Well, hello Blog! Long time, no write. I’ve missed you.
Thought I’d drop by to say that (praise the Lord!) I have a working title for my new Young Adult novel.
What is it, you ask?
It’s kind of long, I admit. And it might not make much sense. Plus, I’ll probably end up changing it. But since you just can’t go on without knowing…here it is:
Cassandra McCoy, Voodoo Princess Extraordinaire
When you read the novel, it (the title and the book) will be funny, I swear.
Anyhoo, Blog, the reason I haven’t written you in a while is that this new novel is giving me a bit o’ trouble. Getting it out of my head has been like trying to squeeze the last dab of toothpaste from the tube. But I think I have finally stumbled onto a squeegee–metaphorically speaking–in the form of a plot twist that will hopefully have me banging away at the keyboard into the wee hours. If you’d like to read about voodoo backfires, sneaky cleaning ladies, Russian spies and secret twins, I’m your girl.
In the meantime, here’s another chapter of the aforementioned manuscript. It’s rough and bloody (in form, not content), so you might want to put on some gloves. As always, this is an unedited first draft. Don’t get too attached to anything, lest your darlings perish on the editing room floor. Otherwise, enjoy!
Copyright 2012 by Tara Nelsen-Yeackel. All rights reserved.
We didn’t find the coins, even though Crazy Shotgun Guy (he never did tell us his name) spent forty minutes working up a sweat with a bona fide shovel, leaving a hopscotch of disturbed earth in his wake.
“Sorry,” I tell Ian as we part ways in the still-dark street, half a block from my (and Haley’s) house. “Maybe we can think of something else.” I scrunch my face into a contemplative scowl. “A bake sale? Or a car wash? Oh, oh!” I spout, the perfect idea hitting me. “We could do a charity dinner. Remember that one we had last year for the Angelos, when their house burned down?”
By “we” I mean my parents, mostly, since they’re the proud owners and nearly live-in operators of The Moondancer, Milford’s top American eatery, pre-prom destination, and all-around good-time hangout.
Haley starts scuffing down the sidewalk, her legs wobbly and Clive’s cage bumping along the sloped lawn beside her.
Ian gives me a hopeless shrug. “I dunno,” he says. “It’s up to you.”
I lean in and deliver a little shoulder squeeze. “Done,” I say. “How about next Sunday?” I notice Haley hobbling into the end of our driveway and holler, “Wait up!”
She shimmies to a stop and sets Clive in the grass.
“Thanks, Cass,” Ian whispers, his voice threatening to crack. “You’re the best.”
I roll my eyes, brush my fingers over his hand and start jogging for Haley. Behind me in the street, the Love Machine turns over with a whine, rumbles to life and vanishes in the night.
By the time I clomp up beside my sister, I wish I could disappear too. Because no sooner do I dip a toe in our driveway than a light pops on inside our house. The kitchen light, to be exact—signifying our father’s bleary-eyed trek to the coffee machine. We’re five minutes too late, I think. Five lousy minutes. And now we’re going to be caught.
“I’ve got an idea,” I tell Haley, whose eyes are so sleep-deprived they’re puffed to near slits.
She simply groans.
I lock my arm around hers, snatch Clive’s cage and hustle us toward the garage, which we slink into through its back door.
“What’re you doing?” mumbles Haley, her head bobbing as I tug at the zipper of her hoodie.
She swats at my arm.
“Cut it out,” I say. I twirl her sideways and pull the hoodie off. “We’ve gotta look right when we go in there. You don’t want to be grounded ‘til graduation, do you?”
She doesn’t bother answering.
I usher her over to a concrete sink, where our father has been known to filet a deer or suds the downspouts of our numerous gutters. The knob grinds (I can feel something catching inside) as I open the faucet.
“Here,” I say, flicking a few droplets of water at Haley’s hairline. “You need to be sweaty.” Due to my sister’s ebony dye-job, though, my efforts are largely ineffectual.
I drip a stream of water from my forehead to my ear, then repeat the process on the other side. Meanwhile, Haley starts rocking on her heels as if she’s about to tip over.
Which leaves me no choice, really.
“Ow!” she screeches as I let loose a two-handed slapfest on her cheeks. I don’t stop for a few more seconds, until I’m sure she’ll pass for a marathoner.
“Okay, do me,” I say, throwing my hands toward my face.
Her eyes crack open a bit wider, and she rubs at her cheeks, which now look perfectly red and blotchy. “Huh?”
She squints. “You’re nuts.”
I give her a little huff. “Do you have a better idea?”
“The track team,” I say. “We’ll tell Dad that we’re practicing to try out.”
“So we got up at…whatever time it is, to go for a run?”
“Yup.” I pull the ruffled curtains back from the garage window and peer at the house, our father’s square form dominating the near corner of the kitchen, giant swaths of newsprint swaying open before him.
“You can barely walk a mile,” argues Haley.
I’m out of patience. “Whatever. It doesn’t matter. Just follow my lead.” I grab her hand and yank, and, begrudgingly, she tails me out of the garage, up the steps, and into our bright, shiny mudroom.
Three more feet and we’ll be in the kitchen (if our father doesn’t hear us and come checking first, that is). I draw a breath, jog a few steps in place and…
Sure enough, Dad makes an appearance, the bulk of his bathrobe—not to mention his new potbelly—eclipsing the doorway. “What…?” is all he says, the sight of us rendering him speechless.
Haley pushes him aside and prances by. “I’m going to bed.”
I try to follow, but Dad lunges into my path. “Where do you think you’re going?” he asks, trying to put on a tough, bad-cop voice.
I feel a pang of sadness for the peas-in-a-pod relationship my father and I used to have, before the stress of the restaurant, Mom’s illness and Haley’s “dark period.” I form my lips into a pleasant smile. “To sleep?”
Dad smiles back, but it’s more of a gotcha smirk than a happy-to-see-you greeting. “C’mon, Cassandra,” he says, shaking his head. “I wasn’t born yesterday.”
“But…what do you mean?” I shoot him my famous doe eyes and angle around him for the table. He studies me as I sit down and start flipping through the paper.
“You were at the cemetery, weren’t you?”
I shake my head, suddenly unable to breathe.
He lays a palm on my shoulder, then pats my hair against my back. “It’s okay. We know how hard this is.” He sighs. “But you’ve gotta keep us in the loop. Stop sneaking out in the middle of the night to…do whatever it is you’ve been doing.”
“I don’t sneak out,” I mutter. “We were practicing for the track team.”
He bursts out laughing, which, honestly, strikes me as a tad insulting. “Yeah, okay.”
Swish, swish goes the news in my hands. “We were.”
He takes a seat beside me, and even though I try not to look, I can’t help noticing from the corner of my eye that he is aging at warp-speed, the specks of gray that once dappled his temples now forging an all-out assault on his bushy mane. “It wasn’t your fault, what happened to George.”
I wish he wouldn’t talk to me this way; it’s too raw. I’m too raw.
“He could’ve been texting anyone,” he continues. “It was an accident.”
I bite my lip, shut my eyes against the tears that are welling.
“And he wouldn’t want you to blame yourself.”
That’s what a therapist told me too: forgive yourself for George; he’d want it that way. But I guess survivor’s guilt exists for a reason, a natural response to loving someone and being helpless to stop from losing them.
If only I hadn’t sent that message…
“He was texting me,” I say. “About…nothing. Absolutely nothing.”
My dad eases off his chair and heads for the stove, where he gets the teakettle percolating. “I don’t want to say ‘Get over it, Cass,’” he tells me gently. “I know it’s not a ‘get over it’ situation. But you do have to figure out how to move on. You’ve been…stuck for a long time.”
Most dads probably wouldn’t be so sensitive, my father included. But while Mom was sick with heart problems five years ago (and recovering from surgery), Dad changed. It was like he tried to absorb Mom—become her, almost—in case the worst happened. Thank God, it didn’t.
“I’m trying,” I say with an exasperated sigh (not at my father, but at my own mental hang-ups). “I am.”
He sets a steaming mug in front of me, the tea bag’s string and little paper tab clinging like used bubblegum to the side of the cup. “Anything I can do to help?”
I blow on the tea, take a tentative sip. “Maybe.”
His eyes brighten. “Do tell.”
“You know, Ian Smith?” I say.
“Ian Smith?” he repeats, his eyebrows puckering.
I swirl the tea bag around in the water, creating ripples of bitterness. “He’s a senior. One of George’s friends,” I remind him. “A short guy. Kind of looks like Justin Bieber, without the Bieberness. You met him at the funeral; he was one of the pallbearers.”
“What about him?” says my dad, his curiosity—and protectiveness—piqued.
“His dad’s sick.”
It’s like my father’s spine suddenly compresses, making him seem three inches shorter. He drops into a chair. “How sick?”
Since Mom’s heart attack, Dad takes death and disease personally—even if he’s unfamiliar with the victim. “I’m not sure,” I admit with a shrug. “But I think it’s pretty bad. He needs money for a new liver.”
Dad’s gaze bores into me. “You can’t buy organs, Cass. It’s illegal.”
I let a swallow of tea slither down my throat. “He’s on the list,” I explain, “for the liver. But he’s got no health insurance. And they’re broke. The only cash they’ve got is from Ian’s job at Waterslide Village—and that’s just until September.”
My father’s expression glazes over, letting me know I’ve wandered into too-much-information territory. “I could use him as a dishwasher at The Moondancer,” he offers.
It’s a nice thought and one Ian might take my father up on, but… “I have a better idea,” I say. “Something more…immediate.” I mean, I owe the kid one, since our treasure hunt went ker-bust-o.
“Lay it on me,” Dad says, his hands doing backwards summersaults through the air.
I get up and sling an arm around his shoulder, balance on his knee like in the olden days. “Let’s do what we did for the Angelos,” I whisper into his ear, even though we’re the only ones here.
He gets a big grin. “I’ll tell your mom.”
I had George’s obituary blown up and laminated. It was two days after his funeral when I got up the nerve to clip it from the paper and parade into the Staples by the mall, a twenty crumpled in my jeans to pay for the memorialization. When I tried to explain my request to the woman behind the counter, she shot me a concerned look that said, I’m about to phone the police and report you as an escaped kidnap victim.
Then she saw the o-bit.
While Mom was sick, I thought about obituaries a lot, wrote hers in my head a thousand times, in a thousand different, sparkly ways: a poem; a short story; a laundry list of heroic deeds. I made her into a myth. A legend. Someone the world would have no choice but to mourn, because then I wouldn’t have to grieve alone.
I don’t have a three-by-nine sheet of newsprint summarizing my mother’s life—not yet—a fact that, on one level, convinces me I’ve won the lottery. But another part of me, the part that once had a sweet neighbor, protector and friend named George Brooks—a boy I was just figuring out how to love—feels ripped off, ripped open, destroyed.
I click the chintzy French floor lamp by my bed on, sprawl face-first onto my poufy comforter and dangle my arms for the carpeted floor. From under my bed, I withdraw a shallow, black two-foot-square box I’ve borrowed (or, more likely, stolen, since I don’t plan on returning it) from Haley.
Inside this box is what I have left of George: a dusty baseball mitt with a hole through the palm; the cracked wheel from my (technically George’s) first skateboard; a cool, oblong rock with quartz veins that George and I dug up during the summer we both decided to become geologists; a snapshot of the two of us poking our heads out of the igloo we built in George’s front yard one Christmas; and, of course, the obituary.
Also in the box are things I hope will connect me with George one last time, grant me the power to deliver a final message: a small, knitted doll with X’s for eyes and a black slash for a mouth; an old nip bottle that once contained bourbon and belonged to my parents, but now serves as a vessel for the holy water I pilfered from St. Dominick’s; a map—hand-drawn by me—of Redeemer Cemetery with a glittery, red heart-shaped sticker marking George’s grave; and, last but not least—the pièce de résistance—my cell phone, which captured and forever froze the last words of George Alfred Brooks.
From nowhere there is a knock at my door, which causes me to jump. “What?” I yell. Luckily, I’ve remembered to lock the doorknob.
It’s Haley. “Let me in.”
I want to complain about having a little sister, but the truth is, Haley isn’t half bad. Sometimes she even helps me. I flop off the bed, scuff over to the door and crack it open. “I thought you were sleeping.”
“Nah. I couldn’t.”
She shoulders the door open just wide enough to slip inside. “Nightmare,” she tells me, her gaze snagging on the box. “I got a stomachache.”
Haley’s a good sister, but a bad liar; I suspect she’s here to comfort me, instead of the other way around. “You wanna sleep in here?” I ask, the light of a new day slicing over my twin headboard.
She nods meekly. “If you don’t mind.”
Okay…so I’ve been at this indie author thing for about sixteen months now (if we go by the August 2011 publication of my first two novels, Any Red-Blooded Girl and Film at Eleven). And I thought it might be a good time to take a breath and take stock of the indie experience.
I should start by explaining my decision to go indie in the first place. For me, it was an easy choice to make, since the traditional publishing model is fraught with sadness, disappointment and rejection for nearly every aspiring author, regardless of the quality of his/her product. Publishing is a fickle business, and, honestly, I knew without signing up for the ride that the roller coaster wouldn’t be good for my mental health.
And what I really wanted to do was reach READERS anyway!!!! So I hung out my shingle and set up my wares on this magical place called the Internet.
The readers came (in ones and twos, mostly, but sometimes in tens and twenties!). I have now sold thousands of e-books (and given away somewhere in the neighborhood of 100,000!). I am happy with sales, considering the hyper-competitive book market and the difficulty of reaching one’s audience in such a media-saturated world.
Yet I still get down (so much for bypassing sadness by skipping the traditional publishing route). Writing books is hard; getting those books into the hands of readers who might appreciate them is exponentially harder. I’m not sure I can do any better in that regard than I am right now, which gives the neurotic voice in my head lots of fodder for self-doubt.
Some days, I feel like quitting.
But I haven’t yet.
Which brings me to my point: I have begun another novel. Only the first chapter is complete, but I thought I’d post it as I go, like I did with my last book, Good Luck, Fatty?! I hope you enjoy. (For the record, this novel is not yet titled. And it is a first draft.)
Here we go…
Copyright 2012 by Tara Nelsen-Yeackel. All rights reserved.
If I believed in heaven, I’d be dead right now. Instead, I’m ricocheting around in the back of Ian Smith’s crappy, soundproof van—the Love Machine, as he sickeningly refers to it—like a pinball on LSD.
“Hey, watch it!” I spout as the van hits another beach ball-sized crater in the road. Something heavy with the feel of metal (a giant Maglite flashlight?) bounces off my forehead in the dark. “Ouch!”
Now, in addition to the rug burns that are splashed over my shins and palms from the wall-to-wall Astroturf I’ve been clinging to for the last forty minutes, I’ll be sporting a happy little bruise or a nascent egg over my unkempt, white-blond brows. A fugly third eye.
The van zings around a turn, tossing me into the wheel well and literally rattling Clive’s cage. In retrospect, I probably should’ve thought better of toting a rescue-crow along on a clandestine recovery mission, but Clive is my insurance policy. If my powers go wonky, he’ll be there with his twitchy British accent to save the day.
With a little pinch, I trigger the glow-light of my sports watch. The time is one thirty-three a.m., an hour at which I’m normally curled into the shape of a cinnamon bun beneath an avalanche of blankets and pillows, sleep whistling its way in and out of my nose.
But Ian needs me—or, more specifically, his father needs my gift. And I haven’t spent two years turning into a psychic voodoo princess (seriously, there’s got to be a better way to refer to the extrasensory perception I’ve honed!) to deny a sick old dude my potentially life-saving services.
“We’re almost there,” I whisper to Clive, who’s been abnormally mute since our little quintet slithered out the back exit of New Beginnings, the temporary housing complex where the city has agreed to stash Ian and his dad for the next three months.
Even in the ink-blackness, I can sense Clive doing a peppy little hop around the forest of branches I’ve constructed in his jail cell to lend it a bit more ambience and authenticity. To be honest, I didn’t think the dumb bird was going to last very long after his mate got squashed by a semi-truck and he nearly ended up as bobcat food in a ditch. But now he seems poised for a comeback.
A few silent minutes pass, and then the van makes a series of left-hand turns, followed by a half mile (or so I’m guessing) of low rumbling along a gravel road before meandering to a stop.
I hope this works, I think. Because even though I’ve been sequestered for the better part of an hour, I’m not really in the groove tonight. Usually, sensory deprivation sharpens my skills, but on such a somber anniversary, I only feel empty—in an unproductive sort of way.
The back doors of the van squeak and groan as they inch open on Ian’s mousy profile. For a guy two years my senior—not to mention a senior in high school—he sure has a lot of growing left to do. “You all right?” he asks warily, his gaze hesitant to meet mine.
“You can look at me,” I say with a huff as I scoot toward the moonlight. “I won’t turn you to stone.” I sweep a cross over my chest. “Promise.”
Ian slips past me and clambers into the van, where he gropes around for something. Then a flashlight beam hits my face. “What the heck?” blurts Haley, my wise-mouthed little sister, from the shadows, presumably referring to the obvious whack I’ve taken to the skull.
I shimmy off the tailgate and skid the back of my hand over my forehead. “Job hazard,” I mutter.
“Looks like crap,” Haley says.
While Ian wrestles the metal detector from its cubby hole, I glance from my sister, who is, as usual, clad in black from head to toe (and not just because we’re aiming for ninja stealth), to her Goth-in-training sidekick, Opal. Why did I agree to bring these irritants along again? I think. Oh, yeah: blackmail. “Just get Clive,” I tell Haley. “Opal can hold the divining rod.”
“She’s such a freak,” Haley whispers, a tone of reverence in her voice.
Opal gives a shaky nod that reverberates through her eighty-pound frame. “I know.”
These kids could have worse role models, I figure. The funny thing is, I’m not what they think I am. I’m more a desperate, heartbroken girl clutching at any means possible of contacting the boy she’s lost than an exalted priestess of the occult. But why split hairs?
Haley bangs Clive to a rocky stop at my feet, and he caws a silence-shattering, “Hell-o!”
“Shhh!!!” I spout, giving his cage a little tap with my toes. Because the last thing we need is this nutso bird alerting the neighbors (who may then alert the police) to our technically illegal high jinks. Then again, we’re loitering at the edge of a tree line, a hundred yards away from the camp Ian’s grandparents used to own, in a lakefront community populated largely by seasonal residents who have yet to arrive for the summer. And it’s two o’clock in the morning. So, really, who could possibly hear us?
“Hell-o!” shrieks Clive again.
It’s hard to explain, but this bird and I have a weird case of simpatico. A kinship of grief. “Come on,” I tell him, wiggling my fingers into his cage. He gives my pinkie a little peck. “Be a good boy.”
Ian pops up at my side, the metal detector slung over his shoulder. “Ready?”
I haven’t thought this mission through. Not totally. “I guess,” I say with a shrug. I hate to ask this, since it might call my powers into question, but… “Which way?”
Ian squints into the trees, trains the flashlight on a muddy spot of earth that could be either a rough footpath or the tire tracks of a 4-wheeler, which he heads for as the rest of us traipse raggedly along behind.
“What are we looking for again?” Opal asks as my tennis shoes sink into a mucky pit of dead leaves and storm water.
“Buried treasure,” I whisper. And, for once, I’m not kidding.
In a heavy voice, Ian grumbles, “Slim chance we’re gonna find it, though.”
My feet are so sopping wet that they’re starting to go numb. I shift off the path onto the trailside brush, which scrapes at my ankles as I trudge ahead. “Thanks a bunch,” I say, “for the vote of confidence.”
“Hell-o!” squawks Clive.
“Pipe down, birdbrain,” I mutter.
Opal shoots me a sidelong glance. “Is that all he can say?”
I shake my head. “Uh-uh. He also says yellow and mellow and fellow.” I give her a grin she probably can’t see in the weak glow of the moon. “And a few other choice things.”
In ten more feet, we hit the perimeter of Ian’s grandparents’ former property, where he abruptly stops and the rest of us clatter into each other like runaway train cars. “Sheesh,” I say when Haley slams Clive’s cage into my knee. “Be careful, would ya?”
The air is heavy and storm-charged. Fat raindrops spit sideways at my face. “This is it,” Ian says, motioning at a boarded-up, weather-beaten cabin that, in the dark, reminds me of the haunted houses I’ve seen in ghost stories on TV.
“Any idea where I should start?” I ask.
Ian shrugs. “Under a tree? That’s where it’s supposed to be.”
“What is it? Like bars of gold or something?” says Haley.
I pry the divining rod from Opal’s death grip (who knew someone so tiny could be so strong?) “Something like that,” I tell Haley. “Coffee cans full of…”
Clive ruffles his feathers, making a sound that mimics our cleaning lady, Rosie, shaking out the bed sheets. “Gold coins,” Ian says. “My old man says Uncle Ted buried loads of them here during the Great Depression, even though it was illegal. Even though the government was confiscating them.”
Haley pulls a quizzical face. “So your uncle was a traitor?”
“Cool,” whispers Opal.
I can’t help rolling my eyes. “I’m freezing,” I say, wrapping my arms around my chest for warmth (and nearly poking Haley’s eye out with the divining rod). “You guys stay here. I’m gonna get started.”
Ian taps me on the shoulder with the Maglite. “Forget something?”
“Oh, yeah. I guess you’re gonna have to come with me,” I reluctantly admit, “so I can see.”
Haley and Opal exchange anxious glances. “What about us?” Haley asks.
“You’ll be fine,” I say. “Clive will protect you.”
Haley snorts. “More like the other way around.”
I take a step and Ian follows…as do Haley, Opal and Clive (but at least they pretend to be sneaky about it).
Now I’m doomed, I think. Because as scattered as my mind is already, I’ve just become the grand marshal of a parade of misfits and oddballs—which gets me thinking of George.
Two years = 24 months = 104 weeks = 730 days = way too many hours, minutes and seconds since I last saw George Alfred Brooks, the only boy I may ever love.
And I never told him.
And now he’s gone.
And it’s my fault.
“Hey, Cass,” I hear Ian saying across what seems a great distance, “you okay?”
Sometimes I go into a trance, and then I have a hard time coming out of it. With effort, I focus my eyes on the tips of my tennis shoes until they’re as clear as the crystal pendant slung around my neck. “Yep,” I report.
Ian shines the flashlight ahead of us toward the base of a thick tree, on which I concentrate intently, the divining rod weightless and alive in my slack grip. Before George died, I thought of myself as ordinary. Simple. Destined for the meaty part of the curve.
But then I found my power—or it found me. “We’re getting warmer,” I say with confidence, the rod humming gently against my fingertips. I conjure the sight of an empty white room, an imaginary place where walls, floor and ceiling meld together, forging a hole of nothingness. The epicenter of my gift.
The rod tugs left around the tree, to a spot equidistant from the mouth of the lake and the cabin’s lopsided screened porch. I stop at this unmarked place, the rod going still and my feet starting to prickle. “Try here,” I tell Ian, who is already firing up the metal detector, its gauges sputtering to life with a series of beeps and clicks.
I step aside and he scans the earth, anticipation thickening the night air. “Do we get a share of…whatever we find?” asks Haley, the metal detector’s chirping intensifying.
“Are you sure there’s no one out here?” I ask, suddenly nervous. Because my Spidey Sense is tingling.
Mice, I think. Or raccoons. Hopefully.
Instead of answering, Ian kicks a clod of dirt from the spotty lawn, carves a rough X in the earth with the heel of his boot and powers the metal detector down. I hold it upright as he goes into his backpack for the shovel, a collapsible number folks keep in the trunks of their cars or the beds of their pickups for snow emergencies in our untamed part of Vermont (though, technically, we’ve now crossed over into New Hampshire).
Ian snaps the shovel into being and takes a thunking stab at the ground.
“Hell-o!” Clive coos, as if he’s wooing a pretty lady.
“That’s it,” I say. Until I need ol’ Clivey—if I need him at all—he’s going undercover.
Despite the rain and even the cold, I unzip my hoodie and slip it off. Then I zip it around Clive’s cage, stretching the fabric until it’s as tense as an overblown balloon. Poor George, I think. Look at what I’ve done to his most cherished possession. With any luck, I’ll be able to shrink the garment back into shape with an overdose of fabric softener and a spin through the dryer on permanent press.
“Can I help?” Opal asks Ian as he chips away at the dirt, one measly shovelful at a time.
“Nah,” he answers. “Maybe when I get tired.”
Opal shrugs, starts marching in place as if she’s the leader of a one-girl band.
“I think I hear something,” I whisper, straining an ear toward the cottage.
But it’s already too late.
“Hold it right there!” a gruff voice demands, stopping my lungs in mid-breath.
I disobey, swivel my head around for the source of the command, notice Haley and Opal stiffening to attention at each other’s sides.
“What do you think you’re doing?” comes the voice again, booming like a conga drum.
“Nothing,” claims Ian, his hands suddenly still, the shovel balanced on the tip of his boot and his gaze fixed on the cottage’s rickety porch.
A bulky figure steps into sight but remains shadowed. “Looks like you’re up to no good.”
We are so up to good! I think. We’re trying to save a sick old man’s life! I risk a step toward the silhouette. “He used to live here,” I say, throwing an elbow at Ian, “in the summers. You know, the Smiths? Maybe you remember them?”
The shadow advances on us. Finally, I make out a guy my father’s age, with a scraggly beard, lips the color of new plums and the coal-black eyes of a snowman. Oh, and a shotgun aimed—generally speaking—at our heads. “’Fraid not,” he mutters.
“We can leave now,” Haley offers, her voice quavering. “It’s no problem.”
Don’t run, Sis, I tell her telepathically. He won’t need any other reason to shoot you.
“Let’s just—” I start to say, but the man interrupts.
“Not until we get a few things straight,” he says, lowering the gun.
My pulse switches from quadruple-time to time and a half. “Like what?” I inquire softly.
It’s muffled, thank God, but Clive lets out a garbled, “Hell-o!”
The man raises his gun again, sidles up to Clive’s cage and pokes at George’s hoodie with the muzzle. “Watcha got here?”
Please don’t let him be a hunter. Please don’t let him be a hunter, I pray. But, of course, he is. I can just tell. “Oh, that’s my bird, Clive,” I explain. “He’s a rescue-crow.”
The shotgun muzzle, by way of the stranger’s unusually long forearms, pries half of George’s hoodie from the cage. “He rescues people?” the man asks with astonishment.
I shouldn’t laugh, but… “Uh, no,” I say with a nervous chuckle. “I rescued him. His mate died in a car accident.”
A curious look comes over the man’s face. “Take him out.”
“I’m cold,” says Opal. When I glance her way, it’s obvious that she’s serious, her bony little body now racked by an all-out shake.
Ian looks at Opal too. “We’ve gotta get going,” he says, sounding as if he’s trying to talk himself into the idea.
“Take him out,” the man says again.
Don’t kill my bird, I want to say. He didn’t do anything to you. But instead I fidget with the zipper of George’s hoodie until it comes loose; then I unlatch Clive’s cage and shove my hand inside. “Here, baby.”
The bird doesn’t know any better. He really doesn’t. I feel the soft pinch of his claws on my wrist and the heft of his body balanced over my hand. “Okay…” I say as I withdraw my arm, “…here we go.”
Clive flutters his wings, tosses his head from side to side. The man simply stares. “He bite?” he asks, nodding Clive’s way.
I shrug. “He might,” I admit, not wanting to hold out false hope. “Not usually, though. He’s pretty well tamed.”
The stranger cocks his head, moves in on Clive and me. The birdbrain cocks his head right back. “Mind if I pet him?”
Of course, I mind. “I dunno,” I say. “I guess you can if you want.”
Haley pipes up. “I wouldn’t.” I shoot her a stifling glare, but it doesn’t take. “I mean, sure, he’s cool and everything,” she goes on, “but for all we know, he could have SARS or something. It’s not like we’ve had him tested.”
The man rests his shotgun on the ground beside the metal detector, which I’ve long since abandoned. “I ain’t too worried about it.” He reaches a thick, grungy hand—replete with gruesome nicks and scrapes, calluses and rope-like scars—at Clive’s face.
I swear to God, if this weirdo snaps my bird’s neck or bites his head off like that sicko Ozzy Osbourne used to do (not to Clive, obviously, but to his feathered friends), I’m going to lose my marbles. “Go slow,” I can’t help cautioning as his fingers make contact with Clive’s back, “and be gentle.”
My words of warning are unnecessary, though, because the man pets my bird with the delicacy of a chef trying to crack an egg without breaching its yolk. “Good birdie,” he whispers.
I can’t believe my eyes when Clive takes a dancing leap from my hand to the stranger’s.
And neither can Haley. “Wow,” she says, “he’s never done that.”
What my sister means it that Clive is skittish; I’m the only human allowed to touch him…until now. “He likes you,” I say, the notion so shocking I’m having trouble making sense of it.
A giddy expression comes over the man’s face, and suddenly he looks more like a Chihuahua than a Doberman Pinscher. I watch saucer-eyed as Clive inches up his arm and comes to rest on the round of his shoulder. “Arrrgghh!” the man abruptly squeals, his lips curled into a fiendish smile, an eye pinched shut as if he’s channeling a pirate. He takes a couple of lurching steps, one foot clomping along stiffly as if it’s supporting a false leg.
“Not bad,” Ian remarks about the man’s performance.
“So, uh, it’s getting late,” Haley points out unnecessarily.
I line up shoulder to shoulder with the man, encouraging Clive to make the leap back to me. As soon as he does, I stuff him into his cage and secure George’s hoodie around it once again. “There.”
“You never answered me,” says the man, the shotgun back in his hands, his hollow gaze pinned on Ian’s forehead.
Opal’s voice is tiny. “Huh?”
“What exactly are you kids doin’?”
Kids? Do we look like we rode our tricycles here? “Listen,” I say, toying with the idea of spilling the beans, “we don’t want any trouble. We’re just trying to find something that belongs to my friend’s…great-uncle.” I tip my head in Ian’s direction. “His dad needs it real bad.”
The stranger lifts an eyebrow. “Needs what real bad?”
“A liver,” I say. “He’s got a disease. If he doesn’t get a new one soon, he’s gonna die.”
I can see the train of thought chugging through the man’s head. “Sorry,” he says, “I ain’t followin’.”
Fine. I guess it’s come down to this. “There’s something buried here,” I clarify. “Money. Coins. My friend’s dad needs them to pay for the operation.”
The man beams a gummy, gap-toothed smile. “Well, why didn’t you say so?”
If you’re looking for info. on my BOOK LAUNCH GIVEAWAY for GOOD LUCK, FATTY?!, you’re in the right place. For a limited time, I am offering FREE e-copies of my new young adult novel featuring Bobbi-Jo Cotton, an overweight fifteen-year-old girl struggling (often comically) with bullying, promiscuity, and low self-esteem.
[EDIT: THE BOOK LAUNCH GIVEAWAY has now ended, but e-copies of GOOD LUCK, FATTY?! will continue to be available for 99 cents until 12/31/2012!]
Spunky North Carolina teen Bobbi-Jo Cotton is overweight, oversexed, underloved and misunderstood. When Dr. Harvey Lassiter, her former high school principal turned bicycle shop owner—with the help of Lex Arlington, a hometown celebrity—sponsors a charity bike race, Bobbi sees an opportunity to test her Schwinn and her fortitude. And when Tom Cantwell, her best (and only) friend, reveals he’s crushing on her, Bobbi figures it’s time to quit passing out screws like they’re dentists’ office suckers.
What Bobbi is having a harder time letting go of is the resentment she feels toward her missionary parents, who, after abandoning her in the night, have flitted back into her life with a surprise: she’s about to be a big sister.
Will Bobbi win the race (and maybe even lose the weight)? Can she overcome her promiscuous past and earn the trust of the boy she just may love? Will her parents care enough about her—or her new baby brother—to stick around (and if they don’t, will she be tough enough to survive another of their betrayals)?
The only way to find out is to come along for the ride. The way Bobbi sees it, all of life’s questions can be answered from the seat of a bicycle. And if they can’t, at least your hair will look great fluttering in the breeze.
Here’s the lowdown on where to download the book…
Search iBooks for “Maggie Bloom” or “Good Luck, Fatty?!” (Sorry, i-People, for the lack of a direct link. I admit that I am i-Illiterate. )
(*If you don’t own an e-reader, you can still read GOOD LUCK, FATTY?! on your computer using Amazon’s Kindle viewer for PC. Get the Kindle viewer here: KINDLE VIEWER DOWNLOAD)
Thanks for visiting and happy reading, all! If you enjoy the book, I’d welcome a review.
The coolest thing happened about a week ago: A lovely eleven-year-old fan left a five-star review of my new book, Good Luck, Fatty?!, at Barnes and Noble. Which got me thinking about why I write in the first place (as an indie author, it’s certainly not for fame or fortune!).
The main reason I write, I decided, is that I love to read. Reading is magical. It takes us places we’d never otherwise go. Reading makes us laugh and cry, shake our heads and roll our eyes. It lets us try on other skins and walk around in them for a while. It makes us more human.
Writing, to me, is a high calling. I take it seriously (although I frequently write about less-than-serious topics). Because when a reader picks up one of my books, they are placing their trust in me. And I always strive to be worthy of that honor.
So, to that lovely eleven-year-old who was kind enough to leave a review, I’d like to say: thank you. You are the reason I do what I do.
(Now, for a little comic relief, a picture of me at eleven years old. Note the delicious velour v-neck sweater; I had a wardrobe full of those things in 1983!)