Enjoy this preview of the first chapter of my novelette, An Unlikely Hero, available on Amazon in both print and ebook format. It’s the story of a man who he thinks he has nothing left to live for…and a magic book that shows him how wrong he is.
Malcolm Jameson paced methodically through Donahoe Park, a neatly landscaped area about halfway down Mackenzie Hill from where the downtown end of the Hardesty Bridge was anchored. The elevation of the park provided a panoramic view of the entire waterfront and there were park benches placed at strategic lookout points to allow visitors to enjoy the scenery.
Malcolm remembered sitting with Ellen on one of those benches, laughing and joking about the babymoon she wanted to plan. She’d found out she was pregnant, and had wanted the two of them to go on a romantic vacation together, almost like a second honeymoon, before the baby arrived.
He’d said his final good-byes to all of them yesterday, at the cemetery. Three marble gravestones, one larger than the other two, draped with flowers and surrounded by fresh, green grass. He missed Ellen. He missed Susan and Billy. A parent should never outlive his children. It was too damn heartbreaking.
He reached the stairs up to the pedestrian sidewalk that ran along one side of the bridge, a major traffic artery for the city, and started climbing. He was a little winded by the time he reached the top, so he leaned against the railing and rested for a moment, just enjoying the view and the light breeze that ruffled his hair. Behind him, he could hear cars passing by on the main roadbed of the bridge.
A group of six women joggers in pastel sweat suits passed him, gossiping excitedly about mundane things, then a few bicyclists whizzed by. People with stuff to live for.
Malcolm pushed himself away from the railing and strolled up the slight slope of the bridge. It took him about ten minutes to reach the center of the span.
He stopped and leaned against the railing one last time, partly to take in the view and partly to plan how he was going to climb over the barrier. He’d envisioned himself doing a proper swan dive, although he wasn’t sure why that mattered.
He heard chattering voices nearby as a group of four elderly walkers approached him. He wanted to be alone. He didn’t want anybody to be disturbed or horrified, as they might be if they were too close.
He waited for the walkers to pass. There was a bicyclist in yellow and black spandex riding gear coming up behind the women. Once he passed, there was nobody for quite a distance in either direction.
That’s when he’d do it.
The geriatric walkers strode past Malcolm without giving him a second glance. All he needed to do now was wait for the cyclist to pass.
Malcolm was surprised when the biker coasted to stop next to him. The man looked to be in his late twenties, with long brown hair that pushed out from under his peaked, yellow helmet. He got off his bike and put down his kickstand. Then he reached into a small canvas pack that was attached to the back of his bike and pulled out a book.
He stepped over to Malcolm and held the book out to him. “Hey, man. This is for you.”
“This book is gonna change your life, dude. I can feel it in my bones.”
Malcolm looked at the paperback that the biker was holding. It had a garishly colored cover that carried the title, “This Book Is Going to Change Your Life.” The author was listed as Seymour Subrosa. The cover was battered and creased, and the corners were a little dog-eared, like it had been passed around a lot.
Malcolm couldn’t help laughing. He couldn’t think of a more incongruous book to hand to somebody who was about to perform a terminal swan dive.
“That’s all right,” Malcolm said, still chuckling a little. “You keep it. I’m not in the market for a book like that.”
“Dude, I’m not leaving until you take the book.” The biker was insistent, gazing fixedly at Malcolm’s face.
His intensity made Malcolm a little uncomfortable. He had no idea why this guy was being so adamant about him accepting the book.
“All right, all right,” he said, intending only to placate the man.
He took the book from the man, who smiled at him, and said, “Live long and prosper.”
Great, a mad trekkie. Just what I needed.
The man got back on his bicycle and peddled away, leaving Malcolm holding the book. He supposed he could just put the book down on the sidewalk and then jump. Somebody would probably pick it up.
The book lover in him chafed a little at the idea. That wasn’t really how you treated a book. Plus, what would happen to the book if nobody picked it up?
He turned the book over in his hands. The back of the book didn’t really say what it was about, except for implying that it was some sort of self-help guide. It featured testimonials from people Malcolm had never heard of. In fact, it was kind of funny, but none of the testimonials seemed to be from anybody famous. On any book he’d ever seen, even if you didn’t recognize who was being quoted, there was usually something like “Author of New York Times bestseller, ‘Blah blah blah.’”
He flipped to the introduction.
The world changes constantly. Every day newspapers and online news sites tell us about new scientific developments, new technologies, new ways of doing business and new social media sites so people can interact in different and supposedly more effective ways. No matter how fast things change, though, there’s still one constant.
You can change the tools and the medium of communication, but we are all still just people. Humans. Homo sapiens. We are all possessed of the same feelings and emotional apparatus that we’ve had, as a species, for the last two hundred thousand years.
Well, that hardly seemed promising. Too much boilerplate scientific-speak, obviously designed to emphasize the importance of the self-help message, which would undoubtedly consist of a bunch of totally non-scientific twaddle. He flipped past a few pages without reading them until he came to the heading, “Who This Book is For.”
This book is for anybody who’s ever felt unsure about their place in the world, or even whether they should stay in it. It’s for people who have felt grief so deeply that they’ve ended up feeling totally disconnected from everyone around them. It’s for people like Malcolm Jameson, who lost his wife and children two years ago today in a senseless vehicle accident with an eighteen-wheeler delivery truck for a national grocery store chain.
What the hell? Malcolm slammed the book shut angrily and looked around wildly for that damned biker.