For Her

The house was always silent except for his quiet and her cats. He was aware of how much he sighed, and the cats…the cats were always darting underfoot, jumping up onto the furniture, counters, and tables, and peering around corners.

Flowers and plants were everywhere. He’d told everyone to send money to her causes in lieu of flowers and that shit, but…well, here they were. Here he was.

She was always trying to get him to eat healthy. The ‘frig was lousy with salmon and salad ingredients. Sighing (but what else?), he prepared the salmon per the instructions, sharing some with the cats, who were enthusiastic in their enjoyment, and made a salmon Caesar salad and poured a glass of wine for himself. Eating, he told himself, for her, chewing and swallowing the despised flavors, washing it down with wine.

For her.

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Double Think

Seven triple four began doubting his mission. The Kazmo believed he had a special insight into where the other versions of him resided. The Kazmo were correct, although it wasn’t as easy as they perceived. The silver machines didn’t know or understand that many of his other versions were fakes. Usually existing for about fourteen minutes, triple four suspected these other versions existed to distract the Kazmo and their resources.

That fact scared triple four. If he was right, his other selves knew about the Kazmo and their project.

They probably also knew about him, too, then. But if they knew about him, it could be that the fake others might only exist in his perceptions.

What he needed was a way to figure this out. If he couldn’t, he didn’t have a reason to exist.

Laughing At Myself

I’ve been laughing at myself. When I finished the first draft of April Showers 1921, I thought, what a mess. Then I began hunting for what to do.

I found problems with structure, character motivation, pacing, story-telling… Whatever could go wrong seemed present. Very disheartening.

I began hunting fixes, slicing like a surgeon removing tumors. Draft two was finished and stalled, then three was written and discarded, followed by four. I lamented to myself, “This is like telling the history of World War II. So much happened. How do I find the right handle to it?”

That lament helped. Although I was complaining, it was true. The novel sprawled in a million directions. I needed to reduce the sprawl and improve the story.

Meanwhile, in parallel, I was reading thrillers. I was reminded of a Stephen King quote: “I showed them what can happen, and then I make them wait for it to happen again.” I’m paraphrasing. Forgive me. Maybe it wasn’t King, too, but I thought it was.

Whoever came up with that quote, it helped me sharpen my story’s focus, and tightened my grip on the sprawl.

I created some rules for myself.

  1. Head down. Focus, and stay focused. Work hard. Concentrate.
  2. Stay humble. Ride the wave. It’s a long ride, so manage your energy and emotions.
  3. Write better. Tell a better story. Sharpen your story-telling skills.

The last was revealing. I’d always concentrated on writing, putting words after words, fixing pacing and finishing novels and stories. Now, I decided that I needed to elevate my efforts and focus on being a better writer. That would hopefully result in a better story and novel.

It required hard decisions. Cut this arc. Modify that one. Tens of thousands of words were shred.

Partway through draft number seven. I think I’ve found a grip. I won’t know until I’ve finished and read it through again.

Done writing and editing like crazy for today. Time to go for a walk and let myself decompose.

The Ledge Dream

A vivid dream struck me when I was in the kitchen making my coffee this morning. Impossibly intense, I rushed into the other room to remember and record it. Honestly, I don’t know how much was dream, imagination filling in gaps, or a partially remembered television show or movie.

Following a path, I jogged through a forest of thick, tall trees, like redwood and sequoia. Mists and low gray fog kept everything cool, dark, and quiet. Something tripped me. As I fell, I tried catching myself, and spun backwards, flailing to grab anything to keep me upright. I broke into a circle of sunlight. As I wondered why that was, I heard crashing and then realized I was falling over a cliff.

Thinking that I wanted to go face first, I twisted my torso around. One foot was still on the ground. Looking ahead, I saw crashing waves. Knowing that I couldn’t go back, I shoved hard with my foot, hoping to launch myself out over the waves and away from the cliff.

A wind caught me, slamming me back into the cliff face. I hit with my left side. Grunting, I spotted a root sticking out, and lunged for it. Missing, I crashed onto rock. Pain soaked me. I couldn’t move and thought I’d surely broken many things and was on the verge of death, but the hurts subsided. When I sat up, a hard, salt-laced wind smashed my face. Squinting against it, I looked out over a sunlit body of gray water. I thought, Pacific.

It looked like late afternoon. I was on a flat ledge about twenty feet long and eight feet wide. Past it was a sheer drop to the riotous sea hundreds of feet below. Placing it against my knowledge of heights from working in a tall building, I guessed I was about fifteen stories high. The top from which I’d fallen was about twenty feet above my head. I wondered if I could climb back up there. I didn’t think I’d survive or be rescued if I stayed where I was. I’d been traveling alone. Nobody was expecting me. No one would miss me for days. My car was parked at least a mile away because I’d been walking and running, enjoying the cool, fresh air. I hadn’t seen anyone else.

I stood. Growing fierce, the wind knocked me back into the cliff. I worried that I was going to be blown off the ledge and looked for something to hold onto. That’s when I saw a body on the ledge’s other end. After some time to stomach the thought, I approached it enough steps to see that they’d been dead a while and was mostly decayed. From the flapping remnants of clothing and hair, and the jewelry I noticed, I took it to be a white woman with graying red hair.

Wondering if she’d fallen as I had, I crept closer. She was dressed in a sheer, flowering orange and yellow skirt, white blouse, and tannish jacket. Dark spots blotted her clothes like a Rorschach test. One shoe was missing. A pair of broken sunglasses were beside her head. I thought that she’d been bloodied when she’d fallen, but it was also possible that she’ been killed first and tossed over the side. Both ideas disturbed me.

I didn’t see any purse or wallet. I didn’t think there’d be identification in her clothes. I didn’t want to look. The wind blew her clothes around. I avoided seeing her too closely.

Moving back and flattening against the cliff, I checked myself for injuries. I had none. Checking the cliff above me again, I saw roots sticking out. I didn’t trust them. I’d tried using roots to climb hills before. They tend to snap off without warning. If that happened, I’d probably end up in the sea. I didn’t think I’d survive the fall.

I didn’t want to stay there. I had to find a way to get out of there. Hunting toe and hand holds, I started to climb, and then saw an irregularity in the cliff above the body. Reluctant to get too close to her, I slipped toward the space and saw that it looked like a mud-splattered door. I stood, looking at the door, and then the body, thinking how strange a door in that cliff was, growing almost certain, given its placement, that the body’s existence there was related to the door. A door meant a building, though. I hadn’t seen any buildings above. If there was a building, it was underground.

The setting sun had gone behind a fog bank on the horizon. It was going to get dark soon and already nippier. The wind was a constant, growling force.

I was in a quandary. I didn’t want to stay on the ledge. I didn’t think I could climb up the cliff in the dark. I might be able to reach the door, but the body’s presence made me dubious about using the door. Forced to move because of the dimming light, bolder and more desperate, I went over to the door, regarded it. Its bottom was level with my head. What looked like iron handles thrust in cement were to the door’s right side, leading up from the ledge. The iron was old and rusted. Some holds were missing or twisted and broken.

Lacking choices, I said good-bye to the woman, promising her that I’d lead others to her, and struggled up the holds. They were narrow, cut into my hands, and were too small for my feet. The wind had worsened and was screaming in my ears. My fingers were numbed with cold. I was sure that if I let go, I was done. I kept telling myself, “Don’t let go, don’t let go.”

Getting my shoulders even with the handle, I contorted myself to get a grip on it. Glancing down, I gaped into the growing dusk.

The woman was gone. I thought, the wind must have blown her off. I didn’t know if that was possible, but what else could have happened?

Up close, I could tell the door was metal. Holding onto the handle with one hand, I banged on it with the other. I barely heard the noise over the wind. I turned the handle. It went easily, but I couldn’t pull it open. Either the handle didn’t work, or the wind was keeping it closed.

That’s where memory ended, with me hanging onto the handle as darkness fell and a salty wind assaulting me. In reflection, I wondered about how much of this felt like a metaphor for my life, that I felt like I’d arrived somewhere by accident, and was now trapped, without choices.

Or, maybe, it was just a half-remembered television show or movie, infused into my imagination and dreams.

A Bit in the System

I was reflecting on my Air Force command and control past today. 

We’d begun moving into the small computer age back in the early 1980s. The Air Force — and the Defense Department — were being cautious. Locally, we realized that much of the repetitive, manual entries we did on logs, messages, and grease boards, along with the phone calls used to relay information, could be done via computers. We began visualizing and flow-charting the entire process. Military Airlift Command (MAC), which had operational control over us, said, no. Don’t. Stop.

At my next assignment, with Tactical Air Command (TAC), a young major had begun computerizing the mission flows. He was manually doing it himself. Watching him, I began asking questions about why he wasn’t doing this and that, which led to me taking over what he was doing. He and I had a lot of fun working on that. Five years and two assignments later, I was in Europe with a small flying unit. They had begun using computers to do some of the stuff I’d wanted to do. As soon as I saw it, I maneuvered to get involved.

They were happy as hell to let me. Controlled by the J-4 and J-5 Directorates of JCS, with input and oversight from the National Reconnaissance Organization (NRO) and NSA, USAFE didn’t care what I did. Locally, several officers were being advised that small computers were the future and were starting to take computer programming classes, but most weren’t familiar with them, so the commander and DO told me, “Go for it.”

So I did. By the time that I left four years later, other offices in my unit had enlisted my help, as did other units on base, asking me to share all the stuff I’d done with my small computers to automate and correlate information. My trend to incorporate computers continued with my next assignments with Space Command.

This all came to mind via “60 Minutes” and Crucible last night. “60 Minutes” featured a segment on Artificial Intelligent (AI). Crucible, a James Rollins thriller that I’m reading, features Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) as part of the plot. I ended up thinking back to the MAC days and how and what robots could do. With scenes from WarGames flashing through my head, I visualized all those messages, reports, and phone calls associated with mission profiles, aircraft configurations and repairs, and mission execution, and how computers and robots could augment or replace humans.

It’s intriguing to think about. After a twenty years-plus career, I’ve been out of the military for over twenty years. They may have come to grips with many of the ideas I considered and the inherent obstacles.

Somehow, I doubt it. The military has always lagged behind for much of that, preferring to spend their annual funds to modernize weapon systems, if possible. You never know, though; those in charge have now grown up with computers as part of the digital age. My thinking would probably amuse them because they’ve gone so far past that. Oh, to be a bit in the system and overhear what’s going on.

Well, actually, I guess that’s what I was: a bit in the system.

Beneath the Surface

Heat, humidity, and the long day induced weariness. Sitting on a bench in city hall’s shadow, he looked across the plaza. The crowds were thinning. Most of the holiday action was drifting into the restaurants or up into the park proper.

A middle-aged blonde woman danced with a child on the plaza stones. Each was dressed in purple and white clothes, and laughed, twirling their clothes as they spun around.

Deeply inhaling to swallow sad memories, he smiled. Sean’s passing had ripped his marriage apart. After the divorce, he’d remarried, but he’d never had another child. There’d been two, but both were gone. Sean was the end. He missed the laughter and movement that a child brought to a scene.

###

“Dance, mommy, dance,” Laurel shouted. Laughing, Melany recalled her childhood dance lessons and pretended to be a ballerina. After applauding, Laurel mimicked her movements.

Melany caught a glimpse of the man on the edge of her vision. Sitting on a bench, he looked like he might be drunk. She didn’t like the way he stared at them, like a predator. 

Pretending she was out of breath, she collected Laurel. “Come on, honey. We’d better go find the others and get something to eat. Are you hungry? Do you want something to eat?”

“Yes, I am hungry.” Laurel took her hand and began marching away with giant steps.  “Come on, walk like this.”

Giving the man one final dirty look over her shoulder, Melany followed her daughter to safety as the man finally looked away.

The Course of Love

He was pleased to be going out with her. He’d met her at the coffee shop. She was a barista, and he was a regular. Three years older than her, it turned out. She was a student in her final year. He’d just graduated and was taking some time off in the area. Her eyes, gleaming jade and almond-shaped, felt like a laser cutting through him when she looked at him. She is it, he thought, with a wildly hammering heart. It turned out she was very funny and intelligent, studying English Literature, with plans, she said, “To be a CEO.”

They went to Louie’s for dinner, a safe place, none too romantic, with plans to zip over to Aqua to hear LEFT and dance after dinner — “We’ll see,” they told one another” — but then, sitting opposite him, laughing as she brushed a strand back off her face with a thumb — isn’t that endearing? — and her nails lack polish or gel, interesting! — he looked down at the table. She put her hands down, palms first, on the table, moments later.

She was speaking, but it was like light and sound left the room. Her hands on the table looked like giant spiders with long, slender legs. Thereafter, he couldn’t look at her without seeing her hands and noticing their resemblance to spiders. He didn’t understand at all, but it made him physically ill. It was easy to tell her, “I’m sorry, but I think we might need to call it a night. I’m not feeling well.” Then, as if his body felt that his declaration needed validated, he slapped a hand over his mouth, raced to the bathroom, and violently puked.

Looking at himself in the mirror as he washed up, he wondered, why? Perhaps he’d been drugged.

The next day, he went in for his usual coffee. She served him, concerned about the previous evening. He couldn’t look at her. All he saw were her spider hands. When he saw them, he immediately felt like he was going to be sick. Sighing, he left without drinking his coffee. He’d need to find another coffee shop.

It all saddened him. He’d liked that coffee shop, and he thought he loved that woman. A few days later, at The Roasting Company, he met another young woman. He felt madly in love with her, which shocked him – what kind of fool was he, falling in love so quickly and easily? – and he was leery of dating after spider hands, but she asked him out, telling him with a smile that he thought as intriguing as Mona Lisa’s, “Don’t worry. You’re in my hands now. I’ll take care of you.”

Her words startled him. He wondered if there was connection, but then dismissed it as silly, and accepted with pleasure.

The Disconnect

He walked through the neighborhoods of circa 1940 and 1950 bungalows and craftsman houses. The newer neighborhoods were ranches built in the 1960s and 1970s, larger houses with smaller yards.

Throughout were large oak, sycamore, and maple trees, along with cars and RVs filled with belongings parked up against the curbs. Some cars had people sleeping inside. Others had windows or doors open with people lounging by their vehicles, smoking cigarettes, talking to others, listening to music, or reading books.

Churches occupied every third block, churches with an acre or more of vast asphalt for parking with signs stating, “Church Use Only. All Others Will Be Towed.” 

Somehow, seeing those cars and RVs of homeless parked on the streets and the vast empty church parking lots, he thought there was a disconnect, but he just couldn’t connect it.

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