Friday, December 31, 2010

The Red Elevators (Chapter One)

The Red Elevators

Chapter One: The Blackout

They called it the long road to paradise.

I preferred to think of it as an end to misery. I trundled along through nearly half a foot of snow with only a ragged sweater to keep me warm. It was thick but fraying at the hems. Strings were always hanging off, catching on things.

You may be wandering where I am. They called it the orphan world. They. The survivors. There was no such thing as the elderly here. On this planet, you're old if you reach thirty.

But it doesn't matter, because you won't.

Only the strongest, toughest and meanest can survive. It's these who sometimes live into their twenties. Sometimes they helped you out, taught you things, sometimes they didn't.

But I'm probably confusing you. There's only three things you need to know about the orphan world, honestly. First, the minute you turn thirteen you're going to work in the mines, or the factories. Second, you will die in the mines, or the factories. And third, when they call you to the building with the red elevators, you are never ever coming back.

I'd been summoned yesterday morning. A man in a gas mask had delivered a crinkled, burned up envelope to me. He hadn't said a word, just handed me the stupid piece of paper and walked away. Inside was only a piece of paper with one word.


That was all that was needed, because everyone knew what it meant. You can ignore it, yes, but one day someone's going to show up, right beside your bed when you're sleeping, just blow your clean freaking head off. You don't have to believe me, but I saw it happen once with my own eyes, so I know well enough the consequences of ignoring a summons.

Being twelve years old, I lived in the Lyran Commons with all the children. It wasn't a building meant for living in. The whole planet had been different once long long ago, before the warts had taken over. There were ruins everywhere. I was walking in a canyon made by several toppled buildings, towards the one structure the warts had built themselves, a massive rectangular building that towered over the land like a boxy mountain.

Wart headquarters.

A wart was the name the survivors had given to the rulers of the orphan world. No one knew exactly what they looked like behind the gas masks they always wore, but apparently the story was they looked like toads, their skin covered in warts.

As to what the warts called themselves... they seemed to only want us to think of them as "the master race". They'd never given any sort of real name to call them, a fact which only added to their mysteriousness.

I wanted to drag out the long walk from Lyran Commons to the headquarters as much as possible, but it was so cold I couldn't do it. Even after half an hour in the cold I was shivering. Soon enough I was standing in a massive, echo-y atrium dripping snow onto tiles checkered gold and white. The walls were all windows, but heavily tinted, making the room oppressively dark.

There was nothing in the room, absolutely nothing, except for two elevators set opposite the door. All else was glass, tile, and silence. With a startling "bing!" one the elevator doors opened, spilling light into the dimly lit entryway.

True to rumor it was as red as blood.

Warmer now out of the cold, this was a walk I could make last as long as I please. And I did. I took several minutes of pacing, hemming and hawing before I finally stepped inside the red red red elevator, feeling like I was stepping into a blood vessel or something. There was a massive array of buttons next to the doors on the left side, but touching them did nothing.

There was one in the high right hand corner, a funny looking sideways 8, it was the only one lit. I was going all the way to the top. I gripped the red railing with a shaking hand, trying to steady myself. Every strange rumor, every wild possibility ran through my head in that long ride into the sky.

A little thingie like a digital clock ticked off the levels in one corner. I stared at it, watching as the symbol representing each floor was passed. I couldn't understand what all of them meant, but it didn't mean I couldn't match them up. I had to fight to stem off panic as my destination began to grow closer and closer.

I hummed the tune to a silly children's song. I couldn't remember the name or any of the words, just someone singing it to me while they wrapped me up in a pale blue blanket. Maybe it was my long lost mother, maybe not. Whenever I was scared, I had taken to humming it. But when the doors opened with another "bing!" I couldn't bring myself to move.

There was nothing to see beyond the elevators. An oppressively heavy mist prevented me from making out even shadows. Little tendrils of fog began to curl their way towards me. Heat followed, driving out the last of the cold that I'd brought with me from the outside.

"Step forward!" A synthetic, robot-like voice commanded. The voice of a wart inside its suit. Trembling, I stepped forward. If this was my last moment on earth, I supposed it didn't do much good to spend it quivering against the wall like a lily-livered coward.

The elevator closed behind me, leaving me blind and vulnerable. "Remove your sweater, subject 1-4-9-9 Jonah Griffin." a second voice ordered. It was similar to the first, but subtly different. It was an odd request, but I was beginning to grow very warm now anyways. I let the ragged old thing drop, now wet with moisture.

Shadows emerged from the fog. Figures in bulky metal suits and insectoid masks. Beads of condensation clung to their shiny black goggles as they studied me. One of them had a syringe. It looked tiny in his padded glove.

"Stretch out your arm, subject 1-4-9-9." He told me. Humming one last bit of my tune, I did so. I'm not too proud to admit, my arm was still shaking. The wart gripped my elbow roughly in his free hand, holding it tight. With the other I watched as the syringe began to get close to my skin.

And then things got crazy.

The next thing I knew, I wasn't in that strange, misty room at all. I was in a hallway. Alarms were blaring like crazy, and my head was incredibly fuzzy, like when you wake up from a poor night's sleep, or an unrestful nap.

And in my left hand, I was holding tight to someone else' hand. A girl named Penny. I'd had a crush on Penny for the last few years, but I'd never had the courage to tell her, and she'd never taken much notice of me regardless. It didn't help that Penny was a year older, too.

Mere weeks from being sent to the mines, she'd been summoned just days before me. Could it be we had escaped somehow? I couldn't make sense of where my memories had gone. It felt like I should be able to remember what had happened, but no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't do it.

Maybe Penny knew. She had an odd expression on her face, a senseless sort of bliss. She seemed content to simply stand there while I came to my senses. "What's going on?" I asked the girl.

Penny looked at me with unfocused eyes, then giggled. "Johnny," she said, stroking my cheek. "They hurted my brain." She tapped at her forehead awkwardly, as if her motor skills were no longer what they were. Her hair, once dark and beautiful, clung to her skin in lank strands. There were bald patches here and there where they'd just shaved it away.

She attempted to relay her story to me, but it was too vague for me to understand much. She kept going back to needles, in her skin, through her bone. She was terrified of needles.

They'd lobotomized her, I realized.

I looked around, trying to get a grip and figure out my surroundings. We had to escape, that much was obvious. Even if we'd managed to get away for a little bit, I doubted we'd be free for much longer.

I led Penny towards the first door I found. It was a supply closet. The second, however, led into a immense hanger that seemed to take up much of the space on this floor. Beyond the open hanger doors, a starlit night awaited. The light of worlds beyond our own twinkled invitingly.

And floating a few inches off the ground, waiting as if a gift from God himself, was the most beautiful, elegant spaceship I'd ever seen. It was an electric blue disk, with two engine pods sticking out to either side. The cockpit was settled into a third pod, jutting just above the bow of the ship.

And in it I saw my means of escape, my freedom. I didn't know what had happened to me in the minutes since my ride in the Red Elevators, but I knew I'd been given a chance at maybe finding something better, perhaps even a real life. The thought of living free of oppression and fear almost seemed impossible to me, like a bird who's never been let out of its cage. I had to seize this while I still could.

We had to steal the starship.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


I DID IT!! I finished my book! I can hardly believe it. There is still a LOT of work to be done in terms of editing and cleanup, but at the same time, it's all there. Every moment I pictured in my head, all the words, the plot.

What an amazing ride the last nine or so months have been. I've learned so much. I still feel like I have a lot to learn.

I DID IT THOUGH!! I will worry over what a mess it is later... tonight I celebrate thirty wonderful chapters written. I think I have remarked before on how much writing a novel feels like having a child. I certainly feel something like love for my book. Even if it is ugly to the rest of the world, I'm still going to cherish it. I don't expect much, and I still want honest opinions no matter how negative, but there is something special about this moment, and this work, no denying it.

And soon enough... it'll be time to start my next book!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Bear and the Bow

"The Bear and the Bow"

Once upon a time there was a Princess named Bethie. She lived in the faraway land of Emmhummm, a land of vibrant forests and beautiful lakes, ringed by mountains on three sides, and the sea on another. Princess Bethie was good at a lot of things. She excelled at archery, at horseback riding, and at hunting, but there was one thing she was rather terrible at.

Being a princess.

She loved to sneak out in the early mornings while the bakers were still warming their ovens in the castle's mighty kitchen. Bethie would steal a warm loaf of bread and sneak out barefoot into the wilderness, hair a tangled mess.

Eventually the king's men would find her, somewhere deep in the evergreens. Even as a little girl the forest was her second home, and as she grew up, she learned in secret the ways of the forest. She learned how to track deer, to climb trees, and often went swimming in some of Emmhummm's crocodile infested lakes. Meanwhile, her mother the queen struggled in vain to teach her how to be a princess.

Music, art and entertaining, a world within a world seemed to live within the castle. Servants and teachers and guests in an endless array, but Bethie had no patience for any of it. It was too small of a world, and far too stuffy.

On the morning of Bethie's nineteenth birthday she was nibbling a loaf of bread, racing through the trees, when she suddenly realized something unusual had happened.

She was lost.

The princess wandered for hours until she stumbled into a clearing she had never seen before. In the center of that clearing was a bear, a bear far larger than any the girl had ever seen before.

Bethie tried to shrink back, but the enormous bear had noticed the girl at once. "Come forth, child." The bear commanded. Bethie was many things but fearful was not among them. She stepped forward, curious.

"What sort of bear are you?" she asked.

"I am no bear! I am the prince of Danefield!" The bear replied.

"Oh," the startled girl replied. "You look a lot like a bear."

"I was turned into a bear by a wicked man with a magic bow. He launched an arrow and transformed me into this beast you see before you."

"That sounds like a tall tale to me," the girl replied.

"But a talking bear doesn't give you any trouble?" After a bit of explaining, the princess decided she ought to help the prince. Not because he was a prince, especially, but because he was a bear. He seemed a part of the peaceful forest she loved so much.

The selfish prince took her help without a second thought, and the two set off. They journeyed far, to the edge of Emmhummm, where the trees faded into snow capped mountains. There they found a smallish hut perched out upon the edge of a rocky cliff.

Princess Bethie rapped upon the door and found a leather clad hunter soon stared her in the face, a hunter with a bow and quiver strapped to his back. "What is it, little wretch?" He replied, even more gruffly than the bear-prince. Bethie did not like that at all. Then the hunter saw the bear. "Getting a lassie to fight your battles for you, eh Gerald?" The hunter asked, guffawing.

"Well, I wouldn't need to if you weren't using a magic bow to fight yours!" Gerald the bear replied.

"Perhaps you ought to turn him back..." Bethie replied, a bit uncomfortably.

"Perhaps." The hunter replied. "But he was poaching on my land, and I did as was my right! So perhaps I ought to turn you into a duck!" He began to notch an arrow to his bow, but Bethie was faster. She whipped her arm up and hit the hunter's wrist before he could fire. The arrow thudded harmlessly into the cabin's thatch ceiling, turning a bit of hay into a very surprised duckling.

Bethie slipped behind the hunter and grabbed an arrow from his quiver. She tapped it against the man's neck, and was suddenly dealing with a very irate hog dressed like a man. She quickly snatched up the bow lying on the ground and relieved the pig of his arrows. So armed, she burst from the house, and ran out into the night. She ran all the way back to her castle, taking a great deal of time to find her way back.

By the time she arrived, it was very late. The king and queen were waiting by the fire in the dining hall, hoping to hear word of their daughter's return. When she burst into the hall, filthy with mud and bear fur, they ran to greet her. But before they could, she tapped each of them with an arrow.

Soon enough, the king had become a llama, and the queen, an unexpectedly massive goose. In later years, long after Bethie had become queen, she would still wander through her beloved forest. Sometimes she would hear the sounds of a bear and a pig arguing. Sometimes she took her llama father, other times she rode upon the back of her mother goose, soaring through the air. She used the bow to rule all the land, governing fairly in most cases, although at times she was as hotheaded as one would expect a woman who had ruthlessly turned her mother into a goose might be.

Strangely enough, Bethie's mother goose became a great listener in her avian state. She took note of all the stories she heard, no matter how strange, and transformed them into nursery rhymes.

And that is how the legend of Mother Goose began.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Interim Musings


Still hard at work on chapter thirty. This final outing is going to be quite a beast. I believe this is the first chapter I've ever written that has required its own outline.

Why was an outline necessary, you ask? Well the scope of what I'm attempting is a little broader than previous chapters. I have had two to three part chapters before, but this one is five distinct parts. I actually contemplated splitting this one into three or four chapters, but I liked the idea of having everything under one banner "Lost in the House of Endless Dreaming". I love the title of chapter thirty so much, I nearly renamed the book after it.

In other news, I have become very tired of my job. Mostly because I want my job to be writing. I wake up every morning, get to work on something, then have to leave it way too soon to be at Best Buy.

I've been realizing lately I'm really out of touch with the writing world in a lot of ways. I was thinking about my favorite books from 2010, and like every year they're all Ted Dekker books. In all other ways, I'm not really keeping up with current trends at all.

I haven't decided if this is a good thing or a bad thing. I worry sometimes about my stories being seen as rip-offs of pre-existing work, through no fault of my own, simply because I didn't know this story or that already existed. But at the same time, I have no desire to be affected by what sort of stories the rest of the world is telling. I want my craft to have as little influence as possible, to create purer experience, more "me".

It's a fascinating conundrum... but in the end it's got to be a happy medium. I can't be fully sheltered from the world, nor do I entirely want to be. I love to experience others' stories, and sometimes I need them to keep me going. When I get so into a book I can't put it down... it reminds of what I'm looking for in my own stories, that breathless experience that can't be put into anything other than a carefully constructed house of words.

As I near the end of my nine month (and counting) journey writing That Hideous Slumber, I must admit sometimes I wish I could sequester myself away in some far off house on the beach. However, I'm also glad to be able to labor in coffee shops and bookstores and libraries, and my little desk in my bedroom. I am surrounded by all the things that make our daily lives what they are. Work, family, friends, 3D movies, traffic jams, crowded restaurants, netflix, mutinies, cute baristas, rebellions, personality clashes, beer, card games, misunderstandings, victories, prayers, coffee, celebrations.

All some of things that can make a story so fascinating. Little moments and details, and massive world changing events all intermingled into a ridiculously difficult to get the hang of hodgepodge that no one ever fully figures out.

The beautiful, confusing mess we call life.