Dust jacket art, by Edward Gorey

When I was 10, my favorite author died. John Bellairs wrote middle grade, gothic, ghostly mysteries that I read to shreds. I plowed through the ones in the library then begged my parents for more. And just for fun, they had wonderful cover art by Edward Gorey, who did the opening credits to my favorite show, Masterpiece Mystery!.

I was devastated when Bellairs died. He only lived one state away. I had hoped someday to meet him. I wanted to be like him. And I wanted more of his stories. Here was someone who finally “got me.”

I found out one of Bellairs’ friends and fellow writer was going to finish the incomplete manuscripts and outlines so there would be a few more stories for me to read, but I wanted to try my hand at it. I gathered the courage to write to Brad Strickland, the author hired to work on Bellairs’ books. I told him how much I love Bellairs and how I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. I asked him if he would send me the outline of one of the unfinished books so I could try. I promised I would never try to sell it — I just wanted to work on something I loved so much.

He did.

He wrote a lovely letter back and included a copy of an outline. I didn’t tell anyone (My parents don’t even know about this — hi, Mom!). I was so excited but also terrified. What if I was awful? What if someone read it and thought it was stupid.

My biggest writing regret is not following through on that Bellairs story, and sharing it with Brad Strickland. It’s been 25 years since that letter arrived and I still feel guilty.

If you have a story in you, write it.

I took a stab at it, handwritten, in a notebook. I recently found those pages, and I’m transcribing them here. I’m making no edits to my fourth grade writing.


Rose Rita gripped the leather door handle of the old car in fright. When Mrs. Zimmermann was driving who knew what was going to happen.

They were on their way to a department store to pick up some last minute items for the journey. Mrs. Zimmermann and Jonathan Barnevelt were going on a short notice trip to Florida. An old friend and magician, Mr. Lucius Mickleberry, had died. Lucius used to be a resident of New Zebedee, as well as a member of the Capurnam Country Magician’s Society, but had retired to Florida a few years ago. Mrs. Zimmermann and Jonathan would be leaving in a two days to attend the funeral. A letter was sent to them informing them of the death but the mail system being the way it is in Florida, the letter was slow in arriving.

Mrs. Zimmerman was an elderly lady but by no means helpless or frail. She had long grayish hair that was usually tucked up in a neat bun. She had a short temper but was sometimes able to control it. Unless of course she got angry. You could see the sparks of anger behind her eyes. Now was one of those times. Mrs. Zimmermann hated most being stuck in traffic. She fussed and fumed yelling at every car for something while Rose Rita sat silently.

Rose Rita was a quiet girl with dark hair. She usually kept to herself even though she was feared by most boys in her class. Rose Rita wondered why Mrs. Zimmermann had even brought her along since she wouldn’t be able to go on the trip. She and Lewis Barnevelt, Jonathan’s nephew, had a school project to do. Their assignment was to pick some place historical in New Zebedee and do a report on it. Rose Rita and Lewis chose the old opera house on Eagle Street.

They had to visit the theater and do a written and oral report on it. They decided next weekend they would meet at Johnny’s Diner for lunch then go down the road to check out the abandoned building. What Rose Rita wouldn’t give for a Johnny’s Diner burger right now. Mrs. Zimmermann’s furious ravings snapped Rose Rita out of her trance. She had to slam on her breaks again as someone pulled out in front of her.

“Next time, I’m riding my broom,” she declared.

Mrs. Zimmermann as well as Jonathan were members of the Capurnam County Magician’s Society. They were both parlor magicians. Mrs. Zimmermann used to be very powerful until she encountered an evil spirit last year. She had won the struggle but become rather weak, magic wise.

Mrs. Zimmerman nosed into a parking space and turned off the ignition. She fumbled with the keys, pulled them out and dropped them into her purple purse. Mrs. Zimmermann had a thing for the color purple.

Inside, Rose Rita helped Mrs. Zimmermann pick items for the trip. A purple shower cap, purple bottle of shampoo, purple toothbrush, purple luggage and two more purple dresses were among the things she bought.

It was nearly seven o’clock when Mrs. Zimmermann dropped Rose Rita off.

“If your parents give you a hard time, tell them it was my fault,” she said.

Rose Rita just nodded sullenly, thinking what was waiting for her inside: enraged parents.

“Rose Rita Pottinger, where have you been?” Mr. Pottinger bellowed.

“I … We … I was with Mrs. Z to help … help … help her … traffic,” Rose Rita stammered. “I’m sorry.”

“Something could have happened. We were worried!” Mr. Pottinger glanced at his wife sitting on the couch. “Now go to your room and get ready for bed. No supper tonight.”

As Rose Rita climbed the stairs, tears welled up in her eyes. Her parents had no right to treat her like a baby. She was in junior high now. In less than two years, high school. She could take care of herself. It wasn’t like she was alone either. She was with Mrs. Zimmermann.

While Rose Rita pulled on her pajamas her stomach growled with hunger. Rose Rita climbed into bed and pulled the covers up under her chin. She looked out the window and thought how lucky Lewis was that he didn’t have any parents to boss him around.

____

With the unlightable charcoal, Mrs. Zimmermann had to light the barbeque with her magical fingers. Jonathan got some frozen hot dogs and put them on the grill. Mrs. Z went inside for the drinks and condiments.

After lunch, Jonathan got out his doubloons and a dogeared pack of cards. They played poker and blackjack till the sun began to sink behind the horizon. Then they tramped inside.

Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmermann brought all their luggage in the front hall of Jonathan’s house. Mrs. Zimmermann had brought her luggage over because she didn’t feel like driving to Detroit by herself and then wandering the airport looking for Jonathan. She decided to stay overnight at Jonathan’s so they could leave bright and early.

Mrs. Z offered to bring Rose Rita home but she said she would walk home. Rose Rita grabbed her coat and stepped out onto the granite door stop, closing the door behind her. Rose Rita couldn’t wait until Mrs. Z and Jonathan left. It was a terrible thought but she was so anxious. Rose Rita had spent the last two weeks fixing up the spare bedroom for Lewis. For the two weeks Mrs. Z and Uncle Jonathan would be in Florida, Lewis would be staying at Rose Rita’s. Rose Rita’s parents were strongly against the idea but she convinced them he had nowhere else to turn unless they wanted him to live all alone in that big house.

Rose Rita’s house was only a few blocks away but she took nearly a half an hour to get home. She always dreaded going home. Her parents would yell at her for being late even though she wasn’t, they’d send her to bed, and she had school to look forward to the next morning.

“Great,” she mumbled under her breath.

Rose Rita’s evening went as predicted, however Lewis’ was a bit different. Mrs. Z baked her famous chocolate cookies, while Jonathan doled out the doubloons.

“Our last poker game before we leave,” Mrs. Zimmermann said.

“Oh stop whining, Frumpy. Do you believe this,” Uncle Jonathan turned to Lewis. “I have to listen to this on the plane all the way down. No doubt she’ll complain the entire time we’re there.”

“Oh, can it, Weird Beard. Raise you two.”

Lewis sat back contentedly. It would seem quiet without having the two around fussing. He had grown used to the two fighting and bickering. He would miss hearing them exchange insults.

After the poker game, Lewis trudged upstairs and packed his bag for tomorrow. Lewis grew so tired he fell asleep packing.

The sun woke him early so he finished with his bag and brought it downstairs to breakfast with him. He was busily munching on some cereal when Uncle Jonathan came down followed by Mrs. Z in a purple sundress.

“Ah. Off to Florida, the Sunshine State! Too bad it isn’t under happier circumstances,” declared Uncle Jonathan.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” piped in Mrs. Z. “A bunch of people on a crowded plane who have relatives sitting on opposite ends of the plane. Then you get off and it’s basically another country.”

“She always finds something to complain about.”

Lewis smiled through the whole thing.

“Come on, now,” Jonathan urged. “We have to get you to Rose Rita’s.”

Lewis snatched up his bag and joined his uncle.

“I’ll be back for you, Miss Purple!” Unlce Jonathan laughed.

“I’ll be here,” she replied.

Uncle Jonathan stopped the car in front of Rose Rita’s house. “See ya later, Uncle Jonathan,” called Lewis as he walked up the stone sidewalk. “Don’t forget to call and send a postcard.”

____

(to be continued)

I wrote more. I will continue in another post.

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