New Boy

The words weren’t what he wanted to hear. “Your son was in a terrible accident,” the doctor said. “Steven has suffered extensive injuries.”

He stared at the woman, Indian and young, attempting to assess her abilities. Beside him, his wife was hiccuping with sobs. New tears ran down her face. He didn’t know where they came from. He was certain she was cried dry, but no, here were more.

“I’m afraid we’re declaring him medically challenged,” the doctor said next.

That drew his attention.

The doctor said, “I have no choice, Mister Ryan. Your insurance dictates it.”

“What’s that mean?” he said, as his wife echoed, “Medically challenged?”

“Well, to be crude, Mister Ryan, Missus Ryan,” the doctor said, “and use a coarse analogy, if your son was a car, he’d be declared totaled, because it’s cheaper to write him off and give you a check to have him remade.”

Words exploded. He was talking. His wife was talking. The doctor was backtracking and attempting to explain and placate.

It didn’t seem like he heard anything, not even himself. He was saying, “My son is not a fucking car, my son is not a fucking car.” He didn’t know what was coming out.

Then he and his wife were holding one another, shaking and crying, a scene in the hospital. He held her warmth and tried pouring strength into her, but his strength was evaporating.

The doctor said, “It’s not as you think.”

He couldn’t believe she said that. He said, “What?”

Reacting with a speed she’d never exhibited before, his wife lunged for the doctor. Catching her, he held onto her. Her body felt like steel. She dragged him forward. She was saying something, but tear-filled and high-pitched, he couldn’t understand her.

“Heather, Heather,” he said. “Calm down, calm down.”

A foot shorter than him and fifty pounds lighter, Heather dragged him forward. He was forced to lift her until her feet were off the ground. That was the only way to stop her.

“Let me go,” Heather said, “let me go.”

Security showed up.

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Ryan said.

The doctor waved security away. A young nurse beside the doctor held a folder out. The nurse looked Indian, too. Were there no white people in medicine any more?

The doctor said, “This package explains everything. You can contest your insurance company and keep your son alive, but unfortunately, not in this hospital. He will need to be moved to another facility. In the meantime, if we harvest his organs, you can make more than enough money to pay off the expected costs, and your policy permits you to keep all the profits.”

“You are sick,” he said. He put his wife down, but held onto her. “You’re all sick.”

“And if you start right away, your son can be done here in five days.”

His wife fell still. “Five days?” Heather said.

He let go of her. “What’s that mean, exactly?”

“You will be able to take your son home in five days,” the doctor said.

“That doesn’t explain anything,” he said. “What’s it mean?”

“It’s explained in these package we’ve prepared for you,” the doctor said.

“I’m asking you,” Ryan said. “What’s it mean?”

The doctor sighed. “It means we’ll grow you a fresh boy, Mister Ryan. He will look and act exactly like your son, Steve. He will be a new boy, for all purposes, but he will be Steve’s age.”

“Like a clone?” Heather said.

“Yes, basically,” the doctor said. “He will have Steve’s knowledge and memories, of course, and the skill levels, talents, and abilities that he exhibited before, but he will have a new body.”

“How?” Ryan said.

“He’s been monitored his entire life, and we have his DNA map,” the doctor said. “So we will grow it. Steven’s teachers have faithfully filled out all required quarterly reports, with videos, and all his test results. You’re lucky that your son is in such a good school system. We also have all his social media records. So we can fully analyze all aspects of his personality and life.”

As he was thinking about what the doctor was saying, and what it meant, his wife said, “Can you…change things?”

“Changes are possible,” the doctor said. “They’re extra, of course, and it depends on what you have in mind.”

“Well, he was always a little slow,” Heather said, with a glance at her husband.

“And can we make him taller?” he said. “Steve’s always been one of the shortest kids in his class. It’d be nice if he was a few inches taller.”

“Of course.” The doctor made a gesture. The nurse made a call. A man in a suit appeared. He was white.

“This is Gary,” the doctor said.

“Hi, Mister Ryan,” Gary boomed, putting his hand out. As Ryan and Gary vigorously shook, Gary said, “I’m sorry about your loss,” and the doctor said, “Gary is a medical sales technician. He’ll walk you through your options and costs.”

As Gary shook hands with Heather, Ryan said, “Thank you, doctor.”

Smiling, the doctor said, “You’re welcome.” She walked away as Gary said, “Let’s go to somewhere quiet. There’s a Starbucks in the hospital. Would you like some coffee or tea?”

“I’d love some coffee,” Ryan said. “It’s been a long night.” His eyes were bright.

A new son. A new boy.

Science was fucking amazing.

Sunday’s Theme Music

Burton Cummings and the Guess Who were an impressive group. After making it in their home nation of Canada, they hit the international scene. We loved them in America, with songs like “American Woman,” “Bus Rider,” “Undun,” “No Time Left for You,” and several enjoyable albums. Cummings went on to a solo career, and the band broke up. Out of that rose Bachmann-Turner Ovedrive (BTO), also a successful band.

But one Guess Who offering started streaming in me head last night. “Hang On to Your Life” ends with some verses from Psalm 22. It used to amuse me to tell others these verses. I selected this song today, though, because I thought it was a good song to end 2017.

The Pacing

So here I am, forced to pace around the coffee shop again, because I can’t keep up with the speed of thinking and typing. Words are firing at me like a Gatling gun is at work.

I’m writing the third book of the Incomplete States trilogy, and I love its direction, but then my mind snaps back to book two, and I think, I need to add this, this, and this to book two.

That’s when I’m set into pacing in an effort to separate thinking about the two books, and organize thoughts and define changes to the plots and arcs. I catch glimpses. That’s sufficient for now, because I know that I can walk away, and let my brain work on it, and when I come back, it’ll provide answers and directions about what I need to do and how to go about it

Now, though, done. Spent. I want to keep writing, but I understand that I must balance that enjoyment and activity with the rest of living and being. So, time to stop writing like crazy.

For now.

Sue and Me

I haven’t personally known many published, established, successful writers.

There was Maya Angelou, met at a conference in San Francisco one year. Larry Niven, met at a computer conference in Europe while I was in the military. And there’s Ellen Sussman, met at a writing conference in Fort Ord, California, one year.

Then there are Lawrence Block, Orson Scott Card, and Sue Grafton. I met each of them in different years at writing workshops in Yellow Springs, Ohio. I enjoyed conversations with each, but especially Sue Grafton. “F is For Fugitive,” and “G is for Gumshoe,” were out and doing well, along with the earlier books in her series.

Doing well. Hah, what a cliche to portray that the books were on the New York Times bestseller list.

I was living in the dorms for that writing conference. I’d brought a bottle of white wine with me from Germany. Sue and I ended up at the same table in the dining room, and I shared my bottle with her. She’d just signed a big publishing deal. Her happiness and excitement were delightful to behold.

It was like that with Ellen Sussman, years later. She and Sue were fresh from the effort of trying for years to break through when I met them. As each put it at that time, “I’m living the writer’s dream.”

You know how encouraging that is to a writer striving for that dream? Yes, if you’re in any of the arts, you probably know full well the effort of struggling alone on your personal trek, wrestling with your demons and chasing your muse. There’s little encouragement. People often know you as that oddball who comes in with their computer or notebook and sits at a table, drinking coffee and scribbling or typing. Or you toil in secret, not daring to let light shine on your dreams of figuring out what’s in your head and spitting out stories and novels. Few know; fewer encourage.

All of these writers are met understood it, and were gracious and humbled by what they’d achieved, but Sue and Ellen were closer to it. The fire of struggle and the joy of catching fire still burned bright when I met them. I was happy to follow their success as it developed in the subsequent years.

I haven’t seen Sue since meeting her that year decades ago, except in newspapers, magazines, and on television. But her enthusiasm and determination helped me push to keep going and going, to never give up. There will be setbacks and diversions, and demands that can’t be refused, but if your dream is strong, you need to feed it and keep it burning, and keep going. It’s not over until you give up. That’s what I learned from her.

I’ve seen it in other writers, ones who I haven’t met, but whose story I still know. John Scalzi. Andy Weir. Kathryn Stockett. Lisa Genova.

It can happen. Just don’t give up.



The Dare

It was such a small matter.

He said, “I’m going to go check the mail.” Musing about his phrasing, he reached for his shoes. He was not “checking the mail,” he was getting the mail. Odd, they always said, “Check the mail.” Where had that originated?

She said, “I dare you to go like that.”

Stopping, he looked at her. “Like what?”

“In your socks.”

He thought a moment. “Without shoes?”


“What will you give me?”

As she considered her answer, he considered the temperature. It was thirty-five, but it was dry. “Okay,” he said.

She grinned. “You’re an idjit.”

Yes, he agreed, without speaking, leaving the house. It felt odd to be in his socks, walking on the sidewalk and up the asphalt street, different from being barefoot. His feet seemed to make a different side.

The cats followed him, of course. He saw several neighbors, of course. He waved and nodded to them. He didn’t know if they noticed he was wearing socks but not shoes. What did it matter?

It was a small matter, but it felt so very good.

In the Wings

She waited, not moving, listening for her cue as time moved forward. She was still outside, hanging on against the churning energy within her.

“If people saw inside me,” she said to herself, “they would see raging seas with towering, thundering waves and almost continual lightning and thunder. If people saw inside me, they would be awed. Many would be afraid. But those who knew, who were stronger — ”

The countdown shunted her thinking aside. She listened as the ball dropped. Then, as they shouted, “Happy New Year,” she strutted out, the first female year ever, passing the poor old year as he shuffled out, bent and wrinkled, bearded and male, off to the Home of the Old Years. She would be there in one year — the first female there, too — but one year was a lot of time.

Time enough to make some changes, fix some wrongs, and establish some new rights.

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