2017 Christy Award Winner for Visionary Fiction
What if there was a place where everything wrong in your life could be fixed?
Corporate trainer Jake Palmer coaches people to see deeper into themselves—yet he barely knows himself anymore. Recently divorced and weary of the business life, Jake reluctantly agrees to a lake-house vacation with friends, hoping to escape for ten days.
When he arrives, Jake hears the legend of Willow Lake—about a lost corridor that leads to a place where one’s deepest longings will be fulfilled.
Jake scoffs at the idea, but can’t shake a sliver of hope that the corridor is real. And when he meets a man who mutters cryptic speculations about the corridor, Jake is determined to find the path, find himself, and fix his crumbling life.
But the journey will become more treacherous with each step Jake takes.
|Publisher:||Nelson, Thomas, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.10(d)|
Read an Excerpt
The Long Journey to Jake Palmer
By JAMES L. RUBART
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2016 James L. Rubart
All rights reserved.
If Jake Palmer had only kept the mundane promise he'd made to himself, his life wouldn't be headed down a dead-end road at the speed of light. He'd vowed there'd be no more late-night flights. No more trips stacked on top of each other. No more landings at Seattle's Sea-Tac Airport after midnight, which pushed him to physical and emotional exhaustion. But there he'd been for the third time in eight days.
His phone rang as he pulled out of the parking garage, and Jake glanced at the time before he picked up. Twelve thirty-five a.m. Sienna should be asleep.
"What are you still doing up?"
"I miss you. I've hardly seen you for the past three months."
"I know. Not fun. But Italy will be here in six short weeks. Then fourteen days of cruising where you'll have to put up with me 24/7."
"Maybe I should get some rest."
"How far away are you, Adonis?" Sienna asked.
He smiled at her pet name for him. "Forty minutes."
"Get here now. I'll wait up."
"And sacrifice your beauty rest?" Jake tapped on his steering wheel and grinned.
"Yes, even though it'll make me look horrible tomorrow."
"Impossible. You'd win every beauty contest known to man even if you stayed up for a month."
"If I'm asleep when you get home, wake me up. Promise."
Sienna blew a kiss through the phone and hung up.
Jake glanced at his gas gauge as he headed up I-5. The yellow warning light glared at him, red needle on the wrong side of the empty line. Problem. Wouldn't be good to run out before getting back to Bothell. He glanced at the exits coming up. Probably not the greatest section of Seattle to get gas this late at night, but running out here would be worse. Why hadn't he filled up before the trip? Because his schedule was insane and there hadn't been time.
Jake pulled off I-5 at the next exit. Quick fill and he'd be back on the asphalt river, home to Sienna before one twenty. He pulled up to the outside gas island and snatched his wallet out of his coat at the same time. As he stepped outside into the October chill, odors of pot and gas filled his nose.
As he stepped to the pump, a battered Honda Civic with peeling dark blue paint lurched into the station and stopped behind his Jeep. A young woman got out, her black hair streaked with red and purple, her denim coat marred with grime and amateur images of dragons drawn with blue and red Sharpies.
She swiped a credit card and as she pumped her gas glanced furtively past Jake at the street to his back, then at the street in front of them. She jiggled her nozzle up and down as if to try to make the gas flow faster.
She flinched and glanced at Jake as if she hadn't seen him during her scans of the street and was shocked to find someone standing nearby. "No, I'm ... yeah, I'm fine."
"I didn't mean to startle you."
"No, I ... uh ... just thinking about ... stuff."
Her eyes continued to dart in a quick circle, and before her gaze had made it back to the starting point, the screech of tires filled the night air. The agitation on her face turned to fear as a gray Dodge Neon with a spoiler and white racing stripes sped into the station, then skidded to a stop behind the girl's car, brakes squealing.
She dropped her nozzle and turned to run past Jake, but a beat-up Toyota appeared in front of Jake's Jeep and she froze.
The passenger window of the Neon came down and a kid, couldn't be more than twenty, adjusted his unneeded sunglasses and called out to her.
"Hey, sugar. We gotta talk. We're running a business and you're the product, see. And when the product goes missing, our clients aren't happy. So we're not happy. And it's a trickle-down economy, which means you're not going to be happy."
The girl held out her palms as if they could keep the cars and the men inside them at bay. "I told you, I'm out of the game. You promised you'd leave me alone. You promised!"
"Don't jam me." The man swore, then flicked a cigarette toward the garbage can that sat between Jake's pump and the girl's. "Five more. That was the deal. Five. More. Don't test me, girl."
"No. I'm out now. Please!"
"You will be, baby. All the way out. Just five more. But right now, we gotta getcha all cleaned up. Nice and fresh, then we can start again, get it done, a week tops, then you're free." The man climbed out of his car and extended a completely tattooed arm toward her and wiggled his fingers. "Now come here, sugar. Now! "
Jake debated whether to move away or stay. But only for a moment. He left the nozzle stuck in the gas line and eased over next to the girl, his palms raised.
"What do you think you're doing?" The man sneered at Jake. "You looking for a party? Or to get yourself totally messed up?"
"Then bounce!" The kid took a step toward Jake and swore so hard spittle flew out his mouth.
Jake glanced at the kid in the driver's seat of the Neon, then behind him. Two more in the front seat of the Toyota. Four against one. Jake was in good shape and knew how to handle himself in a fight, but these weren't great odds. And the likelihood of one of these punks carrying a gun was high.
Jake kept his hands raised and shook his head. "I am not looking for any kind of trouble."
"Good. That means you're going to get in your Jeep right now, jam down hard on the gas pedal, and be back on your way to your castle. Go!" The kid stabbed his finger toward Jake's Jeep, then eased toward the girl, a sick grin on his face.
"Tell you what. Let's say I am looking for a party. Five parties. Why don't I give you some money for your party supplies and you can let your friend here get back to filling up her car."
He pointed to his back pocket. "Right now, I'm just going to grab my wallet."
Jake took all his cash and held it out. The kid took the bills and spun through them. "Two hundred eighty-five. You're a real hero, aren't you, pokey?"
"No. Not a hero. I'm just thinking this will end better for you, for me, for her, and for the cameras on the pumps if you take that and we all head out of here."
The kid grinned, then nodded at the driver of the Neon and toward the Toyota behind Jake.
"Oh, yeah, okay, I like that." The kid strutted back and forth in front of Jake. "You're a real Mr. Entertainment. Seriously funny guy. But I'm not laughing. You threaten me like I'm too stupid to think about the cameras?
"See this place?" The kid laughed and swept his finger toward the store in a tight circle. "We come here, hang out sometimes. So we've adjusted the cameras to our liking. The clerks all like us too."
The kid stepped forward and jabbed Jake in the chest. "Nobody's gonna see what goes on here. Nobody. Which means you're going to jump in your shiny new Jeep right now and pull away and pretend you didn't see nothing. Got it?"
"Take the money, let her go."
"Wait, am I hearing you right?" The kid yanked on his earlobe.
"Yeah, you heard right. Let her go."
The kid's face grew red. He whipped off his sunglasses and got within inches of Jake, his voice a hiss now. "Last chance, hero."
"Let her go."
The kid hopped back and jerked up and down in a spastic dance. "Wow. This is crazy. You're not asking anymore? You're telling? You don't do that. I gave you a chance. Gave you two. But you're breaking all the rules, Mr. Entertainment. You break our rules, we always get to have a little fun. And you get to take a bath."
The kid pulled out a matchbook at the same moment something wet hit the small of Jake's back, then his legs. He spun. One of the kids from the other car had a grin on his face, and Jake's nozzle in his hand, gas streaming toward him in a lazy rainbow. Now his stomach and all the way down to his shoes were covered. He twisted back to glance at the first kid even though he knew exactly what was about to happen. He started to run, but he was far too late.
The last thing he remembered was a matchbook on fire, looping through the air toward his silver belt buckle.CHAPTER 2
ONE AND A HALF YEARS LATER
Jake took a deep breath as he rode the elevator to the eleventh floor of Chicago's Willis Tower. He forced a smile for his own benefit and tried to ignore the churning in his stomach. He could do this; he'd given this talk a million times. Written a book about it. Nothing to it. Like riding a bike.
He smoothed his suit coat and tightened his grip on his briefcase. When the doors finally parted, Jaclyn Thurman was waiting for him.
The woman's style was business casual, but something about the way she adjusted her glasses told him she was all work and no play. Fine by him. She gave his hand a quick shake, then folded hers in front of her as she led him toward the staff training center.
"Your first training session in a year and a half, right?" she asked.
"Glad you came out of retirement."
"I wasn't retired, I was ... taking some time off."
"Something like that."
A forced leave of absence was more like it. A complete reset of life as he knew it. Learning to walk again. Learning to live alone. Pretending he was completely healed. Climbing back on the horse that was his consulting business.
"Well, good to have you back in the game," Jaclyn said.
"If the things my business associates say about your talks are true, you're going to take hold of my team, knock 'em dead, and bring them back to life again."
If his horse didn't buck him off into the cheap seats first.
"I didn't realize you'd hired me to kill people." Jake raised his eyebrows. "But I do appreciate the compliment. Hope I can live up to it."
"I'm counting on it."
Jaclyn's company was high-tech and the office reflected it. Sixty-inch monitors were built into the walls, and Jaclyn commented that the entire office was voice activated. The motif was stark but well designed. White walls and glass dominated the workspace. As she led Jake toward the auditorium where he'd spend the next six and a half hours, he spotted creatively decorated workstations. Individuality. Good. Stark was fine, sterile wasn't.
Jaclyn glanced at her watch as they clipped along the slate floor at a pace just above comfortable. "I told my team to be ready to go at ten o'clock. That gives you nineteen minutes to set up. Is that enough time?"
They reached a small auditorium filled with two hundred- plus seats, and Jaclyn excused herself. "I'll be back just before ten. I'll send one of my techs in to make sure your laptop is liking our systems. Anything else?"
Jaclyn strode away and Jake walked stiffly to the center of the room. He stared at the empty seats and decided there wouldn't be any mingling with the audience as he'd always done. His gait was improving — he worked on it daily — but he didn't want to risk an ill-timed stumble.
By nine fifty-one, Jake was ready, and he moved into a corner of the room to watch Jaclyn's team as they ambled in. He studied the interesting mix of sharply dressed men and women, along with ones who appeared to have just jumped off the all-nighter wagon, and the rest somewhere in between. Again, good. It wasn't a company of clones.
Jaclyn had said she expected thirty-five of the company's staff to show up — as the training was optional — but as Jake studied the men and women seated in the eight or nine semicircle rows, it looked closer to seventy-five. Jake had hoped for the smaller crowd — it created a safer atmosphere for people to tell their stories at the end — but it was an element he couldn't control.
Jaclyn gave a quick introduction, motioned to Jake, and he approached the podium. He studied his fingertips as he tapped them together, then looked back up at Jaclyn's expectant team.
"We" — Jake motioned at the group, then at himself — "have a significant problem."
He stooped and picked up a large dark green bottle from behind the podium. Its label was blank. Jake lifted it high in the air to his left, then spun on his heel 180 degrees, stopping as he faced the right-hand side of the audience. Then he strode to a small table and smacked the bottle down hard enough to make the table wobble. A smattering of nervous laughter came from the group.
"Yes, we indeed have a serious problem." Jake steepled his hands, his profile to the audience as he stared at the bottle. He waited another second, then pointed at the crowd. "You ... have a problem."
He brought his fingers up to point at himself as he leaned in toward Jaclyn's team. "I have a problem. Today I'm going to show you how to fix the problem. But it's your choice whether you want to take action and apply the solution to your life. If you're willing, you will never be the same again."
He pointed at the green bottle on the table. "Our situation? We are the bottle. Each of us."
Jake clicked to the first slide of his presentation and a quote filled the sixty-inch screen behind him. He read it slowly, taking time to emphasize each word. "It's extremely difficult to read the label when you're standing inside the bottle."
He bent slightly at the waist as a smattering of laughter skittered through the crowd. "Hear it once more: it is extremely difficult to read the label when you're standing inside the bottle."
He scanned the group. "And we are all standing inside our own bottles."
Jake waited as he always did for realization and small murmurs of acknowledgment to move through the crowd. He let the nods and quick whispers fade, then picked up the bottle and took two steps forward.
"You get it, don't you?" He laughed. "I see it in your eyes." He smiled and pointed at the bottle. "For each of us, the label is blank. We don't know the life-changing words that are written there. No clue, believe me. But we need to. How desperately we need to."
Jake looked around the room, pausing to make eye contact every few seconds.
"And I promise you, what is written on every single one of your bottles are words and phrases and truths more powerful than you can imagine. If you knew what was written there, right there on your label, if you truly knew what other people think of you, if you truly knew the impact you have on them, you would be stunned.
"I know exactly what some of you are thinking. 'He doesn't know the dark parts of me.' You're right, I don't. Others are thinking, 'There are so many things written on my label I'm ashamed of.' Yep, I get that too. But here's my suspicion: you've focused on your faults and mistakes and regrets for too many ages to count. It's time to start looking in another direction. Trust me, you're not going to be able to follow the sun by staring at the night. I'm going to suggest you turn your back on the darkness and walk toward the light."
Jake paused again to gauge the group. Some were checked out. There were always a few. But most were engaged, their eyes locked on his. He moved back and forth a little, ignoring the dull throb of pain in his legs.
"Still others are thinking, 'Me? No. Other people, sure. They don't see how powerful they are. I see what they are. Their talents. Gifts. But me? I barely make a ripple. There's next to nothing on my label.' But that proves my point. You see their glory, but not your own. And they see your glory, but not their own."
He paused to let the truth sink in. "It is the same with all of us. Me included."
Jake clicked to his next slide. An image of a woman standing on a precipice in silhouette with a vast mountain range behind her filled the screen.
"Finally, we have the people who know what's on their label, or maybe used to know, but they've forgotten, or they've gone into hiding. They won't let people see their strengths any longer, because something has frightened them, or a personal crisis has taken them out of the arena, or they're too ashamed of something they've done, or something has happened that has made them scared to show people who they really are."
Jake clicked to the next slide, a photo of a man emerging from a dark forest into bright sunshine. "It's time to step out of the shadows.
"The truth is, most of us are saying every single one of those things, I mentioned, but it's time to stop speaking lies about ourselves. It's time to stop!"
Jake smiled and joined the nervous laughter of those shocked by his shout.
"Yes?" He nodded and most of Jaclyn's team joined him.
"My new friends, it's time to come out of hiding. Time to discover what's on our labels."
The adrenaline that had never failed to kick in when Jake spoke pulsed through him. They wouldn't all take hold, but the ones who did would never be the same.
Excerpted from The Long Journey to Jake Palmer by JAMES L. RUBART. Copyright © 2016 James L. Rubart. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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