The Search for Macadamia (an excerpt)
CHAPTER 1 – HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME
Spencer leaned into the onrushing wind to examine his face in the rearview mirror. He didn’t look any older. In the mirror, outlined by Utah’s bright blue sky, he read a sign’s backward reflection:
“Hey dad,” he said into his helmet’s intercom. “Why do mirrors reflect backward but not upside down?”
“Scientists have been puzzling on this question since the mirror was invented,” his dad said. “It has something to do with the Earth’s polarity.”
That sounded like it might be right.
They were on his dad’s hefty touring motorcycle, leaving a Salt Lake Bees baseball game. His dad was taking him home—to his mom’s house—in Kimball, Utah, twenty miles south of Salt Lake City.
When they rode up to Spencer’s driveway, Evie was barking madly in the living room window. Evie was Spencer’s West Highland terrier, a compact and sturdy dog with fluffy white fur. Today she had a pink plastic bow on her head. She settled down when Spencer worked his sweaty, matted head free from his helmet.
He ran into the house, dropped his glove, and yelled, “Surprise! Happy birthday to me! I’m home.”
Evie skidded around the corner. “Happy birthday, Spencer!” She bounced on her hind feet, scratching Spencer’s legs. “How was the game? Did you miss me? I missed you.”
“The Bees lost.”
Spencer had figured out in second grade that his grown-ups were just playing along . . . they couldn’t actually hear Evie. His mom had slipped up, remarking on Evie’s Scottish accent. Of course Evie didn’t have a Scottish accent. Sure, Westies were bred in the West Highlands of Scotland, but Evie was born in Utah and, like Spencer, had never traveled outside the state.
She ran with Spencer—who was also compact and sturdy—through the kitchen to the top of the stairs. Spencer yelled into the basement. “Mom!” He sped down, leaping over the last five steps. “Mom! Mom?” Nothing.
Before leaving the basement, he straightened a pulley on the Rube Goldberg machine—a complicated device made to handle a simple task—that his dad had encouraged him to build last year. Except Spencer’s machine kept getting even more complicated. He linked together billiard balls, water bottles, a pinewood derby car, and a swinging croquet mallet . . . just to turn on the laundry room light.
“Your mom went out back,” Evie said, dodging Spencer’s feet as she bounded up the stairs beside him. Her tail was a white blur, but her face was scrunched. “Hold on. Will you get this stupid thing off me?”
Spencer sat down and unclipped the bow. Evie shook out her fur, put her front paws on Spencer’s chest, and licked his cheek with her quick tongue. “You’re salty.”
He dried his face on his shirt. “Gross.”
Evie was confused by his sour look. “Why are you sad on your birthday?”
“Summertime birthdays are a drag. I don’t get a real party.”
“But summertime kids get cake twice.” That part was right. Back in May, Spencer’s class had sung the birthday song for all the kids with summer birthdays, smashing six kids’ names together: Haaaa-pee biiiir-thdaaaay, deeeear Sawyer-Ally-Noah-Ashley-Spencer-and-Eeeethan. Then they gorged on cupcakes. It was hard to explain why a party for six kids, all at once, was the opposite of special.
“And you get presents with your cake this time,” Evie added cheerfully.
“You know they’re just school clothes.” Spencer ran out the back door into the yard with Evie following. “And it’s that sugar-free vegan cake—chalky as usual.”
“It’s still better than dog food.”
“You can have most of mine,” Spencer said, “but don’t be obvious about it.”
Evie halted when she saw they were headed into the Chamber of a Hundred Terrors.
“Evie, c’mon. The workshop isn’t dangerous if you’re careful.”
“I’m good out here.”
“I’m not even working on anything. I’ll keep all the scary machines off.” Evie planted her butt on the lawn. Spencer rolled his eyes. “Fine. Be a chicken.” In the shop, Spencer slowed as he rounded the drill press and band saw.
His folks weren’t easy together, so when the divorce came four years ago, it wasn’t a surprise to anyone. When they broke the news, Spencer negotiated to keep the workshop fully equipped. On his seventh birthday—his last before the divorce—his dad had taught him to use the band saw when they built a trebuchet, a medieval war machine. Since then, four school projects and a dozen just-for-fun projects had been crafted in this workshop.
His mom’s 15-speed road bike wasn’t in its place. He sprinted around to the driveway but throttled back when he heard his parents talking.
“You know I don’t approve of him riding on the back of your midlife-crisis cycle,” his mom said.
Spencer peeked around the corner to see his dad rolling his eyes.
“It’s his birthday. And you seem fine with him trail riding by himself on that little 65cc at your dad’s ranch.”
“I don’t love that either—and neither does Dr. Barnes.”
His dad exhaled loudly. “Phil Barnes sees Spencer an hour a week. I think I know my own son a little better. Besides, riding a minibike requires focus.”
“Spencer stays focused during his episodes. That’s not the issue.”
“So what is the issue?” Before the argument could continue, his dad spotted Spencer slow-walking up the driveway.
His mom caught on and changed the subject. “So how’s Madi?” Madi was Spencer’s older half sister from one of his dad’s previous marriages.
“She quit gymnastics—outgrew it, literally. She says five foot four is just too tall for the sport.” His dad put his hands in his pockets and stared down at his boots. “I guess Madi didn’t love it as much as her mom and I thought.”
His mom turned to Spencer. “Did you have fun?” She tousled his hair, but her hand came up soaked with his sweat. “Spencer Argus Delucian. You better be cleaned up for your birthday dinner.” She grimaced and wiped her hand on her shirt.
“Okay. Love you. I’ll be back in an hour.”
Together, Spencer and his dad watched her pedal away. “Spencer, do you know why bikes can’t stand up on their own?”
“Because they’re two tired?”
“Already know that one, do ya?”
“I know all your dad jokes,” Spencer said.
Back in the living room, his dad plopped on the old familiar couch and grabbed a bowl of mixed nuts, shells still on.
“We’re not supposed to eat those,” Spencer said.
“Then why are they out here?”
“They’re for mom’s poker night.”
“Well I bet . . . she won’t even notice.”
Spencer gave a half-hearted smirk. “Puns don’t count.”
Spencer tilted his head in the mirror above the fireplace. “Are reflections in the southern hemisphere upside down?”
“Of course, but everything is, so it seems normal.” His dad thumped the couch, inviting Evie up with him. She hopped up and barked, following the nuts from the bowl, to the nutcracker, to his lips.
“Evie, you know you’re not supposed to be up there.” Evie ignored Spencer.
His dad waved a finger in the air, protesting. “Evie knows the rule: she’s not to be on the couch—when your mom’s home.”
“That’s not—” Spencer stopped to wonder. It made sense but didn’t feel right. Evie smirked and went right back to begging.
“Check it out.” His dad pulled a double CD from behind his back. “Happy birthday.”
Spencer took it. “Whoa. Awesome.” It was a Pearl Jam concert recording.
“It’s from Madi. She didn’t have any wrapping paper. Did you hear me tell your mom that your sister quit gymnastics?”
“You still love swimming, right? You’re amazing at it—a little marlin.”
“I’m the wahoo,” Spencer corrected.
“Marlins are the fastest fish in the sea. That’s Clark Jones. I’m the fourth fastest on the team. That makes me the wahoo.”
“A wahoo. I love it.”
His dad didn’t notice that Spencer never answered the question. Actually, Spencer wasn’t even sure he liked swimming. It was just something he was good at.
His dad put his feet up on the coffee table. Spencer and Evie knew—and his dad knew too—no feet on the table was a full-time rule.
“I know you know your directions better than most kids. Heck, better than most adults.” The compliment was directed at himself as much as Spencer. “But here’s another puzzle for you: Why do you suppose it is that if you walk north far enough, you’ll reach the North Pole . . . and if you keep walking, you start back south again? But if you walk west forever, you just keep going west?”
Spencer stared out the window, pondering directions, mirrors, and polarity. A sharp wind carried the neighbor’s grass clippings down the street along with a curtain of dust. Somewhere, a hidden passageway within his mind broke open. He was suddenly carrying the handheld mirror from his mom’s bathroom, walking north for a hundred feet, then a hundred miles.
“Where are we headed?” Evie asked, as always, by his side.
“To the North Pole.”
“To see Santa?”
“Don’t be silly.”
Together they walked another thousand miles under the icy silver skies of the Arctic. He reached his destination, the exact spot where all the world’s meridians intersect. It was marked by a twenty-foot bronze compass, rising above the snowy crust like a pitcher’s mound. The compass pointed south in all directions. Spencer held his foot above the absolute center of the compass and concentrated on the mirror.
Evie danced to keep her feet off the ice. “What’s it look like? What do you see? I’m freezing.”
His reflection split like an orange with thirty-six sections, wanting to peel apart and reassemble itself upside down into its vertical reverse. But it couldn’t. Spencer’s reflection was suspended in polar space—
“Spencer?” Spencer was yanked back from his mental adventure. “Did I lose you there?”
Outside, all was still again. There was no wind, no icy silver path leading north. No bronze compass.
Spencer faced his dad. “You can’t walk to the North Pole.” It was a fact so obvious it didn’t need stating. But Dr. Barnes had told him it might help if he said these things out loud, in the moment—just to himself.
That made him think of October, in fourth grade, when Hannah Wilson suggested that the whole class go to Disneyland for fall break. It was absurd, but his teacher, Mrs. Strong, said, “Okay. We’ll leave tomorrow.” She had seemed so earnest. Everyone cheered.
Spencer couldn’t believe it, but he had believed it. He had pictured it clearly in his mind, felt the speeding and the spinning rides, tasted the cotton candy, talked with Captain Jack Sparrow . . .
The next morning Spencer went to school carrying a suitcase packed for a five-day vacation. The whole class burst into laughter. Mrs. Strong did too, for a split second, then yelled at everyone. It was worse than coming to school naked. Mrs. Strong finally returned to the board and started the day, but the snickering bubbled up every time one of the kids looked at his suitcase.
During their spelling pretest, one of the words was satchel. When Mrs. Strong said it, Hannah raised her hand and asked, “Is a satchel kinda like a suitcase?” The laughter was volcanic. Mrs. Strong was forced to stop the test.
He often forgot to do what Dr. Barnes had taught him until it was too late. If he had said aloud, “We’re not really going to Disneyland,” back when Hannah had first mentioned it, none of that would’ve happened.
“What’s the latest from your therapist? What’s his name—Barney?”
“Dad, you know his name.”
“So what’s Dr. Phil telling you?”
“He says it’s up to me, which I think just means he doesn’t know what to do.” Spencer shoved his hands in his pockets and stepped away from the window.
His dad cracked another nut. “You don’t think it’s up to you?”
Spencer resumed studying the living room mirror. “No. Nothing’s up to me. I’m just a kid—a little kid.”
“You’re not that little.”
“Only Jack and Emily are shorter.” Spencer’s birthday cards were set upright on the mantle. The one from his mom was signed Love, me.
“Dad, why is I capitalized, but me isn’t?”
“Lots of silly rules in the English language. Teachers put them there to torment kids.”
“Those English teachers . . . they’re a laugh riot. Kiddo, you know what this is called?” Spencer watched the pile of cracked shells and nut dust spill from the coffee table onto the floor. His dad had a big, dark, semi-triangular nut pinned in the nutcracker. “It’s called a Brazil nut,” his dad said, splintering the shell open.
He tossed the smooth nut to Spencer. When he bit into the soft meat, he immediately gagged. “Aww! Dad! Barf!”
His dad chuckled while Spencer ran to the kitchen to spit the nasty thing into the sink.
“I’ll take it,” Evie said, tail wagging.
“No. They’re probably poison.”
“I know something Brazil nuts are good for,” Spencer’s dad said, walking through the kitchen. He went out the back door, headed to the workshop, and pulled down a tattered cardboard box from the rafters. The sight of pinball machine parts in the box brought a warm flush to his cheeks. He wiped a single tear away before Spencer could see it.
(end of excerpt)
FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER, SPENCER WILL BE MAKING HIS OWN CHOICES...
figuring out which ethical lines to cross while dodging monsters and slave-traders…and of course, finding Macadamia.
“thoroughly entertaining…no clichés and no falling back on what’s already been written…a chance for young readers to visit places in the world that many might never have heard of”
-Leah Pileggi, author of Prisoner 88
The Search for Macadamia, a Quest Most Noble won the 2021 Utah Original Writing Competition, sponsored by the Utah Department of Heritage & Arts.
For the full-cast audiobook, 20+ actors (we lost count), mostly students, faculty, and alumni of West High School in Salt Lake City, portrayed all 60 characters. When you buy this immersive audiobook, 100% of author royalties go to the drama program at West High.
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