Saving Ansel

Ansel Goldwaith was a writer of scifi/fantasy whose stories were about bold knights and clever wizards that got sucked into transdimensional universes where they fought mysterious insectoid beings to save helpless fairy princesses. “Mediocre,” one critic wrote of his work. “Subpar,” penned another. “Derivative,” scribed a third.  

While his fictional work was very popular with a subset which consisted of aging fanboys and prepubescent boys, Ansel Goldwaith was perhaps most notable for his author’s notes, sprawling diatribes chronicling his everyday comings and goings that went on for seventy or eighty pages.  

It was the scifi/fantasy worlds that first attracted 14 year old Rick to his work. It was the journalistic, extremely personal author’s notes that absolutely enthralled him. Rick was an only child who had never known his real father. His mother had married a succession of bad men, the latest worse than the last. In high school, he was a complete outcast because he was overweight, wore thick glasses, and read scifi/fantasy novels.

Rick’s only friend in the world was Ansel Goldwaith. When he read those author’s notes, it was like the author was speaking directly to him, as if he were telling only Rick his most intimate of secrets. That was why it came as a complete shock to Rick when he read Ansel’s final line in his final book: “I went into the garden today in a terrible mood.  Feeling so lonely.  Feeling so sorry for myself. I could not stop thinking about Deborah and all the time we had spent in the garden together. Why had she left this Earth so early? Why has someone so wonderful been lost forever and ever? Wading through the turnips and onions, picking tomatoes and pulling carrots gave me no solace.”

Ansel Goldwaith’s wife Deborah had died of breast cancer 10 years before. She was the love of his life. They had been married for nearly 30 years. Ansel Goldwaith stopped writing shortly after her death. The fourth book in The Cycle of Light series ended with a cliff hanger and went on to become a best seller. Even the critics called it his best work. Naturally the publisher was hungry for book five, but the world was left to wonder if Ansel Goldwaith would ever finish his epic opus.

No one was more desperate for Ansel to put pen to paper than young Rick. He had dreams about what came next in the story. Sometimes he even wrote his own version of what would happen to the characters of his favorite books. The story had ended with the main character discovering a long sought artifact.  Just as he was about to pick it up, he was surrounded by a band of angry gobloids–a kind of goblin, spider creature. In one of Rick’s continuing versions of the story, the main character grabs the artifact, an ancient book of spells, and fortuitously opens it to a fire wave spell. He hastily reads through the incantation sending a blast of red fire over the offending monsters. In another, the main character is suddenly rescued by his love interest, an elven warrior, who puts an arrow through the head of the gobloid leader sending his minions scattering in a panic. When he was in a darker mood, he wrote an altogether different possibility. The main character is suddenly overwhelmed by the horrendous band of gobloids. They kill him and cook him and eat his flesh. Thus ending the story of The Cycle of Light once and for all.

Things took a turn for the worsen in Rick’s life when Rick’s mom met a new man named Steve, a man who wore football jerseys and a military haircut. Steve would yell at Rick with an obnoxious, booming voice:  “Getcher head outta yer ass, ya whiney little panty waste! Ya can’t go around the resta yer life like a fat, stupid turd!” He would throw a ball at Rick’s face as hard as he could, usually leaving a few angry, stinging welts. “Pussy!” he would spit in disgust before punching Rick in the arm leaving a large brown bruise. Steve pounded down twelve packs of Bud Light while he watched whatever sports game was playing on TV. If the team he liked won, Steve would whoop and dance like a drunken chicken. If they lost he would curse and smack things–including Rick’s mom. Rick tried to talk to her about this, but she refused acting like nothing was wrong. “He’s all I have,” she would say with weepy pleading eyes. “Don’t ruin this for me.”

Then one day at school, the biggest bully of them all, a monster they called Buster because he enjoyed busting things (even busting a guy’s jaw once), took it upon himself to gather up some bully friends to hunt Rick down. When they found him, they pulled him into the nearest restroom and forced his face into a dirty toilet and flushed it liberally. “Swirly! Swirly!” Buster cackled like a maniac. When the vice-principal found out, it was clear he was trying to hide a half smile. Buster and the boys denied everything, so it became a matter of Rick’s word versus theirs. In the end, they got off with a warning. “Next time there’s gonna be a floater,” an angry Buster promised in the hallway.

Needless to say, Rick had enough. When it came down to it, Rick had only one friend in the world, one person who understood him and who cared about him, or so he wanted to believe.  And that one person was Ansel Goldwaith.
Rick did not make plans, he simply acted. On a Friday after school, he went to the bank and withdrew his life savings, $1546.38. He walked four hours until he ended up at the airport. By then it was late in the evening. He bought an economy class ticket on an overnight flight to San Francisco California. While waiting for the plane, he picked up a map of California from the gift shop. He sat on the ground and unfolded it to search for Sonoma, the city Ansel lived in. He had no address, no phone number, not even a street name. He would somehow have to find Ansel Goldwaith using his wits. This was his quest.

 

Rick fell asleep on the plane missing the inflight movie as well as snack/beverage services. When he finally awoke, the plane was landing and it was 4:15 in the morning. It felt as if he had just closed his eyes. The flight had cost $518 leaving him with a little over a thousand dollars.  

Rick was completely exhausted, and the only thing he could think of to do was to get a hotel. Surprisingly the Motel 6 allowed him to pay for a room without ID. Most likely because he was paying with cash. He paid for two days and slept all day and night, waking up at around seven in the morning on his last day in the motel. Suddenly he felt a pang of guilt about leaving his mother. He really had no idea what he was going to do when he found Ansel Goldwaith, but the least he could have done was left his mother a note.  Rick took up some Motel 6 stationary and composed a letter:

 

Dear Mom,

 

I’m sorry I did not say goodbye. I want you to know that everything is fine. Please don’t worry about me. I hope you have a good life.

 

Love,

Rick

 

Rick checked out of the hotel, walked to the nearest post office, bought a stamp, and sent out his letter.

Rick spent about a hundred dollars on an Uber ride to Sonoma that some hipster at Coffee Bean helped him to set up. After reluctantly telling the bearded gent, whose name was Max, his story, he was given Max’s number just in case. “To contact for emergencies and stuff,” Max grinned. He offered to buy Rick a latte, but Ricked hated the taste of coffee.

The Uber driver dumped him off unceremoniously in downtown Sonoma. It was the most beautiful place Rick had ever seen. Humongous old buildings nestled amongst sprawling streets lined with enormous green trees, nothing like the small, unremarkable town he came from. Of course, he had no idea where to find Ansel Goldwaith.

So he started to ask people around town.  

For the most part, his inquiries were regarded with unmistakeable suspicion. But then he stumbled upon bits of information: a country road, a large red house in a glade of oak trees, a big black dog behind a seven foot fence, a gravel driveway, and an empty garage in the back of the property. Unfortunately none of this gave him an idea where the house actually was. Until he met an elderly lady working in a tea shop, a lady named Elizabeth Dodsworth.

 

Elizabeth Dodsworth was quite the storyteller. She was a wrinkled but smiling woman in her late 70s who still ran her own shop in downtown Sonoma. People used words like “feisty” and “plucky” to describe her, descriptions Ms. Dodsworth herself resented. Ms. Dodsworth had been a widow for nearly twenty years, choosing not to remarry after what she called her life’s biggest mistake, also known as her ex-husband George who had left her for a gentleman lawyer. Ms. Dodsworth had been born and raised in Sonoma and knew everything about the comings and goings of her beloved town. Naturally she knew exactly where Ansel Goldwaith lived, and in fact had been a close friend of the family at one time.

“But that all ended when Mrs. Goldwaith died,” she frowned.  “An angel she was. The apple of Ansel’s eye.”
The problem was, Ms. Dodsworth liked to embellish her stories and trail off on multiple tangents well before getting to the point. “Never had kids,” she trailed off. “Not me. Not Ansel. Never saw the use in it, I guess. Ansel wanted only to focus his attentions of Deborah. And of course in my case, I married a man who didn’t know what to do with a woman.” Rick tried several times to politely interrupt her, but on and on she would go. As if no one had paid attention to her in years, which they probably had not.

“Truth be told,” Ms. Dodsworth continued. “Many years ago, back when we were in elementary, I had a raging crush on Ansel Goldwaith,” she smiled. “But then Deborah moved into town,” she said with a faraway look. “And the rest, as they say, is history.”

“Can you tell me where he lives?” Rick finally blurted out when Ms. Dodsworth was in the midst of a pause.

“No I can’t,” Ms. Dodsworth said. “But I can take you there.”

So she closed the shop early, about 5 o’clock. She walked Rick to her car, a pristine ‘58 Impala, like no other car Rick had ever seen. She set the keys in the ignition but did not start the car.

“First you need to tell me what this about?” Ms. Odds worth said with a very serious look on her face.

Inside, Rick was panicking. He felt as if his stomach was going to turn inside out and spill itself all over the floor. His mind scrambled to think of a lie, but nothing came to him. All he could think of to say was the truth.

Rick told Ms. Dodsworth his story, everything.

A silence followed during which Rick had no idea what Ms. Dodsworth would say, or do. It was her turn to make a choice. Should she help this strange boy, or send him back home? Something told her that the right thing to do was the least practical, that both Ansel Goldwaith and Rick the runaway needed to meet each other. And, if anything, it was an excuse for her to stop by Ansel’s house to see if he was still okay. It had been much too long since anyone had checked in with him.

Without a word, Ms. Dodsworth started up the Impala which gave a loud puffing rumble. She drove the short distance from town to the Goldwaith house. Rick’s heart was pounding hard in his chest as they stopped in front of the unassuming home surrounded by an unremarkable fence. Ms. Dodsworth opened her door and met him on the gravel driveway. She ushered him forward without saying a word, watching him slowly shuffle toward the front door.

Nervously Rick gently rapped on the door. He glanced back at Ms. Dodsworth who was standing at the end of the drive with her arms folded and her brow crinkled.

Then the door slowly opened.

“Yes?” said a man with white hair and beard.

“Hello Ansel,” Ms. Dodsworth greeted. Ansel looked from Rick to her.

“Beth?” Ansel said with a puzzled frown.

“Seems this boy has come a long way to speak with you,” she said. “Why don’t you take him inside from some tea, or lemonade. Whatever you drink these days.” As she said it, she walked to her car and stepped inside to drive away.

“Um,” Ansel was more confused than ever. “Come in.” Rick reluctantly followed him into the house.

Ansel sat Rick down and brought him some lemonade. After a painfully awkward silence, a long conversation ensued during which Rick did most of the talking with Ansel peppering in a question here and there. Rick told his story for the third time that day. He even presented his ideas for Ansel’s next book, and talked about how important the books were to him. He ended by saying the he had come to escape his horrible life.

“Maybe I can live here,” Rick said almost absently. “I can help you with things. I know how to cook lasagna. I can mow the lawn and clean the bathroom. Maybe even fix some things…” Rick trailed off as he suddenly became aware of how ridiculous he sounded. “I can help you write your book!” he added desperately.

“Is my book that important to you?” Ansel asked with a tone of bewilderment.

“Yes! Yes it is!” Rick nodded. “It’s important to a lot of people.”

“I see,” Ansel simply said. He took the opportunity to pour Rick some more lemonade.

“I’m sorry, but you can’t stay here,” Ansel finally began. “I understand your situation, mine was not much better growing up, but you need to go back to your family.”

Rick responded by looking down at the floor.

“I know it’s hard to believe,” Ansel said softly. “But things will get better. Just keep reading books, and do your best in school.” Ansel stopped as he realized how stereotypical that sounded. “Find what you like to do,” he began again. “And be the best at it.”

“What about your book?” Rick said as he looked up at Ansel.

“I don’t know,” Ansel sighed. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Ansel let Rick stay the night. In the morning, he had Rick call his mother who was hysterical. Ansel bought Rick a ticket home and gave him a few signed copies of his own personal favorite books. There was an almost tense quiet as Ansel drove Rick to the airport.

When he dropped Rick off, Ansel said: “I’ll keep your ideas in mind okay? Some of them are actually pretty good.” Rick couldn’t help but smile. It was the biggest compliment anyone had ever given him.

“Take care of yourself,” Ansel said as he shook Rick’s hand. Then he drove out of Rick’s his life for good and all.

 

Years later, things were actually going pretty good for Rick. His mom finally divorced Steve, swearing off marriage and boyfriends for the time being. He was a senior in high school, an editor on the yearbook, with several short stories published in some of the local universities literary journals.

Rick had all but forgotten about Ansel Goldwaith when the next book in The Cycle of Light series came out. His mom surprised him with a copy as a graduation present.

“He wrote it!” Rick nearly screamed when he opened the wrapping.

Rick read the book in less than three days, and it was better than anything he had ever imagined. The main character escaped the gobloids with the book which took him on a quest to find a wise old wizard. In the exciting climax, it became clear the main character’s act of finding the wizard had been the only way to save the wizard’s life. Then Rick got to the author’s notes:

“I met a mystery young man today who showed me the path my life needed to take. For so long, I was beseeched with darkness. It was by his light that I was able to pick up the pen and write again. But more importantly, It was by his light that I was reintroduced to Beth. And now we are very happily together. She is the new love of my life. There is really no telling where wisdom and insight can come from.”

Rick closed the book with a satisfied smile. His own path was more clear than ever. Rick only hoped that he would write as well as Ansel Goldwaith.

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