FIRST CHAPTER OF "Lost on the Road to Nowhere"

(Note to reader: “Lost on the Road to Nowhere” is narrated by an 11-year-old boy named Chapel.)

Chapter 1: The Deer

I saw the deer before anybody else did, standing in the middle of the road like she was just waiting for our car to run over her. Behind her stood a fawn on wobbly legs. I remember seeing the white spots on the fawn’s back and thinking for a second they were snowflakes.

I saw them both first, because I was the only one paying much attention to the road. Salem and London were fighting in the third row of our minivan. The baby, Georgia, was crying in the middle row right beside me. Mom was telling Dad he should have stayed on the main road instead of taking this sort-of-illegal shortcut that he kept bragging was a road no one even knew about anymore since the new highway had gone in. “It doesn’t feel like a shortcut,” Mom said. “It feels like a road to nowhere.”

It didn’t seem like it was late afternoon on Christmas Eve right then. There was no peace on earth in our van, and not much goodwill toward men, either. But that’s what it was. That’s why we were on this road trip in the first place. We were going toward my grandparents’ house for a Christmas holiday in the North Carolina mountains. We had been thinking about how cool it would be to have a white Christmas if it snowed – none of us had seen snow for a couple of years.

Dad started yelling at Salem and London, trying to make them be quiet. He also kept trying to reach back with his right hand to find Georgia’s doll on the floor so he could hand it back up to her and calm her down. It was what Mom likes to call “Everyday Chaos.” She says that’s what she’s going to call her blog if she ever has time to write one.

We have a family of six – two parents, four kids. When we go into a restaurant, people look at us funny and sometimes ask if they can sit a little farther away. My name is Chapel. I’m 11 years old and I am the oldest, so I try not to get into all the arguing that my two younger brothers do. But sometimes I can’t help it because they are so totally wrong about so many things. Arguing is one of our family traditions, like reading bedtime stories or fighting over who got the bigger slice of pumpkin pie.

No one argues with me now about who saw the deer first, though. I don’t know why. Maybe they just know that I did, because I was the one who yelled “Look!” Or maybe it’s just because it doesn’t seem as important to us now, because so much happened after the deer – so many things that will change our family forever.

Now when I think about those 18 hours right after the deer walked onto that road, I can’t believe it all happened. Not to us. We were just an ordinary family -- a little bigger than most, but otherwise not that unusual. We live in a small town called Denver, N.C. No, not Denver, Colorado. Our Denver doesn’t ever get snow, and it doesn’t have any mountains, and it’s so small that every time we go into a restaurant, my mom or dad always know someone and have an extremely long and boring talk with them. My dad works 30 miles away at the newspaper in Charlotte, writing about city council meetings and school boards and a lot of other stuff I don’t understand and don’t want to.

My mom met my dad at the newspaper on the escalator. “Between the second and third floors, going down,” they always say. Then he proposed to her on the same escalator a few months later, late one night when they sneaked back into the building. Then they got married a few months after that.

Then they started having a baby every three years, like they set a clock for it or something. After there were two of us kids, Mom quit working and started taking care of us all the time. She says she likes taking care of us better than any job she could have. But sometimes when she says it, her face is kind of pinched, like she just bit into a lemon.

But nothing much exciting had happened to our family since I was born. Having a new baby brother or sister every three years was about as good as it got. I was always reading these adventure stories in the library about kids who find out they are wizards, or kids who solve mysteries, or kids who suddenly develop superpowers. We weren’t like that. We were just kids. And we were pretty much minding our own business until that deer and her baby walked onto the road.

My dad looked when I yelled, “Watch out!” Then he swung the wheel way too far to one side. Dad had never let me drive a car, not even for one second in the big field behind our house, but even I knew that what Dad did to that steering wheel wasn’t quite right. I have watched him drive a lot, and I had never seen him yank it like that, like he was trying to tear it off completely. Then my Mom screamed. And I had never heard her scream like that before, like she knew how badly she and Dad were going to get hurt before it even happened. And a few seconds after that, there was a lot of blood.

I don’t really like to think about the next part. I don’t like to think about a bunch of those 18 hours, really, even though not everything that happened was bad. But it’s like I have to think about it. My mind won’t let me forget. And some parts I like to think about. Some parts, I’m proud of.

Do you know that deer and her baby walk through my dreams sometimes? I’ll be having a perfectly normal dream about a test in social studies class, where we had to memorize all the states and their capitals. Mrs. Zappone will have called on me to recite them all, and I know I know them, so I’m not nervous. But I’ll be in my rhythm, just getting past all those “M” states – Jackson, Mississippi; Jefferson City, Missouri; Helena, Montana -- when the deer and her fawn walk through the door to the classroom and right up to the front of Mrs. Zappone’s class and just stare at me. The deer and her fawn never say anything – they gaze at me with those huge deer eyes, and sometimes somebody behind me yells “Look!” and then I usually wake up.

Since it doesn’t look like I’m going to forget those 18 hours anytime soon, I decided I’m going to write them down instead. I think getting it on paper or in a computer will get it out of my mind, and maybe get those deer out of my dreams. It’s a little spooky when the deer walk in to Mrs. Zappone’s class, to tell you the truth. I wish they would talk or something. I’d like to know what they want.

We didn’t kill the deer, you know. Neither one of them. They’re probably out in those same woods right now, doing whatever it is deer do. Looking for berries or something. But before I get to the wreck and what happened after that, I need to tell you a little more about our family, so maybe you’ll understand a little more why we did everything the way we did it.


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