The Riddles of Hinge

Synopsis

Jane is a wheelchair bound twelve-year-old who is ornery and self absorbed.  She could use a friend.  She has a problem.  Jane thinks she sees and hears a force that howls like a wind in the corners of her room.  No one else seems to be able to hear this wind and Jane is becoming increasingly isolated and exhausted as its presence becomes stronger.  Her friends are starting to think she is crazy as well as impaired.

Jane’s family has just moved to a town called Hinge in the deeply wooded hills of Maryland. It’s a weird place.  A kid in school looks like he’s growing a feather under his shirt collar. Owls seem to be speaking English to each other outside her room at night. Just this morning, Jane woke up to find her cat staring at her in a strange new way. And, this wind she hears - has suddenly become visible - in color. 

As it turns out, Hinge is earth’s last gateway to the Great Wood, the portal that prepares beings to travel between Earth and the spirit world.  Grimsa, an evil Siamese cat, has been snipping the cords that bind Earth to the Great Wood and Jane is the only human left who has the power to stop her.

The Great Wood’s Owl Council hangs on by a claw and makes one last attempt to save its world.  It sends Oramus, an old, spiritually adept house finch, to convince Jane to stop Grimsa , using the very forces that seem to be wrecking her life. But Jane has no interest whatever in this bird or his supposed magical powers. How could a raggedly little house finch tame a howling wind?

Together the unlikely pair cross back and forth through the thin veil between life and death on an adventure through deep forests, snowy Russian fields, and rat-infested caves, pursuing riddles that Jane must solve to save herself and the Great Wood.  If they fail, the Great Wood will drift slowly off into space and the creatures of Earth will be left with no memory of it or the spirit world – and Jane will return to her feeble body and wheelchair-bound life.

The Riddles of Hinge is a middle grade novel in the magical realism genre that runs about 70,000 words. To date, it is accompanied by eighteen oil illustrations that I have painted, which you can find in the Illustration section of this site.

Chapter I — The Great Wood

 

It all began the evening a house finch appeared on my nightstand. He wove tales of magic with his words and took me on a journey through the corridors of my dreams. His name was Oramus. He was a mender, a sorcerer of sorts, sent to me by the Owl Council. And I, well, I was the most difficult case of his long and impressive career. Let me tell you our story, and let me begin where many tales of enchantment begin — in the heart of the Great Wood.  It was a time of terrible darkness.

 

 

      *                    *                   

    

It was that moment before dawn when the sky is ink black, and the promise of a golden June morning seems remote, the time when the creatures of the night have retired, and the harbingers of daybreak have not yet risen. A faint breeze had just begun to rustle the leaves of the forest, carrying with it the smell of wet earth and bark, when the racket began.

“Sir.”
“Sir!”

The tapping on the tree trunk was sharp and persistent. The old house finch tucked his head under his wing a little further and tried to ignore the voice, and the annoying tapping that accompanied it. But the drumming and chattering from the branches below his nest continued.

“Sir, I must insist!” said the voice.

A young woodpecker was ramming his beak so hard into the trunk below Oramus’s nest that a fir cone came loose, bouncing off branches as it dropped far beneath them to the forest floor.

The old bird mumbled and stirred, rolling sideways just enough to peer over the edge of his nest and down into the branches. The banging stopped for a moment, and Oramus heard the wind whisper through the needles of his fir tree. He caught the scent of balsam and resin as his eyes adjusted to the darkness.

A pair of intense, beady eyes, barely visible in the black of the early morning, glinted and blinked back up at him. Oramus waited.

“Sir, the honor of your presence is requested by Kolbrin at the council this evening. May I have your reply?” The young bird’s voice was high-pitched and it quavered now that he had Oramus’s attention.

Oramus grunted a “yes,” mostly to make the woodpecker go away. If the messenger had not been so youthful and so completely sincere, the old house finch would have been tempted to use harsher words.

“Thank you, sir,” replied the younger bird. “They’ll expect you at dusk sharp!” he added and flew off swiftly in the direction of the Owl Council’s thicket.

Oramus tried to go back to sleep, but by then night had begun to lift, and the solitary call of a wood thrush echoed through the forest. It was quiet again for a moment, and then another thrush sounded. Soon the Great Wood would be awake.

“Summoned before dawn,” he muttered. “You would think an old bird would get more respect than that. Yet they call me before the thrushes have sung!” He shook his head and scowled.

He surrendered to the gathering dawn and busied himself in his nest, tidying his bed of needles and leaves with his claws. When it was light and the fresh scent of dew reached him, Oramus raised his head and puffed out his red chest. He stretched and carefully climbed to the edge of his nest, then dipped into the dawn, heading to his library. It was his refuge in the hollow of a black walnut tree across the meadow.

Dawn still came in these anxious days, but it only came to the middle of the Great Wood.  There was a circle of dank, pea green thunderclouds at the rim of the Wood that never went away. With each day, the brightness of morning seemed to be a smaller and smaller ring of light.  Today the early summer light near his nest was dazzling and he tried not to think about the smoky ring of murk that surrounded his forest.

Oramus was getting older, and as a result, he became irritated more often. His beak hurt, and the feathers on his chest were not what they used to be. In his youth, he had cut a fine figure and had flirted tirelessly with the ladies. Even now, on a good day, the young ladies still turned their heads when he arrived, though it was more for his dry wit and exotic stories than for his plumage. But you would have hurt his feelings to tell him so.

Pamina, the love of his life, was the only one he had truly adored. He could still remember the fresh scent of rain and meadow grass and leaves that clung to her, as if she was made of them. He sighed and smiled at her memory as he flew towards his library.  Maybe she would be at the meeting tonight.

Oramus was a house finch, a small red-capped bird with brown wings and a red belly. But he was no ordinary house finch. He had been awarded the Crested Medal in his early years and had won the highest marks on the Modern Language Aptitude Test. At the time, the Owl Council, which ruled the Great Wood, had offered him the choice between English, Arabic, and Japanese, the most difficult languages. They had hoped to send him to many lands on Earth, a gifted native son who would bring them prestige on a multitude of assignments. Oramus considered Arabic and Japanese for the fun of visiting those countries, but he preferred traveling to Hinge and its surroundings and so he mastered the language of its humans, English.  He did, however, take a minor in Russian because he admired the Great Russian novelists and enjoyed the soothing feel of their words in his beak.

 Some house finches, along with chickadees, gold finches, and other birds that congregate near human houses, are members of the Owl Council, which is a secret band of birds who travel from the Great Wood to Earth to watch over its humans. They bring them comfort with their song, and in special cases, provide their watchful presence on windowsills, bushes, and branches.  Anyone spotting one of these guardians will see a faint, glimmering light that lingers about them and melts into the breezes and shadows of the forest.

The Owl Council assigns birds to humans about to make changes in life form. They accompany humans who are preparing to travel from Earth to The Beyond - and those preparing to come back. Oramus, due to his extraordinary aptitude, was sent on many a far-flung adventure in his youth, whenever high-level language skills were needed.

As he swooped between the tree trunks, Oramus considered this morning’s summons. These meetings had always made him nervous, and Oramus had assumed his retirement meant he was excused from council assignments. It was a forum for the younger ones, and besides, these days he was fully occupied with his memoirs.

But he imagined this might be a summons of a different sort. Perhaps the council was finally considering the full weight of his years of service. Perhaps they had devised a clever ruse to pull him into a council meeting for an award ceremony. Maybe he was to receive the coveted Orb of Valor. His stomach twisted into a knot at that thought, and he thrust his chest forward ever so slightly as he flew.  Wouldn’t it be grand if Pamina were there to see that?

The Orb of Valor. He had dreamed of it often, of its weight, its inner glow, and how it would feel on his chest. He’d imagined how it would look hanging on a twig just inside his nest! He rather liked that image, and daydreaming about it, he almost flew into a pine branch.

The Orb had been awarded only once before in his lifetime, and he had been so young then, that when he tried to remember going to the ceremony with his father, he could only recall a faint flicker from that distant time. The Orb of Valor was given to a bird after a lifetime of exceptional service to the Council. A list of recipients’ names had been carved into the trunk of a beech tree near the Council’s thicket. It was a short list.

Oramus heaved a sigh and dived into a clearing, riding the waves of the soft morning breezes. His library was not far off now, just on the clearing’s edge. Though it was a beautiful summer morning, he fretted over tonight’s Owl Council meeting, and ached to spend the evening in the safety and peace of his study, among the books that lined his library’s fragrant, dark walls.

But one didn’t refuse an invitation to the Owl Council unless one was ill or out of the forest. So that’s where he would go this evening, like it or not. A tiny thrill ran down his back, and he shivered as he rode the cool air of the brightening forest.


 

                 Chapter II – Earth

Twelve-year-old Jane woke to a beam of sunlight slanting across her bed, throwing a pattern of shaking leaves and brilliant gold across her quilt. The morning light reflected across the ceiling, causing the green silk canopy curtains surrounding her bed to glow.

For a moment, she did not move. Instead, she drank in the smell of the early morning forest that drifted through the open window beside her bed. She smiled as she felt the weight of her cat, Fritilla, still asleep and lying across her feet. But as she sat up, the stabbing pain in her back snuffed out the joy of a new day.

With effort, Jane pulled herself upright, gently pushed the cat aside, and scooted to the edge of her bed. She dropped into her wheelchair, and it protested with a squeak, tilting and rocking with her weight as she landed heavily. With quick, practiced movements, she rode the chair through her bedroom door and shot down the hall toward the stair lift. As she got closer to the stairs, she could smell eggs and cornbread. For once, she would not dwell on the gnawing pain in her back and legs, not this morning.

It was Saturday and her parents were gone again. But Miggie would be in.  She cooked for the family and sometimes accompanied Jane when she went out. The room would be warm with the sweet smell of her baking and the popping of bacon in a frying pan. Pepper would be there too, her dog, a jumping, licking force that commanded her full attention. Jane navigated off the stair lift impatiently and rocketed her wheelchair down the long hall and into the kitchen.

The table was set with a yellow cloth and a profusion of green plates, some covered in napkins. Steam rose and the smell of hot butter greeted her from the stove, where wide-backed Miggie swayed to a tune only she could hear. She wore a large, shapeless pink cotton dress dotted with little pale green and yellow flowers. The backs of her shoes were pushed down to make them easy to slip on. Jane banged her wheelchair into the edge of the table and a teacup rattled in its saucer.

“Hey, Miggs,” she shouted. “It’s Saturday!”

Miggie turned, and that’s when Jane first noticed her eyes. Why were Miggie’s eyes red?

The large, comfortably shaped woman turned back to the stove quickly, as if something were burning. But nothing was. It was quiet, too quiet. Jane heard the butter sizzle.

Why were Miggie’s eyes red? She wondered.

“Miggs?”

Miggie’s shoulders slumped, and she spoke without turning around. “Your father got a phone call this morning.”

“What kind of phone call?” Jane asked.

Miggie waited a few seconds before answering, then said slowly, “From the police department.”

“Why would the police call Dad?” Jane asked, as a sense of dread began to prickle in her core.

But Miggie still didn’t turn around and Jane’s sense of dread widened.

“Miggie?”

Then Miggie turned and faced her. Jane could see that tears were rolling down Miggie’s wide, open face.

“It’s Pepper. It was a truck.”

Jane turned quickly toward the stove. “What truck?”

The older woman sat down heavily on the stool next to her. “Jane, the truck rounded Wideline Corner too fast. You know we’ve been telling them for years to put rumble strips on that road to slow down the traffic.”

Jane cut her off with a sharp voice, almost shouting. “Pepper was on a leash, right?”

“No,” she sighed and began again with hesitation. “The silly little dog chewed through the bottom of the fence again early this morning. I didn’t even know he was gone until the phone call came and I searched the yard . . .” Miggie trailed off.

Jane looked at her blankly. “Yes?”

Miggie said no more, but her face said it all. Jane sat quietly for a moment and then began to cry, almost imperceptibly, dry heaving soundless sobs that shook her body. Miggie went to her and folded the shaking girl into her arms.

“He’s gone. It was fast, Janie. But he’s gone.”

The cries swelled up from deep inside Jane and wracked her body. She curled her fingers inward, tore herself from Miggie, and folded in on herself in her chair as she sobbed.

That dog had been her joy, a bright, bubbling presence in a confined world of narrow halls and shut doors. He had adapted quickly to her limits and had learned to jump onto her lap and climb across her shoulders, sometimes nipping her ear. And — to Miggie’s horror — he’d often jump onto the table with a clatter. He was her clown, her protector, and her friend — and she didn’t have many of those.

Jane let out a long, low sob, her head now tucked under the table, hair in her eyes. Then her fury got the better of her and she shoved herself backward, using the table leg as a brace. She crashed into the wall, swiveled the wheelchair toward the door, and raged at her clumsy movements and the unfairness of Pepper’s loss. Hot tears reddened her face. Her breath was short and ragged. She pounded the arms of her chair. Pin pricks of blackness swirled before her eyes. It was not fair. Something else should have been taken. But not Pepper. Not her dog.

Her world was out of balance, and she spiraled down with it. If Pepper must go, then she must, too. She simply didn’t want to live without him. Since moving to Hinge her loneliness had deepened and Pepper had been her only consolation.

She lashed out with more force, pushing a concerned Miggie away. She shot from the room, her strong arms propelling the wheelchair down the hall at an alarming speed. Then she threw herself from the chair and fell face-first on the shining black stone floor.

 

*                    *                   

 

Jane woke to her room again, momentarily forgetting everything that had happened until the sadness came back with a rush. She lay still and let it wash over her. She was too tired to do anything else.

The light was flat and it was late in the day. She could hear the faint sounds of birds congregating in the woods outside her window. She knew they were preparing to roost for the evening, and she longed for an open window. She wanted to be part of the great web of forest life that was knitting itself together before its creatures settled into sleep. But she was alone in her room, tangled in her bed sheets, and the window was shut.

 She could hear hushed conversation in the hall. Let them say what they would, she thought. The doctors never did much good anyway, and she was beyond caring.

Then she heard her parents. They must have come back home when they heard that she had fallen. It sounded like they were fighting again. 

Since the family had moved to Hinge, they had been fighting more often. Something about this place, she thought. The real estate agent that had sold them the house had let on that the previous family had left town in a hurry after living there for only a year. 

Jane could just make out her mother’s voice, “She needs a friend.  I wish she would just make an effort.  Friendship is one of the most rewarding things in the world.  It will make the new year at school so much easier if she found just one.”

Yes, thought Jane, just one would be good.  But the kids in her school had been embarrassed and not known how to include a girl in a wheelchair as they ran around the fields at recess. It always took time to get others used to that.  And, they had been too preoccupied with their own troubles.  She had seen how they whispered to each other.  This new school was different than the others she had been to.  Kids here were nervous and preoccupied. 

She didn’t really care for any of them anyway.  Why waste the effort?  They would move again soon.  Dad’s job meant they were always moving and mom was gone a lot.  She was a travel writer for a big newspaper in the Midwest.

Jane was alone, lying still between the teeming forest just beyond her window and the life inside the house just beyond her door.

She rolled over carefully and looked across the quilt towards the couch and at the table across the room. The familiar plastic tube tugged at her hand once more, sending medicine into her veins to ease the pain in her crooked back and legs. A tray of food sat untouched on the table.

Suddenly, a noiseless, pulsing rush of air began to swirl in eddies and gather strength in her bedroom as it bounced silently against the walls above her bed and then into the corners of the room. Jane shivered and dug under her covers.

Meanwhile, Jane’s cat sat quietly on the couch, her tail twitching as she deliberately cleaned a paw. Jane drifted back into a deep sleep and into her dreams, exhausted, and twisted across her bed.



Please be in touch with the author for the remainder of this manuscript.

 

 (A Spectator's Guide to Illustration appears at the end of the book.)

 

A Spectator’s Guide to Illustration

A Spectator’s Guide to Illustration

The illustrations for this book are in three acts.  Where are the divisions?

Hint: Look at picture size and groups of value, chroma and color.  (The pictures on the website are almost all one size, but the paintings actually differ in size, “The Door of the Bungalow,”  “Rosy Light,” and “Oramus Rose and Flew” are bigger paintings than the others.)

What would a larger painting size in a gallery make the viewer do? 

There is a theme to each act:

Act I

How is value used?

How does the subject matter change?

How is color and chroma used in this act?
Hint: Act I is painted all in earth tones.  It is somewhat soft and unresolved.  How might this relate to the text in the first part of the book?

Act II

How is value used?  Which is the darkest picture?  Why is it the darkest?

How is color used in this act?

Some parts of these pictures are resolved (sharp) and others not.  Why?
(There are two answers to this question.)

Are the colors warm or cool?  How does this influence the intensity of the pictures and how might it reflect the intensity of the book at this stage?

Act III

How do the pictures’ temperature and color change from Act II to Act III?

How does the color change in particular reflect what is happening in the book?

Extra Credit Question:  What is the Golden Mean or the Golden Ratio? Hint: It is an actual mathematical ratio.  What are the numbers and what is the ratio's significance?  

There are three pictures in this story that use this ratio.  You will need to look carefully because the subject matter is set up within each of these pictures to allow the use of the Golden Ratio.  The picture size itself is not in the Golden Ratio’s proportions.  

Which pictures are they?  Why would you want to use the Golden Mean in these particular pictures? 

Hint:  Which might be the three most important parts the story?  Which pictures go with these parts?

Definition of Value – the lightness or darkness of an image.
Definition of Chroma – the intensity of a color.  High chroma means intense, pure color. Low chroma means dull or muted color.