A Day for Thanks

Between this writing blog and my food blog, I have had, at one time or another, fabulous readers from 71 countries! Page views are closing in on 8,000, and my name as a writer and decent cook is getting out there. When I started this adventure, I only wanted to write down some recipes for my kids to access electronically in perpetuity. Who would have thought I would be writing my second novel, revising my first novel for publishing, and participating in Penguin’s BookCountry – an awesome online writer’s community. I have been interviewed by the Dallas Morning News  and Gannett Corporation’s NowU, and have recently entertained the interest of The National Aquarium in Baltimore. As for the last one, they  ran across a food blog photo I had made of a horseradish-encrusted flounder entree. The dpi may not be good enough, jury’s still out on that one, but if it works out, the photo could be a part of an exhibit about the Chesapeake Bay.

Then there’s my short story (of course, not a mystery) being published in the inaugural issue of The World Unknown. This periodical will feature 11 pieces by indie writers who submitted through a national call for work. More (much more) to follow soon!

Not bad for a guy who forgot to stab the potatoes when he was cooking dinner once.

Here in the US of A, today we celebrate Thanksgiving. Most Americans are watching parades and football games on television, and those not watching are busy cooking up turkey, sweet potatoes, and one of a hundred variety of cranberry dishes, not to mention pumpkin pies and their ilk. And we are no exception. One child is taking a nap, one is working on grad school applications, and the in-laws and their daughter are watching television. The turkey has about an hour to go, the dressing is in the crock pot, and the mashed potatoes will be started soon.

But as for me? I am on hiatus until the turkey is done. What better time to work on the blog, and then will crank out another 2,000 words of the Nanowrimo novel. In case you were wondering, I am tracking to finish on the last day, November 30th, probably at the last hour. But I will have finished.

So a lot has happened to this writer. And lot will keep happening.

Why?

Because it’s fun to do, and I have the best readers on the planet. Thanks so much for your support!

So no matter what country you call home, and no matter what holiday, if any, you celebrate today – I am thankful you stopped by.

Coming soon – a return to The Thirteenth Samurai.

D.J. sends.

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Blood Lust – Episode 1

Blood Lust

A tall tale of vampire pirates living in modern day Virginia

By D.J. Lutz

Blackie Sherwood knew he should call his wife before she heard the news elsewhere. Not that it would make much difference in her leaving, but it was the right thing to do. He looked at the off-white, number ten envelope sitting on the desk, the Fisheries and Wildlife emblem in the upper left corner staring straight back at him, and lamented how the same envelope used to deliver his paycheck was now bringing him the official word of his permanent layoff.

This had been a banner week for Blackie. First, his wife announced she was leaving him to make a new life for herself as a fashion model in New York, with her therapist suddenly changing careers to become her manager. And now, state budget cuts were hitting home, with the Eastern Shore field office and its’ one and only Fish and Wildlife Ranger no longer found on the state’s list of approved expenditures.

In one week, Blackie would be living alone, save the company of Mags the dog, and unemployed for the first time since high school. He knew he should be worried, but the reality had not sunk in yet. As he was reaching for the desk phone, it rang.

“Ranger Office. Sherwood,” he answered.

The excited voice on the other end of the conversation rattled on and on, almost to the point of being incoherent. Blackie tried to thank the caller, but had a difficult time interrupting. Finally, he was able to end the call.

Blackie took a deep breath, looked down at the phone, then over at the letter. Why should I bother? Will anyone at Fish and Wildlife even care about one more dead goat? I have a week to figure out what my life means, where I need to go, what I need to do. Why should I really bother?

Still, Blackie Sherwood had taken an oath to protect the wildlife and though somewhat domesticated, the abandoned goats on the barrier islands still qualified. Someone had been killing goats and draining their blood, about one animal a week, for the past month and police had yet to find a single suspect. The area farmers were on edge, too, and rumors of black magic had resurfaced. Those stories had circulated the Eastern Shore since the 1600’s, brought to the Chesapeake Bay by slaves arriving from Africa. The legend had lain dormant for over fifty years, but was now making a virulent comeback.

“Come on, Mags. Time for a ride in the old Jeep. Looks like we have one more billy goat to bury before coyotes do much more damage.”

Twenty minutes later, Blackie and Mags arrived at the boat launch. It would be another half hour to get to Cobb Island, one of the many barrier islands that protected the sea-side of Virginia’s portion of the Delmarva Peninsula. Somewhere, a panicked fisherman was standing near an emaciated carcass of a goat, probably worried it would come back to life and eat him. Blackie surmised the more immediate thing to worry about was whatever killed the goat.

Cobb Island lighthouse had been abandoned long ago, after one of the more vicious hurricanes had pushed a storm surge over the entire island. A few people escaped, many died. The lighthouse had remained vacant since.  Since then, the only people that ever got close to the island were fisherman whose boats ran out of gas and the occasional naturalist, counting flocks of geese. Random herds of domesticated goats roamed the barrier islands at will, no one to herd them.

As the boat approached the island, the ocean kayak belonging to the caller came into view. Blackie looked around, finding no one else in the area. This island was so desolate, Blackie thought it a miracle any cell phone signal caught the attention of the tower in nearby Cape Charles. The Ranger’s boat pulled up to the shoreline. There was no launch. Throwing out the anchor line, Blackie prepared to go ashore. He was going to get stuck in the mud and he knew it.

“You call in the dead goat?”

The man pointed over by the lighthouse. “Yeah. It’s over there. But I swear, I think someone’s in the lighthouse. I ain’t going in there, though. No sir. You can have that job.”

“See anyone in the area? Any fishermen? A passing sub, maybe?”

“Look pal, joke if you want, but something killed that goat and from the looks of it, drank all its’ blood. As for me, I’m outta here. Have a nice day,” he said sarcastically.

Blackie spent the next two hours searching the lighthouse and the surrounding area. No sign of life except a few goats and dozens of birds. The only manmade object besides the lighthouse was an old sailboat that appeared to have been washed up onto the beach over a year ago. Probably from some poor weekend sailor that had to be rescued by the Coast Guard…

After burying the carcass deep enough to fool scavenging coyotes, the Ranger started walking back to his boat. Mags the dog, standing watch on the bow, started barking loader than usual.

“I’m coming, girl. Nothing else to see here. If we time it right, we should get home in time to see the sun set and Trish flip us off on her way out.”

True enough, as Blackie and Mags sailed away, the sun started dipping beyond the treeline, disappearing over the bay side of the Chesapeake.

Had Blackie Sherwood looked back, he would have seen the single hurricane lamp, glowing from the lighthouse tower.

It was dinnertime.

Vampire Pirates, anyone?

Aboard USS George Washington (CVN 73) Nov. 9, ...

Aboard USS George Washington (CVN 73) Nov. 9, 2003 — The USS George Washington (CVN 73), sails past the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel on the way to sea, as it prepares for the Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX) in the Atlantic Ocean. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate Airman Joan Kretschmer. (RELEASED) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By now, you probably know that I commute across a very long bridge spanning the watery border between the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Its a great drive, normally. And you see a lot of interesting stuff during that 18 mile excursion, from pods of dolphins to freighters playing chicken. Occasionally an aircraft carrier or sub will go by, too. Cool stuff.

What caught my attention was the wailing, obnoxious tone of the emergency broadcast system interrupting my NPR listening time. The computerized voice began to tell me that a line of severe thunderstorms was heading toward the Eastern Shore and that flash flooding was possible.

In truth, I had been watching the wall of dark clouds coming from the west since I started my journey on the bridge towards the Shore. This evening, the Bay had an unusual tint of green to it and the waves looked like they were simmering, just waiting to boil over. Hmmm. There were no seagulls on the bridge, either. Something was afoot.

As I left the bridge and drove onto Fisherman Island, I looked at the abandoned lighthouse off in the distance. Many an Eastern Shore legend stems from the area around the old lighthouse. And that got me thinking.

Clearly, we will be visited by vampire pirates.

Tonight.

More to follow…

Writing 100 Words Before the Coffee Gets Cold

Chesapeake Bay

18 miles of ocean strait - my morning commute. (Image by Bernt Rostad via Flickr)

For those tailing me, you certainly must have noticed the nasty waves when we crossed the Chesapeake Bay this morning. Worse yet, with the low clouds moving rapidly offshore, I could hardly see the outline of the abandoned lighthouse on the barrier island to the east. Made for a breezy ride, to be sure.

Naturally, being a writer, I decided to try my hand at a self-imposed, 100 word challenge to immortalize the morning commute. (If my boss is reading, I did this at lunch, while drinking coffee, so not to worry!)  This isn’t my usual style of writing, but ’twas a fun endeavor, all the same.  Enjoy, or not. I’d be interested in your thoughts.

 

The Boat

By D.J. Lutz © December 2011

The old wooden dinghy nudged against the lighthouse dock, no line in place to secure it, held fast by repetitive waves.  The current had run its circuitous path, entering from the mouth of the bay, past the lighthouse and into the rocky shallows. A jetty steered the water back towards the mariner’s watchtower, out again to the angry sea. The dock, the only dock, was a last hope for mariners, a place of safety to reach or, if missed, the last vision of humanity. Oh, if only the submerged lifeboat could speak, what tales of tragic heroism it would tell.

The Last Run

Ghost Lighthouse

Image by streamingmeemee (Tim Carter) via Flickr

With the sun setting over the crown of the lighthouse, Jeffrey knew that this would be the last run across Chesapeake Bay. It would be a quick trip, too, since today being a Monday there would not be much boat traffic out on the water. As a matter of fact, Jeffrey had not seen another boat for quite some time.

Probably the Halloween curse, he thought. The curse, a legend really, kept many a boater off the water each October 31st. He would have rather been at home himself, except he had to pick up the crew working on the dredging barge. Jeffrey had a nice contract: take the crew out in the morning, deliver hot food from the Kiptopeke Diner at 1:00 pm and then retrieve the crew at dusk, usually around 6:00 pm. Easy money for a waterman. And welcome money, too, since the oysters had too many pollutants to make it safe to harvest…or too many state regulations that prohibited it. The blue crab season? That was worse.

Jeffrey’s wife had asked him to find a substitute skipper for the last run of the day, but there were none available. Little wonder since most of the local wives insisted their husbands stay home once the sun started making its way down to meet the horizon on Halloween. They knew the trouble always began once the abandoned lighthouse on Fisherman Island created a unique, obelisk-like eclipse of the setting orb.  Jeffrey knew it also, and looking north, saw the lighthouse start to pierce the skin of the glowing, orange sun. But the crew needed to come home, their families were waiting. Jeffrey had to make the trip.

Each year, on Halloween, or so the story went, the ghost of last lighthouse keeper descended from his perch overlooking the Bay’s entrance to row out to meet one unsuspecting boat, asking the sailors for a few coins, a donation if you will, for his service. Those that did not contribute met horrible fates. The story was so pervasive that accidents on the water from here to Maryland were often attributed to the malevolent spirit.

A fanciful story perhaps, often told with drunken verve in pubs along the coast, but Jeffrey knew the facts. In 1885, a lighthouse keeper did indeed lose his life here. He had lost his job when a newer, more modern lighthouse, one that used electricity, came into service up the coast. Unemployed and unable to afford food to eat, the man died of starvation, all the while standing at his post. He had felt it his duty to keep the oil lamps burning, watching over the ships at sea until he could stand no more. His last log entry was dated October 31st.

There had been plenty of fishermen who claimed to have met the ghost so those that dared to set out on Halloween always kept a dollar or two, jingling in their pocket. Jeffrey was no exception, himself having five or six coins in the right pocket of his trousers.

To lend validity to the tale, there were a few examples of those who had (supposedly)  not heeded the lighthouse keeper’s request. One boat was found capsized, on a sand bar of all places. The bow had been sunk into the sand, the stern facing skyward as if the boat had been dropped from the heavens. Another boat mysteriously caught fire and sank. Authorities were set to blame the engine for that one, until they found out it was a sailboat. In all cases, the sailors died in horrible, grotesque fashions.

Jeffrey didn’t want to believe all the poppycock,  or at least that is what he kept telling himself as he set course for Thimble Shoal, where the dredging crews worked year round. His confidence started to wane, though, when he launched his boat, Velma’s Hideout (named after his favorite grandmother, the one who owned a speakeasy in Minnesota, years ago during the era of Prohibition,) and noticed the sea had taken on an eerie appearance. “Could the curse be true?” he wondered out loud. Without realizing it, he started to jingle the coins in his pocket.

There were gentle swells as far as a skipper could see, certainly no white caps. Nothing to worry about when you are in a 32 footer, Jeffrey thought.  Yet the sea foam had an unusual greenish blue color to it, and the seagulls and pelicans were nowhere to be seen. He started to smell rotting kelp that had been ripped from the sea floor by vicious currents, now decomposing in the salt water and floating in with the tide. The whole scene reminded Jeffrey of the water’s condition right before a tropical storm. Then, for a brief moment, he thought he heard the telltale sounds of oars churning the water! His heart now starting to race, Jeffrey reached back into his pocket…

Fortunately, the barge was now dead ahead. The sun had already set, but Velma’s Hideout would be there in about five minutes. It would take another ten for the crew to shut down operations and board his vessel. 45 minutes later, they would all be home, ready to watch the kids dress up as witches and goblins, then go house to house gathering enough candy to make a dentist’s accountant smile. Jeffrey stopped jingling the coins. He couldn’t wait to get home and prove his wife wrong, one more time.

Jeffrey eased up on the throttle, drifting the last few feet before siding up to the barge. With one swift motion, he threw his mooring line over a cleat to secure the boat.

That’s when he noticed there were no souls on board…

(A special thanks to author/blogger Melissa, who pens The Undeveloped Story, for sponsoring the 2011 Spooktacular Halloween Short Story Blogfest!  Check her blog out for more stories!)