On Friday, November 7th we had a group reading with 5 fabulous authors! They all read an original story. Over the next few days I’ll be posting some of those stories for those of you that couldn’t make the event or just wanted another read of the wonderful stories!
The Not-So-Big Sleep
By Denise Hamilton
The year that I turned 11, my father lost his job and the two of us moved across the county to Pasadena because his old high school friend Rob was fixing up something called a California bungalow and said we could live there rent free if we didn’t mind the smell of damp plaster and sawdust.
Rob bleached his hair white blond and got up every morning at 4 am to go surfing. Soon my Dad began to accompany him. New words crept into his vocabulary, such as “tubular” and “dakine.” And ‘‘brewski,’ as in “My body’s still on East Coast time, bro, and the sun’s already set in NYC, so let’s crack those brewskis.”
When I pointed out that it was November, when the sun set by 3:45 pm in New York, which meant it was barely past noon here, Dad took a thirsty swallow and shook his head.
“D’ya hear that, Rob?” he said. “God save you from ever having a smart-alecky kid.”
I looked at Rob, who had a brewski in one hand and a box of Clairol “Nice n Easy Born Blonde” in the other. He smiled bemusedly, then brought the edge of the Clairol box to his belly and began to scratch the exposed flesh, making a rasping noise.
“I’m not planning on breeding anytime soon, dude,” Rob said.
“Well that’s good,” I said. “But even if you do, you won’t have to worry about the ‘smart’ part.”
“See what I mean,” Dad bellowed, pretending to swat me as I scampered away.
Bored, I wandered to the garage, snapped on my blades and took off to explore my new hometown. You could really cover the miles on roller-blades. I’d taken $5 from Dad’s wallet and after awhile, I found a taco stand with a long line – always a good sign – where I wolfed down two dripping, greasy and satisfying cochinita pibil tacos and then spent five minutes scrubbing the red grease from my fingers.
Soon I found myself on Colorado Boulevard, cruising past shops and restaurants that gave off mouthwatering aromas, like they had a giant fan just inside the door, strategically set up to blow the good smells onto the street and entice people to come in and spend a lot of money.
You might not think an 11 year old would know words like entice, but since I’m on my own so much, I read alot. I think I read every book in my old school library, including some ancient ones with frayed cloth covers that probably weren’t meant for children due to all the heaving naked bosom descriptions.
But anyway, that’s why the sign caught my eye. Vroman’s Books, it read.
I scoped out a place to stash my blades behind some bushes in the parking lot, slipped on the flip-flops I always keep in my backpack and strolled in to investigate.
Hours later, I was still there, wandering around in a fevered trance that all book people can relate to and non-book people think is just weird. There were two floors, and plenty of nooks and crannies where you could sit and read. There was even a cafe downstairs where I ordered juice and sat awhile, listening to the music and watching it get dark outside. Then I went back upstairs.
Yes, indeed, this was some bookstore! And the YA section? It was like being in a gourmet candy store. I mean, there were all these books I’d never even heard of neatly arranged by category. It was tons better than Barnes & Noble.
When I told the clerk I liked future dystopia books, she recommended a bunch I’d never even heard off and showed me where to find them. She really seemed to know a lot about the authors and I got the feeling she might have even read some of them. It turned out that she was a fan of Philip Reeves’ Mortal Engine series too. How cool was that?
So when she recommended The Maze Runner by James Dashner, I pulled it off the shelf and began reading. After awhile, my legs got sore from standing after all that skating so I sat on the floor behind a chair, leaning against it, and got more comfortable.
Hours must have passed, because suddenly I startled awake, the book sprawled open on my chest. I was slumped against the stacks, my limbs cramped, my legs numb. It was ghostly dark, with only a dim fluorescent light flickering somewhere nearby. And most of all, it was eerily quiet.
I struggled to my feet, wiping off the crusted drool with the palm of one hand. and felt a rising sense of panic.
I was all alone in the bookstore, at night. Somehow, no one had noticed me curled up behind the chair, fast asleep, when closing time came. I’d been locked in.
What time was it? How long had I been here? I pulled out my phone, but it was out of charge. I’d been bugging Dad for weeks to replace the battery because it drained so fast.
Would I really be trapped here all night?. I felt like the girl in The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, except I hadn’t planned to away from home and I didn’t have a brother to keep me company. All of a sudden, I wanted to be home so badly, even though home was a bungalow filled with planks of wood, power tools with long trailing cords and my Dad and Rob singing “Gotta Keep Em Separated” at the top of their lungs.
“Hello?” I called. “Is anybody there?”
There was no reply.
For what seemed like a long time, I stood there, listening for footfalls and weird noises. Then I listened to the silence. For the first time ever, it felt ominous, like it was alive, just waiting to pounce on me.
When my big toe nudged something. I almost screamed. Then I realized it was just the book I’d been reading. The Maze Runner. I was stuck in a maze too. A maze of tall bookshelves in the dark. What would the kids in the Maze Runner do? Why, they’d explore different routes out of the maze.
I knew I had to get downstairs. There were windows there that looked out onto the street. I’m not sure why I grabbed the book. It was like a talisman. Yeah, I know that word too. Actually, it’s used a lot in fantasy books. So I took it and crept downstairs.
At the cash registers downstairs, I stopped. The ghostly light illuminated the counter displays. Man, was I hungry all of a sudden. It had been hours since I ate. And those Free Trade chocolate bars looked awfully tempting. Before I knew it, I’d ripped off the paper and gobbled down two. It wasn’t stealing, really. I could do some painting for Rob on the weekends and he’d pay me and then I could pay Vroman’s back. But now I needed a mint to cleanse my palate. Ooh, so many to choose from. Cinnamon Altoids? Don’t mind if I do.
I found a box of stationary and a pretty pen, tore them out of their display casings and wrote an IOU out to Vroman’s. Then I spied a clip-on light, one of those cool little gadgets you attach to the book when you want to read in bed when the other person is asleep. I grabbed that too.
I went behind the counter to try the phones, but couldn’t get a dial tone. I tried pressing different buttons, and combinations of buttons, to no avail. Then I tried just calling 911, but that didn’t go through either. In frustration, I threw the phone back into its receiver.
Then I made my way to the glass doors. Locked! Sticking my nose against the cold glass, I saw a courtyard. It was empty. I pounded and hollered and yelled help, but no one came.
But this was the back of the building. I’d go around to the front, the way I’d come in on Colorado Boulevard. There would be people walking around. I wanted to run, but, afraid I’d trip in the dark, I made myself walk carefully. Then I had a brainstorm. The nightlight. I turned it on, and it cast a decent light for several feet in front of me.
On I marched. But oh no! I couldn’t get to the front windows. The cafe stood in my way, and it was closed up tight for the night. Slowly, I explored the entire perimeter of the store. There was a set of windows on the southeast corner, but when I peered out, I didn’t see anyone on the streets. It must be very late. It sure felt late. I stood there, my breath misting up the cold glass, looking out, for a very long time. Two cars drove past, but they couldn’t see me, jumping up and down, pounding madly on the glass and waving.
Should I try to break the glass and get out? I ransacked the shelves, found the heaviest book I could and flung it against the glass. It thudded dully and bounced back.
By now, I was defeated and tired. With my reading light, I wandered around the shelves and displays in despair, looking for anything that would help me escape. I found a box of lovely Scottish shortbread cookies and ate half of those, then ripped open a packet of English breakfast tea and grabbed a ceramic mug that said “I Read Banned Books” and took my loot upstairs. In Dad’s old office, there was an employee breakroom with a kitchen. Vroman’s had lots of employees. They probably had somewhere to sit and eat. There might be a sink and a microwave.
Upstairs, past a door that said “Employees Only,” I found the staff room. I filled my mug with water, and microwaved it, then dunked in a teabag. After letting it steep for five minutes, just like Dad did with his, I drank my tea and ate the remaining shortbread Scotty dogs.
The food and drink warmed and calmed me immensely. One more trip downstairs to find a shawl to wrap myself in as it was getting chilly. And there was a lovely plush stuffed doggie that looked very comforting. I took him too. Then I curled up on the couch with The Maze Runner and my clip light and, nibbling on the last of those luscious biscuits, I finished the book. Then I lowered it to the ground, making sure to close the book properly so the spine wouldn’t break, snuggled up to my doggie and closed my eyes.
Denise Hamilton writes crime fiction and comes to Vroman’s each time she has a new book out.. Visit her at www.denisehamilton.com