It is nose-numbing winter near Flint, Michigan. There’s a reason why it’s been called one of the murder capitals of the world. More murders are committed there than even Baghdad.
I zip up, push my way through double doors, and leave the elementary school behind, carefully guiding my booted feet down ice-slick steps. The subzero wind chafes my cheeks and stings my eyes until they swim. If had looked at myself in a mirror, rosy cheeks would have glowed back at me.
But I don’t seek a mirror.
I’m not really sure what I’m looking for. Or where I’m going. Maybe I’m not really going anywhere.
Wait. Yes, I am. I turn right and head toward . . .
Snow. Dunes of it everywhere. All across the playground. Remnants of the latest storm.
I come up short. Staining the snow at my feet pools red Kool-Aid. Lot of it.
Something tells me it isn’t Kool-Aid.
I step back. A sick feeling worms through my gut.
I am struck by the strangeness of the sight, of that glistening blood, so stark against the whiteness. Something about it—about there being so much of it—is very . . . wrong. Beyond the grisly sight and me taking it all in and wondering what it could mean is the distant roar of the highway.
I looked around, heart thumping.
But I’m alone. Alone with this alarming sign of violence. I try to make sense of it all in my cold-numbed brain.
Words leap at me. Wound. Pain. Hurt.
Someone is hurt.
A bloody nose? Did some of my classmates get in a fight? Seems like too much blood for a bloody nose.
My stomach tightens.
But if not them, who? And what happened?
To this day, I don’t know. Someone (I don’t remember who) later told me a woman had been murdered in the school playground. Was this a tall tale? I don’t think so. Because I can still see the blood. (But wouldn’t the police have cleaned it all up? I don’t know.)
Either way, the explanation worked. I don’t remember questioning it (maybe I was gullible). I just remember feeling a little sick to my stomach—and bone-chilling cold. And not so much because of the subzero chill trying to slip icy fingers beneath the folds of my coat.
Later, back at the site, I try to understand what must have happened. A woman was killed. But why? Who would have done this?
I lift my gaze to the highway, to racing semis and SUVs and sedans. To the world speeding down the highway just beyond the school property. My mom’s words come back to hunt me.
There are evil people in this world.
I shiver and turn away from the sight, not wanting my mind to wander down hallways best unexplored. But it’s too late.
Maybe like me you remember what I call “memory peaks,” isolated events that rise above the rest in the terrain of your history. Lately, I’ve been thinking about the whole concept of memories, about how they make us the people we are, since memories play such a crucial role in the suspense novel I’m writing now.
Why do we remember some events and not others? Maybe because certain events simply aren’t worth remembering and because others are . . . well . . . memorable.
Brushing our teeth. Getting dressed in the morning. Why remember those?
But seeing blood in the snow. From a murdered woman no less. Now, that’s an event worth remembering.
Events that touch us deeply, that shake us to our core . . . those are the ones we remember best. (Of course, some moments we may wish we could forget.) I probably wouldn’t have remembered the blood in the snow if the event hadn’t made an impression on me.
But it did. Obviously. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have written this fictionalized account of it.
Those memorable moments, those memory peaks, are virgin fodder for any writer. Over the years, I’ve often played the “what if game” with that blood in the snow. Who was killed? Why was she killed? Who would have done this terrible thing? Did she fight back? Did she try to run?
Did anyone catch the monster who did it?
Those are the questions from which spring all sorts of suspense stories. And that’s why I often climb those peaks in my mind and search out what awaits me at the top.
Discovery? Illumination? Who knows?
Maybe this is why I like to write about the innocent struggling—and winning—over violence. Maybe this also explains why I feel sick just to have my blood drawn.
What about you? When you look at the terrain of your past, which mountain peaks rise above the rest? What do those memories say about the person you are today?
- 10 Common Misconceptions of the Wannabe Novelist, #7
- May Book Giveaway: False Pretenses