Behind “Plethora Day”

If you’ve read through the novel Plethora, you probably noted that the date the book takes place on is April 18th, 2008. If you look on the calendar for that year, you’ll notice it’s on a Friday, a natural date for a prom night. You probably didn’t think the date too consequential…but is it?

I believe when a writer tells a story, a little bit of his/her soul goes into it. I could mention several things off-hand from Plethora that made their way into the story because of the effect something from the real world had on me. And one of those elements is the date, April 18, 2008.

On that date in history, I went to my high school’s prom (technically it was called a “Junior/Senior”…but I’ll just call it prom). Just like Matt and Laura, I was a senior in high school, itching to have freedom, to grow up and leave behind high school life. And also like Matt and Laura, I saw prom as a getaway from the stress life was compounding on me (there are a number of ironies in the previous 2 sentences that are a whole other post altogether). Once more, like Matt and Laura, that escape wasn’t quite what I hoped for.

I didn’t get pulled into a wild adventure in some far-off land, but the night turned unexpectedly in so many ways. It touched off a sequence of events that would drag through my final month of high school. I allowed for Matt and Laura’s crazy prom night to fall on the same date as mine because life would never be the same for them after that, just as it was for me.

To this day I still remember the date, probably in part thanks to Plethora. If I revealed all the reasons why the date bears such a mark on my soul, you’d probably think me melodramatic and pitiful. And I would agree with you. But I can’t deny my past and what’s shaped me…or in this case, what shaped a story.

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Thanks for reading! Don’t forget, Plethora is free this weekend, through Monday! It is also available for $9.99 in paperback.

Happy Plethora Day Weekend!

Happy Plethora Day Weekend, everyone!

What is “Plethora Day”, you may be wondering? Plethora Day is April 18th, the day (or night) the story inside Plethora takes place. To celebrate, I’m giving away the ebook version for FREE on Amazon! You have until Monday to download your free edition if you don’t already have it on your e-reader.

Also, to add to the festivities, I will be posting a special “behind the scenes” post about Plethora tomorrow. Check back here in the morning to find out why the novel takes place on such a specific date.

If you’d rather have a hard copy of the book, that is available now as well! Pick it up here and enjoy!

Plethora on Paper!

Have you ever woke up in the middle of the night sweating because you wish Plethora was in paperback form? Or maybe you’re a traditional type of reader who would rather read a printed book instead of a lighted screen?

Well, let the thought trouble you no more, for you now have an option!

I am pleased to announce that Plethora is now available in paperback form through Createspace publishing! It’s available for $9.99 and you can buy it off of the Createspace website or via Amazon.  You can also still download it as an ebook for 99 cents if that is your preferred method of reading.

Enjoy the journey and let me know what you think!

final cover

Bad News

How do you react when you receive bad news? This past week I was in the home stretch of finishing an average day at work when several items of bad news reared their heads. A machine jammed, my area was about to get clogged, my workload was increasing, I had to be in early the next day.

To say the least, it put me in a funk. I think bad news tends to do that to everyone. But from a Christian perspective, how should I react to bad news?

Well, “ironically”, I was reading Psalm 112 this week and was struck by the timeliness of vs. 7-8.  In context, the Psalm is extolling the blessedness of one who “fears the LORD” and showing the strong characteristics of such a one. Then comes those two verses:

He is not afraid of bad news;
    his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.
  His heart is steady; he will not be afraid,
    until he looks in triumph on his adversaries.”

I was reading that the morning after my bad afternoon and I had to smirk. Not afraid of bad news? How? Because he trusts in the Lord. His heart is firm and steady. It seems that behind all the strong traits mentioned about such a person is a quiet confidence. It doesn’t matter how dire a situation becomes, the one who fears the Lord can remain immovable and have such a confidence that God will take care of the circumstance and defeat the person’s “adversaries.”

So, do you have that quiet confidence? Personally I think I need to work on remembering that no matter what bad news falls on me, I can rest on Jesus and not be afraid.

The Bird Man of Cherokee Park

Here’s a new exciting mystery for you to enjoy! A little longer, but well worth the read!

The Bird Man of Cherokee Park

By J.R. Underdown

It was late April 2009 and the semester was winding down with the last week of classes and exams. Though students were ready to celebrate, the weather did not cooperate. Rather than be sun-shiny and bright, it was dour, cloudy, and rainy. Because of this, the Grungers were gathered in the student study area in the upper halls of Honeycutt. Bryan sat closest to the window, looking out on the J-Bowl in a contemplative manner before turning back to his laptop. Laura and Jess chatted idly about their personal evangelism exam and John visually measured the height of the ceiling for a part in the novel he worked on.

At last, when the girls could fret no longer over their potential exam results, Laura cast a bored look over to Bryan.

“This is lame, Bryan,” she said. “We’re done with our first year of college and we’re sitting in a study lounge!”

“Seems kinda fitting to me,” John noted without looking up from his notebook.

“We should get ourselves involved in a mystery,” Jess suggested. “That would be fitting, too.”

John looked up at her. “Well, where are we going to find a mystery at this time of day?”

“We don’t need to,” Bryan commented.

“You know of a mystery needing solving?” Laura exclaimed.

“No. But I have found the perfect walking route to downtown Louisville!”

The girls perked up a little, but John cast his friend a worried look. “Bryan, it’s raining.”

“So? You said you wanted to visit downtown before the semester’s end.”

“Yeah, but not in the rain!”

“Oh, come on, John! Where’s your sense of adventure?” Laura asked.

“It’s currently engaged in a novel! Besides, walking the many miles through the rain to downtown isn’t adventure, it’s misery.”

“Well, ‘misery loves company,’” Bryan remarked.

“What do you mean by that?” Laura wondered.

“I don’t know. It seemed like an appropriate phrase for the moment.”

“You know,” Jess entered, “I kind of agree with John on this one. It may be a little too long of a walk in the rain.”

“Thank you! A woman of fortune!” said John.

“What do you mean by that?” Laura pressed.

“I don’t know. It was the first response that came to mind.”

Laura groaned. “Oh! We’re going crazy with cabin fever! There’s got to be something we can do to celebrate our completion of one year of college and last night before we all leave for the summer!”

“Okay, how about a closer walk?” Bryan suggested. “Perhaps to Bardstown Road?”

“That sounds reasonable,” Jess replied.

“Good! Then it’s settled!” Laura jumped.

“Wait! What about my opinion?” John cut in.

“Well, what were you going to say?” Laura countered, giving John a mean look.

John took the look in and answered, “I was going to say it sounded like a splendid idea!”

With that, the Grungers packed their things and the girls dropped their stuff off at Mullins, walked across campus, stopped at Carver where the boys distributed their things and picked up Bryan’s brother, Benjamin, and together the fellowship of five journeyed off campus in the direction of Bardstown Road.

The rain had slowed to a steady drizzle, making the walk a little more bearable. When they hit the busy stretch of road, they journeyed southeast and landed at Dazed Café, since Bryan and John had been there before. They sat by the open door, sipping on drinks, and drying off. The drizzle ended and the temperature began to drop with the sun, bringing shivers on John who didn’t bother to wear a jacket (a moral lesson can be learned here). They remained for twenty minutes or so and finally left because of sketches of naked people on the walls.

They reemerged on Bardstown and continued southeast, Benjamin, a taller, somehow skinnier, bespectacled version of Bryan, striding out in front. They wandered down a ways and finally decided it was getting a little too chilly for them. Thus, they turned around and started back. Bryan pointed out a side road that could act as a shortcut through Cherokee Park, a sprawling area that butted against the corner of the seminary President’s house and school grounds. They moved along firmly at first, laughing at life while pondering its mysteries, trying to cherish those last moments with Laura before she left for good and Benjamin who was graduating. But then they came to a fork in the road and Bryan couldn’t remember which way was the right one. One road dipped down, seemingly into a strip of houses. The other ascended a hill into some woods. Bryan picked the high road and on they went. Shortly after taking this route, they heard it.

Darkness completely engulfed the world around them, save for the sparse streetlights along the road. Away in the black woods, yet sounding close at hand, a cry as if from a bird of some sort, yet clearly fabricated and man-made. They all stopped and looked around for the sound. Slowly they laughed it off as a prankster and continued. They traveled on another quarter of a mile and heard the fake bird cry again, but this time closer.

“Should we be concerned that someone making bird noises in the woods is following us?” Jess wondered.

“In Cherokee Park, yes,” John replied.

“Yeah,” Bryan joked, “the ‘Bird Man of Cherokee Park’ is after us, ready to snatch away our children!”

“Good thing we don’t have kids,” Laura muttered.

“Taking children?” went Benjamin. “That’s not scary enough for us.”

“Well, what can you think of?” Bryan asked with a laugh.

Benjamin cocked his head. “This ‘Bird Man’ as you call him is after us to take…to eat our brains. He preys on unsuspecting college students that wander through the park at night.”

“He’ll be disappointed with mine,” John remarked.

“Oh John, you’re not that stupid,” said Laura, turning to console her friend. “You’re just a little—look out!”

Four other necks snapped backwards to look at the path behind and five bodies leapt immediately to the side, for fast approaching them, cawing once they saw it, was someone on roller skates and dressed like a bird. Its pants looked like the leather hide pants you see Indians wearing in old Western movies, with feathers fluttering along the seams. It wore a jacket covered in long feathers, flowing out from under the sleeves as it flapped its arms. But most disturbing of all was a great bird-head mask covering the head of the person. Black feathers, wide open wild eyes, and a great gaping beak. It zoomed past them, gave one last caw and disappeared around the bend.

“There is a Bird Man!” Jess exclaimed. “Bryan, how did you know?”

“I heard one of the guys on our hall talk about it…I thought it was just a joke.”

“Clearly not!” John said, picking himself off the ground and dusting himself off. “At least he didn’t take our children!”

“We don’t have any children, John,” Laura noted as Jess helped her up.

“Of course, we don’t! We’re not married,” John replied.

Laura shook her head.

“You know, this is an interesting twist to our night,” Benjamin cut in. “You guys said you were looking for a mystery and a mystery just zipped by! I wonder who this Bird Man is?”

“May be kind of hard to track him, seeing as he was on roller skates,” Jess remarked.

“Yeah, well that depends. Is he just trying to scare us? If so, he’ll probably be back. In that case, we can set a trap for him. Unless that was his big moment. But it was somewhat lame so we can reasonably say he’ll return. If he means us harm, we’ll also probably see him again.”

“So your deduction is that we’ll be reunited with our fowl stalker?” Bryan pressed in a somewhat sarcastic manner.

“Precisely.”

“Bryan, I appreciated your pun,” said John.

“But what purpose does it serve to dress up as a bird and terrorize people at night?” Laura posed as they got underway again.

“Why do trapeze artists do trapeze stunts?” Benjamin countered. “He probably does it for the thrill.”

“That’s pretty sharp,” Jess complimented. “Where were you on our other mysteries?”

“I was probably in a secluded corner somewhere studying. The thing about your guys’ mysteries is they’re too easy. Bryan gave me the facts of them afterward and I could come up with solutions like that!” And he snapped his fingers.

“If they were so easy, why didn’t you ever join us?” Laura questioned.

“I was never invited. Besides, I don’t have time to find would-be kidnappers or the source of bloody bones.”

Bryan laughed at this. “I have more energy than Benjamin. He has more brains.”

“Like Sherlock and Mycroft,” John noted.

Suddenly, far away before them came the bird cry again.

“Should we set a trap?” Jess asked. “What should we do?”

“Anybody got any rope?” John suggested. “We can stand on either side of the road and—”

“The sound was far ahead,” Bryan spoke. “Wherever our feathery friend is, he’s before us.”

“So is he setting a trap?” Laura wondered.

“Nah, doesn’t seem quite in the nature of our Bird Man to do that,” Benjamin answered. “Our best bet is to just keep walking and see what awaits us.”

The others glanced at Bryan for a second opinion, but their usual leader simply shrugged and kept walking. They crested another hill and could hear music now somewhere up ahead. A car coming up behind them pushed them off to the side again and they watched it dip down into the valley and turn off to the right and disappear. Soon they came to the spot and stopped to see a driveway with an open wrought-iron gate leading up to a large modern-style mansion. Lights shone from the windows, cars filled the drive at the top, and the sound of music and laughter came from beyond it.

“Odd, I’ve never seen that building before,” said Jess.

“Neither have I,” Laura added. “Bryan, are you sure we’re still in Cherokee Park?”

“Pretty sure,” Bryan replied. “I think I’ve seen this before. Always wondered who lived there and why…”

“Why does anyone live anywhere?” Benjamin philosophized. “This guy’s probably rich and wanted to live in the middle of the park and throw parties at night.”

Before Benjamin finished this statement, the bird cry carried over the mansion and down the hill.

“The Bird Man’s up there!” Jess cried.

“Well, that throws a wrench into my theory on why that guy lives there,” Benjamin admitted.

“Bryan, what do you know about this Bird Man?” Laura inquired.

“Not much. The guy who mentioned it said he was nearly knocked off his bike one night while riding home through the park. He said he did some research and found other people have complained about this Bird Man through similar circumstances. The police apparently just think he’s some harmless druggie going around scaring people. But it does make for a curious circumstance that he should be in some way connected to this mansion.”

“So Benjamin,” ventured Jess, “how easy is this mystery?”

Benjamin smiled. “Pretty easy, actually. The Bird Man is probably an employee of whoever owns this place. He’s sort of a personal entertainer!”

“Like a party clown?” John clarified.

“Yeah, or a party bird in this case.”

John shuddered.

“Okay, but why zoom around the park and harass people?” Laura pressed.

“Simple. He’s drawing people in. Think about it: You’re in the park at night, hear some man making bird noises, suddenly you see the source skating toward you dressed like a bird. Your curiosity is piqued, you do some research, and if you care enough, you find the home base of operations like we have.”

“Seems kinda shaky, brother,” Bryan countered. “Relying too much on human curiosity. If your theory is so, then why has no one made an expose’ of this operation?”

“Because when they investigate, they’re invited in and join this ritzy, elite club and swear to not reveal the secret to anyone.”

Bryan cocked his head to ponder this point. “That could be true.”

“Well, there’s one way to find out,” Jess pointed out. “Let’s go investigate!”

“Investigate?” John repeated. “By the reasoning of our resident brothers there’s a cult happening up there! If we just go knock on the door and ask them to explain their secrets—”

“We can be a little less formal,” said Laura, “and do some classic spy work!”

Bryan laughed a little at this. “Whoa, wait. When I proposed sneaking into the basement, you were totally against that!”

Laura blushed a little in the darkness. “Well, this isn’t on school property so we can’t get expelled. Plus, I’m feeling feisty and wild tonight!”

The others exchanged glances.

“This would be technically trespassing,” Jess remarked.

“We won’t get caught!” Laura continued. “If we do, we’ll just say we’re curious college students wondering about the Bird Man.”

“Which is what we’re actually doing,” John noted.

“Yeah, so?”

“In these cases of spying, you usually make something up.”

“We have nothing to hide, John! We’re just innocent college students on a little mystery investigation!”

“Famous last words,” John muttered as they began their ascent. “But if I see a donkey dressed as a lion, I’m running for it!”

A high wooden fence bordered the yard on the right side, and they followed this up, keeping to the shadows. When they reached the top, the music and sound of conversation grew louder. A line of shrubs and small trees now blocked their view from the backyard where all the action was happening. They snuck over to this, crowded in amongst the foliage and peered upon the party scene.

There were at least forty people gathered in that grand backyard. A pool sat closest to the house, with several swimmers in it. The rest of the yard was half paved with fancy stone and half covered in lush grass. A grand fire pit sat at one corner of the stone pavilion and a barbeque pit occupied the other. Far in the back corner of the yard was a wooden stable; and all around the edge of the grass sat flowerbeds and bushes. Swooping around on the stone was the Bird Man, cawing at random and drawing delightful cries and laughter from the guests.

“Seems innocent enough,” Jess whispered.

“Yeah, so let’s get out of here!” John urged.

“Something’s not sitting right in my mind about this Bird Man fella,” Bryan said.

Laura was about to ask what, specifically, but then a light shone on them from behind. They twisted around and a gruff voice bellowed, “Who are you and what are you doing?”

Instantly the music and laughter died behind them.

John was the first to speak. “It’s not what you think, we swear!”

“Looks like you kids are spying on us,” the voice said.

“Ah, then you are much mistaken!” And John stood up, paling a little when he realized there were at least five others in addition to the leader holding the flashlight. Still, he ventured a lie, “You see, we were walking along and Laura here was talking about her favorite ring. I, being a mean little boy, asked to see it and then promptly tossed it up this hill. Well! Laura started crying and we all know how awkward it is when a woman cries, so my buds here chided me and said I better find the ring. So we were looking in this mulch patch. We just found it, so we’ll be on our way!”

Bryan laughed and stood up. “John, let’s just tell them the truth like we agreed on. We were knocked off the road by the Bird Man and heard him up here so we thought we’d see who he is and what his purpose is. We like solving mysteries.”

The man behind the flashlight smiled a little. “Want to meet our Bird Man, eh? Should’ve stuck with your other story. Guys, tie ‘em up!”

John shot Bryan a look as the five were tied and led to the backyard. Five poles were erected in the grass on the edge of the stone and the students were tied to one each, Bryan then Laura, Jess, John, and Benjamin. Once this deed was done, the Bird Man cawed and the music and party resumed.

As they stood there bound to their respective poles, each one’s thoughts swirled in different directions. Bryan sought to make sense of the situation and what this strange party would do next. Laura felt remorse over pushing for the course of action that found them in this predicament. Jess marveled at some of the dresses the female partygoers wore. John pondered what it would feel like to be sacrificed to a pagan deity. And Benjamin translated the book of Isaiah from Hebrew to Greek and then from Greek to English.

Finally, Laura could handle the stress no longer and pleaded with her fellow captives, “Guys, there’s got to be a way out of this! Someone think of something!”

“I don’t know why you’re worried,” Benjamin cut in. “It’s clear they’re not going to harm us.”

The Grungers gave their companion wild looks.

“How do you reckon that?” Jess wondered.

“Simple. The way they tied us to these poles—firm enough so that we can’t get out, yet not too firm as to hurt us. This must be a prank or hazing ritual of some sort. Happened to me once when I first came to college.”

“They did hazing at Boyce?” John marveled.

“No, it was at U of L. I was on campus visiting the library and accidentally walked in on a sorority’s initiation.”

The others gave Benjamin blank looks.

Laura turned to Bryan. “Did you know that?”

“About Benjamin’s sorority experience?”

“No! That they’re not going to kill us!”

“I was getting there. Doesn’t detract from the oddness of the situation. Something’s definitely—”

“If you knew that why didn’t you tell me to calm me down?!” Laura blurted out.

Bryan stretched his neck to look at John for advice. The latter shrugged and the former let the outburst go and returned to thinking about the mystery at hand.

Jess looked worriedly at her hall mate. She knew Laura was sorely distressed and also knew the solution just short of actually being set free. She turned to John.

“Come up with some deeply philosophical or theological conversation topic!” she commanded.

“What?” went John.

“Say something that gets them talking about something deep and metaphysical!”

“Look, Jess, you must be stressed, ‘cause philosophical and theological isn’t the same as deep and metaphysical. Wouldn’t you agree, Bryan?”

“What’s that?” Bryan asked. John repeated his statement. Bryan cocked his head. “That is an interesting point. While we could certainly say that philosophical and theological things are certainly deep, they’re not always metaphysical, though they could delve into that realm.”

“They don’t have to be deep either, Bryan,” Laura joined. Jess smiled at this.

“That’s true. So they’re all sectors of thought that run like strings, sometimes intertwining, and sometimes running off to their own pastures of craniological calipers.”

“Wait, like strings?” entered Benjamin. “Strings? Really? No! More like spaghetti.”

Bryan laughed. “How is that different from string?”

“Well, string can be like spaghetti, it’s true. But your illustration made it sound more fluid. The mixture of different areas of contemplation is more like spaghetti, all jumbled together in a tangled mess and covered with sauce.”

“You know,” said Laura, “I actually had the picture of Christmas lights. Each color is a different area of thinking. They trade off positions and ultimately knot up in a box during the summer…”

Jess nodded approvingly as the conversation spiraled hopelessly into deeper territory of thinking. “Thank you,” she murmured to John.

“You’re welcome,” he murmured back.

Normally the conversation would have lasted hours (maybe days with Benjamin present), but soon the music died again, the Bird Man cawed, and everyone grew silent and cleared the stone pavilion. New music flowed from the speakers now, much different from before. The beats of the club music were exchanged for the driving rhythm of a tribal dance. The Bird Man, discarding his roller skates, danced all over the stone pavilion. It was a horrid sight for the five captive students since the scene was so horribly choreographed. The drums pounded faster and faster until with a great caw (and this was the only part that fit the soundtrack) the music stopped along with the Bird Man and silence ensued.

John nearly made a sarcastic comment when a pair of glass doors leading into the mansion swung open and a tall, plump man stepped out onto the pavilion. His dark brown hair was neatly slicked back and his fat face seemed a little flushed. His large round eyes met the students’ and a wicked smile curled his lips.

“Our guests,” he shouted, “for our celebration feast!”

“They’re going to eat us…I knew it…” John muttered as the crowd around them cheered.

“But first!” the man bellowed, drawing rapt silence, “they must be washed! Throw them in the pool!”

More cheers erupted as the same men who tied them to the poles now loosed them and pushed them forward toward the pool. They were on the edge when the man stopped them.

“Wait! Empty their pockets! No need to accidentally electrocute our guests!”

The students were quickly frisked and all wallets and cell phones were extracted. And then, without warning or ceremony, the Grungers and Benjamin were shoved into the pool. Thankfully, it wasn’t too deep and they all surfaced to raucous shouts and jeers.

“Now what, you fiends?” John cried. “Are you going to eat us?!”

Silence fell, John felt awkward, and the man smiled a little more benevolently.

“Eat you? You’re too furry to eat, lad. We’re going to fish you out and give you dry clothes. You five are officially part of our Secret Sanguine Society! Boys, get these young people onto dry land!”

The five exchanged perplexed looks but followed Bryan back to the edge where they were helped out and handed towels. The revelers patted the students on the back as they passed until they were led into the mansion, through an entertainment room, down a long hall, and finally deposited into a large sitting room with a roaring fire and comfortable modern chairs. Their escort informed them they would have dry clothes shortly and that Mr. Sickle would be in to see them soon. The escort also left a basket on a small coffee table filled with their belongings before exiting the room.

Almost as soon as he left, Laura spun upon Bryan and Benjamin. “What on earth is happening here?”

The two brothers exchanged knowing glances and Bryan answered, “Something strange. On the surface it seems innocent enough…but something’s off and I can’t quite put my finger on it. How about you, Benjamin?”

“Well, I agree. I haven’t quite figured it out. It seems like a front for something. Though if we’re now a part of it, we may find out by just hanging around.”

“So we can dress up and go to their party?” Jess wondered excitedly.

“Wait,” John stopped, “if it’s a front for something, and we get caught, we’re guilty by association!”

Before anymore could be discussed, the door opened and a woman dropped off some clothes for them. “This should fit you well enough. At any rate, there are bathrobes in the closet and you can hang your wet clothes on the line over there.”

She turned to leave, but Laura stopped her. “Where do we get dressed?”

The woman gave her a perplexed look and answered, “In here, of course.”

Thus, she left the horrified college students.

“This is becoming a really awkward adventure,” Jess noted.

Bryan and Benjamin came to the rescue at this point by hanging the bathrobes on the line to form a cloth wall so the two parties could change discreetly on either side. When this was finally accomplished, they all looked rather like homeless circus employees with clothes either too baggy or too tight, the guys winding up with the tight clothing and the girls with the baggy. They immediately covered up with the proffered bathrobes.

They were about to launch back into discussion when the door swung open again. This time it was the tall plump man who seemed to be the owner of the mansion. He smiled genially at the students and then waved them to some seats around the fire. He himself took a seat by the door, crossed his legs, and put his fingertips together, eyeing them until they were all comfortably seated.

“I feel I owe you a few apologies,” he began. “First, I’m sorry about the clothes you have to wear until your own are dry, but it’s part of our initiation, you know.”

“Initiation into what?” Bryan cut in.

“Why, our Secret Sanguine Society, of course!”

“But we didn’t ask to join,” said Laura.

“Oh yes, you did.”

“When?”

“When you said you were investigating the Bird Man! Only people smart enough to track my Bird Man down can join my secret society.”

The five exchanged looks.

“So…you just accept us…like that?” John wondered. “You don’t need any other credentials or something?”

“The fact that you found me is all the credentials I need!”

“How?” Jess asked.

But Benjamin laughed a little and answered for the man, “Well, this is exactly what I told you guys! The Bird Man drew us in, now we’re part of the club. The Bird Man acted as an invitation.”

The man smiled broadly. “Precisely. An astute mind, that is.”

“Yep, and next you’re going to tell us we can’t tell anybody for fear of letting the secret out.”

The smile faltered a little, still the man laughed and said, “That wasn’t next, per se, but it was on my list of what to tell you!”

“That part’s easy enough to understand,” Bryan cut in again, “but why do such a stunt? Why the theatrics?”

The man leaned forward in his chair. “You are an inquisitive bunch! Perhaps I should start from the beginning.” He stood and paced the room. “My name is Bryce Sickle, esteemed millionaire of Cherokee Park. Maybe you’ve heard of me?”

They all shook their heads.

He frowned but continued, “Well, I live alone in this mansion of mine with no one but my butler and house maid. When I first moved in, business was my companion but even this appeared empty after awhile. Then, one day I was chatting with a friend of mine, explaining my predicament. He said I should throw parties and have people over. I said that’s so cliché for rich people to do. Then he gave a devious smile and retorted that he had a different idea. I asked what and he explained this scheme to dress up as a giant bird on roller skates, swooping around the park at night, making a raucous and being an annoyance. He said that if people are curious enough, they will track the Bird Man down and try to figure out why he exists. He also suggested the rite of passage that you went through tonight as a special way of creating a bond with the other Bird Man enthusiasts.

“I thought all this sounded like malarkey, of course, but he insisted on trying it and I went along merely to see how long it would be until he would wind up under arrest. Well, you can imagine my surprise when one evening, having just returned, the doorbell sounded and, sure enough, this young couple stood on my doorstep inquiring about the Bird Man they just saw! I was perplexed and brought them in to sit down while I consulted my friend. He again promoted his initiation idea and I put the poor couple through it.

“Well, that was the start and it only continued growing. At first, we partied on Friday nights, but as our numbers grew we extended to Saturday nights as well. Now, you five have been welcomed in to our secret party club.”

The students sat in silence for a moment processing this information and stealing glances at Bryan and Benjamin, both of whom seemed deep in thought. Jess was the first to speak again.

“So why call it a ‘Sanguine’ Society?”

“Ah, that brings me to the point the tall, skinny one mentioned earlier. ‘Sanguine’ can mean ‘of blood relation,’ and by joining this society, we all sort of become a little family here. This means that, as a family, we should respect the privacy and uniqueness of this club and its participants. Should anyone spill the secret, they are forever banned.”

John, Jess, and Laura looked at Bryan and Benjamin again, but both remained curiously quiet.

When Mr. Sickle saw that his new members had no further questions, he cleared his throat and continued, “Very well, then. It seems as if your curiosity has been satisfied. Now, if you would like to explore the mansion a little, you have free rein. Oh, except maybe the guest suite…there’s currently a couple occupying it.” He gave them a wink and exited, leaving the door open.

Now the two brothers stood and paced the room.

This is a worthy mystery,” Benjamin commented.

“No thoughts on the matter?” Bryan asked.

“I have a few, but nothing solid. What are you thinking?”

Bryan cocked his head as he paced. “Something’s being hidden. That explanation behind why they started this is fishy.”

“But why does something have to be fishy?” Jess wondered. “Millionaires are known to be eccentric.”

“They’re also known to like caviar,” John murmured.

“Yeah, but that’s the thing,” Benjamin countered. “Eccentricity is one thing, but running a secret society is another. Why is it so important that this information not leave here? What are they hiding? This isn’t just a game. It’s a front for something.”

“But what?” Bryan posed.

The two brothers stopped and looked at each other; as if the looks they exchanged also transferred information between them.

Suddenly Laura broke down and started crying. “It’s all my fault!” she cried. “If I hadn’t been so antsy, we would’ve never wound up here. Now we’re probably going to get killed or become lifelong meth addicts!”

Jess put a comforting arm around Laura and tried calming her down. The three boys could only stare in a way similar to a deer watching the increasing light from an oncoming train.

“Wow, you’re right, John,” said Benjamin.

“About what?”

“It is awkward when a woman cries.”

“Yeah…say, I know what will help! Food!”

“Is that a fat joke?” Laura sobbed.

“No!” John hastily replied. “We haven’t eaten anything substantial in a coon’s age, so let’s find the kitchen and eat something. It’ll make us all feel better!”

“I feel fine,” Bryan remarked. John shot him a look. “But maybe a little snack wouldn’t be so bad.”

With that, they left behind the warm lounge and wet clothes and wandered off for the kitchen. They came down the long hall and were back in the entertainment room. Some drunken revelers either slept there or raised a glass to the students as they emerged. To their right they found another hallway, passing the master bedroom on the left and the guest suite on the right…they tiptoed past this door. They walked into a living room where some of the classier guests sat enjoying cocktails. These smiled at the awkward looking young adults and raised their glasses to them, too. Another short hallway and they were deposited into the grand entrance hall. A library loomed across the hall from them, but to the right the smell of food wafted in. They moved in this direction through another corridor with a bathroom on the right and entered the kitchen.

They all jumped at first, for the Bird Man stood before them. In spite of knowing the mystery behind the bird, the man still came off as creepy. It didn’t help that in the open beak, though the face was clearly there, the hole was covered in a black cloth. And so, this Bird Man took on a somewhat monstrous look, looming above them on his skates. He tilted his head slightly, cawed, and rolled past them. Delighted yells told them he passed through the way they came.

Now they found themselves in an empty kitchen, full of modern conveniences and the latest fashion in cutlery. Track lights overhead gave a futuristic feel and gleamed off the black marble countertops. The girls explored the various cupboards, found the pantry, and pulled down several boxes of cereal while the guys raided the fridge. They sat down on barstools at an island in the center of the kitchen and ate bowls of cereal and fruit.

After awhile, Laura decided she needed to use the restroom. She went to the one in the hall and found it was a full-sized bathroom with plenty of cupboards. Feminine curiosity seized her and she looked inside each compartment to see how many things they could fit in there. In one large cupboard, she found the spare clothes that they administered to new members. But the one directly beneath it was locked. She knew it wasn’t the cleaning supplies as she had already found those under the sink. So what would be in a locked cupboard in a bathroom? With all the suspicion Bryan and Benjamin had already cast upon the place, Laura’s heart raced as she bent down to examine the lock. It was a latch on the inside extending from one knob to the other. She looked around and found a small personal mirror that fit between the cracks. After some jiggling, a small snap told her she had unlocked the secret cabinet. Heart beating furiously, she slowly opened the doors.

Inside was a large, overfilled laundry hamper. At first, she figured this must be where the dirty clothes are put after the guests have worn them and returned to their regular clothes. If the doors hadn’t been latched, she would’ve left it at that. But who ever heard of locking a laundry basket away? So, she rummaged through the clothes and the boys’ suspicion started to become her own with an even sharper light. These were not the street clothes that had been handed to the students, but rather these were fancy clothes—sparkling dresses and blouses, even some high heels and jewelry! Then, on a light blue tank top, a dry stain that looked like blood.

Panic washed over Laura like the dawn. She tried to get a grip on herself and act slowly, but her hands trembled violently as she closed the doors again and exited the bathroom. Bryan and Benjamin had their heads close together muttering theories about the case while John and Jess played table football.

“This is great!” John was saying. “The marble’s so smooth the paper glides nicely over it!”

“Which can also backfire if you’re not careful,” Jess noted as her “football” sailed over the edge into John’s hand. She glanced at Laura instinctively since her friend had been on edge since their capture. She did a double take when she noticed Laura’s paleness. “Laura, everything OK?”

The guys looked up at her.

“Whoa,” went Benjamin, “Laura you look whiter than a white dwarf star!”

Laura’s lips moved but only whispered gibberish came out.

“She’s seen a ghost!” John proclaimed. “Great Scot, the bathroom’s haunted!”

“The bathroom?” said Bryan. “What’s in the bathroom, Laura?”

At this, Laura regained her voice. “What am I? Lassie? Are you going to ask me if Bobbie’s in the well?”

“Is Bobbie the ghost in the bathroom?” John wondered.

“Is the well the toilet?” Jess added.

“No!” Laura stopped. “Look in the bathroom! The big cupboard on the bottom!”

This wasn’t very descriptive, but the others pushed their way in the direction she pointed. They opened the cabinet and dumped the clothes onto the floor. Jess gasped, the brothers turned deadly serious, and John looked puzzled. After examining the contents for a few minutes, they replaced the clothes in the hamper and stepped out of the bathroom.

“Well, this is quite the clue,” said Benjamin.

“Do you think it means what I think it means?” Bryan asked.

“Probably. We need more clues or evidence first.”

“I think I know where we can find them,” Bryan reasoned.

“I hope it’s not where I’m thinking you’re thinking.”

“It is. Think it’s a bad move?”

Benjamin took in a deep breath. “Could be awkward if you’re wrong.”

“What on earth are you all talking about?” John wondered.

“We need to visit the guest suite,” Bryan answered.

The girls and John gasped.

“Bryan! What would possess you to suggest that?” Laura cried. “There’s a couple doing who-knows-what in there!”

“Is there?” Bryan countered.

“You mean, that Sickle fella was lying?” John wondered.

Bryan nodded.

“Wow,” said Jess, “this is an awkward mystery.”

The five walked as nonchalantly as they could back the way they came. The living room was emptier now, with only a classy couple whispering to each other near a window overlooking the front lawn. They moved into the hallway, stood before the guest suite, and waited. When it seemed the coast was clear, Bryan put his hand on the doorknob and slowly opened the door.

“Why didn’t you knock first?” Laura asked.

“I don’t think anyone’s in here,” came the reply.

The students filtered in quickly and shut the door. The room was dark…until John flipped on the light. The others spun on him wondering why he did that in case people were in there.

“If Bryan didn’t knock, why should we care about the lights?” he replied.

The guest suite that lay before them was spacious and chic. Most of the floor space was taken up by a large king size bed placed inside a four-poster. Though the sheets looked ruffled, there was no one present.

“Looks safe,” Laura noted.

“Why are we in here, again?” Jess asked.

“This is the one place he told us not to go,” Bryan explained. “In a suspicious situation like this, that’s probably the first place you should go.”

“But there’s nothing in here,” John remarked. “What are we supposed to be looking for?”

“A clue,” said Benjamin. “A clue that is probably in this closet!”

He approached a large closet covered by white folding doors and opened them. It was empty. The others came up behind him and watched as he fumbled around, apparently looking for a clue.

“Come on, it’s in here somewhere!” he muttered.

“That ironing board is in a funny place,” Laura mentioned. “If it’s attached to the wall, it’d be hard to get it out and use it.”

“Ah,” went Benjamin as he pulled the board down.

Suddenly an opening appeared in the opposite corner of the closet. The five looked at each other and Bryan took the lead into the hole. Dim track lights lit a spiral staircase that descended into a dank, dark basement. When they reached the bottom, they could feel the presence of other people, but couldn’t see them through the inky blackness. John whipped out his cell phone and shone it at the nearby wall, looking for a light switch. Then he gasped. The others turned in his direction and saw a feminine hand chained to the wall. As the others gasped as well, a groan replied out of the darkness. The five instinctively huddled together and John panned his light to the other wall still looking for a light switch. They jumped when a light flashed on in the middle of the room. Benjamin stood beneath a lone light bulb with his hand on the string.

“Sorry,” he said, “figured this would be quicker and less suspenseful.”

Laura opened her mouth to rebuke him for scaring them, but her words fell silent. All around the walls of the large basement were women, dressed in rags and looking disheveled, chained and bound.

“What does this mean?” Jess asked in a whispered tone, for fear that emotion would reveal her fear.

“The common term is human trafficking,” said John.

“But the dignified term is business,” went another voice from the stairs. They spun on the spot and were horrified to see Mr. Sickle. Some of the women hissed at the sight of him and others groaned in agony.

“Why don’t we take this upstairs?” he suggested after no one moved or said a thing.

Following him back to the guest suite was a mixed emotion. On one hand, it was a relief to quit that basement of slavery but on the other, who knew what consequences remained. Back up top, they found the door shut with five of his men, including the Bird Man, standing guard. Mr. Sickle waved the detectives to the bed and he stood before them while his muscle moved in closer.

“I told you to stay out of the guest suite,” he began. “I should’ve known that as such an inquisitive bunch that would’ve alerted you. Oh well. No harm done.”

“So the Bird Man and the party was all a front for a human trafficking ring,” Bryan concluded.

“Yes. I don’t know if I need to explain that much. I moved to Louisville to bolster the operations here. The old way of doing things was much too easy to track. But the Bird Man ruse seemed like a winner. Invite people into a secret party society. Create a bond of trust among the members. Then, ask one of the ladies to stay for a while late one night and…well, I have a new employee.”

The girls shuddered at the way he said this and the guys scowled.

“And if people come looking for the missing women?” Benjamin posed.

“Simple. If they are female, we join them with their friend. If they are male, we either put them on the wrong trail, frame them, or kill them.”

“And what about us?” John asked, though he feared he knew the answer.

“The girls will join my little harem,” Mr. Sickle answered. “You three shall die.”

Laura and Jess raised a protest, but the cruel man silenced them by producing a gun.

“Fenwick, Morass, and Gimp, take these three out to the shed and shoot them but not until Bird Boy caws off the party. Wait until everyone’s gone. West, ready the ladies downstairs. We’ll ship ‘em all downtown tonight. I’ll go ready the transport. I’ll trust you can handle these little detectives. I hope you five can enjoy your last few minutes together. Misery loves company.” And with that, he left.

“What does he mean by that?” Laura asked. “Why does ‘misery love company’ so much?”

“Hey you, shut up!” said one of the guards.

“Whoa, sir!” John retorted. “These are our last moments together! Sickle said we should enjoy them!”

“Doesn’t mean you can talk!”

“How do you know? Can you read his mind?”

The henchman looked to his pals for help. They hopelessly shrugged. “Guess you could go ask him,” one suggested. And so, one left.

The students gave each other a look of opportunity. They were startled when they heard the clatter of chains through the open, drafty portal to the basement.

A couple more minutes passed in silence when Bryan suddenly snapped his fingers.

“You know what we need?” he declared.

“What?” John asked a little too enthusiastically.

“One final meal together! A last supper!”

“Hey, yeah,” Benjamin joined, “we’ll call it ‘The Final Feast of the Five Friends Fellowship’!”

The students now looked at their captors who exchanged awkward glances before one said, “So? What do you want us to do?”

“Well, we can’t go get the food ourselves, can we?” Jess posed.

“As far as I know, no, you can’t,” the thug replied.

“So could one of you get it for us?” Laura asked with her sweetest smile.

The two guards looked at each other. Finally, the bigger of the two said, “Alright, Joe, go get the kids a last meal.”

“What do I get them?”

“Anything but sauerkraut,” said John.

“Get them some chips and cheese dip!” the other roared as he shoved his pal out the door.

A moment of silence elapsed while the final guard eyed the students suspiciously and more chains clattered in the basement. The five detectives exchanged glances to figure out the next move. John gave them a wink then bent over to tie his shoes.

Only he didn’t have shoes on.

The lone henchman opened his mouth to ask him what he was doing but suddenly the young student barreled up and into the man’s legs, knocking him backwards. His pistol flew from his hand as the two brothers landed on either arm. The man struggled for a moment until he noticed Jess picking up his gun. Now all eyes looked to her as she quickly and neatly dismantled the weapon until it was a pile of parts and pieces on the floor. The evil man’s eyes bulged; he wrestled the boys off him, and ran for the door, leaving the room in a hurry.

The others stared at Jess.

“What?” she said. “My dad’s into guns and he showed me how to take them apart so he could clean the parts. I got pretty quick at it.”

“That’s pretty cool,” Laura replied. “But do you know how to put them back together?”

“No…”

“It would’ve been nice to have a gun in this situation,” John noted.

Out of nowhere, Benjamin sprang up and into the closet. He stood before the doorway and the Grungers saw the man called West, who had been in the basement, coming up the steps. Benjamin greeted him with a foot to the chest and a firm push. The man tumbled down the staircase as Benjamin leapt over to the ironing board and raised it, shutting the basement door.

“Brother, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you move that quick,” Bryan declared.

“Brother, I don’t believe I’ve ever had the occasion to move that quick,” Benjamin answered.

“Okay,” Laura stopped, “we’re free of guards, disarmed one, and are somewhat safe. Now what?”

Bryan cocked his head. “I say we blow this popsicle stand and run for help! John maybe you can call up our old friend Detective Havenstraw and let him know what’s up.”

Without another word, the five captives breached the door and followed Bryan to their right through the now-empty living room and into the front hall. He threw open the door and they all stood frozen. There before them was the Bird Man. He lowered his gaze at them, tilted his head, and cawed wildly, flapping his arms and lunging at them.

They spun around and retreated the way they came, past the guest suite, through the entertainment room, and finally out onto the stone patio. The Bird Man rolled hot on their heels, but as they busted out through the door, Laura found herself reaching for a nearby chair and tipping it over behind them. Thus, as the bird of prey swooped through the door, it tripped over the lawn furniture and fell with a thud on the stone. The five stopped unwittingly and gazed upon their felled foe. But, to their dismay, he rose again. However, the lower beak now hung loosely, grotesquely on the mask. With a weaker caw, the chase resumed. Now, though, the chased, bolstered by Laura’s stand, followed her lead and found their own attacks. John hurled a silver tray, which the Bird Man swiped away with the loss of a feather or two. Jess grabbed a pair of tongs by the fire pit and hurled a still-glowing log at him. He stupidly caught it and wasted a few precious seconds jumbling it in his arms before casting it away. By now, Bryan rushed him at full speed, shoving him in the chest. Unbeknownst to the Bird Man, Benjamin had knelt down on hands and knees behind him so that he fell backwards and splashed in the pool. The five students gave an elated cheer.

“Whoa, where did you guys learn to table top?” John wondered.

“What do you mean by ‘table top’?” Bryan asked.

“It’s what you just did.”

“Oh that,” went Benjamin, “other kids did it to me and Bryan all the time in high school. ‘Bout time we put that to use!”

“Hate to cut the reverie,” Jess cut in, “but we’re getting surrounded.”

Sure enough, the other henchmen had appeared (including the one sent to get food…he carried a bag of chips), slowly advancing. In their center, Mr. Sickle looking thoroughly enraged.

“I keep underestimating you,” he said threateningly. “No more! The witnesses have gone home and you are trapped!”

“Yeah, well we took down your Bird Man!” Laura proclaimed. “We can take you, too!”

Mr. Sickle grinned. “Ah, a woman of fortune! I like that. You’ll be a great addition to my group of girls.”

“Wait, what do you mean by ‘a woman of fortune’?”

“Who cares?” Bryan interrupted, “Run!”

The girls and John turned quickly and followed the two brothers, who were beating a path to the stable. It was hard to imagine how the stable would be a better escape, but they refrained from speaking until they were safely inside the wooden structure with the door sliding shut.

“Wait!” Laura screamed, startling the boys. She pointed outside.

They gasped, for Jess had tripped in their flight and was being grabbed by one of Mr. Sickle’s goons. The head honcho himself took her in his arms. When he raised his head toward the stable, a smile beamed on his face.

“Quite a shame, little detectives!” he bellowed. “One of your number has fallen! Say goodbye to her! I’m taking her straight to downtown to enter my services tonight!” He turned, laughing, with the struggling Jess, from the other men, who pressed in closer on the stable.

Benjamin finished closing the door and with Bryan’s help tried to lock it as best as they could manage.

“What are we going to do about Jess?” Laura fretted.

“Go rescue her, of course,” Bryan replied.

“But how?” John joined. “There’s no getting out of here!”

“Sure there is,” Benjamin retorted firmly. “Just go further up and further in.”

John and Laura exchanged glances and followed the two brothers to the back of the stable. The two fiddled around on the wall and finally Bryan exclaimed he had “found it.” Soon, a small four-foot tall door stood open before them.

“If they were going to shoot us in the stable,” Benjamin began, “that meant they’d have to deposit our bodies somewhere, most likely the woods.”

“Which means there was probably a secret door out the back,” Bryan finished.

“Brilliant!” Laura sighed. “Now let’s go save Jess!”

They fled into the woods and followed the fence around to the front. Benjamin noted they were past the hedge of the front yard and gave a boost to the others to hop the fence. Once he pulled himself over, they turned to the driveway, which had a couple of large white work vans with tinted windows and a shiny black Cadillac at the head. Into this first car they watched in horror as Mr. Sickle threw a now-bound-and-gagged Jess into the backseat. He walked casually to his door, got in, and drove off. Before he rolled several feet, Jess’ friends rushed up and hopped into the first white van, Bryan in the driver’s seat. It was already running, so Bryan dropped it into drive, and they sped off.

“Hey wait,” said John, “are we stealing this van?”

“Uh…no,” Bryan replied. “We’re borrowing it until we get Jess back.”

“So we’re stealing it,” John concluded.

“For a good cause!” Laura added.

“The police probably won’t buy that,” John continued. “Also, are you driving without shoes? We’re going to be in so much trouble…”

Bryan gave a dry laugh. “Well, John, if it makes you feel any better, I don’t have my license on me either.”

“That does not make me feel better.”

The speeding chase was easy at first. Mr. Sickle had no idea the others had escaped and were now zooming into his rear. But he realized it as soon as the white van smashed into his bumper. Shaken, he stepped on the gas and sped off. Bryan followed suit.

They raced through Cherokee Park, knocking a couple of cars off the road. They squealed out onto the main road and soon gained the interstate.

“You know, I wonder what this van was going to be used for?” Laura wondered as the chase weaved in and out of traffic.

“Oh, come on, Laura, it’s easy!” said Benjamin. “They were going to transport the girls in this!”

Laura shuddered and said no more, for at that moment a siren wailed behind them.

“Don’t tell John,” Bryan began, “but there’s a cop behind us now.”

John groaned and the chase carried on.

Soon Sickle took the 3rd Street exit, depositing the chase into the thick of downtown Louisville.

“Here ya go, John,” said Bryan, trying to be comforting, “you wanted to see downtown before summer; here’s your chance!”

“Yeah, I better enjoy it before they arrest us and put us in prison!”

The speeding cars flew south on 3rd Street before making a sharp right turn onto Jefferson. At 4th Street, Sickle made a sudden right turn that Bryan couldn’t replicate and so had to zoom past. The cop followed Bryan.

“You can cut down 5th Street,” Benjamin noted. “Market is one way, heading east. I don’t think he’ll go that way. He’ll probably turn west on Main. We can head him off there.”

“How do you know this?” John asked.

“I got lost down here during a scavenger hunt during freshman orientation. After that, I picked up a map and memorized the downtown streets in case that ever happened again.”

“Has it?”

“Nope. But it’s coming in handy now!”

By now, Bryan had turned right onto 5th and was fast approaching Market Street. He gripped the steering wheel as he came to the intersection, for he had the red light. They passed through, surprisingly, without a scratch. Unfortunately, the cop car was T-boned by an oncoming vehicle and spun out of control.

“The good news is, there’s no longer a cop behind us,” Bryan announced.

Now they were upon Main Street. The pathway leading up to the statue of Lewis and Clark overlooking the Ohio River shone brightly, with a few late night couples dotting the sidewalk. Then, as they entered the intersection, there was Sickle’s Cadillac. Bryan saw it just in time to nearly snap the steering wheel off turning it hard to the left. The large white van fish-tailed and smacked the side of Sickle’s car. Sickle spun out of control into the other lane where a pickup truck smashed the front end and turned it another 180 degrees so that the mangled grill pointed toward the river. Every other car present stopped, including Bryan. The detectives immediately hopped out of the van and made to dart for the sedan. But then Sickle appeared, holding Jess, who had apparently found a way to loose her bonds. He held a gun to her head with murder written on his face.

“How?!” he roared, “How do you keep doing it?? I underestimate you at every turn! Every time! But now I’m done! No more games! I’m blowing her brains out and I’ll shoot you all down, too!”

The students stood frozen. Now there was no escape. Jess would be dead. They would feel responsible. Maybe they will soon join her.

“You shoot her, pilgrim, and we’ll shoot you!” said a threatening voice.

The two involved parties blinked and gazed about their surroundings, coming from their own tension into the real world. All around, nearly every occupant of the other cars stopped in the intersection had got out and brandished a gun. Most had pistols, one had a rifle. All trained on Mr. Sickle.

Bryce Sickle, for his part, gaped at this turn of events. He couldn’t believe how unlucky he had been that night, how all his plans, his well-built plans, were crumbling to pieces because of five college students. But revenge shall be his! If he was to die there on that street, then so be it! He would pull the trigger nonetheless.

But he never got the chance.

While he stared at his opposition and came to his conclusion, Jess suddenly stuck a leg between his, bent her knee behind his, grabbed him firmly by the arm, and flipped him onto the pavement. As Mr. Sickle lay blinking at the black sky, he realized the girl had stolen his gun and was now holding it over his face…and dismantling it piece by piece. The sight was so shocking to him and the action so quick and smooth, that he didn’t notice the pieces falling into his mouth or bouncing off his forehead.

All around cheers rent the air. The men holding firearms hooped and hollered at the way Jess took apart the pistol. The man holding the rifle even fired a shot into the air. One man who kept his wits, rushed up and apprehended Mr. Sickle. Jess ran to her friends and they all, in spite of the embarrassment it would be, came together in a group hug.

But the night wasn’t over yet. The beat up cruiser that chased them now wobbled into the intersection and the policeman hopped out with his gun drawn. He quickly took in his surroundings and his jaw dropped. For all he knew, anarchy had taken over the city.

“What is going on?” the officer cried. “Who was driving that van! I’m taking them straight to jail!”

His eyes were fixed on the students, still huddled together in the middle of the road.

“Just a moment, Officer,” said the man who secured Mr. Sickle. All eyes turned to him and the Grungers were shocked to see that it was Detective Havenstraw. “I happen to know these little detectives driving the van and I know they wouldn’t cause such a raucous unless the need arose for that. And apparently, this girl here was kidnapped. Though how and why is a story beyond me.”

“It is quite the story,” said Laura.

“But first,” Bryan cut in, “we need to get back up to Sickle’s mansion and save the other women.”

“Sickle?” the detective repeated. “Bryce Sickle? The millionaire? What have you four…excuse me, five, gotten yourselves into?”

“Sickle was running a human trafficking operation from his mansion,” Bryan explained. “If we hurry up there, we may be able to save some of the women!”

Here Sickle himself laughed. “You won’t save a hair, punks! My men are smart enough to know when to bail out with the evidence. You’ll have nothing on me!”

“Not sure about nothing,” said Havenstraw, “but we may lose quite an edge. Human trafficking, you say? Serious stuff for you kids. Alright, we’ll take my car. Gentlemen, thank you for using your firearms wisely! Officer, I’ll leave it to you to organize the mess and keep Mr. Sickle here well detained.”

As the students and the detective ran off the scene, the baffled cop took custody of a frothing Mr. Sickle as another cop car pulled up and the various witnesses quickly stowed away their guns.

The detectives rushed to a mini van parked on 6th Street. There they found a woman standing impatiently beside the vehicle.

“Sorry, honey, but we have one more little side adventure to take,” Havenstraw declared with a somewhat reserved manner. “Oh, little detectives, this is my wife. You all caught us in the midst of an overdue date night. Hop in!”

As the students piled in the back, Laura remarked, “Good thing John contacted you and you came when you did.”

“Who?” went the professional investigator. John raised his hand. “Oh, I didn’t hear anything from anybody. We happened to be at the café on the corner and saw you jump out of the van.”

The students shot looks at their spectacled friend. He merely shrugged. “I got caught up in the chase and all the illegal things we were doing.” He gasped. “Great Scot! They’re going to arrest us for sure!”

“Don’t worry, kid,” went Havenstraw, “if your story checks out, we may be able to slide you by without much trouble. Maybe in the confusion of everything you’ll have no trouble at all.”

This comforted John a little bit. As they rushed off, the detective asked for the story behind the chase and capture of Mr. Sickle. It took the ride from downtown Louisville to Cherokee Park (at five above the speed limit) to retell the tale. Detective Havenstraw was very impressed.

When they pulled up the long drive, they found most of the henchmen gathered around the remaining van. They had loaded it up as full as possible and now debated on what to do with the rest. It was clear the other students escaped, so where did they go? Did they steal the van? They watched stupidly as the mini-van pulled up and not only did a man flashing a police badge jump out, but so did the missing students along with the one Sickle had taken. A few ran, but were rundown by the boys. In the end, they had practically all of Sickle’s men save the Bird Man, who took flight without his wet wings shortly after Sickle.

Soon cop cars and policemen flooded the mansion. While the boys recounted their story to the proper officer, the girls, along with Mrs. Havenstraw helped the women who had been trapped in the basement. In the end, over 20 cases of missing persons were solved that night. With the huge amount of success, the five college students were hailed heroes and their many traffic violations were overlooked, much to the chagrin of the poor officer who totaled his cruiser in the chase. But he wasn’t held responsible and actually got a piece of the fame by being the only one to help chase down Sickle.

Mr. Bryce Sickle was sentenced to 10 years in prison, plus several months of community service along with a million dollars bail. Through interrogating his men, most of the millionaire’s operation fell into the hands of justice and that act threw national media attention upon the Louisville Metro Police Department.

But before all these things were even put in motion, the five college students sat outside the mansion in their now-dry original clothes waiting for the police to let them go. Soon Havenstraw walked up to them with a bemused look.

“My little detectives! You have outdone yourselves tonight! But you’re probably wanting to get back, so how’s about my wife and I give you a ride back to your dorms?”

The five exchanged looks and Bryan spoke, “We appreciate the offer, but I think we’d like to finish our walk home, just as we intended to. Of course, we’ll probably miss curfew.”

“You guys have curfew?” the detective asked incredulously. The students nodded. “Very well. Whatever floats your boat, as they say. But call me a little sooner if you find yourselves in another high stakes mystery like this, eh? And I’ll try and remember your names next time.”

They stood and exchanged shaking hands with Havenstraw and the two detective parties moved off in separate directions. The Fellowship of Five regained the road and carried on in silence for a while. Finally, Laura decided to say something.

“Guys, I should apologize. I pushed us into this, and even though a lot of good came of it, it could’ve ended badly. So, if we ever solve a mystery together again…don’t let me call the shots.”

“You have our word,” John replied quickly.

Bryan laughed. “Nonsense, Laura! All adventure has its ups and downs. We probably could’ve passed the night peacefully, but we did do some good.”

“Yeah, I don’t know about you,” said Benjamin, “but I hope I never have to solve another mystery beyond something in a Greek or Hebrew translation.”

“But the thing I don’t get,” Jess started, “is why did some of those clothes in the hamper have bloodstains on them?”

“Probably women who put up a fight and got stabbed or something,” Benjamin answered.

Jess shuddered. “What a horrid way to die and a horrid captivity to endure!”

“Indeed,” said Bryan and they came to a split in the road by a street lamp where they cut up the dark path and came out behind the president’s mansion. They gawked at its grand design and beauty and carried on up the hill, across the street, and into the familiar and friendly circle in front of Carver Hall.

“Okay everyone!” John exclaimed, “One more group hug for the summer!”

The others merely stared at him.

“Let’s not make this an awkward parting, John,” said Laura.

“Why not? We hugged in the middle of an intersection in downtown Louisville!”

“We were surrounded by strangers,” Jess reasoned. “Now we’re surrounded by windows of other guys who can watch us hugging.”

“So what? Surely we’re not all marrying each other.”

Bryan laughed. “Let’s get it over with.”

And so, John wrangled them together for a grand group hug.

That very night, someone speculated on facebook when he could expect a wedding invitation.

So it was that the five had a final feast in the Patio Room with leftover bread and peanut butter John had kept in his closet. Soon Laura and Jess wandered off across campus to their dorm and the boys drifted back up to their rooms. John spent the rest of the night packing, since he was leaving the next day. He would spend the rest of his summer working at a fast food restaurant and practicing throwing the plastic trays like he did the silver one (he wrote a blog post on the differences between each and how to throw them effectively). Bryan and Benjamin hung around for another week and watched Benjamin graduate with his Bachelor’s Degree in Biblical Studies. The two spent their summer translating the Septuagint back into Hebrew and then from Hebrew to English. Jess spent most of the night researching organizations that fought human trafficking and soon became a poster child for one. Her biggest summer surprise came when a young man who had been present at the intersection, came calling at her door. She reluctantly turned him away since it was kind of creepy that he found out where she lived. Laura packed slowly over the weekend and was loathe to leave when her father arrived the following Monday. She spent her summer working and keeping an eager eye out for mysteries. But the only mystery she encountered was a secret lover who kept sending her flowers.

And so, the moral of our story is: Never drive without proper footwear and never follow a man dressed as a bird.

*college-time mysteries. 2014. All rights reserved.

Songs of My Life

While in college I was introduced to the world of iTunes. I thought it was a great music listening tool and well designed. I soon discovered the art of making playlists off of my library and started several that served no purpose.

But then one day I thought of an idea. The Songs of My Life. I’m not sure how it exactly came together, but the gist was this: Create a playlist of songs that best describe, or were huge parts of, the different stages of my life. I determined a good starting point and built up the list to the current time. Since then, I’ve updated the list to over 100 songs.

How does it work? Well, first you pick the year or “time” you want to start. I chose the beginning of my Christian walk/junior high because that was when music became more influential on me. I had a host of songs to choose from and to this day it’s still the largest section of the list. I then broke it down by grade. Freshman, sophomore, junior, then senior years. After that I separated it by college semesters and summers in between. Since leaving that structured life, I go by the year.

So now I have a list that I can listen to starting from junior high up to the present day. The benefits of this are numerous. For starters, I can reminisce about my life with music as a sort of guide. I can remember how that song was a huge comfort to me or how that song brings up good memories of certain days. It also shows me how I’ve grown. Before I put the list together, I had never noticed how from 8th-10th grade, life was pretty simple. I was on fire for Jesus and my focus was singular. Then, by my junior year I start wading into the murky waters of growing up and facing social pressures, all this evidenced by how the songs turned from being cheerful and encouraging to emotional and dark.

I recommend this idea to you. It’s a great way to remember your past and gives perspective. If you have any questions about the process, feel free to leave a comment!

Songs for Death

We have come upon the 4th year since my dad died of cancer. I usually make some post about death or grief around this time and today I want to look at some songs that have helped me grieve over the years. Music has a healing effect on us. It can speak to us in ways plain prose doesn’t. So here are the best songs or albums I know of that deal with death and grief…

1. “Learning How to Die”-Jon Foreman. You could say his whole Winter EP is about death on some level, but this song in particular is very poignant. If for no other reason, it helps us remember that we are dying and that we should take a proper perspective in light of that.

2. “Be With You”-Rich Mullins. This one also looks to death in an honest, but embracing way.

3. “Journey into Space” & “By Your Side”-House of Heroes. These two, off their The End is Not the End album, are fitting songs about death. The first is a bold rocker that almost pumps you up for it. The latter is an acoustic tear-jerker about the shared hope of heaven Christians have with one another.

4. “Graverobber”-Petra. This is, in my opinion, the best song I’ve ever heard about death. Most songs focus on the emotional impact, which is fine. But this song deals with death through Scripture. And it’s very encouraging. This has been my go-to during times of death.

5. “All My Tears” & “The Valley Song”-Jars of Clay. The first looks at death with confidence of heaven, while the second works through the actual grieving process. It’s an excellent song and is probably their best on death. (They also had one called “Fly”…but it’s not as good)

6. “Alive”-Stryper. Michael Sweet, the lead singer/guitarist of the group, lost his wife a few years back and this song came out of his grief. It acknowledges there are times when it seems like God doesn’t care anymore, but He’ll come through with hope in the end.

7. Give Us Rest/Requiem-David Crowder Band. The band’s last album appropriately dove into the subject of death, using the Catholic requiem mass as a structure. Though not all the songs are about death, the journey from the first track to the last is a healing walk in and of itself. (Their A Collision album is also a good one)

8.”You’re Beautiful”-Phil Wickham. The final verse of this song is brilliant: “when we arrive on eternity’s shore/where death is just a memory and tears are no more/We’ll enter in as the wedding bells ring/Your bride will come together and we’ll sing ‘You’re beautiful.'” Very hopeful.

9. Land of the Living-Matthew Perryman Jones. Most of these songs came out of the artist’s time of grief after his dad passed away. Again, not all the songs necessarily deal with death, but the ones that do are powerful, emotional, and hopeful.

10. The Vigil-David Nevue. An instrumental offering that may not be specifically about death but nevertheless is uplifting for the long nights of grief or even the long nights leading up to death. The calming piano tunes on this one are soothing and maintain hope even in the darkest moments.

So there you go. Hopefully one or more of these songs can help you if/when you must face death and grief in its many forms. If you’re a Christian, never forget to hope. Mourning is natural. But don’t lose hope.

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