Globe Without Goodbye – The Book (14)

This story begins with Globe Without Goodbye – The Shore (1).  To access installments in narrative sequence, click on an entry title, then click on “Next” at the end of that installment.

 

The hospital staff told Jeffrey that it had taken two very strong workers to pry the suede-bound book out of his stiffly-clenched hands when he was brought into the ER. Emergency personnel had given up on freeing it from his grasp at the scene of the collision. Due to his body positioning, they believed he had reached for it on the front passenger seat immediately after the impact. Nobody thought it had distracted him while driving. Good. He answered their questions truthfully when he said he couldn’t remember the collision at all.

He lay in his hospital bed with the little book resting on his abdomen. He knew he had brought this book back from Aum. He hadn’t opened it yet. Excitement tingled in his spine. When he couldn’t stand the tension any longer, he stood the book open on his chest, peeling back the flexible cover from the first page, wondering if a headache would split his skull.

Before beginning to read, he noted the shape of the text on the page. It formed blocks, not mirror-cracks or spiderwebs, and the text did not crawl. He barely had time to recognize his own cramped handwriting before his eyes focused:

When Jeffrey Hamen came to his senses, he knew he had never before seen this shore.

Wait. Why was his name in the book? This was supposed to be Nadja’s story!

He continued to read:

He stood on bare feet, on gray sand.

His heart didn’t know whether to sink or leap. Somehow the book had recorded his trip to Aum. It was all there – the shore, the cave, the doll, the skeleton. It made for a decent story, he supposed, though he didn’t read many narratives, so he didn’t feel qualified to pass judgment.

He thumbed through the pages, reading a line here, a phrase there, amused, bemused, wondering.

Your choice will not create a new world, little man. You choose only whether or not to preserve your sense of yourself.

The book didn’t really convey the awesome awfulness of the vortex’s presence, he decided.   Then he realized the book held additional pages, too many to carry the reader up to his departure from Aum. Would the book reveal his resumed life?

He considered the question of his present moment. What would happen when he got to the point in the story in which he started to read the book? Surely he would end up reading the text that he was trying to read now –

He dropped the book to his chest. He understood now why Nadja had ended his visit to Aum with her unearthly laugh. She must have transformed the book into a trap. A hall of mirrors. A book within a book within a book, within a book. If he tried to read it all the way through, he would never finish. Nadja had managed to sneak a corner of magic into Jeffrey’s world. Determined to outwit the doll-minded magician, he picked up the book again and flipped to the last page.

Blank.

He nearly cried out in frustration, but instead flipped to the second to last page. The single sentence on it ended his story:

Eventually, it grew boring.

“ ‘Eventually, it grew boring’? What kind of an ending is that,” he griped aloud. He dropped the book to his chest again. Never mind. Not a diamond the size of a wheelbarrow, but like it or not, the story was his trophy. People liked to read stories. He would find some way to rework the trapped section. Nadja could not be allowed to win.

As he ruminated on publication possibilities, he grew tired in his mind. Soon, he dozed. Jeffrey fell into a deep enough sleep to dream, and he dreamt of diamond mountains he would never see. It was the same dream he would dream every night until his death. Eventually, it grew boring.

 

Thank you for reading!  Coming up next week a new story, Masked.

If you have enjoyed Globe Without Goodbye, please support my writing on Patreon.

Globe Without Goodbye – The Vortex, continued (13)

The story begins with Globe Without Goodbye – The Shore (1).  To access installments in narrative sequence, click on an entry title, then click on “Next” at the end of that installment.

 

“You can bring back the book, or you can bring back the doll, but you cannot bring both with you.”

In his fear, Jeffrey did not understand. “What?”

The vortex thundered with surprising patience. “On your person you now carry two things you did not bring with you into Aum. You have a lot of personal power, Jeffrey Hamen, so I cannot divest you of both objects, but I will divest you of one before you leave Aum. I now allow you to choose which one you will leave behind. I need not judge your intentions. By embracing insatiable ambition, you punish yourself more cruelly and more absolutely than anyone else could seek to bring justice upon your head. That fate always awaits the ambitious. Your choices carry you away from any redemption.”

Jeffrey did not pause to consider the vortex’s message. “You want to stay here, right?” he beamed to Nadja. “You get to stay.”

“Wait, WHAT?” This time Nadja really did sound panicked. “Not my book, you can’t take my book!”

“Oh I’m taking it. “ He lifted the shirt-sack over his head and placed it on the shore next to him. “I’m ready. You say this place is called Aum?”

Simultaneously, Nadja wailed “My book! No, please!” while the vortex thundered with amusement, “Put your shirt back on, little man.”

Jeffrey took Nadja out of his shirt and began untying the knots. “You said I would never read your book as long as I was in your world, Nadja. I have to read it in my own.” He pulled his shirt over his head as Nadja wept directly into his mind. “I’m ready.”

The slices of the tornado peeled apart and the lightning arced to connect them around halved space. Between the dark and the bright, he saw his car and his body in its driver’s seat, smashed and broken. His body wore his office clothes in the vision. “Do not be afraid,” the vortex instructed. “When you return to this body and the life of Jeffrey Hamen, it will last a long time.”

As Jeffrey stepped into the vision of his ruined car and the ambulance sirens, he thought he heard Nadja’s sobs change to awful, ugly laughter.

Thank you for reading!  Coming up next week:  Jeffrey reads Nadja’s book.

If you are enjoying Globe Without Goodbye, please support my writing on Patreon.

Globe Without Goodbye – The Vortex (12)

This story begins with Globe Without Goodbye – The Shore (1).  To access installments in narrative sequence, click on an entry title, then click on “Next” at the end of that installment.

 

Jeffrey never walked as far as the village Nadja had described. He never saw the buildings. He never ate from the gardens. When Jeffrey came close enough according to the vortex’s internal rhythm and senses, it met him on the shore.

It came from nowhere, as Jeffrey made a game out of forming fresh tracks in the sand. He felt a presence in front of him. As he lifted his head, Nadja thought-beamed a statement: “My enemy, so near.” Had she addressed this beam to him? Or did she speak to the vortex, and his mind had just happened to get in the way of the beam?

The vortex looked like a glowing tornado. A swirl of darkness, darker than night in the world he had left behind; a swirl of brightness, brighter than he had ever seen a moon stud that night. The two wrapped around each other to form a vertical pole of energy, thicker than his body and twice as tall, hovering about two feet from the shore-sand. Where the swirls of energy that made up the vortex bled into their surroundings, at the top and bottom of the pole, brilliant arcs of lightning pulsed, moving in waves away from the swirling pole until they disappeared. The pole rotated, with different parts moving at different speeds, but the strands of dark and bright never mixed, never even kissed. It was beautiful and fearsome and God-like, and he now understood why Nadja could not have lived near it, no matter how much she liked the village. He wanted to piss his jeans and run away very quickly.

“Make your choice, Jeffrey Hamen.” The vortex sounded like thunder in his mind. Unlike Nadja, it didn’t even pretend to have a face or mouth. “This is not a resting place, no matter what that fool you carry with you may have said. This life, or your next. Choose.”

His voice cracked when he spoke. He did not feel superior to this thing as he had felt with Nadja. He feared to ask his question. He no longer wanted to strategize; he wanted to flee this moment and forget it at once. “What would the next life be like?”

“Like the life you knew previously, it would be what you perceived. Your choice will not create a new world, little man. You choose only whether or not to preserve your sense of yourself.”

The words rushed out of his mouth: “I want to go back, then. Let me go back!”

Thank you for reading!  Coming up next week:  Jeffrey takes Nadja’s book back to Illinois.

If you are enjoying Globe Without Goodbye, please support my writing on Patreon.

Globe Without Goodbye – The Shore, Revisited (11)

This story begins with Globe Without Goodbye – The Shore (1).  To access installments in narrative sequence, click on an entry title, then click on “Next” at the end of that installment.

 

Nadja told Jeffrey to go back the way he had come, and he followed her direction. A few steps away from the cave, Nadja began beaming thoughts to Jeffrey, unbidden. “I was not the first Earth exile to live and die in this place. The vortex likes to hover in an abandoned village, making it the center of this world. I tried to make my home in that village when I first arrived. It’s the only mark of civilization I’ve seen here and I’ve traveled through the forest, to the foot of the diamond mountains.”

“Diamonds?”

“I thought that would get your attention. The mountains are beautiful and very, very big. Much too big for you to bring back with you.”

“Diamond is a brittle stone. I could chip off some pieces?”

“I’m probably exaggerating because of their beauty. The mountains are probably not made of diamond. Maybe you’d travel all that way to learn they were only common glass.”

“Maybe. Maybe not.” He kept his eyes on his tracks as he retraced his earlier steps. “Maybe you’re trying to fake me out because you don’t want me to bring back a diamond that barely fits inside a wheelbarrow. I’ll figure out what I’m going to do after I talk to the vortex.” He paused to look around. “Will the world turn gray again?”

Nadja laughed raucously in his head. He wanted the nasty sound to stop immediately. It seemed like a disgusting forever before her thought-beams shifted back into words. “You saw gray before you came to my cave?”

“Yeah, everything was monochrome.” He started walking again.

“The color came with me, frog-man. You must have a very rigid mind. Did you like the gray?”

“What? No, of course not. It looked ugly.”

“You should thank me for the color I have brought to you. Go on, thank me.”

“Thanks. Sure. Whatever. How do I get to the village?”

“It will be visible from this shore once you travel in this direction far enough. The exiles that built it settled at the mouth of a river. If I remember right, it will be the very first river we come to. You won’t have to ford in between. A shame, because fording rivers here is the fun part.”

“Fun? Sounds inconvenient to me. I think I’ll pass on the fording. I’m amazed at how convenient this village sounds, to be honest with you.”

Nadja’s thought-beam sounded mournful. “I really wanted to live in the village. I liked it best there. The huts, the wild gardens. But the vortex wouldn’t leave, and we just don’t get along. So I made my cave as close to the village as I could stand to be close to the vortex.”

“Makes sense, I guess. So what’s between here and there?”

“Not much. Sand. Water. Me. You were right; to someone of your temperament, this is a very lonely place. I, however, just feel safe. There aren’t any animals here you don’t conjure up yourself from memory. At your level of sophistication, you wouldn’t be able to conjure anything that would last more than a few minutes. But you won’t get hungry here, so it’s not like you’ll need to hunt. If you miss eating, go inland, past the dunes, into the forest, and eat a plant. But you won’t need to, and while nothing here will poison you, nothing will taste good either. The plants from the village gardens were the only things I’ve found here that I actually wanted to eat.”

He wondered if Nadja had told him the truth. “So you’re seriously saying that all that’s between me and this vortex is a pile of sand?”

“That’s exactly what I’m saying.”

“How many miles will I have to walk before I reach the village?”

“Stupid frog-man Jeffrey. Still thinking in miles. You’ll get there when you get there. Now let me sleep. All this bird speak-chattering has drained me. I don’t want to talk to you any more.”

He tried beaming some more thoughts into his shirt-sack but Nadja either couldn’t or wouldn’t think back to him any more. He guessed that she hadn’t been lying to him, and that nothing waited for him behind a dune. He didn’t particularly enjoy “talking” with Nadja anyway, although it did give him an excuse to theorize about his newfound telepathy. He wondered, as he walked, how it worked. What other powers would he discover here? Maybe he would stay, like she had. Maybe he too would see diamond mountains. Maybe he would travel even further than Nadja had. He could probably figure it all out after he talked with the vortex. Everything would fall into place then, he was sure.

Thank you for reading!  Coming up next week: Jeffrey meets the vortex (much to his chagrin).

If you are enjoying Globe Without Goodbye, please support my writing on Patreon.

Globe Without Goodbye – Outside the Cave, continued (10)

This story begins with Globe Without Goodbye – The Shore (1).  To access installments in narrative sequence, click on an entry title, then click on “Next” at the end of that installment.

 

“You’re coming with me, Nadja. I’m going to get lonely out there. This is a lonely place. I’ll need someone to talk to. Brace yourself, I’m picking you up again.” Jeffrey set about figuring out the best way to transport the doll. Carrying Nadja with his hands would get cumbersome. He took his shirt off, feeling embarrassed as he remembered Nadja’s recent taunt about his potbelly. Nobody said things like that to him in Illinois. How long had Nadja-the-doll sat next to Nadja-the-skeleton? Death could probably make lots of people lose their social graces. He bunched the bottom of his shirt together and knotted it against itself to make a crude sack. The fabric had been comfortable on his torso, but without a sun in the sky or air current he had not summoned himself, he didn’t need protection from the environment. “Hey, Nadja,” he thought-beamed in her general direction, “Is there ever a sun here? What about stars? Where does the light come from? How do I see?”

“Shut up, frog-man,” came the tired response. “This is the world between worlds. What you see is what you get, here. You ask too many questions to last very long in my home. Make your choice. Pick your world. You bore me.”

“How can I make this choice you keep talking about, when I only know about the world I came from? What is my other choice?”

“Who knows? Who cares?” Nadja sounded even more tired. “The vortex probably knows. Ask it when we get there.”

“So you’re resigned to coming with me, then?”

“It will be a long walk from the village back to my cave, and these legs were made to sit, not stand, but I will manage. It will be worth it to make absolutely sure that you have left.”

“Oh yeah?” He picked the book up from where he had dropped it. “You’ve got a pretty smart mouth, for a doll.” He jammed the book into the left rear pocket of his jeans. “The people where I come from would be fascinated by a telepathic doll. What if I decide to take you with me?”

As he lifted Nadja and slipped her through his shirt’s neck-hole, her thoughts sounded determined. “Don’t do that. Your world would kill me. There’s no room for magic there.”

“Ain’t that the truth,” he beamed back to her, checking to make sure the fabric would hold her weight. It stretched a little. Not a permanent solution, but acceptable. He tied the sleeves together and hung the makeshift sack around his neck, figuring that attempting to carry Nadja on his back would stress his throat. Not that he needed a voice to talk to his companion now anyway.

Thank you for reading!  Coming up next week:  Jeffrey learns a little bit more about Aum as he and Nadja travel back down the shore.

If you are enjoying Globe Without Goodbye, please support my writing on Patreon.

Globe Without Goodbye – Outside the Cave, continued (9)

This story begins with Globe Without Goodbye – The Shore (1).  To access installments in narrative sequence, click on an entry title, then click on “Next” at the end of that installment.

“If I’m leaving this cave, you’re coming with me.”

“WHAT? WHY?”

“You said there’s only the vortex and you here, right? The natives are far away, the exiles don’t stay long? You’re definitely the only… thing… I’ve found here that talks. Even if you’re only talking in my thoughts. If I’m going to find this vortex, I’m going to need your help. What is the vortex anyway?”

“The vortex is the focal point of this world. When it moves, the balance of this world moves with it. It monitors, to keep this world empty of minds. It tolerates the natives as long as they keep their population low. It wants anything that comes here with awareness to move back into its world with haste. It was very upset when I told it I intended to stay. It made my life here extremely tumultuous. Eventually we reached an understanding. As long as I keep myself away from its usual haunts, it no longer bothers me. That’s easy enough to do in this body.”

“Well, I’m not going to find it alone. Oh yeah, and I’m bringing your book.”

“NO!”

“ ‘Fraid so. You apparently care a lot about it. I think it’s the only way I can be sure to keep you talking.” He eyed the book as it lay on the sand. At least looking at its blank cover didn’t hurt his brain. “What’s in there, anyway?”

“It’s MINE! It’s MY story! It’s not for the likes of you!”

“Nobody writes a book, then hides it in a tomb, without hoping somebody’s going to come along and grave-rob,” he mused. “People write things down so they can be read. Neither your old body lying dead in that cave, nor this rock-body I’m looking at now, can read this book. How do you see me with those little glass eyes?”

“Magic.” Nadja sounded unhappy. Jeffrey suspected that even after so much time in this world, Nadja didn’t really know much more about the mechanics of her power than he did. Like a child on an adult bicycle, Nadja felt proud to have lost training wheels but unsure of exactly how moving the pedals with her feet made the wheels turn.

“Your magic keeps this book illegible to me, doesn’t it?”

Nadja shut her doll-mouth.

“Lift your magic. I want to read this.”

Nadja gave no response.

He picked the book up. He held it with both hands by an unbound edge and mimed pulling it in two different directions. “Lift your magic, or I destroy the book.”

Nadja’s mouth opened, and when the words eventually formed in his mind, they sounded like a weary exhale. “I could make another one. It would take a long, long time; you are right, my powers were greatly weakened by death. But once you leave here, I will have nothing but time again. Destroy it, if you must be cruel. You will never read my book.”

Nadja had called Jeffrey’s bluff. He didn’t really want to destroy the book. He scowled at the doll, but made no conscious reply.

Nadja’s thoughts came to him, seemingly from all sides at once: “You really don’t belong here. Why don’t you go to the vortex and choose a world?”

“If I’m going to find this vortex, you’re coming with me. I don’t even know what it looks like. I need a guide.”

“NO!” Nadja somehow seemed petulant, though Jeffrey realized that all the changes in inflection he thought he heard in her voice were only his interpretations. “It looks like a column of living energy, dark and bright at the same time. I can tell you how to get close enough to its village that the vortex will come to you. There’s no reason for me to leave this cave. Please. I don’t want to go!”

Thank you for reading!  Coming up next week: Jeffrey and Nadja set out to find the vortex.

If you are enjoying Globe Without Goodbye, please support my writing on Patreon.

Vortex image created by Charles Price.

Globe Without Goodbye – Outside the Cave, continued (8)

This story begins with Globe Without Goodbye – The Shore (1).  To access installments in narrative sequence, click on an entry title, then click on “Next” at the end of that installment.

 

As if beckoned by Jeffrey’s thoughts, the wind returned. It blew around the cave and knocked over the former Nadja, beautiful Russian doll. “Stop doing that!” Nadja shouted, and Jeffrey found it odd that he could hear her easily, despite the fact that she had fallen on her blocky rock face. “You need to learn how to respect those who have come before you, Jeffrey Hamen! Know your place, you are foreign here!”

“What am I supposed to stop doing? I’m just trying to talk to you!”

“Liar. That is a foreign wind. You challenge my authority. I never bring air currents this close to my cave. I do not like sand on my cave’s floor. The wind moves the sand. Leave, and take that wind with you – but put my book back first!”

He narrowed his eyes. Sliding from his rocky seat, he picked the book up, closing it carefully. He crossed back to the cave entrance and stood towering over Nadja. Deliberately, he dropped the book in front of her. “You put it back.”

Nadja did not move.

“You couldn’t lift this book if you tried, could you?” he said confidently. “It takes all you have to stay in this world, attached to a collection of rocks. On your strongest day, you will always be weaker than me on my weakest day, just because I am alive. Only living things that breathe can speak, and you in that body of stone are no longer a living thing. How are you talking right now? Where does your voice come from? I bet you’ve forgotten, in your long sleep.”

“SCREW YOU!”

Jeffrey wondered why somebody who had come to this world as long ago as Nadja had said she did would talk to him in contemporary slang. Instinctively, he knew that Nadja hadn’t actually spoken to him; rather, she had somehow imprinted communication directly into his thoughts. She probably hadn’t even used the words he had thought he had heard. His own mind had probably shaped her projections into words. Did he even need to speak? Could Nadja read his thoughts?

As that particular question slipped into his consciousness, the doll’s arms and legs twitched violently.  Nadja mentally replied in mock-human tones, with the speed of panic: “You are too powerful, too powerful for me in my cave! I only wanted to sleep here! WHY DO YOU NOT GO TO THE VORTEX? GO, GO NOW!!!”

Thank you for reading!  Coming up next week:  Nadja explains the nature of the vortex to Jeffrey.

If you are enjoying Globe Without Goodbye, please support my writing on Patreon.