Five minutes ago I opened this page to paste an excerpt from the novel. I chickened out.
Then I did it again anyway.
So here's a bit of the book. This part hasn't been fully edited, so don't jump on me quite yet. It's just actual proof that this is a real thing.
Anya tugged thick string that hung from the attic door. "I think there's some old albums up here." With a squeal of metal, the attic opened like a mouth in the ceiling.
"Why pictures?" Matt asked as she unfolded the ladder.
Anya climbed up. "Sometimes my family keeps more than pictures. Birth certificates and stuff, too. Maybe I'll find something. Maybe more letters."
The clatter of rain on the roof was louder up here, the dark room cooled off in the afternoon storm. The big windows let in the gray light.
A partly smushed cardboard box rested in the corner. The word "Pictures" was scrawled across the side in marker, now faded. She pulled it to a clear area on the floor and sat. Matt settled across the box from her.
The box hadn't been taped shut; rather, the four panels were tucked into each other. Anya pulled them apart, and they flipped open, flicking dust into the air. She coughed, and Matt sneezed.
"Oops," she said.
A layer of creased yellow tissue paper concealed the inside of the book from Anya's view. She pulled it away, carefully, and revealed an old photo album. The word Photographs in gold adorned the leather cover. Underneath where it had been in the box were more books, some a little newer, and newspapers lining the bottom.
"Nice find," Matt said.
Anya grinned. "Pretty cool. It might have something in it, at least." She pulled the book into her lap. She saw Matt move out of the corner of her eye as he sat beside her. The book felt dry in her hands, like the leather was about to crack. She pulled the cover open.
On the very first page an old black and white photo, yellowing at the white edges, showed a middle-aged man and his wife in front of a house, both smiling. In pencil, someone had scrawled "Pop and Mom" underneath the picture. A card with flowers printed on it was tucked into the crack of the spine.
"Think that's him?" Anya asked her friend.
"Could be," Matt said. "What's in that card?"
Anya picked it up and opened it. A short note in neat handwriting took up the inside.
My parents had this picture of your mama and daddy at the house.
I thought you might like to have it. Please let me know if you find out
anything more concerning our conversation last week.
Anya read the note over again. "Who's Mildred?"
"Well, who's Elijah?" Matt answered.
"That one's easy," Anya said. "He's my great-grampa. Elijah Dupree, so Gavin's son."
"So that means his daughter is..." Matt trailed off.
"My granny." Anya cleared her throat. "She married a McCall." Anya placed the card back into the edge and carefully turned the page again. More pictures followed, all of them old and sepia toned or black and white. She paused on one of a little girl sitting on the same porch in the first photograph. A different hand had written "Jeannie" underneath. Anya smiled.
The rest of the pictures, of family dinners and days at the beach and one of her Granny dressed up and standing stiffly beside some boy, filled the remainder of the book. The last few pages were Christmas pictures, all of a tree in a living room. There was Jeannie again, a little older, and a few other young people. Anya's gaze paused on one detail of the photograph, a frame beside the tree. It didn't look like a picture, but there were words. She pointed at it.
"What do you think that is?" she said.
"Any pictures closer than that?" Matt asked.
Anya turned the page. "Might be." The rest of the photos were all of a Christmas tree, and all of Jeannie beside it, older each year. The frame appeared in each one, but the pictures varied in distance. The last photograph of the book was a group picture, with a much older Gavin Dupree seated in an armchair and surrounded by family. A few branches of the Christmas tree protruded into the edge of the photo, and the same frame in the other pictures hung above the chair, just over Jeannie's head. The words in the frame were a nonsense poem.
I'll sell you a riddle for a dime
said the bishop at the chime.
With tables and ravens and eggs on a wall
and diamonds and pennies and keys and all
the top of the tower pressed down to fall
my riddle is finished sir; what is your call?
Matt leaned in closer. "What is that?" he asked.
Anya frowned. "I think it's one of those sampler things." That poem doesn't make any sense... "Wonder what it means?"
Matt shrugged. "Maybe nothing?"
"Maybe," Anya said. "I mean, samplers like that were usually meant to just show off skills and stuff...Might be more, though. Some weird government code or something."
"Think whoever made it was crazy?" Matt asked with a smirk.
Anya laughed. "Maybe." Anya shut the book and peeked into the box at the rest of the stack. The yellowed newsprint caught her eye again. "Sweet, old newspapers." She hefted the remaining books and set them to the side before pulling the soft old paper into her lap. The date in the corner was March 3, 1972.
"Pioneer 10 Launched" read the headline in big letters.
"Cool," Matt said.
"Seriously." They quieted and read the article silently. The block of text took up half the front page, and at the end, in a tiny bit of dead space, were more words, handwritten.
It wasn't insanity. They found other stars first.
Anya blinked and looked at Matt. He met her gaze.
"What the heck does that mean?" she said.
"Are there any other pieces?" Matt asked.
"Nope." Anya let the paper slide to the attic floor. She reached for another album and pulled the cover open as Matt folded the paper. "Let's look through the rest of these," she said.
The photographs moved forward in time as they progressed through the books. One of the last ones even showed Anya as a little girl, sitting on a porch swing with one of her cousins. The embroidered sample appeared on the wall in several of the pictures, sometimes only a corner, but always in the pictures of that wall. The next to last picture showed a different room in color, the wood paneling on the walls lending a dimness to the scene of a family together, some in Christmas sweaters. The sampler was on this wall, too.
The last picture had the same room, same paneling, and some of the same people, older now, and a few new faces in the frame.
The sampler was gone. Not replaced by anything; the wall was empty.
She poked at the glossy paper. "It's gone."
"Maybe they moved it." Matt closed the book in his lap.
"Maybe." What did those words mean, and who wrote them? Anya sighed. "Do you know what time it is?"
Matt looked down at his watch. "Two o'clock."
She tilted her head. "Wanna go to the library with me?"
Matt shrugged. "Sure. What for?"
"Family research." Anya grinned and stuck the old newspaper back where it had rested for so long, then followed it with the stack of albums. "Might be some cool stuff." She stood.
"I still swear I've heard Dupree's name somewhere," Matt said as Anya backed down the ladder. "Not sure where, though."
Anya smiled. "Maybe we'll find out."
Rough, but an actual thing I'm pretty excited about. And editing now.