You may have noticed the fact that I relentlessly plug my novel, Henry Garrison: St. Dante's Savior, on this blog. Obviously, I would love it if everyone that read my posts also read my book. At the same time, though, I understand that just because a guy can write a million-word screed about a children's horror book doesn't mean his novel will be any good. Therefore, I'd like to use this post as an opportunity to introduce my readers to my novel in a more concrete way. Since the proof is in the proverbial pudding, I've decided to share a spoonful of said pudding with you in the form of the first chapter, presented here in its entirety. For a bit of background, the novel is about a bored teenage boy living in the 'burbs who finds a pair of gloves that give him extraordinary powers. It's not as dumb as it sounds, I promise. While you're reading this chapter, it may occur to you that it doesn't much sound like the first chapter of a superhero story. And that's the point: this isn't really a superhero story. It's a different kind of tale about how someone who might not be the most mature and capable person might react if they were to discover that they were the only person in the world who had a special power, and how the general public might respond to this revelation. Basically, I'm trying to do something different with a pretty tired trope, and bring to life a character who might not always utilize his special abilities in the most noble of ways. With that said, I hope you enjoy this sample chapter, and if you do, I encourage you to pick up the novel. And of course, all feedback is welcome. Thanks!
As Henry Garrison ran laps for his P.E. class one gray October morning, he became faintly aware of the smell of urine. His zombie-like state was shattered by a growing horror as he began to piece together just where the odor was emanating from.
Flashback to two weeks prior: Doug Seville, who had a locker next to Henry’s, leaned over as they changed into their P.E. uniforms and said, “I’m gonna show that guy that refuses to use a lock.”
Every locker in the locker room had a padlock on it except for a single one near Doug’s. The P.E. uniform inside the locker had a name written on it in black sharpie, but said name was so minuscule and faded that no one was quite sure whose it was. Henry and Doug would often joke that whoever used the locker was awfully arrogant to not be using a lock, and that they should be taught a lesson, but as far as Henry was concerned, it was all talk. Doug, to his dubious credit, was more of an action man, and so on this particular day, he announced to Henry that he was going for it.
“What are you going to do?” said Henry.
“It’s hubris, is what it is,” said Doug, ignoring the question. “This is really for the guy’s own good. He needs to learn that he’s not above us all.”
“I don’t know, man,” said Henry, but Doug had already snatched the uniform out of the unlocked locker and was heading toward the bathroom. He was back in a matter of moments, empty-handed.
“Where’d you put it?”
“I threw it into the bathroom stall,” said Doug, rubbing his hands as if dusting them off.
“Like into the toilet?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t look.”
Henry and Doug had both had a laugh about the situation, then headed to class and promptly forgot about it. It had been forgotten so completely, in fact, that when Henry had come in on this morning and found his locker (which he had forgotten to padlock) broken into and his uniform stolen, he was thankful to find the perpetually unlocked locker to be both open and containing a uniform. One’s just as good as another, Henry figured, and I’m not about to get points deducted from my grade for being out of uniform. He quickly changed into the foreign clothes and jogged out to class.
As the stale reek of urine caused these memories to come flooding into Henry’s hazy mind, his stomach shuddered. These clothes obviously had landed in the toilet. God knows what had been in there when they landed, or what happened to them in between that and their return to the locker. In fact, how had they gotten back into the locker, anyway? Whose clothes were these?
“Jesus, dude,” said Doug, jogging next to him, “what’s that smell? Did you have an accident or something?”
“Do you remember when you threw that guy’s uniform into the toilet a couple weeks ago?” Henry said, his throat tightening.
“Oh, yeah,” Doug said, laughing. “What a douche.”
“Well, I’m wearing that douche’s uniform. And I don’t think he’s washed it since.”
Doug exploded with laughter, prompting a glare from Coach Grisham, who pivoted slightly in his folding chair. His already uncomfortably short nylon shorts hiked up a bit.
“Temper that enthusiasm,” Coach Grisham said. Then he took a swig from his Thermos and coughed into his closed fist.
“Dude, that is insane,” said Doug. “Why the hell would you put that on? You smell like a septic tank.”
“I forgot!” said Henry. “I didn’t know it actually went into the toilet. Anyway, I would’ve figured whoever owns it would’ve washed it by now. Certainly before putting it back in the locker, anyway.”
“Yeah, who is this person? Why would they put it back in there and leave it for weeks without washing it? Have they been wearing it this whole time?”
“I don’t know, man,” Henry said, unable to resist the sick urge to sniff his pungent shirt, “but I’m wearing it right now. Unfortunately.”
It was the single longest class Henry had ever suffered through. Every second dragged by as if weighed down by some intensely shameful anchor. He performed even more terribly than usual at his every athletic effort; the ordinary frivolity of pickleball was overshadowed by the incessant thoughts of being covered in someone else’s urine. If it was just urine. Besides that fact, the class ended up running several minutes past the end-of-period bell, prolonging Henry’s unhygienic agony.
“This sucks,” Henry said to Doug as they hustled into the locker room. “I don’t even have time to shower before the next class.”
“Just do it. Be late,” said Doug. “Who cares?”
“My econ teacher,” said Henry, stripping off the foul garments. “She told me if I was late one more time, she’d have to talk to my parents about my perpetual tardiness.”
“So you’d rather soak in filth all day than get in trouble?”
“More or less,” said Henry. He stuffed the uniform into the unlocked locker and slammed it shut. “My parents have enough to deal with right now. They’ll kill me if I get in any more trouble. Literally kill me. Like, intestines draped across the living room.”
“Well then,” said Doug with a grin, “have a wonderful day. Hey, maybe you should rub a lemon all over yourself so you can smell like a urinal cake.”
Economics class proceeded at a similarly plodding pace to PE. Though comforted by the fact that he had his own, relatively clean clothes on again, Henry could not rid himself of the grim thought that he was coated in a thin film of stale urine. He stayed wide-eyed and well-postured so that Ms. Tegg’s watchful eye would perceive him as attentive, but his disgust prevented him from focusing to any useful degree.
Midway through the class, Denise Hargrove, with her shiny hair and amber eyes, looked over at Henry and whispered, “You smell weird.”
Henry’s cheeks heated like embers of humiliation. He looked down at his desk and said, “Yeah. I know.”
“Why? What is it?” said Denise, squinting.
“I’d really rather not get into it,” said Henry. He was starting to feel a tightness in his head, like his mind was swelling to a size too large for his brain to contain.
“Well, you really smell,” said Denise.
“So wait, it’s not even your own pee? It’s someone else’s?” said Trent Abner at lunch time. Trent was a part of Henry’s usual group of friends that always hung out during lunch. Doug Seville was another, as was Albert Li. They congregated in the walkway in front of wood shop, which was an elevated position that separated them from the rest of the kids but allowed them to observe most of the campus. Trent was a gangly fellow with perpetual raccoon eyes and a sandpaper laugh. All of his clothes looked like they had been washed about a million times and run through a dryer full of granite. But at least they were clean.
“Yeah, no. God knows whose it is,” Henry lamented.
“Probably Coach Grisham’s,” said Doug. “I heard his thermos is full of vodka. He probably has to pee like twenty times a day.”
“Who told you that?” said Albert. Albert was a short guy who always seemed to be pondering something unknown to the world. He was the quietest of Henry’s group, though that really wasn’t saying very much.
“I know his T.A.,” said Doug. “Honestly, he swears Grisham goes into the bathroom to puke during class at least a couple of times a week. Hey, maybe you got some of that on you too, Henry.”
“Great,” said Henry, taking a bite of his turkey sandwich. “This is disgusting. I hate how these sandwiches get all smashed and warm in my backpack. I don’t even want to eat them half of the time.”
“Just think about the excrement that’s probably rubbing off your hands onto the bread. That’ll get your appetite up,” Trent said through a mouthful of french fries. Some errant ketchup had left a burgundy glob on his shirt, but on this day there was no way he could be labeled the untidy one.
“I washed my hands, dumbass,” said Henry, who stopped chewing and wrinkled his nose. “It’s the rest that’s a problem.”
“You should get a lunchbox,” said Albert. “That’ll keep your sandwich from being smashed.”
“Huh,” said Henry. “You know, you may be onto something there. Maybe if I got like a Batman lunchbox or something. Maybe that’d be cool.”
“Nobody carries a lunch box anymore,” said Doug. “This isn’t third grade. You’ll look like a toolbox if you carry one around. Even a Batman one.”
“Whatever,” said Henry. “I don’t need to be like everybody else. I can’t stand everybody else. Besides, I’m sick of these smashed sandwiches.”
“I’m sick of your mom,” said Doug.
“She’s sick of you,” said Henry. “And I’m totally getting a lunchbox.”
“You should get a Ghostbusters one,” said Albert.
“Barbie,” said Trent.
As soon as Henry got home, he practically sprinted upstairs to the shower, dodging his parents as they unpacked cardboard boxes in the living room. As he ascended the creaky staircase with a much faster pace than he could ever muster in P.E., his mom called up to him, “Hi Henry! How was your day?”
“Disgusting,” said Henry as he fled into the bathroom, closed the door, and practically leaped into the shower.
Post-shower, Henry descended the stairs in some fresh clothing. Drips of water ran from his wet hair down the back of his neck like insects, but the sensation was strangely comforting coming off today’s horror. The aroma of soap that emanated from his moist skin had never been
so wonderful. Henry was high on hygiene.
“What do you mean, your day was disgusting?” said Henry’s mother, who had moved into the kitchen and begun to prepare dinner while Henry was bathing. “What happened?”
“Well, my clothes definitely need to be washed. Maybe burned,” Henry sighed. “But it’s over with, and I really don’t want to dwell on it anymore than I already have. Oh, and I’m going to have to buy a new P.E. uniform tomorrow. Somebody stole mine.”
“What? How could that happen?” said his mother.
“I forgot to lock my locker. I’m sorry. Believe me, I’ve been amply punished for this.”
“Henry, you really have to be more careful about these things. You know we can’t afford to just be-“
”It’s OK,” said Henry. “I’ll pay for it. Don’t worry. It’s my fault. I don’t expect you to have to deal with it.”
“No, no. I don’t want you to have to pay for it,” said his mother. “It’s just...we can’t be wasting money on things like this.”
“I know, I know. I’m sorry,” said Henry. “Like I said, I’ll pay for it. Don’t even think about it.”
“Just...please be more careful,” said his mother. As she stirred a pot at the stove, Henry’s father walked in the kitchen.
“Hey, dad,” Henry said, “how’s it going?”
“It’s...going,” said his father, shaking his head slightly. “Back hurts from unpacking these boxes. No calls for a job. You know. The usual.” He shuffled back into the living room. Henry’s father had never been the most chipper man, but ever since he was laid off from his job as a computer salesman a few months ago, his mood had steadily decayed to a perpetual dour malaise.
“How’s your room going?” Henry’s mom asked. “Is everything unpacked yet?”
“Getting there,” said Henry. “Where’s grandma?”
“She’s asleep,” his mother said. “She hasn’t been feeling well lately. She’s probably just tired, what with everything going on.”
“Yeah, I guess,” said Henry. “Alright, well, let me know when dinner’s ready.”
Henry went upstairs to his room and closed the door, then sat on his bed and looked around. He still wasn’t used to this room; hell, he still wasn’t used to this house. It was just so old...not that their old house had been the Bellagio or anything, but this place was like the Haunted Mansion’s guest cottage. Everything was dusty and ancient, and each room had these small, wooden-shuttered windows that let light enter through narrow slits, like horizontal prison bars. However, it was paid for, and had been for some time. That was the important part, and the fatal flaw of their old place. It was probably for the best. His grandmother had clearly been lonesome for a while, and Henry could hardly blame her for that; how could anyone stand to live in a house by this all by themselves? And he did have a much bigger closet here than at the old place. It was still creepy, though.
Henry stood up and was briefly jolted by the sight of his reflection in the mirror in his peripheral vision. Taking a deep breath, he squatted next to one of the few boxes left unpacked and opened up the flaps. He immediately smiled. Among the box’s contents was the Nintendo Entertainment System he had bought at a flea market shortly before the move. He had found it among an assortment of random knickknacks presided over by a swarthy man who spoke approximately seven and a half words of English, two of which happened to be “ten dollars.” Between this, and a handful of games he had picked up for nearly nothing from an extremely bored-looking housewife with very large platinum blonde hair, he had purchased the finest entertainment 1985 had to offer for less than $20. He hadn’t gotten to play it much before he packed it, but it was his once again. Deciding to neglect both unpacking and homework for the time being, he plugged the system into his television, put in Super Mario Bros., and prepared to be blown away.
Except the power light refused to illuminate, remaining a mocking black square. Henry pressed and repressed the power and reset buttons. Nothing. He unplugged the system and inserted the AC adapter into a different wall socket. Nothing. He checked all the connections. Nothing. He pounded on it with a few square shots with his fists. The same. It must have gotten damaged during the move. The king was dead.
Mumbling obscenities, Henry went back to his bed. He picked up his iPod from the nightstand, put on his headphones, and started listening to the nastiest, most profane music he could think of. Then he pulled his history textbook out of his backpack and cracked it open to Chapter 13. As he began to read about the Industrial Revolution, he could have sworn he still smelled urine, faintly.