The Perilous Journey Begins – Prologue

The Perilous Journey Begins
A Magnificent Epic of Seven Tragically Entangled Lives

by Rich Ritter
The New Voice of the American West

San Luis Obispo, California

July 20, 1907

Azure eyes searching the distant sun-dappled hills above the polished rim of a porcelain cup, Muireall Anne Ravenscroft sipped green tea. She set the cup on the wide arm of her Adirondack chair and glanced sideways at John Ravenscroft, her beloved husband of eight years. He balanced over two thousand pages of meticulously-typed manuscript on his legs while reading the last page of the prologue. When he had finished, he inserted the twenty-seven-page introduction behind the table of contents and adjusted his reading glasses down his nose. A breath of cool air swirled across the veranda; John quickly laid his hands on top of the impressive pile to prevent the pages from scattering. Muireall waited for the gust to subside before tapping her foot and coughing in rhythmic counterpoint, a personal affectation John had come to know well.

“What did you think of the prologue?”

John lifted the top page from the colossal tome and pretended to read it. “The introduction is a lengthy work all by itself, isn’t it? And I must say, I don’t care at all for this title: A Concise History of the American West? Positively dry and unimaginative. Can’t you do better? This immense manuscript is also crushing my legs. I’m not sure ‘Concise’ is the right word. What do you think of this title: A Leg-Crushing Account of the Old West?”

Muireall fidgeted against the steep back of the Adirondack chair and scratched her fingernails into the arms. “You can’t even get past the title without criticizing it? What’s wrong with it? It describes the work perfectly.”

“I did get past the title before criticizing it. You asked me to read the first draft and to critique it. Well, in my opinion the title is boring, especially given the promise of the introduction.” A raven landed on the guttered eave of the veranda, squawking twice before scampering noisily across the copper roof, hurdling over each seam in a diagonal sprint to the ridgeline.

“You liked the introduction?”

“I did—I liked it very much—but I have some suggestions there as well. But first, I think you should do something about this title.”

“Do you have a specific idea for an alternate title…other than the silly one you just suggested?”

“Not really. Just something less dull. The introduction is anything but dull. Besides, you’re the writer. Use your imagination to come up with an imaginative title.” John transferred the manuscript to a side table, pushed himself up from his matching chair, and strolled to the crafted wood handrail enclosing the veranda. “What a glorious, glorious day. I love these summer days when the sun warms the mountains and the cool wind blows in from the ocean. I love the smell of it.” He pressed his hands down on top of the rail, stretched his back, and breathed in the fragrant afternoon air.

Muireall scrunched her brows mischievously. “Then what do you think of A Glorious, Glorious History of the American West. Is this more to your liking?”

John exhaled exuberantly. “Now you’re the one making fun of me. But I do like it better, if only slightly. I might consider dropping the second ‘Glorious’ though.”

“Then I shall change the title to A Glorious History of the American West. I do like it better. But you said you had other suggestions for the introduction. Will you share them now, or has our discussion of the title exhausted your vigor?”

“You should know me well enough by now to appreciate that my vigor is seldom diminished by a spirited debate, especially on a subject this important.”

“I know. Then present your first suggestion. I promise not to react like I did with the title.”

John returned to his chair, nudged the reading glasses up to the bridge of his nose, and lifted the introductory pages from the top of the manuscript. He thumbed through the pages aimlessly, paused near the middle, read a few lines, then said, “I think you should revise the first sentence.”

Muireall tapped her foot loudly against the wood decking of the veranda, but did not cough this time. She thought of rolling her eyes, but willed herself to avoid this irritating mannerism. “You just pretended to look somewhere in the middle of the introduction to avoid another argument. You were planning to criticize the first sentence all along.”

John covered his mouth to conceal a smirk. “Absolutely not true. I really do have a suggestion for the middle, but I thought I should get the first sentence over with so we can move on to a more productive discussion.”

“You’re a cad, but I still cannot help but love you.”

This time John did not conceal the smirk. “I know. No matter how much you try, you just can’t live without me. I understand. I truly do. But you still should revise the first sentence. If you don’t, I fear some readers may yawn and put the book down without reaching the second.”

“I will remain calm and receptive to your suggestion. What is wrong with the first sentence—surely not the same problem as the title?”

John considered the best way to answer this question. He decided a frontal assault might work best. “The first sentence is dull. You should begin the introduction with something—”

This time Muireall could not will her eyes into submission and they rolled wildly. “Don’t tell me. Something…more imaginative?”

“Yes! Something more imaginative. Just the word I was looking for. How did you guess it? You must be a mind reader.”

Muireall regained control of her wayward eyes and settled comfortably into the chair. She raised her cup and sipped green tea. “It’s the only possible explanation: I can read your mind.”

“I’m afraid I’ve succumbed to my dishonest nature. I actually love the first sentence, but could not resist the temptation to tease you. I do enjoy it when you squirm about with such intense seriousness. It gives me great pleasure.”

“You are a cad.”

“Yes I am. But do not let any of my personal shortcomings distract you from the important task at hand. I promise to give you my honest comments for the introduction, and then shall spend the remainder of this lovely afternoon plunging through the first chapter. And I also promise I will not make fun of you again, even if I do enjoy it with all my heart.”

“You really promise?”

John reached over and caressed Muireall’s hand. “Actually, no. I’m just preparing you for some really good teasing later.”

Muireall withdrew her hand in mock disgust. “I must find a better word than ‘cad’ to describe you. Somehow ‘cad’ is just too lenient.”

John smiled as Muireall’s hand retreated from his loving grasp. “I’m sure you’ll think of something very imaginative. You are, after all, the most gifted writer I know.”

Rich Ritter discovered a passion for writing during his tumultuous high school years. This zeal was consumed by technical writing during his lifelong profession as an architect until the age of 49, when he began work on his first novel. Ritter was born in Iowa, raised in the social cauldron of Southern California, completed his architecture degree (Cal Poly SLO) in Denmark, and is a 40-year Alaska resident.