White latex gloves on a steering wheel, a cigarette burning close to the off-white wrinkles. Hugo “Hug” Kinson grinned for no reason and ignored the occasional stare from the passing Saturday traffic. A body in the trunk, Steely Dan on the radio, Gerorgetown in the rearview, freedom down the line. He shifted his considerable weight to one side, passed gas. Hug laughed. What a day.
It got weird when Donald Fagen changed the lyrics. “You’ve been tellin’ me you’re a genius, Hug, but you forgot the bag. The cash is sittin’ on the table for anyone to find. Sucks to come so far just to find you don’t have what it takes. Them Broad River angels won’t have pity for your kind.”
Hug snapped off the radio. The chili dog sat badly in his gut, extra onions licking flames up into his chest. A generator-powered road alert sign read, “A neighbor heard the gunshot.” He chewed the inside of his lip.
Flicking the butt out the window, he startled and swerved when the GPS’ silky voice piped up, “In ten miles, you’ll realize you’ll never get away with it.”
She was eleven years old and read books college professors found taxing, but she had never spoken a word. She looked out the window.
A gleaming metropolis, edged by a sprawl of neat lanes with freshly planted trees, each lined with a customized, uniform house. Beyond are smaller townships and people with affectations of rural life: practiced drawls and feigned luddism. Further still, a few genuine farms run by overall-strap corporations and straw hat multinationals. A patch of genuine wilderness. Fences around rock formations.
The machine works on assumptions. Belief powers the cogs and the cogs automate the daily grind. Assume the sun won’t click off. Believe the ground won’t fall away. Predicate existence on the low-sample-size status quo. Talk about short-sighted as if the long view ten year forecast were not mathematically indistinguishable.
Devastation is measured by the consumer. Tolerance for extinction is dependent upon public relations, and the girl saw it all. More than data, she saw connections and referential interactions folded back on themselves.
She placed a hand on the window and felt the warmth of the day.
“Here it comes,” she said. It was momentous. No one heard. She began to hum.
The hole opened behind Pieter’s head on April 1st, which made everyone guess it was an elaborate April Fool’s Joke. He assured them it was no joke. At first, he rather enjoyed the attention. But as days faded into weeks, the novelty wore off. It hovered there, six inches behind him, invisible unless he looked into a mirror. It made sleeping difficult.
It began to move.
By June it was three inches behind him, a two-inch gap in reality, distorting the world at its edges like a tiny drainpipe pulling in bathwater. In October it touched Pieter and he felt the pull against his scalp in a constant, silent vacuum pressure. The doctors and scientists found it fascinating and promised test results, but Pieter stopped returning their calls.
On Christmas morning it started to grow and engulf. The news cycle passed over and Pieter was forgotten. A year after the opening Pieter’s head was no longer visible. Physicists said it existed somewhere, but it could not be retrieved. Months later the hole stopped around Pieter’s shoulders, the edges looking stretched. It was good, they said, the hole might have kept growing. Pieter corked the bottle and saved the world.
652 Ten Pine Avenue
Ouensten, WI 54936
Contract Employee For Zume O’Brien Worked From: 9/12 to 5/13 Title: Private Security Duties: Stand around nightclubs while employer drank vodka and fondled club girls. Reason For Leaving: Contract terminated after shooting employer in the shoulder following an incident of sexual harassment. It was a hostile work environment.
Frank’s Bail Bonds Worked From: 6/09 to 7/12 Title: Receptionist/Bondsperson Duties: Responsible for answering phones, filing receipts, posting bounties, training new clerks, tracking, acquisitions. Reason For Leaving: Frank was arrested and bonded bail through his own company by forging some paperwork. Accepted (self-assigned) the bounty to track him down when he failed to appear. Was forced to shoot him in the hip to prevent flight. Was fired as a result.
Capable of quickly identifying anagrams and backwards-spelled words
Highly observant and able to distinguish minor components of scents
USPSA High Master
Hapkido 5th Degree Black Belt
Because it comes up in every interview, please understand: in spite of recent employment history, candidate does not have a history/habit of shooting employers, it is mere coincidence. All charges have been dropped.
The distance between the Altar of Recompense, where the Troll-Lord Kinevel prepared his apocalyptic sorcery, and Tishara’s cozy cottage, where Yuro warmed her bed, was a journey of one hundred days. Dawn stalked the forest on the twenty-fourth morning, and Tishara rested her cheek on her shield, reluctant to rise.
Groundling’s Mother had been insistent, persuasive. Her talk of destiny and glory, of a reprieve from disgrace, so inflammable to Tishara’s long depression a month ago, had faded. The stinging Will-o-the-Wisp bites and the festering infection on her shield arm from absorbing the Dreadjiant’s mighty club helped dull the sense of pre-ordained purpose. Seventy-six more days through unforgiving, hostile country to face, alone, a foe capable of felling armies. She scoffed and sat up.
It was a day of decision. If she pressed on, Mother’s prophecy might be fulfilled. Tishara could be a Swordmistress once more. Yet if she turned back, her total travel time would be no greater than even the halfway point on Mother’s suicidal quest. Kinevel might destroy the world, but she would have two months of Yuro’s hot kisses to console her, at least.
Three boys with an average age of eighteen decided a battered van, a small sack of weed, a mostly full twelve pack of stolen beer and a four hour drive somehow felt like a plan to get Heath laid. The connection between him and this girl out in the valley was never entirely clear, but we were at the age where scoring hits of ecstasy was easier than scoring with a girl. The inconvenience felt comparatively minor.
Keven and I realized upon arrival that Heath had led us to her parent’s house. The family was remarkably cool about a trio of obvious burnouts showing up on a Friday night in a van belching black smoke. They fed us pasta and made jokes. Heath’s girl even invited a couple of friends over.
I wound up alone in the van with the prettiest of the three. We drank the lukewarm beers and she talked about her off-again boyfriend. The other two couples crawled into sleeping bags on the driveway.
Around sunrise the girl, tired of talking, curled up on the back seat. I slipped out and smoked cigarettes. In the morning I told my friends she was a real good time.
This week’s Aspiring Voices guest is Nancy Zrymiak, bringing a welcome look into the non-fiction scene. She’s working on a book about her time spent in India and I was thrilled to get a chance to ask some questions about how the project got started.
Paul: You’re currently working on a book about your two-year relocation from your home in Canada to Bangalore, India. Can you describe a bit about the events that led up to the decision to make the move, and how you arrived at the conclusion that you should transplant your family halfway across the planet?
Nancy: Give me an opportunity and I’ll take it. When my husband came home and told me there was a job possibility in India, I thought it was a crazy idea. But his timing was good. First, it was November, the rainiest, dreariest month in Vancouver. Secondly, I was tired of the the rat race and the routine that comes along with living and parenting in the western world: carpooling, commuting, grocery shopping, packing lunches, making dinners. When I thought about India, I thought about adventure, culture, and travel. Once I began to think of the move as an opportunity, the decision to uproot the family became much easier. The warm weather kind of lured me in too.
Paul: You blogged pretty extensively while you were living in India. What made you want to write a book about that experience as well? Are you finding the book is more an expanded version of the blog or is the blog more a framework you can use to weave stories through that you didn’t discuss at the time? Or are they completely independent of one another?
Nancy: My India blog was more of a travel blog with photos. In the book, I delve into the lives of the people I met in India, especially the locals, and the roller coaster of emotions that they bring to the story. You’ll meet some interesting characters and learn about their daily lives as well as mine. I also write about the misconceptions that I had about India before I went, what I learned about India and what I learned about myself.
Paul: What were some of your misconceptions about the country? Do you think those are pretty typical of how North Americans view India and Indian culture?
Nancy: In the west we tend to hear about the extremely poor people of India and the corrupt rich. So I was surprised to find a growing middle class—university educated, dual income families, living in high rise apartment buildings. I also thought that India relied on western organizations and funds to take care of the poor. But there are countless Indian people volunteering and running charities—taking care of their own people. Yes, I think the media portrays India one way, and that skews our views in the west. I was lucky to be able to live there and see the many different sides to India.
Paul: So you’ve got this story you’re telling that is, in part, about yourself and your encounters and it includes real people you know and your family as characters. And then you have these much broader themes and concepts like foreign culture and the perceptions and expectations, plus a sense of setting and the truths of life in a place many of your readers maybe aren’t all that familiar with. How do you weave those together in a way that is both effective, compelling, and also true to your experience? Does it become sort of an intensely personal book where you say, “Look, I don’t know what is ‘true’ in the objective sense, but this was my experience”, or do you try and pull back a little and dig in to some research that you can use to reconcile your personal observations so it becomes more of a comparison and contrast?
Nancy: It does get a little complicated, trying to weave it all together. For now I’m writing the story chronologically, so I might be writing about something really funny and then all of a sudden some sort of tragedy happens out of the blue. Then I’m left wondering how and why did this happen and can I do anything about it? But that’s India—it’s never boring and you’re always left wondering “What next?” As I write I do add some history and research here and there for interest and that helps tie things together too. I wouldn’t say the book is intensely personal—it’s not a self help book and I didn’t move there to “find myself”—but India definitely changed me and that is part of the story.
Paul: I think life is really full of those odd juxtapositions where lighthearted moments are suddenly contrasted with very somber experiences. In fiction I think this is often done for dramatic effect or as a transitional moment, kind of intentionally jarring. In nonfiction do you feel there are additional narrative or mechanical efforts you need to go to in order to avoid having it seem either awkward or sort of fabricated?
Nancy: Well, as so many people in India said—you just can’t make this stuff up. So I don’t think it will seem fabricated, but yes, the challenge is to make it flow.
Paul: Can you tease a little sample of this in action? What’s something you experienced that made you say, “Can’t make this stuff up”?
Nancy: Okay, long story short. My husband’s work provided us with a driver named Sanjeev—really nice guy, knew all the short cuts. We met his family, went to their house, met his parents, wife, children. One day Sanjeev tells us that his wife had a “family planning” operation. She’s having some problems with the recovery and he wants to take her to Chennai to recover at her parent’s house. He takes her on the overnight train and comes back a few days later. That same afternoon he tells me the doctor in Chennai wants to talk to him in person. He wants to leave right away and he’s arranged for another driver. So he goes, and two days later we get a call from the company that employs Sanjeev. They tell us they saw him on the evening news—he’d been in a huge brawl, he’d been gambling, owed people money. We said, no it can’t be true, he’s in Chennai. But they insisted it was Sanjeev and he was in Bangalore. They wanted us to use a different driver, saying that if people were after Sanjeev they might come after us. So, that’s the short version. Oh, and the driver that Sanjeev arranged for us—turned out to be some guy that didn’t speak English and didn’t know how to drive a van.
Paul: [laughs] Oh my goodness, that’s crazy! Did you ever determine if the story he told you was true or not? Was the operation just a smokescreen?
Nancy: That’s the million dollar question. Believe me, we felt a lot of loyalty to Sanjeev, he’d been with us almost a year. And I used to be an Operating Room nurse, so when he told me about his wife having the operation, I was intrigued and asked him a bunch of questions about it. But why would he take her to Chennai if she wasn’t feeling well, and why couldn’t the doctor talk to him on the phone? I could go on and on—it was really emotional and we got very caught up in trying to be detectives for at least a week. But I’ll leave all that for the book.
Paul: Is the style you’re going for in your book more of a memoir or a personal narrative? Why did you choose the style you’re working with and what are some of the advantages or disadvantages of one versus the other, particularly with the stories you have to tell?
Nancy: The book is a travel memoir. I didn’t consciously choose a style—I just started writing. There’s actually quite a bit of dialogue and interaction with other people. I’m trying to write in such a way that is engaging and keeps people wanting to turn the pages.
Paul: Okay, one more. Describe the best book you’ve read recently.
Nancy: The book I’m reading right now—Dune by Frank Herbert.
Paul: I read that one for the first time last year. I really enjoyed it. Is this a re-read or are you a newcomer to the series?
Nancy: Newcomer, and I’m really enjoying it too.
Nancy is writing a book about her experiences in India. Nancy, her husband and two children, leave behind the comforts of the Canadian cul-de-sac and move to Bangalore, India for two years. Her book is a vivid and humorous account of their time in India: the beauty, the culture, the people, the believable and the unbelievable. Check out her website, follow her on Twitter, and Like her Facebook page.