Jun 13 2011

Shots Ring Out

Melissa Crytzer Fry

When I think of the remote desert southwest, which is my back yard, I think of these things, to name a few (and I smile):

This baby javelina posed outside the French doors at my home. Mama and sibling were nearby. Notice the bristly little back. Click to enlarge.

This wonderful desert ocotillo plant, about ready to bloom, stands in contrast to those beautiful blue Arizona skies and wispy clouds. Click to enlarge.

I feel blessed to have this train trestle right in our back yard (a remnant of the once-bustling copper mines in the area). In this photo, I am standing about a mile behind the trestle on a hill, looking toward our property. Click to enlarge.

As you can likely tell, the desert makes me happy. In fact, it keeps me creatively motivated and gives me a sense of peace I’ve never before experienced – even knowing that I risk chance encounters with rattlesnakes, coyotes and big cats. For whatever reason, I have always felt naturally at ease in this outdoor wonderland.

But last Friday, some of that tranquility was stolen from me. And, to put it mildly, I am pissed.

I was jogging my regular route, past the neighbor’s goat hill (you may recall my goat post) when I heard a couple of loud bangs. It registered, at first, as heavy objects falling upon one another up near Goat Hill House. I assumed the neighbors were doing some construction work, but in the back of my mind, a “gunfire” warning also sounded.

So, instead of running past the clearing along the railroad tracks that opened on to Goat Hill, I yelled, “Hello!” to make whomever know that I was passing by (in case they were shooting at some invisible animals/target that I couldn’t see). I obviously didn’t want to put myself in the direct path of potential gunfire.

I made it through the clearing without incident, and the banging sounds stopped.

This is Goat Hill. I assume the little trailers are storage areas for goat feed (as well as chicken feed for the nearby chicken coops). Click to enlarge.

But the story doesn’t end here.

As I reached a stout palo verde tree, the gunfire (yes, it was gunfire – likely a .22) started again. And this time, three shots were aimed in my direction. The whole time, I am screaming, “Stop! You’re shooting at me! Stop!” (I was still thinking this was a hunter or target shooter who didn’t see me, perhaps). After two bullets literally whizzed past my head – I could hear them go by, they were SO CLOSE – my instinct kicked in and told me to get the hell out of there as fast as I could.

I sprinted to the next bluff, which meant running in wide-open, unprotected spaces once more. And then, that was it. No more shots. I made it the quarter mile back home in record time, adrenaline as my aid.

I can’t even say fear pushed me forward during that last open stretch along the tracks. It was this crazy survivalist mentality that I’ve never experienced before (I know I sound melodramatic, but unless you’ve had bullets come that close to vital body parts, you simply can’t understand the ‘what if’ possibilities that present themselves to you once you feel ‘safe’ and begin to process the situation).

I think I was still in shock when I told my husband to call the sheriff’s office, the whistle-like buzz of bullets still rattling in my head. It’s a sound I will never forget.

(In case you’re wondering, Goat Hill neighbors told the sheriff that they, too, heard shooting toward the railroad tracks and denied playing any role – and that they’d had problems with someone shooting at their goats. This incident will always remain a mystery to me, I suppose. I don’t like to think that I was an intended target, though I also can’t justify why someone would shoot into a palo verde tree if they weren’t aiming for something behind it: in this case, me. Plus, I was wearing a bright royal blue tank that could be seen for miles against the desert’s drab earth-tone hues).

For Writers, For Everyone. So why am I pissed rather than scared? Because for months, I associated Goat Hill with fond memories. In fact, every time I ran by and a goat baah’ed at me, I’d smile. Goat Hill had become a positive symbol for me, a morning ritual. The elderly neighbors even waved emphatically as I jogged by.

And in much the same way, the desert and all its critters, hills and cacti had become a symbol to me. Of creativity. Of harsh reality, but stunning beauty. Of wonder. Of relaxation.

Now I feel like someone ruined that for me. I do not want to feel unsafe in an environment that has given me so much. I don’t want to be fearful instead of unencumbered and in sync with my surroundings. I don’t want to look over my shoulder and wonder if some lunatic goat and human sniper is wandering the desert.

So, yeah. I’m pissed.

But, you know what? I’m not going to let some a-hole take this from me. Maybe the first few weeks, I’ll avoid that route. But I’ll go back. I will run our acreage and enjoy it. What I won’t do is live in fear. I simply cannot let someone steal the gift I’ve been given by living in this rural-but-terrifically-inspiring part of Arizona.

Do you think I’m nuts? You might when I tell you that I did manage to find a writing lesson in all of this craziness… In hindsight, perhaps it’s my therapy; writing about it is helping me process the uncertainty and to take a stand.

The writing lesson? It all goes back to symbolism. What happens to your characters when you take something symbolically significant to them and turn it on its head? What if something with once-positive connotations suddenly turns into something painful (like my situation?) or, conversely, something once terrifying becomes electrifying? Consider: a piece of beloved jewelry becomes a weapon used against your character, a once-tranquil home becomes a crime site where your protagonist’s spouse is killed, or – on the flip side – a fear of heights is transformed into a love of skydiving ? Does that transformation, and grappling with it, not add a tremendous amount of emotional wallop to your storyline, to your characters’ trajectories, to their growth, to the plot?


63 Responses to “Shots Ring Out”

  • avatar Julia Munroe Martin Says:

    Melissa! First of all, I am so glad you’re safe — this is abjectly terrifying to me and perhaps a worst fear for any of us who crave solitude in nature. Secondly, I can very much relate to finding a writing lesson in this because I know I would have done the same. Thinking about how I would write something often helps me make sense of things I don’t understand or am afraid of or am pissed at! But, as usual, you help me look even further! At the symbolism when something familiar is turned on its head….you help me think of things in new ways, and I love that. (p.s. stay safe!) xo Julia

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    Melissa Reply:

    Glad I’m not the only one who tries to make sense of the chaos by relating it to writing! Your support means so much.

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  • avatar Tracy Says:

    Jeepers! Do be careful especially now they know the sheriff was contacted. I cannot fathom why they continued to shoot. I do agree that writing helps make sense of things especially things that frustrate us. it is therapeutic.
    Be safe. Love the pics!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Thanks, Tracy. I’m going with the theory that they “didn’t know I was there.” Seems easier to wrap my brain around for now.

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  • avatar Cynthia Robertson Says:

    So glad you are safe! I have to hope this was some stupid person just out shooting for target practice in the desert. But the fact that they continued to shoot is worrisome. Is it possible they didn’t hear you yelling?
    There are some weird characters in AZ, Melissa, and lots of em live ‘out’ for a reason. Just saying. Be careful.
    Love the photos of your home turf, as always. (((hugs)))

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    Melissa Reply:

    Appreciate the virtual hugs. Hmm… wonder what that says about us and our preference to live “out” – maybe we’re the strange characters. ha ha.

    But to answer your question, yes, it is possible they didn’t hear me. And since I heard shots before I even got to Goat Hill, I’m opting to think that they were shooting at something before I got there, stopped when I first ran through, then resumed (but didn’t see me). I guess… I still don’t know how you ‘miss’ a bright blue shirt and bright blonde hair, but…

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  • avatar Country Wife Says:

    Scary! I cannot imagine what those people were thinking. I would have been irked. Mega-irked! but after calming down, perhaps I would have looked for the symbolism behind it. Perhaps. 🙂 Great photos!

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    Melissa Reply:

    My pissiness is wearing off. Slowly but surely. Something tells me that when I DO run that route again, it will be in record speed – perhaps more of a sprint past that area than a jog : -).

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  • avatar Shawna Says:

    That has got to be one unimaginable experience. If those idiots were any better shots, you might not be here to tell the story. Things like this ARE great for the fertile mind (while being AWFUL for the emotional fragments!!). It’s why people who have suffered horrible experiences many times put those to paper, for therapy… it’s why I kept a journal all through high school (horrible experience) haha. So glad that you are okay… maybe wear a flak jacket next time. I admire you for not being too afraid to take that same route again… I would be – I’m a chicken.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Funny you should mention that. I actually said to the sheriff, “Thank God he was a bad shot!”

    Yep – you’re right. Highly explosive/emotional experiences often make words sing on a page, whether it’s for self-therapy or entertaining others. Who knows, some day this crazy incident may make it into one of my novels. Was joking with a friend that a bulletproof vest and helmet might be needed from now on.

    By the way: You are one tough gal – no chicken from what I’ve seen!

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  • avatar Liz @ Creative Liberty Says:

    Glad you are safe. Impressed with your determination not to be confined to “safe” areas after such a trauma. Be careful, but don’t lose your exploring spirit.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Thanks Liz. And I thought all the craziness in downtown Phoenix right before we moved was dangerous (at that point, a man held folks hostage in a mid-town office building I could see from my bedroom)… then a guy held up the Circle K that was within walking distance. We could hear the pellets they were shooting at him as we saw it on TV. I know … I’m not painting a good pic of Phx, am I? It was really only those two incidents in the 10 years I lived there. Honest.

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    Liz @ Creative Liberty Reply:

    My first apartment in Phoenix (in the late ’90s) was at 7th Street & McDowell, so believe me, I get it. On the other hand, although I SAW and HEARD a lot (esp. those police choppers), I had a relatively good time in central Phoenix, which I think I have lived in for a total of 4-5 years out of the 14 I’ve been here.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Well, geeze. We were practically neighbors (3rd St. and Virginia). OH, the choppers! I don’t really miss that sound…

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  • avatar Kim Samsin Says:

    Melissa! This is horrifying to hear. I’m so glad you’re okay and that you were able to bring something creative out of this, because I know I’d still be a bag of trembling fear right now. And how awesome for you to refuse to live in fear. Take care!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Appreciate your encouragement, Kim! Under normal circumstances, I’d have been a pile of goo. I guess you never know how you’ll react until you’re put in a situation like that… And I haven’t resumed my runs just yet. This week, though.

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  • avatar Rachna Chhabria Says:

    Hi Melissa..you had a terrifying time.What a thing to encounter during your morning jog. I am glad that it hasn’t put of off jogging altogether. Its so typical of you to see or perhaps I should say bring out something creative out of this.

    For my story, I have used something my character loves and have turned it against her. It has brought out the conflict very well.

    I better visit you more often and keep tabs on you, else my dear writing friend is getting into all kinds of trouble 😉

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    Melissa Reply:

    That’s me … getting into all kinds of trouble.

    The description of turning something your character loves against her is intriguing. Would love to hear more.

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  • avatar Jolina Petersheim Says:

    Wow, Melissa! I’m so glad you made it home safely, and I am so amazed by your resilience when faced with this difficult situation.

    Rather than living in fear of the unknown, you are going to purposefully continue along the same journey that terrified you only a few days before.

    This can definitely be applied to the writing life: Time and time again we get shot at (or shot down) with rejections and negative feedback on our work. Are we going to take it and slink back from whence we came, or are we going to get up, shake the dust off, and keep plodding along?

    Thanks for setting such a great example for all of us! You go, girl!

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    Melissa Reply:

    See – look at that … you gave me ANOTHER way of looking at the situation. And, oh boy, lady, can I relate to being shot down in the writing life. That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, right?

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  • avatar V.V. Denman Says:

    I’ve got chills running up my spine. I REALLY don’t want anything to happen to you! Be careful.

    But through it all, I keep thinking, “What a great story this would make!”

    You’ve done it again, Melissa.

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    Melissa Reply:

    I couldn’t help but think that, too, V.V. That somehow/some way this would make a great story. I’m sure some day it will surface in my writing.

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  • avatar Patrick Ross Says:

    Holy cow! From a beautiful photo of ocotillo to a near-death experience. I’m so glad you’re not hurt, and understand why you’re pissed.

    Kudos for seeking in some way to continue to live the life you want to lead. You also managed to turn this into something positive, an essay on your blog, and it may provide further inspiration. Am I trying to put a positive spin on this? The best I can, yes.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Thanks for the compliment on my ocotillo photo, Patrick (I’ve been trying to find a way to use that image for months. Just didn’t think it would be on a post like this). I am all “for” your positive spin and think you’re right that this may provide inspiration for my writing.

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  • avatar Dove Says:

    Omg, reminds me of something I hadn’t thought of in ages. Similar. In your situation, I truly can’t say that I’d ever feel safe there again. So yeah, that would piss me off too–especially never finding out the who and why. With me, it was also a path I’d hiked regularly, just at the edge of a dense wooded area, on the property where I lived. It was a walk I took daily, sometimes twice–something I enjoyed very much. One day I came upon the biggest snake you could possibly imagine, lol Seriously, maybe 6 feet long, and 3 inches thick?? Although understandable that I might one day come upon one, this was a first since I’d moved there. This monster snake was lying perfectly across MY TRAIL, like a road block. A path my walking had actually cut. I’m thinking it was loving the cool dirt on its belly. That part of the trail was shaded by a tree, so I walked right up to this horrifyingly large creature! I don’t think I’ve ever screamed so loud in my life–then ran like hell for the house, lol Anyway, it was a few weeks before I ventured back “out there” onto my path. It took getting angry though, and like you, being determined that this “monster” was not going take this gift from me.

    Dove

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    Melissa Reply:

    Boy can I relate to this.I had already altered my running route earlier in March when a snake sounded/postured along my running path that I didn’t see. Upon further inspection, it WAS close enough to strike me (though I couldn’t tell if it was a rattler or not). That part of my path was very rocky, making it hard to see IF a snake was there – esp. with the sun glaring. So, for the next month, I was very wary of snakies, too, and chose the less rocky paths in the wash. Sorry you experienced the same thing. i KNOW how you feel!

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  • avatar Stephanie Alexander Says:

    Ah! Melissa, I’m so glad you’re OK! Would never want to see report on CNN “Aspiring Writer Mortally Wounded on Goat Hill.” Amazing– here near the big city I’m always on the lookout for weirdos when I run– but would have thought you’d be safe. I applaud you for looking your fear in the face and agree you should get out there again!

    I feel sorry for the goats, too. I do love a goat!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Unfortunately, weirdos are everywhere. So are dumbasses. ha ha. I feel sorry for the goats, too (they were spooked by the shooting as well).In fact, we were all running like crazed lunatics.

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  • avatar Sara Says:

    Thank goodness you are alright! That is utterly terrifying. I admire your attitude about deciding to hold on to something that gives you comfort and happiness. Incidents like this are so rare in rural areas, but when something does happen it’s straight out of bizarre-o-world. That’s been my experience anyhow. I don’t think you’re nuts for leaving the house again. Count your blessings before you step out the door and run like you OWN that desert!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Couldn’t have said it better myself: bizarre-o-world! And yes … like I “own” it. Great pep talk!

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  • avatar Brandee Says:

    I can’t even imagine how scary that must have been. It’s awful when you find yourself in a situation where the familiar can be turned on you so quickly. I think that you’re right…it makes for interesting story value.

    I am certainly glad that you are safe, and I hope that someone figures out who was doing the shooting. Be careful. I do hope that you can eventually get back to a place where you don’t feel threatened!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Thanks, Brandee. I’m afraid, in our ‘neck of the woods,’ nothing more will come of it than a filed police report. Period. Ho hum…

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  • avatar Hallie Says:

    I say you wrangle up a few hundred of those furry tarantulas and send a message their way. I am sure there is some sort of 1980’s B movie you could watch to get some ideas. Holy hell! I can only imagine what you felt like!

    Love your insight on symbolism in writing. Turning positives into negatives and vice versa can be such a powerful tool. That made me really think about my novel and where I could use that. Great observation!

    Side note: I keep waiting for your spam protector addition problems to get harder. It’s like I am on never-ending level one of a math game. Alway relieved to see the single digits! 🙂

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    Melissa Reply:

    If only I were the Tarantula Wrangler. If only … But glad to hear my writing epiphany struck a chord with you.

    I aim to keep your simple math skills fresh. You can count on me for that!

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  • avatar Shakirah Dawud Says:

    As I tweeted, I’m so glad to have read this post because it means you’re still with us. I’m trying, Melissa, but I really can’t buy it that they weren’t shooting at you. Random goats from a distance just for fun, nobody’s getting hit, nobody’s getting caught. What’s the random human, just for fun? Please, please, be careful!

    It would take me a good minute to get the nerve up to go back out there (probably not until I heard someone was caught), I’m being honest. In the meantime I’d probably run somewhere else. Something else like an animal wouldn’t bother me, and a suspicious character would just make me bring someone along with me. Gunshots out of nowhere? You weren’t anywhere near as melodramatic as I’d be!

    I truly admire your pluck.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Thanks, Shakirah. I keep going back and forth with how I feel. I’ll probably try the same trail next week. Give myself this week to decompress. Then we’ll see how it goes. I appreciate your support and concern.

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  • avatar Leah Says:

    I’m so glad you’re safe and I completely understand you being pissed! I mean come on, why is that gunfire and attitude even necessary? I applaud you, however, for not letting the fear run your life and going back to the spot that’s brought you so much pleasure. I can’t imagine giving something like that up either. And once again, you’re able to take something like this experience and relate it back to writing. Love it!

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  • avatar Mary Ann Nissen Says:

    Melissa, 1st of all very glad you are safe, I understand the “pissed” part, too. I love our state and its beautiful landscape & wish to explore it; then your incident brings to mind the “fear” it puts into us. Your attitude is great, but; do be careful while enjoying the beauty.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Thank you, Mary Ann, for your support and concern. I’ll probably venture back out next week.

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  • avatar Natalia Sylvester Says:

    Oh my gosh, Melissa, I am SO sorry you had to go through this. I can’t imagine how terrifying it must’ve been, especially in that moment full of so much uncertainty. I’m so glad you were able to get out of there safely, with both your health and your courage intact. I think it’s so brave of you to decide to go back when the time is right, and to not let whoever it was that was shooting to take something so precious away from you.

    Like you mentioned, it also relates so much to writing, and also to building characters. I read somewhere that character is determined by the decisions people make when faced with a difficult decision. You choosing to go back shows so much about the brave person you are!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Not sure if I’m brave or just bull-headed. Probably mostly bull-headed (the Taurus in me). I agree with you 100% that character is built by the decisions people make (in much the same way our fictional characters are born!)

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  • avatar Beth Hoffman Says:

    Thank goodness you weren’t hurt! And yes … I totally get why you’re pissed. I would be too!

    On a happier topic, I love your photos (as always). That little javelina is adorable.

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    Melissa Reply:

    I know … isn’t the javelina adorable? They are so cute when they’re small. Well, I even like the adults!

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  • avatar Janice Maddox Says:

    That is annoying. I was shot at in the backyard of our old house. It was on top of a hill with no close neighbors and views everywhere, in the high desert. Had bullets whiz by my head, ricochet off rock, etc., twice when we first moved in. The second time I angrily thought I was going to FIND this person. Turns out it was a nighbor down the hill (not visible from our house) shooting at rabbits. He didn’t believe I’d been dodging his bullets until I showed him one in our dog house and pointed out the trajectory, which was directly from his property. We target practice, but not like that. Target practice by responsible people is against a hill, not where you don’t know where your bullets are headed. Maybe another person shooting rabbits. Grrrr.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Oh BOY can you relate to my story. So glad you figured out the mystery and weren’t hurt… Hopefully your neighbor stopped the rabbit shooting (and, yes, target shooting means knowing where you’re shooting! I’m thinking/hoping my incident was simply some dummy not being smart about their shooting)

    Can’t say I blame you for stopping the trail runs when you saw mountain lion tracks frequently. Don’t blame you for taking your gun; gotta protect yourself.

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  • avatar Janice Maddox Says:

    PS) I stopped my trail-runs due to seeing mountain lion prints all over every day one summer. I’m a small person. Still hike pretty much daily, but with a dog and carry my own gun. It’s very remote here. I’m not going to be out in the woods by myself unarmed. Sorry anti-gun people.

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  • avatar Erin Patrick Says:

    OMG, I’m so glad that you’re okay! What a frightening experience. I know what you mean about being pissed that a peaceful place that you enjoy, was threatened. Please make sure that your’e safe the next time you go for a walk like that.
    There is a lot of symbolism there and I’m glad that you’re not going to let it stop you from enjoying your surroundings.
    Soooo glad you’re safe!
    ~Erin

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  • avatar Jonathan Mugan Says:

    Wow, that’s scary and aggravating. A little boy was shot not too far from my house because the neighbors were target shooting and missed. The boy was jumping on his trampoline when he was shot. I think he died. After that, they made shooting illegal in our area.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Oh MY… I’m so sorry to hear this story, Jonathan. I am all for guns, but unfortunately, many people are way too reckless about the way they handle them.

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  • avatar Nina Says:

    Melissa, those last paragraphs are gold. EVERY SINGLE TIME. What a crazy story!!!! Thank God you’re safe and sound. Between the gunshots and the scary animals you’re very brave. Seriously. By the way, I copy and pasted your last paragraph into an email for myself to reread tomorrow as I’m working on the WIP. thanks!

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    Melissa Reply:

    WOW, Nina. That was such a wonderful compliment. I think I’m going to paste YOUR comments into a “kudos” file and put it next to my computer monitor! Good luck working on the WIP tomorrow. I’ll be doing the same before my freelance work heats up.

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  • avatar Amanda Hoving Says:

    Oh my goodness! So glad you’re safe! I may be able to focus on the writing lesson here at some point, but WOW…what a nightmare!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Still trying to process it myself, but am – oddly – finding some comfort in others’ similar stories.

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  • avatar Marianne Smith Says:

    Melissa, the rage is a healthy response, of course. I’ve also been shot at while running (unbalanced college student shooting out the dorm window at me while I ran laps on the track). I did what you’re doing: Decided not to let it ruin my running habit. But it was difficult. For awhile I would cringe every time I came to the same spot in the loop. The shooter was long gone, but the fear lingered. I could have run somewhere else, but knew the fear would most likely follow me. So I stayed and ran until I could run without fear being right in front. There are crazy people everywhere, but I bet it is especially annoying when they show up in the middle of nowhere!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Oh my goodness, Marianne. I can’t believe that happened to you. I’m SO sorry; I find your incident much more terrifying than mine. How very courageous of you to run that same track. I can only imagine how I will react the first few times I go past the same spot again; but I feel it’s something I really must do. Indeed, there are crazy people everywhere. Sadly ….

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  • avatar Girl Parker Says:

    So glad you called the cops!! Don’t let them win. You’re much stronger than that and you’ve earned your piece of that gorgeous desert. I’m very sorry it happened, though. Stay strong and keep writing about it until it loses it’s grip on you. Great writing exercise! And again, wonderful pics. Oh how I miss it there. Nothing else like it anywhere.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Thanks so much for the support; glad to know others love the desert just as much as I do! You’re so right: it’s a very unique place to live!

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  • avatar Mahesh Raj Mohan Says:

    Ack! I’m sorry to read about this. That is seriously frightening, but I totally understand your anger. I hope they either catch these folks or that this sort of thing doesn’t happen again.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Thank you Mahesh. I’m hoping it was just stupidity and that said stupid person learned his lesson when he saw me run from behind the tree, and though, “Oh MY.. I shot at a person.”

    One can hope…

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  • avatar Shakirah Dawud Says:

    Ahem. In my frantic concern for your safety, I forgot about your writing question.

    I have to say that in fiction, our favorite heroes just about always redeem, avenge, resolve, or otherwise come to terms with betrayals of this type, don’t they? It’s the weaklings in the story that are more like me (“nuh-uh, I’m not going back out there!”).

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    Melissa Reply:

    Ohhh. Excellent way to look at this, Shakirah. Thanks for sharing. YES, our heros do, indeed, grapple with and come to grips with these very scenarios & betrayals. You’re no weakling! I can tell.

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  • avatar Amber Says:

    Yikes! I am so glad that you are ok.

    Since everything else I would have said has been said, I’ll just say this: I want to hug that baby javelina. Does that make me weird?

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    Melissa Reply:

    Not weird at all. I wanted to hug that baby javelina, too! 🙂

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