A NEW PLACE TO BE
INFINITE LAYERS OF RAIN. All around. Near-perfect vertical sheets of water. Pockets of space between. At my feet puddles that never rise above my ankles. I feel no wetness though. Only a slight, calming breeze.
Where am I? What is this place?
I walk. Then run. Cutting through the sheets of cascading water unperturbed.
There is no sound here. But I do sense the threat of it. Like a silent crescendo leading to—
A silhouette: head, fedora. Hard to make out any other details through the incessant rain.
“Hello,” it says in a smooth masculine tone.
“Hello,” I respond. “Where am I?” No time for small talk.
“That’s not the question you should be asking.”
Excuse me? Not the question I should be asking? Let’s move this along, “What is the question I should be asking?”
“Who are you?”
“Sorry, but I’m not interested in getting to know you at the moment. I just want to know where I am.”
“No. Who are you?”
Who am I? Why would that be the—
Wait a minute. Now this is strange. Very strange. I have no bloody idea who I am. But then again I—I am aware of something. I am aware of me. I know that I am here. Wherever here is.
“I know who you are.” A different voice. Androgynous. It surrounds us. Expansive.
“Who said that?” I ask the shadowy figure.
“I didn’t hear anything.”
“It was a voice, it said, ‘I know who you are.’”
“I didn’t hear a thing.”
Blackness. All around. No more rain. No more silhouetted man. No more noth—
Light—bright orange light invades my eyes. I quickly adjust. I am somewhere else now. Outside. What is goin—
A well-muscled man-beast thing is running in my direction. He shouts something in a language that sounds like nothing I have ever heard. It’s a terse, forceful expression. He repeats it several times.
Oh. I get it. I need to move.
I dash out of the way. He leaps off the edge of a cliff, rises higher and higher until he disappears into the haze that is obscuring what seems to be a massive canyon.
Another one appears. He is walking. Towards me. Arm extended. Pink leaf in his hand. He offers it. “What is this?” I ask. He rips off a piece, eats it. Hands me the remainder and bounds towards the cliff’s edge. Leaps. From out of the haze the other one flies at him. The two collide in mid-air. They crash down inches away from me. I’m knocked off my feet. The two beasts roll around, laughing. Apparently this is a game.
I’m still unsure how this is going to work. I figure I’ll just cumbersomely interject the emails here and there and if you, the reader, object to the disruption of the story you can just skip ahead to the next ‘GOVINA’ excerpt. However, seeing how there are quite a few parallels between it and Darby’s story I would suggest you just tag along for the bumpy ride. With that said, here’s Darby…
“Tay is a game developer. In her time games are considered high art, and interestingly, hyperrealism has become passé. Players prefer games with simple, modest graphics and deeply philosophical themes. Tay has become quite a sought-after developer due to the success of her game GoBack Man.”
“It is a platform-style game. The player controls a character named One. When One dies time reverses and GoBack Man appears on the scene. The player now has an opportunity to save One. There are a limited number of GoBack Men and sometimes the only way to save One is to sacrifice one of them. There are no enemies to contend with; just platform jumps of varying widths that expand and contract or rise and fall—sometimes both. The strategy lies in the player’s approach. Each level is timed. You can go kamikaze style and speed through the levels or you can go at a leisurely pace and time your jumps to preserve your GoBack Men. However, if you use this method sometimes you may have to sacrifice One to bring in a GoBack man simply to rewind the time. As I’m sure you’ve already figured out, using a combination of both techniques is most effective.”
Yes, I understand the risk of someone reading this and under-cutting Taylora by creating the game now, but actually that would be a boon, as I’m certain Darby would get wind of it and promptly contact me. I know that sounds a bit selfish, but trust me, it’s worth it. Not merely to satisfy my curiosity, but to help Darby. I can’t get into the details right now. Maybe later. Moving on…
During our back-and-forth I asked Darby a LOT of questions. He would blatantly disregard most of them. On a few very rare occasions he would oblige me (usually after I asked the same question fifty-million times). The following is the email he sent after I asked (for the ninth time) how Taylora was able to speak with him.
“I was watching TV and then all of a sudden I hear this voice, a woman’s voice. It was a voice I had never heard before, but oddly, it sounded familiar. It kept saying, ‘Daddy, daddy.’ It sounded like it was coming from the closet. I was terrified. She kept saying, ‘Daddy, daddy, can you hear me?’ Eventually I said, ‘Yes, yes, I can hear you.’ She continued her calls. Apparently she couldn’t hear my response. She began to grow frustrated. Said something about not knowing where she was. Said she couldn’t see, hear or feel anything. She sounded afraid. But that didn’t stop her from calling out for her father.
“I eventually broke out of my fear-induced coma and rushed to the closet. The source of the voice was an old, unplugged, battery-less radio with no tape inside. It felt warm. Very warm actually. As soon as I picked it up she said, ‘Daddy, is that you?’ I said, ‘I don’t think I’m your father, but I am here.’ She didn’t respond, still couldn’t hear me. She felt my presence though and she was certain I was her father. That’s when she explained everything. She told me she traveled back in time to warn me. She said on a specific date (a few months before she is to be born) a man was going to accuse me of having an affair with his wife and on this same date this man was going to kill me. She said she didn’t know the details of who and where. The only information she was sure of was the date. Her mother told her very little about what happened (or happens). Interestingly, GoBack Man was inspired by her lifelong dream to ‘go back’ and save me. When I first heard that I felt very proud and then suddenly horrible.”
I followed up with a ton of questions. I asked him for the date. I asked him if he knew the name of the mother and if he ever tried to contact her. I asked about the process his daughter underwent to travel through time. He dutifully ignored me and sent the following…
“Over time she gained the ability to see. But her ‘vision’ is of her life before leaving her time. Like reading your book, working on GoBack Man, going to school, being with her mother—things like that. But she doesn’t ‘re-experience’ or ‘relive’ these moments. She says it’s like a movie; she can recall ‘scenes.’ When she reads your book to me she is tapping into the moment when she read it on the plane. She says it’s like reading over someone’s shoulder, only in this case it’s your own shoulder. She can only read up to where she left off. She is unable to have any new experiences besides this ‘experience’ with me.”
I asked about her method of time travel again. My third time asking up to that point. Here’s what I got back…
“I hold the radio and listen to her talk. She freaks out when she can’t ‘feel’ me. When I sleep I place the radio next to me so she can feel my warmth.
“I want to free her, but I don’t know how. I want her to go back to her time, to her home, but she seems content being here with me. She says she’s happy, the happiest she has ever been. She said that each moment we’re together is like a dream come true. But I’m so conflicted over this. I have grown to love her dearly, but I don’t want her to live the rest of her life trapped in what seems to be an alternate dimension. What if she’s never able to go back? Are we going to live the rest of our lives like this? CAN we live the rest of our lives like this?!”
I had no idea what to say after that. I knew he wouldn’t address it anyway, but I was certain he was reading my responses so I wanted to say something comforting, but I had nothing…so I sent back some fluff about how stunned I was and that I hoped he could one day find a way to free Taylora. He responded with this non-sequitur…
“Today she told me about these glasses that are popular with teenagers. They’re called B-Eyes (Baby Eyes). They give the wearer something called ‘baby vision’: faces are visible while everything else becomes blurred. She said it’s a common sight to see packs of young kids—all sporting these glasses—stumbling around, running into things, and even being killed by passing vehicles.”
I’ll just let that one speak for itself. Time for some more chapter one…
A NEW PLACE TO BE continued…
I should jump off the cliff. Maybe I’ll awake when I hit the—
Did I come from another place?
Before the rain. Before this. Was there another place? There had to have been. If I’m recalling the possibility then there must have been another pl—
A section of the pink leaf is being dangled in front of my face. There’s a group of them now. Looming over me. All smiling. Anticipating. I’m not eating the leaf guys. No way.
A gruff one appears. The group disperses. All eyes on him now. He begins talking. Pontificating. Lots of hand gestures. Head arched slightly skyward. This one thinks quite highly of himself.
He spots me. Look of bewilderment. Then…
He roars. Loudly. Ghastly sight. Mouth opens so wide that the tip of his chin touches his upper abdomen. I am afraid, but for some reason I feel safe.
He rears back. Another roar, then springs forward. I should move. Why am I not mov—
One of the benevolent ones lowers his shoulder and spears Gruff to the ground. A tussle ensues. I am swept up by another one from behind. He clutches me to his chest. Heads towards the cliff’s edge. Gruff shakes off his attacker. Gives chase, roaring all the while. Such an odd sound. Almost mechanical. Like an overly lubricated engine. He takes a swipe at us. Narrowly misses the legs of my rescuer who stumbles. Only slightly. He regains his balance just as we reach the edge. He leaps. As does Gruff. He brings me in closer to his chest. A sweet scent overtakes me. Natural. Flowery. Surprising.
I feel Gruff’s presence. He’s gaining on us.
He’s on my rescuer’s back now. We’re still rising though. Looks like those leaves pack a punch. Gruff sinks his teeth into my rescuer’s shoulder. He shrieks. Loosens his grip around my waist. Gruff exploits. Rears back to deliver a blow.
At the foot of a mountain now. Rocky. Jagged. Narrows to a fine point at its apex.
An explosion. Rock shards fly everywhere. I drop to my knees, shield my head.
Hysterical laughter breaks through the ringing in my ears. The source: a short round man. Wisps of gray and brown hair shoot haphazardly from his head. Smoke-stained goggles cover the eyes of his well-creased face.
Far less enthusiastic workers descend upon the rubble. They scoop it up with shovels, toss the sharp stones into wheelbarrows held by other workers. Then it’s off to a distant worksite: some sort of obelisk surrounded by a spiraling wooden walkway. Seems miles upon miles away, stretches high into the sky.
“I’m the only one who can break the stone! I'm the only one who can break the stone! I break it from the inside! From the inside!” cackles the mad little man. “No one can do it but me! Only me! I am the only one! BOOM! From the inside! BOOM! BOOM! From the inside!”
Off in the distance the obelisk crumbles.
His hysterics cease, but his joy remains.
A collective groan emanates from the workers.
“I know who you are.” It's the disembodied androgyne again.
“Where are you?” I call out.
“I’m right here.”
”Where is right here?”
”Where you are.”
I’m tired of these riddles. I’ve had enough of this place. Or places. I need to get outta here. Go back to wherever I came from.
Green valley. Rolling hills surround. Blue sky. Crystal clear. Young girl. Long red hair suspended in the wind. “You are her,” she says plaintively. “You are the princess come to save us.”
”I am what?!”
”You are the princess. The one who can travel between the worlds.”
”I’m sorry, but I don’t understand.”
”You are the only—”
Sky goes dark. The girl glances up. Look of terror. “Please hurry!” she says.
Here we go again.
After about three days without nary a word from Darby (the largest gap in our conversation until recently) I received this…
“I know you don’t believe me. You probably think I’m crazy. Probably just humoring me for a laugh. And that’s fine. I’m not bothered by that. What I’m asking you to believe is a bit extraordinary. I just want to share my story. A story you have played an integral part in. Tay absolutely adores your book. She found it in an airport, under a chair. She was drawn to the cover. Bright pink with contrasting fonts (one narrow, the other bold) in an almost purple color, dead-center in the middle. The only text to be found. Your name didn’t appear until the title page. She says finding your book was a sign. Part of a divine plan.”
Up until the moment he told me ‘The Thing That Changed Everything’ I was incredibly skeptical. The fact that “PRINCESS GOVINA” seemed to be an allegory for Taylora’s plight and the heavy-handed “GoBack Man” symbolism led me to think that perhaps Darby was a sociopath with a penchant for lazy storytelling. It all seemed too perfect. Too precious. Too contrived. Too ‘divine.’ I wanted so very much to believe him though. At the time I desperately NEEDED something magical to happen. But I just couldn’t get past the quaintness of his tale. The only way all these parallels could be anything but trite was if everything he was telling me was absolutely true. There would be nothing ‘magical’ about our moment if it was all just an elaborate ruse. But when he shared ‘The Thing That Changed Everything’ everything changed. I put my skepticism to rest. There was no denying his words then. I may share this ‘thing’ with you. One day. When I’m ready. Stay tuned.