In which we visit a diner and meet a few residents of Brokeneck, California. From Betsy Streeter’s first novel, SILVERWOOD, a science fiction adventure about growing up into your own weird reality. Like we all do. Except this one involves time travel and shape shifting…
“Sandy, these eggs are as bad as you’ve ever made em.”
“Thanks Earl. Eat up so you can grow into a big, strong boy.”
The Brokeneck Diner is busy this morning, as busy as it ever is. The diner faithfully serves the exact same group of people each and every morning, sitting in the same seats and eating and drinking mostly the same things.
The diner sits like a lookout at the end of Brokeneck’s Main Street, the farthest building from the Brokeneck Hotel. The structure itself resembles an oversized silver train car that got stuck in the dirt, topped with a triangular neon sign that reads simply: EAT. It sticks out amongst the gold rush era wooden buildings that line most of the rest of the street.
Mrs. Woods, having made the short trek from the opposite end of town, pushes open the diner’s double glass doors and enters. She smiles at Earl and the other scattered patrons, and slides onto a red vinyl-covered stool at the counter.
“Morning Eleanor,” the waitress behind the counter says while scooping up an empty coffee cup and stray salt and pepper shaker. “How are things down at the hotel?”
“Morning Sandy, just fine, thank you,” Mrs. Woods says.
Sandy places a full cup of coffee on the counter in front of Mrs. Woods without being asked. “Earl’s in an especially good mood this morning,” she says, nodding in the direction of the man a few seats down.
Earl, a broad man in a short-sleeved shirt and suspenders who doesn’t look a day over 85, is situated at his customary place at the counter. He gives Sandy a look and hunches over his newspaper.
“What’s in the news today Earl?” Mrs. Woods asks. Sandy makes a face, as if to say that’s not a good question to ask at the moment. But Mrs. Woods remains undeterred.
“Aw, everything’s going’ to hell, as usual,” Earl says. He plunks his thick finger down on a headline on the paper and taps it several times. “See this?”
Mrs. Woods leans over to look. It’s an article about a dog show in Boise, Idaho. “Okay,” she says.
“Can’t you see it? Look.” He shoves the paper over into the space on the counter between them, upsetting a ketchup bottle in the process. “Here, and here and here.” He scrunches the paper around so a couple of other headlines are now closer together. One headline contains the word, THEY’RE, another the word COMING, and a third, SOON.
“There you go,” Earl says, leaning back triumphantly. “I told you.”
“You told them what, Earl?” says a voice from behind him. The voice belongs to Ted, whose slight frame is completely hidden by Earl’s bulk. Ted is a wiry, sun-dried old man in a grimy baseball hat. He always wears the hat down just a little too far, then lifts his chin to peer at people under the bill. This gives him a look that is both defiant and comical.
“It’s all here Ted,” Earl says to his much smaller friend. “All you have to do is look for it. The message is there.”
“Earl,” Ted says, “don’t you think if ‘they’ wanted to tell us something, ‘they’ would save us the trouble and just put the whole thing in ONE headline? You know, so we citizens could read it instead of conducting some ridiculous origami experiment to put it together?”
Earl laboriously turns around to face Ted, rotating his stool and stuffing his knees under the counter. He puts both hands in front of him, elbows out, and leans forward. If he wanted to, he could probably squish Ted between his fingers. But he hasn’t done that yet in the fifty or so years they have known each other, so he’s not likely to do it now.
“Ted, you are as dense as these eggs. You know as well as I do that you can’t just spell things out like that; you’ll panic the general population. You have to inform the knowledgeable people first. That’s exactly what they did last time, and now they’re doing it again. That’s all.” Earl rolls his eyes to convey the absolute obviousness of what he’s just said.
“Okay Earl,” Ted says with more than a touch of sarcasm. “It worked so well, last time. That’s why they’re doin’ it again, no doubt.”
Everybody goes back to their eggs and coffee for a minute.
“Did you hear Mr. Brush went away?”
The question comes from a booth in the window. Rose Mayfield, a tiny woman with wire-rimmed glasses and frizzy hair, sits knitting an endless scarf that stretches across the formica table in front of her and then drops to the bench seat opposite. Everyone turns to look at her. It’s easy to forget Rose is there, most of the time. When she speaks, she doesn’t address anyone in particular.
“I heard he went off to Vegas,” Ted says.
“Vegas? You dimwit,” Earl says. “Marvin Brush has no use for Vegas. What is wrong with you? He probably just needed some time off, and went for a nice walk in the woods. Maybe he wanted to get outta that musty bookstore for awhile. Got that Daniel kid looking after it.”
“You have to admit that’s unusual, though,” Mrs. Woods says. “It’s not like Marvin to leave without telling anyone. I didn’t see or hear a single thing, even with my hotel right there across the street from the bookstore. I hope everything is alright.”
“Seriously, he’s fine,” Ted says. “I tell you, he just needs a vacation.”
“Mr. Brush is not on vacation,” Rose says, never lifting her eyes from her knitting.
“Who told you that, Rose, your husband?” Earl says.
“Yeah Rose, did your husband pay you a visit?” Ted asks. “Did you stop knitting for a little while? That’s when he comes back from the dead, isn’t it? When you stop knitting?”
Rose shoots them a look. “As you can both see, my knitting continues unabated.”
“Well, good,” says Earl. “Because I don’t want ol’ zombie Don coming around. You keep knitting, Rose, don’t stop. Keep that fellow in his grave, where he belongs.”
“Anyway, Mr. Brush didn’t go on vacation.” Rose says, and goes on knitting.
Ted uncrumples Earl’s newspaper and flattens it on the counter so he can read the articles. “Any ideas on where he went then, Rose?” he says without looking up. “Or maybe we should consult with the newspaper folding czars?” Earl glares at Ted and then down at his eggs.
“He went into the lake,” a voice says in the unmistakable drawl of Miss Posey van Buren. Posey has been waiting silently just inside the door, listening to the discussion.
Earl exerts enough effort to turn all the way around, in the other direction, to look at Posey. His face lights up. “Here’s Posey! How are you, young lady?” Earl has always had a secret, or not so secret, crush on the glamorous woman with the camera.
“What do you mean, into the lake?” Mrs. Woods asks, setting her coffee down on the counter.
“I saw him,” Posey says. “He walked into that lake and didn’t come out. It’s happening again.”
“See?” Earl says. “Here we go again. People going into the lake. Just like they did before.”
“Now that’s odd,” Mrs. Woods says to herself. But of course everyone hears her.
“That lake, it’s no good,” says Rose at her table, knitting needles moving back and forth. She has probably added a foot in length to that scarf the last few minutes. “That lake enchants people, it does. Makes ‘em lose their minds.”
“You mean like ol’ Zombie Don?” Ted asks. “Zombie Don doesn’t like when you stop knitting, now does he, Rose?”
“My knitting is my way of telling him I still care about him,” Rose says. “Don just gets restless, is all.”
“Fine, just keep ‘im away from my eggs,” Earl says, popping the last bite into his mouth.
“Posey, did you get any video?” Mrs. Woods asks. “Did you make a recording of Mr. Brush at the lake?”
Posey’s face broadens into a wide smile, revealing a magnificent set of teeth. She certainly must have been a beauty back in the day. “Why yes, I did,” she says.
Everyone in the diner gathers around Posey at the counter to peer at the tiny screen. Posey presses play. Nothing happens. She presses again.
“Now that’s strange,” Posey says, shaking the camera a bit as if to loosen the movie so it will come out of the camera.
“No battery,” Ted says, peering from underneath his hat brim. “Posey, I fear that you’re outta battery.”
Sure enough. The camera is dead as a doornail.
“Well, I…” Posey stammers, looking down at the camera.
“It’s alright young lady,” Earl says with a smile, “You just charge that thing back up and then we’ll watch.”
“That is, if it wasn’t already dead when you tried to film this incident,” Ted says unhelpfully.
“Well,” Posey says, disappointed. She straightens. “I know what I saw. With my eyes. And it was Mr. Marvin Brush, all right. Walked into the lake. I saw him. Plain as that bottle of ketchup there on the counter.”
“Maybe we ought to set up some kind of lookout from the hotel, Eleanor, since you’ve got the best view,” Ted says. “Perhaps there’s comings and goings that might reveal important facts.”
But Mrs. Woods is no longer there – she has left behind a still-steaming refill of coffee on the counter as the glass door swings closed.
Silverwood by Betsy Streeter is the first in a series of novels about a girl growing up into her own weird reality like we all do – except hers includes venomous shape shifters, time travel, and the discovery that her mother is a bounty hunter and her brother can draw things that haven’t happened yet. Science fiction action adventure for young adults and up. Plus Clarence the useless dog. Available at Amazon(Kindle+Paperback) | iBooks(ebook) | Barnes and Noble(Paperback+Nook) | Kobo(ebook) and your local book store. Learn more about the Kirkus-reviewed series here.