Read an Excerpt from Bulfinch!
Monday, July 14, 2014 at 07:48PM
Hannah Sternberg in Bulfinch, excerpts, stories, writing

Hi gang! It's been a pretty tumultuous week, which threw me off my short story posting schedule. When I asked you guys on Facebook if you'd like to see an excerpt from Bulfinch instead, while I got my act together, the love and support was very encouraging. So here it is. Enjoy the first chapter of Bulfinch.

 


CHAPTER ONE

Lord Henry shrugged his shoulders. “My dear fellow, medieval art is charming, but medieval emotions are out of date. One can use them in fiction, of course. But then the only things that one can use in fiction are the things that one has ceased to use in fact...”

—Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

 

UNCLE ALVIN ANSWERED the phone. I was still afraid of it. Uncle Alvin was also afraid of the phone, but he’d had several decades’ more experience answering it despite that. So he was the first to hear the news.

It was four in the morning in Baltimore, which meant it was ten in the morning where my parents were supposed to be. Except they weren’t there.

Nowhere to be found ... highly unusual ... searched the entire ship ... cannot delay embarkation any longer....

I heard these snatches in the high, tinny voice on the phone’s earpiece. Uncle Alvin always had it turned up very loud. He didn’t say much in return.

I sat on the third step from the bottom of the stairs, listening to Uncle Alvin on the phone in the kitchen. The only light on was the little orange one on the phone desk.

“How long?” I heard Uncle Alvin grunt.

I strained, but I couldn’t hear the tinny voice’s response. 

“And where would that be?” Pause. “Hrmph. And if they just overslept?”

Assure you ... itinerary ... next port ....

“When was the last time they were seen?”

“…” I heard the tinny voice but couldn’t make out its words.

“Thursday,” Uncle Alvin said.

My heart pounded so hard it hurt. Thursday was the last time my mom had called, from a hotel phone in a resort on the Mediterranean. My parents were on a European tour and cruise. It had been a surprise anniversary gift from my dad. I’d been deposited with my Uncle Alvin two weeks ago, to be held until they returned.

My pulse drummed so loudly in my ears I missed the rest of the conversation. I heard Uncle Alvin put the phone back on its cradle. He sat in silence for a while. Then, even though I was around the corner and out of sight, he said, “Come in here.”

I stood, surprised by how stiff my knees were. I’d been sitting, without moving a muscle, for longer than I’d realized. I wobbled into the kitchen. Uncle Alvin didn’t say anything but looked at me while I stood, arm’s length away, for a long minute. His face said nothing.

Then Uncle Alvin stepped forward and hugged me. He had never hugged me before that I could remember.

I was twelve. That was seven years ago.

It would be seven years before I learned that time travel really is possible, but in those years I traveled to that moment many times in my mind, always trying to change it and failing.

 * * * 

The summer I was twelve, before my parents dropped me off at Uncle Alvin’s, life was more than perfect. Life was so good it hurt. Nothing bad had ever happened ever, and I always ran to pick up the mail when I heard the mailman honk.

Our box was always full of junk. Every once in a while there’d be a bill or a package from Uncle Alvin. Uncle Alvin’s packages usually consisted of pens advertising prescription medicines, plastic letter openers with magnets on the back, and stale oyster crackers. I stopped getting excited about Uncle Alvin’s packages by age eight. But I loved flipping through every single page of any catalogue that arrived at our house.

On a shiny Wednesday afternoon, The Letter fluttered out of the mess of glossy coupon fliers as I lifted them out of the mailbox. I saw it catch the sunshine like a sail as it went down, and I picked it up from the dirt. It was crinkled, with a small rip near one corner, and it was paid for with a collection of two-cent stamps—there were twenty-five, and they filled nearly a third of the front of the envelope. The ink-stamp of the sending post office was smudged and unreadable. There was a tea-colored, ring-shaped stain on the back of the envelope, to the right of the center. On the front, the receiver’s address was handwritten in blue ballpoint:

Joe Creekman
16 Beauview Drive
Whitehall, MD 21161 USA

There was no return address, though in the upper left corner was written “Vita.”

I brought it to the dim living room (the shades were pulled down to keep out the heat) and showed it to my mom. 

“Well, that’s interesting,” she said.  “I didn’t know there was a Beauview Drive.” We lived at 16 Beauview Road.

“Let’s get out the map,” Mom said. She bounded to the garage and came back with the big Harford County map that lived in the backseat of her car. I scanned through the index like she’d taught me and found Beauview Drive.

“Now it’s time for an adventure,” my mom said.

We lived in a rural area, with eight acres all to ourselves, a huge vegetable garden, and a rabbit warren. The farms of our county were wide and lush, surrounding surprising pockets of gentle, civilized forest in depressions or on the hills swelling here and there. In my memory, it was the land of safety and goodness, the only land there was.

Sometimes those days, I was frustrated with our little woods, nothing like the deep mysterious forests of my fantasy novels. I used to imagine that being plunged into the supernatural would excite me. I never thought that after the strange found me, I would miss this comfort and predictability.

But I am sure that, on that day, as we ventured from Beauview Road to storm the strongholds of Beauview Drive, I was happy. We drove for twenty minutes, taking lazy back roads, winding through quilt-square fields with the windows rolled down. A fantasy novel was sitting wrinkled on my knee; I never went anywhere without my book. We had the oldies radio station turned up, and my mom’s perfume filled the car. I was thinking of nothing but the present, which isn’t thinking, but feeling, and I felt great.

I was a little sad when we turned onto Beauview Drive. And nervous. It was overwhelmingly quiet there, and from the sense of oppression we turned the radio off. The road was narrow and shady, surfaced with smooth packed dirt; it took a turn down near a stream, and the woods around it were preserved, with the houses hiding shyly on the edges. They were woods of space and light, tall narrow birches with airy translucent leaves. The ground beneath them was a sea of lacy ferns. It looked like a cathedral.

Beauview Drive was not a long road, though the houses were spaced comfortably far apart. My mom and I counted them as we passed each one, reading its number from the mailbox or the front door. It was a chant meant to heighten excitement as we approached the secretive abode of Mr. Joe Creekman, which is why I felt a supernatural thrill when we coasted to a dead end after only reaching fifteen. We idled at the weed-invaded cul-de-sac, and my mom exhaled a quiet “Huh.”

* * * 

 

Bulfinch will be available starting August 15. If you want to order your copy now so you don't forget, head on over to my pre-order page. Or, hang tight and order on Amazon starting August 15!

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