Mysteries of Limbo
Just because you’re dead doesn’t mean you can’t be alive. Fifteen year old Danny Knight led a too short and too painful life, but now that he is dead he wants to live. Danny is in Limbo, and if Limbo is a waiting room he’s the kid tapping his foot on the floor.
Danny’s beach-side sliver of Limbo called San Pietro is peopled by those, like him, who have lived shades of gray. Everyone here did things they are not proud of, but Danny wonders if you can make it better. You can amend. Danny starts on this road by helping newcomer Quin, 17, after she pops into this strange place and hides. Danny will unwind the mystery of what she did, what was done to her, and why she is here, even if it means going to the “Other Side” – our world – and finding the painful secrets she will not reveal.
“The Mysteries of Limbo” is a 52,000 word young adult novel with crossover adult fantasy appeal. It is complete and is the first of a series.
This beach never has storms. Not sometimes, not rarely, not occasionally. Never. The sky clouds sometimes, but the clouds never whip into a dark funk that washes down rain. The sun warms, but only that, settling into a pleasant 72 degrees by the early afternoon. Always.
Kyle Donovan rushed back from town, hurtling a stretch of the Strand that bordered the beach. He called again, “Danny!”
Danny Knight lounged in the hammock strung between the twin palms that shaded Kyle’s home. It was a slapdash driftwood cabana with a never closed door facing the ocean. For the thousandth time, Danny traced a finger along Kyle’s surfboard where the shark had snapped off a gaping chunk of Polystyrene and fiberglass along with Kyle’s left arm.
Danny pretended not to notice Kyle running toward him in big floppy strides trailing spirals of sand flurries. Kyle had to shake the hammock.
“They’re having a party at the town square.”
Danny sprang to his elbows as the hammock swayed. “A new arrival?”
“Yeah.” Kyle swiped at his mop of sandy blond hair. “Maybe.”
He was a big dude and, at 20, five years older than Danny, but still the flash of disappointment from Danny brought worry to his tanned face. He tried to make good. “I saw the crowd and ran back to get you.”
“You should’ve waited to see what it was first.” Danny reclined again. “I don’t need to see anyone else leave.”
“Unless it’s Chad,” Kyle said with an oafish grin.
That worked. Danny stretched and slipped down to the sand. Kyle, like a big shaggy dog, bounced forward as if to show him the way. He didn’t need to, of course. Danny and Kyle had both grown up in San Pietro, though separated by five years of age and five decades of time.
Danny, skinny and dressed in grimy jeans and a blue and white checked hand-me-down dress shirt, trailed Kyle onto the Strand raised a foot above the back of the beach. In places it was old rotting tarred wood, elsewhere smooth cement sprinkled with sand strewn by roller skate wheels and flip-flops. There was a wheelchair ramp at the southern end now that was kind of new. Kyle, in board shorts and a yellow “Hang Loose” t-shirt, trailed a half step behind Danny by the time they got to First Avenue.
San Pietro spread out over filled-in valleys before them. It hugged a bowl along its share of Central California coast, laid out in a snug grid surrounded by sea and stunted hills colored a perpetual spring green. Homes radiated from the shops and little office buildings concentrated in a circle near the beach.
But this San Pietro was not quite right. The rolling ring of hills were softer than they should have been. Colors seemed mixed on a palette, cliché blue for sky, crayon green for grass. Tan stucco seemed too freshly slathered. Edges were too sharp, too well defined. The Guadalupe River pushed down into the bowl like it had a plan, then streamed into the sea in a perfect triangle delta. This San Pietro looked like it had been dipped in a pastel landscape painting. Not quite cartoonish, but still not quite right.
Danny and Kyle moved up First Avenue, past Front Street and Saloon Street. They passed Mel’s Soda Fountain and waved at Mel standing alone behind his counter, greasy white apron and a growl on his lips. The place was usually “hopping,” Mel’s word, but not now. Today everyone was at the party.
An old 1910s clapboard A-frame on Saloon Street squatted in its peeling pale blue next to a mauve stucco two-story condo that jutted in misshapen angles as if bent on invading the clapboard’s space. The Verizon store at the corner of Saloon and First was kitty corner to a hostler’s barn. The Pinkberry hugged the side of the apothecary’s where Clyde Douglas, in green-tinted glasses and woolen vest and starched collar, dispensed aspirin and arsenic.
On the road were Packards and Priuses, and the occasional horse-drawn carriage. There were plenty of restaurants here in the commercial hub of the town. A new gourmet pretzel place had popped up a few years ago. When there wasn’t a party in the Town Square you would find these places crowded, mostly with those who had been here only a decade or two. The restaurants did a brisk business in nostalgia.
After Olive Street, First Avenue died at the Town Square like the Guadalupe died in the ocean. Town Square was a pedestrian only space, a big rectangle of red brick with a grassy park in the middle. The green was neatly lined with white wire fencing framing white roses and violet asters. There was an opening at each of the four corners, wide and inviting.
In this Town Square, though, the bricks were smoother than the real ones in the real San Pietro. Those bricks were rutted and worn, the curse of every kid who skated over them and caught an edge. These red bricks were like ground glass.
There, beneath the mighty three-story clock tower at the eastern end of the square, was the party. Danny scanned, but couldn’t make out a new face within the clutch of bodies that swarmed the grass around the gazebo. At the edge he spotted Johnny Tezay and caught his eye with a wave. He liked Johnny. Surplus Army jacket and round glasses over a thin nose and close set eyes. No matter how many times Johnny explained that his little upside-down Y necklace meant “peace” Danny didn’t quite get it, but thought it was cool anyway.
Then Danny saw Chad King bulling into the crowd and his face soured. It wasn’t this, though, that stopped Danny. No, what stopped him was an old man alone beyond the fringe of the throng. White linen suit and cigar between veed fingers, scraggily little salt and pepper goatee, and staring right into Danny’s eyes when they wandered to that far corner of the square. This stopped Danny like he hit an invisible force field, like his feet forgot their purpose.
Those who knew of him, had seen him, always on edges and in shadows, called him the Mysterious Stranger. Danny, though, feared him like the devil.
When Kyle realized Danny was not by his side he turned. “Come on, we’re gonna miss it.” Kyle eagerly wheeled back to the square. In his mind he had already decided it was a newcomer and he hoped it was someone around his age. Few were.
When he turned back around Danny was gone. He’d bolted down Olive Street and was already to the Pho noodle place next to the 1890s saloon.
And you could have that here – the apothecary’s by the Pinkberry – because this San Pietro was not the real San Pietro. The cabana on the back of the beach was Kyle Donovan’s home, but it wasn’t really. It was his would-have-been home. Would have been had Kyle not been eaten by a 17-foot great white shark when he’d ridden one last waning sun wave on the breakers off this very beach 21 years ago.
Because this San Pietro that wasn’t San Pietro was the San Pietro in Limbo, and everyone in it was dead.