Friday, March 21, 2014

Reader Friday: Alone

Writers spend a lot of time alone. So do omnivorous readers. What was a situation you once had to face alone? How did you handle it? 


  1. Oh God! This is so...timely. I was burgled just over a year ago and discovered said event after coming home from an exhausting shift. The police operator I called wanted me to go into my dark house to make sure I had definitely been burgled as the only obvious thing was the broken glass in the back door. I did question the logic of this but eventually did it while still talking on the phone to her. I quickly confirmed that I had indeed been burgled. I sat in the house with the front door open while I waited for the police to come (I live on my own). None of my neighbours were home. I phoned my geographically closest friends and chatted to them until the cops arrived.

    The police woman who came told me she would not have had the courage to do what I did, i.e., walk into that dark house alone. At which point I realized that what I had done was incredibly stupid. In the days that followed, I had a house alarm installed as well as sturdy locks on all internal doors.

    So, when the alarm went off at 2 am yesterday morning, you can image my fright. I had had another horrendous shift, was dead tired, and had been asleep for only an hour. I locked my study (where my most expensive items are kept), locked myself in my bedroom, confirmed with the security company who rang me that this was not a false alarm (they confirmed the downstairs hallway detector had gone off) and called the cops. They arrived within five minutes. I said to the operator while I was waiting for them to come that there was no way in hell I was leaving that bedroom until the cops got there.

    It did turn out to be a false alarm. But it really shook me, far more than the actual burglary. This time, I was in the house. It took me hours to fall asleep last night.

    1. Wow. Harrowing, AD. And this just proves that life is material. I would love to see this emotion captured in a scene. Thanks for sharing.

    2. It involved palpitations and mild hyperventilation, James ;)

  2. When I was about 14 I was walking home, at night. Our residential street had very few streetlights. As I walked a car drove past me and then stopped. For some reason I got a bad vibe.

    I immediately started walking backward, at the same pace. Even in my fear I was thinking, don't turn and run, that'll just let them know...make them think I'm still going forward. I walked backward to the corner, and that's when I started running down the side street. But how long before the car caught up with me?

    I ducked behind some trash cans by a fence. Lo and behold, the car drove slowly by. We were not a busy neighborhood, so no other cars.

    I waited, watched. When the car was further down the side street I started running back toward home, stopping to check for headlights all along the way, ready to duck into any hiding place I could find.

    I made it, as you can see. Maybe that incident is why I write thrillers. It is so vivid in my memory.

  3. Last April I was living alone in my old Victorian era building. 3 stories, 12K sf. I'd been having trouble with the roof, but had a series of tarps that I bailed regularly.

    A storm was forecast, but, it's Kansas. I worked in emergency services at the time, so I was on the phone with other organizations when the hail hit.

    For 12 minutes, rocks, driven by 60 mph winds, fell out of the sky hitting the curtain of glass that was the back of the building. The pounding noise echoed through the enormous spaces of the 17-foot ceilings.

    What I didn't know at the time was that fist-sized holes were being smashed in the decades-old composite.

    When the hail stopped, there was a calm while we all exchanged "holy shit, what just happened" phone calls. Then I heard a huge sound - huge. I thought the skylight had collapsed, but it was a wall of rain hitting the back walls and roof. And then the waterfalls erupted through three stories.

    In less than 25 minutes our town of 8K sustained $25 million in damage. As for the building, I took the insurance check and paid cash for a small house. It is a hulk now and will go to the highest bidder for unpaid taxes. I got such a good deal on my house because the hail had hammered the old metal siding flat on the west side.

    I ended up with a torn rotator cuff trying to deal with the deluge and the 20-inches of flood we got 3 months later.

  4. Well thankfully I haven't had to face burglars, like poor little Kevin -- or AD. I do have canines that believe they're ferocious, but based on other behaviors I'm not counting on them to do their jobs.

    My "alone" experience was last August 31. Our 20-year-old son had just had surgery on a broken ankle two days before, so I was playing nurse. Hubby and I had planned to travel to Georgia that week to attend son-in-law's graduation from a military training course. Hubby went on to Georgia; I stayed home to take care of the boy child.

    The foot doctor had given my son pain meds for post-surgery, but also had me fill a prescription for Demerol in case we hit a point the other meds weren't working (he knew something we didn't). Surgery was on Wednesday; by Friday morning the pain had increased substantially and the backup meds were needed. We'd even been in the doc's office for a checkup that a.m. and they told us it was normal. Switch to the Demerol and it will be better within 24 hours. So that's what I did, following instructions on the bottle.

    About 8:30 p.m. I walked into my son's room to deliver him a cup of coffee before I left to walk the dogs. He was on the sofa in his room, with his leg propped up. I walked in just as he was going into a grand mal seizure. His arms were bent and banging against his chest, he was foaming at the mouth, and his injured ankle was flailing up and down. (And as a side note, I had three very anxious dogs circling, ready to go for their walk!)

    The mom part of me went into a panic, but some rational voice in my head squeezed in and thought "Ok, this is a seizure. Remember what "they" say you're supposed to do." So I made sure he was safe as he slid off the couch and onto the floor, all the while my mom side was still screaming inside. Finally found a phone and called 911, and while I was waiting for the ambulance, called my husband, who was at our daughter's house. My poor daughter wanted so badly to help that before I could make the call to our neighbors (and very close friends), they showed up at my door, having been called by my daughter. :)

    The 911 dispatcher was fantastic, and our local EMS showed up very quickly. They got us delivered to the hospital ER and my dear sister-in-law showed up and sat outside the ER even though there was nothing for her to do (besides deliver me Starbucks).

    It was a harrowing brief moment in time, but all worked out in the end and everyone was safe. Not that I needed it, but the event was also a reminder to my family about how incredibly blessed we are to having loving friends and family who will literally show up in a matter of minutes in a crisis!

    Thanks for asking. :) I've got a great appendectomy story too.......

    1. Isn't it amazing how you can have one part of your brain screaming in terror, while another part is as calm as can be?

  5. Years ago, I lived in a mother-in-law apartment. A family lived in the house. I woke suddenly at 5am with a feeling of horror. I was sure I had heard someone screaming in the house. At first I tried to tell myself I had had a nightmare, but I rejected that immediately. I just knew it was real. I listened for quite awhile, but all was silent.

    Charles Manson. I couldn’t get him out of my head. I got out of bed and tiptoed to the door that connected the apartment to the house. I listened at the door for a long time but heard nothing. The silence did not allay my fears.

    I own a shotgun for hunting. I thought about digging it out of the closet, but I didn’t want to make any noise. Finally, I called 911. While whispering to the dispatcher, I was amazed that I couldn’t remember my address or phone number or directions to my place. She calmly talked me through it and I was finally able to give her the information, including the names of the people who owned the house.

    The dispatcher called their phone. She talked to the husband who told her everything was fine. I relaxed somewhat and thanked her. But I was still nervous. I busied myself with something, an ear constantly listening for any suspicious noises. Eventually, I heard the normal sounds of a family household waking.

    Later that day, I found out what had happened. The wife, Joan, had been meeting early in the morning with a friend to exercise in the downstairs of their house, which was next to my bedroom. The wife’s friend was running on a treadmill when she fell off and her hair got caught in the belt. She screamed “STOP IT! STOP IT! STOP IT!” Joan stopped the treadmill and then hushed her friend, knowing that I was sleeping next door. They then proceeded to sneak around, trying to be as quiet as possible, hoping that they hadn’t awoken me. Meanwhile, I was listening hard, desperately wanting to hear some normal noises!

    We all had a good laugh about it afterward. Except Joan wasn’t happy that her husband quickly dismissed the dispatcher without actually checking on her. I would have loved to hear the conversation between those two.

    I also learned something important about myself. That day I posted my phone number, address and directions to my apartment on the wall next to my phone. I wanted to be ready the next time panic froze my brain.

    1. What a great story! I love the what-really-happened. :) And yes, it would have been fun to have been a fly on the wall when Joan grilled her husband.

    2. Getting your hair caught in a machine is one of those "oh-oh" moments that will get the juice flowing. Working major tipping points into your story will keep a reader's attention working.

  6. Oh, yeah, the "panic-frozen brain" is another good one, Eric. That goes right along with trying to speak but only coming up with little squeaky noises. These are the kinds of things you keep to yourself. After pushing yourself through one of those magic moments and coming out the other side is cause to go "whew." When normal reality is shattered, anyone can freeze up. Hopefully, your training will kick in.

    Remember the kid in Saving Private Ryan who clutched in the stairwell? That was a gut-tightening moment where the entire scene turned into slow motion for me.

  7. Ten years ago, I was alone in Naples, Florida, in a nice duplex with its own pool, on a golf course. I was there to write, but couldn't make happen what I'd come to work on. Maybe because I had the ongoing idea of a story about a dog, living on a golf course. I got caught up in this idea and started writing. I became obsessed, it was unlike any writing experience I'd ever had, before or since. During this time--as happens in Florida in the summer--powerful electrical storms happened almost every day. These storms were so powerful, they sometimes shook the building I was in hard enough to cause framed pictures to fall off the walls. It didn't matter. I had battery power during periods of thunder and lightning, and just kept at it. Two weeks later, my short dog novel, Just Bill, had been drafted. It was far from done, but I had the makings of a good fable for adults.

  8. All I have to say on this topic is:

    1. Looking down the wrong end of a gun barrel has a distinct impact on gastro-intestinal integrity

    2. That hole in the end of said barrel grows in size exponentially when stared at

    3. There really are scary things in the dark

    4. I respect the Valley of the Shadow of Death...cuz I am not the baddest mother-hugger in the valley

    That's all.