Done (not really)!

2013-Winner-Facebook-Cover

Yes! I made 52000-plus words. Iʼm done (not really). The reason there hasnʼt been a post for months is in the past now.

NaNoWriMo 2013 — won.

Morte Saison isnʼt half finished at this point — really just a lot of (nearly random) scenes and sections, not even tied together, and certainly not complete. Thereʼs a ton of work ahead. But this year (even more than last, which topped the utter crap I churned out in 2011), I feel like I have gotten quite a lot accomplished. I am even looking forward to more writing and lots of editing and revising ahead.

Right now, it feels wonderful not to worry about getting in hours of writing time for a day or two (and definitely catch up on unfinished and unwritten letters and blog posts — hey, I still have an entire vacation to write about).

Anyway, year four complete. Iʼll add the little winner icon to the sidebar soon…

(Even better, we have our Christmas tree up and decorated — and all the lights have lit!)

©2013 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

A Really Good Book

So. I missed “yesterday,” as stated in my previous post. And I missed yesterday, as in relation to this post (I hope) as well — meaning that I also missed posting on Pi Day (preferably known as Einsteinʼs Birthday), as well. In both cases we must blame the computer (and somewhat my own sloth — but mostly the computer: bless you Apple with all sanctimonious and cynical sarcasm). Even today, with a new update for Mountain Lion, I have spent most of the day with the iMac frozen and (seemingly) forever restarting (fortunately, The Lovely One asked me to clean the house in preparation for some guests, who called last night to indicate illness all week was undoubtedly going to prevent their visit; so I could at least go away from the detestable device and do something worthwhile today — as yesterday I determined to not just sit and fume at spinning gear images and what not but read instead).*

Clearly I should keep this brief before the computer interferes with working successfully yet again.

KindlleHere it is: I love my Kindle (not so fond of the Kindle app for Mac, however, as it now takes a full five minutes to start and run, when not in “safe” mode when it loads perfectly fine and fast, and also apparently caused the most recent system freeze and forced hard restarts). It is really cool to be able to carry a full library around with me in one little, thin device. And I do mean a full library. Although the Kindle Reader only counts 437 books downloaded and included, a huge number of those are the cheap and usable “complete” collection available from various packagers of royalty-free material, meaning that about 50 of the “books” include from twenty to fifty books each!

However, the best thing about the amazon.com device is that I really get into reading things on it — new, old, reread for the umpteenth time and utterly fresh. I have always been a lover of the actual, old-fashioned book — the scent, the feel, the comfort of real pages in a real binding (paper or otherwise). But on the Kindle, reading works just as well, and I get perhaps even more lost in the stories. In my contemporary state of increasing joint pains (sometimes desperately excruciating), holding the Kindle beats trying to keep a hardbacked book open in my lap (not to mention the utter delight for My Beloved to be able to make the font just as large as necessary for her post-surgical eyeballs to perceive readily).

wolf-hallAnd one of the best things that I actually read (new and complete) thanks to the electronic reading machine has been Hilary Mantelʼs Wolf Hall, a brilliant book that thoroughly captured me and kept me up late, late (intolerably so when it came to arising sometimes less than four hours later to get out and work out), unwilling to pause at any story break and go to sleep.

I had first encountered her text in portions published in various literary magazines before the book was actually published (at least here in the U.S.) — in the TLS for certain and I also think in the New York Review of Books and possibly The London Review of Books** as well. Although I read the material each time (and also the subsequent glowing reviews), I wasnʼt entirely whelmed at the third-person present-tense imprisonment in the protagonistʼs perspective.

I did eventually buy the hardback at a Borders going-out-of-business 80%-off price a couple of years ago, but I never got further than the first fifty pages. Maybe, for an old man weened on the hagiography of A Man for All Seasons, it was too hard to imagine a Thomas Cromwell not utterly wicked and venal (although one can clearly perceive his hardening character in Mantelʼs telling, once I did read the book).

In October or November (I donʼt now remember just when I bought the e-book version), with the next volume in the trilogy, Bring Up the Bodies, well reviewed and winning Mantel her second-in-a-row Man Booker Prize, I sprang the nine bucks for a Kindle version. And have been devouring it since (spaced judiciously for other reads, particularly various research items for Sepharad and other books I whimsically have afforded to create the massive library that fits into my pocket).

Wolf Hall. Wonderful stuff. Incredibly well written and easy to read voraciously.

Now I am postponing the start of Bring Up the Bodies (also on the Kindle for some time now) in order to enjoy other things — The Moonstone for the fifth time and for  second time Anthony Burgessʼs Earthly Powers, which became available in January. And triter trifles, too (like Jack Vanceʼs Demon Princes series again and a pleasant discovery from a dead favorite — a mystery by Roger Zelazny, The Dead Manʼs Brother, already completed and archived). And more to come.

* And even now Spotlightʼs incessant cataloguing keeps taken over from my typing and leaving me with not a cursor but an Apple-effing spinning beachball.

** That periodical did publish the text of the speech the author gave recently about the royals which got her into trouble for (not really) disrespecting the expectant mother of the heir-to-become.

©2013 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Søren and Judah (again)

Here is the second dose of the recent portion of “Mistakes by Moonlight” that I dictated this last week. As MacSpeech Dictate mishears meat least once every sentence, usually more often, you can help by letting me know what things you find that donʼt make sense (I already spotted and correct an “I” that should have been “A.”

Although, this, from the very original draft assumes that they are leaving from the Golden Bull, having just met. You and I know better, and this is really the second night, and I need to come up with a good reason to have them begin “well fortified with wine,” or else change the start of this chapter (which will be chapter 4; I was still writing chapter 3, all brand-new, when I scheduled this).

Enjoy.

“medieval thoroughfare” image search result

Thus, fortified with a powerful dosage of wine, and moderately fed, this small and the tall set out in the middle of the night to renew the interrupted escapade. As Judah had taken the route specified by Reynaldo’s plan when beset the day before, they both concluded the wisdom of trying an alternate path to their goal, the Green Tower.

As the planned route had wound through back ways and had been assaulted so easily, Søren suggested that they try the most public way possible, and the Street of Dreams led directly across town, just a few rambling blocks from the large, empty square where stood the witch’s power. It lay a bit further from the nasty alley which the Golden Bull fronted.

Even at this hour merry crowds filled Calle de Sueños, one of the five principal avenues across the city, and the two melted into the flow of folk, although Søren’s height placed him conspicuously overlooking the streams of heads.

On the other hand, no one was looking for him. Or so the two hoped as they strode along and dodged among the mixed classes and religions thronging the Street of Dreams.

Once, in a dark place between wavering cones of light from civic torches, a man rushed from an obscure doorway directly at Judah. But when Søren stepped in his way, the fellow appeared simply overstimulated with drink. A few minutes later, in another dark stretch where the crowds had evaporated into amusements within the buildings alongside, a pair of horsemen appeared ahead and charged down at the duo, who both dodged aside, as the mounted police laughed and clattered on. More sinister, both men felt and nervous pressure at every intersection and separately kept turning ahead to check behind. Søren plowing people aside, judo weaving and docking between folks and around groups. Every time all seem secure unless that group which quickly turned aside into that tavern on the left was the same group that had slipped off briefly to cheer a Gypsy dancer in a side street earlier.

In the better part of town, public buildings, palaces and places of worship — mosques, churches, synagogues — stood stately and widespread along the margins of the street. On this side of the city, businesses of all repute’s with rooms above, taverns, in his and gambling dens massed thickly on each side. The street remained wide, providing passage to pedestrians, carriages and carts, worsening as well as burdened donkeys and stevedores balancing pallets of goods on shoulders and heads. Upper stories are on side streets might nearly or truly touch over the passageway, but here have been remain clearly visible above.

As they advanced, the number of people gradually dwindled along with the streetlights and the noise until they found themselves alone on the now black street, just a block from the turning to the narrow way debouching into the bleak and vacant square outside the Green Tower.

A cat yowled suddenly when they stepped into the square of few minutes later and fled, all white streak, across an open area and to one side.

“I hope that wasn’t some demonic guardian warning of our approach,“ Soren opined.

“If she cares, if she’s away, she probably knows all that transpires around her tower. But our boss says she’s grown comfortable and careless. Thus her supernatural slumber twixt midnight and dawn. Come, let’s hurry. Always lies where the Went, a coincidence not at all reassuring to me.“

“medieval green tower” image search result

“Maybe he was sent by the wizard we indirectly serve, Judah.“

“A thought even less comforting. I almost think I’d rather have her attention on me than that blackhearted Necromancer’s. Here’s our alley. Follow.“

Halfway down this side passage, Judah drew a key from his purse, using the device to open very small and the road door in the building they had been passing. Quickly he rushed Søren, ducking and twisting, within, and although the plan had not called for the action, relocked the portal from inside.

“That will make it difficult to leave again, should the need arise,” objected the Northerner.

“Our plan is to exit her tower another way.” Nathan repocketed the key. “Besides, safely locked, I hope no one can follow us from here. Go. Grope ahead: a stairway should open on the left.”

It did, and the two climbed in darkness, up and up, turning on landing after landing until suddenly Søren’s head thumped against the rough unseen in the utter black. He swore under his breath.

“Perhaps I should have gone first. Sorry. Feel for the ring,” Judah urged. “It’s a trap door onto the roof.”

Søren made no sound locating the ring his head had barely missed in the collision, turned it as instructed, and heaved upwards slightly, just a few inches, peering out on the vaulted surface of the rooftop. All looked silent and deserted in the single direction he could barely see.

The thin slit of starlight illuminated the top steps to Judah’s dark-accustomed eyes, and he quickly located the gear Reynaldo had promised hanging on the wall. Gathering this stuff into his arms, he asked, “All clear?”

In reply, Søren pushed the door up right and leaped out, his left hand still on the ring as his right swept his sword up and out to challenge… nothing. All clear. He stepped aside as Judah swarmed up and out with his new burdens, and then he lowered the door again, dropping the ring and grasping the portal’s edge.

“Let it close all the way,” Judah instructed. “There’s little enough we could do were we able to retreat this way again.”

But Søren cautiously kicked a pebble to lodge in the gap as he released his grasp. Now they could return through the trap door, if necessary. An unlikely need, perhaps, but he also noticed no ring topside to lift the door again to permit ingress. The Green Tower loomed to their left across about twenty yards of open space. They crossed to the edge of their roof, standing behind a low parapet just higher than Judah’s knees. From up here they could see that the open square actually surrounded the tower on all sides, isolating it with at least the distance before them between it and any other building. Indeed, their rooftop came closer than any other structure to the Green Tower.

And it was green, even in the nocturnal darkness which made the tower black, hints of reflection winked greenly. Color by starlight was almost impossible to perceive, but Søren realized he had seen the towerʼs top as a memorable element of the cityscape when he rode down out of the mountains to the plain. And Judah naturally had several times circled and deleted the building in the square, providing a sop and a stimulant to his everthirsting curiosity. Looking upward, Søren could see the rows of periodic windows which would be their primary interest. Far higher yet that crenellated tower top — far too high for any strength to launch a climber’s hook.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A



And Da Winnah Is…

Perhaps you have noticed that as of yesterday I made some changes to the layout and contents of the blog. Nothing major or important, really, I just moved some of the items in the two columns to the right around, added one new category/image/link, and replaced the old NaNoWriMo “Participant” emblem with a “Winner” badge. Yep, itʼs true. I “won” the National Novel Writing Month challenge yesterday afternoon, certifying my 50,520 words about 3:50 PM.

Donʼt believe me? Click here and check it out. (The winner badge over there under the book title works as well.) I feel relatively pleased with myself. I did not really believe I could do it, especially on an entirely new project about which I had planned or thought almost nothing whatsoever. Moreover, I also got the blog up every day, too, and only have 31 further daily posts to go to fulfill that other, but-partially-acknowledged goal… But back to the November novel project!

I donʼt have a finished novel, as I suggested recently. Slaves to the Lesser Moon is going to run considerably more than NaNoWriMoʼs 50,000 words. In fact Dylan Hunter (I finally came up with a first name for him, one which the reptilian folk of Tysriel could conceivably pronounce, unlike that surname, which at one point I have a native mangle as “Humʼterh”) is currently, in the midst of Chapter 12, stranded in a city (Batsuʼyillogh) of baddies, the Boʼmghtsaly, having just fought a forced duel with another prisoner/slave, after nearly a full month in a dungeon dug in the earth a long way underground. Heʼs got a lot ahead of him (no bird-people yet, no Travelers, although I had about three paragraphs written out of sequence on them). As a potential series, itʼs got (many) ways to go. Even so, I am delighted to have written that much in one story. Unfortunately, I have just as much and more to go.

So one of my changes yesterday was to move the NaNoWriMo badge (switched out for the winner status) to a more prominent spot. The other was to add an indication of my gratitude to the software that made Slaves (and I hope much more soon) possible — Scrivener, the ideal program for writing long books, fiction or nonfiction. Lots of programs put Microsoftʼs Word to shame, but Scrivener leaves all the rest choking on dust as well.

I want to credit writer Gwen Hernandez, who was one of my instructors on the use of Scrivener with her “Tech Tuesday” posts and other observations about writing technology on her blog. Thanks to Scrivener Facebook updates directing me to her insightful essays, she gave me more information than I have yet used on the ins and outs of this fascinating and worthwhile piece of software. Furthermore (and more relevantly for this paragraph), in reading her blog, I grew envious of her cool “A Mac Writer Using Scrivener” badge, which I appropriated (borrowed?) and tagged with the Literature & Latte URL some time after 4:00 yesterday afternoon. I hope she approves because without the program, I am sure I would not have written so much, and I would like to honor its role in my writing.

Not that Slaves to the Lesser Moon doesnʼt need work. In fact if you check the “Novel Info” tab on the NanoWriMo site and read my little sample from Chapter 4, “A New World,” you can see right away that I was not merely overwriting wildly (at least sometimes) but throwing away words that would serve no purpose except to get cut — to wit, “I was alone on a strange world where the most horribly hideous creatures swam the upper air and apparently craved my flesh for food.” I can live with the alliteration of the “flesh for food,” but only horrible or hideous can remain to describe the flying lizard monsters Hunter will later name pterodaunts, thus reducing the word count from just that sentence by three words (as “the most” is unnecessary as well): “I was alone on a strange world where hideous creatures swam the upper air and apparently craved my flesh for food.”

I should create a Longer Items page for Slaves Chapter 1 that I have posted here, but I didnʼt take the time yesterday. I also have edits on things that I have noticed (like problems with “Mantorville” and perhaps a Longer Items entry for some of the essays I have stretched over days of posts previously, including “Whereʼs Your Head This Morning” — godawful title, that, Tarzan and the four parts about Religion and the First Amendment). And thatʼs pretty much my changes (mostly discussed just so I can brag, at least to myself, that I did it). Maybe now I can read something other than my own scrivenings — although I did get all the way through rereads of A Princess of Mars, Tarnsman of Gor and City of the Chasch as nightly research this past month, plus opening chapters of about a half-dozen other planetary adventures, including the first third of Dragonflight.

But now itʼs writing time on a Tuesday. A new month looms tomorrow. I should get to dictating the rest of “Mistakes by Moonlight” to Scrivener, and take a look over the few hundred words I penned in the Michaelʼs parking lot yesterday on its sequel, “Death Wizardʼs Vengeance.” And thereʼs at least another 50,000 words to add to push Slaves to the Lesser Moon to a finish. See you tomorrow.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Planetary Romance, 6

And now, to end the month of November (at least on the day for your weekly dose of bits from fiction), hereʼs the rest of Chapter One, “End of an Affair,” from Slaves to the Lesser Moon. The previous part was here, last Sunday.

Hunter and Birch are talking as Terry passes out in the apartment. Birch is trying to explain Dr. V.J. Fairchildʼs accidental intrusion into the nature of time and space…

“So you push things through your… — gap into another time? Is that it?”

“Kind of, sure. Only the things are the gap, in a way, probabalistically. Theyʼre equivalent with timeless spacetime, only timeless and spaceless, too I guess. See, she was working with some abnormal results published a few years back, in Physics Notes, from CERN, and she realized last year, about now, I guess, a year ago, that if you removed the temporal elements in the equations — she was developing different equations than youʼd have thought — , dividing out the vibrations in the strings, the abnormalities made sense, fit her new timeless equations… but those were highpowered experiments. I mean, itʼs CERN, itʼs the biggest, most-highpowered… Then in second semester last year she realized that the same results, well, similar ones, equivalent, could be reached at relatively low powers, too. Not exactly. What took her attention, what captured her imagination, was the time absence. See? Her idea was that we could manipulate, create an actual gap, thatʼs what I call it, in spacetime, so thereʼs no time, and so I guess no space, same thing, you know, within the radius, briefly.”

He made no sense to me. I donʼt think he did to himself. He acted really frustrated.

“But you did it? You made whatever you are talking about happen?”

“Um, yeah. In a way. I guess. Yeah. We have demonstrated her equations. After Thanksgiving, we used a pencil, then bigger objects. We celebrated New Yearʼs using a mouse I, uh, liberated, from the bio lab.”

Terry mumbled suddenly in his stupor, and I realized I was feeling pretty dopey myself. Maybe what Birch was saying made sense if you hadnʼt guzzled a dozen beers. Thirteen. I looked down at the one still in my hand, heavy, barely drunk at all.

“You used things? How?”

“We, uh, made stuff change their place in time, spacetime.”

“You made stuff travel through time?”

“Uh, sure, although I donʼt think thatʼs really a very good terminology, Hunter. The device creates this spacetime gap, and if we introduce something into the gap, or rather create the gap around the object, well, as the object, really, it no longer occupies spacetime. Itʼs independent of the framework. The whole framework. Thatʼs what Valjean doesnʼt see. Even gravity doesnʼt affect them. Maybe not even dark matter or energy.”

“I donʼt get it. You put things in your machine and they just sit there? How do you know you are doing anything at all? What is it? They donʼt age or what?”

“No. Well, they donʼt. Age, that is. Or rather, they shouldnʼt. Not while they equate with the gap, are the gap, become the gap…” He was losing us both trying to identify just what happened inside their time machine.

“Can I see it?”

“See it?”

“Yeah, Birch. Will you let me see it? Maybe you could show me what it does, you know. Maybe then Iʼd understand…”

I had lit a little fire in him, visible in his eyes. “You want to see what it does…”

“Sure. Show me. Maybe itʼll all make sense then. I want to see what happens to the things in your gap.”

“Not in the gap. They are the gap. Briefly. Well, not briefly, thatʼs time. But they re-emerge. Before we put them in. Sometimes.”

An exaggeration (for the story)

“Before? Before you put them in? They go back in time?”

“Sort of. Not always. The cat came back, came out right away — “

“You tried this thing on a cat?”

“Valjean found it hanging outside her condo. Brought it in on Monday.”

“But it didnʼt work on the cat?”

“No. It worked. Just — … differently. Itʼs really hard to explain…”

“Youʼve got to show me, Birch.”

“She wanted me to try it on a bigger subject. Living things donʼt behave, react, the same as other objects. Shouldnʼt matter, but apparently it does… And sheʼs not considering the gravitational aspect. She thinks thatʼs an electrodynamic effect that weʼre observing. But it isnʼt shouldnʼt be… Sometimes I wonder if itʼs not  dark energy thing. — I didnʼt want to try it myself, you see. I think thereʼs other issues… She just focuses on the time-negativity all the time, but time is space. I know it. Timelessness is spacelessness, too. That matters.”

He was all worried about something else, trying to make all the numbers add up or something. I wanted to see the machine. I wanted to see something travel through time.

“Come on, Birch. Iʼve got to see this. You have to show me.”

Something clicked in his mind. Something changed. He agreed. “Okay. I can show you, Hunter. Hell,” he looked sly, somehow, “if you ask real pretty, I might even let you try it out for yourself…” He was staring right at me really funny, but I didnʼt register it at the time. He had made me think.

Could I try it out? Go back in time? I suddenly imagined stopping Jen from hooking up with her Jack last summer… It was only a few hours from Pashitakua to Hartford. Could Birch send me that far back? He wouldnʼt want to. Heʼd never want to help me with anything. But if I didnʼt tell him…

“Youʼd let me try it out, Birch?”

“Sure, dude. Maybe. I mean itʼs experimental. But if you see it, and want to try it out. Why not?”

Why not indeed? I started to see it all in my head. I could steal my own car from myself, my old self, and drive straight to her house, the day after she got home. Sheʼd said she didnʼt see that Jack jerk for the first time until the middle of June… Itʼd be real romantic. Sheʼd like that… Sheʼd like that a lot…

“So, Hunter, you want to go? Give it a looksee?”

By now I wanted to do a whole lot more than see. I thought the only hard part would be getting Birch to really, truly let me use the machine. If only I had remembered what he had said when he arrived. But I didnʼt. I just sucked on the beer can instead.

And thatʼs the end of Chapter One, about 5500 words altogether. Scrivener estimates that at fourteen paperback pages. Too long?

The big issue is whether I have had time to finish (or will in these next three days) the final 7000 words to reach 50,000 and thereby “win” NaNoWriMo.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

And Just How Is That Novel Going, Anyway?

I havenʼt bored you readers with any recent updates on the progress of my NaNoWriMo November novel, but as I have been very diligently writing all day long every time I am able (like both yesterday and Monday), and even with Janetʼs grudging permission churning out at least a few hundred words a day over the past weekend (on Sunday as she was wrapping gifts we will exchange with my side of the family at Thanksgiving tomorrow), I am almost done.

As I type this post, Tuesday evening, I have only 7000 words to go to make my requisite 50,000. Itʼs hard to believe that something which was just a vague idea in the back of my head not only has taken over most of my waking and sleeping thoughts (well, aside from obviously distracting medical issues recently) for a month (and really not any more days than that), but Slaves to the Lesser Moon has become the longest piece of writing I have done, nearly three times longer than the next most protracted pieces.

Not that 50,000 words — which according to lengths I read about years ago, really qualifies as a long novella in the science-fiction world — will complete my story, although I think I will be close or at a kind of cliffhanger climax once I reach that magical number. My full plot is beginning to seem as if itʼs twice or three times as long as the NaNoWriMo goal, which probably means I am taking the events too slowly. On Sunday youʼll be able to read the conclusion, at last, to Chapter 1, which is the average length I am shooting for per chapter, roughly 5000 words.

not my reptile humans, but itʼs astonishing how many "lizard men" Google turns up

As far as the story goes, Hunter gets zapped from earth via the Fairchild Device (and my chuckling apologies to my Fairchild friends and acquaintances, one in particular, for heisting your name for the story) at the end of Chapter 2. He spends Chapters 3 through 6 living on his own in the wilderness on Tsyriel, having all kinds of dangerous encounters and adventures. Chapter 7 marks his first meeting with a native Tsyrielean reptile-human, and he settles into that personʼs village in Chapters 8, 9 and 10. All of this is written.

In Chapter 11, excitement breaks out (there has to be a certain amount of exposition in learning the language and exposing the nature of the nomadsʼ society, so 9 and 10, the shortest individual chapters, are the least adventurous, although I also tried to leave an important plot element to reveal in that section); its working title is “Battle by Night.” And it may be the climax of that chapter, now that my word-count has risen so steeply, that ends the “novel” so far.

I actually have one major scene of about 1500 words written that comes significantly later than the big battle as well as some short fragments from even further on in the overall story (all of which are currently counting toward my full goal). Otherwise, I more or less wrote what I have in sequence, sometimes jumping ahead a scene or two when I felt bogged down or uninspired by the section I was really at, a technique that this month only inspired me to finish what I had lost interest in and fill in the gaps (so I will have to use the same system on things I have to write yet, both in this novel and other things).

I had a lot of fun yesterday making up the reptile-peopleʼs nomadic civilization and information about their language.

Anyway, thatʼs how the novel is going, not that anyone other than I really cares, I realize. Even The Lovely One is somewhat cooler than less-than-tolerant about this endeavor. But I have had fun. Itʼs been a blast actually writing up to 7500 words a day (more on a few days when I count the quotidian blog material, like this).

And with that, having run really verbose throughout last week, Iʼll quit for today, having vegetables to chop for stuffing and potatoes to mash all to be ready for the big Thanksgiving feast tomorrow.

 

(In reality, for me, itʼs 6:30 Tuesday evening, Janet just called, and itʼs time to make her lunch for today/Wednesday. But the same principle holds, and today/Wednesday I do have the turkey-day preparations to complete.)

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Planetary Romance, 5

As work stalled somewhat last week on my November novel, Slaves to the Lesser Moon, due to real life grabbing me up (giving me work opportunity, stealing a day for lessons in ocular migraines), this old portion from Chapter One doesnʼt seem so distant and unrelated to where Iʼm at as it shoud. Enjoy. The former pieces are here, here, here and here. Our hero, Hunter, is talking to physics nerd Birch Thorstein, who is annoyed that Hunterʼs roomie, Terry, has spilled the beans about a possible secret time machine in development.

Then he gave me the opening I had forgotten: “What do you know about the device?”

“What device?” My drink-stalled brain had also, like Terry, lost the thread of recent conversation. “Do you mean your — Fairchild machine?”

“Thatʼs exactly what I mean, asshole.” Birch was rapid firing his thoughts at me. What do you know? How do you know?” His brain was working very fast indeed, at least relative to mine. “— He told you, right?”

Terry jerked his head from a slump toward his chest at that. He knew he must be “he.”

“I was explaining why you were coming over, Birch.”

“Perfect.” Now Birch was mad, too. “Did you tweet everyone as well?”

“Aw, Birch, his girl dumped him…” Terry whined inanely.

“I donʼt care if his girl screwed the whole football team fifty times over!” Birch roared, the only sober one among us thoroughly losing it. “I want to know who all knows what about my personal, private business!”

“You built a bogus time machine,” I sniped bitterly. “Big deal.” His face blanched, looking upward at me. “No one cares.”

His watery gray eyes widened with fierce intensity. “How do you know these things?”

Good guesses, actually. I have always been a good guesser (as with Jen this fall). Sometimes I just donʼt want to acknowledge what my intuition tells me.

Now he grabbed me by my sweatshirt collar, arising from my chair, shoving his acned face very close to mine. “Tell me what you know. Tell me!”

Terry stirred to wakefulness. “He only knows what I told him. Just now.” His diction was very vague, sounds all sloshing together.

Birch turned on him. “I never told you it was a time machine. How did you find out? How!” He wasnʼt asking; he was insisting.

I explained, “You told him Fairchild had come up with some kind of — “ The word temporal still eluded my tongue.

“Breakthrough about time,” Terry chimed in, almost merrily.

“And you built a machine,” I finished. “Time plus machine equals time machine. Big freaking deal. Itʼs garbage, just like everything else sheʼs ever thought was important.” Dr. Fairchild was a huge joke around campus, probably academic circles nationwide, for her continual flood of ridiculously flawed insights.

Birchʼs eyes glanced around, away from me, even as his angry grip on my shirt relaxed. “Yeah. Yeah. Thatʼs right, all right. Just garbage.” He was lying. If Terry hadnʼt been nodding again, even he could have noticed. Birch was a lousy liar, his face and eyes all giveaways, at least to me. “I gotta go,” he added lamely, releasing me, moving away from my chair toward the door and the steps down to outside.

Terry snored.

“Birch. Wait.” I didnʼt realize at first it was me that spoke. Why shouldnʼt I be glad to be rid of Birch as easily as this? I usually couldnʼt get him out of our place once Terry had let him in.

He just kept moving, so I did, too, following. “Hold up.” I grabbed his arm, and he turned, looking quickly at Terry, unconscious. “Heʼs out of it, Birch.” I knew what he was thinking. “Itʼs just you and me. Come on, dude. I know youʼre lying, man. But I donʼt get it. What are you trying to hide? I mean, come on, we were just talking about — Fairchild… “ I thought briefly. “Does that mean… “ At first, I couldnʼt identify, pin down the scarcely conceived idea that had drawn me over to stop him. And then I couldnʼt admit it. “Itʼs her thing, isnʼt it? Thatʼs just not possible. Is it? — It works?!” Birch tried maintaining a stolid incomprehension on his face, but his eyes brightened enormously at my question. “Fairchildʼs time machine actually works!?” It sounded more like an accusation than a question, and he responded as though under interrogation, mutely nodding, not meeting my gaze.

an actual accelertor, CERN, Switzerland

“Keep it down, huh? This is all top secret stuff. Even Valjeanʼs not really aware that — “ he checked himself, and then added in a lowered tone, “that the device actually does what it — … does.” He pulled me close, nearer than I ever like to be to him, and whispered. “She thinks that because weʼre operating really low-power, and because it creates such a small aperture, that it only extends maybe a few minutes… but I think itʼs a lot more complicated than she believes. Iʼve run tests without her, when she wanʼt around… “

“What are you talking about?” He was confusing me. To me, time machine suggested H.G. Wells — you hop in, set a date, pull the crystal bar, and go. The movie-inspired image in my mind kind of made me want to see what the real thing was like.

“Itʼs hard to explain. Itʼs all math, you know, physics, spacetime. See, her idea was that we could force a gap in spacetime,” he paused trying to calculate if his words accurately expressed the arcane equations that actually made sense to him.

“A hole?” I offered.

“No, a point — thatʼs what she originally computed could be accomplished… “ My unscientific perspective was frustrating him. “Itʼs like a — gap,” he retreated to the word with which heʼd begun, “where spacetime doesnʼt occur.”

“A vacuum?” I was trying, but I really didnʼt understand.

“No. Yes, kind of. A vacuum of time… space, too, necessarily, I suppose… Einstein insisted they were an identity… Itʼs a point — well, originally probably just a geometric point, but we, really me, I was able to expand the, uh, gap lately…”

He was losing me utterly. Too many ideas too inadequately expressed. “So you can push things through this thing, hole, you make?”

“Not a hole, Hunter. Itʼs nothing. A gap. Where time isnʼt permitted, mathematically, doesnʼt happen… or exist, temporarily… But temporarilyʼs time-based… Damn!” Now he was confusing himself, trying to translate what must have been some powerfully wicked math into words.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Planetary Romance, 4

Yep. More of the November novel. You get three parts right in a row. I am so far past this section of the story now, it seems funny to me, as in the old days when I started posting bits of “Mantorville.” Therefore, I will get you all a little closer to the end of Chapter One.

The door was open. I hadnʼt locked it when I came griefstricken into our place. There were lots of nights it remained unlocked. It wasnʼt like, even with the college in town, that Pashitakua was a hive of criminal activity. Small Wisconsin towns are pretty quiet places.

Birch slammed it open and shut and charged right up the stairs to our place, bursting through the door, while I was still registering the bell.

His neurasthenic, skimpily-bearded face was aghast or terrified. Or something. Whatever was going on, that was more emotion than I had ever seen him express. “Terry! Mʼman. You wonʼt believe whatʼs happened to me.”

“Dude. Whatʼs going on?” Terry asked instantly. I didnʼt care.

“Valjeanʼs gone nuts, man.” I had learned some time ago that his pet name for Dr. Fairchild put a (mispronounced) literary pun on her first and middle names. “Plumb crazy. Nuts.”

Which probably just meant that his month of work building whatever contraption she had required was clearly the waste of time that every one of her projects was. I got up, carefully, slowly, to find the refrigerator and grab one more Keystone. Maybe, when I located it, I might ask the bearded wonder if he wanted something. And I wondered, just how many cases of beer had we bought last time? If Terry and I both had just drunk twelve-plus, that meant one dead boxful. Didnʼt it?

I barely heard them talking as I drifted the twenty steps through the kitchen. I did hear Birch selfishly plop himself in the chair I had vacated. Nothing for him, then.

“Short meeting.” Terry observed thickly. “Whatʼd she do? Terminate your assistantship? Again?”

“She wants me to test the machine, man.”

“Dude!”

“Exactly.”

“Test the machine. Whaddaya mean…?” Obviously Terry hadnʼt understood whatever Birch meant as closely as Birch had assumed.

“Test the machine. Test the machine! She wants me to be her first live test on the machine.”

“What machine?” I wondered as I tried to stride manfully back in the living room without either hitting the kitchen doorway or the sofa or the big chair. Or spill my fresh beer. I had forgotten already that Birch had taken my seat. I tottered to a stop behind the sofa.

“Donʼt tell him,” Birch snapped. “Not a word.”

“Tell him about what?” Terry was puzzled. He had, after all, drunk more than I had.

“Fairchildʼs theory?” I asked. “Didja build a machine to test her time breakthrough?” I wanted to say “temporal” but the word eluded my consciousness, and my mouth would probably have never been up to that many syllables anyway. I also wanted to laugh, like I was too cool for their nonprogress at physics.

Birch cut me short. “Whatʼs he know, Terry? It sounds like he knows. What did you tell him!”

“About what?” Terry was looking seriously confused now. “His girl dumped him tonight.”

Thanks, Ter, I thought. Just the guy I did not want to know all about my stuff. But clearly Terryʼs mind was wandering down some drunken corridors of its own, far from our little discussion just minutes earlier. He was back on my personal problems. And now that he had brought it all up again, so was I.

Big warm tears were building up in my eyes, but I didnʼt want to cry, not in front of Birch.

“The redhead? About time. Sheʼs got another guy back in her hometown. Has had all year.”

I wanted to punch him. How could he be so right? I glowered wetly over him, one hand still on the sofa. “How did you know, Birch?”

“Bah. Everyone knows, Hunter. She told people. Besides, it was obvious from the start of the year.” He was right, although I hated to admit it. Somehow I had known from the first day we had seen each other after summerʼs end that something was different, wrong. I knew but hadnʼt wanted to explore the intuition. Still it enraged me that this jerk knew, but fume as I might, I had no clever quip to impact what I felt was his smug satisfaction.

Then he gave me the opening I had forgotten: “What do you know about the device?”

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Planetary Romance, 3

Sunday again, time for some creative writing (even though thatʼs what I already gave you yesterday). Following parts 1 and 2, hereʼs a third section from Chapter One — “End of an Affair” from Slaves to the Lesser Moon.

I poured the whole evening out to Terry by the time I finished at least ten Keystones, taking longer and longer on each can. He quit texting after about an hour but looked preoccupied even through his sympathetic support. Finally, as I ran out of anything more to say, not feeling like cursing Jen out loud, no matter how bad sheʼd made me feel, I asked him, “Whoʼre you texting?”

“Itʼs nothing. Just Birch.”

“Oh.” Birch was one of my least favorite people on campus or off. McKennal College had its share of oddballs, idiots and weirdos, but Birch Thorstein was in a class all his own. He was the most amazingly self-centered person I had ever met, completely unaware anyone else had any life of their own, completely preoccupied with his own little puzzles and problems. A physics major, Birch had gone through at least three other colleges, including UWM most recently, none of which ever wanted to see him back or even hear about him in the future. So dropping into McKennal was the best accident he had ever contrived for himself (and he was also the most accident-prone geek I had ever met).

And if you are reading this, Birch, I mean every word of that.

How or why Birch and Terry had become acquainted I never knew. I never asked. Physics and economics types donʼt generally mix, even when they take required courses together (of course econ and lit majors usually just drank together, having little or nothing in common either; and although roommates for two years now, mostly all Terry and I ever did together was drink). Birch didnʼt drink. He said it slowed his mind, killed brain cells (actually he told me exactly how many cells it killed with each drink, but I wasnʼt listening, as usual when Birch talked). He and Terry did hang out pretty often, enough that I got sick of finding him at dawn sprawled on our couch, having crashed there after some longterm talkfest with Ter. Sometimes I thought all he ever did was talk, sleep loudly and leer at Jen when she came out of the bedroom in the morning. He was probably just calculating biological differences between the sexes, though, rather than lusting, as she thought. He was probably the most sexless dweeb I ever met and had to deal with. I never knew him to have anything to do with women.

Birch didnʼt do much of anything but duck classes he had to take and sit in on science stuff he didnʼt have to audit. And work up experiments in the physics lab. He was always over in the rundown, ancient Miller/Norton building hacking together wires and microchips, lasers and magnets, random crap and worthless whatever, to bring to reality crazy old Dr. Fairchildʼs latest crackpot cranial misfire. The lucky accident that brought the third-time fifth-year physics retard to McKennal College had included a soul-sister affinity with the schoolʼs oldest living (unwanted) professor, V.J. Fairchild her raggedy, antiquated self. In her Birch had found his true mentor, someone even nuttier and farther past the fringe than he was.

And if you are reading this, Valerie Jean, Iʼve never forgotten the awfulness of your freshman Fundamentals of the Scientific Method course. Worst and longest three hours of credit I ever suffered, and only got a C.

I hadnʼt even seen Birch around campus for weeks, since before Christmas break began. That was peculiar because he usually wound up sacked out in our place about once a week, sometimes even on nights I knew Terry had gone to bed early. And Terry swore he had never given Birch his own key, but thereʼd Birch be, unwashed and unwanted as ever.

“Birch? Really? I had hoped heʼd died.”

“Heʼs been busy. Fairchildʼs had some kind of breakthrough, and heʼs — ”

“Fairchild had a breakdown? About time, if you ask me.”

“Breakthrough.” He chuckled suddenly, having noticed something. “You said, ʼabout time.ʼ Dude. Good one.” He sounded like Beavis. “Like you knew or something. According to Birch, sheʼs actually onto something this time.” Terry laughed again. “Huh. ʼThis time.ʼ Thatʼs funny.”

“No, itʼs not, dude.” I flipped my dozenth can onto the growing, leaky pile that had avalanched onto the carpeting a long time back. Since Terry had kept up with me, even after his head start, I figured he was losing it.

“Nah. Seriously. Sheʼs figured out something about time, Birch says.”

“Birch says a lot of stuff, Terry. You should know that.” I released orally some of the gas the cheap beer had infused into me. “Maybe he meant it was about time she finally came up with something that wasnʼt totally crap.” That one struck me as simply hilarious.

Terry laughed, too, but not very sincerely. “Dude. No. Itʼs some kind of new understanding of the nature of time. Something. You know me. I donʼt get it at all. But Birch is real excited. Heʼs been building stuff to test it all out for a month, more. I think he was started back in November. Camping out in the lab, heʼs so excited about it.”

“Youʼll believe anything.”

“Ask him yourself.” Terry belched, too, not for the first or the fifteenth time that night. “Told me he was coming over here. Once he meets with Fairchild. Damn late for a faculty meeting, if you ask me.”

“Tonight?! I have to endure Birch tonight?”

“Dude. Do ya good. Make you forget about Jen and everything.”

Which of course just brought it all back, and I felt sick.

Then the doorbell rang. Birch had arrived.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Whaddaya Think?

One of my stories, that could never fully appear here for reasons of language, concerns a mild-mannered, weak guy who has troubling waking up in the morning. Some really bad guys show up after a few thousand words or more, and theyʼre so bad their language is the problem. However, the story starts okay, so I thought I would see what you might think of the opening…

Right now it doesnʼt really have a title, although at one time I called it “Where Is Your Head This Morning?” I think you can see why itʼs essentially untitled at the moment from that. On the other hand, this guy is really, really having one of those mornings…

When I awoke, I felt as though I had lived through lifetimes. I often feel like that when I wake up. Today was one of the bad ones. I dreamed I’d awakened five or six times since the alarm first went off more than an hour ago, and every arousing–showering–coffee drinking–driving had been interrupted by the re-ringing of the alarm and my fumblefingered punching of the sleep delay, only to drift off into awakening again and endure another variation on my morning routine.

Only now I was awake for real and down to under forty minutes to get to work. 7:22. Ain’t life grand?

Forty minutes was impossible. It took forty minutes to drive to the office. Well, to the parking lot and then walk to the office. I’d never make it. How could I possibly have overslept that long? I must have conked the snooze button twenty or thirty times; or else it was giving me a heck of a lot longer than six minutes between ringings. What to do now? I’d just have to call in. I couldn’t show up an hour or more late. Not without some kind of explanation.

Some mornings, life just isn’t fair.

Most mornings, come to think of it.

Can’t wait for the shower: Lunging up from the bed, I reached for the telephone. It felt funny in my hand, too light. I stabbed my finger at the dial, but three buttons each hit just wrong beeped at me. Buttons? Beeping?

I felt confused for a half-second. I must be exhausted. Dial phones? Did I think I was ten all over again?

The brain is a funny thing. Take care of it, give it plenty of mental exercise and also plenty of rest—and it keeps you up on everything and solves your problems for you. Wear it down through tedium and too little sleep—as I had done lately—and it plays petty little tricks on you.

I punched up the office number. The line droned once, twice, popped and clicked:

“Richardson and Fielding.”

“What?!”

“Richardson and Fielding, Attorneys at Law. How can I help you?”

“I— I’m sorry. Wrong number.” I hung up, embarrassed. What the hell—? I was sure I punched in the right number. 876–5549. I tried it again.

“Richardson and Fielding.” I clapped down the receiver again. Damnation!

What was I thinking of? 867–5549… That was our old number in Michigan, when I was a kid. Well, with a 3 for the 8, and the 67 reversed. Where was I getting these notions?

I dialed the right number. 876–5032.

“Vex and Blight, Realtors.”

“Hi, Stace. It’s George.”

“Georgie? What’s up, bud?”

What’s up, Stace? Everything but me. Yeah, Stace, I overslept by two hours, and I won’t be in for another hour. —Sounds real good, Georgie-boy, real good…

“George!?“

“Yeah, Stacy. It’s me.”

“You feeling all right?”

“Feeling all right?”

“Yeah. You sound kind of strange…”

“Uh…” What the hell. “No. I don’t. I don’t feel all right, Stacy.”

“I thought so, George. You sick?”

Took the words right out of my mouth, kid. “Sicker’n a dog.”

“Staying home today, then?”

You got it. “Yeah.” What the hell? I didn’t have anything major on today. Did I?

“All right, George. I’ll tell them.”

“Thanks, Stace.”

“Don’t worry about a thing. You just rest. Get better.”

“Yeah, right. Thanks.”

“Goodbye, George. —And, uh, George, you really must be out of it.”

“You can tell?” Got her fooled.

“Silly, I’m Sara.” Click.

Sara? Who’s Sara? The receptionist’s name is… —Sara, idiot.

And you thought you were fibbing. Dweeb. Where is your head this morning? Where is it any morning? Same place. Ozone land. Wrapped in wool or something.

I shoved my hands against my skull, rotating the heels against the dry heat of my forehead, pushing hard.

“Geezuss—”

I could feel the ice of my fingertips. What the—? That got me out of the bed, in a hurry. Straight across to the bathroom door—

Don’t you mean closet?

“Geezuss—?”

Bathroom’s down the hall, dork. Got your whole life upside over this morning? Must have. Would have sworn my bathroom’s just off the bed… Not here, not ever. What am I thinking?

While racing down the hall, rip open the bathroom door, and look into—the shower. Left side, braindead. Shower’s on the right, blue-green curtain. Toilet in front. Sink’s left.

I looked left.

And the face in the medicine chest mirror gleamed with a baldness I had never imagined. And I knew was not my own.

“Kee–raisss…—t.” Something was very wrong here.

What? Afraid to recognize yourself? Living in the past or what?

I’ve been bald for years. A decade. More. I was twenty-two and in Minneapolis with Karen and Guy, sitting in a booth in a Country Kitchen—it was Bloomington; we’d driven up after work and couldn’t find a motel, it was the fair weekend. We had finally paid too much for two Holiday Inn rooms just off I-35 and then gone to find something to eat at about one—and in the booth, as we finally got our food, they both started giggling like junior high schoolgirls when I leaned down to pick some crumb or something off my lap. They couldn’t help it. Mr. Hair was thinning out, right at the crown. Right where I always can feel—

No. That’s not right.

I was holding my skull again. I looked up. Same face.

Same face as always. Hairless skulltop gleaming fleshblue through the darkness of fingers. Glaring eyes between the palms expressing fear of everything. Dirty brown fingernails.

What’s with me?

I am not bald! …Am I?

Like I said, some mornings life just isn’t fair. Most mornings. …I must have been enjoying some pretty hairy dream not too long before the alarm first went off… Hard to forget your fleshy pate’s been your morning wake-up since… 1998—no matter how much hair, no matter how cut and combed, you have tried to part across the gap.

It just seemed so unreal, though, staring at myself. I had felt so sure. Not wishing, not nostalgic, just that’s the way it is, matter-of-fact… Better men than you have had trouble facing it, otherwise all the rug shops would have gone out of business back in George Washington’s day. And you only have to think of Harry Vex’s unhairy head buried in that medium brown Astroturf® to realize it.

Maybe that’s it. Maybe I’m just joining Vex in a midlife panic. Nothing like two hard jabs to the lower ribs at once. Bald, that’s all it is. You’re bald, you’ve been bald, you’re still bald, and you’re going to keep getting balder. Accept it.

I still felt funny, splashing some water in my face, stripping off my yellow—no, blue-green—PJs, showering in the oddly tiny bathstall. I felt myself standing at a distance as if everything remained unfamiliar. I was a stranger in my own apartment, in my own body even—clunking into everything, finding the soap dish only after a search, having forgotten that I’d never used Head and Shoulders. Everything seemed inexplicably irregular.

I didn’t even recognize the doorbell’s asthmatic whimper when, predictably perhaps, it sounded just two-thirds of the way through the shower. This is the kind of crap I should expect, especially on a day like this.

After yesterdayʼs photo caption, maybe you can tell why this bit of this story seemed to rise to the top of my own unhairy head. And, yes, if you might be wondering, there is a big dose of me in this fictitious character, not just no hair. His long-ago moment of recognition about his evolving baldness is taken pretty closely from my own introduction to the joke of my genetic heritage. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent. I, however, have never awakened convinced that I wasnʼt me. I wonder, now, what it might be like to wake up and have hair… Or wake up as some other bald guy.

Kind of makes me wonder what it would be like to wake up one morning and find yourself Picasso — bit of time travel necessary or itʼd be a hideously messy corpse nightmare…

Say itʼs 1950…

Okay, back to the actual story at hand.

I have been thinking about this one a lot lately, rather than stories you are more familiar with. That explains its sudden appearance today. (That and sheer desperation to get something posted that didnʼt take any work last evening.)

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.