The writing came slowly for Mia over the next few days, and she found herself struggling to get out of a plot hole she had written herself in. Plot corner would be as accurate, she decided as she struggled to get her characters to cooperate. After a couple of days of not exceeding quota Mia wandered around Wrimonia and ran into another place she had never experienced before.
It was a small farm, and on that farm was an odd variety of plants. Instead of flowers and fruits and vegetables and other oddities, she saw words and notebooks and pencils. Mia found herself wondering what would happen if she picked one of the notebooks. Would one grow back? She wasn’t in another inspiration garden, was she?
It was definitely worth the risk, she decided as she picked a notebook from the garden. It didn’t grow back; in fact, the plant yelled “Ouch!” as Mia snatched the notebook.
“I’m so sorry!” Mia said. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
A redheaded child ran out to the garden and petted the plant. She couldn’t have been older than fifteen, Mia decided. “Oh no,” the girl said. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Mia replied, but the girl said nothing. She continued to pet the plant and dump something on it. Mia watched and realized that the girl was dumping eraser shavings on the plant.
“Oh,” Mia said. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt the plant.”
“It happens all the time,” the girl said. “The plants aren’t there for picking. You have to be gentle with them.”
“Whatever happened to grabbing inspiration wherever you saw it?”
“Take it, yes, but nourish it until fully realized.”
“Then what’s the point of something like NaNo?”
The girl didn’t get to answer, for Mia heard a noise from behind them. “What’s going on?” Mia asked.
“Oh, that’s Edgar making another shovel,” the girl said. “He makes all kinds of shovels. Plot shovels, inner editor shovels, everything you can think of.”
Shovels… Mia found a familiar memory in her head turning. And then she saw the sign in front that she had missed before.
“We make shovels,” the sign said. “Shovels to order here.”
“Do you really make all kinds of shovels?” Mia asked. The girl nodded.
All kinds of shovels? Really? “Then what do you know about the traveling shovel of death?”
The girl’s expression turned downward. “I’m sorry, I’m not allowed to talk about that shovel.”
“Why not?” Mia asked. “You just said you make all kinds of shovels here, and the traveling shovel of death is a shovel. If you make all the shovels here, then surely that one should have been made here as well, yes?”
The girl shook her head, but not in disagreement. “I’m still not allowed to talk about it,” she said. “Edgar has forbidden me to discuss it. He says he’ll tell me when I’m older, but it’s not for young ears to hear.”
“But can you tell me what you know about this shovel?” Mia asked. “Please? I’m trying to find out a little more about this shovel. It’s intrigued me ever since my first NaNoWriMo–”
“You and every other Wrimo,” the girl said. “They go on killing people in their novels with that shovel, not realizing that they’re staining our name and our shovel shop by doing so. We make all kinds of fine shovels here, but all everyone knows of our shovel shop is that one shovel that goes around killing people. Won’t people think of us, the people behind all the other shovels?”
“Looks like I touched a nerve. So if you’re not allowed to tell me anymore about the shovel, can you guide me to someone who can?”
As if on cue the door to that building opened and a rickety old man approached Mia and the girl. He held a shovel in his hand.
“What are you doing here?” the man yelled. “I heard a plant scream earlier and sent Diana to tend to it. Don’t tell me you picked a notebook. That one always hurts the worst for the plants.”
I’m sorry,” Mia said. “I just needed another notebook for my novel planning and was curious, that’s all.”
“That’s what they all say and I’m not just talking about the plants,” the man said. “They all say they’re curious and they just want to check out the plants or see where the shovels started, but really they just want to find out how that nasty shovel got its origins. Well, I’ll tell you, girl, I know nothing about that traveling shovel of death, so you can go away if that’s what you’re wanting to hear.” He shook the shovel at Mia.
“I’m sorry, sir, I just stumbled across this place while putting off writing,” Mia said. “But I was genuinely curious, that’s all. If it really does hurt your feelings that badly I’ll leave. I just remembered seeing your son three years ago and–”
“Never talk to me about that boy.” The man’s face turned even growlier if that was possible. “He’s no longer part of this family. We don’t mention his name around these parts either.”
“Why not?” Mia asked, but as soon as she blurted it out she realized it was a dumb question.
“No more! Now get out unless you want to hear more about my other shovels.”
This gave Mia an idea. “Actually, I’d love to hear about your other shovels. What kinds do you make?”
The man’s expression brightened up. “Well, right this way, little lady,” he said. He led Mia up the cobblestone path past the house and into a black building in the back. He closed the door behind Mia. “You stay out of here,” the man yelled at the girl. “Or better yet, go back in the house.”
The girl pouted but stayed outside. She walked away and the man turned to Mia, then set the shovel he had been carrying on the table. “We make shovels here, as you might have guessed,” the man said. “All sorts of shovels.”
“That’s neat,” Mia said. “How’d you get in that business anyway?”
“Shovels turned out to be something I made of necessity, you see, young lady. When I was younger I needed something to bury a dead bird with but didn’t have anything to do that with. I did, however, have some blacksmithing skills, so I crafted a shovel and buried the bird. This turned out to be the only ordinary shovel that I made.”
“The only ordinary shovel?” Mia asked.
“Of course,” the man replied. “That was when I ran into the witch.” His voice changed tone then. Mia noticed that it was a little darker, a little slower in speed. He deliberated over every word, relishing over the story he was telling.
“She was a lovely woman,” the man said. “Quite lovely indeed. Long red hair, bright eyes, and a way of crafting words that would make anyone feel incompetent at the craft. She could wow you with her words, and boy was she good at it. She seduced me into bed one night and left me with a gift afterward. It was a small gift, but it was quite a fine gift nonetheless.”
“What was it?” Mia asked.
“It was her own magic,” the man said. “Some of those magical abilities that she had possessed were now inside me thanks to my gaining the ability to love. She told me to use them wisely and not to use them for evil or bad things would happen. We wound up marrying and settling in this little place on the edge of Wrimonia.
Now there’s something you need to know. I had already loved and lost before and have a son to show for it.”
The man shuddered.
“I hesitate to bring him up, but he’s important to the story. You’ll see why soon. I used the magic this woman had given me to make shovels of all kinds. Plot shovels, inspiration shovels, character shovels… My son asked for a shovel of his own, or at least to learn how to make his own, and I told him no, this equipment was too dangerous, and he was too young to learn to use it. Looking back, maybe he wasn’t too young but I was too naive, too devoted to my shovel crafting to teach him the craft that had made me famous.”
“And then what happened?” Mia asked, now suspecting what would happen next.
“We don’t talk about that!” the man said. “Now out! Out!”
Mia knew when she wasn’t wanted, but she wanted a memory of this place. She snatched the shovel on the table and ran out the door and into the yard.
“Hey, give that shovel back!” the man yelled behind her. But he couldn’t chase her, so Mia ran all the back to the main part of Wrimonia, or at least intended to. With her shovel in hand she figured she could at least dig a hole to the other side of somewhere if that guy caught her, but then she ran right into a familiar figure.
Mia looked up. Oh yes, this figure looked very familiar. She remembered from her very first year when she ran into this person and learned all about the tales of the traveling shovel of death.
Wait a minute.. the Traveling Shovel of Death. That was it. This figure, resembling the grim reaper except carrying a shovel, was the son of the traveling shovel of death. It all fit!
Mia turned to him, trying to remember what she did with that shovel. “Hello,” she said. “You’re the son of the traveling shovel of death, aren’t you?’
“That I am,” he said. His voice was as spooky as ever. “Have you used my shovel in your novel this year?”
Mia shook her head. “I’m afraid I haven’t,” she replied.
“Do you plan on it?”
“Can’t say that I have plans to. Though there will be deaths in my novel, what with writing a zombie novel and all.”
The son of the traveling shovel of death looked up at her. “Sounds like you could use a bit of my shovel to add some more death to your novel.”
“Maybe,” Mia said. “But I just ran into someone else who makes shovels and took this from him. How’d your shovel become the traveling shovel of death anyway?”
The son of the traveling shovel of death sat down on the eraser bench nearby and patted a seat next to him for Mia to sit down. Mia felt rather unsettled in sitting next to such a figure and did anyway. This was her chance to find out the real story.
“Was this man kind of elderly, obsessed with shovels?” the Son asked. Mia nodded. “And was there an annoying redhead kid lurking around?” Mia nodded again.
The son steepled his fingers together. “I should have known. That’s my father. There’s a reason I’m called the Son of the Traveling Shovel of Death, you know. You see, my father wouldn’t teach me how to make the shovels that I so wanted to make. I begged him to for years, wanting a shovel of my very own. He wouldn’t make me one for Christmas either, despite me putting one on my Christmas list every year.”
“So what’d you do?”
“I stole one,” the Son said. “I waited until my father was away from his shop and had several completed shovels in there before sneaking in there one day and taking one. That annoying redhead was a toddler at the time, so she wouldn’t know anything. Time has affected her in such weird ways, hasn’t it? One day she’s a toddler, the next she’s practically a woman. Oh yes. I stole the shovel, but instead of getting a plot shovel or any of the other nice and fluffy shovels that my father specialized in, I felt something more sinister from the shovel. I knew this wouldn’t be something that the stepmother put into the shovel. Well, not intentionally anyway. She married my father on the condition that he would make only positive shovels and if he didn’t, well, he would pay for it.
“But I took the shovel and something sinister came out of the shovel. I felt the need to try it out, and there was a little wasp nearby. I killed the wasp with the shovel.
“I’m not sure what took over me then. Suddenly the shovel wasn’t designed for any of the lovely writing inspired things that my father designed shovels for anymore. No. This shovel was for killing, and it was for killing characters in a bloody fashion. And I would be the master of this shovel.”
“So why’d your father get so upset about it?” Mia asked. “Surely this shovel would bring a lot of business to the shovel business. Lots of us need shovels of death to kill of character with.”
“There’s one thing you’re missing here,” the Son said. “You’re assuming a couple of things. One, that my father and I are still speaking. And two, that he’s willing to make such sinister shovels. You’d be incorrect there. He was never willing to make such shovels, and he stopped speaking to me after finding out that the shovel had become a shovel of death. When news got to him that the shovel had become a wildly popular Wrimonia tradition, the shovel industry had been ruined… well, according to him anyway. I’m sure people are convincing him that they need plot shovels to dig them out of plot holes and the like, but let’s face it.” The Son pointed at Mia’s shovel then. “The shovel of death will always be the most popular shovel and if he would recognize this, everything would be so much better for the shovels.”
“Wow,” Mia said. “So you’re saying that you got shunned for introducing such a popular thing to Wrimonia? That must really suck.”
“It does, but I’m living my own life now,” the Son said. “See, my shovel’s on a trading card now! Fame and fortune! Can my dad say that much about his life?”
“A trading card?”
The Son reached into a pocket and grabbed a card from the folds of his clothing, then showed it to Mia. Mia read the card.
“Traveling Shovel of Death,” Mia read the front of the card, which featured an anthropomorphic shovel. She turned the card over and read the description on the back aloud. “Killer for hire. Expert at moving plot forward. Doesn’t discriminate based on genre.”
“Darn right!” the Son said.
Mia continued. “The rules are simple. You kill a character. With a shovel. It’s called the Traveling Shovel of Death. –NaNoWriMo forums. +7 The Traveling Shovel of Death sings a musical number. Warning: May cause shovelphobia.”
But Mia had never seen these trading cards before. “Where did you get this anyway?” she asked.
“They were part of Wrimonia’s summer fundraising drive,” the Son explained. “If you donated fifty dollars, you received a pack of trading cards, and my shovel was featured on one of them. Little old me!” The Son jumped up, clutching his shovel.
“Who else became a trading card?”
“There was Mr. Ian Woon, and the plot bunny, and the guilt monkey, and good old Chris Baty himself. Wonder what happened to him?”
“He’s not here,” Mia said. “No one knows where he is except that he’s not here.”
“Not… here?” the Son asked. “But he’s Christ Baty, founder of Wrimonia and NaNoWriMo. He’s supposed to be here.”
“But he’s not,” Mia replied. “And I don’t know where he is either.”
The Son looked down. “I guess you’ll have to find him, won’t you?”
“I guess I will.”
And now we know how the Traveling Shovel of Death came to be. Man, Mia’s got a lot of pressure to find Chris Baty.
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