As I feverishly type away on my project for this year’s NaNoWriMo, I think back to last year and to my 3,719-word epic fail. I say it was a fail, but I dare say it was only in the sense of completing a novel.
The story that I started last year was inspired primarily by images I saw on Worth1000.com, a website dedicated to creative competitions. The inspiration began with the picture I added to yesterday’s post: an image of three giant crows standing over an old man who seems little more than irritated by their presence. This was followed by an image of a giant leaf ship.
The story itself is a whimsical one, very dream-like in quality and intended to be relatively humorous. Though I never finished the entire thing, I have posted what I wrote during NaNoWriMo 2011 down below.
The Curious Adventure of Donovan Crine
Mr. Donovan Crine awoke with a start at the sound of children laughing and screaming outside. With a grunt of disgust and a sour frown, the old man drew the blankets closer about him and tried to ignore the racket coming from outside. It wasn’t easy. Then there came a dog barking. Mr. Crine put a pillow over his head, then another one, and another one. But even that didn’t drown out the noise. He replaced the stack of pillows with a finger in his ear. But it isn’t easy to sleep with a finger in one’s ear.
At last the old man sat up in disgust and slowly crawled out of bed.
“Blast it all!” he muttered as he shuffled over to his closet. “If I had wanted all this nonsense after my retirement I would have volunteered at a nursery.”
He opened the closet door and examined his choice of attire: a brown tweed suit, a brown tweed suit, or, take a guess, a brown tweed suit.
After changing into his everyday clothes, old Mr. Crine took up his cane and shuffled down the hall, into the living room, and over to the front door. After unlocking the regular lock, the bolt, and the chain, he stepped out onto the porch and shot an icy glare across the way to the children playing in the neighbors’ yard.
“Quiet down, you little brats!” he hollered. “Before I call the police!”
Instantly the children shrank back and sulked to their respective homes. They had no doubt that the grumpy old man would really do it.
Grumbling, Mr. Crine sauntered back into the house, slamming the door behind him.
Donovan Crine was not at all the sort of man you’d want for a neighbor. Meeting him at the grocery store was bad enough. He always had something to complain about, and God forbid you ever try to correct him or encourage him to think positively, for then he would go railing against that as well.
Mr. Crine, or Dr. Crine as he should really be called, was not at all a stupid man, despite his terrible personality. He had once been a professor of philosophy, the terror of the classroom and any student’s worst nightmare. After his retirement, which was followed by a seemingly universal celebration on the part of all students attending or planning to attend college, he had moved into a small suburban town with the idea of living a quiet life. However, quiet is a hard thing to accomplish with so many children in a given neighborhood, particularly in the summer months when all children are celebrating their freedom to play. This particular season was quite a nuisance to Mr. Crine.
Now having accomplished his goal of scaring the neighborhood children into silence, Mr. Crine hobbled into the kitchen for his late morning breakfast of sunny-side up eggs on toast and a cup of tea.
The kitchen was sparse, as was the whole of the house, but it was what Mr. Crine preferred. He had been born in England to a poor country family and had, early on, developed a disdain for the people he considered “too ignorant to realize they are ignorant.” Whether he had any family left was uncertain, as he never spoke of any and no pictures could be seen in his house or his wallet for that matter. He had never married, considering it an undue burden on his freedom and, in any case, no wise woman would have courted him to begin with. And so it was that Mr. Crine lived an uneventful, lonesome life, although it could hardly be said that he disliked it, disregarding the fact that he disliked most everything.
Mr. Crine had hardly sat down to his meal, however, when the door bell rang.
“Oh, now who could that be?” he grumbled, pushing his chair back and tottering to his feet. “What a bother. No respect for privacy. No respect whatsoever.”
He hobbled over to the door and unlocked all but the chain, then turned the handle and pulled the door slightly open. There before him stood a young stranger, possibly in his mid-to-late twenties. He was clean-shaven and nicely dressed, his business suit seemingly newly pressed and his shoes recently shined.
“No thank you,” Mr. Crine grunted, not even giving his visitor time to open his mouth to speak. “I don’t want whatever it is you’re selling. Good day to you.”
He had nearly closed the door when the young man called back, “I hear you dislike children!”
Mr. Crine paused for a moment, then opened the door again.
“I beg your pardon?”
“I said I hear you dislike noisy children.”
“Quite so!” the old man piped. “I really think they should be in school all year long. This break in the year not only nullifies whatever learning they might once have gotten, but all they do is play, never work, mind you, and disturb the peace of this neighborhood. Why, I’ve been considering moving to a different neighborhood entirely because I can never seem to have a moment’s peace around here. You know, parents these days should really learn to manage their children. Such wild creatures they are nowadays. Why, I shouldn’t wonder if there isn’t a single responsible, intelligent person about in the near future, what with how irresponsible all these parents are.”
The stranger waited patiently as the old man continued to rant on and on about the lack of peace and quiet and how irresponsible people were, when really his own raspy voice was the only thing that now disturbed the silence of the neighborhood.
When at last the old man had paused for a breath the stranger said, “I have heard correctly, then, and I have the perfect solution to your problem.”
“Oh?” Mr. Crine inquired. “What might that be?”
“I have found a place,” the young man said, a twinkle in his eyes. “It is a large, manor-like house set upon a hill that overlooks a small meadow. You can even see mountains in the distance. It’s wonderfully quiet there, with not so much as a soul within miles to bother you. And what’s more is that it’s perfectly free and awaiting your arrival.”
Donovan Crine frowned, then inquired, “That sounds a bit too simple. What’s the catch?”
“None, really, save for the fact that you would have to walk part of the way there.”
“Walk?!” Mr. Crine snorted. “At my age? Are you trying to kill me?!”
“Most certainly not, sir. You will note that I only said that you would have to walk part of the way there. I have already arranged for you to have the transportation that is available.”
It all seemed quite too fantastic to Mr. Crine, who had lived long enough to know that nothing of any value was entirely free.
“What all does this house come with?” the old man inquired at length.
“Come with?” the stranger responded. “Well, quite a few things, really. What do you have in mind?”
“No problems, I’m assuming?” Mr. Crine prodded. “No leaks in the ceiling, or holes in the walls, or cracks in the foundation?”
“Not a single one.”
“Does it come with electricity?”
“And running water?”
“Most definitely. Exactly as you would have it here.”
“And what of groceries? You say there is no one for miles. Does that mean I must travel far for groceries?”
“No, sir. They would be delivered to your door.”
“Does it have a place for books and a desk on which I can write my philosophies?”
“A whole wing is devoted to an enormous library, and you will find several writing desks about the place.”
“And bathrooms? What are the conditions there?”
“The finest bathrooms you could wish for.”
“What about garbage disposal. Surely no garbage man is going to go that far into the countryside.”
“There is a disposal system. It would be picked up for you every day if you so wished.”
Now utterly flustered that he could find no sort of flaw in the young man’s offer, Mr. Crine inquired, “Where is this house located?”
“Ah, that you must see for yourself. I cannot adequately describe it to you.”
“I’m not asking for a book of prose,” Mr. Crine grumbled. “I’m asking for a location; an address, man. Is it in Europe? Is it in America? Give me that much.”
The young man considered this for a moment, then said, “It is in America, but not quite in America.”
“Well it either is or isn’t.”
“Your journey would begin near the lake, if you will take that as any indication.”
“Then obviously it would be in America. I know the difference between a lake and an ocean. I’ve been in both places, you know.”
“It is only as obvious as you decide it is,” the stranger mused. “But never mind. If you wish to see the place, gather together what you would like to take with you and meet me back out here. I will drive you to your first destination.”
Old Mr. Crine worked his jaw for a moment, as though thoroughly chewing the idea over. He was not quite convinced that he trusted the young man. The whole deal seemed too fantastic to be real. After all, the guy didn’t even know whether the estate was in America or Europe. But being the curious sort that he was, Mr. Crine nodded and shut the door, hobbling down the hall toward his bedroom.
“It should be alright, Donovan,” he muttered to himself. “After all, he didn’t ask for any money, and one would think he’s smart enough to realize that holding me for ransom would do no good. After all, it should be obvious to anybody with half a brain that I have no one to ransom me in any case.”
He opened the closet door and reached into the dark recesses, pulling out an old, leather travel case. He took down one of the brown tweed suits that hung in his closet and folded it neatly, setting it in the travel case. He added what ever other odds and ends he might need for a short journey, then returned to the door. Sure enough, the young man was waiting for him.
“Would you like me to help you with that?” the stranger offered, reaching out to take the travel case from Mr. Crine.
“No, it’s quite alright,” Mr. Crine replied, recoiling from the young man’s outstretched hand. “I’ve got it.”
The stranger straightened up again, eyeing the old man as he sauntered over to the little car that awaited him. He didn’t say anything as he followed the old man, but Mr. Crine did note a definite smile etched on the young man’s face. Now what was that all about?
It wasn’t long after they had left the house that the stranger pulled his car over to the side of the road and they came to a stop. Mr. Crine stepped out of the car and glanced around at his surroundings.
They were at the edge of a small dam, one of the offshoot dams attached to the lake. The road on which they were stopped was more of a maintenance trail than a road. It was quiet there, no living creature about to cause a disturbance.
“It’s this way,” the stranger said, motioning to a trail that led down toward the bottom of the dam.
“Oh, poppycock!” Mr. Crine exclaimed. “There isn’t a house within miles of here. What kind of game are you playing at? I’m no fool, I’ll have you…what’s this we have here?”
Although Mr. Crine had been protesting, he had still followed the young man down into the dry creek bed, as the stranger didn’t seem to be listening. And there, to his dismay, he found a door in the wall of the dam.
“What a peculiar thing,” Mr. Crine mused, edging over to the door and examining it.
It was an odd looking door, oval in shape and red in color. A golden, crescent-shaped handle was located on the left side.
“That is the beginning of your journey, should you wish to go to the place I described to you,” the stranger explained.
Donovan Crine stared at the door for a moment, glanced back at the stranger, then looked back at the door. Logic would say that a dam could not possibly have a door in it. Why would it? Especially a dam of this size, small as it was. It wasn’t like anyone would need to service the interior. But curiosity got the better of him, and with that he turned to the stranger and said, “I should wish you to open it for me, if you are being an honest man.”
Without hesitation the young man stepped forward, grasped the crescent-shaped handle, and drew the door wide open. All Mr. Crine could see was a dark emptiness.
“There’s nothing in there,” he protested, turning to the stranger.
“There will be if you step inside.”
“Is that so?”
The old man took another look at the dark abyss, then huffed, “Fine then. Let’s go have a look.”
And here was one aspect of Mr. Crine which had aided him in the terror he had reeked on the world for so many years: he feared practically nothing and challenged practically everything.
Now here he was, at the edge of something unknown. That was what was so enticing about it. And so he stepped forward and into the darkness.
Almost immediately after he stepped through the door, Mr. Crine realized that he was standing in some sort of tunnel. A small, bright light could be seen in the distance, and so he set off down the tunnel toward the light beyond. It wasn’t a moment later that he reached the end and gasped in astonishment.
The scene that stretched out before him was almost precisely like the images of his boyhood home: the gently rolling hills of England with the heather on the far hill, its distinct scent wafting down to him.
“Do you see this?!” he exclaimed. “Why, I thought I would find darkness or water, for that is the only thing I can imagine a dam would contain, but this…why, it’s almost as if someone had read my memories and had painted the images they found there!”
He waited for a reply, but there was none. He glanced behind him, but found that he was entirely alone. Quickly he hobbled back into the tunnel, down the long, dark corridor, and opened the oval door. Yes, there was the dry creek bed, but there was no young stranger to be found. The old man hobbled up the steep bank, grumbling all the while about the trouble he was having to go through and how much better it would have been had he ignored the doorbell and finished breakfast. However, he found to his dismay that the car was gone as well. In fact, there weren’t even any tread marks on the soft dirt. It was as though a car had never been there at all.
“Well, you’ve done it this time, Donovan,” Mr. Crine muttered to himself. “Gone and lost your mind, you have. Oh well, while in a state of madness, I might as well enjoy it.”
And so he hobbled back down the embankment, through the oval door, down the long, dark tunnel, and back into the light of a very English spring sky. It was strange how familiar it all seemed, and yet there was still no sign of a human presence about the place. A gentle breeze caressed the landscape, causing the tall grass to bend back and forth as though in a dance to inaudible music.
Slowly old Mr. Crine made his way up the hill that was topped with heather. There before him spread a wide open field, a small dirt road running through the midst of it and disappearing into the distant horizon. And there, waiting at the edge of the road, was an old coach, two heavy grey horses harnessed at the front. The driver was a very plump fellow, his dark waistcoat drawn tightly about him, a tall top hat perched atop his head.
“Splendid,” Mr. Crine muttered to himself. “Perhaps this is one of the rides that young man promised me. It had better be, for I think I have walked far enough for a time.”
“Greetings, sir!” the driver called as Mr. Crine approached. “You are just in time for a ride to the sea port.”
“The sea port?!” Mr. Crine exclaimed. “You don’t mean I must ride in a ship, do you? I’ve done it once before, and that once was quite good enough for me.”
“Well, sir, it is on your travel schedule,” the driver replied, leaning over and looking down and the old man.
Mr. Crine gave a start of surprise and exclaimed, “Why, you’re a pig!”
It was true. Although he was dressed as a driver, this being most certainly was a pig. With his face out of the shadows, Mr. Crine could see the driver’s fat, pinkish face and blunt nose.
“I’m not sure how to take that,” the driver replied, “but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. Now hop along and climb inside. I have a deadline to meet.”
Dumbfounded, Mr. Crine slowly turned and did as he was bade. Not a moment after the door to the coach had shut he felt the vehicle lurch forward and away they went.
It was a nice vehicle, as far as primitive things like carriages go, but of course there was always something wrong with everything in Mr. Crine’s opinion.
“These seats are far too narrow,” the old man muttered, trying to make himself comfortable. “And – ooof! These roads are terrible! Don’t they ever repair them? I think I shall have a word with the mayor when we arrive at this port city.”
But of course there was no one to complain to, so Mr. Crine had to be content with muttering to himself.
It was true that the roads were in very poor condition, and the jostling became so intense that Mr. Crine thought that he should be in a million pieces by the time the journey had ended.
Just then they came to a sudden halt and it was all Mr. Crine could do to keep from flying across the length of the vehicle.
“Bloody – who gave this fellow a license? Can’t even stop like a normal person.”
“We’re here!” the driver suddenly called. “You’ll want to hurry, though. The last ship for the day is leaving.”
With a good choice of words in mind for this rude fellow, Mr. Crine stepped out of the coach but, before he could so much as speak, the horses bolted forward and the vehicle moved on.
“Well,” Mr. Crine huffed, “at least I don’t have to pay him anything.”
He then turned toward the port and couldn’t have been more surprised at what he saw.
There, moored in the harbor, was the largest leaf Mr. Crine had ever laid eyes on. It was long and shaped like a very fat oak leaf. The edges were curled up to keep it from sinking. A tall pole stretched up from the center, a single sail attached to it.
“First pigs for drivers and now leaves for ships,” Mr. Crine grumbled. “Normal must not be in the dictionary here.”
But of course he had already decided to go on this journey, and so he set his jaw and hobbled along down the pier toward the docks.
Curiously enough, never once did Mr. Crine see another person, or even a talking animal, amongst the many buildings or along the wide lane that led to the harbor. It was like a ghost town, but there was the leaf ship.
At last Mr. Crine came up alongside the great leaf. He stared at the narrow plank that led from the dock to the ship. Then he glanced over the edge, down to the quietly lapping waters below. His jaw set, the old man began to slowly make his way along the plank to the ship, his cane going before him. No sooner had he set foot on the giant leaf, however, when a great gust of wind caught up the sail and the leaf ship began to turn toward open sea.
“I hope the wind knows what it’s doing,” Mr. Crine muttered, slowly lowering himself to the “deck” of the leaf ship. “I can’t steer a ship.”
He propped himself up against the mast and cast his eyes up to the sky, which had now become a hazy grey. He thought back to the time that he had come over to America, a man not more than thirty. He had gotten so hopelessly seasick that he had sworn he would never set foot on a ship again. So much for that.
Just then a fluttering caught the corner of his eye. He glanced over to see what it was and, lo and behold, an albatross landed on the side of the leaf ship. It turned its head and stared at him through its beady black eyes.
“What?” Mr. Crine inquired. “You’ve got the whole ocean to look at.”
No sooner has he said this, however, when another albatross landed next to the first, and then another came and landed next to the second one. It wasn’t long after that nearly two dozen of the large sea birds had landed on the ship and sat motionless, staring at the old man.
The leaf ship bobbed and tipped slightly.
“Alright, you feathered creepers,” Mr. Crine huffed, waving his cane at the albatrosses. “Be off with you!”
The birds still sat along the edges of the leaf ship, unfazed.
“I said be off with you!”
Still no response.
Muttering under his breath about how even animals ought to have some manners, the old man pushed himself to his feet.
All of a sudden, the ship ran up against something solid. Mr. Crine stumbled forward and the albatrosses took to the sky.
“Now what the devil?!” the old man queried, looking up and glancing around at his surroundings.