Category Archives: Writing

How To Get To Know Your Novel Characters

Writer’s block. If you’ve been writing fiction for any time at all, it’s an evil you know entirely too well. Even the best ideas will sometimes flow into this invisible wall. Character development is one way to get passed that wall.

One reason why some author’s end up stuck with writer’s block is that they do not know their main and supporting characters as well as they should. Never fear, this post will highlight five things you can do to get to know your character better. There’s even a free printable at the end to help you along. It’s completely fillable, so you don’t even have to print it to fill it out.

Most of this post will refer to main characters (MC), but the thoughts and questions should be applied to all the major characters in your work in progress (WIP).

5 Ways To Get To Know Your fiction Characters

1. Getting to Know You

How well do you know the character you are writing about? There is more to strong characters than names and physical descriptions.

For the sake of simplicity, we will use my main character today from Getting Home, Tom Jacobs. He is weighing heavily on my mind right now as I am in the process of working on a heavy revision of the novel.

The first step in character development is to learn a little about Tom as you would a new friend. Where does he work? What type of work does he do? What are his best and worst qualities? If he could have any job, what would it be?

These are simple questions, but an important foundation to the character you are writing about.

In Getting Home, the book starts with Tom working for a company in their marketing department. He is also a part-time student working toward a degree. It may feel unimportant to know these simple facts, but in Tom’s case, knowing a bit about his workaholic tendencies gives the reader some insight into his personality. Not to mention, his work and school career tell the reader quite a bit about his family dynamic.

Author’s Note: If you are interested in reading Getting Home, please hold off a little while until the revision is complete. I will be running a free book promotion once it’s complete.

How To Get To Know Your Novel Characters

2. We Are Family

Next, you want to figure out the supporting characters in your main character’s life. Rarely can a character exist in a solitary state. Even when they can, backstory is still a vital concept. The character has not always been solitary and at least has parents in his past. Plus, there needs to be dialog. Think Wilson in Castaway. A good story has to have at least some dialog.

Spending time in public, even though many writers prefer a solitary life, is a great way to invigorate your writing. People watching, if you are careful to do it in a non-creepy way, can give you tremendous fodder to help flesh-out your book’s characters.

Pick a location like a local coffee shop or busy restaurant. My go-to is Panera Bread. It’s an easy place to spend a couple hours with your laptop where you won’t garner much attention. There tends to be a lot of foot traffic to keep you full of fresh ideas.


The reason for the public location is that you will want to get to know your character in a real world setting. Putting him in a world different than you are writing about will help speed character development.

Imagine your MC sitting at one of the tables of the restaurant with the real person (people) currently sitting at that table. Does your MC have a significant other? Do they have children? What type of relationship do they have with their parents? Do any of these subjects come up as they sit at that table?

Each question will get you one step closer to defining who your character really is on the inside.

For Tom, he has a strained relationship with his parents, one that only gets more complicated as his story continues. He’s not close to his sister and really not even close to his wife, or at least not at the start.

Anguish – Poem

3. Feeling Good

Next, let’s dive a little deeper into your MC’s mind and heart. How would he/she feel sitting at the table right now? What thoughts would be going through his/her mind? Would they be interested in the conversation taking place at that table?

Consider also other things your MC might be feeling in that moment. What are three things they are grateful for? What last made them sad? When did they last cry? Were they alone or with someone as they cried?

Each question teaches you a little more about your protagonist and further develops your creative writing. Every little step makes your MC a more fleshed out idea that will have depth and will resonate with your readers.

In terms of character development, Tom was frequently depressed. Most of his life, he struggled with addiction and feelings or worthlessness, but just like in real life, feelings can change, and so did his. In fact, he goes through a whole range of emotions in the course of the book.

This and That: Checking in With Wolfe Butler

4. The Future Is Bright

A common problem with creative writing is that writers sometimes get stuck in a moment. After all, that’s the moment you are writing about in your novel, so isn’t that where you should be?

Yes and no.

Of course, you want to be fully present in the moment to write the best fiction scene possible. However, you need to remember that readers are looking at your MC as a total person. Every person has a past and at least some hopes or fears about the future. What is your MC thinking about?

Decide from where you are right now in your work in progress, where does your MC want to be in five years? Ten Years? Twenty years? Giving your MC aspirations makes him more relatable and realistic.

Are you struggling with writer's block? Perhaps you don't know your characters well enough. Read this post for inspiration.

What are three things or so on your MC’s bucket list? Which item is more important? Why?

Sometimes it helps to consider these questions about yourself first, just to get in the future mindset. When you know where you are going, it’s easier to determine where you want your MC to go.

From Getting Home, Tom was looking for his home. His bucket list consisted of one thing: Find home and get there. You’ll have to read the book to see if he gets there.

5. Back To The Real World

Next, let’s go back to where you are sitting right now, hopefully in some public place with lots of people. Imagine your MC walking in and sitting down with someone who is already seated. How do they know this person? Are the friends? Why or why not?

Safety note: Be careful to not look at a person too long. You never want to garner attention from a stranger or appear creepy.

Next, watch for the next person to enter the area. That person is friends with your MC. What does your MC like or not like about that person? How would your MC describe their relationship?

Tom was a great person for me to play this game with. He was very likable and got along with others easily, so he was always running into friends or making new ones.

The Smartest 15 Ways to Deal With Difficult People

Your Turn at Character Development

Now it’s your turn to work on character development. To help you with your task, I have created a free, six-page worksheet with questions you can ask yourself about your main character. The worksheet can be printed or used as is since it’s a fillable PDF document. Be sure to save it if you use the fillable option.

You can get your copy by clicking this line and entering your email address on the next page.

Writer’s block doesn’t have to be a problem. Hopefully this printable worksheet is a tool you can add to your author toolbox to keep it at bay and improve your creative writing and character development.

Please let me know how the worksheet works for you. This is a new adventure for me in developing printables, so I’d like to know what works well and what doesn’t.

Until next time…

Learn new ways to cope with writer's block. Read this post for 5 ways to get to know your characters better.

Paradise WIP – Chapter 17

Author’s Note: Hello, dear readers! Thank you for coming back to read the next chapter in Paradise, my science fiction work-in-progress. Each week I share a chapter of the saga as I write it. The entire story so far is available online. Please keep in mind that this is a first draft, and be kind as to any errors or inconsistencies you might find.

Last week, we left off with our four soldiers, Roman, Sam, Menton and Benjamin, heading out on their mission to capture a Plax. Let’s see how far they got.

Chapter 17

Much to my embarrassment, my strength gave out long before the others. Sam was intent on making it to the first bunker before anyone slept. Had Benjamin slung me over his shoulder, it would have been awful enough. When Menton said that she had plenty of energy and would happily carry me first, I wanted to disappear into one of the small cracks in the cave floor.

“I can go on,” I grumbled, but I knew I didn’t have many more steps in me before I would collapse.

Sam nodded to Menton, and before I could object, she swung me up and over her shoulder.

“Don’t worry, Sir,” Menton whispered to me. “It’s an honor to carry you as long as I need to.”

Happily, I passed out from sheer exhaustion a few minutes later.

When I next opened my eyes, we were back in the first bunker. They had decided the medical bay was the safest place to be. Sam and Benjamin were both asleep, and Menton was standing guard.

“Have you slept, soldier?” I asked her.

“No, sir.”

“Then it’s time for me to take watch.”

“I’m fine, sir,” Menton objected.

“Perhaps you are, but you still need to rest. That’s an order.”

I had a feeling she was not going to sleep, but she did acquiesce and took a place on one of the beds.

The bunker was too quiet, and I was too jumpy. I kept picturing the Plax that had almost gotten Max and me the last time we were in that room. Every little sound sent me into high alert. None of us had been in the bunker in weeks, so it could easily have been infested with Plax soldiers.

When Sam woke up she told me that Menton had done a preliminary survey of the bunker before she or Benjamin had gone to sleep. That knowledge might have made me less jittery had I known, but then again, I wasn’t sure it would have helped at all.

My intention was to stay in the bunker a few days, so I could regain some strength. I had insisted on coming on this mission. The limited strength I had was making me a burden on the rest of the group, and the mission was stressful enough already.

 

Paradise WIP

 

We spent a full day in the bunker. We split into teams, Sam and Benjamin worked together and Menton got stuck with me. Methodically we searched the entire bunker, but ultimately did not find anything.

The next day we set out early toward the surface.

“How long will it take us to get there?” I asked Sam. Nothing in the caves was familiar to me.

“If we hustle, we could be on the surface by tomorrow night. It’s better that we don’t come out of the caves exhausted, just in case we meet up with the Plax right away. There are a couple relatively safe places to rest along the way, so we’ll plan on three days.”

 

Lifting my heavy boots off the ground was becoming increasingly difficult, when Sam suddenly said, “We’ll rest here for tonight.”

“Here?” I looked around to find the entrance to another bunker. Instead, all I saw was the dark passageway we’d been marching through all day.

“Not here exactly,” she smiled at me. “There.” She pointed her headlamp toward the floor of the cave a few feet from me. I didn’t notice it at first, but then a small opening came into view.

“There?” I asked in disbelief. “That’s barely big enough for me to get my head through.”

“It’s a little snug,” she laughed at me, “but you’ve done it before.”

Menton took off all her gear and got on the floor to inspect the area we would be entering.

“Looks like the opening’s clear,” she told us. “Let me inspect the other side before you follow me.”

Then she rolled onto her back and stretched her arms out straight above her head. Slowly she inched her way into the opening. I couldn’t help but think of a snake eating its prey as I watched her. Something dark twitched in the back of my mind, but I quickly dismissed it.

“She’s not going to make it,” I whispered to Sam after some time. She laughed at me in response.

“I’m serious!”

“I know you are.” She patted my arm condescendingly, which only served to anger me further. “Peadar has gone in and out of this spot several times.”

“Peadar?” I pictured the mountain of the man I remembered from my time in the compound. “He must have been much smaller in real life.”

“How big was in he in the Plax world?”

“At least two heads taller than me and probably three times as wide.”

“Yep, that sounds about right,” she said.

I looked back at Menton. She had made very little progress.

“There is no way.”

“It’s bigger than it looks,” she told me, but I got the distinct feeling that she was lying.

What Sam didn’t tell me was the reason why Menton entered the opening by laying on her back. For one, if there were Plax in the opening, she had a weapon help firmly in her right hand. Two, the length of the opening was longer than my body and slanted upward the further in you got. Laying on my stomach would have bent me in an awkward position as I worked my way through.

Menton gave us the all clear and Sam put Menton’s gear in the opening ahead of her.

“Keep alert,” she told us, and then she started the entry process.

Since Sam was much smaller than Menton, it took her only a fraction of the time. Her feet had barely entered the opening when Benjamin started putting my gear into the opening so I could push it as I slithered along.

Jagged rocks poked me and dragged the length of my body. It was a horrible feeling being in a space so tight with my arms above my head. I could feel that my feet were finally in the opening, as I was able to push myself along better by using the sides of the tunnel for leverage. Yet my hands had still not reached the exit.

Suddenly I was very cold. My heart started to race and sweat sprung up everywhere on my body. I needed desperately to move my arms, but there was no way as they were pinned above me.

“I can do this,” I told myself, but for a few minutes, I couldn’t move, and the fear intensified.

Breathing became difficult. Air came in and out in short jagged breaths.

“Move, soldier!” I commanded myself, but I couldn’t. The sensation of a white shadow started to envelope me as my heart pounded faster and faster. My head felt disconnected from my body and my legs were numb.

“Move,” I told myself with less enthusiasm. “You can do this.”

Then my hands started to tingle like they were asleep, and the feeling was slowly creeping up my arms. Against my will, tears started the stream from my eyes, and consciousness started to escape me.

My heart was drumming so loud in my ears that I could hear the whoosh of my blood coursing through my body. Just when I was sure I had lost the fight, two strong hands grasped my wrists and yanked me the rest of the way into the next opening.

Once free, I immediately curled into a ball, hugging my knees tightly against my chest. Sam sat beside me and placed my head in her lap.

“Roman, it’s okay,” she tried to console me. “You’re okay.”

Breathing was still difficult, and the sense of panic only strengthened as I realized I still couldn’t take enough air into my lungs. I squeezed my hands into fists as my chest started to ache.

“Breathe, Roman,” she told me. “You’re free now. You can move. Breathe. Just breathe.”

I could barely hear her for the noise pounding in my ears.

“What’s… what’s happening?” It was all I could do to gasp out the words.

“You’re okay, Roman,” was all she would say to me.

I didn’t feel okay. In fact, I felt the furthest thing possible from okay. I squeezed my eyes tightly shut and tried to imagine open spaces, but the only open spaces I clearly remembered weren’t real. The illusion of the compound offered no comfort now that I knew it wasn’t real.

“Roman.” Sam started to blow softly in my face. “Roman, you have to breathe.”

But breathing was not possible. The vise around my chest grew tighter as the white shadow took complete control of me. I felt myself slipping further away.

“Sam!” I cried out, but I wasn’t sure any sound escaped me. At least, I didn’t hear anything above the drum of my heartbeat, and there was no air in my lungs to breathe out the word.

“Roman, breathe.” Sam’s voice was muffled, hanging disconnected in the air above me.

I was losing the fight. Terror completely encased me and took my consciousness away in the process.

 

I’ve Learned – Lessons 1-10

 

“Rick?” someone said my name. Whatever had happened was finally over. My mind was coming back to life. Exhaustion weighed on me like a lead blanket.

“Rick, wake up.”

Something was wrong. I sensed it before I opened my eyes.

“Come on, sir, return to me,” someone whispered. I knew that voice.

Peadar! It was Peadar talking to me. Had I died?

“Wake up, Rick, please.”

I tried to shake my head, but it was too heavy. Slowly I was able to open my eyes ever so little.

In the blur that greeted me, I could see that I was in a bright room. It was Peadar talking to me. He was sitting next to me on the edge of my bed.

Gregg and Todd stood guard behind him.

Author’s Note: That’s it for this week. What do you think so far? I would love to hear your comments.

If you are enjoying this tale, please tell others about it or share it on social media. I greatly appreciate it.

 

Chapter 17 of the science fiction work-in-progress, Paradise, is now available. Our team has set out on their mission to capture the Plax. What happens next? Read to find out. | #WIP #sciencefiction #scifiContinue on to Chapter 18

Paradise WIP – Chapter 18

Peter Pan – Fan Fiction

Author’s Note: I have been toying with the idea of writing a darker sequel for Peter Pan. It is a story that has always had great meaning for me, and I love the way the Robin Williams portrayed the character in Hook. This is my opening draft. I would love to hear your comments.

                “Peter,” the name rang long in the cool night air. The boys were looking for him. Again.

                “Peter! Peter, where are you?” Their childhood laughter echoed up to him high up in the tree as the ran beneath, play fighting with wooden swords.

                “He’s gone off to the ship again,” one of them presumed.

                “There’s no reason to go there,” another one challenged. “What’s left there?”

                “Nothing left,” some of smaller ones sang. “Hook the crook lives no more.”

                All the boys cheered in unison thrusting their swords into the night sky.

                “Suppose he’s flying?” little Tyler asked.

                “Probably, but not here,” Jacob answered. “If he could hear us he would definitely come play.”

                Peter couldn’t help but laugh to himself. Fortunately the clang of wooden swords kept the sound from their playful ears.

                It had been a very long time since Peter had wanted to play. Someone had changed the rules and Peter was a boy no more. On the oustside he was very unchanged, forever the boyish leader of the Lost Boys, but inside… Inside things were very different. Inside Peter’s youth had left the last day he had seen his shadow. It was a day Peter relived everyday no matter how hard he tried to forget. It was the last time he had gone to see Wendy Darling. It was not the last time he had seen Wendy Darling. That was some time before. The last time he went Wendy Darling was no more.

                A solitary tear wound its way down his cheek. Wendy had been the first. Well, really, Hook had been the first, but no one had been sad to see him go. Wendy was the first one that mattered. John and Michael had followed too soon after. Smee was next while the pirates were finishing their new ship. Not long later they all sailed off never to bother the Lost Boys again.

                Then the unthinkable. Peter had squandered and played with his perpetual youth changing some with each goodbye, but still playing on, leading the Lost Boys on crusades again imaginary foes and searching for glittering treasure.

                Peter new things were changing. First she stopped coming to find him. Peter thought it a game and would set out to find her but she was always there. She had set up home on the abandoned ship. Peter didn’t know why. Even though Hook was gone the ship still meant something to her, though the ship would never move again. She spent in time in quiet vigil, in her small way still protecting Peter as she could.

                Peter would come to her every night and tell her of their crusades and treasures. He would act out their battles and dance to the songs he sang and she would smile and sometimes sing with him, but mostly she sat still on her little shelf and listened.

                He didn’t want to admit it, but he knew what was coming. She hadn’t flown in a very long time. Her wings had become tattered and gray and Peter knew they wouldn’t work if she’d wanted them too. Still he lived the perpetual boy.

                Both moons were full in the sky the night it all changed. Peter knew before he reached the ship that everything had changed. He almost didn’t go. He knew he could turn around and play and pretend that everything was the same, but he had to know.

                The ship was dark, too dark for the brightness of two moons in the sky. Peter tiptoed into the cabin not wanting to wake her from her sleep but quickly found himself shouting wishing more than anything that that was the one thing he could do. She was no more.

                Peter cried the whole night through. By morning he was Peter no more. Wendy, John, Michael, Tink – all of his happy thoughts were gone now. He hid from the Lost Boys for days not wanting to tell them. When he joined them again no one asked, so he never told them. He played their games, lead their crusades, told them of treasures to find. It was different now. If any of them noticed, no one said. Peter knew. It was something he wished he could forget.

 

Shadows of Doubt – First Draft

Author’s Note:

This past weekend I started a new novel, working title, Shadows of Doubt. I already have a good idea which direction it will take but would be interested in some input on the front end. Below is a very rough draft of the opening 1500 words. Please share your thoughts.

JUNE 10

“Don’t you know?”  The Ella Harvey played somewhere in the distance as I slowly opened my eyes and stared blurrily at the ceiling.

It’s morning, I remember thinking. What do I have planned for today?

Something felt off.

“I gave it all to you, body and soul,” the song played on.

I tried to roll to my side and a searing hot pain radiated from my lower back all the way down my right leg. Involuntarily I screamed out in agony.

“Oh, God! What is that?” Another pain manifested in my right shoulder and the room started to spin. I closed my eyes to fight the nausea.

“What’s going on?” I asked the empty room. My mind raced trying to make sense of what I was feeling. I couldn’t remember being in pain the night before.

It seemed safer to just move my head, so I slowly rolled it to the right side and tried to open my eyes again. The room was still spinning but not as fast.


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What I saw brought on more confusion. I did not recognize the table next to the bed or the lamp on the table. There was a wooden rocking chair in the corner I was sure I had never seen before. A Sherpa throw was folder over the top of the chair equally foreign.

I tried to turn my head back too quickly and the room sped up again. Clutching the sheet with both hands, I tightly closed my eyes again. Concentrating on my endeavor to slow the spin of the room, I never heard the door open and visitors come in.

“She seems to be waking up,” a strange man’s voice said.

“It’s too soon,” an older woman answered back. Both voices were foreign to her.

Opening my eyes, I put all my strength into lifting my head but a force stronger than me was keeping me still.

“Laura, it is okay,” the woman tried to comfort her.

Laura? Who is Laura?

“Another dose?” asked the man.

“Yes, I think so.”

Something pinched my left arm and within seconds the nausea and pain started to subside. The relief was euphoric and momentarily I felt like myself. Seconds later everything became fuzzy and drifted away.

Shadows of Doubt cover

June 21

Someone was playing the piano. The melody was not unpleasant, but it was too early to be playing the piano. I wished they would stop.

My body was sore like I had been lying in one position too long. I shifted under the sheets and my whole right side ached. My mouth was too dry, and my tongue was stuck to the roof of my mouth. I tried to swallow but my throat was sandpaper.

I fluttered my eyes, but the room was filled with harsh light.

“Are you in pain?” It was the older woman’s voice again. I wanted to answer but it was too hard to form words.

“You don’t have to be,” she told me. Another pinch and fuzzy bliss returned.

June 30

More music. Today it was a string quartet. Vivaldi maybe? My mind wasn’t entirely sure.

The room was darker but still bright enough I had to squint at first.

The room was painted a pale pink above the white chair rail and there was a floral print wallpaper below. It was a large room with three windows, one on each side of the bed and one to my right. I thought it was day, but it might have been dusk. It was hard to tell through the pink sheers covering the windows.

Across the room from the bed was a cherry dresser with a large mirror. To my left was a sitting area with two Victorian parlor chairs on either side of a scroll arm loveseat and a fireplace. There were two white panel doors on the other side of the room. I would learn later that the one of the left went into the rest of the of the house, and the one on the right opened to a walk-in closet and bathroom.

Nothing about the room was familiar.

I felt a little stronger this time and was able to sit up enough to see myself in the mirror across from me. The first shock was seeing glass cuts and yellow-purple bruising spread along the right side of my face. The bigger shock came a second later. I looked intently at the person in the mirror, but she was not someone I knew.

I brought up my left hand and touched my face. Yes, I was looking at myself in the mirror. My mind could not reconcile the reflection with my expectations.

Attempting to sit up further brought back intense pain in my lower back. I let out an audible cry as I eased myself back down to a horizontal position.

The door opened then and the older woman came in.

“Laura?”

I looked past her expecting another woman to answer.

“Laura, baby girl, are you in pain?”

She was speaking to me, but the name did not make sense. My name was not Laura.

“I’m not,” my voice was raspy, and speaking was difficult.

“Don’t strain yourself, dear.” She reached in her pocket and pulled out a syringe.

“No,” I tried to protest. I wasn’t ready to go back to the darkness, but in seconds I was gone.

July 9

This morning it was big band music. Glenn Miller, I think. The window to my right was partly open, and the sheers were moving gently with the warm air coming in. Birds sang happily to each other from the oak tree outside.


Clarity came quicker this time. I remembered the pain immediately. I remembered the room that I did not know. I was able to sit up easier to look at myself in the mirror. The face was still foreign, but most of the bruising was just a pale yellow and the cuts were mostly healed.

“Laura?” I said the name aloud. No, it was not my name. I was certain of that.

My back protested, but I was able to sit up completely. There was a glass-front, cherry bookcase next to the bathroom door full of books. The room was sparsely but richly decorated. Renoir’s On the Terrace was on one wall and Degas’ Dancer with a Bouquet of Flowers on another. I knew both paintings like old friends, but they were not mine. There was a tall carousel house statue on the dresser. On either side of the bed were matching cherry tables with matching alabaster lamps. The table to my right also had a crystal pitcher of water and an empty glass.

Trembling with some difficulty I was able to pour myself a glass and drink a sip of water. Swallowing was an unfamiliar sensation, and I found myself wondering how long it had been since I had anything to drink.

The door opened then and the older woman came in.

“My baby girl is sitting up,” she cooed like I was an infant.

“Where…?” Talking was painful, and my throat constricted after the first word forcing me to sip more water.

“I’m sorry, Laura, I am not sure what you are asking me.”

“Where…where am I?”

Genuine concern distorted the woman’s face and she came closer, sitting on the edge of the bed.

“Laura, honey, what do you mean?”

She took my hand in hers. Her hand was cold and unfamiliar.

“Who are you?” I pulled my hand away as tears started to form in her eyes.

“Buck?” she called over her shoulder. “Buck, you better come here.”

An attractive dark-haired man walked into the room. “She’s sitting up,” he noted.

“Yes, but she’s confused.”

“Should I get another dose?” They talked to each other like I was not in the room.

“We probably should.”


AbeBooks Weird Book Room

Buck left the room and my heart started to race. These strangers had been dosing me with something, keeping me in a place I did not know. Panic and fight or flight started to kick in and I tried to move to the other edge of the bed, but my legs would not move.

“What?” sweat was already beading up on my face and back.

“Laura, baby doll, breathe. Just breathe. You are okay,” she spoke slowly.

“No.” I felt tears on my face. “I have to get up.”

She grabbed my wrist with more strength than I expected. In a stern voice she told me, “You are not fit to go anywhere. Now, be still.”

Buck was back at this point and the needle was in my arm before I could process what was happening.

Fuzziness again and Buck lowered me back down on my back. Then darkness.

Diego – Short Story

 

Diego - a short story by Wolfe Butler. Would you save someone who had caused you a lot of pain?

Diego – Short Story

In today’s post I am going a bit darker. This is a short story I wrote few years ago when a number of troubling things were happening at the same time. The final catalyst was the sudden death of a beloved dog. Why that led to this story I cannot tell you. Who of us truly understands how the writer’s mind works? I certainly do not. In any case, from tragedy, Diego was born.

The movies romanticize death. They lead us to believe that death is this beautiful, if not magical, event. We want to believe that there is some sort of otherworldly transformation when one reaches the end of his life. We imagine that death is a sacred and ceremonial event. The truth is, death is nothing. In a second, life becomes death with no fan fair or revelations or transformations. I know this because I was there the day my best friend died.

It did not happen suddenly. I was in doubt at first as I sat with him, occasionally reaching out to stroke his hand. My mind told me for several minutes that his chest was still slowly moving up and down, even though it had long stopped. I could still see it. The fact was, he was gone. His lungs had stopped taking in air. His heart had stopped beating. Beside me on the sofa was the shell of the man who once meant everything to me.

In all honesty, it is ironic that I was there with him on that day. Diego and I had long since grown apart, and in the last few years I had seen him but rarely. Yet there I was, the only one in the damp cabin, watching as he finally ended his crazy journey.

I’ve Learned – Lessons 1-10

I touched his hand one last time.

Reaching out, I touched his hand one last time. His skin already felt different. The body before me was no longer the friend I craved to be in my life. Diego was really gone, and he was not coming back this time.

I am not sure where to start this story. There was no momentous beginning. There was no intense middle. The end was very quiet, me sitting alone beside him in his quiet cabin waiting silently until he was gone.

I met Diego at a party at a mutual friend’s house about twenty years earlier. It was an unremarkable event, but that meeting in time led to so much more. Walking over to grab another beer, we absently bumped into each other. Our host immediately saw to it that we were properly introduced. We tried to say polite hellos over the blaring music but quickly gave up on conversation and retreated our separate ways.

It was three months before I saw Diego again. Once more it was entirely by chance. It was a Friday afternoon, and I was exhausted and frustrated after another long week of butting heads with my cantankerous boss. I stopped at the grocery store to pick up toothpaste and toilet paper and something easy and fast to eat for dinner. I was walking out of the store when I ran into him.

“Ryan, right?” He extended a hand to me. Instantly I was drawn to his infectious smile, with his overly white teeth and well-pointed incisors. Both seemed slightly out of place and yet perfectly at home in his strong jawed, Latin face.

“Diego,” I shook his hand. “It’s nice to see you again.” I was intent to politely keep walking and get on with my evening of muttering and complaining.

“Hey,” he stopped me. “Um, I really hate to ask this, but my car won’t start. Would you mind giving me a ride?”

Tomorrow Gone

I wish I had run right then.

In retrospect, I wish I had run right then. That simple and relatively small request was to set the tone for our entire friendship. Diego was always going to need something. I was always going to be the one to see to his needs. Those details are a story best told at another time.

In recent months, I was determined to continue ghosting him and kept ignoring his numerous attempts to contact me. The tone in the pleading of his last voicemail struck a heart string, as he frequently did, and the following Saturday I found myself driving out to his cabin, cussing myself the entire way. During the drive I pondered on how and if I was ever going to be free of him.

He met me at the door and immediately went into a monologue about the latest adventure he had experienced. My mind stopped being engaged a few words in, but politely I smiled and nodded from time to time.

A wall in the center of the cabin was a floor to ceiling book case that went all the way up to the loft above the open lower level. It was mostly full of books, that he likely had never opened, and souvenirs from his many adventures.

“Anyway,” he was saying as he started scaling the book case, “while I was there I got to thinking about this trinket box that I’d picked up the last time I was in Italy. I could not remember if I’d ever let you see it.”

“Don’t you think you’re a little old to be climbing the furniture?” I mostly mumbled, rolling my eyes toward the rolling ladder that was only a few feet away. He was nearing the top of the bookcase.

“Ah, life comes at you fast. You need to learn to take charge. Take that over there,” he went to gesture to a human skull on the mantle, a prized possession of his for reasons I never understood.

Paradise WIP

Everything changed in an instant.

Everything changed in an instant. With his hand outstretched and his body twisted he missed his next step up his climb. His remaining hand lost its grip and he fell, spinning slightly, crashing into the glass end table nearby.

I was not unaccustomed to Diego falling, for despite his many charms and confidences, he was one of the clumsiest people of my acquaintance. Numerous things had been broken in my home over the years from his carelessness. So it was that I did not rush over to him but gave him a moment to regain his bearings and brush himself off and laugh or cuss and move on as he always did.

Several minutes passed, and it became clear that something was different this time. I walked over and touched him lightly with my foot, fully expecting him to be pranking me yet again. Diego never moved. I nudged him again and nothing. I squatted beside him and picked up his right hand, which was closest to me, and let it drop loudly to the floor.  There was no change. Ever the prankster, Diego had never been able to keep from laughing for very long.

“Crap,” I muttered to myself, knowing that he had just become my responsibility to care for again. I rolled him slightly to his side to get my arms under him and picked him up and carried him to the nearby sofa. It took a moment before I realized that my right hand was warm and wet. As I eased him onto the sofa and pulled my hand away I nearly collapsed at the abundance of blood covering it.

“Diego!” I gasped. Without thinking, I shook him hard.

“Oh, God!” He gulped for air but seemed to find none. Examining his shirt, I saw at least two large holes. Pulling the fabric back, I saw a large glass shard sticking out from between two of his ribs and another protruding from his side. It appeared to be where most of the blood was coming from.

Diego opened his eyes and stared at me in complete terror.

“Oh my God,” I gasped to myself, the enormity of the situation starting to settle upon me.  “Oh, God, Diego,” I grabbed his hand.

“Help me,” he pleaded.

“It’s going to be okay,” I promised him. With my other hand I reached into my pocket and grabbed my cell phone and started dialing 911. Diego clenched his eyes closed as subsequent waves of pain flushed through him.

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Something deep and dark and sinister, swept through me.

In that moment, something awful, something deep and dark and sinister, swept through me. Looking at Diego lying there, helpless and frightened and needing me to rescue him once again, I saw the pain in his face and the growing red stain on his shirt and sofa.  An unexpected calm settled over me. I held the phone up to my ear, never having hit Send.

“Yes,” I spoke into my silent phone, “I need an ambulance. My friend has fallen and cut himself and is bleeding quite a bit.” Standing beside him, still holding his hand, I looked serenely down at Diego, reassuringly nodding my head when he was able to wrench his eyes open to look at me. I squeezed his hand a little tighter, comforting him, making him believe that, like every other time, I was there to save him.

“Yes, that’s the address,” I said to no one. “Please hurry.”

I turned my phone off and silently slipped it back into my pocket. Gently I laid his hand across his chest and reached over and pulled up an ottoman to sit upon.

“Diego,” I almost whispered. “Diego, I want you to listen.” My voice grew softer with each word.

“Diego, you need to try and relax. Everything is going to be okay.” Part of me wondered why I cared about reassuring him at all. He had never cared about comforting me. Another part of me began to revel in the hope that his long hold over me was finally going to be severed.

“Diego,” I started. There were no more words. There was nothing else I wanted to say to him. The realization that I would soon be free of him was intoxicating.

He looked at me again pleading, his face already becoming paler. “Bleeding,” was all he was able to get out.

“Yes,” I smiled at him. “You are bleeding. Quite a bit.”

Eternal Pain – a Poem by

A new fear worked its way across his face.

Amidst all the panic and pain, something in my tone registered and a new fear worked its way across his face.

“Yes, Diego,” I told him. “It is time to say goodbye.”

He only tried to get up once, but by then he was already too weak to offer much resistance. Moments later he closed his eyes for the last time, and the pain that creased his face slowly subsided. A few jagged breaths later he was gone.

His blood on my hand was already drying. Any other time the sight of blood would have set me heaving. This time I just sat there quietly, fascinated by how quiet death is and how quickly blood dries.

I was finally free of Diego. Someone else’s laugh escaped from my throat, and for a second I flushed with embarrassment. Still, I was finally free. The relief that years of agony were now over made me feel weightless.

I sat with Diego a while longer, making sure there was no chance he could be saved.  Later, I meandered out to the lake behind the cabin and washed my hands in the cold water. I lingered by the lake and watched the sun set.

Well after the sky was completely dark, I found my way back into the cabin. I looked at the body that once was the friend my heart ached for. A tear almost escaped from my eye, but there were no tears left for him. I pulled my phone back from my pocket and turned it back on, finally calling for help.

“Yes,” I started when a woman answered. “I just arrived at my friend’s cabin,” I lied to her. “I think he might be dead.”

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