Thursday, June 07, 2018

Something Terrible - The Bombing of Alfred P. Murrah

Years ago, I wrote a short story called Prairie Justice. I had almost forgotten the story and found it again, recently, while deleting unnecessary files from my computer. As I reread and re-edited the story, details of why I wrote it in the first place flooded my brain.
The year was 1995. During April of that year, a madman blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Building, killing 168 innocent victims, including many children in daycare there. Anne, my wife then, was a fledgling lawyer, having gone to law school late in life (mid-forties). She partnered with Becky S., and we were about to move into our new offices when the bomb exploded.
I had returned home from an early-morning dentist’s appointment. I found Anne sobbing uncontrollably.
I was puzzled because Anne was a trooper. Despite all the bad things that had happened to us, I don’t recall having ever seen her cry. When I saw her that morning, she was crying like a baby.
“What’s the matter?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Something terrible has happened.”
We turned on the TV to a local news station. Their helicopter was heading downtown to check out an explosion that had rocked the city.
“There’s lots of smoke coming from one of the buildings. I think it’s the Federal Building,” the chopper pilot said.
A cameraman was taking pictures. Except for the smoke, the front of the building looked normal. We watched as the chopper circled around the building. When the camera focused on what remained of the north side of the building, Anne and I gasped in disbelief.
“Oh my God!” the pilot said. “Oh my God!”
Days passed, and then weeks. The bombing was like a blow to the head for the entire City. It became all too common to be talking to someone, and suddenly have them dissolve into tears, blurting out some heart-wrenching story they’d kept bottled inside for far too long. Everyone had a story. Everyone was affected.
Shortly after the bombing, Becky sent Anne to interview a deadbeat, druggie client that had been put in jail for beating his wife.
“You may think he’s scum, but he deserves his day in court. He’s your client so treat him with respect, no matter how you feel about him in your heart,” Becky counseled.
Anne and I left Oklahoma City early one morning, heading west to El Reno, the Canadian County seat. I can’t even remember why we stopped there, but I remember the courthouse facilities and the historic town well. Leaving El Reno, we passed a Las Vegas-style bingo hall in nearby Concho. Gambling was in its infancy in Oklahoma. Sixteen years later, it’s rampant.
We drove through the tiny town of Okarche, to Eischen’s Bar. The longest continuously operating bar in Oklahoma was shut down at the time because of a flash fire. We made it to Enid shortly before lunch, finding the correction’s facility ensconced in an old neighborhood.
The jailers brought Doug (that was his first name) into a visitor’s room, wearing an orange jumpsuit, shackled in leg irons, handcuffs and a belly chain. I watched from a distance as Anne talked with him for about half an hour. Wearing her own shackles of lawyer/client privilege, she never told me what they talked about.
Later that night, I wrote Prairie Justice, a short story featuring Buck McDivit, a character that had suddenly invaded my mind. The story is about a crooked oilman and mirrors a real oilman responsible for the bankruptcy of the oil company Anne and I started from scratch. Most of the description in the story actually occurred.
Years have passed since I wrote Prairie Justice. Anne died three years after the Murrah bombing. I wrote Ghost of a Chance, my first Buck McDivit novel, some years later. It was published in 2005. The scar of the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing has faded. Tears streamed down my face as I wrote this story. Buck McDivit is now a real person to me. The Murrah Building scar has faded, and people no longer sob during normal conversation. Maybe, but the bombing still rests like a red blotch on my soul, as I’m sure it does for everyone that experienced that sad day.


Born near Black Bayou in the little Louisiana town of Vivian, Eric Wilder grew up listening to his grandmother’s tales of politics, corruption, and ghosts that haunt the night. He now lives in Oklahoma where he continues to pen mysteries and short stories with a southern accent. He is the author of the French Quarter Mystery Series set in New Orleans and the Paranormal Cowboy Series. Please check it out on his AmazonBarnes & NobleKobo and iBook author pages. You might also like to check out his website.

Sunday, June 03, 2018

Old Bones - a short story

 It’s a gray day here in Oklahoma, my two kitties, Buster and Buttercup, searching for even a scant patch of sunlight in which to bask. The gloom reminds me of a search I made many years ago that resulted in an eerie discovery.
A chill weekend in November found Gail, my ex, and me deep in a pine forest in southwest Arkansas. A graduate student in geology, my thesis concerned long-forgotten mineral deposits in a sparsely populated corner of the universe. Years before the invention of GPS tracking devices, we relied on a very old Brunton compass to navigate through the stark loneliness of the southern Ouachita Mountains.
Tall trees, mostly pines, covered the rolling terrain. While the Ouachitas aren’t high, rapid elevation changes of several hundred feet are common. We were moving slowly, picking our way through the undergrowth as we traversed an east-west trending ridgeline, looking for an old lead mine hidden deep in the forest.
Gail was short, had green eyes, dark hair and an olive complexion inherited from her French-Acadian parents. Though raised in the New Orleans’ metro area, her athletic legs carried her through the forest as smoothly as if she’d been born there. She was walking ahead of me, and I bumped into her when she halted abruptly.
“How do you know where we’re going?” she asked. “There’s no trail. I think we’re lost.”
I was holding an old topo map in one hand and the Brunton compass in the other. “We’re following an azimuth. The mine should be just up ahead.”
“That’s what you said thirty minutes ago,” she said.
“It’s hard staying in a straight line with so many trees and boulders in the way.”
“Tell me about it.”
“Let’s keep walking,” I said. “We’ll find it.”
I was about to give up when we reached a slight clearing that led down the slope to a roaring stream. There was something anomalous about the rounded pile of dirt located in a bend.
“That has to be it,” I said.
“That pile of dirt?” she said.
“Someone dug that dirt out of the ground and put it there. I think it’s the mine we’re looking for.”
“Doesn’t look like a mine to me,” Gail said.
“Quit bitching and let’s investigate. Even if it’s not the Davis Mine, we can at least take a break.”
Gail had endless energy and rarely ever took a break. As I sat on a fallen log and tossed pebbles into the roaring water of the creek, she climbed up on the pile of dirt and began exploring it.
“This hill’s bigger than it looks,” she said. “It follows the river for at least fifty yards.”
“I’m sure it was built by humans,” I said.
“Hell yeah,” she said. “Look at this.”
Glancing up the hill, I could see Gail had something in her hand.
“What is it?” I asked.
“An old bottle.”
“How old?”
“Real old,” she said. “Looks like something from a museum.”
I left my perch on the stump and followed her up the hill. The bottle was faded green and crusted with dirt. I was still examining it when Gail called again.
“Check this out,” she said, holding up something for me to see.
“What is it?”
“What’s left of a Confederate soldier’s shirt.”
“How do you know that?”
“There’s a brass button still attached with the letters C.S.A.,” she said.
The weathered hill was the talus pile of an old mine. A scar, roughly a half-acre in size, was all that remained of the old mining operation. Vertical shafts had collapsed or were filled with standing water. We soon began digging beautiful ore specimens out of the talus pile strewn with old bottles, broken timbers and a few faded signs of the men that had worked it.
“How did anyone ever find this place?” Gail asked when she finally stopped for a break.
“Prospectors searching for silver in the 1830s found lead and antimony instead,” I said. “This particular mine used horses and slave labor to mine lead for the Confederacy.”
“The old man at the truck stop told us we’d never find this place, and that it’s haunted,” Gail said.
“Well, we did find it. Don’t know about any ghosts, though the accounts of operations at the Davis Mine refer to abuse, torture and even murder of Union prisoners of war conscripted to work here.”
“Then maybe it is haunted.”
“Maybe so,” I said. “The shadows and silence are starting to creep me out.”
“Me too,” Gail said. “I keep looking around, thinking someone’s behind me.”
It was already past noon when we found the old mine, days short and our time limited before we needed to start back to the truck. We took photos and collected specimens, all the while feeling as if there was something present other than ourselves, even if it was only fleeting shadows. The distinct sensation that we were disturbing a place where something terrible had happened was unmistakable. I felt it, and so did Gail.
I jumped when she said, “Oh, shit!”
“What is it?”
“You better come see. I’m not touching this thing.”
She was standing on the top of the pile, nudging something with the toe of her boot. Though mostly covered with dirt, it looked for all the world like a human skull.
“Shit is right,” I said, digging the skull out of the earth with my pick hammer.
“Is that a bullet hole?” Gail asked as I held the skull in my hand.
“Looks like it to me,” I said. “But hell if I know for sure.”
“What are we going to do with it?” Gail asked.
I tossed it into the creek, staring at the rapidly rushing water a moment before answering.
“Forget we found it,” I said.
“Can we do that?” Gail asked.
“I have a thesis to write and no time to participate in a murder investigation. I don’t intend to ever return to this place except maybe in my nightmares.”
“I hear that,” Gail said. “Let’s get the hell out of here before it gets dark.”
Twilight draped the forest when we finally made it back to our old faded green Ford truck, waiting for us on a muddy dirt road. When we returned to Fayetteville, I sent some of the ore samples to the U.S. Geological Survey in Denver for analysis. The results surprised me as I’m sure they would have the prospectors that discovered the Davis Mine. The ore wasn’t just lead and antimony; there was silver present, and it was richer even than ore from the Comstock Lode.
Many years have passed since Gail, and I felt the presence of ghosts at the remote Davis Mine, hidden deep in the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas. Today, as an overhead cloud cast a shadow on my kittens, sleeping on the hood of my car, I remembered in vivid detail.
P.S. - I'd just returned home from a stint as an infantry foot soldier in Vietnam before enrolling at the University of Arkansas. My year-long exploration of the Ouachita Mountains in southwest Arkansas, one of the wildest and most remote parts of the continental United States, and my months in the steaming jungles of Southeast Asia prompted me to write A Gathering of Diamonds, an adventure novel in the vein of Jules Verne and Edgar Rice Burroughs. If you like mystery, history, and high adventure I urge you to check it out.

Born near Black Bayou in the little Louisiana town of Vivian, Eric Wilder grew up listening to his grandmother’s tales of politics, corruption, and ghosts that haunt the night. He now lives in Oklahoma where he continues to pen mysteries and short stories with a southern accent. He is the author of the French Quarter Mystery Series set in New Orleans and the Paranormal Cowboy Series. Please check it out on his AmazonBarnes & NobleKobo and iBook author pages. You might also like to check out his website.