For those coming in late, you can catch up by reading that post, which does offer some precious backstory to this post. Otherwise, the short version is that in lieu of viable morning beach weather (i.e., not raining), I’m typing the first few chapters of my next book in this here blog.
It’s a continuation (or second series) of my previous trilogy, Jeremy Shuttle Adventures (comprising What if?, What Next? and What Now?). The “real-time” part of this idea is that I’m writing it without a plot or plan and will make no changes or rewrites whatsoever, except for spelling and grammar edits.
Which means, I suppose, it’s likely to have no resemblance to the actual first chapters when (if?) the book is completed.
Enough preamble. Let’s get this experiment cooking!
“You’re a lucky man”
He put his book down and watched her.
He liked just watching her. There were times he could just sit there for minutes simply watching her. Until she noticed and got annoyed.
Her brow was furrowed as she studiously pored over her own book, memorizing answers once again that she already knew up and down. He smiled as he imagined her double and triple checking her memory to what she saw in the text.
She doesn’t need to worry. She’s like a human computer. She always does well on her tests.
But he admired her refusal to take the easy road. It was one of many amazing talents all packed into one girl.
My girl. And he could still be astonished at that fact despite three years together.
She looked up from the book and gazed at him quizzically. In moments, she sized him up and guessed his thoughts, grinning impishly before speaking.
“And what are you thinking right now?” she asked, arching an eyebrow in mock puzzlement.
“As if you don’t already know,” he answered, throwing his hands palms up at her.
“Why don’t you tell me, so I can see if you’re right,” she replied playfully.
“Fishing, eh?” he retorted. “Fine, it’s not like I’m ashamed of it. I just think you’re the most amazing girl I’ve ever met.”
Natalie’s barb back about how few females he had actually met was swept away by the clear adoration in Jeremy’s face. Honest and pure in his love for her, she couldn’t help to love him back. Still, it never hurt to poke him now and again.
“You’re a lucky man, no doubt.” she said, with a grin and wink before plunging back into her textbook.
Jeremy didn’t need to reply. He knew it was true. She knew it was true. Heck, the whole school knew it was true.
Natalie had changed in the past few years. After a diabetes scare from her doctor, she had made an effort to eat healthier and exercise more. She had managed to lose ten pounds fast but had struggled to make any more progress. She was still overweight, but now she looked curvy rather than fat.
To others, Jeremy thought. He was sure Natalie believed him when he said he lover her at any size. He was as frightened as her when she was given her warning about losing weight and he was proud about her having some success, but it didn’t change how he looked at her.
It did change how others looked at her, though. Combined with her growing a couple of inches taller (which did bother Jeremy, as he lagged her growth spurt and was now shorter than her), she now had what Jeremy imagined must be thought of as a voluptuous figure.
It had led to an increase in the potential for other options for her than Jeremy. Some of those options, Jeremy would be hard pressed to say were not better than being with him.
But she loved him and Jeremy flushed again at the thought of such an amazing woman being in love with him. And he was totally nuts about her. Everything about her.
He shook his head, grinning sardonically. And look at me. I’m like frozen in ice.
Unlike Natalie, time did seem frozen when it came to how Jeremy aged. He still was a little on the skinny side. His height remained a subject of enjoyment to Natalie. His curly hair remained a tangled mass where combs went to die.
But who cares? Natalie loves me. And I love her.
He closed his book and turned once more to look at her. He sighed in contentment, the small sound causing her to glance over at him once again. With a smile on her face and a twinkle in her eyes, she closed her own book and patted the bed next to her.
The young Jeremy would have hemmed and hawed at that gesture. There was no hesitation in him now as he sat next to her and leaned into her lips.
“Jeremy!” his Dad’s voice boomed from the front of the house. “Get out here right now!”
Natalie, to his dismay, pushed him away immediately. She made a “tsk” sound and gave him a look of mock surprise.
“I didn’t know your Dad had cameras installed in your room,” she said.
“Funny,” Jeremy said gloomily. His hopes for a some smooching time dashed, he climbed off the bed and began tying his sneakers.
I wonder what’s got Dad so fired up?
“Look at those stamps!”
The man turned and instantly, anyone could see he was Jeremy’s Dad. It went beyond the curly hair, slightly thinning and cut shorter. He had that same rounded nose and the same laughing mouth, hidden slightly by a few days of unshaven growth.
But that mouth was not laughing now. His full eyebrows knitted into an annoyed frown as he turned in the direction of the shout.
“What?” he said, unable to stop that annoyance from coloring his question.
Teresa Shuttle saw and heard that expression and she hesitated a moment. She blinked and paused to give herself a moment to compose. She didn’t like that look on him at all and it gave her a gnawing sense of wrongness.
“I said, ‘What’s got you so fired up that you need to shout at our son?'”
William stared at his wife for a few seconds and then closed his eyes, inhaling and exhaling deeply. He shook his head in both release and shame. When he reopened his eyes, he looked like the husband Teresa loved. He leaned over to her and she backed away.
“Not with that mess on your face,” she said with mock severity and he rewarded her with a chuckle. She smiled as well, but her feeling of dread did not pass.
She could hear the footsteps of Jeremy and Natalie coming closer down the hall. She grabbed William’s arm urgently.
“How bad is it?” she whispered. His only response was a tightening around his eyes and a shifting in his grip of his pack. She hadn’t noticed it until he had moved, but he was clinging to that backpack as if it were life itself.
Teresa was a strong woman. She had survived her husband’s mysterious disappearance when Jeremy was born, refusing everyone’s assertion that William was dead, despite evidence suggesting no other conclusion.
She had raised Jeremy by herself, alone and lonely, yet never cowed or hesitant in her efforts to provide a good life and a good upbringing. And then she had gone through terrible travails in the adventures that ultimately led to William returning to her.
She had done all these things with courage and will and so she felt confident in saying to herself that she was a strong woman. But she could not shake the feeling that something bad had just started.
“Geez, Dad, you really ought to take an electric razor on your trips.”
Jeremy’s jocular entry didn’t dent Teresa’s mood, but it softened somewhat when she saw Natalie and her son holding hands as they entered the living room. She was so pleased with the way the two of them had grown so fond of each other. She knew they were building a relationship that had an inevitable and happy conclusion somewhere in their future.
She squeezed her husband’s arm again, this time lightly and he followed her eyes to the young couple. His mouth curled up at the sight, but even this was not enough to loosen the tension around his eyes.
William motioned the kids to the couch. He sat in the recliner adjacent to the kids and Teresa perched on an arm of the recliner next to William. He carefully placed his backpack on the coffee table in the center of the living room.
There was a palpable feeling of imminence in the room. These four had all been involved in extraordinary events and, in some way, there was a kind of bond between them all. Something almost spiritual. Or magical.
As usual, Jeremy was the first to break the silence.
“What’s in the bag, Dad?” Jeremy said, not meaning to, but noticing his voice was just a notch above a whisper.
William said nothing for a few moments, simply staring at his son. He’s a lot like me, but he’s got a lot of his Mom in him, too. Especially the eyes.
Jeremy squirmed under the scrutiny and looked questioningly at his Mom. Teresa nudged William softly, breaking the spell. William reached into the pack and pulled out a group of photos. He slid them across the coffee table to Jeremy.
“Remind you of anything?” William asked evenly.
Jeremy looked at the first picture and his eyes widened. Natalie felt him stiffen next to her and she leaned over to look, placing a supporting hand on his shoulder as she did.
She had trouble making it out at first, perhaps because of the strangeness of its subject. Suddenly, it seemed to clarify for her and she recognized the shape of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, though it was all burned.
Natalie tried desperately to recall something Jeremy had once told her. Something that happened when he was trying to find his Dad using the sketchbook. She encircled him with her arms and held him as Jeremy barely glanced at the remaining photos.
“Yeah,” Jeremy said slowly. “It does.”
“But what does it mean?” he added, looking directly at his Dad.
“I don’t know,” William said, shaking his head. “I don’t like to think this is the same dinosaur you faced with Will while trying to find me. But this was living tissue, not dinosaur bones.”
“But,” Jeremy began, and then paused while he collected his thoughts. “But, that was in the collective unconscious. That was in the imaginary land. This is here in reality.”
William held up his hand. “We don’t know they’re the same one,” he started and had to hold up his hand again when Jeremy tried to protest. “We don’t know anything other than there was a biological impossibility discovered.”
Jeremy swallowed his argument. It wouldn’t matter, anyway. He could tell from his Dad’s expression they were going to investigate this. Whatever “this” is.
“How did you find out about this, Mr. Shuttle?” Natalie asked politely. William made a face at her. He and Teresa has repeatedly asked her to call them by their first names and she had, for a while, but soon returned to her more respectful references. He wondered if she and Jeremy ever got married whether she would still use Mr. and Mrs. instead of Dad and Mom.
“Well, Ms. Carroll,” he chided her and she twisted her mouth. “While I’m not an archaeologist, my work brings me into contact with many of them and I’ve even helped out a few on particularly…unique…quests. So, a number of them return the favor by cluing me in to things I might find interesting.”
“Yeah, this definitely qualifies,” Jeremy said glumly.
The room seemed to fill up with Teresa’s feeling of wrongness. The four of them felt stricken by some unnamed imagining, paralyzing even their vocal chords.
When the sharp rap at the door echoed through the room, they reacted as if it had been a cannon blast. Then, each let out either a chuckle or a sigh as they released their tension and embarrassment.
Teresa moved to go to the door while William placed a hand on Jeremy’s shoulder and squeezed.
“We’ve gotten through worse than this, whatever this is,” he said, looking at both his son and Natalie. Jeremy grinned at his Dad’s echoing his own thoughts and nodded his head.
Returning from the door, Teresa held a package in her hand. It was a large envelope, looking impossibly old, but unripped or damaged in any way. She brought it over to the group with a wry smile. The others looked at her, puzzled.
“Someone’s idea of a joke?” she asked, looking directly at Jeremy. He glanced down at the envelope. It was definitely his handwriting and it was addressed to Mrs. Natalie Shuttle.
His Dad allowed a small grin before staring more intently at the envelope. Natalie, meanwhile had already moved from annoyance (which netted Jeremy an elbow in the ribs) to more careful study. She gasped, drawing everyone’s attention.
It had been long accepted, proven out by their many dangerous adventures together, that Natalie had an impossible mind for puzzles and solutions. She often figured out the root causes and ramifications of situations far faster than even the adult Shuttles, so all now waited on her observations.
“Look at those stamps!” she exclaimed. “They’re ancient!”
The wrongness came back with force now, wrapping each of them in a suffocating miasma of memory and dread. No one said it aloud, but all of them were thinking it.
Tyrannosaurus Rex. Century-old stamps. Time travel.
Jeremy had done it before, but he had needed the sketchbook. He lifted the aged envelope, noting it sagged a little as he raised it. He looked up at his parents and then over at Natalie. They could read his thoughts, for they had been thinking the same things. Three heads nodded at him.
He ripped open the envelope as carefully as he could. For some reason, now the paper seemed to crumble as he tore at it. He wondered how this same thing had not happened in the mail.
He pulled out the pages of sketches gently. He had opened the package backwards and the backs of the pages were facing him. He flipped the top one up.
Natalie’s grip on his arm turned into a vise. His Dad grunted and his Mom let out a small gasp.
And Jeremy? Jeremy was speechless. But if he could have found his voice it would have sounded like a wail of anguish.
Phew! Three hours at this. I can’t remember if it always took this long to write a couple of chapters or if this is because I’m working without a plot (or net, so to speak). Or maybe it’s because the dryer stopped mid-typing and I had to fold clothes before they wrinkled.
Anyway, let me know what you think of the experiment. I could try a couple of more chapters if you like.
Tune in tomorrow to find out what I have planned (or, more accurately, not planned) for the second trilogy. It’s so unknown even I’m interested to find out what I type tomorrow!