Archive for the ‘TCL #2 – Winter 2012’ Category
I was one of three foremen who ran the Purifier for the General Secretary before and during the upheaval. Those were dark days for all of us, and anyone who can sit in a rocking chair by the fire, warming his fingers and talking about those times, is lucky. Lucky to be alive, lucky to have his fingers still, lucky to have his tongue. But not everything about those times was evil. Like all times, in all places, I suppose, some bits of light make life worth living, grim as things might get.
The light for us, back before the Upheaval, was the Secretary’s Science and Projects Liaison. Now, I’ve been accused once or twice of being a bit of a dreamer. But understand, everything I have to say about the Liaison is pure truth. Heaven knows how a woman like that ended up with that position. She wasn’t dumb, exactly. In fact, as models go you’d consider her rather intelligent. She was in her mid twenties, and we all recognized her from various men’s interest magazines that were in circulation before the Secretary took full power and the presses were shut down. I guess that put her out of work. Maybe the Secretary hand-picked her for the job, maybe he felt guilty for putting her out of business. You’d think that picking a beautiful woman with no scientific background for Science and Projects Liaison would be a terrible mistake, but really what her job entailed was keeping us workers in line. And that was something she could do with a flick of the wrist and a bat of the eyelashes. She even was able to keep the women workers hard at work with barely any effort at all. It wasn’t just her beauty, she had an aura about her – call it charisma, or leadership, or maybe just confidence. Anyway, we saw her about once a month, which was more than most other facilities and projects could say. The Purifier was very important to the Secretary.
The Purifier was a marvel of human ingenuity and engineering. I wish, now in the twilight of my life, that I could claim I had helped to build or design it. But I didn’t. I just came on after it was finished, with my wrench and my hammer and the rest of my toolkit, and I made sure the other mechanics didn’t screw anything up. Not to say that this wasn’t hard work. A number of my men died or became too sick to work because of leaks in the reactor. The fact that I’m still alive, after all the years I spent at the Purifier, is a testament to something. Probably my great reservoir of dumb luck.
I never used to believe in luck until I got stuck in the elevator with the Liaison. The elevator was on the side of the Stack, which was a fifty story, eighty foot radius chimney stack. This was how the Purifier released the water back into the atmosphere. This was how we made the clouds. The Liaison and I were riding up to check on some repairs that were underway two thirds up the Stack. Most of the deaths were from people being knocked off by gusts of wind, so needless to say, being that high on the Stack, once you got out of the elevator, was dangerous. But the Liaison never shied away from danger. She was utterly fearless in fact.
After some deliberation, Libby decided to buy the ability to draw. “This one,” she said. “I’ve never been able to manage anything more than stick figures. This would be nice.”
Alfred Corrigan smiled at her. “Yes. Very good.” He coughed before continuing in his high, papery voice. “Let me remind you, however, that this only guarantees the ability to draw recognizable pictures, not the talents of a master artist. These are only–”
“–ninety-nine cent dreams,” she finished along with him. It was the name of the store, and he had given her the patter when she had first come in. Ninety-nine cents could only buy small dreams, not miracles.
“Precisely. That said, your satisfaction is guaranteed. You shouldn’t find yourself reverting to, ah, stick figures. One moment, please.” He shuffled through the door in the back. Libby kept her eyes on the catalog, not wanting to watch the way he moved. He was a young man, clean-cut and broad-shouldered, but his slow, fumbling movements reminded her of her grandfather; the way he’d limped toward her when she first entered the store had almost caused her to mumble an excuse and go outside again.
She flipped through the pages idly, glancing at the glossy stock pictures of laughing, photogenic couples and families. All items just 99¢! Make your partner a dog person! Item 13A. LIMITED TIME ONLY! Maintain weight over the holidays–LOSS NOT GUARANTEED. Item 13B. Have the baby sleep through the night once a week. Item 13C.
That picture was of a sleeping baby, his little mouth relaxed into a faint pout. Libby bit her lip–she’d been doing a lot of that in the past month, and it was starting to taste chapped and bloody–and rested her fingertips on the baby’s face. In the back of her mind, she could hear Sasha screaming, “If you want kids so fucking much, find a man! I’m not your goddamn brood mare!”, could hear the glass bowl shattering against the wall behind her head. Sasha had apologized in tears the next day, of course, and Libby had forgiven her, of course, and they had made desperate love and promised that they would never fight again, just as they always did. But that time it had been true, because now Sasha was gone.
She had to turn the page. Blindly, she flipped to the tab in the back. FREE SAMPLES!
“Here you go.” Corrigan’s dry voice made Libby jump. She turned and saw him holding a cobalt blue bottle about the size of her little finger. “Stir this into a beverage and drink it just before going to bed. I’ve found the flavor complements an English tea wonderfully.”
“Great. Thanks.” She gestured at the page of samples. “What are these?”
Corrigan peered over her shoulder, and she saw his eyes go bright. The eyes were old, too, she thought; it wasn’t just his gait. There was a tired, stretched look around the edges, and she hadn’t even noticed until that eager brightness took it away. “Ah. These are from my new supply. Ninety-nine cent dreams fill a necessary niche, but my current stock is rather, ah, modest. I’m hoping to expand. I haven’t dealt in larger dreams in a long, long time.”
“Can I look?”
She turned the page. This was more what she had expected when Corrigan had explained to her that he didn’t run a fancifully named dollar store, but a shop dealing in dreams themselves. Regain sight for the blind! Item 47A. Recover a missing heirloom! Item 47B.
She turned the page again, and her heart swelled to a huge size in her chest. She couldn’t move. All she could do was stare at the page, hands trembling. It was a generic photo of a man and a woman embracing in front of a sunset. Bring back the affections of a lost love! Item 47C.
Sasha. She could bring Sasha back. Oh, God, if this place was for real. . . . She imagined the faint, spicy smell of Sasha’s shampoo, the way she hummed in the back of her throat when she was falling asleep, the rich alto of her voice as she sang along with Libby’s cello. All the times in the past month with she’d felt frightened and she’d known that having Sasha near her would make her brave, because without Sasha she was just a timid little mouse. All the times she’d seen bridal magazines or women with strollers and thought, That’s not for me, that’ll never be for me; it’s what drove Sasha away, but she’s the only one I’d ever want to have any of it with.
It could have been a thousand dollars and she would have taken it. But a free sample…
“Ms. Morell? Did you find something of interest?”
Libby had almost forgotten that Corrigan was there. She looked up and saw him smiling benignly. “This.” She pointed to the picture. “This is free?”
He glanced down. “An excellent choice. A simple modification of Item 7D, stop your lover’s passing attraction to another. It should run wonderfully.”
“Great. I’d like to buy it also, please.”
Corrigan twiddled his tie between two fingers. “I should warn you, Ms. Morell, that the word ‘free’ is misleading. There’s no monetary cost for these dreams, but . . . well, I have to get my supplies from somewhere, especially if I want to upgrade. It’s a trade. A dream for a dream.”
“So you’d stab out my eyes so a blind person can see?” It would almost be worth it.
“No. A dream, Ms. Morell. You don’t dream of sight. You take it for granted. I’d want a dream from you.”
Libby bit her lip, tasting blood again. Sasha… “Let me–let me try this one and come back if it works.”
“Of course you may. And it will work, I assure you. I sell no monkey’s paws.” He punched a few numbers into the chunky gray cash register, and it thought for several seconds before displaying “$1.05″ on its screen. “Tax, you understand.”
“Right.” Libby fished through her purse and placed the money on the counter.
Corrigan smiled blandly, a smile that didn’t touch his old, old eyes, and handed her a receipt. “Thank you, Ms. Morell. Enjoy your dream.”
Shadows danced around the sparsely furnished cell as his candle guttered in a draft. It was a large room, and thankfully above the worst stink and grime of the lower tower, but a cell nonetheless. The tattered, threadbare robe he had worn for the past fourteen months fluttered about his legs as he shuffled across to the bed.
He lowered himself down onto the straw pallet pushed up against the wall. For most of his life he had lived in palatial homes, and slept on massive four-poster beds with feather mattresses swathed in silk sheets. Servants lit fires to drive away the slightest chill, and the kitchen was always ready to accommodate him. My goodness, he thought, how things have changed. At least it was summertime, and the brutal heat of the day had surrendered to a warm, humid night.
This cell had been the abode of some of the most famous and wealthy prisoners ever to find themselves confined in the tower. The conditions of their stays largely depended upon their ability to curry favor or mercy from the Crown. Many were allowed to furnish the cell as if it were their own home. The most privileged prisoners could walk about the tower grounds, and even host guests with dinners of roasted capons, puddings and wines. Thomas had no illusions about his standing with the King. He had been allowed only the most rudimentary comforts, those which his family could beg, buy or smuggle in to him. A short, three-legged stool, a chest for his small possessions and provisions, and the straw mattress for which he was immensely thankful; it was the only soft thing in the stone chamber.
In the end though, we are all prisoners here, he mused. Fine furnishings did nothing to change that, evidenced by the hundreds of scratched pleadings in the stone walls. They were perhaps the only lasting memorials to the poor souls who had languished out their last days here. Thomas had read them all. Some were simple protestations of innocence, some were whimsical poetry, and still others were fervent pleas for succor or salvation. The sheer desperation of the etchings was enough to destroy the morale of any man. He was not just any man though; Sir Thomas More was a knight of the realm, and until his conviction of high treason, had held the post of Lord Chancellor. One of the most powerful men in England and a favorite of the King himself, and yet now he was sleeping on straw in the Tower of London. That was not the worst of it though. Today was July 5th, the year of our Lord one-thousand-five-hundred-and-thirty-five. On the morrow, he would lose his head.
The first time it happened was with a button.
It was gold and shaped like an acorn, and snapped loose from a man’s overcoat as he bumped into Valenka on the street. Clattering into the gutter, it came to a stop against her scuffed boot.
Valenka hadn’t experienced much magic in her life—only gray days spent tugging at sleeves for coins. Still she understood that something special happened when she picked up the button. All the walls of her mind fell away, and into her head, accompanied by the chilly Prague breeze, swept the man’s past.
That man is good, she thought, holding the button in her little fist. He has a wife and two daughters whom he kisses goodnight each day. He kissed another woman once, but only once, and he regrets it still. He gives coins to a lame man in Petrin Hill Park on Sundays. And he loves God. Yes, the owner of this button is a good man
After that, it happened more frequently. People’s pasts came to her uncalled as she brushed against shoulders in the market, or when she picked up someone’s forgotten glove in an eatery. When she was seventeen and found employment as a seamstress in Dvorak’s Tailor Shop, it became an unavoidable part of her life. Each piece of silk had a story to tell, and each strip of macrame whispered a past. Valenka learned about grief through black funeral gowns, and understood the meaning of passion as she mended ripped lace blouses. Lives, although she did not live them, passed before her eyes.
Mostly, experiencing memories was effortless and her ability showed her everything there was to know. Other times, the past only seeped into her mind in elusive glimpses. But never had Valenka seen someone’s future.
Not until she touched the hem of a murderer.
The fish were made of silver. So were the terns. The fish swam in the clear blue sky, leaving little ripples as they weaved a course through the heavens. Beside the school of fish, the gleaming birds flapped in formation. All of them moved with singular purpose to a silver half moon that was bright despite the day, a moon that matched the creatures’ ethereal gleam.
Smack! The fish, the terns, the moon, it all unraveled.
Mums was in the shop, rubbing the back of his woolly head, his daydream supplanted by dull pain. Fat Man was giving him that stern look, pointing at him with a long ebony finger.
“You’ll be sixteen in a week, a man by any nation’s measure. You must stop these flights of fancy; those things are for boys and liars.”
Stupid Fat Man, Mums thought. He nodded.
“Keep your eyes about the shop. If someone as much as steals a sausage, you’ll find food missing from your plate tonight.”
There was no one even in the shop. He could argue that but it would likely earn him another smack to the head and a stern lecture about due diligence. So he nodded again.
This was the worst time for diligence and the best time for his mind to wander. It was right after midday, so very few shoppers came into the store looking for dinner meats until later.
Fat Man’s shop was a typical zimba, larger than most but still built of the mortarless granite stones that gave the city of Dzimba-dza-mabwe its name. And while Fat Man had painted the granite walls and ceiling of his zimba with festive blues, yellows and greens “to pull the customer’s eye,” as he put it, it did little to make Mums feel festive. He was not a customer; and any joy he had once gotten from the design was long gone after spending most of his childhood in here looking after rows of various meats.
Mums put his elbows on the counter and propped his face into his brown fists, getting comfortable while he watched over the gazelle steaks that were advertised on sale.
“No no no, boy,” Fat Man said. “That’s how I found you when you earned that smack. Now earn your board and daily bread. Check the temperatures.”
Mums grumbled but did as he was told.
The dim overhead light intensifies the shadows beneath my eyes until they become like bruises. Little pockets of darkness I carry my nightmares in.
I want to sleep, but I cannot. The few hours a night when my eyes are closed bring me visions of Japan and my last days there. The face of my patron twisted in pain haunts me. The feeling of his blood seeping over my fingers will not leave.
I yearn for rest—for peace.
The war between my country and the United States is over. The war inside me rages on.
There are two men at table three, with dates. They are the only customers in the Good Luck Bar, and I am the only waitress. The girls look at me with narrowed eyes, suspicious. The men have the cocky bearing of sailors, but only one of them seems to undress me as I set down their beers.
“Hey there, Miss Saigon,” the one with the roving eyes says. “My buddy here just got back from the far East. Hey, Jerry, how do you say hello in Nip-speak? Coneychee? That right?”
“You sound like an idiot,” Jerry says.
Baka no hito.
“Konnichiwa,” I say. The first man guffaws, slaps his thigh. His other arm slips around the girl’s shoulders.
“Did you hear that? Say something nice for my girl.” He looks at the girl. “How about it, honey? What do you want her to say?”
“Come on, Pete,” Jerry says, fingering his bottle. “My beers getting warm and my foods getting cold.”
“I’m a paying customer,” Pete says. “Go on, hon. Tell her what to say.”
The girl chews on her lip, leaving flecks of red lipstick on her teeth. “Tell me how pretty I am.”
Pete pulls her closer, laughing. “That’s my babe. Always fishing for compliments.”
“Uma ni niteimasu. Kamiga kusso mitai ni kusai desu.” Sugar drips from my words as I describe the girl’s horsey features and dung scented hair. She giggles. Jerry covers his mouth to hide his own laughter, and my stomach twists. He understood me.
His eyes catch mine; his smile softens and then turns dark. I turn away and hurry back to the bar, feeling exposed.
I tuck my tips into my bra: two dollars and ten cents—half my weekly rent. It still feels strange, paying for my own living. In Japan, when I was young, the geisha house took care of me. Then, my patron—but I do not think of him.
George grunts a goodbye as I walk out of the bar and into the cool night air. I pause for a moment to take a deep breath. Car exhaust, cigarette smoke; it is nothing like home. My heels click on the pavement as I walk.
The cigarette smoke comes from a man leaning against the wall, a few feet from the bar entrance. My heels click faster; my heart begins to flutter. His cigarette glows red as I approach.
“Hey,” he says.
“Bar is still open.” I say, not stopping.
“I’m not looking for the bar.” His fingers brush my sweater. “I’ve been waiting for you.”
I turn, and recognize him: Jerry, without his friend or his girl. My heart flutters again, but not in fear.
I realize I’d been hoping to find him, too. He drops his hand away from me, and I follow him down the street.
We pushed into the jungle above S’uval the next morning, my mind focusing on that special inner spot that had always centered me: I’m nothing but a man who tracks other men for pay; that is what I am, it’s what I do, and nothing else. I seek men who don’t want to be found–whether for reasons of crime, sin, personal disgrace, or some sort of queer, unknown psychological imbalance. Men who have slipped off the net, and have to be netted again so as to answer to others. That is all I am, that is all I need to be.
And I’d dealt with all those types, all those reasons. Yet never had I engaged in a commission as flaky or as suspicious as the one I now pursued. And why did I accept it? I certainly didn’t need the money,
not at this point in my career. For all I cared, Dr. Kline could have fallen down a rat-hole and been eaten by Eridani maggot-analogs.
And yet, I pictured those maggots as wearing the faces of the Directors of the Church of the Holy Psychological Redemption. There was something else going on here, and I was determined to wrench it to the surface.
I removed my field cap and swiped the sweat off my scalp with my hand, turned and waited for Laura and Pete to catch up.
"Hold up a minute, T’aylang! You hanging in there, Pete?"
Pete was panting, trying to catch his breath in the steamy air. "Is the . . . pope . . . a bear?"
"Time for a break, folks," I said.
I was suddenly aware of T’aylang by my side, studying Pete. "This man is not well-adapted to the environment or to the task at hand," he said. "Will we be required to carry him for the balance of the journey?"
"No, just give us a few minutes to rest here, Big Guy. Pete’ll be all right."
I looked sternly at Pete when I said that, hoping to drive that veiled admonition into him.
The Eridani raised his head to an erect vertical position. "This is not a safe place to stop. We are traversing a pyloc’s game trail. Similar to what you refer to in your language as a ‘big cat.’"
"So, are you seeing any?" I unclipped the holster of my firearm.
T’aylang pointed to one of the porters and barked a short command. The other Eridani began to sing, a strange polyphonous song whose ultrasonic overtones made me wince in pain.
"We will persuade any nearby ones to take an afternoon nap. But only a short one. It would be best if your colleague gets his breath back soon, so that we may continue on our way."
Pete gasped and nodded, apparently agreeing in principle with T’aylang.
Daryl: Yeah, but you know, growing up I had a lot of interest in books. I read all the time. The fantasy-fiction genre was what I mainly read. Tolkein was one of the very first fantasy trilogies that I read. It was just my kind of thing. I’ve always been interested in being a writer.
Daniel: Sacrifice of the Season is your first novel?
Daryl: It’s the first book that I’ve written, yes. It’s actually the first in a planned series of four.
Daniel: If you had to categorize it, what genre would you say Sacrifice of the Season falls into? To me, it seems to be a bit of a mix of Slipstream and Fantasy.
Daryl: Yeah, I think that’s the best fit for it. It’s a period novel set in the 1880s, but it’s a little bit Harry Potter meets Tom Sawyer.
Daniel: So maybe just a little bit of Alternative History thrown in there, just for good measure.
Daryl: Just slightly.
Daniel: Give us an overview of the main characters in your story, without giving too much away to our readers who haven’t had the chance to pick it up and take a look at it yet. We’ve got Jack, who is one of the main characters, and we’ve got these vague, shadowy figures, the Ba’ath.
Daryl: Jack is, of course, the hero of the book. He’s about twelve years old, but he has a lot of help in, what I call a co-hero, his friend Lucius. Lucius is an old former slave who helps Jack through his difficulties in the book.
Basically it’s about a rich family who moves from Philadelphia to this mining town in West Virginia, but this mining town has a problem with children disappearing. This generally seems to happen during a certain season, hence the title of the book, “Sacrifice of the Season.”
Daniel: Without giving too much away, what are these creatures? We know they’ve been around since pretty much the beginning of mankind. They at times seem goblin or fey-like, and at others they appear almost demonic.
Daryl: What I really tried to show, what they really are, is all of our fantasies and mythologies kind of wrapped up all in one.
You know, everything starts with a seed of truth. In our mythology, in a Christian mythology, we have angels and demons. In other mythologies you have other creatures and mythical beings, and maybe they’re all one thing. Maybe there is one kind of being and all of these myths and creations from different societies and different civilizations are all based on the same beings.
Really, the magical characters in my book are all of those.
Daniel: Interesting. They are then an archetype of our boogey-men and gods all wrapped up into one.
Daniel: Did you have any background in sociology or anthropology that you drew upon when creating this mythos? Your book really does incorporate many of these items from popular mythos into it, and makes this world that you’ve created quite engaging.
Daryl: No, I don’t have an educational background in any of those subjects, but I was in the US Marines for 21 years and during my time in the Marines I traveled to a lot of different areas and was exposed to many different cultures. I have a lot of experience with the way different cultures see things, their folk tales and that sort of thing, so I put some of that into the book.
Daniel: You’ve mentioned that this is a four-part series. What kind of adventures and story lines can we look forward to seeing in the upcoming books?
Daryl: First, you can expect to see the story from “Sacrifice of the Season.” Where we left off we’ll pick it right back up. There’s more work for Jack to do, and you can expect Jack to do some traveling in the future.
Daniel: So we’re not going to be stuck in the back woods of West Virginia for very long then.
Daryl: No. Cobbs, West Virginia, the scene where all of this takes place in book one, is just a starting point. That is where Jack as a young boy is introduced to these characters. The other three books are his journey in discovering what they are, where they came from, what they want, and what he can do about it.
Daniel: Moving on to a slightly different topic: a lot of our readers are aspiring authors themselves. Many of them are looking for ways to get started in writing in general, and speculative fiction including sci-fi and fantasy in particular. Do you have any advice for budding writers, for someone who is seeking to just jump right in and write their first novel?
Daryl: Yeah. I guess my advice would be: Don’t do that.
Daniel: Don’t follow your example then.
Daryl: No, don’t do that. The reason I say that is, you know, the thing that I had in my corner was that I had appeared on the show Top Shot, which is very popular and all of a sudden there were three million people who knew my name.
I had the forum to be able to do that. I could throw it out there and see what happened. Luckily the quality of my writing has passed the litmus test of the public, and people like the book.
What I would say to a new writer, or someone who wants to get into it, is don’t rush into it. Really really make sure that your writing is good writing, because there is so much bad writing out there, and there is so much marginal writing, that the publishers, the traditional publishing model, are very skeptical of new writers.
You really have to make your work quality stuff.
Daniel: What’s a good way that authors can do that?
Daryl: Well, what makes quality is often subjective. There are a couple of things you can do. For one, get your work professionally edited. I’m pretty good with grammar and punctuation and all that, but you still need a person who does it for a living to professionally edit your work.
Second, get your material, not all of it but pieces of it, into as many hands as you can. Join some book clubs. What they do is they meet once a month or so and they exchange pieces of work.
Daniel: Did you join any writing or critiquing circles?
Daryl: Yes, I did. I actually belong to a couple of them in the Dallas area, and you know it wasn’t so much, “Hey, help me with my writing.” I go there to get feedback on my work. The other side of that is that you’ve got to give other people feedback on their work. It’s a bit of a learning process too. You write something, and then you get someone else’s work and read it too and go, “Wow, this writing is really good. They’ve got a certain way with words,” or, “I really like that phrase they used,” and so you can kind of judge where you are in the pack of writers.
Daniel: At The Colored Lens, we focus on the short story. In some ways, the short story is considered more difficult because you have to take and distill the story down to less than 10,000 words, for example, while still having full characters and a well developed plot. At the same time, we’ve found that it can be easier for new authors to take the smaller bite that is the short story, rather than tackling an entire 150,000 word novel all at once.
Daryl: The benefit, in my mind, to a shorter story, is that you can focus all of your attention on that one project for a short period of time. You can turn out a really high quality piece of work, and you can do that a number of times. If you write enough of those quality short stories, people are going to notice.
The other thing about writing a full length novel is writer’s block. It actually happens, and when you are halfway through your novel and all of the sudden you’ve reached a point where you’re not sure how to go further, it causes problems. Shorter stories eliminate much of that.
I also want to add one thing about self-publishing. There are a lot of authors, established authors, who are now taking the self-publishing route because the traditional publishing model, unless your book is just a runaway success, is not a great way to make a living. It’s just so hard to get your foot in the door with the publishers. You have to have an agent and that sort of thing. It’s just really hard.
Before you go the self-publishing route, you have to be prepared to do a lot of promotion by yourself. You have to be ready and able to go around to book signings, and without that level of promotion, you are giving yourself the kiss of death. After you self-publish, the publishers will not touch your work.
There are few exceptions, but once you self-publish it’s all on you to make that piece of work a success.
Daniel: Well we wish you all the success because you’ve got a fine novel and I can’t wait to see what happens in the upcoming three sequels.
For any of our readers who would like to get their own copy of Sacrifice of the Season, it’s available in paperback and Kindle format from Amazon.com, or you can get your own signed copy of course from Daryl’s website DarylParker.com.
Daryl: Thank you very much. I’m working on book two right now, Journey of Fear, and I hope to have that one finished by the end of February, so look for the release probably in June.
Daniel: Great, we’ll definitely be looking forward to that book. Thanks again for talking with us.
Daryl: It’s been a pleasure.