It’s been a while since my last post and a lot has happened in the interval. I spent some time reviewing what I’ve learned about writing since I started this blog, looking at what I’ve done, reading about writing, even taking an online course on Creative Writing. I ended up feeling good about what I’ve achieved but at the same time, recognizing that there was a lot lacking in what I wrote. It was time to begin again. Here’s a story that I wrote a couple of years ago; I’ve revised it, applying my new skill set, and I’d like to get some reactions to this version of the story. It’s a little over four thousand words, a little long for a blog post, so I’ll serialize it, publishing it here in three parts. It’s called Reconciliation. Here’s the first part. Please let me know what you think of Theodore Malsch and the world he inhabits.
For three days now, Theodore Malsch had been watching the ragged old man. He was always there, on the same corner, hugging a small cup of something hot, the pockets of his old brown coat bulging suggestively with some kind of contraband. He never spoke, but it was clear from the way he would look at Theodore that a conversation between them was imminent, wanting only the merest gesture of acknowledgment from Theodore to begin. And for three days, Theodore had not made that gesture. This was only natural, because Theodore was a sensible young man, and he understood that contraband was dangerous and unsanitary. As was the ragged old man. But the bulges in those worn pockets were intriguing. As was the old man’s silence.
Today, Theodore was admitting to himself that he had been thinking about the situation from the very first day. At work, as he went through the motions of cleaning the machines, sanitizing them and setting them up with freshly autoclaved accessories, he thought about the bulges, imagining that they held fantastic drugs that would take him to pleasure palaces where he could be king for a while; or perhaps the old man had a supply of those QB emulators that everyone had heard about and spoken about but that no one had actually seen. He’d love to get one of those. Course, it wouldn’t be the same as the real QB; he knew that you couldn’t run a Quantum Bit processor without a nuclear power supply. That’s why only the Corporations had them. But the emulators were rumored to be almost as good. At least a thousand times more powerful than anything you were allowed to buy.
The more he thought about it, the more sure he was that the man had somehow obtained some QB emulators and was discreetly offering them for sale. Why else would he present himself so silently on the corner, and what else could he be selling? It had to be that. And today was the last day that Theodore would meet the old man on the corner. Tomorrow his shift would change and this once in a lifetime opportunity would be lost forever. In truth, he admitted to himself, he did not know for sure that the man was selling QB emulators, but what the hell, whatever it was, it had to be something good.
All his twenty-three years, Theodore Malsch had avoided dangerous situations and actions. In high school, he had watched his friends fall for the military recruiter’s promises of high good times; seduced by the imagined high of victory in noble defense of nation; the experience of camaraderie as part of an invincible army and the pleasures of the spoils of war for the conquering heroes, they abandoned High School in the ninth grade and disappeared into the Service. But kill and be killed held no appeal for Theodore. He had stayed in school, and graduated into his job at the hospital. His work there was not unimportant; the machines he maintained were a vital part of the emergency care given to the sick and wounded people dragged in from the developments
. Not infrequently, he would be caught up in the routine drama of the ER. In those moments Theodore would feel important but they were admittedly rare and while he understood that it was unrealistic to expect more, he remained, in the end, deeply unsatisfied.
So it was that Theodore Malsch had decided that he simply had to know what was contained in those bulging coat pockets. It seemed to him now that fate had sent him an opportunity and that the time had come to take a chance.
He had been apprehensive about the acquisition; never having dealt with contraband before he felt exposed and vulnerable, watched by a million eyes. In the final moments before contact was made, before the irrevocable step was taken, it occurred to him that the old man might be a watcher, a trap, there to ferret out resisters, the quiet outlaws who were the greatest threat to public order and the survival of the Homeland. Acquiring contraband was a crime and would cast him into that class of pariahs he had always looked at with fear and, yes, loathing. Yet here he was, gut churning, body tingling, every sense heightened, about to take the step that would launch him into the unknown.
The man was there, as usual, in his customary place, clutching his cup of hot liquid. Before each sip, he would blow gently into the cup, raising a small mist of steam from the brew. His eyes met Theodore’s over the rim of the steamy cup and there was, clearly, a question in them. Theodore’s heart raced as he nodded to the man, a thing he had never done before. He hoped that the old man would recognize this. He slowed his pace, waiting for a response; he drew level and stopped. Now he was committed to the act of lawbreaking and ready for anything. He pointed to the old man’s bulging pockets.
“How,” he began hoarsely, overcome with some emotion he had never felt before. He wondered if he was afraid. He cleared his throat and started again. “How much?”
“How much?” he said, jabbing fiercely with a pointing finger at the obvious bulges in the man’s pockets.
“Dunno. You want one?”
“Yes,” impatient, his hands signaling nervousness with small waving movements, suggesting haste.
The man frowned, thoughtful. “Okay, five satoshi.”
“Okay. Here, give me your code.” He took out his quandroid and made the transfer. The old man removed one of the bulges from his coat and handed it to him.
“Enjoy.” He turned sharply and was gone before Theodore could reply.
Clever, he thought, reading the book’s title to himself.
Interesting title – Mother of God – by someone named Paul Rosolie. Well at least somebody had a sense of humor here.The chip must be concealed in this book. The book was sealed in a thin plastic film, probably to protect it from the rigors of the man’s marketing methods. He stuck tit into his pocket where it created a comfortable bulge. It could stay there until he got home. Then he’d unwrap his QB emulator and get something going. It was gonna’ be epic.
Theodore knew how to lose himself in his work, usually; he had learned to push his feelings into the back of his brain while he worked. Today was different. Excitement permeated him, spilling over into the humdrum workday routine, energizing everything he touched, touching everyone he met. People noticed.
“Calm down,” he said to himself in an excited whisper.
That’s how it was, for the whole day, and towards the end he could barely contain himself. He forced himself to behave as was expected, to stay calm and perform. He tried to look as bored as he usually was but he didn’t make a good job of it. The ward nurses noticed, and smiled at him.
“Okay Theo, who is she?”
He smiled back, kept his mouth shut. This was way better than any she, he thought.
Home, he popped dinner into the microwave, grabbed a knife from the rack and sliced open the thin plastic that protected the book. Hands shaking, he opened it. He figured the QB chip had to be in some kind of cutout, maybe inside the pages, or even in one of the covers. The inside flap of the dust jacket blurbed about the Amazon Rain Forest, the last truly wild place on the planet. He held the book covers open and flipped the pages rapidly with his thumb, looking for a cut-out. Nothing.
Mother of God, yeah. What the …? Where’s my chip? Oh yeah, the cover, hidden in the cover I’ll bet.
The front, nothing, the back, more of the same. The book? This is the contraband? Well why not? He had always heard that there were many books that were contraband. He had never wanted to read any of them; no one he knew ever read anything, much, on their own but he had heard the underground murmurs.
He opened the book. This thing was from the 21st Century. That was a long time ago. He sat down and began to read; once started, there was no stopping, no sleeping that night, not until his eyes were exhausted and his brain filled with images of a place beyond imagining. He slept, and dreamt.
He woke late the next morning, but today was shift change day so it didn’t matter. He wasn’t due at the hospital until 8 pm. The Mother of God lay with him in the bed so he rolled over and once again immersed himself in her wonders. He read some more, allowing the words to take over his consciousness, to seep into his senses. He lay down on the river bank and slid his body into the cool water. He dreamt, waking hours later, refreshed.
And now a strange thing began to happen to Theodore Malsch. The book had ensnared him. It had coiled around him like one of its anacondas, its power enormous and irresistible. In its pages he found something new and vibrant, a life he had not even dared to wish for, or dream of. The first day he had read the book in its entirety, from cover to cover. And in the days since, he had read it over and over, consuming it, and with each reading falling deeper and deeper under its exotic enchantment.