We had gathered together as a family to celebrate the life of my father… no, wait, that would be a funeral. He’s not quite that old yet… it was his birthday! Yeah, that was it! His birthday! Sorry about that.
So we had gathered together as a family to celebrate my father being bored. Born, sorry. Born.
Anyway, for his birthday I gave him a copy of the book Dangers Untold, in which is a story I wrote and sold called Mutes. Not a lot of people I know have actually read that particular anthology — I like the story I wrote very much, I loved the idea, but it’s a little more harsh than most of the other Horror I’ve written. Just a touch more graphic. A smidge more gory.
Aw, hell, he’s my Dad. He can take it. Besides, in reviews for the book, Mutes is constantly being chosen by the reviewers as one of the stand-out stories in the anthology, and I’m kind of proud of that. So I slipped it into a gift bag with another thing or two and put it on the table by the cake and ice cream. We ate the goodies and Dad opened his cards and gifts. He was appreciative of the book, but as he still had company he set it aside for later. Before later had a chance to arrive, however, Dangers Untold was picked up by someone else as it lay there on the table.
She checked out the cover art (which is good, it’s a handsome book, if I do say so myself), then opened it to the Table of Contents.
“Is Rob in this one?”
My father pointed out where I was in the list, and I thought that was going to be it. I thought she would simply verify that I was in the book, admire the cover, and put it back down. Instead she took note of the page number Mutes started on, flipped through the book, and started reading.
This is the story that caused my mother, the Steven King fan who’s read all the weird and gross things he’s written, to tell me I’d ‘gone a bit far’.
This is the story where the protagonist is a paramedic, who sees (as paramedics and EMTs do) some seriously terrible things… and that’s just the jumping off point for the story.
My mother came by, handing out slices of birthday cake, and must have seen something in my face.
“What’s the matter?”
I tossed my head sideways to indicate where my Nana sat, book open on the table in front her, and my voice came out in a hiss.
“She’s reading Mutes!”
Mom looked over, somewhat startled, but when she turned back to me she sounded reassuring.
“Don’t worry. She won’t have time to get to the end.”
Mom walked away, satisfied. I sat there remembering that, sure, the worst part, the part that had made Mom shudder, was toward the end of the story, but there was plenty of awful stuff in there. What if Nana read…
My mind boggled.
My sister, seeing my expression, and sensing weakness in a way only a sibling can, decided to ‘help’.
“Hey, Nana,” she called out. “Have you gotten to the bad part yet?”
“Well,” Nana replied without looking up, “I found a couple of words I didn’t care for.”
Oh #$%@!! I’d forgotten all about the language!
“My editor put some of that in there,” I babbled. “The language, I mean. She added in a few…”
I trailed off, realizing Nana wasn’t paying any attention to me, so focused was she on reading the story. Sister kept on ‘helping’, watching with glee as I squirmed whenever she asked “So, Nana, what part are you up to now?” Nana always answered her, once actually looking at me and asking “Where do you come up with this stuff? I mean, this thing with the pine branch in the girl’s eye?”
“The guy’s a paramedic,” I began. “He’s going to see some…”
I didn’t have to continue; She was gone again, focusing once more on the words on the page.
I sat there, wanting to run but unable to tear myself away, as Sister asked questions and Nana gave updates about ambulance rides, falling security doors, emergency rooms, and ‘Angels with eyes of blood’. My Nana was the woman who babysat us when we were little, and no matter what my sister and I did would report to our parents that we were angels. Now she was reading what I’d written and asking me “How do you come up with this stuff?” Would she still think of me as an Angel?
Eventually I managed to flee. I went upstairs to my own room, checked some email and caught my breath. I went back downstairs a few minutes later to find Nana’s chair vacant and my mother saying goodbye to Nana and Grampy out in the driveway. I stepped out to give hugs and shake hands. My Nana kissed my cheek and said “Now, I think I only got about half-way through that one before we had to get ready to go.”
She hadn’t even gotten to the ‘bad’ part! Reprieve!
“But I want to finish it sometime.”
They drove off and Mom and I returned to the house.
“Nana said she wants to finish reading Mutes,” I said to Mom. “What do I do?”
“Don’t worry. She’ll probably get involved in something something else and forget all about it.”
A week later Mom came home from visiting with Nana and Grampy to tell me Nana was asking where she could buy the book Dangers Untold so she could finish the story.
To quote the great Willie Wonka (the Gene Wilder version, my favorite):