Excerpt from the YA/adult novel
Shine out of Bedlam
It’s a blaring 1968 in Bedlam, Ohio. When a warehouse in the small town burns down, a mystery unfolds. Fifteen-year old Shine Ross is a white, basketball-playing, trumpet-playing teen living in the residentially divided community. Along with his black best friend, Moondog, Shine pursues his flimsy instincts as to who set fire to the Empire.
In this flamboyant and period-rich YA/adult novel, Shine out of Bedlam, the lightening-rod American spectacle known as the ’60s soars in its shadows and light. At the center are youth and adults afloat in their ambitions and free-spirit. Shine navigates romance, racial drama, and his own family hang-ups. Even as the country searches for its identity, the factory town of Bedlam and its teens do the same. And find they must. Shine’s fearlessness reaches full-tilt as he ramps up the search for a lost, prized, Amazon parrot; nails his train-hopping into an art form; plays trumpet (underage) in a local nightspot; and keeps alive his budding relationship with a girl he’s known since first grade, even if it means getting rid of his Band-Aid box of cigarettes. It’s all a frenzied and often darkly comic mix with a carefree boy at its center.
What do you do if you’re Shine Ross in such a place? You face bedlam head on and keep living.
…from the first chapter, Leviathan
WHATEVER CAME OUT OF THAT train last night left lazy strings of smoke and broken tree limbs at the edge of the woods. Something like trash was still burning.
Shine Ross and Moondog Weasel stared at the remnants of a campfire.
The train tracks were about fifty yards uphill from a rusted fence next to a path that snaked into a stand of trees.
They could see the smoke-wisps from where they stood outside the fence.
Someone, last night, had barreled out of that train and never thought twice about making a fire or getting too warm, after setting a match to a poor excuse for a pile of tree limbs.
This was hobo territory and Shine knew it.
This was where the wandering men with no money and no real home could hop off a train and find luxury under trees. Places under which they could escape a storm.
One morning a few weeks ago, walking near these woods, Shine and his friend Moondog saw a man wearing a greasy scarf and ratty coat in the heat of summer. Dirty coat down to his knees. He’d likely hopped out of a boxcar and moved so swiftly into the woods that Shine swore he vanished. Like dust.
But, today, the boys missed this new hobo who appeared to have scattered the tree limbs with his feet. The hobo must have known the arrival time of another train before the morning sun pressed down.
The grass was crusty brown, and it wasn’t mid-summer.
This new hobo had hopped a train and never looked back.
Yep, hobo territory. Peering at the camp, Shine could see empty soup cans. Rubber boots by the cans had holes in the toes.
A patch of the bottom of the tall fence had been pried upward by someone with decent strength. The fence bordered this section of the woods. Apparently, someone had squirmed his way through the upturned fence-bottom.
Shine squirmed through the hole only as wide as a small body. He was no stranger to these woods. His parents’ house sat on the other end of Garland Park, or the Woods, as it was known in Bedlam.
Moondog followed him through the hole. He held his ham sandwich with mustard in the air so it wouldn’t scrape the ground, taking bites of it once he reached the other side. He walked a few steps behind Shine. He bit into the last half of the sandwich. Moondog’s father had cooked a ham for lunch. Before the boys left for the woods, his father motioned to his son and Shine to slide the plates out of the kitchen cabinet and grab forks. They proceeded to shovel mounds of meat and pinto beans onto their plates.
In the woods, Shine could hear Moondog’s mouth at work. “Can you chew that thing a little more quietly?” he said.
“Pay attention. You don’t know what’s in here.”
“I know,” Moondog said.
“You know what?”
“I know I don’t know what we’re looking for.” Moondog bit into his sandwich.
“Look for more of that hobo camp, maybe another whole camp. Stay with me,” Shine said. “Let’s look.”
In spite of sunlight behind them on the slope leading from the train tracks to the fence and woods, Shine leveled his flashlight toward a dark spacing of trees. Oak trees filled the park. With his other arm, Shine wiped his nose on his shirt sleeve. Hayfever season. Shine’s nose paid a heavy price in Garland Park, with its nasty honeysuckle and ragweed.
Moondog flipped a piece of bread into a patch of poison ivy. As Shine angled the flashlight every which way, he realized he was still several hundred yards from crossing into an open expanse of fields where two baseball diamonds and picnic areas with barbecue pits existed. The woods bordered the ball fields opposite from the bent fence and hobo camp.
The Millcreek ran near the ball fields, forming a split between the park and a garbage dump and, a little further away, a street of apartment complexes and small houses near the post office.
Shine raised his hand for Moondog to stop.
They looked at the small clearing. Shine never hesitated exploring something that fascinated him, and these hobo camps fascinated him. Moondog wanted in on the action, but usually if Shine first declared the need to explore.
Just beyond the camp were a brown blanket and a pair of dirty red gymshoes. They walked back to the hobo campfire. One log next to the tree limbs had been saturated with creek water.
“Bet that hobo put out the fire less than an hour ago,” Shine said.
“Bet that puddle was made this morning. He carried creek water in those shoes and cans.”
“Bet he maybe tried to catch a rat, kill it, and fry it,” Shine said. “No, wait. He’d have to use a real gun or a BB gun.”
“I bet he fills creek water in an old milk bottle. He carries it on trains. He’s got to carry something to drink. All that train dust.”
“I wouldn’t drink a lick of that creek water. Those hobos. Hobos are always catching a train. Always heading north or west.”
“Where you think that train’s going today?”
“Up near Canada?” Moondog said.
“Detroit. The track goes straight north. It runs alongside the highway, same kind of north path. The highway ends up top of Michigan. There’s good stuff for hobos in Detroit. Coats and shoes. People that work at the auto factories throw away good stuff. That’s where I’d head.”
SHINE ALWAYS HAD AN ANSWER to Moondog’s routine questions.
Not once, but many times Shine assured Moondog that the Pennsylavania & Ohio railroad, at the top of the embankment that descended to the base of the Garland Park fence, went past Detroit.
The track stretched far past the car-making factories in Detroit, Michigan. It was a north-south train line, with train cars hauling tons of sheet metal and, yes, coal from southern states, and the line was critical to places like the Ford Motor Company and General Motors in Detroit.
Shine’s father, a long distance truck driver, would send him the same postcard from Detroit on which a red line down the middle divided two photographs: Lake Michigan on the right side and on the left, a new Pontiac Firebird parked in perfect grass with a buxom woman in a skimpy bathing suit waving from the driver’s seat. His father delivered machine parts to places like Ford, GM, and Chrysler.
If Shine was lucky, his father was home only two or three days before leaving again on a three-state delivery. Home, then gone. Home and the eventual sight of his father walking to the end of Monte Avenue where he parked his rig. Home and the click-click of the front door lock in the middle of the night, his father slipping out to begin another road trip.
Always another trip.
His father loved collecting stamps, so that each postcard to Shine and his sister Allison was accompanied by a different stamp from a different city.
It was 1968, and when Shine read his father’s last postcard just two days ago – the one from Kansas City, Missouri – he connected the smokestack on the stamp to the factory smokestacks that populated Bedlam. Whenever he looked at a card, his eyes first drifted to the stamp: what did his father put on this one? Two days ago, Shine’s mind wandered to the four factories that pierced the city heart of Bedlam, whose smokestacks spewed streams of smoke night and day.
Shine thought of 1968 as the year of smoke.
He imagined 1968 as the year that the sky over Bedlam was really a roof held up by elastic pillars of smoke, pillars undamaged by even the worst thunderstorms.
Now, Shine heard a train. It would arrive in minutes. He heard three whistle blasts.
He and Moondog hadn’t been chased today by the hobo who’d littered the camp. They’d tossed the broken shoes and greasy blanket in the creek. They were alone. They made the discovery. The camp had been vacated, yet at one time there had been woodsmoke, cans of beans, shoes, a blanket.
another excerpt from “Leviathan” (chapter 1):
Shine saw Pop Weasel’s good, right eye open wide with excitement. He lost sight in his left eye at eight-years old, when one of his friends accidentally threw a large rock, hitting Pop’s young eye. The blunt-force trauma from the impact tore the retina and caused internal bleeding. Soon after the accident, Pop Weasel was told he would not regain sight in his left eye.
For that reason, too, he was called Seeing Eye by friends, even by Shine and Alphonso Peace, Moondog’s older cousin who lived with him and his father. Pop encouraged it: “Call me Seeing Eye. I hear young folk saying that behind my back, and it don’t bother me. I heard young folk say, ‘He got that seeing eye on the right side of his head. He can’t see nothin’ out that left eye.’ So, go ahead. Makes me sound like a prophet.”
Once they hauled the desk, chairs, carpet, and coffee table outside, Shine and Moondog sat down at the kitchen table, drank ice water, and watched Pop Weasel take his trumpet out of his bright orange case.
“Let me play you a few quick licks, before we go see that fire.”
He stretched his fingers and positioned the mouthpiece against his lips and blew a few notes. He arched his short fingers on the valves. He rolled those notes, unleashing a flurry that formed the bop-bop-bop melody of the song, “Tighten Up.” It was a top-10 tune by Archie Bell and the Drells that Shine and Moondog heard on Shine’s transistor radio last week, as they shot basketball. The tunes came non-stop, and among them Shine recognized two that Seeing Eye could play: “La-La Means I Love You,” by the Delfonics, and Sly and the Family Stone’s “Dance to the Music.”
Shine’s attraction to listening to Seeing Eye play trumpet coincided with his own desire to keep playing his trumpet. Shine had been in the high school band one year now. He tried not to let the frustration of practicing scales send him into panic mode, because he regarded Seeing Eye’s routine as a kind of gift to him.
“Seeing Eye, you could wake up the dead with your playin’,” said Alphonso Peace, who had come into the living room. “What’s you blowin’ now?”
Alphonso Peace was the oldest son of Pop Weasel’s sister, who died a year ago. After dropping out of Bedlam High School at seventeen, right after his mother’s death, Alphonso Peace was invited by Pop to live in his house with Moondog and his older brother, Ulysses, who was seventeen to Moondog’s fifteen.
Pop Weasel ignored Alphonso. He played. When he stopped, he looked at his nephew, his eyes peering over his reading glasses. “I always do something with my life, young man.”
“And what’s you in this house for?” Alphonso said, shifting this question at Shine.
“Hanging out. About to go check out that fire.”
“Y’all go on,” Alphonso said, studying his hands. “Take notes and tell me about it.” He wore a long silver chain, and he pinched it in the middle, sliding two fingers up and down the chain. “Bring me a report, boys. Especially you, white boy.”
To Shine, Alphonso Peace looked anything but peaceful. He tended to look frustrated, even stern and nervous. He couldn’t recall a time when he saw Alphonso smile. Each time he had passed Alphonso in the school hallway, Alphonso walked right by him. He remained aloof, selectively speaking to only a few students that Shine was aware of.
This was even way before Alphonso dropped out of school.
Alphonso Peace wore a sleeveless white T-shirt with the words “Black Power” inscribed in the shape of a heart on the left side. Like Shine, he cherished toothpicks and matchsticks. Alphonso was constantly gnawing on a toothpick.
“White boy,” he said to Shine, “they better not catch you hanging around that fire too long.”
Shine said nothing, admiring Pop Weasel’s soft note-playing.
“I’m going with him,” Moondog said.
“That should make anybody feel safe.” Alphonso laughed. He studied a tiny splinter of wood he’d ripped from the underside of his chair. That was the first time Shine could remember Alphonso Peace’s looking cheery. His face turned somber quickly. “I got nothing on you guys.”
“Who’s at that window, Dad?” Moondog said.
“Might be another friend of theirs wanting to come in,” Alphonso said.
Pop heard the sound, too, and went to a living room window and pulled the white drapes all the way back. Shine followed Pop, feeling far more at ease near him.
They discovered the neighbor boy, Fremont Jones, crouched outside and just beneath the window.
Pop unlocked and raised the window. “You old enough to know better,” he yelled, looking down at Fremont Jones. “Boy, what I told you about putting your nose up to windows and staring at folk inside their houses? Somebody gonna take you for a thief.”
Although Shine took Fremont Jones as a harmless kid at nine or ten, he wondered if Pop would do the next logical thing and contact Fremont Jones’ family. As he shut the window and closed the drapes, Pop said, “I’ll give that boy one more chance. Some nights I see that boy out the window before I go to bed, and I’m not the only one who’s seen him. Nobody said much about doing anything yet.”