Posts Tagged ‘author’

As part of the overall book, I will be including several stories in Appendix form, from the history of the Isherwood. This one I previously posted, but in unfinished form. Here it is, mostly finished now. There will be at least five shorts like this, of varying length, dealing with some of the legends touched upon in this fantasy epic (because it has begun taking on epic proportions, as I knew it would). Therefore, here’s the full “Craypipe and Stovelilly”, along with an “Editor’s Note” at the end. I hope you like it.

CRAYPIPE AND STOVELILLY

Of all the tales of great adventure that come down to us from the old days and the older ways, nary a one is any more moving, any more adventurous, nor more affecting than that of Craypipe and Stovelilly. As you all know, Craypipe lived in the Wide Valley and Stovelilly kept her abode up in the Laurel Range of the Saw Teeth, and only upon great peril would Craypipe adventure forth from his shack among the stands of paper reeds; but the weather was fine and Craypipe was still young and less set in his ways, and he wondered what sort of land lay beyond those far, high and jagged peaks, and as you well know, there is no stronger motivation than simple curiosity. So one clear and bright morning, after all the chores had been done, Craypipe cursed to himself, threw up his hands—those hard hands of his, already gnarled with great strength and abrasive with harsh toil, even then—and put a paper note on his door saying, Gone Explorin’, put a blanket and one of his old belts around the mule, put some crackers, cheese and jars of honey wine in his burlap sack, grabbed his stick and set to walking.

Now, as you also know, Stovelilly got her name on account of her odd birth—her mother, Pratelin, was cooking that day for the Savior Man’s Feast and all the extended family in the hills, and the babe chose that precise moment when two or three things were ready to come off the stove or out of the oven all at once to come into this screaming world. Pratelin felt Stovelilly start to drop and reached down in a flash and caught her by the foot, lifted her up and set her in the cooking pot on the back of the stove—there was no fire under that burner, don’t you know, because it was nothing there but water for cooling things down with—and the new babe settled into the cool water, looked up at her mother and smiled. In the next instant, Old Ames came into the kitchen, took one look and stated, “Now Ma, what you cooking over there on that corner? Because I don’t think the folks will want any of that!”

“Oh shoo!” Pratelin said, damping down the fire under the taters. “That’s nothin’ but my little stove lilly.” And as you know, the name stuck.

But that was a long time ago, close on to thirty years, and Stovelilly lived in the cabin perched on the saddle of land between the two valleys all alone. Old Ames had died of the white rot and Pratelin got herself struck by lightning—and that is a whole other story, let me tell you—and it’s a hard world when you’re living on your lonesome. The family didn’t bother to come and state when they were moving off to the valley. They had forgotten about Stovelilly, as people sometimes do when they are deeply involved in their own affairs.

Now there was still magic in the Earth in those days. Some believe that it originally came from the great volcanic vents in the ocean, mixed with the water, was skimmed from the waves by the great winds that blow unceasing, and was dropped upon the mountains in great rain deluges, and ran down across the land and found its way into the very crops and the animals that we eat. It didn’t, then, take a lot of magic to manifest itself in ordinary ways, so no one thought of the lesser miracles as being quite…magical. They will see a tree growing from a little nut and think nothing of it, or a water spring up from a rock and pass it off as simply the way of the world. But it takes magic to move things, to cause them be when they weren’t before, and to generally bring forth life and living.

However it was that the magic came to be there, it so happened that Stovelilly was particularly sensitive to the ways of magic. She saw it everywhere around her, and was quite versed in pushing it along, of spreading it around such that little things throve and grew in profusion near her. Consequently, the saddle of land between Laurel Mountain and Forrestal Peak became ringed with a great forest of birch and pine, black walnut and maple, and fruit trees were everywhere such that there was no need to plant any crops nor slaughter any animals—for it wasn’t in Stovelilly’s nature to kill anything that could gaze upon a sunset or grow tired or thirsty. Thus, she walked alone in the forest, singing songs to herself to bide her time, and wondered as she walked if she would ever hear the voice of another human being ever again.

She had no way of knowing that a human being would be coming to visit her, and very soon. The magic didn’t speak of it, and her Dream Spirit kept the secret of his coming, for if she had any inkling of what would thereafter occur, she might have blanched at the aspect of it, and hidden herself, and not answered when the call came, borne of the wind that blows about the misty peaks in the morning.

It was seven days for Craypipe from the morning he left the shack until he came to the foothills beneath Laurel Mountain. He spent much of his time talking to his mule. The mule listened, but to his credit didn’t talk back. Nor had Craypipe ever named the beast, other than to call him, properly, Mule.

When Craypipe laid his head down that last evening before attempting the peak, he looked up at the stars and saw that they had not changed one iota from where they were back home, and he wondered at this. He had always heard that the stars were different in the southern climes. This, from the tales of old explorers, handed down through the years. But those old explorers had great boats, and all he had was an old mule who couldn’t talk or even curse back at him. Maybe it was all foolishness. How could the stars change?

Now the Great Old Bear also ranged the Saw Teeth, from Darkfell in the far south all the way to Northern Cross and the Castle ruins, and his wanderings took him past Laurel Peak, where the Mountain Magic was strongest. The Mountain Magic always made the Great Old Bear feel young, and when he slept in one of the dry caves beneath the saddle between the mountains, he awoke hungry, and hunger always made him angry, if not a little crazy.

It so happened that morning that the Great Old Bear and Craypipe awoke in the same instant, and while Bear was moving downhill to one of the streams with its treasure trove of brightfish, Craypipe moved steadily upward, pulling on Mule’s halter rope and cursing the beast at every misstep.

When Craypipe saw Bear coming, he said the bad word—the word no one can write under pain of death or imprisonment—and Bear, upon seeing Craypipe and hearing the word, let forth a fierce roar. Mule jerked the halter rope from Craypipe’s hand, turned his tail and ran, leaving Craypipe all alone on the mountainside.

Craypipe had naught but his walking stick, a shaman’s crook given him by his great grandpappy, and although it was chock full of both wonderment and power, the words and gestures that could summon the dark magic failed his mind upon the charge of Bear and imminent death.

Thus it was that Craypipe took the full force of Bear’s charge and was bowled over. Both man and beast tumbled down the mountain in a death embrace, and both would have perished were it not for the fact that one word escaped Craypipe’s lips during the mad descent, and this word was the only Power Word that Craypipe new. The Power Word set the shaman’s crook ablaze with the Hidden Fire, and the Fire enveloped Craypipe and turned the Bear’s great claws away from his all too tender skin. Additionally, it slowed their descent until they were aloft, suspended in the air with no ground beneath them. There, in the air, Bear became enraged and Craypipe became even more terrified. He was already bleeding from several deep slashes, and while the claws of Bear could not penetrate the fire, the concussive blows of Bear’s powerful forearms pummeled at Craypipe and very nearly knocked him senseless.

Stovelilly heard this great scuffle, distinctly heard Craypipe’s screams and Bear’s tremendous roar, and like a moth drawn to the flame, flew down the mountain toward them, gathering all the force of magic within her perimeter and channeling it into her arms and face.

Thus it was that in the last instant when she could have ceased her flight, instead she leapt outward from the face of the mountain and struck Bear with the concentrated force of her magic. The Hidden Fire of the shaman’s staff in Craypipe’s death clutch was snuffed out in a twinkling, and the three of them fell. Bear, however, was struck senseless by the Stovelilly’s magic, and thus it was that Bear alone—or rather, Bear’s ponderously huge form—that saved them, for the fell atop him and lay dazed upon his inert form on a high cleft in the mountainside.

Stovelilly awoke first, and found the bleeding man, still clutching his staff. Far away she heard the neigh of a horse or mule, and wondered if it was the man’s beast. There was nothing for that, however. She took hold of the man and pulled her to him. Her hands quickly became wet with his blood. She listened for his breath and felt for his heartbeat, but both were faint and fading, all too quickly. Instead of being repelled by the prospect of the strange yet handsome man dying in her arms, even as they lay atop the sleeping form of the Great Old Bear, Stovelilly began the song of Binding, first in a hushed whisper so as not to awaken the Bear, then, as the magic poured upon her from the earth around her and then through her, she was emboldened to sing all the more loudly and clearly. And those of you who know the Song of Binding, may sing it with me now, for here are the words as they were in the time that Stovelilly sang them:

Were it for me
I would not sing
Were it for death
I would not cry.
This is for life and
For healing
I sing.
Hear me Savior Man
And bring to me
The power to save
This lost soul
From the shadow
That comes.
To fight the shadow
Bring light.
To fight the death
Bring life.
To fight the wound
Bring healing.
And in healing
Bring Victory.
Thus I bind.
Thus.
Thus.
Thus I bind.
Thus.
Thus.

And as she sang “Thus” again and again, the magic multiplied and shimmered in her hair. Her old dress with the little daisies became a garment of light so bright that no thing could gaze upon it lest it be blinded.

And thus Craypipe’s gaping wounds were both cleansed by the Light Fire and closed, and the torn skin was sealed, even as the rent blood vessels were re-connected and blood once more flowed where before it flowed only outward through the breaks in the dam that was his body. For that is all a body is, a reservoir.

When Craypipe’s body was healed, he awakened to her beautiful visage and was struck dumb with admiration and wonder. He took her by the hand and bade her to rise. From the stomach of the Great Bear, the pair ascended the mountain, where they found Craypipe’s mule, standing and regarding them in a copse of mountain wildflowers. Stovelilly laid her hand on the beast’s head, and he too was struck as by a woven spell of love. Therefore both man and beast followed her to her little house on the saddle between the peaks, and there bided for a time in bliss and wonder.

There came a day when Craypipe’s tobacco had run low, and there was nothing for it but to venture forth in search of other people. Stovelilly would not travel so far, either on foot, or upon the back of an animal, and therefore she pled with him to stay.

Craypipe would not do so, even though he loved her more than he did his own hide.

She asked of him, “If thy mind is settled, would not thou instead then travel no more than a short time with me along the Ways, and there see other worlds?”

“I know not the Ways,” Craypipe stated, “though I have heard tell of them.”

“It is a simple matter, for a Byway Gate lieth not far from where thy sleepth next to me. For I know the ways, and would travel there before I would walk down the mountain, for the day that I go down will be the last day I shall ever see my home, and I shall never return.”

“Why speakest thou so seriously?” he asked her.

“When thou depart this place, I shall indeed go with thee, even though my heart be shorn in twain, for I love thee, silly Craypipe, and would live beside thee and also die, as thy wife.”

“I never had a wife,” he said, and spun his pipe on his fingertip. “But if thou would be my wife and have no other husband, I will forego a traipse down the slope, and instead travel with thee the Byway Gate, and gaze upon these other worlds of which thee speak.”

“Oh Cray,” she cried, and her tears came, and she kissed him.

They left the mule in the pasturage upon the mountainside, where all was green and lush, and would remain so throughout the seasons, and Craypipe followed Stovelilly to a secret cave.

Therein she lead him to a narrow passage hewn within the rock.

“Walk with me,” she said, “but lay aside the torch, hold my hand, and walk backwards, with nothing but hope and trust in my direction.”

“I would follow thee even into the Great Pit,” said he, and setting aside his torch, took her hand.

The walk through the Ways was a brief one, and they emerged amid a great battle, ongoing, in which men in shining armor hacked with swords at their enemies and fell from their mouths when the rains of arrows penetrated their armor, and there died.

An arrow passed through Stovelilly, and at first Craypipe cried out, but seeing she was unharmed, he gazed at her ethereal form in wonder and said, “Is this place not real? Are we not real to this place?”

“It is as real as the Great Bear, and fifty times more dangerous, but we are not yet wholly real. We must walk onward a ways, but continuing backwards, until we shall be restored to full flesh, for as now, we are mere shades.”

“Wonder of wonders,” Craypipe said.

One of the fallen knights gazed at them, even as he was slowly overcome by his wounds.

“A vision,” said he. “Art thou angels? I must be already dead.”

“She may be,” Craypipe said, “but I assure you, I am not.”

Then dismissing Craypipe, the knight turned his head to Stovelilly and cried. “Wilt thou not bless me? For my wound is mortal.”

Stovelilly knelt and placed her hands upon the brave knight’s brow and said, “I bless then in the name of the Savior Man, and of all that is good and blissful.”

The brave knight smiled. His eyes glazed over and he perished.

“Come,” Stovelilly said to her husband. “Let us walk further and away from this place, for I should not like to fully emerge amid so much death and carnage.”

“Aye, Lassie,” he said. “That we shall.”
[Editor’s Note: The story of Craypipe and Stovelilly ends here, as it did in the Book of Laird Merrick. It was likely collected by Merrick because of its references to the Ways, which were apparently an obsession for him. Although by decree, all references to Merrick have been stricken from the royal records, the tales of Laird Merrick have been passed as folk tales of the people of the Harrows from mouth to ear. Those tales follow.]

 

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It’s coming. Here’s is the author’s note for it:

AUTHOR’S NOTE

As a writer, I have been on the track of this story for most of my life. It has been hanging fire back there in the dimmest recesses of my awareness, never quite leaving me alone. I have, in fact, wanted to write this tale ever since I can remember.

Having become intrigued with the notion of the possibility of alternative dimensions for some time, and desiring to pen a “dark fantasy,” Isherwood was born. The title, however, was not born until I read George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides, the 1945 science fiction classic. The protagonist of that book, Isherwood Williams, is witness to the apocalypse of man. His viewpoint—that of an aloof and discerning man of science and student of human nature—carries that particular masterwork of fiction to its chilling conclusion. The book, as my friend Christine Bell of the Bookworks Bookstore (alternately called The Bookstore of Mystery and the Imagination, in downtown Glendale, California) stated, is “the most haunting book I have ever read.” And it was that for me. The images that Stewart painted for this reader will linger for decades.

While Earth Abides may not have been the inspiration for the current work (it’s hard for me to say what the inspiration actually was—probably a combination of several masterworks, including Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, and his and Peter Straub’s The Talisman, Clifford D. Simak’s City and Waystation, and perhaps a tad of Roger Zelazny’s famous Amber series) and it is not written from a singular viewpoint a la Isherwood Williams, it is, instead, itself—perhaps twenty or more differing points of view. That is to say that this author has no idea where it came from, except for possibly a synthesis of many works and my own imagination. There are indeed other tales similar to this, both from fact and from fiction—tales of a person being transported into the future and meeting their future selves, stories of being taken backwards or forwards in time, of being uprooted wholly from this world and taken to another; and last but certainly not least, the near-death and other macabre experiences of those who have suffered great illness or privation. According to their authors, these stories are not fictional. Not by a long shot. While most such are traditionally ignored in the mainstream, to say that “there is nothing new under the sun” is the same, in my book, as saying, “let me die now.” What a boring world it must be for some.

Isherwood is the world I wanted to create, to revel in and embellish. I believe that if there are other worlds, then they must have some of the same unbreakable edifices as this one: there must be peoples with their own distinctive culture, they must have rituals, they must have legends, and they must have heard of this—our—world. Another world would have pieces of our technologies (and conversely, ours of theirs). For another world not to exist is far too close to saying that there is no afterlife, that there are no spirits, that we are alone in the vastness of the universe, and that modern science IS, in fact, God. No, I’m afraid it isn’t, although some worship it as such. I have always felt somewhat of pity for those who do. They do not even know that they are not their bodies; that thing that animates their fragile form is itself both immortal and indestructible.

I set out to write the history of a world that “is not.” In that I believe I have failed. I failed to write a history. I’m rather happy about that. Instead, something else has occurred. The work itself has written a history of me.

My first attempt at this tale was an epic I was working on in the early 1990s entitled The Footprinters. That story was set in the primordial past (a hundred and fifty million years, to be exact) with a segue into today by way of the prologue. The Footprinters didn’t work out so well, and despite stretching out to forty thousand words in length, it was from a time when I was learning how to write. Ah well. The story itself may have been going nowhere in no particular hurry, but there were too many elements that, like Earth Abides, haunted me. Entrellis and his lairdsmen on horseback, Trey (who was at that time named Kern) the boy who was yet a man, Sherrin the witch and healer (in The Footprinters her name was Francin), and half a dozen other characters have lived on here in Isherwood. In 1992, when this world was first born via the printed word, I was married to another woman, I was living a hundred miles away from where I live now. I was, in fact, living another life. But, I was me. I was a writer, even then. When I would set myself down to write near the ending of each day, I was transported to another world. I was transported to the world where Merrick and his harriers once walked, where the land was in turmoil from civil war, and where a stranger with a higher knowledge walked among the simple folk.
Remembering those times and those images of the world I was trying to create, I recently embarked upon rewriting it all from scratch, and thus Isherwood was born.

Here we have good and evil in conflict as it always has been, we have a struggle for freedom from oppression, we have the bereft surging forward to assail those who would kill or enslave them, and we have personal journeys, love, and finally salvation. This is invariably the case when a writer sets out to do one thing and surpasses that thing—I am not saying that this work has surpassed any of those I have here named. Quite simply, I am saying that I have merely surpassed my own expectations for the work. And that, in the final analysis, is as it should be.

It is my sincere hope that you have enjoyed Isherwood, and that you will want to visit it once again. I am intent on at least two more in this series, thus forming a trilogy. But, I have no idea at this juncture, how long the final story will be. We are, after all, spanning whole dimensions, complete universes. There’s no telling where we may end up. And the final battle could very well end up being fought upon the surface of a star in another cosmos entirely. All by way of saying, let’s preclude no single thing.

All right, I suppose that’s it.

Take care, my friends.

See you on the other side.

George Wier
Austin, Texas

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A little sneak preview here of Isherwood:

Riding alongside Trey in the deepening night, with no thought to where they were or where they were headed or how or if they might get there, Farrin felt something warm spreading inside her, a strange sensation she had never felt before. It was like drinking a cup of mead for the first time and feeling the liquid begin to kindle a small blaze inside her, and it was like standing too close to good fire and feeling the heat soaking in through your clothes but not wanting to move away because of the strangeness of it. And also it was like thirst.

When it was too dark to see with safety they walked their horses for awhile until they found a quiet place on a saddle between two low hills where a large oak tree had fallen and caught in the crook between two other trees. They staked the horses and made camp, Trey deciding to risk a small fire despite Geoffrey’s warning against it. Neither of them were really hungry, and when Trey mentioned food—no doubt for her sake—she demurred, but with a brief, kind smile. When the fire was going good Trey went off to find water. Soon, the horses taken care of, Farrin waited until Trey sat down so that she could sit beside him. Her thighs and her rump were indeed sore and there was a stitch in her back, but she promised to herself that she wouldn’t complain about it even once.

When she sat down beside Trey he started at her closeness, but only a little.

Crickets chirped in the wilderness around them and once Farrin was sure she saw the reflection of the fire in the eyes of some animal twenty or so paces away. Above them spread a cloak of blueblack velvet with diamonds for stars.

Farrin laid her hand gently on Trey’s forearm, feeling the rough bristles of his hair. She heard Trey breathe a long, low sigh.

In the small blaze before them she saw reds and blues and greens as the larger branches were consumed and broke into orange, square pieces to join a growing bed of coals.

“I love thee, Farrin,” Trey said, softly.

She laid her head against his shoulder. “I know,” she said.

Trey let loose all of his pent up breath, perhaps letting go of some small portion of a long season of torment. They were both fifteen seasons in age, which was the beginning of marriagable age for them both.

“How long have you known?” he asked.

“Long enough.”

The kindled, meadlike warmth at her center suddenly blazed alight. She felt swollen and sore, but no longer the same soreness from the ride.

“Trey. Look at me,” she whispered.

“I…I can’t.”

She reached for his face and touched his chin, pulling his face around where she could look at it with as much gentleness as she could muster. When she could see him looking at her in the firelight, eyes distant as if to keep his thoughts secluded, sheltered far away in some safe harbor of the soul, the fires banked inside her were loosed, spreading upward into her breasts and her lips, and then downward. And her question, that darkest of all questions as to what she might do for Trey, for herself, was answered for her now.

The moment blurred when they began to kiss. Maybe it had nothing to do with time at all.

So, a bit about writing here, and sort of off the cuff. First of all, I’m working on a couple (or actually several) books at once. But, over the last few weeks and especially the last few days, something else seems to be intruding into my space. I suppose it’s another project of sorts, but I think it’s actually a series, if anything. It’s still unnamed, I don’t know any of the character’s names, I’m unsure of the locations, and I’m only partially sure of one thing—this will be action-adventure/mystery, but in a different format than I’ve ever attempted. It has the feeling of third-person omniscient. A number of factors seem to be coming together in my mind, and really, instead of these being full-blown images, they’re rather more like colors and lumps of emotion, and distant, indistinct voices, much like a softball game going on so far across the park that you don’t know who’s winning or losing and couldn’t begin to care, you’re simply sort of glad there’s a game going on and people are having a good time. Today, I was in Sallie’s bathroom, and she has this huge frosted window. The amorphous image and the colors were not unlike a painting that she did a few years back—one of my favorites among her myriad wonderful paintings, and I was compelled to snap an image of both, since both were available. (I’m showing you both images below.) Anyway, that’s my long way of saying that the idea is still in its early gestation stages and it’s sort of like those two pictures—the window and the painting. Another thing that happened today was that I was on ebay (which is another awful habit of mine, since I have WAY too many books and other things) and it kind of came in from left field—I remembered the 1968 publication (or rather, the re-publication from 1902) of Howard Pyle’s Robin Hood, with it’s green cover and its long, double-columned pages, lavish with pen and ink illustrations throughout. Well, I did an ebay search and bought the damned thing, the same one I had when I was a kid! Another thing I started doing was to search for the old Doc Savage paperbacks and pulps. I decided not to buy any more of those (I have more than a hundred already), but even those images stayed with me. And I won’t begin to go into the hundreds of other things flitting through this little inner space known as the mind of yours truly, but suffice it to say, there’s a whole lot more to it than these few scant elements. So I do know this: it will be action and adventure, it will be in third person (as opposed to the Bill Travis 1st person viewpoint), it will be a team of heroes instead of just the one, it will be righting wrongs and punishing evil-doers and generally supporting the good guys and exacting vengeance upon the bad ones, and it will be in modern times. And that’s about all I know. It does feel, however, like there’s a volcano underneath my feet, ready to explode. I can feel the ground deformation, I can smell the sulphur dioxide. And I’m prepping for a rocket ride. I guess that’s all I wanted to say.

 

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Okay, so Reveille In Red is off and running. Here are the opening bars of the song:

CHAPTER ONE

The one good thing about getting older is that there are far many more opportunities to drink wine and relax—for other people. Things are a little too busy for me to attempt such a passtime. Julie, my wife, likes to have a little wine now and again, usually on a Saturday or a Sunday night, and while I have tasted the stuff, I couldn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered a serious wine-drinker. Or a drinker of any kind of alcohol in any appreciable quantity, for that matter. First of all, I have to have my wits about me at all times. Second, I never particularly liked the way it made me feel.

So when I got invited on a tour of the Fredericksberg, Texas wine country through the Austin Chamber of Commerce—one of those “reciprocity” deals that is really little more than flagrant promotion—I didn’t exactly snap at the chance. But when I did give finally give the nod and accept the invitation—and received two tickets for my troubles and for my modest donation—it was with an eye toward treating my wife to the kind of life she’d wanted to live all along, or at least it was in my estimation. Possibly, I couldn’t have been more wrong about everything.

The worst disasters typically begin that way: good intention gone awry; an effort to kill two overly vociferous song birds with the same sling bullet, which in this instance included Constance Fielder and her pushy public relations methodology, and the realization during our little talk that it was perfects true—I rarely treated my wife to anything except a dozen roses on Valentine’s Day, taking her car down to have it washed, waxed and detailed some time in the neighborhood of her birthday, and the obligatory Christmas and Anniversary presents.

“Bill,” Constance said while standing in front of my desk, as if she belonged there and had real business to conduct, “when was the last time you treated Julie to anything? I mean, aside from taking her to dinner?”

“Well,” I began, and was fully ready to charge forward with the details of our last trip to South Texas, but then I remembered that Julie had spent most of her time in the hotel room while I was out running around trying to figure out who was killing people and turning their bodies into instant mummies. I thought of our most recent trip to the re-opening of a blues bar in Houston, but then, on the heels of that, came the realization that it had all been for my benefit.

I regarded Constance’s serious face and steady eyes, then sighed and leaned back in my chair.

“How much, Constance? How much is my conscience going to cost me?”

“Three hundred dollars. It’s the best deal you’ll ever get your thoroughly used and overly abused conscience.”

I opened my desk drawer, withdrew my personal checkbook, opened it and started writing.

“You won’t regret it,” Constance said.

As I wrote, I realized that it was all my fault to begin with. Constance and Jack had divorced a couple of years back, and Constance had been sitting in my office, quietly sobbing while I went over what Jack had done to their portfolio in the months and years leading to their breakup. I did two things for her that day: I recommended one of the best divorce attorneys in Austin to her, and when she asked me, “What am I going to do with my life?” I told her about the opening that I’d heard about with the Chamber of Commerce. All by way of saying that it always comes home to roost. No good deed…and all that.

I finished writing the check, tore it out of the book and handed it to her.

She gave me an envelope in return.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“It’s your tickets. Two tickets to paradise.”

“Paradise,” I said. Full blown in front of me a panorama came into view: Julie and me sitting outside under an awning with half-empty wine glasses in front of us, crickets chirping in the scrub brush nearby, a vast field of grape vines stretching out to the horizon and the sun going down behind the farthest hill.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the stark beauty of South Central Texas with its rolling hills, stubby trees, and its often dry, sun-baked earth. But I do have a problem with the passage of time, or specifically, with time wasted wherein something that could be accomplished is being frittered away like money flowing through the hands of a wastrel.

Time. My life was all about time.

And then Constance, a late middle-aged and diminutive woman given to flowery apparel and almost obnoxious optimism, did something funny with her face. She smiled, got a little giddy-looking, and reached across my desk and put her hand on top of mine and squeezed it. “Oh, I so envy you, Bill Travis. You with your beautiful wife and your wonderful family. And now you get to go romance her all over again.”

“All it takes to romance her, Constance, is eggs for breakfast and banana pudding for dessert.”

“Oh, poo,” she said. She turned around, sashayed across my office while doing a little happy dance, then turned and said, “This makes me feel young, Bill, so I’m not going to let you ruin anything for me.”

“Goodbye, Constance,” I said, but she was already gone out the door—with my three hundred bucks.

I sat in my chair and looked at the envelope in my hand. It was a plain, white envelope, with no address on it, all clean and pristine. It would be all too easy to pull up the address for one of my clients, write their address on it, slap a stamp on it and put it by the front door with the outgoing mail. But it felt a little more thick than just a couple of tickets.

I opened the envelope, since it was unsealed.

Inside, there was a brochure, and sure enough, it had a photo splash of a couple holding hands, looking out across a field of grapes. Inside the brochure there was a wine bottle posing next to a hogshead of cheese that no family of any size could possibly eat in one sitting, and below this was another, smaller photograph showing the wine label:

REVEILLE

There was a small bugler inked into the background, forever blowing his bugle.

This jogged a memory.

It had been in the paper a few days back. I looked around my desk, but no newspaper.

I got up, went out into the outer office, but Logan didn’t work on Friday afternoon. I poked my head in Penny’s office. “Hey, where’s my newspaper?”

“What newspaper?” she asked.

“I had a newspaper on my desk. Where’d it go?”

“I have no idea. For what day?”

“I think Tuesday. No, Wednesday.”

“The housekeeper comes every Wednesday night. She probably threw it away.”

“Oh.” Lost. So many things, irretrievably lost.

“I think I have Wednesday,” Penny said.

“You’re kidding.”

“I never kid about the newspaper.” She pushed with her feet and her chair rolled backwards. She opened a buffet bureau and I saw a stack of newspapers there.

She handed it to me.

I opened it on her desk and turned the page to the Local and State section, and found it.

WINERY DEATH INVESTIGATION ONGOING

“This is it!” I said.

“What?” She got up and looked across her desk at the paper.

“Hmm. Now why would you be interested in that?” she asked.

“Oh, I don’t know. Two tickets for a tour of the wine country were just dropped in my lap, and the brochure has this!” I pointed at the picture to the side of the article.

“A bottle of wine,” Penny said. “Very nice.”

“No. If you look close, it’s the same name, same logo as on the brochure.”

“So, you get to tour the winery where somebody died. That sounds…about right.”

I suppose I had made a spectacle of myself, because I suddenly became self-conscious. It had something to do with the way Penny was looking at me, with her head slightly cocked, as if something had been confirmed. Or worse, as if she thought she understood me.

“Never mind,” I said, and turned to go.

“Bye,” she said.

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Here’s the Author’s Note to Buffalo Bayou Blues. I reserve the right to change or add to it prior to publication, for which I’m staring May 1st dead in the face:

AUTHOR’S NOTE

When I was very young, my father took me on a tour of blues joints in the Houston area. You see, my father was one of the original Hellfighters. He worked directly under Red Adair, and Boots and Coots. Some of my earliest memories are of him going off for weeks at a time to fight oilwell fires in the Gulf. I would throw a wall-eyed fit whenever he’d go off like that. Later, while working for Brown & Root, he had his back broken on an oilwell platform during a hurricane, and thus had to “slow down” a bit. Therefore, he went from longshoreman to truck driver, and drove a rig for Skerlock Oil Company, headquartered out of Houston. And before all of this—I don’t remember any of it, because I was far too young—we lived down in La Marque, right on the Houston Ship Channel. So, I suppose it should be no surprise that my father would know Houston, and know it well. Maybe a little too well, if you take my meaning. If you’re an old-timer, and lived during those times—you would have to be in your eighties or nineties, but I’m sure there are a few of you still around—and were around the Houston area, chances are you met him, and if you met him, why, you knew him. His name was Nelson Wier, and he was a force of nature.

When I was no more than seven, my father took me to some of the back street dives, little more than juke joints, with clouds of blue cigarette smoke and loud “colored” music filling the air. My father loved those places. For my own part, I was instantly enthralled.

Since that time, I have loved The Blues.

From my point of view, it was a matter of course that I would be accepted by the many people I visited in those back street blues joints, even though, technically speaking, I’m whiter than an unbaked flour cracker. At that early age, I suppose I was already closing my eyes and moving my head to the backbeat, lost in the mood, ducking with the changes, and showing it all on my face—that other place, apart from my sleeve, where I wear my heart for all the world to see. Possibly, I looked ridiculous. But I felt the music. It was the most real thing I’d ever heard, and it literally moved me.

My father passed away on September 12, 2007. He never got to hold one of my published books in his hands. He never met nor got to hold his great-granddaughter. He never got to see me sign a book or speak before a crowd of fans. But all that’s okay. You see, he got to know me, and he instilled in me so many things that without him, there would be no Bill Travis. There would be no great love for Texas. Without him, life would have been dull, beyond belief. Instead, because of him and his influence, life has been indeed rich.

Far from a simple tribute to my late father, I wanted to convey, here in this little Author’s Note, a little something more than is evidenced by the foregoing story.

The blues isn’t simply music, or a genre of music. It is a way of life for many—and that path is not limited to people of color by any means.

Fast forward to about 2003, when I laid down the titles to no less than twenty-one Bill Travis adventures. When I got to Trinity Trio, the alliteration bug set in, and the next one had to be alliterative as well. My whole life was right there in front of me that day. I could pick and choose anything. But one thing came through at that exact moment. The blues. I had to write about the blues. Houston, of course, sprang into mind. Those old blues joints with their blue cigarette smoke and gently clicking billiard balls, and…that wonderful sound. You can’t think long about Houston without thinking about Buffalo Bayou, and thus the title sprang full-blown like Athena from my forehead. I wrote it down without batting an eye.

And guess what. Just the other day, I unearthed that original piece of paper with all those titles on it. The order may have changed, somewhat, and a few of those titles have changed a little, but they’re basically still there, and Buffalo Bayou Blues is written there, plain as day. Would anyone like to have that piece of paper? I’m thinking of either framing it or auctioning it off.

So what’s there to write about the blues? Well, for one thing, a good half a dozen mystery writers have made writing about the blues part and parcel of their career. Guys like Tim Bryant, whose Dutch Curridge character hails from Waco during the heyday of the blues era, specifically the later forties and early fifties. Then there’s Ricky Bush, whose books have ‘blues’ right in the titles, such as Howling Mountain Blues and The Devil’s Blues. And there are many more, but these two come to mind most readily. So, the blues have not only been done, they’ve been done well. And wouldn’t you just know it, the blues are rife with such sentiments as, ‘My woman done gone and done me wrong’ and ‘He kilt her right then and there.’ That is to say that lust and betrayal, heartbreak, suicide, murder and a host of the world’s other evils are inherent within the blues. The blues sing out with them. They tell the story of—well, Houston, and Texas, and everyone who has ever drawn a breath in either or both of the two. But mostly, the blues just sing.

I find it the easiest thing in the world to write about this topic. It’s sort of like breathing. It just flows on out there, and I don’t even have to think about it.

So, I hope you enjoyed this little excursion to a side of life that is seldom written about, seldom visited, and even rarer, brought up to the surface and exposed. Because, as Bill would likely tell you, there’s nothing done in the dark that won’t sooner or later be exposed to the light of day.

Okay, that’s about it.

For the die-hard among you—the faithful ones; those who keep coming back for more, and more, and still even more—this book was for you. It’s my privilege to know you and to write for you. Thank you for giving me every chance along the way to make good my word. You’ve been good to me, and you have my undying devotion.

Therefore, all my love to you and yours.

And as always, all the best!

George Wier
Austin, Texas

I don’t know what this is, nor where it’s going, but…hmmm…here it is:

Of all the tales of great adventure that come down to us from the old days and the older ways, nary a one is any more moving, any more adventurous, nor more affecting than that of Craypipe and Stovelilly. As you all know, Craypipe lived in the Wide Valley and Stovelilly kept her abode up in the Laurel Range of the Saw Teeth, and only upon great peril would Craypipe adventure forth from his shack among the stands of paper reeds; but the weather was fine and Craypipe was still young and less set in his ways, and he wondered what sort of land lay beyond those far, high and jagged peaks, and as you well know, there is no stronger motivation than simple curiosity. So one clear and bright morning, after all the chores had been done, Craypipe cursed to himself, threw up his hands—those hard hands were already gnarled with great strength and abrasive and harsh toil, even then—and put a paper note on his door saying, Gone Explorin’, put a blanket and one of his old belts around the mule, put some crackers, cheese and jars of honey wine in his burlap sack, grabbed his stick and set to walking.

Now, as you also know, Stovelilly got her name on account of her odd birth—her mother, Pratelin, was cooking that day for the Savior Man’s Feast and all the extended family in the hills, and the babe chose that precise moment when two or three things were ready to come off the stove or out of the oven all at once to come into this screaming world. Pratelin felt Stovelilly start to drop and reached down in a flash and caught her by the foot, lifted her up and set her in the cooking pot on the back of the stove—there was no fire under that burner, don’t you know, because it was nothing there but water for cooling things down with—and the new babe settled into the cool water, looked up at her mother and smiled. In the next instant, Old Ames came into the kitchen, took one look and stated, “Now Ma, what you cooking over there on that corner? Because I don’t think the folks will want any of that!”

“Oh shoo!” Pratelin said, damping down the fire under the taters. “That’s nothin’ but my little stove lilly.” And as you know, the name stuck.

But that was a long time ago, close on to thirty years, and Stovelilly lived in the cabin perched on the saddle of land between the two valleys all alone. Old Ames had died of white rot and Pratelin got herself struck by lightning—and that is a whole other story, let me tell you—and it’s a hard world when you’re living on your lonesome. The family didn’t bother to come and state when they were moving off to the valley. They had forgotten about Stovelilly, as people sometimes do when they are deeply involved in their own affairs.

Now there was still magic in the Earth in those days. Some believe that it originally came from the great volcanic vents in the ocean, mixed with the water, was skimmed from the waves by the great winds that blow unceasing, and was dropped upon the mountains in great rain deluges, and ran down across the land and found its way into the very crops and the animals that we eat. It didn’t, then, take a lot of magic to manifest itself in ordinary ways such that no one thought of it as being quite…magical. They will see a tree growing from a little nut and think nothing of it, or a water spring up from a rock and pass it off as simply the way of the world. But it takes magic to move things, to cause them be when they weren’t before, and to generally bring forth life and living.

However the magic came to be there, it so happened that Stovelilly was particularly sensitive to the ways of magic. She saw it everywhere around her, and was quite versed in pushing it along, of spreading it around such that little things throve and grew in profusion near her. Consequently, the saddle of land between Laurel Mountain and Forrestal Peak became ringed with a great forest of birch and pine, black walnut and maple, and fruit trees were everywhere such that there was no need to plant any crops nor slaughter any animals—for it wasn’t in Stovelilly’s nature to kill anything that could gaze upon a sunset or grow tired or thirsty. Thus, she walked alone in the forest, singing songs to herself to bide her time, and wondered as she walked if she would ever hear the voice of another human being ever again.

She had no way of knowing that a human being would be coming to visit her, and very soon. The magic didn’t speak of it, and her Dream Spirit kept the secret of his coming, for if she had any inkling of what would thereafter occur, she might have blanched at the aspect of it, and hidden herself, and not answered when the call came, borne of the wind that blows about the misty peaks in the morning.

It was seven days for Craypipe from the morning he left the shack until he came to the foothills beneath Laurel Mountain. He spent much of his time talking to his mule. The mule listened, but to his credit didn’t talk back. Nor had Craypipe ever named the beast, other than to call him, properly, Mule.

When Craypipe laid his head down that last evening before attempting the peak, he looked up at the stars and saw that they had not changed one iota from where they were back home, and he wondered at this. He had always heard that the stars were different in the southern climes. This, from the tales of old explorers, handed down through the years. But those old explorers had great boats, and all he had was an old mule who couldn’t talk or even curse back at him. Maybe it was all foolishness. How could the stars change?

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Here’s the Author’s Note to Trinity Trio, comin’ atcha soon!

AUTHOR’S NOTE

The Catholics say that confession is good for the soul. This must have some truth to it, or else I wouldn’t be so inclined to unburden myself, or at least not so easily. And it didn’t take any prompting either. Here’s the confession: I have to feel a certain way to slip into Bill Travis’s world.

There. I said it.

There can’t be any music playing, nor anything seriously going on. I have to be fairly well-rested and in equable health. And if these conditions are just right, and if my little mind’s eye GoPro cam into Bill’s world is turned on and tuned in, why then I can follow what’s going on and report it. Otherwise, uh uh. Which is the real reason why I have to have several projects going at once and also the real reason why these books are trickling out there like black strap molasses a week after New Years.

Mind you, now, once I’m “over there” in Bill’s world, and things are hopping and popping, why, I can just let it roll and it sluices out of the old barrel in one hell of a hurry, but that’s not typical until somewhere in the neighborhood of one-third of the way to the halfway-finished area of the book, not at the beginning. If I’m anywhere in those first knuckle-dragging neanderthal thirty to fifty pages, well, sometimes it’s slow going. I don’t know why that is, it simply works out that way.

So, like I say, multiple projects are called for.

While writing this one, my main “other” project has been what I call a “serious” work entitled Neptune’s Forge, an Antarctic mystery. And man, is that mystery dark. Also, it’s written in a completely different vernacular than anything else I’ve ever written. All the action takes place near the end of the 19th Century, and it started writing itself in the prose form of that era—sort of a melding of Joseph Conrad, Herman Melville, and Jack London. I’m not sure what or who I may have been channeling during that book—the ghost of Henry James, possibly?—but, oh man, if you read it, you’ll see what I mean. Between that book and this, it’s not only different continents and disparate times, it’s different worlds.

Here’s another confession, of sorts: I have interesting dreams.

This book is the only book I’ve ever written which appeared entirely in the course of a single night; a lone episodic saga. I was able to remember that dream—no, not in its entirety, but in its depth, its intensity, and in its feel. I’ll tell you, the dream was nowhere near as funny as certain passages in this book.

Humor, to my mind, is the knee-jerk reaction to “things that ain’t right.” It’s that plus the fact that you got the joke. You saw and understood it wasn’t right, and can therefore laugh at it. I heard a speaker once say that, “If you’re angry, then you haven’t gotten the joke yet.” I kind of appreciated that when I heard it. In fact, I laughed out loud.

Most of the humor in the Bill Travis books is unintentional. I’ll be in here (in my office, on my computer) writing, and Sallie will be in the bedroom across the way, reading what I wrote just a few minutes before (I’ll sometimes dash off a page or two and get them to her so as not to interrupt her reading of them by allowing her to reach the abrupt end) and suddenly she’ll laugh out loud. I’ll get up, go in there, give her a funny look until she notices I’m standing there, and then I’ll ask her, “What’s so funny?”

She’ll say, “Oh, it’s this part here,” and then she’ll read it aloud to me, and I’ll be shocked to find out it was actually kind of humorous. I mean, I’m sort of stunned by that. I hadn’t set out to do it, this I promise you, it’s just that it sometimes works out that way.

And another thing I’ve noticed is that it doesn’t happen like that if I’m feeling the least bit off. If I’m having to force it, then it’s usually simply not right. I will, in fact, find myself backing up (a painful word here, but since we’re being all sober and truthful, the actual word is “deleting”) to where it first started going south and re-writing it, or even stopping and waiting until it feels right to proceed. Running that red light (by which I mean, writing when I shouldn’t be—when I have to expend effort to do so) can sometimes result in a pretty bad wreck.

All this by way of saying that if there’s not some real life humor on the printed page, then it’s just not a Bill Travis mystery the way it should be. Now, I know, sometimes things can get pretty dark. They can get downright real and dicey and the old pump is thudding in the chest and that old battery acid taste of adrenalin is coating the tongue, and man, even I don’t know what’s going to happen next. But even then, even there in the pitch blackness with the bad people running around in the dark trying to kill our friend Bill, there had better be something to laugh at, somewhere.

I suppose, in the final analysis, this is why Bill and I are still hanging together, and he allows me to ride along in the back seat with him and Hank up front. It’s because we both know these old back roads, we know this neck of the back woods like the backs of our hands. We’ve both been there, we’ve dodged fate and lived to fight another day, and we’re able to laugh about seeing the elephant. (By the way, that’s what the old campaigners used to call the action on the battlefield—“seeing the elephant.” I suppose that’s a nod to the Boer War, or something.) Because, let me tell you, we’ve seen the elephant—or at least the elephant as it exists in East and Central Texas—and it can still be a pretty big bastard.

That reminds me of the old redneck joke: The first guy says, “What are the three most dangerous words you can hear?” The second one replies, “I don’t know, what are they?” The first guys says, “Hey, watch this!” You know when you hear that, you’re in some deep kem-chee. Or, at least you are where I come from.

Well, the truth of the matter is that I’m a bit older now, and hopefully most of my kem-chee days are in the dark years of the ancient past. They are, that is, until Bill Travis dredges them up for me and shows them to me.

But hey, what are friends for?

All right, I guess that’s about it.

Y’all take care, until the next time. And in the meantime…

All the best to you and yours,

George Wier
Austin, Texas
November 12, 2016

 

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Another little snippet from Neptune’s Forge:

The expedition party came off of the ice shelf and onto land with no fanfare. If anything, the way was more difficult, being mostly uphill, and the dogs slipped and the sleds had a tendency to slue and skid. Right away, Gleese could see the genius of Ned’s selections of the dogs, and particularly the leaders. At the front of Ned’s and Tomaroff’s own sled ran Anja and Freja, two of the largest dogs among the many, both females and of even temperament. Pulling his own sled, in the lead were Ole and Svend, two male black and white huskies. Behind them were Mads, Margreth, Lisbeth and Frans, all Danish names, selected by the only Dane in the party, Ned Kroones. In the final analysis, they were all Ned’s dogs, even though technically, Gleese was the owner. Beside Gleese rode the stoic American, Terry Rath. Behind them were Peter Bornik, another American from the deep south, and Parker Dunlevy, an Irishman, who spoke incessantly about nothing at all.

Gleese kept expecting trouble between Rath and Bornik, the two having come from opposing sides in the Civil War, but they seemed fine with one another’s presence.

Rath had been in the Drum & Bugle Corp attached to William Tecumseh Sherman’s XV Corp under U.S. Grant at Vicksburg. He had lived through the initial battle and was there for the long siege, though he had only been a lad of eight at the time. He loved and respected Grant very nearly as much as he loathed Sherman, whom he considered to be the only man he had ever met who was born without a heart.

Bornik, for his part, had been one of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalrymen after Forrest was stripped of his hardened veterans by General Braxton Bragg in 1862. Forrest had been forced to sign up two thousand new recruits, and had hand-picked the rail-thin will-o-the-wisp from the southern Louisiana canebrakes. Not that he could afford to be choosy about it. Bornik served alongside the brash and fiery-tempered Southern Cavalry Major from then up to that fateful day in 1865 when the then Major General Forrest bade farewell to his troops after the CSA’s surrender by General Lee in the drawing room of Wilmer McClean at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia. During those three years he had been wounded twice and had three mounts shot out from under him. There had been no replacement horses, however, in the final days of the war, and so he was forced to make his way back to Houma, Louisiana, with his bare feet, his carbine and his cavalry saber, and the clothes on his back. Peter Bornik looked almost ancient, even though he was no more than forty. The years had been unkind to him. His skin was as red as an Indian’s, and it seemed that every inch of him bore one kind of scar or another. It was a wonder he was sound in his mind and members. There were few who had seen more action who were not missing a digit, or a whole hand, leg or arm. After the war, Bornik had spent most of the intervening years as a shrimp fisherman in the Gulf of Mexico. Then, one fine summer day, he decided he’d had enough of the blazing tropical sun and came north. Gleese had found the man on the New London docks, looking for work, took one look at his ropy frame and hired him on the spot.

It was Rath, though, who spoke first concerning the disposition of Mateo. “You left it to those Island men to mete out justice?”

Gleese turned to look back toward the last sled to see old Mateo straining to catch up with it. The Argentinians had put him afoot. They would not trust him in their midst.

“He’ll not last long, I suspect,” Gleese stated. It was a true answer to the question, but then again, he didn’t care to answer the query. “And they’re not Island men. They’re Portuguese, from Argentina.”

“What were they doing on the island, then?” Rath asked.

“Looking for work. Whaling and sealing, I’d say, mostly.”

Rath shook his head slowly, and lapsed into silence. It didn’t last long, because after a minute, he said, “You had to pay them handsomely, didn’t you?”

“Mr. Rath, your wages are between you and me. The matter of their wages is between them and me.”

“I’m only trying to figure why they would come, is all.”

“Some men will walk through the gates of hell for money.”

Terry Rath then remembered his fellow Union soldiers who had accepted payment for another man’s conscription, and shivered.

“You’re from Maine, aren’t you?” Gleese asked him.

“I am,” Rath replied.

“It makes sense.”

“What makes sense?”

“I have never met anyone from Maine that wasn’t attempting to puzzle something out.”

“I’m not sure how to take that,” Rath said.

Gleese nodded, and let it go.

By the time they topped a rise and saw the distant Trans-Antarctic Range, Mateo was nowhere to be seen anywhere behind them.

Sometimes the most fun writing these things is the dialogue. Here’s a little snippet from the forthcoming The Lone Star Express:

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Apparently anything can go wrong.

The train was slowing. Not majorly slowing, but the vibration and the rocking seemed less, and the lights passing in the night seemed to go by more slowly. I had swept most of the broken glass—all that wasn’t beneath Frank—into the corner where I had gotten the blankets, and Frank was trying to get to his feet.

“You want to help me up?” he asked. He had his left arm braced on a bar, trying to lever himself to his feet.

“I want you to lay there,” I said.

He faltered for a moment and lay back down. “I’m gonna try again in a minute. By the way, you make a terrible nurse.”

“I do.”

“Bill? Over!” The voice over the radio JoJo’s.

I picked up the radio and keyed the mic. “Yeah? Over.”

“Get up here. I need an extra hand. Only came with two of them. Charlie’s coming back there to spell you because he can’t…”

I waited. “Can’t what? Over.”

“Never mind that. Can you come on over?” Then, uncertainly, “Over.”

“Come over where? Over.”

“Come forward until you find me. Over.”

“Can we stop saying ‘over’? It’s getting old. Over.”

“Sure. Over.”

“Okay. I’m coming…uh, over.”

There was a beat of a pause, then, “So when are you going to stop saying ‘over?’ Over.”

“Right now,” I said, and released the mic. I waited, then keyed the mic again. “I’m also leaving off the ‘out’.”

“Uh huh.”

With that done, I looked back down at Frank. “You gonna be okay there for a few minutes? Charlie’s coming back here.”

“I heard.”

I turned to go, but then heard him whisper, “Amateurs.”

“What was that?” I asked.

“Nothing. Just go.”

I opened the door onto the narrow brim beneath my feet, and for a moment began to doubt where I was going anywhere. The problem was the blackness of the night outside the caboose. The dim lighting from inside cast my shadow onto the rear of the refrigeration car in front of me. When I stepped a little to the side, I could see the brim of the car three feet in front of me and the faintly illuminated rungs of the later, but the problem was that when I stepped back in order to prepare myself to lunge forward, the ladder vanished into the darkness.

JoJo saved me with a squawk over the radio: “Bill, there’s a light switch by the door.”

I flipped it, but at that instant it decided to burn out. The flare was brief, and I knew if from all the times I had turned on my closet light or my back porch light and the tiny filaments in the bulb of glass decided to take the opportunity to check out.

I keyed the mic. “Just burned out. Here goes nothing.”

“It’s a piece of cake,” she said, and silence ensued.

“I now officially miss ‘over’,” I said.

“Yeah.”

“Will you two can the chatter?” Corky’s voice came over the radio. “We’re losing pressure fast.”

“I know. I know,” JoJo said. “Give us a minute.”

“Or five,” I said.

“You’ve got about four, and then this thing is coming to a stop and we’ll have to bank the fire.”

“What’s that mean?” I asked.

“Starve it of oxygen,” Leo’s voice stated.

“Just aim and jump,” JoJo said.

“Okay,” I said. “Everybody shut up. Here I come.”

I turned the radio off, put it in my pocket, stepped to the side to let the dim light through.

Behind me, Frank shouted, “Just jump!”

“All right, already. Everybody’s a critic.”

I studied the rung I was going to grasp, and where I would have to put my feet. I counted from ten to one, then decided to start all over.

It came unbidden into my mind at that moment. One time Jessica and I were playing one-on-one basketball in the driveway and she was standing her ground from well past the free-throw line, and I couldn’t get past her. I dribbled, held the ball, dribbled and stepped, held it again, and then a feeling came over me. It was a sense of rightness. Why was I trying to get closer to the basket when all I needed was that feeling? I had height on Jessica, and I knew there was really nothing she could do. I dribbled once more, made as if I were going to step again, but instead leapt straight up and threw. The ball sailed up in a beautiful slow motion arc, as if what I had done was the laziest thing in the world, then went through the net without touching the hoop. It was game point. Jessica’s shoulders slumped and she said, “How am I supposed to defend against that?” to which I replied, “You don’t. There’s no defense against that.” “What do you call that?” “It’s a thing wonderful and rare. It’s called a sense of rightness.” The next morning I was awakened by the sound of a basketball banging off of the backboard. I looked out the window, and there was Jessica, practicing from past the freethrow line. She would jump straight up and throw, miss, try again and miss. Finally, as I watched, she got it. Then she stood there and I watched as the implication sunk in. And that was my gift that day to her.

I stood there in the night and waited. When it came, I recognized it and didn’t hesitate. I jump forward and my overly large shadow in front of me shrank. The rung of the ladder came into my hands at the same moment that my feet came down exactly where they were supposed to land. I started up without a second thought. There’s something to be said for rightness.