Author Spotlight: Darren Simon and “Guardian’s Nightmare”

GN Cover

Here are some questions author Darren Simon responded to regarding his book, Guardian’s Nightmare.

Tell us a bit about your new book, Guardian’s Nightmare:
It’s a middle-grade young adult urban fantasy novel set in San Francisco. It’s meant to be a fun, exciting read—but one parents can feel comfortable allowing their children to read. The story centers around a thirteen-year-old girl, Charlee Smelton, who is going through a rough patch in her life after the family’s move to San Francisco. The move has left her feeling estranged from her father and like an outcast at her new school, where she finds herself bullied. Then one day she receives a gift of the ugliest bike she has ever seen, one she just can’t seem to get rid of no matter how hard she tries. And every time she touches the bike she suffers a painful electric jolt. Soon after receiving the bike, strange dreams come of a world across a dimensional divide where a princess is in danger from a dark knight. Little does Charlee know her life is about to take a frightening turn, one where she must discover the hero in herself—with the help of that hunk-of-junk-bike—to save her family, her city, the world from an evil only she can defeat. An evil she allows into this world.

What made you come up with the premise?
As seems to be a growing trend in my writing, I started with one incident from my own youth where I felt like something of an outcast at the school I attended after my family moved. It is kind of difficult to say whether I built the book around a character or an incident or both. Then, a key piece to the book is the bike, and I can tell you that I loved riding when I was a kid, and I always imagined what it would be like to have a bike with powers. It was just a natural fit into this story.

What inspired you to write the book?
I knew at some point I wanted to write a book. That’s why I focused my education and my career on writing. I also knew I wanted to write fantasy and even science fiction for younger readers to inspire them to read the way I was inspired when I was a boy and a teen to read. As a boy, I couldn’t wait to get enough money to go to the bookstore in the mall to purchase a book. I cannot say there was specific inspiration to write this book—just inspiration to write. Before this book, I built up about twenty fantasy and science fiction short stories. I even wrote half of a science fiction novel, which I may return to after other projects are complete, about pen pals across the universe. When I was in school pen pals across states were the big thing as a way to practice our writing. I imagined a story about pen pals light years away who decide to meet. My point is, I just wanted to write, and this particular story, Guardian’s Nightmare, just stuck with me for some reason. When I started it, I had to finish it. By the way, when I first wrote the novel, the lead was a boy named Charlie Smelton, but along the way a recommendation was made that perhaps the character might work better as a girl. I tried the switch for a few chapters and found I really did like the character as a girl, and so Charlee Smelton was created.

What was it that made you realize you wanted to be a writer?
There were a couple of pivotal moments in my life that led me down this path. First was when I was just a boy and my grandmother gave me a brown paper bag filled with old DC comic books. I don’t remember where she got them from, but those comic books turned me into a reader. I loved them, and I became a big comic book fan. And from comic books, I got into the Choose Your Own Adventure Dungeon and Dragon books, and from there I got into longer fantasy and sci-fi novels. But it was that first brown bag of comics that made me a reader and once I become a reader I also wanted to write. In school, when the teacher would give the class, a creative writing assignment, most kids wrote one page—I wrote several. I just really enjoyed it. The second moment in my life came in the summer of 1984 when the movie, Ghostbusters, was released. When I saw it, I was amazed at how funny it was and how it made people laugh. I wondered who the writers were because I wanted to create words to make people react the way they had. After seeing the movie, I went home and wrote the opening pages of my version of Ghostbusters II. More importantly, that year I started high school, and as an elective instead of taking wood shop or auto mechanics, I took a journalism class, so I could have a chance to write. My future was set because in college I majored in journalism and I became a newspaper journalist. I have been writing ever since.

DarrenAuthor Bio:

Darren Simon is a former longtime newspaper journalist who now works in government affairs on California water issues and teaches college English. In his spare time, he is a freelance magazine writer. Guardian’s Nightmare is his first novel. The second book in the series is also under contract with Divertir Publishing. He resides in California’s desert southwest with his wife, two sons and two crazy dogs.

Blurb for the book:

Charlee Smelton is an average thirteen-year-old girl struggling to adapt after her family moves to San Francisco. She thinks her biggest obstacle is facing the bullies who brand her a nerd and a dweeb. She’s wrong. Her life is about to change—for the worse.

First, she receives a gift of the ugliest, most old fashioned bike she has ever seen. Try as she might to ditch it in the city, she just can’t seem to escape that very mysterious two-wheeler. Then come the visions of a world across a dimensional divide, a princess in fear for her life and a dark knight pursuing her. Are they just dreams or something more?

For Charlee, everything she ever thought she knew about herself soon crumbles as she starts down a path to discover her true self, and she will need that hunk-of-junk bike more than she could ever imagine. Without it, she might not be able to find the hero in herself—the hero she must become to save her friends, family, her city—the world—from an evil only she can defeat. An evil she allows into this world.

Chapter 8

Okay, Bike. Now What?

Charlee stepped cautiously to the glowing two-wheeler. “Okay, bike. I’m here. What do you want?” The bike remained motionless, silent. Its pulsating glow surrounded Charlee.

“Hey bike, remember all those mean things I said about you? Can we forget about that? I didn’t mean it. Sorry for ditching you in the alley. Let’s just be friends. I’m about to put my hands on you. Please don’t hurt me.”

Teeth clenched in preparation of the jolt sure to come, she reached for the bike with both hands. She counted down—three… two… one—then her hands grasped the handlebars. Nothing! No lightning strike. No explosion. Nothing happened at all. The chrome felt warm, as if the bike had been left outside on a hot summer day. Other than that, life seemed unchanged.

Charlee glared at the bike. The glowing light had disappeared, and she stood in the garage, gripping the most hideous bike ever. “Did I imagine everything? Was I sleepwalking? Am I asleep right now in my bed? Is this part of a dream?”

She swung her leg over the frame and sat on the banana seat… maybe to tempt fate. More warmth rose throughout her body, but still no stinging burst of energy to signal the start of some momentous change. “Dumb bike. What a joke! You’re nothing but a pile of rusting—”

Her words vanished when the garage door slid open on its own, revealing a sleeping street in the dark hours of early morning. No, not again! Outside, a light breeze ruffled the leaves in the trees. From the distance came the screech of fighting cats. Except for these sounds, stillness filled the night.

“Okay. This is very weird and very wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong! This can’t be happening. There’s no way. I must be dreaming. That’s it. I’m dreaming—and now I’d like to wake up, please.” Charlee pinched herself. Nothing changed. She remained in the garage on the bike, staring at the street. “Listen, bike. This has been fun and all, but I think I’m going to go back inside now. Okay?”

But slowly, with Charlee still on the banana seat, the bike rolled out of the garage, down the driveway, and onto the sidewalk. She tried to lift her hands from the handlebars, but… they’re stuck! She braced her feet on the cement but the bike kept moving forward.

“Mom, Dad… help me!” she cried but her words echoed back at her as if they had bounced off some invisible force field. “Anyone, please help!” Again her words hit an unseen wall, like she was in some kind of box surrounding her and the bike.

Charlee wrestled to free her hands. “Bike, let me go! I promise I won’t say another mean thing about you. I’ll ride you to school every day. I’ll clean you. I’ll make sure your chain is greased. Just stop.”

The bike came to a stop in the street and finally she was able to let go. “All right, bike. I’m just going to get off slowly and then I’ll take you back into the garage. We’ll both get some sleep and tomorrow we can go to school together.” She smiled nervously. “Doesn’t that sound ni—”

Like a bullet the bike shot forward. Charlee strained against the G-forces, which were stronger than in any roller coaster she’d ever ridden. Her vision tunneled in on itself. She was blacking out.

“What’s happening?” The onrushing wind swallowed the words. The bike zipped down the street—past one block, then another and another. They raced up steep-hilled streets, jumping at the peaks, and flying down the other sides. She fought to keep her eyes open against the dizzying streaks of light rushing by. Queasiness set in. Charlee’s stomach rolled over and over. She was going to be sick.

“Stop!” she shouted. The bike heeded her command. Just as suddenly as the ride began, it ended. Charlee’s feet flew above her head as she flipped over the handlebars. Her body slammed against the cold, unforgiving pavement and rolled several times before coming to a stop.

“Owww!” She lay on the cement staring up at the night sky watching the stars spin. The vomit came in disgusting bursts. When it was over, she rolled back and closed her eyes. She didn’t open them again until the world stopped spinning. After the nausea subsided, Charlee stood on wobbly legs. When another bout of nausea returned she hunched over and spotted her glasses on the sidewalk.

She chuckled weakly. “They must have blown off my face.”

Charlee bent down to pick them up and placed them back atop her nose, but the lenses must have cracked or been scratched. Everything looked fuzzy. She checked her glasses for any breaks but other than a few spots of dirt they were fine. Placing them back on her face, the hazy vision returned.

“Wait a second.” She lifted away the glasses and the world around was clear. “Very weird.”

Charlee staggered to the bike. “Wh… what’s going on here? Are you trying to get back at me? Is that what this is? You know, you could have at least let me put on my clothes. You think I want the world to see me in my pajamas?”

The bike stared with its front reflector. Did she expect a response? Anything was possible. This was no ordinary bike. Maybe it could talk. Maybe it could explain for what purpose it had dragged her out here in the middle of the night.

Charlee’s eyes swept over the street. It was a more affluent neighborhood. The homes here were large, many gated. The neighborhood was asleep except for the pale glow cast by lamp posts. “What is it, bike? Why are we here?” The bike stood silent.

She placed a hand on the banana seat, triggering a new sensation. Instead of a painful zap, she felt invigorated—even powerful. She was more alert, her senses heightened. Placing the glasses in her pajama pocket, she surveyed the neighborhood with eyes that saw sharper than they ever did even with glasses. Staring down the street, Charlee could read the license plate number of a car parked eight houses away, make out the tiny lettering of a family’s last name over a doorway ten houses down and spot the yellow eyes of a cat peeking from underneath a pickup two blocks away.

Charlee gasped. More changes followed. She heard things—not just rustling leaves or dogs barking in the distance, but sounds no normal human ear would be able to detect from where she stood—a man snoring in his bed, a baby breathing deeply in its crib and a caterpillar inching up a tree.

Then… footsteps! Someone was slipping through the backyard of the house across the street.

“Bike, maybe it’s just someone locked out of their house.” She listened again and reached a different conclusion as she heard tools clanging in a bag slung across the intruder’s back.

Charlee removed her hand from the bike seat. The sounds disappeared, but the sense of trouble remained. “I think someone’s about to break into that house. But what if I’m wrong? I can’t just start shouting and wake up everybody on this street. They’d think I was a lunatic or something. I’d be in trouble for sure. Is this why you brought me here? What am I supposed to do?”

She reached for a cell phone but remembered she hadn’t brought it. “I could have made a call to the police if I had remembered my cell phone. See, bike, you should have let me get my head straight before bringing me out here.”

She paced back and forth. “What am I supposed to do? Can I trust my senses? Can I trust the bike? No! Before I do anything, I need proof.”

Charlee sprinted across the street to the house where she’d heard the suspicious noises. At the front yard, she slowed and tiptoed up to the fence that ran along the side of the house. What was she doing? She should turn around and walk home. Leave the bike here.

As if she were someone else—someone braver—Charlee opened the fence and slowly crept to the back of the house, body pressed up against the wall’s rough surface. Please don’t let a thief be here. Let me be wrong. Her heart sank when she spied the outlines of a large man kneeling at the back door of the house. It looked like he was trying to cut some kind of wire, perhaps to an alarm system. Any minute now, the unwanted night visitor would break in. She couldn’t let that happen.

But what could she do—scream? That would alert everyone inside of the danger. Sure, it wasn’t exactly what a hero would do, but maybe the man would be frightened and run away. She flattened against the wall and prepared to belt out the loudest scream she had. Unfortunately, at that moment something else caught her attention—something huge with eight spindly legs.

The spider crawled from the wall onto Charlee’s shoulder and then onto her neck. As the first spidery legs touched skin, she spun in a wild dance to shake off the creature. Mistake! Charlee jumped away from the wall and stood in full view.

She hoped the prowler’s attention had been focused elsewhere but it hadn’t. He rose to his feet then scrambled toward her, a long, silvery wrench clutched tightly in a black gloved hand. Scream now! But she couldn’t even swallow. She just stared.

The man, dressed in black, from his sweatpants to his sweatshirt all the way up to the ski mask over his face, stopped just a couple of steps away.

Think fast! “Uh, is this the Peterson house?” Charlee whispered. “I have a pizza delivery.” The masked man just stood there, his head tilted. “I guess not,” Charlee backed away. “I guess I got the wrong house. Sorry. I’ll be going now.”

“I don’t think so.” The man spoke in a throaty, threatening voice. He took a step forward, still clutching the wrench.

“I’ll yell,” Charlee warned. “Everyone will hear and come running.”

The man clearly had no fear of a thirteen-year-old girl in pajamas. He smiled through a hole cut in the ski mask, exposing yellow teeth that glowed in the night. “Do it, kid, and I’ll make sure it’s the last sound you ever make. I’ve killed before and I can do it again. Go ahead, scream.”

Shivering with fear, Charlee struggled just to breathe. How did she get herself into this? How would she get herself out of this? She tried to scream, “Help!” It came out as barely a squeak.

The would-be thief raised the wrench over his head. “Sorry, kid. I can’t have any witnesses.”

Charlee tripped over her own feet and toppled to the grass. At that moment she did the only thing she could think of. In a shaky voice, just above a whisper, she called to the two-wheeler. “Bike, I need your help—now!”

“Get up!” The man reached down with his free hand and clasped Charlee’s arm. “This will teach… wait, what the—”

The bike—that ugly scrap of metal—charged through the side gate and before the man had time to react crashed into him. The burglar was knocked off his feet, landing with a thud on his back.

Dazed, he lifted himself to his knees. “What… what happened?” Shaking off his confusion, he stood with the wrench still in hand. “I’m going to get you, kid!” Before reaching his full height, the bike rushed at him again. The burglar flew across the yard and smashed against the wooden fence before falling face down to the ground. A soft groan escaped his lips then he lay silent.

For a heartbeat, Charlee stared at the bike. It waited, supported by its kickstand. When she could finally move, she picked herself up and tiptoed over to the man and checked to see if he breathed. He did. The bike had knocked him unconscious.

“The bike just saved my life.” She contemplated the bike in disbelief.Thanks!”

A light went on inside the house then the light in the back porch blazed to life. The residents had heard the commotion and were coming out. Charlee ran to the bike and leaped on the banana seat just as the back door slid open and a heavy, balding man in a robe emerged. He held a baseball bat. “What in the world is going on here?” The bat was poised over his shoulder.

“Everything’s all right, sir. This man was going to break into your house.” Charlee toughened her voice and pointed at the unconscious thief. “But I… I mean… we… stopped him. You should call the police before he wakes up.”

A plump woman in curlers rushed out. “Harvey, what’s going on?”

“Nancy, go inside and call the police,” Harvey ordered.

“Who is this girl?” Nancy asked, her eyes fixed on Charlee.

“I don’t know, but I think she just stopped that man from robbing us.” Harvey pointed the bat at the unconscious man. For the first time, the woman looked at the dark lump lying motionless on the ground. “Oh, my!”

“Hon, please go call the police.”

She disappeared into the house.

Harvey continued to regard Charlee. “Well, who are you?”

Charlee thought about that for a moment. She wasn’t sure how to answer. She couldn’t give her name. She wanted to give a heroic response, but in the end simply said, “I’m just a friend.”

“Harvey, the police are on their way,” Nancy said from inside the house.

“Good,” Charlee responded. “I’ll be leaving now.”

With a nod to Harvey, she called, “Bike, let’s ride!” The bike scurried from the backyard through the side gate. They rushed to the end of the block and stopped. There, Charlee used her enhanced hearing to listen for sirens and a few minutes later, they were off in the distance. Charlee focused her hearing one more time on the burglar. He still hadn’t stirred. “Good, we can go,” Charlee told the bike. “Let’s not be around when the police get here. I’m not quite sure how to explain all this.”

Apparently, the bike agreed. It bolted away from the neighborhood at unnaturally high speeds, rocketing past homes and cars. Gripping the handlebar to hang on, Charlee leaned into the rushing wind. She sensed the night was just beginning.

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