Monday, August 27, 2007

Traveling in Armageddon Pt 3

When the cab came to a stop Michael was just finishing up and tucking his papers back into his valise. He looked around him and noticed that they were in front of an apartment building on the upper west side of Manhattan. Looking over at Marisa, he noted that she was making no move to exit the vehicle and head toward the building. “If you’re worried that she may still be back at the train station waiting for you we would be happy to take you there to look for her.”

She shook her head slightly. “No. She’s here. She has to be; I’m hours overdue. I know Mother. She would guess that there was some sort of problem and come back here to wait. Besides,” Marisa craned her head to look up at the building, “I think I see a light on in the window. And even if I’m wrong, I have a key. She’ll be here sooner or later.”

Marisa adjusted her son, who had fallen asleep on her lap, but still made no move to leave. “It’s not that, really. It’s just that I… I don’t know what I’m going to say to her. Could you… No. I can’t ask that. You’ve already done so much for me.”

“Marisa? You have to ask yourself if you’re certain of the truth and if you’re certain of your decision to live now that you have the truth. I have provided you with as much information as I can, but you have to be certain of the truth yourself or you will never be able to convince your mother.”

“I’m certain, sir.” Josh chimed in from the front seat. “I can talk to her for Marisa.” During the course of their drive he had changed visibly, slowly reverting to a happier, more relaxed young man.

Michael smiled and shook his head. “I know you’re certain, Josh. Thank you for the offer, but I don’t think that will work. Marisa’s mother doesn’t know you from Adam. It will be hard enough for her to believe all this—think how hard it was for you—let alone believe this coming from someone who looks like you do.”

Josh looked down at his attire. His t-shirt had the logo of a popular rapper and his jeans were torn. Josh looked up at his reflection in the mirror. With his earrings and spiky hair-do, he had to admit to himself that he didn’t look at all trustworthy. He glanced at Michael and blushed. “Guess you’re right, sir. Who’d believe a punk like me?”

“Other punks?” Michael offered jokingly and instantly regretted his attempt to lighten the situation when he noted that Josh could no longer look him in the eye. “Listen, kid, I’m sorry, but that’s the way things are. News like this requires some serious thinking so it would be more believable from someone who doesn’t look like they dropped out of any kind of serious thinking a long time ago. It is fixable, of course, but we can talk about that on the way to the network. Okay?” Josh looked relieved but still disheartened. The boy would have to find his own way through this, and while Michael would help him as much as possible in the short time they would be together, there wasn’t much he could do for Josh. “Now, let’s take care of Marisa and Tyler before we get on our way.”

Both men got out of the cab. Michael helped Marisa and the baby while Josh gathered their belongings. Together, they got everything arranged and the trio crossed the street to the apartment building. Marisa stood in front of the door to the elevators for a long while deep in thought. After several minutes had passed she looked at each of the men in turn and politely thanked them for all they had done for her. Josh offered to join her as she went to face her mother, but she declined. She knew that this was something she must do for herself. In the end though, Marisa consented to let Josh wait downstairs for an hour and if he didn’t hear from her by then he was welcome to come upstairs and check on them. They all agreed.

The minutes dripped by like Chinese water torture and Josh squirmed in the posh lobby of the building, wanting desperately to ascend to the apartment above. However Michael held him back, allowing Marisa time to explain the situation as best she could. He was pleasantly surprised when, just forty-five minutes later, Marisa stepped from the elevator with a stately, well-dressed women in her fifties. Marisa’s head was held high and, although there were tear stains drying on her cheeks, she was smiling widely.

The woman strode directly to Michael and held out her hand. “I’m Eileen. I insisted that Marisa allow me to come downstairs and talk to you personally.”

As they shook hands, Michael looked into her eyes. They were honest and open eyes, and the face showed a hint of the wisdom that comes from having experienced the joys and sorrows that reality can bring. “I understand, Eileen. I appreciate that you are willing to listen to what I have to say. I have my papers in the car outside. If you’ll give me a moment, I’ll collect them.”

Eileen laid a hand on his arm. “No, sir. I don’t really need to see those. That isn’t why I wanted to talk to you. I wanted to come down to thank you for what you have given to us. Marisa told me everything. She barely took time to put down her bags and put Tyler to bed before she started explaining everything. We’re leaving the city tonight, once Tyler wakes up. I have some friends in Maine and I’m certain that they will allow us to stay with them until all of this blows over.”

“You’re certain that you understand it all?” Michael began.

“Marisa says that you gave quite a lecture in the cab on the way here and she also said that you were adamant about making sure she understood the information before you’d let her believe you. I don’t really need you to go over it with me. I know my own daughter, young man. That this was too important to even get settled spoke volumes for her certainty. If she were unsure of it, she would have hedged around the issue for hours and then presented it to me as a question. She certainly wasn’t behaving like she was uncertain. If she knows the truth of what you say, and she obviously does, then that is all I need to know. She’ll fill me in on your details later.” Michael could see the signs of despair and stress that lined the woman’s face beginning to ease. She was speaking the truth. “Do be quite honest, Dr. Montgomery, I was never all that keen on suicide in the first place. That has always seemed like the coward’s way out to me. This time, however, I just couldn’t see any alternative. You have shown me the only alternative there ever is—life. Thank you.”

Michael was touched by this woman’s forthrightness. He took her hand warmly and then raised it to his lips, gently kissing it. “You’re welcome, ma’am.”

The older woman colored happily. If she had been a little younger she would have taken Michael’s gesture as one of casual flirting and she would have responded in kind. Instead she rose on tiptoe to place a light kiss upon his cheek.

Michael then stepped forward and enveloped Marisa in a hug. Despite their limited acquaintance, he had come to value the young woman. “Take care of that boy of yours. I have a feeling that in the years to come we’re going to need the likes of the young man that the two of you will raise.”

After Josh, too, had said his good-byes, the two men walked back to the cab. Stopping to look about them, they noticed that it was now fully dark and many of the windows that formerly would shine onto this street were black. In the eerie gloom they silently pulled away from the curb.

Too late to attempt entry to the NBS offices that night, Josh instead took Michael to an out-of-the-way hotel that promised both quiet and luxury. Josh felt that Michael could use a few days of rest and relaxation after all that his new friend had gone through, and Michael gratefully accepted the gesture on Josh’s part. The kid wasn’t ready for finishing school, but he had come a long way in a few short hours because someone finally had the courage to tell him the truth about himself. Along the way to the hotel, Michael gave Josh pointers on his appearance and language. Josh listened intently as he drove so that he would certainly be a more believable spokesman as he ventured away from New York, but also so that when the chaos was over he could begin to work toward making something more of himself. In return, Josh gave Michael pointers on how to get around in New York now that tensions and crime were high. They shook hands and departed. As Josh drove away, headed home to pack his belongings before heading south, Michael stood and watched the taillights disappear down the city streets. “The kid’ll be okay,” he thought.

:End Scene:

Friday, August 24, 2007

Traveling in Armageddon Pt 2

As they began to pull away from the train station, Michael wondered at the state to which they’d been reduced. Receiving hazard pay to drive into New York City—it was like the punch line to some sick joke.

Turning to the window, he watched the people still departing from the train. Now that the cabs were full, some of the passengers were making their ways toward waiting cars and some were beginning to walk toward the ramshackle hotel near the tracks. Michael’s cab was nearly out of the station parking lot when he saw something out of the corner of his eye. The young woman who had sat across from him with her baby was standing helplessly on the sidewalk. She didn’t look as if she were aware of where she was or what she was going to do now.

“Could you stop the cab?” Michael asked the driver.

The boy looked at him quizzically. “What for dude? You want to get the other cabbies pissed or something? Once you’re heading out they don’t like it when you stop.”

“I don’t care what the other drivers like or don’t like. Stop the cab.” Michael told the driver bluntly.

Shaking his head emphatically, the boy replied. “No way, dude. They’ll give me hell when I come back through later.”

“Stop the cab,” he roared. The cabbie slammed on the brakes and the car skidded to a halt.

“Whoa, shit. Don’t do that!” the boy shouted. Turning slightly in his seat to face his passenger, he said, “What’s you’re major maladjustment, dude?”

“We need to pick up that young lady and her baby,” Michael said coolly.

“Oh, man.” The kid rolled his eyes. “That means I gotta back up and they really ain’t gonna like that. Do I have to?”

“Yes.” Something in the tone of Michael’s voice told the young man that he was not going to win this battle.

Huffing angrily the boy shifted his car into reverse and winced at the resulting chorus of car horns. “This is gonna cost extra, ya know.” Michael dug some more bills out of his wallet and when the cab came to a stop in front of the little family of two, he stuffed the money into the kid’s outstretched hand. As Michael was about to put his wallet away, the boy added, “Umm, dude? According to the new rules, you gotta pay for her, too. No cab sharin’.”

Michael glowered at the kid’s reflection in the rearview mirror and the boy’s head seemed to shrink down into his shoulders. “Tell ya what, dude. I’m feelin’ gen’rus. I won’t make ya pay for the kid… unless it starts cryin’ or sumthin’. I can’t handle cryin’ babies, dude.”

“Fine.” He assented as he handed the driver another fifty. Opening the door to the cab, Michael spoke to the young woman. “Excuse me, miss? I’d like you to share my cab into the city.” She immediately stopped staring off into space and turned to stare at Michael. “Miss?” He said softly. “Would you like a ride into the city?”

It was as if she were in a fog, looking at him but not seeing him, until the driver behind them honked long and loud startling her and shaking her back into reality. “I… I didn’t know the train would stop here.” She began without preface. “My mother is waiting in New York… The cabs are all gone. Not that I have enough money for a cab anyway… Thank you, sir, but… but… I don’t have enough money for a cab.” She stopped helplessly and resumed staring into space.

“It’s okay, miss. I’ve got it covered. Climb on in.” Then noticing the sudden look of distrust in her eyes he added, “I don’t want anything from you but a bit of conversation during the ride. Really.”

At that her face relaxed slightly, and she appeared as if she were going to accept, but the suspicion remained in her eyes. Finally she made her decision and said, “I guess that would be all right. Thank you.” She gathered her bags and with Michael’s help climbed into the cab.

A short while after they had resumed their journey, the girl spoke. “I really do appreciate this, sir. I didn’t want to accept your ride because I don’t have any way to repay you, but then I realized that I don’t have any other way to get into New York, so it was the only choice.”

“As I said, you’ll repay me by talking with me. It could take some time for us to get into the city.” Michael reassured her.

“Well, if you’re sure…” the girl began hesitantly, “…and the other reason is that I don’t know if I can trust you.” She spoke as if she were afraid that by saying this she would offend him in some way. “I’m probably being silly.”

“I understand. It would be sillier for you to feel that you could trust a complete stranger.” He said, and then jokingly added, “I probably wouldn’t trust me either if I were in your boat.”

The girl smiled shyly. Quickly she added, “But you look okay, and, like I said, I don’t have much of a choice…”

“If I look okay, I must be okay? You have to watch thinking like that. Some of the worst serial killers looked like average guys.” Michael warned, and as the girl’s eyes regained a measure of her earlier distrust, he continued, “But in this case, you thought right. I’m harmless, and if you’re still worried about me after a few more miles, I’ll pay the driver to take you back to the station.” At that statement, the driver groaned and Michael firmly added. “Whether he likes it or not.”

Relaxing considerably, the girl settled into her seat and turned her attention toward the child she had settled into her lap. After fussing nervously with the baby’s blanket and then its bottle, she spoke, “Listen, you said you would accept conversation as payment. I don’t know what I could say that would be interesting enough to repay you. You look like some sort of professor or something. I was never very good at talking with my professors.”

Michael looked at the young woman gently and smiled. “That’s okay. We’re even. I was never very good at making conversation with my students. However, I haven’t taught professionally in years, and you’re not one of my students, so we should be fine.”

She smiled, too. “Okay then. My name’s Marisa and this little person is Tyler.” She held her infant son up so that he could see Michael. The boy smiled and cooed at him.

Michael smiled back. “He’s a handsome little guy. He’ll be a lady-killer when he grows up.” Without warning, Marisa broke out sobbing. Stymied, Michael sat in silence for several moments. He patted her hand clumsily. He had never been good at dealing with people this way, and couldn’t think of what to say to comfort this young woman. “I’m sorry, Marisa. I know this is a hard time for you.”

She looked up and saw the confusion on his face. “Wha… Wha… What you said.” She stuttered. “About… Tyler whe… when he… he grows… He’ll never grow up! The comet… the comet is coming and… we… We… we’re going to New York… so we can… so we can… die… Die with… our family!” With a forlorn cry, she clutched the little boy to her chest and rocked in her seat. Michael was stunned into silence. When he looked up at the cabbie, the young man turned away embarrassed.

Struggling for the right way to approach this subject, the subject that so many had turned away from in the past few weeks, he started to comfort her, “I know this is hard to understand, miss, but it’ll be okay. Everything will be just fine…”

“No… it won’t…” She hiccoughed. “It’s over and there’s nothing that anyone can do about it. That’s all they keep saying on the news. The scientists can’t do anything, and the government can’t do anything, and we’re all going to die. Nothing can save any of us now.” Marisa sniffled, and her son buried his face in her neck as if to say that he had as little hope as she.

“Miss. I promise you that everything will be fine. I am certain of it…”

Something in his voice drew her attention and Marisa looked up at him disbelievingly, her eyelashes spiky and her cheeks stained with the salt of her tears. For an instant, those eyes held a glimmer of hope before they darkened with her thoughts. “Now listen here. I’ve heard this line of bull before and if you’re going to start… telling me that God will save us all… you can… stop the cab… and let me out. I… I’ll walk to New York before I listen to any more of that crap.”

Thinking that he was about to be relieved of the emotional tension in his cab, the driver started to slow down and Marisa grabbed her things in readiness for departure. Michael laid a firm hand on her arm and said calmly, “I don’t think that will be necessary. I don’t have any such intention.” He locked eyes with the cabbie in the rearview mirror. “Continue on, son. We’ve paid for a ride to New York and we’re going to get one.”

Once the cab had sped up and continued on its way, Michael turned toward his companion. “Now, Marisa, I tell you what. You tell me a bit about yourself and I’ll tell you a bit about myself and then after you know me a little, I’ll explain what I meant when I told you that everything would be okay.”

Marisa looked at him resentfully. “I don’t know. I’ve had about enough of your type lately.”

“Okay, I’ll make a deal with you,” he said firmly. “If I mention any type of deity, you are welcome to kick me out of this cab and take it the rest of the way into the city on my dime.” As she considered his offer, Michael took the time to look over his companion. She was a plain girl of moderate means, but his original estimate that she was very young was off base somewhere. Although when she looked scared and confused, there was definitely a child-like quality about her, now that she was angry and ready to stand her ground she took on a more mature appearance. There seemed to be a fire in her that wouldn’t be easily doused, even if it seemed to die down from time to time. The thought of that grit in her made Michael more hopeful that, once she had listened to him and looked at the data, she would understand what it all meant and that she would carry it with her to New York; that she would hold onto it and not give in to the hopelessness that was overtaking her now.

“Don’t think I won’t hold you to that,” she said decisively.

“I hope you will,” he replied, happily thinking, “Good. We need more people like her around.”

She eyed him uncertainly. “Well, what do you want to know?”

Michael shrugged. It didn’t really matter where she started or what she ended up telling him. This was more an exercise in building trust through mutual knowledge than anything else. “Where you’re from, what you do, anything… Just nothing about the comet right now. We can talk about that later.”

She nodded her agreement; she didn’t want to talk about the comet any more than he did. Hesitantly, she began. “Um… okay. I’m twenty-six years old. I’m originally from Manhattan, but after I graduated from NYU, I got this awesome job down in Charlotte and I’ve been working there for about four years.”

“What is it that you do in Charlotte?” he asked.

Proudly, she replied, “I’m the executive assistant for the VP of Ops of a large manufacturer of plastics.” Michael nodded and she continued. “My folks… well, just my mother now I guess… my dad had a heart attack after the… sorry, we aren’t talking about that… well, my mom has lived in New York since just before I was born. They used to live somewhere further west, but my dad got a job in one of the brokerage houses and they picked up everything and just moved.” She grinned, “Sort of like I did when I went to Charlotte. Like father, like daughter, I guess.” Her voice trailed away. Michael waited patiently for her to resume, but her eyes were looking at some point in the distance. When she turned to look at him again, he could see that she was near to tears again.

“Sorry,” she said. “I guess I kinda miss him. Were you close to your dad?”

“I still am. Both of my parents are retired and living in Wyoming.”

Wistfully she mused, “I bet it’s pretty out there. I’ve seen pictures and documentaries about the west, and I’ve always wanted to go there. In fact, I was planning a trip to Yellowstone the summer before I found out I was expecting Tyler, but things sorta… well things got put on hold.”

“If you don’t mind my asking, will Tyler’s father be joining you in New York?”

She smiled wryly, “Him? I think the only thing he’ll be joining is a barmaid for a few drinks after she gets off her shift. Last I knew of him he was sitting in a bar looking for his happiness at the bottom of a bottle of vodka.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I’m not. It was probably the best thing that ever happened to me… when he walked away from us, I mean. But I don’t want to talk about that any more. It’s water under the bridge. Tell me about you now.”

“My turn?” He asked and she nodded. “Well, my name is Michael.”

She held out her hand and shook his heartily. “Pleased to meet you, Michael.”

“The pleasure is mine, Marisa,” he replied. “Now, let’s see. I’m thirty-eight and I work in New Mexico… but if you don’t mind I’d like to leave my employment there for right now. As I said, my folks live in Wyoming on the farm they bought after my father retired. Dad raises elk now. I grew up in northern Utah…”

“See?” Marisa interrupted, “I knew it!” She crossed her arms over her chest above the sleeping Tyler and stated, “You can stop right there, mister.”

Confused, Michael fell silent, uttering only one word, “Why?”

“Because you’re like some kind of Mormon or something,” she insisted, “and I knew you were going to start with the whole god-thing sooner or later.” To her surprise, Michael burst into helpless laughter. She grew more furious with every chuckle. “I don’t really see what’s so funny.”

Sputtering out a few more healthy guffaws, Michael took a deep breath and explained, “Because it’s been a long time since anyone made that assumption. I used to get that a lot when I was younger, especially when I started college, but it tapered off eventually. To settle your mind some, I’m not mormon. I’m not anything as a matter of fact, but that is neither here nor there. Remember our deal, Marisa. If I mention religion you can kick me out of the taxi. I wouldn’t have agreed to that if I thought it were a possibility. Trust me, I don’t relish the idea of walking to New York.”

Abashed, Marisa apologized. “Sorry. It’s just that I’m so used to being blindsided by stuff like that. I guess that it’s made me kinda jumpy.”

“Apology accepted. So, now that we’re settled on that you can relax a bit and we can talk without your having to read between the lines and wonder what I might be saying that I’m not really saying. Now, where was I?” He pondered.

“You grew up in Utah.” She offered.

Michael laughed. “Ah, yes. How could I have forgotten that point? The reason we lived in Utah was that my father was employed by a company that makes jet-propulsion systems and when they opened a lab facility up there, my father was the obvious choice to head the division. My family is originally from the Midwest. In fact, I was born in Columbus, Ohio.” Raising one eyebrow, Michael looked at Marisa. “You don’t have a problem with former buckeyes, do you?”

She giggled. “Only if a buckeye is some kind of cult fanatic.”

“Actually a buckeye is a kind of nut, but not the religious kind.” He explained. Marissa was now completely relaxed and bright-eyed, and Michael reflected on the contrast between her and the young receptionist at the Global Science Institute. Where Marisa had originally seemed very plain and mousy, she now appeared quite lovely.

“Tell me more,” she requested.

“Well…” he searched his mind for some other piece of information that the girl might find interesting, “…my mother is a romance novelist.”

He had chosen well judging from the way Marisa perked up. “Really?” she asked cheerfully. “I hate to admit it but I read tons of those things. Maybe I’ve read some of her stuff. What’s her name?”

“She writes under the name Madeline Brook.”

A wide smile broke over the girl’s face. “That’s your mother? I love her stuff. It’s very real, but also so very romantic.” Marisa sighed. “I’ve always been a sucker for the kinds of men she makes up for her books.”

Michael grinned, thinking that his mother had once told him that all her heroes were based on his father. “I’ll pass that along to her. Mom loves to hear that people enjoy reading her books as much as she enjoys writing them. By the way, her real name is Marjorie. You may have noticed that she hasn’t written much lately, but that’s because she is enjoying puttering in her garden now that Dad is retired and only writes when the mood strikes her.”

“Thank you, Michael. I’ll remember that. So, now that I know all about what your folks are doing, tell me what you do for a living.”

“I’m an astrophysicist.”

She giggled. “No. Seriously. What do you do?”

“That is what I do. Seriously.”

“Oh,” she said with a strange look in her eyes, less distrust than a sort of gentle sadness on behalf of her newfound friend. “Well, I can certainly understand why you didn’t want to talk about the comet. You guys haven’t been much help lately, have you?”

“My field hasn’t been any help at all lately. That’s why I’m headed for New York—to try and put things right. It’s also why I stopped to help you today. You looked so lost and afraid and you shouldn’t have to be.”

Her lips curled into a wistful smile. “It’s okay now. You helped me a lot. You see… I’m going to New York to die and I was afraid that my resolve would fail me. But you’re going to get me there and I can do what I have to do now.”

“You don’t have to do anything.”

“Oh, I know that. Come July, it’ll hit and we’ll all be dead, so I could just wait until then and take what’s coming, but I don’t want Tyler to suffer in the end, so my mother and I came up with this plan and now I’m seeing it through. It’ll be better this way… to die quietly in my old bed with Tyler in my arms.” Marisa looked almost serene, but Michael was reeling. He couldn’t bring himself to believe that this intelligent, vibrant young woman was going to kill herself, but it was true. How many others, like her, were ending their lives before the horror could overcome them? That the horror would never come made it doubly hard to bear.

“Marisa,” his voice had gained the hard edge of barely reined anger, “I know that you think this is the only way, but you cannot kill yourself when you get to New York. I know you don’t know me and have no reason to trust me, but this isn’t necessary. When you get to New York, I want you to take your mother and leave the city. Go somewhere away from people and wait it out. Please.”

Her mouth tightened and she shook her head sadly. “I’m sorry, but I can’t bear the thought of slowly dying inside over the next few months just waiting to be vaporized. I can’t do that. I’ve never sat around waiting for anything to happen, and I don’t want to start with this… not with the end of my life. Oh sure, I could spend the next two months partying it up somewhere like Tyler’s father and like some of my friends, but I couldn’t do that either. I’m not that kind of person. Nope, this is the best way.”

“Marisa? What if I told you that the comet will not hurt you or any of us? What if I showed you the proof of it and asked, not that you trust me, but that you trust reality?”

She looked at him disbelievingly. “If that’s true, why doesn’t anyone else know?”

“I don’t have the answer to that. I wish I did. I have been telling everyone who would take a moment to listen.” Michael shook his head at those memories. “I’m headed to New York for an appointment with NBS. I’m hoping that they will listen to me, and that they will help me to tell the public the truth.”

Marisa’s eyes had grown wide. “I don’t believe you. No one would hide this kind of information from people. There’s no reason to do something like that. No one can be that cruel.”

“I don’t know if they’re doing this deliberately to be cruel or if that’s just a by-product, but the fact is that they are doing it. I have the proof…”

“I don’t know why you’re doing this,” she cried. “I don’t know if you’re sadistic, or insane, or just mean. I don’t care. This is wrong of you.” She was looking at him with a wild-eyed horror that slowly changed to disappointment. Michael waited patiently until slowly a sad sort of pity crept into her eyes and she very gently told him, “You have to stop telling people this. Why get people’s hopes up that way? We only have a few months, but we shouldn’t go around with our head in the clouds over nothing. I’m sure that if your proof were correct, someone would have listened and let everyone know. I don’t get it.” Shaking her head, she inquired, “Why would they hide something like that from us? Why?”

“I don’t know why, but what I’m telling you is the truth. Look, I’m not asking you to just believe me. That is exactly what they are asking you to do. I’m not basing this on conjecture, but they are. I ran tests—every test I could think of and then some—to check and re-check every single conclusion I came up with. They didn’t bother with tests; they didn’t bother to check anything. Someone said, ‘We’re doomed,’ and someone else said, ‘They must be right because they’re the ones who are supposed to know.’ And no one bothered to ask them why they thought we were doomed. I didn’t listen to their words. I looked at the data and the data proved them wrong. Maybe they’re afraid to be wrong. Maybe they are afraid to be alive at all. I don’t know. What I do know is that I want to live. Do you want to live, Marisa?”

“Of course I do. Doesn’t everyone?”

“I’m beginning to have serious doubts about that.”

Michael heard a strange cough from the front seat. He looked into the eyes in the mirror and noticed that their driver’s cheeks were damp. “It’ll be okay, kid.”

The cabbie looked at him and Michael saw the face of a frightened child. “You serious, Mister?”

“If you’ll pardon the phrase… I’m deadly serious.”

The kid smiled. He looked like he’d just been released from prison—an innocent man given a pardon on his death sentence. “I believe you, Mister.”

“Thank you for the vote of confidence, kid, but I’d rather you believe the data. Unfortunately, you can’t read and drive at the same time.” The cabbie winked and turned his concentration back to the road. Marisa still looked wary, but she seemed open to the possibility that Michael may have the answers she’d been hoping for. “Maybe since you can’t read and drive, I could read the data to you both while we travel. I want you to understand it so that you can be certain of it for yourself. If you’re certain, you can help to pass the information along to your fares. Just in case.”

The kid shook his head and exclaimed, “Dude, you’re my last fare… ever! I’m beatin’ feet out of the city as soon as I drop you off. Hey, I’ll even give ya yur money back. You already paid me more than this drive is worth. We’re gonna live, Dude!”

“Keep the money. You’ll need it over the next few months.” Michael winked at the boy and he winked back. “Shall I begin?”

Both of his companions nodded silently and listened carefully as he laid out the information they would need to make their own decisions.

Stay tuned for Part 3...

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Traveling in Armageddon

Below is the first full scene I cut from Spectacle. (Please head on over and read the blurb.)

Originally I wrote this scene to show how a world anticipating its own destruction would begin to decay, making little things like a trip from DC to NYC become a trial. I finally decided to snip it out because while it was interesting, it really didn't add much to the storyline, and wasn't even really necessary for its purpose.

To set the story up a bit, the nation has already begun to fall apart, and flying is only for those who have clearance. The only option left for the hero is a train.

So now I invite you to enjoy...

Traveling in Armageddon

Michael expected to have to wait for a seat on a northbound train, but oddly, there were plenty of tickets headed into New York. Climbing aboard, he took a seat and studied his fellow passengers. There was a young mother clutching her infant son and sobbing; a businessman sitting in a corner with his head in his hands; a teenage boy whose gaunt face reminded Michael of pictures of the victims of the Holocaust. These were people who were trying to continue their lives, but who had been told that their lives were about to end. Not even left with the hope for a potential cure, they were left to shuffle through their remaining days in blank terror. In their minds, the doctor had given them all only three months to live.

Turning away he tried studying the landscape to avoid their eyes; eyes that recognized the life in Michael and seemed to desperately want to cling to it. From the reflection on the glass he could see that the teenage boy had turned his glazed stare from the blurred countryside to fix on the solidity of Michael. The boy stood there for several seconds assessing Michael, and then, as if he had reached a conclusion, the boy ambled forth. Turning from the window, Michael heard the boy begin speaking.

“Mister? You got any money, mister?” The boy began abruptly. “I don’t got no money and when I get to New York, I’m gonna need money.”

“I’m sorry, kid.” Michael stated calmly.

“You gotta help me, mister. You gotta give me some money?” The boy begged loudly. “You look like you got money an’ you ain’t gonna need it no mo’ so you gotta gimme some.” His whole stance was defiant, with his fists stuffed deeply into the pockets of his too-loose blue jeans as if to belie the fact that he was demanding a handout.

Dumbfounded, Michael looked at the boy. “No,” he said firmly.

The boy’s face lost its soft and vacant look. He wasn’t used to being challenged when he made demands. “What d’ya mean, ‘No’?”

“I mean, ‘No, I don’t have to give you any money,’ and ‘No, I don’t have to help you.’” Michael replied calmly. The other passengers were slowly moving away from what they saw as a confrontation that could end badly.

“I said that you gotta help me,” the boy stated impertinently. “Just fork over a twenty or somethin’ to tide me over. I said I need it, so you hafta give it to me.”

“No.” Michael slowly repeated. “If you’ve got a knife or a gun, you are welcome to try and take it, but I will not be forking anything over to you.”

The boy’s demeanor changed from belligerent thug to petulant little boy. “You don’t hafta talk to me that way. I need help and you won’t give it to me. You know what you are, mister? You’re a selfish bastard.” The boy spat and then, as if he had said the magic words that would cow Michael into submission, he held out his hand for the money he was certain would be placed into it.

“I’ll take that as a compliment,” Michael calmly stated.

Glancing at his fellow passengers, the boy desperately looked for someone to back him up, but found each of them trying desperately to feign interest in anything else to avoid having to look at him. “You’re all selfish!” the boy shouted. When he noticed that no one was rushing to his side to acquiesce to his tantrums, he grumbled and turned back toward the window. Michael continued to watch him intently, but the boy was no longer any cause for concern.

The rest of the trip passed without incident and Michael had time to marvel at the coming spring. He had always loved this time of year, when the trees began to outfit themselves with their first bright green buds. The brown of winter was tipped with color for the first time in months, and the world was coming alive again.

Before too long, the train stopped. He looked at his watch and noted the time. It was obvious that they were still outside of the city, but according to the train schedule, they were not due to make any stops between Washington and New York. As the other passengers began to disembark, Michael reached out to touch the arm of a man who was making his way toward the door. “What’s going on?” He asked.

The man shrugged off Michael’s hand and said, “They aren’t allowing trains into New York anymore. You’d better hurry if you want to catch a cab. There usually aren’t enough to go around. Now, if you’ll excuse me.” With that he scurried quickly through the opening and out onto the platform, disappearing into the gathering herd of people.

Michael collected his things and followed. True to the word of his unwilling informant, few cabs were left outside of the station. He chose the best of the ones remaining and climbed in.

“Where to, dude?” The youthful cab driver barked out. He didn’t look old enough to have a driver’s license much less the job of cabbie, but Michael could see that the only other taxicabs at the station were already departing with their fares.

Grudgingly, he accepted that he had no other choice if he wanted to get to the city by nightfall. “Times Square. The headquarters of NBS.”

The cabbie chuckled. “It’s double the usual fare to go into the city, dude. Fifty dollars, in advance.”

Michael reached into his wallet handed the scruffy young man a bill. The boy grabbed it in his grubby fingers and stuffed it into his jeans. “Sure thing, dude. Times Square.” When he reached forward and started the meter, Michael could see that it still had a fare on it from the boy’s last customer, but he did not feel like arguing over the amount. The boy misjudged his irritated look. “Jus’ so ya know. I ain’t gouging. They tol’ us we could charge double. Like, it’s haz’rd pay, dude.”

Stay tuned for the rest of this scene...

Saturday, August 18, 2007

A Hero of Novel Proportions

The following short was first written in 2000, under the title Selene. It has undergone many revisions and a title change since then. It was, for all intents and purposes, the first short story I'd written and the beginning of this writing career I've entered into. I'm posting it here today because I don't believe this one will ever be published in any other medium. Not that it isn't good enough, but it is... Too personal a story, I guess, to be attractive to the lit journals. (This is just a guess on my part, since I've only ever submitted it once, and while the rejection was nicely worded, it was still a rejection.)

I sincerely hope you enjoy the story. (And before anyone thinks this is autobiographical, it's not. At least not entirely. The worst bits are fictional. The rest I'll leave to your imaginations.)


A Hero of Novel Proportions

The waves thundered upon the shore, breaking with a clap and then whispering back into the ocean. A lone silhouette watched shivering slightly. Despite the overcast sky, she could tell the day was fading; another hour and it would be black as pitch, and she would be forced to stumble through the sea grass to her car. Still she stood and watched, gathering strength from the raw power of the elements. She would need it by the time morning broke.

When she could no longer see more than the faintest glimmer of white from the foam, she slowly turned. Her smart, gray suit clung to her, soaked with sea spray. Confidently, she strode back to where her car was parked alongside the coastal road, as if she had grown up playing amongst the dunes when in actuality she had never been there before. Her step was steady and sure.

She emerged on the road a short distance from her Lincoln. It glowed. It was then that she noticed the clouds were breaking up and a single shaft of moonlight was turning her car into a silver chariot. She laughed aloud. Perhaps her mother had been given a flash of insight at her birth when, as she had wailed her first breaths, she was named Selene.

As the car stretched its length along the ribbon of highway back to the city, Selene sat deep in thought. She remembered the day, 12 years before, when her life had turned so sharply. Sitting on a bench in Central Park reading, she could have been any number of other working girls on her lunch break. Could have been, if not for the text in her lap, and the fire in her eyes as she read. She hadn’t noticed the man casually watching her that day. She would have never noticed him if he had not strode between her and the sun, casting a shadow over the lines of Atlas Shrugged during the speech she so loved. Looking back now, she could almost believe that instant was a foreshadowing of things to come. Back then, however, with the light behind him, she could have sworn that the hero of the novel had stepped into reality. At the age of nineteen, she was ready to believe anything.

Selene shook herself and tried again to concentrate on the road ahead of her. The lateness of the hour made sharp concentration unnecessary though and there was little traffic to distract her from her memories.

She had married David a short year later. At first, he had been everything she dreamed he would be. He had seemed so strong and handsome. He had given every indication of being intelligent and thoughtful and somehow courageous. When they were married, he had been a lower-level engineering manager for an automotive parts manufacturer outside Cleveland, the youngest in the company’s long history. But he was rapidly climbing through the ranks; his eyes were set on heading the division someday. That ambition had been one of the things that had made him so attractive to her young and naïve eyes.

Beginning with that meeting in the park, they’d spent every one of the ten days left of his vacation in constant companionship. After the first two days, he had grown impatient that she had to leave him for work, and he insisted that she call in sick for the remainder of his trip. She had agreed because suddenly nothing was more important than being with David. After the third sick day, she’d been fired, but she had barely noticed—other than a twinge of disappointment at losing her first real job.

When he had suggested that she stay the night with him, she’d readily agreed. Never before had she given herself so completely to any man, but this was her hero and she had been willing to give him anything. When he’d suggested that she fly back to Ohio with him after such a short acquaintance, she had simply told her roommate that she was leaving. She hadn’t cared; David was a hero of novel proportions, or so she’d thought.

At her insistence, they had married quickly. It was the only way to quell the feelings of confusion inside her. His moods changed with the winds and she was becoming frightened that her love for him would dwindle in the face of the fact that he was no John Galt. Telling herself that she was no Dagny Taggert herself, she glossed over the cracks in them both and ran smiling up the aisle.

Six months later, she was pregnant, and she ran home from the doctor’s office smiling. Happy idiot that she was, she had presumed that David would be the proud future father she always dreamed her husband would be. She had been so very wrong. Despite his sudden silence, the disappointment and disgust on his face was palpable.

“It’s God’s will,” the doctor had said to her a few weeks later. At the memory of those ludicrous words, she laughed wryly. She had known it hadn’t been the will of any deity but the stress of dealing with David’s disappointment that had killed the growing potential inside her.

The lights of the city swam through her tears, as she pulled closer to their warmth. She had always loved the city and she regretted ever leaving its solidity for the wisps of a dream. As she looked back over the last twelve years, her resolve firmed.

For years she had been begging to go home, but David had desperately wanted to stay away from New York. They had not been back since those days so long ago. His own jealousy caused him to keep her from everything and everyone else she had ever loved.

Somewhere during their first meeting her beloved copy of Atlas Shrugged had mysteriously disappeared and he’d blamed the housekeeping staff. After they arrived in Ohio, she bought another copy, but David’s sullen looks quickly made her give up the written words that were her life’s blood. All of her books were carefully boxed and shoved into a corner of their attic; any book was a threat to David’s need for her undivided attention. She had accepted that. He was an important man—-almost everyone said so-—and he deserved her slavish devotion.

Over the years, she had accepted many things. Without question, she gave up her quest for employment; David made enough for them both to live on. Without hesitation she had given up her quest for education; David said that if she didn’t have to work, she didn’t need a degree. However, she hadn’t accepted completely the life of a dilettante. Her mind was as active as it ever had been. While he was at work, she poured over the only books available in the house—his old engineering texts. While he was sleeping, she studied schematics of his designs.

Laughing, Selene thought of the many mistakes she had found as she quickly grasped the technical aspects of her husband’s work. To her they were glaringly obvious, but when she attempted to point them out one night, he had belittled her. “What would a Bronx gutter-snipe like you know about engineering?” She let the comment pass. She knew that there was a flaw in his design. There had always been a flaw in his design. She forgave him. After all, she’d been taught to believe that she was flawed too.

Once at a company party, she found herself, by chance, in the company of the men and women who worked for David. Here were the technical minds behind the unflawed schematics David always brought home and corrected until they were like so many twisted monsters. She joined in their conversation delightedly. One bright young man, Jared thought to ask her who she was. “I’m David Cullem’s wife,” she said, and at once regretted her answer. The doors of communication quickly slammed shut, and she could see mistrust in their eyes.

Jared pulled her aside. “It’s nothing personal, Mrs. Cullem. You seem like an intelligent woman, and it’s been great talking to you, but your husband… Let’s just say that he isn’t well liked in his department. He’s gotten more than one of us fired. You understand, we’d rather our thoughts weren’t made available for Cullem to dissect and use against us.”

“But you have nothing to fear from David,” she had said quietly. “I’ve seen your designs, all of them, and they’re beautiful.” Even as she said the words, she remembered the miscarriages that David had made of so many of their drawings. Jared shook his head and walked away.

A short time later, she found David. He was chatting with a group of men, telling bawdy jokes and laughing louder than was necessary. “There you are, Sugar. I was wondering where you’d wandered off to.” He kissed her cheek and wrapped an arm about her waist. “Gentlemen, may I present the best wife a man could ever ask for—Selene.” For the rest of the evening a cheerful and attentive husband introduced her to vice presidents and managers. His 24-carat smile and his praise-filled words never quite reached his eyes, though. “I wonder if they see it, too,” she thought. Selene knew they did not. These were the men that had given David his prestige and his position. They were completely fooled.

That night was the beginning of the end, and that night was ten years ago. She could feel the disgust welling up inside her as the miles raced away—disgust for the wait, disgust for the wasted years, disgust for herself. “The lights of the city are blindingly bright,” she thought and then corrected herself. “No. The lights are illuminating now. I was blind before.” She felt stronger than she had in a very long time; the strongest she’d felt since that day on the park bench when David began sapping every drop of the woman she knew she could be. As she eased the Lincoln in front of a swank and luxurious hotel of David’s choosing, she glowed as if she had swallowed the light of the city.

David was livid. They had come to New York at her insistence. He’d railed at her daring to leave him and run off for two days without so much as a note. His face was rapidly approaching the color of the Merlot stain on their old linen tablecloth. Oddly enough, though, he had not called the police and reported her missing. He did not believe she was missing. Once they reached their sumptuous room, he let loose with the accusations he had hurled so many times before. “Who were you with while you were gone? An old lover?” She laughed aloud because the accusation was even more ridiculous coming from the man who had been her only lover ever. He reached out to slap her but stopped short. He had never actually dared to hit her, always stopping just close enough for her to feel the whisper of checked violence against her cheek—just enough to attempt to scare her, but never enough to mar her porcelain face. “Can’t damage the goods,” she had often mused. This time was different though. This time he had stopped because of the look in her eyes; it was a look devoid of fear, clear and bright with courage. The only fear evident in the room was in his eyes this time.

When David was finished ranting, she calmly set down the package that she had been clutching and moved toward the bedroom. “Where are you going?” he demanded. “To change out of these wet things,” she replied. Leering he began to follow her. He took her words as a sign that she would appease him with sex as she often had in the past. He didn’t realize that the past was over and that a new future had begun. Without looking back, she closed and locked the door.

She could hear him rattling the doorknob and yelling as she changed into a pair of blue jeans and a sweatshirt. They were the only things she owned that she felt at home in. Hanging in the closet were clothes of his choosing—slinky cocktail dresses and chic suits like the one she left in a pile on the floor; those things were little more than garments for David’s paper doll. The casual things were hers and she wrapped them about herself like a suit of armor. Calmly she pulled her waist long hair back into a boyish ponytail. David had always been so proud of her tresses, as if they were an accomplishment of his own and not merely part of a façade. Those tresses would soon be gone, too; she was slowly reverting back to the person she had been a dozen lifetimes ago, slowly reverting back to her own self. In the mirror was an image of an old friend she had not seen in years. She nodded a salute, and the figure jauntily nodded back. “Long time, no see,” she said to her reflection.

Her old armor intact and her Bronx polish in place, she strode over and unlocked the door to their bedroom. David burst through the door immediately, almost as if he had been leaning against it. She half expected him to fall flat on his face, but she no longer cared. She said little as she packed those things that belonged solely to her; he screamed, pleaded, and cajoled.

“Where are you going? You can’t leave me. I love you.” He could have as easily said ‘Please pass the butter’, for all the meaning his words had to her now. Selene continued as if he weren’t there and so he tried a different tack. “You stupid bitch. You can’t leave me. You’ll never make it without me. You need me!” Then something important—the last key to her husband—occurred to Selene. David had it backwards; he had always had it backwards. She had never needed him, but he had always desperately needed her. He needed her to prove to himself that he was somehow worthy of existing.

Shaking her head sadly, she headed toward the door. David was crying now, but she could not hear him, she was mentally unfolding the map to her life. On a small table in the foyer of their suite was the small brown package. Reverently she picked it up and gently she unwrapped it, as a mother would remove the blankets from her sleeping newborn. Inside was a book, long ago lost, but never forgotten. In its pages was the key to her freedom and her future. As she walked away from the past, she never looked back.


After reading how important it is to have your own branded blog presence, I made the decision to branch off from my main blog - The Writing Spectacle - and create a blog using my name.

Thus this separate blog was born.

I still prefer The Writing Spectacle, and will continue to do most of my blogging from that address. This blog will be kept mainly for those things I hope will either get me published, or once that is the case, will assist in increasing sales of my novels.

Here will be excerpts, deleted scenes, and unpublished shorts. Maybe even poetry on a rare occasion. Unlike my other blog, I don't plan on making this a daily event, but rather something every once in a while.

I sincerely hope you'll enjoy stopping by and reading my work from time to time. See you soon!