Sunday, January 30, 2011

Land to the North -- Prologue

(Blogger's note: This is the beginning of a novel. I will post the chapters as I finish them over the next several weeks... This means that the novel will appear on the blog backwards. The earlier chapters coming at the end. To read them in order, you need to begin with the Prologue, and then the chapters in order. You'll have to scroll down to find the earlier chapters.)
The old steamer trunk, a flat black, dented thing covered with stickers from some of the most exotic ports of call in the known world, stood at the far end of the attic, centered under the arch of the wooden beams. The path to it was partially blocked by a collection of fallout from the day to day task of living. There were broken lamps and scarred tables, ripped chairs and clothes that were so hopelessly out of date that they would never be back in style.

He found a variety of broken, old toys that predated the electronic fads of the late twentieth century that included a basketball backboard, a wooden box holding a Lionel train and a cardboard box containing nearly a thousand toy soldiers who had seen action in the Civil War, World War II, Vietnam and Iraq.

But Steven Morgan wasn’t interested in the debris of generations. His goal was the trunk that had disappeared when his mother had caught him studying the decals of far away destinations that his mother refused to talk about and that his father said had been in the family for more than a hundred years. When he was ten he tried to open it and when his father caught him, he had been sent to his room. The trunk had disappeared then, and the door to the attic acquired a new padlock with keys that were hidden.

Morgan found the keys by accident when he was twelve and he opened the long sealed door. Upstairs, hidden at the far end of the attic, under a bit of canvas that looked so out of place that it signaled the presence of some secret treasure, he found the trunk again. He ran his hands over the rough, pocked marked surface and studied the fading stickers in the afternoon heat.

Rather than escaping to the air conditioning of his bedroom or the family room or the computer room, he stood there, his T-shirt soaked and tried to imagine what would be hidden inside.
Finally, he went into the garage, found some tools, and returned to the attic. For a moment he stopped at the door. Both parents were gone for the day. His sister, an obnoxious youngster named Gracie who desired nothing more than to make life miserable for the majority of the human race, was visiting her latest boyfriend. The house was empty, the family gone for hours yet, and his curiosity overwhelmed him.

He closed the door, climbed the short flight of stairs and stood looking at the trunk as if it was some sort of idol in an ancient, ruined temple. The naked light bulb burned above it and sunlight streamed through the louvered vent near it.

With the odor of dust hot in his nostrils, he crossed the floor. He stood over the hasp on the truck, levered the screwdriver between the metal parts of the lock and pulled once, sharply. He was astonished at the ease with which the lock broke.

Morgan set the screwdriver on the floor and then hesitated. He wiped his face on the tail of his T-shirt, leaving a ragged, dirty smear. He grabbed the top of the trunk then, and pried it open. The disappointment struck his with an almost physical force. On one side were old clothes hanging from a short metal bar. Under then were shoes and boots. On the other side was a series of drawers. Morgan wasn’t sure what he expected but dirty clothes and ratty shoes was not at the top of the list.

Morgan fell back, into one of the old chairs creating a cloud of dust that swirled around his head. He coughed once or twice and closed his eyes as he breathed in the dust.

Feeling that a lifetime of dreams was slipping away, he reached out and opened the top drawer. It was empty. As was the second. The treasure was in the third.

Morgan reached in and felt the handle of the Mauser pistol with a broomstick grip. The magazine lay next to it, along with several loose bullets. This was the reason the trunk was locked and hidden.

The final drawer, at the bottom, yielded a leather bound book with a rotting ribbon around it. He picked it up carefully, afraid that it would fall apart in his hands. He opened it and looked at the first page.

The ink, that once might have been blue was now faded and brown. From the few notes on that page, it was clear that he had found a diary of an uncle he didn’t even know existed. An uncle who had vanished a long time ago, but had left a written record of his travels. Morgan pulled his chair around so that he could seen the diary better, and began to read.

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