November 25

            Thoughts wake me up. Or do I wake up with thoughts? I start making a mental list. Or should I say my mind starts to make a list? 

            Jack lost his mind. 

            Do I italicize a list I’m thinking about? 

            Why haven’t you spoken any more to Mark? You remember him, right? Jack’s editor? 

            I shift in my king-sized bed which is far too king-sized. 

            Who is leaving you all those writing quotes and why? And where is Lexi? What happened to her? 

            It’s been since November 18 that I saw her. That’s odd how specific I’m being. 

            Solve the mystery. Figure it out. Don’t give up. Your very life depends on it.

            Yeah. So the mystery? Besides my memory loss and Lexi? It’s gotta be everything happening with Jack and his list and the secret group meeting. 

            So what exactly is happening in the warehouse? And why do some people want to keep it so secret? 

            I sigh.

            And oh yeah . . .  Did the Cubs actually win the World Series? Did Trump actually win the presidency? 

            What a weird and wacky month. 

            What happened with the missing suburban teen girl named Sofia Thomas? 

            Why so many questions, Nolan? 

            How is Cameron doing on NanoShmamo or whatever it’s called? Wait, that’s Dermot who is writing. Cameron is detectiving. 

            I know “detectiving” is not a real word, but I don’t keep editors in my head. Or maybe the editor has this morning off. 

            Why do you keep remembering parts of yourself that don’t seem real? Like pictures of a picture? 

            Vague figures seen through foggy windows. 

            What’s up with the Rutger Hauer-looking guy calling himself John Ryder? He’s gotta be the one leaving me all these weird notes. 

            I wonder when he’s going to be showing up again.           

            Why’d you sell The Sun Also Rises? 

            Life. That’s what I tell myself. You carry these warm dreams through the dark and then you wake up to see the cold morning light of reality wash over you. 

            Who texted Come back?

            This mental list is getting long. I can’t go back to the first point. 

            What really happened with you and Lexi? Was it rated G, PG, R or X? Do they even rate movies X anymore? 

            I sit up and feel my head spinning around the room. So many thoughts and so little action. 

             Michigan. What happened in Michigan. I have proof I went up there but why? For what? For who? 

            I think back to yesterday. Thanksgiving. Oh, yeah. I think the interior bullet points have caught up with the exterior blocks on the calendar. 

            The same morning shuffle to the same places. Bathroom, kitchen, Keurig, island, couch, TV. On my coffee table is 

            another damn note

            The first draft of everything is shit.–Ernest Hemingway

            “Oh shut up, Bumby.”

**

            I text Lexi but get no reply. Before heading to the bookstore, I get a text from Casey that says she’s out sick. She has almost never called in sick so I know it’s real. At least as real as anything that passes as real in my world these days. I remember it’s Black Friday, but I don’t expect the masses lining up outside HH in order to fight over the latest Nicholas Sparks’ novel. 

            On my drive to work, I send myself an email reminder to call a shrink so I can get my head examined. Since I’m driving and typing, the message comes back to me slightly warped. 

            Muck sore yo carp duckter. 

            That’s Nolan code there. Nonsensical but known. 

            After being at HH for a while getting ready to open at 10 a.m., I text Cameron to see what’s up. He calls back. 

            “I finally got my car back,” he says. “This morning. When my girlfriend brought me by last night, there were still cars parked in the warehouse lot. Can you believe it?” 

            “I’d stay away from that warehouse if I were you,” I say. 

            “Yeah, no joke. Look—there’s something definitely weird going on.”

            “I know.”

            “I know this cop named Mike Harden,” Cameron says. “You want me to contact him?”

            “No.” 

            I think of Jack. I don’t want all of this coming back around to him. 

            “Did you hear about that missing girl? Sofia Thomas?” 

            My stomach tightens as I know what’s coming. 

            “Oh hell–what?”

            “They found her. She’s fine. Just took off without telling her parents. Just teen angst and parent issues.”

            I let out a breath of relief. 

            “Nolan, I got a question for you. A serious one. Do you believe in the devil?” 

            “Yeah. He owns Chase Bank and calls me often to remind me about the money I owe him.”

            “Funny,” Cameron says sounding absolutely not funny. “I’m being serious.”

            A talk about God? Acceptable I guess. But the devil? A serious discussion about him? Can’t happen, not in a world with four-letter words. 

            “I don’t give it much thought,” I say. 

            “Me neither. But I’ve been doing some homework on the occult and Satanists and all that stuff. There are some pretty sick people out there.”

            “You don’t have to believe in the devil to know that.”

            “I have this long article I found on some random blog. The guy writing about a town in North Carolina where they discovered all this shit going on. These occult groups that literally were sacrificing people. I hate using that word.”

            “’Shit’?” I ask. 

            “No. ‘Literally.’ People use it all the time incorrectly.”

            “Good to know, grammar police,” I joke.     

            “Whether or not Satan is real, there really are people out there who worship him and do things to show this. I have to send you that article. The town is called Solitary.”

            “Sounds like a great place to visit.”

            “Sounds a lot like Appleton,” Cameron says. “All warm and shiny on the outside, but once you step inside and look around, things get a lot more cold and messy.”

            My first customer of the day stands outside the locked door. I realize it’s ten minutes after 10. 

            “I have to go,” I tell Cameron. “I have a shop to run. Tell me if you spot the devil today.”

            He doesn’t laugh and neither do I. 

2 Comments

  1. “The devil is strong here. Don’t doubt this.”
    Love the Earnest Hemingway quote! That never worked in my old job of programming a laser cutter. First draft better be right or I cut the operator in half lol!
    On a serious note, this story owns me as much as all of your other books, and I’m loving revisiting those Solitary Tales/Books of Marbella.
    Thanks for sharing this Travis,

    • Hi, John. Nice quote. 🙂 Just a few more “days” in the story. By the end you’ll see why I was eager to share!! Hoping you and your loved ones are staying healthy and sane. I’m at least one of those.

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