Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Enjoy Hidden Bookmarks! (Unfinished Novel-In-Progress)

I have thought about this project since 2011, when I published Book One of Melody and the Pier to Forever. This doesn't belong to that project, but it is fair to say that the characters are in the same universe. Hence the connection between the two.

Please excuse grammar and other issues. This is a roughly edited project to this point.

Synopsis: Kincaid Stefanson is an ordinary high-school teenager just muddling through. An introvert her entire life, she lives with her mother in a small apartment in a quiet, modest neighborhood in San Diego, California. She loves writing stories and poems, listening to music, watching television with her mom after she comes home from work, and walking the beach with her on weekends. She has no close friends, and is the subject of constant derision from the "Barbies," the clique of A-list classmates she does her best to ignore.

She's a happy girl, if not restless and entirely unsure of herself. Completely normal stuff, really.

One evening, after finishing her homework, her laptop catches fire. And that is the start of how this completely ordinary girl finds out just how extraordinary she can be.


Chapter One
Just Pointastic

Mrs. Vaughn told her there would be days like this. That was two months ago. “It happens to the best of us.”

   “Writers’ block?” said Kincaid.

   Mrs. Vaughn’s countenance darkened. “I never want to hear you use that term again, do you understand?”

   The sudden downturn in mood surprised Kincaid, who withdrew. “Whoa. Sorry ...”

   “It’s something one-word hacks use as an excuse not to do the hard work in front of them,” Mrs. Vaughn explained, her mood lifting just as fast. “It doesn’t exist. If you’re drawing a blank, don’t call it ‘writers’ block’ for heaven’s sake, okay?”

   “What should I call it?”

   “Call it nothing at all. The phenomenon doesn’t exist. Write a hundred words of anything instead—even gibberish will do. Just write! Then close the laptop and walk away for an hour or so. Come back and look and, if necessary, write another hundred words of gibberish. I bet however that you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the first batch and will have something to go on. Got it?”

   Kincaid, present day and in her bedroom, glanced at her laptop’s blank white screen. She closed her eyes a moment, and then typed:

Nothing at all.
Damn hour is closing on two.
Homework at least done.
Someone pounding on the wall in the next apartment.
Mom’s still not home from work.
Getting hungry.
Maybe pizza tonight?

   She checked: thirty-three words.

   Was Mrs. Vaughn being literal when she said a hundred words? It didn’t seem likely. Kincaid sighed, closed the document, and opened another: “Musings.” These were the poems and thoughts she’d written since early last year, when she was in the eighth grade.

   Instead of reading them, which she did when she wasn’t having “writers’ block” but was having ________________, she counted them instead. She hadn’t done that in a while.

   Wow! There were a hundred twenty-one poems and short prose-paragraphs! The last time she’d counted, there were only sixty-four! She considered how many times since then she’d not had “writers’ block” but did have ________________, but still came away with something to say.

   Maybe Mrs. Vaughn was right!

   She read from the beginning, skipping two or three to start the next one. Her beginning efforts, she noted with a scowl, were a bit stiff and formal: she actually used “thine” and “thee” in several of them; another group overused the word “properly”; another huge bunch seemed obsessed with “point”: “to make a point, then ...” and “I must point out,” and even “pointfully” (really?), “pointedly,” “against the point,” “to the point,” “What is the point?” (seven times!), “The point is made” (“point” is capitalized in one of them!), and, to add icing to that embarrassing cake, “pointastic!”

   She got to her latest efforts, sighed at how much work they needed, then saved “Musings,” copying and pasting it into the cloud app known as “SavDoc,” which was were she saved all her important documents. Just as the progress bar reached one hundred percent, she heard the door unlock. “Kincaid? Are you home?”

   “Be right there!”

   “Could use some help here ... groceries in the hall. I got some pizza!”


   She closed her laptop and hurried out of her room to help Mom.

Mom’s name was Audrey, which was one of Kincaid’s all-time favorite names. Audrey—like Audrey Hepburn, one of the most beautiful and classy women of the last century. Kincaid loved her name—Kincaid Catherine Stefansen (middle name after her grandma)—but sometimes wished Mom had named her Audrey too.

   (Would she in that case become Audrey Stefansen, Jr.? Why didn’t that happen when mother and daughter shared a name? Was that why mothers and daughters being named the same happened so infrequently?)

   She helped her unload the groceries and grab plates. With the pizza box open at the center of the table, they dug in. Mom had also brought home curly fries and soda.

   “Why the treat?” asked Kincaid.

   “I was tired and cooking tonight didn’t sound all that appealing,” answered Mom with a tired sigh.

   “Was work hard?”

   Audrey Stefansen worked as a dental hygienist in one of the larger dental practices in the city, one with eight dentists. It was where (of course) Kincaid got her braces, which, thank God, came off last year.

   “Sometimes it just ... sucks. But you know ... there is no job that doesn’t occasionally suck.”

   “At least you like your work,” Kincaid commented between bites while thinking of “writers’ block” again.

   “Actually ... most days I love it. Not today.”

   “Care to share?”

   “Not really. I kept thinking how soon I’d get to come home to you, catch my breath, watch some TV, have a glass of wine, and hit the sack. How was your day, sweet child o’ mine?”

   Kincaid smiled. Mom rarely said that—“sweet child o’ mine.” It always made her feel good when she did. It was one of Mom’s favorite songs, and so one of Kincaid’s as well.

   “Just working on my poems.”

   “Anything new you’d like to share?”

   “Not really.”

   “You know, I had a patient today who is an author. He says he publishes independently. He’s self-published. Maybe you should publish your thoughts and poems too!”

   Mrs. Vaughn had suggested the same thing—at least twice. More for low self-esteem reasons than any, Kincaid always resisted. But with Mom mentioning it, something inside her clicked. The channel changed. Suddenly it sounded like a potentially workable idea.

   “Mrs. Vaughn has told me to also.”

   “Oh? You never told me that.”

   Kincaid, glancing down at her plate, picked up a french-fry and bit into it without looking up.

   Mom shook her head and patted her thigh. “We need to work on that self-confidence of yours.”

   “I just ... what if ... you know...?”

   “No one likes it?”

   Kincaid nodded. She still hadn’t looked up.

   “Am I a ‘no one’? Because you know I’ll like it.”

   “You’re my mom.”

   “Does that mean my opinion doesn’t count?”

   “Of course it counts.” She sighed.

   “The patient told me that he gets very few sales, and almost no reviews. Publishing clearly isn’t the way to make a living. I think your bigger problem will be the loss of confidence when the world doesn’t bother to give you even as much as an indifferent shrug the day you publish it.”

   “So why should I bother? What’s the difference between them staying on my laptop, where no one but me and sometimes you read them, and publishing them to some big platform where the same outcome waits?”

   Mom, who had since taken a bite of pizza, watched her with concern as she chewed and then swallowed. She nodded contemplatively for a time before answering.

   “What we give to the world counts, even if no one bothers paying attention to it. It counts—especially if it truly comes from you, from your heart. It matters. That’s why.”

   She wiped her hand, then reached and pulled Kincaid into a hug. “Don’t publish your poems because you’re hoping for fame or attention or money.” She pulled back and looked her in her eyes. “Do it because it’s who you are. There is something very powerful in that, something magical. Okay?”

   Kincaid nodded. Mom released her, and they went back to eating.

They watched a couple episodes of Once Upon A Time before Mom announced she was heading to bed. She bent and kissed her forehead. At the hall she turned. “Don’t do what most people do in life, baby girl. Have some courage. Take a chance.”

   “Love you, Mom.”

   Mom blew her a kiss and disappeared down the hall. Kincaid heard the bedroom door click a moment later.

   She rose after a time and made her way into her own bedroom after using the bathroom, changing into her PJs and crawling under the covers. That was when she noticed that her computer was still on.

   She crawled out and went to it, lifting the cover.

   The machine had gone to sleep. She pressed the power button and waited for her desktop to reappear. But it didn’t.

   She pressed it again—harder. Then again. Worried, she pressed it and kept pushing, hoping to shut it down completely and give it a hard re-boot.

   It was then she smelled the smoke. The machine ... was smoking!

   “Oh ... crap!

   It burst into flame.

   She jumped back. “What—the—?”

   She hurriedly opened the door to grab the fire extinguisher.

   Mom was already there. When she saw the flames, which threatened to catch the drapes and Kincaid’s books and papers lying near it, she flew into the kitchen, grabbed the extinguisher from under the sink, and hurried back. With two sustained presses of the trigger, the fire was out. Kincaid’s desk and drapes, her homework and papers, and much of the upper right side of her bed were covered in white flame repellent. The room was foggy with it and the acrid smoke of burning plastic.

   “What the hell just happened?” coughed Mom.

   Kincaid, shaken and coughing too, could only stare at the disaster area that was once her desk and computer.

Chapter Two