dogs.

Justin staggered a bit when he got out of the car, but seemed to regain his balance after a few tries at walking.  Patty handed Tilly Tot out to me, then reached in behind the back seat and passed out the carriers holding LingLing and Oreo.

Oreo was trembling, and I handed Tilly to Justin so I could pick Oreo up.  He was a chunky little Shih Tzu, weighed about fifteen pounds, and was ordinarily the pint-sized king of his domain at home.  Here, it was a strange wilderness, obviously governed by something else from the smells.  Although he was no coward, he didn’t seem very anxious to meet this something else.  When we got to the glade, I put him down beside me and walked away a bit to give him privacy to do his duty.  He hastily followed me every step I took.  So I stood still and let him do some long-distance sniffing.

Patty and Justin took their cue from me and put the dogs they were holding down.  Tilly did her job and then casually strolled around the glade, sniffing here and there with great interest.  LingLing was delighted and pranced around as if the glade were her own private yard.  She had claimed ownership of the big yard we had at home and this seemed no different to her.

One problem arose.  LingLing had been trained to the pee pad so well that she wouldn’t pee on the grass.  Poop, yes, but not pee.  I signalled to Justin and Patty to watch all the dogs while I made a dash back to the vehicle.  I was happy to note that Oreo was now so interested in the smells that he didn’t notice I had left.  I grabbed a pee pad from the kit bag and hurried back.

Justin was sitting cross-legged on the grass, chewing a blade of grass, while Patty was walking around the glade shaking the kinks out of her legs.  The dogs ignored her, all three intensely interested in the magnificent odours, many of which they had never smelled before.  I put the pee pad down in an out-of-the-way place, for which LingLing was grateful.  She was very private about her personal daintiness.

I decided the glade was as good a place as any to feed and water the dogs.  I ran back to the Jeep to let Mark know what we were doing.  He nodded and I could see he was getting annoyed again at how slowly things were going.  Mark would feel like he was in heaven if his life could be run with military precision.  He was the only man I knew who would eat his food as a chore to be finished quickly.  He didn’t dine; he shovelled, and then was off to doing something else.  Resting was a foreign concept; yet he needed it more than anyone I’d ever known.  I told him we wouldn’t be long, and ran back to the glade with the materials.

I fixed their little dishes, and added Tilly’s arthritis medication to her kibbles.  Putting the bowls down near each other, I filled the big bowl about half-full of water, trying to conserve it until I knew for sure there would be more available.

The dogs must have been hungry because they dug into their kibbles like they actually liked them.  Not even any trouble with Tilly and her arthritis medication.  Then they took turns taking drinks.  Justin and Patty, bless their hearts, started playing with them, throwing a stick for Ling Ling to chase, rolling Oreo in the grass and tickling him, and petting Tilly and letting her know what a pretty girl she was.

When it got to the point that I knew we’d better get back or Mark would be fuming, I changed the pee pads in the carriers and loaded the two dogs.  It didn’t take long to get us all squared away.  Patty and Justin were more comfortable, since we repacked the back seat to make it more compact and give the two more room.  I got the sneaking hunch that they didn’t mind the togetherness all that much.

“Okay, everyone ready?” Mark said, a little more forcefully than necessary, I thought, as a small chorus of yeses answered him.  “Justin, did you manage to get some food ready for us?”

“Aye, aye, sir,” Justin said with a grin.  He dug into the pack and pulled out four bundles each wrapped in a napkin and handed them out.

Curious, I unwrapped mine and found two sticks of jerky beef, a large cube of cheddar cheese, mild, a chocolate bar, and an apple.  Justin then handed around a can of pop and dug into his own little meal.  It was strangely satisfying, and I munched happily, as Mark pulled the car around to head north again.

“When we’ve finished eating, Alex, I’ll need you to guide me once we reach the first bend.”

“Okay,” I said and sighed mentally.  It was going to be a long rocky ride to the end of the world.

After I finished eating and wiping my face with the napkin, I dropped whatever needed to be disposed into the plastic bag that Justin passed around, then picked up the grid map.  It was a plainly lettered map, divided into rectangles, with the grid roads riding as boundaries to the largest rectangles, or a combination of rectangles.  The east-west roads were township roads and the north-south roads were range roads.  It appeared we were on Range Road 36 W2M, whatever that meant.  I gave Mark the information, to which he grunted without comment.

A pained sigh came from the back seat.  I craned my neck to see what the problem was.  Patty whispered to me.

“Now I have to go number two.  Will Mark be mad if I ask him to stop now?”

I nodded.  “Probably,” I whispered back.  “But ask him anyhow.  When you gotta go, you gotta go.”

Patty nodded back and cleared her throat.  “Uh, Mark, so sorry about this but I have to go to the can again, this time for a…um…poo.  Must be the huge meal I just had.”  She laughed in embarrassment.

Mark was silent, and I was afraid he was going to explode.  He gave so much of himself most of the time that people were shocked when they found out he had little tolerance for many people-type foibles.  Dog-type foibles too.

Then he said in a strained voice, “All right.  I realize it’s hard to regulate your bodily functions.  But, in the future, just a heads up that there will be times when we won’t be able to stop for anything.  We don’t know what we’re facing from the environment, but we do know what people threatened with extinction will do.”

White-faced, Patty exited the vehicle, clutching the tissue box I had handed to her.  She scrambled through the ditch and disappeared into the trees.

CHAPTER 3 – Business Managers Are Indestructible

CHAPTER THREE – Business Managers Are Indestructible
Copyright © 2013 by Sandra Bell Kirchman

Not sure how long I dozed, but I awoke to the sound of angry voices.  Still woozy from sleep, I rubbed my eyes and looked around.  Mark was sitting in the driver’s seat, dark circles under his eyes.  Outside, in front of the Jeep, a young woman stood off to the side, while two men waved their fists and shouted at each other.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

Mark shook his head.  “Who knows?” he said.  “I deliberated for a while cuz I really didn’t want to take a chance on stopping.  I’ll probably regret it, but I decided make a quick side trip into this town to check the air in the driver’s side front tire and to fill up with gas while we were here.

“I slowed down to turn left into that gas station,” …I noticed an Esso on the left… “and these three idiots appeared from nowhere and started arguing.  They’re too close for me to turn left, and if I back up they follow me.”  He snorted with disgust.

“Did you get out and ask them what they are doing?” I said.

Mark didn’t say anything.  I gathered he hadn’t.

I undid my seat belt, tucked Tilly firmly under my arm and stepped out of the car.

“Alex, get back in here!” Mark roared.  “You can’t trust anyone.”

Ignoring him, I walked to the front of the vehicle.  “Excuse me, but would you mind moving so that we can drive into the gas station?  We have a tire that needs looking at.”

The two men paid no attention to me and continued their shouting match.

The girl came up behind me.  “They’re arguing about who gets the Jeep,” she said in disgust.

“Pardon me…they’re what?”  I suppose the honest confusion showed on my face.  The girl put a hand on my shoulder.

“I know it sounds pretty terrible, when you say it like that.  If it’s any consolation, I’ve been trying to talk ’em out of it.  Being the bozos they are, they’re not listening to anyone right now.”

I nodded and bit my lip as I turned back to the shouters.

“Over my dead body,” the youngish, short man yelled.

“That can be arranged,” the taller, older man shouted.

The young guy swung his fist, but the older man saw it coming and ducked.  This threw the young guy off-balance and the older guy kicked him when he was down, producing a roar of rage from the young guy.

“The owners locked the pumps and left, so you won’t be able to get gas.  If you hurry, you can probably back up and fill your tire with air,” the girl said.

“Thanks, we’ll do that,” I told her.

“You have such a cute dog,” she said.  “By the way, my name’s Patty.”

“Alex,” I said over my shoulder and hopped into the car.  Mark had seen the turn of events and backed up before I said anything.  I told him the conversation while he gunned the Jeep into the gas station driveway, stopping at the air pump.

While Mark worked with the tire, I took Tilly out on a small patch of lawn and let her do her thing.  The other two would use a pee pad, as we had trained them, but Tilly was set in her ways and only the great outdoors would do for her.  I scooped her up just as Patty came scrambling down the hill.

“Look, you seem like nice folk,” she said.  “Let me unlock the pump and turn the pump mechanism on for you to get gas.”

I didn’t ask any questions.  “Wonderful, Patty.  I’ll tell Mark.”  She hurried over to the far pump, fishing out a set of keys from her jeans pocket.

Just as we were filled and ready to go, a shot rang out from the direction of the crowd at the top of the hill.  It wasn’t a car backfiring, either.  I just knew it was one of the fighters.  I looked at Patty and she looked at me.  Without a word, I opened the back door and shoved her in beside Justin, then hastily took my seat in the front.

Mark had jumped in and gunned the car.  “What are you doing with her?” he growled.

“Never mind.  The guy who wants our Jeep apparently has a gun.  Let’s get out of here.”

We sped out of the gas station and onto the small ribbon of asphalt heading north.

“Where do you want dropped off, miss?” Mark called to the back of the Jeep.

There was a small pause, then, “Would you have room for me?  Mom and Dad left this morning, but I refused to go.  Jeff was still here, but…”  Patty’s voice trailed off.

“We sure as shooting don’t have room for Jeff,” Mark growled.  “Non-negotiable.”

“That’s not a problem.”  Patty’s voice was trembling.  “He won’t be coming.”

I felt so sorry for the girl.  “You sure, sweetie?  I bet we could make room if we tried.”

“No, ma’am.  One of those two was the shooter and the other was the victim.  They’ve both turned into monsters that I don’t know anymore.  My folks were right.”

I turned to catch a tear rolling down her cheek and felt the surge of her sorrow.  How terrible was it to know that your lover was either a potential murderer or possibly a murder victim…and not know which one it was, to boot?

I looked back at the gas station.  A sizable crowd had gathered up on the road, people were shouting, and I noticed two or three guns being brandished.  O Canada!  When had we turned into a rabble?  We were lucky to get out of there.

Just as I cleared my throat to start talking, to help Patty adjust to the terrible shock she must be feeling, a moan that sounded like a ghost speaking through a tunnel emanated from Justin   Patty jumped and edged away from him.  The two dogs in the carriers in the back started barking, and Justin groaned again.  He reached up to touch the back of his head, winced, and let his arm drop.

“What happened?  Where am I?  Who is this?” he demanded.

“Easy, Justin, ” Mark said, checking him out in the rear view mirror.  “Two rednecks tried to steal my truck and thought you were a threat.  One guy beaned you with a rock.  We couldn’t leave you there so we brought you with us.”

“Sorry about that, Justin, but we can’t take you back.  We can let you off if you want.”  I turned to Mark.  “How far north of Spiritvale do you think we are, Mark?”

He paused for a moment, then said, “Probably a couple of hundred miles.”

“A couple of hundred…”  Justin turned pale.  “I left Monster in the house.  I have to go back.  There’s no real reason to be running north.  Australia could be just having an electric blackout for some reason.  There’s no new news.  I…”  He brushed his hand over his face.

“Let’s see if there’s more news,” Mark said and switched the radio on.

The announcer didn’t sound happy.

The last word out of New Zealand was less than an hour ago.  All New Zealand broadcasting has ceased.  No communications of any kind are being sent from or received by that country.  This is the second country in two hours to be involuntarily removed from global communication systems.  There has been no response from Australia since this morning, nor has Papua New Guinea responded to any transmissions.

 The jet pilots sent by the Indonesian Air Force to reconnoiter the area have reported that the countries are still there, visible from the air at 20,000 feet, but that no activity is seen on radar or by the naked eye.  The planes can only approach within two miles before encountering some kind of blockade that prevents forward progress.

Scientists around the globe are are working non-stop to try to decipher the readings that the planes captured with their in-flight cameras and plotting instruments.  So far, nothing that could explain these phenomena has been discovered.  Station CJSK will continue to update this general broadcast as news comes in.

You could only hear the humming of the engine and the sound of the tires crunching through the gravel.  Only an occasional ping sounded as the gravel bounced off the side of the Jeep.  Finally, Justin spoke.

“That’s for real, then?”

“I’m afraid so, Justin,” Mark replied.  He looked as shaken as I’d ever seen him.  He pulled over to the shoulder and turned to look at Justin   “So, what’s it to be?  Drive on or get out here?”

“I-I don’t know.  I might not even get back to Spiritvale.  I bet there are more grotty characters roaming around like those two back in town.”

Patty narrowed her eyes as she spoke up for the first time.  “You weren’t even conscious in Breckenridge.  How did you know about that?”

“No, Patty,” I answered here, as Justin frowned and looked at Patty.  “Justin is talking about two looters back in Spiritvale, where we come from.”  I patted her on the shoulder.  “Justin is our neighbour.  Justin, meet Patty, daughter of the Esso station owners in Breckenridge.  Patty, meet Justin, a worker at the potash mine south of Spiritvale.”

“Business manager,” Justin corrected and held out his hand to Patty.  “Pleased to meet you.”

They murmured pleasantries as if everything were all right in a sane world, then fell silent.  Nobody seemed to know what to say next.