Monday, May 03, 2010

A protagonist's mother

I'm already looking forward to participating in the Mother's Day Local Author Fair at Bookworks this Sunday from 3:00 - 4:30 PM, and I hope to see some of my Albuquerque friends there. I'll be one of five authors participating. CLICK HERE for details on the books featured.

I'll be there with Struck, my paranormal thriller that's set in Albuquerque, a fictional pueblo, and the Anasazi ruins in Chaco Canyon. Since it's a Mother's Day event, I've been thinking about my protagonist's mother, Sally. Her life was drastically changed by a bolt of lightning years before the lightning strike featured in the first scene of the novel.

I love my character Sally and made her a huge positive influence on my novel's hero. Like so many of us sons, the more Barry grows as an adult, the more he realizes how incredible his mother was.

So in anticipation of my upcoming Mother's Day event, here's my favorite Sally chapter from Struck. I hope you love her too.


Sally Andrews had delayed her lunch break to help a customer find a size ten yellow blouse when pain shot through her body, a vivid reminder of the lightning bolt that had struck her over twenty-three years ago. She grabbed her left shoulder, the lightning's point of entry, as it blazed pain. Shifting weight off her aching right foot, the exit point, she almost toppled over.

"Are you all right?" her customer asked.

Sally looked up at the woman. Afraid trying to speak would unleash the scream she barely contained, Sally shook her head.

The customer called for help and carefully gripped Sally's elbow. "Is it a heart attack?"

Sally shook her head again. The store manager rushed over.

"Let's get you off your feet." The woman guided Sally to a chair outside the changing room. A man who'd been sitting there while his wife tried on clothes stood and moved out of the way. "Did you strain something?"

Sally shook her head. The pain had eased slightly. "An old injury," she said, testing her voice.

"Just sit still." The customer lowered her into the chair. "I'm an RN," she told the store manager in an assuring voice. "Can you describe the pain?" she asked Sally.

What had felt like a hot spear through her shoulder and foot now throbbed. Pain remained, but it was only a shadow of when it first struck. More pronounced than her physical discomfort was a sensation in her head. Not quite like being light-headed, it felt more like a distraction, but she couldn't pinpoint the cause.

"I need to go home," Sally said, first to the customer then to her boss. "This will pass, but I need to go home."


That night Sally lay awake in bed, reliving the day she'd been struck by lightning. She rubbed her left shoulder but let her right foot throb untouched. It was too hard to reach, and besides, massaging didn't really make it feel better.

Why ache now? she wondered, but such questions couldn't be answered. The aftereffects of a lightning strike were unpredictable and unexplainable. Yes, the doctors had told her to expect changes in her sleeping patterns, tingling sensations, and short-term memory loss. And those things had occurred. But so many of the health problems she experienced were complete surprises, and the fact that she'd been pregnant with Barry made things even worse. Her body not only had to recover from a 300-kilovolt blast, it had to prepare itself to grow and deliver a new life. She and the doctors learned to take things as they came.

But that was then. She'd not had any effects from the strike since shortly after giving birth. Well, nothing but the dreams, so vivid she'd come to think of them as visions. She still had those regularly, and they were always about Barry. But that was all that remained of the strike--until now.

The first thing she'd done after her boss drove her home was to call Barry at work. He sounded fine and planned to go to a movie with friends after his shift. Once she told him her old strike wounds were causing pain, he'd wanted to come home instead, but she convinced him all she could do now was try to sleep through it. She could do that better if he wasn't there.

Now she wished he was here, not to take care of her but so she'd know he was all right.

The pain in her foot and shoulder sharpened. Sally winced, squeezed her shoulder, and shifted in bed so she could press her left foot against the aching sole of her right. The pain continued to build, reached its crescendo, and then finally backed off. A little.

The front door opened and closed. Sally noted the time--10:45--as she listened to Barry's footsteps cross the house and hesitate outside her door. He tapped softly.

"Come on in."

He opened the door. The hall light behind him cast his shadow across her bed. "You okay? How's the pain?"

"About the same. A good night's sleep should fix me up." She didn't mention how intense it could be. There was no need to worry him and nothing he could do. He fussed over her too much as it was. He was so empathetic she sometimes thought he could actually feel her pain. Four years ago, after breaking two toes on her right foot, she caught him favoring the same foot. She asked if he'd sprained an ankle or something. He said nothing was wrong, but later that day she'd caught him limping again.

"Jack helped me bring your car home."

"Oh. Thanks, honey. I'd forgotten I left it at the store."

Barry stood silently in the doorway. With the light at his back, she couldn't see his expression.

"You enjoy the movie with your buddies?"

"It was all right. Cornball stuff."

"That's what you like, isn't it? Those movies definitely inspired your sense of humor. Unfortunately," she added, keeping her tone playful.

"I thought I inherited my funny bone from you," he said.

"Then I beg your forgiveness."

Barry laughed. Sally started to, but the pain in her shoulder swelled, and she bit her lip instead.

"I'll let you sleep."

"Thanks," Sally said, pleased that she'd kept the pain from her voice.

Barry pulled the door almost closed, then hesitated. "If it doesn't truly improve by morning, I'm taking you to a doctor." He closed the door.

Sally rolled onto her back, feeling both exasperated and pleased with her son. The room seemed hot, and she tossed off the sheet and stretched out her limbs. The movement eased the pain in her shoulder and foot, but created an odd sensation, as if a current flowed between the two points. If she listened carefully, she could hear it humming, a soothing sound that drew her concentration. Soon she was asleep.

And dreaming.

She stood in a room with stone walls. It was dimly lit with no windows, but a slit in the roof let in a band of light that crept across the dirt floor. There was something purposeful in its movement. It reached a wall and climbed partway up, crawling toward something carved low on the wall.

Sally went to investigate, taking care not to let the light touch her. She wasn't sure why. Squatting, she studied the carving--a spiral with a tail sticking out to the top left. The band of light narrowed into a dagger. It would soon pass through the spiral's center, splitting it in half.

The realization made her stomach heavy. An ache built between her legs, dull at first, then hot and sharp. As the pain turned savage, she recognized the combination of joy and agony that coursed through her, each sensation strong enough to break her if not accompanied by the other. But coming together as they did, intertwined opposites, they loosed a primitive strength from somewhere deep insider her, a strength no man would ever know.

The dagger of light took its position. Sally's pain climaxed.

"Barry," she cried.

As her son's name echoed through the stone room, disturbed only by the sound of her panting breaths, her pain dissipated.

Sally wiped tears from her eyes, but more formed as memory of the pain kept it too alive to ignore. Waiting for the last vestiges to pass, still squatting with her feet planted wide, she carefully swept her fingers along the ground between her legs, expecting to find a new life there, finding only sand.

She stood and turned, scanning the stone room, searching through the dim light for her son. To her right, near the wall, lay a still form. Sally approached it, taking small silent steps until she stood beside something covered by a blanket. The shape was that of an adult curled into a fetal position. A slight rise and fall, barely discernable in the dark, might be breathing.

"Do you need help?" Sally asked.

Her voice echoed back strong and loud, giving her a flash of confidence. But then it echoed again. And again. With each repetition, her voice grew more distorted. The pitch warbled from hysterical highs to booming lows before settling into the voice that could have been a large man screaming for help from the bottom of a well. Then finally, mercifully, it faded away.

The form didn't stir, but it appeared to take a deeper breath.

Afraid even to whisper, Sally monitored the rise and falls and decided they weren't breaths after all. The movements were regular enough but too rapid.

Her hand reached for the blanket. She saw this happen as if watching a movie, as helpless to stop herself from pulling off the covering as if she were sitting in a darkened theater begging the heroine not to enter the room where the murderer hid. Time slowed. Details became vivid and pronounced--the dry coolness of the air she breathed in; the smoky, earthy smells of the damp stone room; the feel of her racing heart and the tightening knot of fear in her chest. But above all other stimuli she noticed the soft hum and tingle of energy that followed the path lightning once blazed through her body.

Sally's hand gripped the blanket. The deeply textured material was soft against her fingertips, thick cotton with a coarse weave. It was the same temperature as the air. Whatever lay beneath gave off no warmth. She whipped the blanket aside.

Her gasp echoed. The repetitions circled the room, distorting the sound into high-pitched shrieks and deep moans. They built into a tortured chorus that surrounded her. Pressing her hands against her ears, she stared at the ground, confused. There was nothing under the blanket to form the shape she'd seen. Only a small hole in the ground.

Pain overwhelmed her, and she cried out. Again, her cries circled the room, swelling and changing. Even with her ears covered, she heard them. The sounds she'd muttered in anguish formed words she hadn't spoken and couldn't understand, a different language, something guttural and primitive sounding, yet musical.

She lowered her hands when she realized the words had begun making sense. She thought she could see them circling her, repeating their message. The sound of each word remained foreign, but they created a resonance with the energy flowing from her shoulder to her foot, thrumming in a rhythm that spoke to her.

Whatever communicated with her shared her pain, the pain of childbirth, but its pain was greater. Its child was born of rape, a child never intended.

Sadness radiated from the lightning's path inside Sally. She sank to the ground and wept--not for the child that shouldn't be, but for the mother forced to give birth to a creature she knew would cause harm.

The sadness finally passed, yet the words still circled. There was more to understand. Sally listened with her body and learned. Her child would be reborn to make him what he was chosen to become, to allow him to fulfill his purpose.

"What is it?" she asked. "Tell me what he must face." She listened to the words and to her body, but whatever spoke to her either couldn't understand her plea or wouldn't answer it. The circuit of energy inside her diminished, but before it faded to nothing, she understood something else.

Sally closed her eyes and cried, not from physical pain this time but from a bittersweet ache in her heart. She had been chosen too. But now her job was complete.

When Sally opened her eyes, she recognized her darkened bedroom. She turned on the lights anyway, just to make sure she was where she was supposed to be. The dream had been so detailed, so real. She rose slowly, testing her body and trying to orient her mind. She still smelled smoke and stone and dirt. Shivering, she pulled on her robe.

The bedside alarm clock read 1:15 AM. She crossed the hall to Barry's bedroom and carefully opened the door. Moonlight entered through a window and slanted across the room, falling on his sleeping form. She approached, trying not to be swallowed in the déjà vu from her dream, but feeling her heartbeat race.

Like in her dream, her hand reached out to grasp the cover, but this time it was a thin sheet between her fingers, and she felt the warmth of her son. Instead of pulling the sheet off his body, she tugged it close to his neck. She straightened and watched him breathe, watched him sleep.

For the thousandth time she asked herself what lay ahead for her son. She'd always been certain something did, but now there was a sharpness to her certainty that pierced her heart.

How can I prepare you if I don't know what you'll face? How can I help you?

She knew the answer to her questions the moment they formed in her mind. Someone would prepare Barry. Someone would help him.

But it wouldn't be her.


  1. That is so sad, but such a great portrayal of a mother and the love she had for her son. Makes me cry every time I read this. Thanks for sharing this, Keith.

  2. Thanks, Joylene. A loooong post for me, but sometimes Mother's Day calls for drastic action. Hope yours is filled with family, glowing warm memories, and much pampering.