Categories
Summer on Fire Teen Fiction The Camino Club YA Fiction YA Lit Young Adult Young Adult Fiction

Summer on Fire – The First Chapter!

Today, I thought I would share the first chapter of Summer on Fire. Summer is my first novel and I’m still extremely proud of this one. It was my first attempt at novel writing. I wanted to capture boys in awkward friendships amidst an impossible calamity…something in the way of Stand By Me. But also something in which the kids are actually embroiled in the action.

This was my nod to coming-of-age stories…which happen to be my absolute favourite! Set in the 80s, in a small town where everybody knows your name. Three boys do a stupid thing that results in an unused barn they’ve claimed as their hangout bursting into flames. And the action takes off from there.

Before I share chapter one, I wanted to point out the the novel is on sale for UNDER $1 on Amazon right now. Great time to get it, if you enjoy coming-of-age stories. (I’ll add that several of the reviews it has gotten over the years have compared Summer on Fire favorably to Stand By Me (the Stephen King movie based on his short The Body).

Summer on Fire – Chapter One

In the early summer of 1983, Jeff Barsell burned the Henderson barn to the ground. By the time that summer got underway, we had all been put through tests of one kind or another. I am still troubled by how poorly I fared. I am also humbled by how impossible a task it is to bury our own versions of the past. No matter how many times I try to reconstruct the facts of that summer in my mind, the truth keeps seeping to the surface like an inevitable vein of thick black crude.

I try not to think about it. Sometimes it’s just too unbearable to reflect on things we have done. Those deeds seem so distant from the people we’ve become. But I’ve recently been forced to revisit my carefully buried memories. The more they develop the Henderson land into a subdivision, the more those deeds haunt me.

I drove by the construction site the other night, and it was easy to imagine the emergency vehicles converging on the house that is now nothing more than a memory in the hearts of Nelson’s citizens. Remembering that phantom clapboard farmhouse, and its dilapidated barn, brought the whole summer back to the forefront of my thoughts. I had, for so many years, artfully avoided the scene of our crime. But after seeing it, like a ghost that won’t rest until you give it leave, that summer would not stop haunting me. So much so, I feel a pressing need to tell the story the way it really happened.

Old man Henderson hadn’t used the barn for ages. It was the only place where my friends and I could go to just sit back and be ourselves. Jeff’s older brother, Marty, had laid claim to all the good hangouts in town, from the Burger Buddy on Fairfax to the ravine behind the strip mall on Salem. And you didn’t mess with Marty Barsell. He was a walking loose cannon. So the abandoned barn became our haven, our secret refuge.

Jeff didn’t intentionally set the fire.

We were smoking in the barn’s hayloft and Jeff flicked his butt in emulation of the greasy cast of The Outsiders. We had spent most of that April’s weekends gawking at that movie in slack-jawed fascination down at The Hollywood, Nelson’s solitary theatre. Never aware of his own smoldering coolness, Jeff—with his dark brooding looks, black Ponyboy hair and soul-penetrating brown eyes—constantly mirrored the cool he saw in others.

I can’t imagine how the summer would have unfolded, had the fire not occurred. It was, however, merely the catalyst that ignited the ensuing chain reaction: the house, the murder and the investigation that would eventually test our bonds of loyalty. The whole drama sent a ripple of electricity through our small town, sparking a flurry of tongue-wagging gossip. But we were the only ones who knew the whole truth behind the barn fire; Jeff, Arnie Wilson and me.

* * *

Arnie and I were sprawled against the wall of the loft when the fire broke out. We watched intently as Jeff took aim at barn swallows with his brother’s borrowed slingshot. I was green from one too many cigarettes and temporarily avoiding movement (we were fairly new to smoking and I was already aware that it was not a pastime I would take to for long). Arnie, on the other hand, argued with Jeff after every shot, demanding his turn with the weapon. He grabbed at the air around the slingshot in heated frustration as Jeff managed to keep it just outside his reach.

It was probably Arnie’s fault Jeff forgot about his flicked cigarette as it careened out of his thoughts and into a nearby stack of hay bales. Arnie was usually to blame when things went awry. His restless personality was a magnet for chaos and commotion.

Three abandoned bales of hay sat in the back corner of the loft. They were older than Moses, slate grey with faded binding. We sometimes used them as chairs or tables when we played poker, or Parcheesi (Arn’s game of choice). On the day of the fire, though, they were forgotten. Jeff’s butt must have landed on one of them. We never did see it, but those bales suddenly lit like crepe paper in a bonfire.

One moment I was laughing at the turmoil Jeff was causing Arnie and the next we were scampering for the loft’s dilapidated ladder in our frantic panic to abandon ship.

I was first to the ladder. Arnie scrambled after me, kicking my head in his haste. Jeff, ever the hero-wanna-be, stayed behind and tried to extinguish the flames with his jean jacket. I could see from my new vantage point on the floor of the barn, though, that he only fanned the fire and quickened its speed. I watched as it jumped to the wooden beams above the bales.

As Jeff connected with the ladder, I heard the distinctive peal of cracking wood. Arnie, as slow as he was obese, was only halfway down the ladder when it snapped apart, toppling both boys to the ground at my feet.

The second crack to echo throughout the barn was more profound and sickening. It was followed by an ear-splitting wail that was hardly recognizable as being human.

As Jeff scurried to his feet, I found the source of the screaming. Arnie lay in a crumpled mass, his leg jutting unnaturally beneath his rotund trunk. He was hysterical, clutching at his leg with a crazed unfocused look in his usually intent blue eyes.

“Holy Jesus, Zach!” Jeff yelled, looking to me to authenticate what he was seeing. “Oh Arnie. What did you do?”

Arnie just screamed. He was elsewhere at the moment, unreachable by reason.

“We have to pick him up,” I said. I looked up. The fire licked out over the loft, reaching for the higher beams in the middle of the barn’s ceiling. The roof would soon be engulfed in flames. The acrid sting of burning hay and ancient wood filled my nostrils as thick smoke swelled and roiled above us. “We have to get him out of here.”

“Arnie!” Jeff hollered, slapping him across the face.

Arnie stopped his wailing and looked to Jeff in disbelief. “What’d you do that for?” he asked indignantly. “Jesus! It hurts, Zach. It hurts. My leg!” He looked at me and prepared to go into another series of unrelenting screams.

“Arnie,” I said. “Shut up! Henderson’ll hear you. Look at me.” I pointed my peace-sign fingers at his eyes, and then dragged them slowly through the air to my own and back again. “Look at me. We have to move you. You have to help us and it’s gonna hurt like hell.”

“No. I wanna stay right here. Don’t. I’m okay here.”

“Arnie. The barn’s gonna burn down. We’ve gotta get out of here. This place is kindling.” I spoke loud to be heard above his sobbing and the escalating music of the fire. Jeff scoured around looking for something, anything. He ran into a nearby stall and came out seconds later with an old wheelbarrow.

“I’m not gettin’ in that thing. Ooh, it hurts. Don’t make me get in there, Zach.”

“You have to, Arn,” Jeff yelled, less diplomatically than I had been. “Get your fat ass inside!”

The fire above us was nearing a crescendo, and the racket of crackling wood and hay was now deafening. Arnie looked up at me, his eyes pleading. I understood then that his current state of shock would only respond to threats and abuse.

“Come on, bubble butt. Help us get your fat ass into this thing! Now!” I said, following Jeff’s lead. “It’s now or never, Arn. I’m getting out of here and if you don’t come now, you’re not coming.”

He looked above us and resignation washed over him. I looked at his leg. It was twisted unnaturally and a bruise was already spreading across the surface of the dimpled flesh where a bone seemed to be pushing against the skin. It looked bad and I didn’t want to touch him. I had broken my arm the previous summer and I could only imagine how much more pain he was in.

“Come on, Arn,” I cajoled. “I know you can do it, bud.” He put out his hand and I took it. But he didn’t budge. He held firm to the ground in defiance. “Arnie, I promise. I will never make fun of your weight again,” I said.

“Oh Christ, Zach. It hurts real bad.”

“I know. We have to get out though. We’ll take you down the road and say you fell out of Halverton’s apple tree. But first we have to get you there. We’re dead if we’re caught here. You know that, don’t you?”

“Come on, guys,” Jeff screamed, rattling the wheelbarrow. “There’s no time.” He looked up and I followed his gaze. Fire formed a hot umbrella of flames above us, swallowing the place.

Jeff dropped the wheelbarrow and grabbed Arnie under his arms. He heaved. Arnie moaned as his leg was jostled. I yanked on his arm with both hands as he began to work with us. It felt like we were raising the Titanic with a fishing rod. If it were me or Jeff on the ground, we would have done whatever it took to get up. But Arnie was a crybaby at the best of times.

“Oh Jesus. Oh Jesus,” Arnie screamed. He was halfway up; his broken leg jarring painfully. What little colour he still had, raced from his cheeks.

“Shut up and get up,” Jeff said. “Christ, Arnie. You have one good leg. Use it, dammit.”

Something in Arnie finally relented. He was on his one foot in seconds, hopping slowly to the wheelbarrow while we clumsily held him. He swayed in our arms like a wind-bent tree. One more step and, with a thud, he keeled into the wheelbarrow. He landed face first with a loud moan.

“Arnie,” Jeff yelled. “Hey Arnie. You need to roll over.”

He didn’t move. I leaned in and was not surprised to see that he had mercifully passed out. “He’s gone, Jeff.”

“Holy crap, Zach,” Jeff said as he swatted his bangs away from his face. “I’ve never seen anybody actually out cold before. How are we gonna do this?”

We looked up. The roof beams, resembling the ribcage of a mammoth beast, were now engulfed. The flames would reach us in seconds, in the form of falling debris.

“Take an end. We can do this.” I said.

“Damn. I wish it were you in there, Twiggy.”

“Ha ha.” I took a handle in one hand and the shin of Arnie’s broken leg in the other. “Let’s just go before it’s too late.”

“My jacket,” Jeff said, picking it up off the dirt floor where it landed when he fell. He threw it over Arnie. “Oh man. It’s all scorched. My dad’s gonna kill me twice.”

“If this fire doesn’t get us first,” I said.

The first few movements were hard. The wheel moved like it was deep in mud. Once it started, though, it went by its own momentum. We were out of the barn in no time, but it would only get harder from there.

I was so busy keeping Arnie’s leg as motionless as possible that Jeff was left with the bulk of his weight. We grunted our way toward the road in an awkward dance that left us sweating and breathless. Even out cold, Arnie was moaning nonstop. He grumbled with each bump in the gravel driveway.

“Stop. Stop,” Jeff said. “I need a break, Zach.” His face was beet red and sweat ran into his eyes.

As we dropped the wheelbarrow onto its legs, Jeff heaved a sigh of relief. Together we turned back toward the barn. Flames shot out the hayloft doors and through rifts in the roof, while thick tunnels of grey-white smoke billowed out the barn doors below.

“Holy crap,” Jeff said. I just stood there shaking my head.

“Jesus,” said a squeak from behind us. I turned to see Arnie looking up at the burning building with a dazed, listless expression on his face. “Nice one, Jeff.”

“Thanks Arn. I call it ‘Flaming Barn’.”

“Enough with the trying to be funny,” I said. “Henderson’s gonna be out here in a second. I wouldn’t be surprised if he brings his shotgun. Arnie here will be an easy target once we make a run for it.”

“Thanks a lot, Carson,” he said. “Leave the fat guy behind.” He attempted humour, despite his obvious agony, but he looked seconds away from passing out again. His pallor now looked a sickening mottled grey.

“Let’s not give the old crank a chance,” I said, getting back to the wheelbarrow and grabbing a handle. Jeff took the other end as he wiped his forehead with the back of his hand, and we made for the road.

“Easy, guys,” Arnie said. “This is hurting like crazy.” Tears streamed down his face.

We struggled over the driveway’s rugged terrain and finally made it to the slightly more level paved road. I looked over at Jeff and realized, with shock, that he was actually crying. Not a lot, but enough for me to notice. Jeff never cried. Arnie was the crybaby of the group, I was the one who cried under pressure and he was the tough guy who never shed a tear. I followed his worried gaze and noticed it led directly to the scorched jean jacket.

“Jeff?” I asked. “What—”

“My dad’s gonna kill me,” he said. “You know it and I know it.”

The scorch marks had nothing to do with the panic in his eyes. I knew the jacket would find its final resting place in a matter of minutes. It wouldn’t do to show up on the day of a fire with scorch marks on your clothes.

The problem was how Jeff was going to explain away the missing jacket to his father. There was only one person in town meaner than Jeff’s brother Marty, and that was Jeff’s father. The man was a worthless slob. He was walking, talking misery. If his son mentioned he needed a new jacket, he was sure to beat the crap out of him first and ask questions later.

“I’ll give you mine,” I said. “My parents won’t even notice. They wouldn’t care anyway.” My father owned the more prosperous of the town’s two service stations.

He’ll notice, though,” Jeff said. “Crap. What am I gonna do?”

We pushed on in the direction of Ms. Halverton’s place. “You really think he’ll notice? I mean, it’s only a jean jacket, right?”

“My old man looks for reasons to get ugly. If he notices I’ve lost it, he’ll flip his lid.”

“Come on. Maybe he’ll notice eventually. But don’t tell me he examines your clothes every time you come in the house? You can have mine. Ten to one he doesn’t even clue in.”

“Yeah right,” came an annoying verbal jab from Arnie, who had been quietly addressing his pain until that moment.

“Shut up, Arnie,” Jeff said.

“Zach, you have a Levi jacket. Jeff’s old man may be stupid, but even he knows he can’t afford Levi. He’ll notice all right.”

“I said shut up,” Jeff said between clenched teeth. The veins in his arms were now bulging with the efforts of his labours. He looked ready to strike Arnie. He might have too, if he hadn’t been struggling to keep the wheelbarrow in motion.

“You can have mine. We’ll stop off at my house after we dump off this fat-ass payload under Halverton’s tree.”

“Hey,” Arnie screamed indignantly. “You said no more fat names.”

“That was before I realized you couldn’t help being an arsehole, Arn. I take it back.”

“Ha,” Jeff smirked. “You’re on, Zach. If he notices, he notices. Screw it. Everybody’ll be so busy talking about the fire anyway.”

“Good point,” I said. “Wouldn’t it be wild if he found out who started it?”

The thought made him smile at first, but the smile quickly faded. His father finding out would be the worst thing that could ever happen, and we all knew it.

We kept moving, silent except for our laboured breathing and Arnie’s groaning. Not a car was in sight. Unusual for a Saturday afternoon, but I was thankful just the same.

“Stop,” Jeff commanded, dropping his end of the wheelbarrow so that Arnie was met with a new jolt of pain.

“Jesus,” Arnie moaned. “What’d you do that for?”

“I have to get rid of this, Arn.” He took the jacket off Arnie. “This is evidence,” he said, smiling and shaking it in his clenched fist. He left the road and started off in the direction of the woods. I followed him.

“Hey. You guys can’t just leave me here. What if somebody drives by and sees me? Hey. You guys!” We ignored him and hurried into the woods.

Jeff hid the jacket in some dense brush. I had imagined us burying it in a shallow grave, or something more dramatic, but he simply dumped it and turned to walk out.

“Do you think that’s good enough?” I asked.

“You’d have to be in here looking for it to find it, Zach. Don’t worry about it.” He had calmed down about the whole thing.

“Guys,” Arnie shrieked from the road. “Guys? Come on. Where are you?”

“We better get back to that Nancy boy,” Jeff said, turning to walkout. I tramped the jacket deeper into the brush and kicked some loose dirt and pine needles onto it before following him out.

Jeff stopped midway back, palming his pockets in desperation. He panicked. “Oh crap, man!”

“What? What’s wrong now?” I asked, wanting to keep moving as far away from the jacket as we could.

“The slingshot! I put it in my back pocket. It’s gone. I’ll have to go back for it, Zach.”

“Jesus Christ. You stupid bastard,” I yelled. For a guy who never made mistakes, they were suddenly coming fast and furious. “It’s too late.”

“No, Zach, come on. Think about it.”

“We don’t have time to think about it, Jeff. You probably lost it in the barn. It’s toast.”

“What if I didn’t?”

“Guys. This really hurts. You have to get me to the hospital,” Arnie shrieked as he saw that we had stopped in the clearing. Tears streamed down his smoke-dirty face, leaving a trail of clean in his chubby cheeks.

“Okay Arnie,” Jeff said, pulling at his hair in frustration. He appeared completely insane standing there, conflicted between so many different decisions. He ran back to Arnie, and grabbed his end of the wheelbarrow. “Hold on. You’re in for a bumpy ride.” He winked at me. I caught up, grabbed the other end and we were off as fast as we could go with an overweight fifteen-year-old on board.

“Christ. Ouch. Slow down,” Arnie cried out like a girl. “You’re killing me. Stop. Stop.”

We ran all the way to the Halverton place and came to a screeching halt at the field with the apple tree.

It was a good idea to pretend Arnie had fallen from the tree. We were always climbing it, so it wouldn’t be a shock to anyone if one of us were to fall out of it. The problem was with the hill leading down to it. You don’t realize things like that until it really matters. I had run down that hill a thousand times and never fully realized, until we showed up with Arnie in a wheelbarrow, just how steep it really was.

“How are we gonna pull this off?” Jeff asked, eyeing the slope with the same incredulousness that I was experiencing.

Arnie was too busy crying to notice our predicament.

“We’re gonna have to dump him out and carry him to the tree on our shoulders. There’s no other way.” Arnie heard that and stopped crying.

“There’s no way you’re dumpin’ me outta this thing.” He gripped the sides in defiance.

“Well, Arn,” Jeff said. “The alternative is calling up your fruitcake mother and asking her to pick up her lard-ass son at the Halverton place. I can picture it now: ‘Yes, Mrs. Wilson, he’ll be the one with the broken leg sitting in the stolen wheelbarrow. We got it from old man Henderson right after we burned his barn to the ground. Maybe you can return it after—”’

Okay. I get the picture,” Arnie screamed, defeated. “Just be careful. This really, really hurts like hell!”

“Maybe we can wheel it down gently,” I said. “If we watch out for holes we might be able to do it.”

“On second thought, I’d rather take my chances being dumped out, Zach,” Arnie said, staring off down the expanse of the hill.

“Okay, let’s do this,” Jeff said. “It’s a miracle nobody’s seen us yet.” He looked off in the direction from which we had come. I followed his gaze and was surprised to see so much smoke billowing into the sky above the Henderson barn. It looked a lot worse than I thought it should.

“Holy crap. That’s a lot of smoke for such a little barn,” I said.

“That’s exactly what I was thinking.”

“Holy gees,” Arnie said, momentarily forgetting the pain of his broken leg.

Jeff dumped the wheelbarrow on its side, causing Arnie to slide halfway out onto his good leg. We leaned down and wrenched him up by the armpits.

“Hold it. Hold it. Careful,” Arnie yelled.

“Let’s go, McBlubber,” Jeff said. “We have to get this done before somebody sees us. That’s a huge fire.”

Arnie hoisted himself up, helping us get him to his feet. In no time we were standing side by side, Arnie leaning solidly on Jeff and shakily on me. He knew where the strength was. Even with the small amount of weight he put on my shoulder, though, I sank helplessly.

“On my count,” Jeff began as we swayed in the breezeless afternoon. “One. Two. Three.”

On three we started down the hill, wobbling two steps forward one step back, going from side to side all the way down. Arnie’s relentless yelps threatened to reach Ms. Halverton. Jeff screeched at him to shut his mouth so many times, I finally just put my free hand over it to try to stop the noise from escaping.

By the time we reached the tree, we were spent. Jeff fell in a heap, taking both of us with him. Arnie howled out a final torturous wail as he slumped into the ground. We lay on our backs for a moment, looking up at the blue sky, panting and gasping for breath.

I stared at the sky thinking, this isn’t how my summer was supposed to begin.

“Now you can cry, moron,” Jeff finally said, turning to Arnie. “Scream if you want. Maybe Ms. Halverton’ll come running down the hill.”

On Jeff’s cue, Arnie let loose the loudest wails he could muster. I was certain there was nothing artificial about them.

As an afterthought I sprang to my feet, ran up the hill and grabbed the wheelbarrow. There was no way we could have explained the wheelbarrow.

Running down the hill with it was even harder than helping Arnie down. I tore past them, speeding out of control with the barrow’s momentum. Their faces were blurs of laughter as I went by.

The wheelbarrow didn’t stop until it hit a tree a few hundred feet downhill from them. By then, I was running too fast to stop it. I landed head first into the barrow with a smack.

Jeff’s laughter met me as I crawled out of the brush and made my way back up the hill to the apple tree.

“Very funny,” I said, dusting myself off and rubbing my head.

“You’ve never run so fast, Zach,” Arnie said, “you should seriously think about joining the track team.”

“And you should seriously think about joining a fat farm, ass.”

“You don’t have to be so mean,” he replied, changing his tune, instantly sounding like a baby again.

“You two girls work it out,” Jeff said. “I’m going up to Ms. Halverton’s to ask for help. Oh, and that was really sweet, Zach,” he continued, “I only wish I had a camera.”

“Ha ha,” I said as Jeff walked away. Arnie lay back in the grass and waited for the shit to hit the fan. I sat down beside him and watched Jeff disappear up over the slope of the hill.

END OF CHAPTER ONE.

You can pick up Summer on Fire at the following places, for just under or just over a dollar…depending on where you live:

Kobo USA | Kobo Canada |Amazon USA | Amazon Canada | You can also pick it up in paperback: Barnes & Noble | Books-A-Million | Indigo-Chapters | IndieBound |

Visit Goodreads for Summer on Fire reviews!

My new release THE CAMINO CLUB is also available wherever books are sold:

Amazon USA | Amazon Canada | Barnes & Noble | Books-A-Million | Book Depository | BookShop | Indigo-Chapters | IndieBound | Kobo USA | Kobo Canada | Interlude Press/Duet Books | WalMart USA | Target | Blackwell’s (UK) | Booktopia (Aus) | APPLE Books

Categories
Camino de Santiago Duet Books Gay YA Interlude Press The Camino Club YA Fiction YA Lit

The Camino Club Releases in Exactly 8 Months! (Preorder Now!)

I have never been so excited about sharing my work as I am right now. My upcoming novel came from my heart and it is going to be live in the world in exactly 8 months from today! OCTOBER 6th, 2020! Wow! I still can’t believe it! It’s releasing from DUET BOOKS, the YA imprint of INTERLUDE PRESS and I’m SO thrilled that they’re taking a chance on this baby of mine!

I first walked the Camino in May of 2014 with a group of pilgrims from Canada. We were led by our fearless leader, Sue Kenney. I had just come off of a 3-year healing journey, working through issues I faced as a survivor…and I chose the Camino de Santiago adventure as the end-cap to that time in my life. I was ready to leave the past behind. But I also wanted to make it about my writing life. I went on the walk with the intention of writing during the evenings. I had the kernel of a story and I wanted to test it out. I saw a group of teenagers walking the Camino as penance for their crimes and misdemeanors.

Thing is, the Camino was so much more than I expected. It was overwhelming in the daytime, while we walked, and it was overwhelming in the evenings while we communed with people from all walks of life from all corners of the world. There was no time to write. There was only time to LIVE. To Breathe. To EXHALE. To WITNESS. To LOVE.

The writing could wait. The writing would come later.

And it did. Boy, did it! I wrote THE CAMINO CLUB in a blur…for the most part over the course of a couple of weeks. It had elements I originally envisioned, and it had so many surprise elements I could not have imagined. It was walking the Camino that inspired the TRUTHness of the final novel that emerged from the original kernel. It was the people I met along the path, the endless days of rain and resilience and love. The dancing, the magic, the mayhem. It all contributed to the story I eventually wrote…while back home in Toronto, thousands of miles away from the magical pilgrimage path that begins in France and ends in Spain…either at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, or at the ocean in Finisterre…also known as THE END OF THE WORLD to earlier pilgrims on the ancient path.

Anyway, I’m just excited. This book is COMING! I’ve seen the cover and it eclipsed ALL OF MY WILDEST DREAMS. It is THE cover! It’s so beautiful and I can’t wait for everyone to see it. Stay tuned, because sometime in the coming months there will be a reveal.

For now, I can only ask you (beg you) to be a part of this book’s long and heartfelt journey. Below, I’m linking the PREORDER PAGES ON AMAZON FOR BOTH CANADA AND USA. Please consider preordering THE CAMINO CLUB now…and it will drop into your Kindle on OCTOBER 6th, 2020…which happens to be 8 short months from this very moment!

Here’s the novel’s back cover blurb:

After getting in trouble with the law, six wayward teens are given an ultimatum: serve time in juvenile detention for their crimes, or walk the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route across Spain over the summer holidays with a pair of court-appointed counselor guides. When it becomes clear the long walk isn’t really all that much of an option, they set out on a journey that will either make or break who they are and who they are to become.

THE CAMINO CLUBAMAZON CANADA PREORDER LINK

THE CAMINO CLUBAMAZON USA PREORDER LINK

 

Add THE CAMINO CLUB to your GOODREADS SHELF!

Categories
Gay YA Pride Must Be A Place YA Lit

Pre-Order Pride Must Be A Place!

My 6th novel will soon be available to readers! You can now pre-order the ebook on AMAZON, BARNES & NOBLE and KOBO!

cropped-cropped-pride-1-fbcover.png

PRE-ORDER PRIDE MUST BE A PLACE today and start reading on February 6th. You can get it for around $3. Click one of the links below to shop for the ebook in your favourite estore:

bn
Click the above pic to go to Barnes & Noble to pre-order PRIDE.

 

 

amaus
In the USA, you can click the above pic to pre-order PRIDE at AMAZON.

 

 

amacda.jpg
In Canada, you can click the above pic to pre-order PRIDE at AMAZON.

 

 

kobo.jpg
Click on the above pic to pre-order PRIDE from KOBO.

 

 

ARE YOU IN THE UNITED KINGDOM? YOU CAN PREORDER PRIDE HERE!

Synopsis

Ezra Caine is a Grade 11 high school student who happens to be gay. He’s sort of out at school but not at home, where he fears his father’s bigotry would be his undoing. When Ezra’s flamboyantly out friend Alex Mills takes one too many beatings from school bully Will Severe, Ezra finally snaps. Fed up with the homophobic tensions at school, he decides to do something about the situation.

With the help of best-friend-for-life, Nettie, along with some rather unlikely allies, Ezra rallies to create their small-town school’s first gay-straight alliance. The Rainbow Alliance Club is formed.

But the changes don’t come without hiccups. The biggest of these hiccups sends Alex to the hospital as he attempts to destroy the homophobic Will Severe with a scandal he himself created through a questionable gay dating app he shouldn’t have even been on.

Along with these struggles, though, come several signs the group’s efforts might just be the catalyst for change they desired. As Ezra and his friends attempt to sway the school into an alliance of tolerance and acceptance, Ezra experiences a few surprises of his own on the home-front. He also learns the hard way that friendships out of convenience aren’t always a good idea, just as some enemies might not be as bad as he originally imagined them to be.

goodreads
Add Pride Must Be A Place to your Goodreads shelf. Click the g!
Categories
Camino de Santiago Writing Life YA Lit

When You Finish a Novel that Consumed You

There’s nothing like typing THE END at the bottom of your MSWord document. It is a distinct kind of joy and sorrow to do so. On the one hand, there is a great sense of accomplishment. On the other, you are sadly saying goodbye to great friends. It is the hug that wounds, the kiss that burns, the cut that feels so good.

After living inside the Camino de Santiago for the past month, retracing my own steps for the sake of my characters, I am exhausted-spent-exhilarated-lonely-happy-thrilled-gutted-euphoric-elated-dejected-emotional and fragile and infinite and empowered. And a few other emotions thrown in for good measure.

If you’re a novelist, you know the feeling.

My young adult novel The Walk–or The Camino Club (I cannot decide)–has been put to bed. It will be what it will be. I need to strike that pilgrimage place from my list of obsessions for a spell. The Camino itself fully consumed me while writing that novel. From watching the movie THE WAY on repeat, to listening to the same movie’s soundtrack on repeat, to reliving my own Camino experience through memories and photographs…I swear I feel like I just got back from Santiago de Compostela today. So powerful was the spell it has had on me these past weeks.

Goodbye Santiago de Compostela. I love you so much. And I love the characters I created to walk the path towards you too. Goodbye Diego, Shania, Manny, Troy, Greg, Claire, Meagan, Gilbert, Kei, Mia, Becky, AND Bastien. Buen Camino!

But there is nothing to do after finishing a novel, but to jump into the next one. Whether that be returning to a work in progress or starting something new. To dally would be to get out of the habit. So, onward. Back to the novel I began in Brussels this past May. It needs to be completed. Today, I turn the page from Spain and open a new one on Brussels. I swear, these settings are consuming me just as much as these characters.

BRUSSELS2
Time to revisit Brussels, one of the few settings for my current young adult WIP. This is me in Grand Place, the beautiful square in the heart of Brussels, just two minutes from where I stayed this past May.
wp-image-109302426
My upcoming release PRIDE MUST BE A PLACE is now on GOODREADS. Click the image above to swing on over to GOODREADS and add #PMBAP to your shelf! It drops February 6th, 2018.
Categories
Book Cover Cover Reveal Gay YA Pride Must Be A Place YA Lit

Pride Must Be A Place

My upcoming release PRIDE MUST BE A PLACE now has a cover! And you can add the novel to your GOODREADS shelf. It releases FEBRUARY 6th, 2018. Follow the link below to head over to Goodreads…

 

Check out this book on Goodreads: Pride Must be a place https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36315117-pride-must-be-a-place

Categories
Gay YA Pride Must Be A Place Writing Life YA Lit

Pride Must Be A Place to be Published

My 2015 Young Adult Novel, PRIDE MUST BE A PLACE, has found a home! It will be released on FEBRUARY 6th, 2018 by MUSEITUP Publishing. This is the publisher that published my very first novel, SUMMER ON FIRE.

 

PRIDE

Pride (#PMBAP) began life as my 2015 Muskoka Novel Marathon novel. I once wrote a blog post about it and how it was originally to be wrapped up with Lorraine Segato and how that plan changed as the novel awakened during the 72 hour marathon writing weekend in which it was born. The rest of the novel was written a couple weeks after the marathon when my partner and I went up to his sister’s cottage for the week. I would write a chapter, send it to my Kindle app and he would read it while I went on to the next chapter. And we took long walks while discussing what would happen next. It was a great week of writing and editing. I was so connected to the story this way. And it turns out he’s a great editor and story-talker. We worked well together. By the end of that week, the first draft of #PMBAP was completely finished.

Prior to writing the novel, I emailed Lorraine Segato of Parachute Club regarding the lyrics of their hit song, RISE UP. I felt the need to check on the possibility of using some of the lyrics even prior to writing…because I felt them to be an important part of the story. To my surprise, the generous Segato actually phoned me and we discussed possibilities for the novel—AS CHANCE WOULD HAVE IT, literally as I made my way to Huntsville to write the novel–I pulled into a Tim Hortons about halfway to Huntsville in order to talk to her. Her feedback was so helpful…I incorporated some of her suggestions into the story. Unfortunately, I think her feedback is what started the move away from her jumping into the story around the midway point. She helped to show what she would or wouldn’t say in the scenes I envisioned. I began to adjust and change in my head. Eventually, I thought maybe I was reaching too far and that their iconic song was enough. I’m hoping now that they will grant me the permission I sought out at the time. It’s been a couple of years. Those lyrics, used sparsely, but at integral parts of the story, will be sadly missed if not there. Fingers crossed.

I will be following up with more on this publication as details are made known to me. It’s early days. The contract has been signed and the publication is slated for February, 2018. Once the cover is revealed to me, I look forward to sharing it here! So thrilled to have this one see the light of day. I certainly hope you like it!

 

 

 

 

Categories
Summer on Fire YA Lit

Happy 6th Birthday to My Debut Novel!

Six years! SUMMER ON FIRE hit the bookstores six years ago today. The book that changed my status from writer to author. It was such a journey. It began in 2003 as my very first NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month) manuscript. And it took until 2011 to see it through to the finished product.

41fkwadzSEL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg
Summer On Fire – 6 Years Old Today!

Buy it today on AMAZON:

Amazon Canada Kindle Edition $5.51

Amazon Canada Print Edition $4.63

Amazon USA Kindle Edition $4.21

Amazon USA Print Edition $7.95

Zach Carson is a loyal friend. But is loyalty enough to keep best friends together when one of them sets fire to the rural barn they use as the local hangout? Zach, Jeff Barsell and Arnie Wilson struggle to pick up the pieces when news spreads that a body was discovered in the burnt out shell of the neighbouring home. When the word murder is used by the local police, the stakes grow even higher. When the police start searching for their most likely suspect-none other than Jeff’s older brother, and nemesis, Marty Barsell-the boys decide to join forces and come up with a way to prove his innocence. But just how innocent is Marty Barsell? When Marty admits to being at the scene of the crime, the three friends enlist the help of Zach’s annoying sister, Sherry, as well as the sympathetic town eccentric, Ms. Halverton. But can they keep it together long enough to save Marty, and themselves, from imminent catastrophe? Summer on Fire is the story of friendships, and the lines we are asked to cross in order to keep them.

Some of the greatest compliments I have ever received for my writing can be found in reviews of my debut novel. I can’t even count the amount of people who brought up the movie STAND BY ME in their review of the book. This is one of my all-time favourite movies, based on Stephen King’s short story THE BODY. Every time Summer on Fire was compared to this movie, my heart grew another size.

READ REVIEWS FOR SUMMER ON FIRE AT GOODREADS

 

Categories
YA Lit

#FridayReads MY NOVELS…

books

 

I thought I would feature my books for Friday Reads, in case you’re searching for something to read this Father’s Day Weekend. Here’s what they are about:

THE REASONS: With a mostly absent father, one sister deceased and the other on the verge of invisibility, and a certifiably insane mother, Tobias Reason is forced to grow up fast. When his older sister Deja’s tragic death causes his mother to fall deeper into insanity, Tobias attempts to be a surrogate parent to his younger sister, Annabel. But broken mother Maggie takes up a lot of his time, causing Annabel to fall even further into the background of their chaotic existence. When Maggie flippantly hands her mother’s house over to Tobias, he sees an opportunity to learn how and why his family has become so shattered. His world begins to collapse from the weight of the secrets he un-buries, and he focuses in on a stranger from his parents’ past… a possible Ground Zero to Maggie’s fall into insanity. If Tobias can somehow eliminate the past, he can make his family whole again.

SEBASTIAN’S POET: Sebastian Nelson is a boy in search of a family. Abandoned by his mother, Sebastian is left with a broken father who doesn’t even seem present when he does show up. Forced to be the main caregiver of his younger brother, Renee, and lost in a sea of indifference, Sebastian only wants to experience the love a real, stable family could afford him. One morning he discovers the famous folksinger, Teal Landen, asleep on the sofa. Teal’s nurturing nature brings an immediate sense of security into Sebastian’s tumultuous life. But a dark secret looms between Teal and Sebastian’s father of a hidden past. Sebastian is driven to discover their secret, but also he’s aware of how tenuous their hold on Teal really is. He doesn’t want to lose the feeling of home Teal’s presence has brought him. If Sebastian pushes too hard, he could lose Teal forever. He could be destined to raise his younger brother alone, while witnessing the total decline of his emotionally devastated father. If Sebastian is abandoned by the only healthy influence in his otherwise shaky existence, he will also be forever in the dark about the secret that will reveal so much about his fractured family.

SUMMER ON FIRE: Zach Carson is a loyal friend. But is loyalty enough to keep best friends together when one of them sets fire to the rural barn they use as the local hangout? Zach, Jeff Barsell and Arnie Wilson struggle to pick up the pieces when news spreads that a body was discovered in the burnt out shell of the neighbouring home. When the word murder is used by the local police, the stakes grow even higher. When the police start searching for their most likely suspect-none other than Jeff’s older brother, and nemesis, Marty Barsell–the boys decide to join forces and come up with a way to prove his innocence. But just how innocent is Marty Barsell? When Marty admits to being at the scene of the crime, the three friends enlist the help of Zach’s annoying sister, Sherry, as well as the sympathetic town eccentric, Ms. Halverton. But can they keep it together long enough to save Marty, and themselves, from imminent catastrophe? Summer on Fire is the story of friendships, and the lines we are asked to cross in order to keep them.

BURN BABY BURN BABY: Seventeen-year-old Francis Fripp’s confidence is practically non-existent since his abusive father drenched him in accelerant and threw a match at him eight years ago.Now badly scarred, Francis relies on his best friend Trig to protect him from the constant bullying doled out at the hands of his nemesis, Brandon Hayley-the unrelenting boy who gave him the dreaded nickname of Burn Baby.The new girl at school, Rachel Higgins, is the first to see past Francis’s pariah-inducing scars.If Brandon’s bullying doesn’t destroy him, Francis might experience life as a normal teenager for the first time in his life. He just has to avoid Brandon and convince himself he’s worthy of Rachel’s attentions.Sounds easy enough, but Francis himself has a hard time seeing past his scars. And Brandon is getting violently frustrated, as his attempts to bully Francis are constantly thwarted.Francis is in turmoil as he simultaneously rushes toward his first kiss and a possible violent end.

HALF DEAD & FULLY BROKEN: Carter Colby is the most unpopular teen at Jefferson High. This would be easier to deal with if his identical twin brother, Marcus, weren’t the hottest, most popular boy in school.When Marcus is killed in a motorcycle accident, Carter discovers the one thing more painful than trying to compete with Mr. Wonderful: wearing his dead brother’s face. He felt invisible before the accident, but with Marcus dead, everybody turns away from him in mourning. How can he blame them? He can’t bear to look in the mirror.When Carter begins to see Marcus’ ghost, Mr. Wonderful’s quest to save the world and spread happiness may not be over after all, even in death. Marcus knows that Justin Dewar, the boy who drove the truck that crashed into his motorbike, is struggling with the guilt of taking a life. Melanie, Marcus’ mourning girlfriend, was also hit hard by the tragedy. Marcus wants to make things right before it’s too late.With Marcus’ help, Carter experiences love and friendship for the first time in his life. But is Mr. Wonderful’s helping hand enough for Carter, Melanie, and Justin – three kids fully broken by the tragedy – to save one another?

All are available at AMAZON, or at INDIGO CHAPTERS/KOBO, and some are available at BARNES & NOBLE. Or, wherever books are sold. Three of these novels won the MUSKOKA NOVEL MARATHON‘s BEST NOVEL AWARD and one, Burn Baby Burn Baby, was listed on the LIBRARY SERVICES FOR YOUTH IN CUSTODY’s 2016 IN THE MARGINS BOOK AWARDS LIST.

Categories
Book Giveaway Burn Baby Burn Baby Contest Giveaway GoodReads Half Dead And Fully Broken Instagram Novel Novels Paperback Win Writers Writing Writing Advice Writing Life Writing Tips YA YA Lit YA Reviews Young Adult Young Adult Fiction

A Sure-Fire List to Help Motivate Your Inner Writer Into Actually Writing! Follow This List Carefully and You Will Be Writing Again!

Have I done a list lately? I should keep a list of the lists I list. Or is that list the lists I keep?

In a writing slump? Finding it hard to finish that Great Canadian (American, Armenian or otherwise) Novel? Trying to dedicate more time to writing this year because you’re one of those people who makes New Year Resolutions? Follow this list to a tee and you should find yourself back on the writing wagon. If you’re already on the writing wagon and you follow this list, you will find yourself even more connected to your writing. My point? Follow this list and you will write more.

The questionnaire
Do not skip items on this list. Follow it closely, or there is no hope for you. If you falter, you might go gently into the night and get lost forever in the vast vacuous land of NOT WRITING. Proceed with caution and a willingness to adapt yourself to the points made on the upcoming list you are about to read…

How to Write When You’re Not Feeling Writerly (OR When You’re Feeling Stabby and Murderous Towards Words, How Do You Embrace Them and Make Them Work in Your Favour…Even Though You Hate Them)


  1. Turn OFF the social media and Click the wifi to OFF. I know it’s impossible to imagine, but these things are distractions…killers of the imagination, even while they are stimulating it. If you follow this first item in this list, you will significantly increase your outflow of words. The increase could quite possibly be tenfold.
  2. See the first item in this list. Quite frankly, if you got this far in the list you aren’t following the steps properly.
  3. ARE YOU STILL HERE. Stop reading this. Turn off the internet and write.
  4. Don’t make me yell at you. SIT. WRITE. Open only one window…whatever program it is you use to write with.
  5. I’m gonna keep this list short and to the point. Only 5 items. Item 5 is CLOSE THIS WINDOW. SIT. WRITE. <<This advice works if you’re a beginner writer, or if you’re someone like that up-and-comer Stephen King…who has a couple books under his belt.

If you’re still here, clearly you’re not heeding my warnings. If you’d rather read than write, click on the image below to get yourself over to GOODREADS to enter to win a paperback copy of my latest novel, BURN BABY BURN BABY. The contest ends JANUARY 11, 2015!

goodreads

If you’re on INSTAGRAM, follow the steps in the picture below to win a paperback copy of BURN BABY BURN BABY in the INSTAGRAM contest! The easiest way to enter this one would be to go to Instagram and repost this image from my account. Instagram is sometimes tricky with resizing, etc.

Follow the Directions in this image to enter to win a paperback of Burn Baby Burn Baby on Instagram!
Follow the Directions in this image to enter to win a paperback of Burn Baby Burn Baby on Instagram!

Okay…now there is still a chance for you. Turn it all off. SIT. WRITE. That’s it. That’s all you have to do. No magical equation. No tricks or gimmicks. To write more all you need to do is write more. One word in front of the other without the everyday distractions that weigh you down and mess with your creativity and drive. SIT. WRITE.

Categories
Excerpt Fiction Muskoka Novel Marathon Novel Marathon Novel Titles Novels Writing YA YA Lit YASaves Young Adult Young Adult Fiction

The Book of Your Dreams – Chapter 1 of my Muskoka Novel Marathon Novel…

Unable to fall back to sleep, I thought I would finally open my Muskoka Novel Marathon novel. I just read the first chapter…thought I would share it here. I’ve been so disappointed by this year’s efforts . I’m going to try to work with what I got, though. Out of nowhere I decided my YA novel would be a horror this year. From that bad decision, it went downhill from there.

image

Anyway…here’s chapter 1…which I need to edit. Just trying to motivate myself to write. To edit…

CHAPTER 1

My first clue should have been the honking big bells hanging off the front door. Only geezers use those things. They have them on the door in case they drop dead of old age and boredom or something. Someone accidentally comes into their store, the bells crash all over the place and they’re brought back to life.
Anyway, I wish I could take it all back. I wish I could go back to that first day and look at that piece-of-crap-falling-apart bookstore and not want to go inside. Curiosity don’t only kill cats, dude. That bookstore was the worst thing that ever happened to me.

When I opened the door, I got a hot rush of mold and old wood and old pages and ancient leather. Man, it was just too good.

I’m a book addict. There. I said it. That was my downfall. And, the older the better. Give me an old book and I’m in nirvana. Mr. Clancy says I’m a dying breed. I may be seventeen and stupid, but even I know books will be around long after the apocalypse hits. Yep, books and cockroaches.

I walked inside and the first thing I saw was the old white cat sprawled on the hardwood floor. He stretched inside a thin shaft of sunlight coming in the front window. Spreading away from—or drifting towards—the dirty old thing was a line of dust motes. It looked like both the cat and the motes were fighting for the light.

The cat lifted an eye in my direction long enough to telepathically say, ‘don’t fuck with me, I’m busy here’.

There were eight rows of thick wooden shelves, all filled with books that looked older than Great-Gram Imogene. If that’s even possible. Old bat’s like seventy-six, or something. She loses teeth every day. They just drop out of her skull like her gums are melting. Seriously.

I went right to the first shelf and started looking at all the books. I guess I should say I kind of caress books when I’m in bookstores. I like to touch their spines and just get all up in that. It kind of connects me to the writers, right.

Anyway, I was kind of spooked out right away. What bookstore isn’t like jammed packed with colour? Everywhere I looked, there were only about two colours…brown and black. And with all the dust motes floating around wherever the sunlight hit, it kind of looked like there was a low-lying fog throughout the store. When I’m fishin’ with Dad, low-lying fog is a good thing. Shopping in a bookstore? Not so much.

I had my hand on an old smacked-down mud-dragged copy of a Russian classic—The Brothers Karamazov—when I heard a rumbling throat clearing that sounded like stones in a washing machine or a cat stuck up in a car engine when the ignition gets turned over. It was something you don’t like hearing and would do anything to un-hear.

I’ve never heard a death-rattle, but Dad jokes around enough about them that I’m pretty sure something behind me had just made one.

“That’d be a good pick, right there, son.” The hairs up my arms reached away and I clenched my head into my neck like a turtle, only I couldn’t make my head disappear down inside my shell. His voice was way worse than his throat-clearing. The cat agreed. It snarled at the old man like he wasn’t its friggin’ owner, or something.

Just as I was about to tell him I already read The Bros Kara, my eye caught something shiny. You have to understand, in a store as dull as that one it was almost a eureka moment to discover something that stood out. The old man, who was not quite in my line of vision yet, was already objecting to the book I hadn’t yet picked up.

As my hand reached out to grab the spine—anything shiny in the dull dark ocean of books, dust and derelicts—he stepped between me and it.

“You don’t want that one, son.”

Who tells a kid that? Of course it automatically became the only thing within a twelve block radius I wanted. And I still hadn’t seen the title. Like the ninja that I am, I deeked around him and made a grab for the shiny-shiny.

“Ooh!” I said. “The Book of Dreams! Sounds awesome. Is this like the Tibetan one?”

“Young man,” he said. “I’m going to have to ask you not to touch that particular book.”

My hand was already on the gold spine. As I moved to haul it out of its slot on the shelf, though, the old man’s hand engulfed mine. My first sighting. A hand as white as bone and, well, bony. And cold. The hair standing up on my arms was now electrically standing up. I felt the ice course through me, like his touch was actually lowering my body temperature.

But I’m a kid who likes his books, right. And I was in a bookstore where the shelves were filled with books. And who the hell was this old coot to tell me what books I can or cannot touch? It was for sale, dude. If it was on the shelf in plain view—in a bookstore—it was for sale. End of story.

I wrenched myself away from that grip and stepped away from the shelf with the book in hand.

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you, Ethan,” the old man said as he turned and walked back to the counter at the front of the store. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Just know that some books opened can’t be unopened.”

“What the hell does that mean?” I said. Now I was feeling brave. I won the standoff. I had the book in my hand. Dude was too weird. As I watched his back move up the thin aisle, I saw that he was impossibly tall and skinny. Like a basketball player who had just returned from a vacation at that Auschwitz concentration camp, or something. Like, he should be dead skinny.

His black suit was three sizes too big and filled with dust. He had an aura of dust about him that struggled and mingled with the dust motes that filled up all the empty spaces in the store. Dude was totally creeping me out.

I turned my back on Lurch and made to crack open the gold cover. My heart raced, like I needed to see what was inside.

“You read the title wrong too, son. Take another look. It’s The Book of YOUR Dreams.”

I stopped what I was doing and returned my gaze to the cover. The Book of Your Dreams. Huh? I couldn’t figure out how I had read that wrong. I was certain it had said The Book of Dreams.

I should have piqued then. Something wasn’t right. Between Lurch and his pissy cat and the dust motes and the book, I should have just got my shit out of Dodge. But I was intrigued. Like I said, I’m a bibliophile. And that book was calling my name.

I spotted a chair at the end of the aisle and took the book over to it. I sat down and opened the book.

He just called you Ethan.

“Hey,” I said. “How did you know my name?”

“If you haven’t looked inside that book yet, you can still leave it be and pick another. You still have prerogative on your side, Ethan.”

Talk about creeping the hell out of a kid.

“How the hell do you know my name?”

But I didn’t wait for an answer. None of the alarm bells were ringing in my head. Or at least not properly. He had suggested a forbiddenness about that book and I was never one to take to that kind of shit very gently. I dove into the book.

After turning the first few pages, though, I began to lose interest. They were empty and a rotten smell emanated from them. Like that book hadn’t been opened for decades and all the badness that had ever lived in the ancient bookstore had come to rest within this one book’s yellowed pages.

“It stinks,” I said more to myself than to the man, who now seemed too far away to carry an actual conversation with him. Like I would have wanted to. He gave creeps a bad name. “Why does it smell so bad?”

But he was listening. From the front of the store, he said, “That’s a question you really have to ask yourself, young man. You have things to hide in that little head of yours? You have things to be ashamed of? You sure that smell ain’t coming from the inside? Skunk smells his own stink first, Ethan.”

I stood up and walked towards him, book in hand.

“Stop saying my name. How do you know who I am anyway?”

“I’m just saying that book knows you better than I do. I’m just a silly old man who tried to warn you not to dance with the devil. Now you’re dancing, young man. Now you’re dancing.”

Talk about weirdness.

“What the hell are you talking about?” I put the book on the counter and kept thumbing through its empty yellow pages. “You trying to scare me? Who put you up to this anyway?”

The bells on the door rang. And not just a little bit. It was like somebody had taken them off the door and slammed them into it. And then stomped on them for good measure. I swung around to see who had come in, but the doorway was empty. Nobody there.

I jumped as something brushed against my ankle. Then I felt like an idiot, because when I looked down it was only the stupid pissed off cat wrapping itself around me. Someone needed to be pet. Guaranteed petting was not something that old man would ever do.

When I reached down to pet the cat, though, it hissed and snapped at my finger. Bitch drew blood with its dirty stinking fangs.

“Ouch! Jesus.”

“You wanna watch out for Lilith. She’d sooner eat ya than look atcha. Clean that out before it gets infected. Cats are filthy creatures.”

I sucked at the cut and rolled my eyes at Lurch.

“Gee, thanks, dude. First you try to stop me from buying a book, then your cat bites me and then you try to freak me out about rabies or some shit. Customer service in this store is tripping.”

“You have bigger problems than an old cat bite, Ethan. You let some stuff in and you let some stuff out when you done opened that book. I warned you. I’ll say it again.”

“What do you mean? It’s just an empty book filled with empty pages. That stink like shitty bad breath or something.”

“No. It’s out now. Your book is never empty. It’s the Book of Your Dreams. They there. You just have to see—”

“Fuck off,” I said as I pushed the book away from me. Cutting him off mid-sentence didn’t mean anything. I still got the gist of it. The pages in front of me were filled with words. He was right. I just had to see. And there they were, line after line after line of words.

“Can’t leave it now.”

“What the hell? I’m out of here. You’re a freaky old man. I don’t know how you did it. I actually don’t give a shit how you did it. I’m out.”

I made for the door. But the old man came out from behind the counter with a book bag in hand. He was sliding the gold book into the bag as he made his way between me and the door.

I looked into his face for the first time. Ever see one of those skeletal people in horror movies? You know the ones. They’re not dead, but they’re so skinny and frail and grey and white that you just know they’re gonna keel over in the next ten minutes and start eating brains or something. Dude was like that. Hollow cheeks. Empty eyes that looked just as dusty as his black suit. His lips were slits of white, just gashes in his face. I thought about screaming but knew the sound of it in that dank store would terrify the hell out of me. So I muffled it. I ate the scream like I never ate a scream before in my life.

There I was. Right in front of the door. With Lurch standing between me and it. I wasn’t getting through him. Just as I knew he was scrawny and near death, I also knew he’d be like frigging Gibraltar. A man of steel. Something in my head and my heart told me not to mess with him.

He reached toward me and I thought for a second that he might kill me. But I noticed that it was the hand with the bagged book in it that came out to meet me.
“Here you go,” he said. “You can’t leave without your new purchase.”

“I ain’t buying that piece of shit. Get it away from me.”

“Son, it’s already paid for. It’s yours. Bought and paid for. Told you not to open it. They usually don’t listen, Ethan. Not usually. In recent memory, I only remember one boy taking heed of my words and putting that book back on the shelf. Since you ain’t him, you bought this book. Now take it.”

He nudged the book into my belly, pushing it against me like he was attempting to break the skin and lodge it in my abdomen.

I backed off and pushed back. “I don’t want it.”

“Take it and go, young man. You stopped playing with choice when you opened it. Take it. And go.”

His eyes burned so hard into me that I did the only thing I could think of to do. I reached a hand toward his and grabbed hold of the book.

“There you go. Now get.”

“You’re a crazy old man,” I said. I know. Lame-assed, right.

“Maybe so. But I don’t dance with devils, Ethan. I leave that to my customers. Now take the book you wanted so badly and be gone from here. It’s time I close up shop for the day.”

He stepped aside and allowed me to leave. I felt like I was in a dream state. Fuzz filled up around me and swallowed up anything sane that was left of the moment. I was on the other side of the door. I could hear the muffled ringing of the bells on the inside, but as I looked in I couldn’t see the old man or his cat. I stepped away from the door, looked at the bag in my hands with the old book in it and felt my shoulders slump in defeat.

“Shit. I don’t want this stupid book.”