It’s been awhile since I posted anything on my blog, so I thought I’d take a moment before the holiday weekend to give everyone a small “thank you” for being so awesome.
In honor of Independence Day (the day when Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum defeated the aliens and drove them from our planet), I’m giving you a little something for free: a cut scene from The Alchemist’s Notebook.
If you’ve read my novel, you might recognize the name Clyde. He was Malcolm’s dear friend and mentor, mentioned in passing as the original owner of Mal’s beat-up old van. That’s the only reference to him now. But in the beginning, he was a crucial part of Malcolm’s backstory.
When I first wrote The Alchemist’s Notebook, I included a series of flashbacks to 2005, when Malcolm first left the Ardennes Forest and returned to America. He was in Savannah for a while, and met Miss Shaniqua, a psychic who told him to “follow the lines.” That led Malcolm to meet Clyde, and the start of their adventure together.
I loved writing him. Clyde was an optimistic old man who saw the good in everyone. He wanted nothing more than to help others, and took it upon himself to help Mal transition to life in the modern world.
Unfortunately, sometimes a good scene, even a good character, has to be cut from a book if it will help the story. My editor, Sara, was reluctant to recommend that I cut all the flashbacks, but we both agreed the novel worked better without them.
I have hopes of one day revisiting Clyde, but it will have to be with a new story. I hope you enjoy this never-before-seen excerpt from The Alchemist’s Notebook.
Miss Shaniqua directed me to a place on the other side of town called Exotic Destinations. I expected a small office, filled with ringing phones and overenthusiastic travel agents. Instead, I walked past the glass door through a smoky cloud of incense. The alchemist in me assumed it was a cleansing ritual, but the cynic in me wondered if it was there to mask other smells that might interest the local sheriff.
A thin man wearing his long gray hair in a ponytail stood behind the counter. His floral shirt was long and untucked around his khaki shorts. At first he acted suspicious, which to me seemed a weird trait for a shopkeeper to have.
“Can you help me?” I told him Miss Shaniqua had sent me to him, and he brightened at the mention of her name.
“You must be okay if Miss Shaniqua told you about my place. Welcome. My name’s Clyde, man.”
“Malcolm,” I said.
I offered to shake his hand, but he deftly avoided any direct contact. He busied himself rearranging the items behind him on the shelves. The store was filled with paraphernalia. Candles and incense, stones and gems, tarot cards and runes, herbs and elixirs, and a few items that might be for burning more than incense. The cynic in me again.
Clyde shuffled some items in the display case, as if someone had rearranged him since the last time he looked. “What can I do for you?”
“I’m not really sure,” I confessed. “I assumed you were some sort of a travel agency.”
He barked a strange laugh, and I noted a wheezing in his lungs.
“No, not a travel agency,” he said. “Although I’ve arranged some amazing trips, man.”
He seemed a little out there, and I doubted the old man could do anything to help me. I backed away from the counter. “I think I’ve made a mistake.”
“No, man. Miss Shaniqua sent you for a reason.” He waved me back to the counter, then leaned forward and whispered. “What do you need?”
“I don’t know, exactly. I’m looking for something. She said I need to follow the lines, but I’m not sure what she meant by it.”
“Lines? There are lots of lines. She didn’t say which ones?”
“Nope.” I shoved my hands in my pockets and wondered why I was putting so much trust in a woman I had never met before today.
“A puzzle. Cool. I like a challenge.”
Clyde walked out from behind the counter and led me to the far end of the shop where several shelves held books about astrology, spell craft, aliens, and meditation. Clyde pulled out a large volume titled Ancient Mysteries and thumbed through it until he found what he was looking for.
“What about this?” He turned the book to me, showing me full-page color photos of what looked like line drawings in the sand. “These are the Nazca Lines. Some of these pictures are over 500 feet wide. You can only see from the sky, but they were made more than a thousand years ago. Nobody knows why. Maybe they’re a message to the gods. Or maybe they’re a sign for aliens.”
“Where are these?”
“Peru, man. South America. They’re in the Nazca desert.”
“Peru, huh? I don’t think that’s it. I’m looking for something closer to home.”
“That’s what I’m trying to find out,” I said.
“Heavy, man. Okay. Hang on.” He put back the book and looked for another volume. He came up with a large book that seemed very old.
“If you’re looking for home, maybe the line is a bloodline. Like family, you know?”
“I doubt that my family would be in that book.”
“Every family has to start somewhere. This book, well, it’s special. If you give me a drop of your blood, it can trace your roots.”
It wasn’t that I was skeptical. I knew the power of blood magic in sorcery outclassed alchemy or mysticism. Truth be told, I worried more about getting hepatitis in the dingy store.
“Pass,” I said. “I’m not giving anybody any blood.”
If I offended the old man, he showed no sign. He put back the tome and opened a large drawer at the bottom of the bookcase, from which he pulled a map of the United States. Weathered and brown with age, the map could have been from the days of the Louisiana Purchase if not for the carefully drawn highways and interstates that crisscrossed the states.
“Here’s something. This used to belong to Jack Kerouac.”
“The poet?” I had spent the past few months reading everything I could get my hands on. To my surprise, I had found a kindred spirit in Kerouac and the other beat poets.
“Poet, writer, love god—that kid understood more about living than most people figure out after a century on the planet. What was it he wrote? ‘Emotionlessly she kissed me in the vineyard and walked off down the row. We turned—’”
“‘We turned at a dozen paces, for love is a duel, and looked at each other for the last time.’” I finished the line, one of my favorites.
“Yes! On the Road. Did you know he was only thirty-one when he wrote that? Poetry, man. Sheer poetry.”
“So what’s the map? A record of Kerouac’s travels with Neal Cassady?”
“More than that, more than that. He rode the highways and byways that overlapped ancient lines—the Oregon, Santa Fe, and the California trails. Those trails are powerful—infused with the lives of hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children moving westward.”
“So do you think I’m supposed to head west, like the pioneers?” I took the map from the old man, studying the roads and trails. I took note of route 66, running from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California. I had traveled that magical road once, before enlisting in the army. I wasn’t sure if it existed anymore.
I turned back to Clyde as he rummaged through more old maps. One fell out and landed on the floor. It was a map of the United States, with lines exploding from certain points like fireworks. I crouched down and picked it up.
“What’s this?” I asked.
Clyde stopped and looked over his shoulder at the map in my hand.
“Careful with that,” he said. “That’s an original—drawn by Major F.C. Tyler himself. Tyler wanted it included it in his book The Geometric Arrangement of Ancient Sites, but he died before he could revise it. No one saw that map for more than a quarter of a century until it turned up at auction back in the 1970s. A guy by the name of Mitchell bought it for a hefty sum.”
“Then how did you get it?” I asked.
“I won it from him in a poker game, man.”
I wasn’t sure if the old man was putting me on or not, but I decided to go along with it. I pointed at the white lines criss-crossing the country. “So what are all these?”
“Ley lines,” he said, as if that was obvious.
I shook my head. Despite all my reading, there was a whole world out there I didn’t understand. “Forgive me. I’ve never heard the term.”
“Ley lines are these lines of power that circle the globe. Some people think they connect holy sites. Others think they are geomagnetic, powered by the Earth’s magnetic field. Back in the olden days, folks thought they were made by fairies.”
I took this in, still unsure whether or not the old man was having a joke at my expense. The map had no markings save for the ley lines and a rough outline of the United States. I held the semi-transparent paper over the map in my other hand. They were a near match.
“Some of these lines match up.” I held up the maps for Clyde to see.
“Crazy, man. Crazy. Those old trails became powerful ley lines.”
I pointed to a large section on the western half of the United States. “So, why are these lines all pointing to Utah?”
Clyde shrugged his shoulders in a comical gesture and went off in search of something. He came back with a small, worn, leather notebook—the kind a surveyor might have used in the distant past.
“I thought so, I thought so,” he said, handing me a book. The notebook had to have been nearly a hundred years old, handwritten, filled with map coordinates that made little sense to me.
“This book is Tyler’s original surveying notebook. He kept all his measurements of the ley lines in this volume.” He waved his hand as if to silence any questions about how he came to own it, not that I was going to ask. “Anyway, according to this, the map is pointing to the Great Salt Desert.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, man. Look there, at the top of the second page. Tyler spelled it out. The number of ley lines crossing that area is off the chart. The place is like a giant intersection on the metaphysical superhighway. That’s probably what caused the mystics to settle there in the 1840s. They were looking for a sanctified place to call home.”
I thought back to what Miss Shaniqua had said. “She told me to follow the lines and I’d find a new home.”