As an avid reader, I’m always on the look out for new books to read and I am totally open to new authors and genres. I’ve found having this blog (entitled ‘Stories Can Make Us Fly’- can you tell I love literature?) has opened so many doors for me into finding new authors and reading books I wouldn’t usually pick up in Waterstones or your local independent bookstore. I am very lucky to be a part of another book tour, this time for ‘Storyland’ by Bryan W Alaspa. I don’t think I would have known about this book if it hadn’t been for having this blog so I feel very lucky!
I have very much enjoyed reading this book and hope you do too. Without further ado, here’s a little segment for you to enjoy.
As I drift off, I start to dream. It’s one of those cases where I am aware I am dreaming, standing beside and above myself, watching. How much of this is actually happening or happened, I don’t know.
Martin and I are at the schoolyard not far from our house. One of those rare days we are not just inside playing Storyland or out in the woods doing the same. We’re just there, on the swings for hours and then on the slide. Finally, as it gets near lunch, we sit on the monkey bars. These are old and rusty things and the ones we sit on looks kind of like stubby bullet dropped on its flat end, the rounded, bulbous, nose pointed at the sky. Kids sometimes go the top and hang from the bars forming a slight dome and try to knock each other off. We’re just sitting up there, legs dangling down into the middle section and our arms around the bars. We’re talking. I don’t remember exactly what we’re talking about – perhaps Storyland or baseball or something.
We hear the sound of a bicycle and turn around to see who else has come to the yard. I remember turning around and looking and see this kid coming. In my memory, now, he is wearing the red hoodie, but it was summer and he must not have been wearing something too heavy. However, in the dream, he is wearing the red hoodie and on the red bike. He’s a kid we don’t really recognize.
Billy had just moved to the neighborhood. Martin and I find out who he is and where he’s from days later. He’s from Pittsburgh, originally, but a job transfer for his father has brought him here. His dad works for a railroad and has been put in charge of a rail yard near our new home. It’s a promotion, but Billy is pissed he no longer has his friends from Pittsburgh to hang out with. The day we meet him, we learn years later, he has had a fight with his mom about their new home and he heads out with a head full of anger. When he spots us, it’s like a gun has set its sights on a victim. Billy is just a bullet and we are the targets.
He is not pedaling in a threatening way. In fact, he waves to us as he comes over and we wave back. Billy is handsome, with a crew cut and a rugged, if slightly wide face. He even has a small spray of freckles across the bridge of his nose and across both cheeks. He couldn’t look more like a Norman Rockwell drawing of a typical American kid right out of the 50s.
We don’t know who he is. We don’t know about his father and his transfer. We don’t know his father tends to get angry because, although this new job is more money and technically a promotion, he, too, feels like he’s been exiled to Siberia and being punished. It is a home that is more full of anger than anyone realizes.
None of it matters now and neither I nor Martin know it. If we did, it probably wouldn’t have mattered. Those things never matter to kids, right?
“Hey,” I remember saying.
Billy rides over and he’s smiling and seems so friendly. “Hi guys!” he says brightly. “Do you mind if I come hang out with you?. What ya, doin’?”
“Just hanging out here,” Martin replies. There is a wary look in his eyes I can remember to this day. Martin wants the world to be him and me and that’s it. Now there is a third party and not of his choosing. Whenever others in our class have been part of our party, Martin has agreed to it, even suggested who gets to play with us. “Who’re you.”
“Name’s Billy,” he says as he casually drops his bike and starts to climb the monkey bars to join us. He moves with the casual grace and speed of a born athlete. If Billy had not vanished when he did, he could have easily become the captain of the high school football team and probably gone on to get a college scholarship. “We just moved here.”
He joins us at the top, his legs hanging over the edge. His eyes are bright, but they shift back and forth between me and Martin. I smile and ask questions. Martin is wary and unsure of things, not contributing much to the conversation. He’s shy, I tell myself. This is how he is with new people – strangers.
“What’s there fun to do around here?” Billy asks. “Do you guys play baseball or anything like that?”
“Not really,” Martin replies. He has never hidden his disdain for the very idea of organized sports. I at least follow the Pirates and the Chicago White Sox and some other teams. My dad and I talk about baseball and there have been times I have been tempted to sign up for little league. Martin routinely makes fun of athletes and organized sports. “Organized sports are for idiots who don’t know how to use their imagination.”
This might have been the sentence right there that turned Billy against us. He came over angry, but perhaps seeing some other kids had given him hope. Hope maybe he had found some kindred spirits who would join him in playing baseball and football and other sports. Kids who could go with him to watch Pirates games on special field trips and listen to games on the radio. All of it was gone in a flash.
“Oh, really,” he says with a crooked smile. “What do you guys do instead?”
“We play a game,” I reply and there is a flash of anger from Martin. Given the years, I think he was trying to warn me right then and there not to say anything more. I don’t pick up on the warning. “It’s called Storyland. It’s a lot of fun. Martin here comes up with the best stories and adventures.”
Billy lets out a bray of laughter. I instantly realize something between all of us has changed. There is a sinking in my gut and a clutching at my heart. I look at Martin and he cannot meet my gaze. Instead, his face is red, right up to the tips of his ears, and he is looking down at his feet.
“Seriously?” Billy asks. “Baby games? That’s what you guys do? Do you dress up like wizards and crap? Run around in the woods throwing bean bags at each other and shouting ‘lightning bolt!’ ‘Lightning bolt!'”
He rears back and laughs so hard he has to hold onto his stomach. I can tell Martin is getting mad. It takes a lot to get him there, but you can tell by the shades of red on his face and neck. He is nearly purple.
“It’s not a game for babies!” Martin says. “It takes intelligence and imagination to create complex stories and characters. It takes being plugged into something not everyone can be plugged into. Storyland is a real place!”
I cringe when he says that. No, I think, don’t start with that stuff. This kid already thinks we’re idiots and now he’s just had it confirmed we’re crazy.
Billy laughs even harder. His face is red and he can barely catch his breath between the gales of laughter. He slaps his hand against the metal bars and the entire set of monkey bars vibrate from him striking it. I want to crawl away. I want to get down off of the monkey bars and run back home.
“You have got to tell me you’re kidding!” Billy says between deep whooping breaths. “You have to be kidding! A real place?”
He sets off into more gales of uncontrolled laughter.
Marin slaps the bar in front of him. “It is a real place! Ned and I are tapped into it. We can see what happens there. We get the stories. Just because you’re too much of a moron to see it and understand it doesn’t make it less real, it just makes you an idiot. Not smart enough to understand it. Too stupid to appreciate there’s more to the world and living than smacking into each other playing some stupid, pointless sport!”
The words come tumbling out and halfway through his rant, Billy stops laughing. In fact, as I watch, I see a fuse has been lit the moment Martin suggests he’s an idiot. Martin is so into his rant and so determined to shut Billy up he doesn’t realize the bomb he is about to set off. Martin has lived a sheltered life, without bullies and without guys like Billy. I have seen guys like Billy before, back before we moved here, and I can tell the danger is building and real.
Billy reaches out with one hand without warning. One moment he is listening to Martin as my friend repeatedly tells him he’s an idiot and unable to comprehend the world and some kind of caveman. Billy just extends his right hand, ending in a fist, and there is a meaty slap as he hits Martin directly on the left side of his face, just above his lower jaw and just below his ear. It’s like hearing someone punch a slab of beef. Martin lets out a grunt and a sigh and his eyes glaze over for just a moment and he rocks to the side, nearly falling off the monkey bars.
The reaction Martin has is instantaneous and dramatic. He lurches backwards and makes a horrendous noise. There is a deep and pained moan which starts in his chest and roars out of his mouth. He grasps at the monkey bars and catches himself, but it’s a near thing and he nearly falls over backwards.
Did you enjoy this excerpt? Get your hands on a copy of Bryan W Alaspa’s ‘Storyland’.
Whilst reading Storyland, I found myself constantly on the edge of my seat. It’s full of mystery and the characters are beautifully written. I loved the point of view it was written from; it gives the reader a strong involvement and for sure, it makes you feel like you are there, watching the sequence unfold.
If you want to know more about Storyland following my excerpt, these other wonderful bloggers are part of the blog tour: