Reset: Chapter 17: Wednesday, September 5, 2001 (2)

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The class in question was called “Environmental Conservation.” Joe and Nick had been talked into signing up for it by their registrars. Joe’s had not only called it an easy A, but the most important class he would ever take in his life. “We’re killing the Earth,” she told him earnestly, “and only Professor Delino has the courage to speak out about it.” Whom or what, exactly, everybody else was afraid of, Joe never really figured out; he had just been enticed by the “easy A” part.

Even as a kid, Joe knew the class was light on science and heavy on politics. Back then, he kept his mouth shut and clapped along in the right spots with the other trained seals to get that A, which everybody got as far as he knew, although rumors swirled that a few College Republicans who challenged Professor Delino in class were less-than pleased with their final grades. If he wasn’t worried about screwing up the universe further, Joe would tell those students that things actually got worse on college campuses in the future.

Politics, for the most part, bored Joe, then as with now. He had never been overtly political, just skeptical and disengaged. Being of long-time blue-collar stock, his family were reliable Democrats, for all the difference that made. His dad had been out of work plenty of times growing up, and if it hadn’t been for the unemployment checks, things would have been a hell of a lot worse. And yet, Joe saw how they decreased the urgency of his father’s job hunt, something his mother complained about to dad when she thought Joe and his siblings couldn’t hear.

Altogether, politics and politicians were lumped into the same garbage basket in his mind that he kept religion, though, even as an adult, he’d never admit as much to his mother.

Nick, whose family were all small business-owning immigrants, was a different story: Besides being loud and insane, they never met a Democrat they didn’t call a communist. But Nick was hardly ideological. He was a flame-thrower, reflexively against all forms of authority . . . which made it doubly hilarious that he ended up an attorney.

His issues with Professor Delino went beyond politics, though. It was her attitude that rubbed him the wrong way, hear bearing. She was like an aristocrat slumming it so she’d be spared when the proletariat finally revolted. The scion of a well-off Connecticut family, the daughter of two national journalists and ex-wife to a famous civil rights attorney from New York City, he found her claims of solidarity with the working-class, people like his family, insulting. And the environment just seemed like another weapon in her political arsenal a tool to serve her ambitions.

It was cynical and jaded, but that was life, and nothing Joe experienced after college lead him to think any differently.

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Of course, he had not been able to articulate these thoughts and feelings when he was a kid. But now, as a kid with the mind of an adult, his annoyance was amplified to an unhealthy degree. The thought of listening to her ranting made his head preemptively ache, but since he was going to drop the class anyway, he was fully on-board with Nick’s plan to do as much damage as possible with the time he had there. Continue reading Reset: Chapter 17: Wednesday, September 5, 2001 (2)”

Reset: Chapter 16: Wednesday, September 5, 2001 (1)

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Joe would hold firm. “No,” he said.

“Yes.”

“I’m not going.”

“You have to!”

“I’m an adult. I don’t have to do anything.”

Nick wagged a long finger in Joe’s face like the world’s tallest schoolmarm. “Not anymore!”

Joe rolled over, pulling his blankets around him in an ever-tighter cocoon. “And whose fault is that?”

“Wow. You’re unbelievable, you know that? You really take the cake. You’re like an attack dog. You never let things go.”

“Would you just let me sleep?”

But Nick kept rocking him back and forth like a loose tooth. “Fifteen minutes until class starts. You know what they say about being late for the first day!”

Joe threw Nick’s hands off and sat upright. His blankets fell, revealing his bare chest and flat stomach. He had to admit it felt nice to once again be unashamed of his body. “Of all the things you’ve done, out of everything, this might be the worst.”

“Didn’t you have, like, a son or something?” Continue reading Reset: Chapter 16: Wednesday, September 5, 2001 (1)”

Reset: Chapter 15: Tuesday, September 4, 2001 (4)

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The silence stretched out until Joe’s eyes grew tired from focusing on the same spot on their carpet. “So what do you think?” he asked quietly.

“I think a lot of things,” said Nick, a bemused expression frozen on his face. “Most of which you probably don’t want to hear right now.”

“We can try to stop it.”

“Weren’t we just talking about how we shouldn’t try to change too much?”

A buzzing in Joe’s legs made him stand; he felt as though sitting down any longer would kill him. “I think us just being here is changing everything.”

“This wasn’t supposed to happen.” Nick crossed his arms and looked out of the window.

“It’s a little late for buyer’s remorse, don’t you think? It’s like setting The Machine back to December sixth and not warning anyone.”

Nick turned. “About Christmas?”

Struggling for a response, Joe could only let out a choked gasp.

“God, I feel so old,” said Nick, rubbing a hand over his eyes.

Joe stopped pacing and stood next to Nick, looking out the window with him. Paxton Hall overlooked a quad in between two other dorms, a quad which was still fairly busy given the late hour, the way college campuses often were. Hives of activity. People from all over. Maybe some of them lost loved ones on that day, or knew someone who had. “We’ve got to do something, Nick. All those people . . .”

“Sure,” said Nick quietly. “And then what? What happens to the country? To the world?”

“For starters, there’ll be three-thousand fewer dead people. I can think of a couple of buildings that’ll still be standing.”

“The wars, then? The terrorists? 9/11 created the modern world. What happens if that never happened?”

Joe shrugged. “Who says the modern world is so great?”

“And what about the election? And the ones after that?

“You’re making this sound better and better.” Continue reading Reset: Chapter 15: Tuesday, September 4, 2001 (4)”

Reset: Chapter 14: Tuesday, September 4, 2001 (3)

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Professor Brennan would never be confused for a professional comedian, but he wasn’t a complete disaster. His comedic prowess didn’t really matter to the seventy-five or so in attendance, surrounded by their peers and ready to laugh.

But not Gwendolyn. While her girlfriends were fixated on Brennan–and Joe couldn’t blame them; the man cut a striking figure–Gwendolyn stayed by Joe’s side, constantly whispering her thoughts on NHU’s Improv Club to him. He liked how her breath felt on his ear, but his heart raced from nervousness in addition to his pleasure at the attention. Really, Joe didn’t know if he could trust himself. He tried to keep an image of Jason in his mind, but it kept fading like an old photograph suffering from the ravages of time.

Again, Gwendolyn leaned close to whisper: “He’s really your professor?”

“Yes.”

Gwendolyn straightened up and said something, but her words were lost in a burst of laughter.

“I didn’t catch that,” said Joe.

Gwendolyn repeated her statement, but again, buried by the laughter, Joe could not understand them.

“It’s loud,” said Joe, taking in the room with a hand. “I really can’t hear you.”

“I said he’s not that good!”

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Her words rang out in that moment when silence reigned between the end of the laughter and the resumption of the performance, amplifying her words in the audience’s ears. A low murmur issued from the crowd, anticipating a confrontation.

“Well, well!” said one of the performers on stage. “It sounds like we have a critic in the house tonight!” She had olive skin and long black hair, and wore pair of thick black glasses. “To whom do we owe the pleasure?”

A group of students began pointing towards Joe and Gwendolyn. Gwendolyn, blushing, tried to bury herself in the wall. She slipped her arm through Joe’s and pulled him tightly towards her.

“Her! It was her!” the students yelled. “Against the wall!” “Her!” “That girl with her boyfriend!”

“If you think we’re not that good, then maybe you can show us how it’s done,” said the girl with the glasses. The crowd clapped and cheered at this idea. She motioned the two of them up on to the small stage. “You can bring your boyfriend along if you’re feeling kind of scared.”

“Come on,” said professor Brennan. He held out a hand. “We don’t bite . . . hard.”

“Oh God,” muttered Gwendolyn.

“They’ll leave us alone,” said Joe, who also had no desire to go up on stage. “Just ignore them.”

Gwendolyn’s friends, who obviously thought it would be hilarious to see her humiliate herself, yanked her by the arm and thrust her towards Professor Brennan’s. She still clung to Joe, and he found himself dragged towards the steps up to the stage with her. Continue reading Reset: Chapter 14: Tuesday, September 4, 2001 (3)”

Reset: Chapter 13: Tuesday, September 4, 2001 (2)

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The pretty girl with the black hair, turned around in her seat. “Hey,” she whispered.

Joe, dutifully trying to write down what he could understand through Professor Pfunder’s heavy German accent, looked up. Joe remembered her. She had sat in front of him every single day that semester. One didn’t forget a face like that, full and round with full, round lips. Her nose was straight, just shy of being called bold. And her hair was a deep black that shimmered under the fluorescent lights. For a moment Joe thought she was talking to him because he had done something wrong, liked kicked her chair or something, but then he noticed that the girl was smiling.

He didn’t remember talking to this girl during his first day of classes, or any other day, though looking at her he wished that he had. “What’s up?” he said.

“Do you get this?” asked the girl. Pfunder was talking about how nuclear reactions from supernovae created the heavier elements in the universe, a topic Joe found almost as fascinating as time travel.

“Yes,” said Joe. He smiled. “You would too if you paid attention.”

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The girl made a sour face. Another girl a few seats over shushed. The girl with the black hair shushed back. “I mean,” she said to Joe, “do you want to start a study group or something? I have a few friends in this class. Maybe we could get together once a week or something and exchange notes.”

“Right. Study group,” said Joe. He nodded absently, trying to follow Pfunder’s words. In truth, now that a conversation had actually started he wished the girl would leave him alone. Wasting time with her would get him no closer to Jason.

To his surprise, she slid a small piece of paper onto his notebook. It had her phone number and dorm written on it. And her name: Gwendolyn Bennett.

“We’ll talk after class,” she said with a glint in her eyes. They were big and dark, like Sandra’s. “Right now, I’ve got to pay attention.” She turned back to her notes.

* * *

Joe hoped that this Gwendolyn would forget about the study group idea, but to his chagrin she waited for him as he gathered his things. She was about Joe’s height and very well-shaped, quite different from Sandra who was short and petite. His eyes, despite being connected to an adult brain, couldn’t help but admire her form, stuffed as it was into black slacks and a white blouse. The clothes fit her well.

“So you should probably tell me your name now; it’s only fair,” she said. “I can’t go around calling you ‘Hey you.’”

“Joe Gallagher,” said Joe.

“‘Gallagah.’” she said, giggling. “Boston?”

“I don’t sound that bad,” he said. He slung his backpack over his shoulders. “But yeah. I mean, I’m from Lowell, not Boston. How about you?”

“New Hampshire,” said Gwendolyn, not, Joe noticed, New Hampshuh. Her diction was very crisp without a hint of regional flavor. “The nice part. Not the flannel part.”

Joe shrugged. She had probably gone to private schools then. It made him wonder why ended up at NHU. “So where are your friends?”

“They were sitting over there,” said Gwendolyn, pointing towards the other side of the hall. “They came in late.”

Joe motioned for Gwendolyn to walk down the aisle in front of him.

“You could meet them tonight, if you’re free,” she said.

“Yeah? One class in and you already want to start studying?”

“No, not studying. The Improv Club is doing a show at the student union and we were thinking of going. Would you like to come along?”

Joe groaned. “Please don’t tell me Professor Brennan is performing.”

“I have no idea who he is, but what do you say?”

He almost said “No,” with the trained reflexes of a spoilsport. But something stopped him. Maybe it was the realization, insane though it was, that he was one of the few people in the universe who could actually change his own past. Whatever it was, it was enough. “Sure,” he said. “Why not?”

“Exactly: Why not? Let’s get some coffee before we go. This class almost put me to sleep.

With a tinge of guilt, Joe agreed. He wanted to follow the path that led him to Sandra and Jason, but it would be nice if things weren’t in rigid lockstep with the past. He could discipline himself later. Besides, he needed a break from Nick. And maybe, just maybe, the Improv Club would distract him from that other thing, too monstrous to confront right now. Continue reading Reset: Chapter 13: Tuesday, September 4, 2001 (2)”

Book Review: War Demons by Russell Newquist

War Demons by Russell Newquist

If you like action, well then, have I got a novel for you.

War Demons is the debut full-length offering from Russell Newquist, book one in his Prodigal Son series. Russell is a writer, a blogger, the owner of Silver Empire publishing, the mastermind of the electronic short-fiction anthology Lyonesse, a podcaster, husband to the writer Morgon Newquist, owner of a martial arts dojo, father of four . . . oh, and he has a day job. I think he sleeps sometimes too.

To say that Russell is an impressive guy is an understatement.

Russell Nequist doing a karate form.
Russell Newquist

I’ve written about Russell before on the topic of nihilism. Not that Russell is a nihilist–far from it! Russell, in fact, is a huge proponent of what is called superversive fiction. Think of superversive as being the opposite of subversive: instead of seeking to tear cherished traditions, ideals, and institutions down and piss all over them, being superversive is to strive to hold up these traditions, ideals, and institutions as worthy of preservation, and indeed the keys to virtue and fulfillment.

Whew.

Russell is also a devout Catholic, which must have something to do with his general attitude, right?

Keep all of this in mind as you read his work. War Demons is what happens when you mix martial arts, Christian tradition, magic, demons, the military, and terrorism. You end up with lots of fights, lots of explosions, and lots of crazy mystical stuff happening in the present day (present being 2006).

Seriously, War Demons has a bit of everything. As someone fortunate enough to be given an advance copy, I tore through it in a matter of days.

There are dragons fighting helicopters, for crying out loud. Continue reading “Book Review: War Demons by Russell Newquist”

Feature Their Hurt

There’s this song by Frank Zappa called “Tryin’ to Grow a Chin.” One line in it,

If Simmons was here, I could feature my hurt

refers to former member of Zappa’s band, Jeff Simmons–often the butt of Zappa’s jokes–who wanted to play more of his own material so he could “feature my hurt”; that is, bare his soul in the grand, Romantic tradition of artistes like Byron and Beethoven . . . at least, in Zappa’s terminology.

Not that there’s anything wrong with conveying emotion in art. That’s one of art’s core functions, after all. And although we see ugliness, inscrutability, and contempt for the audience as an intellectual shorthand for what makes art “art,” there is also a component of giving the audience what they want. And contra the sensitive types, there is no shame in this whatsoever. Most artists actually want to make a living, after all. Luckily for them, a lot of what the audience wants is for our artists and entertainers to feature their hurt so we can reflect on it, commiserate, and hopefully work through it.

Another apropos line of the Zappa song, itself a parody of teenage angst, is the end refrain:

I wanna be dead,

In bed please kill me

‘Cause that would thrill me

It might have just been a bit of Zappa-esque off-hand humor, a throwaway line that just sounded funny (Zappa reportedly hated writing lyrics), but it actually runs deeper than you think.

Look at the word “thrill.” That’s what we get when we can “bare our soul” and “feature our hurt.”

Because you see, it’s not really about other people. It’s about us. Continue reading “Feature Their Hurt”