Relics – Chapter Five

A warm golden glow filled the room, radiating out from the backpack like sunshine on a summer day as Charlie unzipped it. Charlie had closed his eyes, afraid of what he might find in the backpack, but once he’d brought the zipper all the way to the opposite side of the backpack, he finally opened them again.

“Woah,” he gasped as the light spilled into his eyes. He held up a hand to shield them.  After a moment, however, the glow gently subsided and then vanished. “Okay,” said Charlie, gulping down nothing but air as his mouth had gone completely dry with the mounting anxiety. “That’s super weird.” Charlie was not in the habit of talking to himself but things being as they were, it seemed to be the best way of keeping grounded and reassuring that everything happening was real. 

He shook off the shock and, after a moment’s hesitation, reached a hand into the backpack. He felt two things that were rather odd.  One was that the air inside the backpack was quite cold. The other was that the backpack seemed to have no bottom or even sides. No matter how far he reached in, he couldn’t manage to find an end to the space within the backpack. He pulled his arm back out, suddenly fearing that it would be torn off if he lingered a moment longer. He stepped away from the backpack and the table it sat on. 

“What in the Mary Poppins bag from hell is this thing?” he whispered.

The tablet-like screen on the front of the backpack suddenly lit up and words appeared in the center of it, written in an analog-like script.

System Reset Complete!

The words vanished before Charlie had a moment to question them.  

Relic Reset Complete!
Level 1 Unlocked

“Level One?” he asked, tapping the screen with his forefinger.  “Is this some kind of video game?” The words vanished again and were replaced with a menu-like list

New Creations Unlocked

Wooden Plank – Useful for creating other wooden Creations

Rope – Starting length: 25 ft. May be made longer by multiplying required materials.

Cardboard Box – A box made of cardboard.
Cup – Good for drinking out of. Beverage not included.

Pillow – Makes sleeping more comfortable

Select any Creation to display materials required to craft.
Select Inventory to display current contents of Backpack.
Creations may be crafted as many times as desired provided
There are enough materials in Backpack inventory.

Actions which grant experience towards Level 2 
Craft various Creations!

Charlie simply stared at the list, trying to understand how exactly a backpack was going to create a pillow or a cardboard box or any of the things that it was currently showing him for that matter. He reached out again and pressed the first item on the list: a wooden plank. The menu disappeared and was replaced by a new screen.

Wooden Plank
Useful for Creating other Wooden Creations
Materials Required – Wood Units x 2

Charlie eyed the prompt quizzically. What exactly made up a unit of wood? Now that he thought about it, where in New York City did one even get wood? It was odd to think of such a common commodity and not have any idea how one might acquire it. Was this something they carried at a home goods store? Did the people who worked in said store know what a unit of wood was?  And even if he managed to actually acquire wood, did he really believe that if it was inside the backpack, he could press a button and have it built into something? That didn’t seem physically possible. He’d never heard of a contraption in the shape of a backpack that could turn random bits of wood into planks.  As far as he knew, that required a saw of some sort, and he didn’t imagine there was a saw or a saw operator hiding inside the red bag. 

As he eyed the backpack, pondering his plethora of questions, his eyes drifted to the chair sitting in front of the table. The wooden chair. 

A long moment passed as Charlie contemplated the absolute insanity of considering that he might try to put a whole chair, one of the only two pieces of furniture currently in the apartment, into the backpack in order to create wooden planks. He began to pace back and forth in front of the table several times, turning around in circles now and then, before starting to pace again. He half expected someone to jump out and yell “Surprise!” and tell him that this was all just a silly stunt for a television show.  

But no one did. 

“Fine,” he said, finally stopping his nervous pacing.  He had made up his mind. He wasn’t just going to stumble down this rabbit hole of insanity. He was going to run wholeheartedly into it.  “You want wood? I’ll give you wood.” It occurred to him that a perfectly sane person probably wouldn’t speak to an inanimate backpack in this way, but then again, he felt as though sanity was slowly becoming less and less possible with every passing minute. 

He picked up the chair and examined it. His eyes shifted to the backpack. There was no way the chair was going to fit. “Well, if we’re doing this, we’re doing this.” He lifted the chair high above his head. “Sorry grandpa,” he said and then swung the chair downwards, slamming it down onto the floor. There was a loud ‘bang’ as the chair clattered out of his hands. He stumbled backwards into the nearby wall in surprise at the sheer loudness of the impact. Charlie was not used to making loud noises or calling attention to himself in any way, and yet he had just made enough noise to wake up the entire apartment complex.

He noticed right away that the chair was still fully intact. The only damage that seemed to have been done was to the floor which now displayed a chip in the wood where the chair leg had landed.

“Really thought that would work,” he said, picking up the chair again. He eyed it, thinking of a different way he could break it apart, hopefully one with less loud noises. He placed one foot on the chair leg and grabbed onto another and then, putting his whole back into it, pulled upwards. For a long moment, nothing happened, but then, he gave a low grown and another pull and finally one of the legs snapped off with a ‘crunch.’

He stumbled backwards with the now free chair leg in hand. “Alright then,” he said. He turned the chair to one side and repeated the process with the second leg. It wasn’t easier this time, but he pushed onwards, breaking the second, then the third leg off the chair as beads of sweat began to roll down his forehead. Ripping off the last leg was also enough to separate the chair back from the seat as he put his body weight on the chair back to pull the leg free.  The chair pieces now sat in a pile on the floor.

He eyed the destruction unhappily.  “Great.  Now I’m a chair murderer.” It was the first time in his adult life that he could remember actively breaking a piece of furniture. He had to admit, it felt cathartic. He quickly gathered up the pieces of the chair, and before he had a moment to contemplate how absolutely insane this all was, he shoved the pieces into the backpack.  To his surprise, the bag seemed to suck them in almost like a vacuum. 

Once all the pieces of the chair were placed in the bag, the screen flashed on again.

Inventory Update: 
+ 4 Wood Units

Charlie made a mental note. A unit of wood was approximately a quarter of a chair. Charlie was proud to have discovered this, even if he couldn’t imagine what usefulness this information would provide. He swiped a finger across the screen, realizing that it functioned much the same as a phone or tablet screen, and was returned to the Creations page. He selected the ‘Wooden Plank,’ tapping on it, and watched as a small green progress bar appeared, quickly filled up, and then promptly announced with a golden glow:

Crafting Successful!
+1 Wood Plank 

Charlie stood and stared at the backpack, chewing his bottom lip as he waited for the wooden plank to appear. “Hello?” he said, annoyed. “I believe you owe me some wood!” The opened pack lit up with an almost reactionary golden light. “What am I supposed to do?  Come in there and get it?” There was another flash. If he didn’t know better he would have sworn that  the backpack might actually be trying to communicate with him. But that was absolutely absurd!

He stepped up to the backpack and, hoping he wasn’t about to lose a limb, reached past the open zipper into the backpack’s mouth.  To his great surprise, he felt his hand wrap around something solid. Pulling his hand back out, he found a smooth wooden board which was about as wide as his hand and about as long as his arm. It was perfectly shaped as if cut by an electric saw and sanded smooth. He turned it over, admiring the craftsmanship. 

“How is this possible?” he asked himself. “And what the hell am I supposed to do with it?” 

“Oh, I’m sure you can come up with something.” 

“Gah!” Charlie jumped practically out of his skin, turning towards the apartment door to see a young woman standing just inside it.

“Yikes! Somebody’s got the case of the jumps.” she said, walking into the room and looking around at the surprising lack of anything in the apartment. “Wow. This place is certainly different than I remember it.  It’s like he never even lived here.” 

Charlie, who held the plank up as if to defend himself from the girl, lowered it and relaxed a bit. “You … knew my grandfather?” 

A kind smile spread across her face, suddenly making Charlie feel at ease. “Arty was your grandfather? Seriously?” 

“I … er … yes,” said Charlie who felt a pang of jealousy that this stranger in a sundress apparently had a close enough relationship with his grandfather that she had a nickname for him. “Arthur Cole was my grandfather,” he said, feeling as if he were claiming a total stranger.

“Incredible!” she exclaimed.  She spun around the room, searching for something that wasn’t there, or perhaps just remembering the things that once were. He noticed she had a violin-shaped case hanging by a strap from her back. 

“So you knew him then?” Charlie asked again.

“Oh sure. Everyone in the apartment did.” She suddenly stopped moving, noticing the backpack on the table.  Then she looked up at Charlie and snapped her fingers. “So that’s it! That’s why my uke started working again! You opened the backpack!” 

“I … uh … yes?” he said, feeling more and more like an imposter in someone else’s story.

“I was starting to think no one ever would,” she said. “Not for nothing, but when we couldn’t hunt down even one of Arthur’s heirs we all tried to open it at some point. Milo especially. He … well, I think he thought he’d be the one to … but I suppose that doesn’t matter now.” 

“Milo? Was he … related to my grandfather somehow?” Charlie had never heard of a relative named Milo, but then he hadn’t heard of any of these people or this building until today so it wouldn’t have surprised him if he had a long lost cousin, twice removed.

“Oh no,” she shook her head. “But they were close. I mean, Arthur loved Milo like a son even before he turned into a … well …” she cleared her throat.  “I suppose I ought to let Milo tell you that story.” 

Charlie suddenly wondered if his grandfather had some sort of relationship with another man. Perhaps that was something he and his grandfather had in common? He felt his hopes rise and then fall again as he realized it would be one more thing they’d never get to discuss. 

“So what have you made with it so far?” asked the girl. “Anything cool?” 

Charlie stared at her for a long moment. Technically he understood all of the words she was using but the question still felt strangely like it was being spoken in a foreign language. “Sorry.  Made anything? I don’t think I understand—”

“With the backpack!” she said, pointing at the open pack behind him. “Arty used to make incredible things with it. He made my ukeytar with it!  Milo’s pendant.  Mama’s dominoes. Harriet’s cabinet.  Everyone living in this building has something that came out of that very backpack.” 

“Oh, well…” Charlie held up the wooden plank, feeling both proud and incredibly embarrassed of the item all at the same time. “I made this wooden board … thing.” 

She peered at it, inspecting the wood closely, then looked into his eyes and let out a soft giggle. “Very impressive.” 

He wasn’t sure if she was being sincere or making fun of him but he chose to take it as a compliment.  “I thought so too.” For the first time since he’d arrived at Darkmoon Drive, he felt his body relax, and he even allowed himself a small smile. “I’m Charlie, by the way.  Charlie Cole” 

“Juno,” she said. “Juno De La Cruz.” 

He held out his hand, but to his surprise, she gave him a big, tight hug. “Sorry Charlie.  Mama’s rules. In this house, we hug.” 

It was the first genuine hug he’d received in a very long time, and while every part of his introverted self screamed out to run and hide, he couldn’t help but feel incredibly comforted by it. She patted his back and then pulled away. “It is a pleasure to meet you.” 

“You too,” he said. He expected the next moment to be one of awkward silence, but Juno quickly pressed onward without missing a beat. 

“Now, wood planks are exciting and all, but maybe you could try making something a little more…” 

“Useful?” he asked.

“I was going to say practical, but I like where your head’s at.”

Charlie scratched his neck. “Honestly, I would love to make something else, but it can only make, like, five things. I needed materials to make them and all I had was the wooden chair. Which I broke … and fed to the backpack.” He paused. “And I am now realizing that I no longer have a place to sit.”

“Hmm, interesting,” said Juno thoughtfully. “When Arty used it, he could make all sorts of things.” 

“Well it did say it was only level one, so maybe it needs to … level up?” Charlie often enjoyed playing video games and when he’d been in college he’d even been in a Dungeons and Dragons club. If there was one thing any gamer worth their salt understood, it was that in order to get stronger, one had to gain experience to level up. This was the way a character in a game gained new skills and abilities. He wasn’t sure how this translated to something like a backpack, or even how it translated to the real world, but it seemed to make sense that if he could ‘level up’ the backpack, he might be able to create more things with it. 

“My relic reverted to level one as well,” said Juno who seemed to be doing mental gymnastics to make all this information make sense.  “I’m willing to bet everyone’s relics reset! And if that’s true, then maybe the backpack resetting to level one is what triggered it.  Maybe we all have to start over again.” She pursed her lips. “It’s like Arthur’s death not only took away our relics’ abilities but also our progress, and now you being here has hit some kind of global reset button.”

“I love your enthusiasm, but I think I should take this moment to tell you that I have no idea what you’re talking about,” said Charlie, who’s mind was spinning.

“Which part?” she asked.

“All of the parts.” 

“Okay,” she said, pressing her hands down her dress. “What exactly did Arthur tell you?” 

He gulped down the sudden emotions that bubbled up in his chest. “He didn’t tell me anything. I didn’t have a relationship with my grandpa. He sent a card sometimes on my birthday, but that was it. He and my mom didn’t get along because she, and everyone else in the family, thought he was crazy.” He paused.  “Which is now starting to make a hell of a lot of sense. I didn’t even know he was dead until yesterday when these keys mysteriously showed up in a box outside my place.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out the key-filled keychain to show her. 

Juno groaned.  “I knew I should have managed the hand-off.  I told Milo just leaving them for the heir to find without any explanation would be weird.” 

“Wait. This Milo guy left the keys for me?” 

“Well I’m assuming so,” she replied. “I haven’t seen him today, but I know he was looking for Arthur’s heir to give the keys to.  So if you have them, then I’d just assume he was the one who left them for you. But he always said that if he found you, he’d just leave them and let fate decide what happened next and … well you know how cats can be? Everything’s a game with them!”

Charlie’s eyes narrowed, his brain working overtime to process what Juno was saying.  “So Milo … is … a cat?”

Juno chewed on her lip and then took a deep breath. “I think maybe we should start from the beginning.”

“Ya think?” asked Charlie. “I think we could probably go a couple steps before the beginning at this point.  I could use an introduction and a prologue.  I’d even take a dedication page or a meaningful pre-story quote at this point.” 

“Ohhh,” she cooed. “Literary humor. I like that.” 

“Just assume I know nothing.”

“Got it.”

“Because I don’t … know anything … at all.” 

“Understood,” said Juno. “But you should probably sit down.” 

Charlie stared at her in disbelief. 

“Oh, right,” she smacked a hand to her forehead. “You fed the chair to the backpack.  Sorry, I forgot.”

“Why don’t we just sit on the counters in the kitchen?” asked Charlie.

“Great idea!” she snapped. They moved to the small kitchen and both of them lifted themselves to sit facing each other on opposite counters. 

“Okay, so starting from the beginning.”  Juno took a deep breath and then began.  “Your grandfather was an inventor. He made things, built things, created things. But he was also an adventurer. The story, as most of us know it, is that many years ago he went on an expedition to some faraway place, and when he came back to the states, he brought with him something he found on his expedition: a backpack. And this backpack looked totally normal, but it was actually anything but. See, this backpack could do the hard work of making things for him. All he had to do was imagine something, feed the backpack a few materials and, like magic, he could pull his creations out of it.”

“So you’re saying the backpack is some sort of … wish granting machine?” asked Charlie.

“I suppose you could say that, but there are rules of course. I don’t know everything, but you’ve already experienced the main one. Nothing is free. At least at first.  To get something out of the backpack, you have to pay a price. You have to provide the materials it asks for.”

“Any other rules I should know about?” asked Charlie, hoping to glean as much information as he could from Juno. 

“The only other one I know for sure is that the backpack has no limit to how much it can hold. You can put as many things in it as you want and it will never get full. And just because you put in the wood to make your plank, doesn’t mean you have to craft the plank then and there. As long as the materials are in the pack, you can create the thing you want whenever you’re ready.” 

“That … sort of makes sense,” said Charlie. “I mean, it actually makes no sense, but I’m going to pretend that it does for the sake of this conversation.” 

“Love that,” said Juno. “So, as I was saying, he brought that backpack back to the states and, as you can imagine, it took the science world by storm. Everyone wanted to get their hands on it. But your grandpa wasn’t having it. He wanted to use the backpack for good, but he knew that if scientists started running experiments on the thing, pretty soon it would end up in the hands of the billionaires funding those experiments. Unfortunately, his beliefs basically got him blacklisted by the scientific community. So, instead of striking it big for his discovery, he struck out on his own and built this instead.” She motioned to everything around them. “A place where he could help people on his own terms.”

“Wait, you’re saying my grandpa built this whole building … using that backpack?” Charlie was completely baffled. How had something that had so far only managed to make him a piece of smooth wood been used to create all of Darkmoon Drive?

“And that’s only part of what he made,” she said. “Every single person here has a special item that came out of that backpack that helped us to be the person we were meant to be.” At this, she reached behind her and pulled the instrument case around her body so that it sat in her lap. She popped open the metal clasps and lifted the lid of the case to reveal an instrument that was half ukulele and half keyboard.  “We call them relics, and this one is mine.” 

Charlie eyed the instrument and then looked up at her. “So every single person in the apartment has one of these?” 

“Well, not an instrument, but a relic of some kind. That’s what we call them, what Arthur called them. Something made just for the person it’s for,” said Juno. “Mine just happens to be a ukeytar.”

“And you can create things with this? Like I can with the backpack?”

“Oh no, my uke just makes music but that music can … shift reality for those who hear it. Not to mention cast a few spells, heal some light wounds.  Mama always used to have me heal her up after she cut herself slicing tomatoes.” 

“So you’re like … a bard?” asked Charlie. He decided that he would think of everything in terms of games since it seemed to make everything easier to understand. 

“I prefer musical muse,” she said with a wry grin. 

“So then you can also level this thing up?” he asked.  “How do you do that?” 

“I just play mostly,” she said.  “For musicians, the best way to get better is to practice, and I like to push myself with various musical styles to challenge my skills.  Those same rules apply for leveling up my ukeytar.” 

“I don’t think I can just practice making wood planks with different kinds of wood all day and expect to level up.” Charlie imagined himself making wooden plank after wooden plank until his apartment was filled with them. It was not an appealing prospect.

“You could make some other things? Maybe if you make a few different creations, you’ll open up some new options.”

“The backpack did mention that crafting various creations would help me level up,” he sighed.  “But I don’t have any of the right materials. I mean, I guess I could go out and buy some stuff, but I also don’t really have any money.”

“Maybe you can find what you need in the garden.”

Charlie eyed her suspiciously. “Garden?”




If you’ve ever heard me talk about this story on social media, you probably know I’ve mentioned it being inspired by things like Harvest Moon and Stardew Valley. I think this is very hard to understand until we get to this chapter. Now, hopefully, all of that is starting to make more sense!

I love this chapter because we FINALLY get a look into the lore of this world and what you can expect to see from the progression side of this tale. I also really love the relationship between the main characters and this is really the start of Charlie and Juno’s friendship.

If you enjoyed these chapters, feel free to like and comment! I’d love to hear what your thoughts are so far! Next week we’ll meet another new character and I can’t wait because he’s one of my faves in the whole series!!


Relics – Chapter Two

“So glad you finally decided to show up, your majesty,” said Charlie’s mother as he stepped through the mud-colored door on the second-story landing. The apartment building itself wasn’t actually an apartment building at all. It was a two-story house in Queens, the top floor of which had been turned into an apartment.  Mrs. Leroy, the owner and landlord of the building, was a woman built like a toad that walked on two legs.  She lived on the ground floor with her 98-year-old mother who could barely hear, see or walk.  The two women could frequently be heard at all hours of the day and night shouting at each other about grocery lists, who left the light in the bathroom on and what was (or was not) the answer to each and every question on Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. The building as a whole was completely run down. Faucets were loose. Door handles had to be twisted and pulled in a very specific order to open.  And no room was ever warm enough in the winter, or cool enough in the summer.  But considering the price, it was about the best that Charlie and his mother, Ms. Rachel Cole, could hope for.  At least it would be until they were inevitably evicted once the landlord found out they couldn’t pay yet another month’s rent. 

“Sorry,” mumbled Charlie, closing the door behind him and removing his boots, leaving them off to the side of the entry hall. He came around the corner to the room which was both their dining and living room to find his mother lounging on the pleather couch with a cigarette in one hand and a glass filled with ice and a dark brown liquid in the other. She wore a near-constant look on her face that said she was exhausted, bored, and annoyed by the world around her. Her hair, dyed blond long enough ago that her mousy brown roots were now visible, hung messily down to her shoulders. She flicked a lock out of her face, tucking it behind her ear as she looked up at him. 

Sorry, he says,” she scoffed mockingly.  She leaned forward and tapped the cigarette on the edge of a black ashtray.  “You got my text?” 

“Yeah,” said Charlie, giving a slight nod as he removed his coat and threw it over the back of one of two wooden chairs at the cluttered round dining table. 

“And you didn’t think to text me back?” she asked, taking a long drag from the cigarette.  It flared bright orange at the end.  “My father died for Christ’s sake, and you couldn’t even be bothered to send an ‘I’m sorry for your loss,’ or a ‘Wow mom. That sucks,’ or even a god damn sad-face emoji?” 

He knew she was only venting her grief at him because he was the only person she had, but it still hurt all the same.

He cleared his throat.  “I … um … lost my phone.” 

Her eyes widened as they fixed on him.  “Jesus, Charlie. How irresponsible can you be? Were you raised in a barn?” This was an odd expression that she’d picked up as a child and said to him whenever he did something even slightly forgetful.  He assumed there was a time in their family’s lineage when someone was in fact raised in a barn and became chronically clumsy, forgetful, and stupid because of it. 

“It was an accident, okay?”  He didn’t want the tone of defensiveness to enter this voice, but it still did.

“Yeah, just like you,” she said with a flippant flick of her wrist.  She took another long drag from her cigarette.

It had taken Charlie quite some time to get back to the apartment, and now he was starting to wonder why he’d come back at all.  By now, the sun was just starting to peek through the nearby window, casting an eerie orange glow over the room.  Long shadows crawled over everything like dark fingers, slowly choking the life from the room. 

“Are you … um … okay?”  he asked, pulling out the chair he’d hung his jacket over and taking a seat in it. 

His mother stared off into the distance for a long moment and then shrugged, biting her bottom lip. “I mean, he was my dad, you know?  It’s sad. I’m sad … I guess.  But I don’t know if I’m actually sad that he died.” She shook her head slowly and Charlie got the feeling she was processing an incredible number of emotions.  “I’m sad he practically abandoned us.  I’m sad his little world of make-believe was more important than us.  Sad I can’t really remember a lot of the time we actually spent together.  I try sometimes but it’s all a blur.  I suppose that’s just my mind’s way of dealing with the trauma … or whatever damage he did.  I’m sad he turned away from his family rather than get the professional help he so desperately needed.  I’m sad about all of those things.  But when I think about him actually being gone?  That part feels more like … relief.” 

She shook her head more vigorously now, like someone who’s accidentally stepped into a spiderweb and is trying to come unstuck. “God, listen to me. I sound like a monster.” Her eyes caught his, and it was as though she suddenly realized she wasn’t in the room by herself, that someone was actually listening to her.  She rolled her eyes.  “Don’t look at me like that.” She pointed two fingers at him, the cigarette dangling precariously between them.  “You didn’t know him.  He was unwell.  Something in that man’s brain was broken, and he refused to let anyone so much as mention it.”

“Was he … ever diagnosed with anything?” asked Charlie. He’d heard his mother refer to her father, his grandfather, as ‘unwell’ before, but the subject had always been changed before he could dig deeper into what that meant exactly. 

“Not that I know of,” she said, taking another pull from the cigarette. “I could never convince him to go get checked out by a doctor.  He refused to believe anything was wrong.  And if nothing’s wrong, why go looking for trouble?  That’s what he used to say to me.”  She sat forward on the sofa and stared into Charlie’s eyes.  “He was lost in his own world of fairy tales.  He was so far from reality, no one could convince him to come back home.” 

Charlie couldn’t help but notice the uneasy feeling that shot through him: jealousy.  To him, real life was awful.  If he’d had the option to live in a land of imagination and wonder, he knew in his heart that he would jump at the opportunity, regardless of how ‘sick’ or ‘unwell’ that made him seem to other people. 


There came suddenly five quick knocks on the door that made them both jump nearly out of their skins. Knocks on doors in the early hours of morning are often jarring no matter who you are, but given that someone needed to bypass the entry floor doorway, which required a key or to be buzzed in to even get to their door, this knock was even more unsettling.  Someone had skipped a step and was now standing on the landing.

“Charlie,” snapped his mother in a very loud whisper. “Did you leave the downstairs door open again? Mrs. Leroy will kill us if she finds out!” 

“I didn’t!  I swear,” Charlie whisper-shouted back at her.  He was sure he’d pulled the door tightly shut behind him just as he’d done every day since the incident between his mother and Mrs. Leroy.  His mother had left the door open a crack after coming back drunk to the apartment one night.  Mrs. Leroy had discovered this the next morning, prompting a vicious rant about how someone was surely going to come in to murder her mother and steal her collection of handmade crochet blankets.  

“Well you must have,” said his mother, waving at the door. 

“I didn’t,” Charlie reassured her.  “Maybe it is Mrs. Leroy.  It’s not like she’d need a key.”

His mother softened a bit at this.  “See who it is then, and if it’s not Mrs. Leroy, remind them that this is private property!” 

Charlie made his way to the door and pressed his eye to the foggy peephole, only to find that there was no one at all on the other side.  He stepped back and quickly unlocked and opened the door to double-check. No one.  His eyes scanned the landing as well as the stairs leading up to it, but there was not a soul to be found. 

He was pulling back into the apartment, pressing the door closed when he spotted a small black package tied with a bright red bow sitting just outside the door. For a moment, he did nothing, simply stared down at it as though it might explode if he moved.  He and the box were locked in a staring contest, neither of them willing to make the first move.  Finally, he exhaled the breath he’d been holding and bent down cautiously to pick it up using both hands. The box turned out to be quite light.  It was such a little thing, small enough to sit comfortably in the palm of his hand.  He stood up again, and with one last look down the stairs, receded into the apartment, closing and locking the door behind him. 

“So?  Who was it?” asked his mother, who hadn’t bothered to even get up from the couch during the whole ordeal.

“No one,” he said, staring down at the box.

“What’s that?” she asked, pointing at the package in his hand.  “Did someone just give that to you?  Charlie, you can’t just take things from strangers who break into our home!”

“It was just sitting there,” he said, not picking up on her rising concern.  He noticed that there was a small black paper card nestled almost imperceptibly between the bow and the package itself. “There’s a card!” 

“What’s it say?” she asked. 

He gingerly pulled the card free and flipped it over. The opposite side of the card was stark white.  On it was scrawled a note written in a shaky cursive script.

To be Delivered to Charlie Cole upon the death of Arthur Cole.

The acceptance of this package and its contents should be
heretofore and henceforth seen as a bequeathing of the sole ownership 
of Darkmoon Drive as well as the operation and care for its residents.  
This property is hereby released from the deceased: Arthur Reginald Cole 
and given totally and completely to the beneficiary: Charlie Lewis Cole.

Mr. Charlie Cole will find the deed of this property 
Within Apartment 303 of the property mentioned herein.

“It’s … for me,” said Charlie in a disbelieving whisper.

“From who?”  asked his mother.

“I-I don’t know.” He pulled the bow by one end, unfurling it from the box and then lifted the lid. Looking into the small box felt as though he was staring directly into a black hole, like it had no internal dimensions.  No sides. No bottom.  Just endless nothingness.  This made very little sense.  He turned the box over, holding his open palm out under it. 

CLANK! Appearing from nowhere, a large ring filled with keys fell into his hand. His mother jumped in her seat, grabbing at her chest, surprised by the cacophony. One key in particular caught Charlie’s eye. The keys were all different sizes, shapes, and colors, but this was the only one that was bright red.  It had a thin piece of twine tied around it, with another small black tag. He flipped it over and read two words written by the same shaky hand as the card before.

Welcome Home

“I don’t understand,” he said under his breath. 

He looked up to find his mother staring at him.  But strangely, she didn’t share his look of surprise or confusion.  In fact, she seemed to know exactly what this was, and she seemed to be already bored with the whole affair.

“So that’s it then,” she said.  “He’s left you the building.” 

“What building?” he asked. 

His building,” she said. “The one he owned. The one he always said was special,” she made aggressive air quotes with her spindly fingers. “Darkmoon Drive.”

“I … still don’t understand,” he reiterated.  “What am I supposed to do with a building?” 

She laughed. “I expect he thinks you’ll carry on managing it.  But if you want my advice…” she leaned towards him now and stared right into his eyes. “I say you sell it and use the money to get us out of this hellhole.” 

Charlie wasn’t sure what any of this meant. His grandfather had left him a building? But Charlie didn’t even have a relationship with his grandfather. And if his grandfather owned a whole building, why were they living in this awful apartment to begin with?  He felt as though he was missing a very important part of the story.  He had a thousand questions floating around in his head.  Perhaps his mother was right. Perhaps this was their ticket to a better life.  But he had a literal handful of keys and an address.  Before he made any decisions, he intended to get some answers.

“I think I should go check it out,” he said. 

His mother shrugged. “I suppose you’ll have to if you want to know how much it’s worth. Just don’t get mixed up with the people that live there.  They’re … unnatural.” 

He had no idea what she meant by that, but he decided he would figure it out soon enough.  Charlie quickly showered, shaved, and changed out of the clothes he had intended to end his life in.  He then packed a small bag with a couple of shirts, pants, socks, underwear, and other essentials like toothpaste and deodorant. 

“You’re leaving now?” his mother asked as he reemerged with the bag in hand. “You didn’t even sleep?”

“I might be gone for a few days,” he said, ignoring her questions as he made his way to the apartment door once more. Hours ago, he’d planned to go to sleep for good. Now he was wide awake with a grand mystery laid out before him. Besides, he was the tiniest bit worried that if he did go to sleep, he would wake up to find that this had all been a dream.

“Suit yourself,” said his mother. “I’ll be here.” She’d already resumed smoking and watching a reality show on the television.  “Just grab me some smokes when you come back.” 

He nodded, then trudged back out onto the Astoria streets, determined to learn just why his grandfather left him an entire building.  A building with odd residents, according to his mother. The building shared a name with the small street it resided on.  Darkmoon Drive.  He had to pull out an old paper map of the city just to find it since he no longer owned a phone.

Darkmoon Drive was located in Northwestern Brooklyn near an area called Dumbo.  Not far from the Brooklyn Bridge where only hours before, he’d nearly ended his own life. Charlie pulled his jean jacket tightly around himself to stave off the cold and charged boldly into a day he had been certain he would not be alive to see.



Listen/Watch Chapter Two being Read!



Since I already know my mother is going to ask, NO, Charlie’s mom is not based on you!

I loved the idea of Charlie losing his phone super early in the story as so much of our lives are connected to it. How we get around. How we choose where to eat. How we get someplace new. I really felt like disconnecting him from his phone and the internet and the world at large gave me such a great chance to send him down this rabbit hole of an adventure he’s about to go on.

I also wanted to make it very clear that Charlie really has nothing right now. No job he has to be at in a couple hours. No friends he needs to check in with. No family that will really care if he goes off on his own for a while. Now that that is all done, it’s time for Charlie to venture forth to the mysterious Darkmoon Drive!