In Ruins of the Mind, Jason Statlander examines friendship, love, family, tragedy, and American culture throughout this collection of contemporary short fiction. His poignant words touch on—and make us question—what it means to be human, the ups and downs that connect and affect us all, and how family is the rock that will get us through.
Highlighted stories include:
Feathers in the Wind: Jake boards an airplane for a fateful flight while traveling home to make his daughter’s birthday.
The Ter’roc: Fourteen-year-old Heidi seeks adventure and makes the discovery of a lifetime when she follows her curiosity through a storm drain.
Surviving the Messengers: Ashley and her father Chris are dealing with the loss of her mother and need to find the strength to battle a fantastical foe.
In the Shadows of a Moment: Five-year-old Frankie sets off for a birthday party on a rainy day with his father Howard, and the ensuing day leads to a shocking discovery.
Downward Spiral: In this moving commentary on the American economy, Dominic loses his job and his family, sending his life into a tailspin.
Springtime Roses: Rose goes to a routine doctor’s appointment and receives shocking news that changes her and her family’s life.
Other stories in this collection: The Lantern, The Glass Pyramid, Chance—“Don’t Lose Your Head,” The Sheadroch, The Talasum, and The Journals.
|Product dimensions:||5.51(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.69(d)|
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FEATHERS IN THE WIND
Jake stood at the credenza in front of the mirror in his small hotel room, quickly gulping down his coffee. His shuttle was scheduled to leave the hotel for the airport in eight minutes, and he wasn't about to miss it. If he did, there would be no chance of catching his flight to Los Angeles, and he would miss his daughter's fifth birthday. He had promised her he would never miss a birthday, and he would never forgive himself if he did. Jake downed the last bit of what he termed "hotel swill." Grabbing his carry-on, laptop and coat, he stole one last glance around the room — all set.
Jake dashed down the hall to the elevator. He punched the "down" button repeatedly with excessive force, but the car resisted his urgings to move along more quickly. It was taking forever.
The elevator finally came to a stop and opened. Inside stood a calm, poised, well-dressed woman in her late sixties, about the age of his mother but much more attractive. Jake caught himself. Not a very good thing to think about your own mother. In less than a second, his salesman face was on.
"Good morning," he said with a hint of charm. Jake tried to sound calm but his labored breathing from running to the elevator made it difficult to put forth the effort toward his usual demeanor.
"Morning," the woman replied in a soft, slightly muddled British accent. "Running late?" she asked.
"Late? What makes you think that? Pfft." Jake forced a sarcastic chuckle.
The woman offered a polite smile that softened her face and then turned back toward the elevator door. Clearly, this woman wasn't as susceptible as some were to his charm. Nonsense, you're just off your game, Jake-o.
The elevator door opened. Jake forced himself to hold back, not wanting to run her over as she took her time getting off. Once she was a short distance away from the door, Jake bolted and ran through the hotel's revolving doors to the awaiting shuttle. He breathed a loud sigh of relief as he reached the shuttle door, climbing the stairs quickly with his luggage.
"We'll leave in a moment. We're just waiting for one more person," the driver informed him.
Jake took a seat in the middle of the shuttle van on the bench that ran the length of the wall between the driver's cab and the rear door. He closed his eyes momentarily, feeling a bit more relaxed now that he knew he would not miss his flight. He heard someone step on board up front, followed by the shuffle of luggage and the bus doors closing. Jake opened his eyes. He was surprised to see the woman from the elevator sitting across the aisle, looking at him and smiling warmly.
Jake returned her smile. "We meet again," he said.
She raised an eyebrow, dropping some of her smile. "If I didn't know better, I would say you were following me," the woman said, teasing.
"Don't be so presumptuous," Jake said playfully. "After all, I was already on the shuttle when you arrived."
She considered this. "Hmm ... true." She smiled again.
Her name was Gwen, and she lived in Boston with her husband of forty years. She was raised in Liverpool, England, but her father had moved her family to California when she was thirteen. Her father was now ill, and Gwen was headed to California to visit him.
"Why were you at the hotel then?"
"A girlfriend of mine was visiting from Montreal. I decided to stay with her at her hotel since I had to leave early — and the hotel is closer to the airport. We don't see each other often, and we wanted a chance to catch up."
"What airline are you taking?"
Resisting the urge to smile at another coincidence, he said, "Oh, then we are on the same flight. Need any help getting to the gate?"
"No, but some company would be wonderful," she replied.
"Terminal A," the driver announced.
Jake was waiting for the arrival at Terminal B.
"What brings you to LA?" Gwen asked.
"My daughter Isabel has her fifth birthday tomorrow, and I promised her I'd always be home for her birthdays."
"I see. You're a good father."
"She and her sister are the two best things that ever happened to me, next to marrying my wife, Rachel."
"God has been good to me in that way, too," Gwen said. "Both of my children are blessings to me, as are my three grandchildren."
"Nice to hear."
"Terminal B," the driver announced.
The two stepped off the shuttle. Jake thanked the driver, wishing him a good day.
"I've never liked using those automatic kiosks. I'm headed for the check-in counter," Gwen said.
"Okay. I'll opt for the kiosk and wait for you over there," Jake replied, pointing to a Dunkin' Donuts.
Jake waited and looked at his watch: 6:35 a.m. — it was 3:35 a.m. back home. He had promised Rachel he would always call before takeoff, so he pulled out his mobile phone and hit speed dial number one.
Three thousand miles away, the phone rang just twice. His wife's voice answered with a sleepy, "Hello?"
"Hi, sweetie. Sorry to wake you. Just wanted to let you know I'm at the airport and jumping on the next flight home."
"Hey you," she said dreamily.
"Everything okay, Rachel?"
"Yup. It's pitch-black here, and all three of us girls are snuggled up together in the same bed."
"Both of them are sleeping with you?" The thought made him smile.
"There was a storm last night. They didn't want to be alone, and frankly, neither did I. I miss you."
"I miss you too, baby. I'll be home soon. Go back to sleep."
"Have a safe flight. I love you."
"Love you too."
He pressed "End" just as Gwen walked up.
"Talking to your wife?"
"Yes," he said affectionately. "She sounds cute, even little-girl-like, when she's sleepy."
"My George is a grouch in the morning. I never bother to call him this early," Gwen said, laughing.
The two talked as they approached security. Jake told Gwen about his daughter's plans for a sleepover with her friends. They passed through the security check as Gwen told Jake about her father and how robust he had been before falling ill to cancer. "He was a strong man, but he has never been the same since he began fighting off the cancer. I'm proud of him, but it's sad not to see him live life as fully as he used to. Now he has a rather serious infection, and I want to be there with him while he recovers."
"I know what you mean. I watched my grandmother deteriorate when she developed Alzheimer's. It was tough to see her change from such a strong, vibrant woman to a shell of her former self. She couldn't remember anything at all in the end — very sad."
"I've told George a hundred times that when it's my time to go, I don't want to linger in this world, void of hope and purpose. I want to possess my wits up until the very end and simply go."
"I hear ya," Jake concurred, pointing at the gate to the right of the T junction. "That's us — gate 32."
They walked silently until they reached the seating area adjacent to their gate and found two empty seats.
Jake looked out through the expansive glass picture window at the tarmac. The sun had been up for just half an hour, and already there was a brilliant sunrise just to the west of Logan Airport.
"Beautiful morning," Jake observed. "Isabel would love being here right now. She loves airplanes and so do I. There's something sort of magical about an airport."
"You can go anywhere in the world from right here," Gwen declared.
"Exactly," Jake replied, thinking that she had read his mind.
"I remember the first time I stepped onto an airplane," Gwen said. "I was ten years old. It was a Boeing Stratoliner flown by Pan Am, a huge, old thing with four giant engines. My father took me with him on a flight from Bristol to Dublin."
Gwen paused, smiling just slightly, lost in thought. "It was the most magical moment of my life. To be above the clouds is not natural, but it feels so right. My father told me something on that flight I've always remembered — that dreams were like feathers in the wind. Take a handful of feathers, throw them into the air, and you just never know where they might fly. He said that if I loved flying, I should follow that dream. His encouragement inspired me to test for my pilot's license years later."
"You're a pilot?" Jake asked, a bit taken aback.
"Not commercial — just recreational. I haven't actually flown as a pilot in command for twenty years," she said with a smile.
Jake was impressed. "So the angel does have wings."
Gwen blushed and responded playfully, "I'm a married woman, sir."
"I'm sure your husband wouldn't mind me complimenting his wife."
"True ... he wouldn't. Thank you."
"Feathers in the wind, hmm? I'll have to remember that for Isabel. She'd like that."
"Attention passengers. Boarding will now begin for American Airlines Flight 11 to Los Angeles. We will begin by boarding passengers needing assistance or those with children. Again — those passengers requiring additional time or those accompanied by children, please come to the gate."
"Do you want to board now?" Jake asked.
"No, I'm fine. I'll wait until they call my row. What seat number are you?"
Jake glanced at his boarding pass, answering, "26C."
Another coincidence. "I'm 26E. So we're right next to each other." She smiled, surprised.
"Are you sure? Since when is E next to C?"
"It's the way the 767 is laid out. Not sure why, but it goes A, B, C, E, G, H and J. I suppose the designers of the plane never learned the alphabet." They both laughed.
"Well, as long as they designed the rest of the plane properly, I won't complain." They laughed again.
"We will now begin boarding rows 31 through 36. Again — rows 31 through 36."
"I think we're next," Gwen said.
"So — what will you do when you arrive?" Jake asked.
"My son is picking me up. I probably won't be able to see my father until this evening. I'm not looking forward to seeing him in his condition, but he is still my father, and I just want to be with him. Don't ever forget that, Jake. No matter how old your little girls are, you will always be their daddy."
Pondering this, Jake smiled. "You never know what you're getting into when you become a parent, do you? But once you become a parent, you can't imagine never having been one."
"So true. What is your other daughter's name?"
"Sophia, named after her grandmother."
"She'll be three in December," Jake said, a hint of a smile on his lips.
"Three is a sweet age."
"Attention passengers. American Airlines Flight 11 will now begin boarding rows 17 through 30. Again — rows 17 through 30."
"That's us." Jake stood up and extended the handle of his carry-on to begin boarding. Gwen only had a purse and walked in front of Jake. They scanned their tickets and headed down the Jetway.
Jake followed Gwen onto the plane, ducking his head as he stepped through the door. An Asian woman whose name tag said "Betty O" welcomed them with a friendly smile. "Good morning, and welcome aboard," she said with not even a hint of an Asian accent.
Another woman with a name tag that read "Karen M" was at the business class seats, slowly making her way through the passengers to the front, one pillow tucked under each arm. She smiled and said, "Good morning."
"Morning," Jake replied.
"Where are you sitting?" she asked.
"That's about eight more rows back on the left. You can put your carry-on in the overhead compartment to the left of your row."
"Great. Thank you." Jake began making his way to the back.
By the time he arrived at his row, Gwen had already put her purse under the seat in front of her and was fastening her seat belt.
"I hate middle rows," Jake said, clearly agitated.
Only half joking, Gwen said, "They aren't so bad. I prefer to think of them as more cushioning between me and the wall should we get in an accident."
The man one row forward in a window seat responded to her comment by looking away from his magazine at her with a scowl.
Gwen smiled at him in reassurance. "Don't worry. These are very safe planes."
The man grunted and turned back to his magazine.
Gwen looked up at Jake and, under her breath, said smartly, "Friendly group."
Jake chuckled at the exchange.
Gwen continued, "Planes are funny. You have this illusion of being in your own little world with your little tray table and your little climate controls. But in reality, everyone is subject to whatever is happening to the entire plane. It's like the little meals you get: tiny little packages, tiny little drinks and tiny little portions."
"With tiny little nutrition," Jake added, and they both laughed.
The voice of a female flight attendant came over the speakers. "Good morning. We should have everyone boarded within the next few minutes. Please take a moment to review the safety card located in the pocket of the seat in front of you."
As if offered a hypnotic suggestion they couldn't refuse, nearly everyone reached down and grabbed the safety card. Some returned it to the pocket immediately, but Jake took a minute to look it over. He noticed several inflatable ramps and a diagram that showed the location of each life vest. He slipped the safety card back into its seat pocket.
"You okay?" Gwen asked.
"Yes. I always get a little nervous a few minutes before a flight. I'll be fine five minutes into it."
"Trust me. I've taken this trip dozens of times. There's nothing to worry about."
"I'm probably just reacting from too much traveling in recent years. Never seemed to have a problem flying back when I was in the service, though."
"When were you in the service?"
"I enlisted when I was twenty-one and served four years on the Enterprise. Finished in '96."
"Navy, hmm? Did you enjoy it?"
"Yes. Good people there. The navy is a tough group. They can turn the softest insides to tempered steel."
"Or break them, I'm sure."
Jake laughed in agreement. "Yes, or break them. Fortunately, I wasn't the latter. I finished as a petty officer second class."
"Wonderful. Good for you."
They felt a sudden lurch as the plane began to taxi away from the gate, and the captain initiated his traditional passenger greeting, "Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome aboard American Airlines Flight 11, nonstop service from Boston to Los Angeles. This is your Captain, John Ogonowski. I expect our flight to be clear and smooth. We may have a little turbulence over the Rockies, but we'll take to a higher altitude and see if we can avoid some of that. Our total time in flight is expected to be five hours and forty minutes, but I'm hoping to shave off a little of that. We have been cleared for taxi to the runway. Your flight attendants will now discuss our safety procedures."
As the flight attendants reviewed the safety protocols, Jake's mind wandered to his wife and two girls snuggled up in bed together. He could picture them inside the bedroom of his modest home in the Palisades, all tucked in under the plush comforter in the dark. Their home was nowhere near the size of most of the other homes in the area, but it possessed a certain charm and was built on an especially scenic spot bordering the state park where the couple and their daughters enjoyed hiking. Well — all but Sophia, that is. She always ended up being carried around the park on her father's strong shoulders. The images in his mind's eye of carrying little Fifi around on his shoulders made Jake smile.
He glanced over at Gwen and saw her looking at him, amused. "Why are you smiling?" she asked.
"I was just thinking about my hikes in Topanga. Rachel and I take the girls there often, but I always end up doing the hiking for both myself and little Sophia."
"That's what being a daddy is about, isn't it?"
"It is indeed."
Captain Ogonowski's firm voice came on the intercom again. "Ladies and gentlemen, we have been cleared for departure. Crew, please cross-check for departure and take your seats."
The plane taxied slowly into the takeoff position. A moment later, Jake felt the thrust as the engines pushed full throttle and began their roll down the runway. The plane shuddered momentarily, picking up speed. He glanced across the aisle and saw a young woman with sandy blonde hair, head back and eyes closed, relaxing. As if sensing Jake's gaze, she opened her eyes and looked toward him, smiling. "You okay?" she asked.
He returned her smile and answered a little too abruptly, "Yep."
She smiled reassuringly. "Takeoffs and landings are always the hardest."
"You don't seem stressed at all," Jake stated as if it were a question.
"I've got flying in my blood. I've been flying since I was a little girl, all over the world — it's second nature to me. Did I hear you tell that woman you were in the navy?"
"Yes. I didn't have to fly that much in the navy, though. Navy's all about boats." He laughed. "I'm Jake. Nice to meet you," he said, extending his hand.
She held out her hand in return and shook his. "I'm Heather. The pleasure's mine."
The front of the aircraft lifted off the ground, and Jake felt the smoothness of the plane as it became completely airborne, the hydraulics kicking in as the pilot lifted the landing gear.
A few minutes into the flight, Heather reached for a book and began reading. Gwen did the same.
Something to read — I should have brought something to read. He reached into the pocket in front of him and pulled out the latest SkyMall magazine, which he deemed a catalog of things you never knew you needed but that seemed to fill a need, nonetheless. He glanced through the magazine, wishing he had a dog to go with the automatic watering dish or a reason to order the clever little glove warmers.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Ruins of the Mind"
Copyright © 2019 Jason Stadtlander.
Excerpted by permission of BHC Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
FEATHERS IN THE WIND,
THE GLASS PYRAMID,
CHANCE — "DON'T LOSE YOUR HEAD",
SURVIVING THE MESSENGERS,
IN THE SHADOWS OF A MOMENT,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book is a wonderful compilation of stories by a talented author! Ruins of the mind is a must read!
Okay, first let me say that I have never been a big short story fan. My friend recommended that I read this as she had read part of the book from a free preview that the author had. So I bought it. Honestly - I wasn't able to put it down. The first story "Feathers in the Wind" captivated me, made me cry (ashamed to admit) and I couldn't help but love the two characters Jake and Gwen. The lantern (next story) was lighter and more fun. I have since found that this is the debut book by author Jason P. Stadtlander and I am very excited to see a writer of his caliber on the market. His style is different from most other authors I've read in that he uses dialog to pull you into some of the scenes quite a bit, but he does it in such a way that it is seamless. I would compare him to James Patterson a bit I think. The author (Jason) has a natural gift for prose and character development, despite the fact that these are short stories. Can't WAIT to read his upcoming novels! Definitely should be put on your "To read" list.