On July 3, 2003, my youngest brother, Dan, was murdered at the age of 40. He was shot in the eye with a rifle while in his bathroom. The murder was never officially solved, though the circumstances and events that followed make that extremely hard to believe.
I’ve been thinking about Dan lately, partly because his birthday just passed and the anniversary of his death is sneaking up. July 4th is a bittersweet holiday for us – my brother loved fireworks. He was always in charge of explosions on Independence Day.
Then I woke up to another mass shooting in the US. As I listened to the shock and grief of torn-apart families, I connected with that desperate wish that none of it was real, that somehow it wasn’t happening. The suddenness is wrenching – there’s no warning, no last check marks on the bucket lists, no goodbyes, no way to rewrite the story of a life into a gentler ending.
One of my old childhood chums is reading The Sorcerer’s Garden, and I mentioned that the three main characters are based, a bit, on my two brothers and me. In the book, a character named Cody is in a vegetative state after a tragic accident. By way of a magical book, he gets a revised ending and the other characters get closure. When I wrote the book, I was, in a way, rewriting the end of true tale, a real life, my brother’s life.
The Sorcerer’s Garden – a (slightly edited) snippet
His arms over his head, Cody stretched the last ache from his side. Morning light brightened the late summer gardens girding the palace. The air carried a hint of coolness, periwinkle blue and free of smoke. He’d traded his king’s blues for the leather breeches and jerkin of a northman despite his intention to head east. He wore a brimmed hat speared with a turkey feather, a fern-green cloak, and tawny silk scarf, the entire ensemble oddly mismatched as if he collected cast-offs from seven different households.
Behind him, a horse packed with gear chomped on his grandmother Lillian’s roses until Harris, the new Captain of the Queen’s Guard, took the reins and led it toward a patch of long grass. Cody nodded his thanks. He traded grips with Hart and kissed Cali and Candice on the cheek, the three survivors of the Guard who’d sworn to protect the princess. He would miss them as much as he already missed Tristan and Kyle, Danion, and Pagan. They had done what they’d vowed to do—saved a queen so she could restore a kingdom. Now, his next adventure called, the one that, not long ago, his grandmother told him needed to wait. The time for waiting had finally come to an end.
He kissed Lillian goodbye, and she smiled. Her silver hair shone in the sunlight and her butter-yellow robe flowed around her feet as she turned to face the fountain. Its perfectly round dream-crystal swirled beneath a glaze of streaming water. The stars and planets, the galaxies of the universe mutated in a kaleidoscope of colors, mysterious and tantalizing. “Your journey awaits you, child. You are finally free.”
“I wouldn’t have missed a moment of it,” he said. “Not a minute. I’ve lived a magnificent life.”
The queen strolled across the lawn, still reliant on Dustin’s arm. With her crown formally bestowed, the task of building a peaceful realm lay squarely on her shoulders. Yet, her first act had been personal, a request that Dustin stand at her side, first as friend and consort, and in time, when the land regained a sense of hope, as husband and king. He accepted, and though he didn’t look particularly regal in his armor and guard’s blues, he wore a ridiculous grin, clearly content in her company.
“All grown up and ready to go,” Dustin said, his arms open for an embrace.
“I never had any plans to grow up,” Cody assured him as they slapped each other’s backs. “But, yes, I’m ready to go. Have been for a while, though first we needed to take that one adventure together. Thank you, Dustin. ”
“I wouldn’t have missed it and have no desire to do it again,” Dustin said as they parted.
“Duty?” Cody asked.
“Choice,” Dustin replied with a smile for the queen.
“Clearly a good one then.”
The queen smirked. “I can order you to stay.”
“I don’t think you actually can.” Cody raised his eyebrows and shook his head.
“I thought you planned to go to sea.” She turned her gaze to Dustin. “Didn’t you once tell me he wished to try his hand as a brigand?”
“I think he expressed desires along those lines.” Dustin laughed.
“Another lifetime.” Cody’s lip tugged up. “There’s a river east of here I never finished exploring. That’s where I’m headed first. From there, I’ll see where this journey takes me.”
Tears welled in the queen’s eyes as she hugged him and whispered in his ear, “Thank you, Cody, for everything. For being a friend, for standing beside me, for accepting me and believing in me, for bringing Dustin into my life. I’m going to miss you terribly.”
Cody smiled and gave her a nod. He gripped his brother’s forearm and pulled him into a final embrace. “Life is an adventure, Dustin. And it’s so damn short. Promise me you won’t waste a moment. Follow the dreams that make you happy.”
With that, Cody mounted his horse and rode through the iron gates. He turned back, grinned and tipped his hat. The road beckoned, his next adventure begun.