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Pestilence: Journey Through The Woods: Chapter 03

Pestilence: Journey Through The Woods: Chapter 03

New chapters of the serial novel, Pestilence: Journey Through The Woods, will be posted each Thursday. Subscribe to have new chapters delivered to your mailbox.

If you are new to the story, I suggest starting at Chapter 1.

“Four days?” Travis shook his head in disbelief. “How can I have slept for four whole days?”

“You didn’t sleep through it all. I can’t believe you don’t remember.” Cooper wrung his hands and shivered, unnerved at Travis’ memory loss. “When we were cooking dinner Wednesday night, you said you had a headache. Achy. Stuff like that.”

A vague memory floated through Travis’ mind. “I remember that much. And throwing up. After that, nothing.”

Cooper’s face crinkled in disgust. “Yeah, it was gross. And it got worse. Tossed your cookies at one end and explosive diarrhea out the other. You couldn’t stop. You curled up in the snow and begged for it to end. Sobbed.”

“I don’t remember any of that.”

“You had a crazy fever. The first time I grabbed you to keep you from falling, your skin was burning up like you might burst into flames. It felt like a piece of paper. Like I might poke a hole through it.” He studied his hands as if he was looking for blisters. “Nothing you said made any sense. Weird crap about monsters and aliens out to get you. Talking to people who weren’t here. Girls at school. Your soccer teammates. Asked for your mommy.”

Travis sat dumbfounded and watched Cooper stir the soup.

“You passed out. Breathed funny. Shivered. Mr. Hamilton told us to get you into your sleeping bag after we got you cleaned up. Your clothes . . .”

Travis whispered, “Wow.”

“Anyway, we got you in there. About 1 o’clock in the morning, you screamed. Some weird dream. You scrambled out of the tent and threw up again. Except there was nothing there, but you tried. Cried in pain. Begged it to stop. And that’s when others got sick.”

The boys were quiet for several minutes, listening to the wind rustle through the bare branches. A few birds flitted through the trees, but the woods were silent otherwise. Travis sipped his coffee before prodding Cooper further. “Did everyone get sick?”

“Everyone but Mike and me. I was so freaking out he would start vomiting. I couldn’t have done it by myself if he had gotten sick, too. Drug you guys back to your tents. Changed your clothes when you didn’t make it in time. Washing clothes. Fetching water. Made you drink water. If Mike hadn’t been here . . .” Cooper looked away, fighting back tears.

Travis scanned the surrounding woods for any sign of his best friend, but didn’t see him. “You had to make us drink water?”

Cooper kicked the snow-covered ground with his boot. Flecks of dark dirt sprinkled the white snow. “Mr. Chapman said you might die from dehydration. It was hard because you spit the water out or pushed it away. You kept screaming that it hurt to drink. I was so scared you weren’t getting enough. Thought you would die if I didn’t make you drink water.”

The spoon clanked against the metal side of the pot as Cooper swirled the soup. When he looked up, his bright blue eyes sparkled with moisture. “You freaked me out. I can’t believe you’re sitting here being normal now.”

As he sipped his coffee, Travis turned the story over in his mind. He couldn’t remember anything beyond the illness descending as he sat in front of the campfire Wednesday evening. The other days were a dark hole. “Coop, you did great. Thanks. I mean it. You did awesome.”

The boy’s head came up and he smiled. He stirred the pot again and sniffed the aroma. “Soup’s ready.” He dropped the ladle to the ground and scanned the circle of tents. “I need a bowl. Something.”

Travis couldn’t help but smile. He drained the last of the coffee and held out his mug. “Coop. Use this.”

Cooper stopped whirling and grabbed the cup. “Yeah. Of course. Makes sense.”

He picked up the dropped spoon, wiped it on his jeans, and ladled soup. Travis shook his head and graciously accepted the steaming mug, the extra dirt as seasoning.

Rocking on his feet, Cooper watched Travis take a sip. “Good, huh? Is it? Good?”

Slurping a second gulp of the hot soup, the older boy nodded. “Yeah, Cooper, it’s perfect.” He continued to drink the soup while watching his cook shifting his feet. “So, it’s Sunday?”

“Monday.” Cooper held up his hand and extended fingers one at a time as he counted the days. “You got sick Wednesday night. You slept all day Thursday and Friday and Saturday and Sunday. Unless you were crawling around out here in the snow throwing up and stuff.”

Travis looked around the quiet campsite at the snow drifts. “So the snow didn’t come early. This is the storm they predicted for Sunday night.”

Cooper motioned toward the pile of firewood. “That’s why I cut all that. To keep a fire going as the snow fell. Plus I was having to boil water to make you guys drink it. And I needed more hot water to wash those nasty clothes.”

Admiration grew for the young boy’s efforts. “You’ve been working hard, Coop.”

The boy bounced on his feet. “Yeah, me and Mike, er, Mike and me, whatever, we made a system. We took turns hauling water up from the creek so one of us stayed up here if one of you needed us. The creek froze last night and I couldn’t get any more and I didn’t think of the snow. We used this big pot to boil water for drinking and that other one for the clothes and Mike said not to ever, ever, ever mix them up. Which I knew of course. And we hung up clothes over here.”

Travis sipped his soup, amused as Cooper zipped around the campsite pointing out work stations. “Coop?”

Stopping in mid-sentence and mid-stride, the young boy looked across the campsite. “Yeah?”

“You need to take your meds.”

The color drained from his face as Cooper shook his head. “It’s ok, really, I don’t need them.”

“You said everyone but you and Mike got sick.”

Confused by the change in conversation, Cooper’s head shake morphed into a nod.

“Mr. Hamilton, too?”


“Wednesday night?”


“Is that why you haven’t gotten your meds? Cause he got sick?”

Slow nod.

“So you haven’t taken them since Wednesday?”

A head shake no.

“You’ve been bouncing around since Thursday?”

Cooper shook his head vigorously. “No, it’s weird. Doesn’t work like that. The stuff I take is a stimulant which sounds weird giving a stimulant to someone hyper, but it helps me focus even though you would think it would make me bounce.” He took a deep breath. “So when I come off them I get sluggish first. And I get hyper again later. Weird, huh?”

“So you were dragging around Thursday?”

“Yeah. At first, I thought I was sick, too. Mike was kinda freaking though he was trying to act like he wasn’t. But I wasn’t tossing cookies and I didn’t have the squirts and I didn’t have a fever like you guys and I wasn’t . . .”

Travis stood and stretched. “Got it. No more details. It’s kinda nice not having any memory of it.” His body didn’t protest the coffee and soup and he was regaining strength. Not eating for five days explained why he was so weak. He ladled a second helping of soup into the mug while he watched Cooper dart around the campsite. “As soon as I finish this, I will go get your meds. Is that a deal?”

Cooper froze and stared. “I don’t wanna.”

“It’s ok. They will help.”

“No, I mean, Mr. Hamilton. You shouldn’t get them without him.”

“It’s no big deal. I will go into his tent and get them. Mr. Hamilton will understand.”

The younger boy raced over and stood trembling. “No. Really. Don’t go in there.”

“Why? Because he’s still sick?” Cooper stared at Travis, his eyes pleading. “Come on, Coop. You and Mike took care of all of us. I can handle Mr. Hamilton being sick.”

“You don’t understand. He ain’t sick no more.”

“Well, that’s good news. Makes it even easier to get your meds. It’s cool.”

The young boy’s voice rose and pleaded. “No, you don’t understand. You can’t go in there.”

Travis paused, the half empty mug held in the air, and studied Cooper’s face. “Why not, Coop?”

“Because he’s in there.”

Puzzled, Travis studied the closed tent. “He’s in his tent. In the middle of the day? And he’s not sick? What’s going on, Coop?”

The boy hung his head as tears flowed out of his eyes. Dread filled Travis as he dropped the mug in the snow. He turned and marched toward the closed tent, kicking up plumes of snow. “Mr. Hamilton? You in there? I’m coming in.”

Cooper ran beside him. “Please don’t go in there. Please. Don’t.”

Travis dropped to his knees in front of the tent. He stretched out his trembling hand and pulled the zipper up. The door flapped open in the breeze.

A pair of boots sat empty just inside the door, rolled hiking socks stuffed in the top. A shirt, jeans and a jacket lay atop a backpack on one side of the tent. A sleeping bag covered the other half.

Travis’ eyes adjusted from the sun-brightened snow to the gloominess inside the tent. The foot of the sleeping bag was closest to the door, outlining the feet and legs of its occupant. His eyes followed the outline of a body in the sleeping bag. Mr. Hamilton’s head lay exposed outside the sleeping bag. His thinning hair pointed in all directions. The skin on his face was pale and waxy. His cloudy eyes were open and staring into nothingness. His chest lay still, no rise and fall, no breath.

Cooper stood sobbing beside the open tent. “We tried so hard. Mike and me. Ran around taking care of everyone. Made sure they got water. We checked on him, I promise. As much as we could. Lots of times. But, then, we checked again and . . . He was dead.”


The cover image is licensed under Creative Commons: 0.0 License from Qimono on Pixabay.

Leaving YouTube: One Month Later

Leaving YouTube One Month later

As an operator of multiple websites, I periodically share knowledge for other website owners. This is one of those posts. If you prefer my short stories or photographs, don’t despair. The next chapter of Pestilence will be live Thursday!

Just over a month ago, I was notified that The Thundering Herd – my website about my dogs – was being removed from the YouTube Partner Program effective February 20 (today).

Previously, the partner program required 10,000 lifetime views to be eligible (a view is a video being watched once). Starting now, the eligibility requirements are BOTH 1,000 subscribers AND 4,000 hours (240,000 minutes) of watch-time within 12 months. As I demonstrate below, these two rules discourage certain types of video producers – myself included.

As I explained in YouTube – Quantity not Quality, I decided to stop posting my videos on YouTube and have subsequently moved to Vimeo. Since announcing my decision, I have received numerous questions about my reasoning and the results, so I thought a follow up post was in order. I will let you know both what I like about the switch, what has been the negative impact, and potential strategies for the future.

4,000 Hours of Watch-time Discourages Artistic Creators

A minute of watch-time is a single minute of video viewed by one person. A two-minute video watched in its entirety by 1,000 people is 2,000 minutes of watch-time. A ten-minute video watched in its entirety by 1,000 people is 10,000 minutes of watch-time.

Thus, the more minutes of video posted, the faster someone can achieve watch-time. This favors people who make longer videos, more frequent videos, or both, rapid filming and editing are rewarded. The easiest type of videos to create are “talking heads” – where a person talks directly to the camera – with content like stunts, news/opinion, product reviews, how-to, personal journals or lifestyle videos.

To be clear, “talking head” is not a disparaging term, but rather a style of film making that has the advantage of being both easy to film (not a lot of set up shots or graphics needed) and to edit (errors and brevity). A skilled presenter speaking to the camera can be quite entertaining and educational. I regularly consult “how to” and product review videos on YouTube.

If, however, your video has extensive set up and editing time to produce a single minute of final product – such as cinematic shorts, animations and timelapse photography – you will struggle to meet YouTube’s watch-time gate without a much larger fan base.

In my case over at The Thundering Herd, I created 49 videos last year which were viewed 33,301 times for a total watchtime of 70,281 minutes (2.1 minutes per view). To achieve 240,000 minutes (and assuming I don’t increase the number of viewers which I will get to in a moment), I would have to do ONE of the following or a combination of the two:

Increase the number of videos from 49 to 168 – or one every other day rather than weekly.

Increase the length of the video from 2.1 minutes to 7.2 minutes

Since each video already requires several hours of production time, I would need to reduce time from other projects just to produce more videos OR dramatically change the type of video to reduce production time. Neither choice is acceptable to me.

1,000 Subscribers Discourages Broader Content Creators

At first glance, the easiest solution would be to increase my number of YouTube subscribers from 258 to 1,000. Assuming all new subscribers watch the videos at the same rate as my existing subscribers (a big assumption, but go with it), I would achieve the watch-time goal as well.

Just one problem – YouTube subscribers aren’t my goal. Overwhelmingly, people who watch my video on YouTube then watch someone else’s video on YouTube. They don’t come to the website. In all of 2017, 0.2% of my website visitors came from YouTube. Zero point two percent. I get more visitation from every other social media network with significantly less work.

Videos are a piece of a bigger content strategy, not my sole strategy. My hope is that after you read this article, you will click a link to go read a short story or view some photographs. Maybe you will sign up for the newsletter. For that reason, I want viewers to see the video on the website.

Because of YouTube’s conflicting desire to attract the viewer to other YouTube videos, they are not the best partner for an embedding strategy.

Who Should Use YouTube?

To be abundantly clear, I think YouTube brings a lot of value to two types of video creators:

The video IS the product. The creator either does not have a website or the website is of secondary importance.  The goal is to produce a video and hope it is watched by others.

The video is a commercial, a call to action because the producer wants the viewer to buy something. These can take many forms such as product reviews or “how to” videos, but the primary goal is for the buyer to use affiliate links to buy commissioned products or to purchase directly products such as seminars, movies, music, video games, etc.

The biggest YouTubers do a mix of the two earning far more money outside the Partner Program.

Impact of Leaving YouTube?

Since my primary video goal is to be a part of a larger strategy within my website, did I make the right decision to move to Vimeo? Here is a summary of the impact, good and bad:


Vimeo is not a free service. Based on the size and frequency that I upload, I pay Vimeo $84 a year to host my videos. YouTube is free. Without a doubt, YouTube wins the cost category.


In the last month, I have created four new videos. This is a very small sample size, but I compared the results to the four videos I made prior to the switch. Some very interesting statistics come to light:

Overall views (number of times the video is watched) are down 13%. YouTube, with its large audience, can attract more viewers than my website can.

At the same time, page views (number of times a page is loaded on the website) for my Film Friday blog posts are up 9%. Thus, many of the people who were previously viewing the video only on YouTube and not visiting the website are now coming to the website.

What does that tell me? Many of those people who were viewing my videos on YouTube made the switch and are now on my website instead. I lost some viewers of the video (13%) but gained visits to the website.

For me, Vimeo wins this category because my goal is website traffic. If your goal is video views, you are better off at YouTube.


Videos, like most social media, have a very short life. Most of my videos get 85-90% of their views in the first 48 hours they are available.

The exceptions – that is, the ones with “legs” – are all about products. For example, my most popular video on YouTube is also one of my least favorite. I aimed my camera at dinner bowls and had the dogs try three different brands of food. The video has been seen 27,742 times – ten times as much as my second most popular video. That single video also accounted for 36% of my YouTube earnings last year (yes, 36% of that whopping $34.85).

Once again, for my purposes, the potential for longer life of product related videos adds no value for me since few, if any, of these people later visit my website. But, if your goal is earning revenue through affiliate sales, YouTube is your choice.

Views for Old Videos

Each Monday, I post a link to an old video via “Movie Memory Monday.” You may share links to your old videos for “Wayback Wednesday” or “Throwback Thursday” or whatever alliteration you like. Since my videos are now available exclusively on my website, those are now all becoming page views. In the last four weeks, this change has accounted for 83% of the increase in my page views. Previously, those links created traffic for YouTube.

Advertising Revenue

Running a website – particularly a popular website – is not cheap. The Thundering Herd sells no products, so my only source of revenue for that website is advertising. My source of costs, however, are numerous. The website runs on its own Virtual Private Server. The design software has annual license fees. Several of the features on the website have costs. The advertising revenue helps defray that cost.

As I said earlier, the YouTube revenue is irrelevant – $34.85 a year which is less than a month of my server costs alone (much less software, etc.). But advertising revenue on the site itself is much more valuable. Since my page views have increased on the website via Film Friday and Movie Memory Monday, I have  recouped the lost revenue, though I certainly haven’t covered the cost of the Vimeo subscription.

A creator of animated shorts could embed their animations on their own website, earn advertising revenue, and continue to retain the audience to potentially sell other products – calendars, books, or collectibles. That may be a much better strategy than using YouTube even if they qualify for the partner program.

Vimeo Strengths

As I mention above, YouTube’s strengths are cost (free is hard to beat), views (because of their large audience), and the potential for advertising revenue if you make the type of videos that hit their hurdles. So, why do I think Vimeo is better?

Viewer satisfaction – I have received several notes saying the videos are clearer, easier to play, and aren’t cluttered with ads.

Control where the video is seen – Vimeo offers restrictions so that you can limit where a video can be viewed. This allows you to show the video only on your website (or anywhere else you want to restrict it to) or open it up to be seen anywhere – or any option in between. In my case, I use this to make it a part of the website experience. While YouTube has some controls, they are much less flexible.

Upload time – In my personal experience, Vimeo’s upload and processing time is much quicker than YouTube’s saving me production time.

End screens – Something I didn’t anticipate, but love. Vimeo has several tools for your endscreen to allow you to link a viewer to different options. In my case, I provide a link to subscribe to my newsletter. This blows YouTube’s clunky endscreens and links to others’ videos out of the water.

Thus, for me, Vimeo is the huge winner. While I am sacrificing a small number of views, I receive greater end user satisfaction and control on my video in return.

Possible Alternative Strategy

I am considering a hybrid strategy. Continue to use Vimeo as my primary video tool, embedding the videos on my website. This will allow me to provide great service to my readers, my primary goal.

Recognizing that 90% of a videos views occur in the first 48 hours, I might post that exact same video on YouTube several days later. While I would never achieve partner status using this approach, I could still leave the videos out on the world’s largest video platform with the potential of capturing some of that audience. Perhaps I even convince a few of those viewers to come visit the website. And stay.

Your Thoughts

Hope other content creators have found my experience useful. Any questions or thoughts?

Pestilence: Journey Through The Woods: Chapter 02

Pestilence: Journey Through The Woods: Chapter 02

New chapters of the serial novel, Pestilence: Journey Through The Woods, will be posted each Thursday. Subscribe to have new chapters delivered to your mailbox.

If you are new to the story, I suggest starting at Chapter 1.

“Don’t you dare hug me.”

Cooper stopped three feet away, his outstretched arms drifting down to his sides. “Sorry, dude, I’m just so happy to see you’re alive. And standing up. And breathing. And not throwing up. And moving around. And . . .”

Travis held up his hands in surrender. “OK, I get it. Really. I just need coffee to wake up first. Please.”

Cooper’s face lit up with a smile as he raced back across the snow to the pot hanging over the roaring fire. “Coffee? Oh, yeah, sure, dude, I got coffee. It’s right here. A fresh pot. Just brewed it myself. Well, of course, myself, but . . .”

“You drank the first pot all by yourself, didn’t you?”

Cooper stopped bouncing through the snow. He cocked his head as a puzzled look spread across his face. “Yeah, dude, how did you know?”

Travis smiled and shrugged. “Just a wild guess.”

Dismissing the question, Cooper spun in the snow until he spotted an empty mug sitting on a rock. He filled the cup with the steaming hot, black liquid. He raced back to Travis, half of the coffee splashing out of the cup and onto the white snow below. “Here, dude. Just made it. Fresh, you know. Hope you like it. I am so glad you are up. I can’t believe it. You were so sick.”

Travis sipped the hot liquid and felt it slide down his throat. His stomach rumbled a protest, but accepted the coffee.

“Hey, dude, do you want me to fix you some breakfast? Yeah, breakfast, that’s just what you need. I bet you’re hungry after all of that mess. Probably starving. I can make some scrambled eggs . . .”

Gripping the hot mug in one hand, Travis waved the other in protest and shook his head. “Eggs?”

The younger boy shrugged his shoulder. “Well, freeze dried eggs. They aren’t real eggs. I mean I couldn’t carry them in my pack. That would make a mess.”

Travis smiled weakly. “No, Coop, I get that they’re freeze dried. I meant the thought of eggs makes my stomach churn.”

“Oh, yeah, I didn’t think of that.” Cooper looked downtrodden, and then smiled again. “Hey, wait, I know, I have chicken noodle soup. Really. Well, it’s freeze dried, too, but it’s soup, and soup is basically water anyway and it’s chicken noodle, and that should be good. And, you know, good for you and all. At least that’s what my mom says. How about that, huh, dude?”

Travis smiled. “Yeah, actually, chicken noodle soup would be perfect.”

Cooper bounced in the snow and took off running. He tripped over a tree root, went sprawling, stood up, shook the snow off, and ran again. He flipped open the top of a backpack leaning against a tree and began rummaging through its contents, spilling foil packages of freeze-dried goods onto the ground. Dropping to his knees, he studied the labels until he found the object of his search, holding it high over his head in triumph. “Got it. I knew I had it, dude. I just knew it. See. Chicken noodle soup.”

With his prize in hand, Cooper raced back to the fire. Picking up an empty pot, he looked around the campsite, frustration growing on his face. “Water, I need some water,” he mumbled.

Bemused, Travis couldn’t help but grin. “Uh, Cooper, snow. All around us.”

Cooper laughed and bounced. “Oh, yeah, dude, sorry, wasn’t thinking. Snow. Of course.”

The young boy scooped up a pot full of snow and then stuffed additional handfuls until the pan overflowed. Satisfied, he hung it from a hook over the fire. Watching the snow melt, Cooper bounced from foot to foot.

Travis shook his head at the antics. “Uh, Cooper, have you taken your meds today?”

“Uh, no, why?” Cooper looked down at his shuffling face and grinned. “Oh, I’m acting hyper, huh, dude?”

“Yeah, just a wee bit. And if you call me dude one more time, I am going to have to kick your skinny little ass, right?”

Cooper nodded meekly. “Yeah, sure, du . . . I mean, Travis, sure.”

“Why haven’t you taken your meds?”

“Because Mr. Hamilton has them and I don’t want to go in there.” The boy’s face paled as he pointed toward the Scoutmaster’s tent. Troop rules required that all medications were controlled by the adults, ensuring that no pharmaceuticals were abused, but also that required medications were taken timely.

“I understand. We will take care of that as soon as he is back.” Travis looked at Cooper who had a horrified look on his face. “Look, I really appreciate everything. I just don’t want you to get hurt running around, right?”

Cooper hung his head and meekly nodded. Travis was afraid that he had hurt Cooper’s feelings. “Don’t get me wrong, Coop, you’ve done great. The coffee is perfect. The soup is going to be awesome. And look at all of this firewood. Did you cut all that?”

Cooper nodded as he stirred the powdered soup into the melting snow in the pot.

Travis waved his arm around. “It’s good we have firewood because we may not be able to break camp today, but that will be enough wood for a week of campers. That’s a lot of work for one morning, isn’t it?”

Cooper’s eyes widened and he shook his head. “I didn’t do all of that this morning.”

Puzzled, Travis stared at the mountain of firewood. “Was that already here? I don’t remember it.”

“No, I mean, I cut it all, but not this morning.”

“Last night?”

“No, I’ve been cutting wood for four days.”

Travis sat down heavily on an exposed log. Four days? He looked around and studied the campsite. Six tents – 1 for each pair of boys and 1 for each of the two adult leaders – sat deep in the snow, drifts up their sides. Only light traces of snow spotted the ground when they had arrived. The sky had been filled with stars, no snow threatening.

So maybe he had been sick longer than he thought. But four days? How was that possible? And where was everyone else?

Branches creaked and groaned in the wind, but otherwise only silence echoed through the woods. Trembling, he asked, “What do you mean four days? Have we been here four days?”

“Du . . . I mean, Travis, you’ve been asleep for four days.”

Click Here To Go To The Next Chapter – Chapter 3!

The cover image is licensed under Creative Commons: 0.0 License from Qimono on Pixabay.

Pestilence: Journey Through The Woods: Chapter 01

Pestilence: Journey Through The Woods: Chapter 01

New chapters of the serial novel, Pestilence: Journey Through The Woods, will be posted each Thursday. Subscribe to have new chapters delivered to your mailbox.

A morning campfire crackled. An ax chopped wood. The wind whistled through the trees and rattled branches.

What bothered Travis Makepeace was what he didn’t hear. No boys chattered about the upcoming day or bantered about chores. No adults called for everyone to get ready. No sounds of backpacks being prepared reached his ears.

December days inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park were short. Reaching the next campsite required a long day of hiking, so early starts were a must. Why wasn’t everyone preparing?

Wrapped inside his sleeping bag, Travis willed his body to move, but his muscles protested. Sure, he had carried a 30 pound backpack over mountainous trails for the last few days, so some stiffness was normal. But everything hurt. Even the joints in his fingers ached.

Besides, his head throbbed. The pain stabbed right behind his eyes and pierced deep into his skull. Days of hiking didn’t explain that.

Keeping his eyes squeezed shut, Travis reached for his canteen and unscrewed the cap. Muscles twinged and his hands shook as he raised the water to his chapped lips and sipped, wincing as he swallowed. The icy cold water trickled down his parched throat to his turbulent stomach. His body threatened to repel the liquid before settling to an uneasy calm.

Vague memories flickered in his head. Muscle spasms. Vomiting. Diarrhea. Losing consciousness. The longest night of his life. He hadn’t been that sick in ages.

Food poisoning? A flu bug? Was it over? Or was there more nastiness to come?

The gurgling in his stomach subsided. Travis sipped more water, soothing his burning throat.

Cracking his eyes open, the glaring light flooded in. Even inside the tent, the sunlight burned, so he clenched his dry eyes closed again and threw his hands across his face.

In the safe darkness of his palms, he hesitantly reopened his eyes. The lids felt gritty and rough. Blinking helped, but the improvement was slight.

Braced for the onslaught, he created the smallest of gaps between his fingers, allowing a glow to seep through.

Bright. Too bright. Must be mid-morning at least. Too late to make the next campsite before dark. Time to get moving no matter how bad he felt. Back country permits in the park were strict – specific campsites for specific nights.

Travis sat up, the sleeping bag falling to his waist and exposing his bare chest to the cold, winter air. A wave of nausea gripped him and his muscles spasmed. The little water in his stomach threatened to erupt. His vision grayed as consciousness threatened to drift away.

Wrapping his arms around his abdomen, he doubled over and rocked. He sucked the frigid air deep into his lungs, held it, and slowly exhaled. The muscles of his body reluctantly released their hold.

Travis straighten his upper body for a second time, sitting up and allowing his eyes to focus on the supplies in the tent.

Noting the empty sleeping bag beside him, Travis rejoiced that Mike Chapman was already up. Best friend. Soccer teammate at school. Mike had let him sleep while organizing the group for the day.

The annual winter camping trip occurred over the Christmas school break, restricted to just 6 teenagers and 2 adult leaders. Those coveted slots were reserved for the most experienced boys in the scout troop, a reward for working with the younger boys on other trips.

The two adults were Johnny Hamilton, the long-time Scoutmaster and an experienced outdoorsman, and Derek Chapman, Mike’s father.

Both 16 and Eagle Scouts, Mike and Travis were old hands at high adventure trips. The remaining four boys, 13 to 15 years old, had dozens of camping nights each, but respected the older boys’ experience and followed their lead.

Doing his best to ignore his body’s protests, Travis slid out of the sleeping bag and pulled on the layers of clothing needed to fight the cold mountain air. A base layer, the clothing nearest to the skin needed to wick away sweat and keep you dry, came first. A mid layer added insulation, providing warmth without needing a bulky coat. When needed, an outer layer protected from extreme cold and repelled rain and snow.

After tying his boots, Travis sipped from his canteen and caught his breath. Getting dressed had required more exertion than he had expected.

With such a low energy level, how far could he hike? Could he stand without fainting?

Time to test that. He unzipped the tent flap, stuck his head into the brisk breeze and scanned the campsite.

The sun hung high in the clear blue sky, confirming the lateness of the morning. More of a surprise, several inches of fresh snow blanketed the ground. Snow was not uncommon in late December in the Great Smoky Mountains, so they had been careful to monitor the weather throughout the trip. The next significant snow fall was days away, after leaving the trail.

But as Mr. Hamilton reminded them, “Expect the unexpected – especially when it comes to weather.” A surprise storm had swept across the ridges overnight.

The depth of the snow would make hiking difficult, even unsafe. Staying put for the day was safer. They could make up the hiking time later in the week with some long days.

Travis smiled thinking of a day of rest. Another night of sleep and he would be ready to hike hard.

They needed three solid days of hiking to get to their last scheduled campsite Saturday night. After breaking camp Sunday morning, a short hike took them to their parked vans for the drive home in Charlotte.

Being off schedule meant making up the time hiking all day Sunday and driving home that night – an unpleasant but doable outcome with school starting back Monday from the Christmas break.

Resigned to their condition, Travis focused on the large campfire roaring in the center of the ring of tents. Thirteen-year-old Cooper Gatley, the youngest and least experienced camper on the trip, wielded an ax. He had built an impressive pile of wood off to the side, enough to last several days.

Chopping all of that wood took a lot of energy. He had better not hear Cooper whining later that he wanted to rest rather than keep hiking.

But worse, that large fire nearly guaranteed that they wouldn’t be hiking today. They needed only a small fire, easy to extinguish, to cook breakfast. A large fire would take a lot of work to become “cold out” – the embers cold enough to touch with your hands. Another of Mr. Hamilton’s sayings, “If it is not cold enough to touch, it is not cold enough to leave.”

On the positive side, Travis spied a coffee pot hanging above the fire. With coffee, maybe his headache would subside enough to make it through the day. That alone might save Cooper some grief.

Motivated by the thought of caffeine, Travis exited the tent and stood, testing whether his legs were strong enough to keep him erect. His knees quivered, but he decided he would not faint.

Startled at the movement behind him, Cooper spun around and stared. He dropped the ax into the snow and ran toward Travis exclaiming, “Dude! You’re alive.”

Click Here To Go To The Next Chapter – Chapter 2!

The cover image is licensed under Creative Commons: 0.0 License from Qimono on Pixabay.

Books Read January 2018 (Plus Pestilence!)

Books Read January 2018

A post with books and pestilence – what a mix! We will get to the pestilence last, but let’s start with a summary of my Books Read January 2018.

January Books

Much to my surprise, my periodic posts about what books I am reading draws a lot of interest, so I have decided to post books read monthly. The result will be more frequency, but much shorter and manageable lists (10 books for January).

Full disclosure – the links in this post are all Amazon affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of those links, I receive a small commission from Amazon.

Harlan Coben – Deal Breaker – Based on the other books I read, a reader suggested I try this author. Deal Breaker is the first book in Coben’s series featuring Myron Bolitar (a former collegiate and, briefly, professional basketball player, current sports agent, and guy who solves mysteries) and his enforcer sidekick, Win Lockwood. The protagonists engage in a near constant sarcasm battle, which became tiresome to me, but the story was good. Realizing that this was an early book, I jumped much later in the series for a second book, Home, in February and enjoyed the writing style much more. I will read more Coben.

Dean Koontz – The Silent Corner: A Novel of Suspense – Koontz is one of my favorite horror writers and he didn’t disappoint with this new novel featuring Jane Hawk.

Nevada Barr – Flashback and High Country – My favorite park ranger, Anna Pigeon, (no offense to the real-life park rangers I know) continues to find herself in the midst of murder mysteries, but at a different park for each book. I love the way Barr weaves the flavor of the parks into her books. Flashback tells its story in alternating chapters – present and Civil War past – which didn’t work well for me, but I enjoyed High Country a great deal. If you are a fan of period pieces, you may enjoy Flashback more than I did.

John Grisham – Camino Island – While most people think of Grisham as a writer of legal thrillers, this story demonstrates his breadth of story telling skills. A rare series of manuscripts are stolen in the opening chapters of the book. The insurance company on the hook for a massive insurance claim is desperate to find the loot. Does the bookstore owner on Camino Island know where the manuscripts are? And can anyone find out before the books disappear forever?

Michael Connelly – The Reversal and The Fifth Witness – Both novels follow attorney Micky Haller, of Lincoln Lawyer fame, and mix in other Connelly characters such as Harry Bosch. I enjoy Connelly’s style and pacing, though I still can’t get Matthew McConaughey out of my head as the protagonist.

Lee Child – A Wanted Man and Never Go Back – Jack Reacher. One of the most entertaining fictional characters out there. And unlike how much I thought McConaughey nailed his character in the Lincoln Lawyer, I can’t figure out why Tom Cruise was chosen to portray the physically intimidating Jack Reacher. No knock on Cruise’s acting skills, but he can’t portray the bulk of the protagonist.

David Allen – Getting Things Done – Not a novel, but well known for his non-fiction books on organizing your life and getting things done (thus, the name of the book). In all my years in the business world, I knew many people who referenced his work, but I never read the book itself. This is an updated version but is essentially the same as the original. I am not sure I got a lot out of reading the book since I had already practiced so many of the tactics, but this is a good read for someone who finds they can’t get things done.

February and the rest of 2018

I am already ahead of pace for my 2018 goal of 100 books with 10 read in January and 2 more so far in February. I am reading Lisa Gardner’s Catch Me and she continues her pattern of writing some of the creepiest characters out there.

Pestilence – Journey Through The Woods

Travis Makepeace wakes up cold and sick, the fever that has racked his body for four days abating. As he crawls from his tent deep in the Great Smoky Mountains, he discovers only 13-year-old Cooper Gatley remaining in the campsite. The flu virus had a deadly impact on their camping party, leaving the boys alone and fighting for survival. Why has Travis recovered when the others haven’t? Why hasn’t Cooper been sick? As another winter storm bears down on top of them, can Travis and Cooper complete their Journey from the Woods to the safety of a ranger’s station? And are they truly alone in the vast wilderness?

My original story will be presented as a serial novel right here on the website with the first chapter just days away. Advertiser supported, it will have no cost to you of any sort.

So why am I releasing a serial novel?

In my journey to get a novel published (not Pestilence), I have learned many things. And, I expect, I will learn many more. But let me mention two:

The sheer amount of time and effort it takes to publish a first novel is daunting. Editors, proofreaders, cover designers, layout specialists, marketers – a virtual army of people – are needed to bring a novel to market. My first published novel continues to wind its way toward a publication date and will happen. Soon. I’m determined.

But after all of that effort, the second reality comes crashing in – As hard as it is to get a first novel published; it is harder to get anyone to buy it. Or, at least, enough people to cover the cost of publishing it.

I am as guilty as everyone else. Look at my list of books read in January and you see a pattern – best selling novelist after best selling novelist. Few people will consider plopping down a few dollars to buy a book of an unknown.

So how do you get people to know who you are before you have something already on the market? And how do you get them to buy that book on the market so they will know who you are?

My answer to the conundrum? A serial novel published for free here on the website.

For those of you who have faithfully followed my short stories and anecdotes, you risk only time, not money. And, if you enjoy it, maybe you will share that serial novel with others. And, hopefully, they will share it with still others. Until, in my wildest dreams, a few thousand people are anxiously waiting each week for the latest chapter of the serial novel to be published.

So, yes, someday (soon), I will ask you to put down a few dollars to buy a book. And I hope quite a few more people will be around when that ask comes screaming for your attention.

In the meantime, you get to follow Travis and Cooper in their Journey Through The Woods. I hope you enjoy it.

NOTE: Email subscribers will be the FIRST to be notified of new chapters going live, so make sure you sign up. I absolutely, positively will not sell or share your email address and you can unsubscribe at any time. Take the plunge and subscribe today.

Tide Pod Challenge

Tide Pod Challenge

Unless you have been hiding under a rock, you have probably heard about the craze sweeping the teenage nation – the Tide Pod Challenge. Teenagers record videos of themselves popping packets of laundry detergent into their mouths and biting down. They post the results, which usually involves much regurgitation, on the social media of their choice.

Like most teenage fads since the beginning of time, the result is exactly what they enjoy the most – the over the top reaction from adults everywhere. As long as adults react in horror, teens will know they are on to something.

If every adult in the country picked up a Tide Pod, bit into it right now and posted the result on Facebook, no teenager would ever do it again. We kill the cool factor just by embracing something.

Of course, first the teenagers would have to find Facebook since they long ago deemed it uncool since adults used it.

Instead of this reverse psychology, adults are openly aghast at the sheer stupidity of the Tide Pod trend. Why, oh, why, would teenagers do something so insane? What has happened to the intellect of today’s youth? After all, adults cry, we were never that dumb!

Oh, yeah? You must have all been smarter than my gang of friends.

Long before the teenage years, we had Big Wheels. An inventor looked at the boring metal tricycle and decided to reinvent it with plastic. The seat moved to just inches above ground level and the wheels made a horrific noise. Consumer groups heralded the safety factor. We made every attempt to prove them wrong.

The luckiest among the neighborhood kids had the model with a hand brake. Yes, an actual brake to improve the safety. Or, as most kids knew, to put you into an uncontrollable spin.

Once you had the Big Wheel moving as fast as possible, say down a big hill, you turned the front wheel sharply, pulled up the hand brake, and spun wildly down the road. We had contests to see who could spin the most number of times. Bonus points were awarded if you avoided hitting parked cars, curbs, or your friends.

On the other hand, bonus points were also awarded if the wreck was so spectacular that blood, stitches, and broken bones were involved. Vomiting from eating a Tide Pod is nowhere near as cool as blood splattered on pavement.

For those without the hand brake on their Big Wheel, you did your best to recreate the excitement using only your shoes. My little sister, who was quite adept at getting my brother and I in trouble simply by copying what we did, wore her Sunday shoes one day while riding her Big Wheel. My father was amazed that she wore holes through the tops of the leather shoes from her Big Wheel braking technique.

Well, “amazed” was not exactly his emotional response. And, once again, we were in trouble and my little sister gloated. Not that I still resent that fact or anything.

But, you protest, the difference is that today’s teens are doing these stunts for “likes” and “follows.” We were never that shallow.

We did stupid things for much deeper purposes. Dares. If a friend dared you to do something and you didn’t, you were a chicken. Your entire childhood would be over if someone called you a chicken.

In our neighborhood, we even had “Dare Devil Hill.” A hill so steep that no sane kid would take his bicycle to the top of that hill then ride straight down its face. So, of course, every single neighborhood kid did it many, many times after being dared and then called chicken. Because, let’s face it, sanity and childhood don’t mesh.

But, you protest, at least we didn’t video ourselves and share it for the world.

Of course, we didn’t. We didn’t have little video cameras in our pockets.

What were we supposed to do? Go borrow the Super 8 Movie Camera from dad? Buy film? Record the event? Take the film for developing? Pick it up a week later? Thread it through the film projector? Gather our friends and watch it?

Heck, we couldn’t remember where we had left our bikes most days, so we sure didn’t have the patience to do all of that. And I am quite thankful we didn’t.

It’s bad enough that I was wearing a lime green leisure suit for my fifth-grade school picture. At the time, I thought it looked cool. Now, I know the proper word was “dork.” But video evidence of our misdeeds as kids would have been too much to overcome.

Nor did we have social media. We had the rumor mill. And just like social media, you tried to put a positive spin on everything floating about yourself on the rumor mill.

When some kid confronted you at school and asked if you really rode your bike off the top of Dare Devil Hill and plummeted hundreds of feet to its base, of course you said yes. You didn’t mention how scared you were of breaking bones during the descent. Or, worse, being called chicken.

And, besides, without social media, Dare Devil Hill sounded treacherous. Dangerous. Death-defying.
No one had video evidence to prove it was only ten feet high.

Yes, we exaggerated our accomplishments on the rumor mill. No one does that on social media.

But, wait, you protest. We aren’t talking about normal stuff like breaking bones with bicycles and modified tricycles. Teenagers today are putting junk in their mouths and eating it. How insane.

Not like we ever had contests to see who could cram the most pop rocks into their mouths, those little candies that “popped in your mouth.” And just when adults thought that was insane, someone came up with the brilliant idea to pour Coca-Cola into your mouth with those pop rocks. That turned the “pop” into something that could only be described as “explosion.”

No, really, it was true. The rumor mill told us.

Remember Little Mikey from the Life cereal commercials? Two brothers decide to have their little brother try the cereal because “he hates everything.” To their surprise, “He likes it. Mikey likes it.”

Well, poor Little Mikey died from eating Pop Rocks while drinking a Coke. Really, his stomach exploded. Everyone was talking about it on the rumor mill. And thanks to that celebrity’s death, we were all challenged to eat Pop Rocks and drink Coke.

Not that I had any personal experience with that. Well, not until someone dared me. And then I had to. Or they would have called me chicken.

I wouldn’t call it an explosion. More like a really bad case of the belches. Which had its own appeal.

One further thing to prove that times are not that different. That whole “Little Mikey” story I just told about him dying because he ate Pop Rocks and drink Coke causing a fatal gastric explosion?

Fake news.

Yes, despite how much we believed in the rumor mill, the Little Mikey story was false. John Gilchrist, the actor who portrayed Little Mikey, is alive and well. Maybe he should eat a Tide Pod.

So, teenagers, we adults would have eaten Tide Pods if we had had them. And we would have filmed ourselves. And we would have posted it on social media. The only thing stopping us was that we didn’t have any of those things.

Since you know for a fact we adults are uncool and stupid, you should avoid doing anything we would have done. So, get even with us. Don’t eat Tide Pods.

That will show us.