The working office

If you saw my office, you might mistake it for a junky spare room.  The only clue that there is anything special about it is an oversized desk and the computer—and books, lots of books.  With only a single chair at the desk, it does not invite visitors.

When I am working, the only illumination comes from a desk lamp, a fluorescent fixture in the closet/library, and the monitor.  There is light, but it is indirect.  As a former Air Force imagery analyst, I grew used to working in the dim half-light of the exploitation floor.  That experience taught me that darkness encourages concentration, while light encourages distraction.

The only window in the room is blacked out.  I don’t need to see what the weather is or who is in the backyard.  From my seat in the dark, I can see the rippling waves of heat off the surface of the blacktop, I can see the ice-covered tundra, and envision the beginning and end of everything.  Without the myriad distractions that lay beyond the door of my office, my world is limitless.

And the darkness is silent, right?  Wrong.  Silence screams.  It is the enemy of concentration.  I love books, but I’ve always found the silence of the library maddening.  In the face of silence I immediately lose concentration.  I want to fill that void with something, something usually unproductive—alcohol, sex, drugs, binge watching Netflix.  Background music—even white noise—played through headphones can provide the perfect underlayment to the written word.  Whatever is played in the background, however, must synch with the work I’m doing or it, in itself, is more than just an annoyance.

As limitless a world as it might seem there sitting alone in the darkness, there is a final boundary to be breeched—time itself.  Time, the inescapable fourth dimension, suppresses creativity.  When I was young, I believed that inspiration came best under threat of a deadline, that the mind worked best under pressure, with brilliance exploding forth in a burst of productivity.  The problem was that the burst emptied me and left me drained and vulnerable to distraction.  Now that I am older, I realize that I am facing a more distinct and final deadline.  Now I take the long view, choosing each word and creating each sentence with care.  I relish each moment I am granted to process my creation and do not give myself so easily to the many distractions that are of the world beyond my door.  But although the darkness allows me to deny it, time hangs over me still, waiting patiently for me to finally stop writing forever.

But I am not there yet.  In my office, I become a well-oiled word machine, turning words into descriptions and emotions, transitioning seamlessly between the now and the very end of everything.   I guess you could say that the proper environment created and enhanced by the appropriate tools are the physics of writing.  Within the mind of the writer exist the myriad higher dimensions that both parallel and expand the confines of our three-dimensional existence.  And, perhaps, within those dimensions exists a god that can forgive the man whose mind cannot be confined by this oh so inadequate flesh.

So here I am, my mind filled with physics, history, religion, and lots of questions.  The questions find their way into the mouths and actions of the characters and situations I create.  I sometimes wonder, though, if the characters and situations aren’t already there and I only exist to record them for others.  It may be difficult for a non-writer to understand how important it is for a writer to create—or record—in the form of the written word.  Could I fulfill this need in some other medium?  Not really.  It would be like taking methadone to replace heroin, sort of a poor substitute for the sake of saving the addict’s life.  But in the end, an addict is still an addict.  And a writer is still a writer.  The need never subsides, not entirely.  The need is always there, and until it is satisfied all bets are off.

And that is all I can ask, that the darkness and silence abandon me to the alternate dimensions I pursue, and that I have the time to complete the full range of worlds that compel me to bring them forth.

© Copyright 2018 by Kevin Fraleigh

Navigating Hyperspace

Yes, I’m still working my way through Michio Kaku’s Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the 10th Dimension .  Full disclosure requires me to tell you that while I can easily grasp the higher concepts and especially appreciate the human aspects of the minds that generate them, the math drives me mad.  Call it elegant or beautiful, for me, the logic behind it is impenetrable.

With that being said, however, Hyperspace has provided me with the physics that will potentially clarify the foundation concepts for two novels I am currently working on.  While I don’t want the stories to be as sterile as some heavily science-referenced science fiction can be, I want them to be based on plausible physics.  In order to do that I have to gather data, and understanding the physics—if not the math—is all part of it.

With that being said, I’ll keep this post short as I want to get back building up the novels I’m trying desperately to finish.  As I mentioned in a previous post, I increasingly feel like I’m working on a deadline and I still have a lot to write.  I have many challenges to tackle and the daily distractions of work and home life don’t help my efforts.

Until next time, drop me a line, follow me, or check out Any Tomorrow on Amazon.

© Copyright 2018 by Kevin Fraleigh

Hyperspace and the Snows of Charleston

Okay, so I’ve been reading Michio Kaku’s Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the 10th Dimension and it got me to thinking about applications of the fifth dimension to my fiction.  I did touch on the idea of parallel universes in Any Tomorrow, but I thought that the implications for a more personal story might work out even better.

Coincidentally, I had the fortunate experience of riding out “Snowmaggedon 2018” in the comfort of Middleton Place, a plantation, in Charleston, South Carolina.  Thanks to that experience, it took little imagination to describe the events in the story below.

What I have provided here might be considered a teaser, of course.  The fully formed story with all the requisite twists and turns—and physics—will take some time to flesh out.  Until then, you might consider where you would take this.

____________________________________________

Ice

It’s a terrible thing, that complete lack of sensation, when the familiar road noise becomes silence.  And it takes a moment for the brain to realize what the body already knows.  Anticipation raises tension to terror, as the inevitable impact approaches.

The storm began hours earlier, before the temperatures finally dropped below freezing.  The warmer temperatures before the main storm hit meant that beneath the snow was a solid bed of ice.  Now, this wasn’t so bad so long as the snow covered the ice and allowed for slow, but steady traction.  The problems arise when the wind drifts the snow off the ice, exposing it.

Unfortunately, snow covered ice gives a false sense of control.  It was that deception that enticed Sue Marlbee to press down on the gas.  She was late for her shift at Sav-Mor-Mart, and even with a snow storm raging, she was expected to do her shift.  After all, people needed beer and cigarettes and milk, and the Sav-Mor-Mart wasn’t about to close.

Sue had little experience driving in the snow.  The storm, which would later be called “Snowmageddon 2018” in social media, was a fluke for coastal South Carolina.  Before it was over it would deliver a solid foot of snow and days with temperatures in the teens.  But all that was a future of which Sue was blessedly ignorant.  Had she known, she might have considered another course of action, but she didn’t know and it might not have made a difference anyway.  She couldn’t afford to lose her job, not now, not when she was almost free.

Sue didn’t just hop in the her old Ford Focus—she would have been a fool not to see the danger in the snow—it did give her second thoughts, but she figured if she could just get to the Savannah Highway, it would certainly be clear and that would be a straight shot to Ravenel.  The problem was that she had to negotiate a series of narrow back roads, flanked by swamp and forest, to get there.

How long would it take to get to Ravenel?  Normally, it took her maybe forty-five minutes.   Tonight, under these conditions, she decided to leave early.  Plenty of time, she thought, but even with that she was anxious.  Her manager was an asshole on a good day.  If she was late, she’d catch hell about how he was there—probably pulling a double shift—and she didn’t even have the decency to show up on time.  Screw the snowstorm, only he mattered to him.

It was the anxiety that drove her, that and her luck on the road.  No other traffic.  No sliding.  Making decent time.  And then it happened.  The dark patch of road was ice.  She hit it doing forty miles an hour.  And that was it.  One moment she was on the road headed for work.  The next moment she was plowing through the snow, over and embankment, and into the swamp.

Within minutes her tracks were only suggestions.  In ten minutes, they had disappeared beneath a blanket of fresh snow.  So dark was the night and so thick was the falling snow that even if a plow had come down the road, they would have never seen her, half immersed in the frozen swamp.

It had all happened so fast, she barely had time to comprehend what had happened before the snow covered the old blue Focus.  Before she could even consider what to do next, the car had all but vanished to the outside world.  It had become part of an eerie grayish white landscape.

She sat there, still clutching the steering wheel, her foot still on the brake, unconsciously assessing herself.  Her final verdict was that she was uninjured and alive, just shaken up.  Sure, that’s all, just shaken up.  Her heart was racing.

She looked around, really nothing to see.  Her purse had flown off the seat and was on the floorboard.  She wished now that she had brought a mug of coffee with her.  All in all though, it could be worse.  The cabin was warm—or about as warm as the miserable little seldom used heater could make it.  The engine was running, but had two things going against it.  The first was that the gas gauge was threatening the “E”.  The second thing was that snow was building up behind the car and the hot exhaust was struggling to keep the tail pipe open.

And there was something else.  When Sue took off her safety belt and reached for her purse, she noticed that it was damp.  Not just a little damp, but wet.  She turned on the cabin lights and could see that both the driver and passenger side had a couple inches of water on the floorboard.

She pulled her legs up closer to her seat.  Thank goodness she decided on the hiking boots instead of the sneakers.  She felt herself fortunate, but she could see where water had already attacked her boots, and wondered how waterproof they really were.

The car was still running—for now—but the heater was struggling to keep up with the frigid howling wind.  And what happens when it dies, she thought.  Maybe I should just make a run for it.  No run for it.  She’d driven these roads for years.  There wasn’t a house for miles.

“Oh, Lord,” she said out loud, “what will become of me now?”

As if to answer, her cell phone played the familiar ringtone—Bob Marley’s ‘No Woman, No Cry’.  She hesitated to answer it.  She could have sworn that when she picked it up off the dresser it was dead.  Dead, dead, dead.

And it was dead, dark as ash, but it still played the reggae anthem.  She picked it up with hands that trembled not from cold, but from fear.  Looking at the dark screen, she could almost make out a single word, Dad.  But how could that be?  It had been more than five years since he had called her, more than five years since the accident.  More than five years since—

She pressed the answer button and held it to her ear.

“Hello,” she whispered.

“You got yourself in quite a jam, girl,” said the familiar voice.

“Dad?” she asked with hopeful wariness.  “Is it you?  How can this be?”

“How could you go out this storm?” he asked.  It is him, she thought.  It has to be.

“I didn’t know this was coming,” she said.  “I didn’t know this was coming.  I don’t listen to the news.  It’s just too disturbing.  It’s just too depressing.  Why should I put myself through that?”  The snow, compelled by the wind, scratched against her door like a thousand tiny claws.  The voice on the phone did not reply.

“Dad,” she asked, “are you still there?”

“I’m right here, Sue,” said the voice, “why don’t you open the door and let me in?”

© Copyright 2018 by Kevin Fraleigh

The Sin of Complicity — FDR, Auschwitz, and the Lilliput Troupe

The world is so much clearer in hindsight.  That’s why historians practice what’s called the “fifty-year rule”.  The rule is a tacit acknowledgment that it is virtually impossible to judge history objectively until the consequences of historical events have played out and been realized.  The downside to this however, is that many of those involved, who could provide first hand evidence and be considered primary sources, are dead.  In this case though, fifty years may not be adequate to judge the ramifications of decisions made, policies enacted, and—perhaps more importantly—evidence denied.

Jay Winik in 1944: FDR And The Year That Changed History attempts to provide prospective for what is arguably the most complex and important event in the modern history of mankind—the Second World War.  He does so in an engaging and readable history that skillfully presents Franklin Delano Roosevelt as a man as well as the leader of Allied efforts to prevent fascist domination of the entire globe.

While 1944, presents a history which includes damning evidence of Allied complicity—both active and passive—in the Nazi genocide against the Jews, Giants: The Dwarfs of Auschwitz by Yehuda Koren and Eliat Negev provides a much closer, more human face to the genocide.  I must point out though that the dwarfs were atypical of the Jews interred at Auschwitz.  Dr. Josef Mengele, infamous for his medical experimentation, took a special interest in the dwarfs and made sure his “lab rats” survived, while others quickly went to the ovens.

In both books, the burning question on the tongues of the Auschwitz prisoners was, “When will the Allies come?”  The answer to that question was that they did, but almost too late.  Although there is compelling evidence that FDR and Churchill were aware that thousands of innocents were being exterminated daily, the bottom line of the Allied effort was beating fascism, not saving the Jews.

In many ways, the same policies and programs that condemned millions of Jews, Gypsies, LGBT, and mentally disabled to die in Nazi gas chambers, remote woods, and town squares are still being carried out today.  The past, they say, is prologue, and these books—especially 1944—demonstrate that the world has little changed since the murder of millions during WWII.

And since we’re on the subject of death and murder, Hung, Drawn, and Quartered: The Story Of Execution Through The Ages by Johnathan J. Moore, is a delightful look into the history of murder in the name of justice.  The good and bad, those that went well and those that didn’t—the search for the perfect way to kill those deemed by the state to be worthy of death. 

This is the perfect read for the start of a brand new year.

© Copyright 2018 by Kevin Fraleigh

A Writer Considers Arthur C. Clarke’s Space Odyssey Series

One of the advantages of reviewing an older series of books is that unless your readers have been living under a rock, they already know the basic storyline: Dave Bowman and Frank Poole fly to Jupiter and HAL, their hyper-intelligent computer, tries to kill them.  Pretty straight forward, or is it?

When it came out in 1968, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey was mandatory viewing for anyone who grew up believing in the endless promise of space exploration.  At the age of fourteen, the graphics—cutting edge at the time—impressed me enough to read the novel.  I don’t remember whether I caught the inconsistencies between the two story lines at that point, in fact I’m sure I didn’t.  Critical literary analysis wasn’t at the top of my list.  For me it was just entertainment.

Recently I caught parts of Kubrick’s masterpiece on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) and thought I’d like to revisit the novel—actually, the series.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I have to admit that I was actually unaware that Clarke had written a four book series.  Here are the novels and their publication dates:

There is no doubt that these books are, and will remain, icons in the halls of science fiction, so do not let any of my comments make you think that I have anything but the highest esteem for Clarke’s genius.  With that said, from a writer’s perspective, I want to point a few areas where his writing doesn’t really work for me:

  • Having a novel released after the movie. In his introduction to 2001, Clarke went into great detail about his collaboration with Kubrick.  He confronted the belief, held by many at the time, that the novel was written after the movie was released, and written to the movie plot.  This belief, although wrong is not entirely unnatural because the novel was released shortly after the movie.  In reality, Clarke fed Kubrick the novel as it was developing, but Kubrick changed the plot for the movie.
  • Writing the sequel to the movie instead of the novel. In Clarke’s Author’s Notes to 2010, he addresses this issue by stating that the sequel while fed by the first novel, takes place in a different universe.  This causes a problem for the reader, of course.  If you somehow missed the movie and/or skipped the Author’s Notes and jumped right into the story, there are areas that just don’t synch.  And, of course, that out of synch feeling would carry on through all the sequels.  In fact, had Clarke stuck to the original plot, 3001 might not have been possible.
  • Reuse of material throughout the sequels. Throughout the sequels, Clarke drew heavily on pre-published material.  For instance, 3001 contained whole pages from the previous three novels.  2061 contained whole portions from the previous two novels, and 2010 contained verbatim text from 2001.  This technique upped the page count, helped with consistency, and saved Clarke from creating more original content.  Personally, I believe it’s fully acceptable for a technical paper or thesis, but not for fiction.  As soon as I came to those chapters (yes, some whole chapters), I skipped over them and moved on, hoping for more original content.
  • A little science goes a long way. All four novels are, for the most part, built on credible science or scientific theory.  Clarke even included detailed references and notes at the end of each novel.  That’s what makes his novels science fiction.  They include science and scientific detail.  To my mind though, the science makes these novels cold—unless that’s what he intended.  Space isn’t exactly touchy-feely.  While I have been engrossed with science, especially physics, since I was young, in the end it just didn’t work for me in these novels.  Science-based fiction should inspire the reader to further research the themes and concepts from the story, without inhibiting the momentum of the plot.
  • The information is dated. There is always a certain amount of risk in tying the plot to a specific date in the future.  Eventually that date arrives and what seemed prescient in 1968, seems anachronistic in 2001.
  • Lack of empathy for the characters. I found it very difficult to empathize with the characters in these novels.  I really can’t explain why, other than to say that Clarke introduced some side characters and themes that he failed to adequately expand upon.  The universe Clarke created is about more than just Dave Bowman and Frank Poole.
  • The monoliths are straight-jacketed by the science. I will tread around this carefully, because if you haven’t read 3001, I’d hate to ruin it for you.  Let’s just say that I was disappointed in the explanation, descriptions, and capabilities of the monoliths and those who controlled them.  I find it difficult to believe that our understanding of the universe is so parochial as to believe that everything in it is governed by the laws we have defined.
  • An ending without a punch. As I finished 3001, I kept waiting for the brilliant finale, something that made fighting through hundreds of pages and thousands of words worth the effort.  Instead, it was just, well, the end.  Perhaps, after all the hype, I expected too much.

What Clarke did right, was to accurately describe the immenseness of the universe.  Perhaps that is the thing that makes these novels so special.

©Copyright 2017 by Kevin Fraleigh

Wearing Sneakers to Church

“Me and God have an understandin’,” he said. “He don’t put on airs and I don’t either.”

That’s how I feel, also.  Maybe it’s because I spent a dozen years in Hawaii and now live in Florida, but I can’t imagine any reason for owning, much less wearing, a tie.  A suit, forget it.  As far as church is concerned, I shouldn’t have to get all dressed up to talk to a God who created me naked.

Of course, I have worn a suit in the past for weddings and funerals, but it was always under duress.  And there have been some very special occasions where I have worn a tie.  For instance, I recently wore a tie for the engagement party of a young couple I am very fond of, but I did so with the promise of tequila and an open bar.  I was the unofficial official photographer for the affair and from the eight-hundred or so photos that I took, it appears that I had a really good time.

There is no tie without tequila!

But what does this have to do with wearing sneakers to church?  Well, everything.

When I was young, I first attended a Catholic Church, then a Methodist Church.  Both left me with the distinct impression that attendance was more about seeing and being seen, ensuring that the “church uniform” gave the right impression, than worshiping God.  Now don’t get me wrong, while I don’t approve of dressing for show, I don’t endorse “dressing down” simply to give the impression of meekness, either.  My mother tells the story of how, if he was going to the bank to apply for a loan, my Dad used to wear his oldest clothes in the belief the impression of need would somehow influence the banker to approve the loan.  The banker could see through the deception and so can God.

Maybe this is one of the those much touted “first world problems”.  In most of America, we actually have the option to present ourselves as rich or poor, simply to create the impression we believe will help us most.  I use the term present ourselves” because I don’t believe that, even in America, do we have the choice to be rich or poor.  Our station, our class, and our jobs are largely determined for us by forces that are beyond our control.

So much of what we do in this life is about creating an image of conformity, rather than living our lives to their fullest potential.  We are influenced by the expectations of our parents, our siblings and friends, our society, our jobs, and organizations we belong to (including the church).  To my mind, the only thing that should hold sway over us is that of the greater good of mankind as a whole.  Once every belly is full, every child educated, and every disease cured should there be time or effort expended to feed the ego of either man or god.

Until then, I’ll wear jeans and sneakers to church and resist putting on airs for the sake of placing myself above my fellows.  I will write what I want when I want without regard to the fickle trends that so easily influence the shallow and gullible dilettantes of our society.

©Copyright 2017 by Kevin Fraleigh

Road Trip — Epilogue

The end of the end, isn’t that what he said?  And he was right, of course.  The end of the end begins after the beginning, which is birth.  Every moment following that is the end of everything, on an individual level, on a global level—it’s all a matter of scale.

And this was the end of the end in its most universal sense.  Billions of years of evolution turned to corpses and rotting flesh.  In eleven days, the population of the world—humans and animals—had been all but eliminated.  A few stragglers survived, owing more to luck than preparation.  But who could have prepared for this, the world becoming a global feed lot?  The creatures, those perfect killing machines, weren’t the true invaders.  They were like predatory sheep, fattened for an otherworld market.

In a few days, full of humanity, the beasts would be harvested and slaughtered to feed the hungry masses aboard an interstellar convoy headed for a destination a million years distant.  Along the way countless planets would be colonized and harvested to feed the vision of an alien Moses.  Nothing else mattered to them but the vision, not the populations destroyed, not the evolution interrupted, nothing—but the end of the end.

And here, on this tiny insignificant planet, lost among all the other planets and stars that make up all the galaxies and solar systems and universes that are, life will undoubtedly continue—although greatly altered.  No doubt a few humans will survive.  If they are lucky, they may even procreate.  Chances of this are mathematically unlikely, because the world is a big place with many dangers.

And while some of the traditional terrestrial predators may be enjoying extinction, a new predator—the harvest was sure to leave a few behind—roams the earth with impunity.  It is highly likely that, just as man evolves, so will they.

This is not to say that this story is without hope.  The post-apocalyptic Bronx or Los Angeles or Miami may turn out to be the new Eden.  From it may arise a new race with new myths and legends and heroes.  And no doubt they will eventually ascribe the events of today with some greater purpose, such as the prescribed purification of humanity, attributed to the very will of God himself.  Well, God did say that he would never drown the world again.  He didn’t say a thing about predators from outer space.

***
Happy Halloween.  Sure, you can say that the story is derivative, as the theme has been written about by many more talented than I.  But it was short.  And written quickly.  And it was for a blog, for heaven’s sake.   But I hope you enjoyed it.

Now go out there and score some candy!

©Copyright 2017 by Kevin Fraleigh

Road Trip, Chapter 2

Death is not an easy thing, I think, and I know a few things about death, don’t I?  But this, this horror is beyond the pale.

I find you beside the interstate, still clutching the wheel, as if somehow even in death you would keep going.  But there is no ‘keep going’.  For you there is nothing.  Deathly gray, covered by oozing lesions, and sweat soaked with our own blood and urine, you sit there still and google-eyed.

In the passenger seat is evidence of another rider, a woman, perhaps your wife.  She is, no doubt, one of those who insists on being made-up, even on the road.  And there is evidence of it on the cup.  Behind her are two child car seats and related flotsam strewn throughout the car.  But the wife and kiddies are missing.  They have, no doubt, run off to escape this terrible thing.  They may have even left you to face your last minutes of life alone, abandoned except for the terrible thing growing inside you.

And what is growing inside you, I could see it almost as clearly as my own reflection in the mirror.  It has yet to burrow through to the surface, but it won’t be long.  I wonder if I should wait to greet it as a fellow death-bringer, or take the wiser course, which would be to leave before I, too, became infected.

I think I might wait, just a while, to see what happens.  After all, it isn’t often I have the opportunity to see that which might mean the end of all, birthed.  And by the end, I mean the end of the end.  How fortunate it would be to see this first hand.

But how could I be so fortunate?  I would have never expected it.  After all, although I am very good at what I do, I can’t say that it has brought any particular praise from the public sector.  I admit that there are those who have voiced a certain admiration for the planning and surgical precision of my work, but if I had earned some special affection in the hearts of my admirers, how is it that I am walking along the interstate with only the clothes on my back and a few dollars to my name?

Well, that doesn’t really matter now, does it?  We are where we land and we’d best make the best of it.  And where I’ve landed there is—oh, what’s that coming.  In the distance, a police car, so I think I’ll just move off the road for a bit.  I’ll let him deal with it.  That should be fun to watch.

The state patrol vehicle pulls up behind your car.  The man is big, tall and probably pushing two-fifty.  With all his gear on he looks even heavier.  He approaches your door.  He taps on the window, then looks more closely.  He steps back and I can clearly see the look of horror and disgust on his face.  I wonder, have the police been warned that people are dying from this? That would be awkward.  If so, it doesn’t appear that word got down to this man, because he walks around to the passenger door to peer inside.

If he had just backed off, gone to his car to call dispatch, and report what he had seen, things might have gone differently.  Instead, he climbs into the passenger side to look the guy over and maybe get some an idea of who might have been with him.  That’s all it takes to lure the thing out.  It is still growing and it is hungry.

I watch intently, even moving a little closer to get a better look.  I know that this is unwise, because if I was identified, my knife would be no match for his pistol.  But I’m not concerned.  I don’t think that this officer will be any threat to me.  Not today.  Not ever.

The man screams—a delightful and terrible scream.  No, it not just a scream, a horrible gurgling fear-filled shriek.  The car shakes as the officer tries to pull loose, to escape, but it is too late.  The thing, the fellow death-bringer, has burst forth from with you, tearing through your abdomen and chest.  It burrows deep into the officer’s chest.  Blood covers the windows, making it impossible to see.

After a few minutes, the car no longer shakes.  It is feeding, gathering its strength.  I move even closer, for a better look.  I think to myself, hardly an efficient way to kill.  I can empathize with the violence, but it is far too messy and wasteful.  On the other hand, it is only just born.

I am now standing beside the passenger door watching it as it feasts on the officer’s bones.  I recognize it at once, it is like a child—small naked and hairless.  But the eyes, the eyes betray a noble intent.  The teeth are like razors and the hands like claws.

Oh, I think, you are a darling demon.  You are what has been promised to me, what I’ve been waiting for.  We shall make a wonderful team, you and I.  It is no threat to me now.  Its hunger is sated, for the moment.  And there is a whole world to know the pleasure of pain in.  And you, my little one, will I teach to be the great hunter.  And together we shall usher in the end of the end, together.

Glorious, how glorious!  But there is a greater revelation yet to come!  The beast stares upwards into the sky and I realize that he is but the first.  For from the sky like a cloud, bursting with rain come tiny parachutes, lighter than air, much like a dandelion’s plumed seed.    From the cloud above floats down new life—and death.  By the hundreds of thousands they come, enough to blot out the sun.

I open my arms and cry, welcome!  I have taken so many lives, I think, but nothing like this.  I offer my flesh to these, the rightful inheritors of the world of men.  I only ask that I may live to join the terrible crusade against the horror that is man!

And I look into the first one’s eyes and understand, that the end of the end is now.

©Copyright 2017 by Kevin Fraleigh

Road Trip

We’re just a couple of weeks from my favorite holiday—Halloween!  What follows is something to get you in the mood, especially if you’ve ever harbored concerns about the cleanliness or safety of those rest stop bathrooms…

I think most of us have been there.  You’re on that road trip, and suddenly you feel it, that undeniable call that tells you that you shouldn’t have eaten Mexican at that little restaurant off the interstate.  But those little places, the ones crowded by locals, away from the factory fast food, are always the best, you’d said.  But this place hadn’t been crowded by locals and it was small and dingy and—

Ahead, you can just make out the sign—Rest Stop—and you hit the gas.  Only a mile now, but a mile is forever, with your stomach cramping and your colon threatening to explode.  And of course, you’re not alone.  The children are crying and your wife is in a panic at your behavior.  You can’t help it.  As much as you would like to calm them, one thing and one thing only demands your complete and undivided attention.

Almost there now.  You scream down the off-ramp and almost miss the turn into the Cars Only parking lot.  Finally, safely in a parking slot, you turn off the car, grab the keys, and bolt out the door.  Your wife’s pleas for help taking the children to the bathroom echo behind you, ignored.  Your entire gastric system is redlining, how could you possibly stop?

Up the sidewalk, each step filled with pain.  Up the steps and through the doors, then you stop.  One side of the bathroom is closed for construction.  The other side—mercifully, there is another side—and you pull the door open.

The entrance is blocked by a man with a shirt that proclaims in large red letters, “Go Dawgs!”.  You can barely see past him to the sinks and urinals.  There is a line of five men ahead of you.  you can also see that of the six toilet stalls, only one is operational.  The other five have large Out-of-Order signs on them.

You curse under your breath as rivulets of sweat flow down your face, and you have the growing fear that if you don’t get to the toilet soon, the toilet it may be a moot point.  You may have a greater need of a shower than a toilet.

But you wait, you have no choice.  And you wait.  And other men join the queue behind you, as the ones nearest the stall begin to grumble.  Their anger is palpable.  There are suggestions that the man in the stall must be reading a book, War and Peace, perhaps?

Then it happens, knuckles against the stall door.  No response.  Another rap on the door, this time more insistent.  It is answered by a terrible groan and a disgusting gurgling sound, like words stifled by some liquid.  But not water, you think, something other than water, thicker.  But there has been no sign or sound of vomiting.

It is obvious something is wrong here, and the men in line are actively trying to determine their options—go up the road, go outside, break open the other stalls?  A few made their decision and walked out, while others stood their ground.

And you think to yourself, maybe someone needs find out if that guy is alright.  Maybe someone should call 9-1-1.

“There must be someone here who can check on this guy, don’tcha think?” asked one of the men.  Someone said they’d go check, and disappeared into the night.

“Christ, what’s that smell?” asked another.  There had been an odor when you first walked in, but there’s always an odor in rest stop bathrooms.

From behind you, from beyond the door, comes a woman’s voice.  You can’t see her, but her voice is tremulous and old and filled with concern.  You catch a few words.

“William,” she shouts, “are you still in there?”

A man intervenes.  She explains that William is her husband and that he has been gone a long time.  She wants to make sure that he is okay.

You hear the name and shout out, “William, are you okay?”  No response beyond the groaning now.

“He’s not well,” she says.  “He needs a doc—“  Then she collapses.  You can’t see it, but you can hear her fall and the scurry of footsteps around her.

“We need to open that door,” you say.  “There’s a sick man inside.”  The rush of adrenaline has temporarily relieved the pain in your stomach.

Now a man pulls himself up to look over the stall door.  He falls back, deadly pale, and runs out the door.  A few others quickly follow him, but three stalwarts tear at the door until they can break it in.  When they do, their eyes grow large and their faces pale and full of terror.  Even so, you approach to witness their discovery.  And what they have discovered is death.

Upon the toilet, his pants around his ankles and his shirt stained with blood, is an old, gray, black man—his skin ashen, his eyes filled with blood and protruding.  Upon his arms and face are festering wounds, oozing a nasty, dark puss.  And now, the problem of a leaking anus is the least of your concerns, because you realize that now all the stalls are occupied.

You run past the men waiting, past William’s wife, dying on the sidewalk, and to the sanctuary of your car, where your wife has been waiting not-so-patiently.

“What was that all about,” she asks.

“Nothing,” you say, “the stalls were all full.”  And you drive off into the night, without giving further thought to the uncomfortable gurgling sensation in your lungs or the patches of dry skin, gray and broken and never seeming to heal.

© Copyright 2017 by Kevin Fraleigh

The fifth dimension of writing

So, last night was something different.  For the first time in a very long time, my wife and I broke out of our usual routine to go out with friends.  We started out the evening at Wabi Sabi, a Vietnamese-Thai-Sushi restaurant.  The place isn’t much to look at—the building has been iterated through a number of owners—but the sushi is outstanding.  An ice-cold Sapporo or Kirin Ichiban compliments the fare nicely and helps set the mood for an evening’s festivities.

And what could be better than board games with a liberal application of alcohol?  The game of choice to start out the evening was Scrabble Upwards.  If you haven’t played this particular version of Scrabble, it is played on a 10-tile x 10-tile board.  Play is like that of traditional Scrabble, but with the added component of multidimensional play.  Players are allowed to stack letters to make new words of existing words.

The stacking component is the thing, though.  It makes both play and and scoring more complex, especially while drinking a number of Dark and Stormys.   The Dark and Stormy is a rum-based drink that is as refreshing as it is intoxicating.  The drink’s name, of course, can’t help but bring to mind the melodramatic introductory phrase, “It was a dark and stormy night…” (learn the significance here).  In my case, however, it got me to thinking about how Scrabble Upwards applies to writing.

Plot developments are often linear, possibly with secondary plots developed, laterally, but within the same plain.  A truly rich plot involves not only developing primary and secondary plot lines, but developing plots that are fed from multiple dimensions.

Those dimensions include spatial references (such as north, south, east, west, or front, back, left, right) and temporal references  (such as future, past or before, after).

Spatial and temporal references account for what physicists typically consider four dimensional space (length, height, depth, and time).  But for writers, there is a fifth dimension (in other contexts referred to as the “fourth wall”).  That is the dimension that includes the reader, not only as an observer, but as a participant.

So, that seems like quite a leap, after all, a novel isn’t like a stage play or a movie, where the character can fire one-liners at the audience.  But, evidently, novels breaking the fourth wall are fairly common,  the blog Literary Kicks provides some background on the subject.   For instance, the blog references Kurt Vonnegut’s appearance as a character in his novel Breakfast of Champions.  For him it worked.  Clive Cussler inserted himself into several of his novels, which for me made them unreadable, bordering on literary narcissism.

So I’d be careful about doing that, plus you don’t want to interrupt the flow of the story.  If the technique is used well, though, it can add to the story, bringing the reader into the plot.  As I recall, Edgar Allen Poe used this technique in several of his stories.

Personally, I have been tempted to break the fourth wall to add explanatory details to a story, but have always hesitated because I thought it might threaten the flow of the text, sort of like stopping mid-thrust to explain to your lover the pros and cons of your technique.  Potentially a mood breaker.

So, how did we get from playing Scrabble Upwards and drinking Dark and Stormys to discussing multidimensional writing?  The link between the two is that the possibility of changing what has been previously established or accepted as the norm is within your grasp.

As a writer, you control what you write.  If you want to keep the story linear, go for it.  If you feel experimental and head off into the fifth dimension by breaking the fourth wall, jump in with both feet.  No one, other than you, can stop you from doing it.

© Copyright 2017 by Kevin Fraleigh.