A Growl in the Dead of the Night

Years ago my husband was out of town and I was alone when I was awakened by a warning growl in the dead of the night. Our six-month-old Dalmatian pup had never growled before. He hadn’t even barked. That event sparked the inspiration for this vignette. I hope you enjoy it.


A hand reaches for the doorknob in the vignette, A Growl in the Dead of the Night, by Lynette M. Burrows

The growling woke her. Sandy groggily shushed her dog, Max. Her usually obedient dog’s throat rumbled with a warning. Alarmed she rose on her elbows and whispered, “What is it, Max?” 

The weatherman had predicted a thunderstorm for tonight. Was distant thunder what had upset Max? She listened. An eerie silence filled the air. There was no purr of the furnace, no hum of the refrigerator, no whoosh of tires on the asphalt street below her second-floor bedroom window. Max, a black and white Dalmatian, lay on the rug along her side of the bed, his head up, an ear cocked. He listened better than she did. She reached down and petted his hindquarters. He’s heard an outdoor cat. Max hated cats. “Go back to sleep, Max,” she whispered and sank back onto the bed. 

Max’s tags on his collar jangled as he leaped to his feet. He walked stiff-legged to the closed bedroom door, his growl now a snarl. 

The hairs on her arms, her back, and legs crawled. She sat up. Did a branch outside fall? Maybe a neighbor just got home. 

Max lowered his head to the crack at the bottom of the bedroom door, bared his teeth, and growled some more. 

Sandy’s heart tapped a don’t-panic, don’t panic rhythm against her ribs. She sat up, eased her legs out from under the covers and over the side of the bed. Maybe he had a nightmare. Nothing to get excited about. 

Max’s unrelenting, deep-throated growl unnerved her. 

A dry, sour taste rose in the back of her throat. Maybe Max hears someone outside. Someone who shouldn’t be there. She reached for the phone, lifted the receiver to her ear. A two-toned wail pierced the air. 

“If you’d like to make a call, hang up and dial again.” The flat, unemotional computer voice didn’t reassure her.

 Her heart fluttered. Trembling, she clung to the receiver, held it against her chest. Her teeth chattered. There wasn’t enough air. She’d counted on always being able to call the police. What now? 

Max’s growl rumbled relentlessly. 

The two-tone wail and the computer voice were on endless repeat. She replaced the receiver. 

Maybe it’s the weather that’s spooked Max and me. They predicted a bad storm for tonight. But she still couldn’t hear wind or rain. She shivered, uncertain if was because of cold or fright. 

Max barked—sharp and loud. Once. 

She didn’t think but now stood, wedged in the farthest corner of the room. Max never barks. Not without reason. She didn’t remember grabbing the five-cell flashlight, but she clutched it with both hands. She couldn’t move. Couldn’t catch her breath. Couldn’t stop her tremors. She strained to hear what Max heard. 

Seconds stretched into eternities, one after the other. The pitter-pat of rain on the roof made her tighten her grip on the flashlight. She tried to breathe slower. To listen better. Her heart beat rang in her ears. No house noise. No traffic noise. No wind. An occasional pit-pat. And still, Max growled, head low, ears flattened. 

What did Max sense beyond that door? She twisted the long flashlight in her hands. What if a burglar stood on the other side of the door, frozen for fear of Max? And here I stand frozen for fear of the burglar. Is this a Mexican stand-off? 

A deafening clap of thunder rattled the house and lightning strobed in the windows. She jumped, then gave a timorous laugh. It was the weather! Poor Max. The pressure changes must be hurting his ears. She blew out a long relieved breath. Silly dog. Silly me. The cold tile had long since leeched body heat from her feet and legs. Gooseflesh peppered her skin. The pressure in her bladder urged her forward. 

“I don’t need this anymore,” she said louder than necessary and tossed the flashlight onto the bed. “Good boy, Max.” Extra loud. Just in case. Uneasy, she giggled. I let my spooked pup spook me. “It’s ok, Max,” she said loud and clear and reached for the door.

A Growl in the Dead of the Night-a vignette by Lynette M. Burrows

Reality

Now I can laugh about the experience that inspired the vignette above but laughter was the last thing on my mind at the time. I don’t know how the story above ends—yet. In reality, I turned on every single light in the house, sat in the dining room, and spent the rest of the night doing a jigsaw puzzle. Our telephone line service was restored the next day. Strangely, our dog never exhibited that kind of behavior ever again. I don’t think too long about what that might mean. 

Be sure to check out my other fiction samples. You can find the links on this page.

I hope you enjoyed reading about the warning growl and I hope you never experience such a fright.

In This Month of Love–Love One Another

“Love one another” is a concept that has been around since Confucian times (551–479 BC) or earlier. It’s been stated and restated.

In this month of love--love one another. A known concept for centuries...

Call it a Golden Rule

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your kinsfolk. Love your neighbor as yourself

— Leviticus 19:18

The concept appears in nearly every religion. 

What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.

— Shabbath folio:31a, Babylonian Talmud

Call it Karma

"Love One Another" Call it religious, karma, or ethics. Call it whatever you want, but live it. Here's how.

Do good, reap good; do evil, reap evil.

–Chinese Proverb

You get treated in life the way you teach people to treat you.

–Wayne Dyer

Call it ethics

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. A repercussion.

– Brownell Landrum Author

Kindness is loving people more than they deserve.

–Joseph Joubert Writer

Whatever you call it…

Live It

A lot of times, in our culture and our society, we put romantic love somehow on a higher plane than self-love and friendship love. You can’t do that. You have to honor and really fully invest in all these different loving relationships.

—Delilah

The fact is, society is made more hospitable by every individual who acts as if ‘do unto others’ really was a rule.

–Gary Hamel

When you plant a seed of love, it is you that blossoms.

– Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati Teacher

Blessed is the influence of one true, loving human soul on another.

–George Eliot

My philosophy is to do the best you can for somebody. Help. It’s not just what do you for yourself. It’s how you treat people decently. The golden rule. There isn’t big anything better than the golden rule. It’s in every major religion in one language or another.

–Art Linkletter
Love one another. Call it religious, karma, ethics, or whatever you want. But live it. Here's how.

There is no limit to the power of loving.

— John Morton

Fight the Hate

Our world has more than enough hate right now. 

Not with name calling or shaming or even by sharing the by expressing our outrage at heinous acts of hate. 

How? We model kindness and love and generosity. We actively show that we love one another. How? Any way you can. Make new friends. Reach out to someone in need. Volunteer. Shake a hand. Compliment someone. Help someone who needs it. 

Remember, there is no limit to the power of loving. It’s in every language, every skin color, every ethnicity, every religion. So in this month of love and in the years ahead—love one another. If more of us did, what a wonderful world this would be. What are ways you model loving your neighbor?

Do You Know The Secrets of Successful Story-writing?

Yes, there are secrets to successful story-writing but don’t worry, the recipes aren’t hard. The ingredients are classic and simple. The directions aren’t difficult. The execution…well, that part’s up to you. Let’s start with the basic M-R unit.

Story equals change…equals cause and effect…

equals motivation and reaction.

—Dwight V. Swain

The Motivation-Reaction Unit

Remember the Because-But-Therefore statement I talked about in Because There are Lies, Secrets, and Scars? Now we’re digging deeper into that concept. 

The M-R Unit is the creation of Dwight V. Swain and discussed in his book, Techniques of the Selling Writer. The writer who understands the M-R unit will write a successful story. Success may not come in the first draft. But if you understand the M-R unit, you understand one of the secrets of successful story-writing. 

In his book, Swain says, “External events have no meaning in themselves, no matter how bland or how violent they may be….They aid in story development only as someone has feelings about them and reacts to them.”

Cause and Effect

That external event in a story causes the character to have a reaction. Swain calls the event, or cause, a motivating stimulus. The cause, or motivating stimulus,  is “anything outside of your viewpoint character to which he reacts.” Let me repeat that: a motivating stimulus is OUTSIDE of your viewpoint character (Swain uses the term “focal character”) to which he REACTS. (Emphasis mine.) That’s a crucial ingredient in successful story-writing.

So all those lovely events you wrote, where the character is an observer—delete them. Or make that event matter, make it trigger a specific reaction from your character. 

Character Reaction

Swain digs even deeper. There is a pattern we humans follow. When we receive new information there is a change. This change is our motivating stimulus. There is a hierarchy in our reactions to that change. First, we have a feeling. Damn. I’m disappointed. Then we act. I pound the table. Finally, we speak. “Damn it, Jim. Why didn’t you tell me earlier?” In reality, these reactions occur very fast, often simultaneously. But in reading, you read words one at a time. (Yes, there are people who read phrases, but it’s still first phrase, second phrase, etc.). To convey simultaneity in writing is difficult and most often, confusing.

Swain calls this hierarchy the motivation-reaction unit. He writes it like this:

  1. Motivating Stimulus
  2. Character Reaction
    1. Feeling
    2. Action
    3. Speech

The words you choose to describe those things isn’t as important as the order in which they appear. If you mix up the order, it feels wrong or doesn’t flow or doesn’t make any sense at all. 

Example

Here’s an example from my first draft of my current WIP.

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“Ian, you can’t be so naïve that you think the investigation you’re doing is safe?”

Oh, crap. Ian’s pulse rocketed. Pop was wrong. “I don’t understand.” He held Dale’s envelope against his chest, his arms folded over it, and tried to interpret Collins’ expression. 

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I’ll break the pattern down into M-R Unit speak.

  • Stimulus: “Ian, you can’t be so naïve that you think the investigation you’re doing is safe?”
  • Speech (remember, thought is internal speech): Oh, Crap.
  • Feeling: Ian’s pulse rocketed
  • Speech: Pop was wrong. “I don’t understand.” 
  • Action: He held Dale’s envelope against his chest, his arms folded over it, and tried to interpret Collins’ expression.

Now read it with the proper hierarchy of the M-R unit.

<><><>

“Ian, you can’t be so naïve that you think the investigation you’re doing is safe?”

Ian pulse rocketed. He folded his arms over Dale’s envelope. Held it snug against his chest. Oh, crap. “I don’t understand.” Did Collins rat me out?

<><><>

Does this read smoother? Do you feel the increased tension? Do you understand more clearly what Ian’s reaction is? Look at the M-R unit breakdown below.

  • Stimulus: “Ian, you can’t be so naïve that you think the investigation you’re doing is safe?”
  • Feeling: Ian pulse rocketed.
  • Action: He folded his arms over Dale’s envelope. Held it snug against his chest.
  • Speech: Oh, crap. “I don’t understand.” Did Collins rat me out?

In his book, Swain discusses the M-R unit in detail. He also discusses techniques for developing your book from conflict to scene and sequel and all the aspects of successful story-writing. Swain’s book is available on Amazon and Audible. I highly recommend it.

Conclusion

The secrets of successful story-writing aren’t really secrets. And they aren’t rules. Even Swain rejects “rules” for story writing.

“No writer in his right mind writes by a set of rules.”

Dwight V. Swain

But there are patterns to successful story-writing. 

“The first real rule of successful story-writing is…find a feeling.” 

Dwight V. Swain

Use the pattern of stimulus-reaction. Be certain reactions follow the hierarchy. It’s the recipe that will launch you on your way to successful story-writing.