ZIPPY TRIP TO THE ZONE

In 1965, I was first married. We lived in an apartment in one of two identical brick buildings. Our flat was 2 Q at the far end of the hall. A corner apartment, nice because we had better than average light.

I didn’t drive yet, but it wasn’t a problem. There was a bus stop right in front of our building and the university was just a 5-minute walk. When I wanted to go into town, I just hopped a bus. No parking problems, either.

One sunny day, I felt like going shopping. I did. Had lunch, bought a few things. Having taken the bus home, I took the elevator to the second floor, balancing my packages. I walked silently down the long carpeted hallway to apartment 2Q.

I tried to put my key in the lock, and it didn’t fit. Odd. Hmm. A nameplate was firmly attached to the middle of the door.

2 Q

KINCAID

My name was not Kincaid. I didn’t even know anyone named Kincaid. It was Apartment 2 Q. But not my place. Or maybe it was, but what was with the nameplate? Hmm.

Feeling increasingly dazed, I made a quick u-turn and walked back to the elevator. I pressed the button and rode back down to the lobby. I stood there for a few minutes, breathing. Then got back into the elevator back to the second floor. Should I have taken the stairs?

 

75-BricksBoston

Ding! I arrived. Clutching my packages against my chest, I — slower than before — walked down the hall. The pattern in the paint on the wall paint seemed cleaner and brighter. I was feeling a bit light-headed when I got to the end where that pesky nameplate still read “Kincaid.”

There was no question in my mind what had happened. I’d expected it all along.

I had slipped through an invisible wormhole. I was now in a parallel universe, another dimension. Everything was identical in this dimension to the world I knew except that in this place — I didn’t exist. Where I had been, someone named Kincaid was living. Maybe Kincaid was my husband. Perhaps I did exist and Jeffrey had gone missing.

I stood there. Breathing. Staring at the nameplate. Pacing a little down the hall and coming back.  Until finally, I looked out the window. And realized I was in the wrong building.

I’d made a simple mistake and gone into the wrong building.

I have forever since harbored a sense of disappointment. However weird, I wanted the magic to be real. I wanted an adventure in The Twilight Zone.


WHOA, DAILY PROMPT – This is at least the third time this prompt has appeared in one form or another. Maybe more. So if this sounds familiar, it’s because this is the third version of this story I’ve published. Because there are only so many ways to answer the same question.

FLATTENING THE LEARNING CURVE

Daily Prompt: I Have Confidence in Me – Are you good at what you do? What would you like to be better at?


Funny you should mention this. I was thinking, yesterday evening, that I’ve been writing for so many years … my entire life except for a few years before I knew which end of the pencil made marks … it has become like breathing. I just do it. I don’t plan projects, don’t struggle to say what I mean. Don’t get writer’s block. I can’t remember any time when I couldn’t write, though I have gone through periods when I didn’t want to write.

I blog because I’m going to write regardless and I need something to do with all those words. I love blogging. It’s the only writing I’ve done which isn’t a long-term project.

72-OIL-Cardinal-II_24

“Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” is my motto these days. For writing and other stuff. What I don’t write today will wait. Tomorrow is a new day, a fresh slate. I can choose to write what I want. No thousand pages of unfinished manuscript is lurking on my desk while a printing deadline glows menacingly in the background.

Photography is a bit different. Pure pleasure. I’ve been an enthusiastic amateur photographer since I was in my early 20s. Although I earned a few bucks taking pictures here and there over the years, calling myself a professional photographer would be a considerable stretch. I gave it a brief try and hated it. I love taking pictures, but when there was a client in the mix, it stopped being unfettered fun and became work. Which, as we all know, is the original four-letter word. Just ask Maynard G. Krebs.

What else would I like to be good at? I’d like to get better at casting magic spells. I need more and better magic in my life. Otherwise? I’ll do my best to keep my existing skills sharp. Everything else? Nah. I’m retired.

MYTH AND MAGIC

Last night, I explained to Garry about house elves. He isn’t a big reader of fantasy, as I am, so some of this stuff hasn’t gnawed at the edges of his consciousness.

I told him if we were to leave milk and cookies out, the little folk would come to our house. Overnight, while we sleep, they would clean, scrub, repair, and cook. Fix the roof. Clear the snow. When we got up the next morning, the coffee would be ready along with delicious, fresh baked goods.

solarized art effect horizontal kitchen

He looked at me. I think he wasn’t sure if he had heard me. “Is this like, real, anywhere? Has this actually happened somewhere?”

“No,” I said. “Only in folk tales and myth. And Harry Potter. But wouldn’t it be nice if it were true? We could leave out milk, cookies, and an old pair of socks. Just in case.”

Dobby_the_house_elf

One eyebrow went up. “And something that already lives here would surely eat it. And Bonnie would abscond with the socks. Our kids would be sure to leave us something. Probably not fresh baked goods … or a clean house.”

Just for a second or two, I had him. Myth and magic live. So much better than reality, aren’t they?


Daily Prompt: Think Global, Act Local – “Think global, act local.” Write a post connecting a global issue to a personal one. Because magic is definitely global.

CHARMS AND SPELLS AT DUNKIN DONUTS

Pleased to Meet You – Write a post in which the protagonists of two different books or movies meet for the first time. How do they react to each other? Do they get along?


skin game jim butcherDowntown Uxbridge. Late morning. Autumn. We would have met in a bar, but there are no bars in downtown Uxbridge. There are no restaurants either, unless you count Domino’s Pizza, which I don’t. There’s a take-out Chinese place, but not much of a place to sit and chat. The place I used to go a few years ago changed ownership and they no longer serve breakfast, just lunch. So … Dunkin Donuts it is. Everybody likes coffee.

They strolled in together. Even though they hadn’t been formally introduced, I think they knew each other. The funny vibe witches have, that both of them have. And all the leather gear, the spells in their pockets. The big gun on Harry’s hip. The splat gun on Rachel’s.

“Harry Dresden?” I said to the tall guy in the long, black, leather duster. He nodded. “I’d like you to meet Rachel Morgan.” I turned to the gorgeous red-head in the tight leather battle gear.

They looked each other up and down, appraising, obviously liking what they saw. “Hey,” said Rachel, “Like your wand.”

“Love your splat gun,” replied Harry.

UndeadPool kim harrison

Before I got a word in edgewise — something that rarely happens to me — they were talking shop. Spells. Magic circles. Wards. Dogs. Then they were laughing about spells gone wrong, the time Harry wound up dead. The time Rachel was turned into a ferret. How difficult relationships can be in the supernatural world … and how to avoid banshees. They exchanged cards. Harry pointed out that he is the only Wizard in the yellow pages. Rachel mentioned how she had saved the world … and not just once. Harry, feeling competitive, countered with an anecdote of how he had saved the world multiple times which segued into the story of how he had ridden that Tyrannosaurus Rex …

It was the greatest brunch I ever shared, and over too soon. They walked out arm in arm, still talking up a storm.

And I went home to the computer, to write the story.

CHAOS IS KING AND MAGIC IS LOOSE IN THE WORLD

Nothing is certain anymore. Nothing. Chaos is king and magic is loose in the world. 

That was the conclusion Robert A. Heinlein drew at the end of  his two novellas, “Waldo” and “Magic, Incorporated.” And the conclusion I drew at the end of the day. Yesterday.

It was just one of those days. Not catastrophic, but not good. I had a doctor appointment. The back doctor. They guy who gives pain-killer needles and we were on the road. I was a bit nervous. More than a bit. They were going to take an x-ray of my back. Inevitably, when someone looks at my spine, they get all weird.

My current home.

I tell people it’s bad but I suspect no one believes it could be that bad. Everyone thinks whatever is wrong with their back is the worst. But you see, mine really is the worst. It’s the kind of bad that makes experienced spine doctors’ jaws drop. There are so many things wrong with it, it inspires the comment “I’m amazed you can still walk.” This from people who should know better. But they look at the pictures and just can’t help themselves. It pops out of their mouths.

I was afraid the doctor would look at the x-ray and refuse to do anything. Because it’s such a godawful mess. I suppose that’s better than going ahead and doing further damage, though it’s difficult to see how much worse it could be. Forget I said that. It can always be worse.

We were on time. We’d arisen before dawn. Had coffee, did our e-mail. Just like the old days, except instead of coffee and a newspaper, we had coffee and a pair of laptops.

Garry went out, gassed up the car. We were on our way. A few miles down the road, the car began to chug and balk. An unfamiliar idiot light went on and it starting dinging. It wasn’t any of the familiar idiot lights. This one is orange and looks like a battery or an engine schematic. Not the “Check Engine” light. I know that one. The car had been running fine. For seven years, it ran fine. We gave it regular maintenance. It started, drove, stopped. Until yesterday.

We pulled over and did a couple of 360s. Looking for something hanging, like the exhaust? A flat tire? Despite no visual evidence, there was something seriously amiss. We turned around and went home, grateful the breakdown was on Route 146 and not the Mass Pike. It took a while to get home. Amazing how long it takes at 30 mph when you are used to driving more than twice that speed.

After we landed, Garry grabbed the shopping list and hopped into the other car — the 2002 Sunfire. We don’t drive it much anymore. Almost never in the winter because it doesn’t have snow tires. And it has been making a funny noise we can’t pin down. He took it to the grocery story, came back appropriately loaded down, and told me the inspection sticker expired in December. The holidays. The Sunfire’s inspection had slipped past unnoticed.

When Owen got home, I explained the Cruiser was sick … and the inspection on the Sunfire expired. Garry asked if driving without a current inspection sticker was okay and Owen said, “No, not really,” so Garry asked if the yellow car would pass inspection. Owen replied “No, the driver’s side windshield wiper isn’t working and it won’t pass until it gets fixed.”

The yellow 2002 Sunfire is everyone’s backup car. When Owen’s car won’t run, he drives the Sunfire. When Sandy’s car is in the shop, she drives the Sunfire. Ditto Kaity. But if something goes wrong with it, it is our problem. At the risk of sounding whiny, whatever goes wrong — house or car — it is always our problem.

I pointed out to Owen we were without transportation in a town which has no public transportation, not even a taxi service. Leaving us stuck with no way to get anywhere was unacceptable.

So … as the sun set in the west, the Sunfire was street legal, though the Cruiser — the car with the new snow tires — is not going anywhere. It appears (according to Owen), to be a computer problem. Probably the bastard child of the random electrical glitch we’ve had for years, the electrical ghost that makes windows lock open or shut and doors refuse to lock — or worse, unlock. The ghost in our machine.

And so the day ended, none too early for my taste. Today has not brought new revelations. The Cruiser remains broken. The Sunfire is running, but it’s old. Chaos is definitely king. Right now, we could use some of that loose magic.

GIMME THAT OLD GUT FEELING

Gut Feeling – When’s the last time you followed your instinct despite not being sure it was the right thing to do? Did it end up being the right call?


Without getting all Leroy Jethro Gibbs here … is there any other way to make a decision when you have no hard facts to work with? If you are a mother and you know your kid is “off,” you take him or her to the doctor. You don’t wait until the strep throat or whatever is lurking actually presents with full symptoms.

You hear a noise in your car’s engine. A funny little squeaky noise which comes and goes. Do you wait for the serpentine belt to snap or take it to a mechanic?

Teepee as kaleidoscope

The meteorologists on the television are predicting a few inches of snow, but your bones are screaming “it’s a big one on the way.” Do you ignore your instinct and believe the guy on TV? Or lay in some supplies, fill the car with gasoline, and bring the candles out … just in case.

If I have data to work with (better yet, if I had Data to work with), I’ll work with it or him. But through most of real life, we have no facts. We have instinct, experience, “gut feelings.” And a kind of prescience that comes with years of making judgment calls, dealing with emergencies … a kind of “know when to hold’em, know when to fold’em” sort of thing.

Saguaro Storm Passing

What passes for “being psychic” is in large part an ability to read subtle signals. You say something, your client shows no obvious reaction. But the pupils of his or her eyes dilate. Just a little. There’s an infinitesimal tightening around the jaw line. A shift in the way he or she is seated. Most of the time, we ignore such little hints, probably because we’re more engrossed in our own stories than in listening or watching others. But signs are always there.

It’s the same with your kids, your pets, your car. Lots of little things are the breadcrumbs we follow. We call it instinct, but it is subtle messaging. We hear and see these messages without realizing it. A good psychic is a good watcher, listener, reader of human reactions.

Most decisions in life are gut decisions and should be. That’s what makes us human. Otherwise, we’d be computers … and you know how bizarre the decisions computers make for us can be.

ALL TECHNOLOGY IS MAGIC — WALDO AND MAGIC, INC.

waldo and magic incI’m astonished how many people have read these two novellas and miss the point. Some readers apparently can’t see any connection between the two stories. They think these novellas are in a single volume by a fluke or “to fill up space.” Either they didn’t really read them or they are conceptually challenged, unable to make a logical leap between two related ideas without a flow chart.

The point is that technology is a based on our belief it will work. As long as we believe in it, it functions. If or when we stop believing, it won’t. It’s all magic.

When we lose faith in technology, magic jumps in and becomes the new technology. The difference between one and the other is functionally negligible. The stories’ plots are irrelevant. It’s the concept that counts.

I read these books about 50 years ago. I haven’t read them since, but remember them. Meanwhile, I can’t remember the plot of whatever book I read last week. These were original concepts when first introduced in the 1940s, was still original 25 years later when I read it. Probably still original today, more than 60 years after the stories were first published.

The best science fiction is concept-driven rather than character or plot-driven. These two have stuck with me for a lifetime. Both novellas are based on a unified concept: We believe in what works — and what works is what we believe.

Nothing is certain anymore. Nothing. Chaos is king and magic is loose in the world.

Available on Kindle, in paperback and from Audible.com.

THE UNAPPRECIATED EXORCIST – MIKE CAREY’S FELIX CASTOR SERIES

The Devil You Know | Mike CareyThere was rumor going around on Amazon a few months ago that Mike Carey was going to publish another Felix Castor book. I hoped it was true and maybe it will happen yet, but so far … there are five books and no more. I own all of them, but if there should ever be another, I’ll be first in line to buy a copy. I love this series.

I discovered Mike Carey because I reviewed a Jim Butcher book and someone suggested I’d like the Felix Castor series by Mike Carey. I’d never heard of Mike Carey, but I was out of new authors to read at the time and I was ready to try anything that sounded good. I got what I hoped for plus a whole lot more.

As a writer, Mike Carey is better than good. He is hyper-literate. He uses words like a rapier. His prose is beautifully crafted, often lyrical, yet never treacly or sappy. He is crisp, witty, intelligent. He does not repeat himself. He never uses the same descriptive passage twice, nor does he — as many popular authors do — copy and paste sections from one book to another to (I presume) save writing time. Mike Carey doesn’t use short cuts.

The result is a style that is richly descriptive, a delicious combination of gritty street slang banging head-on into literary English. Liverpool guttersnipe meets Jane Austen. It gives the narrative a rare and rich texture.

What’s it all about? Felix (Fix) Castor is an exorcist. He sees the dead and the undead. They see him. He is no wizard who magics his problems away with the wave of a hand or wand. He can send the dead away when they linger and cast out demons who possess humans.

Where do the dead go after he sends them away?  He’s not sure, an issue that looms successively larger as the series progresses. His weapon is music in the form of a tin whistle, a thin armament in the face of some of the perils he faces. He has a few allies — human, formerly human plus one demon in recovery.

The series consists of five books, each building on the previous one to form what is essentially a single story in five parts. Best to read the series in order. All the books are available as paperbacks, for Kindle, and from Audible.com.

In order, the books are The Devil You Know, Vicious Circle , Dead Men’s Boots, Thicker Than Water and The Naming of BeastsNone of his books are a lightweight romp, but the first three are much lighter in tone and funnier — Carey has a sharp, ironic sense of humor– than the last two, both of which are pretty intense.

Mike Carey (writer)

Mike Carey (author) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fix Castor works hard for short money, is rarely appreciated by the people he helps, has more than enough of his personal demons, not to mention some very real, otherworldly demons who are seriously out to get him.

It’s a unique series, unlike any other I’ve read. I wish there had been more of them, though I suspect the author is done with this series.

There are so many surprises in this series. The characters constantly surprised me by growing and changing, developing in unexpected ways and not doing the obvious.

Mike Carey can be very funny. His subtle and elegant humor contains no belly laughs, but irony pervades his prose. None of the books are traditionally funny nor are the situations humorous or light-hearted, but the author’s writing style is wonderfully cynical. The stories, pun intended, are dead serious. Darkness notwithstanding, you can count on Mike Carey’s plays on words and twists of phrase to keep the dread from becoming too heavy to handle.

The plots are gripping and creepy. Any or all of the books would make great horror movies. I’m surprised no one has grabbed them yet. Maybe they will. Sooner or later, someone is bound to notice, right?