Ten p.m., mid-May, Monday night shift. The usual patrol along the quiet interstate. Velvet star-shot sky, empty road. Ho-hum. Swing into the rest area, circle the loop. There—an unlighted car in a dark corner near the tree line. A male in the driver’s seat. Stranded motorist?
Stop the cruiser. Radio check to dispatch. Aim the floods. Get out. Angle-approach the passenger side. Hand on gun. Standard procedure. Observe. Use caution. Be aware.
Night insects buzz. Ripples of engine heat ride cooling air. Hot oil-stink. And—shadows?
No. Men. Two men. Racing out of the nearby woods. The driver’s door swings open, the driver surges out. What the—A flash of steel.
BACK UP! BACK UP! Can’t—falling!
“Drag him into the woods!”
“We’re going to cut your throat, cop.”
No! Can’t breathe. Can’t talk. Can’t see. Can’t—
The boxblade slices skin. Blood spurts, hot, sticky. Slippery. Struggle! Not going to die easy. FIGHT.
The button. Push the button. Push the—
The cruiser door pops. The K-9 partner leaps out, streaks through the night, an avenging guardian propelled by nature and nurture to defend and protect.
A shriek, a scrabble of shoe on pavement. An engine roars. Doors slam. Tires squeal. A thump, a whimper.
Blood. Everywhere. Multiple knife wounds. Road rash, black bits of asphalt embedded like pimples. But not dead. Not going to die. Refuse to die.
If the story ended there, what would you still want to know? Maybe you’re curious about the reason for the ambush. Maybe you want some certainty that the cop survived. Maybe you want to know if the criminals got caught.
And maybe, just maybe, you want to know what happened to the dog.
What happened to the dog?
Gotta know what happened to the dog!
As readers, one of our pet peeves is the dangler—such as the fate of the K-9 officer in the story above. We’re not talking cliffhangers, where the author stops the action temporarily to keep us turning pages. We’re fine with those. But danglers, abandoned, forlorn, ignored, and forgotten…danglers drive us crazy, and not in a good way. The thump. The whimper. WHAT HAPPENED TO THE DOG?
As fiction writers, we create an entire world to engage readers. We’re responsible for what we bring to life—and how we finish off what we bring to life. We take that responsibility seriously, and readers notice. How do we know? Because readers have told us. The inspiration for this post was Gina Briganti’s video review of one of our books and her comment about books she’s read where “it just didn’t come together.”
Having it “come together” is what makes a story satisfying. That’s true of any story, including the one above, which is based on real events. Before you click the “publish” icon and release your book into the wild, read through your work once more and eliminate danglers. Your loyal readers deserve the whole story.
Still wondering what happened to the dog? In fiction, you can take the story in any direction your imagination dares to go–preferably down a road that ends with no danglers. Real life is not so dangler-free. According to news articles and the Sheriff’s Office FaceBook page, K-9 Officer Lucas suffered a torn ligament, broken teeth, and road rash. He’s recovering and is expected to be fine. His human partner spent the night in the hospital and has also recovered. The ambushers have not been caught and the motive for the attack is unknown.
How do you feel about danglers? Let us know in the comments.
Florida-based mother/daughter author duo HL Carpenter writes sweet, clean fiction that is suitable for everyone in your family. The Carpenters write from their studios in Carpenter Country, a magical place that, like their stories, is unreal but not untrue. When they’re not writing, the Carpenters enjoy exploring the Land of What-If and practicing the fine art of Curiosity. Visit HLCarpenter.com to enjoy gift reads and excerpts and to find out what’s happening in Carpenter Country.
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