The next day I took Dory by the arm and pulled her out to our table in the yard. She went willingly but threw a bunch of unfinished questions at me.
“What the hell?”
“Where are you - ”
“Can you just - ”
I sat her down and took a seat across from her. I couldn’t contain my excitement since last night and thought of her right away when I thought who I wanted to tell first. Not sure why, but she was the one to pop into my mind.
I reached in my bag and pulled out the worn spiral notebook and put on the table between us.
She looked at it and then to me, obviously confused, and smiled. “Yeah?”
I turned it so she could read it right side up and pointed to the cover. Her face changed to one of shock mixed with mischief. “Oh shit! Where did you get this?” She picked it up with both hands and flipped through the first pages. She turned it sideways to read some of the tiny writing in the margins. “Jesus, if this writing is any indication then he’s in worse shape than anyone would have ever guessed, right?”
“Hey, don’t be mean,” I said, grabbing it from her.
“Says the one who stole the book,” she said, cocking her head from side to side with each word.
“I didn’t steal it,” I said, putting it down on the table. “I found it yesterday on the way home. She must have dropped it.”
“You didn’t return it.”
“No," I mumbled, "I didn’t. But I intend to...just not right away.” I felt Dory’s eyes on me and they were waiting for something. “I admit I read through it. I don’t feel good about it, but I did.”
“Okay, so what’s her story? Can you unleash any dark secrets? You know she has to have some.”
“It’s not that kind of writing, actually,” I said. I picked it back up and flipped through the pages. “It’s really just a bunch of stories. Some are pretty good, too.”
“Stories?” She pulled out a wrapped sandwich from her pocket. Her tone told me that she suddenly was less interested.
“Mostly sci fi stuff...some horror,” I said.
“Well, that makes sense.” She offered me a bite. I shook my head.
“What does that mean?” I asked. “I grew up on all that stuff. In fact - ” I continued as I opened the book and found what I was looking for. Excitement grew again like a lit match in my belly. “Check this out.” I held the book up in front of her.
“Atomic Frog People?” she read slowly.
I lowered the book with a finger so she could see my face now, my smiling nodding face.
“Actually, it’s Attack of the Atomic Frog People and I couldn’t stop reading it last night.”
“You’re gonna tell me about it, aren’t you?” she asked.
And I did. I don’t know if she got it or was just humoring me but by the time I finished giving her the short version she nodded and laughed, “Sounds kinda corny if you ask me.”
“Exactly! It’s just like all those movies about giant lizards or mutant bugs I used to watch back in Philly. I loved them! God, mom and I must have watched a thousand of them together.” It sounded weird saying I “used” to watch those movies but I realized that I hadn’t watched any of my old favorites since I packed them all up in boxes. “This story has it all in here: small town, heroes, monsters, radiation...I can practically see it in my head.”
“Okay,” she said and finished her sandwich. She balled up the wrapper and tossed it into the trash can easily. “So you are going to give it back to her, right?”
“Good.” She paused as I held the book and stared at the pages.
“Kenz...hello, what’s going on in that brain of yours?”
Things like this must have happened thousands of times, maybe millions, probably even billions of times over the years. One or two or three things come together and crash into each other, creating an explosion. Throughout history, certainly throughout the history of science and art, there have been examples of this. Sometimes the explosion was instant. Other times it tooks days, weeks or even years.
Hell, how long did it take for the world to figure out how to make movies? I mean, someone invented photography first and it took years - decades - before someone else came along and figured out that if you put a bunch of pictures together and moved them fast enough it could fool the brain into thinking that the image was actually moving.
Or what about JAWS? Before it became the greatest movie ever made (okay, my opinion but I’m right) it was a novel. And before that it was just an idea in someone’s head! Still...the book became a hit, a damn monster bestseller. Then a movie company bought the rights and someone who was very clever turned that book into an amazing script. Next they pick Steven Spielberg, an unknown director, and before you know it they’re casting parts and making a huge mechanical shark and…
...I looked across to Dory.
“You’re gonna think I’m nuts,” I said.
“Probably,” she answered, smiling a bit.
Sometimes things just come together for a reason. Someone drops a notebook. The notebook has a fantastic story in it, a fantastic SCI FI story in it, just like the ones I grew up on. I find the book. Not someone else first...I mean, it was practically put there for me. No one else would have found this book but me. I know it. I can feel it.
I held up the book and turned the title page to her. “I’m going to make this into a movie.”
The words sounded crazy even to me.
Dory blinked. “What do you mean?”
“Well, what do you think I mean?”
She squinted at me now. “Wait, how are you...you’re gonna do what?”
“I’m going to turn this story into a movie.”
“I have no idea.”
“Wow, that’s a good start,” Dory snorted.
“Well, the first thing I need to do is - ”
“Return the book.”
“Um, yes, but,” I said and turned the page so I could read it again. “If I want to use Penny’s story then I have to get her permission. It’s called buying the rights. Believe me, they had to pay Peter Benchley a lot of money.”
“She’s going to know you looked into the book. That’s an invasion of privacy...and who the hell is Peter Benchley?”
“Oh my God, he’s the guy who wrote Jaws!”
“I thought Spielberg wrote Jaws,” she said.
“No, he directed the movie. The book was written first.”
“You’re going to buy this story?” she asked.
I nodded absently. I didn’t have much but had some saved from my job at the Stella.
“How much do you have?”
I smiled nervously.
For the rest of the day I tried to come up with ideas on how to approach Penny about the story. I convinced Ms. Barzcik to advance me a week’s pay so I had the money part covered - at least as much as I was able to.
It was impossible to focus on class. I jotted down ideas in my notebook and covered them when the teacher went by. In between class I bounced ideas off of Dory but I think she was just humoring me, to be honest. Ideas would fly into my mind and then quickly get pushed aside by something else. By the end of the day I was able to quiet all the voices and settle on one goal: get Penny to sell her story to me.
On the way home I tried to get Dory to go to Penny’s house with me but she wished me luck and broke off on her own route home. A half block away she turned and shouted for me to call her and tell her how it went.
I knocked on the door and then checked the notebook quickly. It was already sort of beaten up but I wanted to make sure that I didn’t make it too obvious that I read it.
But I was going to ask to buy a story she wrote in here, right? So won’t she know I read it then? Think, Kenzie, think!
The door opened. Mrs. Fish was dressed in a light blue patterned dress that was cinched tightly at the waist. Her blonde hair was pulled back into a pony and her nails were screaming in bright red.
“Oh, hey McKenzie! What can I do for you?” In the few times I had met her, she seemed nice enough. She still had this poor-girl-who-lost-her-mother tone in the back but I don’t think it was intentional.
I explained how I had found Penny’s notebook and a look of relief washed immediately across her face.
“Oh, thank goodness,” she said, taking the book from me. “It’s all she’s been talking about since yesterday. She even retraced her steps three timesto try and find it.”
“May I talk to her?” I asked, trying not to let the guilt seem through my words.
She nodded, looking at me curiously and then disappeared into the house. It took a bit longer than I expected and I heard her call Penny a few times. Sounded like she was up in her room. I heard a door slam followed by heavy thuds on the stairs and then she appeared. She was wearing a black t-shirt and baggy sweat pants. Her dark blonde hair was uncombed and strands of it hung down over her round, freckled face. It was hard to tell if she was mad or just bored because her mouth was just a line. She had her notebook pulled tightly to her chest as if it might fly away if she let go.
“Yeah?” she muttered.
“Um, hey, so I have to admit something - ”
“Thanks for the book,” she said, looking down. “Mom said I should say that so I did.”
“Oh, yeah, no prob. But I have to say I - ”
“When did your mom die?”
Her gaze stayed pointed at the ground.
I blinked a couple times and drew in a quick breath. Why was she asking me this? And what the hell business was it of hers? When she came over for that ‘welcome to the neighborhood’ visit with her folks I think dad had mentioned something back then. Plus, I didn’t like the way she asked. It was so...blunt...
“About a year and a half ago,” I answered, my cheeks suddenly feeling warm…
"How did she die?”
I waited, not sure where this was going. “Cancer,” I finally said. What a shitty word. Maybe this girl was more messed up than I thought.
She nodded and I noticed her body was rocking slightly from side to side. She moved away and put her hand on the door and began closing it.
“Wait,” I said.
She stopped and turned.
“Um, I like your writing,” I offered. She looked at me with a blank face. “I really liked one story a lot.”
She opened the door a bit wider. “Why did you read my stories? That’s like an invasion of privacy.”
I nodded, hearing Dory’s words in my head. "Yup...you’re right. It totally is and I'm very sorry."
"So why did you do it then if you knew it was wrong?" Her voice was stronger now but it was hard to tell if it was angry or scared.
"You know, I really don't know." Then I pivoted. "Have you ever had any of your stories published?"
Penny looked at me strangely as if a third eye had just so emerged on my forehead. She then pressed her lips together and forced the word 'no' through them.
"I really liked the one about the atomic frog people attacking the town."
"Thank you." Again, through pressed lips.
"Can I ask you sort of a weird question?"
I saw her body tighten and she took a small step back into the safety of the house.
Time to act was now.
"Wait, I want to make it into a movie," I blurted. Oh well, everything is on the table now.
But it stopped her.
"What do you mean?" She asked.
Why does everyone ask me that? "I mean I want to take your story and turn it into a movie."
"You?" she asked. "How would you do that?"
Oh my God, enough with the questions already! I haven't thought that far ahead yet. I don't even understand what's going on in my own head right now.
"I have no idea. But I do know a good story when I see one and that frog people one is a really good story."
There was a pause in between and I felt I had to fill it.
"I'd like to buy your story," I said. "And turn it into a script."
She looked a bit more intrigued now if I was reading her expression correctly. "How would that work? How do I turn it into a script?”
"Well, first you would have to agree to sell me the story and then I would turn it into a screenplay. I know how to do that."
“How much would you pay me?”
“Oh...um, well, I honestly don’t have a whole lot. Um, but I could offer you...say, fifty dollars?”
“For just one of my stories?” she asked.
“Um, hmm. Yep.” I answered, feeling a bit hopeful now.
“I guess it would be okay,” she muttered.
“Um, I don’t have the money right now. It’s at home. But also, to do this right ,” I said, “ I have a paper with me for you to sign…”
“You had her sign a contract?” Dory giggled as we sat on my porch and looked over the paper. It was only a few paragraphs long and poorly written but it covered everything: I now owned the rights to Attack of the Atomic Frog People, as paid for for the sum of fifty dollars, to the creator, Penny Fish. Dory looked over the paper like it was a cheat sheet for a biology test. “And gave her fifty dollars? Jesus, lady, we could gone to Spencer’s with that kinda cash.”
“Sure, everything has to be done the right way for this,” I said, folding the paper and placed it in the red folder of my Trapper keeper. One the cover was a shiny blue and gold tiger that was leaping toward the viewer.
“You really use those things?” she asked as dad’s car pulled up the driveway. He waved to us as he got out. “Kinda dorky, you know.”
“Yeah, you’re kinda dorky, you know” I laughed and we both waved back. “Trust me, this thing is going to become our bible.”
“I’m not religious, you know that, and what do you mean by ‘our’ bible, missy?”
“I’m going to need your help with this, Dor,” I said. “There’s no way I can pull this off on my own.”
“And you’re really serious about this?”
“Yeah,” I said and nodded. “I really am.”
She shook her head and smiled. We had known each other for only a short while but I could tell a real friend was looking back at me, the joking and the toughness put aside for a moment. Her eyes told me everything I had to know. She didn’t have to say the words but I loved that she did anyway..
“Okay,” she grinned. “You’re a real weirdo but...I’m in.”