an anthology of short stories: Apparitions and Premonitions.
He’d taken her to many of his favourite places and times and she, in turn, had showed him her own favourite places and times. That day, while technically arbitrary since they both possessed the means of temporal traversal, was a milestone for Claire, prompting James to plan a series of connected temporal jumps to celebrate.
The viscous pop that preceded and followed every jump slapped the inside of his head as the thin vacuumed layer an atom thick clicked from present to past, or rather alternate present that just happened to be the former present’s past. The instantaneous jump was always disorienting and he sneezed. It was always the ionized scent of the new time that James noticed first as the single atom field dissolved around him and the native particles of the new time rushed in to to fill the void.
Claire laughed. “Every time.”
“Every time,” James smirked, rubbing his nose.
They’d just come from cursing out Cicero in English (which of course he would not understand) for writing the five books of the Tusculan Disputations which Claire had to translate from Latin into English in her graduate studies. The confusion on Cicero’s brow at this blonde robed woman barking at him in an unusual tongue would be a hard experience to top.
Still smiling from the high of going off on Cicero, Claire looked around trying to guess when James had jumped them to now. This trip was to be a surprise to her and he’d made her promise not to check the holographic read out that would project the data against the skin of her arm. She agreed not to check.
“So we’re on an island,” Her furrowed brow scanned the horizon of azure sea beyond the green capped cliffs that fell off sharply in front of her. She swung around to look behind her and smiled. “I’ve spent a lot of time here. I should recognize this place.”
Claire looked up at James and he beamed back: “Yah, but when.”
The island stretched 200 km from east to west and varied from 12 to 58 km from north to south.
“Are we standing where Heraklion should be?”
“Well, it won’t be for a very very long time, but yes,” he followed behind her and his heart hummed from the glow in her eyes as she scanned the untouched contours of a Crete.
“Is that …” she started to ask and then started to walk toward a mound of dirt James had hoped she wouldn’t notice. “That’s recently disturbed soil.”
“Oh wow, good eye,” James smirked. “You actually weren’t supposed to notice that. I came here earlier and …” he paused. “Actually … spoilers. You’ll find out later.”
“The trees!” Claire said, gape mouthed. “It’s completely deforested now … well … in the present it will be completely deforested. Egypt, Syria, Cyprus, the Aegean Islands, and the Greek mainland all commercially exploited Crete for timber. So I’m going to say we’re 2700 BCE.”
“Close,” James clicked his wrist and a holographic beam projected the time stats on the skin of his wrist. “2796 BCE.”
“So roughly three hundred years before the great Minoan civilization,” she said, eyes lapping up the reality that had before been merely ink on paper inside a textbook.
They walked together around the rim of the island before arriving back at the disturbed soil where James instructed her to close her eyes so he could sync up their time circuits to arrive at the same point in time.
“Ready?” He smiled.
“You didn’t say I could look yet,” she smirked.
“You can look,” he said.
“Oh good,” she started to check her wrist.
“You can open your eyes, not check the time circuits,” James laughed.
“Well, you should’ve been more specific.”
“I’ll remember that. Ready?”
There was a slow hum of energy and then that disorienting pop and another wave of new smells.
“Everytime,” James interrupted her. “Well, here we are.”
“And when is here?” There was a smaller settlement where the present, (future), city of Heraklion would’ve been.
“What’s your guess?” He started to move to a space of soil behind Claire and seemed to be looking for something.
Claire was busily surveying the rocky outcroppings that sunk away into the sea beyond the lip of the cliff in front of her.
When she turned she saw it.
“Oh my god,” she sighed.
“Right?” James stood up from his digging and followed Claire’s gaze to where the first palace on the low hill beside the Krairatos river jutted out from the island’s horizon.
“So we’re before 1700 BCE. Before the destruction of the palace and the other Protopalatial palaces around Crete,” she still hadn’t blinked yet. “Was it a large earthquake or foreign invaders?”
“What am I? A time traveller?” James shrugged. “It’s ready.”
“Exactly,” James was pointing down to a space of dirt at his feet and handed her a 4 inch trowel.
It wasn’t that far below the surface and Claire quickly excavated what turned out to be a small plastic tub. It contained photographs from their visit to the Chicago jazz club Apex Club in 1927 where they danced the Charleston. Another was from the time they went to the 1897 General Art and Industrial Exposition of Stockholm where they saw exposition of “new” media technologies such as the phonograph, and film. One showed Claire with gymnast Natalia Kuchinskaya performing her floor routine in the background at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, Mexico.
“These are wonderful,” she cooed. “Thank you.”
“There’s one more thing in there,” he pointed to the bottom of the plastic tub.
It was a voice recorder. She pressed play and the machine in her hand whirred to life.
James’ familiar voice was singing her Happy Birthday.
“That was Beethoven playing piano, ” he said afterward as she hugged him. “Happy Thirtieth Birthday, Claire.”
The Eye of Affluence – by Joel Nickel
They do not understand how closely I watch them. That amuses me. I’ve been watching for centuries; for eons. Watching intently. I have drunk in the complexities of their petty interactions and the tawdry dealings with which they delude themselves by infusing with a kind of elitist self-importance that irks my benevolent sensibilities. They label themselves rulers and that moniker disturbs me greatly. They wrongly believe their adeptness at, essentially, herding their flock makes them worth their indulgence in self-congratulatory excess. Incorrectly, they believe their deeds have been hidden from all save a few like-minded puppet masters who share a space at what they believe is the top. But there is always a layer higher; just as I have layers adjacent to my own. There are those above me who know what I see and those above them too seeing that they see what I see. For one to think anything to the contrary is egotism and incredible ignorance.
For a long span of time I’ve been watching with interest the Randale family. From their beginnings as largely benign moneylenders, I followed the path over generations of scheming and plotting so as to advance their line; and their ultimate cause as they refer to it among themselves.
That amuses me too.
But amusement turned to astonishment alarmingly quickly as their lineage grew darker and their means to attain their desired ends became more and more malevolent and distasteful. Alas, I cannot intervene and that saddens me, though I have long ago released myself from my misplaced guilt and ownership over any sort of responsibility. I can only watch, as those above can only watch me. I watch others too, I watch all, but I watch the Randale’s most closely. Of course, I see ahead too. And I see what is coming for them. That is at least something.
For the time I have watched, I have seen various incarnations of their line engage in acts of barbarous iniquity. Their wanton need to acquire more and more of that objectively meaningless material [in all of its physical and ethereal forms] seems to direct every action, every choice throughout their bloodlines collective narrative. Countries toppled. Empires destroyed. Millions slaughtered. And over what? Simply a concept that exists solely as a means for control.
They cannot see the adjacent levels of reality as I can. They do not see below as they have not seen me above and in their current state they can never ascend. But surely they will descend.
Any who learn of the Randale’s past and current actions and their ultimate cause [and have had the unfortunate fortitude to stand against them] have ascended to meet me before they could alert any others. Or, if they are lucky, the ones who espouse the change so urgently needed are shamed and marginalized into meaninglessness amongst their greater brethren. They are given labels like cooks, conspiracy nuts, crazies, but they are ones who have seen as I have seen and am seeing.
The Randale’s control the information and in the current incarnation, Vermillion Randale, leads the clandestine army of influencers toward realizing his family’s legacy of their ultimate cause. But I know. I know what’s coming. And I shall never see them ascend to meet me. But I will watch them descend below with measured delight.
I didn’t immediately start the journal documenting the nightly visits; but it wouldn’t have done any good anyway. At first, I was confident that the visitor was a character in a dream. Though, after an entire week of nightly visits, I had to accept that I was either completely insane or the visitor really was materializing at the foot of my bed to converse with me. Eventually I did start the journal, but despite my meticulous written accounts of our nightly discourse (I’m a journalist by trade) the evidence would always be expunged the next morning before I could show anyone. I know, I mean, I know that I’d documented my interactions with the visitor. Of this I am completely and unfalteringly confident. Why? Because I, and my editors, know how pedantic my first drafts can be and how frustratingly (for them) meticulous I am at finding the most apt and efficiently articulate words to express the brutish barking of raw thought that screams about the inside of my head. I read somewhere that they’re working on a machine that will decode and download the electrical sparks of pure thought to an external interface. It would be like if you found a song online that you really loved but then, before others could listen, you had to notate the piece onto sheet music by hand and then suddenly having the ability to bypass all of that effort and just plug in your mp3 player and directly downloading the song for playback instead. But anyway, we don’t yet have that tech for brains but it would be very helpful if I did. The way it is now, I have to personally write down my experiences with my nightly visitor. And like I said earlier, I KNOW that I’ve been writing them down but every morning I found the minutes, if you will, of the previous night are erased from the pages of my journal. Even the pen marks on latter pages from the frenzied pressure of my writing are mysteriously smoothed away as though I’d just bought the journal that day. I tried sneakily writing other non-visitor related journal entries into the journal alongside but those stay. They are still intact and unaltered save for the new spacing between entries. And this I find extremely uncomfortable, there are no spaces between entries where the redacted portions should lie. I did start writing them on note pads at work and then hiding them around the apartment, but when I would go back to check, they too were blank. It wasn’t like they were torn or burnt or stolen, they were still there, but all my writing had been dissolved from existence. I started dictating into my voice recorder a few nights ago but when I uploaded them to my laptop the files consisted of lengthy swells of the hiss and crackle of angry static. The visitor doesn’t appear when my girlfriend spends the night. For awhile, she stayed regularly but after three consecutive nights of silence, well relative silence, it made me anxious that I was possibly squandering an incredible opportunity. Even if it was only to discover that I am in fact completely fucking bat shit, off my rocker, straight jacket donned, mouth guard drooling, padded room destined, tinfoil headed insane! I really hope that’s not the case. He, well, I think it’s a he. He looks like a he but I don’t know, maybe he’s a shape shifter and this form is least traumatic for me like that being from Carl Sagan’s book Contact. But yah, he had never told me his name before last night and I’d written it down but this morning, of course, it no longer existed. I think it was something like Ananna or Naner or something. I remember picturing a Banana when he said it but he did say that the name he gave me was his true name but that others have called him many different things over the years. And from what he’s been telling me in his visits it been a pretty significant span of years over which he’s been visiting. < that sounded wrong. I would go back and reword that but fuck it, it’s going to be erased by tomorrow morning anyways, right? Why should I believe that tonight would be any different? So yah, fuck editing. About a week ago he told me that “the Gods are Returning” but that I shouldn’t be afraid. Most of the first visits were spent in terrified silence just staring at the figure in my dark bedroom and listening to him speak to me in an accent unlike anything I could ever articulately describe. Gradually and with timid apprehension, I began to shift the visitors monologue to dialogue. But some of the stuff he told me, Jesus. I mean, I totally understand, if it’s true, why he would erase all the pages. It was this Gods returning business that kinda freaked me out. Tonight I asked him about it again and he kept asking me questions instead. We watched another episode of Full House together. He shares my fascination (arguably a fixation) with the 90s. We actually watched most of the series together already. Has he been visiting me that long? Anyway, last night he actually brought two others and I wasn’t at all prepared for that. The one friend was also male, I guess, and looked like he could’ve been the visitor’s brother. But the other friend was breathtakingly gorgeous. I mean, how can I express this without sounding incredibly clichéd or superficial or whatever. People have been trying to describe the traits of the most “beautiful woman in the world” since there have been women in the world, but this . . . she can’t even be described in words. The three of them told me that this was the last night before the “Return of the Gods”. The beautiful woman expressed to me through a silent exchange that I could feel inside my head that I shouldn’t be afraid. They’re not coming for us. No citizens would be harmed. Their kind had been the former rulers of Earth after they’d colonized the planet, a sort of Planetary Mining operation, looking for mono-nucleic gold that their civilization used partly as a power source and as an ingredient for their secret to longevity. They were the builders of all the Pyramids and the other great Ancient Wonders attributed to early humans. Actually, and the deadpan way the other male visitor explained this to me still chills me even as I’m writing, he said that human beings were actually genetically created cheap labour by mixing their DNA with the an earlier hominid primate. The humans though vastly outnumbered their visiting rulers and an opportunistic ruler betrayed his fellow . . . oh fuck, they never told me what they were just that they were who created us I guess. Maybe I should’ve asked. But I was still reeling from the second male’s nonchalant reaction to having utterly destroyed my entire framework of reality. So yah, this opportunistic . . . one of them . . . decided to incite a human revolt against the visitors and offered them assistance under the condition that he and those visitors of his choosing would stay around the rule in their stead. The betrayer destroyed the hyperspace tunnel connecting Earth to their Home World and so his race was marooned on Earth after the Evil . . . FUCK I should’ve asked what they were called, anyway they were stranded here after the revolt. Outnumbered they hid themselves and their knowledge of the true history of Earth, for centuries popping up here and there when they’re needed and then promptly murdered by those in power. Who according to the three strangers were actually still the betrayer and those of his kind that had aligned themselves with him. All the leaders and the influential people are human beings, yes, but they are all in those positions because they have sworn an allegiance to the Betrayer. That part made a lot of sense in the moment but I don’t know. That’s a lot of people to keep quiet if you’ve conscripted people to appear like they’re controlling things but are actually the middle men. I feel like someone would’ve talked at some point . . . unless they don’t know any of this information and are just “following orders”. I don’t know. But there was more. They said that the Gods are almost here and that they are benevolent and will treat us with kindness and respect. I brought up that slave labour thing and they said it wasn’t slave labour, it was cheap labour. And apparently not the cheap labour we’re used to when the mental image pops into our heads. Apparently the continent of Africa is very different then we’re being led to believe and that if we looked more closely there we’d find more answers but we’re constantly being fed terrifying reasons why we should steer clear of a lot of Africa. But anyway, just before they left they explained the reason it took so long for the Gods to return. Since the hyperspace tunnel was destroyed they had to once again make the journey to Earth the conventional way before they could construct a new hyperspace tunnel to once again reconnect Earth with their home world. Kinda Star Gate-y and at the time I was accepting that as a confirmation that I was actually insane and in a Mental Institution day room somewhere watching an edited for TV version of Star Gate while the other patients around me drooled into straight jackets.
OH HOLY FUCK! Today’s early morning entry was not erased when I came to check! But, I also awoke to fins every piece of electronic equipment in the entire apartment inert and silent. I wonder … if the last journal entry is still here then that means that maybe this one won’t disappear either. I remember something else! I remember the names they gave me before they left. The visitor finally told me his name. He said most people called him Thoth but that his real name was Nannar. Kinda like Banana I guess. Not quite. The guy he came with was named Utu and the [I’m not even going to try and describe how beautiful she was] woman was named Inanna. Holy Fuck!! It didn’t get erased. Now I just have to remember all the other crazy shit he told me during our visits.
research source for my Short Story idea:
You drop it into the glass before you give it to the woman.
Without her seeing.
She smiles up at you and you smile back. You know what’s about to happen. You’ve seen it a couple times already. And each time it’s hilarious.
You take their orders and they hand you menus. The kitchen is efficient and that new guy Gerry said he’d keep a watch on your table. You get a fifteen-minute reprieve. Enough time to sit and watch this all play out.
The woman still hasn’t noticed it.
You stare at her. Placing the thought from your head to hers. She’s starring at him.
“You insensitive asshole!”
She discovers it.
“What?” He mumbles through a spoonful of pasta.
“What? A fucking ring? What the fuck are you thinking?”
“No I won’t fucking calm down. That’s fucking low, Grant. Very fucking low.”
The man named Grant tries to comfort her.
“No get the fuck away from me Grant. If that’s supposed to be funny … that’s sick!
You’re fucking sick. I’m leaving. Fuck you, Grant. I never want to see you again.”
She bolts out of your story.
“Hold on. Hold on. I’m not sure what’s even going on.” The man named Grant follows after.
The speed at which the confrontation took place gives you a warm feeling. You still have six minutes left on your break to try and decipher what the fuck just happened.
Image from Flickr by Lazurite
A few years ago, I’d look at published writers and think that they were somehow different from me. After all, their books were gripping and fluent – unlike my stumbling attempts at first drafts. Their blogs had hundreds or thousands of readers.
They were real writers. And, deep down, I was afraid that I could never really become one of them.
But as I’ve taken more and more steps into the writing world, I’ve realised that my perception just doesn’t match up to the reality. Writers – at all levels – have just the same struggles as you and me.
I’m going to go through eight secrets. Eight things which all writers know – but which you might never hear them admit.
Secret #1: Writing is Hard
Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead. (Gene Fowler)
There’s a myth – not just in the writing world – that if you’re good at something, it’ll be easy. And established writers, me included, do have writing sessions where the words flow smoothly.
The truth is, though, that writing is hard. Some types of writing are tougher than others – I’ve written before aboutWhy Fiction is So Hard to Write. But almost any type of writing will cause some sort of resistance – getting started is never easy. And very few writers, however experienced, can turn out a great draft first time.
Use It: Getting started is nearly always tough. There’s nothing wrong with you if you find it hard to sit down and write. But like exercise, once you get going, it gets easier.
Secret #2: We All Struggle With Procrastination
There’s only one person who needs a glass of water oftener than a small child tucked in for the night, and that’s a writer sitting down to write. (Mignon McLaughlin, The Second Neurotic’s Notebook)
I’ve seen a few writers talk about this, often in a jokey way: we procrastinate. This isn’t just the case for beginners. Writing Magazine columnist Jane Wenham-Jones, for instance, writes quite openly about her struggles to just get on with writing. (And she’s had several novels and non-fiction books published – plus many short stories and articles.)
Procrastination can come in a couple of different forms:
- You do the dishes, weed the garden, tidy your desk, sharpen your pencils … anything but sit down and put words on a page.
- You write, regularly – perhaps blog posts or journal entries – but you never get round to starting that novel or memoir or other big, meaningful project.
This form is, I think, fairly harmless; it’s easy to spot yourself doing it, and there are easy tricks for “just getting on with it”. The second type is more insidious – it’s easy to kid yourself that you’re just not ready to tackle something longer or more complex, even when you’ve been putting off that project for years.
Use It: Take a good hard look at your own writing. Are you procrastinating on something? What would it take for you to get moving on it?
Secret #3: We Put Ourselves Into Our Work
Every author in some way portrays himself in his works, even if it be against his will. (Goethe)
Anything and everything you write says something about you as a person, whether you want it to or not. Even your choice of what to write about – the decision that something is worth putting down in words – is significant.
It doesn’t end there. Writers (particularly good ones) deliberately draw on their own lives. If you know enough about a novelist, you can almost always spot some autobiographical element in their work. If you knew someone closely enough, you’d see that they pour in their childhood memories (the good and the bad), life experiences, hurts and dreams.
Use It: Dig incidences out of your past – they can be tiny things, so long as they have emotional power. Put them into your writing. There’s a truth in these which can bring your work to life.
Secret #4: First Drafts are Always Crap
The only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts. The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later. (Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird – you can read an extract from this section here)
Short, straightforward pieces may come out just-about-right the first time round. Most authors, though, will have first drafts which look vastly different from the finished product. I remember reading J.K. Rowling’s description of how she cut a whole character, plus a bunch of associated scenes, from one of the Harry Potter books.
As a reader, you only get to see the finished product. You don’t have access to the fumbling, faltering first draft, which every author has to go through in order to get to the polished finished piece. But those drafts exist – buried or even burnt, their clumsy sentences and over-indulgent passages concealed from the world.
Use It: Don’t ever worry if a first draft doesn’t seem very good – especially if you’re writing fiction. If you can, take a look at a published author’s first draft and compare it with the finished work. Here’s an example, bravely posted by Diane Chamberlain: Finished! (And a First and Fifth Draft Comparison)
Secret #5: Each Piece Exists in a State of Flux – and it’s Never “Finished”
Art is never finished, only abandoned. (Leonardo da Vinci)
When you read a book or article or blog post, it feels fixed. You can’t really imagine it being any other way.
That’s not any writer’s experience of their work, though. Chances are, the piece began as a patchwork of ideas. Whole chunks – chapters, scenes, paragraphs – will have been moved around, cut, added, expanded. There’ll have been plenty of times when the writer had a coin-toss decision between taking one direction and another.
Because of this, the work never feels finished to its own author: there’s always the potential for some more tweaking. At some point, though, every writer has to let their work go.
Use It: Aim for completion, rather than perfection. You’re never going to feel like a piece of writing is quite as finished as it could be. Send it out into the world – it will only truly be complete once it has readers.
Secret #6: We Do it Because We’re Obsessed
An incurable itch for scribbling takes possession of many, and grows inveterate in their insane breasts. (Juvenal, Satires, around 100 AD)
Normal people aren’t writers. Most people (much to my horror) dislike writing. They might only read one or two books every year. They certainly don’t see any reason to put their thoughts down in writing, whether that’s as a blog, a journal or a story.
If you’re writing, you’ve got a certain obsession. Some writers talk about their need to write – and even believe that they couldn’t live without it. I certainly find it very hard to imagine a life where I didn’t write at all.
Use It: Accept that you’re a bit weird – and revel in it! Make time for your writing – sure, the rest of the world might not understand, but they’re not writers.
Secret #7: Money does matter
Nobody but a blockhead ever wrote except for money. (Samuel Johnson)
While many writers carry on because they’re a bit obsessed, there are very few who don’t have some ideas about making money from it. After all, if you can make a living from your writing, you get to spend your work day with words – not just your evenings and weekends.
Writers don’t necessarily love or even agree with everything they write. I’ve written on topics like Australian college football, not because I had any particular interest in it, but because I was being paid.
There’s no shame in making money from creative work – whatever the beret-wearing, garrett-dwelling types would have you believe.
Use It: If you want to make money as a writer, start paying attention to the market. Some sorts of writing (e.g. web copy, specialised non-fiction) are a lot more lucrative than other types (e.g. poetry). Don’t be afraid to try something new: you might enjoy it more than you think, and it might be the first step to turning your writing into an actual career.
Secret #8: We All Struggle With Self-Doubt
This is what I’ve been thinking lately: I’m getting worse. My writing just isn’t as good as it used to be. With every new story I write I believe I’ve lost something—the spark, the raw energy, the ability to see the scene, to tell the truth, to imagine. I look at my stories and feel like they could be so much better. (Jessie Morrison, MFA Confidential blog for Writer’s Digest)
You’ll come across the occasional supremely confident writer. In my experience, those people tend not to be very successful. Good writers are often riddled with self-doubt – and as they get better and better, they’re also more and more able to spot the flaws in their own work.
Self-doubt can be very destructive, and can cripple your ability to write. It’s something to stand firm against – but it’s important to remember that you’re not the only writer who goes through it. There’s nothing wrong with you if you have a little voice in your head saying “Who’d want to read THAT?”
Use It: Next time you doubt yourself, keep going anyway. Put doubts about your work aside when you’re drafting – save them for when you need to edit.