Whomever Has the Courage to Read is a short story that I wrote in a Children’s Literature class in the late 1980s. Over the years I have thought about turning this story into a book. Maybe, someday.
Being thirteen was difficult, thought Matt. Too old to play with electric trains and too young to have a car. And, being stuck at Grandpa’s lake cottage for the summer and having it rain all day didn’t help.
Rainy days were easy to fill if you like to sleep, like Grandpa Henry did, listening to the squeak and hum of the fan, or sew like his ten-year-old sister Amber did on a scrap of fabric she had found in the attic.
“Attic. A great idea,” Matt said to himself. He climbed the old wooden staircase slowly, hoping he would not wake Grandpa, with the squeaking sound of the floorboards.
The heavy door groaned as Matt swung it back. He reached for the light switch just inside the dark musky room. Suddenly, the room filled with shadows by a long single bare light bulb swaying down from the rafters in the center of the room.
A huge cedar trunk stood in one corner. Matt made his way to it watching the shadows lurk about and lifted the heavy lid. Instead of patchwork quilts, the trunk was full of old books.
One book, in particular, caught Matt’s eye. It was not very large and bound in soft leather the same yellow color of Grandpa’s work gloves.
Matt felt strange as he looked at the book. He started to tremble and got the feeling he was trespassing. Curiosity on what the book contained had him shoving aside his feelings and when he opened the book he read:
“To whomever has the courage to read me.”
“I have plenty of courage,” Matt said softly into the stale air. He felt a breeze that caused the hair on the back of his neck to rise. Matt looked around the room as though he was being watched and wondered where the breeze came from since the small windows were nailed shut. Once he reassured himself he was alone, he took a deep breath and turned the page to read:
“On the night Judge Smith drowned in Stockdale Bay, I saw you. You were with him in his green beat-up flat-bottom boat. Old Sheriff Taylor said Judge had whiskey bottles in the boat. He then concluded that Judge Smith went out fishin’ alone, got drunk, fell overboard while trying to pull in a fish, and was, by then, too drunk to swim.
“But you know and I know Judge Smith was a good strong swimmer and drank nothing stronger than black coffee.
“Guess you had your reasons.”
Matt gasped, trying hard not to believe what he was reading. Who was this Judge Smith and who was the author of this diary? Scared and puzzled by the whole thing, Matt continued to read hoping he would find some answers.
“Ma took me to see one of them new-fangled doctors they call psychiatrists. I overheard them talking and they say I am crazy, but I’m not and you know it.
“Why did you kill Doc Baker? Was he getting close to the truth about poor ole Judge Smith?
“Now you shouldn’t have killed Doc like that.”
…to be continued…