I’d done it again. I had a story to write and a deadline to meet and it looked like neither was going to get done. I was lost.
The instructions had seemed clear enough, but those damnable round-abouts had done me in. No doubt I had gotten on the wrong track one of those times I had gone counter-clockwise instead of clockwise. Why did the English insist on being opposite the rest of the world in driving? Now, here I was somewhere in the wilds of England at the end of a narrow track facing a river and no bridge. The sun was rapidly dropping below the tree line and it would be dark soon.
My cell phone (excuse me, mow-bile) chirruped.
“Where the hell are you?”
“Your story was due an hour ago. What the hell are you doing?”
“I’m lost, okay?”
“Lost? How the hell can you be lost? The whole country isn’t any bigger than the entire state of Georgia. How hard can it be? You had directions. You had three days to find it.”
“You know what, Mike? Screw you. You send me off on this insane tangent in a country where road signs are against their religion or something and expect me to find a single, goddammed house. When I find that single goddammed house, I will write your goddammed story. This conversation is over. Good-bye.” I clicked the red button and threw the phone across the car, wishing for the old days when I could have slammed the receiver in his ear.
I yanked the map out of the glove compartment one more time. The problem with maps is you have to know where you are before you can figure out how to get where you’re going. I was squinting at the miniscule details of the map in the fading light when a tap at the window startled me. I looked up to see a tall man with fading red hair peering in at me through his horn-rimmed glasses. Behind him stood a woman wrapped in a voluminous cape-like garment. I rolled down the window.
“Are you lost?”
“Yes, I am. I was…”
“You’re an American!” He was grinning from ear to ear.
“Yes, I am. I was looking…”
“I’ve never met an American.”
“Arthur, let the poor girl talk.” The kindly-faced woman placed her hand on his arm. “Where are you headed, dear?”
I pulled out my notebook and double-checked. “Ottery St. Catchpole. I can’t even find it on the map. I think he meant Ottery St. Mary, but it’s…”
Arthur cut into my babbling. “No, no. And you’re not as lost as you think. The village is just back there, about two miles. We were headed there ourselves.”
I looked around for a car. “You were walking?”
“Yes, it’s a lovely evening.”
“Can I give you a lift? You can point the way and I won’t get lost again.”
Arthur looked eager, but I couldn’t help but notice the woman looked askance and backed away a step.
“Oh, Molly. It will be all right.” He leaned towards me conspiratorially. “She’s a little skittish about cars.” With a gentle tug, Molly was soon settled in the back seat. Arthur climbed in the front and we were off. He seemed fascinated by the car and the controls. He pushed buttons and turned knobs. I joined Molly in jumping when he turned on the radio at full blast.
“Sorry,” he mumbled sheepishly, but he still could not hide his childlike grin. He noticed my open laptop bag. “Is that a ‘confuser’?” he asked eagerly.
“A confuser! A box that runs on batteries and remembers things for you.” He was almost breathless with excitement.
“Oh, a computer. Yes. That’s my laptop. I write my articles on it then send it to my editor. He tears them apart and then, if I’m lucky, prints them.”
“Is that so?” Arthur asked as he pointed me towards the right-hand turn that I had not noticed before.
“I work for an insane editor at a ‘major newspaper’,” I used my left hand to wave quotes in the air, “in Atlanta, Georgia. He sent me off to find a location from a book he has read. He wants the real story behind the characters, he says. That’s why I’m looking for Ottery St. Catchpole.”
“Really. How interesting. Ottery St. Catchpole is mentioned in a book? What book is that?”
“It’s called ‘Harry Potter and something or other’. I can never remember the title.”
From the back seat Molly made a little sound that sounded halfway between a gasp and a hiccup.
Arthur cleared his throat. “Ahem, yes. I’ve heard of that book. How does Ottery St. Catchpole come into it?”
“Apparently there is a family here that figures rather prominently in the book. The Wesleys, or something like that.”
“Beg your pardon?”
“The name is Weasley,” Arthur said with a small smile.
“Do you know them?”
Molly giggled from the backseat. “Dear, we are them. Well, two of them.”
I slammed on the brakes, causing the rear of the car to swerve slightly as it came to an abrupt halt. Molly gasped and grabbed the back of Arthur’s seat. “You are the Weasleys.” Arthur nodded.
“I am supposed to interview you. My boss wants this Harry Potter’s story from another point of view. He says Harry is too ‘goodie-goodie’. He says there must be more to the story.”
“Harry’s a good boy,” Molly stated firmly. I could feel hostility in her voice.
“Tell me about him… please,” I added, in hopes of assuring them.
“Why don’t we go to our house?” Arthur suggested. “I think you’ll find all the answers you are looking for.”
Three hours later I was headed east on the A30 towards London. My cell phone rang.
“Where the hell are you?”
“Nice to talk to you too, Mike.”
“Did you find it? Did you get the story?”
“No. The town doesn’t exist, the house doesn’t exist, and the Weasleys and Harry Potter don’t exist. The books are novels. Novels, Mike. Ever heard of them? You sent me on a wild goose chase after characters in a novel! I’ll be back tomorrow afternoon. I’m on Delta Flight 11.” I disconnected the call as Mike sputtered raging threats against my well being. I grinned to myself and patted my ‘confuser’. Harry’s secret was safe with me.