Bitten

Careful where you step.

Jerry’s pace quickened against the crisp mountain air. Dusty clouds emitted from his jogging shoes as he traveled up the dirt road. A view of the Rockies was on his left and an Aspen covered slope on his right. His agile legs expertly guided his feet around the rocks that could twist his ankle.

The smell of pine and fresh air filled Jerry’s nostrils, and a smile remained transfixed across his face. The dirt road turned sharply and substantially increased in grade. His leg muscles started to burn. The smile left his face for a few moments before it returned, and the burning disappeared.

The sun was beginning to break over some of the lower crests, and its warm glow fell on the back of Jerry’s t-shirt. He turned the next switchback, and the sun heated his face. He glanced up at the clear, blue sky when a sudden pain struck his right ankle mid-step. Instinctively, he kicked and saw the small rattlesnake go flying off into the bushes.

He stuttered, wobbled, and stumbled. The blood swiftly pumping through Jerry’s veins began to burn.

Jerry let himself collapse in the middle of the road. He screamed, and the morning’s smoothie ejected from his stomach. Tearing at his shirt, he fashioned a tourniquet using a nearby stick. His hot muscles and veins fought against the restriction put upon them.

Jerry blocked his instincts to stop tightening the torn fabric and twisted the stick between gasps for air. Dizzy and nauseous, he worked to control his breathing.

He had wanted a quiet run, and now it looked like he was going to die in the effort. The minutes ticked by, and his right leg became numb below the tourniquet. Looking down, his toes and foot looked as though they would pop if someone poked them with a needle.

An unnatural rumble emitted from the bottom of the valley. Jerry blinked, shook his head, and strained to decipher the sound below. Whatever it was, it was climbing up the dirt road. The distinct sound of an engine began to grow louder, and Jerry said a prayer of thanks.

A black jeep appeared around the bend and Jerry hollered and waved with everything he had left. The red-headed driver stopped and jumped out. Her tight hiking outfit and boots fit her girlish figure like a glove.

Jerry gasped, “A rattlesnake bit me.”

“Don’t move,” insisted the young woman.

The hiker went back to her jeep and got one of her walking sticks.

“Grab hold of this. I’ll take your other shoulder and help you up. Then we’ll get in the jeep.”

Jerry managed to keep his foot off the ground. A warm wave rose from his stomach to his chest, and the road rose and fell under his feet. He swallowed hard, and they worked their way over to her jeep.

The young woman already had the passenger seat tilted forward, and Jerry eased into the rear. He laid there on his back with his foot elevated. She grabbed an ace bandage from her first aid kit, and the two of them tied off his tourniquet. Dialing 911 on her cell she jumped in the front seat, turned the jeep around and made her way back down the mountain to meet the ambulance.

“If you don’t mind me asking, why didn’t you have a cell phone?”

Mumbling through the pain, he responded, “Solitude.”

The young woman glanced at him over her shoulder, “Judging from that swollen foot, I think your running days may be over.”

Jerry attempted to smile, his voice strained, “Maybe. There’s always swimming.”

“Does that mean next time I’ll find you floating in one of the lakes?”

“Possibly.”

The woman reached back with one hand grasping at the air. Jerry grabbed her hand for a moment. “My name’s Maria.”

Although he was wincing with pain, the conversation was keeping his mind occupied. “I’m Jerry. Thanks for the rescue.”

The ambulance appeared ahead, and she pulled to the shoulder. The EMTs brought the gurney to her vehicle and Maria hastily scribbled something on the back of a card from her purse. She walked over and put it in Jerry’s hand.

“Don’t lose this. It has my business number on the front and my cell phone on the back. Let me know how things turn out. Maybe we can go to dinner sometime, and you can tell me how you managed to avoid this from happening until now.”

Jerry looked into Maria’s bright, blue eyes and muttered. “Remind me to thank that snake later.”

The EMTs delivered a quick dose of pain medicine and pushed the gurney into the ambulance. Jerry felt himself relax and closed his eyes.

Caribbean Paradise

Paradise and Peril are Hidden Just Below The Surface

The sweet taste of strawberry trickled down the back of her throat. Crushed ice cooled her parched pallet, and then the headache began to roar. Jennifer closed her eyes and prayed for the pain to go away so she could suck down another refreshing swallow. The aching seemed to linger, but then begin to fade.  The agony that throbbed inside her mind soon disappeared.

A shallow swallow of her daiquiri brought the refreshing Jennifer desired without the pain. Soon she found her rhythm of swallows and pauses until her cocktail was finished far too soon. Jennifer looked back up towards the resort. It was only ten minutes to the bar, but the July Caribbean sun beat down on her bikini-clad body.

She felt a little light-headed, and a smile spread over her face. The turquoise waters promised a respite from the heat and would help clear her head. The crystal clear waters lapped at Jennifer’s ankles as she began her treck into the Caribbean. Fifty yards away, a father played in the shallows with his children.

Jennifer ambled into deeper water and avoided the calypsos floating in the shallows. Soon the water covered the bottom of her red bikini, and she rolled over on her back. Her amber hair framed her fair-skinned face. She knew she could not stay out in the sun for long, no matter how peaceful it was.

Jennifer’s ears sat just below the water line, and the sounds above the surface disappeared from around her. She closed her eyes and began to count down from six hundred in a half-hearted manner. She would return to shore once the countdown was completed. Jennifer’s light-headed state caused her to skip, repeat, and then forget numbers altogether.

Frustrated, she finally stood up and promptly sank beneath the surface. The water was deeper than she remembered. Undeterred, Jennifer kicked her feat twice and broke the water’s surface. Voices were yelling, children screamed, and a man in a red bathing suit stood at the age of the ocean blowing his whistle and waving in her direction.

Jennifer realized she had drifted almost seventy-five yards from shore. She tried to understand what the lifeguard was yelling, but could not make out his words. With a wave of her hand to assure everyone she was okay, Jennifer began her swim back towards the beach.

Twenty yards closer to shore, a large gray fish passed closely beneath her in the eight-foot water. Jennifer startled at the site of a shark and worked to continue her even pace to shore while expelling the water she accidentally sucked inside her mouth.

Another fifteen yards had been covered when Jennifer turned her head to the right for air and saw the large fin cruising towards her. She quickened her pace. Five more yards and the shark collided with Jennifer’s side. Her body was pushed to the left and then rolled like a rag doll beneath the shark. Jennifer shot up to the surface and watched the fin of the shark continue down the coast.

Relieved, but shaken, Jennifer returned to her swim back to the beach. Twenty yards from shore the bottom was no more than a few feet below, and she put her feet down. Looking over her shoulder, Jennifer was relieved to see no signs of her curious friend. Soon the water had receded below her bathing suit.

“Hurry up, ma’am,” insisted the young lifeguard.

Jennifer waved him off, “It’s alright, he’s gone. Besides, it’s too shallow here.”

The lifeguard’s eyes grew wide, and he shook his head. Jennifer glanced over her should and saw a large dorsal fin heading her direction. Jennifer screamed and fought against the water that held her from dry land and salvation.

The young lifeguard ran towards her splashing in the water and yelling. The man reached out, grabbed her wrist and yanked Jennifer towards the shore. The water grew more shallow with each footfall.

The young man’s voice rose and cracked, “Don’t look back.”
Something nudged Jennifer’s ankle, and she instinctively lifted her knees high and stepped faster. Jennifer felt a warm liquid on the back of her ankle followed by the burn of the salt water.

Loud splashes faded from behind as she reached the beach. Looking down a red pool of blood formed in the sand around her left foot. The young lifeguard reached into his nylon bag that sat in the sand and began to clean and put pressure on Jennifer’s wound. The sand moved and shifted beneath her, and Jennifer collapsed on to the hot sand. A hand touched her cheek, and she turned her head towards it.

“My name is Chip.”

Jennifer looked bewildered at her rescuer.

“My name is Chip. You’re fortunate, Bull sharks don’t normally let their prey get away.”

Jennifer closed her eyes and covered her forehead with her arm. “How bad is it?”

Chip started to wrap her ankle. “Not bad, I’d say four stitches, and you’ll be ready to hit the bar tonight.”

“Perhaps I’ll enjoy the evening from my room. I believe I’ve had enough fun for one day.”

Keeping The Narrow Way

Why is Amazon tempting?

There has been an ongoing debate in the writing community about the value of “going wide.” This term means you are spreading your books out among as many vendors as possible. On its surface, it sounds like a no brainer. However, for new authors, it can mean the difference between gaining momentum or finding yourself struggling to get your books noticed.

The real question behind this dilemma is whether or not to use Amazon’s KDP Select. Those who sign up for the service must use Amazon exclusively for their ebooks for ninety days; thus, the term “going narrow.” That is a long time if you want to put your book up on Barnes and Nobel, Kobo, or other locations.

On the other side of the argument is Kindle Unlimited, which allows its members to read your stories for free, while Amazon pays you a small royalty, emphasis on the word “small.” Since most new authors deeply discount their books or give them away for free, a small royalty sounds good. Also, Amazon allows discounts and giveaways and provides all sorts of tutorials on how to be successful on its platform.

Given the success rate of Amazon authors compared to its competitors, it is a tempting offer.

I have tried both the wide method and the narrow. I still believe the narrow option is best for authors with fewer than six books. The exception would be seeing your book shoot up to the bestseller charts not long after its release. At that point, you have the momentum to go as wide as you are able.

When you look at Amazon objectively, their price points for services and royalties are still better than many other book vendors in the industry. Most other companies offer smaller royalties than Amazon and provide fewer services. Does this business model help boost Amazon to a monopoly? Yes. However, the way to fix this issue is not to avoid Amazon; the solution is for the other services to up their game.

So, if you are a new author, let me strongly encourage you to adopt Amazon early on. Yes, there are around one million consistent authors on its platform. Yes, you will have to learn how to master Amazon’s marketing services. The alternative is to perform these same tasks for all of the other platforms out there. If you have released just one or two books, you may want to spend more time writing your third instead of mastering Apple Books, Kobo, and others. The choice is yours.