Here’s a fake synopsis I wrote for a book that doesn’t exist. I had a lot of fun with it.
Johnny is a twelve-year-old boy with cancer. He lives alone with his mother. His father died in Iraq six years ago. Though his medical bills aren’t much of a problem with his father’s GI insurance, his mom still has to work two jobs to get by. This leaves Johnny alone a lot of the time, and though his prognosis is positive, his life is lonesome.
But Johnny has a new doctor, Dr. Oswald Methuselah, who swoops into Johnny’s life with a doctor’s bag full of adventure and magic. Dr. Methuselah takes Johnny away from his life during summer vacation and into strange lands, leaving behind a simulacrum to keep Johnny’s mother placated. First they go to the Lost City of Hullabaloo, wherein Johnny is perceived to be a fulfillment of an ancient prophecy. He’s treated like a king until he figures out the local intend to sacrifice him to complete the prophecy.
After escaping with the help of a young girl, Tan, the three are stuck at sea on a boat held together by reeds and magic. Dr. Methuselah is a powerful wizard, but he doesn’t have unlimited powers. He needs something to recharge his magic or the boat will sink. But there’s nothing but water and fish around for miles. Tan’s family were fishermen, however. She knows there’s magic in the sea. She takes her spear and jumps into the roiling ocean. She comes back up with a talking octopus that begs them to spare its life. Dr. Methuselah recognizes the creature as his old familiar and is able to draw enough magic to get them safely to shore.
Johnny isn’t feeling well at this point. It’s been more than a week since he’s had treatments, and although the doctor soothes him with his magic, it’s not enough. They have to travel through the Desert of Death to get home. On their trek, water becomes scarce. Tan can hardly keep up, and the only thing keeping Johnny going is an amulet gifted to him by the high priest of Hullabaloo. After Tan collapses from exhaustion and falls down a sand dune, Johnny decides to give her his amulet. Doctor Methuselah warns him the energies in the amulet won’t work for him again if he gives it to Tan, but Johnny knows she’ll die if he doesn’t.
Death appears, summoned at the moment Johnny gives Tan the amulet. He’s come to take Johnny. Doctor Methuselah invokes the Rites of Death, which allow a doomed soul to fight for its survival. However, Johnny will have to die first to become a doomed soul. The Doctor devises a potion to let Johnny’s soul leave his body so he can duel death in a game of “Have You Ever”.
Death shows Johnny suffering from death and disease, the horrors of war and heresy, but Johnny has seen all that. He’s been fighting off cancer, his father died in the sands of Iraq in a war that didn’t make sense, and he’s been faced with near-death a dozen times since following Doctor Methuselah on his adventures. He even gave Tan the magic amulet knowing it would likely mean his own demise. Death relents and allows Johnny to take his turn. Johnny shows him a talking octopus, which death has never seen before. His soul no longer doomed and an amused Death now befriended, Johnny, the Doctor, Tan, and even the talking octopus are whisked back home — though Tan must return to Hullabaloo to deal with the fallout of Johnny’s escape.
Johnny is glad to be home. Adventure was fun but too stressful. His cancer isn’t gone, and the Doctor soon has to move on to a new patient, one he refuses to tell Johnny about. Johnny keeps the simulacrum so he can go out and have fun without his mother worrying, and begins to live a somewhat normal life again. On the first day of a new school year, the teacher introduces a new student: Tan Methuselah, who has just moved to town with her father. She takes a seat next to Johnny and returns the amulet, though she says its power is all gone. Johnny tells her it’s alright, he already beat death and has no more fear of the unknown.