These Are The Things I Know

 

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These Are The Things I Know

a book of magical realism in the 32nd Century

by

T. Van Santana

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2017 by The Van Santana Limited Company
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof
may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever
without the express written permission of the publisher
except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

Advance reading copy, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

For Ju and P. You're my life, my everything.

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Megan Fatheree

I should have been more specific about the "language" thing. What I meant was that your story is strong enough to stand on its own without any profanity.
Yes to the pacing thing. Just use something to really grab attention. If you do explain later, I think I would wait, but maybe still try to grab attention quicker?
Lastly, I'm not sure what it is about your characters that grab me. Maybe it's because they seem like real people or that they have really quirky things to say. Whatever it is, they have "it".

T Van Santana

Thanks so much, Cynthia! I've an internal conflict between pacing and patience. I love the faster pace of genre but the patience of lit. I guess I'm trying to marry the two :-)

T Van Santana

Thanks for the critique! I have a few questions :-)

I’m not sure I completely understand the reference to the language. Could you elaborate a bit?

Regarding pacing, I take your point to mean that the scene isn’t grabby and that aspect could be improved. I am curious: if it were to become apparent later in the book—you know, what the opening has to do with the whole of the story—would it be worth the wait? I totally get that people have to care enough to keep reading to find out :-) I’m trying to sort out what about the uncertainty is uninteresting. That kind of thing is helpful for me to know, so I can balance initial pull with story seeding.

In reference to the characters, when you say the characters caught your attention, what did you notice? I’ve gotten some positive notes over the years for my character work, but I’m still not entirely sure I get what people find interesting about them :-) Maybe I don’t need to ‘cause whatever it is continues to work, but I’ve stayed curious about it.

I’m glad the tension plays in a relatable way. It’s an important element to not only this novel but the series as a whole.

Here’s a few marketing-style questions :-) What led you to choose this book out of the 4 (completed) in the series? What were you expecting from the book when you selected it? And how did it line up with what you’re expecting?

Again, thanks so much, Megan, for taking the time to read and discuss this novel.

Megan Fatheree

Ok, so here's what I think could be improved and also what I liked. What could be improved: I don't think you actually NEED the language. This story stands strong without it. Also, I feel like it takes a little bit long to get going. Like, I was reading the first pages and wondering why they're in a bookstore and what they're doing there? What does this have to do with the rest of the book? Just maybe try starting closer to the end of that scene. WHAT I LIKED: Your characters instantly caught my attention. They have heart. (Good job). Also, tension in the relationships and the "life is meaningless" thing. I know how that feels. Other than that, I like it.

Cynthia Dagnal-Myron

I like the formal, literary tone--your style is a welcome change for me. Stately, classic. I miss this kind of writing!

1 | The New Book

There’s a lot in the world that may not be real but that doesn’t mean it’s not fuckin’ true.

“What’s this book about?” I turned my wrist so the cover faced Umberto.

He squinted for a moment, then said, “Oh that one. You know … love, friendship, betrayal, other worlds, chaos, sex, magic … the best this life has to offer.”

I arched my eyebrows and nodded. “Cool.”

I caught sight of the cover in his hands: a wrinkled and textured affair with bluish purple hue and veiny relief.

“What’s that?”

“A cookbook for monkeys.”

I was getting used to this sort of answer from Umberto, one that sounded like a quip or joke but probably isn’t and requires a lot more asking to get to the truth. It’s a truth he wants to give but not yield easily. Kind of a dick like that.

“Like cooking monkeys or serving them?”

His eyes searched around me as though maybe I’d missed something there.

I looked about my head but saw nothing.

“Serving,” he said.

Someone stuck their head between us.

“Excuse me! I’m so sorry, but would you mind signing this?” They held a book with both hands up under their nose.

I sighed a little, took the book. “Sure.”

I took the book and cracked it open. I used to interested in the details. Well, sort of interested. Which edition was it? How’d they hear about me? What did they like about it? But after a thousand iterations or so, I couldn’t muster feigned interest. I just signed the damned thing and gave it back to them.

“Thanks!” they said. “I love it that you …”

And they went on and on about all the things they loved about the book and about me. I was not physically capable of hearing what they were saying. I knew in some visceral way that they were referring to something in the B cluster of responses, about character or drama or intensity or some such. I heard a few keywords about things I’d said places or seen written about my stuff.

“Thank you,” I said at the hypnotically appointed time. “Thank you so much.”

They went on a bit more. Jesus, fuck, I thought. C’mon, I gotta pee.

As they kept on, I began to wonder about the book in my hands—you know, the one I wanted to read—and started to see the colors in the walls shift. There's some pliability to these walls, I thought. I could probably just walk through them.

I got the uncomfortable realization that the fan was just staring at me.

Winning smile and, “Well, it was lovely meeting you. Best of luck. New book’s coming soon!”

I turned away and toward Umberto.

From behind me, I heard, “You’re taller than I thought you’d be.”

Since my back was turned, I rolled my eyes. Umberto smiled at me, eyes darting between me and them.

“Thanks!” I started walking.

“Ah, to be adored,” Umberto said.

“Yeah,” I said with heavy breath. “It’s certainly not how I thought it would be.”

We passed our books over the counter to the pretty clerk there. He moved the pages around.

He smiled. It’s kinda flirty. “I can offer you a discount today …”

I smiled back, a little trampy with my sunglass stem in my mouth. “Oh really?” Maybe he recognizes me, I thought.

He licks his lips. “Yeah. I just need your Bubble id, and we’re all set.”

I dropped the sunglasses, along with any pretense of interest. “Pass.”

“Are you sure? It’s ten percent off the cover?”

Umberto leaned over my shoulder and said to him, “Just bag it up, sweetie.”

The pretty clerk did and handed me the satin-y poly bag with the large CoDex Booksellers logo on.

Umberto walked to the door.

“Hey, wait …”

Umberto looked back at me, but I was talking to the clerk.

“Yes, ma’am?”

I smiled at that. “Thanks, yeah, why does CoDex …” I lifted my bag and pointed at the logo. “… need my Bubble id? They own Bubble, right?”

He shrugged and smiled. “I dunno. They just tell us to ask for it.”

I smiled back, like, don’t worry your pretty head over it. Which is mean, I know.

So I put on some nice and said, “Okay! Well, thanks anyway!”

“Have a great day!” he said.

“Yeah, you too!”

Then we left.

“You want to get something to eat?” Umberto asked.

“Love to, but I’ve gotta get home. Can we do it some other time?”

He nodded. “Some other time, then.”

I watched him walk away with the book tucked under his arm and felt some relief we wouldn’t be eating together today. Not sure why. It’s a hunch thing that I wouldn’t have a taste for monkeys.

I touched on my Bubbler and blew Lila a Bubble™, courtesy of CoDex Corporation and Cosmic Communication Concern.

“Hey,” she said with her usual enthusiasm.

“Hey. I’m finished with Bert and heading back. Need anything?”

“The cats need some food, and Little Man would love a toy.”

“All right. I’m right by the store. I’ll pick that shit up and be there soon.”

“Ok great,” she said. “See you soon.”

“Bye.”

“Bye.”

The Bubble popped, and I went and got cat food and a toy car for our son.

On the way back to my car, Clara, I caught sight one of them—one of my former associates. Long and dark under the brim and with gloved hand they waved at me.

I shook my head and sighed and just kept walking. “Fucking Brims,” I mumbled. “Everyone’s a wise guy. A fucking comedian.” Probably they’re just being friendly. But fuck all that.

I signaled Clara to open up, and she did. I hopped in.

“Where to, miss?” Clara asked.

“Home please, Clare.”

“Yes. I’ll do that right away,” she said.

Clara closed the hatch and put us in the air. In a couple of minutes, I was home.

I went in the house and heard the familiar sounds. Mason was running around, bouncing on hurried feet. He began to squeal when he saw me and ran over and hugged me. It was these sort of moments that I lived for. Whatever it meant to be alive—and I had less certain an idea then than ever—this was wonderful.

I looked up for Lila but instead saw Juno standing there.

Let me back up ‘cause this could get confusing, especially if you read my first book.

There’s Lila, who is my wife. Then there’s Juno who is Lila’s twin. Evil twin. Did you not get that from the first book? Well that’s cool. No reason you should have. But just work with me on this, okay?

“What are you doing here?” I asked. I was bitter and made no effort to hide it.

“What do you mean?” Juno asked.

“I thought I told you I don’t want to see you anymore.”

“Fine,” she said. “I’ll just fucking die, and then you can be alone with your son.”

I felt a familiar heaviness in my chest and arms. I moved closer to her and raised a hand. “Wait,” I said. “I’m sorry. Let me start over.”

Juno showed the pain and hurt on her face but stopped.

“I just wasn’t expecting to see you today.” I said it as softly as I could. “I just talked to Lila, and I thought she’d be here.”

“She is here,” Juno said.

“Okay,” I said. “That’s good. Do you think maybe I could talk to her?”

“Yes,” Juno said.

I waited for a moment, looking around for Lila but not moving. Then I said: “I’m not sure what that means, Juno.”

“It means yes,” she said. Not angrily, just plainly.

“Okay …” I drew slow and easy breaths, trying to keep my shit together. “Okay. Well, where is she?”

Juno shrugged.

My son patted my legs and looked up at me.

I looked at him.

His face was framed in long, unruly hair, and his eyes shone up at me with the brightness of life just beginning.

I smiled down at him and stroked his hair. I picked him up, and we walked to the kitchen.

“Have you had a good day, buddy?” I asked.

“Yeah, it’s been okay,” he said back to me in his language that only I and his mother could understand. It’s a parent-child empathy thing. So he’s not really saying these words, okay? I’m translating what he means for you.

“I’ve spent most of the day playing but now I’m bored. I’m glad you’re home though.”

“I’m glad to be home, buddy,” I said.

“Why do you and momma fight all the time?”

I sighed before I answered. “I don’t know. It was something I had hoped to work out before you were born, but things got complicated.”

I pulled his head close to my lips and kissed him.

He struggled after a minute, saying, “I want to get down and in the refrigerator!”

I smiled. “Are you hungry?”

“Yeah!”

He and Juno and I ate for a bit and after a while, Juno wandered off. I didn’t notice her leave, but I did notice when Lila showed up.

“Hey,” she said softly drawing out the last of it.

“Hey,” I said with some sadness. “I missed you.”

She leaned over where I sat in the chair and kissed me. Mason was eating at an end table near us, and I could feel him smiling.

The rest of the day passed, as most did, in a blurred line of unremarkable but wonderful moments that somehow constituted a day lived.

I found myself lying awake in bed, Lila next to me. Mason was in the day room and had not woken, so we had a bit of time together.

“I’m not certain what it’s all about, Lila.”

“Not certain what’s all about?”

“Life.”

“Oh … well …”

I interrupted her. “I mean, as best I can tell, we’re apes of some kind. We seem to have evolved language and tools from a projective facility that allows us to observe our own consciousness—whatever in sweet fuck that is—and can contemplate our limits. I can see the potential advantage of it from a survival standpoint but if that’s all it is, why do we wonder for more?”

“Like what?”

“Like why do we think about living after dying? Or before dying? Why do so many people believe in God or gods?”

“Well there’s a history of people believing those things. And some people just think that’s how it is, you know? That God is there.”

“I dunno,” I said, really not listening carefully enough to what she was saying.  Sometimes I’m an asshole like that. “I think there’s a theme throughout history of people believing these things because it’s part of our evolution. We’re working toward those things. Whether they exist or not doesn’t seem relevant.”

Lila smiled and said, “Okay. Maybe so.”

“But what if that’s not right?”

“Well we have no way to know one way or the other. It’s just what you believe.”

I cut my eyes over to her, searching for more.

“And that’s okay,” she added. “It’s all right to think that.”

We heard cries from downstairs.

“I’m gonna go check on him,” Lila said.

“All right.”

After she’d gone, I felt the familiar presence of my old enemy at the window. He scratched there, picking the paint off the edges. There we were in the future—in the fucking 32nd Century—and we still had to worry about lead paint because, you know, no one in the past thought about it.

“Stop picking at the fucking paint,” I said.

“Long time no see, sweetie,” Dwizaal said in that rancid voice of his.

“I’m tired of these encounters, and I’d like for you to leave please.”

“Don’t much care what you want,” he said. “You know what I want, and I’m not leaving until I get it.”

“We’ve been over this before …”

“Don’t care. We’ll do it again and again for however long it takes. I’ve got nothing but time … of course it helps to live outside of time, don’t you know …”

“I’m not opening the window, so you may as well just piss off.”

He grinned. I knew it, even though I couldn’t see him. Didn’t want to.

I heard the picking sound again, the flaking of lead paint.

I squinted my eyes and ran through the spells I had prepared. That one will do, I thought.

I cast bluish white light around the outline of my form, the forms of Lila and my son, the forms of the cats. I cast it again along every window sill, every doorframe, every edge of everything in the house and of all the things that were ours outside.

I heard Dwizaal spit as his fingers burned at the touch of the sill again.

“Nice try, T. But these tricks won’t last long against me. You know that.”

I did.

But I ignored him and called songs into my mind. They filled me with purpose and shut out his voice. I found my breath, focusing on the softness and depth of natural breathing. I believed only what was happening, not what I wished were true or feared might be true.

And he was gone.

At least, for the time being.

I blinked twice and found myself at a celebratory dinner. This is a dream, okay? Don’t get lost.

The dinner’s for my upcoming marriage to my friend Scythia. Her family’s there but mine’s not. They’ve arranged a series of games and music, all just for me.

As I went through it, I showed my honest surprise and reaction, which was at times very amused—though good-naturedly so. I mean, it was cool of them, right?

Scythia’s mother cast her eyes down and away upon noticing this.

“I thought he’d like it,” she said. She’s talking about me but not to me.

“No, I do, Mom,” I said. “It’s just fun. You know, things are humorous.”

I could tell this wasn’t the reaction she’s hoping for.

Scythia stepped in and tried to explain it to her, though she was somewhat surprised in her own right.

“I’m not sure what you thought would happen,” she said. “You know he likes more indy music and doesn’t really get into these party games.”

Scythia’s mother simply shook her head, saying, “I know. I just thought he’d like it.”

I thought it was sweet of them to refer to me as he. It kind of showed they cared.

I continued through the line up and met Scythia’s brother at the end. In waking life, he’s actually Lila and Juno’s brother, and he seemed not quite himself, so I knew he was me, or rather, some aspect of me. ‘S how it goes in dreams.

“I’m sorry, man,” he said. Again, cute with the maleness. Very affirming. Of course if he’s me, then …

“But I don’t think my mom really gets you.”

“It’s okay,” I said. “I know where she’s coming from.”

“Good, good.” He clapped me on the arm, almost drunkenly. Maybe he’s drunk.

I left the room and wandered around the house for a bit, making my way to the bathroom.

Scythia was there. And looking quite lovely.

I pulled her close and kissed her, our soft lips together, black on red.

“I missed you,” I said.

“Hey, you get it, right?” she asked. “I mean, you get that they’re trying?”

“Totally,” I said. “Of course I do.”

I heard movement in the hallway. My training moved my body reflexively—even in the effing dream—and I pulled Scythia along and into the bathroom.

She interpreted this as a come on and kissed me again, this time bringing that deep passion.

I felt her pull tight to me, but my senses were still hangin’ out in the hallway. Old habits and all.

I moved deeper in, but she’s as tall as me and larger, so I had to use some muscle. Again, she took this as sexy play and put her strength into it, swinging me around and onto the vanity. I managed to contact the door with my boot heel as she did and relaxed a bit when I heard the click of the keeper.

She pulled at my top with one hand and belt with the other. I worked with her, taking off my shirt and feeling my skin tighten in the cool damp air of the room. Her hand on my shirt she took to my hair, pulling at it fuckin’ hard while she pressed her lips to mine and licked my tongue with hers.

Her other hand had loosed my belt enough for my pants to slide down to my knees, and I could feel her directly on me.

My attention went totally on her, finally, and I drank her in my senses. But then at once I was called away again by cries from downstairs. Cries and clanking pots and cabinet doors closing. I was awake again. Dammit. Shitty timing.

The mornings were a perilous time. I often couldn't understand the demarcation of sleeping and waking life, and so transitioning sucked.

Most mornings I spent sorting through which was dream and which was waking life and trying to understand what needed to happen next. Then I’d go into meditation and try to summon kind feelings for this world of illusions—you know, the waking world—and try to set a feeling of peace into my nerves. My poor fucking nerves that I’d already rewired once. I suppose the trying for peace was contrary to the moment of it— that being more of an accepting what’s there kind of thing than a trying to make something happen sort of dealie. But hey. It’s where I was with my meditation practice.

Lila was rarely around much in the mornings. Or I guess another way to say that is Juno often dropped by in the mornings. It’s hard enough for us to get along when I was put together, but first thing in the morning’s a painful shitshow. My body would protest my every movement, but I still have to fucking move, you know? If I don’t move, I grow sorer and stiffer still, and then it hurts even fucking more, and my energy leaks off me like water. Price of my misspent youth, I supposed. You can’t get away with living. There’s always a cost.

Sure enough, Juno was there that morning. I smiled at her and wanted to be kind to her. I still loved her, even though she’s massively fucking difficult to deal with. Knew I always would, too.

She brushed a loose strand of my hair back behind my ear and kissed me with tight, friendly lips. I returned something similar.

“Good morning,” she said.

“Good morning,” I offered back.

Mason was staring at a holo, something I was forever wishing for less of. But I wanted to keep the peace, both with him and with Juno. There’s danger in that kind of thinking, but you gotta pick your battles. It’s like one of my besties, Reg, always says: “That ain the hill ta die on.”

Anyway, this particular morning wasn’t the worst of them. Juno was pretty helpful, and I was able to get out on time to work.

I couldn’t for the fucking life of me understand how or why I did what I did for a living. Not the writing thing. I’m talking about being a secretist.

As many of you darling fuckers know from my first book, the path of secrets just sort of found me. Or maybe I didn’t do a very good job of making that clear. Who the fuck knows. Anyhow, the realization I’d come to many times was that when I was doing any other sort of work, I just felt off-kilter. Not writing, I suppose, but anything else. So I had the secrets trade and writing. And writing couldn’t be counted on to make the big wheel turn—not yet anyway, despite what some might have thought. I mean, you put out a book and people think you’re a fucking millionaire. Honey, if they only knew …

Here’s my point, longwinded ass writer that I am: I had to persist in the secrets trade. Couldn’t stop if I wanted to feed my family.

What is it exactly, this secrets trade business, you might ask? Well that would be telling, and I’m not allowed to do that. ‘Sides, no one can exactly seem to agree on what it is or how it works anyway, so there’s not much to tell anyhow. Everyone seems to have an opinion and little else—and that’s those of us who care to, who’ve thought about it beyond the daily doing of it, and that’s not a lot of people.

I’ve called my place of business the House of Secrets. And in said house, there are whispers and raised voices, cries of joy and pain. It’s all very discreet and professional. It costs, though. It costs them and me both. It costs them whatever they can pay and me whatever I can stand to bear. Penance for past crimes? Sometimes it feels like that. Other times I feel like I’m just doing my part to free as many minds as I can and relieve suffering. It’s an intangible profession, really—the opposite of making things appear in the world or distributing them or selling them.

The shitty coffee shop next door was bustling and packed up tight. A young guy was looking up the length of my leg and working his way to my hat.

“Nice hat,” he said.

I smiled, a little flattered. It felt good to be noticed this way at my age, I won’t lie.

I cut my eyes over to him and leaned on the counter a bit, let a piece of my hair fall down to frame my face.

He smiled beneath heavy frames and pulled over a cocktail napkin with a sketch on it. “Tell me the truth …”

His accent I knew from talking with my sister all these years. It’s a Nova Yew accent of some kind.

“Does this look like me or what?” he asked.

I let my lips be long in a smile and said, “No, not really. It looks like a dwarf.”

“Oh, busted,” he said. “Yeah, it’s a dwarf. I’ve been reading a lot of fantasy lately.”

“Here you go,” the barista said to me.

I looked at her and smiled but kept some of my peripheral vision on him. That’s the sort of shit one learns to do in my line of work, by the by.

I took the coffee and paid her.

“Bye now,” I said to him softly, turning on a clicking heel and letting a hand linger in a little wave behind me.

“Bye,” he said in that great accent.

I felt him watch me walk out the door. It’s nice.

I walked to my office. The breeze caught my hair and the interior of my coat, lifting its length from my legs and letting the air in and around my body, spilling out the warmth in a way that was sensual but also chilling. I took it in for a sec, then gathered myself again, and went up the stairs to the door.

Resting there on the porch was a letter. Like a paper fucking letter. Oh paper’s still around in the 32C, but it’s become kind of a trendy, hip thing.

I snatched it up and smelled it. There’s something familiar there.

“What are you about?” I asked.

It didn’t say, so I opened it.

As I read, I felt threatened. I felt old instincts coming back. I could feel Brims circling me, feel the eyes of people unwanted on my shoulders. I could feel it all coming back on me. Again.

I crumbled up the paper. “Fucking asshole …”

I immediately regretted it and smoothed the letter out against the side of the house.

“Fuck,” I said. “Every day it’s something.”

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2 | Beyond Nostalgia

Sometimes I get ahead of myself. Let’s say there’s a long list of things to do—or some shit like that—and I get to feeling like there’s no time and then everything locks up. I mean, I get that. It happens. So I could appreciate Avan’s position when he said he had no time to spare.

“I’ve been immersed in a sea of shit out here and have had no time to come up for air,” he said.

Air, spare … whatever. Same idea.

“I understand.” I said it, and I meant it, though my spirits were dashed. “I hope it all works out for you, you know … out there.” A million miles away, I thought but did not add.

He was quiet for a moment then asked, “Have you talked to Amel?”

“Yeah, I have. It’s been a few weeks now, I guess. Maybe a month.”

“What’d she say?”

“Not a lot that you hadn’t already. You guys see it a lot the same way. I guess you’re mad about different things …”

“Makes sense.”

“Yeah, makes sense.”

We both went quiet.

I continued: “She’s pretty sad …”

“Well that’s too fucking bad,” he interjected. “She should have thought of that before she asked me to leave.”

“Yeah.”

Quiet, again.

“I guess she’s doing okay, otherwise,” I said.

I omitted the details of her crippling loneliness, obsession, and depression, not because I didn’t want to tell him or because she would have objected—Amel wouldn’t have. Hell, maybe she’d even hoped I would tell him. But I knew he didn’t want to hear about it. Maybe some other time, I thought.

I could still feel him well despite the distance between us. I wished that he were closer, and though I’d accepted he’d gone far, I still felt the pain of it.

“So I’ve got this thing on the Desert Planet for a few weeks,” he said. “It’s a work trip, but still it will be nice to decompress from everything.”

“I see.”

“Maybe we can talk again after that, though I’ve still got a lot of studying to do.”

He was preparing for this whole secretist specialty thing. Don’t worry about it too much.

“Okay,” I said. “Let’s do that.”

“All right. Good talking to you.”

“You too.”

“Take care.”

“You too.”

“Bye.”

“Bye.”

So with that conversation fresh in my mind and trying to linger, I found myself again in the unpleasant company of this fucking letter.

It lay on the desk folded in thirds such that the top and bottom stood up at angles.

I knew it meant nothing. Why couldn’t I keep with that? Why did my mind race to make it mean something?

My stomach tightened. I brought some breath to it, then realized my throat was already tight and probably had been for some time. So was my jaw. I breathed into those areas and relaxed them, mixing in green images to help add comfort and healing.

My eyes caught sight of the clock. Clocks? We still have clocks in the 32C. Time’s always against me—‘s what it felt like, anyway. It felt that way in the moment since I was expecting someone to the House of Secrets any minute, and it felt that way in the overall trajectory of my life, too. I felt ten years behind with no time to play catch up. Hell, I’d be lucky to stay on track.

My body’s starting to show it, too. Lines around my eyes getting deeper, yeah, but everyone hears about that shit. That and graying hair—also happening, by the by—are, like, the only things people tell you about getting old physically. The quality of the skin surface changing—that’s one that’s talked about less and harder to describe. It’s like it becomes at once softer and craggy, and the texture begins to change. It’s kinda gross.

Also hair, my god the hair. It grows in weirder and weirder angles and places, getting tougher and wiry. It’s the worst. Just plain sucky.

And then there’s the overall feeling. Now, yeah, it’s a feeling that had been described to me many times in my youth, but, come the fuck on. Such detailing was essentially useless ‘cause you can’t get it without experiencing it. So what is it already? It’s a loss of vitality. A decline in overall vigor and resilience.

It’s not weakness per se. In many ways I was physically stronger than I’d ever been. Training plus having a kid turns out to equal you will be made of fucking iron. But that natural, visceral energy and resolute quality of the body itself to turn away harm, fatigue, and illness had lessened over the years. Again, sucky.

Sometimes I think it’s not the age of the body but the person’s familiarity with it, like a kind of attachment to these destructive agents we encounter. I don’t know. I guess I’m lucky I ever felt this kind of health at all. Some people never do and that’s not lost on me.

In any case, I brought my mind back to the letter and what needed to be done about it. I would have to deal with it, and I was a sooner-is-better-than-later kind of person.

Then came the knock. Work, thank goodness ‘cause I needed the fucking money, but I could also feel how deeply tired I was.

Hours passed by the way they do in my line, and my ears were dripping in secrets, my thoughts thoroughly saturated with information and projections. But the day was done, right?

I walked along the road to my car—the fucking private parking dock was full that morning thanks to assholes who didn’t want to have to walk from the street to the tanning salon ‘cause, yes, we still have tanning salons in the 32nd Century, despite horrible UV exposure risk just walkin’ around—and I kept my senses extended in case some long motherfucker was walking around looking for a mark.

At got to Clara without issue and climbed in.

“Welcome back, miss,” Clara said. “Shall I resume your playlist?”

“Sure. That’d be great.”

The familiar wailing of songs of the past filled the cabin. It was at least the fifth time I’d gone back to that well, back to the musical bridge that connected me to the past.

Not all of it was nostalgic. I’d moved beyond nostalgia. The first time or two, yeah, all right, but the third time, I’d gone over that bridge to rescue myself from the past. And that’s a totally different thing from sitting there reminiscing.

I thought about that rescue as I drove home, remembering how the winding country roads out west on the Homeworld had taken me back to the Jungle.

As the road wound and the sun set, I could see my young eyes in the reverse pilot cam looking at me through the bend of time.

The music raged, my heart pounding and pumping blood, finding counterpunch with the drums and bass. I could feel the grasp of the time on my young self, drowning alone in a place where no one understood or could possibly understand. Too much of it was fantasy. I could see that from this third point—driving home, I mean.

But in that out country, I could see myself looking back, kissing iron and hoping for anything else that might tear me out. There’s a presence there, looming near my young hand, guiding it in. So, I leapt from my place there on the country road and dove through the cam screen back toward the time of my young self.

I found myself almost catatonic on the shore. I could see a lot of my friends there: Horace, Tij, Danielle, Rabbit. They had been trying to get to me, I think, but then they just seemed frozen.

I looked lifeless and still, too, but I could see the life that remained, however faint.

So as the music began to build and swell again, I took hold of myself—my younger self that horrible night, the night of the Blast—and scooped my arm around and up under my younger arms. I held tight as I called myself back up and through the lens of years, propelled by it and racing against it. The tension was the fuel, the power.

As the song reached its fevered pitch, I timed it to flow back through the cam screen and into myself just as the music peaked and then settled. I’d made it back safely, with my younger self in tact, rescued from that awful place.

My drive home ended, and I pulled up to the house. I felt a certain sense of satisfaction at having achieved something so rare. Not many people would try to rescue themselves from the past, I thought.

The blades of grass seemed friendlier on my eyes than they had when I’d left that morning. Along the concrete and up the steps, my heels clicked and clacked. The front door was old and needed a few parts—fuck, maybe it needed replacing. But I had some sympathy for how it might feel, old and coming apart, so the idea of replacing it bothered me. The wreath hanging on the front door needed changing, too, though it’d been so goddam cold, keeping the winter wreath on well into spring seemed appropriate.

I worked the tricky lock and went into my home of that day and time, but my consciousness was still somewhat split between the now and the then of it.

I heard the bouncing steps of my son running toward me on the wooden floors from the back of the house and saw the light in his face when he saw me. I hoped my face looked half as good to him as his to me.

Lila wasn’t far behind, bringing warm words and comfort. I could hear her speaking and take in her meaning, but I was so tired from absorbing information that I couldn’t really make out the individual words. This had been happening with increasing frequency and was starting to bother me.

But I shuttled it all aside, and instead ate, tried to rest, and find some simple pleasures in the nighttime.

There was, however, no pleasure whatsoever in cleaning up monkey poop.

Monkeys had been overhead all day long, dropping feces down on the yard outside Scythia’s place. I was out there in pointy boots, with a shovel, scooping all this shit up.

Cromarty lumbered up from the cement stairs that ran underneath the house and said, “Ey! Come down ‘ere for a minute!”

So I did.

“What is it?” I wiped poop from my boots ‘cause I’d stepped in the fucking shit at some point and hadn’t realized it till just then.

“We’ve got a blighter tied up ‘n the basement closet.”

“Okay … why?”

“‘Cause that’s where we put dirty buggers that’s done pissed on the wrong shoes.”

“What about monkeys that drop shit in the yard? What about those shoes?”

He smiled but said nothing else.

I followed this ogre down the stairs to the closet. He opened it up and, yep, sure as the shit on my boots, there was some poor bastard tied to a chair.

“All right, leave me alone with him,” I said.

Cromarty started to protest, but with my eyes, I sent him away.

I looked at the tired, sweaty face of the dude in the chair.

“Do you know why you’re here?” ‘Cause I sure as shit didn’t, but I didn’t say that.

He nodded.

“All right,” I said. “I’m gonna cut you loose. And when I do, you’re gonna tell me what you’re supposed to. Then your part will be done, and you can go.” I wiped my hands and became a bit preoccupied with my nails. The paint was chipped a little on my left middle. “Motherfucker,” I said absently. Then, I remembered where I was and said, “If you tell anyone what you tell me, or if you tell anyone anything at all about me, or that lumbering ogre you just saw, or the lady of the house, or, well, anything at all really, I’m gonna come find you.”

I leaned in close to him, so he could feel my breath on his face, and I could see my eyes reflected on the surface of his eyes.

“You do not want that,” I said.

He nodded a little nod, but it was enough for me.

I nodded back. “All right then.”

I cut his gag.

He took a deep breath but did not speak only sighed.

“Well,” I said. “Let’s have it.”

“There will be, for you and maybe for her, one way out of all this. It is not the way you imagine or have constructed, but it will nevertheless suffice. When that time comes, you will have to choose between your son and the rest of your life. If you want to make that choice count, you will have to be at peace with everything that has come before but also everything that will never come to be.”

I stood there, fuckin’ stunned.

“May I go?” he asked.

I moved and cut him free, and he hurried off, though I couldn’t really look at him or feel my limbs well. I felt as though I were held by mud—able to move but slowed.

My face was scratched and wet. It felt almost as though the skin might come off my cheek. I gently pushed the cat from my chest and pawed at my eyes. I could see Cromarty stomping around the monkey shit in the yard, but also my cat stalking my hair on the pillow, pouncing at it with fingers each short a knuckle.

“Knock it off, Hamlet,” I said to the cat.

He licked my face again.

I sat up and cleared away the sleep, then went into the motions of the morning—tired and ache-y as shit—knowing the waking day was forming ahead, erasing the memory of the message from the dream.

 Hamlet rubbed his face against mine, leaving some hair where the skin was wet from his lick.

 “Fuckin’ fantastic,” I said.

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Chapter 4: In Full Career, At a House of Mirrors

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Chapter 5: One Day Gone

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Chapter 6: In The Ruined Manor

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Chapter 7: Bomb!

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Chapter 8: x

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Chapter 9: Everybody’s Working For The Weekend

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Chapter 10: The Wailing Belly

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Chapter 11: Title 11

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Chapter 12: The Devil You Know

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Chapter 13: Café Tredici

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Chapter 14: Torn & Scattered?

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Chapter 15: Lifeboat

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Chapter 16: But I'm As Blue As I Can Be

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Chapter 17: In The Cut

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Chapter 18: The Shadow Of Madness

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Chapter 19: Needle In The Hey

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Chapter 20: Self-Selection

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Chapter 21: Black Jack

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Chapter 22: Emanations

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Chapter 23: Skidoo

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Chapter 24: Uxorial

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Chapter 25: QC

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Chapter 26: Pubbed

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Chapter 27: Haunted

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Chapter 28: Pubbed, Part 2

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Chapter 29: Haunted, Part 2

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Chapter 30: Pubbed, Part 3

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Chapter 31: Haunted, Part 3

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Chapter 32: Pubbed, Part 4

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Chapter 33: Hanging On The World Tree

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Chapter 34: Pubbed, Part 5

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Chapter 35: Tetrahedron Schema

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Chapter 36: Long Way Down

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Chapter 37: o

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Chapter 38: Provenance

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Chapter 39: This Great Open Sky

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Chapter 40: Like Two Rafts In The Sea

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Chapter 41: It’s Besetzung Before Cathexis

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Chapter 42: O Fortuna Diglotta

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Chapter 43: I’m Gonna Fight Them Off

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Chapter 44: Here We Go

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Chapter 45: Reunion

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Chapter 46: Old Wounds Healed Funny

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Chapter 47: Illusion? Not me

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Chapter 48: Stranglehold

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Chapter 49: The Way Of The Blade

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Chapter 50: A Brief History Of My Enemy

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Chapter 51: Sleeping With Friends For Spite, Part 1

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Chapter 52: Sleeping With Friends For Spite, Part 2

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Chapter 53: Sleeping With Friends For Spite, Part 3

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Chapter 54: The Beginning Of The Miserable End To Our Beautiful Life

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Chapter 55: Invagination Invitation

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Chapter 56: Abraxas

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Chapter 57: Autogenous

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Chapter 58: An Inversion of Romance -or- The Matter Between Us

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Chapter 59: Everafter

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Chapter 60: Talking To A Crowd Is Not My Favorite Thing

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Chapter 61: The Last Time Around

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Chapter 62: Again, Yet, Really

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Chapter 63: Valediction

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~

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