My Life As Death: Chapter 6

For those who haven’t already read them, you can find links to the previous chapters here:
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5

Sleep was hard to come by that night. My dreams were filled with flashes of my accident, and the conversation with the face in the darkness. Regardless of what I saw when I touched Weed’s arm, I knew there was no way my experience in the darkness was anything but a hallucination; a dream. But despite my certainty, that face wouldn’t let me sleep.

When the alarm went off, I should have been exhausted, and to a point I was, but I was also energized. The new day meant a new chance to get on the bike, and I understood what Mr. FInkenbine meant about dancing with the prom queen, though I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I didn’t want to drive my car again. But Pamela still needed a lot of work before she was roadworthy so it wasn’t like I was really cheating on her with the motorcycle, at least that’s what I told myself.

Throwing on some fresh clothes I practically flew down the stairs. Mom hadn’t gotten home from her nursing job yet so I grabbed a bowl of Berry Berry Kix and ate it while shoving a few school supplies into my bookbag. The bag was a couple years old, and showed it, but there weren’t any holes in it so there also wasn’t any reason to spend money we didn’t have on a new one.

After throwing my empty bowl in the sink, I strapped the bag across my back and grabbed my helmet before running out the door. Behind the garage I found the bike exactly how I’d left it underneath the tarp. Once again it only took a single kick for the bike to fire right up which had me grinning before I even threw my leg over the seat.

Taking the long way to school gave me a few extra minutes on the bike and helped me avoid Shawna’s house at the same time. Something about being on it allowed me to forget anything else. I really wanted to stay on it all day, but the school was sure to call my mom if I didn’t show up on the first day, and then she’d stay up all day worrying about me, so reluctantly I gave in and made my way to the parking lot.

“Nate”, Weed yelled before I’d even gotten my helmet off.

He was climbing out of his rust colored ‘82 Chevette with a cloud of smoke following him out the door. The car looked like crap and was the farthest thing from cool, but over the summer Weed had swapped out the stock four-banger engine for a turbo-charged small block V8. It would smoke just about every one of the sports cars I saw scattered about the school parking lot, but Weed didn’t really care about that; He just liked building things, making things better and faster. Being able to blow away the preppy boys and the cars their parents paid for was just a plus.

“This is our year,” he said, clearly feeling pretty good. “You ready for this?”

“I’m ready for anything,” I said, still grinning from the ride in. Then I saw Shawna. “Or at least almost anything.”

Shawna hopped out of Matt’s ‘vette looking even better than she had the night of the party. I tried not to stare, but caught myself doing so anyways. Matt drove off with the obligatory revving of his engine, and I thought that would be it, but then she saw us and with a wave, I knew I wasn’t going to get away so easily.

“You got it done?” She asked Weed as she walked up to the chevette.

“Pretty much,” he replied, “but I still think she could use a slightly bigger turbo to really wake her up.

“You give her a name yet?”

“Not yet,” he replied, “I still have to get to know her a little better.”

“And where’s Pamela?” Shawna asked me. “I thought you’d have her done by now. Didn’t I see her at the party the other night?”

“That’s kind of a long story,” I replied, trying to drop the subject.

“Not that long,” Weed said with a mischievous look on his face.

“So this is my ride for now,” I said, steering the conversation away from Pamela and my little accident.

“A motorcycle?” Shawna asked, her eyes widening. “That’s new.”

“Yeah,” I said, “sometimes new is exactly what we need.”

 “You’ll have to take me for a ride sometime,” she said, way more excited than I expected her to be.

“Of course,” I replied, trying not to get too excited myself. I really wanted to say something to her about Matt, to see what they were actually doing together, but before I could get out another word, the school’s three minute warning bell rang.

“We’ll talk later,” she said, before running off towards honor’s English or one of her other college prep classes, while I dragged Weed towards our first period American History. We hadn’t planned to have all of our classes together; it just kind of worked out that way. I’d initially thought I wanted to have all my classes with Shawna but there was no chance of that happening with my grades. Besides, there really wasn’t a reason for me to take college prep classes; there was no way I’d be able to afford college even if I did get accepted. And I was okay with that, I think. Besides, I figured I’d have more fun with Weed, though that didn’t seem to work out the way I thought.

Keeping Weed awake through all of our classes was a losing proposition, especially when most of the time I struggled just to keep myself awake. Lunch was a nice break but Shawna was even on a different lunch schedule than us so by the time our final class let out I was a little anxious to see her again. I knew it was wrong; I mean, she had Matt, but I wasn’t planning on making a move; I just wanted a chance to talk with her again, to prove we could be friends even if she had a boyfriend. Unfortunately, as the last bell rang and we walked out the oversized doors leading to the parking lot, I heard the unmistakable sound of that cherry red Corvette.

“Look at it this way,” Weed said, apparently realizing the shift in my mood, “This way you have more time to dedicate to Pamela.”

I grinned, because he was right. Pamela needed me, and Shawna obviously didn’t.

“Let’s get to it then,” I replied, slipping on my helmet as he climbed into his car.

The bike kicked to life effortlessly, drawing the approving smiles of a couple underclass hotties as I gave it a little gas. With my helmet on they probably didn’t even know who I was but it still felt good to get a little attention, but not as good as it felt to finally get back out onto the long stretch of open road just outside of town. Sure, there was a quicker way to get to Weed’s house but it wasn’t nearly as enjoyable. Apparently Weed felt the same way. He pulled beside me at the first stop sign, his car in the left hand lane of the two lane road. Thankfully no one was coming from the other direction. He gave me a cheesy grin with a thumbs up and I nodded. I cranked the throttle and he floored it, and for a few seconds I managed to stay slightly ahead of him. Then his turbo fully kicked in and he flew past me like a cop going after a donut truck. Still, I kept the handle twisted, enjoying the thrill of the acceleration until I hit the redline and the rev limiter kicked in. By then Weed had already hit his brakes so I did the same, easing back down to the speed limit before we reached his house.

“You’ve got some balls,” he said, grinning from ear to ear as he climbed out of the chevette. “What’d she top out at?”

“The speedo said 120, but it was bouncing a bit thanks to the rev limiter.”

“We can take care of that.”

“Na, the limiter is probably a good thing so I don’t blow the engine.”

“I meant we could add a big bore kit and turbo, you know really make it fun.”

“How about we worry about Pamela first,” I replied, a little uneasy with the idea of going over 120 on two wheels.

“So you’re ready to get a little dirty then?”

“Absolutely,” I said, following him into the garage, but then I saw my car again and she looked even worse than I’d remembered. 

“This might take a while,” I said, setting my helmet on the car roof.

“Might?” Weed replied with a grin. “I think that’s pretty much a guarantee; but don’t worry, we’ll get her better than new.”

“Thanks for your help.”

“Of course,” Weed said, heading towards the door leading to the back yard. “That’s what friends are for. Now how about you pop the hood and start cleaning out any corn stalks and field mice you might find while I grab a couple things from the shed.”

The driver’s side door groaned a little as I opened it and slid in. My thoughts instantly went back to that night, flashes of the hallucination running through my mind.

“I was drunk,” I told myself, shaking my head to clear the images.

“Are you sure that’s all it was?” I jumped, as the car stereo glowed red and the voice from my hallucination echoed from the speakers in the door. I could almost feel an electrical charge around me.

“No way,” I said, scrambling to get out of the car.

“There’s always a way,” the voice said, continuing to come from the car.

“What do you want?”

“I want you to remember our deal.”

The voice faded with the last word and the radio stopped glowing a second before Weed came through the back door.

“How’d you do that?”

“What?” He asked. “Use a door?”

“I never should have told you about that dream I had.”

“You’re probably right about that,” Weed replied, “but what does that have to do with anything?”

“Pranking me into thinking Pamela’s possessed is not cool.”

“That’d be pretty funny,” he said, “but I still don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.”

“What’d you do, hook up a mic to the stereo and use the car’s speakers to broadcast your voice? You got me good, but it still wasn’t funny.”

“Dude, there’s no way you heard anything from the stereo.”

“The antenna may not work, but if you ran…”

“No, I’m telling you there’s no way the stereo was putting out any sound. The battery is over there charging.”

I followed Weed’s finger to where he was pointing and saw my battery sitting on a workbench hooked up to a trickle charger.

“No way,” I said, reaching down and pulling the hood latch. Sure enough, both the positive and negative battery cables were dangling empty beside the engine.

“Did you get into my stash already?” Weed asked, setting down the toolbox in his hands.

“I…uh…”

“You don’t look so hot,” Weed said, “how about we take a smoke break?”

“You swear that wasn’t you?” I asked as he led me outside.

“Look man, I love a good prank but I didn’t do a thing. Just tell me what happened.”

I took a moment, lighting a cigarette and taking a long drag. “I slid into Pamela to pop the hood and I heard that voice. The one from my drunken dream.”

“The voice from the other night? The one you sold your soul too?”

“I didn’t sell my soul, but yeah, that one.”

“In MY garage?”

“And the radio was glowing red.”

“After all the work we’ve put into,” he said, “I’ll be pissed if Pamela is possessed.”

“I know it sounds crazy but…”

“Maybe you just need a little sleep,” Weed said, lighting himself up a cigarette. “We can work on Pamela another…”

“No,” I replied, “I’m good.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah, maybe I just needed a smoke.”

“Sure because hallucinations are always a sign of nicotine withdrawal.”

“Shut up,” I said, grinding out the rest of the cigarette. “Let’s get to work.”

Weed cranked up the boombox sitting on the workbench beside Pamela’s battery and The Offspring started blaring from the speakers, telling us how we needed to keep ‘em separated as we got started on my car.

I knew just enough about working on cars to be dangerous, but Weed knew more than most professional mechanics. He couldn’t memorize a single fact about any American president or solve a simple algebraic equation, but he could rebuild an engine blindfolded. With his help I knew Pamela would be on the road again, it was just going to take a little time and a lot of elbow grease.

The sun was starting to set by the time I left Weed’s, and we’d made a lot of progress without any further interruptions, but even with the music blaring and more than enough work to keep me busy, I couldn’t get that voice out of my head.

“Remember our deal,” the voice had said. How could I forget? But that wasn’t really the point. Even if, by some incredible chance, the whole thing turned out to be real, which it wasn’t, the deal was for me to kill whoever he told me too, which he hadn’t done. There was absolutely nothing for me to do. Therefore I was living up to my end of the non-existent deal. Problem solved.

My Life As Death: Chapter 5

As you can tell, I’m still having fun ideating about the cover. Let me know what you think of it, and/or the book so far!
For those who haven’t already read them, you can find links to the previous chapters here:
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4

By the time we got back to his place, Pamela was already sitting in Weed’s garage. Under the harsh fluorescent lights she looked even worse than I’d remembered.

“There’s no sense starting on her just yet,” Weed said, “Let’s get the KZ up and running so you can get around, then we’ll worry about her.”

He was right, and I knew it. Still, it was hard to drop off all the parts for her and then move on to the bike without doing at least a little work on my first love.

Out at the shed, Weed pulled the left side cover off the KZ so we could disconnect the old voltage regulator.

“The original ones are notorious for burning out,” he explained to me.

A few wires and a couple screws later, and the new one was in place. Swapping out the gas tanks wasn’t much more work. After loosening the fuel line clamp and disconnecting the low fuel light sending unit the tank pulled right off the rubber grommets that held it in place. The new tank went on just as easily and even looked a little better. After filling it up with some fresh gas, Weed handed me the key. All it took was one kick and the bike fired right up, this time sounding like it should.

“Damn,” Weed said, “Now I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t keep it for myself.”

I glanced around at the other two motorcycles and three dirtbikes Weed had stashed in the shed. “I think you’ll be alright.”

Throwing my leg over the seat I realized how much bigger it was than the dirt bikes I’d been used to riding. Not only was it taller, but with the four cylinder engine shoved inside it’s frame, the bike was wider too. The end result was that my feet could touch the ground, but only if I was on my toes.

Everything about it felt a little weird, a little large and a little unstable, but I wasn’t going to let Weed see my uncertainty; He’d never let me hear the end of it. Feigning confidence, I shifted my weight to my right foot to hold the bike up while pushing the kickstand back with my left foot. Without the kickstand supporting the weight of the bike, I felt even less stable so I did the only thing I could think of; I pulled in the clutch, shifted into first and then let out on the clutch as I gave it a little gas. A moving bike is easier to balance than a stopped one so it seemed like the best idea, until the clutch engaged and jerked the bike forward with a lot more power than I expected. The bike shot out of the shed with me holding on for dear life. 

Rain the night before had turned the backyard into a swamp so the tires slipped back and forth, spraying mud everywhere and giving me no chance to steer the 500 lb beast as I headed for the 6 foot privacy fence separating Weed’s yard from the neighbor’s. I started to panic so I did the only thing I could think of; I yanked the handlebars and leaned as far as I could to the left. The rear tire kicked out and turned the bike sideways, causing it to lay down with my left leg trapped underneath. Momentum caused us to continue sliding another twenty feet towards the fence before we finally came to rest.

Weed wasted no time running over to me and hitting the kill switch on the bike before I could even gather my thoughts.

“That was awesome!” he screamed, still jumping up and down beside me.

“Says, you,” I replied.

Finally calming himself a little, Weed helped lift the bike off my leg so I could get out from underneath it. Every inch of me was covered in mud so it was hard to truly tell, but as I stood up it didn’t feel like anything was injured but my pride.

“We might need to adjust the clutch cable,” Weed said with a shit-eating grin.

“You think?” I replied, trying to maintain an air of anger towards him, though in reality the brief ride was more exciting than I could have imagined.

Throwing my leg back over the bike, I started it up again, and to my surprise it didn’t seem to be any worse for the wear.

“You sure you want to get back on?”

“Hell Yeah,” I replied.

Weed pulled out a couple wrenches, putting a little more play in the clutch cable. 

“That should help,” he said, shoving the wrenches back into one of his pockets. 

This time I eased out on the clutch, barely giving it any gas. Even going slow, it was hard to steer the bike in the mud but eventually I was able to get out to the driveway in front of the house where we could check out the bike completely. Besides a loose hose clamp and air filter and a lot of mud, the bike seemed perfectly fine.

“Your mom is going to kill you and me both if you go home like that,” Weed’s mom said as she stepped out the front door. “You get yourself inside and cleaned up.”

“She’s right you know,” Weed said. “You get cleaned up; I’ve got this.”

I ran inside, kicking off my shoes as I entered the door. Weed’s mom already had one of his old pairs of jeans, a sweatshirt and belt waiting for me so, wasting as little time as possible, I rushed to the closest bathroom. It had to be one of the quickest showers I’d ever taken, because I couldn’t wait to get back to the bike.

Though the shower seemed to take no time, Weed still managed to get the bike cleaned up quicker than I’d gotten myself cleaned up, but I made it back out in time to help tighten a few of the things that had gotten knocked loose during my debut ride.

“You sure you’re ready to try her on the road?” Weed asked, with the overprotectiveness of a parent, though I don’t know if he was more worried about me or the bike.

“I’ve got this,” I replied, “especially now that the clutch is set right and the tires will be on some proper pavement.”

“Maybe I should…” he started to say, but I kicked the bike to life and couldn’t hear the rest over the sound of the revving engine.

“Fine,” he yelled over the noise, “at least wear this.”

I’m not sure where the helmet came from but I’d never seen one quite like it. It was a full face helmet that had been painted flat black and had a gloss black skull with a mohawk on the back that was only visible from certain angles. It wasn’t exactly my style but I couldn’t turn it down.

“You don’t need your noggin taken any more abuse,” he said.

“Thanks,” I said as I slipped it on. The helmet actually fit pretty well and wasn’t nearly as uncomfortable as I expected. With the helmet on and the bike running I knew he wouldn’t be able to hear a word I said, so I just nodded, then kicked the bike into gear and let out on the clutch. The tires did much better on the pavement then they did in the mud, and while it may not have the power of a full liter bike, it definitely had enough get-up-and-go for me. 

After everything that had happened the night before, it felt great to get out on the bike, not really heading anywhere in particular, just going wherever the road took me. I followed some country roads out of town and past row after row of corn, trying to find the most winding roads I could to really get a feel for the bike. Eventually, though, I knew I had to turn around so I could slip the bike behind the garage before mom got out of bed. Sooner or later I would have to tell her about the bike, but I was hoping for a little more time to come up with a good reason, other than wrecking Pamela. 

There were several ways I could have gotten back home but with my mind focussed on hiding the bike from mom, I naturally went the way I knew best, right past Shawna’s house. Matt’s Corvette was sitting out front, with him leaned against the hood as if he was in the middle of a photo shoot. Shawna was right in front of him, with a smile on her face and a look in her eyes that I’d never seen before. A look that I would have given anything to be directed at me.

As she leaned in to kiss him, I twisted the throttle, pulling up the front wheel for a second as the bike propelled me out of there before I could witness something I’d rather not. The engine’s roar probably caught their attention, but I didn’t care. With the helmet on there was no way they could have known it was me. And it really didn’t matter anyway; I just wanted out of there. The faster the bike went, the easier it was for me to forget what I’d just seen. 

By the time I looked down at the speedometer I was approaching triple digits so I left off the throttle and let the bike settle back down to the legal speed as I finished making my way home. Half a block from my house I killed the engine and coasted the rest of the way to the driveway. Pushing the bike around the garage wasn’t too bad but even though I’d only just got it, covering it up with a tarp and knowing I couldn’t get back on it until the next morning was awful.

My Life As Death: Chapter 4

I decided to post chapter 4 a day early. For those who haven’t already read them, you can find links to the previous chapters here:
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3

Weed really liked anything with a motor, and loved wheeling and dealing. He would trade you the shirt off his mom’s back if it benefitted him. His swapping and horse trading had resulted in a shed full of junk; dirtbikes, motorcycles and car parts filled the tiny building, all of which he planned on restoring one day.

“This? This is your solution?” I asked as soon as Weed pulled off the cover.

“Yeah; Isn’t it great?” he asked as we stood inside a small shed at the back of his property.

Weed and I shared taste in women, music and even most cars but apparently not everything.

“Great?”

“Great, awesome, magnificent. Whatever word floats your boat.”

“How about POS?”

“What? This is a vintage, 1978 Kawasaki KZ650. It’s a classic.”

“It’s a rusty hunk of junk.”

“Maybe to the untrained eye, but check this out.”

With a turn of the key the headlight lit up, and with one kick the bike started up, even if it was spitting and sputtering black smoke while idling erratically. I couldn’t stop myself from laughing.

“Okay,” Weed said, “so maybe she needs a little TLC, but she’s a good project for you; I mean she’s been sitting forever and still started right up.”

“And it would mean I don’t have to ride that bus any more…”

“Right,” he agreed, “and it’ll just be until we can get Pamela back to normal.”

“Okay, but how am I going to tell my mom?”

“I’ll help you with that; your mom loves me.”

“Maybe, until you tell her you’re the reason I’m going to die in a fiery crash.”

“You’ve got a point. You’re on your own.”

“Too late to back out now,” I said, surprisingly excited about the prospect of having a motorcycle to ride to school instead of the bus.

“We haven’t shook on it.”

“Fine, $150 and you tell her about the bike, $125 and I’m stuck trying to figure out how to tell her. Either way, you help me get this thing roadworthy.”

“$125 it is,” Weed said, shutting the bike off and tossing me the keys before I could change my mind. “And we’ll have her purring like a kitten in no time.”

I liked his optimism, even if I wasn’t so sure about it.

“So where do we start?”

“Crack open your piggy bank,” he said, “it’s time for a trip to the junkyard.”

Fifteen minutes later I found myself riding shotgun in the Weed Wagon, Weed’s vintage Grumman mail truck. But since it was a mail truck, riding shotgun meant sitting where the driver normally would. I had to assume that’s what it would feel like to drive over in the UK, but from where I sat it just felt weird.

All the US postal service decals had been stripped from the truck before Weed bought it but there was no mistaking it for what it was so we always got plenty of strange looks. And it was probably about the furthest thing possible from a chick magnet but it had plenty of room in the back for whatever parts we were going to need; I just hoped it wouldn’t cost every dime I had to get the bike rideable and Pamela back on the road. 

“Here we are,” Weed said as we pulled up to a small mobile home in front of a ten foot high privacy fence that surrounded several acres behind it. The giant mounds of metal junk visible over the fence, and the oversized tractor tire half sticking out of the ground with the word “Salvage” painted on it, were the only indication we were parked in front of a business.

“You’re sure this is the place?”

“Absolutely. This guy has everything. Where do you think I got the truck?” He said, proudly as we moved closer to the trailer.

“And he keeps everything in his backyard?”

“Pretty much, so watch what you say; he’s a little sensitive about people calling it a junkyard. He likes to think of himself as a connoisseur so he prefers the term Salvage Yard.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Before Weed had a chance to respond, the front door opened and the mangiest looking mutt came bursting out. We were too close for me to even think as the dog launched itself off the front porch, I just reacted, throwing myself between it and Weed. The dog slammed into my chest, knocking me to the ground and holding me there with the sheer weight of its body. I couldn’t move, and I was sure I was about to be dog food when I felt the cold nose sniffing my face, followed by the warm and wet tongue.

“He likes you,” Weed said while standing over me with a dopey grin on his face.

“I’d hate to see how he treats people he doesn’t like.”

“To be fair, though,” Weed continued, “He was jumping for me and you just got in the way.”

“I won’t make that mistake again.”

“What’re ya doin’ to my dog,” a gruff voice called out from the porch.

“Hey Mr. Finkenbine!” Weed hollered back. The gray haired man on the porch had inch thick glasses that made his eyes look twice as large as normal and an overgrown beard that made him look ancient. But despite his arched back he was still a couple inches taller than me with shoulders twice as wide as mine so he was a bit intimidating. Regardless of his size or gruff manner, though, I felt an almost comfortable connection to him. 

“Oh, it’s you,” Finkenbine said as he came closer, “I thought Dumbass there caught whoever’s been stealing my yard globes.”

“Sorry to disappoint you,” Weed replied as I shoved the dog off me and climbed to my feet. 

“We’re not after any globes,” I explained, “just a couple motorcycle parts.”

“And we might as well look for some parts for Pamela too,” Weed threw in. And though he was probably right, I wasn’t sure I’d have enough cash to get what we needed for both projects, and as much as I wanted Pamela back in tiptop shape, getting myself mobile for the first day of school was my new priority.

“Well,” Mr Finkenbine replied, “I’ve probably got what you need, even if I don’t know what Pamela is. And Dumbass seems to like you,” he said looking directly at me, “so I guess you can’t be too bad. Why don’t you come on back.”

“Thanks,” Weed said as he headed through a gate beside the house while I followed behind hesitantly. 

 Beyond the gate, a tunnel was formed from all the scrap lining the narrow walkway. Washers and dryers, microwaves and toaster ovens were stacked on top of cars, motorcycles and various boat parts like some giant lego set. Everything was jammed together practically airtight. The tunnel went on for about thirty feet before opening into a giant field of even more scrap neatly organized into rows and piles that probably made sense, but only to Mr. Finkenbine.

“So what can I help you find,” Mr Finkenbine asked without stopping or even slowing down. Despite his apparent age, the man seemed to have way too much energy, and even though he walked with a slight limp, like his left foot wasn’t working right, I still struggled to keep up with his pace.

“We just need a voltage regulator and a petcock for the ‘78 KZ650,” Weed answered.

“You’re finally fixing up the KZ, huh?”

“Yeah, but not for me. Nate needs a ride, at least until we get Pamela, his ‘77 Pontiac Ventura, back up and running.”

“And what does Pamela need?

“A lot,” Weed said, “but we’ll start with a set of rims and shocks. She’ll also need a new windshield, and probably at least one headlight too.”

“Well I’ve got all of that, except the windshield” Finkenbine replied. “That will take a couple phone calls, and maybe a week to get, but once he gets on the KZ he might not want to go back to Pamela. Not that she’s a bad car, I’m sure she’s not, but once you dance with the prom queen it’s hard to go back to the president of the glee club.”

Weed seemed to catch the befuddled look on my face. “He likes cars, but he’s a bike guy through and through,” Weed explained as Finkenbine moved on. “Rumor has it he was once the president of a Hells Angels chapter.”

I looked at the man leading us deeper into his graveyard of parts, but couldn’t see it. Sure, he had a certain air that would make anyone think twice about messing with him, but so did most grumpy old men, especially one his size.

“I don’t buy it,” I said to Weed, but as the words left my mouth, Finkenbine’s shirt sleeve rode up his arm just enough to show the bottom part of a massive tattoo. I couldn’t swear to it, but it could very easily have been the biker gang’s Death Head logo.

Weed stared back at me with an “I told you so” look on his face. I just shrugged, then followed his lead as we rushed to keep up.

“The bike parts are over here,” Finkenbine said as he reached a pile of scrap. “This regulator should do you,” he continued,”but I don’t have just a petcock. Why don’t you take this whole tank.”

The KZ I bought off of Weed was red and the gas tank Finkenbine handed me was black, but it was in much better shape than the one already on the bike so I really couldn’t complain.

“Now as for Pamela,” Finkenbine said with a mischievous look, ”what’s the story?”

“I had a little accident,” I said, trying to keep Weed from going into too many details. I wasn’t sure why I told him everything I had; I mean, I still wasn’t even sure exactly what had happened, and I definitely didn’t want him repeating the story to anyone, not that he would.

“Drag racing? General recklessness? Or maybe something a little more fun? You try hooking up with a girl while heading down the road? That may look like fun in the movies, but it takes a lot of practice to make it work.”

“Just my general stupidity,” I said. “It was all such a blur; I really don’t remember much about it.”

“I’ve had some of those experiences too,” he replied with a knowing look in his eye. “But you survived, and don’t really look that worse for wear, so learn from your mistake and move on. Getting Pamela back up and running and hopping back in the saddle is a good start.”

Finkenbine kind of let the conversation drop as he led us towards the car parts. I was in awe as we moved through the rows. It must have taken years and years to accumulate that amount of scrap parts, and even more time and effort to organize it. And even though I couldn’t see the method to his madness, Finkenbine knew exactly where to find the parts we needed.

“You said a ‘77, right? He asked. “That’s the last year they called it a Ventura. In ‘78 they started calling all the X-body cars the Phoenix. Your’s has the newer grill and headlights, though, doesn’t it?”

“Um, yeah, I think so,” I replied, trying to sound like I actually knew anything about my own car.

“I’m pretty sure I’ve only got one headlight right now for her,” he said as he reached into one stack and pulled out a perfect match for my missing one, “but I’ve got a few connections and can get you another one if you end up needing it.”

“Thanks,” I said as he moved us further down the row. My arms were getting pretty full with the bike parts and the headlight but Finkenbine pulled out two shocks and piled them on top of everything else I was already carrying. Then he handed two rims to Weed before grabbing the other two rims and the shocks himself. 

It wasn’t that any of the parts were particularly heavy but they were awkward, making the trip back out to the gate a bit cumbersome for me. Weed and Finkenbine, on the other hand, seemed to be enjoying my struggle.

By the time we reached the Weed Wagon I was drenched in sweat and my arms were burning from trying to keep everything from falling. Thankfully, they finally gave me a break and started grabbing the parts from my arms and loading them into the back of Weed’s truck.

“How much do I owe you?” I asked, silently praying that the cash in my pocket would cover it.

“I think $130’s a fair price if you promise to bring that KZ over when it’s done so I can check it out.”

“Deal,” I replied, reaching out and shaking his hand before realizing that mine was covered in grease.

He just smiled, wiped his hands on his jeans and accepted the cash without bothering to count it.

“Now the real fun begins,” Weed said as we climbed back into the Weed Wagon.

My Life As Death: Chapter 3

I’ve made a little progress on the skull logo, so now I’m moving on to some initial cover renderings. I’ll be playing around with variations of the logo and the cover with each chapter I post. For those who haven’t already read them, you can find links to the previous chapters here:
Chapter 1
Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Every muscle ached but none hurt nearly as much as my head. It felt like someone had driven two spikes into my temples. But I took that as a good sign. If I could feel, then I couldn’t be dead.

The sun was just starting to rise with the first few rays piercing my eyes through the cracked glass of my front windshield. Dried blood was spread across the white vinyl seats and covered my t-shirt so I knew the wreck hadn’t been a dream but something still didn’t seem right. I tried the driver side door, and it opened with a grunt allowing me to climb out and inspect the damage. There was plenty of mud coating the bottom of the car and grass and corn stalks sticking out of the front bumper but I wasn’t in the field. My car, flat tires and all, was parked in front of my house.

“What the Hell?” I mumbled to myself as I tried to make sense of what I was seeing.

My memory of the night before was more than a little hazy, and the throbbing in my head didn’t help at all. All I knew was that the sun was almost completely up and that meant my mom would be home soon. She’d kill me if she saw the car like that, so I climbed back in and crossed my fingers as I turned the key. There was a moment of hesitation, then she fired up with a squeal and a growl.

“Well, at least something is going my way,” I thought as I put her into reverse and limped my way around the garage and parked her out of sight in the alley.

I had no clue how long I’d been passed out in front of the house, but it wasn’t nearly long enough. All I wanted was to go inside and sleep the rest of the day away, but just as I reached the back door the headlights from my mother’s car flooded the driveway.

“Crap,” I said, throwing the door open and rushing inside.

My bedroom was on the second floor, so I took the stairs two at a time, ripping off my bloody t-shirt as I reached the top landing. Mom had a habit of doing a load of laundry as soon as she got home so I couldn’t just throw it in my laundry basket. Instead, I shoved it under my bed, grabbed some clean clothes from my dresser and rushed to the bathroom.

I had barely managed to slip inside the water before I heard the knock on the bathroom door.

“You’re up early,” she said through the door. 

“Yeah,” I replied, “I don’t want to waste the last day of summer vacation.”

“I didn’t see your car so I wasn’t sure if you were home.”

It was really a question wrapped up like an observation.

“It’s at Weed’s. I’m using his garage to work on her.”

“Is everything okay?”

“Yeah, just doing a little more work on her.”

I hated lying to her, but I didn’t know what else to do. And besides, as soon as I figured out a way, I did plan on moving it over there to work on. But even though my car made it behind the garage, I knew there was no way she’d make it the couple blocks to Weed’s house.

“Okay. We’ll talk when you’re done,” she replied.

I couldn’t tell if she meant that in any sort of ominous way, but my brain and body hurt too much to really care; I just let the hot water pour over me until I was afraid she’d come check on me again. Then I gathered all the strength I could and finished washing off any trace of the previous night.

Brushing my teeth and slipping on some clean clothes helped me feel a little less dead, but I still felt like I needed a gallon of coffee and a couple energy drinks before I could do anything productive. Unfortunately, I knew my mom was waiting to talk to me so I forced myself to put on a smile and head down stairs.

“Rough night?” She asked before I had stepped off the last stair.

She was sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of tea, ‘Sleepy Time’ if I knew her. That was her go-to drink when she couldn’t sleep or after a really rough night as an EMT. Her eyelids looked as if she couldn’t keep them open, while something within her eyes themselves told me she wasn’t ready to shut them.

“I probably stayed up too late,” I replied, trying to play it off. “But you look like you had an even rougher night than I did.”

“It’s nothing you need to worry about.” She replied while trying to fake a smile.

“You know I’m going to hear about it, or see it on the news anyways.”

She hesitated for a second, then took a deep breath. “ It was a drunk driving accident, a teen about your age.”

My thoughts went straight to Weed, then Shawna. The concern must have shown on my face.

“No one from your school,” she continued, “but that doesn’t really make it any easier.”

“Did they make it?”

She just sat there for a minute, looking down at the cup in her hands. I knew the answer.

I went over and put my arms around her.

“So what are your plans today?” she asked after a minute of silence, clearly trying to change the subject. I followed her lead.

“I’m just going to hang out with Weed, you know enjoy our last day of freedom.”

“And work on your car?”

“Yeah, that too.” I wasn’t sure exactly how we were going to get it over to his house, but I knew it was going to have to wait until mom was either sound asleep or back at work that evening.

“What about Shawna?” She continued.

“What about her?”

“Wasn’t she supposed to be back by now?”

“Yeah, I guess so. I’ll probably see what she’s up to.”

“Well, try to be back home before I leave for the dinner shift at the diner,” she continued, “I want to make sure you’ve got everything ready for school tomorrow.”

“Sure thing mom,” I replied, “And you try to get some sleep.”

“I will.”

Heading out the front door, I instinctively reached into my pants pocket for my car keys before remembering where it was and why.

“Guess I’ll be walking for a bit,” I thought, still a little pissed at myself. I was sure Weed and I could get Pamela fixed up, but I hated the idea of starting the school year off without her. Thankfully Weed lived just a couple blocks away, and the weather was still nice so the walk wasn’t bad at all. And the fresh air was helping me feel a little more alive, so by the time I reached the front door and his mom answered it, I almost didn’t have to force a smile.

“Good morning,” she said with a genuine smile, “He’s still in bed, but feel free to wake him for me.”

“Of course,” I replied, stepping inside

“You’ll probably need my little helper, though.”

“Probably,” I replied, grabbing the air horn from her as I headed up the stairs.

Weed’s door opened with a groan as if, like him, it didn’t want to be disturbed. But even with it all the way open, the hallway light barely pierced the blackness. Every curtain was drawn tight against the morning sun. He may not have been in an accident like I was but he was at the party much later, and surely drank a lot more after I left, so I knew he was in worse shape than me. But I didn’t let that stop me from doing it anyways.

I wasn’t quiet as I made my way through the landmines of clothes, tools and empty food boxes that lead to his bed but my footsteps didn’t even faze him. The drool continued to hang from his open mouth, and his snoring continued to rattle the walls as I leaned over him with the air horn.

“Wakey Wakey,” I whispered in his ear just before squeezing the button on the horn.

“Whaaatttt???” Weed screamed as he fell out of bed, pulling several layers of blankets on top of him as I bust out laughing.

The blast from the air horn left my head throbbing, but it was completely worth it.

Weed struggled to climb to his feet, keeping the blankets wrapped around while just staring forward with a dazed look on his face. After blinking a couple times his eyes focused on me and a smile spread across his face.

“That was a good one,” he said with a laugh, “but now you know this means war.”

“I wouldn’t expect anything less from you.”

“What time is it?”

“7:30.”

“AM?”

“Yeah.”

“So what the Hell are we doing up?” He said, plopping back down on to his bed.

“I really need to talk to you.”

“You said last night that it was done. That for good or bad…”

“It’s not about Shawna.”

“What?”

“It’s not about her.”

“Well, good, I guess, but that doesn’t make waking me up this early any better.”

“You know I wouldn’t be up myself if it wasn’t important.”

Well, can it at least wait until I get some breakfast or even a Mountain Dew?”

“Yeah, sure,” I relented. I really wanted to talk to him about what happened, but I still wasn’t exactly sure how to put everything into words so a few extra minutes couldn’t hurt.

Weed shrugged off the covers and stood up, sharing an unflattering view of his batman boxers as he did. Modesty wasn’t one of his strong suits, but after years as friends I’d learned to deal with it, or at least to ignore it as I followed him down the stairs. His mom had a big bowl of cereal waiting on the table for him, probably her way of apologizing for the part she played in torturing him. Though the grin on her face showed she wasn’t that sorry. The bowl easily held half a box of Lucky Charms, and Weed practically inhaled the entire thing.

“You wanna go for a walk?” I asked as he finished sucking down the remaining milk.

“You serious?”

“Yeah.”

He just continued to stare at me like I had a second head growing out of my body.

“Come on man…”

“Fine, but you owe me,” he replied, trodding upstairs to throw on some pants.

It took a little longer than it should have, but he looked a little more awake when he came back down.

“Ma,” he hollered over his shoulder as he popped a couple ibuprofen, downing them with a can of Jolt, “We’ll be back in a few.”

“Nate,” she hollered back, “you know you can smoke in here.”

“Thanks,” I replied, “but I’m good. And besides, we can use the exercise.”

“Well, at least one of you can,” She replied.

“Thanks, Ma,” Weed replied as he slipped on his still-tied shoes.

Weed was shorter than me, and probably fifteen to twenty pounds heavier, but I wouldn’t call him fat, just slightly overweight. But his mom loved to tease him about it. Normally I would have too, but I felt bad enough about waking him so I kept my mouth shut.

As soon as we stepped onto the porch I grabbed a cigarette from the pack in my pocket and lit it up. Weed held out his hand, and I really couldn’t refuse. With the breeze it took a couple attempts to light mine, then I tossed him the lighter.

“So, you just drug me out of bed for this?” He asked after we’d walked almost the entire way back to my house without a single word.

“I think something happened last night,” I started, “I mean, I know something happened, but I’m not sure exactly what.

We finished making our way to my driveway as I tried to collect my thoughts.

“So who’s the lucky girl?”

“I wish.”

“If it wasn’t a girl, and you’re clearly not dead, then it can’t be too serious.”

I laughed.

“What?”

“This is going to sound crazy…”

“That’s never stopped you before.”

“I’m serious, like arkham asylum crazy.”

“As long as you haven’t killed anyone or hidden any bombs around Gotham, then I think you’re okay…”

I started second guessing my decision to talk to Weed.

“You didn’t, did you?”

“What?”

“Kill someone.”

“No, well…”

“You’re shittin’ me…”

“No, that’s not what I mean. I told you it was going to make me sound crazy.”

“Just spit it out already.”

“Fine. When I left the party last night, I had an experience.”

“Like alien abduction? I’ve always wanted to be abducted…”

“No… What?… Let’s just forget that you said that.”

“Why? I’m not ashamed. I’m not saying I want to be probed but…”

“Back to what I was saying…”

“Right.”

“When I was driving home I got a little distracted and when I looked back at the road I thought I saw something.”

“Like?”

“Like a deer, or a large goat, or something.”

“And?”

“And I swerved.”

“And?”

“And I wrecked.”

“What’d you do to Pamela?” Weed asked a little too loudly as we reached my front porch.

“Shh, you know mom’s sleeping.”

“Sorry,” he said, quieting his voice, “but I’ve got to see her…”

“It’s not that bad…”

“Says you,” he replied. “Take me to her.”

“You probably don’t want to see her, not yet.”

He crossed his arms and stared at me like a disappointed parent until I finally agreed to take him to Pamela.

We walked slowly around to the back alley, like two guys going to see a dying relative; which was a pretty accurate analogy. Weed and I had spent the summer fixing up Pamela, spending way too many hours trying to get her ready before school started. In a way she was almost as much his car as mine.

“How?” He whined as soon as he caught a glimpse of her.

“Like I said, I swerved. I went off the road, flew over the ditch and went out into a cornfield. It felt like she flipped over a hundred times, but there doesn’t seem to be that much damage. She even managed to make it from the front of the house back here without much trouble.”

“But how’d you get it home from the cornfield.”

“That’s the crazy part. I don’t know.”

“What do you mean you don’t know?”

“I told you I’d sound crazy.”

“Maybe you just got a concussion and don’t remember driving her home.”

“It’s not just that I can’t remember getting home.”

“So what is it?”

I looked Weed in the eye and I could see he was genuinely concerned. Still, it took me a minute to decide how to put everything into words. He continued to wait as I lit up another cigarette and leaned against the front bumper. After a couple puffs, I just started talking. I told him everything, about what I felt, and about who, or at least what, I saw. I told him about the conversation and about what I agreed to do.

“So you’re telling me you died and came back after agreeing to become the grim reaper.”

A grim reaper,” I corrected him.

“Right, just one of many because a single reaper isn’t enough.”

“I told you it was crazy.”

“That must have been some good shit we smoked last night. Too bad I didn’t have near that much fun.”

“So yeah, what happened with you and the little hottie you took off with?”

“I don’t want to talk about it?”

“Now I’ve got to know.”

“So you’re saying you can kill someone just by touching them?”

“Way to change the subject.”

“You’re the one who decided to wake me at God’s hours after a night of partying because you wanted to talk about this shit, but if you don’t want to…”

“You’re right man, it’s just that… it felt so… real.”

“I know how we can find out.”

“And that is…?”

“Try to kill me.”

“What? No way.”

“You don’t really believe that happened, do you?”

“No, I mean it was just…”

“Then it won’t work and it’ll prove that you just partied a little too hard.”

“Right,” I said, but it still didn’t feel right. I knew there was no way it would work, but even thinking about Weed dying just seemed wrong.

“You woke me up and now you’re just going to stand there fondling yourself? Come on, man.”

“Fine.”

I reached out and grabbed his arm but before I could even think about anything, I was flooded with images of him and the girl I left him with before heading out of the party. She led him to a back bedroom and they started going at it, making out like a couple of high schoolers; they couldn’t keep their hands off each other. I really didn’t want to watch but I didn’t know how to stop it. They kept at it and she started to undo his pants. He let her, and things kept progressing. Thankfully, I managed to pull my hand away from his arm and the visions stopped.

“See?” Weed said, “nothing happened.”

“Like Hell it didn’t.”

“I’m still here…”

“Something happened between you and that girl last night.”

“Let it go man.”

“I saw it.”

“What do you mean?”

“When I touched your arm, I saw it. I saw her lead you back to that room. And I saw your thoughts, I felt your lust for her. You two started going at it and…”

“And nothing.”

“I saw her start undoing your pants…”

“What! Did she tell you about that?”

“No, I saw it!”

“But you’d left before that happened.”

“No, I just saw it, like the whole thing playing out inside my head.”

“Who put you up to this?”

“You’re acting like it was a bad thing.”

“If you really saw what happened then you know it wasn’t a good thing.”

“Thankfully I let go of your arm before I saw everything that happened.”

“This is some kind of joke, right? You of all people…”

“A joke? Because you had a little too much fun with a cheerleader?” I mean, she looked a little young but…”

“So you really don’t know?”

“Know what? I told you, I saw you guys going hot and heavy so I let go and the image disappeared before I saw anything more disgusting happen.”

“You’re serious?”

“Yeah, man. Congrats to you.”

“No. I’m telling you, things didn’t really end well.”

“I’m sorry. But if it’s any help, they say it happens to everyone.”

“What? No… nothing like that…”

“Then what?”

“You said when you touched my arm you could see what happened.”

“Yeah?”

“So do it again.”

“That’s really not an image I want to see again.”

Weed grabbed my hand and pressed it onto his arm. The images came right back and I saw the cheerleader continue right where she’d left off, undoing his pants, sliding them down to his ankles. I started to pull away but Weed kept my hand pinned to his arm and the image continued. I saw her follow the pants down, but instead of anything sexual happening, I saw her quickly grab the baggies and wallet from Weed’s pockets before rushing out the bedroom. By the time he’d realized what happened, got his pants back up, and made it out of the bedroom, the cheerleader, along with everything she took, was gone. I could sense his anger rising. I could feel it. It was almost a rage.

“Wow. Sorry, man,” was all I could say as I let go of his arm. “You didn’t do anything after she took your shit?”

“Na. I was pissed for a bit but now that I’ve slept it off, I’ve got a halfway decent memory from it. I mean, that’s the most action I’ve had from a girl in a while” he replied, much calmer than I would have been, “I’m just glad I didn’t take all of my stash with me last night.”

“Every cloud does have a silver lining.”

“I still wish she hadn’t taken my wallet,” he continued, “it had my lucky condom in it.”

“Maybe she did you a favor; that thing’s got to be expired by now.”

“Yeah, but I saw my first boob right after finding that thing.”

“And you haven’t seen another one since. Just take this as a sign.”

“Maybe you’re right, but enough about what happened to me. You could really see everything that happened last night just by touching me?”

“I guess so.”

“So what does that mean about the rest of it?”

“I don’t know, but there’s no way I can kill people with a touch; can I?”

“You didn’t kill me by touching me.”

“But I wasn’t thinking about you dying either.”

“Well I appreciate that.”

“Seriously; do you think it could be true?”

“If I’ve learned that anything, it’s that everything is possible. But now to the important question…”

“Which is?”

“What are we going to do about her?”

We both stared at my car, sitting there in her roughened state. It was almost enough to make a guy cry.

“I’ve got to get her fixed up, but I don’t even know where to start.

“Let me make a call,” Weed finally said, tearing his eyes away from Pamela. 

“Just be quiet about it. I don’t need you waking mom up.”

“Of course,” he said, before slipping around the garage.

I continued to run my eyes over my car, almost willing her to share the memory of last night with me. With three flat tires, busted shocks, a shattered windshield and a missing headlight, there was no way I could have driven her all the way home, but there she sat. And regardless of the blood that had been on my clothes, there I stood without a scratch. None of it made a lick of sense.

“You owe me,” Weed said, coming up from behind and startling me from my thoughts.

“What do you mean?”

“A friend of my mom drives a tow truck and he’s on his way to pick her up and take her back to my place. It’ll definitely take a little time and a lot of elbow grease but I think we can get her back in shape.”

“That’s awesome,” I said, but then realized exactly what that meant. “The thing that really sucks is that school’s going to start tomorrow and I was looking forward to being done with that cranky bus driver.”

“How much is it worth to you?”

“Common man, you know I don’t have much cash and it’s going to take most of what I’ve got to get Pamela back to normal.”

“What if I told ya that you could drive yourself to school on day one for only about $200 and about a day’s worth of work?”

 “There’s no way we’ll get her fixed up in that time or for that money. The tires alone are going to run at least that much.”

“That’s why you’re not going to show up in her.”

I stared at him for a minute. 

“I don’t get it.”

“Follow me,” Weed said, and I did so, against my better judgment.

My Life As Death: Chapter 2

Initial sketch for the book cover logo

As promised, here’s chapter 2 of My Life As Death. You can read Chapter 1 here.

“Get me drunk.”

“Now that’s what I’m talking about!” Weed replied before the reality sunk in. “Oh, I’m sorry. Struck out?”

“Never even got up to bat.”

“What the hell?”

“She just introduced me to her living Ken doll, ‘Matt’.”

“Ouch.”

“Yeah.”

“Well don’t you worry,” Weed said, “I’ve got just what the doctor ordered.”

I have no idea where he got that skull shaped bottle but based on the green tint of the liqueur inside I knew exactly what it was.

“Absinthe?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he replied, “the real shit, 80% alcohol. I was going to save it for a celebratory drink when you guys hooked up, but this excuse is just as good.”

I took a second, trying to let my better judgment take the lead, but all it took was one brief thought of Shawna walking away with Matt and the grin on his face.

“Give me that,” I said, grabbing the bottle from his hand. There were plenty of cups around but I skipped the formalities, unscrewed the top and chugged straight from the bottle.

“Woah,” Weed said, grabbing the bottle back, “save some for me.”

As he took a turn, I could feel the alcohol course through my body, but that just meant I could still feel, and I didn’t want that.

“Follow me,” I said, heading over to the liquor table by the pool. I grabbed the half empty bottle of 151 rum, then dragged Weed to the garage. There was a couple making out in one of the corners but they didn’t pay any attention to us. Otherwise we were alone.

For several minutes we just sat there, each taking swigs from the bottles in our hands before Weed pulled out his stash. The silver bowl in his hand was his pride and joy and I knew he’d never go anywhere without it or a baggie of the good stuff. He packed a tight bowl, lighting it like the pro before handing it to me. I took several hits before passing it back to him, from there we took turns alternating between the bowl and the bottles. When we’d finally reached the proper level of intoxication the words started to flow.

“Well,” Weed started, “at least now you know.”

“And knowing is half the battle,” I replied, and though it sounded strangely profound to me, Weed laughed, hard.

“Are you quoting G.I. Joe?” he asked, then it was my turn to laugh; partially because he was laughing, partially because I realized he was right. My laughing caused him to laugh harder, which just fed into the vicious cycle of laughing, drinking and quoting ridiculous phrases from cartoons. It was just what I needed.

I had no idea what time it was when we finally realized we’d had too much to drink and smoke, but it was way too late. Neither of us could stand on our own so we helped each other through the house as one of Collective Souls’ hits echoed off the walls. I was so wasted, I couldn’t even name the song so I knew we needed to get out of there but before we could make it to the front door a perfectly petite girl stopped us.

“You’re Weed, right?” She asked, but Weed just stared. I don’t know if it was the alcohol, the smoke, or just the fact that he’d never been approached by such a hottie before, but he was worse than a deer in headlights.

“Yes, he is,” I replied as Weed tried to compose himself. 

“Oh good,” she replied with a giant smile on her face. “I was hoping to meet you here.”

Weed turned to me with the most shit-eating grin on his face; sure she looked like a freshman but even still, who knew how old she really was? All we knew was she was old enough to be at the party and she wanted Weed.

“Go on man,” I said.

“You sure?”

“Yeah, I replied, straightening myself up and doing my best impression of a sober person. It wasn’t fooling anyone but him.

“Thanks,” he said letting himself be dragged away. “I owe you.”

With Weed occupied, and Shawna gone there was really no reason for me to stick around so I stumbled out to my ‘77 Pontiac. The glowing numbers on the dash were only a blur, so I had no idea what time it really was, all I know is that it was late and I wanted to get home.

Somehow I maneuvered the oversized beast from its parking spot and I even managed to head in the right direction down state route 55, but as I made my way towards home my eyes struggled to stay open. I tried opening the window, but the cool air blowing against my face didn’t help in the slightest. I flipped on the radio before remembering that it hadn’t worked since I bought the car and sure enough, all I heard was static. As I reached for the power button on the radio I took my eyes off the road for just a second, but that was all it took.

I still can’t say exactly what I saw when my focus returned to the road. The glowing red eyes and the antlers on top of its head made me think of a deer or a moose, but I swear it only had two legs and a face that was vaguely human-like. Whatever it was didn’t really matter though, what mattered was that it was standing in the middle of the road. I swerved to miss whatever it was but of course that caused my tires to slide in the gravel lining the side of the road, which sent me further off the pavement, over the drainage ditch and into a cornfield.

My chest bounced off the steering wheel and my face slammed into the windshield, sending a spider web of cracks across the entire thing as I continued to tumble around. I could feel the blood start flowing from my face as I was tossed around like a shoe in a dryer for what seemed like an eternity. The sound of glass shattering, and metal crunching filled the air but then, as suddenly as the chaos started, it stopped. There was no more tumbling, no movement at all. And there were no sounds, it was complete silence. For a moment I was content in the sudden peace, but then I realized there was no light, or at least none I could see.

“I’m blind!” I thought as I tried to reach up to my eyes, but I couldn’t move my arms. More than that, I couldn’t even feel my arms, or legs, or any other part of me.

“I’m paralyzed!” I wanted to scream, but the words wouldn’t leave my mouth.

“No,” a voice replied, “you’re not blind or paralyzed; you’re dead.”

The face that came into view was human, but more beautiful than a man should be. Matt might have had GQ model good looks, but this guy made him look like a dog. It was frightening.

“I can’t be dead,” I replied, “I’m right here.”

“And where is here?”

For a moment I didn’t understand the question, here was here. But it didn’t really matter where here was, did it? As long as I was here, I couldn’t be dead, right? It was as if he could read my mind, and with a look of pity in his eyes he just shook his head. That’s when I realized he was right.

“So is this Heaven or Hell?” I asked.

“Neither, really.”

“But I have to go to one or the other, don’t I?”

“That’s what they say.”

“Do I get to choose?”

“No,” he replied with a chuckle, “And given the way you died…”

“But that’s not really me,” I protested, “you’ve got to understand that.”

“Driving drunk? And stoned?” he continued, “You’re just lucky you didn’t kill anyone besides yourself!”

There was an evil pleasure showing in his eyes as he said those words.

“I’m sorry,” I called out, both out of fear and regret, “but it was just one bad decision, a really, really stupid decision, but I’m much more than that one screw up.”

“One bad decision?” He asked, mocking me. “Your life has been a series of bad decisions. What about the poker games in the band room during school assemblies? Or getting high on the class trip to the planetarium? What about sneaking into the closet of the girl’s changing room at church camp?”

Images of those, and other less-than-wholesome events, flashed through my mind as the face just grinned. I knew he was right; I deserved any punishment that was about to come my way.

“But,” he continued, the anger softening, “it’s not like you actually killed anyone…besides yourself.”

His change in demeanor gave me the slightest glimmer of hope.

“I mean, the worst of your offenses would only be a misdemeanor in the eyes of the law…”

I couldn’t help but look up at him, and I swear I saw a hint of compassion in his eyes as he continued, but that might have just been wishful thinking on my part.

“Maybe we can come up with something.”

I could feel myself nodding before he even made the offer.

“You do seem like a good kid, and I wish I could just send you back, but that’s not how things work.”

My heart began to drop again.

“But it does seem we are a little short on reapers,” he continued. “So maybe we can find a way to help each other out.

“Reapers…” I asked, the word not really making sense. “like the Grim Reaper?”

He just smiled and nodded.

“Short on Reapers, plural, like there’s more than one grim reaper?”

“There are over 150,000 deaths per day worldwide, that’s nearly 2 per second. You think one Reaper could handle all those?”

“I…guess not…?”

“And with all those deaths we could use a few more Reapers,” he said. “So if you want to step up, and help us out, I can probably send you back to live out your life and all you’ll have to do is help a few poor souls cross over when their time is up.”

“Cross over?”

“From the land of the living.”

“You want me to kill people?”

“Look,” he said, putting his hand on my shoulder. His touch I could feel, and it was both cold and hot at the same time. I wanted to pull away but I still couldn’t move.

 “When their time is up, it’s up,” he continued. “You’ll be the one choosing exactly how and when they cross over. You can make it as easy or as unpleasant as you like.”

“But I’d still be killing them,” I replied. “I…I can’t do that, not to some innocent stranger.”

“Oh, you poor naive boy,” he said with a grin, “no one is innocent.”

“I can’t just kill someone.”

“Really? What if they were truly evil?”

“What do you mean?”

He leaned back and crossed his arms looking thoughtful and innocent.

“What if they were murderers? Rapists? Childmolesters? Could you do it then?”

The question sent a chill through me as I actually considered it. I mean, I didn’t like the thought of killing someone in general. But getting rid of a child molester? How could I feel bad about that?

“So what if I could send you back, and the only ones you would have to deal with are the worst of the worst; the childmolesters, rapists and killers? You get your life back and get to do some good for the world?”

I didn’t like the fact that I was actually considering it, but maybe he was right. I could get a second chance at life and the opportunity to do a little good with it.

“How could I be sure?” I asked. “Sure that they’re who you say they are?”

“That’s one of the benefits of being a reaper, you can see exactly what they’re guilty of, everything. You’d be like a superhero, ridding the world of the bad guys.”

His offer was tempting. I liked the idea of doing some good, but I wasn’t sure I could actually kill someone.

“The choice is yours,” he continued, “but it’s a choice you’re going to have to make quickly. Do you want to go with me or do you want to go back to your friends? Back to your mom?”

I suddenly felt an intense heat surround me before images of Weed, Shawna, and my mom flashed through my mind. He said I had a choice, but there really wasn’t one. I already knew my answer. I wasn’t sure how well I could do killing anybody but I knew for a fact that I wasn’t done living my life.

“So how does this whole thing work?”

“That’s what I wanted to hear,” he said, the smile on his face was both perfect and terrifying. “It’s really quite simple; I’ll let you know who to send to me, and you choose how you want to do it.”

“But I don’t own a gun, or an ax, or really any weapons…”

His laugh was even more terrifying than his smile.

“You’re a reaper,” he explained, “you are the weapon. Haven’t you heard of ‘the touch of death’? It’s that simple.”

“I don’t get it.”

“All you have to do is touch them while picturing how they’re going to go.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it.”

“And when I touch them I’ll know they deserve it?”

“When you touch them you can see exactly what they’re guilty of. But remember, you can’t un-see the things they’ve done.”

His last statement had an ominous sound but really, how bad could it be? I touch the bad guy, see that they’ve killed someone, and then picture them having a heart attack or getting hit by a bus. Simple enough. I get to finish living out the life I’m supposed to and I get to do some good.

“So what, exactly, is the deal you’re offering?”

“You seal the fate of the five people I assign you to, and you get to live out the rest of your life free and clear, like this never happened.”

“And if I don’t want to “reap” one of the people you assign me to?”

“Then our deal is off and your time on earth will be up.”

“What if I just need a little extra time to do it?”

“I’ve got all the time in the world, but you don’t. If their fate isn’t sealed within 5 days of the assignment being issued, then the deal is off.”

“So…Are you a reaper?”

He just chuckled and said, “No, boy, you know who I am.”

The way he said it sent chills through me, and he was right, somehow I did know exactly who he was. It made me second guess whether I really wanted to take the deal,  but I couldn’t see where I actually had a choice. I wasn’t ready to just give up on a life I’d barely begin to live, just because of one mistake. And my mom would be devastated. With her in mind, I knew exactly what I had to do.

“So what now, Lucifer?”

“There’s just a little paperwork and then you can go home.”

I didn’t even see the parchment appear, it was just suddenly there in his hands.

“Of course you can read over the whole thing before you sign, if you’d like,” he said.

“No,” I replied, “That might only make me change my mind.”

“Then just sign here.”

Suddenly I realized I could feel my arm again, and as I looked down I saw my hand; or more importantly, my index finger. I reached forward and used the blood on the tip of it to sign my name.

“I’m glad we can help each other out,” he said.

His face disappeared, leaving me in total darkness as the last word faded away. I decided that really was a good thing; I was tired. So tired.

My Life As Death: Chapter 1

I’m close to finishing My Life As Death so I thought I’d try something new. I’ll be posting one chapter a week to Wattpad in hopes of generate some interest. But I know that not everyone is on Wattpad, so I’m going to post them here as well. I still plan on pursuing a traditional publishing contract with MLAD, so at some point I may have to take them down, but for now I just want to share it with anyone interested in reading it in serialized format. So here goes:

Premise:

Murderers? Rapists? Child Molesters? Who would you kill for a second chance at life?
When Nate dies in a car accident after leaving a party, he gets the opportunity to return to the life he left too early, if he agrees to act as the hand of death for the five people he is assigned. He even gets a guarantee that they are all killers, rapists or child molesters. But nothing is ever as easy as it appears, especially when everyone, even those closest to you, have secrets.

Chapter 1

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Weed asked, though he already knew the answer. “If things go bad there’s no going back.

“I’ve got to do this,” I replied, though I wasn’t sure exactly why. Usually Weed was the one trying to talk me into doing stupid stuff. The fact that he was trying to talk me out of doing something made me question everything, but only for a minute.

“You know I’m the first in line to watch you crash and burn, but I really don’t know about this.”

“You can either help, or go on home.”

“I’m here for you man,” Weed replied, “Just tell me that for good or bad, this is it. I’ve got my own love life I’ve got to think about.”

“Don’t worry,” I said, “Miss December 1995 will always be there for you underneath your mattress.”

“Hell yeah she will.”

I knew Weed hated me obsessing over Shawna, and it had to be awkward for him. The three of us grew up together, best friends since we were eight, and Weed and I went back even farther. It probably wasn’t right, the way I felt about her, but as they say, the heart wants what the heart wants. When she first moved to town she was shy, backwards and sad, but I was drawn to her despite all of that; or maybe because of it. I don’t know. But the whys and hows don’t really matter. All I know is that she is the one girl who knew how screwed up I really was, and she stuck with me. Girls like that are rare, and special, so I decided to tell her just how I felt.

We stepped through the front door and into the pounding music while Billie Joe Armstrong told us how neurotic he was. I wasn’t even exactly sure whose house we were at, but that didn’t really matter. All I knew was that summer was almost over, the owners of the house were gone for the weekend, and Shawna was going to be there. She’d been away all summer and it was the first one I could remember without her. I’d gotten my driver’s license, a job, and finally put the finishing touches on my car but she wasn’t there to share any of that. The one good thing to come of it was that I’d finally decided to tell her exactly how I felt.

The place was filled with partiers flowing through every room of the house, mostly by kids from our high school, but there were also some I didn’t recognize. The kids I did recognize normally wouldn’t have been caught dead socializing with us in school, but it was the summer before our senior year and the alcohol was flowing freely so no one objected to us being there; some even raised a glass as we made our way past them and into the backyard.

Several kegs were set up around the inground pool, along with folding tables covered with plastic cups of beer. Weed and I each grabbed one and continued on, passing by other tables lined with the harder stuff. A lot of it was the cheaper junk, the 40 proof store brand liquor. High school kids don’t really care about what it tastes like or how much it burns going down. Mixing it with a good cola or an energy drink made it go down easier, and if you drink enough of it, you’d still get drunk.

I almost reached for a shot of 151 to get things started, but then I remembered Shawna and stopped myself. A little alcohol would definitely make it easier to tell her how I felt, a lot would make me sound like a complete idiot. I erred on the side of caution and decided to stick with the beer in my hand.

“I don’t think she’s here yet,” Weed said. “How ‘bout we get in a game while we wait?”

Several of the tables were set up for beer pong, one of which was standing open, just begging to be played. 

“Well?” He asked as he did his best pathetic puppy dog face.

“Okay, but only one game,” I said, against my better judgment.

The first game took almost no time, Weed really wasn’t that good. I looked around for Shawna, but still didn’t see her. However, our game had attracted a few spectators, mostly because of how bad Weed was doing.

“Let’s go again,” he called out, a little too loud over the Gin Blossoms’ Hey Jealousy .

I glanced around again, hoping to be saved by her smiling face, but to no avail.

“One more,” I replied,” but that’s it.”

He grinned like the cheshire cat as we started setting up the table with full cups.

Keeping my mind off Shawna proved to be a little more difficult as the second game wore on. The distraction wasn’t helping me at all; by the time the game ended I’d drank a little more than I’d intended and Weed had almost beat me.

“Good game,” I said, trying to not so subtly let him know I was done.

“Awe, come on,” he replied,” I almost had you that time! Give me one more shot.”

“I’m afraid not,” Shawna’s sweet voice said from right behind me. “I need to borrow him for a couple minutes.”

I spun around a little quicker than I probably should have, and made myself a little dizzy.

“You guys been here long?” She asked with a grin.

The words caught in my throat as I saw her beautiful face for the first time in months.

“Not too long,” I replied, composing myself, “but you know Weed.”

“Yes I do. That’s why I decided to save you from him, and from yourself.”

“I guess I owe you one.”

“I’ll add that to your tab,” she said. “But right now I want you to meet someone.”

I heard the words coming from her mouth but they weren’t making any sense as she led me back through the house and to a group of kids hanging just outside the front door. A couple of them were from the most popular group at our high school.

“Matt,” she called out, drawing the attention of an oversized abercrombie model in the middle of the group. His clothes were right out of a fashion magazine, complete with a sweater tied around his waist and red and black Air Jordans on his feet. One of those shoes probably cost more than all my clothes. I instantly disliked the guy, and the bleached tips of his over stylized hair didn’t help. Everything about the guy seemed fake, especially his smile, and it made me want to punch him in his plastic surgery perfect face. If he didn’t have at least thirty pounds of muscle on me, I might have.

“Come on,” Shawna said, pulling me into the middle of the group.

I had no choice but to follow.

“Nate, this is Matt. ”

Matt reached out his hand, and I would have been the jackass not to shake it.

“Matt,” she continued, “this is my best friend Nate.”

The words cut through me like a knife, distracting me enough that I almost didn’t notice how hard Matt was squeezing my hand. I gave it right back to him which seemed to catch him off guard for a second but he quickly continued his practiced grin.

“Nice to meet you,” he said, releasing my hand.

“Same here,” I replied while trying to fake his same level of sincerity.

“I’m so glad you guys could finally meet,” Shawna said to me, “I’ve told Matt all about you and I was afraid you weren’t going to be here before we had to leave.

“What?” I asked, not sure I’d heard her right. 

“I know we talked about hanging out tonight, but I kinda can’t stay. Matt’s got a thing…”

“Oh, I get it,” I said, cutting her off before any of the details had a chance to piss me off any further.

“See, I told you if he was really your best friend, he’d understand,” Matt said, with a little too much emphasis on the word friend.

“Of course,” I replied, trying to smile through clenched teeth.

“Thanks,” Shawna said, grabbing Matt’s hand, “then we should probably get going. Don’t let Weed get too out of control, and tell him we’ll hang out soon.”

“Have fun,” was all I could think to say as they headed towards a cherry red corvette parked at the curb.

“I’m sure we will,” Matt replied with a look in his eyes that told me exactly what he meant.

3 String Guitar Build Part 1: The Neck

In messaging with a customer, I realized that I have not posted a full 3-string build, so now is the time. I’m starting with the RG-10, solid body design and then I’ll walk through the RG-9 acoustic/electric body style, but they both start with the same neck/head:

To build the neck, with a 15 degree scarf joint, I use a compound miter saw and a simple angled jig:

Using this jig, I cut two two smaller (~8″) pieces 1″x2″ maple that have been thinned down to 0.60″ thick. These will be glued together to make the head. I also use this jig to cut a 15 degree angle on the end of the neck. I tend to work on multiple guitars at once, hence the 4 pieces:

This process can be sped up a little, but starting with a single piece of 1″x4″ but I tend to have more 1″x2″ laying around.

Once the head pieces are glued up, I then sand and place them until they are perfectly smooth. Then I glue them to the neck

The neck and head joint usually requires just a little more sanding/planing before the piece is ready fot the head shape to be cut.

I usually draw the head shape on, using my template, then start with the band saw to get the rough shape:

An oscillating drum sander helps dial in the final shape, before I drill the tuner holes:

Once the holes are drilled, I start to shape the neck. A 45 degree router bit gets me a good shape to start with:

From there, I use rasps, files, a belt sanded and a mouse sander to get the shape I want:

I don’t spend too much time on getting it perfect just yet, because there will still be a lot more work to do once we add the body.
This is the basic neck I use for both the RG9 and RG10 guitars. From here the processes take drastically different paths.

90’s Inspiration

My teen years took place in the 90’s, and My Life As Death has a lot of me in it, so it only makes sense that it would take place in the 90’s as well. I knew this from the very beginning but I didn’t realize how important it would be until recently.

I’ve been working on MLAD for a while now, and never really had a problem with writer’s block until a few days ago. I sat down to write, and had a scene envisioned in my head, but I just couldn’t write it. The scene was about the main character and his best friend (both high school seniors) out on a Saturday night so it should have been something easy enough for me to whip through but I just wasn’t feeling it. I thought about stepping away, but instead I decided to turn to Amazon music.

I started by pulling up the obvious Pearl Jam, STP and Nirvana, along with Green Day and Blink-182 but then I switched to a “Rediscover the 90’s” playlist and then to another one. Each song led me deeper and deeper into the memory hole. Before long I was listening to Skinyard, L7 and Gruntruck. There was also plenty of Collective Soul, AIC, Soundgarden, and Chili Peppers. Every song brought back so many memories and feelings that I was instantly able to continue writing.

I’ve always used music to motivate me while doing anything; writing, working out, running or even just doing the dishes, but this was the first time I used it to bring about senses and feelings from a particular time in my life. It worked surprisingly well, so I thought I’d share some of the nostalgia. You can find my 90’s Rock and Grunge playlist HERE.

The Changes Continue

As things started to settle in with the new factory job I really expected to be able to once again focus on my writing. Unfortunately life had other plans. Because the factory had a union, and they were shutting down operations at the other end of the plant, I was going to be bumped from my position. This meant a different job and different hours so I decided it was time to move on.

Thankfully I was able to find a new job within a week, and it’s a much cleaner environment, but it’s still a lot of hours and a lot of walking so I’m not nearly as energetic as I hoped to be at night. And while I have managed to get some writing done, it’s not been as much as I really wanted, though I do expect that to change shortly.

I’m finishing up three guitar builds this week, and I’m not currently taking any new orders, so I should have more time and energy to finish up a few projects around the house and also get more writing done. My goal is to have “My Life As Death” and possibly even “Zero Sum” completed before I start back to school for a second degree.

With everything that has happened this year I came to realize that I want to pursue a Mechanical Design Engineering degree. A nearby college offers the program so I decided now was the time to go after it. I’m sure it will slow down my writing and my guitar building but I’m also sure that it’ll be worth it in the end.

June Update – Writing and Guitars

Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve provided an update, so this one is long overdue. The main reason for my lack of updates is because I’ve been exhausted. Like a lot of people, my life was drastically changed when Covid hit. Not because of the actual virus, thankfully no one I know has been hit by it, but because of the reaction to it. Turns out, no one needs a designer during a pandemic, so I lost 90% of my freelance income. Thankfully my wife still had her job, and we had a little money saved back, but without knowing what to expect of the future, I immediately started applying for any and every job I could find. After 3 weeks of almost no income, I got a call about a job at a local factory. I had no idea what the job was, what shift I’d be working or even how much I would be paid; all I knew was that orientation was the next day. I immediately accepted.

Some how I lucked out and got a first shift position. And even though the pay is at the low end of the spectrum, there’s a whole lot of mandatory over time, it’s hot, dirty and physically exhausting, it’s a job. One positive aspect of it is that I lost over 20 lbs in the first month, and over 30 lbs so far. I’m almost down to the weight I was at 28, before I quit smoking and got a desk job.

Another positive about the job is that it really doesn’t require much brain power, so I’ve had a lot of time to think about my books. Unfortunately, I was too exhausted during the first month and a half to do anything with those thoughts once I got home. But my body has gotten a little more accustomed to averaging 25,000 steps a day while lifting 100’s of parts, so I’ve finally been writing again. My Life As Death is really coming along. I am even more positive now than ever, that this will be my best shot at a traditional publishing deal.

I’ve also given a lot of thought to my other books, though I haven’t been working on actually writing them right now. MLAD is my primary focus, and the writing is going so smoothly that I don’t want to disrupt it by trying to work on anything else. Once it’s done ( or God-forbid, I get writer’s block with it) I think I’ll be able to easily switch gears and finish up Zero Sum, and possibly even After the End.

In addition to writing, I’m also continuing to build guitars. Thankfully I’ve sold a few and I have a few orders to finish so I’m keeping busy with them. I also have a few builds started to add some much needed inventory to my online store (https://www.etsy.com/shop/RileyCustomGuitars). Right now I’ve only got one guitar left for sale, so I’ve got to get these done soon.

So my writing and guitar building are slowing coming back to normal, and hopefully my design career will be close behind them.