by Michael Lunsford
12yo Ledger Demain, sent to Camp for Nerdy Inventor Kids, must tap his Inner Inventor to find missing Granddad before he dies. #Pitprom #MG
Twelve-year-old Ledger is worried. If his tinkering dad doesn’t stop wasting money on eccentric brainstorms and flaky inventions, they could lose the family bookstore, their life savings and their house. To make matters worse, Dad’s workshop just exploded—and it was no accident. Somebody blew it up on purpose.
Granddad arrives to take Ledger and his kid sister, Savvy, to Camp Eureka—The Quintessential Inventor’s Camp for Nerdy kids—until Dad can figure out who dynamited his workshop. But on the way, Granddad goes missing and now Ledger and Savvy are on their own to reach Camp Eureka and figure out who's messing with their family before they strike again.
When they arrive (dripping wet but alive), the perplexing camp director won’t let them join the search for Granddad—that is, unless they prove themselves by winning the camp’s Weird Wacky Water War and Pretty Nerdy Baby Buggy Derby. Ledger can’t understand what’s up with the camp director, but one thing he knows for sure: An inventive mind could really come in handy right now.
LEDGER DEMAIN AND THE AWESOME UMBRELLA is a 57,000-word, MG mystery/adventure with easily accessible Sci-Fi elements and series potential.
I do know a little something about inventions, living and inventing in Silicon Valley with 27 patents to my name. I’m also a member of SCBWI and the South Bay Writers Club, graduate of U. of MD with a BA in English Lit and author of 14 tech books published by Bantam, Simon & Schuster and other top publishers.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this project.
First Ten Pages:
Chapter 1 – The Umbrella Arrives
Ledger usually tried to change the subject whenever his clueless dad presented some new invention, but not today. Not after the huge explosion.
He lay stretched out on his bed with his head at the wrong end, his stocking feet on the pillow—the best way to hang out on a rainy Saturday morning. He flexed his toes, thinking about summer vacation and wondering if his kid sister had left any yogurt in the fridge, when—KA-BLOOEY!
It sounded like the world’s largest dump truck had slammed into the side of the house. It shook their home. It shook his bed.
It shook Ledger right onto the floor.
Savvy barged through the door. “Did you hear that?” she yelled, then stopped. “Ledger?”
He poked his head up from the other side of the bed, frowning. “Do I look deaf?”
“Come on!” Without waiting, she shot out of the room and down the stairs.
He caught up with her on the basement steps where she stood staring at the choking dust that flowed out of their dad’s workshop. The blackened door at their feet had been blown right off its hinges. The door lifted, rotated and fell on its other side to reveal their dad, coughing and struggling to sit up.
“Dad, what happened?” Savvy shrieked, racing to his side. “Are you okay?”
Ledger rushed to help him up. He gave Ledger a blank look.
“Dad,” Ledger shouted, “can you hear me? Look at my hand, how many fingers do you see?”
“Yes, I can hear you, please don’t yell. You’re holding up four fingers—no, wait.” He shook his head. “Two fingers and a thumb.”
“Is anything broken?” Ledger squeezed his dad’s arms and legs, trying to feel for any fractured bones.
“Stop that.” His dad shoved his hands away. “I’m fine. No concussion, no blurred vision, no twisted limbs.”
Seeing Ledger’s drooping shoulders, he relented. “I’m sorry, son, but my lab…” He rolled over to stare at the charred opening. “All I did was turn the door knob—”
Without another word, he struggled to his feet, covered his mouth with the crook of his arm and dashed into the workroom.
Ledger and Savvy didn’t move, unsure of what to do.
A moment later, he stumbled out and fell to a sitting position at the bottom of the basement steps. “Gone,” he sputtered. “All those years of work, demolished. There’s nothing left.”
“Are you sure?” Ledger was surprised to feel relieved. He blushed.
“Let me see.” Savvy headed for the workroom, but her dad leaned over to stop her.
“No, sweetheart, too dangerous.”
Ledger peered through the door. It looked like a war zone, rubble everywhere. He could barely make out a piece of a microscope in the debris, and what was left of a soldering iron. Against one wall he recognized the remains of a wooden workbench that his great-grandfather, the first of his family’s would-be inventors, had built long before Ledger was born.
Beyond that, everything else was unrecognizable. He tried to imagine what could have caused all this destruction. And what about Dad? He must be devastated.
Dad held his head in his hands, moaning, “Years wasted. All my inventions, all my drawings. Everything gone.” His head jerked up. “The bookstore. I’ll lose the bookstore.”
“Come on, Dad,” Savvy told him, pulling on his arm. “We have to get you outside, away from this smoke.”
The police and fire crews came—though not because their dad ever thought to call them. Half the neighbors for a block around dialed 911 right away.
The forensics team wasn’t much help. They scanned for fingerprints but admitted that whoever did this probably wore gloves. They figured out that the door was booby-trapped and found where the bomb was hooked up; but they didn’t have any other useful information. Just questions, questions and more questions.
Savvy acted as though this was the most exciting thing a ten-year-old could experience.
Ledger was more worried and kept checking on their dad—who looked troubled, confused and, most of all, depressed. Far more miserable than anybody would expect from the loss of a workroom. Ledger hadn’t seen him this unhappy since they lost their mom.
His feelings about his dad were now all mixed up, his usual sarcasm replaced by genuine concern.
Most of the time, he saw Dad as loveable but clueless, inventive but absent-minded. Not bad for a single parent, but certainly not Mr. Cool.
Of course, Ledger couldn’t claim to be the picture of chill himself. He wasn’t exactly dorky, but he definitely hadn’t become a charter member of the in-crowd at school.
He was… different.
When he walked to school with his friends, he liked to walk in reverse, claiming he’d rather review where he’d been than spoil the surprise of where he was going.
When he ran laps around the basketball court in gym class, he’d often run with his eyes closed to see how long he could stand the suspense of not knowing if he was about to crash into something.
When he took notes in class, he sometimes wrote backward, or with his left hand, or in a made-up language—that he always had trouble deciphering later.
At home, he usually hung out in his bedroom making up science fiction stories on his computer, or composing strange music on his electronic keyboard.
Today, though, he wasn’t in the mood for any of that. He kept thinking about the explosion, wondering who could have done such a thing to a harmless tinkerer who wouldn’t hurt a tarantula if it bit him on the butt.
As Ledger sat at his desk, torn between anger and the frustration of trying to figure it all out, Savvy charged into his room and rushed to the window, her sandy pony tail bouncing behind her like an afterthought.
“Did you see what’s outside? It stopped in front of the house and then drove away—but then it turned around.”
“Excuse me, did you knock?”
“Come, look.” She pulled him off the bed and toward the window.
A front wheel splashed a frothy puddle of rainwater over the curb as a long white limousine pulled up at 116 Innovation Drive. The driver’s door opened on the street side and a chauffeur with a huge black umbrella popped out to make his way to the trunk. The lid drifted up with handless control and he reached in to pull out a large red backpack.
The limousine’s other door swung out to make way for a passenger with a larger, multi-colored umbrella that hid its owner from the two sets of eyes viewing all this from Ledger’s bedroom window.
Ledger and Savvy watched through their reflections on the rain-streaked glass as the chauffeur bounced toward the rainbow umbrella, transferred the backpack and drove away.
Meanwhile, the passenger with the umbrella-of-many-colors floated toward the front door and out of sight under the front portico.
“I wonder who it is.”
“Beats me.” Ledger lazily slid from the window seat and flopped to the floor.
Savvy pulled her phone out of her jeans pocket. “Hey Home-Drone, bring me the tablet.”
From another room came the humming sound of the Home-Drone’s chopper blades. Before long their dad’s invention careened from the hallway into the bedroom, clumsily knocking against the door jamb, the ceiling and the light fixture before landing at their feet as if completely exhausted.
“Nice job, Hum-Drum.” Ledger smirked.
Savvy grabbed the tablet and spoke at the screen. “Hey Nosy-Face, show me the front door.” Nosy-Face was the name of their dad’s security software.
The tablet display came to life, flickered once, and presented the security camera’s front stoop view of two feet poking out from under a closing umbrella. Too late. The front door opened and the umbrella’s owner stepped inside.
“Rats.” Savvy turned off the display.
“Why’d you use the Home-Drone?” Ledger asked, exasperated. “You should have known it’d waste too much time.”
“I promised Dad I’d test it out every chance I got. He thinks it’s one of his best inventions yet.”
Ledger shrugged. “I give it a C-minus.”
At least once a week their dad would announce the invention of some weird and crazy home device. He built a kitchen sink that gave off an annoying moan if people left it full of dishes for too long. Then he came up with a self-initiating shower radio that had a bad habit of blaring music whenever the toilet flushed. He followed that up with a set of automatic window blinds that opened and closed whenever they felt like it.
His latest innovation was a voice-activated bread box/toaster that would store, separate, toast and spread jelly over slices of bread on command. Unfortunately, the prototype liked slathering jelly on both sides of the toast, which made for very messy eating.
These were some of the dozens of their dad’s inventions that nearly made sense.
Ledger had tried his hand at inventing too, but with similarly disappointing results. His first idea was to shorten his list of weekend chores by inventing a toilet cleaner he called The Flusher Brusher. His prototype never met expectations, though. He could never work out the bugs. He ended up spending more time cleaning his self-dirtying invention than he ever spent scrubbing the actual toilet.
That was why, at the age of twelve, he resolved never, but never, to become another failed inventor like his dad.
That didn’t mean the end of curiosity, of course. With the appearance of the colorful umbrella with feet at their front door, he and Savvy were both intrigued. They listened for some clues to this new arrival. Muffled voices downstairs sounded surprised and happy, with some questions, some answers and then their dad calling, “Ledger, Savvy!”
“Is it my imagination, or does he sound pleased?” Ledger asked.
“Kids, come downstairs, wait’ll you see who’s here.”
“Come on, maybe it’s good news.” Savvy jumped up and headed for the door in one motion.
Ledger was right behind her. At the top of the stairs, they stopped short. In the foyer their tall, bearded grandfather removed the khaki trench coat that covered his tweed suit and polka-dot bow tie. He smiled up at them, closed a snap on his multi-colored umbrella and slid it into the top flap of the large red backpack that lay at his feet.
Next to this elegant figure, their dad seemed somehow shorter and paler, definitely balder, and a little pudgier than usual.
“Hello, you two. Look how you’ve grown.”
“Hello,” said Ledger, feeling shy.
“Hi Granddad.” Savvy was never shy.
She tumbled down from the landing to give her grandfather an eager hug. Ledger followed and joined in—awkwardly.
Their dad helped Granddad take off his coat and hung it in the hall closet. “It’s great to see you, Pop, where have you been since the last time you visited—about three years ago, wasn’t it? I forget…”
“It’s great to see you, son, and the kids. I don’t suppose you’ve got a cup of coffee for the old man?”
Their dad clapped him on the back. “Come on, let’s all go into the living room.” As they walked past the kitchen, Ledger noticed a secret smile of pride as his dad loudly announced, “Okay Coffee-Chum, three café lattes, non-fat milk, with one pump of chocolate.”
“No, Dad. It still doesn’t work right, cancel, cancel.” Ledger remembered the mess he had to clean up last time. “I’ll make the coffee.” He detoured for the kitchen.
His dad sighed. “Okay Coffee-Chum, cancel.”
Granddad tilted his head. “How have you been, son? You look a little stressed.”
“I’ll say. Yesterday my lab exploded. Sorry about the smoke smell.” His eyes went to the floor. “I lost everything. Every design, every prototype, all my data. But it’s even worse than that. Somebody blew it up on purpose.”
“I heard. That’s why I’m here. Any thoughts on who did it?”
“No idea. The police don’t have a clue either. I can’t think of a single reason why somebody would want to stop the off-hours tinkering of a struggling, part-time inventor. It makes no sense.”
“Maybe more sense than you think.” Granddad bit his lower lip. “I was about to warn you, but I was too late.”
He took a seat in the middle of the old leather couch facing the front of the house. "I didn't even notice your big picture window from outside. Very nice. And look, it's stopped raining."
“Oh, we don't have a picture window.” Their dad sat on the couch next to him. “And actually, I think it's still raining.” He turned to the view of their front lawn and commanded, “Okay Wind-Screen, show the big view clearly.”
The picture window flickered, then showed a TV program, The Big Bang Theory.
He tried again, this time enunciating carefully. “Okay Wind-Screen, show the real view.”
The screen flickered once more, and at last showed a rainy-day view of their front yard.
“It's in beta,” their dad admitted.
“But very clever. So you can order up a sunny day when it rains?”
“Or even vice-versa. But that's not all. We can see people outside walking on the sidewalk, but they can't see us. There's no window from the other side of this wall, only a hi-res camera in the bushes, bringing the outside view into the house as if this were an actual picture window. And here from the couch, we can switch the screen to watch TV, stream videos, run apps, play games or surf the web.”
“It’s great, when it works,” added Savvy, plopping down on the ottoman in front of the couch.
Their dad gave a lopsided smile and shifted in his seat.
“Well, I think it’s wonderful.” said Granddad.
“Anyway, like I said, it's in beta.”
Ledger walked in with a tray of coffee cups, wishing someone would change the subject. Granddad pointed to an elderly lady across the street standing in the rain under a flimsy umbrella, staring at their house. “A nosy neighbor?”
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