20 Questions With..., Everything That Counts

20 Questions With…Melissa Algood

 

This is usually the time that I tell you how much I love the author that’s answering my 20 questions, or how we met, but this time I’m taking over.

I’ve throughly enjoyed reading my friends answers, because they all have done it so differently.  Honestly I didn’t expect them to put so much thought into their answers, or trying to figure out the ‘right’ answer, when in fact there is not right or wrong.  I intended for the author to interpret the questions however they wanted to, not for my ‘permission’ on how to answer.  Therefore I did cheat on pretty much all of the questions (if there is a way to cheat on questions that don’t lead to a grade).

So thank you to all of the authors that I’ve highlighted before, not only for being good sports, witty, and insightful, but for being my friend.

The first time I remember saying that I wanted to be an author was when I was about eleven or twelve.  I never imagined that people would really read my stuff, I mean at least not while I was alive.  Sylvia Plath has always been a favorite of mine, hence naming my publishing company Mad Girl’s Publishing after her poem ‘Mad Girl’s Love Song’.

I am very happy to announce that I’ve publishing my first book-which will be officially released on August 24 at River Oaks Bookstore.  I hope that you’ll join me to celebrate the release of ‘Everything That Counts’ from 4-6 pm.

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I don’t really know what else to say-other than that writing isn’t something ‘fun’ for me-it’s a necessity due to the people that live out their lives in my head.  Thankfully at least some people like to join me on the journey – thank you for that.

So without further adieu I answer the infamous 20 questions

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Twenty Questions With…Melissa Algood

  1. Every writer has that one book that made him or her want to be a writer, what’s yours?   ‘Watership Down’ by Richard Adams.  I remember reading the introduction (yes I’m such a dork I read the introduction to novels) in which he said that the story of Fiver and Hazel was originally something he told his daughters as he put them to bed and they begged him to write it down.  Also ‘Fool On A Hill’ by Matt Ruff-it throughly transported me and I wanted to take a ride like that as often as possible.
  2. How old where you when you started writing?  Young, maybe 11.  In middle school a tutor mentioned how detailed a piece I wrote for English was (I described a door creaking open as if a rat were being crushed in the frame).  I also wrote little short stories for my first boyfriends mother (a dramatized version of a woman crossing the street was my first).  In high school I pledged to write a poem a day which helped me the most overall, and I still read the poems if I want to go back in time.
  3. Name four authors that you’d love to have lunch with.  Richard Adams, Matt Ruff, Nicola Yoon, and Courtney Summers.
  4. What would you eat? Probably not rabbit…I’m picturing a sleep over environment which includes pizza and sodas.
  5. How do you plot out your work? I usually don’t.  I get a scene in my head, and I’ll play it over and over again until it is as clear as an Oscar winning film and then I write it.  Although this often causes a lot of work once I’m ‘done’ with the first draft so from now on I really need to do an outline first (but I did do that for ‘The Bakery Assistant’ which I have yet to complete and I lost the outline).  
  6. Do you write in the morning or evening? Whenever I can, but usually after I’ve had my coffee.  But I have written many a scene while a color client of mine has been processing (I’m a hairstylist in ‘real’ life)
  7. Is there music on? This is the most important part of the writing process for me-I will spend more time on a playlist then virtually any other planning of a piece.  It will get so intense that a song will forever be intertwined with a character or scene.  I have posted the playlists for ‘Blood On The Potomac’  and ‘Everything That Counts’ on this blog.
  8. What inspired your last story?  A client inspired ‘Everything That Counts’ but I’ve been working on a lot more short stories which seem to be inspired by the copious amount of true crime podcasts I listen to (My Favorite Murder, Up And Vanished, Serial, Undisclosed, True Crime Garage, Last Podcast On The Left)
  9. Name three books so good you wish you wrote them. ‘All The Rage’ by Country Summers and ‘Thirteen Reasons Why’ by Jay Asher because both stories are so fucking important for everyone on Earth to read especially young adults.  ‘All The Rage’ is so poetically written although the content is something most people won’t read because it’s a difficult topic.  Similarly Asher’s novel does shine a light on many things that American society wants to put in the dark and he does it so intelligently that you’re enraptured.  ‘The Sky Is Everywhere’ by Jandy Nelson is achingly beautiful more like an epic poem, or a song, than a novel.  And I wish I could create another world like George R.R. Martin, but I can’t plan ahead that well.
  10. What television shows, movies, or albums do you believe are written well? ‘The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’, ‘House of Cards’, and ‘Master of None’ on Netflix.  I’m also the biggest fan of ‘Breaking Bad’, ‘Sons of Anarchy’ (which I binge watched while writing ‘Everything That Counts’), and ‘The Sopranos’ and my all time favs ‘Daria’ and ‘My So-Called Life’ and ‘Lost’ (which I binged while writing ‘Blood On The Potomac’).  As far as films I love ‘Donnie Darko’ although I’m not really sure what happened, and anything by Wes Anderson.
  11. Which actor would you cast in the protagonist role of your most recent piece?  I kinda like Miles Teller for Blake, but I’m not sure if he’s tall/lanky enough…maybe he’s more of a Nat Wolff. Rachel Hurd-Wood or Daisy Lewis for Sophie, Britt Robertson for Zoe.  
  12. Which of your pieces was the hardest to write? I would say all of them, but for different reasons.  ‘The Bakery Assistant’ needs more research (so if you’re a lawyer on the east coast lemme know) ‘WinterGull Lane’ because it took me to such a dark place.
  13. Which was the easiest? Most of my short stories are quick as lightening, which might be why I write them so much more often.
  14. Which of your pieces did readers ‘get’ when they told you their thoughts on it? ‘The End’ is a short story I won an award for about a young boy who grows up during the apocalypse.  I didn’t get hung up on how it all went down, but what it’s like to actually live after everyone else is dead.  At a book release the wife of another author told me that she loved that George still found it important to look at the artwork that still existed on the walls of the hotels in Las Vegas, because what’s the point of living if you don’t have the opportunity to enjoy art.
  15. What are you working on now? The novels that I mentioned before, and to write enough short stories to publish my collection called ‘Everyone Dies’.
  16. What story do you have to write before you die? All of them
  17. What’s your best fan story? When I sold an anthology to a teenage girl at a Comic Con in Houston and she shared with me her journal of poetry that she carries with her, then later that day came by to told me how much she loved my story.  Or when I read my piece ‘Thomas’ at the Spider Road Press award ceremony and one of my friends told me that it was the only piece that made her cry.
  18. What sentence have you written that you feel encapsulates your style? ‘We trudged onto the darkened stage covered in blood and glitter.’ from the story ‘Even Aliens Watch Reality T.V.’ my man’s favorite story that I’ve ever written.
  19. Have you ever based characters off of real people?  There are attributes that are based off real people, and I talk a lot so I listen to how people talk and infuse that into my work.  So yes, but not enough to have anyone worry.
  20. Who’s your favorite character?  I’m gonna cheat and say that I have a fav from each piece-Samantha Locke ‘Blood On The Potomac’, Blake Morgan ‘Everything That Coutns’, Claire Fisher ‘The Bakery Assistant’, and Stormy O’Dell ‘WinterGull Lane’

 

 

You can follow me on this blog, on TwitterFacebook, and you can buy all my work on Amazon

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novel, pictures, Signing Events

Comicpalooza Part 1

As usual I had the best time at Comicpalooza, and not just because I met Felicia Day (that will be another blog post all together) but because I got to see old friends, dress up, and meet new readers.

I love meeting readers and I hope that they love reading my work as much as I loved creating it-be sure to leave a review on Amazon, and THANK YOU SOOOOO MUCH for supporting local/indie authors.

I also had the pleasure of picking up some reading material for myself including D.L. Young’s newest book ‘Indigo Dark Republic Book Two’  ‘Chrysalis and Clan’ by Jae Mazer (who I had the pleasure of sharing a table along with Chantell Renee and Jessica Raney) and ‘Soul Chambers’ by Paul Vader and Dominic Dames.

IMG_0969IMG_0947It was the most wonderful time of the year when I had the chance to go to Comicpalooza-I look forward to seeing you next year (I’m going to join a panel which I’ll talk more about later) until then here are some more pics of the amazing cosplay at Houston Comicpalooza 2017

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20 Questions With..., pictures, short stories

20 Questions with Jas T. Ward

Maybe I’ve said it before, but I’m a real big fan of Jas T. Ward.  She is known for her romance but I love her shorter pieces.  A collection called ‘Bits and Pieces: Tales and Sonnets’ is by far my favorite, although Ward admits that some of the stories are ‘rejects’ I find them illuminating.

Ward has had literally and figuratively every punch thrown at her, and yet she comes back strong in her writing.  Her characters share her resilience, lust for life, and are truly unforgettable.  She has over eight titles available for you guys to check out, as well as a coloring book that lets you tap into your own artistic abilities.

Jas is a dear friend, and I’m proud to be one of her stalkers.  Now it’s time for you to hear from her….

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20 Questions with Jas T. Ward

  1. Every writer has that one book that made him or her want to be a writer, what’s yours? You may find this odd, but it was the children’s book The Velveteen Rabbit. Something about it pulls me in today. It has a low word count actually, but the emotions behind the words. Amazing. I wanted to do that. I wanted to put emotions behind the words, draw a picture without having to be artistic, and have people feel. With words.
  2. How old where you when you started writing? I wrote my first story when I was about 8 years old. Pictures and everything. I spent days gluing those notebook paper pages together. It was not a work of art. LOL. But I’ve always written and I don’t see that changing. Sure, the audience may change and the scope, but no. I’ll probably write my goodbye on my death bed.
  3. Name four authors that you’d love to have lunch with. Well, I’ve already met you and would love to have eats with you again. But four I haven’t met to share the meal. Hmmm… Amy Tan, Ken Follett, Penelope Reid and Colleen Hoover.
  4. What would you eat? Has to be a Chinese food with huge trays of food made for the masses. I think you can tell a lot about what choices creative people when it comes to a selection of food. For me? Sushi, dumplings and coconut shrimp. Oh, and spring rolls. 🙂
  5. How do you plot out your work? I don’t. I have tried to use all the tactics – outline, story boarding. But none of it worked. Or it just went unused. The only two things I do is know my beginning and my ending. Then, the challenge is to make them meet up with what ever flows in the middle. Otherwise, I just start writing without a clue how that’s going to happen.
  6. Do you write in the morning or evening? I am inconsistent as all get-out. Some days it’s one and other days it’s the other. I think it has to do with my brain just goes on overdrive without warning. It’s a curse and a blessing so I’m not complaining.
  7. Is there music on? Not usually. I do have a movie or TV playing as white noise for the side of my nature that balks at having to write. But every now and then there is a soundtrack needed and when there is, it’s usually Linkin Park.
  8. What inspired your last story? That’s a complicated question to answer. My upcoming book releasing 06/13 – Soul Bound: The Warrior was inspired by real life events of my own. Some dark tragedy and loss. I still can’t really talk about it personally, but I was able to tap into it to write this fictional story. I see that as progress and it actually brought about some closure. Though I’m not really sure I’ll ever completely have that. But it’s nice to know I can go there… if only a little bit.
  9. Name three books so good you wish you wrote them. Oh wow, that’s a toughie… hmm. Any of the Pillars of the Earth books by Ken Follett. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan and The Dark Tower by Stephen King.
  10. What television shows, movies, or albums do you believe are written well? I was just having this conversation with a author friend of mine. I don’t know if you or any of your followers remember a show called ‘The Red Shoe Diaries’, but that show was amazing in how it told a different story every week from the view of one man reflecting on love. Another one that I think is incredibly well written and produced is ‘The Story of Us’. Also, the limited series ‘Big Little Lies’ was AMAZING. It needs every award there is for acting, directing and story. Movies? I love big budget movies. Deadpool was genius. Different, a thrill ride, dark elements and sex. It remembered me of my books. 😀
  11. Which actor would you cast in the protagonist role of your most recent piece? My reader club had this discussion. They all saw a younger Gerard Butler when discussing Jace Camden from Soul Bound. Brooding and intense with a soul you wanted to know, but it wasn’t going to be easy.
  12. Which of your pieces was the hardest to write? Soul Bound, without a doubt. It was just so personal. And there’s some scenes in the book that are not fiction. They happened. I’ll leave it up to the readers to decide which.
  13. Which was the easiest? Partly because his foundation had already been solidified in the first books of the series but also because he was just so much fun to step into the skin of. I had a lot of fun writing that book even though it was a paranormal, thriler book. Jess Bailey is something else.
  14. Which of your pieces did readers ‘get’ when they told you their thoughts on it? Madness, pretty much. The main character, Reno is so flawed. But he’s so good natured with a big heart. And mental special – he has a split personality and a much darker side. And he’s driven from forces beyond his control, literally and figuratively. I think the people that have gotten to know me, know I’m the same in a lot of ways.
  15. What are you working on now? Now that Soul Bound is at the formatting stage, I’m working on another ‘Romance – The Ward Way’ titled – ‘A Little Pill Called Love’. Which means it’s quirky, fun, has some love and intimacy but some series twists in it, but also takes on social issues in a background way. The reader goes in and realizes they learned something or found something in themselves without it being preached or lectured about within the pages. The characters took them there without even realizing it. This book will deal with severe bi-polar disorder and love.unnamed-2
  16. What story do you have to write before you die? My own. And considering how slow it is getting it out and on paper, I better live a LONG time. But I think I’m getting closer to being able to it. Soul Bound proved I could go there. I just hope it continues.
  17. What’s your best fan story? Ah, I have so many. The readers are amazing and how they have come to love the characters, many who have actual, interacting profiles on social media thanks to people who wanted to fan-fic/role play them, they love them even more. But I made the mistake of killing off Reno. And meant for it to be for good. Bad idea… They went ballistic! They sent me hate mail and inboxes of anger. They went on my wall and posted the meanest memes. Some they even created of “Bring Our Candyman Back!” And others threatened to boycott me and my books. Heck, there was a petition started with thousands of signatures. I was FLOORED. But, due to that love the Shadow-Keepers series was born and I am so grateful for that. I think that’s when I realized that not only are the voices of our characters rattling in our heads real to us in a way, they are also the same for our readers. It’s something we should always keep in mind. We want our readers to believe the escape we’re giving them—and the people that live there.
  18. What sentence have you written that you feel encapsulates your style? .. that’s a hard one and I would probably spend days in all my books to find the very best one. I think, if I have to have one sentence it would be – Don’t judge me or the world I’m showing you until the ride is over. Then, you’ll understand. If not, sorry, no refunds. 🙂
  19. Have you ever based characters off of real people? Not yet. But when I write my real story? Oh yeah, They’re in there.
  20. Who’s your favorite character? Easy and the fans would revolt if I didn’t say it – Reno Sundown. I love that character so much. My inner child given life. As a hot badass doesn’t hurt.

 

You can find out more about the author on their Facebook Author Page-Jas T Ward and purchase their work from Amazon.

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novel, pictures, Signing Events

Where I’ll be, and what to do until then.

First off I’m very happy to announce that I along with a few dear author friends will have a booth at Comicpalooza in Houston, Texas from May 12-17, 2017.  I would love for all of you to attend as I’ll have copies of my work that you can check out and even get me to sign it.

I always have a great time at Comicpalooza where I can meet up with friends, other authors, and fans all while were dressed as their ‘alter-ego’.  Speaking of which I will be meeting Felicia Day (Charlie from Supernatural) so if you see me on Saturday I will be cosplaying as her!

I really hope to see you there!

 

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Next I’m happy to announce that a fellow award winning author/horror fan Kreepy Keelay narrated my story ‘Hair Dying’.  He did a phenomenal job (it’s almost as if he crawled into my head…) and I implore you to listen to a story that is far more horrifying than brassy highlights-click here for Scary Story Time ‘Hair Dying’.

 

Finally I’d like to tell you how much I throughly enjoyed the novel ’13 Reasons Why’ by Jay Asher, so much in fact that I was worried the story would be ruined when brought to the small screen.  I was wrong-although the story is different, the show brought to you by Netflix has more characters, it holds true the theme that Asher wanted the audience to understand once they were done with Hannah and Clay’s life.

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I had the pleasure of meeting New York Times Bestselling author Jay Asher when he spoke at the HWG Spring Conference-he even signed my copy of his books.  I throughly enjoyed ’13 Reasons Why’ and think that everyone should read it (not just Madame Bijou who’s pictured with the novel).  Asher’s work along with ‘All The Rage’ by Courtney Summers should be mandatory reading especially for young adults.

So after you listen to the narration of my story ‘Hair Dying’, but before you see me at Comicpalooza be sure to read then watch ’13 Reasons Why’-it’s a story that deserves to stick with you forever.

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pictures, short stories, Uncategorized

‘The Trail’-a short story

This story is one of the few that is actually inspired by a real person, and thus I hold it very dear.  Although it was not one of the 50-plus entires accepted to be published in the anthology ‘Eclectically Cosmic’ from Inklings Publishing I still think it’s pretty good.  You can read my hilarious horror story ‘Even Aliens Watch Reality T.V.’ in the upcoming anthology.

Until then I hope you enjoy ‘The Trail’-the story of Ben, a solider, who hikes the Appalachian Trail by himself months after coming home from war.

 

 

The Trail

by Melissa Algood (2015)

Ben thought about the war a lot. It was on his mind twenty-four hours a day. He’d been unable to fully get back into the swing of normal life, so his parents had him move back home, until he got on his feet they’d said. His siblings tried to help him forget by bringing him to parties they’d been invited to, out to a movie, or just for a drive.

But at parties some idiot would inevitability ask him if he’d killed anyone when he was deployed. What was his answer supposed to be? If it was no then he was a pussy. If it was yes then he was a murderer. How do you explain that after three tours in the ‘sandbox’ he couldn’t stop checking the crowd for enemies? Or that he never looked relaxed because he was always at attention?

Movies weren’t much better. They were too loud, and he’d concentrate on the people around him rather than the film. Every gesture they made was suspect even though his sisters promised that the teenagers in the theater were just goofing off, eating popcorn, or checking their phone.

He was stupid enough to go to some movie his older brother recommended that involved guns and a car chase. It brought the war back in vivid detail, from the death of his partner, to the sirens waking him at night. Ben’s fists clenched onto the armrests until the credits rolled. The shots that fired rung in his ears and he would be covered in sweat. Not out of fear, but out of memory. When a body dropped on screen it reminded Ben of everyone he’d seen fall in the sandbox. He wished he could say that their faces weren’t burnt into his memory. That their empty eyes didn’t haunt him. But they did, all thirteen of his brothers that died in the sandbox were with him. Always.

And the long car rides were the worst. Can’t really be comfortable in a car when you didn’t have a grenade launcher within arms reach. Everyone went on with their lives the four years he was gone, but Ben’s had stopped. They didn’t understand that he wasn’t really Ben anymore-he was a Marine.

 

He’d only been home a couple of months before he sat his parents down in the living room. Ben’s mother wrung her hands; she wore her apron stained with bacon grease from making breakfast. His father leaned back in his recliner covering half his face with his hand; maybe he already knew what his son was going to tell them. That he needed to be free.

Ben had never been described as loquacious, even less so after his deployment, so he got right to the point. “I’m going to walk the Appalachian Trail.”

His mother chuckled. “Oh, baby you just got home.”

He didn’t know how to explain that he’d never really come home. “I need to.”

“Why?” Her dark eyes glistened. “Who are you going with? How long do you want to leave us?”

Ben sighed internally. He thought she might cry, but he still didn’t want to be the cause of it. Again. “I’ll go alone. It will take as long as it takes.”

“But it so far away…bears…rain…” She went on into a tizzy, and Ben let her, although he didn’t necessarily imprint her worries in his gray matter.

He was going to hike the Appalachian Trail, and that was literally the only thing he cared about. The fresh air, strenuous exercise, and new experiences were what his soul craved. The hike would be a reset button on his life, and was much needed because he was tired of being an unemployed twenty-five year old single guy that lived in a rural South West Texas town.

The trail would help him recover the parts of himself he’d lost to the war. He’d get back meaning in his life.

“Now, Sarah.” Ben’s father leaned forward and took his mother’s hand. He sandwiched his wife’s wrinkled hand between his own age spotted ones. “Our boy really isn’t a boy anymore.”

“He’ll always be my baby, and I want him safe, at home, Joseph.”

“I understand that, but if he can take care of himself over there in the dessert, then he’ll be okay taking a little hike.”

Ben didn’t feel it was the time to add that it would at least take five months to hike from Georgia to Maine.

Joseph continued unaware of his son’s thoughts. “He’ll be fine. No bear can get our son if those terrorists can’t.”

He grinned and smacked Ben, which made him flinch. Being touched was still something he wasn’t completely okay with, even if it was his father giving him a ‘thatta boy.’

 

A few weeks later he kissed his mother on the cheek, shook his father’s hand, hugged his sisters, and gave his brother a high five before he boarded the bus to Georgia.

“Call us when you get there, Ben,” Sarah, his mother said.

Ben nodded. Although he wasn’t taking a map, since the trail was marked so well, much less a cell phone. He’d promised his father he’d send a letter addressed to his mother every time he crossed a post office.

 

It was green, so green. If he were a poet instead of a solider Ben would be able to describe the drops of water that clung to the leaves. Or that each plant reminded him of the foliage he saw in movies about dinosaurs. The sky was majestic with shades of orange, red, and finally a deep purple as the sun set. The clean air invigorated his lungs. Basically everything he experienced in nature he found to be the opposite of everything he’d seen during his three tours in the sandbox. Birds chirped in the morning and evening, frogs sounded like fog horns as he lay in his sleeping bag staring up at the ever expanding stars, and he came across the occasional snake that he left alone.

He became part of every living creature he came in contact with. The trickling river washed away the constant noise in his head, and the nightmares. With each step forward he propelled himself closer toward peace.

For hours he watched a mourning dove build a nest using twigs and leaves it gathered from the forest floor. In the sunshine the feathers on its chest were snow white, while it’s wings were tan camouflaging the bird in the tree. Ben realized that it was building a home, something that he wanted to do one day as well. Although he’d never contemplated it before as he watched the bird create its future that he wanted one of his own. Ben wanted a strong woman by his side; buy her a beautiful house where they could raise their kids. He laughed to himself as he pictured a couple of kids playing on the tire swing that he’d put up for them as his wife finished up the chicken fried steak for dinner.

 

Ben made it to Maryland spending most of it ignoring the hikers he encountered letting the forest take over his spirit like moss on a tree. There were signs letting hikers know a town was near, so he left the trail to go into town to go to the post office, and pick up supplies. He decided to spend the night in one of the cabins along the trail. They’d been built specifically for hikers to stay in a bed with access to hot water. Ben paid the owner’s wife for the evening and she told him that dinner would be served at sunset so he’d have enough time to wash up.

When he looked in the mirror his face shocked him. His beard was long, dark, and wiry. He thought about shaving, but decided that he’d keep it. Ben had long been tormented about his baby face, but that wasn’t a problem anymore since his mountain man beard obscured most of it. It took three shampoos to cut through the grease in his hair that was long enough to tie back. Although he couldn’t be sure if he smelled like death before the shower, his skin felt clean and smooth after hot water poured over him. He put on fresh clothing that he’d bought in town. Ben’s new undershirt was stark white, his flannel button up was soft, his jeans were dark blue rather than splattered in mud, but he wore the filthy boots his mother had bought him before he left Texas.

The wooden table in front of the cabin was large enough to hold a dozen people, but tonight it had only a handful including the owner and his wife. Ben sat down and served himself from the bubbling pot of chili, buttered some cornbread, and took a sip from the frosted glass of lemonade.

“Heard you’ve been going the trail solo, son,” A man with gray scruff and bright blue eyes sat across from Ben, and after the man spoke he bit into his cornbread.

Ben nodded.

“Strong, silent type, perfect for the trail.” A thirty something blond woman sitting next to gray scruff man mused.

Ben shrugged.

“I’m Tim,” gray scruff man wiped his hand on his pants then stuck it across the table.

Ben shook Tim’s hand. “Ben.”

“Good to meet you, Ben. I’m Annie,” the blond woman said, and then she leaned over to Tim. “He’s got the look.”

Ben swallowed a mouthful of chili; its spices lingered on his taste buds after it was gone. “The look?”

Tim chuckled heartily. “This is our third time on the trail, and we’ve found there are two types of people that walk it alone. Those that want to remember, and those that want to forget. You have the look of the latter.”

Ben didn’t know how to respond so he shoved the rest of the cornbread into his mouth in lieu of an answer.

“It’s not a girl though. But you lost something, didn’t you, Ben?” Annie asked.

Ben finished his lemonade.

“He lost himself, babe. He’s hiking the trail to find himself again.” The bushy gray eyebrows on Tim’s ragged square face came to a point. “Am I right, Ben?”

Ben nodded. His dinner was almost finished, and it might have been the fact that he hadn’t spoken to anyone in so long, or the fresh air that unblocked his voice because Ben found himself taking to strangers. “I’m a Marine, came back from my third tour in the sandbox to stay with my parents in Texas. But it was all too much. Or not enough. I needed…” he didn’t know how to articulate his desires, for so long his only needs were those of his fellow solider. “To start over I suppose.”

Tim smiled, the full moon that hung above them lit up the deep wrinkles in his aged face. “You’re almost there, son. There’s a little twinkle in your eye. The trail does that to you. It gives you back everything, that’s why you never take anything from it because someone else needs to see that rock or tree, too.”

Ben grinned, for the first time in years. “You’re right. I feel free…almost.”

 

Like so many things in life, the end was the hardest part. By the time Ben got to Baxter State Park the trek was tumultuous. The trail was steep, rocky, and covered in red pine and balsam fir. Above the trees the mountain became steep, the heavy winds and poor soil stunted the conifers, but on the horizon was Ben’s goal. The peak of Mount Katahdin was the finale of Ben’s journey and he knew that he’d reach it that very day. He’d come across a few hikers that looked ragged, but Ben knew that they too felt the elation of completing a journey that few had attempted much less completed.

Each step of his journey had been a step towards living not just surviving. He’d replaced the need to be on guard with the ease of enjoying the world around him. Every day had released him from the cage he’d unknowingly locked himself inside. Now that his soul felt free again all those that he’d lost had become a deeper part of him and would live in his heart, becoming immortal. He’d never tell anyone, but a few tears escaped as the realization of this change filled his mind.

When he reached the peak after six months and three days from the start of the hike Ben didn’t know if it was the lack of oxygen that made him dizzy, or if it was the pure unadulterated bliss that filled him. He sat there for a while remembering all his buddies that he’d lost, and although they wouldn’t be able to walk the trail themselves, the fact that he thought of them as he sat there and all along the way meant that they had trekked it themselves in a way. Ben had taken his mother, father, sisters, and brother with him as well. They all lived inside of him, in his heart, and now that his soul felt free again all those that he’d lost were now immortal.

He took one last gulp of air from the summit before he hiked back down so he could camp out in the trees before finding his way to the nearest bus stop and back to Texas. Ben felt lighter than the birds that flew above him knowing that he’d see his family soon and tell them all that the pieces of him that were so broken had begun to mend.

The sun was starting to set when Ben reached the tree line. He smelled meat cooking and felt a longing for human company. He decided to break his unintended vow of silence. Never before had he been so excited to talk to someone. As he neared the group sitting around the campfire he heard laughing. They were a group of six, and although he couldn’t officially ascertain their ages as he drew closer he assumed they were his peers based on their banter about music and how much they missed beer.

“Hey, man!” One of the guys called out.

“Ah a fellow hiker!” A girl cried.

“Come on and join us.” Another bearded hiker waved Ben over.

“Yeah,” a girl giggled while the first guy tickled her. “We got plenty of s’mores.”

Ben’s mouth watered as the scent of chocolate and marshmallows filled his nostrils. “Thanks.” He sat down on a fallen log next to a girl with red hair that matched the fire, and turned to her. “I’m Ben.”

She licked the chocolate off her fingers, then wiped her hand on her jeans, before she shook his hand. “I’m Monica. Did you want me to put one on the fire for you?” She held up a branch with a marshmallow on the end.

“That would be great, thanks.”

Monica tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. Her face was free of makeup, but her skin was the color of milk. It made Ben thirsty. “We’re waking up at dawn to make it to the summit if you want to come.”

“I’ve already been there, saw y’all on my way down.”

“Whoa, so you’ve already made it all the way thru.” Monica turned the marshmallow so it browned on both side.

“Yeah, it’s beautiful. Almost as beautiful as you.” Ben said it without even thinking, but he knew it was true.

She giggled, her dark eyes danced. “You’re sweet. Maybe you should come with us, that way you can say you’ve been there twice.”

“That would be cool,” Ben sighed and tilted his head back to see the night sky trough the trees. “Then I can tell all my friends back in Texas that I broke a record.”

Monica’s eyes widened. “You’re from Texas?”

“Yeah,” Ben nodded.

“That’s so crazy, I’m from Houston.”

“Me, too.”

Monica sandwiched the marshmallow between he chocolate and graham crackers. “It’s as if we were meant to meet.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well my friends and I all met at Georgia Tech, and decided to do the hike after graduation, but we lived in the same city, and we met here. In middle of the woods. In Maine a state neither of us have a connection to.”

“I guess you’re right.” Ben grinned at Monica. The group around them kept talking but Ben couldn’t make out a word, the only thing in his world was Monica. “We probably shouldn’t sneer at fate when it worked so hard to get us to meet.”

“It only makes sense that you come to the summit with us then.” She nudged Ben in the ribs. “Fate wants you to.”

“Let’s toast,” Ben said as he held up his s’more.

“To what?” Monica asked as she held up hers.

Ben thought of all he’d learned on his hike through the Appalachian Trail and decided that there was only one thing that was truly precious. “To life.”

“To life,” Monica agreed. They touched the edges of their s’mores together.

Ben bit into the s’mores. He didn’t know what the future held, but he did know that he would climb back up the summit with the pretty girl he met by chance in the middle of the woods.

He’d break a cardinal rule and take something from the trail: Monica.