Sunday, December 20, 2015

Vestigial Surreality: 02: Stacey

The Sunday SciFi Fantasy Serial, Free Online Fiction, Mystery, Ancestor Simulation, Digital World, Data is Data
episode TWO
01 02 03 04 05 06 07
08 09 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31 32 33 34 35
36 37 38 39 40 41 42
43 44 45 46 47 48 49
Spoken-Word Audio - VS


Stacey stretched on the edge of the picnic bench, sweating profusely and twisting his body, about to pop his spine, while attempting to get some air into his lungs. He figured it was only a tad over a mile on his run this fine April morning. He chuckled a bit at the thought of calling this a run, but his small laugh transformed into a cough. Nope, cigars and running did not make good bedfellows, he thought wryly, and the shin splints screaming out to him from near the ground wanted to launch into a sermon about the extra pounds swinging from his gut. Oh yeah, he was a mess. Fat and asthmatic, and yet there were the dim hopes of getting back into the ring.
Illustration by Harrison Christian Larsen
Illustration by Harrison Christian Larsen ©2015 - Vestigial Surreality: TWO
What kind of joke is that, he berated darkly, chastising himself, because I left all that, the hitting people, and it was my own choice, and I was never very good at it anyway. Now you’re too old. Too old, too fat, and no wind. But then again, he never had very good wind, even when he was young. Stinking asthma.
He used to do five miles a day, actually running the whole while, mixing in sprints of speed along his route, shadowboxing all the while. Now he managed a mile of jogging, and it winded him bad, oh so bad.
He distantly watched the boy and the businessman across the park beneath the big old tree. Odd pair, those two, but they might just be sharing a table. Stacey figured the boy sixteen or seventeen, long and lanky, and the businessman about his own age, or possibly forty, compact and polished.
Oh, but if I could have been born a few years later, I could have gotten in on this mixed martial arts craze, now that would have been something, I could have been good in MMA, even better than boxing. He was almost as good a wrestler as he was a boxer, and the little exposure he gained at judo in his twenties, he found he was as good at throwing people as he was at hitting them, only he never enjoyed the hitting part. But the strategy involved in mixing boxing with wrestling with karate with jiu-jitsu, and millions of sloppy haymaker punches. Wow.
Stacey figured he might have fought a lot like Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida, who was a good, strong, stand-up fighter that did very well with grappling situations. But probably like Machida, Stacey would have received a whole lot of bad decisions from the MMA judges, who preferred dumb, aggressive fighters over smart, defensive fighters.
At thirty-five years of age Stacey still had all his young man’s strength, but he was definitely disintegrating with time. Shocks of white glared in his dark hair at the temples, but it was some genetic thing, because his temples turned white when he was twenty-eight years of age. What was the verse? Something along the lines of a young man’s glory is his strength, while an old man’s glory is his white hair. Perhaps he was stronger now than he was at twenty-five, the age at which he might have showed a little promise as a boxer, so Stacey figured himself doubly blessed, an old man’s glory simultaneous with a young man’s glory.
The truth was, he never showed that much promise. He did the whole thing for ten years and made some real money a few months out of the years as a sparring partner to about five different guys who were close to getting heavyweight title shots (but none of them ever got a shot, close, but no proverbial cigar, thankfully Stacey had a cigar in his jogging belt).
Stacey glanced at the kid across the way at the picnic table. From this distance, Stacey could see that the kid was writing in a little black book, and sipping at a tall coffee cup. He wanted to go across the way and tell the kid that he was just too young to be drinking coffee, but Stacey was fairly certain how that the kind of advice would go over, with a teenager of today. Yet, this was an interesting teenager of today, coffee drinker and writer, Stacey already liked the kid! It was almost as if he watched his younger self at that table.
Oh but he could use some coffee. That did it, he chuckled at himself, coffee was better today than running (an old man’s shamble). He mentally mapped the nearest four Starbucks, but then realized that little coffee haunt, what was it called (the Coffee Dump, something stupid like that, its logo had a dump truck pouring out a cascade of coffee beans), maybe he would check out that place for the first time.
Stacey swigged some water from his bottle then clipped the jug onto his jogging belt (okay, so it was a fanny pack, but he would absolutely never call it that, in fact he would not even allow himself to remember that he had mentally acknowledged what other people might call his jogging belt), and patted the belt to ensure the shape of his wallet therein, and it was decided, he would finish his feeble jog over to the Coffee Dump (if that was the actual name) two blocks away.
Glancing back to the picnic table where the boy and the businessman sat, Stacey observed the man hurrying away at a clipped pace, an umbrella poking out from beneath his arm, briefcase swinging, and the boy kind of prancing about the table looking like he was dancing with a book, or a small box.
For some reason Stacey began his jog headed toward the teenager, even though it was off the course of his projected destination. He threw a few punches expertly timed with the rhythm of his legs. You never lost that, the ability to throw a punch while moving, the syncopation between arms and legs, it was more reflexively memorable than riding the proverbial bicycle.
Nearing the boy Stacey caught sight of the book’s title, 1Q84, it was that big, the title text of the hardback book, easily readable at twenty paces. Stacey laughed, that was a coincidence, as he had just finished reading that very Murakami book, this very morning!
“Hey, good book,” Stacey said, huffing. This was a strange thing for him to do, to speak to a stranger, even a teenage boy. Stacey was such an introvert that people that knew him often asked casually if he’d ever been diagnosed as autistic.
The boy looked over at Stacey with bright eyes.
“Really freaky,” the boy said as if they knew each other. “A guy was just here,” he indicated the direction in which the businessman had departed just a minute before. “I think that must have been the author.”
“Haruki Murakami?” Stacey said, pausing in his slow jog and then shifting into reverse, but never actually stopping his jog. “Not really!”
“No, I think so,” Jack insisted, “he told me he had this book to give away, and he gave it to me. This guy,” he said, tapping the author’s photo on the back of the book.
“This is a real coincidence,” Stacey said, jogging in place, throwing slow-motion punches, but making certain to keep the punches aimed decidedly away from the boy. Stacey’s hulking size often intimidated people, and a strange man throwing punches in the air could be interpreted as threatening by almost anyone, but perhaps especially a teenage boy.
“Coincidence?” Jack snapped, slapping down the word even before Stacey completed the very same word. The teenager leaned against the edge of the table. “Tell me about it, please, how is it a coincidence?”
Stacey finally stopped jogging and shadowboxing. He wiped sweat from his forehead with the back of his arm.
“I just finished reading 1Q84 this morning, seriously. Very weird book. I’m not even sure I could tell you what it is about, but I read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle last week, and I gotta tell you, I read a lot of books, and this is a very different writer, different than any I’ve ever read before. Loved Wind-Up Bird, but I think I need to cogitate a while on 1Q84,” Stacey huffed, still out of breath from his earlier run.
Jack felt gooseflesh on his neck and shoulders. It was the word cogitate, that was an expression Jack used in his speech, all the time, and yet he had absolutely never heard another person use it, in any context, let alone to say “I need to cogitate a while.” And he seemed familiar, this big, sweaty man with the white stripes in his mane of hair. Jack almost thought he knew him. Jack definitely needed to cogitate on this one.
“Jack,” Jack said, holding out his hand to shake. This was weird, introducing himself to a strange man, especially someone that was so much older, Jack thought he had never done it before, as he was not that kind of outgoing. Jack came from the “speak only when spoken to” school of thought. His father used to shout: “Children are to be seen and not heard!” Jack never liked that pearl of wisdom, but had apparently taken it to heart.
“Stacey,” Stacey said, seizing the teenager’s proffered hand.
On impulse, Jack passed the hardback book to Stacey.
The older man hefted the book and flipped it over. He tapped the author photo.
“That’s the real coincidence,” Stacey said.
“Coincidence?” Jack snapped, again hardly allowing Stacey to finish the word.
Stacey laughed. “You gotta thing for coincidence?”
Jack grinned and nodded.
Stacey returned the grin, and then frowned a little bit as he returned his gaze to the book. “Me too. And that’s a coincidence too, if you want to know. Me talking to you, and us discussing the phenomenon of coincidence, as I’ve actually been looking into it, if it has some kind of meaning, you know?”
“Me too! Me too!” Jack nearly shouted, almost wagging like a puppy. “I’ve been reading a book at home—”
When God Winks,” Stacey interrupted, his eyes snapping to the kid's.
“Yes!” shouted Jack. This time he literally shouted it. “How in the world did you know?”
“I just read it last week,” Stacey said. “I’m not sure if I agree with it, but it does resonate with a lot of the things I’ve been thinking.”
Resonate, Jack repeated, but only behind his forehead. Yet another word he used, like all the time, and a word he never heard anyone else use. It was as if God was sending him, Jack, a message, right now, about this big guy, this complete stranger.
“That God is encouraging you, every time a coincidence happens, that He is sending you a little message, like a wink, like He’s saying it’s real, don’t despair,” Jack rushed.
Stacey’s eyebrows shot up and he looked around at the sky. “I don’t know if I believe it is actually God, you know, The Creator of Everything, that it is literally Him, Yahweh, sending me little messages. But I do believe the messages are real, I just don’t know what they…mean.”
“Oh yeah,” Jack said, “what was the real coincidence? You said that none of this was the real coincidence.”
“Well, I mean the really big coincidence,” Stacey said, grinning. This was so unusual, there were people at work he had known for many years and had never talked to like this, this openly. He and the kid were talking like close friends.
“When I finished 1Q84, I wanted to know more. I hadn’t looked him up as yet, you know, not even on Wikipedia. I had never even Googled the author, Murakami. About three weeks ago I decided to start running again, okay, not running, but at least jogging, and so going through the Audible books I came upon What I Think about When I Run, oh wait, that’s not it—”
“I have an Audible library,” Jack said, disbelieving and delighted.
Stacey paused, and broke off. “You do? Do you know that I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone else that listens to Audible books?”
“I do, all the time, I started when I got my old iPod about ten years ago. I’ve listened to hundreds, no, maybe a thousand books.”
“Me too,” Stacey said, now slower, as if he was finally getting weirded out about this whole exchange. “I would have said it just like that. Hundreds, no, maybe a thousand books.”
“Somebody cue the Twilight Zone music,” Jack laughed, enjoying this whole encounter, more and more.
Stacey laughed too. He had a few odd moments there, he almost felt dizzy, because this was very odd indeed, something surreal about it all, as if he and young Jack were performing in a play, as if they were reciting their lines back and forth together, doing a reading. He had felt a momentary puddle of imbalance bubbling between his ears. It crossed his mind that this could be what it feels like when you have a stroke. But Jack’s Twilight Zone reference was timed so perfectly that the mounting tension in Stacey’s brain instantly dissolved.
“The big coincidence!” Jack chanted. “Come on, the big coincidence. Big coincidence!”
It better be good, he thought. After all this buildup, this coincidence had better be an extreme biggy.
“Oh yeah, you keep sidelining me there, Jack,” Stacey said. “Well, anyway, to make a long story short, or shorter, I read his book on running, which interested me in his fiction, so I read Wind-Up Bird, and now today I just finished reading this book, 1Q84, and so I looked him up, I Googled him, and yes, I skimmed Wikipedia, then I hit a few other spots on the Web, and then I just kind of clicked on a link that had his schedule. I don’t even know if it was an official book tour schedule, but it said all through April the author would be touring and lecturing in New York, and around there, like Massachusetts and New Jersey, all in that area. So this guy that gave you the book probably wasn’t Murakami.”
Jack sagged. It felt like all the gas leaked out at once, or better, that the pressurizing bubble had suddenly just upped and popped. Thanks Stacey! Sheesh. What a letdown.
“That was your big coincidence?” Jack said, not meaning to make it sound so bad, it was almost as if he had said: “Wow, you really suck!”
“Think about it,” Stacey reassured, “think about it, it’s massive. It’s like I was led through this channel of revelation, or investigation, whatever, but I read three books of Murakami and could have looked him up at any time, but it was today, just this very day, just before I came jogging to the park, that I looked him up and almost accidently found out where he would be today. It was as if I had to get his info before I came here and met you in the park. I never do anything like that. At least I’ve never done anything like that before, I mean, really, I’ve never cared about where an author happens to be—except maybe William Goldman, that'd be cool to know where he is—”
“I love William Goldman!” Jack gushed.
“Oh come on!” Stacey snapped, not put out at all and more than a little bemused, but as far as coincidence goes this was way beyond any imagined throw of the dice, things like this just did not happen, never. This was like someone dumping a bulging bag of coincidences over their heads.
“Really! He’s my favorite author!” Jack laughed, now up off the edge of the picnic table. He started going on little sprints, running twenty feet, furiously, then ripping back around and running an even faster thirty feet.
Stacey watched the kid, and he roared with laughter. If he was a bit younger, and his asthma was not flaring right at this moment, he would join the kid and try and outsprint him!
“Okay, okay,” Stacey said, reaching out and catching Jack’s arm as the teenager rushed past, and was almost pulled off his own feet by the energetic youth. But at least the momentum was halted, possibly only momentarily, and they went to the picnic table and sat across from each other, much like Jack and the businessman had been only ten minutes before.
“I knew something was going to happen today,” Jack said.
“So did I,” Stacey said, meaning it. He had that same odd feeling, all morning, that something big was in the vicinity. “Let me hit you with my favorite William Goldman novel, okay? I’ll say it first, before you do, because I know it is going to be the same book, okay?”
“No,” Jack said, “let me say it first.”
They paused, cogitating, and then Stacey said, “I will count silently, holding up my fingers, and when my third finger is extended we will both say the name of the novel.”
“It’s going to be the same novel,” Jack said with complete faith.
“And we both know what the name of the title would be if you or I were talking to someone else, right?”
Jack started to say something but Stacey lifted his palms.
“Don’t say it!”
Jack grinned.
“After, we’ll get to that one,” Stacey said.
“Okay,” Jack laughed.
Stacey held up his index finger. Jack looked like a puppy furiously wagging its tail. Stacey held up his middle finger alongside his index finger. They stared at each other, expectantly. Stacey held up his ring finger alongside the first two fingers—
“—The Color of Light!” Jack yelled in a rush.
“—Control!” Stacey yelled at exactly the same moment.
They both groaned in exaggeration, laughing. Jack pretended to choke himself at the same time Stacey pointed at his own temple and pretended to splatter his brains across the park.
Then, as one, they said in mirrored perfection: “That would have been my second choice!”
They roared with laughter. Too good, too good, better than if they had hit the same title on the first go.
“And the book we would hear if we were talking to absolutely anybody else in the world?” Stacey prompted.
“Let me count off this time,” Jack said with excitement. He slowly lifted his fingers the same way Stacey had done, and when his three fingers were up, they both shouted: “The Princess Bride!”
It was such perfection that they could have practiced the act more than a hundred times and never gotten it so right. Oh just so right!
“That’s my third favorite,” they said, together, again perfectly timed and matched.”
“But seriously,” Jack said, completely at ease with the guy he hadn’t a clue existed only fifteen minutes earlier. “Control over The Color of Light, really?”
“Well, it is close,” Stacey said. “I could just as easily have said that the two books tie as my favorite. I love Control because of the young cop/old cop relationship, and all the jokes, like the beer tasting contest—”
“—ooh, yeah, and the Giant, that short giant that makes his arm into a club! And the time travel, love that angle!” Jack agreed, ‘Yeah, I agree it’s close, and now I’m going to have to read Control for the third time, but I definitely prefer The Color of Light, because of the whole writer thing, you know?”
“I’m a writer,” Stacey said, almost as if it was the next line he was required to voice.
Jack’s face went very serious. “What if we are meeting ourselves? You know, I’m meeting an older version of myself, and you are meeting a younger version of yourself?”
Stacey did a fair representation of a whistled X Files theme.
“I would have done the Twilight Zone music,” Jack said.
“Me too,” Stacey agreed, “but since you had already referenced it, I didn’t want to accumulate any copyright penalties.”
Jack giggled.
“So back on subject,” Stacey returned, needing to complete this chain of thought, "it was as if I somehow was programmed to meet you and tell you that this was probably not the author that gave you the book. Kind of scary, like someone wound up the key in my back, or fed a virus into my mental computer. Normally I would have just assumed you met the author, but the fact that I saw the author’s schedule this very morning, that’s too much to accept. It’s impossible. Nothing weirder is going to happen today, that much I’m sure of.”
“What in the world is that?” Jack said in a flat voice.
Stacey followed Jack’s gaze. His mouth dropped open and he stared.
In the bright morning sky, where the sun should be, hung the planet Saturn.
“Hoe-lee she-ee-it,” Stacey breathed.
“You see it?” Jack whispered.
“That’s. That’s. That’s,” Stacey muttered.
“Not possible,” Jack finished for him, not looking away from the apparition in the sky.
“That’s not possible,” Stacey agreed.
Fully in the sky, in the very real pre-noon sky, there hung the planet Saturn shimmering, and real, and yet the whole world continued as if nothing was amiss, that this kind of thing happened every day. Everything looked normal, absolutely everything, except for an alien planet in the sky.
Then Saturn was not there and the sun was fully there and yet the light of the world and sky did not change, there was not a flicker in the movie of reality.
As one, Jack and Stacey looked away from the glaring light of the sun, clenching their eyes shut. Each of them scrubbing at their eyes with their fists. Then, blinking, they opened their eyes and looked at each other.
“What the…?” Jack said.
“Yes,” Stacey said. “What the….”

Next Episode.

Now Available in Paperback and E-Book, by Douglas Christian Larsen

© Copyright 2016 Douglas Christian Larsen. Vestigial Surreality. All Rights Reserved by the Author, Douglas Christian Larsen. No part of this serial fiction may be reproduced (except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews) or transmitted by any means without the written permission of the publisher, Wolftales UNlimited, but please feel free to share the story with anyone, only not for sale or resale. This work is a work of fiction. People, places, events, and situations are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or historical events, is purely coincidental (wink, wink).

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related terms, ideas, works:
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