I wrote my first novel! It will be published and available on-line for purchase this month. Here is the first chapter. Young adult fiction.
Chapter 1: “Great Gramps’ Journal”
I awoke with a start, my heart racing.
Breathe, Jeff, I thought, wiping the tears from my eyes. That would never happen. I took a deep breath, letting my mind catch up with reality, and rose from my bed.
Dragging my weary body to the window, I rubbed my face and looked out at the new day. The sky was laced with clouds of purple and pink, calming to the eye, the Appalachians aglow beneath the morning rays of the sun. The grass was a vibrant green, wet with dew, and some birds were enjoying a morning bath in the fountain.
Continuing downstairs, I saw my mom sitting in the living room.
“Good morning, Mom,” I said, heading to the kitchen.
“Good morning,” she responded, taking a sip of her coffee as she proceeded perusing the Current Columns. Both of us kept the conversation short, not desiring to break the precious silence of morning quite yet.
I grasped my favorite mug from the cupboard—a gift my grandparents had brought over from Ireland—and poured the freshly brewed coffee. The coffee was a dark roast from Brazil, fairly-traded and rainforest-friendly, of course. Taking my coffee to the back porch, I climbed up onto the large oak rail, and watched the sun continue to rise over the mountains. Our house was situated near the edge of town, where the great forest began, leading up over the mountains out of sight.
After finishing my coffee, I returned to my room, stopping at the threshold. The memory of the dream came rushing back me. I decided to peek into my one-year-older brother’s room next door; to no surprise on my account, Zach was sleeping, and he would probably continue doing so until noon.
Look. He’s fine. I shook my head, as if to shake the thoughts out, and hopped in the shower, the warm, gentle water draining away the lingering pieces of my dream.
I dressed, combed my short, dark blonde hair, put on my Casio watch, and placed my wooden Celtic cross tied to a string—also a gift from Ireland—around my neck, and returned downstairs. I heard something sizzling in the kitchen and smelled the sweet welcoming of breakfast.
“Hey, Jeff, can you please set the table for me?” My mom said, moving the pan to the counter top, “Breakfast is ready.”
“Woohoo!” I loved breakfast. I loved lunch and dinner, too. Pulling out two square plates, two forks, and our new lemon and lime salt and pepper shakers—not from Ireland, but my mom enjoyed thrift shopping in style—and placing them in the breakfast nook, I took a seat.
“How is it?” My mom asked me over the plates of fluffy omelets with the perfect amount of spinach, green onion, and salty bits of ham. Her words fell to deaf ears as I was lost in the savory depths of my breakfast plate.
“Your breakfast, Jeff.”
“Oh! It’s… perfect, Mom.”
Finishing eating, I cleaned up the dishes. “It’s about ten o’clock. I’m gonna head over to Michele’s,” I said, giving my mom a big hug and reaching down to give her a kiss on the head (I was now a few inches taller than her).
“Sure. Be back for dinner.”
I quickly made a sandwich, grabbed an apple and a baggie of pretzels, and filled up my water bottle. Packing everything away in my satchel, I slung it over my shoulder, and made the short trek to Michele’s house—two houses down the block, to be exact.
I rang the doorbell and Michele stuck her head out the front window, her long mahogany locks hanging down.
“Hi! One sec!” she said, disappearing back inside. I heard more movement, a slight thump! …crash! …and then the door opened.
“Hey,” she said, tying her hair up in a ponytail.
“How are you?” I gave a slight smile, my eyebrows narrowing in curiosity.
“I’m fine… just need to handle… uhh… a quick situation. And you?”
“I’m great.” I smiled.
“Let me grab my things.”
I sat down on her porch and waited, watching a lizard eat a bug while pondering what the crash could have been. Michele shortly reappeared wearing her backpack. She gave me a big smile, the usual excitement of adventure lighting up her eyes, saying, “Let’s go!”
After getting Michele, we always ventured into the woods across the street to go exploring. This had been a routine of ours since we were two or three feet shorter and our parents had first allowed us to go off on our own. We were recent high school graduates, and we were even more recently beginning to date each other. We had decided to stay and help our families with the family businesses and save up for our future rather than go off to college. To our excitement, our parents agreed to give us an “extended” summer off before beginning work.
The great pine trees towered above us, along with the occasional oak or sycamore tree. Michele and I walked along a trail that we had just finished after a week of clipping thorn-infested vines and low branches where the brushwood thickened. We had the blood and scratches to show for it, but ultimately the vines lost the battle.
At the end of the trail, there was an opening where we had begun to build a shelter. So far, we had completed the frame and the base; we estimated it would take a few more weeks until we finished. I walked over to the pile of lumber and picked up several pieces, while Michele retrieved the hammer and nails.
Around midday, we decided to stop for lunch—my apple had disappeared within the first hour. I sat on the edge of the shelter base while Michele found a small boulder nearby.
“Mmm… can I have a bite?” Michele asked, eyeing my colorful pastrami sandwich.
“Wait—yours looks good too…,” I said, eyeing her chicken salad sandwich. Looking up at each other, then back at the sandwiches, we swapped them.
Michele took a generous bite, stopping in mid-chew, and slowly set the sandwich back down as if the pastrami had turned sour.
“What’s up? Is the sandwich bad?” I asked.
“No, the sandwich is fine. It’s nothing.” She swallowed and proceeded to finish the bite, when her eyes darted again.
“C’mon, Michele. What are you looking at?” I turned around.
“I saw something over there.” She pointed up to the edge of the shelter frame.
“I’ll go take a look.” As I started to get up, a large black snake slithered over the future windowsill. Michele stood up and quickly backed away. I sighed with a small chuckle, picking up the creature.
“It’s just Shadow,” I said, as the creature curled its tail, brushing the hairs on my arm with his rare, midnight-black scales following in line. Shadow was a gift from a friend at school. My mom would not let me keep him in the house, so I released him into the woods, but he seemed to like the shelter. His emerald eyes glimmered in the offered light.
“I wish he’d stop scaring me like that,” Michele squirmed, a worried look on her face.
I set Shadow back on the windowsill and he disappeared under the shelter. “It’s ok. Most people aren’t used to having a snake around.” I wrapped my arms around Michele to comfort her.
She sighed, patting my arm in thanks but her body was still tense.
“Here’s your sandwich.” I took her sandwich and handed it back to her playfully.
“Gross! You touched Shadow with that hand!”
“What are you talking about? Snakes are clean.” With that, Michele smirked at me, taking another big bite of my sandwich.
The next few weeks passed rather quickly as we hurried to finish the shelter. After the building stage was complete, all that remained were the final touches inside; Michele decorated with a few things from her house, while I built some furniture.
As I finished nailing together the table, Michele grabbed a tablecloth. We brushed the dust of the table, grabbed each end of the cloth and flung it over. As the cloth drifted down into place, we both fell into the two new wooden chairs at each end, slouching with a sigh and a smile, looking around our creation.
Two long wooden benches ran along the sides of the main room—one had a built-in storage area underneath that was our kind-of-safe box, locked with a golden lock—with the table and chairs at the center. There were also a few windows, some shelves with decorative items, and a trap door—covered by a rug, of course—that led under and out of the shelter.
At the entrance of the structure, some steps lead up to a large door with a handcrafted knob which my father had helped me with. On the side, there was an attached ladder leading up to a small open cache on roof—to be used as a storage area—with a window the width and shape of a bowling ball on the far side.
“Now for the final touch,” Michele said, taking a vase with freshly cut pink roses clipped from her backyard—they were her favorite flower—and placing them in the center of the table. She loved gardening, especially working with flowers of all varieties. Sitting back down, she said, “Nice chair. Did your Da teach you to make this?”
“Yeah, he did. But the engravings are my original little touch.” I said. My father was a carpenter, as was his father and his father’s father. When my great grandparents came over from Ireland in their late twenties with their children through Ellis Island, my Great Gramps had to leave carpentry to find a job that would be able support his family. He was, however, able to pass the trade onto my grandfather, who then taught my father. My grandfather was the last of the McKeller line to still have the Irish accent, but we liked to keep a little tradition by calling my father “Da”. My grandparents recently retired and frequently visited Ireland and other places around the world, while my Great Gramps, on the other hand, never returned to Ireland, mentioning something about not wanting to travel farther than the gas station.
The next morning I was the first to awake in the house. It was still fairly early, so I vacillated between getting off my lazy behind and staying in the comfort of the covers. I decided and arose from my bed, happy with myself for successfully tackling the first challenge of the day. I washed my face and went outside for a walk, jotting down a note in the dim light for my parents.
Brewnston Town was a small, quaint town situated in a valley in the Appalachians; the town was quiet in the early hours. I reached the town square and sat down on a bench. A few robins and blue jays were bouncing around in the brightening sky and a pair of squirrels were chasing each other through the trees. I was enjoying the morning calm, when a man’s voice broke the silence, “Hey, Jeff!”
I turned around. It was the baker, a jovial man in his mid-thirties with a big heart, on his way to open the bakery. He was a heavyset African American man, married, with four children.
“Hello, Mr. Stevens!” I called back. As he was about to round the corner, an idea popped into my head, Hmm… I could really go for a donut.
“Mr. Stevens! Wait up!”
Following him to the bakery, I waited patiently as he opened the shop, prepared the massive frying vat, and mixed the dough. Waiting in the café area, I watched a pair of squirrels bickering on the windowsill. I wondered if it was the same pair I saw in the trees and what they were bickering about.
“Enjoying the last of the summer, Jeff?” Mr. Steven said, handing me a box of half-dozen donuts.
“Yes, sir, I think Michele and I might go to the lake today,” I replied, paying him.
“Sounds like a good plan.”
“How’s your family?”
“They’re doing well. My wife is home with the kids—my oldest starts at Brewnston High next year! Can you believe it? Here ya go, Jeff.” Mr. Stevens smiled, handing me the change.
“That’s good to hear, Mr. Stevens. Have a good day.” I said, returning home.
Both of my parents were awake, sitting with their paper and coffee like every other weekend morning. I doled out the donuts.
“Thank you, my son.” Da said, sticking his head over the “World News” section.
“Anything good in the paper, Da?”
“Hmm… not today. Unless this article on bullfrog racing in Cambodia might interest you…?”
“Your loss.” He grinned, biting into the donut.
After disappearing into the kitchen to find the second half of my breakfast—granola, yogurt, toast, an orange, and one more donut to top it off—I returned to excuse myself for the day.
“Well, I’m gonna go over to Michele’s.”
“No, you’re not,” my mom said.
“…not like that. Come here.” She gave a slight grin, touching my face. “You have donut on your face.”
“Thanks, Mom.” I ended the conversation with a roll of the eyes and started up the stairs.
“I saw that—and please take out the trash before you go.” Her grin widened.
As I was coming back downstairs with my things for the day, the phone rang. I went to get it, but my mom beat me to it.
“Hello?” she said, “…Yes. Why?”
“Oh no….” Her voice shook. “We’ll be right there!”
“What is it?” I said.
She looked at me, calling out to Da in the other room, “Adam, it’s your grandfather—he’s had a heart attack. The ambulance is taking him to Ellington.”
We were in the car in less than a minute and raced to the hospital in Ellington, a neighboring town slightly larger than Brewnston Town. I noticed on the way that the clear sky had developed some rather gray clouds.
The waiting room was full of very different people with very different lives. A young Hispanic woman sat in a chair in the corner of the room, rocking her baby boy, while her daughter sat next to her playing with her mother’s long hair. A white-haired Asian man sat in another corner with his reading glasses at the tip of his nose, reading a news magazine, and two teenagers—one with several tattoos and another with several earrings—were watching the television. Then, an old woman came in through the entrance and went up to the front desk window where she was given her forms. Trying to sign them with great difficulty, she kept saying, “Where are my glasses? I can’t see without my glasses.”
Another old woman, rather short and plump and wearing a very red sundress, had entered behind her, joining her at the window. She thumbed through her purse and pulled out a pair of glasses.
“Here, Deloris. They’re right here.”
Ecstatic, Deloris took the glasses with her frail hands, slipped them on, and started filling out the forms. The other woman went over to a bench by the television. She seemed very fidgety, tightly holding her purse (which was also red) between her legs. Unable to get comfortable, I presume, she got up and moved to a wooden rocking chair, only to get up again and move to a large cushioned chair saying loud enough for all of us to hear, “These chairs are terribly uncomfortable.” Finally, she stayed put, but could not sit still, and then, with a deep sigh, succumbed to the chair.
I was staring at a picture of an apple when the nurse finally came out.
“He has asked to see you, Jeff.”
Following the nurse to my great grandfather’s room, I stepped inside. There he was, the patriarch of our family, a man who had accomplished much in his life, a man who had sacrificed much… lying down in his hospital bed, helpless and weak. My parents were sitting next to him, tears in Da’s eyes.
Getting up, Da offered me his seat, patting me on the back. My parents exited, leaving me with Great Gramps.
“Hey, Great Gramps. You hangin’ in there?”
“I’m tryin’, but I’m v’ary weak,” he softly retorted in his humble, fading voice. After a slight pause, he continued, “I ‘ave sometin’ far you.” He reached into the drawer next to the hospital bed and pulled out a leather-bound journal, worn with time. It looked as if the journal had the weight of several bricks; he mustered all the strength he had left to lift it up. “ ‘ere. Take it.”
“Thank you.” I smiled with gratitude, taking it quickly to relieve him.
He looked up at me, his eyes suddenly lighting up with a youthfulness and sense of adventure, and he gave me a great, big smile.
Looking down at the journal, I was about to open it when I heard that sound which no one ever wants to hear coming from the heart monitor.
“No… Great Gramps! …Doctor! I need a doctor! Come quickly!”