Today marks Second Wind’s launch of Nine Digits, a novel by Jay Duret with illustrations by Martha Slaughter. Nine Digits tells the story of Nee-Nee Marcus, a headstrong 15-year old girl from Philadelphia who despises her family: her clueless parents, her moronic brothers, her evil sister. She has to get out. When she hears of the new reality television show that will award a prize of $100 million, Nee-Nee vows to do whatever she needs to do to win. While money isn’t everything, Nee-Nee is pretty sure that with a $100 million she can leave her family far behind…
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Here is an excerpt from Chapter One:
Chapter One: Nee-Nee’s 15th Birthday
On her 15th birthday, Nee-Nee was struck by an intense realization; she had been born into the wrong family. There was just no way she was actually a Marcus. No one with half a brain could think that she belonged with the other members of the Marcus family.
The more she considered it the more clear it was to her that there had been some type of colossal mix up. Like one of those Greek tragedies. The daughter of Zeus or Apollo or someone like that was a victim of intrigue and unknowingly sent to live among the loud, brutish and nasty people on earth, never knowing that she was actually an Olympian, and only gradually realizing that she was different – braver, smarter, better – than all those around her. That was Nee-Nee’s situation in a nutshell. She’d been wrongly cast out to live among the Marcuses.
Now that she focused on it, the insight was obvious. She wasn’t like them in any way. She was cute and tall with long chestnut hair and big white teeth. She was smart and funny and popular, so different than the losers in her family.
Prominent among those losers were her three brothers – Golden Boy, Marticus and fat little Skunky – each problematic in their own way, and a sister, Barkus, who was pure evil. Nee-Nee was the oldest and age alone ought to have earned her some measure of respect from her siblings, but their jealousy was too overpowering. Maybe things would have been different if her parents had done their job, but they hadn’t come close.
Funny, she’d always known she was different, but it wasn’t until her 15th birthday party that she really put it all together.
That night there was a family dinner to celebrate her birthday. The family assembled in the dining room of Blisters, the big old falling down house where the Marcuses lived. They were all there, sitting at the oversized dining table. Her father, was at one end, reading his papers. His name was Ardley, Ardley Marcus, but they called him Airball. Her mother – they called her “Saint Marcus” – was bustling about making sure that everyone got their dinner and trying to restrain the children from kicking each other and throwing food at Skunky, the youngest.
“Come on people, come on,” Nee-Nee said, “it is time for my presents.”
Nee-Nee’s 13 year old brother, Golden Boy, was admiring himself in the reflection of his spoon across the table. Marticus and Barkus, as usual, were side-by-side, heads together, whispering and snorting with laughter. Marticus was eleven years old but completely in the power of his younger sister, Barkus, already at nine a force of wickedness and doom in the world. Skunky made lopsided circles around the dining room table on his one-pedaled tricycle.
“Come on!! Bring in the cake! Come on!!” Nee-Nee yelled again.
Nee-Nee Marcus had looked forward to her 15th Birthday for a long time. She had seen a brilliant gold necklace with a little ruby colored dove on it at the jeweler in their neighborhood and she had made sure that Saint Marcus knew she wanted it. Nee-Nee found a copy of an ad for the necklace and she slipped it under Saint Marcus’ door. Several times. To make sure that Saint Marcus got the point. And to seal the deal, Nee-Nee was on her best behavior. She had to be getting the necklace because she was the oldest of the Marcus children and 15 was a very important birthday. Everyone said so. Almost as important as 16. She just couldn’t wait.
“LET’S GO!!” She shouted. What was with these people? Why couldn’t they ever do anything without being yelled at?
Saint Marcus brought a large birthday cake to the table. There were 15 candles on the cake and when it was lit, for one short moment, Nee-Nee felt something like warmth for her family. She even overlooked that someone had stuck a jumbo green olive into the white icing. Saint Marcus didn’t even notice. Must have been Golden Boy, the infantile wit gave it away, but Nee-Nee let it go. Who cared about the cake when she was about to get the necklace?
There were two presents. One was small and beautifully wrapped and the other was not. She went for the good one first. It was surely the gold necklace. She was sure of it. She ripped off the ribbon. She could not wait to get to the present. She ripped open the box. And there it was. A beautiful, a gorgeous, a pen …a pen? What? Her fifteenth birthday and she got a pen?
She looked up at Saint Marcus and Airball. They were smiling, although Saint Marcus had a questioning tilt to her head as if she suspected that the pen was not going over as well as she’d have liked. Airball had put down his papers for the moment and he was beaming, just beaming. Clearly a pen was his idea of what a good birthday was all about.
Golden Boy was hysterical. He fell right out of his chair and down onto the floor when he saw the pen. “Oh, wow,” he gasped, “it’s a pen. It’s just what Hee-Haw has been dying for. She has wanted a pen for years. Oh my God, you shouldn’t have.” Nee-Nee’s eyes narrowed to slits and her lips began to quiver and quake.
Barkus shoved the other present into her hands. Nee-Nee had to choose between crying in front of her wretched brothers and sister or opening their stupid present. It was a bad choice. But she decided not to give in; she would never give in to these people. She pulled herself together and opened the other box….
Jay Duret is a San Francisco writer and illustrator. More than two dozens of his stories have appeared in print and online journals including Narrative Magazine, December, Gargoyle and Blue Fifth Review. Many of Jay’s stories are collected at www.jayduret.com. Nine Digits is Jay’s first novel.