When I had world enough and time (and the drive), I arranged some words into two chapter books for elementary age kids. I wrote the first, Jimmy, Grumple, and the Band of Beavers, long-hand, during the long, hot Oklahoma summers. I remember sitting under a tree on a park bench by the playground and moving words across a yellow legal pad with my blue pen.
At night, I would type up the words, rearranging and editing as the words moved from my legal pad to a Word doc on this brand new Apple desktop my wife and I bought.
I wrote for myself and my son, who was about three months away from making his way into the world. After Maddux was born, I self-published Jimmy through Lulu.com. It sits on my bookshelf now.
I turned my attention to another narrative. Driving through the Oklahoma plains, I had this picture of a fifth grader who could not read–but no one knew he couldn’t. Through trickery, he concealed his literacy struggles from parents and teachers. In 2010, I finished The Boy Who Couldn’t Read, a title which sucks now because of the popularity of Girl/Boy/Man Who titles. But a title I liked at the time.
Below is chapter 12 in all of it’s unedited and unpolished joy. This chapter is about 1/4 of the way into the book. It’s the turning point–kinda like the point in the narrative where the kids discover that the wardrobe goes to Narnia, that a Fellowship will band together to destroy the Ring.
Almost a decade later, I still like it, and look back on this story fondly.
Magic, boys, journeys, reading, forests–I still find hope in these things.
Damian moved down the ladder and into the large hole in the center of the charred forest floor. His hands held tight to the rungs as he descended. When his foot hit the ground, he could feel like soft sand floor.
He bent down and picked up his wooden bat.
Though he couldn’t see anything, Damian could tell the space he was in was large. He took a deep loud breath and held out his hand. It disappeared in the dark. He started walking forward with his baseball bat in front on him like a cane. He moved slow, walking on the sandy floor. His BB gun was propped on his shoulder. He took steps and kept waiting to run into a wall. But on he walked. And walked. And walked.
He had taken roughly a hundred paces when he turned and looked back at the ladder. A ray of sun jumped down the hole and illuminated the ladder. It stood against the wall of the hole like a safe tower waiting for him to return. He was tempted to run up the ladder and back home. At home he was safe. He could work on his project with Liam and listen to Liam read him a Daredevil comic. The new one just came out and Damian was dying to know if Daredevil would still be leading the Hand and what Daredevil planned to do with the evil Bullesye. But, of course, Liam would have to read to him. Again.
Damian was tired of people reading to him. He was tired of not being able to read on his own. He had never really like Daredevil. Not really. He had always been a Batman fan. What he really wanted Liam or Stuart to read to him was about Batman, Robin and Arkham Asylum. He wanted to learn more about Bruce Wayne’s journey in time and how Dick Grayson was doing as the new Batman. But no, he always had to listen to Daredevil.
And then there was Peter his pet turtle. Peter died because Damian could not read the instructions on the medicine. Damian still thought about Peter when he was falling asleep. He could picture Peter with his striped body happily floating in the water. Now Peter was in the ground and never coming back. He asked for another turtle, but his parents suggesting getting a fish instead. Damian yelled some bad words and his parents said that maybe he was not responsible enough for a pet. Two years had passed and Damian was the only kid in the neighborhood without a pet.
These thoughts were in his head as he stared at the safe ladder. He turned and began walking to the ladder when something caught his vision. It was a small glowing globe hanging and dancing in the air like a firefly. The light was orange, brown, white. It changed colors as it glowed. Stunned, Damian moved toward it. He was staring at it and dropped his bat and gun. His mouth was open. As he moved closer the globe changed shape. It molded itself into a turtle and opened its small mouth.
“Keepcoming,” the mouth spoke in a high-pitched voice.
The mouth changed color: orange, brown, white, and darted down into the dark away from the ladder.
Damian chased the mouth into the dark leaving behind his bat and gun.
Damian ran into the dark. He shoes bounced off the soft sand floor. He forgot about running into a wall and rushed into the dark after the mouth.
“Keepcoming,” the high-pitched voice spoke. “ Keepcoming. Goodvitaminsthisway. Justwhatyou needtofeelbetter.”
Damian ran. He was no longer scared. He trusted the mouth.
Damian was on his back. He had run into something. He picked himself up. The mouth was in front on him.
“Keepcoming,” it spoke.
Damian reached out and his hand touched a cool surface.
“Huh?” he mouthed to himself.
The mouth started quivering and began to make a loud hard noise. It sounded like tires screeching on the pavement. The mouth grew larger. The size of a baseball, the size of a basketball, the size of a beach ball.
The noise continued, and then the mouth exploded.
“Keepcoming!” it yelled as it burst into bright light illuminating the dark passage.
The light bounced off the sandy floor and the walls, and Damian could see all around him.
The walls were closer than he expected and the ceiling was only three feet above his head. Damian looked all around, and it seemed like he was in an old mine shaft. Behind him, the dark began again. In front of him, the bright glow from the mouth showed a strange silver ball blocking the entire passage.
This is what I ran into, Damian thought.
The silver ball was spinning rapidly and seemed to be covered in water.
Damian wondered why the mouth said “Keepcoming.”
How can I get past this? Damian thought. He thought of his bat and his gun but remembered he left then behind.
No way I am going back that way. No way I am going back into the dark.
Damian walked toward the spinning silver ball. It made a soft humming sound. He reached out his hand toward it and touched the hard wet ball. It was cold and hard. Damian lightly knocked on it and it rang out. He pushed on the ball but nothing happened. It kept spinning.
Damian sat on the ground unsure of what to do. He wanted to be home with his toys. He wanted to stare at his ceiling and dream of sailing through space. He wanted to catch night crawlers with his dad and feed them to Peter. He wanted to read by himself about Batman and Batman’s supposed son. What was his name?
“Damian” Damian said to himself. “Batman’s son is named Damian. That Damian would know what to do”
Angrily, Damian jumped to his feet, ran at the silver spinning ball and stretched out his foot to kick. Right when his foot was about to make contact, it slide into the silver ball. All of Damian’s weight was traveling toward the ball and Damian found himself falling into the strange spinning silver ball.
All color was gone. He could only see silver as he spun around and around inside the strange ball. The loud buzzing sound from before returned, as did the squeeze/release of the invisible hand.
Damian was spun around and around. He tried to scream but no words came out. His voice was gone and the water from the spinning ball filled his lungs. Around and around. Buzzing. Squeeze/release. He tried to stand but couldn’t.
Damian heard a quick noise.
A little man sailed next to Damian. He was short and bald. On his head he had a strange mark that looked like a question mark.
“Oi! Drink this!” The man said holding out a little vial. The man was not spinning but seemed to be standing on solid ground.
Spinning around and around Damian tried to grab the vial but couldn’t.
The little man laughed.
“So sorry. Here!” He tossed the liquid out at Damian. Damian could feel a warm thick liquid cover him. And slowly he stopped spinning
He was lying on his back inside the silver spinning ball. He tried to stand but was still too dizzy. The ball continued to spin but Damian was still.
The inside of the ball grew to life. The wet silver walls turned into trees, houses, paths, people. A whole world opened up inside the ball. Damian closed his eyes and opened them again. There was no sign of the walls of the strange silver spinning ball. Instead Damian seemed to be in strange village.
He looked around and saw the people. They looked like regular people but their heads were large. Some heads were so large that the people were not able to stand but had to crawl around on the ground. All had a strange question mark on their foreheads.
Damian looked at the little bald man in front of him who now held an empty vial.
“Where am I?” Damian asked.
“Oi! Welcome to Carver City!”