Beside the Mississippi Sea, Part 1

This is a story from the Dust & Cannibals universe. I hope you enjoy it.

A photo by Conrad Ziebland. unsplash.com/photos/agE97zp_Xvo

“Start, you sorry sucker. Start!” Steve snarled at his computer screen, pounding his fist on the desk. The computer did not respond. The reason was all around him in the dark newsroom. Electricity had been off before, but this was different. The power hadn’t switched off. It just slowly died away. It might not come back this time.

A shaft of light shocked the darkness. It wasn’t electricity, and with the brightness came a grunt and a bang as the steel door unwillingly opened. The late morning sun outlined his boss in the doorway.

“Deadline!” Jerry bellowed across the dim newsroom.

Steve was the only one there. Other than the sweet nothings whispered to his computer, the newsroom had been silent as well as dark until then. A normal volume would have done nicely.

“I love deadlines, boss. They make the neatest sound as they go past. My story only needs power and ten minutes to complete.”

“I need results, not excuses. You’ll never see power again. Furthermore, we’re out of time. I got you a new word processor and a new assignment. Get your butt out here. We’re going for a ride.”

Steve followed Jerry out of the building. They were the only ones around. With no power, there was no point in turning off the lights. Jerry crossed the parking lot in long strides toward an unfamiliar car.

“What’s the story about this new ride, boss?” Steve asked, opening the door.

“It had a full gas tank and ran. What other selling points could you imagine?”

Steve’s attention derailed as he stared at the passenger seat. On it was a two-inch loose-leaf binder, holding about a ream of paper.

“Is this the word processor?” Steve sputtered. “It’s more like a stale joke.”

“There were newspapers a long time before computers, typewriters, or electricity. A pocket inside the cover has pens and pencils. You have your choice of weapons. Quit running your mouth. Get in. Now.”

As they drove across the parking lot, Steve cleared his throat. “New car. Office supplies. How did you get all that when money is worthless?”

“I used an old-fashioned method known as an IOU. We need to get back to your assignment. It is investigative journalism. Find somebody who knows what’s going on. Pick that person’s brain in detail.”

“Where would I find anybody like that? You’re the only person I’ve seen lately.”

“I am the person you want. Rejoice! You have the exclusive on the ultimate in breaking stories. It deals with the entire human race. By the way, the interview will be at the top of the grain elevator.”

“Why go there? I thought they shut down.”

“That might be grist for your interview, boy genius. Nobody being home in our fair city might be connected. Don’t forget about bunking in the newspaper offices. Queries about what nature is doing to us would follow. There are also wars, rumors of war, governments not governing, and money with no value.”

 

They roared past the Amtrak station toward downtown. A couple of cars sat at odd angles in the middle of the street. Jerry swung around them, veering into the oncoming traffic lane. Steve braced himself and clenched his teeth even though they were the only traffic moving. The situation was unnatural. Nevertheless, Jerry repeated it several times through the downtown area. His boss neither slowed nor checked for traffic, driving like a skier running a slalom. It was like he saw the devil in his rear view mirror. Where Main Street went under the highway approach to the Mississippi River bridge, Steve saw cars partially embedded in concrete barriers above them. Fragments from cars and concrete scattered all over the street, giving more interesting objects to avoid.

A few moments later, they arrived at the monster grain elevator. It was nearly a century old and still the tallest structure in town. Jerry drove to the side facing the river, screeching to a stop, and grabbing his radio from the back seat.

“Come on. Don’t forget your journal,” Jerry specified as he bolted for the door. Steve, mystified, did as his boss ordered, and followed Jerry into the dark interior, characterized by a lot of massive timbers.

“This way!” Steve heard, and went in the direction of the voice. He found Jerry standing on a sort of platform. Jerry vigorously motioned to Steve with his arm.

“Climb on, put your journal on the floor, and pull the rope. No, the other one.”

The antique elevator jerked upward. “Faster. Do it faster,” Jerry urged.

Steve grabbed the rope as far up as he could reach, pulling it downward as hard as he could. At the same time, he reached up with his other hand for his next grip. His hands got rope burns, and his shoulders ached, but Jerry wouldn’t let him slow down. Finally, they reached the top, and Steve’s arms were shaking. The moment he managed to get the platform reasonably close to the top floor, Jerry stepped off briskly, radio in hand. Steve picked up his looseleaf binder and played puppy dog.

They were at one end of a very long gallery, massive conveyors extending into the distance. Every timber bore cuts, nicks, and gouges from generations of workers manhandling parts and pieces. A series of windows on either side of the gallery let in filtered light. A massive pile of bottled water and rations was against the wall. A couple of cots with sleeping bags rolled up on them were nearby.

Writing Prompts: Dragnet

Making a single tale from three unrelated lines must be a crime.

crime-scene-cop-car

Our writing group is currently using writing prompts to promote creativity and imagination. At a recent meeting, we got the following three prompts:
1. It started with a fire which a lot of things do. Not usually a microwave fire but still.
2. I’m sure that sounded different in your head but please never say that again.
3. Keep your morals away from me.

The assignment was to write something using one of the three lines. I’ve taken it as a personal challenge to craft a bit of flash fiction using all of them.

These are the writing prompts. I lifted the opening from Dragnet. I am a writer.

It was Saturday, September 11. It was hot in the city. We were working homicide. A call came in about a suspicious death. At the residence, the individual who called it in was in the front yard. He left the front door open. Inside, the body of Joe Holland was in a recliner, frozen into a block of ice. His wife was sitting at the kitchen island eating a bowl of quinoa salad while reading a romance novel. She finally glanced up at us.
“What do you need?” she asked.
“We just need the facts, ma’am. How did Joe get frozen like that?”
She glanced at the body and shrugged. “It started with a fire which a lot of things do. Not usually a microwave fire but still.”
My partner and I exchanged glances. “What does a microwave fire have to do with a man freezing?”
She put the book down then. “As you know, there is only so much heat in the universe. When the microwave caught fire, it had to take the heat from somewhere. My husband, being the least active object in the area, was the obvious target.”
“I’m sure that sounded different in your head but please never say that again.”
The woman shook her head. “You asked for the facts. I gave them to you. Our neighbor with a Ph.D. in physics who flunked out of common sense no doubt called you. Do me a favor. Keep your morals away from me.”
I was trying to decide whether to arrest her or call for a psychiatric evaluation when we heard something in the living room. A moment later, Joe Holland wandered into the kitchen. I saw moisture and flakes of ice dropping from him.
“I need a beer and some chips,” he said. “Who turned off the television, anyhow? By the way, you left the front door open.”

The Unread Writer 10.05: Home for Good

There are two words at the bottom of this file: The End. That must mean everything got explained. I hope you enjoyed it.

The Unread Writer

“Mary, I’m home.”

“You’re always here. So what’s new?”

“This time I think I’m here for good. That’s what’s new.”

“How’s that?”

“I was apparently a bit more conscious than the doctors thought. They were standing around the bed speculating about whether I had so much as a half hour’s life left in me.”

“Well, your real world body is ninety-seven. You’re already quite a bit older than any of your family ever got. You also surpassed everything that your relatives even thought about.”

“I guess the question is whether I wrote myself well enough to get by now.”

“You’ve already had conversations with characters you spent a whole lot less time developing. They’re still around. What I’m wondering is whether we’ll now be visible to the folks down in the village. At the moment, there’s another question I have for you.”

“What would that be?”

“Okay, you seem pretty confident your real-world body must have breathed its last. What makes you think it only just now happened?”

That stopped Brian cold. “Say again?”

“How would you know if you expired while you were out on your walk that day I advised you to work out a real-world scenario? For instance, you might have had a heart attack and died about the time you thought you were simply a bit dizzy.”

“That would mean my trip through purgatory was more than figurative. It would also mean that I’m still an unread writer.” Brian came to a full stop at that point, blinked, opened his mouth and shut it again. Mary just looked at him placidly.

“Are you giving me a possibility to chew on, or are you telling me something that happened?”

“Perhaps I’m giving you a new hint about a plot line. Why don’t you work on it a little? It sounds like you already are. Take your time. With your real body no longer needing your attention, you’ve got all the time you need. Whatever you decide will be the truth. Whatever tales you concoct at this point will have absolutely no impact on what you knew as the real world. So now you can be purely a writer. Whatever you need, you already have. You’ve become the Olympian deity. When you can tell tales, who cares about creatures who sling thunderbolts or cause earthquakes and volcanic eruptions?”

“You would then be the muse of the gods. Would that a promotion for you?”

Mary shrugged. “Gods come. Gods go.”

“Where do gods go?”

“Any damn place they want. What do you do when you get tired of writing a particular story?”

“I mumble a while. Then something happens to let me break through the story line. If nothing else, I work on another project. Sometimes, I come back to it later.”

“See? There you go. What makes you think Zeus could stay content forever on top of Mt. Olympus, doing the odd thunderbolt? What will happen when you tire of Kauai and me, my love?”

“Hmm. I see your point. It’s one thing to promise forever when everything ends. It’s another thing altogether to figure out what to do when forever becomes the basis of the situation. On the other hand, my love, we would now appear to have plenty of time to make certain we’re doing the right thing.”

“Are you going to continue writing your stories?”

“I don’t know why not. Of course, there’s a larger question: Since nobody reads or enjoys my tales, I must still be the unread writer.”

Mary shook her head as she grinned. “Your readership is the universe. It always has been. Didn’t you know that?”

The End

The Unread Writer 10.04: Writing for a Living

Brian publishes lots of books. Offers for movies roll in. Something is not right. Maybe things are not what they seem.

The Unread Writer

‘Pigs’ and ‘Remnant’ ramped up the pace noticeably. Brian already wrote the manuscripts for ‘Battles’ and ‘Trains’ by the time ‘Pigs’ came out, courtesy of the fact that only a tenth of his time occurred in the place most people considered real.

That meant publication of the series became a matter of timing, rather than production. Sales expanded at a high rate, and real movie producers were sniffing around. Brian, Mary, and Hannah discussed the situation in depth. Everybody agreed they should hold off on committing to any project like that until the series of books was complete, or at least close. One point was the likelihood that it would be far more than one movie. Television series were also a possibility.

Also in the real world, Brian and Mary moved onto a secluded estate, more because of a strange public concept that so much popularity and money needed a mansion.

In case that wasn’t enough excitement, Hannah, and her husband decided to create a refuge or love nest up the ridge from Brian and Mary, and they were there quite a lot. It seemed to be doing them a lot of good. They had both settled on apparent ages in their early twenties, so that when they were together, the four looked like they might have just graduated from college. The fact was, however, that nobody could see them. One major activity of the foursome was to visit Brian’s different world lines to discuss what they might publish next.

After extensive tours, discussion, and reflection, Ne-At Hlan came up as the next series they would do. Brian had originally thought of it as a single novel, but after seeing the current series and its story arc, Hannah eventually convinced him that there needed to be multiple volumes, each going into the characters more deeply. With this in mind, he began to do some outlines aimed at expanding the original. Hannah reminded him frequently that his first obligation was to complete the first series, however, so Brian worked toward that a bit more. While anything others did to promote his work ethic helped, Brian maintained a personal conviction that there was lots of time to do it.

His lack of motivation did not slow the project noticeably. Brian pushed ahead with the Dust project and did a draft of ‘Escape,’ followed by the series climax, ‘Beginning.’ With the story arc complete, Hannah read through them. After that, she went back and read the entire series for continuity, closure, character, and other items. His publisher brought up a lot of points, both in the real world and in Kauai. It confirmed a sneaking suspicion in Brian’s mind that Hannah worked at publishing at her refuge, even if she maintained additional family time. All the comments kept Brian busy, crafting paragraphs and pages that he always hoped would answer the current objection without creating several more problems. At last, Hannah thought everything was as it should be, and told Brian he should proceed with Ne-At Hlan.

Ne-At Hlan began with ‘Sport,’ which expanded on the first several chapters in the original. For this, Brian began visiting his world line in person to keep himself straight. It became a major tool since he could write a scene, or even just think of a scene, and then visit it. It was something like a movie director being able to film a scene, and then review that specific piece to see if it worked. Except, of course, that no movie director was going to be allowed to go back and completely rewrite the script simply because the background wasn’t exactly right.

Moving ahead nearly nonstop, Brian completed three more volumes in the series before ‘Battles’ was released. Whenever he gave interviews to the media, the questions invariably had to do with the current series. One reporter managed to set Brian back a couple of notches, however. The question seemed simple enough. “Brian, what do you plan on doing when the book series is complete?”

After a moment, Brian just smiled and replied, “Well, write, I guess.” It turned out the reporter was fishing for a response about the possibility of a series of movies based on the books, but it seemed like the best answer, and the quick consensus was that Brian should use it as his standard reply in such cases.

The Unread Writer 10.03: Novel Ages

Brian’s writing becomes an empire. He lets his publisher and her husband into the secret of his happiness and health. At the same time, since the publisher is his own literary creation, why didn’t he just rewrite her part?

The Unread Writer

Not long after ‘Pigs’ appeared, Brian started to notice that people with nothing to do with the books already published wanted to share in the wealth. Lawsuits started showing up on one pretext or another. In almost all cases, the fact that they had no merit was apparent at the outset, and most were thrown out. Whatever the situation, however, Brian found himself having to acquire lawyers to fend off the swine, as well as accountants to handle the financial situation.

Brian Fuller was rapidly becoming an industry unto himself. He had no intention of allowing himself to get distracted by all the nuts and bolts of the business. Eventually, Brian hired a manager. At the same time, he brought auditors on board to make sure everyone was doing what he hired them to perform. He did not want employees trying to become partners in the enterprise or helping themselves to the profits. Surplus funds were coming in at such a pace as to require an actual strategy that maximized the benefit of the books and minimized the problems, among which, taxes now loomed rather large on the horizon. Brian swiftly came to understand why many authors and others moved to other countries.

The third volume in the series, ‘Remnant,’ was complete and sent to Blain Publishing. Brian had become a partner in the publishing house. One of the plans was to bring the printing in-house. That was to get better control over quality and information. They brought in some additional talent to allow Hannah some time off, which seemed to be a large part of her marital difficulties. Among other aspects of this shake-up was the need to obtain a facility for a printing plant. They found a location in Wichita, Kansas, taking over a former aviation service. Key factors in the decision included the central location, transportation, and extensive security provisions already existing on site.

Another significant change was when Hannah moved the headquarters out onto Long Island, nearer home. While most of the staff worked off-site, a number wanted to go to a physical office every day or periodically. The facility selected afforded everyone sufficient work area. It cost less than the smaller office in the city although there was the consideration of prestige. Brian, Mary, and Hannah discussed the situation at length, and the final decision was that a publishing house associated with successful books would probably have all the prestige needed to attract more top-end authors.

With all the distractions and commotion, it was a good thing Brian and Mary spent most of their time recuperating. Obviously, it didn’t look that way to the real world, where their extended periods of time in Kauai was not only unknown but unknowable. Hannah Blain, on the other hand, was becoming increasingly worn in spite of what anyone could do. It appeared she had aged about ten years in the last several months, to the point that she now looked older than Brian and Mary. One time, somebody even asked Hannah’s husband if she was his mother.

Brian set to work on ‘Reality,’ and wrote in a piece about how he was going to bring Hannah and her husband to Kauai. Getting it done was anything but straightforward, and required about a month (Kauai time) of writing and rewriting to get everything just right. Finally, though, the Fullers invited Mr. & Mrs. Blain to go out with them for the evening. About nine p.m., they brought the Blains up to their room, the excuse being to show them something. That was the case, of course, but more to the point, the Blains would need a place to stay for the time they were in the Islands.

Part of his ‘Reality’ dealt with the Blains ages. For this run, he made them the age they were when he’d first met them. There would be enough confusion without getting into other issues at this point. Once he had them seated, he handed each of them a copy of ‘Reality.’ That was the indicator, or mystic sign, or whatever one might want to consider it, for them to move to Kauai. Brian and Mary became young right before their eyes, and as they gaped, their surroundings became the house on Kauai.

“You have been asking and wondering how we manage to do everything without ever appearing tired. Well, this is it. We spend about a week here for every day we spend in the real world. We spend the time here in these young bodies, and some of the feelings of these young bodies make it way back to our Earthbound bodies. If somebody were to look into the hotel room right now, they’d simply see the four of us sitting there, and with you two looking at the manuscript.”

“How did you find this place?” Hannah wanted to know.

“I didn’t find it. I created it. Every time I write something in the ‘Reality’ manuscript, I am creating something. We are on Kauai, by the way, but it isn’t anyplace you could find if you were to fly there. This house is on a Kauai where Captain Cook never arrived. For that matter, the Tahitians never got here either. The prevailing winds and seas prevent it. The Europeans never got into the Americas, other than the Vikings. This place is my private universe, and I make the rules as they suit me.”

“You are the god of this world.”

Brian grinned. ”That’s probably so, but no more than any author. What you see now is just a case of where I find reality. For instance, ‘Dust’ is a real place, too. Speaking of reality, what age would the two of you like to be in this reality while we’re here?”

“You mean like how old a person would be if they didn’t know how old they were?”

Mary cut in. “Not exactly. At what age were you physically at your peak? When could you work all day, play all night, and not wait to do it again the next day?”

Hannah stared at her. “Is that how you two came up with the way you look?”

Brian shook his head. “There was nothing as precise as that. This just sort of worked out.” He walked over to his computer. “I want you to imagine what physical age you would like to be. Mentally, you’ll still know everything you do now.” He paused. “To make things easier, I’m going to imagine I know what your answers are. I’m will also write that I know what you looked like at that age, and I’m going to update ‘Reality.'”

When he looked up, Hannah and Kyle, her husband were looking at each other with large eyes. Physically, they now appeared to be in their twenties.

The Unread Writer 10.02: Release of ‘Pigs’

Brian’s writing turns into an empire. Are things going too smoothly? There is no way he could still be the unread writer. Is there?

The Unread Writer

It was a while before Brian talked to Hannah again. After all, she did have other books to represent and sell, not to mention other authors. He also knew she had to keep the printers moving fast enough to fill all the back orders, and with sufficient quality to meet her standards, kept her quite busy. There was also the small matter of her home life to consider. All of this suited Brian. Between the trip to England and the three book signings, he had enough funds to ensure the bills got paid for quite a while.

They found, too, that their real world bodies didn’t need to eat a whole lot. At the same time, their Kauai bodies were living quite well, thank you. As such, the amount of food they needed to purchase in the real world was minimal. The two of them settled into something approaching a schedule. They would be active in their real world bodies for about twelve hours, following which they lived in Kauai (or elsewhere) for about seven days, following all kinds of interests. Brian’s primary interests were writing new novels along with some short stories, mostly in the science fiction genre, but in others, as well.

After several real world weeks, Hannah wanted to meet with Brian again, so they left their beautiful life behind, and flew to New York. In her office, Hannah wanted to show Brian the numbers for his book. He was on the bestseller lists in England and Canada, as well as several in the United States. The group of printers was humping, and pretty well managed to fill the original outstanding back orders. By now, of course, there were a whole new set of demands for additional books. Hannah was optimistic appeared they could fill them shortly.

Brian finally let Hannah persuade him to give her the ‘Pigs’ manuscript. His notes about the rest of the story arc stayed where they were, although Hannah seemed quite eager to see them. There wasn’t a great deal more that time, but in another week, she called again to relay a message. Prince William wished to present Brian and Mary to the Queen. Everybody agreed on times, and the pair crossed the Atlantic another time. They got to meet with Kate. William’s statement that she was a fan was not an understatement. In fact, she questioned him quite deeply about ‘Dust.’ Then they were presented to the Queen.

Edward, Hannah’s man in London, had been working very hard himself to meet the demand. Also, he set Brian up for a reading and book signing. Brian wasn’t all that comfortable with the situation, especially when he saw many television cameras. Edward assured him that anyone who had a social call with William and Kate, followed by being presented to the Queen, was a person of intense interest and scrutiny, particularly considering the furor that happened on their last trip. It turned out that nobody in the media ever figured out how the Fullers had slipped away from them.

Stateside, there were now periodic talks and book signings to keep the book in the public eye. Behind the scenes, Hannah worked furiously to prepare ‘Pigs’ for publication. Brian found their bank account becoming well padded and began to talk with Mary about what they should do next. It didn’t seem like they needed that much on the real world side, but there were increasing hints that perhaps they really ought to look at moving into a place where they could host the occasional event.

There was rampant speculation about ‘Pigs.’ Inevitably, there was some leakage of information about the book. Hannah was certain the leakage was from employees of some of the printing firms and was doing everything she could to squash them. She went so far as to pull the contract from one printer whose security did not meet her standards. Considering how much income they got from the project, the other printing firms got in line and beefed up security noticeably.

This time, the book release was to be simultaneous worldwide, and Hannah Blain borrowed from successful kick-offs in all fields. With Brian and Mary having connections to the Royals, a week before the book launch, they flew to England and presented Kate with a copy of the book. The event was heavily choreographed, and allowed the media a passing peak at part of the cover, but no more. The cover design was both revealing and nonrevealing about the book itself, and only able to see part of that led many people off on speculative frenzies.

Brian wasn’t sure how to take it when Hannah informed him there were internet blogs and sites dedicated to the latest rumors, discussions, and guesses (generally marked as forecasts) about the new book. It certainly seemed to be an indicator of interest, if nothing else.

As an added twist, they set up the launch to be, not in any major place, but at the public library in Brian and Mary’s hometown. That set off additional guesses about the state of Brian’s health, and whether or not there might be any further books in the series. Brian commented from time to time about future volumes addressing points made in the first volume, ‘Dust.’ That further incensed reviewers and critics, who, like loyal partisans of the Apple brand, went back through ‘Dust,’ picking it apart and blogging endlessly about how this thing or that thing simply had to be addressed.

All of this proceeded at breakneck speed, at least from the real world’s point of view. As far as Brian and Mary were concerned, however, things were moving at a very leisurely rate, indeed. It was nearly the life-like approximation of the joke where the boss had the perfect job. He showed up once a week, usually Tuesday, at about ten in the morning, and never came back after lunch, much to everyone’s relief. Brian continued to meditate on telling Hannah at least a bit about what was going on. That thought came more frequently as he saw she was having marital difficulties.

Her family troubles did not show up in publishing. Hannah spread around hundreds of thousands of the books in the United States, more in Canada, and a good supply in England. Besides, there were what was thought to be a plentiful supply in Asia. When the official launch occurred, however, the similarities between the book launch and the launch of the latest greatest thing from Apple were pretty much alike. All available supplies were gone almost immediately. The printers were more prepared this time and were soon busy fulfilling back orders from everywhere. Oh, and the checks rolled in.

The Unread Writer 10.01: Negotiating a Sequel

Chapter 10: Sequels and Success

10.01: Negotiating a Sequel — Questions Brian gets at book signings make it evident that people are not only reading his book, they are serious about it. Brian treads carefully in dealing with Hannah, his publisher. Has he forgotten that she is a character he invented?

The Unread Writer

Hannah informed Brian that Toronto would be a more traditional kind of thing, with Brian doing a short reading and taking a few questions. From there, they would move to the book signing line. Ordinarily, there would be quite a few books available at the time of the event, but they only had a couple of boxes of books with them, and they already knew the in-store supply was gone. Hannah had already managed to get several printers back on the job to get the next printing done. This time, she was going for two hundred thousand. Surely that would be enough.

They agreed the copies on hand would go first to those who had tickets but no books. There were a few left over, and once again, they auctioned those. It was probably a good thing they had already shipped a supply to Portland, or they would have almost certainly been gone as well. At the reading, Hannah told Brian to do a piece on the tribe of cannibals in the story. There was never much doubt how at least one of the questions would go after he finished.

“Do the cannibals survive?”

Brian and Hannah had gone over that one. He smiled at the question. “I could certainly address that a little more. Perhaps, if this book sells a sufficient number of copies, Ms. Blain might consent to consider a sequel. If so, I will try to clarify the issue.”

A question came out of left field. “Is the cannibal chief as retarded as he seems?”

Now that one had not been addressed in their game planning, but as it happened, Brian did have an answer since he’d already written the sequel. “I have a special needs child. It’s been my observation that he could probably function at a higher level, but society permits and even encourages him to stay where he is by making his life very comfortable where he is. Perhaps you can take the description as being the final word on the subject. On the other hand, maybe there’s more to him than meets the eye.”

Now Hannah was looking at Brian, an appraising look in her eye. When they got to Portland and were having dinner, she even brought the subject up. “You never said anything in your bio about having a special needs child.”

“A lot of things about me didn’t seem relevant to selling the book. He’s been in the health and social services system quite a while now. We see him on holidays and special occasions.”

“Are you sure of what you said about his being able to do better than he is?”

“Mary and I are both have no doubt about it. I’ve personally seen him manipulate a Ph.D. in Psychology, so what else can he do? Oh, by the way, Mary is not his mother, if you were wondering. His mother, my first wife, died some years ago.”

“You said you were working on a sequel. Is the extended cannibal story part of the story?”

“What I’ve written doesn’t extend the story arc very much. It does broaden it considerably. At the same time, I have notes about multiple novels. My intention is to extend the story arc, and complete many possibilities mentioned in ‘Dust’ but not pursued.”

“So when were you going to tell me about this?”

“I just did. Yesterday, you were scared spitless that you were about to be bankrupt. You sure weren’t in a sequel mood then. Now that you found out nobody can keep them on the shelves, you’re all uptight about me holding out on you.”

“Oh, so you’re going to be all hardcore now. What’s the title of this sequel? Or is that still a secret?”

“I’m calling it ‘Pigs.’ “

“Pigs?”

“Other than the few survivors, there are no longer any people. There are wild pigs and plenty of them. Cannibals call human flesh ‘long pig’ for a reason, I presume.”

“Yuck. You’re telling me this over dinner?”

“You asked. I told. I gave up trying to disgust girls over food back in third grade. I apologize if I’ve ruined your meal.”

“Well, I suppose I can’t be too upset about withholding information. Movie producers have been hitting me up big time, trying to get access to you.”

“Are you my agent now?”

“No, I’m not. There’s enough going on as it is. In any case, there is no point in negotiating with the movie people at this point. The ones we see right now are sharks trying to get a cheap option now. The plan, or more precisely, hope is to sell it to one of the major studios later for big bucks. You might as well hold off and collect the money yourself.”

“That certainly sounds like the right way to approach it. Anything else?”

“We’re looking at what we can do with some of your other works. We don’t have any firm recommendations for you right now.”

“Well, when you do come up with something, just let me know what direction you think a piece should go, and I’ll do my best to accommodate.”

“I can’t tell you how much I love to hear that. Okay, now with this reading tomorrow, I’m looking at pretty much the same thing as you did in Toronto …”

The same thing as Toronto was indeed how Portland came out. Brian figured he’d pick up experience as fast as possible, and Hannah and Mary both seemed pleased with how he handled himself. Like Toronto, they earmarked most of the books shipped in ahead of time for those who paid for tickets to be in line to get their books signed. The few left over went in an auction, and Brian got his cut, both of the tickets for the book signing and the sale afterward.

Since there weren’t any more books available, they headed for home. Hannah continued to marvel at how the media couldn’t figure out who Brian was or where he was until she would introduce him at a function. Then they knew him extremely well. Brian began to wonder about how much to tell her, or whether to say anything at all. If their relationship did in fact continue, he might consider doing something. There didn’t seem to be a whole lot of hurry in that regard, though. In the meantime, there were a few things to do at the house, and then they could head for Kauai, which felt most like home anymore.

The Unread Writer 9.05: It’s All Made of ‘Dust’

As the North American release date approaches, it becomes clear to Brian that whether or not anybody reads his book, everyone wants it. He even has to reassure the publisher that everything will be fine.

The Unread Writer

A couple of days later, Hannah called back. “Whatever you did to throw the media off your trail has had an amazing effect,” she enthused. “Suddenly, you are all the rage among all the media simply because they have no idea where you are or even who you are. Everybody’s getting copies of ‘Dust’ from England so they can have something solid.”

“I’m glad that worked out so well,” Brian replied. He was relaxing on the deck overhanging the valley below, sipping on a concoction Mary had dreamed up. “The last time we talked, you thought there were nearly enough copies on hand to get the ball rolling in the North American market. Is that still on track?”

“Well, yes. Everything is about ready to go. I can’t believe what a risk I’m taking with this whole thing,” blurted the voice from the phone.

“How’s that?”

“I’m personally committed to this print run of one hundred thousand copies. I have to pay for them whether any of them sell or not. More than that, I had to pay premium rates to most of these printers since they were going to have to work beaucoup overtime and weekends to get it done. If this release doesn’t go over as a smash hit, I’m toast. As in bankrupt.”

Brian gathered his thoughts and finally replied. “You said you had a feeling about me as an author. Then, when you got hold of ‘Dust,’ the feeling you had turned to certainty. How’s your feeling now?”

“I still feel like both you and the title are winners. It just scares me to death to think of how far out on a limb I’ve gone. After all, everything I own and can borrow on the line.”

“That part is understandable. You should have been there for the feeding frenzy at those London book signings. I think your fear would be a whole lot less now. As a matter of fact, you need to tell your several printers not to send everyone off on vacation right away. Just what you’re telling me about the media interest should take care of this first print run. The way things look from here, you’ll soon be far more concerned about how to get additional copies in the hands of those wanting them.”

Hannah laughed. She sounded extremely weary, and her voice cracked, but it was a laugh nonetheless. “Here we have the author giving reassurances to the publisher. Traditionally, it goes the other way, with me reassuring the agent, who gives a happy talk to the author, fuming in the corner.”

“The guy who had the contract before seemed to believe I should be satisfied with the fact he’d signed me up. Never mind that he never quite got around to doing anything. But back to the business at hand, how do you plan on releasing it, and where do I need to plan on being?”

“Right. Why don’t you and Mary catch a flight into New York tomorrow? We can go over the details. Barnes & Noble has the largest bookstore in the city. After we open there, we’ll head up to Toronto to a place that even bills itself as the world’s biggest bookstore. From there, Portland has a bookstore with the most shelf space.”

“Go ye into all the world, and sell your books to every creature.”

“Please don’t make me groan. I’m way too tired.”

Brian continued to update ‘Reality,’ trying to pay attention to details, and wanting everything to go as it should. Their flight to New York was without incident, even with people who were obviously reporters standing there watching everyone coming in. Somebody must have found out what flight they were on. It didn’t matter. They could know anything they wanted, and Brian and Mary could still stroll past them. The very sight of incoming passengers who looked fresh might have raised red flags. As a matter of fact, some reporters looked right at them. Mary even smiled at one and got a puzzled look in return.

More reporters were standing near Hannah Blain. The fact that Brian and Mary walked right up to her, and they strolled off to her car made no impression whatever. In fact, when Hannah got them into her car, all the media just started making discouraged noises and heading off on other pursuits. Hannah was flabbergasted. “They’re standing around with your pictures, and when you come through, it’s as though they haven’t got a clue. What on Earth did you do?”

“That isn’t a big thing. I thought it was for a while, but for now, we’ve got other things to do.”

At the official release, quite a crowd had gathered. It was to the point that Barnes & Noble, in spite of the size of their store, was nearly unable to do any business not connected with ‘Dust.’ Brian and Mary stood on the side, apparently invisible, while Hannah Blain was up front hawking the book. Finally, the clock ticked down to the appointed time, and Hannah announced, “Now, to officially unseal the first box of ‘Dust,’ is the author, Brian Fuller.” Brian and Mary started forward, and suddenly the media recognized them. Flashes were going off all around, and reporters wanted to know how Brian felt about the book.

Brian and Hannah jointly cut the tape on the first box, and then stood back as the crowd surged forward. Brian then went to another, more secluded area, where those who had bought tickets for the book signing line had already gathered. Hannah assured Brian that Barnes & Noble was collecting a fair share of that ticket price. At the same time, there was money for everyone. Given that quite a few collectors were on hand, even many of those paying money now had a gleam in their eye, positive that they’d be getting their money back and then some.

Barnes & Noble sold out while they were there. Store management called around to track down anyplace that might have more copies available but discovered everyone sold out. Hannah, meanwhile, was on the phone checking around. Her information matched that of the store management. Selling out of the title was the rule. There might have been an exception somewhere, but she wasn’t able to find any.

Brian looked at Hannah as they headed for Toronto. “So are you bankrupt yet?”

“Uh, no.” Then she glared at him. “Wise ass.”

The Unread Writer 9.04: Anonymous and Obvious

Now in the public eye, Brian and Mary found privacy most desirable. The solution was in the way his success came in the first place.

The Unread Writer

They were able to have a few days of peace and quiet, during which Brian did manage to get all their bills pretty much current. He was quite certain there would be other obligations that would show up to bite him in the butt. For the moment, however, the usual group of creditors was seemingly satisfied with the money he’d sent them. Those few days were all they got, though. The fourth day after they got back, the media who had been pursuing them all around England and Wales turned up at their front door. Brian was not at all sure what to do or what, if anything to tell these folks.

The second day of being under siege in their house, Brian was beginning to have flashbacks to the ninety-nine universe, so he called the publisher. He explained the situation as best he could.

“I wish I could give you some guidance. What little expertise I have has always been directed toward trying to get attention, not send it elsewhere. Is it a slow news day or something?”

“That would be my best guess. Okay, I’ll try to figure this thing out myself. From what the scandal sheets show, people trying to avoid the paparazzi scarcely have a chance.”

It wasn’t long after that when he saw somebody with a camera peeping in the window. He recalled from news stories that to react violently to such people was simply to encourage them all the more. As such, Brian turned his attention back to his computer screen, finally deciding to bring up the ‘Reality’ piece. That was when it hit him. He was asking for advice when he had the perfect weapon all along. He wrote in ‘Reality’ that all of a sudden, the media were no longer able to recognize Brian, Mary, their house, or their car. He heard some confused mumbling outside, and then the media noise began to diminish.

To test the situation, Brian screwed up his courage and headed out the front door. There were some media people still standing around looking lost. One of them came up to him.

“Excuse me, sir, but do you know a Brian Fuller?”

“Can’t say as I do. Must be somebody important to have all you folks looking.”

“Yeah. The man is a hotshot author. Nobody can figure out why he’s so well-known in England but lives over here.”

“If anybody like that lived around here, I’d think everyone would already know about it. Of course, if there were such a person around here, about the only thing they’d be thinking would be how to get out of here. Hell, that’s what everyone around here thinks about anyhow.”

The reporter looked around and nodded. “You’re right about that. I wouldn’t even live here, and they don’t pay me squat.”

“If you did find him, what on Earth would you ask him?”

“You know, I had some good questions ready when I came. For the life of me, I can’t remember what they were now. Well, thanks for the information. Oh, what was your name, sir?”

For some reason, Prince William’s cover name came to mind, along with a Clint Eastwood movie. “My name is Wales — Jay Wales.” The guy scribbled it on a piece of paper and waved in an absent-minded fashion as he left.

Brian strolled on down the sidewalk. By the time he got back, the street in front of his house was clear. Mary was gratified with the return of their peace and quiet and thought his interchange with the reporter was hilarious but wondered, “Maybe you overdid it a tad. After all, there would be times when you will want the media attention. What will you do then, when they still don’t have a clue where to find you, or that you are the person in question.”

“Good point. What we have now amounts to a good start. I’ll try to work out a way for them to recognize me or us when it is necessary. On the other hand, we deserve what privacy we need.”

“There’s no doubt about that. I saw two media types staring through the kitchen window just before you made that change. How about some cloak granting invisibility. When we want privacy, we put it on. When we want them to notice us, we leave it at home.”

“That works well enough for us on Kauai, doesn’t it? Of course, there we have it as a permanent feature. Like you said, we need to consider the situation some more. In any case, this will give us enough room to think. For that, of course, we could escape to Kauai. The problem is that our real bodies are still here, and would not get much rest if the press was hanging from the eaves. Now, with the situation as it is, why don’t I take you out to dinner this evening? That cash from the auction would cover pretty much anything we wanted to do.”

“You won’t have to ask me that question twice, Mr. Fuller. Or was that Mr. Wales?”

With some assurance they wouldn’t be disturbed that evening, Brian and Mary decided about a week on Kauai would be in order. Brian could do some more writing, and they could both consider options for their dealings with the media. Even being moderately productive, Brian could get a week’s worth of writing done overnight. There was still plenty of time to do everything he wanted. The body in which he spent the week would not age, either. The body that did age in the real world used up one night. Brian could have pushed the issue further, but regarded this as a pretty good exchange.

The solution, such as it was, that emerged was something like how the mayor called Batman. When they needed the media, they would make a call to Hannah. Of course, if Hannah thought they needed media exposure, that would also work. At that point, they would choose a neutral location, and when Brian and Mary arrived, the media would recognize the pair. Once they departed, the media would not be able to either find or identify them. Neither Brian nor Mary thought there was any way for it to cover all situations, but it looked like a good follow-up step to what Brian had already done.

At that point, Brian called Hannah Blain, to let her know he was now reasonably content with the situation. In return, Hannah let him know they were getting quite close to having enough books on hand to begin marketing activities around the country.

The Unread Writer 9.03: Possibilities in History and Publishing

Brian explains some of the reasons for having their private Kauai in a world with no progress. Hannah shows up with tales of good fortune. Should this story have a different title or is something else going on?

The Unread Writer

Up in the room, Mary grinned at Brian. “Do you think Hannah believed anything you told her about what we’d done?”

“I told her the truth. The fact that it sounds stranger than anything I’d ever write is beside the point. Also, since it’s the truth, what she chooses to believe is her problem, not mine.”

“Ha! There’s nobody so hard to deal with as somebody who’s telling the truth. Oh, well. Shall we go home? Just riding through the streets of New York makes me tired.”

“Yes, indeed. People seem to be noticing that we’re awfully well-rested for everything we’ve seen recently. Of course, the fact that what we’ve been through accounts for maybe one-seventh of the time we’ve lived through might have something to do with it.”

“Yeah. Letting our bodies rest as much as possible in between these ordeals helps a lot.”

Back on Kauai, they decided it was time to relax a fair amount. The trouble was that their young bodies experienced no fatigue and were ready to go.  As a result, they found themselves down in the village. The Viking couple seemed to be settling into the swing of things, and even with their having to be everybody’s gopher, still had enough time to build themselves living quarters and plant a garden. Some of their techniques mystified the locals. At the same time, some of what they did made sense to the locals. That resulted in their approaches slowly changing how the natives farmed and fished. Brian kept thinking there was something he needed to write about this pair connected with Mary and himself.

Mary was obviously thinking about this entire world line as well. “Brian, I realize things here only have to relate in the way you want them to be. On the other hand, you’ve essentially made all the history of humanity static for the past seven hundred years. I’ll admit that by removing European expansion along with the Industrial Revolution, there ceases to be any compelling reason for things to move forward. On the other hand, isn’t this a little much?”

Brian leaned back and gazed at her. “I put this together with the goal in mind to prevent, or at least retard things like European colonialism and all of that. Without European population pressure, which has gone to continuing conflicts with the Moors, Mongols, and even the Byzantines, this thousand years is pretty much like the thousand years before it. The balance is sufficient that there’s every possibility the following thousand years will look much the same as well. That makes this a pretty good vacation spot.”

“Are you planning on being around the next thousand years?”

“How long have Achilles and Hector been around? If we want to go into space, I’ve already designed worlds where that has happened. In ‘Dust,’ the question is whether there were enough people to continue the race. If you don’t like any of those possibilities, I can come up with some more alternatives.”

Pursuing that line of conversation would have to wait until they resolved the knocking on their door. Answering it, Hannah stood in the doorway of the hotel room. She seemed apologetic. “After everything you two have been through, I owe you a day’s rest, but I thought we might as well get some things taken care of so you can go home. I can promise you a couple of weeks off, at the least after this.”

They were ready for her and invited her in. “I don’t get it,” Hannah remarked, looking at them. “You two have been through stuff that could kill a twenty-year-old. You should be looking like you’ve been through the wringer. Instead, you both appear as though you’re just back from vacation. How do you do it?”

“Just a vacation frame of mind, I guess. After all those years of barely getting by, now we see things happen.”

“Well, Edward commented that you had some English currency from some book auctions. He overnighted a check to me, and I’m on my way to the bank to get US money for it. I’d be glad to get whatever you have exchanged at the same time. How’d you get money from auctioning books?”

“Edward’s printer wasn’t able to keep up with demand, and we ran out. So we agreed to sell the last few books to the highest bidder. It seemed like a pretty good price for each of them. Edward subtracted the going price from what we got, and we split the rest. Sure, if you wouldn’t mind exchanging these for greenbacks, that would be great.”

When Hannah brought the amount back, she quietly observed, “Hell of an auction. You say Edward kept an equal amount?” When Brian nodded, she continued, “In most cases, I’d feel obligated to have a chat with him, but considering the sales he sent me a check for, I think I’m going to cut him some slack this once. Speaking of slack, I would be holding these funds until the end of the quarter, which is when my authors get paid. In your case, I’ve decided to be as generous as possible, so here’s a check for your portion of the overseas sales.”

Brian looked at the check. It was nearly as much as his retirement check. “Well, that certainly lets some fresh air into the situation.”

“It would have been more, but some of it went to pay the bills you left with me, along with a bit for paying the bookkeeper.”

“I’m fine with that, especially under these circumstances.”

“Okay, there is another issue we need to discuss. I planned on releasing the title over here in about a month, but that’s not going to be possible.”

“How’s that?”

“My voicemail is full of inquiries about the American release date from everyplace and everyone imaginable. ‘Dust’ going viral in England has already made it to these shores. I’m hitting up my printer to have an initial printing of a hundred thousand ready within two weeks.”

“Will that be a problem?”

Hannah nodded. “In order to meet all of his other obligations, he had to sub-contract with other printers. I find myself having to scurry around trying to do quality control in about eight different places.”

“Still, you will get paid for your efforts.”

“Oh, my, will I ever. Well, if this whole thing doesn’t decide to fall on its face.”

“I’m no expert on such things, of course, but having seen the situation develop in England … er, make that the UK, I think maybe it’ll go further before it slows down.”