As relief from reading Journal of a Plague Year, Station Eleven, and The Plague, the board of EPIC Group Writers penned a serial novel for your entertainment. Since each author could only see the immediately preceding chapter, there are numerous plot twists and wild goose chases. Fortunately the “instigator,” Diane Naab, was able to pull the whole novella together after it veered wildly off course from the original story. Enjoy!
As he floated down a vertical tunnel with walls made of ice, Jason remembered his mother reading Alice in Wonderland to him back when he was a kid living in Seattle, and now he understood how Alice must have felt. From somewhere up above him, he could hear Uncle Bill’s froggy voice shouting down to him.
“See Jason? I told you there was a plan!”
“Uncle Bill, what in the world is going on?” Jason yelled back up in the direction of his uncle’s voice.
Bill was singing now, and the words of his song bounced off the icy walls that surrounded them. “Living in Tennessee, playing Monopoly…”
After what seemed like only a few minutes, Jason floated down onto a perfectly manicured lawn in a park-like setting. He looked around and knew he wasn’t in Alaska anymore. A few seconds later, his uncle floated onto the grass next to him. As Jason shook his head hoping to clear the confusion in his brain, he noticed that there was a Monopoly board open between them. Sunlight peeked through the broad canopy of a gigantic banyan tree spread out above them.
“Isn’t this just beautiful?” Uncle Bill asked, spreading his arms wide, lifting his face to the sun, as if it were the most natural thing in the world to go from subzero temperatures in Alaska to a park in the middle of Tennessee. Just like that.
Jason knew that his Uncle Bill had always been somewhat eccentric, but this was ridiculous. And besides, Jason had his own plan, and it didn’t include a banyan tree, Tennessee or monopoly. “Uncle Bill, what about the Mukluk Festival? And where is the sled? And the dogs?”
“They’re just fine, Jason. They made it there. Someone’ll take of them, don’t you worry.”
Of course Jason was worrying, and not just about the dogs and the sled.
“Uncle Bill, how did we get here?” he asked, knowing there was no reasonable explanation. “And why did you look so scared back at your place?”
His uncle looked at him, as if he was considering how much to say. “I just kinda felt like I had to get away from there. Too many memories, Jason. Just too many memories.”
Jason knew that his uncle had PTSD from his war experiences. Jason wondered if somehow, he’d become trapped in Bill’s illusions and fantasies. He thought about Roberta, who would be waiting for him at the Festival. He imagined she’d be wearing her traditional Kuspuk dress– the blue one – and her sealskin mukluks. What would she think when the dogs and sled arrived without him or Uncle Bill? Ever since they’d started first grade together at the village school, Jason had loved Roberta Chingliak. He loved walking across the tundra with her to school. He loved the way her smile made her eyes almost close. He loved looking at her perfect round face surrounded by the wolverine fur on her parka. And he loved her sense of humor. She never seemed to mind that he was a white kid and she was Yu’pik.
“You’re okay,” she’d say. “I like you anyway.”
His uncle’s voice broke into his reverie. “It’s your turn.”
“I said it’s your turn. Shake the dice.”
Jason stood up and looked down at his uncle. “Look, Uncle Bill, this is all great and everything, but I don’t want to be here.”
“Why the heck not?” his uncle asked. “It’s better than freezing our asses off up there in the frigid north, isn’t it?”
“No, it’s not. How in the heck did we get here? I don’t get any of this.”
Bill looked up at Jason. His eyebrows went up and a small smile began in the corners of his mouth.
“Ah ha, I get it,” he said. “It’s that girl, isn’t it?”
Jason took a deep breath. “Okay, yes. She’s going to be all worried about us, and so will everyone else. Don’t you care about that?”
“Son, they quit worrying about me a long time ago.”
“Okay, I get that,” Jason said. “But Roberta, she’ll be worrying about me.”
Just then, Jason heard a rustle behind him. He turned around to see two elderly ladies.
“Hello there, Bill, it’s been awhile,” one of them said, smiling at Bill.
“Lucille and Ruby, how are you on this fine day?” Bill answered.
Jason looked back and forth, from the ladies to his uncle, getting more confused by the minute.
“I apologize,” Bill said, getting up now. “May I introduce my nephew, Jason? Jason, this is Lucille and Ruby, two dear friends of mine.”
“How…how do you do,” Jason said.
“We do quite well, thank you,” the one named Lucille answered, smiling.
As they wandered away, the one named Ruby called back over her shoulder, “See you at dinner, Bill.”
“You sure will,” Bill called back. Then he looked at Jason. “So you want to go back, do you? To the frigid north.”
“Yes, Uncle Bill. I want to go back.”
“Alright, son. Back it is.”
Bill picked up a small twig that was on the ground and began writing some symbols in the sand surrounding the banyan tree. Jason couldn’t believe what happened next.