Wallace in Underland is a contemporary urban fantasy; Wallace Johnson is a lonely, scared little boy whose life is changed the day he meets a talking rat who helps him escape from the clutches of the neighborhood bullies. Ralph the rat takes him to Underland, a strange place inhabited by talking animals, where a frog in king. The king sends Wallace on a quest, where he learns things about himself that he never knew, and which changes his life forever.
Charles gives an overview of the book:
Wallace Johnson was bored and frightened. Not, mind you, all at the same time, for that would have been more than nine-year-old Wallace could have stood. No, he was bored when he was inside his third-floor apartment with his father Howard. Howard Johnson, a single father; Wallace‟s mother having died when he was two, meaning that Wallace had hardly any memory of her; worked as a delivery man for a parcel delivery service, and when he was home, he spent most of his time sitting in the living room in front of the TV set sipping beer and watching the sports channel, having little time to do anything with Wallace other than make sure he finished eating his ham and cheese sandwich, which was their usual supper together. On special occasions, Howard would slice the ham thinly and fry it, and spread a layer of crunchy peanut butter on the toasted bread before adding the cheese. Once they finished eating their sandwiches, Howard washing his down with beer and Wallace with cold milk, Howard would go into the living room, flick on the television, and sit there in front of it, only grunting occasionally at something on the screen, before he got up, turned it off, and trundled off to bed.
This left Wallace with little to do when he was inside. Sometimes he would play with his portable computer game, but he‟d mastered all the levels so it was no longer challenging. At other times he‟d read, but he only had five books, all of which he‟d read so many times he had them memorized. When he had to stay inside, he longed to be outside. 3
Unfortunately, when he went outside, he longed to be back inside, because that was when he was frightened.
Outside, he more often than not encountered Jamal and his friends. Jamal Henderson was a twelve-year-old who lived in the ground floor apartment in Wallace‟s building, and he was a bully. When he was with his friends, Melvin Watkins, Abdul Parker, and Delwood Park, he was a tyrant as well as a bully, and when the four of them were together and spotted Wallace outside their favorite activity was beating him up. Delwood Park, a Korean-American who lived in the building across the street with his parents who operated the High‟s Drugstore on the corner up from the apartments, knew some kind of martial arts and had taught the others. He knew how to pummel Wallace‟s body, causing it to ache for days, but leaving no bruises or marks; and they never hit him in the face, so he had nothing to show his father after the beatings, not that Howard Johnson would have turned his attention away from the TV set long enough to listen.
On a particularly boring Saturday afternoon, a day that his father didn‟t have to work, meaning that Wallace had an entire boring day to look forward to, Wallace decided that boredom was worse than fear; at least if he got a head start he could sometimes escape Jamal and his friends, but you couldn‟t run away from boredom. Boredom clung to you harder than fear, and followed you everywhere you went; from the kitchen to his tiny bedroom, boredom draped itself over his thin shoulders and grasped him so tightly it felt sometimes as if it was trying to suffocate him. No, he decided, better to be scared and try to run away than to be bored and have it stay with you. So, he put his computer game away, kicked his books into the corner, put on his jacket, and headed for the front door.
Where you going? his father grunted.
Outside to play, Wallace replied.
His father grunted something else and turned his attention back to the basketball game that was playing on the screen.
Wallace slipped quietly out the door, pausing just outside and looking up and down the hallway to make sure no one was around. Jamal and his friends liked sometimes to lurk at the bend in the hallway, waiting to 4
pounce on Wallace as he headed for the elevator. Seeing that the passage was empty, Wallace darted quickly around the corner and punched the elevator button. Luckily, the car was empty, and no one boarded on his journey to the ground floor.
The entrance hall of the building was empty as well, and through the glass doors, Wallace saw no one on the sidewalk outside.
Outside, on the sidewalk, Wallace found himself blissfully alone. It was a sultry summer morning, approaching midday, and most folk stayed inside, huddling around their noisy, leaking air conditioners or fans, letting the cool air wash over their bodies. Wallace hoped that Jamal and his friends were doing just that as he headed down the sidewalk toward the corner that led to the vacant lot behind the hulking blocks of brick and steel in which they lived. He threaded his way around shards of discarded newspaper, crushed beer cans, crumpled cigarette butts, and empty liquor bottles that littered the sidewalk in his part of town.
He paused to make sure the weed-dotted lot was vacant in fact before slipping through the space in the fence where two of the gray wooden boards had been removed.
Near the center of the lot, he found the old softball he‟d left there the last time he‟d come there. Once white, the ball was now scuffed and gray; the lining flapping away in places, and the lacing lose and flapping whenever he tossed it in the air. Wallace tossed the ball into the air and caught it. Sometimes, he‟d take a stick he found and hit the ball. He did this again and again. It wasn‟t exciting; wasn‟t even interesting; but, it beat sitting alone in his bedroom listening to his father mutter at the television. He wished he had someone his age to play with, but the only other kids on the block were Jamal and his friends, and Wallace didn‟t like the games they chose to play; usually with him as the object of that play.
He alternated between tossing and catching the ball and gazing at the steel-gray sky, dotted here and there with wisps of snowy white clouds, and the occasional bird that darted through the steamy air to catch the bugs that came out when the weather was hot like this.
Now and then, a stray breeze, cool on his cocoa brown face, would waft across the lot, kicking up little puffs of dust as it traveled. Wallace 5
threw back his head and breathed deeply each time he felt the coolness. From a distance he could hear the dull rumble of traffic on the main street that was three blocks east of the street on which he lived, a narrow, two-lane side street, lined with four and five story tenements, pawn shops, liquor stores, drug stores, and video arcades.
This was Wallace‟s world; the only world he‟d known since he and his father had moved here after his mother died. He didn‟t remember the house his father said they lived in before, somewhere out in the suburbs on the edge of the city. They‟d had to move, his father said, because when his mother died, they lost her income which helped them to pay the mortgage on the house, which was repossessed by the bank when Howard Johnson‟s income from the parcel delivery service proved insufficient to meet the payments. It was a small world; well, not so small to someone Wallace‟s size, for he was small for his age; but he knew no other, and at least now it was peaceful.
Peaceful, that is, until his serenity was shattered by the sound of Jamal‟s nasal voice.
Hey, guys, it‟s the punk out here daydreamin
A native of East Texas, I have been involved in leading organizations (particularly those in trouble) for over 40 years. I have written a number of articles on history, culture and leadership, and have written three books on leadership in addition to my fiction works. The Al...
kudos to Charlie for his terrific book "Things I Learned from my Grandmother about Leadership and Life ." I gobbled it up and it would be wonderful reading for whatever incarnation of leadership training...
Things I Learned From My Grandmother About Leadership and Life is a small book that makes a great impact. Charles Ray, the author blends his fond memories of his grandmother with his dual career as a...