The Story Behind Snow Day by Dan Maurer
Snow Day is a salute to the old campfire stories of our youth, but like the tasty Tootsie Pop that it is, I hope you find a little more to chew on inside. At least, that was my intention when I wrote it.
People will sometimes ask a writer the age-old question where do your stories come from? I’ve seen many scribes shuffle uncomfortably and toe the ground in an “aw, shucks” kind of way while trying to answer that question. Whether reluctant to reveal trade secrets, or just at a loss to explain the magical muse that visits them at the keyboard, they struggle to articulate an answer.
Not me; not with Snow Day. It has a very clear origin, and while it happened many years ago, I can still put my finger on exactly where, or rather from whom, the idea came. Like a snowball in an old cartoon short that might have played before the feature at the Park Lane Theater, it started small, but it grew as it rolled downhill and blended with other ideas until it became the story I finally wrote.
The inspiration for Snow Day was first born from something my childhood friend Michael DiNapoli said to me. It was after we were grown and married and entrenched in the day-to-day responsibilities of adulthood. We hadn’t seen each other for many years and when we reconnected and reminisced he said something that stayed with me.
He said: “We lived an idyllic childhood, didn’t we?”
His words were more statement than question and he smiled broadly when he said it because he truly meant it. At the time, I didn’t think much of it. I politely agreed, of course, and the topic of our conversation moved on to the current whereabouts of old friends and family like Holly, Nicky, Jimmy, Sammy, Peggy and the rest. But while the conversation moved on, his words stuck in my head, like sun-melted gum that sticks to your Keds. It was there and it wasn’t going away. I tried to forget about it, but of course I didn’t. I couldn’t.
When I became the father of a daughter (an honor requiring double the usual dose of parental vigilance), I was constantly reminded of my own childhood and Michael’s words in particular. Over the years, my wife and I were fortunate to raise a beautiful, smart, talented and caring young woman. But the choices we made along the way were different than those our parents made; they had to be. After all, we live in a different, more frightening world today; more care is required. In short, it’s more dangerous today than it was when we were kids…isn’t it?
I began to wonder, was it truly the way we remember it? Or, to put it another way, is it the lens through which we view our past that makes it seem idyllic and not necessarily the times in which we actually lived? Like Billy Joel says, we didn’t start the fire. So, over the years, Michael’s words became less a statement and more a question that rattled around in my mind. Did we live an idyllic childhood? And if we did, what really lay around the corner that we never saw? What might have happened if we went off the block on the wrong day, at the wrong time, and met the wrong person?
And so, the snowball went rolling downhill; slowly at first, then faster and bigger and darker until it became Snow Day.
Writing this tale has been a lot of fun. I certainly had plenty of material to inspire me, and sifting through my childhood to find just the right pieces to build a snow castle of fictitious characters and events convinced me of this: we did live a rich and fulfilling childhood. Not perfect – we kids, and our parents, made plenty of mistakes – but it was loving and memorable and safe…mostly.
Michael was right, in the end. Many of our childhood clan did indeed live idyllic childhoods. It was one that Norman Rockwell might have thought worthy to capture on canvas and mythologize for all time, if he’d had a love for wide collars, bell bottom pants and 8-track tapes. God knows my friends and family have done so in our hearts and in our minds. But the other, darker truth is this: despite the warm memories we hold, courtesy of the loving community that bore us, we were never far from danger while we played on or off the block, never far from being the boy in the cellar. No one ever is; not then, not now. In those days we just chose to close our eyes to it. It was easier and more comforting that way. The blindness set us free.
In this story I decided to revisit 1975 and open my eyes, just a bit, to peek beneath the blindfolds we willingly wore as children, to see what might have been if we had made the wrong decision. What I found chilled me. I hope it does the same for you.
ABOUT DAN MAURER
Dan Maurer is an independent author, publisher, theater producer, director, and digital marketer. He is also a proud member of International Thriller Writers, Inc. and the Horror Writers Association. Throughout his career in publishing and marketing, he has been involved in the publication of bestselling titles such as John Grisham’s The Firm, Richard Price’s Clockers, and Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger’s Lost Moon, which became the film Apollo 13. As a digital marker, he has supported popular publishing brands including Curious George, Peterson Field Guides, and The Polar Express. He has also developed marketing strategies for many corporations, including Citizen, Dun & Bradstreet, RCN and Bristol-Myers Squibb. Dan is a member of an acclaimed New Jersey-based theater company and has won awards for his producing, directing and sound design. He lives with his wife and their daughter in Robbinsville, New Jersey.
An Excerpt from Snow Day: a Novella by Dan Maurer
Copyright © 2013 by Dan Maurer. All rights reserved.
Prologue January, 1975 Tap…tap, clang… Tap…tap, clang… ”Hello?” My voice was cautious as I called into the darkness. It wasn’t my house and I had no business being down in that cellar. By the look of the boards on the windows upstairs, and the weeds that strangled the front yard, it hadn’t been anyone’s house for a long time. But still, even at ten, I knew in my bones that I’d made the biggest mistake of my life. One of the windows was busted at the corner, and the cold wind whipped and whistled at the breach. Outside, a loose metal trash can rolled and rattled and knocked about with each new gust. It made a soft, distant sound. Tap…tap, clang… Tap…tap, clang… The only light was an old Coleman lantern that I found there. It lay at my feet, the mantle fading and sputtering. Beyond the meager glow that lit no more than my boot-tops, it gave me the terrifying certainty that someone was here, or close by, and would soon — Was that a sound? I held my breath and listened carefully, trying hard to dismiss the pounding pulse that thrummed in my ears. Was that a shuffling sound, maybe feet moving and scraping across loose dirt? “Hello…? Anyone here…?” I squinted hard but it was useless. The darkness was unyielding and oddly thick with the smell of freshly turned earth. Someone had been digging down here. Tap…tap, clang… Tap…tap, clang… Running into the house to hide from the police was my only option. The place should have been empty, long abandoned. But it wasn’t, and I knew now that I had to get out. I turned to leave, to run; and then I heard it, a word from the darkness. It was whispered and pitiful and — it was my name. Someone in the darkness called my name. ”B-Billy?” ”Who’s there?” I called out. ”I…I…didn’t d-do nothing wr-wrong, Billy.” Both the voice and its stutter were familiar. Just hearing it made my guts twist. Tap…tap, clang… Tap…tap, clang… I snatched up the lantern at my feet, recalled my scout training, and worked the pump to pressurize the kerosene. The lantern’s mantle hissed a bit, burned a little brighter, and pushed back the darkness. ”Holy shit…” The light washed over a young boy. Like me, he was just ten, and I knew his name. ”…Tommy?” It came out like a question, but it wasn’t. Tommy Schneider lived next door to me and was part of our snowball fight just a few hours before. When the light touched him, Tommy flinched and turned his shoulder, as if anticipating a blow. He shivered and folded his arms across his chest, hands tucked in his armpits. He paced and shuffled his feet in a small circle, as if his bladder was painfully full, and he whined and muttered; half to himself, half to me. “It w-wasn’t m-my fault, Billy. I…I just w-wanted to play.” His eyes were swollen and red, and the tears ran streaks through the dirt on his freckled face. Tap…tap, clang… Tap…tap, clang… “Tommy, what the hell are you doing down here?” ”I..I…I’m sorry, b-but I d-didn’t do nothing wrong, Billy. I’m s-sorry.” He kept his hands tucked under his armpits, but motioned with his chin. And that’s when I saw it, just a few feet from where I stood. Naked and half buried in a pile of loose earth lay the dead body of a boy that appeared to be our own age. ”Jesus Christ…what the hell, Tommy.” ”No….” His whining grew and fresh tears were coming. ”What the hell did you do?” ”Nooo…” he whined more and covered his ears. “I didn’t do nothing wrong.” Frantic now, I held out the fading lantern, quickly looking around. We were still alone. The scene before me was unfathomable. In the half-shadows of the cellar where the lantern struggled to reach, there was a pile of fresh, moist earth and broken shards of concrete. I saw some tools – a sledgehammer and a shovel, and I think a pickax, too. A few brown sacks of cement mix were piled against the wall. And there was a large hole; a gaping wound in the cellar floor that reached beneath the foundation of the house, a hole that led down into a place where the lantern’s light could not touch. Nearby, a stray boot lay in the dirt, just beyond it a gym sock, and another lay close by my feet. A faded, wadded up pair of jeans was perched at the edge of the hole. Tap…tap, clang… Tap…tap, clang… I shivered, despite my layers of clothing and new winter coat. Tommy was freezing. He wore only jeans and a t-shirt pulled over a long-sleeved sweatshirt. His breath, like mine, fogged in the January air, and his jaw waggled helplessly from his shivering. “Who’s that?” I asked, pointing to the body. At first, Tommy’s eyes followed my finger, but then he just moaned and cried some more, and turned away. I couldn’t tell if the boy on the ground was from our immediate neighborhood, or my school, or Boy Scout troop, or baseball team. It was difficult to discern much about him at all. He lay on his belly in a pile of dirt, and the loose earth covering his face and parts of his torso were, it seemed, tossed on him carelessly by whoever dug the hole. The backs of his pale white thighs glowed in the lantern’s light. The only stitch of clothing left on him was a pair of white Fruit of the Loom jockeys tangled around one ankle. I picked up one of the gym socks from the ground, pinched it into a ball and held it with the tips of my fingers. Kneeling beside the dead boy’s head, I held the lantern close with one hand and used the sock to brush the dirt from his face with the other. Like a fossil being unearthed by an archeologist, the truth came slowly. As the seconds passed, the light and each stroke of my hand brought broken, bloodied and indecipherable features into sharp focus. But the crushed and jellied eyeball put me over the edge. I jerked back from the body. ”Oh, God! Tommy, what — “ My stomach lurched. I dropped the lantern and fell backward onto the ground. Turning and scrambling away on hands and knees, I found a corner and began to wretch. My back arched and my body convulsed uncontrollably. It was the Coney Island Cyclone all over again, but this time nothing came up, only thin strands of bile dripped from my mouth and down my lips. In time, the convulsions faded. I finally rolled over and just sat there, looking at Tommy, wiping the spittle from my lips with the back of a shaky hand. My head throbbed and my mind was fuzzy. No words would come. The wind howled through the broken cellar window again. Outside, the passing cars made a distant shushing sound as they crept along Woodlawn Avenue, tires rolling through the snow and slush. My heaving, stinking breath clouded in the cold air, and Tommy just cried. Clang, clang… Clang, clang… I was ten years old and had just seen my very first real dead body – still and soulless, and battered beyond recognition – lying on the floor of a cold, dark cellar of an abandoned house. What the hell did I get myself into? Clang, clang… Clang, clang… Staggering to my feet, I picked up the lantern and held it out. ”Tommy… who did this?” My throat was dry and pained. Just as the words passed my lips, something in my mind and in my ears opened up – popped open, really, like in the cabin of an airliner during descent. That sound. Clang, clang… Clang, clang… It was different. It was continuous. It wasn’t the rattling trash can anymore. The sound came from a distance but it was there, and it was distinctive. I knew exactly who was standing impatiently, hip cocked and jaw set, banging on the lip of a dinner bell with her soup ladle. Clang, clang… Clang, clang… Tommy looked at me. He heard it too and knew what it meant. ”Your Ma’s calling, Billy.” ”Who, Tommy?” ”I…I…didn’t d-do nothing wr-wrong, Billy,” Tommy whined. “I just w-wanted to play.” ”Tommy…” ”It was ol’ George,” he finally said. “He did it. Stay away from ol’ George.” And then he started to cry again, whimpering. “I just wanted to play,” he mumbled through the tears. ‘ …just wanted to play…” Clang, clang… Clang, clang…Clang, clang
Pump Up Your Book and Dan Maurer are teaming up to give you a chance to win a new Kindle Fire HD!
Here’s how it works:
Each person will enter this giveaway by liking, following, subscribing and tweeting about this giveaway through the Rafflecopter form placed on blogs throughout the tour. If your blog isn’t set up to accept the form, we offer another way for you to participate by having people comment on your blog then directing them to where they can fill out the form to gain more entries. This promotion will run from July 1 – September 27. The winner will be chosen randomly by Rafflecopter, contacted by email and announced on September 28, 2013. Each blogger who participates in the Snow Day virtual book tour is eligible to enter and win. Visit each blog stop below to gain more entries as the Rafflecopter widget will be placed on each blog for the duration of the tour. If you would like to participate, email Tracee at tgleichner(at)gmail.com. What a great way to not only win this fabulous prize, but to gain followers and comments too! Good luck everyone!
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Snow Day Virtual Book Publicity Tour Schedule
Wednesday, July 3 – Book reviewed at Midnight Thrillers
Wednesday, July 3 – Book featured at Laurie’s Thoughts and Reviews
Wednesday, July 3 – 1st chapter reveal at Rainy Day Reviews
Thursday, July 4 – Book reviewed at Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile
Thursday, July 4 – Guest blogging at Midnight Thrillers
Friday, July 5 – Book featured at Mom with a Kindle
Saturday, July 6 – Guest blogging at Rainy Day Reviews
Saturday, July 6 – 1st chapter reveal at Parenting 2.0
Sunday, July 7 – 1st chapter reveal at Inside BJ’s Head
Sunday, July 7 – Book featured at Margay Leah Justice
Sunday, July 7 – Guest blogging at Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile
Wednesday, July 10 – 1st chapter reveal at Read 2 Review
Friday, July 12 – 1st chapter reveal at Book Him Danno
Sunday, July 14 – Interviewed at Review From Here
Thursday, July 18 – Guest blogging at The Story Behind the Book
Friday, July 19 – Book reviewed at Sarah’s Organized Chaos
Wednesday, July 24 – Book featured at Parenting 2.o
Wednesday, July 24 – Book featured at Books R Us
Thursday, July 25 – Book featured at My Cozie Corner
Saturday, July 27 – Interviewed at Broowaha