When I was in first grade, we lived in a small very small town in Washington's San Juan Islands. In all honesty, we lived approximately two miles beyond the nearest small town - Olga - which boasted a total population of nine hardy souls. We didn't have any crime; even locking your door was an afterthought and kids were often left alone (as I had been that evening) while parents went out alone.
With one eye on the television and one eye on the road, I slapped off the movie and raced into bed the moment their headlights illuminated our driveway. My blankets were still cold from the night air, my heart still pounding from the hurried dash across the house, when they called my name.
Hopping out of the bed, I went into the kitchen, not sure how I could be in trouble when they sounded so pleased with themselves.
"We're back from the auction and we got you a surprise," they announced proudly. "It's down in the basement."
Apparently my father had snuck in the basement door because, just as they had promised, there was a box sitting in the middle of the concrete floor. Once upon a time it had held a dishwasher, but as I hurried over and pulled open the interlocking quarters of cardboard that held it closed, I discovered that the appliance had been replaced with my childhood version of a pirate's booty.
The box was filled to the brim with books.
Each day I would take a few books out of the box, sorting them into two piles. One pile was composed of a small, disorganized heap of books that failed to catch my interest; the other was a crooked tower of titles that I thought were "cool." I regularly read from the cool pile, discovering forgotten corners of history locked away in countless dusty tomes and indulging my love of animals as I slowly worked through a college zoology textbook.
On a morning very similar to all the rest, something changed. The piles of books were forgotten the moment I found it hidden in the bottom of the box.
I'd never seen anything quite like it. It looked like a book but its cover was made out of faded red cloth stretched across a hard backing. When I opened it up to a random page, I found a story of a legendary knight, the words written in a magical language I had never seen before; not quite English but one I could understand. The ancient book even smelled old and I held it in my hands as if it were as delicate as a baby bird.
As the endless winter on a northern island stretched on and on, I read "A Boy's Book of Legendary Heroes" over and over again. In its pagers were the original versions of the heroics of Robin Hood, El Cid, King Arthur, Beowulf, and countless other heroic figures. Written in Old English and published in the 1800s, it would have been a find for any collector - and it was a priceless treasure for a first grade boy.
As I read the stories, I discovered that there was a world before our own, one where even measurements held a bit of magic. Instead of twenty, something was a score. A brace indicated two; a leash was a brace and a half (three). A fortnight was a period of two weeks.
To honor the sense wonderment that boy of long ago held as he read his magic book, I've placed a leash of chapters online for my next novel, "The Awakening," which comes out May 13th. Enjoy!
The Awakening will be published on May 13, 2011