Here's another sample chapter of my upcoming book Chapel Street. Keep checking back for more!
The Kobayashi Maru
A familiar voice awakened me by softly singing the old hymn, “Rise and shine, give God the glory, glory.”
The song echoed from my earliest childhood. My paternal grandmother Sadie, a very religious woman, sang it to us in the morning when we spent the night at her house. However, this wasn’t my grandmother’s voice. It was my older brother Lenny. He would sing it to wake me up, but without my grandmother’s reverence.
I opened my eyes to find twelve-year-old Lenny crouched down beside my bed in our old shared bedroom on Rueckert Avenue. He stood up. “Get your bathing suit on. We’re going to do a little trespassing,” he said. “And whatever you do, don’t wake Mom up.”
I smiled. We were going pool hopping again. It was one of my favorite childhood memories with Lenny, but he never planned for me to go along.
One summer evening the year after my father died, Lenny convinced our mother to let him and two of his friends, Charlie Woods and Pete Thompson, camp out in the backyard. She was at her over-protective worst then. There was zero possibility she would let him go on a real camping trip, or even spend the night at a friend’s house. I don’t know how he managed to convince her to let him set up that little pup tent at the back of our yard, but he did. He did not, however, intend to stay in the backyard all night.
He knew she would be watching, but he planned to outlast her. But what he didn’t count on was me. After my mother fell asleep, I saw them sneaking out of the tent, I went outside to join them. Lenny heard the creak of the back door and turned to me. He angrily pointed back inside, but, in a rare display of boldness, I shook my head no. He hurried over to me.
“Get inside,” he whispered.
“No,” I replied, “I want to go with you.”
Lenny pushed me. “You go inside or I’ll beat the crap out of you.”
“If you do, I’ll tell Mom.”
That trumped his threat. Charlie and Pete wandered over. “Come on, Lenny,” Charlie said. “Let’s give the boy an education in trespassing.”
Lenny gave Charlie a look, and then turned back to me. “You say a word about this and I will kick your ass.”
With that warning, we indulged Charlie’s favorite summertime passion: pool hopping. That night we wandered throughout the neighborhood clandestinely swimming in the pools of our neighbors. By four a.m., we had swam in thirty pools. Charlie said that was the all-time neighborhood record, which would never be broken. I know I never broke it. I tried to repeat the feat with my friends, but they always chickened out. I don’t think Lenny and his friends came close again either. The next summer, they discovered pot and spent most of their time getting high in Charlie’s basement.
Now, in this dream, it looked like Lenny and I were finally going to get the chance to break the record.
I didn’t remember getting dressed. I just found myself walking down the middle of Beechwood Avenue trailing a few steps behind Lenny. This was quite unlike our last adventure when we stayed close to the shadows out of fear of being spotted. There was no fear of that now. The houses lining the street were completely dark. It was very eerie, as if we were the only two people in the world.
“Must be late,” I said.
“Yup,” Lenny answered.
It suddenly struck me that I was still speaking in my adult voice, not my unbroken ten-year-old voice. I looked ahead at Lenny. He was taller than me, physically, so I was still my ten-year-old self in this dream.
As soon as the word dream entered my mind, I calmed down. This was only a dream, and dreams had their own logic. I had nothing to fear.
“Where are we going?” I asked Lenny.
“The Kobayashi Maru,” he said as he turned and gave me a wicked smile.
The Kobayashi Maru was a Star Trek reference to an unwinnable training exercise in Star Fleet Academy. I knew immediately what Lenny meant: The Coleman Pool. We opted out of hopping in it on the night of our triumph. The pool itself wasn’t much, just a four-foot-circular above ground model. The problem was the location. An unclimbable seven-foot-high wooden privacy fence surrounded the entire Coleman backyard. The only entrance to the yard was a gate between the garage and the side of the house located a few feet from the back door. That’s why it was so dangerous. If you woke up the owners you had to pass right by their back door to escape. Plus, Mr. Coleman supposedly kept a shotgun loaded with rock salt near the back door. Even the reckless Charlie balked at hopping that pool. He was the one who named it the Kobayashi Maru.
The next thing I knew we were sneaking alongside the Coleman house toward the metal gate. I should say, I was sneaking. Lenny walked normally. When he opened the gate, the metal clicked so loudly it seemed to echo throughout the neighborhood. I grabbed his shirt to pull him back.
“Let’s get out of here,” I said.
Lenny just turned to me. “No,” he said softly. “This is one thing I always regretted not doing.”
I released his shirt. He turned and walked into the yard. I stood motionlessly trying to figure out what was going on. Did his words reflect his childhood perspective, or his adult one? Who was this Lenny?
A soft splash interrupted my thoughts. I stepped into the yard and went to the pool. I found Lenny floating on his back with his eyes closed and a big smile on his face. He opened his eyes and turned to me.
“What are you waiting for? This is the Kobayashi Maru and we’ve beat it.” Lenny said, and then he laughed sharply. “I bet Charlie’s rolling over in his grave.”
His words scared me. Charlie died of a heroin overdose two months earlier. I went to his funeral. Everybody from the old neighborhood was there. I put up a very nice memorial for him on Resting Place that made his poor mother cry in gratitude. How did Lenny know Charlie was dead? He was long gone before it happened. But I quickly answered the question myself. This Lenny, this person before me, was just a figment of my imagination. He knew everything I knew. That thought reassured me.
“You coming in or not?” he asked.
Why not? Nothing could hurt me. I was safe in my bed back at home. I moved closer to the pool, but I hesitated. In the darkness, the pool did not look very inviting. The water was black as tar and I had a strange feeling that if I got in, it would never release me.
“You’re not afraid, are you?” Lenny asked. He stopped floating and straightened up in the pool, kneeling down enough to keep just his head above the water.
“It’s not bad in here, Ricky. Not bad at all,” he said, his eyes becoming more serious. “I wish I had taken the leap earlier. I would have saved myself a lot of misery.”
His words gave me a chill. I knew what leap he was talking about.
“It’s not what you think, Ricky. It’s very peaceful here. You’ll like it,” Lenny paused, and then added. “The world has no pity for screwed up people like us.”
“I’m not screwed up,” I replied.
Lenny laughed as he moved closer. “Please! You’re the boy in the plastic bubble. You don’t touch anyone and you never let them touch you,” he said. “I might have been a paranoid schizophrenic, but I embraced things. I followed my feelings. I made contact.”
“And what did that get you?” I answered defensively.
“Peace,” Lenny replied. “Come on, Rick, I don’t want to argue with you, man. We’re brothers. We’re supposed to love each other.” Lenny swam back a little and opened his arms. “Come on in and try it out just for a minute. You’ll see what I mean. I promise.”
Lenny’s eyes radiated sincerity. Despite my misgivings about the water, I decided to try it. After all, it was just a dream. I was safe.
I stepped forward and hoisted myself up on the rim of the pool with both arms. I threw a leg over the top, but before I even felt the water I heard a fire engine. The sound stopped me. The siren was echoing as if it were reverberating off tall buildings. It should not have sounded like that here where the trees would have swallowed and muffled the sound.
“Don’t worry about that,” Lenny said. I turned to him. His eyes were anxious now, but he forced a smile. “Come on, let’s do some laps before Mr. Coleman breaks out his shotgun.”
There was something wrong about him. I could see it now. Brothers were supposed to love each other, but I wasn’t so sure he was my brother. Who was he? What was he?
The siren continued. I turned to it. When I did, I really opened my eyes. I could see the fire truck moving down Joppa Road ten stories below me. I watched its progress for a moment before I realized I was standing on my balcony and that I was hanging halfway over the railing.
I normally enjoyed the view from the balcony but now it was terrifying. I froze. I had no idea how strong the rail was and whether it could hold my weight. I was afraid to move and equally afraid to stay still. Closing my eyes, I resolved to throw myself backwards in one motion. Like a frightened child, I even counted to three before I pushed myself back.
My neck hit against the seat of one of my lawn chairs as I tumbled backwards onto the hard concrete of the balcony floor. My elbow and back ached as I reached back to rub my neck. My other hand went to my skinned elbow. I slowly stood up and looked over the balcony. The fire engine was gone. All that remained immediately below was a decorative fountain in front of the building. I doubted the five inches of water in it would have done much to break my fall.
I staggered back into my apartment to find the television and lights on just as they were when I fell asleep in the afternoon. I looked to the clock. It read: 3 a.m. Exactly. That was almost my time of death, I thought.
My eyes went to my desk. As they did, the screensaver switched to one of the pictures of my brother Lenny I used on his Resting Place memorial. He had a lazy, happy smile in it. The photograph made it easy to see why he held onto so many friends. There is no way I’d get as many people at my funeral, even if everyone brought a date.
“Lenny, are you here?” I asked, not believing the words as I said them. Of course, he wasn’t here. He was dead and dead was dead. Forever.
The screensaver image suddenly changed again and I found myself staring at Elisabetta Kostek. Her smile was now a bemused taunt as if to say she had done this thing.
“This is crazy,” I said with the voice of rationality.
I was tempted to go to the computer and move the mouse, but I was afraid Elisabetta wouldn’t disappear. Instead, I retreated into my bedroom without bothering to turn off the lights in the living room and kitchen. I closed the door and locked it. It was the first time I ever locked my bedroom door in my own apartment.
Prologue - My Mother
Chapter 1 - RestingPlace.com
Chapter 2 - Elisabetta
Chapter 3 - The Upload
Chapter 4 - The Kobayashi Maru
Chapter 5 - Gina
Chapter 6 - Tombstone Teri
Chapter 7 - The Holy Redeemer Lonely Hearts Club
Chapter 8 - A Mourner
Chapter 9 - War Is Declared
Chapter 10 - The Motorcycle
Learn more about the book Here.
While you're waiting for the next chapter of Chapel Street, feel free to read my memoir: