My friend, Julie, told me this morning that she'd like to read the novel as I write it so I'll be sharing one-two chapters at a time throughout the month. By the end, the whole novel will be here on Island. Thanks for reading - remember NaNoWriMo is about writing not editing so please excuse typos, misspellings, and grammar issues.
The gift shop was Irish’s second favorite place at Land of Legends. It wasn’t just a shop; it was the hub of operations and another great place to watch people and practice. The gift shop building was divided into two parts: one part of it was a traditional gift shop for a roadside attraction in a tiny Virginia town. On the other side there was a small cafe that served homemade (by her grandma and aunt) baked goods and sandwiches. On the shop side there were rows and rows of figurines lining shelves against one wall. Every creature and beast featured in the park had at least one figurine. T-shirts and sweatshirts hung along another wall. Bins of buttons and keychains lined the area nearest to the cash register. Iris’s dad moved them there to deter theft. There were several displays of her aunt’s artwork for sale too. There was also a small bookstore where a visitor could find books on mythical creatures of all types. Her favorite was about the kraken. It included a bunch of coloring pages; Iris was using them to learn to draw the kraken in different forms. It was cool and was getting her out of her comfort zone of unicorns and dragons.
Summer season was the busiest season at Land of Legends. Summer hours started in late May, right before Memorial Day and lasted until the end of September. The park was open from 9 am to 9 pm and the staff increased from just the family to five college students and two maintenance men. The two maintenance men had been working at Land of Legends since before Iris was born; Mr. Jim and Mr. Bob were friends of her grandfather and had worked at his auto shop before he opened the park. They helped keep all the displays neat and did repairs on the larger figures like the kraken and Bigfoot. Mr. Bob was a great painter and often let Iris help him with the scales on the dragons.
The line was long at the entrance of the store. That was a good sign. Visitors bought their tickets at the entrance, currently being manned by one of the college students whose name Iris couldn’t remember. Once they had their tickets, they could enter the park two ways: through a door that led them directly into the Fairy Forest or through a door that led them to the Yeti’s cave. Iris preferred the Fairy Forest entrance. It was the prettiest part of Land of Legends. Iris always told families with girls to go in that way since girls seemed to like that part of the park best. It was her favorite too although the kraken was growing on her.
Iris’s dad was working in the cafe; she could see the top of his head from where she was standing. Normally Aunt Bronwyn was in charge of the cafe but her dad filled in when Bronwyn took a day off. When not in the cafe, he mostly worked in the office taking care of the books and running the business side of the park. He wrote most of the information boxes within each part of the displays. His history background and interest in mythology (just like his dad) helped keep the boxes accurate and interesting. He liked to find odd facts and unusual versions of the myths and legends to keep it fresh.
Iris decided to go help her dad. She could work on her button reorganization project another day. Her plan was to put them in order to form an image of one of the creatures from the park. Her attempts so far hadn’t worked so a break was in order. There weren’t enough white buttons to make a yeti or brown ones for Bigfoot. Her next idea was a dragon since they could be any color. She skirted around the line and entered the small cafe.
The cafe was her grandmother’s contribution to Land of Legends. When the park first opened, there weren’t any places for miles for lunch or a snack. The closet diner was thirty minutes away and most families didn’t pack a lunch even in 1964. Maeve had the idea that if they sold some light snacks and baked goods visitors would be happier and it would be more revenue in the long run. For the first few years, Maeve did all the food prep and baked all the pastries herself. Eventually she hired a few local ladies to help and the cafe took on a life of its own. Maeve still did some of the baking when she felt up to it. Her brownies and peanut butter cookies were famous in Saunders.
Her dad, Daniel, was ringing up a customer so Iris slipped behind the counter and started refilling sugar dispensers. She wasn’t really allowed to do much more than that or straightening and organizing in the gift shop. She was only ten and wasn’t really supposed to be working. No one really cared and most customers found it endearing. Iris liked being at the park during the summer and liked being helpful.
Daniel finished up with the customers and turned to his daughter. “I didn’t expect to see you until this afternoon, Iris. Was it too hot out today?”
“Grandma asked the same thing. No, there was a family in the Fairy Forest and one of the kids saw me. I wasn’t sure if they’d come back and bother me so I came inside. I can go back later or tomorrow. It’s not a big deal.” Iris finished with the sugar dispensers and starting filling up the display case with more cookies and brownies.
“How did anyone see you? I know where you are and I can never see you.” Her dad wiped down the counter and sat down on a stool.
“Your eyes must be bad then. Or you’re joking with me. Only Brigid and David can’t find me. They don’t look hard enough.” Iris sat on another stool facing her dad.
“You should be nicer to your cousins. They’ve had a rough few years and they love you very much.”
“I’m always nice to them and I played pirates three times last week.” When her dad looked away, Iris took a peanut butter cookie from the display case. They were her favorites.
“I saw that. I always see it when you steal cookies.” Her laughed ruffled her hair and went into the kitchen. He came back with glasses of milk and joined Iris in a peanut butter cookie.
“You can draw in here and keep me company. You don’t need to help out today. The summer staff have everything under control.” Her left Iris to finish her milk and set up her secondary studio at the end of the cafe counter.
Iris set up her pencils and sketchbook. She decided to finish the picture she started of the girl and boy in the Fairy Forest. She drew the little girl in a Red Riding Hood like cape, like she had strayed from the path in the woods and found the unicorns. The boy was an archer and he guarded over the magical creatures so humans couldn’t hurt them. It had a sort of fairy tale mixed with Robin Hood vibe; Iris liked it. The unicorns were a snap to add in; she’d drawn them so many times before. When Iris got into a drawing she often lost track of time and what was going on around her. Her aunt called it “the zone” and said all good artists were like that. She thought Iris would be a great artist one day.
She didn’t notice any of the visitors coming in and out of the cafe. She kept adding layers to her drawing and adding shadows where the sun peeked through the trees in the Fairy Forest. Her memory of the tableau was perfect; she’d been drawing them since she could pick up a pencil. She was so involved in what she was doing that she didn’t notice the boy standing in front of her.
“That’s me. Why are you drawing me?” He didn’t seem angry just curious.
“I draw people in the park. I saw you and your sister earlier and decided to add you to my new unicorn picture.” Iris put down her pencil and started to close her sketchbook.
“I want to see it. And she’s not my sister; she’s my cousin. And she’s a brat.” The boy turned Iris’s sketchbook around so he could get a better look. “You made me into Robin Hood. That’s cool.”
“You know Robin Hood?” Iris was always surprised when people knew the stories she drew or that were around the park.
“It’s the best Disney movie.” He started to flip through the rest of the book.
“Hey! Those aren’t yours. You can’t look at them!” Iris tried to grab her book but he took it off the counter and out of her reach.
Iris ducked under the opening at the end of the counter and ran over to him. “I want my book back.” She tried to grab it again but he stepped back and held it over his head.
“I’m not finished looking. You’re pretty good at drawing.” He sat down in an empty booth and continued flipping through the book. “My name’s Charlie. What’s yours?”
“Iris.” Iris slide across from him on the other side of the booth.
“Like the flower?”
“Like Greek goddess. She was the goddess of the rainbow and was the messenger of the gods. That’s what my grandma told me.”
“That’s cool. I’m named after my dad and granddad. I’m the third Charles Riggs.”
“Is it weird not having your own name?” Iris didn’t understand being named after someone.
“Is it weird not having your own name?” Iris didn’t understand being named after someone.
“I don’t mind and I’m the only one called Charlie so it’s like I have my own name.” He finished looking through her sketchbook and pushed it across the table to her.
“Did you like Land of Legends?” Iris put her book in the booth next to her so he couldn’t take it again.
“The dragons were pretty cool but everything looks kind of dirty and old. I guess it’s because it’s all outside. It’d be cooler if they moved or really breathed fire. I don’t know how that would work.”
Iris sighed. People said this all the time. “My dad says it’s too hard to make them move. He and my grandpa have been trying to figure out how to make them move but it never works. I don’t think they’d be able to really breath fire. That’s really dangerous.”
“I guess. It would still be cool though.”
Iris saw his family coming through from the gift shop. The girl, Elaine, had a huge stuffed unicorn. It was one of the biggest items for sale in the shop. It was silly looking; Iris didn’t understand why anyone would want it. “Your family is here.”
“I guess I should go. My aunt and uncle want to get back on the road. They live in Washington, DC but have to drop me off at home first.”
“Where do you live?” Iris was suddenly curious about Charlie.
“Arlington, VA. Have you heard of it?”
“Not really. I know where DC is though. My dad and I go to the museums a lot. I like Natural History and the art museums.”
“Natural History is my favorite too. The dinosaurs are cool.”
“They’re the best part.”
Charlie’s aunt called out to him that it was time to go.
“Thanks for letting me look at your pictures. They’re really good.” Charlie held out his hand for Iris to shake.
She looked at him like he was an alien but then shook his hand. “Wait a sec.” Iris opened her sketchbook and tore out the picture of Charlie and Elaine. “You can have this.”
Charlie paused before taking the picture, “You have to sign it. Artists sign their pictures.”
“Ok.” Iris signed her name in messy cursive and gave the picture back to him.
“Thanks. Maybe I’ll come back to visit before the end of the summer. You can show me around the park.”
“That would be fun. There are hidden paths that I bet you didn’t find today.”
“Nope. We mostly stayed on the path and Elaine complained the whole time about dirt.”
Iris laughed. Elaine didn’t seem like a Land of Legends kind of person.
“Thanks again for the picture.”
Charlie turned and walked towards his family. As he joined them, he turned back and waved to Iris. She waved back. She climbed back into the booth and watched them out the cafe window. The stuffed unicorn took up most of the backseat; Charlie was pushed against the door. He looked uncomfortable. He saw Iris watching them and waved one more time. She waved back and watched them leave the parking lot.
Iris wasn’t sure what she was feeling. Her stomach was doing little flip flops and she was excited at the same time. Was this what having a crush on a boy felt like? Iris would have to ask her aunt the next time she was here. Maybe he’d come back and visit again. Iris took her sketchbook back to the counter and starting working on another drawing. She drew until her dad called her for dinner. Her last picture was of Charlie fighting a dragon. She thought it was one of her best.
A few weeks passed since Iris met Charlie. She looked for him on days when she hung around Land of Legends but he hadn’t returned. She figured she wouldn’t see him again. She decided to stop drawing her dragon story and went back to mythical creatures. Maybe her story was silly. Who would want to read about a boy dragons? She did but maybe she was the weirdo.
She had spent the end of June at the beach with her aunt and cousins. Aunt Bronwyn always took them to Virginia Beach in June. The rest of the summer was too busy at the park to be away. Iris loved her time at the beach. She used the time to work on her watercolor paintings, using sunsets and sunrises and the ocean for inspiration. She made an extra effort to be nicer to her cousins. She didn’t hide the entire trip and even played pirates several days in a row. Her dad knew she was trying. Her dad and grandparents came down for the weekend. They didn’t like leaving the park “unattended” but trusted Mr. Jim and Mr. Bob to look after things for two days. Iris got to ride home in the big truck from the park. She felt like she was in a parade the whole ride home.
July approached and with it crowds and crowds of people visiting Land of Legends. Saunders was between Winchester and Richmond, a blip of a town. If you didn’t know it was there you’d drive on past. Land of Legends was one of several attractions in the area. The others were mostly caverns or connected with the Shenandoahs. People often stopped on their way to campgrounds or on the way to somewhere else. Several wineries had just starting popping up; traffic to those places took people right past Land of Legends. Bigfoot beckoned from the side of road.
The Fourth of July was the biggest event of the summer. Back in the seventies, the park had offered to host the town picnic and fireworks display. The picnic was set up amongst the unicorns in Fairy Forest and along the pathways surrounding the dragons. Given all the tree cover in the park, the fireworks were set up in a field adjacent to the park, owned by a farmer who didn’t use it. His family had owned the land since Saunders was founded but the back field was never used. Visitors could sit along the edge of the park, near the kraken or just beyond it, and see the fireworks display.
Over the years, the festivities expanded to include non-town residents. The family had decided long ago to waive the entry fee on the Fourth to ensure that everyone could enjoy the day. What they lost in ticket sales they made up for in gift shop purchases and extra cafe purchases. Most of the baked goods for the picnic were donated too; Maeve’s pies were legendary in Saunders.
Excitement was building around the park. Iris and her cousins spent the week helping decorate the shop and cafe. They draped everything that could hold a decoration with red, white, and blue streamers or bunting. Her dad created an Uncle Sam puppet for the picnic; he greeted visitors not too far from the statue of Bigfoot. Iris thought he was creepy, but people seemed to enjoy it. Her dad brought Uncle Sam out every year. Iris’s best friend, Lydia, agreed with her. She spent the night on the fourth and the two girls spent a ton of time making sure they couldn’t see Creepy Uncle Sam from Iris’s bedroom window.
Iris’s other big job was helping her aunt and grandma with baking and keeping the kitchen moving. Since she was the oldest she had the most responsibilities and was in charge of her cousins. Her aunt let her measure ingredients for cookies and cupcakes; her grandma let her scoop filling into pies. Her hands were still a little purple from helping with the blueberry pies early. Her dad had been calling her Violet all morning. They were planning to watch Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory after the fireworks.
She and her cousins were working on packaging cookies for sale in cafe and covering pies with plastic wrap. Iris supervised her cousins and tried not to be too bossy. Brigid was good at making things neat and pretty. David was a seven year old boy. He was a disaster; Iris has spent most of the morning redoing most of his work. His mother finally sent him outside to help after he dropped a strawberry pie on the floor. He ate part of it before she could get to him. Boys.
Iris and Brigid were almost done with the cookies. Once they finished they could go outside and play (or draw in Iris’s case). She was so engrossed in her task and getting it done that she didn’t hear her name being called. When she did finally look up, there was Charlie.
“I’ve been calling your name forever. What are you doing?”
Brigid responded before Iris had a change, “Putting cookies in bags. It’s for the picnic. What are you?” She was suspicious for strangers even if they were kids.
“I’m Charlie. I’m Iris’s friend. What’s your name?”
Brigid gave her cousin a look and raised her eyebrow. Iris didn’t have friends Brigid didn’t know. “I don’t think you’re her friend. You’re not from here and we only know people from here.”
“Brigid, you’re being rude. Stop being a pest. Charlie visited the park a few weeks ago. He’s ok even if he did try to steal my sketchbook.” Iris made a face at Brigid which Brigid was ignoring.
“Don’t be mean, Iris. You’re not supposed to be mean to me. Uncle Daniel said you have to be nice to me.”
“I’m not being mean. You’re being rude. Charlie is our guest and you need to be nicer to him. And I’m just being honest, you’re being a pest.” Iris smiled at Charlie. “We’re almost done. If you want to wait in the shop, I can show you around.”
Charlie sat down next to Brigid, “Or I could help. We get done faster if I help.”
“Ok. Just put three cookies in each bag and close the bag with a twist tie.” Iris showed him a completed bag.
The trio worked in silence and got through the rest of the cookie bags in no time. Charlie helped Iris take the completed bags into the kitchen. Her aunt gave them some cookies and popcorn to take on their park visit. She winked at Iris as walked back into the cafe.
“I think Iris has a crush.” Bronwyn said to her mother.
“It looks that way doesn’t it? Maeve replied.Bronwyn wistfully after the pair, “Summer crushes are the best kind of crushes.”