At midnight, I stared out the window of my attic room, watching cars roll by the street lamps.
Nobody prowled the streets. Even the neighborhood cats had chosen to go elsewhere. I frowned at the abandoned pink Power Wheels car on someone's lawn.
Unable to sleep, I'd switched on my computer, hoping to get a start on a novel, some...thing worth publishing, but the tower hummed idle, Wordpad showing a blank page.
Nothing on the street provided any inspiration. Not even an owl flitted by to inspire me. I didn't want to go out, though.
I sat in front of the keyboard, making a tentative start.
I had an idea loosely inspired by one of my childhood friends who recently grew up and turned into kind of a douche. In the story, there's a party:
"Trust me, if you go to this party, you will not be sorry!...You're single, right?"
I stared at my friend, opened my mouth to reply, but I guess my facial expression had been enough.
"There's going to be lots of nice young single ladies at that place. A lot of art industry types too. You might be able to connect with someone there and land yourself an art job."
Yeah, yeah. Great idea. The only trouble was, I couldn't remember what my friend looked like.
I pressed delete, started a fantasy story:
Sometimes I get tired of Sketch City. Either the whole population is in a screwing frenzy, or someone tries to shoot you out of the air while you're delivering babies, or both at the same time.
Storks make thousands of deliveries the metropolitan area, high rise apartments, mansions, hovels, tents yurts, cars, anthills, mouse holes, dog houses, zoos, garages, bird cages, basically anywhere we can possibly get a sexing signal from.
Every day we take wing in the early dawn. The sky sometimes changes, but mostly it's the same background painting, clouds and flying cartoon objects to give it some variety. Today wispy ghost things flitted past me, then koalas in a hot air balloon.
Le sigh. Interesting, but not very exciting. Cartoon characters are invulnerable to just about everything and are tireless. Kind of makes less emotional pull for the reader.
I deleted the document, opened the half baked fantasy project I'd gotten about a page into before abandoning.
A so-so idea. The guy is in a coma. He imagines he's on a sailing ship that represents all the parts of the human psyche. I typed.
The sea birds did not sing, they only made rhythmic monotone beeps, once a minute, that you could set a watch by.
They say the seas used to be bright blue, and you could live on the land, the continents teeming with life and beauty. I do not know these times. I only know the Dark Seas, the black waves that swallow ships whole if they do not bear the magical fluid of Imaginarium.
We do not willingly rob other ships of this previous substance. Great need has made pirates out of us all, and desperation sent us in pursuit of the Arpeggio, once a dear companion vessel.
At sunrise of that fateful day, we sailed the ocean of Fangs, in search of food. The location derived its name from the formations of Empties, mainly what the Old Ones called Television Sets, their shape resembling that of dragon's fangs.
My crew had already been up before down, casting nets, the ice chests on the textured plastic flooring nearly brimming with delicious essences, paper cards depicting men holding bats, an idol...
I hadn't written the paragraph that came after this. I had an idea of them pulling up memories from the ocean, distilling them down and drinking them as a kind of soup to keep living. They also fished up a lot of "empties," memories that had no substance or usefulness to them.
I had an opening for the story, but it really didn't fit anywhere:
My piracy of The Queen's navy appeared to have been hugely successful, for I had enough gold to charter a new ship, with enough crew and supplies to last me years on the open sea. That being said, I ran short during my last purchase, the merchant only meeting me halfway after I put on a raccoon costume and performed a little song and dance number for him.
Kind of ridiculous anyway, considering the ship is a metaphor for his brain, and he technically shouldn't be able to recount a time when he didn't have his brain. I frowned as the story skipped down to the "memory soup" bit:
As I sipped from a fine `honeymoon sweet', the floating furball Yemquevar brought a disturbing fact to my attention. "I have heard that the Rubtert rodent folk carry a map to a near limitless supply of imaginarium. They intend to purify a small island and settle there permanently. It is a selfish plan, one that will not benefit anyone but themselves."
I frowned. "Are we much better?"
"You and I both know about Letravab, the lost land with legendary air and water purification machinery. Such a large quantity of Imaginarium would allow us to not only access the core of the continent, it would power the machines themselves indefinitely."
"Could we hail the other craft and see if we can share this resource?"
The owl shook her head. "My sources were hesitant to even mention such a find let alone share the full
details. I say we lie in wait among the empties and attack. Their ship is sure to come this way to acquire essences."
"Is there no other way? I have always valued my friendship with Captain Sherzo."
"I am afraid not, Captain. Sherzo has been keeping secrets from you."
We hid ourselves in the shadows beside one of the great fangs, and waited for Sherzo's vessel to arrive.
We did not have to wait long. The headlights of Sherzo's blue chrome ship made their appearance in the cloudy darkness, and we raised the pirate flag of the treble three quarter time.
There on the deck Sherzo stood, a human sized rodent in a greatcoat.
It was a time honored method of war, activating the magic amplifiers, tuning our instruments, challenging the other ship to a battle of sound, trumpets, double bass, timpani and bassoon. Our wild orchestrations shattered the hulls of their boats, the enemy reduced many of our musicians to ash. In the end, Sherzo knelt by the gangplank, begging for his life.
"Sherzo, I do not wish to kill you. I only seek the map to the Imaginarium."
"No," he stammered. "You do not want this. It has been a curse to me and my crew. Take whatever you desire from my boat, but do not ask me for the map again."
"There is nothing from your boat that I desire more than the map you keep. I heard that you refused to part with it willingly, nor speak of its details."
Sherzo paled. "That very well may be, but there are good reasons for my silence. I must warn you again more strongly. Do not ask for this. You do not understand what you are requesting."
"Give me the map!" I shouted. "Or I shall be forced to play a song for you as well!"
Although greatly disturbed, Sherzo did as requested, bringing out a small sheet of paper with trembling hands. "It is not a map. I wish I never saw this."
He was right. It did not depict any known sea or landmass. It only yielded writing:
You are in a coma. You were drinking, and you got into a car accident. You may have noticed that all essences are similar, because everything you pull from the ocean are your memories. You only drink liquids here because you are fed intravenously. The beeping seagulls you keep hearing...that is the sound of your own heart monitor. It always smells like a hospital because you're in one. Wake up."
Half baked idea. The reader could guess the punchline halfway through the story. I deleted the document, started another:
I've given tours at Gasconade Cellars winery for a couple years now. Not quite an expert on manufacturing or local history, but around long enough to hear the stories. The Chandlers, winery owners/founders, have a mansion on the highest hill in town, and it's allegedly haunted. People have seen a few spirits in the cellars themselves, too.
Little did I know I would soon come face to face with them myself.
Now, although I'd been working there long enough to know better, there was a door, identical to the men's restroom, and they both existed adjacent to the giant steel casks downstairs.
This other door had never been opened. Nobody had a key for it, and someone had even painted it shut.
That being said, the door was, for some reason, standing ajar one day, and I had maybe sampled a little too much of my company's product a few moments before, so I found myself pushing that door instead of the bathroom's.
I'd uncovered family crypt. A bunch of unfamiliar names on plaques next to crumbling vaults. They were Chandlers, of course, but that's all I knew.
The door swung shut as I examined my surroundings. I had to use my phone to see my way to the exit.
Locked. I couldn't get out.
My alcohol couldn't hold anymore. I could either ruin my slacks, or desecrate the place. Being a bit superstitious, I didn't think it wise to actually pee on a vault directly, so I just went on the floor.
"Don't kill me," I announced to the dead. "I promise I'll get a mop and cleaning stuff once I get out of here."
It seems the dead weren't convinced. The door remained stubbornly closed.
I banged on it, cried for help, then remembered my phone.
No bars. This was literally a dead zone. The screen said "emergency calls only" but 9-11 wasn't in range either, apparently.
Again I banged and yelled. I regretted choosing such a secluded restroom, its privacy would be my undoing.
A sudden creak and something like a mutter put me at the end of my wits. I jumped, threw my body against the door, then slipped and fell on my own waste puddle, hitting my head.
When I awoke, I found the door cracked open.
I hurried out, lamenting my own soiled clothing.
My eyes bugged out when I noticed the wine vats.
Instead of the brand new stainless steel, I saw huge old timey wooden casks. The cement work looked different, and someone had replaced our electric lights with lanterns that hadn't even been lit.
Great, I thought as I stared at the screen. I don't have a clue about the Old West, or the 1950's, or anything else that would make this story work.
I mean, I did know a few tidbits, but I'm basing this on a very specific town in Missouri, and...what actually happened there in 1945?
We sat in our pressure suits, staring out the shuttle windows.
Up front we had Dee, a narrow faced, stern looking blonde, and Ray, who, due to weight, just barely passed the physical exams. I sat behind them, Sanjay, a second generation Indian-American, in the seat beside me.
I'd missed my morning devotional, so I'd paused to quietly read the entry for today. As the only Christian onboard, this earned me some eyerolls, but I wasn't exactly pushing anything on them.
Sanjay, the guy in the seat next to mine, blew a raspberry. "You're an astronaut, and you still believe that crap."
I shrugged. "Think what you want, but in a hazardous job like this, I feel you gotta be prepared to face your maker at any time."
He shook his head. "What if we meet an alien? Would you still think God was real?"
"God can create whatever He wants. I don't think that would rule out His existence."
"If you meet an alien, and it could talk and stuff, would you start talking about Jesus to them?"
"I don't know. Probably. Culturally, it's important to me, and a lot of people on earth."
Dee, the blonde up at the controls, never did like me, and my comments did nothing to soften her cold, unfriendly demeanor. "If we ever do meet some, remind me to keep you far away from them. The last thing we need is more religious zealots promoting ignorance, repressing freedom and slaughtering innocents in the name of giant invisible men."
"You're entitled to your own opinion."
"Opinion? I'm citing facts based on history!"
I crossed my arms. "I never said I'd convert them."
"Just the same, I'd like to do the talking, you're biased."
"And you're not? Riiight."
Sanjay smirked. "Maybe you can both talk to them. Have a little forensics competition out there. See who convinces the alien more."
Ray had been quiet all this time, but now he gave his two cents. "Christianity is all about evangelizing the lost sinner. What are you going to do if the alien is alone by himself and doesn't have a soul to murder, steal from, commit adultery, or lie to?"
Damn, Ray, I thought. That's a very good point. Now how am I going to continue the story?
A brilliant white light flashed outside. I jumped up, rushing to the window to investigate.
A meteorite smashed through the roof of my neighbor's house. Something erupted within, turning the place into a huge fireball.
Another one dropped from the sky, then another.