If you’ve been reading the opening chapters of The Realm on Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Contest and want to know what happens next, here is Chapter Four. I would love it, appreciate, shake your hand and send virtual hugs and kisses if you’d take a moment, follow the link back to the ABNA website and write a review of the first three chapters posted there. A big shout out to Babylon and Beyond Photography for graciously allowing me to use the stunning feature photo of Old Man Wilkins’ truck.
Chapter 4 “Sometimes no explanation is the best explanation”
Alex turned. The gritty voice belonged to Old Man Wilkins. His decades-old green pickup truck was parked in the field behind them. Alex chewed her lip as she watched him come closer. Old Man Wilkins listed heavily to one side as he walked. Reading glasses hung from a chain around his neck and swung in a lub-dub rhythm as he moved. His face looked like an old leather basketball with the air sucked out. He looked a hundred years old. And he looked mad.
The closer he came the taller he seemed until, standing beside them, he towered over the trio. Old Man Wilkins was lean and wiry, all legs and long arms. He seemed to be in pain but he was fighting it. He pulled himself up straight to his full height, crossed his arms across his chest, then looked them up and down. There was a long uncomfortable silence. Finally the old man growled, “You’re alive, I see.”
No one knew what to say to that. It wasn’t really a question. Beside her Norman stood up. Then Randy. They brushed off the mud and slime and pieces of grass that stuck to their skin and clothes, trying in vain to look presentable.
“Well?” Old Man Wilkins asked. “Any blood? Any broken bones?”
“No sir,” Norman said.
“No sir,” Randy echoed.
“Any bodies left floating in my creek?”
Alex stood up then. She had to bite back the urge to tell him that it wasn’t his creek. That the water belonged to everyone and if they felt like it, they could darn well float as long and far as they wished. They could ride the whole way until it emptied into to Lake Ontario and he couldn’t stop them.
But Randy spoke first. “No sir, Mr. Wilkins. All hands made it safely to shore. But we lost our raft. It broke up when it hit the sawyer.”
“Sawyer; An uprooted tree that floats in a river but is held fast at one end. Your old maple,” Randy said pointing to the remains of the tree. “Lightning got it and the tree fell into the creek right in front of us.”
“I lost my notebook,” Norman said. “All that work…” His voice trailed off.
It reminded Alex of her lost sketchbook and her last sight of it, falling between the logs and into the creek as the raft broke up.
“And we lost our boiled ham and trifles,” Randy added.
Alex rolled her eyes at him. Randy shrugged.
“What? Can I help it if I’m hungry?”
“What did you say? You lost your what?” Old Man Wilkins demanded.
“Uh…boiled ham and trifles, sir,” Randy answered. “Our provisions. For when we got to Jackson’s Island.”
Old Man Wilkins raised an eyebrow, his leather face puckering into a question. “Jackson’s Island? Boiled ham and trifles? What the blazes are you kids talking about? What are you up to?”
“We’re not up to anything,” Alex said. “We didn’t mean to trespass on your land. It was an accident. We were supposed to float straight through your property to the Conservation Area. If it hadn’t been for the storm we wouldn’t be here.”
Her outburst was followed by silence. Rain continued to pummel them but Mr. Wilkins didn’t seem to notice. He just stood there and stared at the three wet, muddy kids. Alex expected to get told off for her outburst. Instead Old Man Wilkins said, “There’s no Jackson’s Island around here.”
Duh, she thought. Of course not. Jackson’s Island is a place in a novel by Mark Twain. It’s where Tom, Huck and Joe went when they decided to run away from home to become pirates, sneaking out of their homes in the middle of the night, stealing a raft, then floating it down the Mississippi river until they got snagged on sandbars around the island.
“Well? Spit it out,” Old Man Wilkins barked. “What exactly are you three up to?”
The twins turned to Alex, expecting her to explain. She chewed her bottom lip while she mulled over what she could say. The simple version was that each spring they chose a book and each summer, after planning, research and preparations, they lived their favorite scenes. They preferred older books, the classic boys’ adventure novels like Treasure Island, A Journey to The Centre of the Earth, and Peter Pan. But to understand, to really understand the Game you had to be the sort of person who, when you read a book, you fell so completely into the world between the pages that it transported you there and sometimes, if you were lucky, you became one of the characters. When Alex played the Game it was… almost magic.
She could never explain this to Old Man Wilkins, an ancient, decrepit old farmer whose idea of reading probably went no further than the Farmers’ Almanac or Readers’ Digest.
“Well, girl. Looks like you’ve been elected to speak,” Old Man Wilkins said, his eyes boring into her. “I’m waiting. Out with it. I’m not getting any drier, standing here.”
It only took a moment for her to decide that the old farmer would never understand. She wouldn’t bother even trying. Sometimes, no explanation was the best explanation. She met his gaze. Alex didn’t flinch or drop her eyes. She simply shrugged.
“That’s how it’s going to be, is it? Fine. Then you three better follow me. Time to get you home.” Mr. Wilkins turned and started back to the truck. With effort, he climbed into the cab muttering as he went, “Boiled ham and trifles. Ha!”
Norman and Randy started walking. Alex followed reluctantly. When they got to the truck Old Man Wilkins was already inside the cab with the door shut. Rain splattered on the roof and drummed against the truck’s flat bed. Alex reached for the passenger door, opening it.
“Hang on there, missy,” Old Man Wilkins said. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Following you,” she answered. “Like you told us too.”
“You’re not coming inside my truck all covered in mud.”
“Where should we go?”
“In the back.”
“In the flatbed? But…” Alex didn’t know what to do. She turned to look at the twins.
Randy was already climbing into the back. Norman followed. Alex slammed the truck door closed and joined the twins.
“This is nuts,” she hissed in a low whisper. “You’re not even supposed to let dogs ride in the back of trucks.”
“Either you climb in the back or you walk all the way to the barn. Your choice.”
It was almost as though he’d heard her. But he couldn’t have. Could he?
“The barn?” Norman called back. “Mr. Wilkins, I thought we were going home. Why are we going to the barn?”
“There’s a hose there. You three need to hose yourselves off. When you’re clean enough to ride inside the cab, then I’ll drive you home. And while you’re doing that I’ll go up to the house and call your grandmother. God knows why, but she seems to be worried about you three fools.”