Sunday, January 29, 2006

Homer Hickam's Remarks at Sago Miners' Memorial Service

Homer Hickam
"What needs to be done"

Families of the Sago miners, Governor Manchin, Mrs. Manchin, Senator Byrd, Senator Rockefeller, West Virginians, friends, neighbors, all who have come here today to remember those brave men who have gone on before us, who ventured into the darkness but instead showed us the light, a light that shines on all West Virginians and the nation today:

It is a great honor to be here. I am accompanied by three men I grew up with, the rocket boys of Coalwood: Roy Lee Cooke, Jimmie O'Dell Carroll, and Billy Rose. My wife Linda, an Alabama girl, is here with me as well.

As this tragedy unfolded, the national media kept asking me: Who are these men? And why are they coal miners? And what kind of men would still mine the deep coal?

One answer came early after the miners were recovered. It was revealed that, as his life dwindled, Martin Toler had written this: It wasn't bad. I just went to sleep. Tell all I'll see them on the other side. I love you.

In all the books I have written, I have never captured in so few words a message so powerful or eloquent: It wasn't bad. I just went to sleep. Tell all I'll see them on the other side. I love you.

I believe Mr. Toler was writing for all of the men who were with him that day. These were obviously not ordinary men.

But what made these men so extraordinary? And how did they become the men they were? Men of honor. Men you could trust. Men who practiced a dangerous profession. Men who dug coal from beneath a jealous mountain.

Part of the answer is where they lived. Look around you. This is a place where many lessons are learned, of true things that shape people as surely as rivers carve valleys, or rain melts mountains, or currents push apart the sea. Here, miners still walk with a trudging grace to and from vast, deep mines. And in the schools, the children still learn and the teachers teach, and, in snowy white churches built on hillside cuts, the preachers still preach, and God, who we have no doubt is also a West Virginian, still does his work, too. The people endure here as they always have for they understand that God has determined that there is no joy greater than hard work, and that there is no water holier than the sweat off a man's brow.

In such a place as this, a dozen men may die, but death can never destroy how they lived their lives, or why.

As I watched the events of this tragedy unfold, I kept being reminded of Coalwood, the mining town where I grew up. Back then, I thought life in that little town was pretty ordinary, even though nearly all the men who lived there worked in the mine and, all too often, some of them died or was hurt. My grandfather lost both his legs in the Coalwood mine and lived in pain until the day he died. My father lost the sight in an eye while trying to rescue trapped miners. After that he worked in the mine for fifteen more years. He died of black lung.

When I began to write my books about growing up in West Virginia, I was surprised to discover, upon reflection, that maybe it wasn't such an ordinary place at all. I realized that in a place where maybe everybody should be afraid after all, every day the men went off to work in a deep, dark, and dangerous coal mine instead they had adopted a philosophy of life that consisted of these basic attitudes:

We are proud of who we are. We stand up for what we believe. We keep our families together. We trust in God but rely on ourselves.

By adhering to these simple approaches to life, they became a people who were not afraid to do what had to be done, to mine the deep coal, and to do it with integrity and honor.

The first time my dad ever took me in the mine was when I was in high school. He wanted to show me where he worked, what he did for a living. I have to confess I was pretty impressed. But what I recall most of all was what he said to me while we were down there. He put his spot of light in my face and explained to me what mining meant to him. He said, "Every day, I ride the mantrip down the main line, get out and walk back into the gob and feel the air pressure on my face. I know the mine like I know a man, can sense things about it that aren't right even when everything on paper says it is. Every day here's something that needs to be done, because men will be hurt if it isn't done, or the coal the company's promised to load won't get loaded. Coal is the life blood of this country. If we fail, the country fails."

And then he said, "There's no men in the world like miners, Sonny. They're good men, strong men. The best there is. I think no matter what you do with your life, no matter where you go or who you know, you will never know such good and strong men."

Over time, though I would meet many famous people from astronauts to actors to presidents, I came to realize my father was right. There are no better men than coal miners. And he was right about something else, too:

If coal fails, our country fails.

The American economy rests on the back of the coal miner. We could not prosper without him. God in his wisdom provided this country with an abundance of coal, and he also gave us the American coal miner who glories in his work. A television interviewer asked me to describe work in a coal mine and I called it "beautiful." He was astonished that I would say such a thing so I went on to explain that, yes, it's hard work but, when it all comes together, it's like watching and listening to a great symphony: the continuous mining machines, the shuttle cars, the roof bolters, the ventilation brattices, the conveyor belts, all in concert, all accomplishing their great task. Yes, it is a beautiful thing to see.

There is a beauty in anything well done, and that goes for a life well lived.

How and why these men died will be studied now and in the future. Many lessons will be learned. And many other miners will live because of what is learned. This is right and proper.

But how and why these men lived, that is perhaps the more important thing to be studied. We know this much for certain: They were men who loved their families. They were men who worked hard. They were men of integrity, and honor. And they were also men who laughed and knew how to tell a good story. Of course they could. They were West Virginians!

And so we come together on this day to recall these men, and to glory in their presence among us, if only for a little while. We also come in hope that this service will help the families with their great loss and to know
the honor we wish to accord them.

No matter what else might be said or done concerning these events, let us forever be reminded of who these men really were and what they believed, and who their families are, and who West Virginians are, and what we believe, too.

There are those now in the world who would turn our nation into a land of fear and the frightened. It's laughable, really. How little they understand who we are, that we are still the home of the brave. They need look no further than right here in this state for

For in this place, this old place, this ancient place, this glorious and beautiful and sometimes fearsome place of mountains and mines, there still lives a people like the miners of Sago and their families, people who yet
believe in the old ways, the old virtues, the old truths; who still lift their heads from the darkness to the light, and say for the nation and all the world to hear:

We are proud of who we are.

We stand up for what we believe.

We keep our families together.

We trust in God.

We do what needs to be done.

We are not afraid.
- - - - - - - - - -
Homer Hickam, originally from Coalwood, WV and author of the memoir "Rocket Boys", delivered these remarks at a memorial service for the Sago miners in Buckhannon, WV, on Jan. 15, 2006.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Haunted Each Night By A Ghostly Visitor (With Apologies to Robert Frost)

Whose spirit comes each midnight bell
To haunt my house, I cannot tell
It wails and weeps till morning breaks
Then shimmers and returns to Hell

It rises from a graveyard near
Then drifts into our own house here
To frighten all who live within
And cause us all to quake with fear

It howls and wanders through the halls
Then passes through our bedroom walls
An anguished spirit who can’t rest
Like us who listen to its calls

Whoe’er it is, I cannot say
I fear that it is here to stay
At least until the break of day
At least until the break of day

© 2006 Clara Chandler - All Rights Reserved Image hosting by Photobucket

Ghost Photo Courtesy of Evil Uncle Ernie

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Clara Chandler's Candle

I finally found a jpg file to use for this blog. I found a perfect gif file but apparently Hello doesn't host gifs... Posted by Picasa

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Sometimes Things Go Wrong

I was supposed to get my computer back from the shop Friday but, as they say, sometimes things go wrong. In honor of that sentiment, here's a little ditty I entitled:

Sometimes Things Go Wrong

Marjorie sighed. She’d finally found a few minutes to sit down and now she had to convince her weary body to get back up. She’d been at the nurses’ station, writing her notes and sipping burnt coffee when she detected movement at the end of the hallway. A slender woman wearing a long white nightgown had glided into Room 469.

“Someone’s wandering around, I see,” she’d mused, struggling out of her chair to retrieve what she thought was a confused elderly woman who’d lost her way. It was common that patients, especially older ones zonked by unfamiliar medication and the strange fluorescent lighting, left their rooms and got lost on the way back. She kept her eyes on the door in case the woman came out.

Room 469 was unoccupied tonight, thankfully. Marjorie hoped the old lady had just crawled in the empty bed and gone to sleep. It would make it easier to guide the patient back to her assigned room.

When she reached 469, the room was empty. Surprised, she glanced around the patient bathroom. No one was there. She walked to the far side of the room and checked the floor behind the bed. Nothing. Feeling a little silly, she even peeked under the bed and inside the closet. She got gooseflesh when she realized she was alone in the room. There was no way the woman could’ve left without Marjorie seeing. This was a new, high-tech wing of the hospital and the windows were sealed. The woman had simply… disappeared.

She returned to the desk and tried to write her notes, but the vision of the white-clad woman who’d disappeared pushed all organized thought from her head.

At 4 o’clock a.m. the night supervisor swung by on her rounds.

“What’s the matter, Marjorie? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” Rosie’s slanted green Irish eyes twinkled at her.

“Rosie, I think I might have.” Marjorie explained the incident. “I know I didn’t fall asleep or anything. I distinctly recall everything about it.”

Rosie’s face took on a sadness, and she said, “That was Sister Margaret.”

“Sister Margaret? But there was no way she could’ve left the room, Rosie. I never once looked away from the door.”

“I believe you. Did you know that years ago the hospital had its own convent here?”

“Yes, I think I heard that before.”

“The nuns lived here. There was a nursing school as well, but the main function was to house the nuns and care for the patients. The nursing school only lasted about ten years.

“Now it’s not discussed in polite company, but every once in a great while a novitiate or more rarely even a nun gets herself in trouble.”

Marjorie nodded. She’d never heard this before, but it made sense to her that people, being people, sometimes make mistakes. Even a nun must have physical longings sometimes.

“Sister Margaret was a young novitiate. They say she was a lovely young woman, no bigger than a ten-year-old girl, and so kind. Everyone loved her. She was wonderful with the patients, had a grand career ahead of her and would eventually move up, or so everyone believed.

“The Diocese brought a younger priest in, a fine man, tall as a tree and strong as an ox. Somehow he and Sister Margaret fell victim to their baser desires. Eventually it was discovered that she was pregnant. Well, it was a scandal of the highest degree, as you can well imagine. Margaret was confined to her room for the duration of her pregnancy. When people asked about her, they were told she’d been transferred to a hospital upstate. Back then people didn’t travel as much as they do now, so it was an effective ruse.

“She was a tiny thing, like I said. The baby was large, like its father, and she couldn’t expel it. The sisters put off calling the doctor – they didn’t want anyone to know, you understand. They believed they could deliver her of the baby and keep anyone from knowing about her disgrace. They’d put the child up for adoption and no one would be the wiser, you see. But sometimes things go wrong.

“Sister Margaret prayed fervently out loud, begging Our Lord to keep the baby safe. Oh, she had terrible pain but never did a foul word escape her mouth. She valiantly labored for three days and nights before she gave in to exhaustion. She hemorrhaged on the third day and they couldn’t staunch her bleeding. The spirit passed out of Sister Margaret, her body too weak to hold it in. But the sisters were able to cut the baby free, and it lived -- a fine boy, strong as an ox, like his father. He was placed for adoption and raised by one of the doctors whose wife couldn’t conceive. He’s a lawyer here in town now.

“They buried Sister Margaret in an unmarked section of the hospital’s basement. It wasn’t unusual for the Diocese to bury paupers like that – there was no Potter’s Field around here. But Sister Margaret didn’t rest after her death. Instead, she wandered the wing where she died, searching for her child. Patients reported seeing a white figure in the hallways. Sometimes she’d enter a patient’s room in the obstetrics department. She’d stand and watch the mother hold her baby. She never spoke, and it frightened the young women.

“People have so many hospitals to choose from nowadays, you see, and no young mother wants a ghost in her room. Public Relations wanted to keep reports of a haunting quiet, but they kept getting out. So a few years ago Administration decided to tear down the old convent wing and build this new section. No one had seen Sister Margaret since then. We all thought she was gone.”

Marjorie looked directly into Rosie’s eyes. “But sometimes things go wrong.”

“Yes, they do.”

© 2006 Clara Chandler - All Rights Reserved

Friday, January 20, 2006

Reach Out And Touch Someone

Have you ever wanted to contact aliens? I don’t mean the warm-natured gents who perform miracles with lawn care; I’m referring to E.T.’s relatives – intergalactic aliens.

For the nominal fee of $3.99 per minute, will let you use their “custom-engineered deep space transmitter” to attempt to contact intergalactic communication. The site is currently offline while they “upgrade and enhance the system with new out-of-this-world features.”

Imagine the possibilities. Your son has some friends stay for a sleepover. One of his buddies decides they should call and “make contact.” They decide to use your cell phone. The appropriate number is dialed. The guys hear some high-pitched screeches and a little static – not enough to hold their interest but enough to keep the line open just in case.

Your son’s friend Allen (you know, the one who was 2005’s poster boy for attention deficit disorder) remembers that Brittany and her friends are having a sleepover tonight too. “Let’s prank ‘em,” he suggests. The boys’ focus turns to visions of softly curved teenaged girls wearing baby-doll pajamas. Your cell phone is set aside – still connected to… space.

Unless you’re lucky and the connection is dropped, at a rate of $239.40 per hour, the fees are mounting at a good clip. In four hours they’ve incurred $957.60 in charges, not counting the three pizzas and several two-liters of Pepsi products you so graciously provided.

That’s nightmarish in and of itself.

Now let’s suppose that contact is established with a group of malevolent aliens – or even a group of E.T.s having their own sleepover. One by one, they teleport via the site’s “10.5 foot parabolic antenna,” truly opening a portal from Hell. You probably won’t even go check on the guys until their screaming becomes louder than the mega-metal music they’re listening to. Your husband bangs on the ceiling once – twice. The screams continue.

You flutter your eyelashes and meaningfully pat the bed beside you. “Honey, go up there and quiet them down. I can’t stand another minute of this noise. I’ll have a treat for you when you get back…”

His chest puffs out; he’s in his element now. Your hero ascends the stairs to defend his sweetheart. His heart pounding, he breaks a sweat on the eighth or ninth step; he’s just a bit out of shape and makes a mental note to start running again.

Just a split second before he opens the bedroom door, a niggling voice inside his head wonders why the boys are screaming. Imagine the expression of disbelief on his face when he enters the room and sees -- Them.

Can you hear me now?

© 2006 Clara Chandler - All Rights Reserved

Monday, January 16, 2006

Turns out that when you save a post as a draft and then publish it, sometimes the links get, um, frocked. So here's the link to the Harvard Moral Sense Test for those of you who were interested:

Here's a little tale I hope you enjoy. It's based on a true story! ~~CC

“Just A Bite Before I Go"

“You can’t feed a person who’s on a ventilator. The machine’s pressure forces the stomach contents out and up, and the fluid gets into the lungs. It’s called aspiration. The patient can die.” Jill’s cheeks puffed out as she exhaled. It was hard enough being an outsider in this family; it would be impossible instructing these country folks on the finer points of patient care.

“It doesn’t seem right though, not to feed her. She hasn’t had a bite to eat for a month now. How can she live?” Mike blew his cigarette smoke through a crack in the window. The wind propelled the noxious fumes back inside the car. Jill coughed and cut her eyes at him.

“Well, the doctor should have her on a feeding tube. That’ll take care of her nutritional requirements.” Jill smiled, hopeful the issue would be settled with that pearl of wisdom.

At the house, Mike’s cousin Miranda met them at the door. Before long the hunger issue was broached again.

“But she’s got to be hungry, Jill. We can’t just leave her like that to starve. That little bit of gruel we put down that tube won’t help her get her strength back.” Miranda looked hopeful. She stood, toying with the hem of her sweater.

“She’s fine, I promise. She’s getting everything she needs from the liquid feeding.”

Miranda sighed. “Well, thank you for coming to visit. I know Aunt Donna will appreciate seeing you.”

Jill walked to the old woman’s bedside. The rhythmic whoosh of the ventilator was the only sound in the room. A thin line of ocher-colored urine in the catheter bag hanging from the side rail caught Jill’s eye.

“How long since that bag’s been emptied?”

“Oh, a day or two,” Miranda replied. “Why?”

“That’s not enough urine for that length of time. She may be in renal failure.” Miranda’s forehead wrinkles deepened.


“Kidney failure.”

“Oh, my.” Tears welled up in Miranda’s eyes. “That means…”

“Does her doctor know about this?”

“I ain’t sure, Jill.”

Jill finished her cursory examination and joined the rest of her husband’s family members in the parlor.

“I think Aunt Donna’s very close to death. You should concentrate on making her comfortable now. That’s about all you can do.”

Uncle John glared at Jill. “You damned nurses and doctors. You put folks through hell with all these tubes and things, then starve ‘em to death.” He stomped out of the room. A moment later the front door slammed.

“Come on, sweetheart. We’re going back to the motel, everybody. Our trip’s about worn us out.”

Jill and her husband left the house. No one stepped forward to hug them; no one even said goodbye.

* * *

In the morning they made the six-mile drive up Wolf Bend Hollow to Uncle John’s and Aunt Donna’s ancient log house.

“There’s a lot of cars here, Jill. Wonder why?”

“I see that. Wouldn’t be surprised if Aunt Donna passed away in the night and no one called us.”

Jill was right; the old woman had crossed the veil, as the family put it.

“How’d she go?” Jill’s husband asked.

Miranda stepped forward. A gentle smile crossed her weathered face. “It was like this, you see. I just couldn’t let her starve to death. You know how Aunt Donna loved her biscuits and gravy? I made her a mess of ‘em and cut those biscuits into itty-bitty pieces. Then I soaked ‘em in the gravy ‘til they was soft as oatmeal. It took me ‘bout an hour, but I fed her every bit of a soup bowl full. Why, she coughed a time or two and I’d slow down, but ‘fore you know it, she’d eaten every bite.” Miranda sighed, her pleasure evident.

“She had passed on when I checked on her next. She had the most peaceful expression on her face that you ever saw."
© 2006 Clara Chandler

Saturday, January 14, 2006

The Moral Dilemma - A Test of Character

A Test of Character – The Moral Dilemma

Moral Dilemma -- Few things are more intriguing than a moral dilemma, the test of a person's character. We wait with baited breath, wondering if the hero will take the easy way out, or fight against all odds to retain his moral fiber.

Moral dilemmas are rampant in modern society. There's euthanasia, stem cell research, abortion, suicide, cloning, forced sterilization, pollution, ecology, exploitation of the unsophisticated, racism, and war, just to name the obvious. What about corporations? Do they shut down a plant, putting hundreds out of work in order to save the environment, or quietly dump their waste into the local rivers and streams? Does the President sacrifice thousands to save millions?

They say Stephen Crane (Red Badge of Courage -- not a horror story but one that deals primarily with moral dilemma) was interested in the "seamy side of life." I guess I am too. Some of the more true tests of character come crashing down when your entire focus is keeping from being evicted, or feeding your family one more meal, or deciding between raising another child and having an abortion.

Or consider your vanilla middle-aged member of society. He's online, in a chat room. An attractive and witty woman catches his attention. The conversation deepens, widens, and eventually leads to an offer of cyber-sex. No one else will ever know, he thinks. It won't hurt anyone. What to do in this moral dilemma? Does he, or doesn't he? What are the ramifications if his wife discovers his "harmless" act?

Mary Shelley (Frankenstein) set out to write a tale that would "speak to the mysterious fears of our nature" when she wrote Frankenstein. You will recall that Frankenstein is the doctor, not the unnamed monster that we've come to associate with the moniker "Frankenstein." The story she penned was not a story of a hideous monster but that of a man who can neither predict nor control the consequences of his discoveries and who cannot turn away from his work. His first moral dilemma is the choice between ancient and modern science. Ancient scientists "promised impossibilities and performed nothing" yet modern science "promise[s] very little" yet " have indeed performed miracles," acquiring "new and almost unlimited powers." Frankenstein chooses the path of God-like power. The very human qualities and longings of the scientist's creation constitute a second moral dilemma: Should Dr. Frankenstein create a mate for his male creation?

What about your own moral compass? Where do you draw the line? If the person in front of you in line at the grocery store leaves their change behind, do you call their attention to it -- or pocket it? It's a little thing, right? What if the clerk gives you $10 too much; do you return it, or keep it? The grocery store has plenty, right?

Here is a free Moral Sense Test you can take: l
Each test will take 10-15 minutes and you'll have participated in “an exciting research project,” or so the site claims. The warning states: In taking the MST, you are personally prepared to accept the answers you give even if, upon completion, you find your answers puzzling or disturbing. If you do not accept this responsibility, please do not proceed. That’s scary in and of itself.

Moral dilemmas are the stuff of true horror. Think about some you've faced? Better yet, think of some moral dilemmas you faced and are ashamed of the way you chose? While you're feeling guilty, go read a horror story. [EDIT: Dead link, sorry]. You'll feel better when you've finished. And when you get there, tell 'em Clara sent ya. ~~Clara Chandler

The Harvard Moral Sense Test

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Blog-O-Rama 2005 Members' Pub Credits

The Horror Library Blog-O-Rama has compiled publishing credits for the entire staff. We've all had a great year. Go check it out; lots of good stuff there.~~CC

Sunday, January 08, 2006


Welcome to my blog. I promise there will be more here to see after I've slept for a few hours.

In the meantime, check out The Horror Library and peek under the curtain labeled "Contributing Writers" for my first story. Heck, peek at everyone's stories!

First, be sure to lock your door.