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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The World that Slid Downhill, a Sneak Pre-View

Cover art by Kathryn Reeser
The World that Slid Downhill is a novelette that I wrote a few years ago.  It is a little difficult to classify.  It has been called an adult fairy tale, post-modernist, metaphorical, even magical realism.  I'm not sure which of those is the most accurate.  What I do know is that it is a delightful, child-like story that takes a turn--a down-turn--into the surreal.

As the story begins, Harry is a child, with a normal, flat back yard.  He knows this to be true.  It is a fact in his life.  The yard is as "flat as a nickel."  As he grows to manhood and has children of his own, the yard begins to slope, ever so slightly.  As he matures into middle-age, the slope of his yard drops ever deeper.

There are eight chapters in this novelette, and in this pre-view, I'd like to offer a chapter from the middle of the story.  The story is already available at Amazon, for Kindle.  However, Saint James Infirmary Books will make it available for free the last weekend of June: the 28th, 29th, and the 30th.  If you'd rather spend the $1.99 for the eBook now, I wouldn't want to argue with you.  Special thanks to Kathryn Reeser for the fantastically re-imagined cover art.   

Enjoy the preview!

The World that Slid Downhill
by Jason Phillip Reeser
an excerpt

Chapter Four

  On the day Marta turned sixteen, Harry and his wife threw her a great birthday party.  Everyone was invited: the Grandparent’s came up from Florida, other relatives came from many other states, Marta’s friends came from school, and all of their neighbors came as well.  Like Harry’s father loved to say, there were more people than you could shake a stick at.
  Cars filled the driveway.  Cars filled the front yard.  Cars filled the street.  The front of Harry’s house looked like a used car lot.
  Inside the house, party guests filled the living room, they filled the dining room, and they filled the kitchen too.  More guests were arriving all the time.  The house couldn’t hold them all.
  But Harry had been prepared for this.  He had cut the grass in the back yard the day before, and had borrowed twenty-three fold-up chairs from the church.  Each chair was now sitting in the back yard, set in little half circles so that party guests could sit together and chit-chat.
  “Grab a plate of food and find a seat outside!”  Harry had to yell to be heard in the crowded, noisy kitchen.  He had to shout it two more times before the guests paid attention.
  Uncle Leo, an old friend of Harry’s parents, who wasn’t really an uncle at all, was the first to take a full plate outside.  It was piled high with a big scoop of potato salad, a slippery looking Sloppy Joe, two deviled eggs, candied yams, and a large helping of Shipwreck salad.   He had to carry it with two hands.
  “Need some help?” Harry leaned out the door, watching as Uncle Leo stumbled a little on the last of the back steps.
  “No, no.  I’m fine,” Uncle Leo whispered in a raspy voice.  Even though he was eighty-six years old, Uncle Leo was fiercely independent.
  Harry kept an eye on the old man, just to make sure he really was fine.  Slowly, Uncle Leo tip-toed through the grass, heading toward the first group of chairs.  This took a long time, as he paused after every third step to regain his balance.
  Two more people headed out the back door.  They were friends of Marta’s, and Harry did not know their names.  He was never very good at remembering the names of his children’s friends.
  The young people, a boy and girl, hurried past Uncle Leo and picked out chairs, turning at the same time, and dropping down onto them.  They did this in unison, as if they had practiced together before the party.  Harry watched as both of the young people’s eyes widened with alarm.  Still in unison, they both began to look up.
  It took Harry a few moments to realize they were not lifting their heads, as if they wanted to look at the passing clouds.  They were, in fact, both being lifted up.  At least, the fronts of their chairs were lifting up.  The girl held tightly to her plate, trying not to spill her food.  The boy, aware that he was actually tipping backwards, threw out his arms to attempt to stop his backwards motion.  As he did this, he launched his plate like a discus thrower from the Olympics.  The thick paper plate flew surprisingly well, evenly spreading potato chips, pork-n-beans, and hot dogs in every direction.
  The kids toppled over, landing on their backs.  They were still in the chairs, although the chairs’ legs were now reaching out sideways in the same way an old grandmother reaches out for hugs.
  The girl, Harry still couldn’t think of her name, had held fast to her plate all the way to the ground.  From where he was standing, it looked as if most of the food had landed on her face and most of her hair.  The boy was laughing.  The girl was not.
  “You kids okay?” Harry hollered.  He hurried down the back steps and passed up Uncle Leo to help the two young people out of their upset chairs.
  “Oh, sure,” the boy answered.  “That was great!”
  The girl only glared at the boy, then turned her mashed-potato-smeared face and scowled at Harry.  She did not think there was anything great about falling over in a chair and catching your food with your head.
  “I can’t understand why these chairs tipped over.”  Harry set them back up and scratched his head.
  “Well,” the boy looked at the chairs and then looked at the yard behind them, “they’re sitting on a slope.  I guess we should have noticed that, and been more careful.  Or maybe we should turn them around.”
  Harry mumbled his agreement and he helped the boy turn all of the chairs around so that they were facing down the slope of the back yard.  The girl ran off to clean out her hair and wash her face.
  Uncle Leo had just about reached the chairs.  He was moving a little more quickly now, and Harry offered to hold his plate while he settled into a chair.
  “No, no.  I’m fine,” he whispered again.
  But instead of stopping at the chairs, Uncle Leo took three steps past them, paused, and took three steps more.  After each pause, he kept taking those three unsteady steps.
  “Where’s he going?” asked the boy.
  “I don’t know.”  Harry wanted to follow Uncle Leo but he heard his wife call to him from inside the house.  She said something about moving cars in the driveway.  Trying to ignore her, he watched Uncle Leo and could see that the old man was picking up speed.
  “She said you need to move her car.”  The boy was also watching Uncle Leo.  “It’s in the way of something or someone.”
  “Yeah, I heard her.”  Harry remembered the boy’s name.  “Justin, does it look to you like Uncle Leo is speeding up?”
  “Yep.”  Justin nodded.
  “Would you do me a favor and go stop him before he goes any further?  I don’t know where he’s going, but he shouldn’t go wandering off.”
  “He’s not going anywhere, sir.”  Justin giggled.  “But I think he can’t stop walking.  The gravity’s pulling him down hill.  But you go move that car, sir.  I’ll take care of the old man.”
  Harry had to admit that the boy was right.  The backyard sloped down so much that once Uncle Leo got going, it was too hard for him to stop.  He just kept heading downhill.  Somehow, Harry’s flat back yard had become the top of a real, be-careful-so-you-don’t-roll-down-it hill.
  Harry passed a worried eye over the retreating figure of Uncle Leo, and then went to the front of the house to move the car.  When he came back, Justin was coming back up the hill.  He was a little out of breath.
  “Where’s Uncle Leo?” Harry asked.
  “I couldn’t get him.  He slipped out of my reach, and just kept going.  I lost him in the trees at the bottom of the hill.  He had really picked up speed.”
  It was sad, Harry thought, that Marta’s birthday would be remembered for the day they lost Uncle Leo.  But things like this just happened.  Uncle Leo had led a long, good life, and no one had ever expected him to be around forever.  The older members of the family were always doing something like this.  You could never count on them to stick around.
  But Harry had never expected to lose Uncle Leo down the hill in the back yard.  How could he have?  It had never been a hill when Harry was a child.  But there was no denying it was a hill now.  And it was certainly possible that things like this could happen from here on out.

Use the link below to buy the eBook.  Kindle eBooks can be read on your PC, Smart Phone, iPads, Blackberries, laptops, and of course any Kindle device.  And remember, The World that Slid Downhill will be free on June 28th, 29th and the 30th.  So you can wait for your free copy or show your support for writers by paying a few dollars for a great novelette.  And if you haven't tried one of my other books, be sure to check one or two of them out this summer.  

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