Novelizing

Ghost Story MonthI’m pushing ahead to finish my YA novel, Lynn Dodge on the Edge of Oblivion (working title). What the heck, it’s snowy and I can’t work in the yard. With any luck I’ll have the first draft done in another week. To give you a taste here’s Chapter 1:

LYNN DODGE ON THE EDGE OF OBLIVION

Chapter 1

The house was cold and silent at four-thirty as Lynn Dodge thumped downstairs from her bedroom dragging a battered suitcase and her roomy shoulder bag. Her mother hadn’t bothered to get up to see her off. In a way Lynn was glad. It simplified leaving. There would be no last minute change of heart, no rehash of the previous night’s argument.

Still, the little girl in Lynn had hoped her mother would have seen fit to fix her a bowl of oatmeal with butter, cream, and dark brown sugar as a send-off. Or an apology.

Lynn went to the kitchen to check just in case, though she realized how silly that was. Not even a note on the kitchen table. It was as if her mother had washed her hands of her the minute Lynn decided to accept her grandfather’s invitation.

Well, she knew where she stood. Lynn saw it as providence that her grandfather had surfaced into her life at the exact moment her mother had put her on a month’s restriction for sneaking out to a forbidden concert with her girlfriend, Christine. A month’s restriction starting the first week of summer vacation! It might as well have been the whole summer if she were stuck in the house with a spiteful mother while all her friends basked in the sun.

Not that Lynn was big into basking but she at least wanted to have the option. She wasn’t a baby and this wasn’t the eighteenth century. It was 1961 and she was seventeen, about to enter her senior year in high school. To be put on restriction like a child was beyond humiliating; it was the final wedge between her and her mother. Lynn vowed to tough it out until graduation, then leave home for good.

And what about Dad? Had Mother even told him she was sending their daughter off across the country with the notorious Harlan Dodge? When he got home from work in the small hours of the morning the house was quiet, the fighting over. Come the weekend maybe he’ll notice I’m gone. What will Mother tell him then, when it’s too late?

Anemic early morning light was seeping through the red check kitchen curtains when Lynn heard the toot of the horn from the street. The old man was fifteen minutes early. Lynn shouldered her handbag, grabbed the handle of the suitcase, and left the house, locking the front door behind her. She slid the key under the mat. She wouldn’t need it for a month. If then.

Harlan Dodge’s car glittered with junk-jewelry chrome and tuxedo black and white paint at the curb in front of his daughter’s house. He left the engine idling at the curb while he fetched his granddaughter from the front porch. He wasn’t wasting any time getting on the road.

Lynn tried to imagine what their redneck neighbors would think had they seen her getting into a strange car at dawn – a car sporting weird radio antennas sticking out either side like a giant cockroach – if cockroaches wore whitewall tires shrouded with black fender skirts. In a neighborhood of rusty Chevy pickups, her grandfather’s ‘56 Mercury Monterey stuck out like a zebra in an elk herd.

He hefted her suitcase from the porch to the curb without a word, opened the trunk, and slid it next to a green duffle bag and what appeared to be a rifle case. Only then did he look up.

“You want to put your purse in here too?” he asked.

“No, I’ll need it in the car.” It contained her journal and a book by J. D. Salinger. It was a long drive from Seattle to New York and she had no intention rubbernecking at cornfields or being drawn into meaningless conversations with an old man she had nothing in common with other than a few bad genes.

“Suit yourself,” he said, slamming the trunk lid.

Lynn sensed that the old man was wound tight, that he was on the verge of saying something to her, but instead he shifted into gear and pulled away from the curb almost before she could close the car door. That suited her fine. There wasn’t anything left to say.

He had shown up at their house the previous day, asking her mother if she would let Lynn accompany him to New York for the Dodge family reunion. It was out of the blue. Lynn hadn’t seen her grandfather more than a few times her whole life. Now suddenly he wanted to take her on a road trip. Of course her mother had said no. Actually she had screamed no. The fight went on for an hour, laced with recriminations and old business. But Lynn, knowing a chance when she saw one, leaped into the thick of the battle and insisted that she was going with or without her mother’s permission. At last Joan Dodge relented and stomped out of the house.

It occurred to Lynn that she had quite effectively painted herself into a corner. She had shackled herself for a month to a man she barely knew. A man who might be anything. Judging from the stories her mother told, Harlan Dodge was the black sheep of the family, a conman, a drunkard, and a gambler. A general reprobate and rebel. But he might also be an axe murderer and a lunatic for all Lynn knew. “You’re two of a kind,” her mother sputtered when she knew she had lost the battle with her daughter. “You belong together, and good riddance.”

I got what I wanted. Why then does it feel like I lost a war, wondered Lynn as the huge car roared east on Interstate 90. Her grandfather kept his eyes fixed on the road, as if he were entirely alone in the vehicle.

Before they reached Snoqualmie Pass Harlan pulled into the parking lot of Twede’s Cafe in the little town of North Bend.

“Why are we stopping?” asked Lynn.

“Breakfast. You hungry?”

“As a matter of fact.”

“Good.” A man of few words. Lynn could live with that.

The parking lot was jammed with dusty trucks. A sure sign of a good place to eat, said her grandfather as they got out of the car. Lynn thought the crowded parking lot was more an indication that Twede’s was the only diner within a hundred miles open at that hour.

The morning air was celery-crisp, the mountain that loomed over the town half shrouded in wispy blue mist. Lynn stretched, savoring the scent of wood smoke on the breeze.

“See that traffic light on the corner?” asked Harlan.

“What?”

“That’s the only traffic light on I-90 all the way to the East Coast.”

“Oh.” She didn’t know what else to say. His wasn’t exactly riveting scenic commentary.

Twede’s was a slightly tacky diner, crowded with flannel-clad lumberjacks, and reeking of fried potatoes. At the center of the room was a long lunch counter, red and chrome bar stools lined up like buttons.

Harlan chose a booth by the window. The place was noisy and greasy, not Lynn’s kind of place at all but since her mother hadn’t seen fit to make her any breakfast, she compromised her standards to the extent of ordering a cheese omelet with hash browns. Harlan, on the other hand, pulled out all stops for a mountain-sized pile of bacon, ham, eggs, and sausage, all of which he buried under catsup and hot sauce. Lynn tried not to speculate how many creatures had contributed to the heap of fried animal parts on his plate. Her vegetarian sensibilities roiled and her appetite took a dive as he chewed a mouth full of sausage patty. If this was how much he ate on a regular basis he should have weighed four hundred pounds, but he looked like he didn’t have an ounce of fat on him. Some things were just unfair. And if I have to sit across the table from the massacre every morning for the next four weeks I’ll waste away to nothing.

A waitress in pink ruffles topped up their coffee every few minutes, flirting outrageously with the old man. She acted as if she knew him, and possibly in the biblical sense. Which she might since before he retired Harlan made his living as a long haul trucker, no doubt making a habit of stopping at Twede’s whenever he passed through North Bend. Still, did he really have to encourage her? The display was almost as disgusting as the pile of meat on his plate.

Though Lynn could see where women might find her grandfather attractive. He was a pretty good-looking man . . . for his age – kind of an older version of James Dean, what with the Levis and heavy wool jacket. Wiry build. Hair and beard going to silver. Attractive in a scruffy way. Nonetheless, the flirting was totally revolting and inappropriate at breakfast.

She was however enjoying her first adult-sanctioned cup of coffee. To her mother’s way of thinking coffee was one of those rites of passage off limits to her offspring until they were old enough to vote. Lynn wondered where she had acquired the prejudice since obviously her father didn’t share it. It couldn’t be a religious restriction. Joan Dodge wasn’t religious. Perhaps her extensive list of forbidden pleasures had more to do with making her daughter’s life miserable than about any real belief in the evils of caffeine. Lynn cradled the mug with both hands, burying her face in the steam, imprinting the fragrance on her memory, knowing that when she got home it would be back to milk and juice for her. At least when her mother was around.

“You haven’t asked about our route,” said her grandfather, setting his fork on the greasy plate. “Aren’t you curious what the plan is?”

“You’re the one driving so why should I care about the route? I’m just along for the ride.”

“Yeah, that’s true. But as long as you’re riding along I could use help keeping us on course. How are you at reading maps?”

“What is there to know beyond drive east until we get there?” Supposedly Harlan had driven this route countless times so why would he need a navigator?

“Lots of roads from here to there,” he said, leaning on his elbows. “We’ll try to stay on Interstate 90. Used to drive it when I pulled long hauls back in the day but we’ll leave it from time to time, if only to eat and sleep. Might be some side trips we’d want to take.”

“Like what?”

“Don’t know. Maybe Mount Rushmore? Ever see that?”

“Only in books.” Lynn had no interest in seeing a group of disembodied heads protruding from a mountainside.

“Hell of a thing,” he said. “But that’s only one idea. You think of something else you want to see along the way, we could make a stop.”

“I thought you told my mother you wanted me along to keep you out of trouble. It’s probably the only reason she eventually knuckled under. That and the prospect of getting rid of me for an entire month.”

“True, though keeping me from getting us lost might qualify as keeping me out of trouble.”

“What would I have to do?”

“I got a big AAA auto club map. Just keep track of where we are and where we’re going. Keep an eye on the road signs. Let me know about road construction up ahead. That’s it, pretty much.”

“I suppose I could do that.” There went her idea of reading her Salinger novel on the road trip.

“To get to Westfield in time for the reunion we got to log somewhere around seven, eight hundred miles a day. I’m thinking four hundred in the morning, then a lunch stop, followed by four hundred in the afternoon before stopping for the night. That’s if we only drive during the day. If you spell me off for naps we could cut the time.”

“Me? You’re thinking of letting me drive? Are you crazy?” she said. “And what’s this about Westfield? Where’s Westfield? I thought we were going to New York City.”

“Not New York City. Westfield. It’s a little town in upstate New York on the shores of Lake Erie. That’s where the old Dodge homestead is. I thought once your mom cooled down she told you where we were going.”

Typical. I can’t believe this. Mother supposedly wigs out about me taking this trip, knowing that the more she fights it the more I’ll want to go. Classic reverse psychology and I fell for it! She conned me to get rid of me. Joan’s story was that Harlan promised to buy Lynn a senior year wardrobe in New York in return for her riding shotgun on the trip. Apparently that was to sweeten the pot in case Lynn was tempted to back out. Not that Lynn was any kind of a clotheshorse. Had her mother the slightest understanding of her daughter she would have known that a stylish New York City wardrobe was no incentive at all. The bigger incentive was getting out of the house and away from her mother for the better part of summer vacation.

“You can drive, right?” asked Harlan, interrupting her mental tirade.

“I don’t have a license. Mother won’t let me have a car.”

“Not what I asked. You know how?”

“Well . . . I know a little,” she said, not liking the drift of this.

“Holy hell, that mother of yours.” He shook his head. “Tell you what, kid, I’ll give you a few lessons. It’s mostly straight highway from other side of the Continental Divide to Chicago. Merc is automatic so you don’t have to hassle with a clutch. Keep the car on the road and your foot on the gas. All there is to it.”

“I can’t. What if I get pulled over by the police?”

“Don’t get pulled over,” he said. “Shit, I can do all the driving if I have to but it’d give us more time to sightsee during daylight if we could log couple a hundred miles at night. I’ll drive at night, you drive some during the day while I sleep in the back.”

This had disaster written all over it.

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