Blood and Brimstone, Chapter 9 – Free Serial Novel

Blood and Brimstone, the free sequel to my paranormal romance Flesh and Fire, continues below. You can get caught up on previous chapters here.


Melissa locked the door to the bedroom and stripped naked. She pulled the page ripped from Katie’s journal and unfolded it, stared into the eyes of the man Katie called a demon. The man Katie called Samael.

She imagined the eyes turning to red orange, like twin match heads. She touched the fingers of her left hand to the demon’s lips. She licked the fingers of her right hand and reached down to touch herself. Her womanhood tingled as she massaged its lips. She fought the urge to close her eyes. Stayed focused on the face in the sketch. The eyes reddened. The flames in their irises began to sway. The fiery tips curled and trembled.


Dale continued to strum. Eyes closed. Lost in the music. He pictured his father seeing the man he had become. He pictured his father not being afraid to admit to dreaming of better things. Todd stood before him, wearing a dark suit and tie, his typical banker’s outfit. His short hair was thinning. A breath brought the scent of pungent, expensive cologne.

Dale continued playing, imagined looking into his father’s eyes. Blue, soft, as usual, but Dale noticed something different about them now. An intensity that he had never noticed in them before. They looked, for want of a better description, young, Dale thought.

The song looped back around. Dale played. More on beat, more confident. His father’s hair darkened. Lines in his face were smoothing out. He looked shorter, not looming over Dale the way Dale always imagined him. The black jacket started to fade, to tear.

“You came into my life,” Dale sang, “black-haired, blissfully damaged.”

Like Melissa, he thought and wondered how much his life mirrored his father’s. What had his father been like before becoming the man Dale knew? Who was he singing about? Dale and Katie’s mom didn’t have black hair, and she never struck her as damaged. At least not in the way worth singing about.

The jacket fell from his father’s shoulders like so many dirty rags, collected around his feet like dust.


The fire spread. Every row of books engulfed in angry red tongues. The top of the bureau burned. The floor turned to orange molten rock.

Katie sat up, drew her knees to her chest. The Cosmic Heart burned beside her, a pulsing flame, beating in time with her heart. The book that claimed to hold secret cures smoldered. Black smoke seeped from between its pages.

The woman spoke like a skipping CD.…blood is diseased…blood is diseased…blood is diseased…


Melissa’s sex dripped, making her fingers wet and sticky. Natural lubricant ran in channels in the lines of her hand. She thrust her head back, gritted her teeth against a moan that could draw attention from the rest of the house.

Someone whispered in her ear. Words indecipherable. Full of seduction, but not without menace.

Her breath quickened. A notion inside her warned her against proceeding. Against finishing.

But I’m too close now. I’m on the brink.

She kept her gaze fixated on Samael’s. Watched the flames dance in his eyes. His lips moved. She swore they fucking moved. His tongue slipped out, ran across his pointed teeth.

I’m imagining this, she thought, but knew she wasn’t. Warmth engulfed her. Her legs jerked. Toes made fists.

She couldn’t help herself, a whimper escaped her lips. The black and white sketch of Samael colorized. Flesh became flesh. Scars became pale and textured. The fire in his eyes swirled like spiral galaxies of burning brimstone. Her fingers slipped between his lips, into the warm wetness beyond the paper. The points of his teeth pressed into the pads of her fingers and drew blood.


The scream ripped away the image of his reverse-aging father. Dale opened his eyes and stopped strumming. He tore the headphones from his ears and set the guitar against the edge of the deck. The second scream tore him to his feet, sent him barreling toward the house. He jerked open the back door and entered.

The scream belonged to Melissa. He had never heard her outright scream before, but he had heard her yell, heard her cry. The sound from upstairs was a ragged, wet combination of both.

He bolted up the stairs, heart pounding heat through his veins. His foot caught on the top step, and he pitched forward. Held his hands out for balance and fell against the wall.

“Melissa!”

Opposite the hallway from his room, Katie’s door flung open. Dale and his sister exchanged wide-eyed, urgent glances. They met in front of his room. He fumbled with the door knob. It was cold to the touch like he held a block of ice. He withdrew his hand, paused for a confused split second.

“What is it?” Katie said.

Dale ignored her question, took the knob and cranked it over. A chill greeted him when he opened the door. Katie crossed her arms against the draft. The cold bit through his clothing, almost hurt, but subsided upon his entering the room.

Melissa was gone.

“What the fuck?” he said. “Where the fuck is she?”

Her clothes lay in a discarded pile beside the bed. The blanket was bunched at the footboard. Her head had left an imprint in the memory foam pillow. No other sign of her remained.

Dale crossed the room, peered under the bed, into the closet. Her name passed his lips at irregular intervals, a repetitive manic chant. He started pushing aside furniture, kicking walls.

“Dale,” Katie said, her voice a decibel above a whisper.

He ignored her. Started knocking books and framed photographs off the dresser. Stopped saying Melissa’s name, replaced it with angry curses.

Dale.”

He spun to face his sister. Tears blurred his eyes. He ran past her, into the hallway and scrambled down the stairs. Yanking the front door open, he stepped outside. His gaze flicked across the yard, across the street. He called her name. Listened for a response. Breath pulled in and out, turning his cries hoarse. His blood rushed and he started to shake.

A warm hand closed around his shoulder and he fell to his knees. He punched the air, mumbled another string of obscenities.

“We need to call the police,” Katie said, a single tremor breaking the otherwise level manner of her voice. “Let’s go inside.”

Dale clenched his fists, tried to slow his breath. The air outside was warm against his skin. He wondered where the frosty draft in his room had come from and how it managed to make the doorknob so cold.

Preorder My Romance All I Need

If you follow me on Twitter or IG, or if you know me personally, you may have heard that last fall I wrote a romance. I talked a little bit about that on an episode of The JDO Show, but I believe that episode is exclusive to his patrons, soooo, I figured I’d talk about it a little here.

With the exception of a phase during my teenage years where I exclusively wrote science fiction and action-adventure, I’ve been writing horror my entire life. It started when I was six-years-old with a handwritten, illustrated chapbook called The Skeleton that I photocopied and sold to my neighbors.

I had a well-documented psychotic break around this time last year. What I haven’t talked much about is that this break was the culmination of a whole lot of other things. Call it a sophomore slump or call it imposter syndrome, and you’d probably be onto something, but around 2014 (a few months after selling Flesh and Fire), I could feel my love of what I was doing, along with my love of myself fizzling. But I kept trucking forward. Kept writing. And, most notably, kept quiet. I published Mania and the first edition of Engines of Ruin. I finished Gods of the Dark Web and We Are the Accused. I did all of this, even though I thought I was a complete fraud.

After my son was born though, the mental exhaustion of dealing with a newborn proved too much. I stopped finishing things. Even when Gods of the Dark Web came out, I had a difficult time getting the fire back. Part of that was I tried to recapture the tone and style of that book, which I’d finished two years prior. Another part was that I was always tired and probably on the wrong medicine.

Eventually, I stopped writing altogether. You want to know whether or not writing is for you? Try not doing it for a while. After six months of a self-imposed hiatus, as well as getting hit with the news that because of my son’s allergies we had to get rid of all our cats, I just couldn’t take it anymore. This resulted in a long weekend stay at Austin Lakes Hospital.

While there, I learned some interesting things. For example: mental patients have a strangely acute sense of respect for others’ personal space. Most “well-adjusted” folk are always up in my shit. I also learned that writing is damn important to me. When not going to group, eating or sleeping, I was at it with a pencil and notebook, mostly just trying to create a perfect scene.

When I got out, I hungered to start a new project. After a long chat with accomplished romance writer Tracy Wolff, I thought a good way back into the process would be to try something completely different.

Enter All I Need, a romance in which two masked strangers who have a one night stand discover they’re long lost high school sweethearts, torn apart thirteen years prior by Hurricane Katrina.

I stuttered my way through the first bit. Not only had I not written in a while, but this was a whole new genre for me. Then Killer Con happened, and I remembered, goddamn, of COURSE I still love horror, and hammered out a few short stories that found their way into the reissue of Engines of Ruin. But since I hate leaving good ideas unfinished, I returned to All I Need and typed the words “The End” on the document in November.

Multiple revisions later, All I Need, the first of 4 romance novellas set in New Orleans, is up for preorder on Amazon. If you’re curious to see the piece that got me writing again, check it out.

If you’re only here for the horror, that’s cool, too. Finishing All I Need got me to Saint Sadist, and I’ve got many more tales of terror in the works.

Preorder on Amazon

Unfinished, Unpublished, Unaccounted For (Part 2)

A few weeks ago, I published a post called Bibliography in which I listed every book I’ve ever had published, along with some notes about each piece. It got a nice response and got me thinking about all the projects over the years that I either finished but never published or completely abandoned during the writing process. For brevity’s sake, I think the only way to do this properly is to only talk about books. If I also went into short stories in this category, we’d be here forever. What follows is Part 2 of a list of all my unpublished or unfinished books, from the time I started writing up to the present day. The best way to do this, I think, is to divide this post into three parts. The first was my childhood works. Today’s entry will cover my teenage writings. Part 3 will be my adult pieces.

ARNOLD BANE: This was me writing a pulp hero before I knew what a pulp hero was. Probably obvious, but I got the name by combining Schwarzenegger with a Batman villain. In most of these stories, he fought to save his city from his seemingly immortal nemesis Nick Jackson (who I probably named after a bully). As the series progressed, I incorporated a revenge narrative where the hero loses his family and tries to find their killer, and a story in which he gets framed for something and works to clear his name. I don’t remember if I wrote any of these down, to be honest, but I acted them out in my backyard pretty regularly.

LIFE FORM, WHERE THERE’S SMOKE THERE’S FIRE, THE ALIEN WARS: These are three books that might not have been intentionally related, but could very easily have been a series. You know the deal. Alien invasion apocalypse. Starts small, escalates, lots of shit blows up. My attempts to write these down never really satisfied me, but I kept at them for years. I kind of want to revisit them now.

STEELTECH, TX-2000, DARK FUTURE: I remember no plot details, but I’m sure they were my attempts to ape what I liked about the first two Terminator movies (which was FUCKING EVERYTHING). I don’t remember how much I wrote down, but I did some cool drawings I’ve since lost. I know they were cool, because a kid in my sixth-grade class threatened to kick my ass if I didn’t Xerox some copies to give him. Hey… maybe he still has them. Maybe he has the originals. Jerk.

THE ENEMY: A court jester from medieval times that’s also a vampire wreaks havoc on a small Pennsylvania town for some reason. Two kids and a priest band together to thwart it with an ancient dagger.

CRIMSON FALLS: An ancient creature that’s lived under a town for so long that it’s part of the town takes the shape of a wolf/dragon thing and terrorizes a group of kids. I really fucking wanted to write IT when I was younger. Jesus.

NEON LASER X: This was my fucking epic. A prison of war in a dystopian/cyberpunk future joins a group of rebels to overthrow the tyrannical government. Followed by the sequels, NEON LASER XTREME (back off, it was the 90s) and NEON LASER X 3000.

Well, that was… a thing. I hope you’ve enjoyed laughing at my expense.

Blood and Brimstone, Chapter 8 – Free Serial Novel

Blood and Brimstone, the free sequel to my paranormal romance Flesh and Fire, continues below. You can get caught up on previous chapters here.


Dale dug through the closet in his old bedroom. He pushed aside creased and dusty boxes of books. He shifted all the hanging clothes he hadn’t brought with him when he left to one side of the closet. An earthy smell wafted from somewhere inside and took him back to his childhood. He expected to be nauseated, but instead he felt something entirely different. A strange serenity settled over him. He took a deep breath of the scent, and for the first time in a long time, he remembered his father in another light. When Dale was young, his father hadn’t been all bad. They played a lot together: music, video games, basketball. It wasn’t until Dale got a little older that his father started harping on him about choosing a career path. All that stuff Dale had enjoyed was just play, and playtime was over. It hadn’t been a gradual shift either. It had happened seemingly overnight. But before, during childhood, things had been pretty great.

“What are you looking for?” Melissa said.

He smiled at her over his shoulder. “I’ll let you know when I find it.”

“Oh, you tease.” She stuck out her tongue. It was a nice tongue. One he thought about often and one he’d tasted many times.

He turned and peered back into the closet and spotted the black guitar case leaning in the corner. Cobwebs hung between it and the wall. He brushed them off and lifted out the long-buried treasure. He stood it on the bedroom floor and leaned on it, grinning. Melissa frowned.

“I didn’t know you played.”

“I haven’t played in a really long time.” He felt himself darken. “My dad made me stop.”

“Surprised you let him make you do anything.” Her mouth went tight. She cocked an eyebrow. She was pure defiance, the type of bad girl he’d always wanted.

“Different time. Different me. Besides, it’s hard to bite the hand that feeds you.”

“Could’ve just run away like me.”

“If only I were so courageous.”

She shrugged, leaned back on the bed. “You gonna play me a song?”

“Not sure I’m ready for that. Besides, this probably needs to be tuned, maybe even restrung.”

“That’s fine. Was hoping to do some reading anyway. Still not feeling great.”

He felt a pang of concern. “Can I get you anything?”

She held up the glass of water on the nightstand. “I’ll be fine.”

“All right, well, I guess I’ll mess with this guitar in another room. Maybe even outside.”

She nodded, rested her head on the pillow. “Okay.”

Dale left the room, brought the guitar and his MP3 player with him. He had burned his father’s songs onto the device as soon as they got back from the storage facility. He was itching to listen to them again, after playing the CD in his car, and felt a crazy urge to learn them. Though he would never completely know this other side of his father, he thought learning the songs, hearing the words would at least get him close. At least enough to see there had been more to the man than the stuffy banker who seemed to love work and money more than anything else. Even family. Sure, as a child, Dale had seen those glimpses of the old man, but nothing like the passion in these songs. He didn’t understand it. They seemed to have been written and performed by another person entirely. The voice that sung over the bluesy chords didn’t sound anything like his father, at least not at first. Dale couldn’t even imagine his father expressing himself with such raw honesty, such energy, such vulnerability.

He went out to the back deck and sat on the edge of one of the loungers. He laid the guitar case across his lap and opened it. A thin layer of dust covered the frets and body, but otherwise, the instrument looked okay. He balanced the guitar on his knee and used the fifth fret harmonic to tune. Once the guitar was tuned, he put his earbuds in and started listening to his father’s album.

He leaned forward, closed his eyes, and let the music drift over him, let it carry him away. He skipped back to the first song, played it on repeat, until he felt comfortable strumming along. Nothing sounded right. He tried various chords until he realized the song was in a different tuning. He tinkered with the knobs until he thought he found the right pitch and tried strumming again. The song started to make sense.


When Katie got home, she went to her bed and opened The Cosmic Heart, but exhaustion weighed down her eyelids and she was asleep in less than ten minutes. The comforter embraced her. She sunk into the mattress. With each beat of her heart, she slipped deeper into oblivion. A woman whispered somewhere in the room. All around the room. Right in Katie’s ear.

“At the center of the universe one heart beats…now its blood is diseased.”

The voice spoke the words in sync with Katie’s heartbeat. It reminded her of some kind of weird experimental song. The voice was at times soft, and other times sharp, threatening. Katie’s eyes snapped open. The room around her was dark.

“At the center of the universe…”

Thud-thud.

“…one heart beats…”

Thud-thud.

“…now it’s blood…”

Thud-thud.

“…is diseased.”

The voice harmonized itself, speaking the same words, but in different tones, creating a wall of oppressive sound. Katie’s heart slammed. She couldn’t move. She tried to scream, but her breath caught. She felt like she was choking.

“…now it’s blood…”

Thud-thud.

“…is diseased.”

She turned to her book case. All the tomes were bound in old leather. Titles printed in old English, some in languages she couldn’t understand. Other titles were glyphs, symbols she had never seen before, but resonated within her. She felt lost, but like she should know where she is and what is happening. Sparks ignited at the base of the shelf and the first row of books caught fire.

Unfinished, Unpublished, Unaccounted For (Part 1)

About a week and a half ago, I published a post called Bibliography in which I listed every book I’ve ever had published, along with some notes about each piece. It got a nice response and got me thinking about all the projects over the years that I either finished but never published or completely abandoned during the writing process. For brevity’s sake, I think the only way to do this properly is to only talk about books. If I also went into short stories in this category, we’d be here forever. What follows is Part 1 of a list of all my unpublished or unfinished books, from the time I started writing up to the present day. The best way to do this, I think, is to divide this post into three parts. The first will just be my childhood works. Part 2 will cover my teenage writings. Part 3 will be my adult pieces.

THE SKELETON: I wrote this when I was seven-years-old after seeing Stephen King’s Silver Bullet on Halloween night, an event which made me fall forever in love with the horror genre. I don’t remember a whole lot about the plot, if there was one, but basically there was a castle in which a skeleton resided. The titular villain killed anyone dumb enough to trespass on his abode. If I recall correctly, the castle overlooked an old European style village. This leads me to believe that maybe Silver Bullet wasn’t my first horror movie, because aesthetically, I pictured this book looking like Dracula, specifically the version starring Bela Lugosi. Maybe I did see some of the Universal monster movies, but nevertheless, the King movie was what made me want to write horror. I took a stack of copy paper, folded it down the middle, and basically made a chapbook (before knowing what a chapbook was). I put a few sentences of narrative on each page, along with some ink illustrations. I’m pretty sure I tried selling copies of this chapbook to neighbors for a buck a piece.

THE SKULL: I remember this a lot less clearly, except that I was inspired by the VHS cover to the movie Graveyard Shift and it precedes what would later develop into an obsession with floating head movies (Cemetery Man, Zombi 3). Maybe also worth mentioning is the fact that it has no relation to THE SKELETON, though it definitely was the second installment of my chapbook series. I guess that technically means these books aren’t exactly unpublished, but whatever; they’re out of print and definitely lost to the ether.

*Note: The chronological order of these next three or four is unclear. I’ll do my best.

SOMETHING: I think this was my first stab at a franchise. I planned four entries in the SOMETHING series. They were about a giant squid that kept coming back to attack a small town. I was definitely inspired by what little I knew of the Jaws movies (I wasn’t allowed to see them, but I had a working familiarity), the movie version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Godzilla, and It Came from Beneath the Sea. There were submarines, cities leveled by tentacles, and damsels in distress. If I ever revisit this one (weirdly enough, writing this post makes me want to revisit all of this), I’d probably give it a different title. As before, the first book was released as one of my makeshift chapbooks. I don’t think the sequels ever got written, but I definitely drew covers for them. And no, I don’t have any of this artwork, unfortunately. Weirdly enough, I wanted to rework these a little bit after seeing the first two Alien movies. I planned the squids to evolve to also have arms and legs and heads that may or may not have been giant penises with teeth.

HAUNTED HOUSE: If you caught my interview on The Horror Show with Brian Keene, you already have a vague idea of what this book was about. Kids get caught in a haunted house inhabited by a clown that’s also a spider. The oldest kid starts dressing in black and wielding a samurai sword. The only original stroke I think I put was I had the clown bleed cotton candy. Still, this story captured my imagination for years, and it got me banned from show-and-tell in fourth grade.

SOMEONE WHO’S DEAD: Definitely one of my favorite titles I ever came up with. I don’t think I ever actually wrote this, so much as drew art for it. Basically, I had this guy who was like Freddy Krueger in that he kept coming back to kill new groups of kids, but for his look, I drew inspiration from the car accident victim on the cover of the original Pet Sematary film.

GRAVEDIGGERS: I don’t remember much except in the opening scene someone got their leg cut off and it upset my mom so I stopped writing it.

THE BOY AND HIS PET TIGER: I guess I wrote Life of Pi long before there was Life of Pi. It was definitely set in the jungle though, not on a boat.

VOYAGE OF A LIFETIME: A group of people travel to an island to explore and end up at odds with a reptilian guy who has an army of skeletons, zombies, and prehistoric crocodiles. Pretty cool.

WEREWOLF PARK: Jurassic Park but werewolves. No, I’m serious.

These were the standouts. I’m also pretty sure I wrote a sequel to The Blob called, IT’S THE BLOB! I know I wrote a shark story called IT (and proudly wrote a letter to Stephen King about my accomplishment). There was also a zombie story modeled after Night of the Living Dead, but the living souls were trapped in the undead bodies, and I had a lead zombie who looked like the grim reaper and carried around a cane. There was also a vampire book in there somewhere, but I don’t remember any other details.

This was fun. I think I may revisit these ideas now. Do a collection, maybe. Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3.

Blood and Brimstone, Chapter 7 – Free Serial Novel

Blood and Brimstone, the free sequel to my paranormal romance Flesh and Fire, continues below. You can get caught up on previous chapters here.


Katie loaded the last box into the U-Haul and sat beside Jake on the front porch. Dale wandered the yard, picking up the shattered remains of the guitar and throwing them in a paper grocery bag. The sun was on its way down, but the air was still hot. Dirty sweat had pasted Katie’s shirt to her skin. Jake tried to put an arm around her, but she leaned away.

“I need a shower,” she said.

He took a whiff of the air. “Damn, yeah you do.”

She punched him on the arm. He laughed. She tried to join him, but her own chuckles came out broken and dry.

A solid brown box truck turned off Route 32 and onto the dirt road. Katie stood as the truck parked behind the Uhaul. The driver hopped out, carrying a box in thick, hairy arms. He approached, set the box down in front of Katie and scanned it. He gritted his teeth, not quite smiling at her. He smelled like apricot-flavored tobacco dip.

“Need someone to sign for this. Is Todd around?”

The sound of her father’s name made Katie’s belly clench. “No, but I’m his daughter.”

“Good enough.” He held out the electronic tablet and handed her a stylus. She signed. The driver nodded. “Appreciate ya.”

She carried the box back to the porch as the driver returned to his vehicle. Dale walked up beside her.

“What is it?” he asked.

“I don’t know. It’s for Dad. From… Les, one of his friends.” Her brow furrowed. “He died a little while back, a few months before Dad.”

Katie knew more than that about Les. She knew Les had been the father of Chloe. He’d been killed by that demon. Bringing any of this up would open a can of worms she didn’t know how to close. If Jake didn’t already think she was certifiable, telling him what she knew about Les would leave no doubt.

“You gonna open it?” Dale said.

She looked from him to Jake. Jake nodded for encouragement. She dug her fingers under the flap and pulled, tearing tape and cardboard. Crinkled newspapers covered the box’s contents. She sifted through the packaging.

The first book had a worn, leather cover. Its pages were yellowed and gave off a dry, sweet smell like dust and old glue. The title, The Cosmic Heart, was printed on the cover in faded Old English. Katie ran her fingertips over the lettering, reached under the cover, and opened to the first page.

“At the center of the universe one heart beats, pumping energy into everything,” she read aloud. “In the beginning it was perfect, but now its blood is diseased.”

“What the hell kind of crazy shit is that?” Dale said.

Jake laughed at Dale’s comment and Katie remained silent. She flipped a few pages a head, skimmed more lines, but refrained from reading them aloud to prevent further ridicule.

“Some kind of religious text,” she said.

The Cosmic Heart,” Jake said. “Never heard of it.”

“Me neither. Must be from some occult religion or something.”

“Why would this Les guy want Dad to have it?” Dale said.

She ignored his question, dug through the rest of the packaging, and came up with another old text. This one had no title or even a cover. Instead, a symbol drawn in charcoal decorated the top page. Stars, animals and shapes spiraled into the central image. Her breath caught. Her eyes watered. She opened her mouth and tried to express what the symbol made her feel, a sense of familiarity and the sensation that she held something very powerful. She opened to the first page.

Within these pages, you will find the secret cures to cosmic ills.

She closed the book, taken with the intense urge to read it and the other tome from beginning to end. They’d drive the truck to the storage facility, then she would send Jake home and lock herself in a room so she could examine each book’s contents. The possibilities of what they contained, and curiosity as to why Les would have these sent to her father gnawed at her. Only the books and how they’d ended up in her hands mattered to her. Everything else, her family, re-enrolling in school, Jake, lacked such pressing importance. She knew then that she was on the verge of discovering something that would change her dramatically, even more than she already had in these last trying months. She wondered if anything would be left of her when it was all said and done.

Blood and Brimstone, Chapter 6 – Free Serial Novel

“What a fucking dump,” Dale said.

His father’s house stood at the end of a dirt road in the middle of a field off of Route 32. Though newly built, it had a lived-in, old homestead feel. Dale half-expected to see a couple of donkeys in the yard, along with some chickens and goats. He wondered how much of the field belonged to his father. He found it hard to believe the old materialist had traded a three-story, five-bedroom house smack dab in the middle of Suburbia, USA for a shotgun shack, unless the land was part of the deal.

“He wanted something as basic as possible,” Katie said.

“Hmm,” Dale said.

Katie told him their father had gone through some significant changes, but Dale still had a hard time letting go of the image of his father as a stiff banker who dressed in suits and bottom-lined everything. Could his father have changed that much? Was there a whole other side to him Dale had never seen?

As they got closer to the house, Dale saw splintered shards of wood and unraveled strings were strewn across the porch. He recognized the split remains of a guitar’s fretboard laying across the stairs.

“What happened?” he asked.

“Not sure. He broke it a little bit before he died. Can’t imagine why.”

Katie unlocked the door and opened it for Jake and Dale. Melissa had stayed behind, said something about not feeling well. Dale guessed she just didn’t feel like spending the day cleaning a dead man’s house. He couldn’t exactly hold that against her. She probably thought his obligation towards Katie was weird. She’d never met her mother and her father was in and out of rehab. She had no sense of loyalty when it came to family.

Funny thing was he didn’t think he did either, but when he saw Katie break down in the woods something shifted in him. He found himself wanting, more than anything, to help her. To salvage whatever pieces of his family remained. To try to reconnect.

Inside the house, a closet door was hanging open. Notebooks were stacked inside, some pages scattered on the carpet around the door. It looked as if his father had been going through them, maybe even moments before the heart attack.

Dale walked to the closet, picked up a notebook, and flipped to a random page. Song lyrics covered the paper, front and back. Even his father’s handwriting looked different than what it grew into. It looked less rigid, more flowing.

“I had no idea he wrote so much.”

“It used to be his life. Before us.”

“He can’t blame you guys for stopping,” Jake said.

“I second that, Jake,” said Dale and tossed the notebook back into the closet. “It was like he lived a double life. Remember when we were kids? He didn’t even let us in his study.”

“He barely let himself in,” said Katie. “And I’m not blaming him, Jake. There’s a lot about him we don’t know. Maybe we’ll never know.”

“Yeah, well, whatever,” Dale said. “Let’s just get this place cleaned up.”

Jake nodded. Katie wandered upstairs without another word.

Dale bent down among the notebooks and started organizing them, placing them back into their boxes. When he finished, he carried them, one at a time, to the Uhaul Jake rented and loaded them in the back. Down to the last two boxes, stacked on top of each other, he lifted the top one off and the bottom one’s flaps opened. He frowned, lowered the box in his arms, and approached the open box. Several CD cases were resting on top of everything. He grabbed one. The cover showed a much younger version of his father he wouldn’t have recognized had he not seen some old photos at the funeral. His father was holding a black guitar that looked like the one that lay in pieces on the porch. He gripped the CD tightly and hurried to the kitchen where Katie was boxing up some plates.

“Hey,” he said and she turned to him, her eyes pink with irritation from tears and lack of sleep. “I, uh, found one of these CDs. Do you mind if I take this one?”

Her face creased. She went pale, and Dale thought she might puke.

“Forget I asked,” he said and turned to put it back.

“No, I’m sorry. Go ahead. I just…it’s been a trying week.” “Well, I’m here for you, okay? I’m sorry I haven’t been.”

“What about Melissa?” “She’ll be fine. I’ll just promise her a trip to the beach.” They exchanged weak laughs. He held up the CD. “I’m gonna put this in my car before I forget.”

Katie nodded and Dale left the kitchen. He went outside and opened his rental car. He tossed the CD onto the passenger seat and stared into his father’s photographed eyes. He let them hypnotize him and tried to understand who the man used to be and why he changed. He wondered if it had anything to do with why his father died.