I finally got through major edit number two for my current work, Red Cliff. Or at least that’s the developer name. Some pretty major changes since the last time I posted a snippet, so I thought it’d stick the first chapter up here as a sample. I know there’s still some editing work to do, and I can’t get the text formatting right on the web browser, but if you can get past that, I hope you enjoy it.

Side note: I’m super happy that I somehow found exactly the picture I wanted on Pixabay within 5 seconds. I don’t think that’s ever happened before. I know attribution isn’t required, but thanks kidsnetsoft0–whoever you are–for posting that.

Inside the mailbox, there’s real life letter. Sadbhb Farnsworth—my name—is handwritten on the front. I think I would have been less surprised to find a unicorn.

It’s not an e-mail, or a text, or a tweet, or an Instagram post, or a Facebook message. A friggin’ handwritten letter.

Pictures of cartoon robots dance around the envelope. My eyes quickly search for the return address, my heart nearly beating out of my chest in anticipation. When I find it, I just about die.

Boinga Bots.

“Oh crap,” I say in a wobbly voice. Did they actually accept me? I glance up to see if there’s anyone around to rope into my personal celebration, but I’m alone on the street except for the rows and rows of evergreen trees that continue on all the way to the Oregon border.

Sweat trickles from my hand onto the envelope, slightly smearing my name. “No! Don’t do that!” I yelp. Before I ruin the greatest prize I’ve ever received, I pull out the rest of the mound of mail from the tiny metallic box. I have to read the letter right away, but I can’t do it here. I jump on my bike, its aging gears squealing as I pedal, and hustle the last fifty meters down the block to my house.

Brown flecks of paint fall off the exterior walls of our tiny house as I tear open the front door, revealing a dimly lit interior that’s somehow smaller on the inside. Even though the house was built around the time my Great Uncle Philo Farnsworth was figuring out how to put together the very first television, it’s new to Dad and me. Downsizing and all that. We’ve been here just over a year and I still haven’t invited any of my friends over. Today, none of that bothers me. I have a letter to read.

The kitchen table threatens to collapse as I throw the rest of the junk mail onto it. I grab a ratty towel that’s been looped around the fridge handle, quickly wiping the sweat off my hands and arms from my bike ride home from Ashland High. If I’d known what was waiting for me in the mailbox, I would have begged Jessica for a ride home, damn the consequences of her finding out where I live.

With fingers trembling in anticipation, I carefully tear into the Boinga Bots envelope, making sure not to damage the contents. If this what I think it is, I’m framing it on my wall. I pull out a piece of fancy stationary that matches the envelope with more dancing robots. It’s as cheesy as hell, but they’re Boinga Bots. I’d even dress as one of those dumb little robots if it gets me the job. The letter, like my name on front, is handwritten. I have to hold my breath to keep from racing through the text.


Dear Sadhbh Farnsworth (Pronounced Sive, rhymes with five),

E-mails are so impersonal, and your work is so impressive (ohmygosh), I needed to write this out by hand.

We received your application and your sample project, and, needless to say, we loved it (Yay!). That’s why we’ve selected you, out of hundreds of applicants, to be part of our team to prepare for the World Maker Faire in New York (a.k.a. Paradise).

You should know that the position isn’t paid (there’s the kicker), but all our past interns leave here with more scholarship offers than they know now to handle. Based on what I’ve seen from your work, I would expect the same thing for you.

If you accept, send me an e-mail as soon as possible (he included his e-mail address, but I’m not giving it out).

All the Best

Tom Redding


My body collapses into the nearest kitchen chair, the cracked vinyl digging into my thighs. “Tom Redding loves my work,” I say in a haze. “Tom frickin’ Redding.”

Never in a million years did I actually think he’d accept me. I’ve been on the Maker scene since before I could walk, always trying to create something cool or interesting to get noticed, but so far the most success I’ve had is a few hundred Reddit requests for the designs of a 3D printed cell phone case of a My Little Pony character. It ranks among my least interesting creations, yet it’s the only one to come anywhere close to catching on.

This letter changes everything. Working for Tom Redding and Boinga Bots will get my name published in every Maker magazine, put my creations on YouTube channels with hundreds of thousands of subscribers, maybe even get me featured on Engadget. I could finally make a difference. All I have to is convince my dad to dig himself even deeper into debt to send me to New York. A light flickers overhead, and a plan comes to mind. Get on his good side. Make everything as nice as possible before he comes home.

I start with the junk mail pile, the weekly Farnsworth family boon of car dealership ads, Chinese restaurant takeout fliers, and deals for every grocery store in the Rogue Valley. I pick out a couple of medical bills marked Final Notice and sort them in a folder next to the fridge with the other Final Notices accumulated over the past two years. I throw everything else in the recycling except an Albertson’s ad that promises a discount on Oreos. A girl needs to celebrate.

The overhead light flickers again, demanding my attention. “Alright, alright, I’ll get to you next.” Maybe fixing one old florescent light fixture won’t be enough to justify sending me to New York, but I have to start somewhere. I pull over the same rickety kitchen chair I’d just sat in and step up to take a look. The plastic cover comes off easy enough, but some moron used what looks like eyeglasses screws to hide the internal bits.

“I know I have one of those,” I say to myself, proving that every inventor is at least a little crazy.

My cell phone rings as I’m heading to my room. The phone is customized piece, or as customized as cell phones allow, which means I sacrificed looks, convenience, weight, and design so I could choose my own WiFi antenna and add in an extra module of RAM. In terms of practicality, it ranks somewhere near “ludicrous,” but I wouldn’t have it any other way. The display shows that my super judgmental Grandma is calling. Normally, I’d ignore her. This time, it gives me at least one person to share my good news.

“Guess what, Grandma?” I nearly squeal as I answer the phone, then continue before she can actually guess, “I got the internship with Boinga Bots!”

“That’s wonderful, Sadhbh,” she says in her sleek, dignified way that somehow permeates through the phone. “Of course they chose you. Your work is amazing.”

I’m still smiling as I stumble over the piles of clothes that guard my bedroom door. The room itself is as small as the rest of the house, but I’ve managed to fit in a bed, a dresser, and my ever important work desk, though it leaves almost no space for anything else.

“I’ve never been to New York before,” I ramble on as I search my bins of tools and parts for a screwdriver small enough to work on the kitchen light, “do you think I’ll like it?”

Grandma pauses a minute before responding. Frustration swells inside of me before she answers. Why did I bother telling her? She was never going to let me celebrate in peace. “Sadhbh,” she says, “what about the other offer? Have you heard back from them yet?”

“No,” I respond flatly.

“Don’t forget your promise, Sadhbh. You said you’d take it if you got it.”

“But it’s Boinga Bots,” I counter, like that name means anything to her other than as an obsession of her teenage granddaughter. I desperately try to explain it in a way she’ll understand. “The interns last year all went full ride to MIT! How can you ask me to pass on that?”

“Sadhbh. . .” she says patiently. I hang up before she can keep on going.

Total jerk thing to do, but I didn’t want to have my moment of glory extinguished. She’s right, though. I made a deal. She’d found me a paid summer internship in Vail, Colorado. If they accept me, I take it. No exceptions. Looking around the room, at the water-damaged ceiling, the orange shag carpet screaming to be put out of its misery, I know we need the money. But Boinga Bots. . .

The phone rings again. Grandma calling back. I can’t handle it right now. I’ll have to apologize to her later. Most likely she’ll reciprocate with a long lecture on attitude or courtesy or etiquette, but that’s a worry for another time.

Back to the search for the screwdriver. I’m sure it’s not hidden in my room, despite the mess. I try to focus on the last time I used it. It’s really only good for glasses—well, glasses and light fixtures designed by idiots. I don’t wear glasses, but my dad does. Maybe I let him borrow it.

As I enter his room—slightly larger than mine, but still not about to be featured on HGTV unless it’s part of an extreme makeover show—I remember the last time I used the screwdriver. It was two years ago when we were heading to the funeral. Despite being dressed in his best suit, Dad was a total mess. I’d never seen him like that before. He was always the calm, stoic, logical nerd who perceives emotions as boxes on a flowchart to determine how to react to other human beings. Mom was always the one in tuned to feelings.

That day, though, he was on the verge of falling apart. The glasses finally pushed him over. He took them off to wipe a speck of dirt, and a screw fell out. My dad got on his hands and knees to find it, then crumpled in a ball, crying like a baby.

I didn’t know what to do. My dad was my hero, my idol, and he totally lost it. So I did the only thing I could think to do: get the screwdriver and fix his glasses.

He thanked me when it was done. I wasn’t sure what to do next. Hug him? Pat his arm? That was all Mom’s expertise, and I was busy trying to pretend she never existed. So I clean the glasses with the hem of my skirt and handed everything to him, including the small screwdriver. “In case it happens again,” I lamely told him.

“Thanks, Si-bear,” he said, using his corny nickname for me. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

That was the last I saw of it. I move to Dad’s closet, unsure what he brought along during last year’s move. He might have donated the suit to Goodwill or tried to sell it online. Thankfully, though, I easily find the suit, dust betraying its disuse. His latest job considers a stain-free T-Shirt as dressing up, so that’s unlikely to change any time soon.

I reach into the pants pockets, which come out empty. In the jacket pocket, my hand hits something hard. I grab the object, and instantly know it’s not what I’m looking for. Totally wrong shape. Yet I bring it out anyway.

My hand wraps around the pendant of a necklace. The chain of the necklace is gorgeous: the links are made of something expensive, likely platinum, and there’s a tiny bit of impurity to each loop as evidence that it was made by hand. The metal is worn but not tarnished. The chain alone must be worth thousands, more than enough to send me to Boinga Bots, maybe even enough to lift some of Dad’s crushing debt.

What really catches my eye, though, is the pendant. It’s dreadfully plain, especially compared to the elaborate chain. The metal is cheap—sterling silver or stainless steel. The design is a simple circle with a heart stamped on it. It’d look more appropriate attached to a dog’s collar than on this chain.

“Why do you have this, Dad?” I wonder aloud as I look up and down the chain. “I know Mom complained about your fashion sense, but even you’d know this doesn’t work.”

When I get back to the pendant, I rub my thumb over the etched heart. Nothing special, almost certainly done by a machine that spits out thousands of them a day. Then a flip it over, not really expecting to find anything.

I’m wrong. A string random letters are engraved on the back. A shortened URL link, like the annoying ones shared on Twitter that give no information on what rabbit hole you’re heading down before you click it.

“What the hell?” I say to myself. All thoughts of the screwdriver flee my mind. There’s no way I’m leaving this link unclicked.

I head to my room and sit down at my computer, a desktop I cobbled together from a pile of discarded computer parts. The web browser pops up at my command, patiently waiting instructions. I type in the link.

After about two seconds, a garish green background loads up. It’s a uniform light green that makes me want to puke. No formatting, no images, nothing. It looks like it was created by someone who hadn’t quite made it past the first chapter of “Websites for Dummies.”

Another second passes, and black text appears in the top right hand corner of the page.

‘Sabdhd, I love you. Mom.’

My heart skips a beat. She left me a message. Yes, it was a simple message on an amateur website found through a tacky piece of jewelry. But still a message. That she loves me.

A single tear wells up in my eye, which I quickly push aside. I don’t cry. “I love you too, Mom,” I whisper to the monitor. “I just can’t forgive you.”

My phone rings again. “Alright, Grandma, I’m ready for my lecture,” I mutter as I pick it up. It’s not Grandma, though. It’s a phone number I don’t recognize, area code 970. I press the answer button and tentatively lift it to my ear. “Hello?”

“Hey, there!” a voice that would be perfect for a cleaning product infomercial explodes over the line, “I’m looking for. . .Sad. . .buh Farnsworth.”

“It’s pronounced ‘Sive’,” I correct him, unfortunately used to the mispronunciation.

“Oh, ‘Sive,’ that’s so cool,” he rushes on like we were on a Disney jungle safari with him as the official tour guide. “That’s Irish, right?”

“Uh, yeah. . .” I’m caught off guard, both by his enthusiasm, and that he somehow knew the origin of my name but not how to pronounce it.

“Awesome. My name is Alan Kennedy, and I wanted to personally congratulate you on your new job!”

My heart starts to flutter. First the letter, now a call welcoming me to the team. This day couldn’t get any better. “

“Boinga What? No, I’m from Vail Hotel Services!”

A hammer drops in my chest. I have a hard time breathing. For a moment, tears threaten to spill out of my eyes, but I push them back. Mom cried. I don’t. I’m too strong for that. “Oh,” is all I can manage to get out.

“You’ll love it here, ‘Sive’!” Alan steamrolls on, even sentence ending with a verbal exclamation mark. “You’ll receive an e-mail soon with all the details, but I’m excited to see you! This place will really change your life!”

I could already see my life changing. No internship in New York. No scholarship to MIT. After one measly summer in Colorado I’ll be stuck in Ashland for the rest of my life, aspiring to become a barista at some trendy coffee shop in Portland if I really play my cards right.

What would I even do in Vail in the summer? Isn’t it a skiing town? Grandma swore her bishop’s son had the greatest time ever doing it a few years back, but it all seemed wrong. If only I hadn’t promised I would take the job if I got it.

Stupid, stupid promises.

Alan continues on, listing out what fantastic adventures lie ahead. His up-tempo voice grates on me like a seizure inducing PR video promising SUCH AMAZE! MUCH WOW! My hands start to shake as I hear this energetic camp counselor wannabe suck away my vision of the future. My hand reaches up to my desk, nervously flipping on my ‘Leave Me The Hell Alone’ box, which, once flipped, reaches out a hand and turns itself off. If only I could flip off this conversation.

“I can’t wait to meet you in person ‘Sive’! Orientation starts May 1st. Don’t miss it!”

“I’ll see you then,” I croak.

With the phone call over, my body slumps into the chair. It’s all I can do not to curl up in a ball and give up for a few days. Mom’s ugly website is still on my computer screen, its puke green background somehow perfectly representing my life.

As I sit there moping for what felt like days, the screen flickers. I sit up, worried that the old monitor is starting to go. It takes me a moment to realize that the website has changed. When I figure out the difference, my blood freezes, my eyes shoot wide. The text has changed. It’s impossible. It can’t be from my mom. It’s something she couldn’t have possibly known.

‘Sabdhd. Don’t go to