Monday, February 18, 2013
1st 5 Pages February Workshop - Nolen Rev 2
Historical Fantasy/Middle Grade
The Dry /revision two
There was a lot of dark in the house in Jeffersonville, Virginia, several long halls, lots of doorways, and countless deep corners. Shadows lurked like monsters waiting to pounce until morning light shattered them.
Elliot Sweeney liked mornings. He spread his arms to embrace the sun's warmth. He picked up the photograph he had unearthed last night, buried beneath rodent-soaked newsprint in an old cupboard crammed between other discards that shared the attic with him. Who was the boy next to his Uncle Nat? If it was his long lost cousin, why was his picture hidden in the attic?
He pushed the photo into a pocket. Then he gathered string, his favorite marble, a compass, and an empty fountain pen, and put them in other pockets.
He folded his father's letter and put it in an inside pocket, next to his heart.
He had a lot of pockets.
The skitter-scratch of tiny claws on wood made his skin creep. His father told him creaks and groans were natural to an old house. But when his father left for the newspaper assignment several months ago, the creaks and groans grew to a clodhopping clatter that could not be natural.
Now, he made it his business to leave the house every day, and stay away all day.
He tip-toed down the stairs. As he approached his uncle's study door he heard the 'clink' 'clink' 'clink' of coins and the low mutterings of Uncle Nat counting his money. As he reached the landing, the study door opened behind him. He turned to face his uncle.
The old man peered down at him. "Why are you still here?"
"My father hasn't returned."
"Is that my fault?"
"No, sir, but -"
"Never mind! I'm busy." His uncle shut the door.
Elliot stared at the closed door. He didn't understand. He would never understand. He ran the rest of the way down the stairs.
In the kitchen he filled his father's army-issue canteen with water, and a glass besides.
The back door opened. The cook arrived, dabbing sweat from her red face. She motioned him nearer. "Is today one of your business days?"
She took a small loaf of bread from the pantry and handed it to him. He stuffed it in a pocket and said, "Thank you."
She put a finger to her mouth. "You know not to disturb your uncle."
He nodded and watched her pull something from her apron. She grabbed his empty hand, put a wad of paper money in his palm and curled his fingers around it. She bent close and whispered, "For new shoes. Twelve-year-old boys are growing boys."
How had she known he needed new shoes? He pulled her close enough to smell the tar soap she used and said in her ear, "I'll pay you back."
Her eyes were wet as she shooed him away with her apron.
The front door closed behind him with a sound like a sigh. He clambered down the plank steps to the sapling he worked to keep alive in the deathly dry. Something squirmed at his feet. It was a fishing worm twisting in the dust. He picked it up and laid it under a leaf at the base of his little tree and dumped the water from his glass over it.
"You saved that worm," the man's voice startled Elliot.
He looked up at the gawky man smiling down at him from the other side of the yard's iron fence. Everyone in town thought Morgan Johns was simple. They called him a changeling, but Elliot liked him so he said, "No use in letting something like that die."
"This dry 's just about killin' ever-thing."
"I got somethin'." The man held out a shiny watch case. "Here."
"I can't take that off you."
"It's mine so I can give it to you."
Elliot shook his head. "But why?"
"I see you go down to the station ever day waitin' for yer paw. You gonna need this watch. Open it."
Elliot took the watch. He popped the case open. All the dials and levers clicked and turned inside the crystal of the watch face. It ticked loudly. But the watch ran backward. It was just about the strangest but most beautiful thing he'd ever seen. He looked up at Morgan John's smooth face, the way his eyelids blinked slow over large eyes, the glint of silver in his mouth.
The man nodded. "Can you read the time on it?"
"It says eight o'clock."
"See? I can too. We about the only two people in the world, I reckon, can tell its time. So you take it."
"Maybe. Okay. Just today."
"You goin' to the station?"
"The train's due at nine. Might be early. Sometimes is."
"Okay. See you again, Elliot Sweeney."
Morgan Johns left with his long awkward strides towards the other side of the dirt road. Mule-drawn wagons swayed past. Some loads were the size of small houses. Dust billowed, floating like a red haze. When he looked again, Morgan Johns was gone.
He took off for the station, his mouth dry already. He kicked at small pebbles. He couldn't give in to thirst. The water in the canteen had to last all day. A messenger in an old uniform hurried past. He hoped what news he carried wasn't bad. He would never forget the telegram. Sam Sweeney disappeared, it read. Disappeared. Just like the children he went looking for. His stomach hurt thinking about it still. This marked the ninety-first day since he began his vigil. The ninety-second since his father left.
But something strange took a-hold of him this morning. He had a feeling deep inside where it mattered most that today would be different.
The station looked empty. That meant he had time before the train's arrival to read the newspaper's headlines. It was good to practice reading. He crossed the platform to the news stand. He spotted a drawing of his father's face on the front page. His heart did a double-time thump. Why? He read the caption:
SEARCH ABANDONED ~ For missing Newspaper man ~Well-known for his Campaign Against CHILD LABOR
The approaching train whistled and whooshed into the station bringing with it every kind of dust and dry from fourteen counties around. Elliot stared at the line of cars, listened to the huffing train engine, sucked in the throat-drying diesel smoke. No! Not even if every human on the face of this old earth gave up on his father, he would not! He would find his father.
With a lump the size of a fist in his throat, he bought a ticket and boarded