Haunted….. Coffin Hop Day 3

Haunted

 

This is my first real blog post since last December (if you don’t count the announcement of Coffin Hop back on October 17th — the first day I’d visited the blog in 10 months). What I’m going to post today is the last serious writing attempt I’d completed. It was in May 2014, and I haven’t written anything other than grant applications and reports since. It was for a podcast contest called Wicked Women Writers. I’d heard from some of the principals that they loved the story — Jane — a twisted Beauty and the Beast send up set on an orbiting space ship in the not-so-distant future. But, it was a podcast contest. I’m not very good at podcasting, but I would love to have the equipment to be better at it. I knew it was going to be just me playing all the parts — because podcasts should be like the old Inner Sanctum radio shows — acted, not read — but wanted to try to change my voice. Therein was my downfall …. The podcast contest that had never before been judged on the quality of the podcasting because we’re all amateurs became a podcasting contest judged initially on podcasting quality. I’m pretty sure you can tell all the parts are me and you can tell the voice changing software was actually freeware, but I never had a chance.

And it crushed me.

Literally.

Newly devoid of confidence, I stopped writing. I’d stare at the screen or at pages in my notebooks and I couldn’t put it together — even though I am still fond of Jane as a story and never really thought I gave a rip what anyone else thought about my writing. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t, but this time I did. And, I guess it was because of the whole “we’re not going to judge it on the basis of quality since we’re all amateurs…”

So, Jane has remained un-listened-to on my computer until today. I’m hoping that in sending her out there — flaws and all — I’ll find some kind of redemption and maybe the ability to write again. I suppose I need to find that soon, because NaNoWriMo is coming up and I would hate to bail on what would be my 5th year. Besides, I have a story due to Axel.

So, here she is: Jane. My premise was Beauty and the Beast, the Chinese Zodiac sign I was assigned was the Monkey, my setting was a Space Ship, my weapon was a monkey wrench, and my curse? The medicine doesn’t work…..

Click the pic below to go to the recording. The script itself appears beneath the picture.

Jane

Jane

Huang (narrating)

“New blood.” That’s what they call the newbies. The Ferryman told me that. LARS 8 is a geo-stationary space station 370 km above the Earth. My crew consists of Flight Engineer Paora, aka “The Ferryman,” Propulsion Specialist Maël Dijkstra, Orbital Mechanics Specialist Torgny Knutson, Medical Officer Dr. Shizuka Hashimoto, and her assistant Gregor Kaminski.

Shizuka: “Jane, Commander Huang — this is Jane.”

Huang (narrating)

Her eyes were startlingly darkest blue and her hair the color of water struck by sunlight. I shook her hand, noted its warmth. There was no mention of Jane on any roster —

Shizuka: “With good reason.”

[Door opens]

[Animal calls]

Shizuka: “Susie, E.J., and Mac.”

Huang (narrating)

A female macaque balled her fist against her chin and swung her arm down, her eyes looking unnervingly human as she rocked back and forth.

Shizuka: “And Rachel. The research design was for simian experiments in reduced gravity. It … progressed…”

Huang (narrating)

Paora called Hashimoto away. She left me with Jane.

Jane: “This way.”

Huang (narrating)

Her voice was pure light. As we walked, she parried my every question so deftly I was sure she had been coached. She was a mystery not easily unraveled. We walked easily. I tried to break the ice:

Huang: “But, you haven’t asked anything about me.”

Jane: “You are Commander Xiang Huang from Bijie, China. You were top of your class at The Institute in 2215, rose to the rank of Commander after your third mission, and have served the Syndicate successfully for nine years.”

Huang: “You’ve read my file.”

Jane: “This is the Simulator Deck.”

Huang: “Let me tell you about me.”

Huang (narrating)

I did not recognize the me that took her hand.

Huang: “Close your eyes.”

[Door closing]

Huang: “Wudang.”

Huang (narrating)

As the walls became the world around us, as the sky brightened within a shroud of fog, as the mountains, hung with ancient trees and vines, erupted, as the floor became stone, became a ledge from which we could see the Wu River — a torrent below us —

Huang: “Open your eyes.”

Huang (narrating)

Her smile was warmth and beauty.

Huang: “My home.”

Jane: “I have never seen anything so beautiful.”

Huang: “Nor have I.”

Jane: “Gi at Command told Torgny she thinks you’re very handsome.”

Huang: “And what do you think?”

[Macaques calls]

Jane: “What’s that?”

Huang: “Only wild monkeys.”

Jane: “Wild?”

[Door opens]

Shizuka: “We have a problem.”

Huang (narrating)

The problem was the bumping of Hashimoto’s cargo from the last Earth run. Dijkstra’s condenser took priority. We argued.

Shizuka: “That blood is important, Commander–“

Huang: “Noted. Ninety units of blood every three months seems excessive. You’ll have to make do. My decision, doctor.”

Huang (narrating)

Dijkstra was the first to die — at least he was the first to disappear. We never found a body. I didn’t know my decision had everything to do with that —

Shizuka: “I warned you!”

Huang (narrating)

Knutson was next. His positioner put him on the Simulator Deck.

[Running feet/door opens]

Huang: Torgny! My …. God…”

[snarling and sucking sounds]

Huang (narrating)

It was a mass of dull, silver-grey fur hunched over Knutson’s body. The floor was slick with blood and gore. I stood there — watched the hair soften into a strange glow like sunlight on water — watched her rise and turn toward me. Two fingers wiped the blood from the corners of her mouth.

Jane: “Wudang.”

Huang (narrating)

All around was the wideness of my world–we were once again on the ledge above the river. What had been Torgny’s body had become stone.

Jane: “Help me.”

Huang (narrating)

I stumbled forward. I was hopelessly, hopefully drowned in her eyes.

Jane: “Please.”

Huang (narrating)

I shoved the stone from the ledge and watched it plummet to the river below.

[Lab sounds]

Shizuka: “She’s not human — nor is she macaque.”

Huang: “What is she?”

Shizuka: “I-I’m not sure. The cells grew so quickly that we had to implant them in a womb, so we used–“

Huang (narrating)

I looked at Rachel. She continued to rock, continued to move her hands. I realized what she was saying.

Shizuka: “Macaques carry a virus — they’re naturally immune, but it’s deadly to humans. On Earth, you’d last maybe a week. Here, you’d last hours. If you were really unlucky, you’d last a whole day. Without regular blood infusions, Jane will die. Without it, she’ll look for it. She’ll kill for it. Self-preservation, Commander, no different than any other animal.”

Huang: “How long between infusions?”

Shizuka: “The longest we’ve dared is three days.”

Huang (narrating)

I stood there and stared into the glass enclosure. Rachel kept signing desperately — as if it didn’t matter that this human had figured out her meaning. Unnervingly, Mac, the dominant male, boldly met my eyes. His gaze did not waver. He seemed to be willing me to understand something.

[Banging]

[Monkeys screaming]

Shizuka: “Gregor!”

[drops something metallic]

Huang: “Confine her to quarters.”

Huang (narrating)

It was my mistake that sent Gregor with her. It was my mistake that kept me in the lab–I became nearly as compulsive as Hashimoto.

Huang: “It’s 2224, for God’s sake! SYNTHESIZE SOMETHING!”

Shizuka: “If it were that easy, Commander, we’d have eradicated every disease known to Man.”

Huang: “What the hell’s the point of progress if you’re still mixing potions like it was 2014?”

Shizuka: “You’re not helping, sir.”

Huang (narrating)

I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. All the while, Gregor stood guard over Jane’s door.

Gregor: “Day three, sir.”

Huang: “I have to do something.”

Gregor: “Why, sir? This is just what the experiment needed.”

Huang: “What does that mean?”

Gregor: “How do we know she’ll die? Hashimoto’s afraid. She refused to take the experiment to its next level, and no other Commander’s had the balls to countermand her. Happy you’re here, sir.”

[Footsteps] [Door opens]

Huang: “Hashimoto, any progress?”

[clinking and setting down glass]

Shizuka: “Maybe –“

Huang: “I don’t have time for bullshit, doctor.”

Shizuka: “You want an honest answer? The honest answer is ‘maybe.’”

Huang: “What do you need me to do?”

Huang (narrating)

I admit it. I needed to save Jane. Gregor had dropped a monkey wrench beside the tangle of pipe before he had been volunteered for guard duty. It was heavy enough to do the job. He saw me coming, but he never saw it coming. I took him down with one blow. He fell. I used the over-ride code on the door. It opened. The room was dark.

Huang: “Jane…?”

Huang (narrating)

I saw two eyes glistening in the furthest corner. I hefted Kaminski’s body and dragged him into the room.

Huang: “I’ve brought you something.”

Jane: “Thank you.”

Huang (narrating)

She was Jane. She wasn’t a monster or a beast, she was just … Jane. I felt a sudden wave of nausea–Gregor was dead at our feet, but she didn’t seem to need him. Had I killed him for nothing?

Jane: “He was one that needed killing.”

Huang: “Are you real?”

Huang (narrating)

Her lips, her hands, her breath, her heat, all gathered up in my arms, my hands in her hair, her sighs that drove me, that nearly ended me…. God, I wanted her, but I knew —

Huang: “I have to take you to Hashimoto.”

Huang (narrating)

Air was acid in that broken embrace. She had become my drug, my everything. I watched her reach for Gregor’s body. She slipped her arms beneath his and pulled him to his feet.

Jane: “I am beyond her help.”

[scream]

Huang (narrating)

The simian within rose to the surface, her fur, crackling with static, wrapped around her victim. I watched the flesh dissolve from Gregor’s body, watched the viscera melt into the skin of this thing I loved, the bones bleach white in her embrace. They rattled as they fell to the deck. The air around us hummed with something like electricity. The simian sank beneath her skin. She put out her hand. God help me, I backed away.

Jane: “I control it.”

Huang (narrating)

I stared at the dust on the deck — the dust that had been Gregor.

Jane: “Xiang–“

Huang (narrating)

I knew I was lost.

Huang: “I’ll take you wherever you want to go.”

Huang (narrating)

Shizuka was still mixing potions like it was 200 years ago. The macaques beat on the glass, they hollered and howled. Jane stared at them. She didn’t notice the needle in Hashimoto’s hand. It would be the last thing Shizuka would do. She stuck Jane. Jane turned and grabbed her in that deadly embrace. What had been Shizuka Hashimoto lay, white and dry, upon the deck.  Just like Gregor.

Jane: “What did she give me?”

Huang: “She found an antidote for the virus you carry.”

Jane: “No … it’s not … the virus… the medicine’s wrong –“

Huang: “What?!”

Huang (narrating)

She slipped to the deck. The glass bowed. I shouted that I was sorry. I shouted that I never meant for this to happen — that Hashimoto and I had been trying to save her. The glass broke with a deafening roar. Mac loomed over us.

Huang: “She’s dying.”

Mac: “Only if she is very lucky. Shizuka Hashimoto was wrong. For millions of years, we have lived and died. When we die, we end. There is comfort in that. You are human. You are immortal. There is a horror to immortality — in Heaven and in Hell. Shizuka Hashimoto is in her Heaven and her Hell. We will die here and it will end for us. But Jane is not like us. And she is not like you. What horror of your creating will be hers when she dies? Shizuka Hashimoto has terminated her experiment.”

Huang: “I know where to go.”

Huang (narrating)

I carried Jane to the Simulator Deck. The macaques followed.

Huang: “I can give her one last paradise…Wudang….”

Huang (narrating)

And as I kissed her one last time, the world erupted around us. The macaques watched the mountains hung with ancient trees and vines shift through the gathering gloom. It was sunset in the world. Far off, other macaques called.

Huang: “You’ll be safe here.”

Huang (narrating)

I watched them take Jane and go. My heart left with them. I knew there was nothing left.

[Engine drone]

Huang (narrating)

The Ferryman brought me back across that river of night. I watched the stars with different eyes. I wondered if Jane had seen the mountains before she died … and where she is now….

Back on Earth, I stand on Jiucaiping in the Wudang Mountains. When I was small, my mother told me stories of the mythical Xiao — a long-armed ape. They were old stories meant to terrify children, not break their hearts. The clouds crawl down the slopes and a storm is coming. Far off, macaques call….

The thunder rumbles; rain darkens the sky:

The monkeys chatter; apes scream in the night:

The wind sighs sadly and the trees rustle.

I think of my lady and stand alone in sadness.

 

[End music]

[Silence]

[Gunshot]

Happy Coffin Hop Day 3! Hop on!

We interrupt this regularly-scheduled Writer’s Blog for a Special Message from a Middle Kingdom Librarian…..

That would be me.

I’m going to toss that out there with this by way of explanation. I never went to Library School. Now, while I wait for the murmurs and under-the-breath mutterings of incompetency to die down, I’ll say this: in the State of Alaska, the towns and cities that aren’t quite small enough to be villages but aren’t quite big enough to be “large cities,” have their libraries classified, by the Alaska State Library, as “Middle Kingdom Libraries.” Now, when I first heard that, I beamed, “Does that come with a sword? Because, that would be all sorts of AWESOME if it came with a sword.”

“No,” Aja replied.

“Oh, well, then,” I continued, “may I put it on my business card instead?”

“Yes,” was the answer.

Between you and me, I’d much rather have the sword so I could come over all “Conan The Librarian” if the mood struck: I will SHUSH your BUTT.

Well, not really…

And, as in uffish thought she stood,
Macmillan, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

In defense of smaller libraries, I shall be raising my vorpal sword and taking a whack at a manxome foe who, after years of dealing with libraries, still does not quite understand what it is that libraries do for publishers. Macmillan, to add insult to injury before the ALA Mid-Winter Conference in Seattle, came out with an announcement that they were going to make “more backlist titles available as ebooks to libraries,” but with added restrictions and caveats. Their rule is 52 circulations or two years, whichever comes first.

Dear Macmillan: What’re you, nuts? I mean, 52 circulations is laughable because I don’t think you realize how much your books in many libraries are NOT in demand.

As library-specific ebooks, well, the lending gets difficult if the books are dedicated on a library-owned Kindle, Nook, or iPad, and smaller libraries do not have the wherewithal to keep databases of ebooks for download. That’s pretty much what services like Overdrive do for consortiums of state libraries. If I did have the wherewithal to keep a stable of ebooks available for patron download, guess what? 52? It might take eight or nine years to hit that number in a small, rural library. When I purchase a physical book, I look for titles that will garner six to ten circulations. In a town of 1,400, that’s a rave for a book. If you, as a publisher, are looking to cut me off after two measly years of ebook ownership where the book will maybe garner eight to ten circs, guess what? You’re doing me a disservice, and if I were the author, I would be in your office asking if your meds are current. If you told me your meds were “just fine,” I would be publishing elsewhere because it’s pretty clear you don’t give a rip about your authors who are trying desperately to build a readership. Taking books out of the hands of the public in general and librarians in particular is bad policy and here’s why…

In a typical library in a typical small town patrons come in, check out books, and go out. When they come back after a particularly good read, they want to know about similar authors. Where do they get that information? Well, it comes from the library staff. Do you like Baldacci? Here, read some Flynn. Do you like Cornwell? Wow–you should check out Dietrich. Are you understanding this yet? Librarians sell books. And we do sell books–not just the idea of books. Let me let you in on a little secret. No, really, come closer. Ready? If a patron finds an author at the library who is a particularly good fit, guess what that patron will do? BUY THE BOOKS — ALL OF THEM. I know, I know, it’s all so shocking and unbelievable, but, there you go. If you want to take books out of the hands of librarians, well, then we can’t recommend them, patrons can’t want more (and most times, it’s not in our budgets to give patrons everything they want, so they end up BUYING BOOKS!), and your sales slip. In librarians, publishers have honest PR people who have unique relationships with individuals in their communities, who are trusted and respected, who are not seen as slick market-manipulators, and who can SELL BOOKS. It costs publishers nothing for this kind of service, but time and again, they kick and punch at libraries like we’re the anti-Christ come to tear their kingdoms down.

And before anyone gets the idea that, oh, poor publishers are only getting $9.95 for an ebook that will never wear out (don’t get me started on shoddy physical book production these days) and libraries are just mean because they don’t want a level playing field … I’d crawl over broken glass on my tongue for that price. Library ebooks run anywhere from $40 to $159 depending on the publisher and title. Shocked? I was–and so was every other librarian in the Overdrive training a few months ago. Actually, “aghast” is a better word. There was complete and utter silence as we let the numbers sink in. $159 for one book. In a library with a materials budget of less than $10,000.00, $159 for one ebook is more than significant. The idea that you’re just renting that ebook for 2 years elevates it as a concept piece to the level of stupidity. Well, maybe “stupidity” isn’t the correct word, but it’s an increasingly dubious expenditure of public funds. What am I — Congress? Ten ebooks would have the potential to eat up 16% of my overall budget. That’s not good fiscal policy for a small library in a community with diverse tastes.

This is not the place where I raise the sword and bellow out some “St. Crispin’s Day!” speech followed by a cry for corporate anarchy. Far from it. I want authors to make money (I actually want authors to make more money than publishers). I look at other materials the library purchases–namely DVDs. Did you know libraries pay for public performance rights for their DVDs? Every year I pay dues to the Motion Picture Association for the ability to lend and screen movies at the library. Maybe that’s what’s missing in ebooks. Maybe it shouldn’t be a “we’re-going-to-gouge-you-and-make-this-whole-deal-unpalatable-and-beyond-your-means” thing. Maybe it should be a pay to play type of thing. I pay what I pay for movies, and then pay the dues to MPA. While everyone may not be perfectly happy, at least no one is going to summarily confiscate every DVD or VHS in the library. What’s scary about ebooks is that there’s a bit of control on the devices that goes beyond having a physical copy. What’s to stop a publisher or Amazon or Baker-Taylor from just deleting a book from the collection? You may call it paranoia, but Amazon has done it before. It’s why many people don’t “trust” ebooks–libraries included.

Bottom line: Cut it out. Stupid is as stupid does, and limiting access to purchased materials for libraries is as stupid as it gets. I don’t think publishers actually hang out in libraries. That’s a shame. They should. They’d quickly see that librarians are some of their best advocates. And they don’t even have to pay us for it.