After 43 years of putting it off, I finally wrote a book. 68,000 words. Put the finishing touches on the third draft at the end June.
It was a thrilling ride. I threw the kitchen sink at it. Every thought that ever nagged me. Every emotion I felt shame for feeling. Every painful memory that has haunted me throughout my life; I stuffed inside those pages. Granted, in a fictionalized way. But it’s all there. My mother’s death, alcoholism, suburban upbringing, relationship with my father, etc., etc., folded into a story about a twenty-four hour period in New York City after it’s announced that a signal from space has been discovered.
It’s a dark tale about human nature and the perils of progress. Or something like that. I don’t know. It’s not very good. I would even go so far to call it a miserable failure. At least, I hope it’s a miserable failure. It is my first book. As much as I daydreamed the Q&A sessions at packed bookstores during my debut book tour, I’d like to think I was reasonably realistic about its true quality.
A few people close to me read early drafts and I received thoughtful notes on it. Yet, I felt the truth behind those notes. I persevered, though. It was necessary to finish. I’m sick of leaving the wreckage of unfinished works behind me. I don’t mind if it’s wrecked, as long as it’s a complete wreck.
What happened? I bit off way more than I could chew. My abilities not yet matched by my ambitions. Multiple first person points of view threading throughout different places and times and loosely anchored by one character’s hero’s journey from Jackson Heights to the Great Lawn of Central Park. Shit. Even I’m confused.
But I had to do it. Had to scrape that one off so I could get to the creamy nougat inside. I’m halfway through the first draft of the second book and it’s miles better. More confident in voice. A simple first person point view told in a simple linear way. Kind of. Well, it’s not one point of view but two. But it’s the same person. You know? Hmmm. Can’t keep it simple, can I.
So before I put a year’s worth of work into the drawer, I thought I should at least mention it. State that I put all of my heart and soul into it. But sometimes, that’s not good enough. Writing’s fucking hard. It takes immense skill and patience. As a father of two small children, I have a plethora of patience. Need to work on the skill. Onward.
And even though it’s unedited and without any context, here is the last chapter of There is A Light That Never Goes Out:
I exist in a slither of air squeezed between vacuum and rock.
Only moments before they have their way with me.
My good eye catches a dull black smudge of nightmares toward the Western edge of the arc when I get a message from Zenotal.
Not a second too soon. I touch the screen.
“A few hours ago, the DoD’s servers lit up. A “grey paper” blitzed every email account in the building. From a Dr. Jeremy Rehman. Interesting read. Still catching my breath. See you in a bit. Maybe.”
I can’t explain my findings. Skating a razor’s edge of reality. None
of it possible, but with everything that I am, I know it to be true. In this
message you will find two images attached. The first image was embedded
in the data sent from the Cygnus Void. As you will see, it is a dot with six
elliptical rings and half ring encircling it. It is my theory that this represents
a type of Dyson Sphere. The center dot represents our star. The rings are
the superstructure that the senders of the signal intend to build around the
The second photo is an electron microscope image of a
motherboard from the wreckage of the SERUS. This is how the SERUS was
compromised. The only way that I can imagine an advanced technology
circumventing and overriding a more primitive one is through the use of
nanobots. And since those nanobots did not piggyback onto the signal, they
must have arrived via microscopic wormholes from a type of Bracewell
Probe located approximately two and a half light years away at the
boundaries edge of the Cygnus Void.
Not for some want of assisting our civilization in advancing to a
Type-II level of power harnessing, but as a matter of fulfilling its program.
Because I don’t believe organic beings are behind these actions
but the artificial remnants of one. And it is these artificial lifeforms that
have been the cause of the destabilization of our communications infrastructure.
Scattered over the surface of the Earth from the contaminated wreckage of
the ISS. Not the coronal mass ejection on July 12th, 2012. That had nothing
to do with.
And just to be clear, If you’re reading this, I am dead.”
Dr. Jeremy Rehman
Once you let it happen, life can be so fucking interesting.
I send the email titled “Ghost.”
A few moments later the National Guardsmen stop in their tracks. A pause. Then as if rewinding the tape, they turn around and sink back into the trees. The Apache helicopters loop around and start heading North. The lights and sirens fade uptown. Go chase the rabbit, fellows. This turtle’s gotta fly.
Ripping off the front cover with the account numbers from Gloria’s book, I let drop the book of poems in the grass.
Something that beautiful doesn’t belong in my life.
I feel a compression of air against my face. The Indian Chief walks toward me from nothing. His voice consumes me. Echoing from every point.
“You have chosen life.”
He is before me now. Standing there like in that original dream. His headdress pulses white. He reminds of Steve Austin wearing a bronze tanner. He hands me his tomahawk. It lacked any real weight. A mere television prop.
“What am I suppose to do with this,” I asked.
“What did I say to you when you were a child?”
“That I was no rabbit.”
“You are not.”
“Then what am I?”
“You are the tsunami that washes away the shore. You are the lava that erases the landscape. The wind that carves mountains. The sun that bakes the clay.”
“The comet that begins an extinction event.”
“Who am I to argue with the six million dollar Indian Chief.”
“That is wise.”
And with that, he puffed out of existence. It was time to make my way.
The starlight leads me through the trees. The water from the pond a mirror against ancient light. I walk upon the water in the infinite of night. Scaling rock. Cutting my hands on the jagged wall that was forged by ice and time to the top of the castle and back into the woods. Into the trenches and battlements heavy with poison and fear. A hundred years of constant war. Of gold, glory and lines in the sand. The shore of a quiet sea appears to my right. A wistful rustle of wind skims the surface. The doomed cascade of manmade things. A heart-light dissolves into shadow. I can see people swarming the mall from Bow Bridge. Families. Survivors. Outcasts. Looking up. Feet on the ground.
Steady. The worst is yet to come.
Sheep Meadows is SRO. I press through bodies. The initiated. The ones who will have to face the monsters staring down from the void.
They say if you can’t take the heat, get the fuck out of the kitchen.
When my feet touched 59th Street, first light begins to swallow the truth. A twelve hour reprieve from our creeping fate. Although with this comes the enlightening of the left behind. The layer of denial stretched taut across the surface of the city that would take an uncomfortable amount of time to remove. Bulldozers and dump trucks. Pits and fires. The line between sacrament and necessity. Ashes in a faraway field.
An entire city cannot become a memorial.
At the Northeast corner of 58th Street and Broadway, a dark suited middle-aged woman was lying on her back on one of the larger piles of bodies. She was alive and muttering something about needing help.
I stood over her and looked into her face.
Maybe it was the lack of sleep. Or the wretched headache that blinded my left eye. Maybe it was God giving me yet another sign. But there, before my eyes, the woman’s skin sagged. Splotches branched their way out from underneath her sick skin. The sockets of her eyes caved in and her hair grew grey and whispered from her skull.
They say there are no do overs. But sometimes the failure to act can be a catalyst for change. To make one aware of one’s weakness and become more than we are. Second chances. Washing away the past. Rebirth.
I didn’t have a pillow so I pressed my hands over her nose and mouth.
She fought with all she had left. Grabbing at my wrist and trying to push at my face. Scratching at my useless eye. But she was weak and failed to go with her first instinct.
Then her arms dropped and her eyes became glass.
Today has been a good day. One for the history books. A swimming echo printed upon our collective mythos.
We’ve been shoved out of place. So first we’ll have to deal with those who will want to push us back to the way things were. Ain’t gonna happen. There is little hope for us if we attempt to crawl back to that. Though our chances for survival seem slim, it’s okay. Because whoever said we would survive. Nations, Empires, continents, oceans and species perish into ash to become a layer of clay on a cliff face.
So what does it all mean?
Did the onion evolve to become mirepoix for the rabbit braise I never got to make?
Of course, not. That’s fucking stupid.
So what does it all mean?
It could mean fulfillment. A plan to fulfill oneself. Being satisfied at that moment of death. To have accomplished something worthwhile. To be, in some small way, remembered.
But Gloria. When I die, she will be lost. And so will all of us at some point. Once we’re all gone, it’ll be like it never even happened in the first place.
All of it serving no purpose. Nothing fulfilled.
Even with the existence of this extra dimensional multiverse generating God, if it’s all happened and happening all the time, its purpose is less. Because nothing is unique when the ordinary is preordained.
So bear with me as I ask one more time,
What does it all mean?
I’m sorry. But it means nothing. And I think you knew that already.
If there was a great truth, knowing it would not bring fulfillment.
However, I need to mention that, at this moment, I am utterly fulfilled. I am my mother’s death breath escaping into the abyss. Free to wonder infinity. Until at last, the lights go out.
Stepping over several Saudi gentleman and into the lobby of 111 West 57th Street, I pass a skull type chap who greets me with a wide smile and informs me the elevators are working just fine due to the backup generators. Arriving at the 52nd floor, the elevator opens up onto the gallery exposing a haunted caramel time of want. As the sun fills the floor to ceiling windows that traps us in, Miguel sits at an antique Bosendorfer piano playing has if he’d already died. Zenotal was in front of a laptop at the bar.
“He’s been playing this tune for an hour. I don’t think he knows another one.”
“It’s Intermezzo by Manuel Ponce,” I say.
And Miguel would never need to know any other piece of music ever because everything about anything came through Miguel’s graces and flourishes. The piano aged to the point where his thick broken hands conformed perfectly into the bone colored keys.
It was beautiful.
“We’re gonna need to get somewhere without a piano.”
“Any ideas,” says Zenotal.
“I don’t think there’s any pianos in Macau.”
Jose, white towel over his shoulder, comes out of the kitchen with a beer.
Handing me the beer, he says,
“Miguel hasn’t played since he was a boy. A prodigy. The town had high hopes for him.”
Pulling the towel from his shoulders to wipe his hands, Jose shrugs.
“Are you hungry?” he says.
“I am. Yes, please.”
I took the beer and sat on the couch next to Enrique who was sleeping. His bandage would need to be changed but only after he wakes.
Miguel took a breath.
“Lo que ahora?”
Zenotal looks up from his laptop.
I take a long drink from the bottle. My God, it was good. Too good. I’m already anticipating the next. Plotting how I’m going to keep this going for the rest of the night. This feeling. That worry that there might not be enough. I almost shouted to Jose to ask if there was enough.
There’s never enough.
This would be my last beer.
I’m not my father. I am my father.
“Well, I think a couple days rest and healing are in order. Are we safe here, Zenotal?”
“For the time being. They won’t even start looking until the power is back up. And honestly, there’s nothing to find. But we shouldn’t linger.”
“Wasn’t planning it. Maybe a week.”
“Si, pero ¿qué estamos goin hacer a continuación?”
“There’s a few things kicking around, Miguel. But what’s kicking hardest is this Dr. Jeremy Rehman. I guess we can confirm that the revelation Dr. Rehman was going to leak was the reason for the government coming clean about the signal?”
“Confirmed,” says Zenotal.
“So where did the good doctor end up, I wonder?”
Jose calls out to Miguel. Time to eat.
“So what do you think, Zenotal? Should we leak this ‘grey paper’ and just be done with it? Put this matter in the ground and move on?”
“It seems it was Dr. Rehman’s intention to fill in the rest of the details of his discovery. I don’t see why we shouldn’t see it to the end. Just the say the word.”
“The word is given.”
For the first time, in a long time, everything is different. There is no going back. There will be no going back.
“I wonder what happened to the motherboard?” I whisper.
“Nothing. Just thinking out loud.”
I used to wonder if we were the only ones in the universe. The only creatures capable of knowing itself. I wondered that because with it came a true sense of specialness. At the right place for the right amount of time. We looked up and said, what am I? There would be no need for faith. Or God. We would be special by simply just being.
Now we may need a God. Because we seem to be surrounded. In their sights. Locked on target.
And I say bring it on. Let’s prove our mettle. Or not. Up until now it’s been a difficult and bloody birth, cord wrapped around our neck, mother not responding. We’ve had to crawl out of the birth canal on our own. Into that cold white light.
But like a fawn just slipping out of the after birth, we must stand up and open our eyes before the predators come. Engage those instincts long since dormant.
Sitting down at the table, about to break bread with my brothers-in-arms, Gloria’s face overwhelms my mind’s eye. My great love. I will make them remember. I promise.
The sun is almost up now.
We did not pass into that goodnight. Well, at least, not most of us anyway.
So now I will drag this world into the unknown kicking and screaming. We will be ready for whatever comes. Whether we want to or not.
Jose was right. I’m a baby in this new world.
But filled with love.
You think you know me? I hardly know myself. What are these motivations that drive me? I suppose that doesn’t matter now. I have been transfigured. I’m lost from you. A filament of a corroded fragment. A hologram caught in a six and a half second cycle. So don’t give me a shove because I might wake up. And you’ll all disappear.
And the light erases all wonders.