Beginnings

For the past three years I’ve been writing a new story. I’ve mentioned it here a few times, but only briefly because I’m superstitious that if I talk about an infant story too much, it dies and I never finish it.

Three years. Granted, I’m a slow writer in the best of times. But this has been hard because I’m trying to stretch my wings as a writer and am not sure if I’m succeeding. This one has multiple perspectives and story lines. It’s darker than I’ve written before, and it’s scary. Well, my goal is to make it scary. I’m not sure it’s scary enough.

My editor has her fingers in the story now, and she’s challenging me to delete chapters, strengthen motivations, and work on the scene/sequel process. It became obvious the beginning was very rough and needed a lot of work. No surprise there because beginnings can be the hardest thing to write as they have so much to accomplish.

The idea for the story came from a news event, but I don’t think I could have written it without being in a darker place myself. Without saying, ‘these are the things I’m afraid of in this world’ and then trying to place those fears on paper.

Anyway, I am hoping to have the book available by the end of summer. Cover art is in the process and I’ll share versions here to get opinions. But in the meantime, below is the beginning. The prologue. It’s still in edit but I’ll share anyway. Comments, first impressions, and opinions are appreciated.

And of course it’s copyrighted.

Prologue

The Hole in the Wall wasn’t really a hole but a dead-end shaft with a steel door that could be barricaded from within and locked from without. And the Wall wasn’t really a wall, but a granite mountain deeply fissured and hung with a dark and shadowed forest curtain. One that went straight up, creating a sense of severe vertigo overwhelming anyone leaning back, and back, and back, to see the top. Here and there, stunted fir and cedar and hemlock twisted and bent waiting to fall.

Occasionally the Wall would free boulders to plummet down and leave deep impact craters in the forest floor.

Few rock climbers, hanging with harnesses and bandaged knuckles, knew the door was there, far below them where the forest washed up at the base of the Wall.

Curtis Jonason locked himself in the Hole five days a week. Some days he imagined himself a climber suspended in the heights, able to see for miles, see the rushing white water of the Skykomish River, speckled with daredevil kayakers. Or to gaze down on the tiny, tiny town of Index, Washington nestled a mile off Highway 2 in the Cascade Mountains. But he wasn’t an adventurer. And he had long ago come to terms with the reality that his adventures were only found in imagination and books.

Instead, each day, in cold weather gear, he unlocked the Hole with his smooth scientist’s hands, slipped into the dark, and bolted the door behind him. There, he would spend fourteen hours alone burrowed into the granite, a small stream rushing under his workstation, a flashlight his only illumination.

Alone with his machines.

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Morningstar climbing route on a small portion of the Wall

A Stranger

I posted about this a couple years ago but a friend recently asked me to retell the story. So you old-timers might recognize this one.

Ten years ago I was going through radiation treatments for lymphoma. Every morning I drove an hour and a half to the cancer center, took off all my clothes, put on this robe, and sat in a room with others in their robes.

There was no socializing. There was little, if any, talking. Everything going on in that room was internalized. We were all head down, thoughts inward. Preparing for what we knew was coming, and how awful we were going to feel in a couple hours, and how sick we were going to be the rest of the day.

We were simply breathing. Grateful to be breathing, but able to do nothing more than take the next step right in front of us.

There was an older woman in that group. Short, steel-gray hair. She was always there before me, and when I walked in, she would lift her chin in greeting. We could manage an acknowledgement, but that was it.

Three or four years later I was in a grocery store, in the produce section, and happened to look up. And there she was. We met each other’s eyes and immediately burst into tears.

She was alive.

We hugged. We asked each other how the prognosis was going, how the healing was going. That’s when I found out she’d been in there for breast cancer.

And then we moved on to finish our shopping.

We never asked for each other’s name, or phone number, or email.

It was so random, to run into her there, of all places. That we happened to be, not just in the same town and the same store, but the same section at that exact same moment in time.

Years passed.

Two years ago I was…you guessed it…back at that same store. And there she was.

Once again, as soon as we met eyes, we were crying. We hugged. We asked those questions. Are you still free? She was. I wasn’t. I’d just finished another round of radiation and was still pretty sick. But I was able to tell her it was a precaution only and all was good. We cried some more.

We never asked for each other’s name, or phone number, or email.

She’s a complete stranger. I know nothing about who she is as a person, or what her family is like, or any of the myriad of stories we associate with those we know.

Yet I count her as a close friend.

And some day I’ll run into her again.

What’s Left?

I read a fascinating book by Peter Ward called Life As We Do Not Know It regarding NASA’s search for alien life. While 99.9% of the book was way over my head, one thing he said stuck with me. How can we expect to find alien life when we haven’t found all life on this planet? Basically, we redefine ‘life’ because as science changes and new discoveries are made, that definition of what life is also has to change.

If we must redefine our definition of what ‘life’ is, so, too, must we redefine how life changes and is altered by the death of the physical body.

Dad with duckling

Please be kind and respectful in your comments here, because I’m going to move into a topic that people not only feel strongly about, but also one that many feel must be pushed on others who feel differently. Please tell us how you feel, but don’t tell us we have to feel the same way.

I tried different religions but never found one that fit. I personally feel religion was simply early man’s first attempt at a moral code. I don’t believe in some great hereafter, and I don’t believe people go to heaven or hell, or some other variation of that theme, after death.

Mom at cabin

Yet, when you lose a loved one, beliefs on the afterlife get seriously challenged. Because we don’t want to let go. We don’t want to believe they are gone forever, beyond our reach, or beyond any hope of ever seeing them again. So how do you reconcile love and loss with no afterlife?

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I’m not ready too say there is nothing after death. My siblings and I had an unexplained moment when our dad died. We were far apart at the time, in our individual homes, and didn’t realize we’d each had similar experiences until days later. But even with that mystery, I don’t believe in some heavenly afterlife.

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I just don’t think it is something we can know or understand, or maybe even wrap our minds around. I think people’s attempts to define it in the language of religion are limiting something that is unknown because we, as humans, are also limited in our knowledge of the world around us.

I don’t believe in some all-knowing god. But I also can’t truly say, after that experience with dad, that there is nothing afterwards. I just have to settle for ‘I don’t know’ and try to accept that it helps not one iota with the loss that comes from death.

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We are made of energy, or as some say, we are made of stars. I think that energy dissipates, maybe stays around, maybe becomes something new, maybe swirls out there in the universe forming new planets and new life. Who knows? I sure don’t.

If I haven’t learned about all the life that exists, then how can I begin to fathom all the possibilities of what happens to life when it transitions, or dissipates, or moves on, or simply ceases?

Mom's wedding

I hope that there is something after death mainly because it eases loss. That comes from selfish longing, not from some sense of fear about what will happen to me. Personally I’ll be happy fertilizing some trees.

But for those I have loved and lost, I hope they are among the stars.

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