|Into The Ravine
NOT A PREFACE
I hate prefaces – never read them. It’s like the author is dipping one toe in the pool, worrying about how cold the water is. Me, I’m a jumper. Sometimes I don’t even bother to take off all my clothes. Drives my mom crazy. “OMIGOD, Jules!” she yelled at my dad’s company barbecue last week. “What are you doing in the deep end with the polka-dot shirt you begged Baba to get you for your birthday, that you haven’t written a thank-you note for yet even though I keep asking you, and now the colors will run like your sister’s wool hat. Do you remember when her face turned blue and your father looked up the symptoms and found methahemoglobinemia, and then got thrown out of the hospital for yelling at the doctor? Do you remember, Jules?”
Mom gets carried away, so far away, in fact, that sometimes she forgets where she was going. My friend Chris says I take after her. My point is that prefaces are cryptic and confusing. They always seem to take place thousands of miles from where the story starts, with characters you never see again. In a word, they stink. Check this one out:
Midday sun shone on the Aeropuerto Internacional El Dorado in Bogotá. At the window by the departure gate stood Señor E, a man with a long, wrinkled face and a sharp nose like the front of a sailing ship. He watched the baggage handlers closely, paying particular attention to a large plastic carrying crate marked Fragil. So much depended on that one piece of baggage. The idea had seemed foolproof when young Bunky had suggested it, but now Señor E was beginning to have his doubts. So many things to worry about: the professor, the teniente from Muzo, even something as natural as the process of reptile digestion. Señor E recalled a quotation from the classics and smiled bitterly. “Fate is not an eagle – it creeps like a rat.”
See what I mean? Do you have any idea what is going on or who these people are? Will you remember them later? Of course not. I’m confused myself, and I wrote it. The secret to enjoying a book with a preface is to skip the preface and move on to the story. Meet the hero and the mission, find the best friend who tells jokes. And look out for bad guys and falling rocks.
So, hello. My name is Jules. You know a little bit about me and my crazy family. You’ve heard me mention my friend Chris, who I guess is the real hero of this story. You haven’t met Cory yet, but you will soon.
Yup, I’d say we’re good to go here.
On to Chapter One.
NOT CHAPTER ONE
The hideous monster crawled through the rubble, dripping with its own slime and the blood of my friends. I steadied my weapon. I’d only get one chance. The monster was close enough to sense my body heat. It pivoted toward me, its head the size of a small car, its nutcracker jaws shaped in a startling caricature of a smile. When the jaws parted, I’d have a fraction of a second before the squirming, flesh-sucking tentacles spilled out. Steady, Jules, I told myself.
I took a deep breath, and . . .
That’s still not the story. I got distracted.
Let me explain. It’s August in Scarborough, the sprawling suburb I call home. For me, August is a time of burnt front lawns, humming power lines, melting pavements, panting dogs, and no friends (Chris is at his cottage and Cory at some kind of camp). But Scarborough has a split personality. A paved wasteland of strip malls, gang violence, and cookie-cutter bungalows, it is crisscrossed throughout by a network of startlingly beautiful ravines. Our subdivision is called Highland Heights because the houses back onto the top of a ravine, with the Highland Creek at the bottom. And the creek is lovely. It’s the strangest thing – you cough your way off a bus beside six lanes of snorting, snarling traffic, but if you walk two blocks and slide down a hill you can dip your feet in a plashy pool, surrounded by woods, weeds, water, and peace.
Beauty in the midst of strife – that’s what poetry is, isn’t it? Or am I thinking of basketball? Anyway, mornings after breakfast, my dad picks up a briefcase, my mom picks up a laundry basket, and I take my notebook and come down to Dun Killin to write.
Dun Killin is our sanctuary, Chris’s and Cory’s and mine, a shallow cave in the ravine at the bottom of our backyards. You can’t see the entrance unless you’re looking right at it, and sometimes not even then. We found it by accident a few years ago, mining for gold, and decided to move in right away. (The mining was going very badly, unless you counted a vein of Good Housekeeping magazines.) It’s civilized, for a cave, with a rocky ceiling and dry floor, and tall enough for Cory and me to stand up in (Chris has to hunch a bit). There’s lots of light when the sun is going down because the cave faces west. Its full name is Dun Killin Zombies – Cory thought of it, even made a poster that we hung on a root sticking out of the back wall. Zombies and drawing are about the only things Cory can concentrate on for any length of time.
Right now I’m sitting on one of our chair logs, using our table stone as my writing desk. A couple of minutes ago I noticed an ant – huge black one, long as my thumb – crawling across the table. I got to thinking about it, and I got distracted, and my pen moved without me paying attention. My point is that the hideous monster has nothing to do with the story. Nothing at all. Sorry to mislead you.
Excerpted from Into The Ravine by Richard Scrimger Copyright © 2007 by Richard Scrimger. Excerpted by permission of Tundra Books. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher