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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

My Kid Has POTS.

So, my oldest child has POTS. It's not a joke about Colorado, nor is it something from an old Cheech and Chong movie.


Not these either.

I wish it was. It stands for Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, which when you break it down seems simple:

Postural --depending on her posture.
Orthostatic --related to standing upright.
Tachycardia --relative rapid heart action whether physiological (post exercise) or pathological.
Syndrome -- A disease that encompasses a particular group of symptoms.

In other words, when she stands up, her heart rate might increase 40 bpm.

A lot of people who read this will say, "Oh, she's just dehydrated.", "Oh, maybe it's just a virus. I hear mono lasts a long while..It'll pass.", "My aunt has IBS.", "I know a dude who is lactose intolerant." or my favorite, "She doesn't look sick."

Veruca, puh-lease.

After eight years, countless scans, blood tests, dozens of medications, two surgeries, monitors for her heart, for acid reflux, cyclic vomiting syndrome (there's that word again), different diets, hundreds of days of missed school, tears, pain, anger, frustration, depression and worry about suicidal thoughts,  the family would appreciate any such uneducated statements remain in your head. I know it sounds rude, but as Wonka says. "Veruca, please."

Let's be real here for a minute. Syndrome is a word doctors use because they can't really throw their hands up in the air and say, "Screw this! I don't know what she's got. Best of luck, pal."

But that's what it basically means. Here's a group of symptoms that are related somehow and they show up in 1 to 3 million people in the US alone (80% of which are females)...and we're clueless as to how we fix it.

But what is it, doc?

Dunno really.

Well what causes it?

Dunno really.

So how do you treat it?

Dunno really.

So...people are working on this, right?

Dunno really, I mean, I guess so. It really isn't as sexy as say...cancer. I mean it doesn't kill people, right? There's no real rush here. 

My prescription is go find another physician. Stat.

I can't really blame the doctors. POTS doesn't get any press. And we all know, if it don't make the news, and the celebrities aren't in an uproar, and there's no way of making money on it, I mean, deflate-gate is important. Those guys make millions. Life can't be unfair for them. As long as our priorities are straight, America.

The good news, if there is any is that people are working on it. The Mayo Clinic, for instance...but we've been there and other than a diagnosis and a three week "boot camp" that merely teaches you how to live with chronic pain, the best that can be done is trial and error with medications to treat the symptoms. Local doctors and specialists are still confused about her symptoms and it's up to us to explain things to them. Seems wrong.

So, we've been trial and erroring for 8 years. Each time there's a tiny step forward, it is fleeting. We are all still hopeful for a cure or a treatment regimen that everyone can live with...hopefully something that doesn't bankrupt the family, but that is secondary. I want something that gives my child the ability to live a normal life. She's already missed so much. Including going to school for the past two years. Friends. Sports, dating, dances, choir performances...that garage band I was stoked about with her (still hoping for that one).

I'm not trying to take anything away from cancer research or the horribleness of that disease, but let's take a peek at what POTS does to people. To do that, we need a bit of history.

It has been called DaCosta's Syndrome, Soldier's Heart, Mitral Valve Prolapse Syndrome, Neurocirculatory Asthenia, and Chronic Orthostatic Intolerance. I'm sure there are other names. Originally it was thought to be brought on by anxiety, but that has since been scrapped. It has been around for a long time. It wasn't until 1993 that the Mayo Clinic picked a name and stuck with it.

Mayo did a study of POTS patients from 2003 to 2010 only to find there was no universal treatment. In a near perfect bell curve, roughly 20% or patients recovered, about 50% had some improvement, and the rest showed no change or they got worse.

When I was in the Navy, I had nightmares where I would see my children go through horrific, violent things...and in the dreams I would run to them, but I was always a step too late. They would say things like, "I needed you, daddy. Where were you?" That feeling was a large part of why I only served one enlistment. What a sick jokester life is for allowing me to be home on nights and weekends instead of halfway around the world for months at a time...and yet I'm still unable to protect them from all the horrible things.

My wife might earn her sainthood for dealing with all of the doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses, technicians, therapists, insurance companies, teachers, principals, school boards, etc. since all of this started. Sometimes, all on her own.

You're welcome, BMW.

Research has now shown that POTS is caused by Autonomic Dysfunction.
Autonomic -- involuntary or unconscious.
Dysfunction --not functioning properly.

So involuntary functions of the body aren't quite working. I'll give some examples. Digestion, for instance. Imagine not being able to eat or drink anything without pain...for years. We've already talked about the heart. So what does that mean? Basically, every time she stands up, she feels faint and sometimes passes out. Just from standing up. It also affects the liver, the sweat glands...and those little muscles that make your eyes go blinky blink. POTS eats away at your quality of life. For years. It might get better, but it might now.

Can medications help? Maybe, but the medications have as many or more side effects than the syndrome itself. Some of them can be quite unpleasant.

Slight exaggeration.

My kid's mood, as you can imagine, can be quite unpleasant. As parents, we steeled ourselves for the teenage years, hoping for the best, hoping the usual mistakes would be mild, experimenting with drugs or alcohol, back talk, broken hearts, hormonal stupidity... What we wouldn't give to have those fights to fight. Instead we see our beautiful--if too skinny--child who sings like a bird, draws like nobody's business...the kid who wants to be a forensic anthropologist and wants to rock out in a garage band and wants to shock the world with her brand of hair, makeup and clothing style (which is pretty cool most of the time)...A kid who was outgoing and a little bossy, that made friends in an instant now spends most of her time curled up on the couch watching TV or staring at her smart phone because it is painful to just be her. We see her cry because her friends don't check in on her anymore. We see her struggle in school and have a teacher who must come to the house when she used to be a straight-A student. It isn't fair.

I'm thankful for my children. The one who is sick (my horror movie buddy) and the little one (my bundle of energy) who is--so far--healthy. She is affected as well. She worries and has nightmares. It takes a toll.

This week, I had a stomach bug. Three days of yucky inconvenience...but what right have I to complain when she's felt this way or worse for 2700+ days. Think about all you've done for the past 2700 days.

I wanted to write about this because it brings me back to center when I start pushing her too hard. When I say, "Do you homework. You can watch TV, you can do homework." When I forget that something that can distract her mind might take the pain away even just for a little while.
I wanted to write about this because even though she doesn't look sick most of the time, she is.
I wanted to write about this because at fifteen, her friends are passing her by, and they don't check in on her because they are fifteen. You remember fifteen, if she isn't in school, she must not exist, right?
I wanted to write about this because maybe if more people knew, more research would be done.
I wanted to write about this because I know there are other kids out there that are going through this and maybe they aren't lucky enough to have good insurance, or a doctor that's sharp enough to see the patterns, or parents that care, or the guts to say, "I just don't feel right"...
I wanted to write about this because maybe someone else out there has kicked this thing and knows a trick or two. We've met one other young woman who has been kind enough to share her successes and failures with this disease. 
I wanted to write about this because I love my kids and I want better for them. Who doesn't want that, right?

It's not my usual comic take on the fictional scary things...but sometimes horror isn't casual or intermixed with funny. Sometimes it moves into your house and hurts the ones you love. Sometimes it overstays its welcome.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Coming Soon!--- DIG, a novel by Dan Dillard

Sometimes, you have to write a book about  your hometown...and in that book you have to destroy everything and let it rebuild itself. It's fun. Here's chapter one. The rest of the book will be along shortly. I have to finish the editing first.
Cover is concept only.

Loretta Gates

The sun was hot by 9:00 am and there was already a thick, soupy quality to the air. Loretta stretched to ease a hitch in her back. Dark patches of sweat grew in the armpits of her brown, PEACE t-shirt and on the waistband of her gray Capri pants. It had begun to run, dripping into places she didn’t like to mention. A woman who never married, who was never loved by anyone but her father, and who never grew close enough to a friend, lover or otherwise to have such discussions. She didn’t even speak of those things with her own doctor if it could be helped.
Loretta Gates worked for thirty years in a textile mill that sat on the west bank of the Cape Fear River and retired at age fifty-six. She had lived in the same hulking, pine-log house outside of the small port town of Smithville, NC since she was born. Her mother passed when she was still in grade school. Her father when she was thirty-five, back in 1977. Since then, she’d lived alone. She was accustomed to it and she liked it that way.
In the early 1800’s, the Gates family had owned one hundred and ninety-two acres on the backside of what was now Clements Road. Her great grandfather sold over half of it to fuel his habits—workings that she herself was still using. Her grandfather, known to her as Poppa Rob, hung on with broken teeth and torn nails to what was left through the Great Depression. Robert Jr., her own father, refused to sell any of it when the good old American subdivisions came through and began to populate the area in the 1960’s. Once that development was done, her childhood home sat just across the highway from the north end of 10th street, Smithville, North Carolina, US of A. That was where she was today—June 24th, 2005—sweeping the pine straw from her front walk.
Her family home was only a few miles from the ocean, even closer to the Intracoastal Waterway. She enjoyed the salty breezes and the smell of decaying cypress, the smell of the pines and the buzzing of insects. Loretta walked down to the waterway often, checking on the progress of tourism—big during the summer, completely absent in the winter months—and hating it. They had no business in her small town. No business at all. She bought ice cream from a local young man who sold out of a truck at the park next to the fishing pier. She ate ice cream and thought about her life. Sixty-three years old, almost sixty-four. It was a long time to be alone, but Loretta figured she had it just about perfected.
The thieves came often. They dressed as real estate agents, as developers, as contractors looking to subdivide her property and put a nice shopping center there. One came dressed as a preacher asking if she might donate a portion of the land so he might build a church. It would “set you right with the Lord, Miss Gates.”
“Me and the Lord aren’t on speaking terms, mister,” she had told him. “And I’m good with that.” She punctuated the statement with the latch on her front door and hadn’t even watched out the window to see if and when he left. She was busy. There were things to do.
They all had the same story. Each of those thieves said her land was nothing but scrub oak and pine trees. Sand and fire ants. She ought to sell. There was no need to keep living there, an old lady like herself. She would be much more comfortable if she only had a small apartment to care for. Somewhere closer to family, closer to convenience. They were all being generous—they had her best interest in mind.
“Aw, hell, Miss Gates. This land ain’t worth half of what we’re offering you,” a smug Jackson Wyatt Arnett had told her. He stood right there on her front porch and said it. The wrinkly, tanned skin around his eyes looked like cobwebs cut into gingerbread dough. He was sweating, she remembered, as the day had been powerful hot. Hellish.
Loretta had looked at that rude, damnable man and smiled, watching a bead of sweat drip from his forehead and follow those cobwebs to his chin where it finally fell to his white shirt in a translucent splat. Then, just like her father had done in the 1960’s, she said in no uncertain terms, “Mr. Arnett, please to go back to wherever you’ve come from and shove your money straight up your ass. This land is Gates’ land and until the earth comes up and swallow it whole, Gates’ land it will always be.”
The thought brought a crooked grin to her face as she swept the walk and pulled weeds from her flower beds. It faded when she got a sand spur caught in the side of her sandaled foot.
“Ooh, shit on all you little bastards.”
Loretta Gates was southern tough.
There was no breeze that day. The only movement in the stifling, wet air came when a car drove by and stirred up the grit from the road. It silenced the cicadas, birds and other creatures for a moment but as the dust settled and the world seemed almost still in the heat, the animals got back to their songs. She mopped her forehead with a light blue towel and then tucked one end of it into her back pocket to dangle like and off-center tail.
Once she was satisfied her walk was swept free of fallen pine needles and various other debris, satisfied the weeds that invaded her flower bed on the house side of that walkway were pulled and discarded, satisfied things were in order as she reckoned it, Loretta put curled fingers to her hips, made a HUMPH noise and the crooked smirk came back to her face.
“Job well done, ‘Retta,” she said right out loud to no one.
Up on her porch, a plank wood deck covered by an extension of the log home’s roof, she gathered a dust pan and went back to the walk to scoop up the pile she had swept. Once it was all in the pan, she walked it out to the edge of the property and dumped it into the drainage ditch to be rinsed away with the next rain.
Another car drove by, followed by another, then a third. The last one was dented and painted blue where it wasn’t rusty. Heavy Metal played so loud that the panels of the vehicle rattled and all to the joy of the teenage boys inside. Each had a cigarette dangling from his mouth.
“Hey baby!” one shouted and it was followed by whistles, laughter and some howls.
She knew they were joking. Boys didn’t whistle at old women. In point of fact, no man had whistled or howled at her in near forty years. Those men were ignorant forty years ago and Loretta figured not much had changed. She waved after them like she was shooing a stray dog, a frown on her face.
“You’ll get yours, boys,” she said, watching the rusty, blue car disappear, and mopped her brow again. Karma was a bitch, Loretta thought. She believed that…had seen it in person. A bigger bitch had yet to be met.
A glance in each direction showed no traffic on the road and she walked across her street to the mailbox. She retrieved a few pieces of junk mail, a renewal slip for her newspaper subscription and a bill from the electric company. “Bah,” she said.
 Back on her porch, Loretta placed her broom and dust pan in a Rubbermaid locker that sat at one end. She surveyed the flower bed and walkway once more before going inside. Everything was in its place. Appearance was everything to those people out there. The thieves never looked beyond it. If she slipped up, even just a little, they would come in and take her home away. She knew they would. They would find that excuse to steal from her.
“Job well done,” she said again and shut the door.
Inside the house, Loretta fanned herself with the light blue towel, thankful for the air conditioning. The home was comfortable, large and with plenty of natural sunlight. The back of the main room went up two stories into the A-framed roof and was windowed near all the way to its peak. The loft looked out over the acres of woodland that made up her back yard and was her favorite place to sit and think. She liked the birds and the wildlife that came through, foraging for food. The animals never came up close to the house, but close enough that she could see. A pair of binoculars sat on the counter next to an orchid in a small vase, a set of disposable salt and pepper shakers, and a napkin holder filled with paper napkins. She sat there at the breakfast bar in the kitchen and watched out those windows at the hummingbirds and the lizards that skittered along the ground.
There was a pitcher of lemonade inside the refrigerator and she filled a glass from it before planting her bottom in her swivel bar stool next to the window. Time to rest. Time to watch the animals. Time to relax. She would have done just that if the smell hadn’t hit her. It was a thick smell, pungent and painful to inhale like sulfur and something burning. It caused her eyes to water. There was no alarm as the scent was familiar and it filled her with equal parts exhilaration and dread.
“Ugh,” she sighed. “Never a moment’s rest.”
She took a deep gulp of the cold, sweet liquid from her glass and set it down on the counter. Beads of condensation fell from the sides of the vessel to the butcher-block surface and pooled there. Loretta walked back to the bedroom where she slept. The same bedroom where her father had slept…where Poppa Rob and his father slept. She opened the closet and pulled a pickaxe and shovel from their leaning rest in the corner, and a pair of leather gloves from a shelf on the side wall. With the gloves on, Loretta tossed the tools up over her shoulder and then leaned over to pull up on a wrought iron ring. The old hatch opened on springs that groaned with age, but stood like an obedient soldier. There were steps in front of her that lead down into the darkness…into that familiar stink.
She descended them, and felt the stench grow thicker, filling her head with urgency and thoughts best not thunk—violence and depraved sexual acts, selfish acts, horrible and terrible acts. One dutiful hand yanked opened a small, metal, panel box and flipped six breakers inside. Light flooded the area around her, then further down fluorescent lamps flickered to life. Beyond that, individual bulbs hung on strands like main street at the holidays.
The stairs ended at an earthen walkway that hugged, three-feet-wide, to the wall of a giant stone tube. The cylindrical hole was some fifty feet across and that walkway snaked down its sides like the threads of a steel nut, disappearing down into the ground as far as she could see and spiraling downward slowly toward the bottom. Loretta ventured down the path, through walkways and lifts and rickety staircases, all illuminated by the strung up lights—actual Christmas lights at the bottom. She was quite pleased with the new LED technology and how many strands could be linked together. It saved her having to use so many lanterns and so many batteries.
The trip took almost two hours—a five mile walk if you measured it, three miles straight down into the earth was a fair estimation. It was cool down there. It smelled like charred food and death and rot and sulfur, but at least it was cool. At the bottom, she found the place where she had left off the day before, and just like her father, her Poppa Rob, his father and three other generations before her, Loretta began to dig.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014


Did you ever have a thought so sinister, you just couldn’t share it with people? Not me...

By Dan Dillard

Rain pitter-pattered on the rooftops of all the houses in the small town of Bloomington. The noise might have reminded a person of the light footsteps of a small dog—its toenails in need of a clip—tapping happily across a hardwood floor. The sun had gone down hours before. It was unseasonably warm there in the dark. The trusses groaned underneath the old man’s weight and he paused for a moment before continuing on.  

His reindeer stood stoic and quiet, well-trained over the centuries to do as they were instructed. They were grey with age, but thick with muscles, and covered in scars from many a close call ducking in under cover of night, and escaping the eyes of third shift workers and the naughty children who peek. Jagged antlers poked out from their heads, most of them broken. Not quite the show animals from books and movies.

The crimson sack clutched in his vice-like, black-gloved hand, he ducked down through the large chimney landing in the open fireplace with a thud. He paused, waiting for hushed gasps and whispers, a growling dog, the jingle of a collar, or a light to flicker on somewhere in the home, but none did. All was quiet. Not a creature was stirring. A smirk peeled across his bearded chin. One more step, ducking out of the fireplace, he looked around and the smirk widened into a rotten-toothed smile.

On the wall, there was a panel with glowing buttons. An alarm. Santa pulled off his glove and held his hand up to the box. He concentrated, closing his eyes. After a moment, the state changed from ARMED to SYSTEM IS READY TO ARM.

Nice furniture, expensive tastes. It was a good house he had chosen. He tipped his stocking cap back on his balding head, the little white ball of fluff dangling down between his shoulder blades. A much thinner man than the world envisioned stood in that living room, surveying the lay of the land. The kitchen looked to be to the left and that was always his first stop.

Friday, December 19, 2014


It has been a while since I've done a flash fiction piece for the blog... So here goes. Keep ahead of the pain, folks. Don't let it control you.

It’s a toothache. Or perhaps the pain is coming from somewhere in my jaw, beneath or between the teeth. Either way it throbs and makes me see shades of orange and red. That whole side of my face feels like it is slowly being inflated, bone pushing against meat pushing against the outer skin, pulling taut until it might snap open and spill onto the floor.

“Daddy, can I have some candy?”

I hear her, but ignore it. I have to because I know if I answer, it will be a snap response, it will be harsh, it will bring tears. I need my medicine before I can speak to her rationally.

“Daddy, can I call my friends? Can Leah spend the night? It’s Friday. You remember on Tuesday when you said we’d talk about it on Friday?”

Throbbing. Aching. Where is the damned ibuprofen? It’s always in this cabinet. Second shelf, white bottle, store brand. Four extra strength pills kill my lower back pain every time. It’ll work on my jaw, won’t it?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Look who's reading my books!

Here are just a few unpaid (and possibly faked) endorsements for my work. Pass it on...I would love to add more pics to this list.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Standing Up For Horror!

Okay, I'm not going to present any revelations here. Or maybe for some folks, I am. I hear this day in and day out from much so that I've stopped bringing the topic up. I admit, I've actually baited some forums and Facebook page discussions asking the question: Where has all the horror gone?

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Babadook....Dear, sweet Krampus this flick was creepy.

First a lesson in pronunciation. Little Samuel says it best. Think Yabba-dabba. Or like a sheep. Baaa Baaa dook (like book).

Thanks to the magic of video-on-demand, we in the US don't have to wait until November 28th to watch the magic that is The Babadook. Magic may not be the word. It's genius.
It is so rare that a film lives up to the hype and this one in some ways exceeded the hype, kicked my ass and I'm going to watch it again—soon. I viewed this one with my teenage daughter to get two perspectives. Okay—I have to settle for one perspective because she peeked from behind a fluffy pillow the whole time and ran to bed when it was over, opting to sleep with her little sister.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Excerpt from The Journeyman--coming this Halloween to your eyeballs.

Coming this Halloween (That's four days away, folks!), is my fifth novel:  The Journeyman. 
You can find more details on or on Smashwords. It is available for pre-order at either location. If that isn't enough incentive for you to read about your new favorite serial killer....maybe a sample chapter will help.

Meet Arthur Clay. He lives next door to you. He goes to your church. He shops at the same stores you do. He sees your children getting off the bus at the end of the school day and he watches you. He is always watching. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


Here's a little something for Halloween. Happy diving.

They picked his bones clean.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Meet my Main Character!

I have been nominated by film critic, fellow sailor, and author of The Spooky Chronicles and The Matriarch, Kevin A. Ranson,  to join the “Meet My Main Characters” blog tour. Today I will be telling you a little about the protagonist of my latest horror thriller, The Journeyman.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

On Writing The Journeyman

Seems like a long time in the works, but in truth, only about seven months have passed since I started this book. Now it's available for pre-order on Amazon, so I have a deadline...but we'll get to that a little later.
It's also tough to write a blog post about a book without giving too much information away, so I'll try to stick to the how, and not so much the what.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

With My Apologies to His Highness

I haven't posted any short fiction on the blog in a while, so I thought today might be as good a day as any. I found this nugget tucked away in my "shorts and flash stories"  folder on the PC and figured it was worthy of a dusting. I get inspiration from everywhere, usually from within my own twisted mind. In this case, it came from another twisted mind. I think my Grandmother bought me my first Stephen King hardback book...maybe it was my mother. Either way, I was too young to read it, but I turned out okay. *tweak-tweak-twitch-twitch*

Stephen King mentioned once in an interview that he had a story idea about an airport ladies room… The women just kept leaving their husbands in the terminal, excusing themselves to go to the restroom, and not returning. Something was going on in that restroom, he just never could figure out what it was…So I finished my version of the story. Thought it would be cool to have an anthology of “finishes” to this premise. We’ll see what happens. So, without further ado: