Reset: Chapter 29: Saturday, September 8, 2001 (2)

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“Get your goddamn phone!” Nick barked from the top bunk.

Joe sawed out one final snore, his hand flopping to the ringing offender on his nightstand. “Hello?”

“Good morning Joey!” said his mother cheerily. “Where are you?”

“In bed,” he said, sitting up halfway. “Everything alright?”

“Absolutely fine! Your Aunt and I are coming to take you to breakfast!”

“Oh. Is dad with you?”

“No honey, he needs to stay and watch the little ones. We’ll be there in an hour. And Joey?”

“Yeah mom?”

“Thank you again. For everything.”

“Of course. See you soon.” He hung up and swung his legs over the bed. His mom hadn’t invited Nick, which was just as well because Nick had already returned to sleep, dead to the world. He probably had plans with Amy anyway.

Quietly, he walked to his computer. Gwendolyn deserved some kind of closure. She was a nice girl, really. And Joe couldn’t shake the feeling that, by befriending her, he had set her on a course that would irrevocably change her life from the way it was supposed to unfold. Another life ruined . . .

“Hi Gwen,” he typed, “I apologize for not getting back to you sooner. I had some family stuff going on. But my Aunt is doing well. She and my mother are coming to take me to breakfast today. I would like to see you after if you’re free. I’ll give you a call when I get back. Please let me know if this works. Sincerely, Joe.”

He clicked “Send” and sat back, wondering about the email’s tone. Was it too friendly? Too formal? Too dry? He didn’t want to give Gwendolyn the wrong idea. Wrong idea about what? he thought, feeling more confused than he was about the time travel.

Shaking his head, he stripped down and gathered his things for the shower. Before long, he was sitting on a stone bench in the quad, enjoying the sun on his face and trying hard to think of things other than planes crashing into buildings.

* * *

The ringing in his head exploded when he saw his mother’s red SUV pull up to the curb; he almost fell off of the bench , his vision shaking like some malevolent force was using his head as a maraca.

He managed to get back to a sitting position, clinging to the bench with a grip as tenuous as his hold on sanity. It was his mom and his aunt. It had to be. There was something about coming into contact with loved ones he knew so well that was setting his mind off like a bomb. If it didn’t stop, he feared his brains would start leaking from his ears.

Both Mom and Aunt Gina rushed out of the car, followed by ten-thousand after-images. He thought he heard them yelling his name. He also thought he said “I’m fine,” but all that came out was a thin stream of pale vomit splattering on the pavement between them.

He felt a little better after that, glad he hadn’t eaten much lately. The rattling subsided just enough for him to hear the sounds he was making, a meaningless “bar bar bar,” like an ancient Persian trying to speak to an Athenian. He held up a hand, but could not scrape together the equilibrium to stand.

“My God Joey,” yelled his mother, “what’s wrong?”

“Seizure! He’s having a seizure!” said Aunt Gina hysterically.

His mother sat on the bench and put an arm around him, trying to hug him into submission. His aunt did the same on the other side. Joe felt his teeth rattle so hard his jaws hurt; it sounded like a skeleton falling down the stairs. “F-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-fine,” he managed to say.

“Oh my God, you are not fine,” said his mother. “Gina, call 9-1-1!”

“N-n-n-n-n-n-n-n-n-n-n-n-no!” Joe said, spittle flying. “F-f-f-f-f-f-fever. S-s-s-s-s-s-s-started last n-n-night.” The shaking in his head subsided like an ocean of molasses, but ebb it did. “Th-th-th-th-thought it would g-g-g-g-go away. I’m c-c-c-c-c-cold,” he said. His strength returned enough for him to lift an arm and wipe his mouth. “God, my head . . .” It felt like a bowling ball had been lodged in his sinus cavity and was expanding like a balloon, determined to blow up his face like a Pelean eruption.

He felt his mother’s reassuring hands rubbing his shoulder. “Joey, let’s go to the hospital.”

“N-n-n-n-no. I th-th-think breakfast will do the t-t-trick.” He clenched his jaw to stop the chattering until the muscles hurt. “C-c-c-coffee always helps.

“That’s the Italian side of you,” Aunt Gina said. “The side that never says die. Just look at me!”

Joey did. She was his mother’s twin sister. They looked identical, right down to the reddish hue they dyed their hair, Aunt Gina being slightly thinner. Although Joe looked like a Gallagher, all rounded face and blue-eyes, his mother like to claim he had inherited all of the Rossi common sense and none of the Gallagher temper.

“How are you feeling?” Joe asked his Aunt.

Aunt Gina gave his cheek a strong pinch that made him wince; the woman had a death grip that could rival a C-clamp. “That’s just like you, thinking of everyone else but yourself. I’m doing great, Joey. I couldn’t feel better, now that I’m face to face with my savior.” She took his face with both hands and planted a loud kiss on his forehead.

“Let’s not get blasphemous, Gina,” said Joe’s mother. “I love him, but get a grip.”

Aunt Gina waved a hand. “You know what I mean. But he didn’t just save my life. He saved that other boy’s as well.”

“Oh God, what happened to your cheek?” his mother said.

“What’s on my cheek?”

“Those bruises, Joey.”

“Oh, right. We played basketball last night and I kind of ran into somebody’s elbow.” He managed to stand, steadying himself with a hand on his mother’s shoulder. “Shall we go? Smith’s has the best breakfast in town . . . so I’ve heard. We can walk there.”

“No, let’s drive,” his mother said.

“Lazy!” said Aunt Gina. “I’m the one with cancer, and you want to drive?” She rolled her eyes. Continue reading Reset: Chapter 29: Saturday, September 8, 2001 (2)”

Learn Or Die: Criticism, Setbacks, and Process

If you’re not learning, you’re dying. If you’re not willing to seek out and take criticism, you’re not learning.

And if you take criticism personally, you’ll never learn.

It’s a lesson I wish I learned fifteen years ago. Who knows where I would be? Instead I let my ego get in the way, imagining that I already knew everything, and thereby stagnating. Hey, at least I felt good about myself!

This lesson hit home when I got edits back from Brian Niemeier on one of my many works in progress, The Rust Man.

Brian, an author I greatly admire, was brutally honest, frank, and helpful. You can tell he wants to help.

Anyway, after reading his edits and his notes, I’m going back to the drawing board on the book. The funny thing is that I stared writing The Rust Man (name subject to change) before I started getting into the PulpRev and it’s ethos.

What ethos? How about clarity over cleverness and short and punchy beats “epic” and bloated. A lot of his suggestions, I’d say 85% or so, are things I was planning on doing anyway as I thought about the book in the months since I wrote it, edited it myself, and sent it to him. My goal is getting it down to 450 or so pages from its current 850.

This also ties into process, which we’ll get to later.

See, I was weaned on epic fantasy, brick-sized tomes by authors like Robert Jordan, Tad Williams (a highly underrated author) and George R. R. Martin. Sure I loved Tolkien and Lewis and even enjoyed Lloyd Alexander, but Big was where it was at. More = better.

But you know something? People generally aren’t buying doorstop-sized books, especially on Kindles and other devices, and especially not in fantasy and sci-fi. And if you want to sell books and build an audience, you do have to give them what they want. There is no shame in this. Continue reading “Learn Or Die: Criticism, Setbacks, and Process”

Reset: Chapter 28: Saturday, September 8, 2001 (1)

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What Joe and Nick had come up with, what they had to report to their team, was that their best bet was to board the planes themselves.

It wasn’t an easy decision to make, and Joe, as the de facto leader, didn’t feel good about asking a bunch of young men to risk their lives combating dangerous terrorists. But with so much at stake he had to swallow his misgivings and do what needed to be done. He wasn’t forcing anybody to do this, after all.

“Not like you haven’t faced awful situations before,” Nick had said as they prepared to turn in for the night.

“Like what?”

Through a huge yawn, Nick said: “Your divorce.”

Dealing with an angry woman who had the law on her side wasn’t pleasant, but it didn’t quite approach the level of murderous religious fanatics. And no matter what he thought about Sandra, she was still the mother of his child. Or she will be. He hoped.

Women were on Joe’s mind as his head hit his pillow. He had a few emails from Gwendolyn wondering where he was and whether he was alright, as well as one terse voice message: “Hi Joe. It’s Gwen. Just wondering where you were. I thought we were going to have lunch today. Please call me when you get this. Okay, bye.”

He didn’t know why the message had bothered him; it wasn’t like they were dating, and he owed her nothing. Sure, it was a little clingy, but she seemed more concerned than anything. He probably shouldn’t leave her hanging, but missing opportunities was his thing, after all.

But their predicament was also a huge opportunity. If they could change external events, it stood to reason that Joe could change himself.

Sleep came as he thought about the impossibility of their task. Nick had found over a dozen flight training schools in Florida, but wasn’t able to find out who the students were. Even if he could have, the plan would require that they flag everybody with an Arabic name, something which would narrow down the field but would likely leave them with too many leads and not enough time.

“We’d have no way of knowing which ones were Saudis either,” Joe had said.

“They weren’t all Saudis though, were they?” said Nick, his hands over his face. “The Saudis funded them, right? Isn’t that what they said?”

“Who the hell knows,” said Joe.

“They were from Egypt or Syria or something . . . Lebanon?”

“What’s the difference,” Joe groaned. At least they had figured out where three of the planes had left from, two from Boston and one from Newark, the one that eventually hits the Pentagon eluding them. It wasn’t a perfect plan, but as Zack said, it seemed to be the least-bad. And if successful, they would be heroes, as long as they weren’t “disappeared” for somehow having insider knowledge of the attacks.

Joe stretched his arms over his head, feeling his breastbone pop with satisfaction. Insane. They were flush with the insanity of youth. Perhaps Joe had fallen on the stoop outside of his old house that morning and was lying on the sidewalk with his brains leaking onto the pavement, and this last week and a half was nothing more than the fever dreams of a dying man. Sometimes that made more sense than being thrown back in time with the rest of the silent, unknowing universe.

Chapter 27                                               Table of Contents                                             Chapter 29

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Reset: Chapter 27: Friday, September 7, 2001 (2)

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They walked back to Paxton in the fading autumn light, Nick with his hands in his pockets and his head held low. Joe felt hopeful for the first time in days. They had allies, confidants, friends. It was exciting to think that something he had planned was actually going to work out. But there was still so much work to be done. Joe was hungry, yes, but more than eating, he needed to think.

“Want to eat something?” said Nick as they approached the student union building, with that psychic power known only to siblings and best friends.

“We don’t have time to eat,” said Joe.

“You can’t think on an empty stomach. At least I can’t.”

Joe looked up at the building on the hill and shook his head. Jonesy and Carlos had said they were going there to eat too, but Joe didn’t feel much like talking to them. “Nah, I’m alright.”

Nick traced Joe’s line of sight. “You can’t avoid them forever.”

“Why would I be avoiding anyone?”

Nick shrugged. “Do you think we can really do this?”

“Just go eat,” said Joe, perhaps snappier than he intended.

“Don’t get all bitchy, man!”

“I’m not getting bitchy!” said Joe. “But if you’re hungry, eat! Don’t starve on account of me.”

Nick hesitated, slowing a half-step behind Joe, wading in thought. “I don’t care if we eat or not. I just want to talk. That’s all.”

Joe nodded, smiling. They walked the rest of the way to Paxton in silent contemplation.

* * *

“Wow, the Internet sucks in the year 2001. I can’t find a goddamn thing.”

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Continue reading Reset: Chapter 27: Friday, September 7, 2001 (2)”

Reset: Chapter 24: Thursday, September 6, 2001 (5)

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Students in varying states of chemical enhancement poured in and out of downtown Hollister’s various establishments, scarfing down pizza, drinking from bottles hidden in brown paper bags, and generally causing commotion. Every once in a while the scent of cloves or cigarette smoke wafted by, and even marijuana. In short, it was the perfect place to get lost in.

“What’s this girl’s name, anyway?” Joe asked as they knifed towards Hollister House of Pizza, shoulder to bouncing shoulder with their peers.

“Stephanie or something,” said Jonesy.

“Huh,” said Joe. “Steve and Stephanie.”

“Yeah, Steve and Stephanie, sitting in a tree,” said Nick. “You can serenade us later, Cyrano. Where are we going?”

“Who’s Cyrano?” asked Jonesy.

“Cyrano! You know! The guy with the nose?!” said Nick “Don’t they teach you kids anything anymore?”

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“What are you even talking about?” said Carlos, his surliness on full display.

“What does it matter, anyway? The point is that this is a bad idea.”

Joe sighed. “Since you couldn’t come up with anything better, I don’t want to hear it.”

“What do you mean, I couldn’t come up with anything better! My plan made a hell of a lot more sense than this, I can tell you that.”

In no mood to fight, Joe hung his head, hoping beyond hope that they would all just make it through the night alive. “Let’s just get a seat.”

Inside the pizza shop, Carlos scanned their environs, a sour twist to his mouth. “What seat?”

“We’ll stand somewhere,” said Joe. He pointed towards an empty spot near the pool table where some students were involved in a serious game, twenty dollar bills laid across the table’s edge. “Over by the wall.”

“There’s no room,” said Jonesy, standing on his tiptoes in a bid to look around the players.

“Is that Journey on the jukebox?” said Nick. “We’ve got to get out of here. I told you this was a terrible idea!”

“Again,” said Joe, “if you have a better suggestion, I’d love to know.”

“There was no Journey involved in my suggestion,” said Nick.

“What I want to know,” said Carlos, “is where those guys got all that money.”

“Your mom,” said Nick, before quickly raising his hands. “I’m sorry. That was a terrible joke. ‘Your mom’ jokes are not, nor have they ever been, funny.”

Jonesy laughed all the same.

“Whatever,” said Carlos, his crankiness ratcheting up a few levels. “Let’s go somewhere else. Nick’s right: this is a dumb idea.”

“Yeah, it’s much smarter to let yourself get cornered,” said Joe. He stepped into one of the three lines before the counter. “Tactical brilliance.”

“What are you standing there for?!” said Nick. “Don’t tell me you’re hungry.”

“It’s kind of rude to come to a restaurant and just stand here without ordering anything, isn’t it? You’re the one with a pizza place. You should know pizza etiquette.”

Jonesy turned to Nick, his face scrunched up with puzzlement. “There’s pizza etiquette?”

“Yeah,” said Nick, “Pay for your food and get the hell out. That’s the strategy.”

Tactically speaking, if you have no food to pay for, then what are you doing there in the first place?”

“He has a point,” said Carlos.

“Nobody asked you,” said Nick.

“I’m pretty hungry,” said Jonesy.

“Of course you are,” said Joe. “Look, I’ll pay. You guys just go sit down.” He waved a hand at the tables, all full.

“Again: where?” said Carlos.

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“You’re a pretty godawful general,” said Nick. “Patton my ass.”

Anger surged like vomit. Joe could understand Jonesy and Carlos acting like kids, because they were kids. But Nick? No matter how he looked or felt, his mind was still that of a grown man. He should know better.

Unless he was going native.

The thought was terrifying. Hadn’t he himself felt a little like a kid, his mind and body awash in a sea of late-teen hormones? Especially when he was around Gwendolyn. She had a way of making him feel once again like a hapless kid. But it was intoxicating; he had forgotten how good it felt to be young, how vital.

“Then we’ll sit outside,” said Joe. “Or stand. I don’t care. Just stick together, alright?”

“Sure,” said Carlos, blessedly taking the initiative and leading the others to the door. “Let’s go.”

Joe stood for just a few minutes, the line moving with agonizing slowness, when he heard Nick’s bellow soaring above the din. “Back off, alright! Just back off!”

The sound of the crowd changed in that way crowds did when they smelled the prospect of violence. The buzz grew sharper, quieter, a dagger in the hands of an assassin. His guts turned cold, Joe abandoned his place in line and, fighting the crowd, made his way outside. Continue reading Reset: Chapter 24: Thursday, September 6, 2001 (5)”

Reset: Chapter 21: Thursday, September 6, 2001 (2)

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“YOU TOLD HIM?!

“Don’t yell at me!” said Joe.

Nick waved his long arms like an angry silverback. “You’re such an idiot! What the hell’s the matter with you?!”

“Nothing’s the matter with me.”

“And I’m supposed to be the dumb one,” said Nick. He dragged his hands down his face. “This is a disaster.”

“Can I speak?” said Joe.

“I think you’ve said enough!” said Nick. He slumped onto their couch. “What a catastrophe! What a total catastrophe!”

“You’re one to talk,” said Joe.

FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, WOULD YOU LET THAT GO?!Continue reading Reset: Chapter 21: Thursday, September 6, 2001 (2)”

Reset: Chapter 19: Wednesday, September 5, 2001 (4)

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Even Nick started getting bored with the college life. “If I have to play another video game I’m going to shoot myself. Did we really waste this much time with those things?”

“Sad, isn’t it?” said Joe, not looking up from The Great Gatsby, the assigned reading from that afternoon’s English class.Cover of the book The Great Gatsby“All the things we could have done with that time . . .”

“Like study?”

“Learn an instrument, another language, date girls . . .”

Joe brandished his book. “Read, maybe?”

“That too.” Nick sat on the couch, wiggling his fingers. “My eyeballs are starting to bleed from all of it. My fingers, too. They feel like . . .”

“They should be holding a books?”

“Alright, alright!” Nick stood, pacing around the room. “I can take a hint. I’m not a total moron you know.”

Joe turned a page, his highlighter at the ready. “Never said you were.”

“No, but you implied it. We all know how powerful implications can be.” Nick picked up a textbook from his desk. “Take education, for example.”

 

“That’s what I’m trying to do.”

“I’m feeling philosophical tonight; hear me out.” Continue reading Reset: Chapter 19: Wednesday, September 5, 2001 (4)”