Dinner for Two Video Reading

Video

Fast FoodToday’s a twofer, it looks like, because I spent some time yesterday recording a video I’d like to share with you all here. Now, I admit, the lighting’s terrible, my reading’s unrehearsed, Mr. Kitty (beckoned by my beautiful voice, lol) tries to come into the room about halfway through, and I bungle a word sometime after that (along with countless other little fixes that can be made, which I won’t list here), but it turned out better than I thought it would and I think I’ll be making more in the future.

All that’s to say, Here’s a reading I did of my very short fable Dinner for Two, enjoy, and click here to read along.

Chapter 12: Ellie

Standard

We’re back today with Ellie’s second point of view chapter. Thanks for sticking with us this long, and if you don’t want to wait any longer, don’t forget you can purchase a full copy of the novel on Amazon here.

Ellie McCannik

< XI. Mr. Kitty     [Table of Contents]     XIII. Pardy >

XII. Ellie

She sat in the same booth she had when Gertrude first opened her eyes to the truth of the world only yesterday. The air had the same stale, smoky smell, and most of the same people were there. That is, everyone who was there now was there last time, but not everyone who was there last time was there now. Ugh. Did it really matter? She was just distracting herself from the reality of the situation.

That woman—the Scientist as she like to call herself for some egotistical reason—she was the one who had really given Ellie the opportunity. She had given her more than just an opportunity, though. She had given her responsibility. What else was opportunity but the responsibility to put that privilege to use?

The Scientist had said that she could fulfill Ellie’s desire to see the beach. She looked a little upset when Ellie asked for it, but Ellie didn’t care. She had always promised her son that she would take him to the ocean, and even though he wasn’t alive to see it for himself, she still wanted to hold true to that promise. But would she stay out there forever, or would she come back to help the Scientist fight for freedom?

“Fight for freedom” though? Ptuh. Ellie didn’t even know what that meant. The Scientist wasn’t specific about it, either. But that’s what this meeting was supposed to be about, right? To get the specifics about what she was supposed to do for “the cause”. And they didn’t even know when she was supposed to do whatever it was she was supposed to be doing. It didn’t give her much confidence in the plan she was becoming a part of.

Her beer was getting low and it was a bit past the time she was supposed to be contacted. She swirled the dregs of her drink around and took a small sip, surveying the room again. It was still just the regulars, no one she didn’t recognize. Who would the Scientist send, anyway? They would have to be able to keep a secret to be a part of the Scientist’s organization, so the anonymity of her bar would be protected, but how was she supposed to recognize the person other than the fact that she didn’t recognize them?

She topped off her beer and thought about leaving when the door opened and in came Gertrude, walking like she owned the place. She went straight to the bar and ordered without looking over at Ellie in the corner booth. Maybe she hadn’t seen her.

Ellie walked up behind Gertrude and patted her on the back. “Trudy, friend,” she said. “I thought you said this was a secret you could keep.”

“Of course, sweetheart,” Gertrude said, shrugging her off. “Do you see anyone else here with me?”

“I thought you understood I meant from yourself as well.” Ellie smiled.

“Dear,” Gertrude said, looking into Ellie’s eyes. “I know it.” The bartender set two beers in front of them. “Here. Take this and let’s go to the booth. I’ll explain.”

Ellie took the beer and stared at Gertrude. She let her walk to the booth first, eyeing her every step suspiciously. When they sat down and Gertrude said nothing, Ellie said, “What are you doing here?”

“Oh. Come on, dear,” Gertrude said, waving the question away. “You’re smarter than that. And you don’t dislike me that much, do you? You wouldn’t like to have a beer with your dear friend Trudy every now and again?”

Ellie took a swig. “So you’re the contact.”

Gertrude looked around to make sure no one was listening. “Of course, dear,” she whispered. “The less you know about the organization the better for everyone. That way you know nothing they would want to get out of you, and if they did get it out of you, it’s not enough to take down the entire thing.”

“Get it out of me?” Ellie said, raising an eyebrow.

“Yes, get it out of you. The Scientist did tell you that you’d be risking more than death, didn’t she?”

Ellie hadn’t realized how serious those threats were until Gertrude repeated them. She took a gulp of beer and nodded. “She did.”

“Okay. Then you know what I mean by get it out of you. Are you still willing to go through with it? If you want to walk away, it’s better that you do it now. After you know your mission, you’ll be in considerably more danger.”

Ellie nodded.

“Well then,” Gertrude said. “As it turns out, the operation begins tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow?” Ellie’s faith in the plan dwindled a little further.

“Yes, tomorrow. And you won’t be the only one going through, or coming back. So there’s no leeway on that.”

Ellie nodded.

“Good. You’re scheduled as the only QA worker in our building for tomorrow afternoon. You’ll work your shift as normal—and this is going to be a looong, boring shift, because everyone’ll be at the Christmas Feast—but when the bell rings at the end of it, you have fifteen minutes to visit the destination of your choosing by crawling through the conveyor belt.”

“Fifteen minutes isn—” Ellie said.

After fifteen minutes,” Gertrude cut her off, “the door will close, whichever side of it you’re on. Fifteen minutes isn’t a lo—

“That’s what I’m saying,” Ellie said, taking a drink of her beer.

“Ellie, listen to me. Do you want to do this?”

“Of course I do. But fifteen minutes? That’s not worth—”

“Fifteen minutes is more than most people get, sweetheart. Most people never get to see the other side for their entire life. The other sides, Ellie. There are more than just two.” Gertrude had gotten a little loud so she looked around to see if anyone was listening.

Ellie knew she was right, though. Gertrude was risking herself just to give Ellie a chance that no one she had ever known had ever had. And what was Ellie doing? She was complaining that they weren’t giving her enough time. She could take all the time she wanted, she only had to worry about surviving over there on her own to do that. Who was she to be upset at Gertrude for passing on information, anyway?

“Have you ever seen it?” Ellie asked.

Gertrude shook her head, looked into her glass, and took a sip. “Not yet, dear. No. That’s not the place for me. Nor the job. I’m too set in my ways. I’ll see it when we’re all done here and no sooner.”

“You mean the—errevolution.” The word tasted bad in Ellie’s mouth, it was hard to spit out. She took a sip of beer to get rid of the aftertaste.

“If that’s what you want to call it, dear,” Gertrude said with a smile. “I prefer the struggle. I’ll do my duty until I’m of no more value to the struggle, then maybe I’ll take a gander at that beach of yours. I hear that’s what you’ve chosen. Am I right?”

Ellie blushed. She took a sip of beer. “That’s just a silly old dream we used to have.”

“I hear it’s wonderful.” Gertrude smiled. “The Scientist has told me all about it.”

Ellie looked at her suspiciously. “How much do you know about this Scientist, though?”

Gertrude looked around again then leaned in close to whisper her answer. “That one is an enigma. Hardest person to find gossip on that I’ve ever met. No one knows much of anything about her. Though there are stories. Rumors mostly. But they’re all so outlandish it’s hard to believe any of them.”

“But she can control where the conveyor belts let out,” Ellie said. “I know we don’t send stacks of bacon and eggs to the beach. So she can—she can change where it goes or whatever. Like teleportation or something.”

“It’s the same way the elevators work, dear,” Gertrude said, shrugging. “She can control and direct those, too. There’s no denying her knowledge or power. It’s her intentions and history that I have a hard time getting my grasp on.”

“But you trust her,” Ellie said. “You think she’s doing the right thing.”

“If I could be said to know anything about what she’s doing, I would say it’s the right thing. She’s never hesitated to answer any of my questions—well, she’s answered most of them—and she’s shown me things you would never believe. I’ve known her for a long time now, and I’ve never seen her do anything but the right thing. So, yeah, I guess you could say I do trust her.”

Ellie took a sip of beer. “Now I just have to decide if I trust you.”

Gertrude laughed. “And I you.”

Ellie realized again that Gertrude was putting just as much faith into her as she was putting into Gertrude. It was a mutual dependency, a mutual distrust. “What is it I have to do to earn this opportunity, then?”

“Oh. No no, dear,” Gertrude said, shaking her head. “It’s not like that. The Scientist asks that I’m as clear as I can be on that point. This isn’t a payment you’re making. This is another option you have. It’s an opportunity, not a requirement.”

“So I could just go and sit fifteen minutes with my toes in the sand and come back to my normal life with no problems at all?”

“With no problems from the Scientist. And she’d do everything she could to make sure you had no problems from anyone else, either.”

“Everything she could?”

“She’d cover your digital trail. Everything else would be up to you.”

“Digital trail?” Gertrude seemed to be talking in code.

“Security recordings and conveyor belt logs and all that,” Gertrude said, waving her hands. “The things the protectors would use to find you. I don’t know.”

“And if I stayed on the beach for longer than fifteen minutes?”

“You’d be on your own.”

Ellie shook her head. “What’s my third option?”

“Help us in our concerted attack on the system that prevents any other worker from visiting the same beach you’re visiting.”

Ellie took a swig of beer. She didn’t know what help she could be in something that sounded so militaristic, but she was intrigued. “Concerted attack?”

“Like I said, you won’t be the only one going through. Not even close. We’ve been planning this maneuver for months. That’s why it’s so easy to get you across unnoticed. Their security will be preoccupied.”

“But what part am I supposed to take in all this?” Ellie still didn’t think she had any valuable skills.

“It’s simple. You take these.” Gertrude set a pouch on the table. “Each one is a little disc with a red button. You take the paper backing off, stick each disc to each door in your hall, and press the red buttons to activate them. After that, you have ten minutes to get out of the building or you’ll be there when they…blow up.” She whispered the last two words.

Blow up?” Ellie whisper-yelled back.

“They’re,” Gertrude looked around the bar to make sure no one was eavesdropping, “explosives.”

“Explosives!” Ellie said too loudly.

Gertrude laughed unnaturally loudly herself in response. “Ha ha ha! Yes! An explosive drink that one. I’ll order two.” She slapped her hand on the table and stood to go to the bar.

Explosives? The Scientist wanted her to blow up the QA hall. That was her “opportunity”. What kind of opportunity ended with her destroying her workplace, her entire means of existence? That was no opportunity. That was payment. That was stupid. Why would anyone ever agree to it? The Scientist should have come out with that from the beginning. No. She wouldn’t do it. Especially if she could go spend fifteen minutes on the beach and come back to her normal life either way.

But what kind of life was that? Working for the people who had killed her son until she could find some other way to get back at them. Well here was a way to get her revenge right now.

Gertrude sat back at the booth with two tiny glasses. She set one in front of Ellie. “Cheers,” she said, holding up her own tiny glass.

“What is it?”

“A fireball,” Gertrude said with a shrug. “I don’t know what it is. I just had to get something explosive. Now tap my glass and take the shot.”

Ellie picked up the tiny thing, tapped it against Gertrude’s, and downed its contents in one gulp. Living up to its name, it burned all the way down her throat and made a fireball in her stomach. “Explosive,” she choked out.

“Now this is the best you can do for us on such short notice, dear,” Gertrude said, unphased by her own fireball. “It requires no training, and it goes a long way to furthering our multi-prong approach. And I know what you’re thinking, but you won’t lose your job over it. They’ll just move you to another hall to do your work. The Scientist, dear, she already took care of it. I made sure. I work in the same building, you know. And if you do lose it, she’ll see to it that you’re taken care of anyway. She lives up to her word, Ellie. Trust me.”

“But only if I do this for her,” Ellie said. “If I set the bombs and blow the place up.”

“There won’t be any people there, dear. It’s just a building we’ll destroy, a tool they use to oppress us. And I told you, she’ll take care of you whether you set the discs or not. This is all up to you now, remember. It’s your choice. You can go and live on the beach forever, or visit the beach and come back to your normal life, or visit the beach and do something to stop them from preventing anyone else’s seeing it. Whatever you decide, the Scientist supports you and she’ll do everything she can to help.”

“This sounds too good to be true,” Ellie said, shaking her head.

“It is too good to be true. But it’s also true. You have the discs now. And you have the timing. That timing’s strict, do you understand? That’s the one aspect you have no control over. There’s no helping that.”

“So her power’s not endless,” Ellie said.

“No one’s is.” Gertrude shook her head.

“And that’s it, then?”

“That’s it. Until tomorrow. And remember to work your entire shift as normal. Security won’t be down until after that.”

“How will I let you know if I did it?”

Gertrude laughed. “We’ll know, dear. It should be obvious when we try to go back to work in the morning, don’t you think?”

Ellie couldn’t help but chuckle at herself. “Yeah,” she said. “I guess you’re right about that. As long as I do it right.”

“I wouldn’t worry about that.” Gertrude smiled. “It’s simplified. Easier than work on an assembly line. Just rip, stick, press, rip, stick, press. You do that, you have twenty five minutes after the end of your shift to get out. You can’t mess it up.”

Ellie finished her beer. She noticed Gertrude’s had been empty for some time. She was going to say something about it when Gertrude cut her off before she could get started. “You need anything else, dear?” she said. “I’ve got the family to see back home, it being the holidays and all.”

Ellie was confused. She thought Gertrude had lost everyone. That was supposed to be why she had gotten her pity promotion. She wanted to stop her and ask about it, but she knew the feeling of not wanting to be where you were, so she settled for one last question. “With all the work you do, and all the danger you put yourself in, do you—Is it worth it?”

Gertrude smiled. She looked into Ellie’s eyes, but she looked through her, not at her, seeing something else. She eventually nodded and said, “Yes, dear. It’s the only thing that I’ve ever found worth doing. I never feel like I’m doing anything wholly moral unless I’m working to move the struggle forward.”

“I hope you’re right.” Ellie shrugged.

Gertrude stood from the table. “Me, too, dear,” she said. “Me, too. Now don’t forget your pouch. If someone finds that, the Scientist may not be able to protect you. Have a good night, too. And have a great Christmas, whatever you decide to do. If you need somewhere to enjoy the holiday, don’t be afraid to stop by, dear. Here’s my address.” She set a slip of paper on the table next to the pouch

“Thanks, Trudy,” Ellie said, putting the address and the pouch in her pocket, careful not to press any of the buttons on the discs inside. “You have a good Christmas, too.” She didn’t think she’d be visiting the old lady, but she did appreciate the gesture.

“I will, dear,” Gertrude said. “Bye.” She waved as she left.

Ellie sat staring at her empty glass, deciding between getting another here or drinking one at home. Ugh. Why did Gertrude have to be such a nice, likeable, good person? It was so much easier to hate her for what she appeared to be than to truly get to understand who she was. But now that Ellie was starting to know who she was, it was impossible to hate her. It was impossible not to see her as an omen of the future, too. An omen of Ellie’s own future.

She never thought she was being moral unless she was furthering the struggle. What was that? Was she being pious or honest? Was she lording superiority or offering her actual opinion?

Ellie shook her head. No. Gertrude was helping. She was saying what she honestly believed. Ellie was taking out her frustration over the decision she had to make on Gertrude. She needed a drink to settle her nerves, and she didn’t want to stay out in public with a pouch full of bombs in her pocket, so she decided that going home was the best option.

When she looked up from her glass, the bar was empty except for her and the bartender. She brought her glass to the bar and thanked him, then headed out into the cool, dark air.

The street was just as empty as the bar. Everyone was home with their families, even Gertrude. Trudy. There was an elevator between Ellie and home, but the cool air and exercise was welcome, so she decided to walk down Elysian instead of taking the shortcut.

What was morality anyway? Nothing. Anything. Whatever you made of it. Gertrude thought the struggle was moral. The Scientist did too, probably. And her classes and church had taught Ellie that toil was moral, work was honorable. But what did they have to say about the price she had paid?

Nothing.

What was moral? That was a hard question to answer, no doubt. But she did know what wasn’t moral. She knew the way they worked and toiled to produce things they would never see was immoral. She knew the loss of life for that production was immoral. She knew those things were wrong, but what was right?

Fighting against that had to be right, didn’t it? Fighting against the immoral, righting wrongs. How could that not be moral? How could it be?

She groaned and wished she had taken the elevator. She needed that beer now more than ever, and two blocks was still too far. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught the sight of a small, dark form, running along beside her to sit down directly in her path and meow.

“Git!” she yelled, stomping to shoo it away.

The cat ran a little further down the street and meowed again.

“What do you want? I don’t have any food.”

The cat waited until she got a few steps away then ran off ahead again. When it got to Ellie’s apartment, it rubbed its face on the door jamb as if it knew she were going in that one.

Ellie kicked it away when she got there. “Shoo,” she said as she opened the door, but the cat ran through her legs and up the first flight of stairs.

“You’re not coming with me,” she said, climbing up after it. “And now you’re locked inside.” She chuckled.

When she got almost to the top of each flight, the cat ran up to the next. It licked itself a few times, and ran up to the next, licked itself as she climbed, then ran up to the next, all the way to the top floor where Ellie lived.

She got out her key and unlocked the door then turned to the cat and laughed. “See,” she said. “You’re not coming in. Now git!”

She slipped through the door as quickly as she could and slammed it shut, ensuring the cat couldn’t follow her. Satisfied, she carefully slipped the pouch out of her pocket and set it on her dresser. With a sigh, she crossed back to the fridge to get a beer—her last one—then collapsed onto the bed.

This was her home. One room and a bathroom. Her bed was on the same wall as the door, and when you walked in, you walked straight into the fridge. There was room enough between the fridge and the bed to walk, but not to open the fridge all the way. On the other side of the fridge was the door to the bathroom. The dresser was at the foot of the bed, and the last wall had a counter with two stove tops and a sink. She took it all in, sighed deep, and sipped her beer, staring at the pouch on her dresser.

There went her long weekend. At least she would still get Monday off. Or she could be sitting on the beach, fishing for food, and sleeping under the stars, instead of sitting in this tiny room. Could she do that?

Could she set bombs in the QA hall and blow the place to bits? That she thought she could do. She wouldn’t feel great about it, a little vindicated maybe, and it would never bring her son back. They would probably never even know it was her who did it, but then she could at least say that she had done something, changed something, affected something. And it’s not like anyone would be hurt. It would be a few halls, one building. That’s it.

But that wasn’t it. There was a concerted effort. She was just a piece in a bigger strategy. A pawn? No. Pawns didn’t have a choice. Did she have a choice, though? Gertrude had made it sound like she did, but she made it sound like she didn’t, too. She was full of contradictions. This entire thing was. Ellie’s understanding of it was continuously in flux. She wasn’t sure if Gertrude was a senile old lady, not worth the time of day, or a wise old soul, sent to guide her on the path to morality.

Pffft. Here came morality again, creeping its ugly head into the conversation. There was no morality. Even if there was, no one cared. Morality only works if it’s reciprocal. Unless others are moral, you have no room to be. Then again, if no one is ever moral, then no one will ever be moral. Another contradiction. What came first, morality or the moral?

She took a big swig. Moral didn’t matter. What mattered was what she was going to do. Gertrude’s morality had no bearing on that. Gertrude and the Scientist had done all that they could to get her there, now it was up to her to walk through the door.

She sighed again, but this time it was a sigh of relief. Tomorrow she would finally see the beach, she would bury her feet in the sand, feel the breeze on her face, and on top of that, she would throw a wrench in their machine on her way out. She took another swig and caught some movement out of the corner of her eye. There on her counter, rubbing its face on her sink faucet, was the black cat from outside.

“How did you get in here?” she said, opening the door and going around the bed to shoo it out. “How did you even get in here?” She stomped her feet, but the cat stayed under the bed. “Get out. Git!” she yelled as she stuck her hand under the bed to shoo it out the door. “And stay out!” She jumped over onto the bed to slam the door closed.

Stupid thing. That was strange. But the bed was so comfortable. She might as well try to catch a few winks.

#   #   #

It was somehow harder to wake up on Sunday than on any other day of the week, even though she normally woke earlier. But she was no stranger to doing what she had to do, and so she did it.

It was harder to wake up, but the commute to work was easier to balance it out. The streets were barren, there was no line at the elevator, and the entire building was empty of employees. She checked her pocket to make sure the pouch was there as her footsteps echoed magnificently in the emptiness of the halls. She almost thought that, without all the angry employees standing around and gossiping, this place might not be half as bad as it normally was. But then she got behind the conveyor belt, expecting her normal beginning of the shift burst of work to get her warmed up for the rest of the day, and after five or ten minutes, the burst still hadn’t come.

Gertrude had told her this was going to be a long shift, that everyone would be at the Christmas Feast. That meant that whoever it was that usually got their things through her conveyor belt wasn’t in their normal place. Instead, they were at some Feast. Feast? What did Feast even mean? A Christmas party? No. It had to mean more than that. Most of what came through the conveyor belts was food, and cooking utensils, and clothes. The only place people needed all those at once was at home. So it went to someone’s home. Or a store. A store that sells all three things? If you can, why not sell anything? But no. Eggs and bacon and pans and clothes together? Someone was cooking and getting dressed. It had to be a house.

Ugh. She had gone through all of this before. She already knew it was a house. She still had no idea what a Feast was. She was still as ignorant as ever. But not for too much longer, now. Soon she’d experience the beach.

She patted the pouch in her pocket. Would she lay the bombs? Yes. Of course she would. She knew she wanted revenge, and here was just that. Or some small piece of it, at least. But could she do more?

Gertrude thought she could. Gertrude thought it was moral to do so. Why did she keep going back to Gertrude’s morality? Because Gertrude gave her this opportunity, and she owed the old lady something for it. Because Gertrude reminded her of herself in the future. Because Gertrude was kind and tried to help. But that’s why she was going to set the bombs, right? That was her payment, even though Gertrude said it wasn’t. Yes, tha—

The bell rang. Ellie jumped. The screen said cat food. Cat food? A bowl came rolling through and out the other side. Apparently someone was still at home. And now they had cat food.

Ellie stared at the conveyor belt for a while longer, waiting for another quick burst of work, but nothing came. This was going to be a long shift. Gertrude’s words echoed through her mind again, setting her off on the same line of thoughts she went over earlier.

#   #   #

She had no more idea what she was going to do when the final bell rang than when she had sat down for her shift. The cat food was the only thing that came through the entire time, and she thought she was going to die by the end of it, but the last bell went off, she looked at the screen to make sure it wasn’t more work, and when she saw nothing, she realized it was time to decide.

She felt for the pouch in her pocket. It was still there. She thought about going to set the bombs so she didn’t have to come back after she had seen the beach, but she didn’t know how long it would take to set them all, and she wanted to make sure the beach was really there before she did anything.

She climbed up over the railing and stood on the conveyor belt. She had always wanted to be there, and had often imagined herself seeing “Ellie” on the screen then making sure it was her who went through. She laughed a little, then remembered where she was and that she had a time limit.

She crouched down and tried to see as far into the “in” port as she could now that she had a better perspective. All she could see was darkness, even from there. She tried to reach into it, but her hand met a cold, hard door.

She turned to peer through the other side and there was light coming through, and a cool breeze, and the scent of salt water and fish. The beach.

She crawled on hands and knees through the “out” port onto soft sand. She couldn’t believe her eyes, or her skin, as she stood with some difficulty. Before her was a short stretch of white sand with the deep blue tide beating and beating against the shore in some absurd attempt to reach dry land. She dug her feet into the smooth, fine pebbles and brushed her hair—which had been blown into her face by a cool ocean breeze—out of the way, smiling like she hadn’t smiled since her son had gone. Since Levi had gone. He would have loved to see this, to feel it, to smell it. She fell down on her knees in the sand and started to weep.

She was here. This was it. The one promise she had made to Levi and she had fulfilled it too late. It wasn’t enough. Fifteen minutes wasn’t enough. She had to take it all in, experience all of it. She had to do it for him. She knew it. This was moral. Keeping her promises. But she couldn’t stay here without paying the price. She owed it to Gertrude and the Scientist. She had to keep her promises to them as well.

She struggled to her feet and stared out again at the endless water and the endless sky. She almost wanted to forget the bombs entirely.

Helloooo!” a voice called from down the beach. A figure far away made its way through the tide toward her. “Hey! Did the Scientist send you, too?”

Ellie was going to ignore the person, but hearing the Scientist’s name intrigued her. Plus, as he came closer, he didn’t look like any threat she couldn’t handle.

“Hello! Do you hear me?” he called when he was close enough that she obviously did.

“Yes,” Ellie said. “Yes and yes. Who are you?”

“Oh. Ho ho.” The man chuckled. “Just a worker. Just like you. I asked for the beach. You asked for the beach. There’s only so much beach—and a lot less of it that we can be on without anyone knowing.”

Ellie tried to count how long she had been through the door already. It could have been five minutes, it could have been ten. “I don’t have much time left,” she said

“Much time? Ha ha! You’re going back? Are you crazy?”

“No. I—I didn’t pay my debt. I need to before I can—”

“Oh, ho ho, child. There’s not much time now. You better forget about that. You’re already out here, why don’t you just stay? Otherwise you might not get the chance to come back.”

“No,” Ellie said, shaking her head. “I can’t.”

“You don’t really have a choice, you know. Your time’s runn—”

He kept talking, but Ellie wasn’t listening. She crawled back through the conveyor belt, and his voice disappeared behind her.

She jumped down off the belt and the floor felt so much harder after the softness of the sand. How much time did she have left? She sprinted out the door, slammed it shut, jerked the pouch out of her pocket, and fumbled through it for one of the discs. She didn’t know what to do with the pouch while she set the bomb so she dropped it on the floor.

Rip, stick, press? Rip, stick, press? As if.

The paper backing on the disc was impossible to get off. It took ten, fifteen attempts, especially with her hand shaking at the fear of missing her time limit. She finally got it off, stuck the disc on the door, and pressed the button which turned green and displayed a little clock counting down from thirteen.

Thirteen minutes? Fifteen minutes at the beach, ten minutes to set the bombs and get out of the building. She looked up and down the hall. She could place some, but not all, of them if she wanted to make it back to the beach before the door closed. She had to set as many as she could.

She scooped up the pouch and tied it to her belt loop, jogging to the next door. It only took five tries to rip the paper backing off before she could stick and press. She pulled a disc out and started on it on her way to the next door when she got into a rhythm.

Rip, stick, press.

Run.

Rip, stick, press.

Run.

She watched the timer closely as she activated each one. Eleven and a half minutes, the clock said, and that’s all the time she had.

She sprinted down the hall, back into her workroom, and jumped up onto the conveyor belt. She could still feel the cool breeze and smell the fish and salt. She even looked forward to getting to know whoever it was that waited on the other side of the door. She looked down at her cubicle one last time, never would she have to see it again.

“Hurry,” she heard from inside the “out” port.

She dropped to her knees and crawled toward the beach, only to hit her head on a cold, metal door.

#   #   #

< XI. Mr. Kitty     [Table of Contents]     XIII. Pardy >

Thanks again for reading along. I hope to see you back again next Saturday and throughout the week. And don’t forget, the full novel is available through here.

Kurt Vonnegut on the Shapes of Stories and 8 Basics of Creative Writing

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Today’s post appeared here originally.

This is one that I’m sure most of the writers on reddit have seen, but it’s worth a rehash nonetheless. The best place to start on Vonnegut’s shapes of stories, I think, is from the man himself, so here he is talking about his literary theory in video format.

If you don’t like to watch videos (I don’t either, but you should watch this one. It’s short, and he’s a great speaker.), you can check out this infographic with the same information.

Kurt Vonnegut's shapes of stories

Here I’d like to add something that only comes up in the comments of the original /r/writing self post, thanks to /u/kyle_albasi. That is the conclusion of the above talk, found in Vonnegut’s almost memoir A Man Without a Country, where Vonnegut says:

But there’s a reason we recognize Hamlet as a masterpiece: it’s that Shakespeare told us the truth, and people so rarely tell us the truth in this rise and fall here [indicates blackboard]. The truth is, we known so little about life, we don’t really know what the good news is and what the bad news is. And if I die-God forbid- I would like to go to heaven and ask somebody in charge up there ‘Hey! What was the good news and what was the bad news?!

Next, I’ll leave you with Vonnegut’s eight basics of creative writing. For everyone who hates the structures, models, and rules I’ve been posting, I think it’s especially important to pay attention to Vonnegut’s addendum after rule eight. Here they are:

Kurt Vonnegut created some of the most outrageously memorable novels of our time, such as Cat’s CradleBreakfast Of Champions, and Slaughterhouse Five. His work is a mesh of contradictions: both science fiction and literary, dark and funny, classic and counter-culture, warm-blooded and very cool. And it’s all completely unique.

With his customary wisdom and wit, Vonnegut put forth 8 basics of what he calls Creative Writing 101:

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

The greatest American short story writer of my generation was Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964). She broke practically every one of my rules but the first. Great writers tend to do that.

From the preface to Vonnegut’s short story collection Bagombo Snuff Box.

And if that wasn’t enough, here’s a PDF with a set of eight other rules from Vonnegut on how to write in style.

I hope this was of some assistance. Thanks for joining us, and see you again next Thursday with more writing tips.

[Click here for more writing advice for beginners.]

They Speak of Left and Right

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They speak of left and right
While we move in so many dimensions.
Ha! we say.
Ha!
Who are you?
Who are you who would deny us this freedom?
Left and right?
Left and right?
Up. Down. Front. Back. Earlier. Later.
We are all of them.
We are ALL.
Who are you?
Who are you?
We are ALL.
We are all of them.
Up. Down. Front. Back. Earlier. Later.
Left and right?
Left and right?
Who are you who would deny us this freedom?
Who are you?
Ha!
Ha! we say.
While we move in so many dimensions,
They speak of left and right.

Chapter 11: Mr. Kitty

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Today brings us Mr. Kitty’s second chapter, marking the halfway point of the novel. I hope you’ve all enjoyed it so far and continue to join us in the future as we reach the conclusion of The Asymptote’s Tail. And remember, if you don’t want to wait the ten weeks that’ll still take, you can order a full copy of the novel (in paperback or eBook format) on Amazon through this link.

Enjoy, and happy Saturday.

Mr. Kitty< X. Russ   [Table of Contents]   XII. Ellie >

XI. Mr. Kitty

He was dreaming about a fat, juicy pigeon. The kind that was stupid enough not to fly away as long as he moved in short bursts, stopping for a moment in between. Humans the pigeons understood. It was easy to tell when a human came barreling down the sidewalk toward you, all eyes on their destination, no thought to spare for the stupid birds flapping about. But Mr. Kitty would slink a little closer and stop, slink a little closer and stop, each time going a different distance or speed, or stopping in between for a different amount of time. It was that erraticism, that randomness, which kept the pigeons unsure of how long they had to scrape for food before it was time to fly away or be torn to bits and eaten alive. He was shaking his tail, gathering his haunches, about to pounce on a particularly plump pigeon when the sound of Tillie rushing into the spare room and slamming the door behind her woke him from his nap with a jump.

Tillie didn’t even notice him. She threw her purse on the chair and plopped down onto the bed. Mr. Kitty walked over to knead her lap, but as he put his first paw on her, she flung him off, locked the bedroom door, then sat back on the bed with her head in her hands, sobbing.

“What’s wrong?” Mr. Kitty meowed.

“Un. Seen. Hand,” Tillie said. “Unseen Hand, Unseen Hand, Unseen Haaaaand,” she moaned. “I can’t believe I did that. What did I just do? Why would I just do what that woman told me to do? I don’t even know her. Unseen Hand, Unseen Hand, Unseen Haaand.”

“Tell me,” Mr. Kitty meowed, jumping onto her lap. “Maybe I can help.”

“Oh. Mr. Kitty, I’m sorry,” she said, petting his head and starting to cry again. “I didn’t mean to take it out on you. It’s just not fair.”

Mr. Kitty purred.

“I mean, what am I supposed to do about it?” Tillie complained. “Who am I? You saw what they did to Russ when he almost outed them, and he’s a huge star. Imagine what they’d do to me if they ever found out what I did. What did I do? Unseen Hand, what did I do?”

Mr. Kitty tried to roll over on his back in her lap and show her his belly to make her feel better, but the phone rang, and she jumped up to grab it out of her purse, pushing him down onto the floor. She stared wide-eyed at the screen, then sighed in relief and answered it.

“Shelley,” she said. “Unseen Hand. You’re never gonna believe this. I have to—You have to come see me right now.”

“No, Shelley. No.”

“Because I can’t leave my house right now. That’s why.”

“No, look. No. I’m not—No. It’s not a prank.”

“I can’t tell you over the phone or I would have told you already.”

“Yes! The Hand. Just come over already.”

“Good. I’ll see you soon.”

Tillie hung up the phone, sat back down, and scooped Mr. Kitty up. “Ugh. I’m sorry again Kitty. I suck. I’m just—I’m a little on edge right now, you know. I—Well…I did something kind of stupid and reckless, and I might be in danger because of it. But what am I talking about? You wouldn’t let anyone hurt me. Would you, Mister Kitty?

Mr. Kitty purred in response.

No,” she said in her baby voice. “I know you wouldn’t. You sweet wittle fing you.” The doorbell rang. Tillie stood up, pushing Mr. Kitty onto the floor for the third time, and crept over to the bedroom door. She turned the deadbolt as quietly as she could and cracked the door to peek through with one eye.

Tiiilllliie! Doorbell!” her dad called from the living room.

She didn’t answer. Mr. Kitty tried to push his way through her legs, but she scooted him back with her foot, so he sat on the floor behind her and licked himself.

“Tillie, honey!” her dad called. “Can you get that? I’m in the middle of a game!”

The doorbell rang again.

“I’m in the bathroom, dad!” Tillie called back. “It’ll be a minute! Can’t you?”

With one more ring and a groan, her dad called, “Alright!” then walked slowly backwards out of the living room, trying not to miss any bit of the game. When he had gotten far enough into the hall that he couldn’t see the TV anymore, he turned to the door straight away and opened it.

Mr. Kitty could tell that Tillie was holding her breath, even from his view sitting under her feet. She only let go of it when her dad stepped aside to let Shelley in. Then she opened the bedroom door and went right out to them. “Thanks, dad,” she said. “Sorry. Had to wash my hands, you know.”

“Of course, darling,” her dad said, getting back to his game in the living room. “You and your friend feel free to order anything from the printer,” he said with a wave, not looking at them.

Oooh, I think I’ll have—” Shelley started, but Tillie grabbed her arm and dragged her back into the room where Mr. Kitty was waiting. She tossed Shelley on the bed, then closed and locked the door behind them.

“Dang, girl!” Shelley said, sitting up. “You do not want to get physical with me. Don’t make me remind you how you know.”

“Okay,” Tillie said. “Okay okay. I’m sorry, Shelley. I’m sorry.”

“That’s right you are,” Shelley said, shaking her head. “Here you are sittin pretty with your in-house printer, and your dad offers me one thing and…what? You drag me into the spare room, lock the door, and fling me on the bed. Girl, are you crazy? I mean, do you know what a 3D printer does? Do you know what he was offering me? Of course you do. What am I talking about? You have one you can use any time.”

“Yeah, Shelley,” Tillie said. “I do know how a printer works. That’s the entire reason I asked you to come here in the first place. Do you know how a printer works?”

Uh, yeah.” Shelley scoffed. “Of course I do. You tell it what you want and it gives it to you. Everyone knows that.”

“But where does it come from, Shelley?” Tillie said with a sigh. “I’m not asking if you know how to operate a printer. A baby could operate a printer. I’m asking if you know how they work.”

Mr. Kitty jumped up onto Shelley’s lap. He rubbed his head on her arm and meowed to say that it was okay for her to admit that she didn’t know.

“I don’t—” She pet Mr. Kitty on the head. “You’re not making any sense, Tillie.”

“It’s simple,” Tillie said. “Where do the things that the printer gives you come from?”

“They come from the printer,” Shelley said with a shrug. “Where else?”

“The printer just makes them out of thin air?”

“No,” Shelley said. “I—It rearranges the atoms or something. I don’t know. That’s elementary school science, Tillie. How am I supposed to remember?”

“Right,” Tillie said. “Okay. So that’s what the school system teaches us, right. That the printers rearrange atoms. But if that were the case, then why would we need assembly line workers?”

“But we don’t have assembly line workers,” Shelley said with a smile. She thought she had gotten Tillie with that one. “We have robots.”

“Then why do we have the robots?” Tillie said, standing up and getting close to Shelley, towering over her. Shelley was leaning so far back on the bed to get away from her that Mr. Kitty was sitting on her stomach instead of her lap.

Shelley guided him off so she could scootch around Tillie and stand up herself. “I don’t know, Tillie,” she said. “But if you only invited me over here to yell at me and demean me, then I might as well leave.”

She made for the door, but Tillie stopped her. “No,” she said. “Don’t go. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to—I’m just really stressed right now.” She sat down on the bed with a bounce, and Mr. Kitty jumped onto her lap to purr.

“I can see that, girl,” Shelley said, sitting beside them and patting Tillie’s back. “Tell Sister Shelley what’s bothering you. She’ll make it all better.”

“I—I don’t know if you can,” Tillie said. Moisture welled up behind her eyes, and Mr. Kitty purred louder.

“Oh, I know I can, honey,” Shelley said, snapping her fingers. “Just tellin me’ll make you feel better. I guarantee it.”

Tillie chuckled and smiled. “Like the commercial.”

“Who say, I say, I say, let em have it…with nooo problem. I guar—un—tee!” they sang in unison then laughed together.

“Shelley,” Tillie said when they were over their laughter. “I did something stupid.”

“Well, who hasn’t, girl?” Shelley said. “Spit it out.”

“No, Shelley,” Tillie said, looking at her lap. “I mean, this—this was really stupid. And dangerous.”

Shelley smiled. “What’d you do, girl? Got a little wasted at the bar? Did you cut in line at the elevator?” She lowered her voice as if someone was listening. “Did you have unprotected sex?”

Tillie scoffed and pushed her away. “No. Ugh. No! Nothing that bad. Except. Maybe it was worse.” She kind of half-grinned and half-frowned. “I don’t know, Shelley. I shouldn’t have brought it up. You’re never going to believe me if I tell you anyway.”

Shelley shook her head. “No, girl. Uh uh. C’mon now. We’re sisters for life. Every secret safe and every word spoken true. You know the deal, sweetheart. We pinky promised, and swapped spit, and pricked our fingers to mix blood. There’s no breaking those vows. So tell me what you have to say and I’ll trust it entirely, and keep it secret until my grave.”

“You can’t tell anyone,” Tillie said. “I mean no one.”

“Cross my heart,” Shelley said, crossing her heart. “You know I won’t. Have I told anyone about—”

“Alright,” Tillie said, stopping her from bringing up any of a number of embarrassing stories. “Alright alright. I believe you. But I may be putting you in danger by telling you.”

“Shoot, girl. Ain’t no one gonna know but your cat here, and he won’t put me in any danger. Will he? Will you?” She squeezed his cheek.

“No,” Mr. Kitty meowed.

“Yeah. I guess you’re right,” Tillie said. She took a deep breath to gather herself. “Well I—It all started when I saw that episode of Logo’s Show. Did you see it?”

“Girl, you know I watch every episode,” Shelley said. “Which one you talkin about?”

“I’m talking about the most recent episode, the show that was cut short.”

Awww shoot. Yeah, girl. What was that? They played some rerun from last Christmas instead. As if I wanted to see Christmas reruns. That’s what the Christmas Rerun Marathon is for.”

“Right,” Tillie said. “But didn’t you wonder why they cut it short?”

“Well, he couldn’t finish the show, girl.” Shelley scoffed. “Obviously.”

“But why couldn’t he?” Tillie said, losing control again. “This is just like the 3D printer discussion!”

“I don’t know, girl!” Shelley said, standing again. “Why?”

Tillie took a few deep breaths and patted Mr. Kitty on the head. “I’m sorry. But if you had seen what I saw…Shelley. You know the assembly lines.”

“The robot assembly lines?”

“No, Shelley. Yes. But no. I’m saying—I’m saying printers don’t rearrange matter and the assembly lines aren’t worked by robots.”

Pfft.” Shelley scoffed. “Sure, girl,” she said, nudging Tillie and laughing. “Then where does everything come from?”

“From people, Shelley. Human beings work on the assembly lines. They make everything we order from the printers.”

Shelley laughed. She shook her head. “I don’t know, girl. That sounds ridiculous. How could humans make things instantly when we order them?”

Tillie frowned. “They don’t make it when we order it. They make huge supplies of everything so it’s ready before we order it. Anyway, I thought you said you’d believe me.”

Ooooh, girl.” Shelley shook her head. “I did say that, but I wasn’t expecting this. I mean, you’re telling me that everything I’ve ever been taught is wrong. How am I supposed to believe that?”

“You said you would. And I’m telling the truth. I met with one of the workers, Shelley. I’ve talked to them. They’re real.”

“What are you talking about?” Shelley said, waving her arms and shaking her head. She seemed to be getting as frustrated with the conversation as Tillie was. “How?”

“I don’t know. I saw this photo on my dad’s computer, then I started looking into it, and before I knew it, I was taking the elevator to the library, and I ended up at some woman’s house instead.”

“A woman’s house?” Shelley said, raising an eyebrow.

“I don’t know, Shelley,” Tillie said with a sigh. “She told me how to meet with one of them, and I followed her directions, and I saw him. He told me that they work every day for twelve hours, and they get just enough money to make it to the next week, and they have no choice but to work from the time they’re old enough to hold a broom or they’ll starve. He said they made everything we get out of our printers, and they teleport it to us when we order it. Shelley, they do all that so we can have what we have.”

Shelley shook her head and made for the door. Mr. Kitty jumped out of Tillie’s lap and onto the ground, searching for an escape. “No,” Shelley said. “I don’t believe it. Why are you telling me all this? If you didn’t want me to use your printer you should have just said so. But this? This is ridiculous.”

“No, Shelley,” Tillie said. “Why would I care about that? I need help. We have to stop this.”

“Stop it? Ha! Stop what? You’re delirious. I’m out of here. Get back to me when you’re feeling better.”

“No, Shelley. Stop!”

Shelley left the room and Mr. Kitty followed her. Tillie hurried out to stop her before she got through the front door. “Shelley!” she called. “Shelley, wait!”

Shelley stopped, sighed, and turned around. Mr. Kitty didn’t stop, though. He was tired of listening to them. He’d figure out what Tillie meant to do about it later. For now he had to get out of the house. He had been caged up like a human for too long and he needed to stretch his legs a bit.

The house had a big yard, and it was only a short walk from there to the public elevator system. Mr. Kitty took his time slinking through the garden along the yard’s metal fence, rubbing his face on every hard stick he passed, smelling every other plant, even taking a bite or two out of a few pieces of grass—important for his digestion. He was so lost in the smells and colors that the sound of Shelley’s feet coming down the walkway toward him made him jump. She went one way down the sidewalk, toward the elevator entrance, and he went the other, toward his favorite tree to climb.

He stopped at the base of the tree to sharpen his claws on its roots. He loved the sound it made when his claws sank into the wood, and the feeling as they caught in the meat of the root which could only give way under the brute force of his animal strength. He gathered his haunches and zipped up to the first fat branch overlooking the neighborhood. None of the houses looked like they belonged next to each other with their extreme shifts in architecture and landscaping, but one thing they all had in common was that they were all huge and all set on a lot of land. Mr. Kitty pitied them down there, trapped in their houses, stuck in their web of sidewalks. They had access to more knowledge than most humans Mr. Kitty knew, but somehow they understood the least about the world.

A sound of talking from above caught his attention. He recognized the voices. Those two kids were closer to freedom than anyone in the houses below him—except for maybe Tillie, who was making strides. He really liked those kids, too. They didn’t give up. They deserved a little reward for their perseverance, and he was in the position to give just that to them. He climbed up to the branch he was looking for and jumped into the air, gliding out where it looked like there was nothing to land on. He ended up landing on Pidgeon’s lap.

“The cat!” the other kid said, standing on the branch.

“Mr. Kitty!” Pidgeon said. “Where’d you come from?”

“Where’d it come from?” the other kid said.

“Settle down,” Pidgeon said. “He’s not going anywhere. Look at him.”

Mr. Kitty kneaded Pidgeon’s lap and purred. The other kid sat down, holding out a hand for Mr. Kitty to sniff, it smelled a bit like rat, a not altogether undelicious smell.

“I’m Ansel,” the kid said. “Where’d you come from?”

“Through the hole,” Mr. Kitty meowed.

“He’s trying to tell you,” Pidgeon said.

“Yeah, right,” Ansel said.

“Here, I’ll show you,” Mr. Kitty said. He jumped off Pidgeon’s lap and hopped from limb to limb down the tree.

“Follow him!” they yelled together.

Mr. Kitty heard the sound of leaves rustling and branches breaking as they chased down after him. He hoped they hadn’t broken his landing pad in their descent—he would hate to find that out the next time he decided to come through that way. He stopped for a second on the soft grass to give them a chance to catch up, licking his feet to taste the difference in the soil, and when the sound of them chasing after him was close enough, he bound down the green strip towards a hole that could send them where they wanted to go—if they were willing to follow him.

The hole was a few blocks away, and Mr. Kitty was much too fast for the little two-legged humans, so he had to treat them like pigeons in reverse. He would run out ahead, then stop to lick himself while they caught up, then run out ahead again, and repeat for the four blocks distance to the alley he was looking for. At the end was the tricky part. He could get into the restaurant easily enough—jumping through the broken window—but they wouldn’t follow him that way. He could wait for someone to open the door so they would be more likely to follow, but the timing on that was a long shot. Then there was the alley side of the hole, and from the looks of it, there was just enough trash for him to get the boost he needed.

He let the kids get a little bit closer, so close they were shouting at each other, then he heard another human voice he didn’t recognize. It was too late to turn and find out who it was, though, because he was already bounding toward the dumpster. He jumped up onto a soggy box that almost gave way under his weight, onto the dumpster lid, then up two more boxes to claw his way into the building itself, giving him the last bit of momentum he needed to make the extra few feet into the hole to fall far and fast onto the carpet on the other side.

He licked the pain out of his feet and listened for the sound of the human children following him. He heard some sounds, but nothing quite like they were climbing up after him. More like they were going the other way. He shook his head in pity. At least they had a new goal to work toward.

Mr. Kitty sniffed the air. It took him a second to remember where this side of the hole let out, usually he used the side that was inside the restaurant. The feeling of the carpet suggested he was where Haley lived, but the smell gave it away. There was a vaguely chemical scent—something synthetic—and the air smelled extra oily. He walked down the hall and pushed his head through a door.

Behind it was an office with a long desk. A huge window that looked out onto a vast wilderness with trees, hills, and animals everywhere made up the far wall of the room. There was no one sitting behind the desk, but Rosalind and Huey were sitting on two puffy chairs in the corner, staring out the window in silence. Mr. Kitty meowed to announce his presence and both looked around with a smile.

“Mr. Kitty,” Huey said. “So nice of you to join us.”

Rosalind stood to get something out of the desk and sat back down. “You want some treats, Mr. Kitty?” she said, pouring a few crunchy, delicious-smelling bits onto a side table. Mr. Kitty jumped up to eat them while Rosalind and Huey took turns patting him.

“Thanks,” Mr. Kitty meowed when he was done eating.

“Of course,” Rosalind said, patting his back a few more times. “Mr. Kitty, would you like a new collar? We need to get a message through, and you’re the only one who can deliver it.”

“Are you gonna give me some of that wet food?” Mr. Kitty meowed.

“Of course we are, Mr. Kitty,” Rosalind said with a smile. “We would have given it to you even if you said no.”

“That’s why I keep coming back,” he meowed.

Rosalind took off his yellow collar and snapped a red one around his neck.

“You know,” Huey said with a smile. “Red is your color, Mr. Kitty. It stands out beautifully against your dark fur. What do you think, Roz?”

“Beautiful,” she said, scooping Mr. Kitty up and kissing him on the head while he tried to squirm away from her. When she set him back on the table, he licked his paws and rubbed the kiss away.

Awww, Mr. Kitty,” Rosalind said. “Don’t rub it away. You know it means I love you.”

“You know I hate it,” Mr. Kitty meowed.

“Yeah, but you love it, too,” Rosalind said. “One of life’s little contradictions.”

Mr. Kitty continued licking himself. He got started, he might as well get the rest of his coat while he was at it.

“Contradictions,” Huey said, shaking his head. “I’m tired of contradictions. But you will be visiting Outland 4 today, won’t you Mr. Kitty?”

“Outland what?” Mr. Kitty meowed.

“The Scientist, Mr. Kitty,” Rosalind said, patting his head and smiling. “You know. She wears the long white coat. She’d like to see your new collar.”

“Sarcasm,” Mr. Kitty meowed. “But I need the elevator.”

“Of course,” Rosalind said. “Just let me get your wet food first.“

She shuffled through the drawer again, and Mr. Kitty jumped off the table onto the desk to hurry her up. She pulled the tin open and set it down, and he licked all the juices off the top as quickly as he could then meowed that he was ready to go.

“I’ll let him out,” Rosalind said, walking toward the hall he had come in through.

“Thank you, Mr. Kitty,” Huey said, waving.

Mr. Kitty stretched his legs and followed Rosalind out to the elevator at the other end of the carpeted hall. She opened the doors and Mr. Kitty climbed in.

“Alright, Mr. Kitty,” Rosalind said. “She’ll be expecting you. And thanks again.”

The doors closed, and the floor fell out from underneath him. When the elevator stopped falling, the doors opened and Mr. Kitty climbed out into a hall with hard, cold vinyl floors instead of soft carpet. He hated walking on the stuff. No wonder humans wore shoes all the time with the ridiculous concrete and vinyl they put everywhere they were supposed to walk.

He turned through the hall into an office and jumped up onto the desk. No one was sitting there, but he knew she would be back soon. He licked his feet to get the cold, unnatural feeling of the vinyl floor away. There were more computer screens here than there were on Tillie’s dad’s desk, and the numbers seemed somehow more interesting, plus, the Scientist liked to watch TV while she worked, and Mr. Kitty enjoyed a little television himself every now and again. He wanted to see what was going on in the computer world, so he walked across the keyboard to get it going when the Scientist came in, holding a plate with a sandwich on it.

“Mr. Kitty!” she said, setting the plate on the desk next to him. He sniffed it and started eating the meat out of the sandwich. “Finally, Mr. Kitty,” the Scientist said. “Red! Eat all you want. I’ll make you more if you’re here when I’m done.”

“I’m full anyway,” Mr. Kitty meowed.

“Oh. You have no idea, Mr. Kitty,” the Scientist said with a smile. “Sic bo shines down on you. I’ve been waiting for you to come in with that beautiful red collar for you don’t know how long.”

“Thanks,” he meowed. “See ya.”

“Alright, Mr. Kitty,” she said. “I’m gonna get to work.”

Mr. Kitty walked out of the door, and instead of into the hall, he came out into his yard. He looked back, and as the door closed behind him, it disappeared. He walked through the spot in the air where the door had been to make sure it was gone. Satisfied, he turned and bound through the grass to sit at the front door of the house.

“Anyone home?” he meowed as loud as he could. He knew her dad wouldn’t hear him, or care, but he thought Tillie might pick his voice up and prevent him from having to take the long way in. “Helloooo! I’m out here!” he tried one more time, then sat down to lick his feet.

Maybe she wasn’t there. Or maybe she was actually in the bathroom this time. Either way, it didn’t seem like she was coming, so he got up and went around to the back of the house. He climbed up a big oak tree in the backyard to jump up onto the roof. This roof was just a little lower than the previous house’s, so it took him two jumps to get high enough to fly through the hole, out onto the metal grating on the other side. He landed with a clang and looked around with puffed up fur to make sure there was no one there to see him. There wasn’t.

The floor here was even worse than the vinyl. If he wasn’t careful to keep his claws in while he walked, they would catch on the holes in the metal grating and break off when he lifted his foot. Even when he was careful he couldn’t prevent it from happening sometimes. And the stairs he had to climb down were made of the same metal grating. On top of that it, was impossible to stay silent while walking on it. He had to constantly look this way and that to be sure no one heard him.

Finally, at the bottom of six flights, came the worst part of this entrance into his own house. It was a long, skinny strip of metal grating that curved around a wall into a tunnel of darkness with no escape but to go straight back the way he had come, that is if he could react fast enough when he finally saw who was coming. Luckily they couldn’t walk quietly on the metal grating either, so he usually heard them long before he saw them.

He stopped at the bottom of the stairs and sniffed the air. It smelled stale, and oily, and there wasn’t much oxygen. He had to breathe deeply, even from walking down such few flights. He turned this ear then that toward the black tunnel and there was no sound. He slunk his way into the darkness, wishing there was another escape.

He paid extra attention to keeping his claws in, stopping every few steps to be sure no one was coming. He had counted the steps so many times, he knew how close he was by reflex. Thirteen bursts of three steps, eleven bursts of two, and seven bursts of one. Not in that order, but do that number and he’d be there. He was fifteen steps away when he smelled it. It was oil, but it wasn’t oil. He knew that smell, but from where?

He took a few steps closer and heard sobbing. Why would someone be sobbing down here?

A few more steps and he saw the form on the ground, right in front of his exit. It didn’t see him yet, though. Or hear him. Or smell him. He could run up, use it as a jumping platform, and be gone before it had time to realize what had even happened.

He was gathering his haunches to do it when he caught the smell again, and this time he recognized it. It wasn’t oil, it was cooking oil. And there was shampoo and soap mixed in there. That wasn’t someone. It was—

“Tillie!” he meowed.

She jumped up and stopped crying all at once. The sound of it echoed through the empty tunnel. “Mr. Kitty. I—Is that you?” she said, taking the hood off her head.

Mr. Kitty walked up to her and brushed his cheeks on her legs.

“Mr. Kitty!” She perked up. “What are you doing here?”

“What are you doing here?” Mr. Kitty meowed.

“Oh no,” Tillie said, slouching down. “I don’t know how to get out of here, either.” She started to sob again.

“I know the way out,” Mr. Kitty meowed. “It’s right here.”

“I know, Mr. Kitty,” Tillie said, shaking her head. “I’m sorry. I’m so stupid. I never should have gotten involved in this. I don’t know how I got you wrapped up in it with me.”

“Wrapped up in it?” Mr. Kitty struggled to get away and ended up clawing her chest.

Ow, Mr. Kitty!” she yelled. “Settle dow—Where—”

Mr. Kitty jumped through the hole into Tillie’s dad’s office where he was sitting at the computer, watching numbers change on the screen, paying no attention to the cat who had just appeared in the room behind him. Mr. Kitty turned to see if she would come on her own, but he only heard the faint echo of her calling his name and sobbing. She was confused just like a human.

“Come on!” he meowed.

Tillie’s dad turned and said, “Mr. Kitty. Shut up. How’d you get in here?”

“Tillie!” Mr. Kitty meowed. “Go through the wall. Like platform 9¾.”

Cat! Shut. Up,” her dad said. “Have you seen Tillie?”

Before he finished his sentence, she appeared in the room right next to Mr. Kitty. She gasped, scooped him up, and kissed him on the head, crying. “You did it, Kitty!” she said. “You’re so smart.”

“I worked for it,” he meowed.

“Oh, I love you, too, Kitty,” she said, squeezing him tighter and driving the air out of his lungs.

“Tillie!” Her dad had finally gathered himself for long enough to respond. “Wh—Where? How did you…”

“Dad.” She dropped Mr. Kitty and went to him. “I’m sorry. I—I didn’t. You have to understand.”

“Understand?” her dad said, looking around the room. “You just—You appeared from nowhere. The door’s locked. I look away. Then I look back. That’s not—It’s not—It’s just not.”

“Dad,” Tillie said. “I can explain. I—”

Explain! Explain? Well go ahead then, dear. Go ahead. Try to explain that.”

“Well, I—Well…” Tillie said. “You know those pictures I saw.”

“The pictures I told you not to tell anyone about.” Her dad crossed his arms.

“Right,” Tillie said, smiling a big, fake smile, and looking this way and that with her eyes. “Riiight. Those pictures. Well—and I didn’t show them to anyone, okay. And I didn’t even tell anyone about them, you know. But—I mean, I couldn’t forget them, you know. It’s not like I could delete them from my memory, Dad. I can’t unsee them, okay. And I just—well, I don’t know, I had to know the truth, you know. I had to do something. So I did.”

“No, Tillie,” her dad said. “It’s not okay. That—that doesn’t explain anything. So what? So how did you get here?”

“Dad.” She rubbed her hands on her cheeks, trying not to cry. “Come on. You can’t tell me—You can’t tell me that you don’t know. You have to know. You’re a Manager.”

“What, dear?” her dad said, throwing his hands in the air in frustration. “I have to know what?”

“I mean, where I was,” Tillie said. “How the world works. What’s really going on beyond the numbers. We talked about this, dad. I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt here.”

“Yeah,” her dad said, nodding. “Well. Okay. Yeah. I know how the world works, honey. But you’re talking in riddles. If you’d just ask me a direct question instead of being so emotional, then I’m sure I could give you a direct answer.”

Tillie didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. Mr. Kitty could see it on her face. She scoffed, and chuckled, and sobbed, and giggled, and blew a big glob of snot out of her nose. “Dad,” she said. “You’re asking me to disregard everything I think and feel. I have emotions, you know. And they’re real. And just because you go by the numbers alone doesn’t mean there isn’t more to the world than that. Can’t you see you’re asking me to stop being myself?”

“Tillie, dear,” her dad said, standing from his desk and turning to try to comfort her. “Tillie I’m sorry. I just want to help you. I was confused. You appeared out of nowhere. It must…it must have been some fault in the Walker-Haley fields. Am I right?”

“So you do know, then,” Tillie said, pushing him away and wiping her face with her sleeve.

“Of course I know, dear,” her dad said. “Of course I do. I manage the robot workers. How could I not know that printers don’t actually rearrange matter?”

Tillie faced the contradiction of wanting to laugh and cry all at the same time again. She was never one to hide her emotions. “Dad. You don’t know. You don’t understand at all. You’ve only penetrated the first layer and you think that’s all there is to it, but there’s so much more.”

“What are you talking about, dear?” Her dad frowned, shaking his head.

“They’re not robots, dad. That was a picture of human kids I saw on your computer.”

“Tillie,” her dad said in a pleading tone. “They said on the TV that it was a hoax. They played it on the emergency broadcast system. Every channel.”

“You’re the one who told me that I shouldn’t believe what I see on TV.”

“Yeah, well, then you shouldn’t believe what Russ told you, either. He’s a celebrity. He’ll do anything for fame.”

“But one side has to be right,” she said. “Either they’re humans, or they’re robots. It can’t be both, right?”

“No—Well, no…That is true. But there aren’t humans on the assembly lines, dear. I assure you. I would know if there were.”

“And the TV has said that they are humans, and it’s said they aren’t, so can we at least agree that it doesn’t matter what the TV says.”

“Yes,” her dad said, nodding. “And that’s the first sensible thing you’ve said. It’s what I’ve been trying to say all along, dear. But, still, there are not humans on the assembly lines.”

“Dad. I talked to one. He said that every single one of them has a job on a line, or running, or cleaning. He told me that he had never seen a robot in his entire life.”

“No, dear.” Her dad shook his head. “Well, that’s a—he lied to you!”

“Who did, dad? My eyes? My ears? I talked to him myself. While we sit here with our printer, eating everything they make and throwing away what we don’t want, they survive on scraps. You have to know how much of the world’s resources are dedicated to them, dad. You are a Manager, aren’t you?”

“Yes, well,” her dad said, shaking his head. “O—of course—of course I know. I know what portion of our finite resources we put toward the robots of Outland 5, dear. But that’s all they are. Robots.”

“So you don’t believe me then?” Tillie said, shaking her head.

“No, dear,” her dad said, shaking his head and avoiding eye contact with her. “Of course not. How could I?”

Ugh, fine!” Tillie stormed out of the room, and Mr. Kitty chased after her.

“Tillie!” her dad called, but he didn’t get up from his chair to chase them.

Tillie went into the spare bedroom and started packing her things.

“What are you doing?” Mr. Kitty meowed, standing on her backpack.

She scooped him up and set him on the bed. “Sorry Kitty,” she said. “I can’t stay here with him anymore. You can come with me if you want.”

“Where are we going?”

#   #   #

< X. Russ   [Table of Contents]   XII. Ellie >

Thanks again for reading. And don’t forget to pick up a full copy of the novel on Amazon today. Have a great weekend.

Toni Morrison’s Writing Wisdom

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Find the original post on /r/writing here.

Today, let’s get a little more literary with the ever wonderful Nobel laureate Toni Morrison. Morrison, much like Le Guin in the previous tip post, doesn’t think very highly of the old addage write what you know. She believes that the ability of a writer to imagine what is not the self is the test of their power.

To quote Morrison in this video interview with Junot Diaz (and you should really watch the video, too, Morrison is a great, funny speaker) which I found on the New York Public library website, here, with lots of other writing tips:

“I tell my students; I tell everybody this. When I begin a creative writing class I say, ‘I know you’ve heard all your life, “Write what you know.” Well I am here to tell you, “You don’t know nothing. So do not write what you know. Think up something else. Write about a young Mexican woman working in a restaurant and can’t speak English. Or write about a famous mistress in Paris who’s down on her luck.”

And finally, this is another author where I couldn’t find a list of tips they personally created, but we can turn to the Open Culture website here where they’ve mined this Paris Review interview with Morrison for eight:

1. Write when you know you’re at your best. For her, this happened to be the early morning, pre-dawn hours, before her children woke up, since she worked full-time and feels she is “not very bright or very witty or very inventive after the sun goes down.” Morrison describes her morning ritual this way:

I always get up and make a cup of coffee while it is still dark—it must be dark—and then I drink the coffee and watch the light come.

2. ”There’s a line between revising and fretting”. It’s important for a writer to know when they are “fretting,” because if something isn’t working, “it needs to be scrapped,” although in answer to whether she goes back over published work and wishes she had fretted more, Morrison answers, “a lot. Everything.”

3. A good editor is “like a priest or a psychiatrist”. Morrison worked as an editor for Random House for 20 years before she published her first novel. She observes the relationship between writer and editor by saying that getting the wrong one means that “you are better off alone.” One of the marks of a good editor? She doesn’t “love you or your work,” therefore offers criticism, not compliments.

4. Don’t write with an audience in mind, write for the characters. Knowing how to read your own work—with the critical distance of a good reader—makes you a “better writer and editor.” For Morrison, this means writing not with an audience in mind, but with the characters to go to for advice, to tell you “if the rendition of their lives is authentic or not.”

5. Control your characters. Despite the ever-present and clichéd demand to “write what you know,” Morrison studiously tries to avoid taking character traits from people she knows. As she puts it: “making a little life for oneself by scavenging other people’s lives is a big question, and it does have moral and ethical implications.” And as for keeping control of her characters, Morrison says “They have nothing on their minds but themselves and aren’t interested in anything but themselves. So you can’t let them write your book for you.”

6. Plot is like melody; it doesn’t need to be complicated. Morrison sums up her approach to plot in Jazz and The Bluest Eye by saying “I put the whole plot on the first page.” Rather than constructing intricate plots with hidden twists, she prefers to think of the plot in musical terms as a “melody,” where the satisfaction lies in recognizing it and then hearing the “echoes and shades and turns and pivots” around it.

7. Style, like jazz, involves endless practice and restraint. Speaking of Jazz, Morrison tells she has always thought of herself like a jazz musician, “someone who practices and practices and practices in order to able to invent and to make his art look effortless and graceful.” A large part of her “jazz” style, she says, is “an exercise in restraint, in holding back.”

8. Be yourself, but be aware of tradition. Of the diversity of African-American jazz musicians and singers, Morrison says “I would like to write like that. I would like to write novels that were unmistakably mine, but nevertheless fit first into African American traditions and second of all, this whole thing called literature.”

[Click here for more writing advice for beginners.]

Independent Author Month 2015 Guest Post | A Day in the Life of Bryan

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Hey, y’all. So last month I wrote a guest post for the Aside From Writing blog’s Indie Author Month 2015. Every day this month they’re featuring an interview with, or guest blog post from, a different independent author, and today is my day. Here’s a little preview of the post I wrote for them, “A Day in the Life of Bryan”. I encourage you to go over there to read the whole thing and check out some of the other Independent Authors to see if there’s anything you might like to read. Here it is:

A Day in the Life of Bryan

by Bryan Perkins

At seven in the morning, sometimes six-thirty, sometimes nine, but every day of the week, sharp cat claws, delicately caressing your eyes and nose, or brushing through your hair, awaken you. Mr. Kitty is ready for the day.

You’re not, though, and Mr. Kitty knows it. That’s why he wakes you up.

“Oh, alright,” you grumble, moaning and groaning, crawling out of your bed to eliminate yesterday’s waste before stumbling back into your room to sit behind the desk and wake up the laptop that’s waiting for you there–asleep itself and probably no more ready for the day than you are.

First thing’s first, though, no matter what any of the three of you want: You have to get to work. Luckily–or unluckily as the case may be–you’re already there, so you begin as soon as you sit down, getting the worst part of your day out of the way…

Click here to read the full post on the Aside From Writing website.