Read an Excerpt
Buffalo, New York
Circa August of nineteen sixty-six
"You say Briggs pulled it from the slush pile last week?"
"Yes sir. Just a random plucking, actually. He was most impressed, Mister Krane, and you know Kyle Briggs ... that's certainly no easy task."
"True, true. When was it logged in as received, Paul?"
"Post mark is the middle of May, the thirteenth I believe."
"The thirteenth of May you say? Hmmm, figures. That was on a Friday, after all."
Shuffling his feet nervously from side to side, Chief Editor Paul Wiggins watched with great trepidation as the older man thumbed slowly through the two-inch thick manuscript. Having been in the employment of Gerald Krane for the past six-plus years, he knew the man's technique for manuscript acceptance was based solely on instinct; a 'first impression' type style that relied on nothing more elaborate than simple 'gut feeling'.
Despite such 'knee jerk' decision-making, it was hard to argue in the face of success. In the eight years since 'Shockwave Publishing' opened it doors, the Buffalo, New York-based company had grown from a small publisher of less than ten novels per year to a medium-sized producer of forty to fifty annual releases. In the past year alone, they had landed three titles on the prestigious East Coast book sellers list, narrowly missing the cut on the New York Times top twenty listing.
"Everything looks in order. Seems our guidelines were followed to a tee: double-spaced on both sides with very few white-out marks. Looks as though Briggs saw fit to correct nothing save the punctuation errors,"Krane grunted, a pair of thin-framed bifocals hanging precariously from the edge of his bulbous nose. A large, thick-boned man who appeared a decade younger than his fifty-five years, Krane struck quite the intimidating pose, even more so when sitting near someone of Wiggin's overly slender build.
"I spoke to him about that, sir," Wiggins injected after a brief pause as not to interrupt in case his superior's comments had continued, "he was of the belief that the narrative could and should remain relatively untouched. I scanned several chapters and must say I agree for the most part. It flows quite naturally and is ... remarkably concise."
"You say Briggs completed this over a single weekend?"
"Yes sir. Started on a Friday evening and had it marked by mid-day Sunday. He even referred to it as one of those rare literary 'entrapments'. Read it page by page as if hexed."
The older man huffed sourly, flipping through the last few sections at a noticeably faster pace.
"Well, the weather was lousy all weekend, after all. Nothing to distract a single, unattached man such as Briggs save perhaps the boob tube. Anything else I need to know?"
"Only that ... he ... Briggs said the most intriguing thing was how it truly read like a ... non-fiction piece, sir."
"Non-fic-? Surely he was pulling your leg, Paul," Krane spat indifferently, cocking a grayish eyebrow while tucking the manuscript back into a plain brown folder marked 'EDITS COMPLETE--W.Briggs--3 Sep 1966' in black magic marker across the top right edge.
"Tell you the truth, sir, the passages I read were quite convince-.."
"My god, Paul, have you read the chapter titles?"
"Oh, I'm not saying it is non-fiction, sir. It's just that ... well, did you check inside the submissions package?"
The older man regarded him with a quizzical sneer.
"I mean, besides the typed version, there's two separate handwritten journals tucked inside in a separate folder, one in Chinese," Wiggins continued a bit red-faced, gesturing at a haphazardly taped cardboard box that had been the original submission container.
"And Briggs was able to translate?"
"Yes sir, he's fluent."
"Multi-talented, that boy."
"Yes sir. Unfortunately, no one knows it better than himself."
Scooting the box towards the center of his massive desktop, Krane reached inside with both hands and removed a purple-shaded folder clasped shut by a single rubber band stretched across its middle.
"Please be cautious sir," Wiggins spat excitedly, briefly reaching over the desk as to protect the contents before thinking better of it and retracting the impulsive gesture, "the journal ... the paper is ... very brittle."
As if heeding his subordinate's erstwhile warning, Krane gingerly removed the rubber band before spreading the folder apart as if preparing to peek inside some ancient Aztec scroll.
"Impressive. I cannot even identify this particular stock of paper as being in active circulation. Some sort of grainy bond," he said, lifting a page until it sat flush before his tightly squinted eyes, "one would've logically assumed they'd send photocopies instead of the original."
Placing his rail-thin arms at the pit of his back as to hide their incessant twitch, Wiggins spoke slowly as to purposely calm his own overzealous tone.
"Briggs and I discussed the same thing, sir. Perhaps they felt sending the original text was a way to ... convince us of the manuscript's authenticity."
"Foolhardy still if the paper is indeed that old. Probably nothing more than a parlor trick meant to impress. I take it the authors of the diaries are this ... Luther Henry and Sue Lee Chen, while Jeremy Henry submitted the typed version of same."
"Apparently, sir. If you'll notice, Jeremy Henry's cover letter did contain a statement that a large majority of journal entries were omitted for editing purposes."
The older man grinned while scanning an additional page or two before laying the journal sheets aside.
"Well, even if these dairies are as old as they claim.... what was that start date anyhow?"
"I believe it was.... the spring of eighteen-seventy-three."
Leaning back, Krane rolled his eyes in apparent disbelief.
"Yes, well, even if they are nearly a century old, it doesn't make the contents any less fictional now does it?"
"Oh definitely, sir, there's little doubt," Wiggins replied, unable to completely conceal his child-like enthusiasm, "it's just that, well, wouldn't it be an original stroke to release it as a true-life journal? Might cause quite the stir."
"True, true, while also serving to destroy every fiber of credibility we've built as publishers, Paul."
His mouth still hanging partially agape, Paul Wiggins pose stiffened, his complexion growing instantly pale.
"Just for curiosity's sake," Krane continued unabated, "I have a contact at the State Museum who might be able to approximate the age of the paper the journal's written on."
"Might be a notion at that. Give us an idea of what we're really dealing with. The cover letter shows this Jeremy Henry's mailing address as a PO Box out of West Virginia."
Regaining a bit of his original color, Wiggins' robotic stance relaxed a tad as he watched his boss restack the two folders into the cardboard box.
"Cover letter provide any other useful information, Paul?"
"Pretty limited, sir. Just a name and address and that one additional statement concerning omissions from the written journal. Didn't even list a phone number."
"West Virginia, you said?"
"Not exactly a hot-bed of literary talent in the past, but you never know, right?"
"Very true, sir. Mountain folk are known for their tales, I've heard. So, are we ... uh ... offering a contract on this one?"
"Tell you what, Paul, since you and Briggs are both so high on it, I'll place it at the top of my reading list. I'm taking a long weekend to go up to the cabin for some fishing. Martha won't be accompanying me, she's got a lecture on Friday that she was unable to wriggle out of. I'll do my best to look it over and give you a decision by.... let's say the end of next week at the latest. In the meantime, ready the standard contract and mail out a confirmation letter that the manuscript's been received. You know the drill..."
"Sounds like a plan, Chief. I hope you see the same potential that Kyle and I spotted," Wiggins said with a nod and a smile, retreating from the spacious office in three lengthy strides.
Later that afternoon, Gerald Krane insured a single page of the written journal was sent out priority mail to the New York State Museum, Research Department, to the attention of Keith J. Grimes.
Two days later, Krane embarked on the eighty mile trek to his cabin retreat with the boxed manuscript, along with several other folders of correspondence, packed in the back storage bin of his recently purchased Ford van.
As fate would have it, the eastern seaboard and surrounding states were drenched in a continuous torrent of heavy rain and swirling, gusty winds for the next three days, essentially drowning out any pre-scheduled fishing plans in lieu of 'cozying up' to the fireplace with manuscript in hand.
After a light dinner consisting of canned soup, Vienna sausages and saltines, he began perusing 'The Fantastic Journals of Luther Henry' at approximately six-thirty PM.
By eight PM, he was only mildly distracted, even pausing to sip an additional cup of steaming black coffee while nibbling a powdered donut.
By ten PM, he was thoroughly engrossed, his third cup of Java having turned cold without as much as a single sip consumed.
By two-thirty AM, he nodded off with the fourth chapter propped atop his broad, bare chest, the typed words having begun to blur and grow wavy within his horribly bloodshot eyes.
Following a light breakfast and still more coffee (purposely brewed a bit stouter than the night before), a new reading session began anew at eight AM the next morning; a session with very limited interruption that would last until late in the night.