Monday, September 22, 2014

The Shopkeeper and The Traveler

The Shopkeeper and The Traveler is now available in ebook format and has been accepted into the Smashwords Premium Catalog, which means it will be automatically distributed to major online retailers around the world. Excerpts from the book are available to download on those websites, but I want to make the first chapter available here on my blog as well. Enjoy. You can also go to my website to learn more about my books.


Chapter 1: At The Café

Boats belong in the water, not in the sky.

Brianna Moonspirit has no idea who keeps whispering those words in her ear. The man’s familiar voice usually comes to her on the wind; he’s never nearby. Sometimes she answers as if he’s real rather than conjured by her imagination.

“Yes! There it is!” Brianna remembered to bring her camera this time. She aims the lens upward, snaps a few shots, and checks her photo history. Nothing extraordinary. A few wispy clouds navigate the blue sky and a flock of birds dot the Seattle skyline, but no boat. “Drats! It’s gone again.”

Pedestrians continue on about their business, weaving around the tables of the sidewalk cafe, oblivious to the world around them. Surely, Brianna couldn’t have been the only one who witnessed the ghostlike, wooden ship floating down from the sky, its three massive, triangular sails full like inverted parachutes. She returns the camera to her tote bag and pulls out her notepad, ready to jot down the newsworthy event, but the words elude her.

Oh, who would believe me anyway?

As she stores the notepad and pen with her camera, the distant squawks of seagulls and brushing of waves against a rocky shore increase in volume. These soothing sounds usually help her relax, but not today – not when she can hear them in the middle of the city, drowning out the noisy traffic. Besides, she’s a few miles from the nearest beach. Then the language of the people around her morph into something alien. She doesn’t understand why this is happening again.

Brianna closes her eyes and covers her ears, wishing her life would return to normal. She needs “normal” after the last five years. But other voices ignore her wishes and squeeze between her fingers, forcing their way into her mind. Brianna can’t place their foreign words, but she associates the voices she keeps hearing in her head with that mysterious translucent ship.

As the cool breeze carries their muffled words away, she tilts her head back to drink in the warmth of the sun. Brianna’s eyes remain closed while she focuses on this surreal experience. Finally, the voices fade away completely, but the ordinary sounds around her seem to latch onto them and disappear as well, leaving her swathed in an odd vacuum of silence despite the bustling of life all around her.

Living near the water doesn’t necessarily make them out of place, except for the different language, yet these sounds call to Brianna from some far-off place, like a distant memory or a vague dream she barely remembers. These fleeting glimpses show up frequently now – a foreign language, the clatter of metal clanking upon metal, the dreamlike cries of seagulls, rhythmic coastal tides, and the eerie ship in the sky – all sights and sounds she now refers to as marina dreams.

Upon opening her eyes, the eruption of city traffic and crowds of shoppers blare as though someone switched on a radio. Normally shrouded behind layers of clouds, the blazing sun blinds her until someone stands in front of her and blocks the light. The silhouetted figure moves slightly, startling Brianna, pulls out the chair across from her and sits down. It’s Moya.

“You do know how silly you look sitting here with your eyes closed, don’t you? Are you okay? You look like you’re about a million miles away.”

“I was soaking up a little sunshine,” Brianna replies. “This has turned into such a beautiful day. I love sun breaks. Almost as much as I love coffee breaks.”

People not from the area don’t understand the significance of the term sun breaks, but Seattleites know it well. These lulls in the gloomy weather coaxes them out of their winter hibernation, bringing about a sudden resurgence of life in the streets. Despite the occasional cloud that dares to rear its ugly head in defiance, thoughts of gray are replaced with more carefree activity. Brianna delights in being able to take advantage of today’s unexpected sun break with her longtime friend, Moya Benton, escaping their cubicle confinement at work and meeting at Café Bean for a much-anticipated, mid-morning coffee break.

Their jobs at an obscure, low-budget magazine called, Seattle Sidewalk, take them out of the office to interview people on the streets about current local events and political opinions. Occasionally, they get lucky and do what they call “real reporting” if a big story breaks, like when protesters picketed the mayor’s office last year. However, whether out on assignment or not, they usually end up at the Bean for coffee at some point during the day. Their friend, Owen, purchased it three years ago and transformed the menu by adding his wife’s baked goods. Today, in addition to celebrating the sunshine, the two woman have another reason to meet here: Brianna’s twenty-seventh birthday.

“Remember how your parents used to take you out for ice cream on your birthday?”

“Yeah.” Brianna smiles and heaves a weighted sigh. “Afterward, we’d go to the park and imagine what things would be like when I was older: I’d be married, have two kids and a dog.”

“A golden retriever, right?”


It’s been ten years since their last trip to the park, yet Brianna has no family of her own and her parents are gone. She doesn’t even have a dog. It’s difficult for her to imagine the future her parents envisioned when her life seems so empty and uncertain right now, so she focuses her energy on work. On days like today, however, she can’t ignore that gaping hole in her life. Sometimes, she wishes she was more like Moya, who has no trouble putting her latest project out of her mind in order to enjoy the moment.

“Well, you let me know when you’re ready to adopt a dog and I’ll help you pick one out. You know you’re going to have to pick up dog poop every time you take him out, right?”

“It’s all part of having a dog.” Brianna laughs at the face Moya’s making, as if someone set a pile in front of her. “It’s called being a responsible pet owner.”

“I say let Rover do his business in the bushes. Just act like you didn’t see him do it. I don’t think the poop police will come after you.”

“You would say that. But you know you’d pick up after your dog if you had one.”

“Yeah, yeah. Poop, poop, poop. That’s a crappy subject. Ha! Let’s talk about something else. I know you love dogs, but seriously.”

Moya brushes a loose russet curl across her forehead and dumps the contents of her purse on the table. Brianna’s amazed by how much Moya can fit into such a small purse: makeup, granola bars, an oversized wallet, a handful of loose coins, half a dozen pens, a small notepad, several crystals of varying size and color, and the latest paperback about UFOs and aliens. She can’t help but smile at the sight of the book’s many dog-eared pages, where Moya has marked sections to quote from if the subject comes up. Brianna avoids suggesting Moya get a bigger purse; she’d probably fill it more. Instead, Brianna ignores her chaos and watches the people walking by.

Still focused on her earlier marina dream, Brianna wonders why these sounds and images plague her. She last dealt with this sort of thing as a young girl. Unable to interpret what was happening to her then, her friends teased her and made her feel crazy whenever she tried to explain. Maybe that’s why she didn’t tell Moya what was going on when she arrived. Although she wouldn’t have made fun of Brianna – much – mentioning her hallucinations would fuel Moya’s obsession with aliens from other worlds and she might attribute the visions to some form of alien mind control.

Owen sets a cup of coffee and a pastry down in front of each of them.

“Hey! We haven’t even looked at the menu yet!” Moya crams the last of her items back into her purse and folds her arms in protest.

Owen shakes his head and smiles. “Come on, ladies. When do you ever order anything different? Double mocha latte and a cinnamon twist for you, and a single decaf hazelnut latte and a bear claw for you,” he says, pointing at Moya, then Brianna. “You make my job so easy.”

“Ignore her, Owen. She’s trying to make a fuss today.”

Moya frowns. “And you don’t think I should make a fuss? Today of all days?”

Turning to Owen, Moya asks if he remembers what today is.

He tucks the tray under his arm and rubs his chin. Brianna giggles when he responds with a sarcastic, “Hmmm, let’s see. Trash pick-up day?” She can’t help chuckling more over Moya’s impatience when he continues with, “Oh, no, wait, wait. I got it. It’s ah . . . Wednesday, right? Think you’re pretty sneaky with those trick questions, don’t you?”

“No! Today’s Bree’s birthday!”

Owen appears flustered over having forgotten but recovers quickly. “Oh, well I knew that, silly. Hey, your order’s on me today. Happy birthday, sweetie!” He pulls the flower out of the vase on the table and hands it to Brianna, as if to make a grand gesture before returning inside to get the next customer’s order.

Brianna and Moya sit in silence for a moment before bursting out in laughter like two girls at a slumber party. As Brianna returns the flower to the vase, Moya admits their predictability and laughter soon turns to chatter. After complaining about annoying coworkers, work load, and unrealized career goals, their conversation finally switches to their plans for the evening.

“As much as I love talking about work, which is about as much fun as talking about dog poop, I’d much rather convince you to do a guided meditation with me. I think I’ve finally figured out a way to get you hooked on it.”

Brianna sighs. “Not this again. How many times do I have to tell you I’m not interested? I don’t need to meditate to relax. I’m perfectly capable of relaxing on my own.”

“I beg to differ!” Moya chuckles, reminding her what happened when she arrived. “You practically jumped out of your skin when I walked up to the table. Look, the meditations are really simple. All you’ve gotta do is imagine going to your happy place, a place you’d love to visit if you could go anywhere in the world. Heck, it doesn’t even have to be a real place. Trust me. You’ve got to learn to relax!”

Brianna has been on edge lately. Her parents died five years ago in a car crash on Highway 101, returning from a much-needed vacation, an escape meant to ease the mounting pressures of their failing new age store, Mystic Silver Book Shoppe. Business had taken a turn for the worse, and they both needed some time away. Brianna was supposed to have gone with them, but she opted to give them some time alone. They phoned before their trip home, mentioning they had some news to share with her once they arrived back in Seattle – the last time she spoke with them. She never found out what they wanted to tell her.

The night before Brianna found out about the accident, she dreamed about losing her family in a violent manner. While the details of the dream remain unclear, the emotion haunts her to this day. She recalls reading about how some people share such a deep connection that one will psychically know when the other’s in danger. That dream must have been her parents’ way of letting Brianna know they’d died. In fact, she often wonders whether the voices she keeps hearing now in her marina dreams belong to her parents, trying to reach her from beyond the grave with the message they were never able to give her.

Danni “Moonflower” Murphy and Brian “TreeSpirit” Murphy were free thinkers, flower children, hippies from the sixties. They weren’t Brianna’s biological parents, but she knew they’d loved her as their own. Although their rebellious antics had often embarrassed her as a child, she loved them deeply. Even the name they had chosen for her – Moonspirit – a combination of their own chosen names, had been the cause of many awkward moments for Brianna in school. However, after her parents died, Brianna set aside those childhood memories of being teased about her “hippie freak parents” and started using Moonspirit instead of Murphy all the time, despite the raised eyebrows this sometimes inspired at work. Her parents’ absence weighs on her still, yet she seldom speaks of it.

“Yeah, I guess I am a little jumpy. I don’t know why, though.”

Moya laughs. “I do. You need a man.”

Owen holds back a snicker as he clears off the table next to them. He swishes the cleaning rag over the same spot several times and nods when Brianna glances over at him, agreeing with Moya. He often conspires with Moya to set Brianna up on blind dates and must be waiting for the right moment to jump in with another candidate.

Brianna insists she needs no one to define her or to make her happy. “I’m perfectly content with my life, and finding a man isn’t going to help me relax. Besides, I already know how to meditate. What do you think I was doing when you walked up?”

Moya seems unconvinced. “Yeah, well, if you’re so content, why don’t you ever go out?”

“I go out.”

“With men?”

Moya stumps her. In fact, Brianna hasn’t been out with a man on a date in years, swearing off love or the possibility of ever being happy. It’s not as though she couldn’t attract anyone. At least, that’s what Moya always tells her; she envies Brianna’s “perfect combination of outer beauty and inner grace.” She also claims everyone’s drawn to Brianna’s emerald green eyes, eyes that mesmerize and captivate men, eyes Moya swears she’d kill for. Such talk embarrasses Brianna, and she scoffs at the notion of pairing a woman with a man to be complete.

“I go out all the time, and I have plenty of fun.”

Moya responses with her all-to-familiar slow and exaggerated eye roll, disapproving grimace, and infamous head shake of disappointment, followed by a long and drawn-out sigh. Going out with friends or coworkers doesn’t compare to going out on a date.

“That’s not the same, and you know it. Girl, if I looked like you, I’d be out all the time. You’d never see me. But no . . . I’m this short, frumpy man-girl. Plain Jane, that’s my name. You know, the only reason I hang out with you is to catch the poor slobs you bash over the head for making the mistake of being interested. They’re so depressed when you reject them, they figure I’m as good as they’ll get; I’m their last shot at happiness after you crush them. Come on, Bree! Why won’t you let me introduce you to some men?”

Brianna avoids her question. “You aren’t plain. You’re exaggerating again. And man-girl? Really, you make yourself sound like a hideous ogre. Where do you come up with this stuff? You’re gorgeous, and you know it.”

“You’re right, I am gorgeous, but not next to you. So work with me here. I’m gorgeous. You’re gorgeous-er. Take advantage of it. Go out. Have some fun. Live it up, woman!”

Owen picks this moment to chime in. He snatches up the empty plates from another table, turns to face them and interrupts with, “My brother-in-law, Bruce, is single again. I can fix you up with him if you want.”

“Oh, I don’t know . . .” Brianna’s eyes wander as she tries to think of a reason why she’s not ready to start dating. She glances across the street and notices her neighbor, Jake Murdoch, in the crowd.

Moya spots him, too. “Is that Jake again? Man, that guy’s everywhere lately. Have you noticed that?”

“Yeah, I’ve noticed.”

Brianna smiles at Jake. Smiling back, and with a slight nod in her direction, Jake acknowledges being spotted. Although she can’t explain why, Brianna feels as though they’ve come to a secret agreement or understanding. To most people, this covert exchange might seem unusual, but Brianna’s grown accustomed to finding Jake coincidentally near her in various places around town lately.

He hovers like a Secret Service agent would watch over the president, ready to intervene on her behalf should he detect any danger. Jake chalks it up to chance encounters, but Brianna believes otherwise. They share an unspoken bond, conjured by the weird sense of déjà vu he invokes. Moya insists he and Brianna knew each other in a past life.

Older men don’t normally interest Brianna. Jake’s probably about ten years older than her, maybe fifteen – not exactly a May/December age difference – yet she finds herself drawn to him anyway. However, she also recognizes he has a few quirks. No matter how warm the weather, for example, he always wears gloves – not ordinary work gloves, but fancy leather gloves. Expensive looking. Custom-made. One day, she’ll gather the nerve to ask why he wears them.

Brianna knows little about Jake except he keeps to himself most of the time. A towering man of few words, silent and intense, Jake rarely reveals anything about himself whenever he does speak. Moya pesters Brianna to strike up more conversations to get to know him better, but Brianna refuses to force the issue. She figures Jake will open up more when he’s ready.

Moya gets a little pushy where men are concerned, this one in particular, and Brianna hopes she doesn’t suggest she go out with him. After all, Jake works as the handyman in her apartment building. Serious about his job, he even takes on the role of security guard, watching out for the tenants, especially Brianna, whether in the building or out and about.

Although Brianna respects Jake as a skilled worker, Moya enjoys referring to him as the lowly janitor. Brianna can imagine Moya teasing her about the journalist and the janitor if she ever went out with him. And Brianna wouldn’t put it past Moya to coax her into doing something she could joke about later.

“So why haven’t the two of you gone out yet?” Moya asks. “I’ve seen the sparks.”

“Jake? Yeah, well, I guess he’s okay.” Brianna tries to act nonchalant as she fidgets with her coffee cup. Oh, who am I kidding? He’s more than okay. Why does he have to be so dang appealing anyway? Those form-fitting jeans and stylish leather jacket. Jake’s got ‘bad boy’ written all over him. With his untamed look, his face could easily grace a billboard. Surely he must know how enticing he is, but he seems oblivious. I bet he doesn’t even know what being a ‘bad boy’ means.

Brianna shakes off thoughts of Jake and realizes Moya noticed her caught up in them. A playful grin sweeps across Moya’s face. Brianna knows what’s coming next: Moya’s going to say Jake could be a murderer plotting to kill her, taking care not to leave any fingerprints behind – Moya’s way of explaining his fancy leather gloves. She never tires of this little test to see if Brianna will come to his defense, as if her reaction will somehow gauge her true interest in him.

Moya squints as she studies Jake, perhaps looking for another quirk to point out. “He must be some kind of germaphobe, or maybe he’s –”

“Eccentric. I think eccentric is probably the word you’re looking for. And for the ten millionth time, he’s not a murderer.”

“Yeah, I guess you can never be too careful,” Moya mumbles. “What’s his story, anyway? Why hasn’t he asked you out yet?”

Brianna looks over at Jake again, trying not to draw attention to the fact she’s secretly admiring him.

“Maybe he’s a stalker!” Moya tries out a new twist to her imaginative theories about Jake. “Maybe he’s waiting for the right moment, when you least expect it. Look at his eyes. He’s probably thinking about how he’s going to do it . . . how he’ll kill you and get away with it.”

“Will you stop already!” Brianna laughs at her absurd claim. “I’m sure he’s not planning to kill me and he’s not a stalker. He’s harmless and you know it. He teaches fencing to kids in the neighborhood at that place across from my apartment. How bad could that be? Still, I don’t really think of him as date material. Besides, he’s got enough women fawning all over him. Have you seen those moms who hang on his every word when they pick up their kids? I couldn’t possibly compete. If I was interested, that is.”

“So you want royalty? At least he’s got a job. Look, if you don’t make a move to go out with him, one of those fencing moms will.”

Brianna glances toward Jake again, but he must have moved on. Without looking too obvious, she scans the crowd and finally spots him walking away, blending in with the rest of the pedestrians.

Another man catches Moya’s eye and she wastes no time bringing him to Brianna’s attention.

“Ooh, hey. What about that guy? He seems to be checking you out.”

Embarrassed, Brianna promptly ducks her head. She pretends to fumble through her purse to look for something. Moya’s pointed out a striking young man with sandy-colored hair who seems out of place, wearing well-tailored clothing and an expensive-looking overcoat. This man gazes at them in much the same way Jake did earlier. Something about this second man seems familiar; Brianna’s seen him before but can’t remember where.

Moya urges her to go over and talk with him, but Brianna refuses to participate in her harebrained schemes. She’d have to be pretty desperate to beg for a date from some random stranger off the street. Despite Moya’s repeated goading, Brianna declines and stands up to leave, reminding Moya she’ll see her later that evening.

As Brianna walks away, Owen calls out after her, “I can set it up!”

*     *     *

Moya stays at the table by herself and reflects on how she and Brianna have known each other since fourth grade. More like sisters than friends and nearly inseparable, especially throughout school, neither of them have any brothers or sisters. After Brianna’s parents died, they spent much of their time together, either in the city or at Moya’s parents’ new home on Whidbey Island, two hours north of Seattle.

Ever since Moya’s father was promoted last year and her parents moved to North Carolina, she’s watched Brianna become a recluse. Brianna’s always been close to Moya’s parents, so since they moved, it’s as though Brianna lost her own parents all over again. Concerned about Brianna, Moya wants to help her feel happy again, but wishes Brianna would be more accepting of help.

Realizing she can do little more for Brianna at the moment, Moya acknowledges with a sigh she still has to finish her assignment for work. However, her thoughts remain split between preparing for this evening and convincing Brianna to start taking a more proactive attitude toward dating.

Before heading back to the office, Moya mulls over some plans in her head. Then with a burst of energy, she takes one last sip of coffee, waves to Owen and thanks him for treating before she rushes off.

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