Some Reading Fun

Enjoy this excerpt from my book, The Man in the Box. There will be a release date for the second edition coming soon. And don’t forget to Like The Man in the Box Facebook page for a chance to win a free, autographed copy!

From Chapter 18

Robbie turned off the radio. It was up to him to break the ice. He said, “We missed you at breakfast.”

Taylor continued to stare at the window with her chin in her hand.

“That coffee’s for you,” he said, motioning toward the mug in the cup holder beside them. “Just cream. No sugar.”

“I like sugar now,” mumbled Taylor.

Robbie nodded, taking note of one of the many changes about his little girl. “How’s Darrin?” he asked, but bit his tongue as soon as the wrong name snuck out of his mouth.

“It’s Dwayne. And fine.”

“You never did tell me why you were crying last night. I figured you had broken up.”

“Dwayne wants me to go to a party that I know you’re not going to let me go to; it’s no big deal, okay? There. You know all you need to know.” She said this as she pulled a piece of paper out of a side pocket from her duffle bag and shoved it in his direction.

Robbie didn’t know what frustrated him more: the fact that this twerp was pressuring his daughter to go to a party or that she was still dating him.

Wanting to steer clear of the romance department, he ignored the paper she was pushing toward him and decided to just jump in feet first and get to the bottom of last night’s escape attempt. He asked, “What happened last night? Where were you going? Were you going to that party?”

“No, I wasn’t. It’s not for a while. Next month or something,” was Taylor’s muffled response.

“You know you’re grounded, right?”

“Good. I love missing out on my social life,” snapped Taylor, throwing the paper to the floorboard in a fit.

“Hey. Don’t get smart with me,” retorted Robbie, growing angry.

Taylor threw back, “You’re the ones who think you’re so smart! You don’t even know what I was doing last night!”

“It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that you were sneaking out, Taylor. So maybe we’re not as smart as you think!” Robbie shook his head and vilified himself for his absent-minded comeback.

Taylor just rolled her eyes and turned her head away, refocusing her sight out the window.

After a moment, a calmer Robbie asked, “So what were you doing last night?”

“What do youcare? You’re too busy coming up with reasons to get me in trouble.”

“Not get you in trouble. We’re trying to keep you fromtrouble.”

Taylor just mimicked Robbie, sticking her lower lip out in a mock gesture. He just about blew a fuse. He prayed her own children would be just like her for the sole purpose of making her pay for all of his headaches.

“Here’s a newsflash Taylor,” started Robbie. “If you would just talkto us, then maybe we wouldn’t be so suspicious of whatever you’re doing. What is it, Taylor? I care; talk to me. Is it drugs?”

“Dad.”

“You’re not into that voodoo Wicca stuff are you?”

“No.”

“Is it sex?”

Dad!

“Oh please don’t let it be sex. You already have a kid, don’t you?”

“Yes, Dad, I managed to hide my fat stomach from the entire family for nine months.”

“You see! I don’t know if you’re telling me the truth right now or just being sarcastic with me which, as you know, would be lying,” yelled Robbie. “I don’t know how to read you.”

“Why do you even have to read me at all? Why can’t you just leave me alone?”

Robbie stopped behind a line of cars at the stoplight. “Because you’re my daughter, and that’s not what parents do, Taylor. Apparently you’ll find that out in about fifteen years when little Wayne is sitting in your spot and you’re driving him to school.”

Taylor sighed in utter frustration saying, “I don’t have a baby, Dad!”

“Is there a chance that you could be having one?” Robbie awkwardly asked, unable to suppress his curiosity.

The light was still red, and Taylor flew open the door and jumped out of the car yelling over her shoulder, “I’m walking to practice!” Then she slammed the door, flying her duffle bag over her shoulder.

Robbie, in a moment of utter shock, had his eyes only on Taylor when he gassed the car to follow after her. He flew right into the car in front of him, lurching him forward, catching on the seatbelt. The sound of crunching metal sent him into a panic as he saw dollar signs float away on wings all around him. The coffee spilled all over his right leg throwing him into a world of pain, and he clumsily tried pulling his pant leg apart from his skin to ease the burn.

He looked at Taylor who was just a few feet away, expecting her to come back to the car. But she just gave him those eyes that told him he was just plain embarrassing and continued to walk off.

 

The Man in the Box, Chapter 6

I just turned in the final edits for my revised edition of The Man in the Box. Enjoy this sample chapter while we await the rerelease date. And don’t forget to like The Man in the Box on Facebook for updates!

Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5 (pt 1), 5 (pt 2)

Check out the trailer here!

6

Both kids had managed to push Rosalynn close to her breaking point. Between Jeremy getting sent home from school early because of a fight he had gotten into over stolen crackers at lunch and Taylor refusing to get off of her iPhone to help with the packing, Rosalynn was ready to just call a babysitter and leave the kids at home while she and Robbie enjoyed Hawaii all to themselves. But she had to keep reminding herself that they were the reason they were going in the first place. Maybe she and Robbie could at least upgrade to first class while they left the kids in coach.

She had texted this suggestion to Robbie earlier, but she hadn’t heard back from him. In fact, she had called him when he was due home an hour ago. It was unlike him to be late, but she figured he was probably swamped with last-minute stuff to do before vacation. That was understandable; she just wished he would let her know he’s all right and tell her he’d be late coming home.

“Mom, Caitlin wants me to spend the night since I won’t see her tomorrow or for the next week,” announced Taylor, from halfway down the stairs with her iPhone clutched to her hand.

“Doesn’t she have school tomorrow? Her mom wouldn’t allow that,” replied Rosalynn as she fished through the cupboards for pasta shells.

“She already told her mom and she’s okay with it.” Taylor was standing at the edge of the kitchen now, dressed to go out. “I’ve already got my stuff thrown together. And I was thinking maybe you could let me drive since she’s just a couple blocks away.”

“You packed for a sleepover that was just planned, but you can’t manage to pack for Hawaii anytime in the last four months?” asked Rosalynn. “No, I’m not letting you go over there. You’ve got to pack, and I don’t want to have to drive back over first thing in the morning just to pick you up.”

“Can you guys shut up?” yelled Jeremy from the living room. “I’m trying to watch my show.”

“Don’t say that word,” Rosalynn responded. “Next time you say that to me, the TV goes off.”

“So can I go?” asked Taylor.

“No. No, you can’t go,” said Roslaynn pulling out the dish pan and gathering the cheese and the grater. “I’m not letting you go to Caitlin’s so you can keep her up all night on a school night, and you’ll end up sleeping all day tomorrow when you’re supposed to be packing; she’ll probably fall asleep in class. No. But if you want to go to school tomorrow, I can take you and you can see Caitlin there. How does that sound?”

“Sure,” said Taylor, “that’s fine by me. I’d rather go to school than stay here anyway. No offence, but I really don’t want to go to Hawaii anyway.”

“You’re bringing this up now?” asked Rosalynn, though she didn’t know why she was so surprised.

“Me, either!” yelled Jeremy. “I hate fish. I’d rather stay here and eat chicken.”

“Seriously, can’t he stay out of any of my conversations?” asked Taylor. “For a kid with ADD, he sure knows how to tune in.”

“Well I’m sorry, but we’ve already got your tickets paid for, and I know it’s rough being away from all of your friends for a week, but it’ll go by fast; I promise. Now, can you please leave me alone so I can have dinner ready before your dad gets home?”

“Where is he anyway?” asked Taylor. “He’s never this late.”

“He’s got a lot to finish before his day off tomorrow, that’s all. He’ll be home soon,” Rosalynn said.

Taylor glanced down at her iphone when it chirped at her, then looked back up to Rosalynn. “So, no?”

“No. Go upstairs and pack.”

Taylor huffed as she walked off, saying, “I’m not even going to start packing until tomorrow anyway.”

“That’s fine. You can get a head start on all your procrastinating tonight,” said Rosalynn, rolling her eyes and unwrapping the mozzarella. Cooking was solitary for Rosalynn. She felt comfortable and in her element in the kitchen. It’s where everyone else in the family was too afraid to go, and she secretly preferred it that way. If Rosalynn needed time to herself, she would cook, because she knew that at least there, no one would bother her.

Robbie had come up with a code for the kids to warn them that she was in cooking mode— “Chef Snappy’s in the house.” Snappy, because of the way she tended to snap at people if they got in her way in the kitchen. She didn’t do it purposefully or out of spite—she just put her all into whatever she was preparing; cooking was her zone. She realized a few years too late that that’s why Taylor hardly knew how to boil an egg, because she never took the time to teach her how to cook. She pitied her future husband and would be sure to apologize to him once they were married.

She felt she did right by her children in every other sense. She always helped them with their homework, made sure they were properly groomed for school, minded their manners at the table, put her foot down on what they were or were not allowed to watch and how much (often fighting Robbie every step of the way on that one). Where Robbie was parentally weak, she was strong. But Robbie was much better at dealing with discipline if they ever defied her—one of the few things he wouldn’t stand for, and he usually had good discernment when it came to how much arguing amongst siblings was too much—which was a wonder since Robbie was an only child. Rosalynn felt like she and Robbie were a good team when it came to the kids, but tonight, she really could have used his help.

She called him once more only to be taken straight to his voicemail again. His office had closed two hours ago.

A Message From My Daughter

photo-16Hi. My daddy’s taking a nap.

I’d be crying right now just to see how long I can keep him awake, but my throat’s a bit sore, so I decided to hack into his blog and write a secret post without him knowing.

(By the way, I feel like I should be named James… I’ll see if I can get him to explain that some time.)

Here’s the thing. My daddy’s too proud to admit it, but he’s a  little stressed right now.

You see, he’s got over 10,000 people following his blog, but only 333 people have liked his book’s Facebook page. 

And that makes him sad.

His book’s been published by a local publisher, which is good. But bigger publishers, like Random House or Harper Collins won’t buy it if there’s not enough generated interest in it.

And 333 likes on Facebook is hardly enough interest to get them to publish his book.

He just turned in the final revisions for the second edition yesterday (he said he had made the classic first-time-author mistake of rushing it through the press too quickly). But he’s spent the last five months fixing it up and making it 100% better, and bestseller-worthy.

Which is weird because it already has an almost-perfect rating on Amazon and Goodreads.

I guess my dad’s a sort of perfectionist. I wonder if I’ll get that from him.

My mom is too, so I probably will.

Anyway. My daddy really believes with all his heart that his book can be a major bestseller.

(“I know all writers say that,” he insists as he paces around the house. “But this is seriously one of the best fictional books since… I don’t know… Jurassic Park!”) 

And if it becomes a bestseller, then that’s good news for me, because then I can brag to all my friends in the church nursery that my daddy’s a bestselling author.

Then they’ll say, “Well I’m too young to read his book. It’s too suspenseful and action-packed for someone my age.”

Then I’ll say, “Don’t worry. He’s working on a young reader’s novel that you’ll get to read in a few years.”

So please like my daddy’s book on Facebook. (I looked it up: it’s not enough to just “like” this post. You’ve got to actually click on THIS LINK.)

Plus, I hear there’ll be a drawing for 10 people to win a free autographed copy, so what do you have to lose?

He wrote up a book trailer a couple of days ago, so go check it out to see what it’s about. It looks too intense for me, but I’m sure you’ll like it.

Love, Baby A.

Book Trailer!

It’s not a video, but I’ve taken parts of my book and compiled them into movie trailer format. Enjoy the “trailer” to my book, like it on Facebook, and buy it when the new and improved edition is released!

“Look out your window. Is that a dinosaur, Jeremy?” Robbie asks his son in the back seat, who stays glued to the game on his iPad. “You know, stomping around. Eating things?” Robbie’s wife, Rosalynn, looks at him with a smirk from the passenger seat.

—–

Gothic_Boy_Small_crop_large“Who’s this?” asks Robbie, interrupting his daughter’s kiss with the creepy-looking college kid. “This is Dwayne. Dwayne, my dad.”

“Good to meet you, kiddo,” says Robbie, shaking his hand. “Derek, was it?”

—–

“While your blood sugar and heart level are fine, there seems to be a blockage which is just a bit concerning to me,” says the doctor from across the desk.

“How concerning?” asks Rosalynn, reaching for Robbie’s hand.

“Concerning enough that we’re going to have to keep you overnight.”

—–

“Toy’s debut novel will leave readers talking and will make them instant fans of his storytelling abilities.” -Nicole McManus, reviewer and blogger

—–

“I’m sure you know we’re letting people go.” says Robbie’s boss.fired

“Don’t do this to me, Kurt.”

“I’ll give you a good reference. I’m sorry, Robbie. We’re only keeping a small handful of people, if it makes you feel better.”

Oh yes. Much, thinks Robbie.

—–

“I’ve got something big,” says Robbie’s coworker. “You won’t believe what I found. We have access to his clients. We use these leads, we’ll have jobs again in no time!”

“What do we have to do?” Robbie asks.

“We sneak in, pull up the information, print it out, and leave.”

—–

Robbie is in an empty warehouse, tapping his foot anxiously, waiting for the age-old man-peeking-out-of-moving-boxprinter to print the documents. He hears the bar on the door move. Panicking, he jumps inside a nearby cardboard box, just big enough to fit him if he scrunches. He closes his eyes

and all goes black.

When he opens his eyes he sees that he is crouching in a giant puddle of crystal-blue phosphorescent water. The water glows brightly enough to reveal a vast cavern surrounding him.

—–

Robbie, still dressed in his suit, is in the jungle talking to a little girl.

The girl takes a step toward him and lifts his tie from his chest. “This looks stupid. Do you use it to swat at flies or something?”

“No. It’s just for looks. It makes me look powerful and in control,” answers Robbie.

—–

jungle“I’m so glad you’re finally with us,” a beautiful young woman says to Robbie. She opens her arms and asks, “May I?”

Only for the rest of our lives, thinks Robbie, looking nervous.

“You don’t look powerful and in control to me,” observes the little girl nearby.

—–

“It’s getting dark,” says the young woman. “We need to go underground now.”

“Why?” asks Robbie.zombies

“Because they’ll be here soon.”

“Who?”

—–

Chills go down Robbie’s spine at the thought of supernatural beings reaping havoc mere feet above his head, and all because they are looking for him.

—–

“This was a heart-stopping suspense adventure like I haven’t read in a long time.” -Cherese Vines, author and blogger

—–

The little girl bites down hard on Robbie’s hand underwater. He screams.

—–

“What happened to your hand?” asks Rosalynn, in their kitchen. Robbie is back home now.

“I had the most incredible dream ever!” Robbie explains. “I was on this island and this little girl was chasing me through some caves and she tried to drown me. That’s when she bit me. Then we saw a dinosaur—an actual, real dinosaur, Rosalynn! Isn’t that insane?”

He uses the word “insane” the same way one might use the word “cool” or “unbelievable”. But Rosalynn obviously takes it for its literal meaning.

“Yes, it is. Honey, I think you need to relax for a bit.”

—–

centipedesRobbie, back in the jungle is pinned to the tree by a giant centipede, while dozens of little ones scurry up his legs into his pants.

—–

“What are we hiding from every night?” Robbie asks the beautiful woman.

“Pruflas.”

“What are they?”

—–

A prufla is breathing heavily on the woman’s neck in a dimly-lit space. It has the form of a corpse with blotchy skin like vegetable bruises. Its eyes are rolled into the back of its head and two slits are where its nose should be.

—–

“Why not just fight them?” asks Robbie. “Declare war.”

An old man shakes his head. “They don’t live. So they can’t be killed. Victory would be impossible.”

—–

“I’m finding centipedes everywhere,” says Rosalynn. “I must’ve killed three of them today.”

—–

Taylor comes running downstairs, screaming, and shaking centipedes out of her hair.

—–

Robbie is in his backyard and slowly backs away as small dinosaurs come crawling out of Eoraptor1the box toward him.

—–

“Get back in the box, Robbie,” says an old man in his house.

“No.”

“Get back in the box or I’ll kill your family off one by one.”

—–

Robbie is frantically ushering his family in the car. Once they’re all in, he peers in the window at Rosalynn and says, “You guys need to get out of here. Drive anywhere; I don’t care. Just get away from here!”

—–

Jeremy is in the back seat of the car sitting next to the box. “Mom. There’s something moving in this box back here.”

“It’s probably just the bumps in the road, sweetheart,” assures Rosalynn.

man in boxSECOND EDITION – SPRING 2014

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Is Divergent as Good as Hunger Games?

divergentThis is a spoiler-free review.

I just read Divergent by Veronica Roth.

Apparently she wrote it while she was in college and two other books completes her trilogy.

Like Hunger Games, it is set in a dystopian world, and also like Hunger Games, it is written in that awesome first-person present tense style that really seems to be catching on.

You should know that my wife and I are pretty obsessed when it comes to Hunger Games, and I’m sure Roth doesn’t appreciate her story being compared to something so superior.

However, one can hardly divorce the two.

Divergent lacks the big-picture suspense story that carries Hunger Games, as it’s sometimes hard to see where Roth is taking her readers. There’s little setup from the start, explaining her dystopian Chicago, which could have served as great suspense marks.

But at the same time, it’s not such a bad thing to learn about things as the protagonist does.

When I finished Divergent, Sarabeth asked me the same question everyone else is wondering: “Is it better than Hunger Games?

My answer was no.

“If you hadn’t read Hunger Games, would you have liked it more?”

My answer again, was no.

Don’t get me wrong. I actually enjoyed the book. But unlike Hunger Games, my criticisms kept building up.

My biggest hangup with the book was the love story.

Now, I realize this is a teen book centered around an adolescent girl, but I just kept rolling my eyes each time the love interests came together for yet more snogging and oohing and awing.

To be honest, it’s the most I’ve wanted to throw up due to such over-the-top sentiments.

Maybe I wouldn’t’ve felt that way if it wasn’t so forced and manufactured. Really, it was just very difficult to buy into.

As for the rest of the book?

I actually enjoyed the author’s world where society is broken up into separate factions based off of different virtues. It is a very well thought-out world, and many scenes were quite heart-stopping as you had no idea what the sadist villain was going to come up with next (don’t you just love a terribly wicked bad guy?).

Would I recommend it? Sure thing. A good fiction is hard to find these days, and I would qualify this as good enough. I’ll certainly be reading the next two books when they’re available in paperback.

However, I will say this. I’d much sooner allow my kids to read Hunger Games long before I hand Divergent over to them. It’s not as sexual, Katniss isn’t all googly-eyed and wounded by Cupid, and the lines of good vs. evil aren’t so blurred.

What are your thoughts on the book? Which series do you like better? Share your thoughts below.

Weighing Two Lives

I love biographies. And to me, the thicker, the better.

Probably because I want to know every juicy piece of information on the subject I’m studying.

I recently read two very different biographies.

You’ve heard of both men.

Both were great, their names are immortal, left lasting legacies, were geniuses in their own rights.

One was all-American, while the other was favored throughout all of England, and eventually the world.

One as born in the 18th century, the other in the following century.

One helped found a country, the other entertained audiences the world over.

John_Adams_bookJohn Adams, the brains behind the Constitution and advocate of secession from Britain, and second president of the United States, lived a moral, upright life. Though he was criticized and stabbed in the back nearly all his professional life, he loved life, loved his family, and kept his friends close.

Charles Dickens, many may be surprised to hear (as I was), was quite the opposite. Yet, he lived the life every artist dreams, while Adams felt his duty was in some way a curse, yet he stood firm, carrying his tasks faithfully and uncomplainingly.

Dickens was celebrated as the world’s greatest author and storyteller during his lifetime, yet he was unhappy with his life. He hated his wife, despised his children, disowned his father, and was ashamed of his siblings. He was an unhappy man with a short temper, and loose with women who caught his attention.

Claire-Tomalin-Charles-Dickens-A-Life-195x300

Adams, the weight of a new and shaky country placed on his shoulders, yet happy, loving, joyful, grateful, loved, and honored.

Dickens, blessed with fame and talent, yet discontent, angry, full of hatred and an unforgiving spirit.

There is sufficient evidence that John Adams was a believer and lover of God. While Dickens gives no such claim or shows no devotion outside his works. Dickens showed interest in merely himself and his wallet, while Adams spent himself fully on his fellow man and for the good of others, yet still found time to give his love and devotion to his family.

It’s an interesting study of comparison.

It’s funny, because I’ve been a fan of Charles Dickens for several years, but now, I’m not so sure I respect his memory much. However, my esteem and love for our Federalist president and founder has gone through the roof. Truly a man worth modeling one’s life and values after.

Truly a great man, and definitely a wonderful read which I’ll be returning to several more times.

Got John Adams’s biography by David McCullough here.

Get Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin here.

The Man in the Box, Chapter 5 (pt. 2)

In previous chapters, we learn that Robbie has been fired from his posh job, and his relationship with his kids and wife is a bit strained. But then, he finds himself in another world after he steps inside a cardboard box…

Be sure to Like The Man in the Box on Facebook for your chance to win a free autographed copy. More details here.

Chapter 5 (pt. 2)

Soon the jungle trees cleared away. The greenery subsided, the leaves became sparse and the rolling ground became flat. Surrounding them now was nothing but a barren wasteland littered with armchair-sized rocks lying next to large holes in the ground.

Robbie was startled when he saw a young boy scurrying away from them like a frightened animal. The boy, wearing an old tattered cloak like Hail, disappeared into the ground through one of the holes. A minute later he noticed people’s heads popping up from several of the scattered holes. All around them people came crawling out of the ground like timid meerkats.

Groups of people and individuals alike began dragging themselves out from most of the holes. Their clothing was all identical – burlap robes and garments held up by thin ropes that wrapped around their waists. Their hair was ragged and tangled in messes and though no one was skeletal, there wasn’t a single person who looked plump or well fed. As they came out from underground they stood around in small groups. They looked cautiously at Robbie and Hail who were making their way through. Once they walked past them, varying people lifted their heads toward the duo and Robbie could almost detect tiny glimpses of glee in their eyes. Their skin colors were diverse; some were white, others black, all dark from sun exposure.

“Where are we?” asked Robbie, just loud enough for Hail to hear.

“We’re in Langly,” she answered.

As soon as she said this, Robbie felt a pair of hands graze over his shoulders from behind. He defensively turned around, pulling away from the unwelcome gesture. When he turned, the sun suddenly seemed to shine brighter, and everyone besides the strawberry-blond haired woman standing before him vanished from his sight. Her smile made Robbie’s stomach do things he could barely recall from a past distant life, and one word stood out in his mind:

Help.

As in, Help me to breathe. Help me to think. Help me to talk. And, Help me to not look too stupid when I attempt any of these things in front of this woman. But, since Robbie’s love-struck self-conscience had eliminated everyone around him, there was no help to be found. Her face tilted down and her cheeks reddened as she shrugged her shoulders. “You’re exactly as I imagined you to be,” she said.

“Er, thanks,” said Robbie, not sure how exactly to respond to that. He was certain he would have remembered her if they had ever met before.

“I’m so glad you’re finally with us,” the young woman continued. She opened her arms and asked, “May I?”

Only for the rest of our lives, thought Robbie.

When they embraced, Hail said, “Robbie, meet Sarcadui. She will be your guide to the ocean.”

Robbie stiffened. This was not at all what he expected a Sarcadui to look like. He stepped back and examined her.

“He’s a bit intimidated by you,” said Hail.

Robbie shooshed her away with his hand and said, “I am not.” Then to Sarcadui, he insisted, “Really, I’m not. I was before I met you, but now I’m not.”

“So I’m not intimidating?” asked Sarcadui, crossing her arms.

“Well. I don’t mean that,” faltered Robbie. “It’s just. You’re intimidating in a good sort of way, like when you want to be …I think.”

“Told you,” Hail muttered to Sarcadui.

Sarcadui laughed, placing her hand on Robbie’s shoulder. “Welcome back home, Robbie Lake,” she said with a warm smile.

She looked to be in her early twenties. Her long hair fell lazily past her shoulders, and she was dressed in the same dirty-beige garment as everyone else around them. Her sharp blue eyes and alluring smile set her apart from everyone else. Another difference was that she wore around her waist a satchel that hung from the rope-belt which a knife handle protruded from.

“I can’t tell you how glad we are that you’re finally here! We were beginning to wonder if you’d ever come back.” Her voice was soothing and he wanted to hear more of it. Then her attention turned to Hail. “Hail, I’m proud of you. I secretly hoped I’d be the one to find him, but since I wasn’t, I’m glad it was you.”

“You should have seen it. I almost killed him. I thought he was an impostor,” Hail laughed.

To Robbie’s surprise Sarcadui and some others in the crowd laughed along with her, as if murdering him were some inside joke. He was more than a bit insulted.

“Well good work,” said Sarcadui when the laughter died down. Then she snapped her attention back to Robbie. “All these years we had people stationed up in the Walei Caves to await your arrival. This week was actually Hail’s first time up there. Once they’re of age to be out alone, everyone is required to serve their time in the cave waiting for you. I imagine the clothes tipped her off that it was you. That’s why we all dress like this, as unflattering as it is. Since no one alive knows what you look like, we had to rely on the stories that insisted on you wearing otherworldly clothes.” Then, changing her tune, she said with a grin, “So it looks like we’ve got quite a journey ahead of us.”

Needless to say, he was more than happy to go anywhere with this pulchritudinous woman. If she asked him to follow her into a volcano, he’d be more than happy to oblige. However, there was still something he needed cleared up before he followed her too far.

“Maybe you can tell me where we are,” said Robbie. “Like, are we talking Africa, Australia, the Western hemisphere? I know it’s weird, but I really don’t even know how I got here. My guess is that my plane crashed and I hit my head and wandered off from the crash site or something. So if you could maybe humor me with something I can work with, I’d appreciate that.”

Sarcadui laughed and said, “I don’t really know much about what lies outside of Reveloin. I’ve certainly never heard of Afreeka, or Western Hesmephere.”

“Hemisphere,” Robbie corrected.

“Sorry. But I can tell you all about Reveloin. I used to love going to the Walei Caverns just to splash around in the water and laugh while I waited for you. The echoes made it sound like others were laughing with me but really I was alone, so I could act as foolish as I wanted.” Robbie couldn’t help but notice her loose garment swirling around her slender figure. It almost made up for the fact that she had no interest in helping him gain his bearings.

“But the Walei Caverns isn’t my favorite place,” she continued. “My favorite place is the mountain tops on Candy Ridge. Or used to be, anyway.”

A man standing nearby stepped forward and handed Robbie a small rock, which he took out of obligation. “They say that long ago you could actually taste the rocks and trees and they’d be sweet,” said the man. “Go on. Taste it.”

Robbie looked skeptically at him. “Give it a lick,” the man urged.

To humor him, Robbie stuck his tongue out and dragged the rough rock against it, which sponged all the moisture off of his tongue. He grimaced at the dirty, gritty taste in his mouth. Everyone looked at him with eager anticipation.

“How does it taste?” asked Sarcadui.

“Disgusting,” said Robbie, attempting to build saliva back up in his mouth with obnoxious tongue clicking.

Hail broke the disappointed silence with a gleeful bit of laughter. “He fell for it! He’s just as weird as he dresses!”

“Hail,” snapped Sarcadui, “it wasn’t supposed to be a joke. We thought things would go back to normal since he’s here.” Then a smile broke onto her face and she turned to Robbie and said, “Still, it was rather funny to see your reaction. But don’t feel too badly.” And here, she whispered to him out of the side of her mouth: “I’ve tried to eat some leaves from the mountains more than once.”

“Why in the world would you do that?” asked Robbie.

“Don’t you remember? When you were here, everything was edible. Of course, I wasn’t alive yet at the time, but still, I’ve heard all the stories. But there are other things I like to do other than try to find remnants of the past world. Like swimming in the rivers that flow in and out of the jungles, and exploring the abandoned towns where the cowboys used to fight. And sometimes if I’m feeling brave I like to visit the swamplands, but never at night of course. I’m always well hidden every night, no matter where I am. You can never be too careful once the sun’s gone down. And they say that before I was born, fairies existed and flew around freely at night lighting up the sky so that you couldn’t tell the difference between their magic dust and the stars above. But they don’t come out anymore because they’re too afraid. It’s always been my dream to see a real fairy.

“But listen to me, telling you about your own world as if you’ve never been here. Now that you’re back, maybe you can show me things I’ve never seen before. Oh, and I like diamonds. I don’t know why. I just have a thing for diamonds. But they’re much harder to find than you’d think.”

In spite of himself Robbie laughed along with his new friend. She just wasn’t going to accept the truth that he had never been to this place. Still, her mirth was hopelessly contagious.

“Do you think it’s him?” asked an older gentleman from the crowd.

Sarcadui looked at the man, then stared intently at Robbie. Robbie was hypnotized by her gaze, getting lost in her pearly blue eyes, and again the world seemed to stand still.  After a long moment she declared, “Yes. It’s him.”

The people began to smile one by one, and some started crying, stretching their hands out toward him. “What do they want?” asked Robbie, trying not to seem insolent.

Sarcadui laughed and said delightedly, “They want to welcome you here. They’ve been waiting for you for many years.”

“You mean they’ve all been expecting me?”

The people continued to put their hands on him.

“We’ve been waiting for this day for a long time,” repeated Sarcadui, punctuating the point.

Robbie was too weary to face the absurdity of this situation, so he simply succumbed to playing the role of the welcomed guest and smiled politely, trying hard not to stiffen against the nauseating odor that emanated from the large group of unkempt people.

Sarcadui, noticing his uneasiness, laughed and said, “Relax. You’re their hero.”

“What for?” Robbie managed, holding his breath. “I didn’t do anything for them.”

“But you’re going to. We’re expecting you to save us from everything that’s wrong in this world, and restore order in our lives.” Then she added, as if the idea just hit her, “We should have a party in your honor. Though, it can’t last too long since it’ll be dark soon.”

The crowd immediately dispersed with shouts of excitement to prepare for the celebration. Sarcadui led Robbie to a rock and told him to stay put while she joined the busy crowd.

He still had so many questions to ask. Where exactly was Reveloin? Who were these people? How was he expected to save them? But the question that haunted him the most was, who—or what—did they have to hide from every night?

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