Greetings listeners! So glad that you’re here. Welcome to ForeverLDS. And Merry Christmas! Unless yer listening to this show in March, which is certainly possible, in which case, Merry Christmas anyway!
I know what yer thinkin’. Last episode he promised to read Chapter 1 of Tennis Shoes Adventure Series, Volume 13: Thorns of Glory. Is he really gonna do it? You gotta ask yerself a question. Do ya feel lucky?
I used to do a comedy bit where I cast Jimmy Stewart in the role of Dirty Harry. “I-I-I know what y-yer thinkin’. Did I fire five shots er-er did I fire six shots? Well, I don’t really remember. So yer-yer-yer gonna have to ask yerself a question. D-d-do-do—” But nobody knows who Jimmy Stewart is anymore. Or even heard of the movie Dirty Harry. I need to update that. Maybe Mr. Crabs. “I know what yer thinkin’. You be down there wonderin’ if I fired five shots er six. Ain’t that right, Spongebob? Truth is, I don’t really remember. So I got me a feelin’ yer gonna have to ask yerself a question. Do ya feel lucky? Well do ya? ‘O ‘course you do!” Or Yoda. “Know what you’re thinking, I do. Wondering if I fired five shots or six shots, you are. Ask yourself a question, you must. Feel lucky, do you?” My son forces me to impersonate all the characters on Minecraft Storymode, but I’ll spare you those. Shoulda spared you these!
Really, I’m just stalling because . . . it won’t help. It’s not going to satisfy Tennis Shoes fans, readers, and aficionados in any way. Sneak peeks are probably more irritating than anything else. Just finish the doggone book, Brother H! Not a day goes by that I don’t receive an email or Facebook message asking for a release date. I often say, the only thing worse would be if nobody was asking. If nobody cared! Thank you, thank you, thank you, those who care. I’m quite certain that my failure to complete these volumes at a faster pace has caused many to stop caring. And finally finishing the series, well, to those who have moved on, it isn’t gonna make much difference. Nobody is more aware than I am how the passage of time is not helpful to selling more books, earning a living, or breathing new life into a story universe.
So why don’t you finish it?! I’m trying to. Why are you even wasting time doing this silly podcast or making motion pictures or whatever else that gets you all distracted and discombobulated? Just a snapshot—if I could just give you a snapshot of my life—That’s really no excuse. Everybody has “stuff.” Watch the movie Genius sometime with Jude Law and Colin Firth. It’s about American author Thomas Wolff, and no, I am not a genius and I’m not even comparing myself to what the movie says about the writer Thomas Wolff. Ah, but the writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, played by Guy Pearce—he makes a cameo in the movie. No, I can’t remotely compare my talents with Fitzgerald, who wrote The Great Gatsby, but in that movie, there, with what’s going on with that character, that does set off a few familiar echoes. And that’s all I’m gonna say about that.
The fact is, I am making progress. Nearly 200,000 words. For those who may not know, my objective was/is to finish volumes 13 and 14 simultaneously and turn them in to my publisher on the same day, ‘cause I wasn’t sure my readers could tolerate another potential stretch of multiple years before finally drawing to a close the story arc that began with 5 books ago with Warriors of Cumorah. Measuring by word count Volume 13 is already done. I just haven’t really identified a logical break point between 13 and 14. I’d have to move some stuff around. Could I do that? Yeah, I probably could. Do you want me to do that or would you rather I just get the thing done and turn it all in at once so that readers can know with certainty that the final volume will appear on shelves within 3 months, 6 months—at most a year—after Volume 13, which I’d just call Thorns of Glory, Part 1, and Volume 14, Thorns of Glory Part 2, like the Feathered Serpent books?
Question is, do I have the discipline to do that? I don’t know! Fact is, I’d love to publish a book. I need to publish a book. I could use the income. Book sales are not what they once were. Royalties aren’t structured quite the same as when I began this novel-writing thing. I know you got your own problems and you don’t need to hear about mine. So yeah. It’s tempting to just put out a book. My fear is that if I only released one volume, readers just couldn’t take another long-range cliffhanger. They wouldn’t even bother to tar and feather me. They’d just . . . forget that I exist. If they haven’t already.
If only this podcast made money. No such luck. It loses money.
And that brings us to a very brief digression. Let me tell you a snippet about our new podcast platform: Anchor. Anchor is a one-stop shop for recording, hosting, and distributing, your podcast. Best of all it’s 100% free, and ridiculously easy to use. See, here’s the idea. Beyond its other benefits, Anchor now has a capability to match your podcast with great sponsors. Finally, you can get paid a modicum of chedder, aka mullah, for podcasting your show about the things you care about most.
First go to anchor.fm/start to join ForeverLDS and a diverse, growing community of podcasters already using Anchor.
Ta da! That was our first official advertisement. Of course, right on the ForeverLDS website there’s also a place for donations, but those seem to be as rare as mermaid sightings, because who isn’t asking for donations? I had about 25 messages yesterday on Facebook, all asking me to open my wallet. ‘Tis the season, I know! Still, I have to wonder why have a Facebook account! I spend more time dodging promotions and solicitations than talking to anyone. There seem to be as many good causes and GoFundMes as people on the planet.
Now, I’m not saying don’t donate to ForeverLDS, because attempting to reach a listener’s spiritual core is a great cause, but will it pay any bills? Not very likely!
Back on point. Did I mention I have ADHD? Back on point. The podcast takes time. But I love it. And listeners seem to like it, although every episode whereby listeners are invited to post comments, half of them merely ask when I’m gonna finish the next Tennis Shoes book. Not sure they even listened to the episode. Just found a handy place to ask me this question. I don’t post those, ‘cause they wouldn’t make sense alongside the topic. But as I say, having folks constantly ask, is far preferable to the alternative where no one asks, and I am a mere figment in the collective Latter-day memory.
So this is for you. I’m reading this first chapter for the “askers”. Especially those who have asked, “What in tarnation is gonna happen to Apollus and Meagan stranded on that cliff in the middle of the Jurassic or Triassic era being attacked by giant, flying, dinosaur/Pterasaur like monsters?”
You know, it occurs to me that some ForeverLDS listeners may have never read the Tennis Shoes series. Just heard rumors that it was about modern characters going back to Book of Mormon times. What do flying dinosaurs in the Triassic have to do with—? Boy, that would take a while…. Even those who do know what’s happen, maybe you should first go back and read that scene from Book 12: Drums of Desolation. For those who have no idea what the Tennis Shoes Series even is, lemme bring you up to speed:
Embark on an incredible journey in history and time—a time when your favorite heroes from the scriptures are more than just names on a page. Heroes like Mormon, Captain Moroni, Teancum, Abraham—even though Abraham isn’t in the series until Book 9, and he’s just a baby. You get the point. They’re all there. Feel the heat of battle, revel in the glory of adventure and suspense, romance and Romans. How Romans get in there takes a while to explain too. Never mind. Keep reading. Immerse yourself and soon it will all make sense. Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites by Chris Heimerdinger. No, that’s not a pseudonym. That’s his real name. Who in their right mind would make up that name? Order it today. Directly from the Author. And he'll sign each book. Ask nicely, he'll sign it twice. Order it for Christmas. Sure that's just a few days away. You never heard of Priority Mail? Or so it's a few days late. Big deal. You never get a Christmas present late? Makes it Christmas all over again. So do it. The Tennis Shoes Adventure Series. An adventure for the ages. Also available in audio. All volumes sold separately. Warning: Not responsible for convoluted plot twists, unpronounceable characters, enmity toward the author, or irritating cliffhangers. Choking hazard if swallowed.
Okay. In this case, of course, I’m about to reopen the scene from the midst of a literal cliffhanger. The characters really are practically hanging from a cliff! Keep in mind, this is a rough draft. Dustin Randall will certainly tell me if there are any plot conflicts. Will those of you who have asked about the situation with Meagan and Apollus be glad after I read this chapter? I, uh—Can I take the 5th on that? Does it matter? Has a snippet of the book ever been particularly satisfying? But it’s cool. I’ll admit. A lot of stuff in this book is really, totally cool. Stuff you would have never—
Okay, that’s enough. At last . . . without further adieu—
Wait a sec.
Sorry had to douse a house fire, take out a terrorist, and defuse a nuclear bomb.
Barring any further interruptions . . . Here we go. Thorns of Glory, Chapter 1. From the point of view of Apollus:
Gripping my gladius in one hand and Megan's wrist in the other, I half-pulled, half-dragged her toward the opposite edge of the precipice—that edge furthest away from the dinosaur-like bird soaring forward to snatch us from the summit of this pillar of stone. Meagan breathed in rasping, terrified gasps.
Only a moment earlier we'd been surrounded by suffocating blackness. Meagan’s sightless eyes had perceived the silhouettes of numerous demon-like wraiths that we called Gadianton Ghosts. We'd been carried—“transported”—to this mysterious location, a place where massive towers jutted from a roiling ocean illuminated by a fast-setting sun. After our conveyance, Meagan was again blind. She could not see the brightly-feathered dragon’s descent, it's jaw, or "beak", prepared to pluck one of us by the arm or neck, perhaps carry us out over the sea. It might then drop us hundreds of feet, swooping down to retrieve our floating carcasses. Or it might shake us until it heard the snap of our necks, afterwards swallowing us in a single gulp.
Meagan and I had been sent to this desolate cliff by a power we could not fathom—a witchcraft known only to Ghosts of Teotihuacán. As a youth in Rome foreigners from distant lands had regaled us with stories of isles and vales inhabited by similar creatures. In Meagan’s century I’d attended a cinema play that dramatized similar monsters—ravenous beasts believed to have once roamed the earth. Was it possible that we’d been transported here on the "secret winds" (a term used by the Ghosts) to an epoch prior to the “dawn of man?” The phrase itself tasted peculiar on Roman lips. Jurassic period? Triassic period? My memory of these epochal names was vague, but I'd gleaned that scholars of science in Meagan’s century believed these behemoths were commonplace. The Ghosts had apparently exiled us to this prehistoric periphery to face certain death.
A ragged squawk cleaved the air behind us. I thrust Megan behind a rocky outcrop, shoving beside her as a dark shroud passed overhead. The dragon's jaws snapped above my ear. Its orange and emerald plumage glinted in the rays of the dying sun. The beast veered right and tilted its head to appraise our position before making a second attempt. The spikes of its reptilian/avian head, fore and aft, were on full display, crown topped by a scythe-like sail, the color of vermillion. I distinguished the glassy pupil of its piercing eye as it flapped to a higher altitude.
Meagan clutched my arm like a child. "I felt a gust!” she said breathlessly. “What happened?"
"It's coming back!" I roared above the single, sonorous note of the wind. "We’re moving around to the other side!"
Another shriek rent the air. Not the monster, but a scream from Meagan. I latched onto her waist as she was nearly hoisted away from me. A second dinosaur-bird had lighted on the opposite side of the outcropping. It had siezed Meagan, but not with its jaws. Its gnarled appendage, or claws, at the tip of its right wing grasped a tangle of Meagan's hair. Its left wing thrashed wildly as it fought to yank her off her feet. I was dragged several yards over sharp rocks, but I maintained my grip.
As her crimson locks slipped through the dragon's talons, my ears vibrated as another cry rumbled from its lungs. I watched the beak draw back to pluck at us again, like grubs. Still embracing Meagan, I rolled to the left, onto my back, and looked past her shoulder into its pinkish, multi-ribbed throat, fetid with the stench of fish, glinting with hundreds of silvery, serrated teeth.
The jaws snapped, and her hip was nudged, but its reward was a mouthful of rock. In that split second I found the hilt of my gladius and thrust it clumsily forward toward the creature’s eye. Steel penetrated the scales just over its eye, perforating its vermilion sail and sending multiple feathers fluttering about. As it jerked upward, I was was hurled outward, flipping once more, and carrying Meagan with me as my left arm stayed enwrapped on her waist. Its tail whipped as it pivoted and stumbled somewhere toward the left. I raised my eyes and spotted the first dragon, determinedly gliding in, wingspan magnifying in size, eager to compete for the meal that the other dinosaur failed to obtain.
"Stay with me!" I cried at Meagan.
I don’t know how much she helped, reeling from the pain of having her scalp nearly torn from her skull, but somehow we crawled toward a cleft at the edge of the precipice. The crevice was shallow—a few yards deep at most—but we pressed inside as the beast again passed overhead. My own hair felt a nip as it flecked at the back of my head. It might have drawn blood, but I did not reach up to verify it. The creature would not fly over us a third time. It would light on the rocks and methodically pluck us out of the crevice just as a bird would draw a pair of worms from a hole. My mind was flustered, devoid of new ideas to save our lives.
It was Meagan who rasped, "Keep crawling!"
The notion was irrational. Our protection was little more than a shaft in the rock, cut by wind and rain. Crawling forward meant crawling downward and inevitably plunging over the edge. Yet I’d learned that with Meagan no notion was irrational. To ignore her "second sight" in these circumstances would be at my own peril, so I lead the way forward into the steep crevice. As expected, the little canyon dropped into nothing. I heard the surf crashing below.
Unexpectedly, a narrow pathway opened. This ledge descended toward a cave just below the lip of the cliff. A genuine place of refuge! Buffeted by wind, we shimmied down the perilous incline on our bellies. If we failed to pull ourselves into the ingress with precise timing, we'd plummet over the ledge.
The return of our adversary gave us plenty of incentive hoist ourselves the last few feet. The wind became our ally as its massive wings made it unadept. It settled for perching on the ledge above us.
"Move!" shouted Meagan, as if I wasn’t already squirming expeditiously.
She practically crawled over the top of me, causing my feet to kick her perpetually in the chest and chin. Despite the awkwardness, we slipped together into the cavity's aperture. Dust and pebbles sprayed our backs as the dragon's twin tripods of talons clutched at the ledge, flapping furiously to claim an ideal foothold that would allow it to finish us.
Somehow Meagan, eyes still bandaged, flopped ahead of me. She seized my collar and hoisting me deeper into the cavity. We scrabbled on our backs like crabs toward the rear of the cave. Did it qualify to be called a cave? More like an overhang where an osprey might build a nest. I couldn't turn my body or crane my neck to apprehend how deep we were or how safe from the dragon's serrated teeth. Meagan also tried to turn and look, though it was a mystery to me what she was seeing. Habit, I decided. Her eyes—or ears—naturally inclined toward danger.
"Are we safe?" She was demanding that I validate her inspiration that had led us here. "Is it a suitable sanctuary?"
The dragon was again airborne, directly beyond the cavity, bobbing and hovering at the entryway, crushing any inclination we might have to flee.
I vacillated answering, awed by her supernatural gifts. How did she know that such a cavern, however shallow, awaited us past that cleft? Moreover, she'd saved my Roman hide in the nick of time from the creature's snapping jaws. Sightless, perhaps, but she’d saved my life. I felt I was the one with a debilitating handicap, not Meagan.
I surveyed the cavity fore and aft, still pondering how to answer her question.
Excitedly, she pressed again, "It's a cave! Am I right? Have I found a route of escape?"
The dragon commenced tearing away relentlessly at loose shale and gravel around the opening, intent upon working in its head far enough inside to bite an idly placed hand or snag a fold of clothing—anything to drag us out. Each scratch of its talons allowed it to thrust its pick-shaped head a few inches deeper. Its brightest plumage was on its the sail of its crown and underside of its neck. The cavity filled with dust, as well as swirling orange, emerald, and vermilion feathers. I sniffed a particle in one nostril. As I replied to Meagan, I sneezed tenaciously to dislodge it.
"I—don't see—a way—out—" My chin snapped forward as the fleck expelled.
She rejected my appraisal. "No. There's a way! Look again! Look harder!"
The shale was more fragile than it appeared. Debris flew around us like shrapnel from an onager. Its beak was like an iron bludgeon, gnashing and smashing the outer edges, ever widening the gap. Fishy breath stank up the cavity. Was food so scarce that it felt it must batter its head so masochistically for such a paltry meal? Or did another force compel it? Was the creature vexed by a Gadianton spell? Not only this dragon. A third reptilian bird arose behind the first, intent to drive off its competitor and lay claim to the meal. The first dragon, superior in size, fiercly defended its territory, driving away the newcomer by slashing its talons to gouge at the third dragon's eyes.
During the distraction I scooted deeper into the niche, searching with my feet for an unseen corridor. Meagan seemed certain it existed; it must have been true! She attempted a similar maneuver, crawling backward and kicking at the stones, confident a hidden tunnel would miraculously appear. We might have squeezed in another yard or two, but no escape materialized.
"I don't understand!" she wailed, as if offended by her own spiritual premonitions. "It should be here! It must be here!"
Her confidence was mesmerizing. I rolled onto my back and scraped at loose shale, expecting a dark ingress to a wider channel to suddenly appear. In spite of Meagan's intransigence, the cave was a dead-end. There was no hidden escape. Its snout lunged deeper and deeper, tenaciousness only seeming to escalate.
Humbly, I said, "There’s no tunnel, my love. We're trapped. Unless—until—the beast departs."
"It won't depart," she insisted. "Don't you understand? They control it, Apollus! It will dig and dig! They sent us here to die, wherever 'here' is."
I responded curtly. "You said yourself: they are not infallible. Not all-powerful! You declared it to their faces and I felt them shudder. There is a way to escape!"
She snapped at me bitterly, "Then you tell me!"
I did not take her tone personally. She was frustrated. I knew I she was right, but by all the gods I could not deduce a solution.
The creature had managed to insert the front and rear prong of its head into the gap, scraping and hammering like the horns of an aurochs, increasingly widening the gap. It pulled back as if to assess its progress, appraising us for a single instant with those malevolent sapphire eyes. It jaws gaped wide and roared its dragon roar. Was it challenging us or merely laughing at our predicament, and its inevitable conclusion? At their widest expanse, I could have leapt into those jaws, bypassing the teeth, right into its throat, letting it swallow me whole.
Meagan could not see any of this. Yet her fingernails pierced tightly into my bicep. "That's it." Her voice was a whisper, then it amplified. "That's it!"
"Don't you see? The rift! It's right there! Right in front of us!"
"Rift?" I was perplexed.
She pointed into the dragon's gaping jaws. "There. I should have realized. It's a matter of faith. Safety is in the jaws of the 'Great Maw.' Do you see? Do you get it? Our obvious escape is the direction of obvious death."
I gaped at her, blinking, praying I'd misunderstood. "What are you—? Do you mean we—?"
"We charge it. Run straight at the Pterodactyl. Or whatever it is. If it moves, so be it. We leap into open space, out and away from the cliff."
I continued to gape, thunderstruck. She was serious. The creature thrust in and snapped several more times to see if it could finally find a purchase. I yanked down Meagan's wrist, denying it a target. Its ostensibly steel-plated head continued smashing shale. Comparatively puny appendages, like the gnarled claws of a bat, scraped out loose stones. This was not the first time it had nabbed prey using this method. It was confident of inevitable success.
"Meagan—" I tried to muster every ounce of reason. "—how do you know there is a rift?" A part of me felt ashamed to ask, like a skeptical disciple questioning a seasoned master.
"Because I see it!" she insisted. "I mean, I see . . . " She sighed in aggravation. "It's there, Apollus!"
"Even if there is a rift, those teeth could clamp down, spill our entrails before we can pass through. We’ll reach our destination looking like gristle."
She gripped my shoulders amidst the whirl of dust and feathers. "And there's the faith."
She spoke the word as if neither of us fully understood it, had never truly exercised it.
I swallowed and requested final clarification. "You're suggesting we lunge forward, into the dragon's gullet and . . . this will allow us to pass through the rift?"
Her face flashed doubt, but it faded instantly, replaced by a nod of full vigor and enthusiasm. "Yes, Apollus!" She spoke loudly, though her voice was barely audible over the monster’s latest, ear-piercing shriek. "That's exactly what I'm suggesting!"
The end . . . of Chapter One. I’m serious. That’s where Chapter One ends. I told you you’d just hate me more! I tried, I tried, I tried to tell you . . .
In all seriousness—as if I’m capable of that in this episode—I do hope that you enjoyed what you heard. I just wanted to give you a taste. Very small taste. What’s the point of Chris Heimerdinger having a podcast if he didn’t have fun with the Tennis Shoes Series from time to time?
Now, for all those who just wanna go to the comments section of the website and urge me to hurry up and finish the series, I promise, I’ve already got the message. If it wasn’t so late at night as I finish recording this, I’d dive back into it right now. If you wanna express your thoughts, tell me if you’d like to read another volume in 2019. Reinforce this to me. You realize 2019 is the 30-year anniversary of Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites? Kinda cool, and embarrassing at the same time. My publisher is really pushing me to turn in a manuscript. Some kind of manuscript. So the marathon is on. I got till spring to finish this thing up. It would then come out in the fall. So like a locomotive, the wheel are fully engaged and churning. Best of all, considering the myriad of characters, plot fragments, and loose ends that I need to tie up, I see the light at the end of the tunnel. I know where to go. I got this.
All that’s left is to say, “Thank you.” Thank you readers. There is no greater honor for any storyteller than to think that, perhaps, his stories might—might—increase the readers’ knowledge or understanding of sacred things and bring people closer to Christ. At least that was my intent. Whether I succeeded or failed, that’s still up in the air. But it’s a noble quest, and for 30 years it’s helped to feed my family. So those who feel they’ve gotten something worthwhile out these stories, you owe me nothing. I owe you everything. And I owe my Father in Heaven far more than that.
Who’d have thought a 5-minute dream—I mean, I don’t know exactly how long it was, but—a 5-minute dream while serving a mission in Florida would lead to this? A time-travel epic celebrating the Book of Mormon. Just don’t ever tell me that somehow these adventures took the place of actually reading the holy scriptures in your life. If so, I should have never written them. By comparison my books are just a silly little diversion. Amusing, but eminently forgettable.
Their purpose, from the beginning, has been to bear testimony of something so much greater—the Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ in the latter days, and the existence of a sacred record that bears testimony of the Lord’s great atoning sacrifice and His eternal love for His children on every continent of the earth.
I love this Church. I’m an empty shell without it.
If you don’t feel as close to the Lord today as you did yesterday, who moved? I’ve certainly moved at times, and I’m constantly striving to move back, to let Him take me by hand, and lead me further and higher—to a celestial place beyond the very limited scope of my imagination.
Thank you for joining me today. Thank you for being here. This is Chris Heimerdinger. And this is ForeverLDS.