I’d have held it right up there with The Chronicles of
yet perilous world beyond the shadow gates!” – J.
Cornell Michel, Author of JORDAN’S BRAINS
GATE is the book for you.*
Gavin Walker sat in a dining room chair at the head of the table. His dirty-blond bangs were pushed to one side revealing a wide-eyed expression. His mouth hung open, and he was at a loss for words, which was something that didn’t happen often in the twelve-year-old’s daily life.
“The whole summer?”
His father stood at the opposite end of the table resting his hands on the back of a chair. The similarities between father and son were unmistakable. Mr. Walker’s expression was calm, unlike his son’s overreaction. Gavin could see his father wasn’t going to back down, so he resorted to repetition.
“The whole summer?”
Mr. Walker didn’t budge.
“Don’t be so dramatic.”
“It won’t kill you,” Mr. Walker said. “You haven’t seen Mama Walker in over two years and she’s not getting any younger.” His face was stern. “Look, she’s nearly eighty-five and I’m not sure how many more opportunities the two of you will have to spend time with her.”
Mama Walker was Gavin’s great-grandmother. She lived alone on the outskirts of Albany, New York, in the town of Gum Springs. To a twelve-year-old boy from Southern California, Gum Springs was on the far side of the moon. Gavin didn’t know Mama Walker very well.
“But she’s crazy, Dad,” he said. “You said so yourself.”
Mr. Walker’s brow wrinkled.
“I don’t think she’s crazy. She’s lonely since Papa went away and…”
He went on, but Gavin stopped listening. He crossed his arms and sulked. He wanted to protest, but he already knew his father wasn’t going to give in. He focused on something else he’d heard.
“What do you mean by the two of you?”
Mr. Walker smiled and hesitated.
“Well,” he said, “that’s the rest of the story. I want you and your sister to spend the summer together with Mama Walker.”
Gavin rolled his eyes. Naomi was his half-sister who lived in Florida with her mother. The two siblings were forced to tolerate each other over summer vacations and an occasional holiday break. She was older than Gavin by three years and reminded him of it every chance she could. “What about football camp?”
He was playing dirty now.
“Already took care of it,” Mr. Walker said, and Gavin’s smile disappeared. “First day of camp is at the end of August, and it just so happens that you’ll get back with plenty of time.”
“You already bought the ticket?” Gavin asked as his voice filled with dread.
“Yep,” Mr. Walker said, “school’s out next Friday, and you and I fly out on Saturday.”
“I’m flying with you. We’ll meet Naomi in Albany then I’m going to stay a few days and fly back.”
“Very brave of you,” Gavin said.
Mr. Walker got up, came around the table, and took a seat next to his son. He put his hand on Gavin’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze. “I know I’m asking a lot, but come on, Gavin, do this for me,” he said. “Your mother and I have talked about this for a while. Mama Walker has been distant from the family for a long time. This will be good for her and good for the both of you kids too.” He let go and stood up. “You know, you might even have a good time.”
Gavin doubted that very much.
Destin, Florida is a popular vacation destination. It’s known for white, sandy beaches, and clear, blue water. That beauty is a part of life for the people who live in Destin and across the bridge in the city of Fort Walton Beach. Naomi Walker happened to be one of those lucky people.
She sat on the school bus staring out at the clear, blue water counting down the days until summer. The ninth grade was particularly difficult for Naomi. She calculated she’d spent more days grounded during this year than all of the years before it combined. She wasn’t a bad student, quite the opposite, she enjoyed most of her classes.
She’d always had an interest in science and history, but this year she spent more time interested in gossip and boys than any academic pursuit. Naomi’s mother was forgiving for the most part. She and her step-father were willing to give Naomi some slack as she dealt with becoming a young woman. Her father was a different story altogether.
Naomi knew her father lived in California, but sometimes she thought he was somewhere closer to Mars. Her parents divorced when she was young, but Mr. Walker did everything in his power to keep a close relationship. Naomi cherished that bond as a little girl; however, her needs had changed over the past few years. In a short time she’d be shipped off to California while all her friends would be having the time of their lives.
She decided looking at the beach was only making matters worse and spun around to stare at the back of the seat in front of her. Chloe, her little sister, sat next to her. All of Chloe’s attention was focused on the screen of a hot pink, handheld game. Naomi pulled the game from her hand for no good reason, and the two fought over it for the rest of the ride home.
The walk from the bus stop to the front door felt longer than usual. Naomi passed the time by snatching her hand away from Chloe as the little girl tried to hold on. At fifteen, Naomi was at a peculiar crossroads in her life where adulthood and individualism was a goal and childhood just plain stunk. To Chloe, only seven, holding hands was still all the rage.
“Mom, we’re home.”
Naomi threw her backpack on the sofa and walked to the kitchen with Chloe close on her heels.
“What about peanut butter?” Chloe asked.
“What about no,” Naomi said.
Chloe stuck her tongue out. “Fine then,” she said, “I’ll make one myself.”
The little girl pulled a chair in from the dining room as Naomi poked through the cabinets and settled on a half-finished bag of chips. Naomi slumped down on the couch, leaving Chloe to make a mess in the kitchen. She began a never-ending search for something to watch on TV with the chips in her lap and the television remote secured. The sliding door in the rear of the house opened and closed, announcing their mother’s arrival.
“We’re home, Mom,” she said.
“Just finishing up the laundry.”
Naomi was convinced her mother did the laundry for the entire block.
“What in the world?”
Naomi grinned. She knew her mom’s outburst had something to do with the mess Chloe was making in the kitchen. A moment later her mother made it into the living room. Her hair was frazzled and her eyes were focused in a disapproving glare.
Her mother sat down on the love seat. “I want you to turn that off, Naomi. We need to talk about something.”
Naomi didn’t like the tone her mother took. This was the tone she used when delivering bad news. It was that very same tone she’d used to tell her and Chloe their beloved cat, Tinker, was in heaven. Naomi eyed her mother closely as she hit the mute button on the remote control.
“Your father and I have had a long talk about your summer vacation,” her mother said. Naomi pulled a handful of chips out of the bag and ate through them in an unnecessarily loud manner. “And…” her mother’s voice rose to match the chip-chomping, “I believe we’ve come to an agreement.”
“I can stay here for the summer?” Naomi asked.
Naomi sank back into the couch.
“Your father wants you and Gavin to spend the summer together.”
“What’s so different about that?” Naomi asked. “I have to put up with him every summer.”
“Yes, but—” Her mother was interrupted by a ring. She pulled the phone out of her back pocket, looked at the number, and smiled. “I’ll let him explain.”
Naomi took the phone from her mother and answered it. She recognized her father’s voice at once.
“Hey, Dad.” She saw her mother smiling and noted it was the smile you give when you feel sorry for something. Naomi’s face scrunched as Mr. Walker explained what awaited her on summer vacation.
“But,” she cut in.
Mr. Walker pushed on.
Mr. Walker continued to talk.
Her father didn’t let up.
Naomi popped up off the couch.
“But, Dad, that old lady’s crazy.”
Michael W. Garza often finds himself wondering where his inspiration will come from next and in what form his imagination will bring it to life. The outcomes regularly surprise him and it’s always his ambition to amaze those curious enough to follow him and take in those results. He hopes everyone will find something that frightens, surprises, or simply astonishes them.