Still Alive

In case you’re wondering, I’m still alive and plan on blogging a bit now that A) that novel is done and B) I’m recovered enough to consider blogging a fun activity again!. Soonish you’ll see more here. Until then, feel free to comment with what types of content you’d like to see show up!

Chapter 24: Camp

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The mountains lit up brighter than they’d seen in weeks. Bouncing colors flitting from peak to peak. The sky seemed lighter than usual, the world seemed to be in a state of activity, if that could exist. It was noticed by each member of the small group, spurring discussion. Continue reading “Chapter 24: Camp”

Chapter 17: Pain

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When Mara turned 13, she decided that she was entitled to at least one night free of torment, so she decided to sneak out around 7 PM and go see a movie with her friend Jessica. Her dad didn’t like her out after dark, so generally she didn’t sneak out until after he was asleep, around 9 or 10 PM. This night, however, she felt it was OK to risk his wrath if she was caught.

Before she left her room, she decided to take a few precautions. Using the webcam on her computer, she set up a video stream so she could hear what was going on. It was very rare her parents ever set foot inside her bedroom, usually they just called out to her and waited for her to answer. Using a bit of technical know-how, she rigged up the speakers in her room to play whatever she sent them through her cell phone. So this way, if her parents started calling out, she could placate them enough to get home and get back to her room before they would open the door. She thought it was a pretty brilliant plan, as many adolescents thing before the experience of the real world reminds them that things are seldom that easy.

She was right about one thing – the webcam certainly did allow her to hear what was going on. As the movie started, she inserted one earbud from her phone to keep an ear on her room at home, while the video streamed into her pocket.

As was her luck, that was the night her parents decided to call up to her at 8:30, and she heard it as she sat in the theatre. Springing up from her seat, she darted out into the hallway and out the exit. Jessica wasn’t at all shocked – she knew this was possible – however she was amazed at the speed with which Mara moved. Mara lived about 10 minutes from the movie theatre, so hopefully she’d make it home in time.

Desperately trying to not sound out of breath, she tapped on the button that would allow her to talk through her phone to the speakers in her room. Her mom was calling up to her, and she yelled back that she’d be down in just a minute. However something was wrong – Mom kept yelling. Frantically Mara raced home, wondering what was wrong with her setup. She briefly thought of calling the house phone from hers, under the ruse that she wasn’t able to come down right now but would be there in a moment, but knew that this angered her father, so she decided not to risk it. Another decision she’d regret later.

About 5 minutes from home she pulled her phone from her pocket and watched the video stream. It was no longer her mother just calling her, her dad had started yelling up as well. This was getting bad, and Mara prayed for a few more moments before her parents were motivated enough to get up and investigate. Sadly she didn’t get them. As she watched, her father burst into her bedroom, and instantly figured out what was going on. Unaware she was watching, his fury let loose as he screamed about his ungrateful daughter, using dozens of other words in the process that were far less complimentary. When she got outside her home, she could tell that things were much worse than they ever had been before, when she heard noises coming from the second floor clear out to the street. She briefly thought of running away for good – never opening the door to the pain that awaited. Now as she sat thinking of the story and telling it to Sara Beth, she wished she had. Instead she went into the house, found her bedroom room in shambles, and found her father waiting for her with a crazed angry look in his eye. It took several weeks for her to completely heal physically. Emotionally, she doubted she’d ever heal.

Sara Beth listened to the story, patiently waiting as Mara worked through the more difficult parts. At the end, she hugged Mara, which was not what Mara was expecting, but she wasn’t opposed to the idea either.

“Why did you tell me that story today?”, Sara Beth asked, “I don’t mean that it wasn’t something you shouldn’t have told me – don’t get me wrong – you can tell me whatever you need to – I’m just curious what brought it up”

“That”, Mara said as she pointed toward the mountains in the distance.

“What about them?”, Sara Beth replied. The mountains and their strange colors had moved into the ranks of the mundane for all except Mara, who pointed out their strange behavior the day before, and would today.

“There isn’t any activity today”, Mara said, “If the activity happens when Julie is active, she doesn’t seem to be very active right now”.

“Yeah, she doesn’t, but what does that have to do with the story”.

“The problem that night at my house was that I was too quiet. My mom told me later that they were used to me making noise – music, TV, something. When they heard nothing, the got suspicious and worried. The irony is that I thought about that in advance, and had music just loud enough to be heard outside the door set up to play while I was gone. Just one problem – before I left I forgot to turn my speakers on. So no music, and no “calling back” to Mom and Dad as they called me. I might have saved myself a lot of pain if I’d just checked that button on the front of the speaker.”

“Mistakes – we all make them”, Sara Beth said reluctantly.

“It was quiet – too quiet – just like those mountains”


 

As it turned out, the mountains didn’t stay dark for long. A few hours later, a few colors danced across their tops, and the group became hopeful that perhaps normality was returning. But the hope didn’t last long, as a blood red color appeared on the tops. Ryan, who came back earlier that day, began to nervously pace, hoping that a repeat of yesterday was not in store.

However about an hour after they watched the tops of the mountains begin to turn, Ryan began clutching his stomach. The same pain as yesterday came flooding back to him. It lasted approximately the same amount of time as it had the day before. As it ended, like clockwork, Sara Beth broke into tears, with G-ma following after her. Nothing had happened to the others.

That night, the group tried to make sense of the events.

“Is it going to keep happening?”, Sara Beth asked, “Well, I know no one knows if it will, but do you think it will?”

Ryan, exhausted from the ordeal, spoke up with a shaky but calm voice.

“I think it will keep going as long as whatever is bothering Julie keeps bothering her.”

“But what could that be?”, Sara Beth replied.

“Perhaps she’s being reminded of something each day, of something sad. Maybe she found out that you’re moving, Sara Beth”, Mrs. Corum offered.

“Or perhaps she isn’t doing very well in school, or her home life is a mess – both possibilities”, G-ma added.

“I guess so”, said Sara Beth.

Curiously absent from the conversation was Jamie, who appeared to be interested but not inclined to talk. Mara eyed her suspiciously.

“I just wish it didn’t target me”, Ryan said, “You know, maybe it could share the wealth”, flashing a slight grin. He was only half joking – at age 12 all ideals that may become altruism in the future are absent. Ryan would have given this torture to any of the others in a heartbeat. But unfortunately, he had no say in it.

“I don’t know what it means when one person is hurting and two others are crying”, Mrs. Corum began, “Unless somehow Julie is doing something with all three of you in the real world. Maybe it translates to us somehow”.

“Well, it would probably then go in order of when Julie sees us”, Ryan said, “She’d see me at school, then Sara Beth, and then G-ma later in the day”.

“Yeah, but she’s been doing that for months, if not longer, why are we feeling this now?”, Sara Beth replied.

Mrs. Corum had a theory on that.

“Ryan… I’m not quite sure how to put this…”, Mrs. Corum began, “Did you make fun of Julie outside of class?”

Ryan looked down, averting his eyes from any of the others. It was the obvious body language of guilt. He surprised himself in that regard – the pangs of guilt he’d felt before had now bloomed into full regret for his behavior in the past.

“Yeah… I kinda noticed she was walking home a certain way, and thought about where I could find her along the route and who I could take with me to have some fun with her, at least that’s what I thought it was in my head. Just some harmless ‘fun’”. He stopped himself before he let out anything remotely like an apology. He wasn’t completely weak willed quite yet, he told himself.

“You were doing this before you came here?”, Mrs. Corum asked, in confusion.

“No, I thought to do it closer to the end of school, when there was less chance I could get in trouble. I figured the teachers would be busy with things, and that Julie wouldn’t say anything since it would have been over in just a few weeks.”

“I think I know what’s happening after that”, Sara Beth said. The look on Ryan’s face was somewhat one of relief – Mrs. Corum hadn’t seemed to happy to hear what he had to say, and he briefly wondered if he was in for a verbal dressing down akin to what had happened in class weeks ago.

“What is that, dear?”, G-ma said, urging her on.

“Whenever Julie had a bad day at school, she’d tell me about at ‘Other Worlds’”, Sara Beth began, “And I’d always try to just listen and then try to make her feel better. But in the past few months, it’s been harder and harder to help her. Nothing I could really say could make her feel any better. I’d get really frustrated, and I think she started to realize that. She wouldn’t always talk to me about it – sometimes she’d even tell me ‘Oh, it’s just going to make you sad cause there is nothing you can do about it’, and I’d have to insist she keep going, telling her not to worry about me”.

Off in the distance, Mara felt a bit relieved hearing this story, understanding that, perhaps, Sara Beth truly had no ulterior motives. She simply was a caring soul.

Next to Sara Beth, G-ma looked up to speak.

“She’d come over to my place sometimes, on her way home from daycare, especially if it had been a bad day. I’d try to cheer her up too… and I think she felt the same way about my reactions. It’s frustrating when you can’t help someone you love”.

Mrs. Corum looked at both of them, and Ryan, and began piecing a theory together.

“Here’s my guess. The mountains turn red when Ryan begins taunting Julie, and Julie runs off, heading to daycare. While going there, she imagines what she might want to happen to Ryan, in retaliation. Later, while talking to both Sara Beth and G-ma, she feels guilty for burdening them with her story, and imagines how they must be feeling inside. I think Julie might have the ability to do something this world can’t do on it’s own: Change how we feel or do, perhaps even how we think.”

This thought took them all by surprise, even Jamie who was desperately trying not to be involved in the conversation, yet still needed to be close enough to hear it.

“I always felt bad”, Mara said, as she walked closer to the group, “I always felt bad when others suffered because of what I was going through. Felt somehow responsible”.

“There’s nothing I can do here”, Ryan said, “Just hope that maybe I stop doing things in the real world”.

They all looked at him and nodded. They’d noticed such a change in him after the first few weeks he’d been here, but were still not quite ready to accept he might be changing before their eyes. He wasn’t ready to accept that either.

As the conversation trailed off, they gazed up at the mountains. No real activity, other than a burst of light here or there. It was getting close to dim, and Mara looked at Sara Beth. They’d been sitting together the last few dims, talking about their past. Mara looked forward to those times, as did Sara Beth.

After they left the large group, in an uncharacteristic twist, Sara Beth opened up to Mara.

“I don’t want to cry anymore”, Sara Beth said, “I don’t think I can handle it”.

“I know how that is”, Mara said, soulfully, “I’ve been there too”.

“How did you get through it”, Sara Beth asked.

“I didn’t… I still cry a lot about my past”

“Maybe we can get through it together?”

“Maybe”

The two young women hugged, and then sat next to each other as the sky darkened.

“Sara Beth”, Mara began.

“Yes?”

“Jamie knows something about this”

“How do you know?”

“It’s written all over her. She didn’t say a word while you guys were talking. She knows something about all of this that she isn’t sharing. It may be something really important, but she isn’t going to share until someone forces it out of her”

“What do you mean?”

“Someone needs to push her – she’ll deny she knows it but I can see it so clearly. You don’t go on for half a decade trying to hide something without knowing what that looks like in other people”

“What should we do?”

“I don’t know… I don’t know if I can get it out of her alone. I’m still not sure who to trust around here, other than you”.

Sara Beth smiled, taking the compliment.

“I guess we’ll try to talk to her about it tomorrow”

Chapter 12: Occupation and Preoccupation

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Mrs. Corum’s mind was working frantically. She needed to complete 6 more before she stopped. Sara Beth dutifully called them out.
“Uh, 32”
Mrs. Corum thought for a few moments.
“1024”
“33?”
“1089. Make them farther apart, it’s more challenging”
“OK… 98”
“Ooo….. 9604”
“73”
“Hmm… 5329”
And so it went for at least another few numbers before Mrs. Corum decided to take a break.
“How long is it taking me?”
“About 10 seconds”, Sara Beth replied.
“I can feel myself getting faster!”
Sara Beth was happy to be of help, but really saw no use to what Mrs. Corum was trying to do. G-ma happened by at that moment and seemed to have the same thought.
“What on earth are you doing?”, G-ma asked. Sara Beth braced herself to hear the same thing that she’d heard a few other times already from Mrs. Corum, as she explained it to her, to Jamie, and to Ryan. G-ma was out of the loop on this one.
“I’m teaching myself to mentally square two digit numbers as fast as possible”, Mrs. Corum replied.
“Why?”, G-ma asked.
“Because I remember reading about it years ago, and even remember hearing the steps, but never actually practiced it enough to do it quickly. You see, it’s based off of figuring out the easy calculations and then adding numbers together. Take that last number that Sara Beth gave me – 73. I’m gonna round that down to the nearest multiple of 10 – 70. Then I add whatever I took away, 3, and get 76. I multiply those together in my head – 6 times 70 is 420, 70 times 70 is 4900, add those together to get 5320. Then I take that little bit I shaved off earlier – 3, square that and you get 9, hence 5329”.
G-ma looked at Mrs. Corum like she was crazy, which unfortunately, Mrs. Corum took to be confusion.
“It’s really quite simple – take 32 for example – I shave off 2 to get to 30, then do 30 times 34 which is 1020, then I add 2 times 2, and get 1024”.
Before Mrs. Corum could do another example, G-ma stopped her.
“OK, dear, I get what you’re doing. But why are you doing it now? We don’t exactly need a lot of math done here in Julie’s mind. Why bother with this?”, G-ma asked.
“Because I need something – I need something to keep me interested. Spending time today learning this has made me forget all about where we are and what we’re up against. I realized it yesterday when we played Ryan’s game – if we do things that remind us of home, home doesn’t seem so far away.”
“You memorized weird math tricks at home?”, G-ma asked, sincerely.
“No, but I used math, and I taught it, and this would have been a fun trick to use at parties”, Mrs. Corum replied.
“Teachers have the wildest parties, I guess”, G-ma said with a chuckle.
There was some truth in what Mrs. Corum said, whether G-ma wanted to admit it or not. They all needed a good diversion to keep them from getting too stir crazy in Julie’s mind. This was as good as any, G-ma decided. She sat in with Mrs. Corum during her practice from time to time, but never got as fast as her younger companion. And while Sara Beth didn’t particularly try to learn how to do the math trick, she found after awhile she could do the same calculation, albeit a bit slower.
Over the next week, the group of five sat in their spots near the mountain range, watching it light up and fade away. It was especially beautiful at night. They also found, to their surprise, that a walk back toward their old spots seemed to take less time. Perhaps they’d found a shortcut or perhaps they were experiencing the same effect that G-ma talked about happening to her. The world here seemed to be very pliable, large and small based almost on nothing more than a whim.


The five had been camping, if you wanted to use such a term, by the mountains for about a week when Sara Beth brought up something that, unknowingly to her, the others had thought of as well.

“It’s less active”, she mused.

“I think you might be right”, G-ma replied, “Definitely seems like it was more active when we first got here. Sky seems a bit dimmer during the day too.”

“What do you think it means?”

Ryan jumped into the conversation, unexpectedly, “I think we’re reading too much into things”. The rest of the group seemed to differ.

“No, these things matter, Ryan”, Jamie replied.

“They certainly seem to”, Mrs. Corum added.

Ryan shrugged his shoulders. The rest of the group had noticed that Ryan seemed a bit less hateful of Julie over the past few weeks, but certainly wasn’t her biggest fan either. They suspected that being in Julie’s mind may have simply started to wear on him, perhaps causing him to like her to some extent. While they read this as like, the real truth wasn’t as positive. Ryan had simply become disinterested in Julie – he didn’t dislike or like her. He just wanted out of her brain. He had come to the realization that whether Julie was happy or sad was irrelevant. Whether she moved a lot or moved very little didn’t matter at all. It was more important that he keep his eyes on the prize: Finding a way out. So far he hadn’t been that lucky, but thankfully he had found other ways of handling his depression than lashing out against Julie, drawing the ire of the rest of the group.

Returning to the debate at hand, Sara Beth spoke again.

“I wonder if maybe summer vacation finally started, and Julie is spending time being lazy without having to think of school.”

“Not my sister!”, Jamie said firmly, “She was always a ball of energy during summer break – we’d go out and play, sometimes Dad would take us places when he had time, and even if we were cooped up inside, we’d find ways to run around and be crazy – Mom always hated that at the end of the day”.

“Maybe Julie isn’t into that as much, dear”, G-ma said, “She is getting older, maybe she is doing things with her friends – talking with them on the phone, texting them, all things that aren’t as active as running around like an indoor tornado”

Jamie gave that some thought, and turned her face down. Maybe G-ma was right, maybe this summer wasn’t going to be as much fun as the previous ones had been, now that Julie was nearly a teenager.

Mrs. Corum made a different suggestion.

“Maybe Julie is playing more with Sara Beth, outside of school and daycare, and they’re not as active”.

Now came Sara Beth’s turn to look sad.

“What’s wrong”, Mrs. Corum asked.

“If it is summer vacation, than Julie isn’t playing with me”, Sara Beth said quietly.

“Why?”

“Because I’m not going to be around to play with”, Sara Beth replied.

Over the next few minutes, Sara Beth would relay how her parents had told her, a few days before she had come to this place, that they were planning on moving near the start of summer – around the end of June. She was going to be living in Chicago, a long way away from where she grew up, and she’d have to make new friends. Her parents were sorry they had to do this to her, but her dad had taken a new position with a department there, and it was a big promotion, and they were all making adjustments so he could make more money. Sara Beth didn’t care about the money though – she wanted to stay where she had made friends. At least she could bring Sonic with her, but she couldn’t take Julie.

“So if it’s near the third week in June”, Sara Beth said slowly, “I’m not around to play with”.

The group commiserated with her, although in a strange way, the move wasn’t necessarily a big deal anymore – Sara Beth lived inside of Julie’s mind. She couldn’t move away if she wanted to, irony not lost on Ryan as he sat watching from the outskirts of the group.

He had been keeping track of the time – he knew that it wasn’t the third week of June yet. Just as Mrs. Corum had her love of math, Ryan liked knowing the stages of the moon. He’d been following it since he was a child, and knew it’s cycle well. Based on the last time he’d seen the moon, he knew only about 3 and a half weeks had passed. It was the first week of June. The others, in their excitement over the events of the past week, had accelerated time. He felt like correcting them, but then wondered what the use would be. He didn’t care about the mountain range, didn’t care about Julie, and certainly didn’t think anyone here should care about time. He’d simply been following it too long to easily forget.

Turning his attention back to the group, he found them still talking about the mountain range. Finally he couldn’t listen to them drone on anymore about it, and got up, walking away from the group and the mountains.

It was several moments before anyone realized he was gone. In the end it was Jamie who decided to follow. The other three women figured that there wasn’t any harm in her tracking him down. After all, what sort of trouble should you get into in a world where there was no pain.

Jamie caught up with him fairly quickly.

“Where are you going”, she yelled as soon as she was within range.

“None of your business”, he replied, “Go away”.

“No – you’ve got to tell me what you’re doing. Why don’t you care anymore about the Mountains? Why don’t you participate with the group? A few days ago you came up with that game – that was fun – why don’t we do something like that again?”

“You ask too many questions, Jamie”, Ryan replied.

“I just want to know what’s up with you”, Jamie said strongly.

“Nothing! You know what’s up with everyone here – it’s all the same – Nothing! We sit and we watch stupid mountains all day, or we talk about how what we do impacts Julie. I don’t care about Julie anymore. I didn’t like her when we first got here, and now I just don’t care anymore. I think I’m just going to go insane, and I’d rather go insane alone”.

“If you go insane”, Jamie said slowly, “Then 20 percent of the entire population of this place goes insane. That’s not good for all of us”.

“I don’t care what’s good for all of us – there is no good as far as I’m concerned. Now Go away! Go back to those other crazy women who care too much about things they can’t change. Just leave me be”. Ryan said, as he started walking faster.

“Are you going to come back?”, Jamie said.

“What? Back to the mountains?”, Ryan asked incredulously.

“Yes”, Jamie replied.

“Why should you care?”, Ryan said angrily.

“Because I do – because maybe I’m just as mad as you are, I’m just keeping it together better. Maybe I want to know you’ll be around to balance out things. Will you come back?”, Jamie said. Honestly she didn’t know how much sense she was making. It seemed to her, though, that Ryan, despite being the most ornery and hard to get along with person in the group, still played a vital role.

“Sure, I’ll come back”, Ryan replied as he kept walking.

Jamie wasn’t convinced. Running at him at full speed, she tackled him, taking him down to the ground. As he tried to push her off of him, he found her to be surprisingly strong. Much stronger than a girl her size should be.

“You can’t leave until you promise to return”, she cried.

“FINE – I’m just going to go for a walk, but I need some time ALONE”, he said as she pinned him to the ground.

“OK”, she said, releasing her grasp.

“I’ll be back before tomorrow night”, he said quietly. She didn’t ask him why his walk was going to take that long, and if she had, he wasn’t about to tell her.


 

“I’m back”, Ryan called out.

The others looked up from where they were sitting, surprised to see him in such a good mood.

Jamie ran up and hugged him, Ryan was relieved this time he didn’t end up on the ground.

“Where did you go?”, Mrs. Corum asked.

“I just had to go clear my head”, Ryan revealed with a smile. “I needed to sort some things out”.

“All of us are different”, G-ma said with a grin, “Some of us just need more space than others, I suppose”.

“How’s the mountains”, Ryan said, gesturing up to the peaks above.

“A little more active this morning”, Mrs. Corum replied, “But last night they were really quiet – for a few hours before it dimmed. If those mountains are her activity level, then she’s not doing much far in advance of falling asleep”.

“Maybe she’s sick”, Ryan replied.

The thought hadn’t really crossed the other’s minds, even though it could explain a lot. Since they didn’t see too many differences in the overall world other than the darker than normal sky, they had fixated on something happening to Julie, but not necessarily something on the inside. Thoughts about what she might be doing or feeling emotionally seemed to be their most common theories to explain the inactivity, they hadn’t thought much about the fact she might just be ill.

“I know I don’t move around much when I’m sick”, Ryan replied, “and I feel a little down because of that. Maybe everything is just natural – and she’ll be feeling better soon”.

“Perhaps”, G-ma replied. The group was clearly shocked, once more, than Ryan had some sort of insight into the group that the others hadn’t. He was the most unlikely person to be coming up with these revelations.

“I don’t know what you do on your walks, Ryan, but you seem to really get a lot out of them”, G-ma continued.

Ryan looked at her with a grin

“I guess I never really knew how useful walking and ordering your thoughts could be until I came here. I don’t know how, but a good walk seems to do me wonders”, he replied.

“We all have the things we do to stay happy, or at least to stay sane, dear. I say if you’ve found something that makes you feel better, go for as many walks as you need.

“Don’t worry, I certainly will – just don’t be worried if you don’t see me for a day or two. I’ll always return”. In his mind Ryan knew he would always come back, because despite how he felt when he left the group, for some reason he was always compelled to walk back. He still didn’t quite understand how it all worked, but it was keeping him from starting a giant fight, and from having a giant breakdown. And he had, so far, kept it under control.

Announcing Jon’s National Novel Writing Month 2015 Project: A Serial Novel You Can Read Here!

Several weeks ago I sat with a group of students and asked them to think about all the things they had going on in their lives. I had a list of my own, which numbered around 28 items (The students actually helped me remember a few things I had left off!). We talked about commitment, overcommitment, and trying to avoid commitment. However as evidenced by the fact that you’re reading this prologue and will be reading the subsequent novel, I suspect you know that I was less than successful in my effort to avoid taking on new projects. At precisely the wrong time in my life (as if there is ever a right time), I’ve decided to devote a good chunk of time toward writing this piece of fiction, to be published serially, during National Novel Writing Month, 2015. While it’s not exactly November yet, I did get up this morning with a great idea, and have my 2,000 word outline ready to go.
As part of the fun this year, I’ve decided to publish my novel serially though the blog you’re reading right now. Starting tomorrow, November 1, I’ll be posting a new chapter a day. I’ve got 30 of them outlined that I just have to… you know… write… and I’m excited to share my story with you (Which, as of now, doesn’t have a name… might look for one later today). So get ready for some original work, starting tomorrow morning!

Never Got Game Programming? Check Out This Book!

This last spring and summer I was fortunate enough to work on a great project – I was the technical reviewer for a book by Arjan Egges – “Building JavaScript Games for Phones, Tablets, and Desktops”. As a programmer who never really “got” game programming, I was really excited to see how it was done with a language that I’m pretty familiar with. The examples throughout the book, and the finished demos that you create, are some of the most intricate and well planned apps I’ve seen come out of a “follow-along” type of book (Much better than my own!). If you’re thinking of jumping into game programming, want to develop something cross-platform, and know even the tiniest bit of JS, you’ll love working through the book.