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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Behind the Frame (an excerpt)

Christopher McIntyre, Kit to his family and friends, was an average seventeen-year-old. He lived in Issaquah, Washington with his mother and younger sister, and until one summer morning, the only unusual thing about him was that he was prone to having extremely vivid dreams. Then he paid a visit to his neighbor, the celebrated author Philip Amirault, and found himself pulled into an alternate United States -- one in which his family, friends, and school, and, in fact, his entire home town, do not exist.

Kit's arrival in the small Adirondack village of Finn Hill launches him on an adventure in which he has to figure out not only how to survive, but how to get back home before his presence tears apart Finn Hill itself. Because when Kit jumped from Philip Amirault's apartment in a town in Washington to a wooded hillside in Upstate New York, he seems to have brought something else along with him -- something that may ultimately destroy both worlds.

Behind the Frame is a young-adult novel of the paranormal, but ultimately is more than that -- it is about the value of taking a risk, even if that risk places you in danger of losing your life, to protect the people you love.

It is available as an e-book from Amazon and Barnes&Noble.

The following scene occurs in the first chapter, and begins with Kit's arrival in Philip Amirault's apartment.


The door opened.  Just a crack at first, and then wider.

"Kit, yes, come in," said a voice, and the door opened, although it was still impossible to see the voice's owner.  Kit walked in without hesitation, and the door shut behind him.

Kit turned to look at his friend.  Philip Amirault was one of the ugliest men Kit had ever seen -- short, fat, with a great quantity of straggling gray hair on his face and very little on top of his head.  He had a large mole on the side of his nose, and one eye turned in slightly -- this latter characteristic had the unsettling effect of making it nearly impossible to figure out whom Philip was looking at.  Philip's grin, certainly meant to be welcoming, revealed a row of yellowed, horsey teeth.  You'd never guess, thought Kit, that this man wrote a book that had spent fourteen weeks on the bestseller list.

"You're late," Philip said, still grinning.

"Sorry.  My fault.  I wasn't watching the time."

"That was the right answer," said Philip, with a casual motion of one hand, and turned and made his way into his apartment.

In terms of floor plan, Philip's apartment was a carbon copy of Kit's; but it would have taken someone with incredible powers of observation to draw that conclusion.  Philip's apartment was a continual source of fascination for Kit, and (though Kit did not know this), he was one of the very few people who had ever seen the inside of it.  The windows were all but blocked by thick tapestries, which Philip claimed kept the cold out.  ("If it was good enough for Charlemagne, it's plenty good enough for me," he had once told Kit.)  The result was that the apartment looked like a disorderly attic -- clutter, dust, and little light.  Thousands of books -- everything from The Decameron to Stephen King -- lined bookshelves, and lay tumbled on floor, table, and chairs.  A moth-eaten stuffed coyote sat at attention by the front door, casting its dusty glass gaze on any newcomers.  A huge Ugandan tribal drum occupied the same corner of the apartment where, one floor up, the McIntyres' stereo dwelt.  The walls were hung with various objets d'art, most of them African or Native American, although some were simply weird -- such as a necklace of galvanized wingnuts carefully wound into a piece of jute twine, which hung on a nail next to the kitchen light switch.  Kit had once asked Philip where he had gotten that, and what it was for.  "Heck if I know," Philip had responded.  "If I ever need to know, I suppose I'll remember."

Kit had spent many hours in this apartment, conversing with the old man.  The ritual was set; they first shared a cup of tea -- never plain tea, of course, always some sort of herbal tea that Philip had concocted himself.  Some of the herbs he used Kit knew well enough -- catnip, lemon balm, spearmint -- his mother had grown them in their vegetable garden when he was little, before his parents split.  Others were strange, with wonderful and mysterious names: wood betony, pennyroyal, angelica, fenugreek, elecampane.  The last was administered when Kit came for a visit while suffering from a cold, and was docilely consumed, even though Kit later reported to his sister that it had tasted like stewed horse crap.  He did admit that it had helped his sneezing and coughing, but afterwards he carefully avoided visits when he was ill.

Today it was chamomile tea, which was sweet and fruity and altogether pleasant.  They drank their tea in silence, and Kit waited for Philip to bring up the subject of why he had been invited.  The old man had to do things in his own time.

Philip drained his cup with a noisy slurp and sat back, looking at Kit with one dark, intelligent eye; the other seemed to gaze over Kit's right shoulder.  "I want your opinion on something," he said, with no preamble at all.

Kit did not respond, but waited for his host to complete his thought.

"Some years ago I made an acquisition which I never have attempted to test thoroughly or explain.  As you know, I tend to be rather skeptical of claims of the paranormal, and other such hocus-pocus."  He stood up, left the kitchen, and returned a moment later with a long, rectangular black box of considerable age.  He dropped into his chair with a grunt, and continued.  "Bought these in a second-hand book store in San Antonio, Texas, three years ago.  Was there for an interview -- book tour, you know, when The Broken Coin hit number one."  The Broken Coin  was Philip's most recent book.  "TV reporter took one look at me and had second thoughts about putting me on his show."  He chuckled under his breath.  "Guess he felt that ugly people shouldn't write bestsellers."

Kit started to object, but Philip cut him off before he could get a word out.  "Look, Kit old man, I've lived with this face for a few years.  God knows I have to look at it in the mirror every morning.  Don't argue with me.  Anyway, I had some time on my hands, and found a used book store.  Guy behind the counter said I looked like a man who could use these."

He opened up the box, and inside were several pairs of old wire-rim glasses.  "He called them the original rose-colored glasses.  My opinion is that he was a jackass who wanted to turn a quick buck but had no idea what they were.  I tried them on, but you know my eyes are completely shot -- I'm blind in one of them, and not much better in the other, and all I could see through them was fuzz.  Some rose-colored glasses.  I don't know what I expected -- that they'd give me my 20/20 back, or what.  Stupid of me.

"Still, the idea appealed to me.  Don't know why; superstitious crap is just that, and I've never subscribed to it.  I thought I might be able to use the idea in a story or something, and he only wanted thirty dollars for them, so I paid him and took them home.  I lost them for a couple of years, and generally forgot about them, and found them again last week.  I thought; maybe Kit will be interested, and at least he could put them on and tell me what he sees.  If he sees Brigadoon or the Pearly Gates then he and I can sell them for a million dollars and split the money."

Kit looked at the old, tarnished spectacles with their flat glass lenses.  He knew enough science to recognize the fact that they were not prescription lenses -- they were thin and perfectly flat, like costume glasses used on stage.  They seemed completely unremarkable.  Without speaking, he picked up a pair, unfolded the arms, and slipped them on.

As he put the glasses on he was looking at the table, set with two empty teacups, the black box with two more pairs of glasses, and several books.  The flat lenses, as he expected, didn't distort what he saw; it looked just like it did before, only a little smeared and dusty.  He looked up, to tell Philip that his magic glasses didn't work, but stopped in mid-sentence.  Philip was gone.

Kit stood up and put out his hand, knocking over his teacup.  "Philip?" he said, alarmed.  All of the sounds -- including his own voice -- seemed distant, thin, like an echo from fifty miles away.  Kit stared at Philip's empty chair; and as he watched, the chair began to shift shape as if it were melting.  The table sagged in the middle, like it was made of thick syrup, and the cups, books, and the box with the glasses slid down into a hole in the center, stretching and distorting like a Dali painting before sliding into nothing.  "Philip!" he screamed,  but his voice sounded to him no louder than a whisper.

He heard, or thought he did, a paper-thin hissing, a two-dimensional parody of Philip Amirault's voice.  "Take them off.. take off the glasses... Kit, take them off..."  His hands reached up, but he could not see them, and they could not find his face; or perhaps, where his face once was, there was now nothing solid.

Then the walls of the apartment began to twist, like water going down a drain.  Kit was caught in the spiral, and as if in slow motion, he turned and fell over onto his back, and the darkness swallowed him up.

1 comment:

  1. Wow ! What a great read.. love the name of the book. Are any of the characters based on people you know ? Love the use of the descriptive words and the way the story moves so fast from one situation to another.. Do you think a 12 year old would be considered 'young adult ?"