Welcome to Eureka (rhymes with Sligo)

You can say what you want about Denny’s, but it’s got one thing going for it: No door locks. I was wandering the blustery rustic streets of Eureka, and there was just one thing on my mind. Breakfast. I need breakfast the way a mole rat needs fur. (You see? would I have written that if I was not loopy with hunger and uncaffeinated?)

The historic downtown district has been prettied up for the tourists, and I was confident that I would find a nice little café where I could drink a nice cup of tea. The cold rain stung my face as I walked, and I was thankful for my beard. Not too far along I found a place. Closed. I passed some nice-looking places, but they all opened later. Ooooo-kay. Starting to get hungry. Ahead I saw a bagel place. Perfect! It turns out they are open six days a week, but not on Tuesdays. Tuesdays! Around a corner and another block toward the bay was a promising sign. Sorry, closed, out of business, thanks for your support.

So, Denny’s, for almost-right eggs over easy and toast oozing butter. Delicious!

A Dark and Stormy Night

The design of this little hotel is interesting. The ground floor is for the cars, and the motel above is turned inside-out, with the doors opening onto a central court, lit by skylights. The rafters over the court are covered with spikes to convince our feathered friends that what would otherwise be an ideal nesting place is off-limits. The building is older, with those little signs of decay that are hard to pinpoint but add up to a feeling that of a place that wasn’t that well-built to start with and has seen better days.

I chose to stay in, and I spent the evening reading and eating snack food. The wind whipped around the building and drummed on the roof. It was downright chilly, so I turned on the heater—one of those gas-fired wall units, about five feet high, the enamel darkened near the top from years of use, the kind that emits carbon monoxide if it’s not adjusted properly. I read until I started nodding off, then turned out the light and fell quickly to sleep.

Quickly, but not for long. I awoke to a series of low, resonant clanging sounds noises coming from the heater. They slowed down over the next couple of minutes and eventually stopped. The metal of the heater was contracting, I guessed, after the thermostat had reached temperature and shut it off. I listened to the rain come in squalls, fierce yet brief, hammering the roof and the tin chimney of my heater. The storm was playing the metal pipe like a musical instrument—no, a band, with percussion and woodwinds. Heavy drops rattled and pinged off the metal while the wind resonated in the pipe with low moans and higher whistles. The whole was punctuated by the periodic smack from the bathroom as the vent louvers opened and slapped back closed with the shifting winds.

I lay in the darkness, having just finished one Pulitzer prize-winning novel and started another, and thought of graceful and floral ways to describe the night. This morning I can’t remember any of them. They sure seemed good at the time, though.

Twice more last night I awoke to the clunk-clunk-clunk of the heater as it expanded or contracted. By the numbers, it was not a great night of sleep, but this morning I feel refreshed, perhaps because I decided not to drive today. That’s right, I’ll be returning to the same place tonight.

Delayed by Weather

The Weather Channel is calling the roads around here “a big mess”, so I’m going to take time out from driving and catch up on some writing. Unfortunately, TWC is also calling for dangerous surf and “rough bar conditions”. I’d better leave the laptop in my room.

Leaving Colville, continued

Onward from Colville (rhymes with Smallville), dodging squirrels and following the Columbia River. I took it easy, watching for eagles and eagle food. I passed some fractured igneous rocks reminiscent of the Giant’s Causeway, then caught some big roads south to the Oregon border.

I drove on the Oregon side of the Columbia Gorge and was beginning to lament not finding photos opportunities where I could actually stop the car, when I had a chance to take leave of the Interstate and take the narrow, winding historic highway 30. Rule of thumb: When there are two ways to get from point A to point B, and one is far more efficient than the other, there is a great drive waiting to happen.

The day was soft—generally cloudy and often raining lightly. The roads were wet, not idea, for performance driving, which made it all the more pleasant to slow down and smell the moss. At lower speeds on a freshly-surfaced road, the motor purring, the tunes easily filling my little cabin, I was doing well. I tried not to think about my gas gauge flirting with “E”.

You know what you get when you have basaltic cliffs towering over a major river in a moist climate? Really cool waterfalls is what. Lot’s of ’em. I managed not only to curb my go-go-go instinct but I even doubled back once

—We interrupt this narrative to comment on the juke box in this little sports bar in a Portland suburb. Planet P is playing right now. Remember them? The song is “Why Me?” and the line that caught my attention was “He won’t be back this way ’till two thousand ten.” When that song was popular, that seemed like a long time away. Now it’s just about here. Wow.—

for a picture. I haven’t looked at the results yet. The shot I went back for I don’t think I got, though. I just couldn’t make what was in my head match what came out on the camera’s little screen. I’ve just got to keep practicing, I tell myself.

Now I sit, pen in hand, dangerously close to the pool table (some of these guys see to think it’s a contact sport), drawing curious glances from the locals. I think I’ll challenge the winner.

Leaving Colville

It was in Griffin, WA, just past the turn off for Addy-Griffin Road (double-take), on the stereo “One More Suicide” by Marcy Playground was shaking the upholstery when the squirrel threw himself in front of the car. The first autotoreador of the season to make his bid for mortality before my machine broke left, then cut back right as I hit the brakes and swerved. It’s a habit, what can I say? There was no thump, and in the rear view there was no furry carcass. I believe that rodent has lived to be run over another day.

South, and west. Now I sit at a place called Cleary’s, somewhere in the vicinity of Portland. I was sorry to leave Colville; mornings in the quiet house, feet up in front of the fire are hard to beat. Bob and the H’s were sorry to see me go, for divergent reasons. Helen, whose first question on my arrival was “do you still have your convertible?” subsequently summarized just what it was about me she liked so much. “You’re easier than Dad!” There was only a trace of incredulity when she said it, and she meant it as a compliment. Henry is older and still a dreamer. When he saw me, his first question was “Do you still have your convertible?” Henry launched into a writing project while I was there, and I think he was a little surprised at what his imagination was able to do. I don’t kid myself that this flurry of pencil to paper will last much past my departure, but there might come a day when he remembers that story, and remembers the fun he had writing it.

I didn’t mention to his parents that when he said he had to write an essay for school (the dreaded 3 points in 5 paragraphs format) I told him to bag the rules, write from the heart, and count the paragraphs later. I wonder what a teacher would do, faced with a really good essay that was (gasp!) six paragraphs long. In fact, I might even be willing to relive those years just to write such an essay. Almost.

At the time I followed the formula like a good little robot.

Bob and I go way back, Back in the day there was no one better to kill an otherwise lost afternoon with. First, Bob has a creative mind tuned towards having fun. Take an unexploded bomb, a golf ball, and a hula hoop, and Bob will find the game waiting to be played. These days, Bob isn’t around land mines so much, so when I’m in town it’s a special opportunity. It’s a chance to go and drink beers and shoot pool and do guy stuff.

For precisely these reasons Bob’s wife, Jeni, is happy to greet me and also happy to say goodbye. Recently I revoked the right of people to complain about how busy they are if they watch TV. Throw your TV out the window and light it on fire. Take all that extra time and put it into the community, into your family, into the sports team. Feeling tired? I don’t blame you. By the way, Jeni is putting out your burning television. She’s got firefighter of the year awards hanging on the wall. While I was there she had two days extended into significant sleep deprivation by fire calls. I’ll tell you this, though: In my life I’ve had neighbors of various sorts, and there are a very few who take being a neighbor seriously. I am shameful in this regard. Jeni will drop what she’s doing and pull an all-nighter because it’s the right thing to do. Dang.

That said, I didn’t make Jeni’s life any easier while I was visiting. I was a polyp of institutionalized chaos, the guy who plays big ball hall soccer. More that once the H’s caught grief for transgressions that I affirmed. (OK, encouraged.)

Rachael. I am a time traveler, a stone skipping across the surface of the lake, just touching the life of this family at intervals. Between this skip and the last she has changed, dramatically, beautifully. I had heard about the teen threshold in girls, but I had never witnessed it firsthand before. Rachael and I did well before, while she was the engine of the conversation, but this time some scruffy friend of dad’s wasn’t automatically cool, no matter what he drives.

She’s about to make life hell for some poor bastards. She will do it innocently, or at least without dishonesty.

Then there’s hoops. Rachael plays a position game. While her teammates crash and bang about, she gets where she needs to be. She raises her arm, providing a target, put it there and see the offense work. If that doesn’t work she can rotate to the top and move the ball around. Snap!

OK. so that’s Rachael. Dudes, be ready to have your asses kicked.

And… I have much more to say, much, much more! But they’re kicking me out. Stay tuned.

AiA: White Shadow – Episode 2

Our story so far: Allison is an American high-school student who has transferred to a private prep school in Japan. She is only very slowly adapting to a culture that seems to depart from all reality. Her status as a transfer student has the entire class assuming she has mystical superpowers of some sort, and her fellow students are trying to determine what those powers are. She is staying with distant relatives, who seem completely absorbed in computers to the exclusion of all else. Meanwhile, she has been invited to the old monastery, where an odd assortment of girls live with seemingly no supervision.

If you would like to read from the beginning, the entire story is here.

Seiji stood in the shadows outside the Old Monastery. The lights were on inside, but things were otherwise quiet. “I don’t like this,” he muttered.

“That which is not liked is loved,” came a withered voice behind him. Seiji wheeled to find three old men standing uncomfortably close to him. They wore the robes of monks, and all were bald and toothless. They stood arranged tallest to shortest, and seemed to have been standing there for some time.

“Wha—?”

“It is not for the kitten to refuse his stripes,” the one in the middle said.

“Or his claws,” said the short one.

“What are you talking about?”

“It has begun,” the tall one said.

“Still going,” agreed the middle one.

“Never stopped,” said the short one, smiling toothlessly. All three laughed at the joke.

Seiji didn’t need cryptic prophecies to tell him that what was happening was unstoppable. He turned and stormed off.

“Kids,” said the tall one.

“Think they know everything,” said the middle one.

“They’re right.” said the short one. “They just don’t know it.” The monks laughed again before fading into the shadows.

“Wow, guys! This is fantastic!” Allison ate hungrily. “This is nothing like the stuff my aunt makes.”

“What sort of food do they fix you at home?” asked Ruchia.

“It’s got these weird flavors, like my aunt doesn’t care what it tastes like at all. Like it was just made by some formula to have all the necessary nutrients.”

“That’s terrible!” said Mika. “Food’s supposed to be fun!”

“Be careful,” warned Tasuki. “Mika’s definition of fun usually involves explosions. That goes for her spicy cooking as well.”

Allison’s knees were starting to ache from sitting at the low table, but she really was grateful for the meal and the lively company. She was still in a state of shock at the whirlwind of activity that surrounded her.

Her visit had started simply enough. Tasuki and Ruchia had ridden the train with her, and the two girls had sustained the conversation while Allison watched the city go by. It was a short ride, and then they walked up steep streets which got steadily narrower and more confusing as they neared the top of the hill. Perched at the crown was the Old Monastery.

The ancient building sat in harmony with the trees and lawns that surrounded it. The building itself hid its size well; it flowed with the natural contours of the land, and the structure’s proportions and subtle asymmetries made it seem more an act of nature than a work of man. The building was in perfect repair, the wood showing no signs of deterioration in the damp environment.

The first person she met was the building manager. Nemu was sweeping the front walk as the girls approached. She appeared to Allison to be about thirty years old. A bent cigarette dangled from the corner of her mouth. Nemu stopped sweeping, leaned on her broom, and took a long drag from her cigarette. She exhaled a long plume of smoke and said, “Transfer student?”

Ruchia said, “This is Allison, Miss Nemu. She’s from America.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Allison said.

“’Bout time. You moving in?”

“Uh, no. I’m staying with relatives.”

Nemu took another drag on her cigarette and exhaled again. “I’m sorry.”

“What?”

“Are you close to them?”

“Jeeze, I hardly know them. And they never even talk to me.”

“White shadow,” Tasuki said in what passed for her as a whisper.

Nemu nodded. “Oh, well, that’s all right, then. I can wait. He’s not here yet anyway.”

“What is this White Shadow?” asked Allison. “You mentioned it before.”

“Oh, well! It’s nothing!” Tasuki said, grinning foolishly and putting one arm behind her head. A drop of sweat appeared on her forehead. “Just a computer thing. I’m sure I don’t understand it. Ha-ha-ha…”

“Come on,” Ruchia said, “You need to meet everyone else.”

“Everyone else” left Allison’s head reeling. She’d quickly abandoned any hope of remembering any names; they came at her too quickly and were too different for her to put them in comfortable slots. She resolved to ask Ruchia later for the names, when she had more time to connect the names to the conveniently distinctive traits of each of the girls she met.

As they approached the house, they were confronted by a giant creature with glowing eyes. Allison jumped back, but Tasuki just laughed. “Don’t worry,” she said, “this is just something Mika made.”

“Preezed to meetchoo” the robot said in English.

“That’s incredible,” Allison said.

Tasuki was watching Allison carefully. “She’s made better.”

“This is Kuu,” Ruchia said. Allison looked in the direction indicated but at first saw no one. After a moment a strange, unrecognizable creature rose from the bushes, then a pair of frightened eyes poked out from behind the stuffed animal.

“Um… hello,” Kuu said.

“Hello,” Allison replied. She bent down a little, to be more on a level with Kuu. “How are you?”

The eyes disappeared once more behind the stuffed animal.

Another small figure exploded from the house. “Is this her? Is this her?”

“This is Mika,” Ruchia said. “You met her robot.”

The girl was exotic – long fair hair, dark skin, and odd markings on her forehead. She was so filled with energy that Allison imagined her as a stick of dynamite in human form. She darted around Allison with surprising speed, pausing to inspect the newcomer from every angle. “She’s a transfer student? Really?” She dared to poke Allison, then when nothing happened she started prodding her Allison all over. “What’s your power source? Can you really bleed? Are you terrestrial?”

Eventually her investigations slowed down. “Just a person,” she said, despondent, then quickly perked back up. “Were you in a lab?”

“She wouldn’t remember that, silly.” a new girl said. She leaned in the doorway, idly holding a beer. Her skimpy outfit revealed a voluptuous body beneath.

“This is Dojima,” Ruchia said.

Hitomi followed Dojima and was a welcome relief from the madness all around; the girl was an island of stability in the chaotic household. “You seek balance,” Hitomi said. “That will not be easy for you.”

“Nothing’s been easy since I got here.”

“Was it easy before?”

“Well, no, I guess not. But it was different.”

“Was it? When you are dying of thirst in the desert, do you notice the color of the sand?”

“Uh… what?”

“Don’t worry about it. I look forward to being your friend.”

Allison didn’t notice the intake of breath by all others present. “I will be honored to consider you my friend,” she said.

“Thus, we are bound.”

“Come on!” shouted Mika. “I’m starving! I’m starving!” She grabbed Allison’s hand and dragged her into the main building.

Seiji crept back toward the Old Monastery. They were bonding inside, he knew, but there was still an element missing, the catalyst required to turn a building filled with girls into the focus of untold trouble. Even the transfer student wasn’t enough.

“You fear chapter three,” the old man said behind him.

“Gah!” Seiji turned and there they were, the three monks, lined up just as they had been before.

“We’re still on chapter one,” the middle monk said.

“And chapter two’s gonna kick your ass,” said the short one.

It was late when Allison got home. After the meal she had been dragged out for a soak in the hot springs that were part of the monastery. No one had even mentioned studying.

She slipped in the front door, not wanting to wake anyone, but her uncle was still up. She glanced into his office as she slipped past, and stopped with a gasp. Her uncle had added two more monitors, and a few other boxes were scattered around the desk and on the floor, connected by cables strewn about haphazardly. Her uncle sat, staring into abstract patterns playing across the monitors.

Something about the patterns gave Allison the creeps. With a shudder she continued up to her room.

Carlucci’s Edge

Carlucci’s Edge by Richard Paul Russo is a detective story set in a grim, futuristic San Francisco. Modern society is collapsing, yet at the same time technology has continued to advance. Against that backdrop Lieutenant Carlucci must find the connection between a series of seemingly unrelated murders. Along the way he meets a handful of interesting characters who are also caught up in the events.

The prose is concise and very readable, tight and to the point, making it easy to keep turning the pages. The characters are generally believable (but not universally), and the author does a good job at times portraying their emotions. He uses “business” a lot (fiddling with coffee cups is a favorite) to control the pacing of conversations, and that works pretty well, but sometimes I found it overdone. (Note to self…)

Overall, I enjoyed the book quite a lot. I found myself, however, glancing at how much of the book was left and wondering how the story was going to fit in the remaining pages. It wasn’t that the characters weren’t making progress, it was that there was no increase in tension as they got closer to the truth. The bad guys who were willing to kill to protect their secrets at the start don’t seem to be very active as the good guys close in. The ending itself, while far more realistic that most things you will find in this genre, lacked the punch I expect in a novel of this sort. Perhaps the problem was in my own expectations.

 

Note: if you use the above link to buy this book (or a Kindle, or a new car), I get a kickback.