Indie Author Excerpts: The Commons: Book 1: The Journeyman by Michael Alan Peck

Posted on 02/20/2015 in Indie Author Excerpts / 0 Comments

Indie Author Excerpts Welcome! Indie Author Excerpts is a feature allowing indie authors the chance to showcase one of their books and allows readers to find their next favorite story. Each week, an indie author gets to promote a 1-2 page excerpt of their book here at BookShelfery. This is a win-win for everyone! This feature was inspired in part by Indie Author Spotlight, a meme hosted by Beckie @ Bittersweet Enchantment and CYP @ A Bookalicious Story.  Are you an author that would like to be featured in Indie Author Excerpts? If so, check out this page and fill out the form.   [indie-author-excerpt] Paul Reid died in the snow at seventeen. The day of his death, he told a lie—and for the rest of his life, he wondered if that was what killed him. “Don’t worry,” he said to Mike Hibbets, the only adult in New York City who’d ever cared about him. “I’m coming back.” Pop Mike ran the New Beginnings group home, where Paul lived. He didn’t believe the lie. And Paul told himself that it didn’t matter. “Does your face hurt?” The old man leaned on his desk in the New Beginnings main office. Paul twisted his pewter ring, a habit that announced when something was bothering him. His face did hurt—especially his swollen eye. As did the ribs he hadn’t been able to protect two days earlier, when he hit the ground, balled up, in a Hell’s Kitchen alley while four guys stomped him until they tired of it. He’d tried to shield his face, where damage might show forever. But he fared just as poorly at that as the afternoon sun cast a beat-down shadow show on a brick wall and a girl stood nearby and cried. Paul had little to say, and no one worked a silence like Pop Mike. His nickname had once been “Father Mike” due to a talent for sniffing out guilt that rivaled any priest’s. He asked the New Beginnings kids to drop that name so potential donors wouldn’t confuse his shelter with a religious operation. There’s no God to lift us up—we rise or fall together, he taught them. So they compromised and shortened it. “Five foster homes, three group homes, some street life in between,” Pop Mike said. “So?” Paul couldn’t look him in the eye. “So no one makes it through that without survival skills, which you have. And you’ve found a place here for four years, and now you’re just up and leaving.” The desk was a relic of the building’s days as a school, a general hospital, and before that, a mental hospital. Its round wood edge was uneven and worn, as if the many kids trapped in this chair over the years had stared it away, varnish and all. Paul shifted in the chair, his side one big ache. He hated hearing his life recited as if it were recorded and filed somewhere, which it was. The winter wind forced its way through the gaps between the cockeyed window sash and its frame. A storm was due. Outside, the fading daylight illuminated the wall of the adjacent building. A cartoon-ad peacock, its paint battling to hang onto the decaying brick, peddled a variety of Pavo fruit juices. “New Beginnings matters to you.” Rumor was, Pop Mike could go weeks without blinking. “Look how you tried to save Gonzales.” “I told him to run for help. He just ran.” Paul had practiced this conversation—how it would play out. Pop Mike wouldn’t mind that he was leaving. If he did, Paul wouldn’t sweat it. Yet he was unable to face the man. The painted peacock smiled despite its sentence of death-by-crumbling. Its tail, gathered in one fist, bent outward in offering. The feathers ended in a once-vibrant assortment of bottles spread above the Pavo slogan like leaves on a branch of a shade tree: “Wake up to the rainbow! Wake up to your life!” Decades of sun and rain had rendered the flavors unidentifiable in the grime and washed-out hues. Paul could only guess at grape, apple, orange, and watermelon. “You could apply for our Next Steps program—work your way to an equivalency credential.” Paul didn’t bother to refuse that one again. Pop Mike followed his gaze. “The all-seeing eyes.” “What?” “The peacock. In some Asian faiths, it’s a symbol of mercy and empathy. In others, it’s the all-seeing eyes of the Almighty. What that one sees, of course, is a customer.” “It’s time for me to go.” Paul touched his fingers to his eye, which flared in protest. “This is how New York chose to tell me.” He prodded the bruise to see if he could make it hurt more. He succeeded. Pop Mike reached across the desk, took hold of Paul’s wrist, and gently pulled his hand away from his face. He didn’t let go until he was convinced Paul wouldn’t do it again. That was the only way he could keep Paul safe from himself. “Please,” he said. “That’s the one word I have left. It won’t work, but I’m saying it. Please.” Paul twisted his ring. Pop Mike took in the beaten-up backpack at Paul’s feet, the military-surplus coat thrown over the back of the chair. “Where are you going?” “Away. I’ll let you know when I get there.” Wake up to your life, said the peacock.

###

The three-block walk to Port Authority seemed to triple in the stinging wind. Paul’s military-surplus coat was suitable only for motivating the troops wearing it to prevail before winter. It came from a pallet of stuff donated to New Beginnings as a tax write-off. He’d thought the coat would keep him warm and make him look tougher. The bite of the air and the beating in the alley proved him twice wrong. A radio, its volume cranked up to the point of distortion, hung from a nail on a newsstand, dangling over piles of papers and magazines draped with clear plastic tarps. A weather-on-the-ones update milked the conditions of the approaching storm for drama, as did several headlines. “Blizzardämmerung!” screamed the Daily News. “Snowmageddon!” warned the Post. The stand’s owner, his face framed by graphic novels and tabloids binder-clipped around the window of a dual-pane Plexiglass wall, sung about how he’d just dropped in to see what condition the conditions were in. Commuters trying to beat the weather home paid him no mind. By now, the meteorologist was more reporter than forecaster. Rounding the corner at Forty-second and Eighth, Paul had to blink away hard-blown flakes. A feral-looking girl pulled one of the terminal’s heavy glass doors open against the wind and held it for Paul as he swept into the stream of businesspeople headed for the buses within. She shook a jingling paper cup at him, but neither he nor his fellow travelers dropped anything in. Paul was relieved that he didn’t know the girl, but as he angled through the rush of commuters, he chided himself for ignoring her. He’d worked those doors in more desperate times. He knew what it meant when people were kind enough to part with a few coins—and what it meant when they weren’t. Getting past the beggars meant going head-down at a steady pace. Paul was holding money, so he didn’t want to see anyone who knew him. The big ones wouldn’t try to take it from him in a public place, but the smaller ones could talk him out of some. “One way to San Francisco, please,” he told the woman behind the ticket-counter glass after waiting his turn. She laughed at something the man working the adjacent line said. He couldn’t hear either of them through the barrier. That was the way of Port Authority and the world beyond for the children of the streets—for the concrete kids. The people with something to smile about did it in a world built to keep you out. She slid Paul’s ticket and change through the gap under the glass. He counted the bills against his chest to see how much was left, keeping his cash out of view. There wasn’t much to hide. He was nearly broke.  

About Michael Alan Peck

Michael Alan Peck tells tales big and small. Life's magical, but it isn't always enough for a good story. So he makes up the rest. He’s made his living writing about TV, its celebrities, and its past. He’s also put food on the table reviewing restaurants and writing about travel. He has a godawful memory, so he focuses on the written word. He likes to think that over time, he’s gotten better at it—the writing, not the remembering. He forgets important dates. He’s pretty good with movie lines. But after several years, he tends to tweak them. He prefers his versions over the real ones. Funny goes a long way with him. Probably further than it should. He grew up outside Philadelphia and has lived in New York, L.A., and San Francisco. His current home base is Chicago.

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Jennifer is a bona fide book nerd. She thinks "bookworm" sounds gross and secretly gains pleasure at the pained looks her husband often shoots at her personal library. She collects books like the Duggar family collects kids, and began waiting for her Hogwarts letter at the tender age of 33.

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