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.

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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

Starting Out Right

Whether it be a novel or a short story, the opening paragraph is often the deal breaker. If the first paragraph, and especially the first sentence, doesn’t grab the reader’s imagination, no matter how wonderful the rest of the story is, chances are that the reader won’t be there to find out.

What I have for you today are five opening paragraphs from short stories and novels I’ve written. I wonder, do each of them fill the bill for a good opening paragraph? Do they grab your attention, spark your imagination and leave you wanting more? Or to they fall flat and make you want to move on to something else?  Leave a comment and let me know.

  1. From Cartersville:

The Cartersville Pioneer Days Festival was a reflection of a happier, simpler time in the history of the small town.  Main Street was blocked off and Memorial Park was filled with small booths and displays celebrating the town’s Florida Cracker heritage.  Despite the large crowds, Sheriff Matt Green was relaxed, trouble during the festival was rare.  The afternoon was clear and hot, the town band played soft melodies on the park gazebo.  It was a day for laughter and ice cream, sunshine and warm breezes. Matt stood in the center of it all, his crisply creased tan uniform valiantly holding its own against the humidity.  It was a perfect day made all the better by the sight of his wife, June, and son, Tommy, walking towards him from the playground.  Tommy was wearing his new Cartersville Pioneer Days Festival―Celebrate Your Cracker Heritage With Us―ball cap and tee shirt.

2.  From 1933:

The boy barely made it, he had to go so bad.  He dropped his overalls to the floor of the outhouse, quickly planted himself, and let it go.  Having survived the initial release, he grabbed for the copy of Weird Tales magazine his father had left there.  By lantern light, he paged through the twice read stories and was suddenly possessed by the thought that in his rush for relief he had forgotten the ritual of checking for spiders. Black widows are native to central Florida and fond of the moist darkness of the outhouse.  It was not until he finished though that he felt it.  He was about to stand, to wipe, and head back for the house when he felt a strange, terrifying tickling around the cheeks of his ass.  He tensed and propelled himself upwards, all the while expecting that inevitable, painful pinch.  The pinch never came.  He simultaneously swatted at his backside with one hand and thrust his other hand outward towards the latch that held the door shut, but could not find it.  His momentum unchecked, he fell forward, stumbling on the overalls around his ankles.

3. From: Any Tomorrow: The Calling:

From the oppressive heat of the South Carolina summer stepped a man, old, unnaturally old by his own reckoning, but not bent with age. His hair was a disarray of unruly tangles and his clothes looked like he had slept in them more than one night. He had. It had been a long trip from Princeton and he was more tired than he had ever been. His tiredness, however, was only partially to blame for his exhaustion. The true source of his exhaustion was the burden he carried with him, a dark secret even he did not fully comprehend.

4. From B-24:

It was in the summer before I first experienced stinky finger with Pretty Patty Precious, the prematurely large breasted daughter of the farmer who lived next door. It was the same summer we traded twisting our G.I. Joes and Barbies into ineffective pseudo-coitus for awkward, frantic, heavy petting. It was the summer everything changed. It was the summer I discovered the shimmering.

5. From The Last Pope of Antioch:

The red convertible flew down the dusty, empty road like flame seeking something to ignite.  The driver concentrated on his task.  Seeing far beyond his horizon, far past his destination, he stared out through the waves of heat reflected from the road surface, sunglasses wrapped around his face seeming to form themselves to the contour of it.  His face was angular, giving the impression of sharpness.  Although it had been days since he had shaved, his pockmarked skin, possibly an artifact of the ravages of youth, showed no sign of stubble.  The truth of it was that he had never developed a beard, so common in other men, and he counted himself lucky to be spared the razor, that dragging of sharp steel across unprotected flesh.

© Copyright 2014 by Kevin Fraleigh.

A Word Of Explanation

Since I had a few minutes, I thought I might explain the genesis of “Sock Monkey, Crucified”, a story I wrote for my last post.  The story provides a good example of how simple things observed have the potential to create fiction.  Was the story good or bad?  I’m not sure, that’s for you to decide.  The point is that it takes only a small seed to inspire something far beyond the limits of the original inspiring event.

A couple of weeks ago I drove to Virginia to visit my daughter and her family.  In the living room was a Pack’n’Play ― a kind of crib/changing table combo thing ― for my infant granddaughter, Emma.  On one end of the Pack’n’Play my daughter attached two plastic ring clips, presumably to hold something related to the baby.  Now, my other granddaughter, Hannah, has a sock monkey.  Unlike the sock monkey in my story, hers is cute and adorable and she likes to sleep with it.  Also, her sock monkey does not have a need to feed.

If you’ve read the story, you might already see where this is going…

While I was there, unbidden and for a reason of her own choosing, Hannah pulled her sock monkey’s arms through the two plastic ring clips on the end of the Pack’n’Play and left the sock monkey hanging there.  Hannah’s dad pointed it out to me and as we exchanged comments on it, the thought of the crucified sock monkey came to me.  In fact, the title of “Sock Monkey, Crucified” swirled in my mind all through six hour drive back to South Carolina.  At some point, probably a stop for gas, I jotted the title down.  When I got back to the hotel, the image of the sock monkey in the crucifixion pose stuck with me and as Halloween was coming fast, I wondered how I might be able to build a story around that image.

Now as far as the story built around the image, it contains a number of traditional themes such as conflict between the father and daughter, the overpowering need of the father to carry out the sock monkey ritual, and the implied power of the sock monkey.  The story was written quickly and both the characters and themes could have been expanded upon to make it more robust.  Any other criticisms of the story I will leave to you, and I would genuinely enjoy hearing them.

As I suggested in my Halloween post, this story might have taken any number of alternate paths in the hands of a different author.  The same event might have inspired any number of stories.  Perhaps other stories will still be inspired by it or it may be incorporated as an element in another story.  Who can say?  I don’t think I’m done with it yet.  How about you?

If you have ideas about what I’ve written that you’d like to share, feel free to contact me either on the blog or using other social media.  Thanks.
© Copyright 2011 by Kevin Fraleigh.

On The Road Again

Yes, literally, on the road again.  No flying this time.  Another business trip, but this time it’s a road trip to South Carolina.  The weather has been superb and I am with same team that accompanied me to Idaho.  We are in a hotel at night (complete with free breakfast and happy hour), so I can’t complain about that, but the working conditions during the day are, to say the least, primitive.  The equipment we are working with is located in a fenced-in area in the middle of a corn field, a good twenty minutes from anything that looks like civilization.

The conditions are tough, but those conditions help form a bond between us that one does not experience during a typical business association.  Under the right conditions, hardship is often a quality that binds divergent social elements together to achieve a common goal.  I’ve seen it happen before.  It happens in the military during basic training.  Although the effect may be only temporary, the common experience of tough conditions and tough times can bring people together to accomplish what cannot be accomplished individually.

The camaraderie of a group of men working closely together under those tough conditions can also have a down side ― too much drinking, too much food.  Yes, that’s a downside, although I hate to admit it.  Men on their own, away from their wives, tend to devolve into their more basic, perhaps more natural, selves.  When confronted with a free breakfast that includes Krispy Kreme doughnuts and a free happy hour that includes beer, wine, and pu-pus, everything they ever learned about eating well is lost in a flurry of excess.

I started this trip full of expectation, with every intention of writing a few thousand words towards my next novel.  I also wanted to write some interesting blog posts discussing my work and, perhaps, stir up a little discussion about what constitutes horror fiction.  But, no, instead I sit around, eating barbecue, drinking beer, and talking about, well, the things men talk about ― sex, politics, religion, and sports.  Meaningful things like my real work, writing, will have to wait.  I’ll let you know when that happens, getting back to writing.  Until then I need to get some sleep so I can face another day in the corn field.

By the way, I’ve decided that “On The Road Again” is the theme song for this road trip.  Not the Willie Nelson “On The Road Again”, but the Canned Heat “On The Road Again”, that sublime anthem of my youth that included the lyrics

‘Cause it’s soon one morning
Down the road I’m going.
But I aint going down that
long old lonesome road
All by myself.

Leave a comment or contact me via social media and let me know what’s on your mind.
© Copyright 2011 by Kevin Fraleigh.