Saturday, March 31, 2018

Riding with the King

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
Stephen King

That's good advice.   

And I’ve heard it from many wise folks for years. Before I ever considered trying my hand at writing, I was a frequent reader. Mostly mysteries and thrillers, but years ago I became hooked on the fantastic novels by Stephen King.  “Carrie” was good. So was “Salem’s Lot”. But the one that really closed the deal was “The Stand”.

It’s still as clear as if I’d read it this morning. King’s story about germ warfare and the fight between good and evil was fantastic. Early in the book, there was a warning sign that someone was infected with the disease. They would sneeze rapidly three times.  Wrapped up in the story, I read it until the wee hours of the morning, foregoing sleep on a workday.  Later that day, I walked into a fast food joint to grab some lunch. The person in line behind me sneezed three times in a row. Next thing I knew, I was back in my car, shaking and thinking. ‘It’s too late. I’ve caught the bug!’

How’s that for getting into your reader’s head?

Recently I picked up a copy of King’s epic “11-22-63” novel, which blends time travel, JFK conspiracies, the butterfly effect, small town life and history so smoothly that it’s easy to feel like you’re along for the ride.  He doesn’t disappoint with this one, even with more than 800 pages.
When someone asked what I’ve been up to lately, all I could do was shrug. ‘Riding with the King’.  Didn’t have to say more.

Here’s your chance to take a ride with Jamie Richmond.  In this scene from “Fleeing Beauty”, Jamie and her young friend Ian, are checking out the files that were found in her late father’s art studio. Jamie hopes to learn more about her father through his work.

“Did you go through the whole desk?”

I spun around. Ian was at the worktable with the laptop in front of him. I’d been so engrossed in my thoughts I hadn’t noticed him there. He drew a stack of files from the cabinet and began putting them in order.

I swept my hand toward the old oak desk. “Every drawer has been examined.”

“Yeah, but did you look in those little cupboard things?”  He gestured toward the back of the desk where the lid rolled up.

“I’m guessing he stored paper clips and stamps there.”

“Boy, some detective you are. Those could be perfect hiding places for clues.”

I flipped a pencil at him. Ian laughed and caught it. He turned his attention back to the files. With a shrug I began to open the small cupboards.

“Rubber bands in this one, and oh, what a surprise, paper clips. This one has plain white envelopes with his logo on the left corner. And this one here…”

The cupboard was about six inches high and six inches across. When the door popped open, I froze.

“What is it, Jamie?”

I didn’t answer. My voice left me.

Ian appeared beside me. Gently he reached into the cupboard and drew out its contents.  Turning slightly to the side, Ian blew on it, sending a little cloud of dust toward the floor. He wiped the edges with his fingers, then wiped his fingers on his T-shirt. With great care he set it on the desk between my hands.

It was a square box, wrapped in the type of paper you’d use for a child’s party. The paper was faded, yet you could still see the images of colorful balloons floating around a white script that read “Happy Birthday”. With trembling fingers, I picked it up and turned it around, looking at each side as if expecting a clue to the contents.

“Aren’t you going to open it?”

I gulped to get my voice back. “It might not be for me.”

He reached into the cupboard and pulled out a small envelope that had been beneath the package. My name was written across the front of it. I set the box down and worked a fingernail beneath the flap of the envelope.  The front of the card was an explosion of colors, like a fireworks display. Inside was a simple message. “May all your birthday wishes come true. You are the sparkle in my eye, the warmth of my smile, the glow in my heart. Love always, Daddy.”

Ian had stepped back to let me read the message in private. I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand and passed him the note. From the center drawer I pulled a letter opener. Carefully I slit the tape around the wrapping paper.  Inside was a cardboard box. I pried open the lid and slid the contents out.

“It’s a wooden box,” Ian said, peering over my shoulder.

“Not just any box. This is a puzzle box. I used to love to put puzzles together when I was small. Peter would sometimes help me.”  I handed it to him.

He tried to open it without success. He shook the box lightly and we could hear something rattle inside. “So how do you open it?”

“That’s the trick. Some of these boxes require a number of pieces being moved in the right order before the lid slides off. This may take some time.”

“I’m curious what will be inside.”

“Yeah, I’m wondering too.”

 Sometimes it all comes together. I don't know whether the song inspired this column or the other way around, but here's Eric Clapton with this week's tune.

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