The Adventures of Mercury Lane: Jack's Fall is 44,000 words, a 212 page novel. A synopsis:
The story opens at the funeral of Major Troy G. Lane, fighter pilot and fallen American hero. It’s December 22, 2006, and Troy Lane is one of 2972 Americans who have died in the Iraq War. In the year that follows, Lane’s son Jack (with the nickname, "Mercury") starts running with a bad crowd, starting fistfights, smoking cigarettes, starting fires, spray painting graffiti, shoplifting, stealing cash from his mother’s purse, and especially, immersing himself in violent computer games: Subterranean Doom and Pacific Air Combat.
On the eve of the first anniversary of his father’s funeral, Jack is up late, unhappily doing research for an essay on the Ten Commandments (Sister Viola’s punishment for shooting spitwads in catechism). While on-line, Jack stumbles upon a website named badcommandments.com. Ignoring dire warnings, he enters and is sucked down a cyberspace wormhole into Subterranean Doom—where teenage girls live in competing gangs and battle vicious tunnel monsters known as “mutant slugs.”
In SD, girls rule. Boys are expendable, either “bait” (a slug scout) or “freight” (hauling loads). Jack ends up with the Oddies gang. After numerous adventures and narrow escapes, he finds himself falling in love with Lydia, a squad leader. The only problem is Jack is 14 going on 15, while Lydia is nearly 18 and days away from “spinning the bottle.” The loser of this game is banished to the tunnels to face the killing hordes of slugs alone. When Lydia loses the game, Jack goes into the tunnels to rescue her. Ultimately, she sacrifices her life to help him escape.
Next Jack finds himself in a deserted Wal-Mart Supercenter, a lonely corner of hell filled with all the stuff you could ever want, but devoid of the most important thing of all: people. Shades of “The Twilight Zone.” While grieving over Lydia’s death, Jack discovers there’s a jungle outside the store. He learns that he must make three purchases to get out. But which three items? After making his selections, Jack exits into a creepy, bug-infested tropical jungle. With great difficulty, he makes his way to an airfield, where he discovers it’s 1944, and he’s in Pacific Air Combat. He’ll have to fight his way home.
A Hellcat (with a colorful, and vaguely familiar helmet on the glareshield) catches Jack’s eyes. He climbs in. In real life, he’s flown a Cessna 172 with his dad, and has thousands of hours flying in video games, but will he be able to fly a real Hellcat? To his astonishment, he finds he can fly the WWII fighter, and he quickly finds himself fighting for his life in a swirling dogfight. Outnumbered, Jack scores two kills before he encounters a mysterious adversary who battles him to a stalemate. When his Hellcat runs out of gas, Jack is forced to bail out.
In the jungle, his adversary, Satori, rescues Jack from a tree. A Christ-like shaman, Satori teaches Jack life-altering lessons and helps him come to grips with his father’s life and death. Now Jack must summon all his strength and courage to overcome the final obstacle, a swirling ocean portal guarded by patrol boats that rake the sea with machine gun fire. In a dramatic climatic scene, Jack dives under the patrol boat and swims underwater into the shimmering whirlpool portal.
When Jack returns from his cyberspace adventure, it’s Saturday morning, December 22, 2007, and he is a changed young man. He writes an essay on the Ten Commandments that makes his mom proud. He becomes more loving toward his little sister. On Christmas Eve, his mother gives him a gift his father wanted him to have when he grew up—it’s the very same helmet he wore while flying in Pacific Air Combat—his dad’s helmet! Then, in a “letter from beyond the grave,” his father gives him advice for life and encourages him to follow a different path than the military, to serve the cause of peace.
The story ends two months later with Jack bored and feeling blue in first-period homeroom, watching “Channel One” (a newscast for students), broadcasting the latest fatality count from Iraq. The class is interrupted by the arrival of a new student, an exchange student from Lithuania whose father is guest teaching at Carnegie Melon University. The girl’s name is Laima Utinsky. Jack’s heart stops when she turns to face the class. He'd recognize that face anywhere:
It’s Lydia, from Subterranean Doom. The series will be continued in book two, subtitled "Kelly's Run."