The last few weeks have been an interesting one for me. Late one Thursday night a vengeful wind tore through my backyard, ripping a large limb from a tree. The loud sound of its landing followed by the instant loss of power startled me from my writing. I powered down my laptop and emerged back into the real world.
A week had gone by without the pleasure of electricity. I found myself unable to write because of it. Excuse after excuse, I was completely full of them. Once the “POWER” was restored, I still found myself uninspired to write due to the lack of internet at my home.
Edgar Allen Poe, Nathanial Hawthorne, Mark Twain, and Louisa May Alcott did not need the comforts of the modern author to produce an amazing and engaging story. Not having google at their fingertips didn’t stop their imagination. So, I have to ask myself, why did I allow these things to get in the away from doing what I love?
Pressures of being faster and better, I - like most modern authors - have relied on advancing technology to meet the ever-evolving expectation. What we are losing in the process? I believe I'm missing out on the joy and magic of writing.
As I think back on what I could have done differently during my “dark times”, I’ve decided to change my approach to writing with my next novel. It’s time to turn off the electricity, light a candle, challenge my inter Poe, and rely 100% on my own imagination.
If you’re a reader, you have that one book you go back and read over and over again. That book for me is A Slipping Down Life by Anne Tyler. Shocking, right? I know what you’re thinking. But Amber, that’s not fantasy…
I was introduced to author Anne Tyler during a high school reading assignment. My teacher at the time thought it would be a great idea to allow the class to pick their own book to read from a list of course he provided. As expected from the pimple-infested, hormone-raging young adults, the book with the fewest page count won out. So, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant (the first book I’ve ever read by this author) found its way into my book bag and I, unlike most of my classmates, read the book and finished my report.
Fast forward a few years later and I found myself standing in a local bookstore. Ok, I was working and shelving books, but that’s a topic for another blog. Sitting on the shelf was the book from high school. The memory brought a smile to my face and since I was looking for my next book to read, I thought, why not. After my shift, I bought my first copy of A Slipping Down Life because the back synopsis sounded interesting…
Now when I say interesting, I had no clue how much I would come to love this story. I gobbled it up within hours of starting it. Why, you may ask. I connected with Evie Decker, a slightly overweight, shy girl who comes out of her shell because of music. In a way, the character reminded me of…me. (Only slightly braver once she found her confidence.)
I think I’ve read this book at least 30 times. I know because I just had to throw away my beat up and torn paperback copy. But I keep going back to the story to remember how I felt as a teen and how far I’ve come. Time to buy a replacement!
Tell me about your re-read book.
The library was only 4 blocks away from the diner. Mike thought back to the days where he did most of his author research at the library before the internet was such a widely used tool. It’s been years, but he was confident he remembered how to use the Dewey decimal system. Mike followed the turns from the GPS instructions on Anna’s phone. She hadn’t muttered a word to him since finding out about the suspected murder.
They pulled into the cement parking lot. The small library was a square orange-red bricked building with tan accents around the 9 large double windows. Mike pulled into a parking space only seeing 3 other cars in the lot. He leaned over, putting his had on his wife’s shoulder. She turned away from him.
“How long are you going to stay mad at me?” Mike sat up then reached for her hand. “I was going to tell you about it.”
“I just don’t know if we should get caught up in this.” Anna readjusted in her seat, pulling the seatbelt away from her neck. “The right and sane thing to do is to hand over the diary to the local police. We are not detectives, peanut. We should leave the investigations to the experts.” She pushed her purse to the end of her knees, reaching down to unbuckle her seatbelt.
“You heard Randy! No one here would ever believe there was a murder. Hell, I don’t even know if there were a murder, but I need to find out.”
Anna opened her door. She squeezed his hand. “I know you do. I’m thankful to see your passion is back. Just promise me you won’t go too far with this. I don’t want to see you get hurt.”
The short walk to the heavy wooden double doors of the library proved to be challenging. The blustery wind blew so hard, the couple found it difficult to walk straight. Pulling on the door handle, Mike held it open for his wife to enter.
“Welcome to Clover Library, Mr. Sharpe.” A short chestnut brown haired girl greeted them just inside the door. She held out her hand with a goofy smile on her face. “My name is Lindsey. I’m one of your biggest fans.” Mike accepted her hand in his, giving her a strong handshake.
“It’s very nice to meet you, Lindsey.”
“Randy called me to let me know you were on your way.” Anna and Mike looked at each other. The closeness of this small town was unusual for them. Anna raised her eyebrows. “I can’t even tell you how much of an honor it is to have you in our town. Is there any way I can ask you to take a picture with me to post on the library website and get you to sign your books?” She walked backward towards the front desk.
“I would be happy to oblige. So, do you know why I’m here? Can you help me?” Mike removed the cloth and the diary from his jacket pocket.
Lindsey nodded her head. “Typically, people do their property research at the Town Hall in the public records, but I’m glad Randy sent you to me. I’m the secretary of the local historical society. We’ve been working hard to scan our records online to make it easier to search. It is the age of ancestry.com.” The librarian reached over the desk for the stack of Mike Sharpe science fiction books. She grabbed a sharpie and placed it on top of the mountain of books.
The author flipped open the first cover of the top book, scribbling his name inside. This is not what he had in mind of research, but it sounded like he was in good hands with Lindsey. Such a small price to pay for information.
“I would love to set up an author’s signing also if you’re interested of course. It would only be a small venue, but it would be great exposure for the library.” Lindsey walked around the desk and sat down in front of the computer.
“I’m here for a few months working on the next book to Bitterline. I’m sure we can make some arrangement sometime. But I really would like to figure out who owned the property of my cabin.” Lindsey snapped a picture of him signing a book with her cellphone. “I’m sure you’re going to be very helpful in my quest.” He smiled and looked up at the camera.
After all the novels were signed and pictures were taken, Lindsey led them to the main part of the library. She pulled up a few chairs next to one of the public computers. “Scanning all the property deeds into the library system has been my baby for the last 2 years. We should have everything you need on the computer. Randy said you’re staying at the old Olsen farm. Is that correct?”
Anna pulled a piece of paper from her purse. “2116 Kettle Road is the address of our cabin.” She dropped the paper back in her purse then sat it on the ground next to the table.
Lindsey typed in the address. “Do you know what time period or have a name?”
Mike opened the front cover of the diary again. Chills crept up his spine. “I read through the diary. There is no name of the author, but she does mention a man named Micky and two girls named Dot and Pearl. The first entry in this diary is marked August 14, 1908.”
Lindsey held her hand out for the diary. Mike was reluctant to give it up not knowing if he would get it back from a member of the local historical society. He slid the diary in her hand. “That’s completely amazing. What a lucky find. This should be in a museum somewhere.” She looked at the first page and carefully flipped through a couple pages before handing it back.
“My intent is to track down the family that this belongs to. They can make the decision to donate if they chose.”
“According to the records, your cabin was owned by Bernard Olsen in 1908. He inherited the property from his father that passed away in 1904. He lived there with his mother at the time.” She turned in her seat to face the couple. “So, I’m sure this diary belonged to his mother.”
Mike laughed at that statement. His wife looked at him in disappointment. He felt bad for his impassive reaction. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to come across rudely. It’s just that the author of the diary was still in high school when she started the diary. I don’t believe that fits the timeline.”
“I just printed off all the deeds to the property. I’m sure this is where you’re going to want to start your search.” The handbell at the front desk dinged. “You’ll have to excuse me. A librarian’s job is never done as long as there are inquiring minds or research papers due.” She got up from her seat. “Let me know if I can be of any more assistance.”
The bell above the door jingled as the cool breeze blew inside the warm diner. Mike and Anna walked into Mama’s Kitchen to be greeted by a black sign stating to seat yourself. The conversations in the diner were silenced as all the patrons turned to look at the outsiders. Anna pulled her tan jacket closed, looking up at her husband. She felt uncomfortable which angered the author.
“Good Morning.” Mike nodded his head and waved at all the eyes staring at them. His wife shook her head then tapped him on the arm. She stormed off to the booth closest to the window.
The seats of the booth were a faded red color, cracked, and some held together by duct tape. This was not a good start to his introduction to Clover, Vermont, but Mike needed to make his wife feel comfortable before he started questioning people. As he slid into the bench with his back to the window, he smiled at the woman who was his best friend.
“Such a lively bunch. And I bet you were worried we wouldn’t make any friends.” Mike flipped up his coffee cup then looked down at the paper placemat with local advertisements on it.
“I swear, I can’t take you anywhere. Did you have to do that?” She leaned in closer to her husband, lowering her voice. “I wonder if they’ve seen visitors before. We must scream tourists.”
“Maybe you do with your expensive dress coat. That’s why I wore a flannel.” Anna giggled at her husband. She slumped back on the bench, looking out the window at the flower shop across the street.
The waitress was a short woman with dirty blonde hair. The dark circles under her eyes were the same color as the grease stains on her brown t-shirt with the restaurant logo on it. Her heavy white shoes squeaked as she walked. “You guys aren’t from around here.” She laid down 2 menus on the table before getting out an order pad from her apron. “Can I start you off with some drinks?”
“I’ll have a large glass of apple juice if you don’t mind.” Anna grabbed a menu, flipping it open to the breakfast page.
“And for you, sir?”
“I’ll take a pot of coffee, fully caffeinated.” Mike smiled at the waitress who tilted her head. She finished writing down their drink order before turning to retrieve their drinks. Mike felt the eye roll without seeing it.
“You keep that up and they are going to spit in our food.” She turned to look at the whiteboard at the entrance with the daily specials on it.
“Just trying to have a little fun. All work and no play makes Mike a dull boy. Did you decide what you’re getting yet?
Anna looked down at the menu again. “It all looks so good, especially since there are no dishes for me to wash.” Their conversation was interrupted by a glass of apple juice being sat down in front of her. The waitress poured coffee from the coffee pot into Mike’s cup.
“I asked, they wouldn’t let me serve your coffee to you in the pot. I promise to check on you often though, so you don’t run out before you finished this.” She held up the pot, giving Mike a half smile. “Wouldn’t want you drinking cold coffee anyways.” Mike laughed at her banter. “Are you ready to order, or do you need a few more minutes?”
Mike looked at his wife. He never needed time to decide what he was having for breakfast. He ordered the exact same thing every time they went out. Anna flipped her menu closed, handing it to the waitress. “I’ll take an order of biscuits and gravy please.”
After writing down her order, the waitress looked at Mike. “I need to place two orders. First order: Western omelet with hash browns and rye toast, lightly buttered.” He paused to allow for her to write it down. “Karen, may I call you that?” Mike pointed to her nametag hanging crooked at the top of her shirt. She nodded. “Karen, I’m looking for information. I need to find out the history of the cottage I’m staying at. Do you know where I should go for that?” He pulled out the diary from his jacket pocket, placing it on the table with his hand on top.
“I’m really not a good person to ask for information. But if I had to guess, you could start at the library. It’s across the street from the school on Bancroft.” She pointed her pen out the window before leaving to place their order.
“I don’t mean to sound rude. Did I hear you say you’re looking for information?” A portly man with grey hair and jean overalls waved from the booth in front of Mike. “The name’s Randy. Randy Mills. I am the retired postmaster of Clover. Maybe I can help.” The man’s companion propped up his legs on the seat, turning to join the conversation.
Anna rolled her eyes. She pulled her cell phone out of her purse trying to ignore the talking.
“The name is Mike Sharpe. I would be thankful for any help you could give me.” He looked down at the diary, wondering if he should spill the source of his quest.
“Very nice to meet you, Mr. Sharpe. This is Pete.” The man nodded at his friend. “The local handyman around Clover. You need anything, Pete’s your man.” He held up the paper placemat that was in front of him, pointing at the advertisement in the bottom right corner. “Ole Mr. Handyman himself.” Randy chuckled. “We aren’t used to seeing people around here until the snow starts coming down. Skiing season. Where are you folks from and what brings you to the small town of Clover?”
Mike opened his mouth to answer when Anna’s voice interrupted. “We’re from California in town for some R and R while my husband writes a book.”
“A book?” Pete craned his neck to look at the author. “Are you the Mike Sharpe, creator of the movie Bitterlines? My son’s room was filled with those movie posters when he was growing up.”
“That’s me. Except for I wrote the novel the movie was based off. I had little to nothing to do with the movie.”
“Well, I’ll be. Who knew that Clover would ever have a celebrity visiting it.” Randy looked around the room.
“I’m trying to stay low key, so I can finish my manuscript. But I’m a little distracted now. I found this diary in the barn at the cottage, and just wanted to return it to the family it belongs to. There’s a lot of personal family history in here.”
“You read someone’s diary?” Pete looked at Mike with wide eyes.
“I didn’t mean too. Just looking for inspiration for my story.” Mike looked down at the brown book. “Honestly, there are clues in here of a possible murder.” Anna looked up at her husband. Her face was red. He knew better than to tell her about this piece of information until he absolutely had to, otherwise, she wouldn’t have gone along with helping him.
“A murder in Clover.” Randy laughed loudly. “There is no way. I’m sure murder is commonplace in Hollywood, but not here. We would all know if there were a murder. Where did you say your cabin was?
“We are staying at the 1850’s red farmhouse on Kettle Road. My agent booked it through Get Away Cabins.”
“That’s the old Olson farmstead. I’m not sure if any relatives still live in the area so you can give them back the diary.” Randy lifted his arms as Karen placed his big plate of breakfast in front of them. “The library might help you find them though.”
Mike woke up the next morning with the diary still in his hand. His wife was leaning in front of him with her hand on his arm, holding his travel cup full of hot coffee. Her eyes looked tired as Mike sat up realizing he slept in the barn last night. He barely remembered the trip outside to get another stack of firewood for the woodstove and to retrieve a blanket for his lap and a cup of his favorite hot liquid to help him get through reading his treasure.
“Honey, are you alright?” Anna put the cup down on the coffee table and pulled the blanket up over his arms. “I was so worried when I woke up this morning and you hadn’t made it to bed yet.” She sat on the edge of the sofa. Her eyes wandered over to the spot of the accident the night before. “Are you sure you’re ok?”
Mike rubbed his arm as he followed his wife’s gaze to the damage on the wall. “I’ll call Tony, he will send someone over to get that fixed.” He turned to face his wife. “Sweetie, the most amazing thing happened to me last night.” He held up the diary before sitting it in her lap.
“You bumped your head?” She smiled before looking down at the beat-up book. She opened the cover, briefly flipping through the hand-written pages. Mike’s hand closed onto Anna’s.
He stood, pacing and running his hand through his matted hair. “We need to go to town today. I can’t believe I’m saying this. But I must figure out how to get that diary back to the owner.” He leaned over to open the door of the wood-burning stove.
“It’s just a diary, love. What’s the big deal? If the owner wanted it, they certainly wouldn’t have boarded it up in an old barn.” She gave him a questioning look. Turning her head down, she flipped to the front cover looking for a name.
“You don’t understand. I need to find out what happened next. What happened to her? Did she go through it?” Mike returned to his seat on the couch next to his wife, sitting on the edge. “I can’t rest until I find out.”
“She was in love with a man and having his baby, but her father wouldn’t allow the marriage. He arranged for her to go live with his brother until she gave birth. The baby was to be put up for adoption.” His sad eyes feel to the ground. “She really loved him, the same way I love you. I couldn’t imagine if someone did everything they could to keep us apart.”
Anna continued to flip through the book then looked up at her husband. She married him because of his passion. Who was she to stand in his way this time? “Alright, let’s go back to the house to get ready. I’ve been wanting to go to the diner for breakfast anyway.”
Mike jumped up from the couch, leaning over to kiss his wife on the cheek. “You won’t regret this.”
The trip to the barn was more incredible then Mike could have anticipated. When he slid open the old barn door, he was slightly disappointed in the plainness of the four visible walls. They were simple whitewashed wood planks that were flaking from age. Where was the magic his author senses told him was here? He sat down his laptop bag and replica sword to look through the yard and garden tools that were placed neatly along the walls and tinkered with the antique tools that were strewed over an old beat up workbench. A giant uneven stone slab created the middle of the barn. It was so large, Mike was sure he could park the SUV in here at night to prevent anyone from messing with it. The author leaned up against the back of the barn, scratching his head at the small size of the interior. He noticed a small latch carefully hidden on the wall to his right.
After several minutes of fiddling with the old metal latch that was painted white with the walls, Mike opened the door to a decent sized seating area. A wood stove sat in front of a rich wine colored overstuffed couch with more pillows then Anna insisted on keeping on their bed. There was a large cherry colored wooden box sitting perfectly in between the couch and two French-designed chairs that faced each other. Mike knew this was the area he was drawn to. He had found his writing spot for the next few months. Fingers crossed, he could get some words down on paper in that time.
Retrieving his author’s survival kit, he set himself up on the couch. As he scattered his notes on the table, Mike propped up the sword against the couch then opened his laptop. The screen was dull as Mike realized his computer battery was dangerously low. Looking around, he noticed an outlet on the far wall of the barn. He knew his cord wouldn’t stretch that far, so he exited the secret door once more in search of an extension cord. For being such an experienced writer, Mike was disappointed he never thought to pack one.
Laptop plugged in, notes from the original book spread out, and the feeling of excitement on starting a new novel, Mike was ready. He elevated his laptop up on his legs with the use of a few of the extra pillows then rubbed his hands together eager to recreate his first love. Bitterline was Mike’s debut novel as a sci-fi author and he poured his heart and soul into carefully creating the characters. Putting his fingers on the keys, the words evaded him once more. He growled in frustration at the book 2 curse.
“Maybe you’re going about it the wrong way,” Derek, the main scientist in Bitterline, said from one of the chairs. He was sitting straight backed with a cup of coffee in his hand. Mike shook his head at him.
“I could agree with you,” SHALI, a secondary character from the book, added with her feet thrown across the arm of the chair. She bounced her right foot in rhythm to a song she must have been playing in her head.
Mike ran his fingers through his hair. “I’m getting enough pressure from everyone else. I don’t need it from you two. Get out of my head, please.”
Derek straightened his white lab coat then sat down his coffee cup on the table. “Here’s the deal, Mike. We just do not want to come out of retirement. Our story has been told and we both are just too old to go on another adventure.”
SHALI, the time traveling artificial intelligence nodded her head. “You can not write this book. We will not allow it, old friend.” With the words from the sweet robot voice, Mike placed the pillows with his laptop off to the side then hung his head in defeat.
“What are you going to do?” Derek asked.
“Can we compromise? I have a lot riding on this story. Tell me what it would take to get your cooperation. Do I need to kill both of you in the end? No more stories could be written?”
Both figures of Mike’s imagination looked at each other. They gestured back and forth as if they were communicating through their heads. They remained quiet for several moments.
“We will agree for you to write our story if you can beat SHALI in a sword fight,” Derek said, interrupting the silence.
“What? No way, come on. How is that even fair? She’s a robot trained in all sorts of battle formations and weaponry. I can’t possibly beat her.”
“No? I thought you were the author that gave her all her knowledge? SHALI only knows what you know. If I remember correctly, most of us had to wait around for weeks to get to our next scene while you researched attack strategies and lethal weapons for her.” Derek reached for his coffee cup and took a sip.
At this moment Mike saw no other hope. He had to write this book and needed the character’s help in doing it. Standing up from his seat, Mike picked up his Bitterline replica sword. SHALI smiled up at him. He didn’t even see her get up before he realized she was behind him, sword in hand. Closing his eyes, he took one last deep breath before turning to face his creation. He ran at her, swinging his sword wildly. She stood still in a defensive position until he was inches away from her. She ducked and rolled out of the way.
Mike realized his mistake before he crashed into the wall. The old wood shattered in pieces on impact. He rolled out of the wall, holding his right shoulder. His wife called for him from the back door of the cabin. “Son of a..” Mike looked around the room, realizing he was alone. Getting up from the ground, he looked back at the wall trying to assess the damage he had caused. In the hole created by his body sat a bundle of white cloth tied up with meatpacking string. Curious, he picked it up with his good arm and went back to the couch.
The sense of adventure filled Mike again at the thought of this hidden treasure he discovered. He pulled at the knots in the string until they untwisted. Clumsily unwrapping the cloth, he discovered a scratched brown leather diary with a brass lock keeping it closed.
Mike tried several times to cancel this trip. The thought of the long car ride from California to the east coast was intimidating for him; but ever since the attacks on the twin towers, he refused to take a plane anywhere. This was an obligation he finally decided. To prove his dedication to the project not only to his agent but also to the publisher, who gave him a pretty hefty advancement on the book, he knew he had to do whatever they asked. If nothing else, Anna will have a nice getaway, despite the 3-day car ride. Three days he could have been writing at home.
As they pulled into the stone driveway of their 1850’s farmhouse on the river, Mike was impressed with the dulled barn red color of the old wooden house. This house had character, which surprised the author. Maybe after all these years, his agent did understand him. The front of the house was lined with 4 large picture windows and a light green wooden door, perfectly spaced in the middle. An old stone chimney ran up the left side of his new home for the next few months and the matching stone foundation was just beautiful.
“I love it,” Anna said, opening the passenger’s side door causing the car radio to turn off. She pulled her black framed glasses from atop her head down to her face, tilting her face up to look through her bifocals. Mike reached out for her hand that she had wrapped around the leather handle of her old brown purse.
“I’m sure we are going to have a great time here.” Mike carefully looked around the property at all the color changing leaves on the trees. He felt the jolt of inspiration from this picturesque homestead. There was an old barn sitting in the back of the property line, with a stack of firewood next to it under a tin roof. Being drawn to the greying colored wood, he knew the barn was going to be the first place he investigated. He wondered what treasures or antiques could be found behind the sliding wooden door. An uneven stone walkway trailed off into the woods on the right side of the house. Mike assumed this path led to the river.
“Oh no, Mister Sharpe,” Anna said, pulling her hand away. “I see that adventurous look in your eye. You’re here to work, remember that.”
“Don’t be silly. They can’t expect me to work on the first day of arriving. We have to get to know our cabin and the town.” He opened his car door and pushed himself out. Mike’s legs were stiff and tingling, so he rubbed and shook them, hoping life would come back. Taking a deep breath, Mike finally agreed that this was a good idea. He stretched his arms to the sides, letting out a big bear growl to help awaken his muscles. A devilish feeling of adventure filled the middle-aged man.
“Let’s get the car unloaded quickly. My stomach is reminding me that it’s dinner time.” He smiled at his wife as he opened the over packed trunk to their belongings. Anna pulled out the 2 travel cases and carried them to the front door with the keys. Leaning over to watch her open the front door, Mike juggled the rest of the luggage to ensure he only had to make one trip.
Leaning back in his black leather office chair, Mike folded his left arm around his midsection in support of his right arm he used to pinch the corners of his eyes. His eyelids were heavy from staring at the ominous blank white page on his laptop. Rubbing his hand down the right side of his face, Mike let out a frustrated sigh. The author leaned forward to pick up his favorite coffee mug, a black mug in the shape of Darth Vader when he realized that he had finished his coffee hours ago.
Spinning his legs from underneath his desk, Mike got up from his expensive office chair to walk to the window behind him. He needed some sort of inspiration and he needed it quickly. The sun was starting to set, providing a beautiful orange backdrop sky to his flower-filled backyard. Mike noticed a wheelbarrow was left out of his shed by the bed of wildflowers his wife loved. He made a mental note to speak to his groundskeeper in the morning.
Mike pulled out his cellphone from his pocket, scrolling through to see what he had missed during his unproductive writing session. He texted his wife, Anna, requesting she sends more coffee as soon as possible. He knew he really couldn’t afford the distraction, but in the few hours they were apart he missed seeing her smile.
His cell phone rang as his office door was opened by Anna. She walked in, tiptoeing quietly. Anna kept her curly brown hair short which suited her soft face. Mike looked down at his phone, the caller ID displayed the name Tony Urbal. He hung his head, realizing he had to take the call from his agent. He turned his back to his wife as she picked up his coffee mug to face the window again and answered the call.
“Miiiiike, it’s Tony,” the annoying voice came through the cell phone speaker. “What’s the news on Bitterline 2.0? Your fans are anxiously waiting for the release date on this. I would love to give them an update. And I’m not going to lie, the publisher also is inquiring the status of their investment. They are hoping to be able to release this sequel on the twentieth anniversary of the original book launch. Gosh, has it been 20 years?”
Mike closed his eyes before speaking. “Tony, it’s not going so well. I’ve been staring at a blank screen for a month now. I haven’t written a damn word of it.” He turned back around, walking back to his desk. Sitting back down in his chair, he turned again to look at the glowing white page. “I can’t even write the stupid title. I feel as if Bitterline’s characters are refusing to come out of retirement.”
“You’re an extremely talented and successful author,” he heard Tony lecturing. “I’m sure this isn’t anything to be worried about. We can figure this out together.”
Together, Mike thought to himself. Other than taking a percentage of the profits made on his hard work, he couldn’t think of one thing Tony has done to help him write his novels. Anger rolled up from his stomach to display redness on his cheeks. “How can you help?” The usual soft-spoken author regretted the sharpness in his tone instantly. A fresh cup of coffee was set down on his desk. Mike looked up to see Anna retreating to the door without a word. “This is more than just writer’s block.”
“Sounds to me like you just need a change of scenery. I’ll have Rebecca book you a cabin in Vermont for a few months.”
“What’s that going to do for me? I’m just fine writing from home. It’s worked for me for 20 years now. Why would I need to change?” Mike ran his fingers down the round handle of his coffee mug.
“Trust me, Mike. I’m the expert here,” Tony said through the phone. Mike couldn’t help but roll his eyes. “I’ll have all the arrangements sent over to you by tomorrow afternoon. So, start packing your bags. You leave by Friday.”
Mike hung up his cellphone without another word. He slid it on the top of his glossy oak desk. Looking back at his laptop screen, he leaned over with a smile.
“The End,” he typed before closing the laptop. He got up from his chair, walking to his opened office door. “Honey, we’re going to Vermont,” he called out.
We, as a human race are completely irresponsible. We have been for the last five years after Doctor McConnell discovered every human was born with a magical power but with no mana to use it. When he first released the Mana Drink that powered our magical batteries, it was for military purposes only. But since then, everyone developed their own version. It’s hard to know what is safe to drink anymore.
My husband and I were prepared for our son’s “Power Out” party where he would take his first sip of Mana Drink to show off his power. We’ve been saving for this moment for years now. Henry, my husband, ensured we bought the more expensive bootlegged flavored Mana Drink so he felt comfortable that everyone would be safe. He made the decision just a few weeks ago to send an invitation to his boss. This party could make or break his career. So, I being the good wife, spend hours on Pinterest ensuring I found the most creative way to serve our guests the fizzy drink.
The big day arrived and I was busy setting up the party. I’ve spent the last few days cooking food and Mana snacks for our invited guests. My son, Alex was a bit nervous. I could tell when he was helping me set up the rented tables and chairs.
“No, Alex, I want the tables set up in straight rows,” I called from the snack table as I was setting out the grape flavored Mana cupcakes. “Where is your head today, my love?”
“Sorry Mom,” he replied. “What if my power is lame? My friend Trever just had his Power Out party last week. Now no one will talk to him at school. I don’t want that to happen to me.”
“Don’t be silly,” I reassured him. “There is no way you are going to have a useless power. You come from two people with strong useful powers. I can only imagine you have great things a head of you.”
“He can create bubbles from his hands,” he spoke over top of my speech. “Freaking, bubbles.”
“And what powers does his parents have?”
“His mom can make plants grow and his father can read and retain a book quickly,” he said.
“And what powers do your parents have?”
He rolled his eyes before responding. “You can make thing invisible while dad can throw a magical force field where ever he wants. I guess you’re right. Do you think I will have the magical gift?”
I turned back to arranging the table in front of me. Everyone wanted the magical gift of flight. It was the rarest power as of right now with only three humans with the gift. They are all rich and famous, preforming for audiences showing off their power. “If anyone could possess that power, I’m sure it’s you,” I said smiling.
The party was set up just minutes before our guests started to arrive. I worked hard mingling with everyone who showed up at the party to ensure everyone was having a great time. The Mana cupcakes, Mana brownies, and Mana soaked fruit were a big hit. Grandpa Melvin ate a cupcake so he could shoot fireworks up in the air from his fingertips. That kept the small children quiet and entertained. The party seemed to be a going well except for the macaroni salad.
“Attention,” Henry interrupted everyone’s conversation. “I want to thank everyone for making it out to Alex’s Power Out party. We are excited to learn what the future holds for our intelligent and talented son. We will not make you wait any longer. Alex, can you join me and your mother down here please?” The silence was deafening as he walked towards us. His father handed him his first can of cherry Mana Bull, a combination of Mana Drink mixed with an energy drink.
“Thanks Dad,” Alex said quietly, popping the top. He fidgeted slightly because all eyes were on him. This was the moment that would make his future. He held up the can as if to toast then swallowed a big gulp.
We waited for several minutes for something to happen. But nothing did. Suddenly Alex shouted in celebration. “What is it son?” my husband questioned. “Are you feeling your feet lifting up? Do you have the gift?”
“No father,” Alex answered in excitement. “I- froze- time.”
“What?” someone called out from the crowd. “I don’t believe it. No one has that power.”
“Oh yeah,” Alex replied proudly. “While you were all frozen, I drew smiley faces with a sharpie on everyone’s hand. Don’t believe me, then check your hand.”
A murmur fell over the crowd as they showed off their hands and clapped. I’ve never been so proud in my entire life. “I’m going to be popular in school,” he whispered in my ear as he gave me a hug. “Thanks for your words of encouragement, Mom.”
A big black helicopter interrupted our celebration as men in army green colored clothes began to descend onto our party. They held the guests at gun point to my terror. “What is this?” Henry demanded with his hands up. Alex had been shuttled away from us.
“Mister and Misses Meyer,” he addressed us. “My name is Leroy Smith, Sergeant Major of the US army. We are here for your son.”
Walking slowly with his cane, Kristof was in no hurry to meet his grandson at the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest. The boy could use some time away from his video games to experience history. Kristof tipped his pointed hat to the familiar ladies behind the counter of the museum as he strolled past. He pushed his eyeglasses back up to the bridge of his nose.
Kristof found his teenaged grandson, Dominik in the Hungarian Revolution section of the gallery. He was sitting in the corner playing with his phone. Kristof sighed with disappointment as he slowly approached Dominik. “This is our time together. I’m going to insist you hand me that phone now,” he requested with his hand out. He was tempted to throw it in the garbage, but instead slipped it into his suit coat pocket.
“I’m not sure why you made Mom drop me off here on a Saturday, but I have lots of plans with my friends,” Dominik said with an attitude. “So whatever dumb old thing you want to show me, can we get this over with?” He mumbled under his breath, “I could be killing aliens right now.”
“Sure, sure,” Kristof responded with more patience then he expected. “I can see why killing fake aliens with your friends is more important than learning about a war hero in our family. I don’t want to waste too much of your time, so follow me.”
Dominik stood in place for a moment, thinking about what his grandfather just said. He ran to catch up with the old man. “Sorry Papa,” he said looking down at his feet. “You shouldn’t have heard that. What do you mean a war hero in our family?”
The old man remained silent with anger until he arrived at the painting. “This is what I wanted to show you. What do you think?”
Dominik looked over unimpressed at the average size painting that hung on the wall. “I think I see a painting with two dudes in it. One looks dead and dropped a red flag while the other is reaching to pick it up. They look to be on a stone road.”
“I’m disappointed in you,” Kristof answered. “You’re just looking at the painting. Close your eyes and look at it again. Study the colors and the texture of the work. Feel the painting with your heart.”
“I see a lot of blue, grey, and green,” the young man scoffed back. “I’m not sure why you’re so in love with this dull painting.”
The old man sat down on the bench in front of the painting like he did many times before. “The year was 1956 when my best friend David and I marched through Budapest to protest the Hungarian People’s Republic. It was the communist government in place at the time.” He paused for a moment tapping the bench next to him for his grandson to sit down. “I was young then. I knew I could change the world. So, David and I marched with a bunch of other college students to the Parliament building.”
“I didn’t know you were in the Hungarian Revolution,” Dominik interrupted feeling bad for his disrespect earlier.
Kristof smiled then took off his brown hat. He rested it on the left knee of his light brown slacks. “The protest was exciting. There were white vans with speakers that played voices with demands of new government. David and I stood by a small group that decided they were going to enter a radio room in the Parliament building to make our demands louder. I remember clearly a young man handing David a red flag. The State Security Police took that small group into custody. I remember the uproar as we demanded them back.” A tear fell down the old man’s cheek. “Shots were fired into our crowd. Only one person died that day.” Kristof stopped his story unable to go on.
Dominik stood up to view the painting for the first time. The dead man wore a blue coat and a satisfied smile on his face. The strong man wore a ragged white shirt and dark pants. With blood on his face and hands, the man in the painting looked out at the world with dark eyes determine to change it. Dominik was familiar with the eyes that stared at him. They were the eyes that read him stories when he was sick. The eyes that watched him play sports when he was young. “Papa,” Dominik called out in alarm. “This is a picture of you!”
Kristof rested his chin on top of his cane. The same eyes from the painting looking up at the young man with pride. “Dominik, I want to introduce you to my best friend David,” he said pointing at the painting. “I come to visit him every day to tell him how thankful I am. Through his sacrifice on that day, it started the revolt that led to the great Hungarian country we live in. I am truly blessed to have fought for the change that my friend believed in.”