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Stories from the Verse
Old Verses New
Chapter 3: Brown 1
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Derek Jacob Brown awoke again; he was still in the nightmare, although it had taken a new form.
The nightmare began with that new Rapid Responder video game controller he'd bought with his birthday money. Bobby Peterson had been trying it, and threw it on the floor when the Dragon Phoenix ate him–that is, ate his game character. Derek was furious; it was an expensive controller, and if it broke he couldn't replace it. He yelled at Bobby, who left, and then he picked it up to see if it was all right. It was leaking something, a gold metallic liquid, and when he touched it he got a nasty shock and blacked out.
He thought he woke up again, but it had to be a dream. He dreamed that he was in a strange world, sitting on fake grass, with a lot of his favorite things scattered around him. Then, after what seemed forever, the sun came up, and a plant attacked him with laser beams, repeatedly burning him until he collapsed.
Now he dreamed he was awake again. His skin was a bit tender, but there were no burns. The pain in his stomach, however, was something to which he would have to attend. Dream or not, he was hungry. He had awakened next to a dirt road through the woods, and thought the best chance he had to find food was to follow it. Dry colored leaves covered a good part of the road, but had been disturbed by the tracks of wheels and of horse hooves. He wondered which way to go, but there was nothing here to tell him. He gathered and packed his things on his bicycle, and started walking.
He didn't usually walk much. He didn't like gym, or sports, or outdoor stuff at all. He mostly played video games, and talked to his friends about video games. The most exercise he got was riding his bicycle to school, a very cool eighteen-speed mountain bike on which his Uncle Ralph mounted the dorkiest large baskets. Uncle Ralph said he would appreciate them someday, and now he did; between the baskets and the leather and canvas backpack he used as a book bag he was able to carry all of his things. But the back tire was flat, something he'd meant to fix before school returned in the fall, but not really needed for his summer plans of playing video games and surfing the Internet. So he wasn't really in shape for hiking, and he hadn't pushed the bike too far before he was rather tired. Fortunately, a house came into view.
It was a very large house, far back from the road, and surrounded by an iron rail fence built on stone pillars. It looked old, and had several chimneys rising from it; at the moment, smoke curled from only one of these, near the back corner. The yard was unkempt, as if it were fine landscape and gardens not too many years before but had been let go more recently. He walked along the fence until he found an open gate through which ran a dirt drive. He wondered that someone living in such a big home wouldn't have a paved driveway; however, given that the road was also dirt, they must be quite far from the nearest town. He walked toward the house.
There was another building on his right. It looked like a big garage, but the breeze coming from it smelled like a barn. The smell upset his already distressed stomach, and he hastened past it. He started toward the front door, but then thought an old house this big probably had been broken up into apartments by now. The driveway which led around to the back appeared well traveled, and he had seen smoke from the chimney there, so that was the door to try.
Parking his bicycle at the bottom of the steps, he walked up to the door, and wondered what he would say. Please, ma'am, could I have some food? Maybe this was a mistake; maybe he should just curl up in the woods somewhere, and hope to wake up in a hospital bed or something. There was no reason at this point to be afraid—but he had seen a lot of horror movies, and he knew that the scariest parts always came just when you felt comfortable and safe. The house was old, spooky in a way, but there was no reason to think it was other than an old spooky house.
That was why he was afraid. There was never a reason to expect danger the moment before it came, and he had no reason to expect it now.
Yet the hunger in the pit of his stomach wouldn't let him leave. He could smell the wood fire, and now also the hint of something cooking, and it made his mouth water and his stomach ache more. Surely they would spare a bit of food for a lost twelve year old boy. Besides, if they killed him, maybe his stomach would stop hurting, and maybe he would wake up. He knocked on the door.
He stood there for what seemed an eternity, but heard nothing and saw no one. Perhaps no one was home; maybe they didn't want to see anyone. Maybe this was the wrong door. But he had knocked, and it would be rude to walk away without giving them a chance to get to the door. Maybe they were in the bathroom or something. Anyway, he didn't know whether to knock again or try another door. It might be a bit silly going around this big old house knocking on all the doors. He pictured someone inside, shouting "I'm coming", echoing through the halls, as they tried to get from one door to another to answer his knocks. It was just the sort of thing Bobby Peterson would do, or at least would say he had done when kids were bragging on the playground. But he wasn't here to play stupid jokes on people. He was hungry, and hoping to get a bite to eat.
Abruptly the door opened, and a towering, dark-eyed, dark-haired man in a black suit stood before him. "May I help you?" he said.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with eight other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #74: Another Novel. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: