Search This Blog

Monday, December 15, 2008

GM 3.8L Plastic Composite Intake Manifold

When car manufacturers decide to do something goofy, like using plastic intake manifolds, we in the repair business do not get happy feet anticipating a stream of big repair invoices. The customers many times see us as somehow connected to these breakdown time-bombs, wondering why we didn’t anticipate trouble, and force the manufacturers back on the proper path of metallic parts more resistant to problems. In actuality, we in the repair business love maintenance work, and would like nothing better than to service vehicles for our customers with all potential fiascos handled before they strand our clients. We are not always given this option, either because the manufacturers don’t broadcast their engineering snafus, or the customer ignores our warnings, which brings me to the pictures above of a GM 3.8L plastic upper intake manifold.
A metal tube routed up through the lower metal intake manifold from the Exhaust Gas Recirculation Valve burns holes in the plastic manifold it extends into, allowing coolant to be mixed into the crankcase engine oil and combustion chambers. Unfortunately, the signs don’t always become obvious until the coolant contaminated engine oil destroys the engine. This plastic manifold was used on most 3.8L GM engines from 1995 thru 2005. The fix, involving replacement of the upper plastic (composite) intake manifold, gaskets, and peripherals is costly; but much less expensive than replacing the engine, which will have to be done if this repair is not completed.
I had three of these in the last week, which is how things go wrong in auto repair: in threes. The first engine was already ruined. The second made lifter noise in the morning, and was salvageable, as was the third. The first customer had driven the Pontiac from back East, which is much harder on the manifolds due to extremes in temperature. He said he had experienced no sign of failure until the vehicle simply quit on him. I figured if I put this out on the blog, it might get picked up in the search engine, as was my Honda Balance Shaft seal blog, and save some engines. When the hood is opened on one of these, you will not see this manifold. There is a plastic cover over the entire engine, which says 3.8L on it. It can be removed by unscrewing the oil filler cap and tube (counterclockwise). This allows the engine cover to be slightly tilted and freed from the rear fixture. Then the plastic intake manifold will be visible.
That’s all for this update from Nilson Brothers Garage, but if you’re appreciative of the information, here is a link to my new novel COLD BLOODED for Nook and Kindle. If you’re kind enough to read it and like it, please review it on the site you purchase it from. Thank You! Every little bit helps my writing gig. :)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Brake Fluid Check

A lady in her late seventies or early eighties drove in the shop at quarter before five yesterday afternoon. She honked, although I was on my way toward her car from the back. I excused her on account of the couple of decades she had on me.

“Hi, can I help you?”

“A neighbor of mine told me I should get my car fixed here. They were real happy with your work.”

All well and good so far, but then it got pretty funny.

“I went to the dealer instead, because I was having starting problems. They said they replaced the starter; but it says on the invoice they replaced the starter assembly. Why didn’t they replace the starter?”

“Uh…” I was groping for words; because in the space of a minute, I’d went from being the recommended shop to being aced out by the dealer, and then enlisted as the dealer complaint department. I felt like Johnny Five, the robot in ‘Short Circuit’: need more input. “Do… you have your invoice, Ma’am?”

“Here,” she shoved the invoice out her window with flare. “See, they replaced the assembly. What does that mean?”

I scanned the invoice quickly. “They did replace your starter. It says rebuilt starter right here in the parts section, Ma’am.”

I point to the part, and she clucks at me.

“Well then why does it say assembly?”

“It just means they’re not replacing one piece of the starter. They replaced the whole starter assembly.”

“They charged me a lot of money.”

I’m beginning to understand why. I’ve already lost fifteen minutes I’ll never get back. “I don’t know Ma’am, but they did replace your starter. Is the car starting okay now?”

“Yes, but ever since they did the work, my brake light flashes.”

I look at her dash, and the brake light was not flashing. She sees my confusion, and plays with the handle of her parking brake next to her.

“It flashes like my park brake’s on, but it’s not. I know it’s not on right now, but it flashes while I’m driving.”

Ahhhhhhh… input. This vehicle has a brake master cylinder with a fluid level sensor. When the fluid drops to the minimum level, the dash light will flash, warning the driver to check the level.

“I believe your brake fluid level may be down. Believe me though, the dealer replacing your starter has nothing to do with it.”

“But it never did it before they worked on it.”

“Possibly, but the fluid level may have dropped slightly since your work was done. What they did had no commonality with your brake fluid level sensor.”

“So… you’re saying it’s a coincidence?” She asks doubtfully.

Yesssssssssss!!!! My mind screams, but because I’ll be twenty years older one day, God willing, I answer with much quieter tone.

“Yes, Ma’am, and if you’ll let me pop your hood, I’ll check the brake fluid level.”

“Why didn’t they check it?” She asks while I open her door and pop the hood. “They charged me a lot of money.”

“It’s possible they did; but as I mentioned, your problem had to do with the starter, not the brakes.” I check the fluid level, and as I suspected, it’s down. I hurry to the back, get my brake fluid bottle, and fill the lady’s master cylinder to proper level. I close the hood, and the car is fixed in seconds. Conversation time costly; but blog material: priceless.

“There you are,” I tell her. “The light should stay off now.”

“I didn’t authorize you to put fluid in. How much is it?”

“It’s on the house, Ma’am,” I tell her, and then I lie. “It’s no big deal.”

“Oh… okay then,” she smiles, and starts her car.

I watch her leave my shop, and then it hit me. I just got served by a woman two decades my senior. It gives me hope for my later years. :)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

They Don't Paint Murals

Just so we're all on the same page. This is tagger graffiti done to my shop in April of last year, and our whole block. They don't paint murals, and I don't want a mural on my repair shop either. If no one cleans this crap up, and the police don't act, the taggers hit the buildings time and again. If you think Connor and Ellie went overboard on the tagger they caught in the preceding story, you would have been horrified to see what I would have done to my building's tagger. :)

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Good News and a Migraine Illustration

I had to delete all of my blogs related to Cold Blooded. I apologize, but it had to be taken out of the public domain. I’ve signed a contract with Wild Child Publishing for the novel rights. I’m hoping to start work on their edits in the next couple months.

The second reason for my blog today is pertaining to the picture above. Although I have blogged in the past about how I have been able to relieve first my wife, and then relatives, friends, and customers of migraine headache pain, I have been asked to provide a picture which I have done above. Press in and slightly massage your thumbs in as the picture shows. Do so in very small movements until you feel the small lumps, or large ones. While working to disperse these lumps, the sufferer may state they feel a lifting sensation, or a change in the migraine pain. This means you are in the right spot. I know how weird it feels when these lumps disperse. You must massage the thumbs in until you break them up. With a really severe migraine, you may have to ease off and massage the victim’s shoulders for a couple minutes to relieve the stress before returning with your thumbs to the base of their skull. Unfortunately, as I have stated before: no pain, no gain. It works, folks, and without even an aspirin. If the sufferer has had the migraine for days, they might experience some slight discomfort until their minds come to grips with the fact they don’t hurt anymore. It’s called memory pain, and will recede quickly. If you have specific questions, just e-mail me. I'll be happy to answer them. Know this. It's not rocket science, and it's worked every single time I've done it, literally thousands of times over the last thirty years. It takes patience, and communication.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Christmas Lights

I’ve been able to open my little Comic & Used Book hobby shop more lately, so I put up my Christmas lights. This was going to be simply a picture and caption; but I received my first decoration complaint last night while I was snapping this picture. A woman walked by, saw me taking the picture and stopped to see what I was doing. I thought maybe the lights in the near darkness had caught her eye. No such luck. She looked away from my store front to me with a look reminding me of the way Mrs. Shaffer, my old first grade teacher, stared at me when she caught me talking in class.

“Hi,” I greeted her as I opened the comic shop door to go in.

“You work in the auto shop next door, don’t you?”

“Yes, I do. Whenever I get finished over there, I try to open my comic hobby shop up for an hour or so.”

“Aren’t you afraid in this day and age to put up a Merry Christmas sign?”

“Should I be?” I always wondered if they had Merry Christmas sign police, and what they would do if they caught me. Maybe this lady was one of their undercover operatives. I resisted the impulse to tell her I was going to erect a manger scene in the front window. “I’ve been doing it for the last three years, and everyone who comes in the comic shop compliments me on the decorations. They’re not really gaudy or anything. They just look good in the dark.”

“Do you plan on putting up Menorah candles and Happy Kwanzaa?”

“No, but I don’t plan on telling the people who do, they need to put up Merry Christmas signs and a manger scene either.”

She started to reply, and then walked away, shaking her head. She probably recognized me as the cultural barbarian I am, and figured instructing me on diversity would be a waste of time. My sign probably wouldn’t have warranted a stop if I’d been inside instead of taking a picture for the blog. I would have given her one of the many free promotional comics I have for the kids… perhaps a Disney Uncle Scrooge McDuck one. :)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Different Perspective

Let’s take a look at the story from my last post ‘Partners’ through the eyes of the children, as those poor perverted psychopaths who kidnapped them suffer an abrupt end to their endeavors at the hands of that vigilante police officer, Connor Bradwick. :)

The tears made tiny lines down the little girl’s dirt encrusted face, as she tried to still her trembling lip, and squeezed her eyes shut. She had to be brave Billie had told her until he could get help; but Crystal didn’t think she could be brave much longer. Zeke was really, really mad, and Bess threw her, Jimmy, and Bonnie on the bed, saying she’d kill them if Billie didn’t come back. Now, Zeke and Bess were screaming at each other… something about how they should have killed Billie a long time ago. Crystal felt Bonnie scoot closer; and without opening her eyes, she hugged Bonnie tighter. Jimmy put his arm around Crystal as they huddled in terror on the bed.

“Wha…what if Billie don’t come back?” Crystal asked Jimmy, finally squinting her eyes open slightly to peer up at her companion’s face. “Do you think they’ll kill us?”

“Billie’s coming back,” Jimmy whispered, keeping his eyes on the arguing Zeke and Bess. He knew when they stopped arguing, they’d be in trouble. “He can outrun Fred any day.”

“I…I want my Mommy…” Bonnie began to sob.

Jimmy quickly put a grimy hand over her mouth. “Shhhhhhh…. Bonnie… don’t cry. They’ll hear you. Bess’ll get the switch out.”

It was then they heard the camper door burst in against its latch. Four loud gunshots in rapid fire shattered the momentary silence, between when Bess and Zeke stopped shouting at each other, and Jimmy saw them turn toward the door. The boy watched in dread fascination as the bullets drove Zeke and Bess against the far wall, only to collapse like dancing rag dolls, as hell embraced them. A huge shadow edged into the light. Jimmy pulled at Crystal and Bonnie, trying to get them further into the corner where the bed butted up against the camper wall. Jimmy watched the big man come into view, his gun held out in front of him. It was a policeman. The stern faced man turned toward them and smiled, making a hushing gesture. The policeman searched around in the van, and then another shot startled the three kids. The policeman approached them slowly then, his hands making calming gestures. He knelt down next to the bed, without touching the children.

“Hi kids. My name’s Connor. Your friend Billie sent me. He said the monsters had you. I’m here to take you home.”

Bonnie, who had been staring wide eyed at Connor, burst into tears, and dove into Connor’s arms, her hands clasped tightly around his neck. Connor hugged the little girl back, reaching out with his free hand to pat Crystal’s hand, and squeeze Jimmy’s shoulder gently.

“Why don’t we all go outside, where we can meet up with Billie again. He’s real worried about you three.”

“Are…are they really gone?” Crystal asked, trying to see around Connor to where Zeke and Bess lay dead. “Mon…monsters can come back… and… and Fred’s still out there.”

Jimmy’s face twisted in fear, as Crystal reminded him of Zeke’s vicious younger brother. He clutched Connor’s arm, horrified Fred could surprise them at any moment. “We have to leave… we have to go now… Fred… he’ll…”

“Look at me, son,” Connor urged calmly, taking the boy’s hand in his. “I had the pleasure of making that particular monster extinct.”

“Really?” Jimmy stared hard at Connor doubtfully.

“Oh yeah,” Connor confirmed with a big grin. “We haven’t been introduced. You three know my name, but I don’t know any of yours.”

“I’m Bonnie,” the little girl on his arm stated, lifting away from Connor’s shoulder momentarily to smile at him.

“I’m Crystal,” the other little girl told Connor, and gestured at the boy. “This is Jimmy.”

“I have another arm for you Crystal, and Jimmy can climb aboard my back. I’ll ride you all out of this place in style,” Connor said, taking Crystal up in his free arm, and turning so Jimmy could hop on his back.

With all three children riding on arms and back, Connor carefully threaded his way through the camper door and out into the sunlight. He galloped a little, making the kids laugh as he transported them beyond the foliage at the overpass base. Connor knelt when they were in the open so Jimmy could get down. Jimmy yelped in delight, waving and dancing, as Connor put the two little girls on their feet, and a squad car with Billie waving from the window drove up and parked. Connor waited while Billie ran up.

“I told you… I told you I’d get help,” Billie said, as the other three kids swarmed him.

“Billie, you and your friends stay with my partner, Ellie,” Connor told the oldest boy, as Ellie hurried up next to the group.

“Watch the kids El, while I slip Dead Fred into the camper scene with his friends.”

Connor jogged to the patrol car; and a minute later, the younger children cried out. They saw Fred’s body draped over Connor’s shoulder as the policeman hurried past them. Ellie shushed the kids.

“Now don’t you pay no attention,” Ellie knelt down with the kids. “My partner needs to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic.”

“Is Connor going to get into trouble?” Billie asked.

“I don’t know, and he don’t care, so we’ll see what we’ll see,” Ellie chuckled. “The important thing is all of you are going home.”

“Well, I didn’t see anything,” Billie smiled, and turned to the other children. “We didn’t see anything, did we?”

Ellie laughed as three little heads moved side to side in sync.

“I don’t want you kids worrying about stuff,” Ellie told them. “You all say whatever you want when the questions get asked. My partner and I can take care of ourselves.”

“I’ll tell them he killed the monsters,” Crystal said simply.

“He killed the monsters,” Billie repeated, nodding in agreement.

“He killed the monsters,” Jimmy signed onto the verbal pact quickly.

“Yep,” Bonnie added.

“Works for me,” Ellie said, standing as Connor approached.

Connor waved, as he went by, a big smile pasted on his face. “I’m calling it in, El. I was attacked in the camper, and barely made it out with my life. Unfortunately, there were casualties. How are you and my little buddies getting along?”

“Just fine,” Ellie answered.


At Highland hospital, the children refused to be separated. The nursing staff cleaned them up, while two pediatricians completed examinations into their general health. Two burly police officers guarded the door against unwanted visitors. They straightened hours later when Sergeant Donaldson approached them.

“Hey Mac,” Donaldson nodded at the older policeman at the door, “you and Ed here have any trouble today?”

“Not so far,” Mac answered. “A few reporters tried us on for size; but we expected company, what with it getting out over police ban.”

“What’s the story,” Ed asked in a hushed voice. “We heard Connor…”

“The investigation is ongoing,” Donaldson cut the officer off with an impatient gesture. “Don’t be screwin’ this up with rumors, Williams. I’m only here to meet the parents of the youngest child, Bonnie Demarco. They’re flying in from Carson City, Nevada. The other parents won’t be here until tomorrow morning. We found a shitload of stuff on a nationwide child pornography ring on the laptop one of those slimeballs had in the camper.”

Fifteen minutes later, as Donaldson filled in the other police officers on what they found where the children were rescued, a wild eyed couple rushed down the hall from the elevator. Donaldson stepped out to intercept them.

“Mr. and Mrs. Demarco?”

“Yes… where’s my baby?” The thin blonde woman demanded. “Is she okay… we…”

“Your daughter’s fine, Ma’am,” Donaldson said calmingly. “You two are the first to arrive, and the kids insisted on staying together. When you get in the room, please try to remember the other kids are waiting for their parents too. There are two nurses in with them, and my men here will make sure no one bothers you.”

“Oh… thank God,” the woman sobbed, trying to calm herself as the living nightmare would soon be over.

Donaldson moved aside.

“What about her kidnappers?” The husband asked, putting an arm around his wife, the haggard helplessness being replaced on his features by a look from the dawn of mankind.

“They were killed during the rescue,” Donaldson answered simply. “Please keep that to yourselves, as we try to keep a lid on this with the press.”

“Gladly,” the man shook Donaldson’s hand gratefully.

“We…we were afraid Bonnie would have to…to give some kind of testimony,” the wife said, opening the hospital room door almost fearfully.

“No Ma’am, the people who kidnapped your daughter are awaiting judgment elsewhere,” Donaldson replied, closing the door behind the couple.

“Where’s Connor, Boss?” Mac asked.

“I believe he and the redoubtable Officer James are celebrating today’s rare triumph of the law somewhere adult beverages are served.”

“Amen to that,” Mac said, leaning against the wall with a sigh.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Creature Features Rejection from 1987

I thought we all could use a chuckle today. This rejection letter came to me back in 1987. I’d been sending out my second novel, titled ‘The Void’ for a few years. My kids were little, and I’d only been an auto shop owner for four years. I sent my two novels out sparingly when I could afford it. When I was in high school, John Stanley hosted a late night horror fest called ‘Creature Features’. When I found his publishing company in California, I couldn’t pass up a chance to send him ‘The Void’. The rejection letter above seemed like a real letter, and he actually signed it in red marking pen. Finding it last week amongst my other stuff, I knew the story behind it, and the actual rejection letter with his signature letterhead of Creatures at Large would get a smile.

I’ve been looking for some of the rejection letters I received on my first novel called ‘Roc’, but without success. Boy, did I get some rough notes of rejection from that one. ‘Roc’ stirred more than a couple publishing people into sending me something beyond the usual form rejection. At least I knew from their letters, they had read it though. Well, have a good voting day. I voted at 7AM and there were only a handful of people there, so it only took about fifteen minutes from start to finish. :)

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Last Halloween Fiction

It was a fun Halloween with my Grandson. The following fiction has nothing to do with the people in the picture above. :)

Little Jake rushed up the walkway, sweating behind his plastic skeleton mask, peripheral vision at the mercy of unfortunately small eye holes. A witch and scarecrow nearly run him over in their haste to descend the porch steps Jake hoped to clamber up. He teetered on one foot as they brushed by him. In one horrifying split second of realization, Jake knew his next destination lie on top of the small white picket fence bordering the garden near the steps. Even the sight of pointed stakes rushing at him failed to loosen Jake’s grip on his pillowcase partially full of candy. Just as he decided to release the bag a scarred up hand righted him effortlessly, holding on to him until Jake regained his balance on the step. The hand patted his shoulder reassuringly.

“You almost ended up staked like a vampire, boy,” the low toned voice told him.

Jake looked up into his Grandfather’s eyes with relief. “Oh man… Pa, those kids bumped me. I thought I was goin’ down.”

“Not on my watch, kid,” Pa laughed, kneeling next to Jake. “What’s the rule on house approach?”

“Wait till the other kids get off the steps before I get on them,” Jake grinned into the weathered face. “You gonna’ tell Mom?”

“What… that I almost let you impale yourself on a fence stake? I think not. Just take it easy. We’ll stay out here until you’re ready to stop. Just remember, I’m not carrying you back to the house, so save some energy for the return trip.”

“I want you to carry me back on your shoulders, Pa,” Jake replied, knowing it would evoke some exasperation on his Grandfather’s part.

“I’ll get a stick and whup you like a mule first,” Pa told Jake with a sigh, knowing the boy was playing him. “Get movin’. This is the last house on the street. We’ll need to go around the corner.”

Jake laughed, and hurried up the steps to ring the bell. Pa looked at his six year old Grandson with undisguised pleasure. He had been the backup if plans fell through, and his daughter had to work. He took the train to Sacramento early, the moment she called. She had been planning on him going along with them; but with making sure Jake was picked up from school, and dressed in his costume, his trip had to be moved up a few hours. Having dutifully taken pictures and a few short movie clips where possible, the old man now settled into the routine of keeping pace with Jake to the doors. This year, the number of Trick or Treaters had been low, so the people with their lights on seemed very glad to see the kids they did get ringing their door bells; but apparently not in this case. When Jake returned from his candy excursion, he made a face while mouthing the word ‘sucker’. Pa smiled and took his hand.

“Beggars can’t be choosers.”

“Can you stay overnight, Pa?”

“Well… I…”

“Please… please!” Jake pleaded. “We’ll race cars and play cards.”

“Your Mom told me some friends of yours were coming over to watch movies with you. I don’t think…”

“They are?” Jake looked puzzled for a moment, and then his face brightened. “Wow, that’s great. Maybe it was a surprise!”

“Oh sure, kick old Pa to the curb.”

“You can stay too,” Jake looked up to make sure his Grandfather wasn’t really upset at immediately being displaced. He needn’t have worried. The old man was smiling wide enough for Jake to see it in the dull street lamp glow. “C’mon, Pa, you can talk to Mom while my friends are there.”

“Maybe… we’ll see…”

Jake felt his Grandfather’s hand pull him to a stop as they neared the dark street corner. He heard loud talk and laughter accompanied with rough language Jake knew his Mom would not like. The old man shifted his grip to the boy’s shoulder, waiting patiently as the voices neared them. Pa looked around, realizing he and Jake were the only two on the street now. A group of five young men, cavorting around each other with animated gestures as they walked, reached the corner in front of the old man and Jake. Pa’s caution flowed into Jake. Instead of asking questions, the little boy kept silent. The teens didn’t see them until they had nearly crossed the street. One did, and a hushed, furtive discussion followed quickly, with the group slowing down. Pa turned around, taking Jake’s hand, and guiding him back the way they had come. It was too late.

“Hey man…” one called out, as the group turned down the street toward Jake and his Grandfather. “What time you got?”

Jake felt Pa release his hand; and saw him turn toward the voice, taking something out of his pocket. He saw his Grandfather’s wrist flick, and a seven inch blade clicked smoothly into place. Pa held it slightly behind his right leg so none of the teens could see the movement. Jake took a step back, only to feel the old man’s other hand reach back to squeeze his shoulder comfortingly.

“It’s 7:30.”

“You didn’t even look, man,” the teen laughed, as his friends spread out to either side of him.

“I looked just a moment ago.”

“Look again.”

“It’s 7:30,” Pa repeated, not glancing away. “If you don’t like the time I give you, ask someone else.”

“You ain’t too fuckin’ friendly, Gramps,” the teen retorted, starting to move forward.

Pa took his hand from Jake’s shoulder, the camera bag sliding to the sidewalk. He gestured for the teen to stop. “That’s far enough. I don’t want to kill you, young man, so take your friends and move on.”

“You’re going to kill us?” The teen repeated incredulously.

“Just you, kid,” Pa told the teen. “My job’s to get my Grandson home, safe and sound, or die trying. Move toward us, and I gut you like a fish. Then I’m goin’ to get me some of your friends here.”

“The old man’s nuts, Derek,” one of the others said, not liking the way their little gag was playing out. “Let’s go.”

“He’s bluffin’, Cal,” Derek snorted, trying to sell his bravado unconvincingly, as the others retreated a few steps. “Don’t be pussies! He can’t touch us. He’d go to prison.”

“Been there… done that,” Pa’s voice rasped out, decades of polite society falling away from him, as sheer menace overcame logic in an instant. “Not impressed.”

“You’re on your own,” Cal said, turning and hurrying away up the street, with all but Derek following his lead.

Derek’s hand moved toward his jacket pocket; but stopped abruptly, when Pa’s hand came from behind his right thigh, the blade gripped low and ready. In what little light glinted yellowy off the knife, Derek realized he stood a split second away from death. The teen backed away. It was nearly too late, as the old man’s body tensed. Peaceful conclusions no longer interested Pa. Jake’s cold hand covered his Grandfather’s. Deadly anticipation drained away from the old man, and reality blanketed him. The old man watched Derek turn and jog toward his companions.

“Pa… can we still hit another street?” Jake asked, trying to keep his voice from trembling.

“I don’t know if that’s a good idea, Jake,” Pa replied truthfully, the knife disappearing from his hand in what seemed like a magic trick to the little boy.

“We… we could hurry up to the four corners… you know… where the pizza place and grocery store are. There’re lots of lights and people.”

“I guess that’d be okay,” Pa agreed, picking up his camera bag.

“Don’t worry… Pa, I won’t tell Mom about those guys. You’ll have to carry me home on your shoulders though,” Jake stated, taking his Grandfather’s hand again as they rounded the street corner.

“Why you little…”

“Halfway?” Jake bargained.

“Deal,” Pa sighed. “I hope your Mom has some Advil in the cupboard.”

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Partition Commander

I haven’t reviewed a software program since my run in with a particularly vicious Trojan virus, where SpyNoMore really blasted it out of existence. Trying to make my wife’s new Nikon L18 camera cough up the pictures I took last weekend onto my notebook computer, inadvertently ended in adding a drive letter. Halloween invokes no greater horror than your computer deciding it can’t see your XP operating system. I know enough about computers to know this was a horrific problem on a par with seeing all the slasher movies back to back for a week. This is because XP allows no tinkering in their basic structure on boot up, and their recovery console is a joke. The key to repairing problems with a computer as many of you know is ‘First, do no harm’. After more than a few hours of trying to correct the problem without wrecking the interior structure, I went off to my nearby Office Depot. I found a program called Partition Commander 10, which claimed to boot on the CD drive and use a Linux interface to allow modifications and fixes at boot up.

Wonder of wonders, Partition Commander did exactly what it claimed. I was able to free the drive letter causing all the problems and my notebook booted immediately. This is not a paid commercial announcement… unfortunately. When something works as it claims, I like to mention it. Partition Commander by Avanquest works. In the spirit of the holiday, this is Halloween Flash Non-fiction. :)

Friday, October 17, 2008


This isn't flash fiction; but it has a little bit of everything, including Halloween. :)

Laura turned away from her girlfriends, Janis and Connie. They huddled under one of the elm trees lining the houses along the street. A cool breeze made the bright half moon play hide and seek with rapidly moving slate gray clouds. She sighed, pulling up her jacket collar so the breeze blew across as little of her as possible. Another string of curses from under the hood of Connie’s 2001 Buick indicated the two guys trying to find out why the car wouldn’t start were having no luck fixing the problem. The abandoned house fenced in near the aqueduct had been their destination. Stories abounded of ghosts and strange noises witnessed by other adventurous teens on Halloween nights past. Jerry Clark convinced the teens Halloween night at the aqueduct would be a thrill. Jerry sat in the driver’s seat, turning the key periodically when the cursing teen under the hood, Stan Brickwalter, told him to. Laura liked the two handsome football jocks. One of them always invented some weird escapade. Laura flipped open her cell-phone. Janis snatched it out of her hand.

“What the hell you think you’re doin’, girlfriend?” Janis held the phone away.

“Calling for help.” Laura tried unsuccessfully to get her phone back. Connie edged in front of Laura.

“Don’t screw this up for us, Laura,” Connie pleaded with her best friend. “Jerry and Stan will get it started.”

“Face it. Jerry and Stan couldn’t start a VCR.”

“Can too!” Stan moved over to the sidewalk. “In the case of the Buick, I’m afraid Laura’s right. I don’t see anything that…”

“Hey…” Jerry interrupted, “isn’t that Mike Rawlins coming down the street. I’d recognize his walk even in the dark, like he’s doin’ the ‘Robot’ all the time. He works at his Dad’s auto shop every night after school.

“If he knows so much about cars, why doesn’t he have one?” Stan asked.

“He’s not sixteen yet,” Jerry answered. “Mike’s a sophomore. He’s okay. My Dad gets his car fixed at his Dad’s shop. Oh… I see… you bunch don’t want a tenth grader showin’ us up, huh?”

“It’s embarrassing,” Janis muttered.

“If he can fix the damn car,” Connie cut in, “I don’t care if he’s a first grader.”

“Didn’t he get into trouble at the end of last year?” Laura watched the tall, lanky Rawlins walk toward them.

Rawlins began crossing the street before reaching the older teens.

“Hey, Mike!” Jerry called out, “c’mon over for a minute.”

After a moment’s hesitation, Mike paced reluctantly toward them. Laura remembered seeing the over six foot tall Rawlins in school before. He kept to himself and ate lunch off campus.

“Oh… hi, Jerry.” Mike shook hands with Jerry and then Stan. “Stan… is it?”

“Yeah, we have a problem,” Stan explained. “We made a mistake tonight. We stopped the car to pick up Janice. Now it won’t start.”

“Asshole.” Janice slapped the back of Stan’s head.

“Has the car been starting normally up until now?” Mike recognized the red headed Laura. He didn’t know her name. She looked away from him when they passed each other in the hall. To Mike, she was stunning.

“I drive it everyday to school and have had zero problems,” Connie told him.

Mike sat in the driver’s seat. He turned the key to the start position. Nothing happened except all the dash lights came on. Mike turned off the ignition, looked at his watch, and then turned the ignition back on and left the seat to rejoin the teens on the sidewalk.

“It’s the security system. After…”

“I don’t have a security system,” Connie interrupted.

Mike waved Connie into a position where she could see the dash. “See the blinking red word that says security?”

“Oh… I see it.”

Mike went around to the car engine compartment. He twisted each battery cable. The negative cable moved.

“Your negative battery cable end is loose. A momentary power loss may have caused the body control computer to lose the key code. If we leave the ignition on for ten minutes and the blinking light goes out it will mean the sensor inside the ignition cylinder housing sent the relearned key code to the computer. The car will start then. Can I pop the trunk open and check for tools?”

Connie nodded. “Sure, my Dad has a small toolbox in there.”

Mike worked the trunk release and went around to the trunk. He returned a few minutes later with a small pair of channel lock pliers. Mike tightened the negative terminal end and put away the pliers. He shut the trunk while looking at his watch.

“It’ll be a few more minute.”

“I’m Connie Emmerich. That’s Janis Jefferson and Laura Fahrenbach. I guess you already know Jerry and Stan. Jerry told us you’re a sophomore.”

“Yeah,” Mike admitted with a shrug.

“Thanks for helping us,” Laura spoke for the first time.

“Better hold that thought until we see if I did help.” Mike smiled at Laura. He glanced down at the dash. The security light was out. Mike sat in the driver’s seat again, motioning Connie over. “After the ten minutes, turn the key to start momentarily and then turn it back off.”

Mike turned the key to start and momentarily cranked the engine, but shut the key off immediately.

“It cranked!” Connie said excitedly.

“Wait a second and then start the engine.” Mike turned the key and the Buick engine cranked and started. “If it happens again Connie you may need to get the ignition switch and cylinder replaced. Those key code sensors go bad on these models.”

“Outstanding!” Jerry clapped Mike on the shoulder as the sophomore closed the hood. “Let’s go do the spooky old woods.”

Mike grinned. “What spooky old woods?”

“You know… the house over by the aqueduct.”

Mike’s face lost all levity. “Man… Jerry… you guys don’t want to fool around down there. It’s dangerous.”

Stan laughed derisively. “Oh come on. Mike the Mech is a big girl.”

“Mike got the car started,” Connie retorted. “What’d you do?”

“You’re not scared, are you?” Janis peered up at Mike’s grim face with a big smile.

“Yeah, I am,” Mike admitted. He angled around the group in the direction he had been going. “See you all in school.”

“Ol’ Mike ain’t having any,” Jerry commented. “Let’s get going.”

“What if the Buick won’t start when we get down there?” Laura glanced away from Mike’s retreating figure for the first time. “We have to drive at least two miles in on that dirt access road and then walk the rest of the way. I don’t know about you bunch but I’m not too crazy about getting stuck there.”

“Laura’s right,” Connie said, causing Jerry and Stan to groan in anticipation of what Connie would say next. “My Buick ain’t goin’ anywhere unless you figure out some way to entice Mike the Mech to come along.”

“Just wait ten minutes like Mike did and start the car,” Stan directed. “This gig wouldn’t be fun if there wasn’t a little danger.”

“Mike goes or no one goes.” Connie crossed her arms, shunning Stan and Jerry.

Laura smiled. She assumed the same position as Connie. Janis joined them, unwilling to be on the same side as Stan and Jerry against Laura and Connie.

“Okay… okay…” Jerry relented. “Get this boat movin’. I’ll see if I can talk Mike down off the cliff.”

A few minutes later, Connie slowed the Buick next to Mike. Jerry jumped out. He hurried over to put an arm around Mike’s shoulders.

“We need you Mike. Come with us. I won’t let any bogeymen hurt you.”

“You promise?” Mike turned, his eyes bright with false excitement, eliciting giggles from the three girls.

“Cross my heart and hope to die.” Jerry went through the motions of crossing his heart, going along with the gag.

“No.” Mike walked away.

“Let the chicken-shit go,” Stan jeered.

Stan’s taunt had no effect on Mike. Jerry held up his hand in a calming manner to his friends.

“We’ll make you an honorary junior, Mike,” Jerry called out. “You hang with us from now on.”

This stopped Mike. He weighed what he had witnessed as a twelve year old at the abandoned house next to being near Laura in school. Shit, I am out of my mind, he thought. Mike turned around. Jerry caught up to him and shook his hand while Connie drove alongside.

“There’s one condition. We go buy fifteen pounds of salt and drive by Saint Joseph’s church. It’s on the way. I’ll pick up some holy water there. You had some empty water bottles in the trunk, Connie. I’ll need them.”

“You’re joking, right?” Stan leaned out the rear window with a look of disbelief.

“That’s the condition. Take it or leave it. You’ve all seen Supernatural. The salt and holy water work. We’ll need them if we’re going to the aqueduct.”

“You’re scaring me.” Connie looked over at Janice next to her.

“Good,” Mike said. “What’ll it be?”

Jerry shrugged. “Sounds okay to me. Stan?”

“I’m good if it makes bolt-head comfortable. It adds a little chill.”

“Laura, you’ll have to sit on someone’s lap,” Connie directed.

“Climb aboard.” Stan patted his knee.

“I’ll sit on Mike’s lap.”

Her three friends shared a laugh at Stan’s expense.

The teens rode in silence to the small supermarket two streets over. The feel of Laura on his lap had Mike doing the alphabet and multiplication tables. He tried baseball averages, the seven dwarfs’ names, and finally praying, all to no avail. Laura noticed, smiled, and shifted intentionally on Mike’s lap. Mike’s left hand gripped his knee hard enough to pop the joint. His right clutched the Buick arm rest in a death grip. He grinned sheepishly, his face the color of paint on the proverbial red barn.


“Don’t be,” Laura whispered.

Connie parked in front of Big Sky Supermarket.

“I’ll get the salt,” Jerry volunteered, exiting the Buick. “Mike gets the holy water.”

“You’ve been to the aqueduct, haven’t you?” Laura asked Mike.

“I went there with my cousin. I was twelve. We stayed until dusk. We ran to our bikes and pedaled full bore home.”

“What’d you see?” Connie shivered at Mike’s tone.

“Things flew at us in the dark. Loose stuff on the floor whirled into the walls. We didn’t stay to see anything else.”

Stan laughed. “I know guys who’ve went there. They didn’t see anything.”

“Laura asked me what I saw. Hey, play it for laughs. If nothing happens, great. If I wasn’t hallucinating the salt and holy water gives us a chance.”

“You’re not scaring me out of this.” Janice shifted in her seat to peer around Laura. “We’re going, and that’s it.”

Jerry returned with the bag full of salt. “On to St. Joes.”

“Mike’s been telling us all about the monsters,” Stan said.

“Let’s get to it. I’m pumped,” Jerry replied.


“Holy crap!” Connie parked where the dirt access road ended at a broken down chain link fence. “It’s pitch dark out here. Mike was right. This is nuts.”

“How… how far to the house?” Janice asked, unable to hide the tremor in her voice.

“About fifty yards,” Mike answered. “I know you all have flashlights. It would be better to leave them off. The moonlight will be enough to see by when our eyes get used to the dark. The path to the house is bare of any brush. With the flashlights on our night vision will be only a couple feet.”

“That makes sense,” Jerry agreed. “It doesn’t seem as dark since Connie turned off her headlights. Look, you can see the path real plain, even from inside the car. Let’s go.”

“Are your legs asleep yet,” Laura whispered to Mike as the others exited the Buick.

“Not hardly,” Mike whispered in reply. “I’m just glad it’s dark.”

Laura giggled. She squirmed across Mike’s lap unnecessarily before reaching over and opening their door. She slid out slowly, enjoying Mike’s discomfiture. Jerry handed Mike the doubled up plastic grocery bag containing salt bags and bottles of holy water Mike had been able to get inside the church rectory.

“These are your idea. You get to pack them.”

Mike accepted the bag without protest. “We should wait a couple minutes while our eyes adjust.”

“I’ll lead,” Stan began moving toward the path. “Follow me. I can see the path pretty well. Where the hell are all the leaves from these trees all around?”

“The wind blows across here at a steady clip.” Laura shivered, arms clutched tightly around her chest for warmth.

“What’s the hurry?” Connie asked. She followed anyway. “It’s only 9:30.”

The group proceeded down the path with Stan picking his way carefully in the lead. Mike and Laura trailed behind the others. Prompted by a steady wind, the elm trees growing sparsely throughout the area waved their barren branches with only one or two leaves hanging on against becoming future mulch. The teens glanced away from the path, furtively making sure they were not alone. Raspy sounds from the windblown branches surrounding them stalked their footsteps. Laura grasped Mike’s free hand. Mike squeezed her hand reassuringly, surprised how cold it felt. The sound of water flowing in the aqueduct added a swishing, scraping background to the wind as the water stirred dead leaves along the cement aqueduct walls. Shadowy outlines of a structure became more pronounced as the group cleared the last line of trees before entering the brush and weed filled lot fronting the wide two story house. The abandoned dwelling jutted toward the sky with pointed spires and rectangular brickwork. A bent weathervane twirled in the stiff breeze, adding a squeaky repetitious metallic whine to the eerie background noise. Laura and Mike moved nearer the group as they stared up at the creaking porch with warped and rotting boards. Although the stanchions appeared steady, the porch roof sagged. It seemed to move slightly with the wind.

“You’re the expert, Mike,” Jerry said. “How dark is it inside and how safe is the floor?”

“Inside makes out here seem like morning light.” Mike felt Laura grip his hand tighter. “I haven’t been here in three years. The floor was rotting even then so take each step like the wood will splinter at any second. One of us should stay out here. You all have cell-phones. If anything happens like a collapse, at least one person should be able to call for help.”

“Everyone goes inside,” Stan argued when he saw the rest of his friends nodding in agreement with Mike. “We didn’t come here to do this with a safety net.”

“We didn’t bring the ‘Ghostbusters’ or a building inspector either,” Mike pointed out.

“Let’s go.” Jerry climbed up on the porch, gingerly staying away from the staircase middle where some loose boards were visible. He stopped short of the door which was partially open.

“Is it like you remembered, Mike?” Laura asked.

“The boards are more rotted looking. Walking around in haunted houses is one thing. Falling through the floor into whatever slimy stuff lies underneath is another.”

“Now I don’t know why the hell I thought this would be fun.” Janice waved her hand around for emphasis. “We wasted our time bringing sandwiches and beer. I ain’t eatin’ anything in this nasty old place.”

Everyone but Mike had a flashlight which they used now to light the way inside single file next to the jammed door. Their beams flickered across the debris covered floors. The beams reflected off a myriad of cobwebs so thick in places they looked like curtains. Mike released Laura’s hand. He immediately picked out a relatively clear spot on the large living room floor. With Laura using her flashlight to illuminate the area, Mike poured holy water around in a large circle, using up two of his bottles. He next spread the salt in a heavy line on the holy water which helped hold the salt in place. When Mike finished the circle, he knelt, made the sign of the cross, and whispered, “In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti, Amen. (In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit)

“Wow, I guess you’re serious about this,” Laura said.

“If nothing happens, we can laugh about it.” Mike set the remaining bags of salt and two bottles of holy water inside the plastic grocery bag near the circle’s center.

“Who wants to go down into the cellar?” Jerry called out. “I found the doorway that leads down and the steps look okay.”

Mike went with the others to what looked like an attached kitchen with dilapidated cupboards and old style pump sink. Webs formed mats of filmy coverings over everything.

“Anyone else hate spiders as much as I do?” Connie avoided touching anything. She screamed as Stan brushed his fingertips over her neck. “Don’t… don’t do that!”

“I’ll go with you,” Stan told Jerry.

“Have fun, you two. It smells like dead bodies down there.” Janice pushed Stan toward Jerry. “Don’t bother screaming if you find anything ‘cause we’ll leave your asses.”

“Let me go first.” Mike moved around Laura. “My cousin and I did go down there when it was still light. There’s a sinkhole on the left around the stairwell. That’s why it stinks. It’s filled with stagnant water.”

“Mike?” Laura missed his nearness already. Jerry handed Mike his flashlight.

“Remember the circle, Laura.” Mike cautioned. “Take the others and get inside it without breaking the perimeter.”

“I thought you were afraid of all this,” Stan remarked as the teens descended the stairs slowly, staying clear of the cobwebs making a shimmering tunnel into the dank area below.

“I am, but I don’t want either of you to fall into that sinkhole.” Mike tried to keep his voice from shaking as his heart thumped so hard in his chest he thought for sure Jerry and Stan would notice.

“What do you care?” Stan chuckled. “You could get a laugh out of it.”

“The smell,” Mike glanced over his shoulder at Stan. “That sinkhole smells so bad I haven’t forgotten it in three years. My cousin and I made the mistake of stirring it with a stick. We nearly passed out into it.”

“Good safety point… no stirring.” Jerry’s stomach knotted up as they neared the stair bottom.

Mike reached the stone and dirt cellar floor, moving to the right so Stan and Jerry could stand beside him. Mike swung his flashlight to the left and down, illuminating a black pit formed where the dirt and gravel floor had sunk, leaving a gaping maw of black water nearly eight feet in diameter. Even the algae on the surface appeared black in the flashlight beams.

Jerry leaned away from the pool, his face a mask of distaste. “Man… one gulp of that shit would turn someone inside out.”

“There’s not much down here.” Mike swung his flashlight around the other half of the room.

They could see empty rotted shelving along the wall. Two rusted out buckets lay sideways in front of the shelves. Cobwebs and more cobwebs flowed in an unbroken tapestry.

“Hey, what’s that?” Stan pointed his beam at a round metal hatch cover with large rusted ring for a handle.

“I don’t know. We stirred the sinkhole before we explored,” Mike admitted. “That ended our curiosity. It probably opens into another sinkhole.”

“I’m going to pull open the hatch,” Stan stated. “Hold my flashlight, Jer.”

Mike grabbed Stan’s arm and held out a red bandanna. “Wrap the handle with this.”

“Thanks,” Stan took the bandanna and wrapped the metal handle. He grasped the handle, ready to pull up.

“Hey! Come back up here you guys,” Connie yelled.

“Shit!” Stan exclaimed. All three had jumped at the sound of Connie’s voice. “We’ll be up in a minute… damn it!”

Stan yanked on the handle. The loose cover came up easily. Stan stumbled back, grabbing his nose, allowing the lid to thump down onto the dirt floor. Ignoring the noxious fumes billowing out from the open hole, Mike grabbed Stan’s arm before the teen backed into the open sinkhole.

“Oh my God!!” Stan yelled, his eyes watering uncontrollably as Mike pulled him to the side and Jerry retreated to the stairwell. “What… what is that, poison gas!?”

Mike covered his mouth and nose with one hand while pointing his flashlight down beyond the hatch with the other. Luminous masses swirled inside what looked like an empty tank made over into some kind of room with a rusty metal ladder providing access. Mike’s eyes widened as the faceless mass moved up the ladder. He held his breath and yanked the cover into place again. Mike grabbed Stan and pulled him toward the stairwell.

“We have to go… now!!!” Mike yelled.

Jerry ran up the stairs without another word. As Mike hurried the still gagging Stan to the stair, the metal hatch flew open, tore free of its mooring and slammed into the wall perpendicular to the stairwell. Stan needed no more encouragement. He bounded blindly up the stairs with Mike trying to steady his assent.

“Get in the circle!!” Mike yelled repeatedly as he and Stan cleared the doorway. Mike slammed the cellar door shut.

Laura had urged Connie and Janice toward the circle the moment Stan yelled after opening the hatch. She guided them beyond the salt base without breaking the pasty line. Jerry followed on her heels. Mike helped Stan across seconds later. They heard the cellar door slam open. Mike frantically checked his circle with Connie screaming at the top of her lungs and Janice yelling at Stan.

“What the hell did you guys do?!!” Janice yelled in Stan’s face loudly enough to be heard above Connie’s screaming and the appalling shrieks echoing through the house.

“Oh God… Mike… look!” Laura shook Mike’s shoulder as a luminescent wave crashed into their circle perimeter; smashing apart with a screech of rage loud enough the teens grabbed their ears in agony.

“Don’t break the circle!!!” Mike added salt to his line. “Stay in the center!!!”

Laura watched Mike, willing her eyes away from the force battering at their defenses. He straightened, his mind groping for something to help them withstand the thing launching itself against the circle. Mike turned toward the other teens. His lips quivered between terror and the insanity he hoped would divert their attention from the horror.

“I can’t help myself!” Mike spread his arms out to them. “Group hug… group hug!!!”

Laura laughed and jumped into Mike’s arms with Connie piling into them and Janice joining a split second later. Jerry and Stan traded bleary eyed stares. Then with open arms they too joined in Mike’s diversion. Mike’s ploy worked for a few minutes but the apparition’s shrieking rushes at the circle could not be ignored for long. Seeing his joke had only bought a little time, Mike motioned for them all to sit down facing each other in a circle and clasp hands. Connie jumped up sobbing piteously after only minutes.

“I…I can’t take this. I’ll make… make a run for it!”

“Don’t Connie!” Laura hugged her friend. “Keep your eyes shut and your hands over your ears while I hold you.”

Janice screamed. The teens faced the thing held at bay by salt paste. Its bare skull face sported gaping fangs. The thing peered in at them with eerie intent, shimmering body flowing out in a phosphorescent wave behind it. Mike grabbed a handful of salt and threw it at the skull-face. The granules glowed as they struck; sending the apparition streaking out of harm’s way. It returned only seconds later, grinding its jaws together in fury. Jerry reached for more salt. Mike stopped him.

“I was trying to see how much time it would buy us,” Mike told him. “Let’s not waste what we have.”

“Jesus…” Laura whispered. The skull-face began gibbering in high pitched wails. The fangs and teeth slammed together in rhythm with the wails.

As they all stared in silence at the ghastly monster within feet of them, something shot through the door and bounded into the living room. With a growl the new arrival dived right through the apparition, jaws ripping at thin air.

“It’s a damn dog,” Stan gasped.

The emaciated mixed breed mutt herded the apparition as if it were a sheep, snapping and growling without fear until inexplicably the monster disappeared. The dog whirled around as if anticipating an attack which didn’t come. The mutt sat down, staring curiously into the circle of stunned people.

“What is it… a hellhound?” Janice asked.

Mike poured some holy water into his hand and held it out. The dog padded over and lapped up the water thirstily with Mike adding more every few seconds.

“I guess it ain’t no demon,” Janice said. “I say we make a run for it.”

“Don’t run.” Mike offered more water to their rescuer. “Grab handfuls of salt. Walk out slowly. Me and Demon here will follow.”

Laura knelt next to the dog while the others followed Mike’s orders. She stroked its head. “I’ll stay with you.”

Connie sat behind the Buick steering wheel with the engine running, her hands clenched so tightly they glowed whitely in the dark. Janice sat next to her, watching the path anxiously. Mike, Laura, and the dog ambled out of the dark only moments later. Stan and Jerry had waited by the front end of the car. They visibly relaxed as the remainder of their group walked toward them.

“Stan, can you get me the bag of sandwiches and a couple of beers?” Mike asked, crouching down next to the dog.

“You bet, Mike.” Stan ran to the trunk which Connie unlatched from inside. He returned with the bag and beers, handing them over to Mike.

Mike opened a sandwich wrapper and began feeding the dog. The mutt shuddered and shivered in ecstasy, tail wagging so fast it was dangerous to walk within its range. Mike looked up with a big smile.

“You all go on home. I’ll see if Demon will accompany me to my house. We’ll walk.”

“You’re nuts!” Jerry laughed, shaking his head. “We’ll fit the dog in the back.”

“No you won’t!” Connie called out.

“What if that thing comes out again?” Stan realized Mike was serious.

“I have Demon with me. What the hell do I have to worry about?”

Stan chuckled and held out his hand. “See ya’ in school.”

“You bet,” Mike shook Stan’s hand and then Jerry’s. A bond had been formed.

“C’mon, Laura! Get the hell in the back and let’s go!” Connie waved at Laura impatiently.

“I’m walking with Mike and Demon,” Laura replied, waving goodbye.

Connie reversed the Buick and turned around the moment Stan and Jerry closed their doors.

Mike held out a beer he’d opened between food offerings to Demon. “Beer?”

“Oh yeah,” Laura accepted the can. She gulped down a little in obvious distaste.

“It gets better with every sip.” Mike patted his leg for Demon to come along.

“Are you sure?” Laura asked doubtfully as the three walked along the moonlit path.

“Nope,” Mike declared, opening his. “This is my first.”

Laura laughed at the cough and twisted expression Mike had as a reaction to his first taste of beer.

“Oh boy…” Mike gagged, “that sure hit the spot, right Demon?”

“Arf!” Demon answered.