Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Phantom Headache

I spent the great majority of my life pissed off at one thing or another, but that was nothing compared to the moment when I found out why I was frowning all the time, why I could never seem to concentrate, and enjoy myself, even in some small way, when the same basic situations that always set me off left most other people perfectly fine.

As a boy, and how young exactly I didn't learn, and will never go back and research, I had some type of experimental surgery. I remember being in the hospital, under the bright surgical light. That much I could always recall with unqualified ease. Whenever I found the nerve to ask my parents about the experience, they would pretend that they didn't know what I was talking about. I learned, however, that the surgery that for a time left a sort of cap on the side of my head was performed to install a device that would regulate a recurring headache that had bothered me since birth. I must have been two, maybe three at the time, too young to remember the headaches, and too young, it seemed, to properly remember the surgery, only that it had occurred. It worked perfectly. I never felt a headache from that point forward. But its side-effects might be considered worse.

At the slightest provocation, perhaps as my brain struggled to reconcile the impulses it continually received but were blocked by the device, I would grow exceedingly irritable. It wasn't that I was affected intellectually. In that regard I would still consider myself somewhat gifted, if only in ways that are rarely proven useful. I could reason with the best of them. But I frequently found that reason compromised, so that I would try and explain to myself that whatever little problem I was experiencing, no matter how common and how little I wanted to be confronted with it, I really had no reason to become so rude to those around me, both those responsible and those who represented the behavior that made the offending actions possible. It was my brain trying to tell me that my head hurt, and because I couldn't feel it, I experienced it in another way.

I was angry for a moment, and then a day, and then I couldn't remember what it used to be like to trust the world. The surgery had done its job, but only too well. It was an unacceptable development, being unable to cope with the world, simply because my brain couldn't cope with itself, because of a device, because of headaches.

How bad could it have really been?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Your Name Will Never Be the Same

Yesterday my name was Horvath, and today it's Ellison, and I've had half a dozen in the last half dozen days. It's never the same. It doesn't matter. Names have gone out of fashion. We know other people by what they do, by their personality, their inclinations, when we see them, how we know them. When someone finally realized that, the ball started rolling, and suddenly, names are just a game. You can choose a new one every day, or you can go entirely without one. Who needs a name?

I like to pick one everyday entirely out of habit. I like to tell myself, in some way, it still has meaning. If someone remembers my name, whichever ones it happens to be, then maybe I've achieved something. But then, people achieve things all the time, and history only very rarely makes a note of the name. In time, names really don't have any meaning at all. It becomes more about the name, and the person behind that name might not ever have existed at all. Names are abitrary. Maybe that's why I keep the game up, just to amuse myself, try and remain ahead of the curve.

Sometimes, I like to assign names to all the anonymous achievements I can think of, and I surprise myself with all the ones I can think of, not the names, but the achievements. You want examples, you can think of them yourselves. This one's interactive. Come up with your own names, too. I can only do it once a day, and I keep a journal, partly so I don't repeat myself, and also, just in case it ends up being helpful in some other way. I can imagine, someone finding it one day, reading all those names. Sometimes I wonder if I should write about the day a particular name had. But there are so many records already. I have an index of names.

And again, no name at all. How about that?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Science of Pastel Eggs in the 22nd Century

He was walking down the street, just as you would on an ordinary afternoon, as anyone else a hundred, two hundred, a millennium ago, or the way a caveman might have. The street was much in the way that you understand streets now. The difference was the shoes he wore. They were conditioned for walking. It seems strange to say this, because no doubt you have worn a great many pair of shoes as you have walked, and you have felt perfectly comfortable in them.

But as I said, these particular shoes were made especially for walking. By this I mean, they never worn down. They were made to last, as they used to say, to endure a great amount of use, so that he never had to worry about finding another pair. He wore shoes, and that was all he had to worry about, and of course, he also walked.

He found that he walked more when he wasn't concerned about his shoes. He walked miles and miles out of his way, so that you might say that there was no real place that was out of it, that he might call the whole world his own domain, all the places he could walk. They were water-resistant, so he could walk, if he felt up to it, across a stream, a shallow river, even into the very ocean, and sometimes he did just that, living on the coast as he did.

He walked, and he was content to do so. He had the shoes that helped make it possible.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Lost Convoy, Part XXX: Conclusion

Her name was Veronica Crim. She lived on a world she knew as Pangea. She couldn't know it, but it was exactly like the planet Earth, which had been lost to the galaxy more than a hundred years earlier. She often studied the history books composed since that time, as she wasn't interested, much less invested, in the time before that. She knew the names of the individuals who had settled Pangea by heart. She knew of the heroics of Ray Patch, of the authority of James Ward, and of so many others: Clive Lockwood, Jim Brewer, Kim Jones, Tabitha Thrasher, Gabriel Martinez. It seemed as if there were whole libraries of books dedicated to each of them, and yet, only two of them had left lasting records of their own behind, the music of Thrasher and the films of Lockwood. Many artistic talents since had long since blended both legacies together, in fact.

Veronica often wondered what it must have been like, in the days before Pangea, when humanity's home was a convoy of ships, when two of them became lost and found each other, and then helped humanity itself settle a new world. Were these people titans, giants who had straddled the stars? In her heart, she knew they weren't, but when she dreamed at night, she often lost herself in such fantasies. And then she would gently rise from her bed, and plant her foot on the floor, and when that wasn't enough, she would open a window, and let the morning breeze wash over her. She would often stare out into the horizon for hours, and be contented with that. Her life seemed so normal, so comfortable, so predictable.

But it could be worse.

Lost Convoy, Part XXIX: Gabriel Martinez

He waited, nervously as he was surprised to admit to himself, just as he imagined everyone else was, for something to happen. It was like the destruction of the planet all over again. The anticipation. How do you end up treating things like this as if they were a game?

He ended up returning his attention to the information port mounted on the seat in front of him. He had found useful things with it already. And he couldn't stop thinking about his brother. Why had he gone missing? Why had he panicked, and that was the only way Gabriel could describe it, the only way it made sense. His brother had panicked in the face of the work he had done in the final days of the planet Earth. It couldn't have been pressure, exactly, because his brother had always been the coolest person in the room, even when they were children. It had always unnerved him. That must have been what started everything.

He switched through every channel he could find, all the backdoor files, all the coding, all the tricks he had picked up from a lifetime he had once believed, with everyone else, to be wasted. It was in this way that Gabriel discovered the coordinates. His brother had one last miracle up his sleeve.

He found, instead of rejoicing, that he could only think about his brother. He didn't care about anyone else, and never had. He missed his brother. He discovered that without him, he had actually become him.

And maybe that's exactly what his brother had realized.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Lost Convoy, Part XXVIII: Zero History

Sometimes it's hell getting to heaven.

Gabriel received a call from his brother several weeks before the news broke, more cryptic than anything he had ever heard from him. It was nothing that revealed what he knew, what he was working on. Basically, his brother told Gabriel, "Goodbye." Nothing had ever unsettled him quite so much. His brother was the competent, confident one, the one everyone loved, the one that did everything right. His brother loved Gabriel when Gabriel had made it impossible for anyone else to, even Gabriel himself. And then it was over.

He began researching what exactly his brother had been up to. Gabriel hadn't heard from him in months, which itself was unusual, but his brother was always busy, and he couldn't possibly maintain every one of his commitments all the time. Gabriel had never once fulfilled a commitment in his life. He considered his brother a saint. He had once come very close to becoming the manager of a music talent he'd discovered in a bar. He had once been asked to be a different kind of manager, of a bookstore, but never showed up to the interview. He had even been requested to be a missionary for an obscure church in the midwest. So many different lives that had never materialized.

He discovered that his brother had been working for a man named James Ward, and that his disappearance had caused a significant delay in the project. Gabriel himself eventually tracked down the body of his brother, in a Mexican bordertown. He would never learn how it had come to be there. Whatever trail might have remained went up with the rest of the planet.

And Gabriel found himself taking his brother's place as one of the last survivors of the human race.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Lost Convoy, Part XXVII: Clive Lockwood


"Um, hi."

"You're from the other frigate, the one whose signal we found."

"Right. And my name's Tabitha. Tabitha Thrasher."

"Mine's Clive Lockwood."

"You haven't heard of me, have you?"

"Afraid not."

"Well, Clive, for some reason I feel like I should be talking with you, and it's not just because someone gave you the phone. I get the sense that it's important. I'll make it easier. I've got a song, called 'The Unnamed,' about a dream I once had, a premonition about the future. The song's kind of vague, but it really happened, and it's basically what made me become a rock star. Something tells me you've had a similar experience."

"Who put you up to this? Gabriel?"

"I have no idea who Gabriel is. Let's just be honest here."


"Clive. Mr. Lockwood, please, it's important to me."

"Do you have a real name, Tabitha?"

"Tabitha's authentic. Thrasher's stage. You can call Tab."

"Tabitha, however it happened, your instinct was right. I did have a dream, and I guess you might know what mine was about. You were in it, now that I think of it. I'm sorry if I've come off a little rudely. These are strange days."

"You're cool, Clive. Don't worry about it."

"Promise to sing me your song when we meet."

"Okay! Okay."

"I saw all of it. It hasn't been very clear, but I had a dream about all of it, many years ago. I know where we all end up. I knew exactly who would survive. I just didn't want to believe it. But the memories have been coming back."

"Forgive me for saying, but I believe it was a gift, Clive. You were granted a vision. Something told you exactly what would happen, and it wasn't so you could warn everyone. I think you were connected into it. It's pretty cool. I think that's why we're having this conversation. We understand each other better than we think."

"Forgive me for saying, but I never thought I would have anything in common with a rock star."

"And hey Clive, I was never much of a preacher's little girl."

"You're more like one than you think."

"Things are going to get better, aren't they?"

"I think they are."

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Lost Convoy, Part XXVI: World Enough and Time

Tabitha asked for a manifest of the frigate as soon as she hard the news. She was looking for someone, hoping they had somehow survived. She found instead that she concentrated on a few names, ones she didn't even recognize, but which were attached to biographies that sounded as if they had come out of her songbook.

Ray Patch. This one was the pilot. Unlike her ship, this would be a fairly significant position over there. She could only imagine what kind of responsibility he was now feeling.

Jim Brewer. There were very few older passengers on her frigate, and so Jim's age alone was interesting. She began to consider him something of a father figure, something she hadn't really thought of in years. She'd written so many songs about it, she now realized, but the idea of it had been so elusive...What was Jim like in person?

Kim Jones. Like the pilot, Ray Patch, Kim no doubt had it far more rough on that frigate. There were many flight attendants on hers, as many, it almost seemed, as passengers. And yet Kim seemed to be completely alone.

Clive Lockwood. Clive Lockwood...She should have felt much the same way about him as she did Jim Brewer, just as Kim and Ray were something of a match, and yet Clive intrigued her in a different way entirely. He read so mysteriously, a retired priest, no scandals in his past, and not so old that he would have been infirm at the time of the event. Something had to have happened to him, something must have shaken him, this man of God. She believed it had everything to do with the event. She would seek this one out personally.

She had so much time. There only seemed to be time, and time seemed so incredibly meaningless. Time was now humanity's world, she mused, a new reality, but somehow familiar, comforting. Something predictable. And while she waited, she became curious. She asked if she could call the other frigate, and as it turned out, that was no problem at all. She spoke with a man named Gabriel Martinez, and James Ward intercepted some of her time, but she ended up getting exactly what she wanted, and she had no idea how it happened, and really, didn't care.

That was the way the world now worked. That was what time was, a matter of opportunity. She said to Clive Lockwood, "I've been meaning to talk with you."

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Lost Convoy, Part XXV: State of Fear

She had taken so many flights in her life, the concept seemed to have lost all meaning. That was what she had thought, but when she'd been asked to take this one, she suddenly felt an overwhelming sense of awe, so childlike she was embarrassed to have even felt it. That wasn't who Tabitha Thrasher was, at least not to all her fans, and even those who despised her. She had been one of the most successful musical acts of her generation, and she understood that it was on this basis that she was invited to take this particular flight, and she hesitated for a moment, and it was during that moment that she found herself once again shepherded along, right onto the frigate, just as if it were another, perfectly ordinary event in her grand career.

At first, when she realized what'd happened, she was angry, stunned, and yes, embarrassed again. She felt as if she'd betrayed her fans. There was no way an entire planet could be evacuated, not unless they'd had years advance notice, and she knew that simply wasn't the case, and so, the fact was, many people would die in an instant, a fiery explosion...She paused and rethought that. Many people had died in exactly that manner already. The planet was gone. She survived. It felt wrong, and she stopped thinking about her fans, about her career, and in that moment, she absently began to sing. It wasn't even one of her own songs. Hers was a talent that had come about as a nervous habit, something to make things seem better than they really were. In the early years, when she'd become Tabitha Thrasher, she would tell herself that she was doing that same effect for her fans. And then the whole thing took on a life of its own. And what had happened to that little girl? Somehow she had returned.

Everyone onboard seemed nervous, and most of that was expressed through incessant chatter, and through some of that Tabitha found out some of the details that had washed over her in recent weeks, in recent hours. That was when she first heard about the other ship, and that's how she started thinking about something else, even someone else. And it felt good.

She began to sing a little more deliberately.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Lost Convoy, Part XXIV: Tabitha Thrasher

It was the last night of the tour. Tabitha Thrasher was now several years into a greatly admired career, maybe not a lot of mainstream success to her credit, but a steady and fiercely loyal following that stayed with her every step of the way. It was exactly that kind of audience she had just played, who had lost themselves in her singing, in the blaring sounds of the guitars and drums, which still reverberated in her own ears as she sat down backstage, with loud calls for one more encore, even though she'd already done two. She almost got up, and then her phone beeped, and it was her agent. Normally the end of the tour was a time to relax for a while from everything, even her agent, all the glorious nonsense that constituted success. She almost didn't answer, but decided she might as well. It had been a good tour, a great one. Maybe he was just calling to congratulate her.

"Tab, it's the end of the world," he said in greeting.

"And I feel fine, I know," she replied offhand.

"No, seriously, that's your theme for the next album."

"I thought we were going with The Hardcore Diaries?"

"The State of Fear tour got me thinking. Zero History. We have to capitalize."

"By going backward?"

"Anyone can look forward. It's the true visionaries go look beyond that. Just listen to me. Zero History. In a couple months, you'll thank me, like you always do."

"Normally I block your calls."

"Very funny. That's why they love you."

"They love me 'cause I rock."


"Just think about it, okay?"

"Fine. Whatever."

It was immediately after that call that Tab answered the second one from her agent, which was an even more unlikely occurrence than the one time.

"We're going with that one. No questions. I'll have more info later."

Friday, April 1, 2011

Lost Convoy, Part XXIII: Rendezvous

It seemed like only hours had passed when someone came to whisper in his ear again. James had a book in his lap, the old-fashioned kind, one of the slimmer Von Archimbaldi volumes, just something if he wanted to distract himself a little, and when he felt the person's breath in his ear, this time he had a momentary impulse to defend himself, grabbing the book as if to swing it at them. But he was able to restrain himself, as he always did. He listened with a little interest about a signal of some kind. He had no idea what they were talking about.

It was another few hours before the rock star, the one who had been singing earlier, came up to him, and suggested that he look into the matter personally. He had no idea why she thought it should be important to him, but again he was in the mood to humor the situation. He found himself conducted to a cabin with a radio transmitter, and someone was holding a receiver out for him. When he took it, James heard a curious voice on the other end, Latin of some kind. He had very few dealings with such men, though he held nothing personal against them. It had always been about reputation. The man identified himself, but James glossed over it, when suddenly, he thought he should identify himself, too. He tried just his name, but that didn't seem to faze the man on the other end, so he elaborated as best as he could, by introducing himself, what he had once been. It sounded so quaint, but it had also been good to say out loud, when it might still have some meaning, some impact. The rock star quickly took the receiver, and James lost the moment as soon as it had occurred to him.

A few hours later, he found himself roused again, this time with the news, "We're due for the rendezvous in fifteen minutes. Is there anything you'd like before then?"