The Chess Master’s Violin
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THERE ARE COUNTLESS STORIES IN THE WORLD WITH MANY THEMES.
Some stories tell the great adventures of brave heroes, a few speak of the clash between gods and men, and others simply chronicle the lives of lonely souls whose greatest quest is to make it through each day.
The story I want to tell you is true, though it is difficult to believe. It doesn’t tell of a great warrior who goes into a noble battle. There are no dragons to slay in this book, but dragons don’t always come shaped like the lizard creatures of fairy tales. Perhaps we all have our own dragons that we must slay throughout our lifetime, if we will only be brave enough to ride out in conquest. This is the tale of how I defeated a few dragons in my life. I learned to overcome the word impossible. In the process, I found my true friends and where I truly belonged.
Dr. Andrew Collins is an average man who dreams of a better life, but when he suddenly finds his way into 19th Century London he gets more than he bargained for. Trapped in a bygone age, Collins teams up with the brilliant Livesey Hawkins to find where he truly belongs. Collins and Hawkins must strive to achieve the impossible, and in the process discover the true meaning of friendship.
Filled with delightful dialogue, science fiction time travels that stretch the mind and a fast pace, this book is filled with intrigue, mystery and delicious drama that will keep the reader turning the page for more.
My name is Andrew M. Collins, Ph.D. I was born in Olympia, Washington, USA on September 1, 1981. I have always been the restless sort and find it difficult to remain anywhere for very long. I suppose I was always trying to find some place where I fit it, but it took me years to arrive there. After graduating high school, I attended a local undergraduate school and switched majors about five times before settling on psychology. The terrors of the human mind fascinated me, and I believed that more often than not medication was not the answer. I wanted to try to help hurting people if I could, so I earned my bachelor’s degree and moved to Boston to pursue a master’s degree. I ended up going the full distance and received a doctorate degree specializing in social psychology.
School was difficult, and I thought that afterward life would be easy. I was mistaken. After I graduated, I barely had a nickel to my name and no real friends. I stayed in Boston, living off part-time jobs at whatever fast-food joints would hire me, but I felt lonely and stuck. I concluded that if I didn’t get away I would be trapped for the rest of my life, so I called my brother for help.
Richard—my older brother and only living family member—is almost completely opposite me. I was a shy, a somewhat timid child, but he was bold, daring, and confident. In high school he was the perfect model of a popular jock, and I was the nerd with glasses. I always looked up to him, though, and he protected me from my peers. However, once he graduated, I was on my own, and high school became a veritable hell for me.
Richard was expected to become a legend among athletes, but an unfortunate injury dashed his dreams. Not sure what else to do, he fell back on his second love, writing, and became a successful journalist. After earning an associate’s degree in journalism from the local community college he began writing for The Olympian and is a published author besides. Along the way, he got married, bought a house in Tenino, and had two lovely daughters. He is quite content with his life—a state of mind I thought I would never achieve—and found huge success, although no great distinction.
Richard was sympathetic when I called him. He offered me the spare bedroom at his house for as long as I needed. He also paid for a plane ticket and promised to be at the airport to pick me up when I arrived. A few days later, I was sitting in a plane, courtesy of Delta Airlines, flying west toward Seattle.
I was relieved when the plane ride finally ended, for I am rather afraid of heights. Every time the plane jarred, I was sure we were going down. I had the misfortune to sit between a thin woman who sat quietly with a book and a large man who made it his mission to scare me to death by telling horror stories of airplane crashes. We finally landed, safely, around 7:30 p.m. I had no trouble collecting my bags, but the man who had sat next to me wasn’t so lucky. Despite the trials he put me through, I felt sorry for him, but there was nothing I could do to help.
Although I could still recall painful memories from the past, upon arriving in western Washington, I had great hopes that life would be better for me. There is great power to be had in positive thinking, and I resolved to remain optimistic no matter what happened. After all, I had escaped Boston and a whole new life lay before me. This was my beginning.
I strode through the lobby, heading toward the door, and allowed myself a slight feeling of pride as I raised my eyes from the floor. Unfortunately, a janitor had recently mopped the lobby, and I was the only person who didn’t notice the sign: Caution: Wet Floor. I slipped, nearly did a front flip, and landed prostrate on the floor. I sat up with a bleeding gash on my forehead, and tried hard to fight off the pessimism that threatened to overwhelm me. A man in a business suit asked if I was alright, but I waved him off in embarrassment. Thus, the prodigal son returned to Washington, only to be beaten by a wet floor.
The airport staff was extremely apologetic about the incident and offered to call an ambulance. I declined and just asked for a towel and an ice pack. They were, no doubt, fearful of a lawsuit, but I didn’t think it fair to sue them for my own negligence. I was sure they all thought me an idiot, and I groaned inwardly to think that they would be telling this story for months to come.
I found a chair in the lobby and sat down in dejection. Richard appeared to be running late, and I had already managed to humiliate myself publicly. I began to wonder if it wouldn’t be better just to go back to Boston, or somewhere even more remote, when a familiar voice drew me from my troubled thoughts.
I looked up and found myself staring into a face that could have easily been my own, except for the mustache and beard. “Richard!! Man, am I glad to see you!”
“I’ll bet! Sorry I’m late. There was an accident on I-5. Traffic on the freeway is always bad, but accidents don’t make it any better. What happened to your head?”
“I slipped in the lobby. I don’t have a concussion or anything like that. It’s just a gash.”
“Ha, ha, ha! Well then, Mr. Dr. Andrew Collins, I recommend that you look before you leap next time.” He hadn’t changed a bit.
Without a doubt, the most interesting aspect of London was Livesey Hawkins himself. The man was an absolute puzzle to me, and I vowed to myself that I would figure him out. When I first came to share rooms with him, I noticed he was reclusive and shunned all company except Mrs. Montgomery and me. He was cynical, sarcastic, and subtly rude, but he was also extremely intelligent. These traits combined together made him entertaining when the mood struck him and harsh at other times. He possessed fine manners, but he used them in a mocking and insincere way. He had little patience for simple-minded people, and he would be courteous to them in word and gesture but with dripping sarcasm in his tone of voice. Thus, many people thought him to be odious, although most were too simple-minded to heed his ridicule. He had no friends; indeed, to be called Livesey Hawkins’ friend was somewhat of an honor that none had when I arrived in London.
Hawkins was an active man, but in a restless sort of way. He went out for long walks several times a day and avoided talking to anyone as a general rule. I learned that he had been out on one of his strolls when I had run into him. He wasn’t very tall, but he set a blazing pace in spite of a slight limp in his left leg due to that leg being a few inches shorter than the other.
Despite his many unpleasant idiosyncrasies, he had a few redeeming qualities. Although he had no regard for his own safety, much to my disapproval, he would not risk the safety of others if he could help it. He also had a great affection for personal hygiene and kept his person very clean and tidy. He liked to be organized, but he hated cleaning even more than he liked organization, so you can imagine the state his belongings were usually in. Mrs. Montgomery and I got into the habit of ganging up on him to keep the sitting room tidy.
For the first few weeks of my stay, my manner of speech greatly annoyed Hawkins. He tolerated me for the most part, but if he was in a bad mood, he wouldn’t even let me speak. He made good his threat to coach me in the proper manner of speech, and although I tried very hard I just couldn’t learn it. I don’t believe this was a result of Hawkins being a poor teacher or me a poor student, but he just wasn’t the right teacher for me. He eventually ceased his efforts and wrote me off as a lost cause. One day though, he discovered that although I could not get into the habit of speaking like he wanted, I had picked up a little of it in my writing. After that, my status was elevated from lost cause to a singular individual. In years since, I have improved greatly in both writing and speech, although a little modern lingo slips out from time to time.
I surmised that Hawkins had had a bad childhood, accounting for much of his behavior. However, he rarely spoke about himself and never about his years growing up, so I was left without answers. I then turned to Mrs. Montgomery in order to satisfy my curiosity. The two weren’t necessarily close, but they had an understanding: she left him to himself, and he returned the favor. There were many harsh words between them; they were both formidable people, and she wasn’t put off by his masterful ways. She tolerated him quite well, despite his inconsideration of her. Although she knew nothing of his childhood, she was able to tell me a bit about his family.
“Mr. Hawkins is a strange one to be sure!” she said to me during one of our conversations. “And even after putting up with him for so long, he still surprises me from time to time—like when he carried you home.”
“He carried me home?” I asked with some surprise. “I’m at least three inches taller than him and heavier. How did he manage?”
“Oh, he’s quite strong he is. He walked right up to the front door with you slung over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes and said, ‘Mrs. Montgomery, please fetch some water, we have a guest,’ as if he hadn’t done anything more than ask for a cup of tea. I was quite shocked I was.”
“Wow! That’s pretty weird.”
“Yes sir, he seems to find you to be interesting.”
I turned back to the table I was scouring with sand—an unpleasant task that made me wish for liquid dish soap—and contemplated my next question. “So, does he have any family?”
“Oh yes, doctor! He has but one family member in this whole world to my knowledge, and that’s his sister Agatha. The parents have both passed away.”
“Agatha? She sounds pretty. Where is she?”
“She lives on the family estate in the country. Townsend Grange ’tis called. I’ve never been there, but the house itself sits on about a thousand acres of the best farmland in Surrey. I hear it is quite a lovely place. ”
“Wait, doesn’t the son inherit land, not the daughter?”
“Well, I don’t understand it completely myself. From what I heard, though, Mr. Hawkins didn’t want the estate. He asked his father to entail it to Agatha instead, and he receives a portion of the income to live on.”
“Hmm. So he has a sister. Is she younger or older?”
“She was born about five years after they found Mr. Hawkins. Her mother died soon after. More than that I don’t know.”
Jennifer Willows is an 18-year-old college student currently residing in Portland, Oregon. She was born and raised on a horse farm in Olympia, Washington and has attended a private Christian school her entire life. Jennifer loves animals, but especially horses, cats, and Jellyfish. She also has a deep interest in Psychology, and hopes to one day help hurting people find freedom from their disorders without the use of drugs. In addition to writing, Jennifer’s hobbies include music, art, reading, and Power lifting. In 2010, Jennifer earned second place in the Washington State High School Power Lifting Tournament, but has not lifted since due to a shoulder injury. She hopes to return to this sport soon though, and plans to take up cycling and intramural Tennis as well. Jennifer’s favorite book is The Pickwick Papers By Charles Dickens; her favorite TV show is Monk, and her favorite Disney movie is The Great Mouse Detective.
First and foremost, God deserves all the credit for this book. A few months ago I misread a word count, and now I’m getting a book published. It is only by His grace that it was at all possible.
Next, I would like to thank both Donna Levy and Rose Bethard for their amazing editing abilities and patience. Donna started me out, but Rose was there to help me finish. Together you two helped me create my story, and I will always be grateful. Thank you!
Dear John (I’ve been waiting to say that), thanks for giving me a chance. You took a big risk by taking on my book, and I appreciate that. Thank you, oh wise Master Publisher.
Lastly, thank you Andrea Waldrop for all of your help and inspiration. You are my art and literary critic in addition to being my best friend (which is tough enough). ¡Gracias chica!
From the Publisher:
Some would call it serendipity, coincidence or karma, but others (including me) would call it a God thing.
On March 27 of this year (2011) I received an email from Jennifer Willows with a submission for our America’s Got Stories short story contest. I took a quick look as I usually did to get an idea of the flavor and quality of the story, and to make sure it met the requirements, which included a limitation of no fewer than 1,000 and no more than 2,500 words.
Apparently young Miss Willows had misread the upper limit as her story was 25,000 words long, far in excess of the limit, but wonderfully crafted and beautifully written.
I called her and we laughed about her fortunate mistake. I told her, “your story’s a bit long for a short story, and not long enough for a novel. But if you’re willing to finish it, we would publish it.”
She agreed and I signed her on the spot. She worked with two editors, Donna Levy and Rose Bethard, to establish her voice and make some changes so the story would flow better. Then she set sail and wrote her way home to this book, her first of what I expect will be many wonderful God things in her life.
John Köehler, September 2011