Fascinating courtly intrigue and bloody power games set on a generation ship full of secrets―Medusa Uploaded is an imaginative, intense mystery about family dramas and ancient technologies whose influence reverberates across the stars. Disturbing, exciting, and frankly kind of mind-blowing.” ―Annalee Newitz, author of Autonomous

Thursday, December 30, 2010

In Evernight

Hawkeye had never seen a god close up, though she had glimpsed one from a bus window once, on the way to college from her dorm. She went to Port University in Sky Perch, a city built on the sides of the biggest mountain range on Jigsaw, and as the city bus crawled up a winding road, Hawkeye spotted a giant nest on the opposite side of a gorge. The creature in the nest locked eyes with her, spreading great, golden wings when it saw her. “No more!” it cried with the voice of an eagle, opening wide its beak. But the amber eyes that looked into hers were humanoid, and it flexed the hands that sprouted where talons should have been.

Funny, that was the day she had broken up with Bertie.

Why should you see a god?” he had asked, with a tone that implied not so much that she was a fool, as it did that everyone but Bertie was.

Why should anyone?” she replied.

Gods showed themselves to people for their own reasons, and though they were often plain in their speech, making demands or delivering warnings, their remarks could sometimes be as baffling as ghost poetry.

I suppose you felt transcendent when it gazed into your eyes,” mocked Bertie.

I felt awed,” said Hawkeye. And terrified, she didn’t add.

Lots of silly people feel awed when they catch a glimpse of a raptor. Did you bring that research paper I needed?”

She had. She had done several of his papers for him, based on his notes, because he had convinced her he didn’t have the time to do them himself, though he was certainly smart enough to, certainly a good enough writer, but his time was too precious for that kind of nonsense. “You have plenty of inclination to sit in one place, my pretty little gimp, while I network for the both of us. Deal?”

How she could have viewed pretty little gimp as an endearment, Hawkeye could no longer fathom. So that day, when the god had screamed, “No more!” Hawkeye took it as advice, whether it was meant that way or not.

I didn’t finish the paper,” she said. “I didn’t have time.”

Bertie’s expression didn’t change, possibly because it never did. Bertie’s sky-blue eyes always mocked the world, his perfectly-chiseled mouth curling naturally in sarcastic lines. He didn’t say a word when she defied him for the first time ever. He simply turned and walked away. He never spoke to her again, or acknowledged that he had ever called her his girlfriend.

Broke up with Bertie, indeed. For two years she had watched him anxiously for the slightest evidence of his regard, hung on every word that had seemed remotely affectionate, nursed emotional bruises inflicted by his casual cruelties. Broke up with Bertie. Say rather that she stopped providing what Bertie had wanted from her in the first place – well-written research papers. Once she was no longer useful, he stopped expending what little energy he had needed to keep her hanging.

But after all, it had been her decision. I didn’t have time. If she had been his willing dupe for two years, in the end she had been unwilling. And that was that.

No more! cried the god, though it may have simply been expressing annoyance with noisy buses. Gods could do miraculous, scary, sometimes destructive things. Gods had moved mountains and rivers on Jigsaw, rearranged whole city blocks, caused unfortunate persons to fly right off the face of the world and out into space. And of course, the Southern gods had broken the Interstate and caused everyone in the South to vanish. No one saw them do this, but the Southern gods had appeared in record numbers to Southerners and mentioned the new Interstate in agitated tones.

You can’t do that, undo it!” said a god with the head of a woman and the body of a dog.

It goes across from end to end,” a god with spider legs complained with three of its seven mouths. “End to end is out of line!”

In one week, over 200 encounters with Southern gods were reported, and all of them mentioned the Interstate. “What are we supposed to do about it?” asked officials. “Tear it up again?”

Then, poof. The Southern gods did it for them.

The gods of the North had never complained about the Interstate. But no one doubted they could do to the cities of the North what had happened to the cities in the South. So people tried to do what the Northern gods asked, after the Disappearance. Sometimes they asked for strange things, but they never asked for something impossible.

Ghosts never asked for anything. They didn’t have much physical impact on the living world either, except occasionally as poltergeists. After Hawkeye moved into her home, a poltergeist kept throwing her books across the front room. It favored one book in particular, The Lost Cities, which contained photographs of the empty Southern cities taken by investigators just after the Disappearance. Each time the poltergeist threw the book, it fell open to a different city: Lark, Seaside, Evernight, Edge, and Farthest. Hawkeye got a chill when she picked up the fallen book to see which silent scene had been revealed. She had studied the book many times before, fascinated and frightened by what she saw there. The poltergeist seemed to have a knack for finding the spookiest photos of all, the ones most fraught with inexplicable menace. She would look and look, trying to see what the poltergeist wanted her to see. Instead, she only felt the mystery loom larger, more unsolvable.

The photo that frightened her the most was one from Evernight. Time fractured in a particular way in Evernight, so it always seemed to be night there. Time inside the Fracture passed slowly but steadily for those inside it, and people outside could only contact them after night had fallen wherever they were. Day never dawned there, and if you wanted to enter or exit Evernight when it was day outside, you couldn’t do it.

Evernight had been built in levels, streets were layered one on top of the other, the buildings all with several stories. If you stood in the Dark Desert, outside city limits, you could see all of the layers. An investigator had taken a picture from the desert of a group of buildings. Hawkeye couldn’t tell if they were residential, or if they had some other purpose. Every door on every level was shut, save one on the seventh. For some reason, the sight of that lone, open door filled her with dread. She had a nightmare about it, in which she approached that open door, but she woke before she could enter and see what was so terrible about it.

A few weeks later, while she was searching through a database of Encounters With Southern Ghosts, she found a reference that gave her a chill. A ghost appeared to a woman whose husband had been in Evernight on a business trip when he disappeared along with everyone else. It raved to her about suitcases and toothpaste, a jumble of complaints that were almost comical. But at the end it said, Levels and levels, and on the seventh the door is open. Go in and look over your shoulder . . .

Had that same ghost visited Hawkeye? Maybe because she couldn’t stop wondering about the door? And she was one of the few researchers who had the stomach to examine the Southern Ghost database thoroughly. Somehow, that bit of ghost poetry felt like an explanation, possibly even a warning. It lurked in the back of her mind, ready to be examined again.

Hawkeye suspected the Neighbors knew more about the gods than humans did, but possibly not much more. Even the Neighbors had been surprised when the Southern gods took such extreme action because of the Interstate. Hawkeye often wondered if the Neighbors were angry about what had happened, though her studies had revealed only puzzlement from them. The Neighbors never said whether they had lost anyone in the Disappearance. No human on Jigsaw knew where the Neighbors lived, they only saw Neighbors who wanted to be seen.

However, every human on Jigsaw knew where Neighbor ghosts could be found. In the South, on a plain near Farthest.

This was the only place. Neighbor ghosts weren’t like human ghosts, except for the fact that they were dead.

-from Spirits Of Glory by Emily Devenport

Monday, December 27, 2010

My (Ex) Friend The Psychopath

I am not a wise woman. If I were, I wouldn't write this entry, let alone post it. I would keep my promise to myself to never expose this story to the World Wide Web, where its subject could conceivably see it and realize that it's about her. I would never risk provoking her into tracking me down and causing me the sort of grief only a psychopath can cause. I would keep my big mouth shut.

But I'm a writer, and eventually writers blab about just about everything. If we don't blab about something, it's because we forgot it. We change stuff to try to disguise some of the truth, we do our best to cover our butts. But our compulsion to tell stories always wins out in the end.

I had a friend who was a psychopath. One day she tried to kill me, and she almost succeeded. If she had, it would have been a perfect crime, and no one would have known the truth. I try to tell myself that's one of the reasons I feel compelled to pass the story on. I'm not sure if I buy that or not. But here it is.

All of us know psychopaths, wether we know what to call them or not. We don't realize it, because popular culture has trained us to think that Hannibal Lector is the essential psychopath. Just see the word, and you think Ted Bundy, or Charlie Manson, or John Wayne Gacy, Jr. You don't think about the 10-year old girl who lives down the street from you, even though she continually does rotten things to you.

Psychopaths do a lot of damage to people, but most of them aren't killers. There are a few characteristics that all of them share. One of these is that they don't have a conscience. They don't suffer guilt or remorse, they don't feel compassion for others. Their emotions are shallow – the only feeling they can experience that has any depth is rage. When I write these statements with such certainty, please understand that I'm not quoting some book I read. I'm not expressing doctrines of psychology, written by learned scholars who have observed and interviewed psychopaths. I'm speaking from personal experience.

I was friends with a psychopath for five years. She feared only one thing: lightning. And she had one over-riding passion in her life: ice cream.

That poem, The Emperor Of Ice Cream, always give me the creeps, though I confess I don't entirely understand its text.

I don't want to tell you too many other things about this gal, because I'm a coward (if an unwise one). I've already mentioned two things in this entry that would allow her to identify herself in my story. I don't want to make it any plainer than it already is. So let me tell you what she did.

For five years, I heard one demand from her, over and over: Let's get some ice cream!

She didn't mean that we should go to the Tastee Freeze, where she would buy us a couple of cones. She also didn't mean that we should go to her house and get ice cream from the freezer, because her mother didn't permit her to have ice cream. Her mother didn't deny her this treat because it was unhealthy – she did it because she believed this girl to be evil. She didn't get any treats at home, because she didn't deserve them. But my mom was totally into ice cream, she kept the freezer well stocked with it. So inevitably, every time I saw this gal (which was just about every day), she would make that demand, Let's go get some ice cream! And if I didn't immediately respond, she would make it again. And again. And again.

You might think that's harmless. You might even think it's cute. But being harangued about something so relentlessly gets tiring. And ice cream wasn't the only thing she wanted, it was just the main thing. If I said no to the ice cream demand, she would switch to another one, and then another, and another. She was a master of of the Relentless Harangue, absolutely tireless in her delivery of demands. And getting rid of her was next to impossible – until she got something she wanted. For five years I put up with this, because I was a kid, and I pretty much expected people to be weird. To this day, I'm rarely disappointed in this expectation.

One day, in the middle of the summer, while she was hammering me with various demands, the subject of our above-ground swimming pool came up. If ice cream was her Number 1 passion in life, our pool was Number 2. She didn't have one of her own, of course – undeserving girls don't get pools either, not even the little, inflatable ones. I was 10 by this time, and I was beginning to find it harder to tolerate, Let's get some ice cream! After all, she was supposed to be my friend. Couldn't we just engage in some good-natured fun, playing with dolls? How about a nice round of Kick The Can? Was that too much to ask?

Apparently it was. She had been over for five minutes when she made her usual, shameless demand. I ignored it. So she switched tactics. “Let's go swimming!” she said.

Understand that I knew better. My mother wasn't home. Nobody but she and I were there, and I knew I wasn't supposed to go swimming alone. It was dangerous. But she was so relentless, and I had finally figured out a terrible thing. If I gave her what she wanted, she would go away. It's not a good thing to learn, not a wise thing to do. But I can understand why so many people give in to the impulse, just to buy a bit of peace.

So we ended up in the pool. We played for a while. We even (I thought) began to have some fun. And then she hit me with it. “Let's get some ice cream!” And I realized that she had just been acting, had just been pretending to be my friend and to be having fun. As always, there was only one thing on her mind. And I was sick of it. “Shut up about the stupid ice cream!” I shouted. “I'm sick of hearing about it.”

I had less than a second to feel proud of myself for finally standing up to her. And then I was fighting for my life. She shoved my head under the water. This was not a good-natured shove. She didn't release me, she held my head under. I fought her with every ounce of strength I had, and I managed to get my head up for a second, just long enough to gasp one gulp of air and to see the look on her face.

I'll never forget that expression. She may have been 10 years old, but Ted Bundy would have been proud of her. I gaped at her, and then she shoved me under again, and the struggle continued.

Up until that moment I had believed I could fight her off with sheer strength. After all, I had desperation on my side, that gave me a nice jolt of adrenaline. She allowed me to continue to think that, to fight with all my might. She let me up a couple more times, just long enough to get another quick gasp of breath, which I promptly wasted by screaming for help – and then she shoved me down again. She was enjoying herself. I fought and fought, with everything I had, and all I managed to do was get tired. She was taking longer and longer to let me up again. I realized that eventually she wasn't going to let me up at all.

That's when I found out another characteristic that all psychopaths share. They don't get tired. That's the reason they can stab someone 117 times, then cut them up, then set the house on fire, then drive to Canada and get rid of the body parts, then drive back to Colorado and hold up a liquor store, then score some drugs and find a motel room where they finally crash after being awake 2 days straight. They're wired differently.

She didn't get tired, but I sure did. And I realized what a fool I had been to call for help when no one was home at my house, and no one was home at my neighbor's houses (they were at work). My real friends were all off doing something else, that was the only reason I had consented to play with the Empress of Ice Cream in the first place. No one would hear my screams. My mom would come home and find me dead in the pool. The police would chalk it up to another kid swimming alone when she shouldn't have, no one would know that the girl from down the street had been there with me. She was going to get away with it.

And that's when I finally did something smart. This was an above-ground pool we were struggling in, and I could feel its wall against my back. So I played dead.

Most kids who have been swimming play a game called How Long Can You Hold Your Breath? I played it well. I forced my body to relax – not all at once, but gradually, as if I were losing consciousness slowly. And then I went limp.

She didn't just let me go. She held on. If I hadn't taken a chance, she would have held me there until I really was dead, and then she would have climbed out of the pool, helped herself to a bowl of ice cream, and sauntered home, without anyone the wiser.

Instead, I suddenly kicked against the bottom of the pool with the last of my strength. This did not completely surprise her. I think the element of surprise lay in my trajectory. Up until that point, I had invested myself in the strategy of trying to break her hold on me. This time I threw myself over the side of the pool. She grabbed at me, but missed my hair and had to grab my wet body, instead. I slipped out of her grasp and fell to the ground. I wasted no time in scrambling to my feet and dashed for the arcadia door. I slammed it shut and locked it, just seconds before she got to it.

From there, I had to run to every other door and window in the house, slamming them shut and locking them just before she got to them. She didn't give up until every single one of them had been tried. Once she realized she had been thwarted, she shrugged. Then she turned and walked away, whistling a happy tune.

If you've visited this blog before, you might have read another entry I wrote about a creature called Mano Loco, who almost succeeded in ambushing my brother one dark night in the summer, when he was home alone. This unhappy experience occurred the same summer my (ex) friend tried to drown me. I have often wondered if it was really she who stuck her head up above the gate after my brother scrambled over it. If it was, he was in ten times more danger than he would have been from any supernatural killer.

So there it is. I've flung it out into the web – maybe the spider who's perched in some (hopefully) remote part of it won't feel the vibrations. If she does, I'll have to deal with the consequences. If she hasn't changed in all these years, I'll have no warning before she makes a move in my direction.

But I have changed over the years. I'm way more paranoid than I used to be. It's not impossible to sneak up on me, but it's a lot harder than it used to be. I may be a blabbermouth, but I have a few tricks up my sleeve.

Let's hope I don't have to use them.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Ghost

Wolfy fetches things,” said Ebony, who seemed much more outgoing than Ivory. “What does Brat do?”

Hawkeye scratched the cat between his ears. “Brat is the eyes in the back of my head. And the sensitive nose I don’t have, and the ears that hear ten times as well.” She stared into Brat’s intelligent eyes and thought of something else. “And the point of view I need to put my feet on solid ground.”

Brat gave her a slow blink, as if to say, Of course!

How did I ever get along without you and Wolfy? she wondered. How could I stand to lose you?

But that was not something she could bear to think about as they sped South on I-1. Once they crossed The Break, it seemed far too likely she could find out how.

They drove for five hours, pulling into rest stops along the highway at regular intervals. It was at one of these stops that Hawkeye learned something new about Neighbors.

Adult humans tended to maintain a polite distance from the Neighbors once they got a good look at them, but small children couldn’t resist coming over to pet Wolfy and Brat. The Neighbors let them, even spoke to them gently, answered their questions about the doggy and the kitty. The Neighbors seemed almost equally interested in the children, though Hawkeye wasn’t sure why she thought that. They weren’t acting overtly affectionate or curious, at least not in the human sense. Maybe it was just that they answered questions so patiently, never assuming the children wouldn’t understand them. Maybe it was their tone of voice, which differed noticeably from the one they used with adults.

Finally, just outside of Middle, the biggest town on the North side of The Break, a little girl asked Ebony, “Why does the doggy have to wear those straps around his body?”

That’s a harness,” replied Ebony. “It keeps the doggy secure. If he got scared, he could wiggle out of a collar, and he might run onto the highway and get hit by a vehicle. But with this harness, he stays right here where I can protect him.”

Why would the doggy get scared?” asked the girl, who looked seven or eight years old.

He might be startled by a loud noise, or by another doggy who barked or tried to bite.”

It wasn’t until they all climbed back in the van and they had re-entered the sparse traffic that Hawkeye remembered the little girl’s questions: Why...? Why...?

She asked it twice! Why! And Ebony answered her both times without hesitation, with none of the outrage that Neighbors usually demonstrated when adult humans asked Why? And now Hawkeye couldn’t ask him, Why not?

She felt sure she had never read anything to indicate Neighbors would answer a child’s Why. Maybe she was the only one who had ever noticed. Or maybe anyone else who had noticed just assumed the Neighbors were more inclined to be patient with children, because their questions were innocent.

Maybe the ambassadors humans had been sending to Neighbors were too old for the job. Or perhaps they should be taking their children along to the meetings. Children and assistance animals. Hawkeye ought to mention that in her report . . .

She became so involved in this imaginary report, she didn’t notice the miles slipping by, the signs of human habitation becoming sparser, until she woke from her revery with a start to notice that the sun had descended halfway to the horizon and now the Interstate stretched through a wasteland.

Hawkeye stared out the van window, her perfect vision recording details that would have been missed by most others. She saw sparse scrub and cracked earth, seared by the hot season. She saw small rodents nibbling on seed bundles at the tips of dry twigs. She saw an otherwise empty landscape that seemed to stretch forever. Looking intently into the distance, Hawkeye couldn’t focus on the lone figure standing on the side of the road until her window framed it, and the world froze around her.

Caught in that motionless frame, Hawkeye focused her gaze from far-seeing to close, and the blurry figure became solid. Yet somehow it remained shadowy, featureless, except for eyes that trapped her in its dead regard.

Ghost . . .

In Evernight,” whispered the ghost, with a woman’s voice, “closing doors and the waiting. Have the pills running up stairs? Things are here and taking for the Wolves, hear the lark ascending. The Loops and loops the loops, so through-and-through, speaking Spirits of Glory with Dagger. Quiet, Hawkeye! Be quiet . . .”

The world jolted forward again with an explosion of movement and sound, and Hawkeye drew a breath to tell the Neighbors about the ghost.

Then held it. Quiet, Hawkeye, be quiet!

In all its baffling ramble, that had been the ghost’s clearest piece of advice. Or was it clear at all? Did it really mean that she shouldn’t tell what it had said, or would silence serve her better further down the path?

But inside that tangle of words: speaking Spirits of Glory with Dagger. What dagger? The sort that stabs? Hawkeye drew another breath and said, “Boss –”

But stopped when Brat bit her thumb.

-from Spirits Of Glory, by Emily Devenport

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Place In Hell

Last night, as I was cleaning up the mess made by a tornado of customers looking for Christmas gifts, I had to skirt one corner of the store where a man was sitting with a gigantic pile of books. This man was not a customer, he never buys anything in the store. He uses us as a library, and if we dare to question that, he complains to management. He knows we can't stop him from what he wants to do, so he builds a pile of books 40 deep and sits there among them until 1 minute before closing, then saunters out.

As a co-worker and I attacked his pawed-over pile, I remarked, “There's a place in hell for people like that.” She laughed. She works in the cafe, and has her own brand of monsters-pretending-to-be-customers to deal with. In the cafe, people sit down with magazines and books they haven't paid for (and spill coffee on them). They conduct loud, obnoxious phone conversations, eat most of the food they ordered and then demand a refund because it wasn't prepared to their satisfaction, steal tips out of the jar when the barista's back is turned, reach over the counter and grab pastries under the same circumstances – the list goes on and on.

My husband seems to attract a particular type of monster where he works. He calls them Little Old Ladies From Hell. They are the ones who want to tell you their whole life stories while you try to help them find books that are no longer in print. They stand in front of a long line of people and count the money out in dimes, nickels, pennies – then just as they're about to leave, remember that they haven't used their frequent shopper's card and want to return the purchase and start all over. And isn't there a coupon? But young man, my printer doesn't work. I'm sure the coupon was for 50% off. You say this week's coupon is 30%? Oh no, I'm sure mine was 50%.

And while we're on the subject of coupons, what about the lady in the mink coat who printed out 10 copies of the coupon that specifically says 1 item, 1 per customer, and wants to do 10 separate transactions? Or the guy with the expired coupon who says, “Are you trying to tell me you can't override that and just give me the damned coupon?” Or the Little Old Lady From Hell (with her piles of pennies) who bursts into tears because she can't use the expired 40% coupon on the $2.99 sale book she wants. And you twist yourself into knots trying to help her because you assume she must be living on Social Security. And you help her out to her car (because she bought 20 sale books with 20 1-use-only coupons), expecting that she must drive some aging wreck, and you discover that she's driving a brand-new Hummer. And she clips your car as she drives away.

These are the monsters who should be bound for hell, where they will suffer for eternity for their crimes against humanity. Yet when I try to imagine their punishments, I find myself pitying the devil. Because he will strive mightily to show them the error of their ways, and they won't get it. They will thwart his rules just as skillfully as they thwart ours. No coupon he devises will phase them. He may design a corner with a chair full of spikes, in a cloud of unbearable stench, stocked with books covered in slime and feces, and the freebee-reader guy will plant himself there and read until 1-minute before hell is supposed to close.

It won't be long before the devil realizes that he shouldn't punish these folks. He should hire them. Of COURSE there's a place in hell for these monsters – they're FROM hell. No one is more talented at torment than they are. They exist to remind us that life is full of prickles. By their example, we learn how NOT to behave.

So I clean up the pile of books and put them away. I patiently work my way through 10 transactions so the rich lady can get 40% off everything. I listen to the Little Old Lady From Hell as she tells me that the out-of-print book she wants just has to be available, because every book that was ever published is still out there, and I can order it for her if I just look long enough. It's not up to me to punish these folks, or point out to them that they're rotten. I'm not getting paid very much, but I am getting paid. If my company is willing to let these folks waste their resources and time, so be it.

I'll do my job. The devil is going have to look after his own.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Arizona

Here's a link to some photos I took of the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden. I don't know if you have to sign in with facebook to view them – if you do, it's worthwhile just so you can view people's photos and blogs . . .

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The People In The South Were Gone

This is the first thing every child on Jigsaw learned about the Disappearance. Since that day, no one had learned much more.

No Northerner saw it happen. No one saw flashing lights, or heard thunderous booms. A few people who had been on the phone with Southerners got cut off mid-conversation, but at that time of night, there hadn’t been many of them. The Northerners didn’t catch wind of what had happened until a freight driver almost crashed off the end of the fractured Interstate highway at 4:30 a.m. Hawkeye could imagine what that had been like for him, slamming on his brakes, skidding to a halt just inches from destruction, then getting out and looking, first at the smooth stretch of highway the way he had just come, and then at the broken chunks of road up ahead, and finally down at the perfectly straight, even line of division six inches from his toes.

History books called that line The Break. Hawkeye had seen pictures of it. It looked like a slice, as if someone had taken a sharp knife to a hunk of cheese.

By then, people had already noticed the South wasn’t answering phone calls. Networks were down, diagnostics were being run. But prior to that morning, most technical difficulties that occurred on Jigsaw could safely be attributed to odd fluxes in its magnetic fields or to its equally odd gravitational anomalies. Fractured Time had become a familiar occurrence, so no one thought anything was seriously wrong until they saw what had happened to the Interstate. Once that had been established, authorities converged on the area.

Everybody looked. Everybody scratched their heads. Everybody looked again. The sun came up and cast an ominous light over the scene.

In the South, that light cast shadows on empty streets. Nothing moved, living or mechanical. That’s what Northern investigators reported when they came back with more questions than answers, that even automated systems had shut down and could not be made to start up again. Errant winds teased loose shutters or pushed hanging doors shut, and the footfalls of hazard-suited Northerners echoed here and there. Their respirators vented carbon dioxide as they took pictures, consulted monitors inside their helmets, and searched for evidence. No blood stained floors, or walls, or any other surface. Yet it could not quite be said that there were no signs of struggle. Some things were broken, or spilled, or out of order. Some things were missing. And in their place, artifacts had been discovered.

Hawkeye had combed through hundreds of books and electronic databases, but none of them described these artifacts. She wondered if this was because the artifacts were simply indescribable, too baffling to categorize? Or was there another reason? Something less honest, a desire to keep discoveries a secret until they could be properly exploited by those in power? Or worse, were they so terrible, news of them would have spread panic?
Were they beautiful things, practical things? Or had the Southern cities become shores upon which the flotsam and jetsam of Fractured Time washed?

If anyone knew, they weren’t saying. Possibly the investigators were too busy scanning for toxins, for high levels of radiation, for anything that might have caused a mass death and/or disappearance. They found nothing beyond normal parameters. They kept looking anyway, because despite the lack of evidence, something nagged at them, something that never quite seemed to be there when they looked over their shoulders, yet also something that seemed to be right out in plain sight, if only they knew how to see it. They looked, and measured, and documented.

And then their equipment stopped working. One second before it stopped, every one of them received a transmission over their helmet communicators. Later no one could agree whether the voice they had heard had been male or female, whether it shouted or whispered, sounded angry or alarmed. But everyone agreed about what it said:

Get out of here.”

No one argued whether they should leave. Everyone boarded their aircraft and returned North. They flew over a countryside empty of any life that had come from Earth. Native fauna still lived there, but no wild creatures ventured into the abandoned cities again. Everyone knew that. The Neighbors said it was so.

And so did the ghosts.
-from Spirits Of Glory, by Emily Devenport

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Recurring Nightmares Hall Of Fame

Ask just about anyone if they have recurring nightmares, and some common themes become apparent, usually involving semi-nakedness, school classes that have somehow been missed all semester (and suddenly you're sitting at the final exam), and trying to run away from the monster when you're stuck in slow-motion speed. Most of these common nightmares aren't scary to anyone but the person who's suffering them. They range from sad, to funny, to downright baffling.

But once you veer away from the most common themes, it can be hard to tell just how individual a nightmare is. For the last 30 years, I've had three types of recurring nightmares that seem like they ought to be at least somewhat common, especially among homeowners. Nightmare 1: The Roof Has Holes I Didn't Know About. Nightmare 2: The Gerry-Rigged Plumbing Has Finally Gone Blooey. And Nightmare 3 (the genuinely scary one): The Runaway Stove. These recurring nightmares might seem straight-forward. You'd think that once I recognized them, maybe I could get myself to wake up. But they never show up by themselves. They insidiously insert themselves into other dreams, leaping out at me and shouting BOO! just as things begin to spin out of control.

Take the Leaky-Roof dream. Sometimes it shows up as part of another recurring nightmare, one in which a semi-apocalypse has descended upon the world, and I manage to make my way back to my childhood home. I dream about that house quite a lot – and I'm always glad to see it in these dreams, even under bad circumstances. I move back into the house, and that's when I begin to notice there are problems with the roof. BIG problems. They are always heralded by leaks from a rainstorm. Considering that I live in Phoenix, where it only rains a few times a year, this is rather an amazing thing. The drip, drip, drip warns me that I need to place pans and buckets under holes. And as I chase the drips, the holes get bigger, until I'm finally confronted with catastrophic gaps. You might think the sight of those storm clouds through what's left of my poor roof would fill me with despair. Instead, I feel determined to fix the problem.

Other times, the roof leaks are much more unexpected, showing up in dreams about sudden riches. I have somehow managed to get into a big, fancy house (always under bizarre circumstances that have nothing to do with obtaining any real wealth or security). As I try to puzzle through the labyrinthine circumstances that brought me to this house that I haven't earned and probably don't deserve, the leaks become apparent. Once again, they don't fill me with despair. If anything, they make sense. Ah-hah! This is why I got stuck with this house!

There's nothing positive about the dream of the Gerry-Rigged Plumbing. It resembles real life all too much. This is why it shows up just about everywhere, in any kind of dream you can think of. Have I married the handsome prince and moved to the castle? Too bad the master bathroom has a sink that never turns off completely. Am I being chased by a relentless, alien killing machine on a space station? Yeah, PLUS the toilet has filled the latrine with four inches of water. I have finally reached the conclusion that at no time in my life will every bit of plumbing in my house work exactly the way it's supposed to. That goes for the car and the appliances, too.

I feel determined, baffled, overwhelmed, and/or annoyed in most of these recurring nightmares. But one of them fills me with genuine terror. Like the Leaky Roof and the Gerry-Rigged Plumbing, the Runaway-Stove hides itself in other dreams. It may show up in one of those dreams I have about my childhood home, or in another common dream location, my grandmother's boarding house. It may show up in the home I live in now (about which I almost never dream). It may even lurk in a dark corner of the castle or the alien-haunted space station. It's a clever demon, a patient monster that cannot be stopped once it makes an appearance.

It's always an electric stove, and its mechanism is simple. Someone has turned a burner (or all of the burners) on high and left it on. The heat is so enormous, the controls have melted – and now I can't turn the damned thing off. It just gets hotter and hotter. I get the bright idea that I should run and turn off the main switch in the control box. But the stove is so hot, I can't get past it. I'm trapped in the kitchen with no way to turn it off, and it just keeps getting hotter. In the worst version of this dream, I'm trapped in an industrial kitchen with several of the runaway monsters.

The symbolism in these dreams is pretty obvious. Sometimes it's so obvious, you can't even call it symbolism. Maybe the circumstances of these recurring nightmares are individual, but the feelings behind them are still common. Living in the world is complicated. Life is challenging. We worry about stuff we can see and stuff we can't. If we're lucky, the sight of the leaky roof fills us with determination. Maybe we really can make our way home after the semi-apocalypse.

And when we do, we won't accidentally leave the stove on.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Time Fractured

Time fractured as they were making their way back up the road. Hawkeye didn’t feel the least bit surprised about it. Fractured Time was what had caused human colonists to name the world Jigsaw in the first place, and though you could seldom be sure where it was going to happen, you could always be pretty sure when: at the most inconvenient moment possible.

Though technically, when depended on where you were relative to the Fracture. Inside a Fracture, only Now seems to be happening. This is because Time flows into a Fracture and pools there, before flowing out again, sweeping people along with it. Outside, time flows more or less from past to future, with the observer traveling at the Now point, more or less with the stream of time. So how can you tell a Traveling Now from a Fractured Now? The answer is simple. The Fractured Now lasts a lot longer.

Have you even been on a picnic on a beautiful, sunny day, lying on the blanket with your eyes on the clouds and the warmth on your face, and said, “I wish this moment could last forever?” On Jigsaw, sometimes it does. Or maybe just seems to. It depends on who you ask.

Not that Fractured Time is always a picnic. It happened to Hawkeye once when she was taking a chemistry test. She thought this made perfect sense, since Chemistry was her least favorite subject. Sometimes it happens to people who are standing in line. It could happen just after you fell asleep, so it would seem like you were stuck in your dreams forever. Hopefully they’re good dreams. But you wouldn’t really understand how strange Fractured Time could be unless it happened in the middle of a rainstorm.

When time is flowing from past to future, rain condenses in the clouds. When the drops become heavy enough, they fall to the ground, sometimes splashing people on the way. Sometimes the drops feel almost warm, but usually they’re very cool. Occasionally they’re so cold you can tell they might rather be snow. You can stand and see them raining: condense, fall, splat, condense, fall, splat.

If you’re sitting and taking a chemistry test, you might not notice that time has fractured until you realize that this is the longest test you’ve ever taken in your life. But in a rainstorm, you can hear time fracturing. The pitter-splat of drumming drops is replaced by a beautiful tinkling noise, as if the drops have turned to crystal and are knocking together ever-so-delicately like wind chimes. The condense part of the storm makes the clouds rumble, not like thunder, but like the voices of gods talking about time in a language no mortal could understand. The splat becomes a gentle whoosh, and you can touch your cheek where a drop landed before the fracture and feel the moisture without absorbing it. You can look into the not-falling drops and see fractured light shifting back and forth, and that’s when you know that time has not really stopped at all. If time has stopped, light can’t shift. That’s why people call it Fractured Time, because of the prisms inside the raindrops.

Probably not an accurate term, but everyone is happy with it.

-from Spirits Of Glory , by Emily Devenport