The Turtle-Girl from East Pukapuka (5 x 8 Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-60381-116-3, 288 pp., $15.95), is the second work of fiction by author, photographer and journalist Cole Alpaugh. Alpaugh’s first book, The Bear in a Muddy Tutu, set in a ragtag traveling circus, was a runaway success, garnering eleven five-star reviews on WorldCat.
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“The book is playful and comic in its creation of … misunderstandings and coincidences.
As their stories unfold and intersect, one comes to believe the island is indeed paradise, as Jesus plays a heroic role and the cannibal, Albino Paul, the shark god, and the birds play out a finale resounding with echoes of myth.”
“Dr. Doolittle meets LOST,” writes Michelle Hessling, Publisher, The Wayne Independent, “an interesting and colorful cast of zany characters on a crash course with fate.”
“A veritable feast for lovers of playfully absurd fiction,” writes Josh McAuliffe of The Scranton Times-Tribune.
“Lyrical and yet wonderfully warped … A highly entertaining read,” says Hua Lin, MLS, Los Angeles Public Library.
The island of East Pukapuka lies in the path of a tsunami that will kill everyone but Butter, a little girl more worried about the lives of the injured animals she cares for than her own. Butter is rescued by a Loggerhead sea turtle who carries her away on his back. As she and her exhausted savior begin to sink, the girl is plucked out of the sea by Jesus Dobby, the boozy owner of a salvage boat who is thrilled, at first, to have found a genuine “turtle-girl” hybrid.
Downhill racer Dante Wheeler “dies” in a terrible skiing accident and revives in a twilight state, having lost all memories of his former life. When he heals enough to leave the rehab facility, Dante heads to Polynesia, where he has found a home in his dreams. There he encounters Ophelia, a beautiful blond policewoman who reluctantly agrees to transport him to East Pukapuka.
Jope and Ratu, a pair of bumbling pirates, steal a vessel laden with cocaine. They are hotly pursued by the drug-runners’ hit man Albino Paul, the descendent of cannibals, whose goal is to reclaim his heritage.
As in Alpaugh’s beloved first novel, The Bear in a Muddy Tutu, fate pokes its fickle finger in the lives of these hapless souls with about as much clear intention as a three-year-old in a sandbox. Even the gods are incompetent. Alpaugh’s world offers no lessons in morality. His characters are fatally flawed, hilarious, and heartbreakingly human.
Says Alpaugh, “As a journalist, I spent time on various islands. Some visits were for travel stories, while others were for armed conflicts. My wife and I have visited and picked our own special Pacific island to move to when my youngest is off to college. It’s 3500 miles north of the fictional East Pukapuka, but the current residents share the same spirit as my characters. Dante Wheeler, the ski racer character, is loosely based on some great friends and former teammates. As I anxiously watch my racing daughters navigate icy courses, I am very aware that none of us is any match for what lurks in the shadows.”
Cole Alpaugh began his newspaper career in the early ’80s at a daily paper on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. He has won national awards working for papers in Massachusetts and Central New Jersey. While writing for two Manhattan-based news agencies he covered conflicts in Haiti, Panama, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and guerrilla raids conducted out of the refugee camps along the Thai/Cambodia boarder. His articles have appeared in dozens of magazines, as well as most newspapers in America. Cole’s first novel, The Bear in a Muddy Tutu, was published by Camel Press, an imprint of Coffeetown Press, in 2011. Coming soon from Coffeetown: Cole’s third novel, The Spy’s Little Zonbi. Cole is currently a freelance photographer and writer living in Northeast Pennsylvania. Click here to find Cole online.
The Turtle-Girl from East Pukapuka is available at select bookstores and online at Amazon and BN.com. Distributed by Aftershocks Media (firstname.lastname@example.org/800.950.6663), the 5×8 trade paperback can be ordered by stores and libraries through Baker & Taylor, Ingram, Partners/West, Midwest Library Service, and Todd Communications. The eBook can be purchased on Kindle and in other editions on Smashwords and Google eBooks.
Read on for an excerpt:
Dante Wheeler knew where the birds were hiding. He had a rainbow sherbet image of rustling feathers, could hear their nervous bickering, despite being ten thousand miles away and having barely enough bird savvy to distinguish a pelican from a pigeon.
“Sherbet,” Dante hissed into the turbulence created by his tremendous velocity on the famed Lauberhorn downhill race course. He’d blasted through the start wand and made great skating strides toward the first gate. Television cameras followed him across the top of the world, expanses of treeless snowfields zipping by, picturesque jagged peaks in the distance. The first jump was thirty second in. Dante’s long skis were rifle shots slapping down on icy flats. “And yellow,” he chirped happily, despite instincts from a lifetime of training that demanded he rerun the images of his inspections and practice runs.
Dante sensed the huddled birds in his mind were agitated as he came roaring across the side hill portion and bled his speed in the hundred-eighty degree C turn, just before the nightmarish Hundschopf jump. Through the narrow chicane, giant netting on the left and a rock and snow wall a ski-length away on the right, Dante snuck a peek at the barren tree tops that had begun to appear, half expecting a glimpse of one of those birds from the Fruits Loops box.
“Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs!” Dante shouted giddily, laughing, flashing under the train track bridge and into the speedy Super G turns. His eyes watered behind the yellow goggle lenses he’d chosen to cope with the flat light sections.
The slope fell away and Dante accelerated to a hundred miles per hour, ski bases melting, vibrating madly as they barely touched the snow.
“White,” Dante cried out, his voice hoarse from the strain and the icy wind. “I see white!”
Spectators and coaches could practically reach out and touch gloved hands here, where a racer approached the first off-camber turn of Stump Alley, the Ziel-S. And they might have thought the American wearing bib number fifty-five—the hot-shot young cowboy—was referring to the course, or maybe the few fat snowflakes set free from a single dark cloud directly above. But Dante was seeing the curious seagulls framed by a great black monster when he caught a whiff of perfume that had been trapped somewhere in his long underwear since the night before. It was already a fond memory, what with all the wonderfully dirty things the girl had allowed him to do to her. Her smell had been sweet and fruity, and Dante was smiling as he and his skis launched into the frigid Swiss air at sixty miles per hour, headed for a tight grove of pine trees.
“Focus,” Dante called out too late, arms flailing, body too far back on his tails to absorb what should have been a harmless, buried mound of earth. Dante was helpless against the mighty wind and roar that began his ascent. He sniffed for the girl from last night, but was distracted by salt on his lips. He licked them and tasted the sea.
A recurring lack of focus was forever his albatross. Precious course inspection time had been wasted when he’d skied over to an early spectator to score a phone number and autograph her breasts as their steamy breath mingling overhead.
“Dammit, boy, do you have a death wish?” The German-accented American coach had railed over muffled laughter from the teammates who’d whipped out their own cell phone cameras. The coach shook a ski pole, pointing at Dante from an especially tricky section of the course. “You are too scatter-brained, Wheeler. A downhiller needs to be focused. A downhiller who expects to live, anyway.”
“Big, big wave.” Now that his body was fully airborne, Dante’s voice was calm. He opened his mouth wide, frigid air puffing his cheeks, and his lips vibrated and tickled insanely.
The orange safety netting protecting the last turn of the Lauberhorn would have done its job had Dante not been soaring out of control, twenty feet above its reach.
“Hit your line perfectly, or very bad things will happen,” Dante’s coach had said to his most worrisome charge during the morning inspection. He’d smacked the rock-hard snow with his pole. “This is life or death right here.”
“Life or death.” Dante’s voice was a whisper as he flew headfirst, looking skyward at the rogue cloud still spitting flakes. Like a lawn dart, he thought, recalling a dangerous version of the game he’d played with his drunken teenage friends during summer ski camp on the Mount Hood glacier. Two puncture wounds, an eye nearly put out. They had been turned in by an Amazonian camp nurse, whose betrayal was almost made forgivable by her spectacular boobs that brushed your naked chest and arms.
“Incoming!” the thrower would shout, sending the heavy metal-pointed dart straight up in the mosquito-filled mountain air. The last to bail out of the launch spot won the point, sometimes paying with his own blood. But it was totally worth it. A little creative twist on a tedious game had resulted in the group having to wash breakfast dishes for the remainder of the session. Any mention of lawn darts disappeared from the following season’s camp brochure.
A sudden, buffeting wind forced Dante’s chin to his chest, and he took in the awesome view of his Atomic skis overlooking the meringue-covered Alps. He made a mental note to run an idea past his agent—a photo of him launching into the sky over Wengen, showing thumbs up, smiling, knowing he would land safely. Maybe even the girl from last night could be tucked under his arm, Superman and Lois Lane-like, for a new ad campaign. “They make you fly!” Dante mused, his body slowly rotating as if in a space orbit, providing a postcard-quality panorama of snow-topped roofs in the scenic valley.
And then Dante heard the collective gasp from the thirty-thousand spectators below, knowing this life or death thing must surely be only an instant away.