If you’re just arriving, you may want to start with the first chapter. Here is a table of contents:
Perhaps it was churlish of me to run off without a word of explanation, but I didn’t feel I owed one to Beau. He had seen my grandmother
more recently than I had, and clearly knew some of the clues in this last game she’d devised for me to play. I didn’t feel I owed it to him to let him in further, to let him read what the flame had revealed or to explain its meaning. He’d caught a glimpse, and that was more than enough.
“Who is Rebecca?” he’d asked.
“A mutual friend,” I lied. “I’m sorry, Beau, but I’m going to have to run – time for my next class, and it won’t do for the teacher to be tardy.”
I did have a class; that was true. But it was study hall. I asked Mr. Pruitt to sit in while I made a visit to the library. He could grade his quizzes in his sleep, and I promised him a gift card to Lacey Flowers’ if he’d just pull double-duty and supervise study hall for me. I waved at the school librarian and hurried into the stacks, sure there’d be a dusty copy of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca sitting forelorn and lonely amidst more modern texts. I found it, and pulled it, resolutely, from its shelf. Dusty, indeed. I blew a small cloud of dust from the top of pages so old and unused that they were likely to crack or fall from their binding. A green satin ribbon, half faded from the top, was tucked between random pages. Fortunately, it was a first edition, from 1938. I felt certain that’s what Gran would have used for reference.
I sat down at the little table near the window, behind the stacks, and pulled out the note. Rebecca. After that, a simple book cipher, the first code Gran taught me when I showed an interest in playing make believe.
Last night I dreamt…
Seriously, Gran? As I searched the book for each letter of the book cipher, it appeared that Gran was simply spelling out the first line of the book. I leaned back, frustrated. She could’ve just said “Read Rebecca for the thirtieth time.” Surely not.
…we went to Farnsworth again. You, intrepid. Me, a ghost. Not all ghosts are evil creatures. But none possess substance or hands to heft a key and turn it in a lock. We can only lead you to the key. Time and time again, we lead. Listen to us – if not to me, then to your Grandfather. Time and time again. For us, there is nothing but time. For you, time runs out. You feel the weight of it, and you resist, and therein lies the key.
What did she mean, “–if not to me, then to your Grandfather”? I had never known my grandfather. He had died when my mother was a child. The other one, well, who knew if he was alive or dead? My mother had died while covering one of many campus-wide, anti-war protests from a news helicopter. A bullet had been fired into the air, striking the helicopter pilot – my mother – which caused the chopper to spiral out of control, crashing into the panicked students as they tried to flee the field. My mother and three protesters had died that day, and Gran had taken me in. I only knew this from reading old news on microfiche at the school library. Gran had told me that mom flew helicopters during the war, but left it to me to imagine whether she’d died a hero or not. I’d learned that women weren’t allowed to fly into combat zones, and began to dig, to ferret out the truth. The incident had been headline news, but I was too young to read the headlines, let alone understand them. I had a toy helicopter and a Barbie Doll with inexpertly cropped hair, dyed blue, and a tattoo that I changed from “Bad Mom” to “Badass Mom” when I learned more about her. I sent my mother on grand adventures she hadn’t lived long enough to have, and hoped she was watching over my shoulder, enjoying them all.
But I had never met my grandfather. I had heard stories about him, of course, both at home and later, at school. He had appeared in one of my textbooks; he was little more than a footnote under “Energy and Progress,” but his achievements were significant. A successful, if eccentric, industrialist and inventor, he had developed a powerful motor that ran on almost any source of methane, from raw sewage, landfill gases, or even bubbles under the ocean. The process helped to reduce the overall toxicity of the worst of our country’s landfill pits, and encouraged the decomposition of organic material so well that one of the country’s largest landfills had become a sinkhole practically overnight. Grandpa had died before solving that challenge – how to prevent the collapse and spontaneous combustion of massive landfills. That sinkhole burned an angry, deep reddish orange as far down as the eye could see. I wondered if it went all the way to the earth’s core. Or maybe, it was the proverbial “hole to China,” though I suspected, in later years, that the Chinese would have put up quite a stink, especially if it had smelled as vile as our hellacious pit was reputed to smell, anywhere within a two mile radius. The glowing hell-pit had even been photographed by astronauts on board the International Space Station. As a consequence of this noxious terror, my grandfather had had deep misgivings about using the oceanic methane bubbles commercially, and had deliberately encoded some of his notes to prevent his experiments from being replicated. Despite knowing the reasons for his secrecy, some scientists were only more challenged to solve the riddle of his hand-written notes, correct the errors they presumed to know existed in them, and bring that vast, untapped energy source to the people. Gran said she thought it was stress from the fear and dread Grandpa felt, each time one came close to succeeding, that led to the heart attack that killed him. She kept his notebooks locked in a vault, somewhere. The originals would have been worth a great deal, but she had no need of money. She insisted that the world was not ready for that kind of power.
I suspect Gran thought the world wasn’t ready for other kinds of power, either. We never spoke at length about politics or politicians; she had no use for any of them.
I glanced down at my watch and my heart quickened. Third Period would start in four minutes. I asked the Librarian if I could check out the dog-eared copy of Rebecca.
“You were the last seven people to check it out,” she remarked, her rheumy eyes brightening with mirth as she pulled out the borrowing card to show me. “And before you, it sat there lonely and unloved for five full years. You might as well keep it,” she added.
“Let’s call it an open-ended loan.” I nodded. She and I might be the only people in this school who appreciated its worth, and she was probably thinking of ways to sell it and expand the library’s collection with the proceeds. I might buy it – or donate Gran’s copy – when my own adventure was finished.
Live-blogging a novel is sort of the equivalent of karaoke for writers. Only the courageous, drunk, or daring ever try it. I’m not drunk.
The sidebar notes I’m keeping in OneNote are an eye-opener! Without reviewing the previous chapters, who can name all the characters introduced so far, and tell me one significant thing about them? (Don’t worry – I’d flunk this quiz, right about now, myself!) This is the point at which I start creating a timeline, if only to ensure that Janie’s mom wasn’t five when she gave birth to her, and that her Grandfather wasn’t 110 when he died. THIS is the point at which an outline and character sheets might come in handy.
ON THE OTHER HAND… since the story sort of comes to me as I’m writing it, I’m not convinced it’s even possible for me to create full-blown characters and back stories until I have, at least, a fully fleshed-out rough draft. So that’s the approach I’m taking.
Do tell me if you spot any rifts in the time-space continuum, or any leaps of setting that would require wormholes and time machines to traverse.
In other news, my left hand still feels like it’s barely starting to wake from a massive injection of Novocain. It’s a slow process. I doubt I’ll manage the 10K+ words/day it’s going to take to claim a spot in the NaNoWriMo Winners’ Circle, and I’m grateful that none of you seem too concerned about that, either. We should get to “The End” around Christmas, at the rate I’m writing now.
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