Pt. 1

Transistor Radio

Transistor Radio

The following is a sneak peek at one of my novels in process. That's right, novels - plural. What you see here is actually the second book in the series, but it won't ruin anything because it isn't sequential. I am actually moving away from the misleading word and instead prefer to refer to the books collectively as The Worthwhile Journey. While it follows different characters into the same fictitious world, the collection itself constitutes a journey for me as an author and a journey that you the reader are invited to embark on yourself. I hope you enjoy. Keep your eyes peeled for announcements regarding the first book in The Worthwhile Journey, Writing Assignment.


Sunlight splashed through the horizontal slats of the window shade, spilling across Robert’s blue blankets and onto his chest. It rose slightly with each boyish breath. Up his chest and over his collar bone, across the non-existent Adam’s apple, passing the twin faces of his chin, then illuminating the boy’s soft red lips - a bar of light, beautiful in the morning stillness, but destined to end it, slowly climbed upward with the rising sun. It mounted his nose, pushed out a bar of shadow, dipped into valleys and spread across the smooth expanse of his cheeks only to finally fall across his eyes. The boy’s face scrunched up in rebellion against the new day. He turned to face the wall opposite his bed, toward his posters of Derek Jeter and Starlord and his smallish collection of books, all still sleeping in the cool shadows. Then the sunlight was pressing into the crinkles at the corner of his eye and wormed its way across the floor casting long rectangular shadows and waking his best friends across the room. He pulled the covers over his head. The world was cast in a soft blue light through the thin blanket. That was comfortable for a minute or two until the air beneath the covers grew humid with his breath. He poked his head, shielding his eyes from the sun with a skinny arm, exposing his hairless armpit to the world. The voices of his Mother and Father carried up from where he thought must have been the kitchen. Maybe they were making breakfast? The backdoor slammed shut. Dad. It must be his Mother that putzed about at the running sink. No smell of pancakes though. It was only once he heard his father tugging at the lawnmower’s cord that he remembered it was Sunday, garden day. He turned over to his other side.

The back door rattled open again. “Anne, do you know if we have any gasoline in the garage still?” the boy’s father called into the house.

“I don’t know John but grab me those big shears while you’re checking.” Her voice rang melodically. The sink was turned off and she followed him out the door this time. Or so it seemed, inside it was quiet.

He turned onto his chest. Robert twisted and turned until thoroughly tied up in his sheets and covers he bubbled over with boyish anxiety and kicked his limbs free. Sleep would not come. He threw back the covers in exasperation, revealing his skinny white torso. He rolled out of bed and slipped on a plain orange t-shirt to pair with his white underpants and tube socks.

For all the effort his parent put into their lawn Roberts room still remained unpainted, a project that had been discussed many times now for more than a few years. For Robert, it just meant a monotone wall couldn’t get in the way of his imagination while pretending he was in the deep black of space or moving through lush green woods. His concerns were of this place though. He did not want to weed and prune and burn his neck bending over in the hot summer sun. With one last longing glance towards his bed he padded out into the hallway and downstairs to the kitchen. Portraits of himself at every age and milestone smiled at him from the wall as he made his way down to the first floor where his not-so-much younger eight-year-old self stood next to his mother and father in their most recent portrait. He did not give them a second glance. At the bottom of the stairs he looked down the hallway to the closed door where his grandfather had lived with them. He exhaled. For a moment he considered poking his head in to smell the mahogany desk and bookshelves. It was only a thought. He turned to his left instead, making his way towards the kitchen.

Robert’s stomach grumbled with hunger, but he kept his mind on staying out of sight. A momentary glimpse of him moving around in the kitchen guaranteed hours of pulling weeds from the patio and they did not have any lemonade. In the center of the kitchen stood a granite island. He crouched below it, out of sight. Peering over it’s top, he looked out the bay windows that dominated the far side of the kitchen. Outside the world was soaked with the sun that woken him. His mother’s back was to him as she toiled over her rose bushes and his father was still preoccupied with the lawnmower.

“I’d get an electric one, but then you have to worry about dragging around that damn cable.” The gasoline powered machine roared to life. With natural light pouring in the house, they would not be able to see him through the bay windows. Robert had just learned this trick. I am clever.

There wasn’t any food on the counter, it seemed as if his parents had simply forgotten him today. There are worse things. Standing on his tiptoes he toasted bread and smeared it with his favorite raspberry jelly and a fat pad of butter. He placed his two slices of toast and a glass of milk on the counter and climbed up onto a high-backed stool. The motorized hum filled the air and his parents hadn’t looked once through the bay window. I wonder when they’ll come for me. His feet kicked in the air, well off the ground, as he spilled crumbs across his cotton shirt and onto his lap. Mom and Dad would be critical. Grandpa he would chuckle, and his own crumbs would sprinkle from the white tuft of hair he claimed as a beard. Robert stared off across the lawn to unoccupied Adirondack chair in the back yard. He didn’t hear the lawn mower turn off, or see his father gesticulating wildly, or his mother cowering then finding her strength. He was staring at the empty chair.

“Well, what the hell do you want from me, Barb?”

Oh. The boy came back to reality, his Father was striding towards the door with his mother in a quick tearful pursuit. The weeds. He bolted to the hallway and took the first three stairs in one step but tripped coming to a stop one step further. They think I’m in bed. Eight years of portraits stared down at him from the wall. Quickly! Before the back door was slammed shut he was squirreled away in the room that smelled like mahogany.

“I won’t stand for that, Barb. Don’t challenge me. This is my household.”

A sharp crack. A scream. Whimpering.

The boy did not hear it though. Dust floated on soft blue beams of light that filtered through the thin curtains. The specks of dust swirled in eddies and danced across the room on a breeze that seemed to emanate from within the space of the room itself. He took a deep breath. Mahogany. The boy sneezed. He stepped into the center of the room, treading lightly on round carpet that covered the center of the room. Heavy wooden furniture crowded in around him. There was a small bed tucked away in the corner and an overstuffed leather reading chair beneath the window, but the overwhelming majority of the room was covered in bookshelves, bookshelves that were overflowing with books. There was a desk in the room as well, but it may as well have been a bookshelf as tomes of varied histories and collections of poetry were stacked five high. The walls were as cluttered as the shelves. Maps were layered over maps, only to be trumped by pictures of friends and family. There were paintings too, Grandpa painted and read like some people eat and breathe. Under the bed were stacks of canvases, finished and unfinished. The room was warm, but in a way external to the summer weather, in a cozy in the winter type of way. It was peaceful. It was quiet too, excepting a strange crackling noise that Robert would pick up on time and again as he explored the room.

He heard it again. A crackling, like a radio station that wasn’t coming through clearly. On the book shelf? He scanned the ornately carved shelves for some form of electronic, maybe a walkie-talkie? And again! Third shelf, definitely the third shelf. There it was stuck tight between volumes twenty and twenty-one of the Grandpa’s 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, between “PAY to POL” and “POL to REE,” a space where one could reasonably assume that something like this – what is it? – would not be. Robert eased the contraption from the shelf. It was radio of sorts, an old radio from what he could tell. It was plastic box, part white and part cherry red. I guess it’s portable, but it was much larger than his Ipod. It was more like an old tin lunch box. On the face of the radio, beside the grated paneling that served as the speaker, a large rectangular panel read: RAYTHEON TRANSISTORIZED. He turned it around; on the back of the radio he found a small plate that labeled the radio as a “Raytheon T-100.”

“Look, Barb, I didn’t mean to…”

“Don’t. Touch. Me.” Sobbing.

The radio began crackling again. With that sound came a crackling in the air, a pulsating energy. He could feel every soft blond hair standing on end. The world became loud and vibrant and bright. Robert’s small fingers toyed with the knobs on the face of the Raytheon radio. The crackling rose in a deafening crescendo. It was just noise though and no amount of furious knob twisting could make the noise become words. The radio went silent. I broke it. The energy dissipated. The boy gingerly put the radio down on the desk. He pulled out the rolling chair and sat with his elbows on his knees and his hands on his chin facing the silent box. I don’t remember ever seeing Grandpa with a radio before, he was always reading. He looked again at the shiny knobs, so different than the other dust covered mementos that decorated the room. Maybe Dad listens to it. A soft crackling came through. He didn’t dare touch the knobs, or even the desk. He just sat perched on the edge of his seat, trunk fully erect with his eyes closed, straining to hear something, anything. Then words, twisted words, began to mix in with the crackling, first too loud then too soft, distorted like a car playing music as it drives away, but then it was clear.

“Kid, there’s something that I’d like to show you. Get your things, it’s time for us to go.”

Silence. Grandpa?

The door to the study swung open and the boy’s Father entered. He was red in the face and although his normal calm demeanor and casual order were in place, the boy could see – Something is off. It was irrelevant though. It was Grandpa. I need to pack. I need to go!

“So this is where you’ve been hiding. Your mother already started on the weeds without you, so you better get out there.”

“Dad. Do you know anything about this?”

“The transistor radio. No. You’re not supposed to be going through Grandpa’s things.”

“I wasn’t, I just… Well can I bring it upstairs? I think I can make it work?”

“Robert, it’s not going to help with – he’s gone. And…“

“I know. I just want the radio. It’s cool.”

“Sure Robert,“ he looked around the room, taking in his surroundings for the first time, “Just get dressed and head outside, there’s a couple sandwiches on the counter. You should thank your mother.” The boy’s Father shivered. He ushered his son out of his Father’s old room and quickly shut the door on all the memories and the smell of mahogany that threatened to leak out. He went outside to tend to his lawn.

Robert was left alone in the hallway, transistor radio in hand. He pressed his ear to the radio. Maybe he’ll say one more thing. The radio remained silent and the boy remained still. Until with a burst of energy he came to and bounded up the stairs. Get your things; it’s time for us to go!

>>>>>>>> Break in Chapters >>>>>>>


The crackling of the radio tugged Robert back to consciousness. It was unclear how much, if any time had passed. The world was only black for a moment and the sun still shown high above the forest canopy. The only noticeable difference was Dean Martin’s voice pushing through the static.

My head keeps spinnin'

I go to sleep and keep grinnin'

If this is just the beginnin'

My life is gonna be bee-yoo-tee-ful

Phil wasn’t calling out anymore, so Robert decided he could chance walking back up the hill. He needed to get back to the road and maybe head back home. This was getting a little too crazy for him.

I've sunshine enough to spread

It's just like the fella said

Tell me quick, ain't that a kick in the head?

The gas station wasn’t at the bottom of the other side of the hill. Robert spun around. He peaked around trees. It should be down the other side of this hill, but all he could see was dense forest in all directions. He scanned the surrounding area and realized he wasn’t even sure which direction he had come from.

Like the fella once said

"Ain't that a kick in the head?"

Robert considered for a moment that it might have actually been another hill. He started down the side that he hoped he had just come up and decided to go up the nearest slope, that wasn’t this one, at the base of the hill. Robert roamed the forest until the sun began to sink and the forest grew dark. It was different place when the shadows ate up all of the light. He wasn’t afraid before, just confused. Now though – now he was frightened. With the light disappearing Robert didn’t have any option but to settle down for the night. A pile of leaves at the based of a tree looked as welcoming as any spot he had seen that day. He pulled Bungle out of his backpack and hugged him tightly. “Goodnight, Bungle and Grandpa,” the little boy whispered from his bed of leaves.

The Wanderer

Robert had become accustomed to the cool darkness of the forest, to picking up his feet like a marching band conductor to step over roots, and to holding Bungle tight to his chest to keep him out of the hands of clawing branches. Then the sunlight poked through. The trees began to be further and further interspersed such that the blue sky peaked through what had been a green canopy above the boy. He squinted as the leafy sky gave way to an increasingly brutal sun. The soft moist moss gave way to patchy grass and brownish dirt. The further Robert went the thinner the trees became and the drier the air, until he stepped out past what could be reasonably be considered a forest and out onto the red-hued soil of a great desert plain. The lush greenery and cool shade had given way to a harsher landscape of dried brush and great domineering red stone cliffs in the distance against the backdrop of a clear blue sky. Not a cloud was in sight. “Maybe the reception would be better out here in the open.”

Ducking towards the shade of a tree at the edge of the forest, Robert took Bungle and placed him gently against the trunk and his backpack next to him. There wasn’t any sound coming from inside, but it couldn’t hurt to try. He unzipped his pack and gingerly removed the radio. A bead of newly formed sweat dripped from his head and plopped lightly onto the polished wooden top of the box. It was hot. Bungle was going to have some trouble with all of that hair. Robert toyed with the dials absentmindedly, staring off he took in the landscape before him. A vast expanse of sand stretched out in front of him only broken by spotted stretches of red stone cliffs in the distance. There wasn’t a bench in sight, or certainly the green river valley it was supposed to overlook. And no sign of Grandpa. “Bungle, I think we might be in trouble.” The boy’s companion stared off across the desert. His eyes shone bright in the sun, but they were vacant. The radio was silent.

He collapsed on the ground. Tears mingled with the sweat that was dripping down his forehead. A gust of wind peppered him and Bungle with sand. Then there was stillness. He wiped the concoction of sand and sweat and tears from his face and licked his lips to taste the soft saltiness of his loneliness. There was another gust of wind. His hair stood on end. Something was changing.

The air hummed with energy. Before he felt it, he saw it. The tufts of grass littering the plain slowly straightened their stalks until they stood at attention as if some enormous positively charged balloon was tugging them upward, the hair on his arms rose and goose pimples dotted his boyish skin. “Something is here. Bungle? Grandpa?” Robert wasn’t nervous though. He was excited. There was a scent too, like lawn clippings and moist earth. It was alien to the dry red land that stretched across the horizon. Then it began to come into sight. From behind the red rock cliffs that stretched towards the sky an antenna poked out and up into the sky. It was immediately followed by the forward motion of his hand, his fingertips nearly brushing the ground. One momentous stride forward and he was almost in full view. His vertically striped chest, black on white, pressed ever upward as he strained his neck looking to the sky, seemingly searching for something he had yet to find in on the ground beneath his feet. He was sniffing if that was at all possible - he had no nose. If he was the source of the scent or pursuing it Robert could not tell. With his head tilted back the beautiful blue petals that served as hair for this elemental creature spilled down along his neck. From his back billowed a great crimson cloud, a backpack of sorts, from which a number of large fauna and colorful mushrooms extended. He was strange, but familiar, Robert somehow knew what would follow him. Tendrils snaked out from that same cloud, miles long, only now clearing the cliffs although he was now several paces beyond them. Flames roared yellow and orange at the tips of these tendrils. He was beautiful.

“He’s a wanderer, like us. He’s searching for that something, maybe the same something.” Robert remembered the radio in his hands and extended the antenna. He turned this nob and that searching for a signal. Maybe Grandpa would talk to me again or maybe I’d hear just one musical note, the radio had been silent for so long. Only static. “Is this what you wanted to show me?” Static. Robert looked up again only to find his new friend passing over the edge of the horizon, his tendrils trailing behind him, shining like stars with their fierce light even in broad daylight. Then he was gone and with him the scent. The hair on his arms lay flat and the grass on the plains bent with the wind that swept across them. “I hope he finds what he’s looking for. I hope Grandpa shows me what I’m looking for. “

Robert retreated to the edge of the forest and sat under the nearest tree that afforded enough shade for his small frame. He put away the radio and pulled out what was left of his last tuna fish sandwich. The stars were gone from over the horizon now, but if he squinted he could make out the blurred outline of town, or more rocks, but it was somewhere to go. Robert hoped that I would see him again, my friend. “Us wanderers need to stick together,” he shouted to the horizon. Bungle hung limply from his left hand and the transistor radio sat silently at his feet. As he reached down for it, the radio whined to life and with a happy little diddy. There wasn’t a voice, but it seemed like a clear enough message for him. He packed up his bag started walking, but with music now and a new purpose.

The Yellow Brick Road

There was something on the horizon, and there was a road that led to it. The radio had kept playing even though it was now tucked into his backpack. It was “The Twist” and Robert couldn’t help but feel upbeat. He had found a road and now he was going somewhere. Grandpa liked the twist and sometimes Mom would dance with him when it came on.

The road wasn’t anything impressive itself: two lanes all broken to bits, there was still a yellow dotted line down the center, but not a bright yellow line, he was no Dorothy. It was faded now and cracked liked dried mustard. Swirls of dust danced across the road, threatening to bury it. It was a wonder it hadn’t faded away into the reddish sand that stretched interminably to his left and right. Looking ahead, the desert would eventually end before him, running into giant red stone cliffs, and behind him, butting up against the forest where he came from. The forest where Phil might still be looking for him. He kept his eyes on the cliffs as much as he could because the forest made him nervous.

We're gonna twisty twisty twisty Till we tear the house down

As he looked ahead he searched for his fellow wanderer, but if he was there he was hidden behind the fluffy white clouds the rose up above the cliffs. The bright blue sky poked from behind them in spots. Robert could not complain though. It was a wonderfully colorful day. The desert was dry, but the world seemed full of life: the radio crackled lively with Chubby Checker repeating his iconic lyrics, Bungle bounced along on the boy’s shoulder, and Robert was full of joy. He was on an adventure.

‘Round and ‘round and ‘round and ‘round

“C’mon, Bungle, this one is easy.” He pulled the monkey off his shoulder. Robert jerked the fuzzy arms left and right and the monkey’s hips followed behind along with his tale.

“There you go Bungle! You’re pretty good.” The boy and his monkey danced down the street in the red desert. Chubby Checker was on and they didn’t mind working up a sweat.

Yeah, rock on now. Yeah, twist on down. Twist.

A few songs came on after that, but none as good as the “The Twist,” there aren’t many songs as good as the twist after all. Aside from the changing of the music and the passing of the powerline posts Robert might not have been able to tell if time or distance had been passing. He could have looked back at the shrinking forest, but he wasn’t ready for that just yet. The powerline had first appeared to be a fence on the horizon. It ran perpendicularly into the road on the right side. As he got closer though, the familiar limb-shorn tree trunks took shape and the wires that sagged from pole to pole materialized. The powerlines took a sharp right turn at the road and followed right along with it. It wasn’t clear where they came from. A power source he assumed. So he followed along with them, thankful for another companion.

The sun had risen above the wall clouds and was down now. The boy had watched as the shadows of the powerline poles had retreated towards their bases. His own shadow did the same thing, attempting to hide from the heat beneath his feet. Robert sipped sparingly at the water bottle he had with him. He had refilled it before leaving the woods, but he had not anticipated how far the town on the horizon might be. Sweat pooled on his lower back and the radio began to feel heavy in his backpack for the first time. It must be getting tired too, because the music had slowly faded into the silence of the desert. With the realization that the music was gone, came the realization that he might actually be in danger. “We can still go back if we get to thirsty, Bungle,” he said, splashing a little water on the monkey’s head. He knew it was silly. He couldn’t help it.

He looked back towards the forest, back towards shade and water. He shook the idea from his head though. There was something ahead. “The powerlines have to lead somewhere bungle.” He didn’t mention that Phil was still behind them, but that also kept them moving forward.

When his shadow had again grown to half of his height, the billboards began to appear. It was a much-needed sign of hope. The first was an advertisement for a wonder drug without a name. The part of the billboard that held the title had peeled away to reveal the plywood sheet behind. A doctor still smiled from the other side of the advertisement, touting the benefits of just one pill a week. The next one offered a deal on carpets. Some store was selling all of their carpets for half-price. There were billboards for political candidates and billboards for Jesus Christ and billboards for ice cold drinks. Those last ones were the worst. Still Robert soldiered on. The spot on the horizon that had assumed to be a town was slowly growing. He only hoped that it was in a better state than the advertisements he found himself reading. Many of them were torn, some had been blown to the ground and late flat, half buried with sand. A giant picture of Jesus giving him a thumbs up stared down at him from a surprisingly unmarred billboard. There were many Jesus billboards, but increasingly the advertisements were for a place called Stella’s.

“Stella’s is for the Fella’s” these billboards proudly read. A beautiful waitress held a tray full of ice-cold drinks in one hand while her other arm was spread wide in a welcoming gesture. In the bottom corner they always said how far away the establishment was. 3 miles away! This one read. A brunette waitress welcomed him this time. Robert had thought that the woman on the first sign was Stella, but he realized that each sign had its own waitress. “Bungle, don’t you think it must be a big restaurant to have so many waitresses?” The monkey didn’t respond.

“2.5 miles ‘til the best burger in miles.”

“2 miles ‘til you see our smiles.”

With “1.5 miles ‘til you’re at Stella’s, fella” Robert drank his last sip of water. His shadow had grown long again, and it had cooled substantially, but his skin radiated heat from a vicious sunburn and he was thirsty. The dot on the horizon was slowly growing into a building.

“1 mile ‘til you get you some Stella”

With “.5 mile ‘til your done seeing these signs” Robert looked back to see all the billboards he had passed. There had to be over a hundred. He almost started counting the ones that were still in sight, but something caught his eye. The splotch of green he had come from was obscured by what appeared to be a small cloud. It was too far off to identify what it could possibly be, but he didn’t like it. Static erupted from the transistor radio and Robert began to run.

Dust and pebbles skittered and crunched under his rubber soles. The backpack bounced uncomfortably on his shoulders and Bungle swung wildly from his hand. Looking back his fears were confirmed: the cloud was growing larger. The green of the forest was no longer visible. He could only assume what was coming with it. He ran harder. The static crackled louder. His heartbeat punched rapidly in his own ears, keeping a terrifying staccato rhythm in cadence with his rapid steps. His young legs, which had served him so admirably that entire day could only carry him so fast He was nearly there. The building loomed large in before Robert. It was Stella’s, a massive sign advertised it as such.

“Almost, there buddy” he wheezed. And then he was falling.

The monkey flew forward out of his hands as instinctively braced himself with his arms outstretched. He met the ground in a tangle of limbs and untied shoelaces. Pebbles were embedded in his hands and elbows, a sight that usually made him cry. He pulled himself up from the ground. Made bold by fear of the cloud and the stinging of his palms he closed the last hundred yards to the front door of Stella’s and pushed his way in. The saloon-style doors clapped him on the back as he entered, encouraging him forward into the unknown.


He looked pitiful. Sunburn shone a vivid red across his exposed skin, dotted here and there with the odd blister. He was covered in fine red coating of dust. The monkey hung limply from his hand, likewise coated. The monkey rose and fell with each great heave of oxygen. The drops of blood from his scraped forearms and knees oozed slowly down his skin, slowed by the grit they encountered and the dry air that hastened coagulation. He stood still though, blood dripping, monkey hanging, chest still heaving, but still. His eyes were locked straight ahead, even though they were all around him. Girls. Everywhere.

They were just as shocked as he was. They were silent. For one breath. Then a second. Until the chatter erupted. He could not make it out if he wanted to. They swarmed him then, the more motherly amongst them first, but they all converged. They dabbed at his bloody spots with napkins and splashed his face with water and forced him to drink. One of the girls was looking directly into his eyes and she was speaking to him – he knew she was speaking to him, but he could not hear her. Why couldn’t he hear her? One of the girls attempted to remove the backpack from his shoulders, but he clung tightly to it. It was the static he realized, his head was full of it. The roar of a car engine rose about it all, and the girls shuffled him down a hallway.