Well, here it is. My first completed work in over a year. It’s not exactly one of the epics I’ve been focusing on lately, but it’s a lot of fun, a great adventure, and more importantly, very me.
This is a story I love to tell. And it’s just as quirky as me. So without further ado, here it is….
…..oh, and remember this is just the first chapter. There bigger things to come. (Read: robots). Enjoy!
By Mikel Andrews
Nothing short of a miracle will get me back to Cookhurst for that stupid fair.
That’s what April Bennet told me three weeks ago. But her and I were both walking up Cherry Avenue to the Lilypad Days carnival. The smell of fried everything and licks of jingles were growing stronger with each step. To my right was Mrs. Panaczech’s rambler. Her extended family was spaced out in collapsible chairs, sipping cheap beer in neon cozies. Most of them didn’t have shirts. They watched April and me as though we were the parade that ended two hours ago.
“Look at those fucking lawn ornaments,” April commented, pushing her little rectangular spectacles up onto the nest of her blond hair. I would have liked to believe she was talking about the purple, wire-legged flamingos, but I knew her better than that. The Panaczechs—unquestionably within earshot—glowered at her.
“God, Marc, why did I come back here? Name one thing.”
“Your best friend since second grade?” I suggested. “Cotton candy?”
“How was school, April?”
She sighed and swatted at a mosquito; one of the many that were lingering too long into the afternoon. “It’s all paradise.”
“Yeah,” she said. She forced a smile and let her guard crumble a bit. “How was school for you?”
“Good,” I replied. “Philosophy is murdering my GPA.”
She nodded. “Are you ready to leave the state yet? Get more than a tank of gas away from Cookhurst?”
Up near the entrance to carnival, a chocolate waterfall of hair let loose from its band and shook out, catching a sheen from the sun. Those cocoa strands cascaded down the back of a tight-cut red shirt—flannel pattern, rolled sleeves—to a pair of cutoff jean shorts. Long bronze legs created an A-frame and a winter-white smile flicked over her shoulder as she glanced behind her, laughing.
I tried to put my hand in my pocket. I missed.
“Marcus,” April said. She snapped her fingers. “No. Please, please no.”
“No what?” I said, not looking away from the girl.
“Please tell me that ‘no’ is the answer to ‘are you still pining over Callie Brechtold?’”
“No you aren’t or no that isn’t the answer?”
April cursed as she was so prone to doing. She tugged at her black tank top awkwardly and shoved her hands in the back pockets of her too-tight jeans. “Figures.”
If my life were a movie, Callie Brechtold would be the girl everyone would be rooting for me to get. But, unlike a movie, I never, ever would. Ever.
Everybody who saw Callie Brechtold knew her story. Valedictorian, class president, head cheerleader—if you could imagine it, it was probably true.
Callie Brechtold was one of those girls that guys like me had to call by their first and last name. She was royalty, both literally and figuratively. Her dad was the mayor of Cookhurst. I’m sure if you looked back into the oldest laws of the town, I wasn’t allowed to talk to her.
Fortunately, I had only broken that law maybe six or seven times in my whole life.
“You do remember she forgot your name, right?” April asked.
“That was a long time ago.”
“That was Graduation,” April reminded me. “And she had a list of all the names right in front of her.”
I sighed, scratching the shaggy hair that became curly at the base of my neck. April’s memory was like lightning that always struck, always shattered. “Thanks.”
I felt like I was sinking into the sidewalk; the cobblestone suckling my ankles, dragging me down. My shoulders slumped. I couldn’t help it. Callie Brechtold was my Kryptonite, if Kryptonite affected nerdy college freshmen with ancient crushes.
I had only just dusted off the memory and it was already time to shelve it. At least I hadn’t done something stupid like try to talk to her.
“Hey, Callie!” April shouted. Her voice carried like a bullet, straight ahead. “Wait up!”
My cheeks became ignited oil drums. I waited for my lungs to let go a death rattle. My ears felt like searing hot pins were pricking through the cartilage.
Callie’s head turned our way like a bit from The Exorcist. So did the heads of her entourage; a flurry of amber reds and golden blondes.
“What are you doing?” I whispered through gritted teeth.
April shrugged. “I’m doing the best friend thing.”
“No, you’re not.”
“I was harsh, Marc,” she said, reaching up to clamp a hand on my shoulder. “Let me fix this.”
She trotted on ahead, strolling right up to Callie Brechtold like a best friend. My feet slogged through the molten masonry as I followed her. I couldn’t even imagine the shade of red my face had taken.
Callie gave a warm, diplomatic smile that dimpled her cheeks all too sweetly. Lizzie Purkett and Wendy Murphy mimicked her perfectly, while Stacy Castle kept her face like cold stone.
“April Bennet,” Callie announced as if she were introducing guests at a ball. “How are you?”
“Just swell, Callie. Yourself?” April replied.
“Never better. Too gorgeous out, right?” Callie told her. “How was school—NYU, was it?”
April was caught off guard; confirming my theory that April just wanted to prove how forgettable she was.
“Super fun,” April answered mockingly, barely missing a beat. “Where’s your sash?”
It was like watching a sword fight. I winced, waiting for the next parry.
Callie squinted for a second, like April had just burst into flames, then continued. “Back home with my dress. I wasn’t going to wear that flouncy thing around all afternoon.”
My mind raced back to last summer when Callie had been crowned Miss Cookhurst. Not exactly surprising, which is probably why I’d forgotten it. There was April’s specialty again—memory like lightning.
I must have finally drifted close enough to Callie’s radar because she looked right at me with those cool coffee eyes and smiled. “Hey, Marc.”
“Hey, Callie—” I said and finished the rest in my head—Brechtold.
“Cute shirt,” she said. She reached out and gently fixed my collar.
Is this for real? Why’d I wear turquoise? I hate turquoise. This is happening.
It was a really inconvenient time to pass out so I managed to stay conscious.
“Thanks,” I replied. “I…bought it.”
Callie giggled and bit her lower lip. “Good job, I guess? Marc, you’re hilarious. What are you guys doing for the coronation?”
“The what?” April laughed. “We’re not—”
“We’re not sure what we’re doing yet!” I blurted out. April stared at me. Hard. Her lips had pressed into a thin, flat line. I shrugged using my face. She wanted to play ball? I’d show her I could knock it out of the park.
“Oh yeah?” Callie pushed.
“Yeah, well, you know,” I went on. “So many good vantage points to choose from.”
Vantage points? April mouthed silently. I gave another face shrug.
“Yeah, exactly,” Callie said, nodding. “Especially with the airshow this year.”
“What air show?” I replied.
“Oh, you didn’t hear?” Callie said, genuinely surprised. “My dad thought there was too much time in between the coronation and the fireworks, so he hired the Crimson Gulls to do a show in between!”
“The Crimson Gulls?” April said, acid dripping from each word. “Am I supposed to know what that means?”
Callie gave another diplomatic smile. “They’re a group of trick pilots that specialize in seaplanes. Pretty big in Europe.”
“I bet they are,” April said accusingly.
“Sounds awesome,” I said, cutting April off before any more snark spewed forth.
“For sure! They’re out on Candelabra Island setting up right now,” Callie explained. Candelabra Island sat dead center in the middle of Pleasant Lake. The lake was huge and the island was barely a speck from any, ahem, vantage point on shore. Just like when I was a kid, the mere mention of it conjured up all the stories I’d heard about Candelabra Island. That it was a trading post for hooch during Prohibition, or that it was a mass grave for some Native American war. That it was haunted. That it didn’t exist on any map the government had. That it was the forgotten 14th colony.
I didn’t say they were all good stories.
“Candelabra Island,” I repeated, and lost my gaze to the clouds.
When I snapped back to reality, I found Callie regarding me strangely. Her lower lip was again tucked under her pearly white teeth and she had the queerest squint. “Why don’t you come sit with us?”
“What?” Stacy Castle asked.
“Yeah,” I agreed. “What?”
Callie laughed again. “For the fireworks, I mean. We have a great spot right on the beach—so I can get there fast after I crown the new Miss Cookhurst. You and April could come sit with us—we have plenty of blankets.”
“B-blankets,” I stuttered. Just picturing it was more than I could handle. Before I let any sort of fantasy overtake my higher brain functions, I looked at April apologetically. While she looked a little green around the gills, I could tell she knew how much this meant to me. Between a slow blink, she gave the slightest ‘go ahead’ nod.
Now that was the best friend thing.
“So?” Callie asked.
“So,” I said. “We’re in.”
Stacy Castle hissed like she was leaking air. With a shake of her head, she turned away and headed toward the line for the Tilt-a-Whirl.
“Perfect,” Callie said, grinning. “Coronation is at five, so try to be there a little early.”
“Can do,” I said. “Thanks.”
“Don’t mention it,” Callie told me. Then she turned—an ethereal shimmy—and followed after Stacy with Lizzie and Wendy in tow.
She turned back only once to say, “Oh, and save me a seat, will you, Marc?”
* * *
“Way to go, jackass.”
April backhanded my arm—again—nearly sending my smoothie tumbling. I looked down at her as she shook her head and popped a few cheese curds into her mouth.
“Will you get over it?” I spat. “This was your idea.”
A single finger rose in the air, nail polish like obsidian. “No, no, no. I never said ‘let’s watch them crown a new floozy with the human burlesque show back there.’”
I quirked an eyebrow. “Is there an inhuman burlesque show?”
“You know what I mean,” April said, mouth full of cheese.
“Look, you certainly had no problem when you were throwing me into the fire by yelling out to Callie,” I told her. “Now you’re gonna pay the price.”
“This is going to kill me,” April groaned. “You know how many people are going to see us with them?”
“It’s going to be downright memorable.”
“Exactly!” she squealed. “I’m doomed.”
I was about to agree with her when I felt some bony, spindly fingers digging in my back pocket. My wallet pocket.
“Hey!” I cried out, spinning to face the culprit. Nobody was there, but I felt the tugging continue from behind me.
“Oh my god!” April shouted.
Panic gripped my heart. I fully expected a bullet through the chest, though I had no freaking idea what that would feel like. The momentum yanked my wallet free of my pocket. It stung me, like someone had just pulled free a vital organ. My whole life was in that wallet, including my means to return to school.
I spun around again, hoping to finally catch a glimpse of the thief. I’m not sure who I expected to see, but I promise you that I never, ever expected the truth.
Darting away through the streets was a tiny monkey wearing a vest. The fine-furred creature dodged and weaved through the legs of the crowd, making its escape.
I stood there stunned, jaw lolling open. Speechless.
“Dude,” April said, taking her hand away from her mouth. “Did you just get pickpocketed by a monkey?”
I blinked a couple times. I had, in fact, been pickpocketed by a monkey.
“Hey, hey!” April shouted, pointing. “The little shit is going into that trailer!”
“Where?” I said, squinting and shielding my eyes from the sun with my smoothie.
“There!” April clarified uselessly. “Right up there. Just before the Ferris Wheel.”
And, just like that, we were chasing the tiny, vested monkey that had Shanghaied my wallet through the Lilypad Days carnival.
– TO BE CONTINUED –