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In which John reads the first half of the opening chapter of his next book, Paper Towns. (I did not spray paint the tree. It was an amazing coincidence.)

Provided I finish it on time, Paper Towns will be published by Dutton in September of 2008.


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A Bunny
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Good Morning Hank, it's Wednesday, September 12th, and I'm going to read to you from the first chapter of my new book, Paper Towns. Quick caveat, this isn't going to sound exactly like it'll sound next year when it comes out because it's still pretty rough. Your input is welcome.

Our subdivision Jefferson Park used to be a navy base. But then the navy didn't need it anymore. So it returned the land to the citizens of Orlando, Florida. We decided to build a massive subdivision because that's what we do with land. My parents, and Margo Roth Speiglaman's parents ended up moving next door to each other just after the first houses were built. Margo and I, were two.

Before Jefferson Park was a PleasantVille, and before it was a navy base, it belonged to an actual Jefferson. The Jefferson is question was this guy, Dr. Jefferson Jefferson. Dr. Jefferson Jefferson has a school named after him in Orlando, and also a large charitable foundation, and the fascinating and unbelievable but true thing about Dr. Jefferson Jefferson is that he was not a doctor of any kind. He was an orange juice salesman. When he became rich and powerful, he just went to court and had his first name changed from Jefferson, to Dr. Capital D, lower case r, period.

Margo's parents were friends with my parents, and when we were little Margo and I would sometimes bike through the cul-de-sac-y streets to Jefferson Park itself, which was the hub of the subdivision's wheel. I always got very nervous whenever I heard that she was about to show up on account of how she was the most fantastically gorgeous creature that God had ever created. That afternoon she wore white shorts and a pink t-shirt that featured a green dragon, breathing a fire of orange glitter. It is difficult to explain how awesome I found this shirt at the time.

So we were ten. It was a steaming hot day in March and Margo and I biked to the park. She always biked standing up; her arms locked as she leaned above the handle bars, her purple sneakers a rotating blur. The sky was clear, but the air tasted acidic, like it might storm later. At the time I fancied myself an inventor and after we locked up out bikes and began the short walk across the park to the playground, I told Margo about an idea I had for an invention called the Ringalator. The Ringalator was this giant cannon that would shoot big colored rocks into a very low orbit, giving Earth the same kind of rings that Saturn has. I still think this would be an excellent idea, actually, but it turns out that building a cannon that can shoot boulders into a low orbit is kind of complicated.

We were only a few steps inside the park when I began to sense that the world was out of order. I'd been in that park so many times before that it was mapped in my mind, but I couldn't figure out what was different. That still happens to me, I can sense changes but I can't identify them. Someone's wearing a new pair of jeans, and I say "Did you get a hair cut?".

"Quentin." Margo said, quietly. She was pointing. And then I realized what was different. There was a live oak tree a few feet from us; thick, and gnarled and ancient looking. That wasn't new, but now, now a guy wearing a grey suit sat slumped against the trunk. I may not be a master of observation, but I was able to deduce pretty quickly that the guy was dead, on account of how 1) he wasn't moving and 2) he was surrounded by a sizable amount of blood, which 3) seemed to originate from somewhere inside his mouth, which itself was 4) open in a way that mouths are generally not open. Not to mention the fact that 5) there were quite a lot of flies involved in the whole scene.

"He's dead" Margo said, as if I couldn't tell. I took two small steps backward. I remember thinking that if I make sudden movements, he might wake up and attack me. Maybe he was a zombie. I knew zombies weren't real, but he sure looked like a potential zombie. As I took those two steps back, Margo took two equally small and quiet steps forward.

"His eyes are open" she said.

"Margo, we gotta go home!"

She looked at me and said "I thought you closed your eyes when you died."

Hank, I'll finish reading this flashback on Friday. I'll see you tomorrow.