Sneak Peek: A Study of Isolation (Day 10)
Celebrating the forthcoming release of the new book, The Storyteller, today is Day 10 of the Book Giveaway! Each day for ten days , I will post a question and response from the book’s Discussion Guide . Anyone who posts a response with h/her thoughts either on WordPress or Facebook (“Stories That Matter”) will be automatically entered to win a copy of the book when it is released! I will give away 3 copies.
For the last day of the series, I thought I’d give a a new sneak peak of the book instead! This excerpt, told from Cole’s perspective, gives you a glimpse into the man known as the Storyteller. In Ray Bradbury’s short story The Sound of Thunder, he explains the significance stepping on a bug today could have for the future. In this story, this man abused his wife and son only to end up in the crux of a tragedy. If only his mental illness had been treated, if only he’d lived sober, if only… Unfortunately, we are not capable of changing the past, but I hope we live conscious of how every action we take and every word we use has a hundred rippling effects.
I got out of this town as soon as I could. I got out of this house when I turned eighteen. I didn’t think I’d ever come back. The scholarship from Yale was the best thing that happened to me in years, if not ever. It was about more than the medical degree. It was about more than being on my own. It offered me a chance to start over.
This was the place I’d grown up in. This was the only home I’d known my entire life; this town’s always had a bit of my DNA carved into it. I was always a bit of a feral child. A feral child chained to a house and a place that had no good memories in it. Well, no, that’s not true. There were good memories here.
It was where I learned to drive the ole Ford truck before I was even tall enough to see properly out the windshield. That ole dirt road, gravel now, I tore it up, gunning that pea-green Ford pick-up truck down it. I’d honk the horn and Nana would wave from the front porch. Even though that memory’s tainted, too, there are others that aren’t.
Swinging off the old, tattered rope some ancient ancestor tied to the oak tree into the lake, sitting at the dining room table helping Mama and Nona snap peas for dinner, taking Alice, that blue-eyed, blonde-haired girl in my homeroom class to the school dance, these are solid memories. My comfort-led, stable childhood in a quiet town with secrets I didn’t yet understand included the storyteller.
The first time I met him, I was five years old, and I thought he was a legend.
Slate blue eyes, creased with deep wrinkles and underscored with various shades of brown, carefully studied the cobbled streets. Weathered hands, covered by fingerless mittens, gripped his trusty cane, Taisce. His hunched shoulders bore the burden of age; graying hairs lay uncombed beneath a cap, frayed and dusty blue. Unkempt whiskers lined his cheeks; a mustache curved around his lips and formed a thinning beard.
He limped, his right leg having been injured in an accident we loved hearing about; his hip bore the pain of arthritis and old age. His feet, covered by tattered moccasins a Cherokee woman handmade him, shuffled more than they walked. The cane, the one he said he hand-carved himself from bamboo while living in the jungle, the one the old man named Taisce, kept him from falling as he slowly traversed the dirt paths of our small town.
The townspeople, we didn’t know when he arrived; he came during the night. With sunlight, he would find his way to the town square; with sunlight, a hot meal would satisfy his gnawing, knotted stomach. On nights when the hunger was fierce, the lamplights of a sleepy, vulnerable town like ours comforted him most.
Heaving a heavy sigh of exhaustion, born from hours of monotonous walking, he lowered himself onto a wooden bench outside a carpenter’s shop. The men of the village would be the hardest to impress, the children, the easiest. He rested Taisce against the edge of the bench and roamed his eyes around, surveying the new place in which he found himself.
There was the baker’s shop and the carpenter’s shop. He could see a building that looked like it might be a home across the way; there was a lantern flickering in the window. Aside from that, open land was all he could see. The only light came from the gas street lamps and the stars. Tilting his head back, he gazed to the heavens, easily spotting the North Star and Cassiopeia. It hurt to raise his wearied arm but raise it he did, using a pointed finger to trace the outline of the queen and then of the Big Dipper.
Those were the first ones, he said. The first stories he remembered, the first open pictures, the ones that set him on his course around the world until he tumbled his way to our nameless town. He’d spent decades walking, decades gathering stories from the people he’d met, the towns he’d visited. I sometimes wonder if the stories he created in the other towns he’d been in were like ours. He was miles from home, wherever that might be—he no longer knew. He’d forgotten a lot. But he’d not forgotten the first ones: the North Star, Cassiopeia, the Big Dipper. No matter what might be ahead of him, those stories would be engraved upon his heart until he drew his last breath, he swore. They were the ones that rescued him (but he never told us what could rescue us).
His eyes glistened as he slowly brought his arm down. Sitting with his head bent, his shoulders hunched in tattered clothes, with aged dirt caked in the creases of his skin, he was the portrait of a vagrant, a study of isolation. Only I didn’t see that. To my five-year-old self, he was different; he was a brave warrior who had been around the world and slain dragons. He taught me to dream my own stories, showed me how to tap into the wellspring of my own imagination; he inspired me.
I didn’t know he only lived miles from us, that he drank too much, that he had a seventeen-year-old son and wife that were terrified of him. I didn’t know he’d, just a few years before this, chased his son around the yard with a butcher knife or that the legends he told us, the made-up stories of Native American heroes, were real to him, that they were more than just stories. I didn’t know the man was crazy.
We, the children of the town, we would run to him, welcome him into our homes with the warm fires burning and warm food to fill him up. Adoring eyes like mine latched onto his every word, as if he were a king, and gave inspiration when there was none. His presence would come as a welcomed surprise our parents handsomely rewarded. For a few days, he’d roam from farm to farm, sharing his stories, soaking in ours, thriving on a full belly. For a moment, the stars would smile at all of us, and all would be right with the world.
Until it was over. Until the children stopped begging for one more. Until the women started asking whose home he hadn’t yet graced. Until the men asked which direction he’d be heading next. Until the novelty of the stories ran low, and we became eager to return to everyday life.
He was a fairytale. The few weeks he hung around town opened my mind to the idea that there was a world bigger than what I’d always known. It was also the reason I’d leave home and only come back when Nana died.