Thursday, December 5, 11:25 CST

There should be an icon below the body of this update. A quickly doodled image that if you squint just right looks a little like a book and a pen. Click on it, and you should get the text of my abortive NaNoWriMo entry as of today. Which, I'll hasten to point out, I never actually entered, and which currently stands at 2600 words or so.

It's there because it's a relatively fat chunk of content and I needed to test the script. Just a little more tweaking and this should be good to go.

+

One year later:

Three couches, one broken down easy chair, a cheap 13 inch TV, blankets
hanging next to the windows. Huge speakers wedged on either end of the largest
couch, and a stereo cabinet built of two-by-fours, filled with components
which except for the CD player are older than anyone currently living here.
It's Sunday, late November. Three in the afternoon. 1500 hours, Central
Standard Time.

Sam sits in the middle of the couch opposite the one between the
speakers. Dead center. It's a plaid-colored couch, or at least this is how he
thinks of it, and its surface texture is rough and not altogether pleasant on
bare skin. Sam can remember couches like this cropping up everywhere in his
childhood, and sitting on it evokes a kind of tactile nostalgia that he can't
shake off even when he wants to. He once made love on this couch to a girl
who has since vanished from his life in a spectacularly permanent fashion, and
that memory has colored all the others - watching Sesame Street at the age of
four, opening presents at his Grandmother's house on an endless string of
Christmas Days, smoking marijuana for the first and last time in a friend's
parents' basement, the particular taste of cheap cigars and pizza.

He sits straight, not quite rigid, with his arms spread along the back of the
couch.  He's staring into the middle of the room where the late afternoon
sunlight shafting through the west window is making dust visible and rug
luminous.  There's a tape recorder in his left hand, and a pile of cassettes
still in the plastic wrappers by his right knee.  He's been sitting for an
hour.

When he finally moves, there's something deliberate and controlled about the
action. He picks up a cassette one handed, tears the plastic off with his
teeth, and opens the case. He lets it fall onto the couch before inserting
the tape into the recorder in his other hand and snapping it shut. There's
something about all this that reminds you of a guitarist changing a string on
stage, or an experienced hunter reloading a shotgun.

He takes a breath, pushes the record button, and begins talking.

"I wasn't going to write about this.  After Jack lost it on the Interstate, I
wasn't even going to talk about it."

--

An hour after dark: Ford conversion van, red, doing eighty-something on an
Eastbound Interstate. We'll call it a 1990 model, give or take a few years.
Old enough you know it doesn't have a CD player or a TV/VCR combo slapped
in between the front seats, let alone an in-dash GPS unit or for that matter a
still-functioning map light. It's not likely the financially destitute students
driving this thing stole it, but it's not likely they own it either. It's not
even likely they'd consider owning such a gas guzzling monstrosity without
either a far more interesting paint job or a far less practical interior
configuration.

It's late October, and it's cold.  The driver's-side window is down anyway.
If the van were standing still, like it's going to be in about two minutes,
you might be able to hear somebody's schizophrenic mix tape selection of
bluegrass and indie rock on roughly its fourth rotation.  At 80+ mph, all you
get is white noise.

Brake lights and a turn signal flare to life, and the van slows and swings to
a halt on the shoulder.  It's the kind of stop made by a tired parent pulling
into a driveway at two in the morning with a back seat full of sleeping
preadolescents.  Leo Kottke's guitar is briefly audible, in between trucks
tearing past in the left hand lane, and then the window cranks up.  There's a
definite pause.

The hazards begin flashing, the door opens, and the driver steps out.  He
leans back inside, grabs a heavy brown coat of uncertain vintage, closes the
door, and pulls the coat on as he walks around the van.  Extracting a duffle
bag from the rear of the van requires balancing sleeping bags, myriad
backpacks, and a guitar case long enough to slam the door shut again.
Somehow, he accomplishes this before the confused and sleepy voices beginning
to stir inside the van can get a fix on his location.

In fact, by the time anyone inside is awake and collected enough to grasp that
he's walking away from them, he's a good fifty yards further down the road. If
it weren't an exceptionally still night, the shouting probably wouldn't even
carry.

--

There's no coffee table here.  The TV is sitting on top of a fruit crate
which has been painted in bright primary colors by someone who had a decent
art teacher in highschool and may well possess more skill than ten minutes of
cheap tempera on lath are likely to convey.  There's a bookcase full of used
paperbacks wedged in one corner, the top of which is completely covered in
candles and empty bottles.  The only other horizontal surfaces in the room are
floor, couches, chair, and window sills.  The locals are a tidy bunch, or
someone has cleaned the place recently, because other than pillows and folded
blankets, nothing is stacked anywhere.

There are four objects on the floor in front of Amy's couch (the one Sam is
sitting on). 

Sam is not looking at them.

"Yesterday, I got a package from Jack.  No return address, no signature.  All
I have to go on is the Santa Fe, New Mexico postmark and the stuff he sent."

  seamus,

  no apologies
  no regrets
  
  i guess you know how gone i really am by now
  if anyone understands why
  it'll be you

  this key's the last one left on my chain
  my dad loves that truck
  but he never drives it
  it's yours if you want it
  (likewise my guitar,
  which i'd lay good money
  is still sitting where you left it after you unloaded the van)
  go to my folks' place
  and take it

  then get going
  i mean it

"So a week ago he was in Santa Fe.  Or somebody he knew was in Santa Fe and
dropped a package for him.  Assume he was there; he could be almost anywhere
else on the continent by now.  He could be on half a dozen other continents.
All I'll ever know is that somewhere, he looked at the last two things he
hadn't given up, made a decision, and sent them to me."

--

Knee-high grass, occasional wildflowers and scraggly cedar trees.  Silence
broken by songbirds and distant cattle.  Somewhere, what might be the rush of
truck traffic on I-70, but only if you listen very hard.  Some scattered
rocks, a man-made pond, and an ancient barb wire fence that has reached a
state of near-perfect integration with the landscape.

Sam, perhaps a little younger, definitely more sunburned, is perched on the
low earthen dam (the one Jack's grandfather put in some fifty summers ago) in
the shadow of a cottonwood tree, holding an ancient pole lightly in one hand
and slowly reeling in his line with the other.  He can hear a breeze he can't
actually feel moving through the leaves of the cottonwoods.

A yellow pickup is parked near the east side of the pond.  Jack's standing in
the passenger side door, digging through a tackle box and holding a light bass
rod that's clearly seen little use.  He's been there for a good ten minutes.

There is absolutely no unresolved tension in this scene, beyond the question
of whether Jack will find a lure that satisfies him and succeed in attaching
it to the end of his line, thus permitting him to begin fishing.  In less
perfect stillness, Sam might raise his voice enough to carry to the truck and
ask, Are you gonna fish or what?  He won't, though.  He's tapped into the
quiet and the sunlight and the water, and so is Jack, still by the Jeep,
fumbling with a little gold plastic fish and a nylon line.  They're part of
things here, and it's good.

Jack has succeeded in tying a functional knot. He closes the door with a solid
*chunk*, then makes his way to the nearest bank of the pond.  

They fish for two hours, give or take.  They catch and release half a dozen
sunfish, a diminuitive bass, and a persistent bullhead.  After Sam has returned
the bullhead to the water for the third time, they set poles and tacklebox in
the bed of the pickup and drive to another pond.  This time, some quirk of the
mysterious forces that drive the appetites of fish favors them, and they stay
until the sun has nearly sunk below the nearest hill and hunger really begins
to gnaw.  They haven't eaten anything since midmorning's breakfast of cold
pizza and scrambled eggs.  They're tired, sunburned, and mud is drying on
their jeans.  They drain the last of the ice tea, passing the dust-coated
plastic jug back and forth as they jolt across the pasture on the truck's
inadequate suspension.

Life is good.

It's well and truly evening by the time they make it back to the house.
Smack in the middle of sunset and the yard is already in shadow.  The
yardlight up by the silo is going to kick on any second with that sputtering
buzz that always seems so random.  Birds are calling and the summer bugs are
working up to a full-on symphonic hum.

It's quiet, otherwise.  Jack's parents aren't home and probably won't be any
time soon.  As near as Sam was able to tell, they're somewhere in Tennessee
with Jack's younger brother and sister.  He's glad.  He's met Jack's family,
and likes them, but the solitude here is welcome. Also, he doesn't want to have
to deal with Jack's sister.  Jack's sister is fifteen years old, scary bright,
and painfully self-aware.  He's been careful not to let the thought actually
cross his mind, but he's sometimes peripherally aware that she is in love with
him.

They park on the lawn.  Sam carries the fishing gear to the ruined hulk of a
garage and sets it just inside the door.  Jack disappears inside the house and
emerges with a six pack of bottles in one hand and a box containing the last
of the pizza in the other.  They sit on the open tailgate of the pickup with
the beer and pizza between them, and bask in the remainder of the sunset.

"This is the best summer place I've ever been," says Sam.

Jack nods.

"Everybody used to get together out here.  Aunts and uncles, all the old
ladies who'd outlived their men or just never had one and you knew they were
related somehow but you weren't quite sure, the cousins.  Summers were
the best."

"You lived out here then?"

"We had a place in town 'til a few years after my Grandpa died.  I must've
been thirteen or fourteen when we moved out here.  Dad was always going to
come back home and farm.  It never worked out that way, but we kept the place
after his folks were gone."

"I can see why."

Jack nods again, takes a long pull of his beer, and says nothing for a long time.
It's a comfortable silence.

--

"Heya, L."

The sister's name is Lily, short for something but he's not sure what.
Everyone calls her L.  Or Ell.  He's never been very clear on that either.
She's built like a collection of sticks and will probably never attain
anything that so much as resembles the prevailing ideal of beauty.  She is,
however, going to be devastatingly beautiful.  This knowledge flits around the
edges of his mind like some kind of small, dark, secretive bird.  If he could
focus on it, he'd notice a wicked and purposeful gleam in its eyes.  She's the
most disturbing fifteen year old he's ever met.

"Hey Sam."

She's sitting cross legged on the couch that Amy, their newly acquired
room mate, has just contributed to the communal furniture pool.  She's holding
Jack's guitar, and plonking out something that sounds like it might be trying
to turn into music.

"You're getting better."

She makes a face and hefts the guitar as if to toss it at him.  If he had not
already met her, he'd take this for a bluff.  As it is, he catches the guitar
easily, sweeps a pile of old newspapers off the easy chair, sits, and starts
playing the only thing he's ever personally written.  It has a choppy,
dissatisfied kind of sound and every time he plays it different lyrics trickle
through his brain.  He never voices any of them.

Jack's voice issues from the kitchen, whence only vague cooking and cleaning
noises have so far originated.  He's saying something about a concert, but
it's drowned out by the guitar.  He steps into the living room just as Sam
looks up and brings the song to a deliberately jangling halt.

"I said, Lillibeth's going to the show with us.  I told the 'rents I'd keep
her out of their hair 'til Monday.  Come get some food."

Sam makes a generalized thumbs-up gesture, and looks at Lily.

"L, what's your real first name?"

"Guess."

"Lilian?"

"Nope."

"Lillith?"

"Bzzzt."

"Lilliputia?"

"Let's go eat."

"I'm going to figure this out."

Jack only continues to lean on the kitchen doorway and look bemused.

--

The television doesn't actually work, and it hasn't for nearly as long as
they've had it.

At first, they were going to throw it away and find a replacement.  After a
while, they were simply going to throw it away.  It was ugly and
nonfunctional; they kept tripping over it walking out of the kitchen.
Eventually, they all came to the realization that it served as a kind of
protective camoflage.  As long as they had a TV - and who could claim
otherwise, after all? - they didn't have to *get* a TV.

After a month or two,  Sam found a fruit crate of some sort to set it on, Amy
dug out a cheap brush and some tempera paints to decorate the crate, and they
quit talking about it.  In terms of consumer electronics, their lives have
been remarkably peaceful ever since.



--

"What are you going to do with it?"

Sam looks up from the tape recorder.

"Do with it?"

"Well, yeah.  Why did you buy it?"

"That's a good question."

"That's *the* question, isn't it?"

--

Chunk-click.

"All right, say something."

"There's witchcraft in your lips, Kate."

"Was that a line?"

"Yes."

"I thought you didn't do lines."

"I think it's ok if I already know you."

"In the Biblical sense?"

Silence, mild tape hiss, rustling of clothing.

"I'm not sure if that's a requirement."

"Maybe it should be."

"Give me that."

Further rustling.  A click.

--

"Seven o' clock on a Friday, October the twenty-something, AD two-thousand
and two.  Westward ho, can I get an amen?"

"Woohoo.  I mean, amen, brother."

"Thanks Jack."

"No problem.  Now turn that damn thing off and find me some tunes."

--



--

--

It's an hour past sundown, somewhere on I-80 Eastbound at 83 miles an hour.
It's way too cold, but the driver's side window is open anyway.  It's been open
for the past thirty miles, since sleep deprivation really started to take its
toll and comfortable warmth became a liability. Jack's hair, a complete
tangled mess, is blowing unsteadily in the resultant wind. If it were as long
as it's going to be in six months, it could be said to be streaming, but right
now it's in a far more chaotic transitional stage. Besides, you don't really
get the right kind of airflow with only one window open. Jack's face is
actually going numb.  Somehow everyone else in the vehicle is still asleep.

The numbness in his face reminds him of being really, seriously, drunk.  He
knows it shouldn't.  He knows this means he's far too tired to be driving.
He's somewhere past caring, or at least somewhere past a reasonable caution
about his own physical limitations.