Monday, June 10, 2013

Seeking Test Audience for My Latest Novel

Love to read? How would you like to participate in a "test audience" for my latest novel? I'm looking for a group of readers willing to read my unpublished novel within a time frame of a few weeks, and then provide specific feedback.

Sound good?

You cannot be selected for the test group if you are:
-related to me.
-a close friend.
-a person afraid of "hurting my feelings" or otherwise timid sharing your candid opinion with me.
-certain you will LOVE it and there isn't a single thing wrong with the book because how could there be?
-a person who does not read contemporary fiction.
-someone with a lingering personal vendetta against me.

Things to keep in mind before offering to be part of the test group:
-This is NOT Christian fiction.
-The book is contemporary.
-There is a time limit for reading and responding to the short survey.
-I will ask you for a short list of contemporary fiction you have read recently.
-Publishing industry professionals may participate in the test group. Opinions, ideas, and critiques will only be used by the author (me) and not shared with anyone at any time. No one (me) will solicit you to publish, represent, or endorse the book.
-You will be asked not to share the manuscript with anyone else (not even your Mom, or your best friend, or your Mom's best friend).
-you will be asked specific questions about the book (and, of course, you can share any other insights, feedback, or ideas you wish to share.)

Still sound good?

Leave a comment with an address you can be reached at and I will contact you with the details with my thanks.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Time and Time Again, Chapters 3, 4, & 5.

Here is the continuation of Time and Time Again by Bonnie Grove (for the first two chapters click here). Feel free to share this link, or to refer to/copy to this work on your blog--simply link back to Fiction Matters  and be sure to list me as the author.

Chapter 3
“Sit down.” Brad doesn’t look up from his computer screen. I close his office door behind me, hiding a smile. It has been only a few hours since the debriefing about the time traveler, and Brad has given in already. He called me to his office moments ago to discuss my “interests in the new patient”. 
I sit in one of the two compact leather chairs in front of his desk, cross my legs and swing my foot back and forth, slow as a metronome. I’m the picture of practiced indifference, but my stomach quivers. Brad is blandly good looking. A one-time quarterback now washed out from too many hours indoors behind a desk, softened by too many quickly eaten meals. His hair is neither blond nor brown, and when he bends his head down, I see it’s thinning on top.
He looks up and watches my low-heeled black pump tick off the seconds. I’d dug the shoes out from behind my desk before I’d come. They are hardly red carpet glamour, but set against the institutional environment of The Center, they’re darn right sexy. The look in Brad’s eyes tells me they’ve accomplished their task. In the four years I’d been working at The Center, I’ve seen that particular greedy expression on his face millions of times, although it’s rare for him to focus his gaze on my foot. I melt back in my chair, casual as an old friend.
Brad glances at the door behind me, mouth open, as if expecting an intruder to enter the room the moment he speaks. “Gwen, I want you to know about some recent developments in the time traveler’s case.”
I sit straight, my spine a soldier at attention. I knew he wouldn’t leave me out.
He says, “I’ve called in Dr. Svenson.” My eyes widen, the only indication I’ve heard him, the only record of my shock. Brad taps his middle finger on a short stack of papers on the desk in front of him, his look grim. I understand the gesture. There’s an old glitch in my paperwork, my dissertation, or rather, the lack of one. I haven’t handed it in, haven’t defended, and therefore still do not possess my doctorate. It’s an oversight, a technicality I’ll rectify when I can make the time. Besides, I’ve been head of The Center’s psychology department for nearly two years after the sudden departure of Dr. Ahmed. I’ve been doctor enough for that position, why isn’t that enough for Brad today? For the time traveler?
The look on Brad’s face tells me not only is he calling in Dr. Svenson, but I’m being cut out completely. Dr. Svenson, internationally known expert in hypnosis and psychotherapy, and world class blow-hard, will work with the time traveler. Not me. Brad continues, “Dr. Svenson is a logical choice given his vast knowledge and expertise.”
I glare at the floor so Brad can’t read the contempt in my eyes. Svenson has expertise in time travelers? Are you kidding? “Brad,” I say, forcing myself to look him in the eye. “I’m happy to work under Dr. Svenson.” A tactical statement.  I have no intention of working in any capacity with the Norwegian pop-tart. But negotiations begin in middle ground. When he doesn’t answer, I press, “I’d be honored.”
He gets up and stares out the window, his back to me. The sun streams in, but I don’t feel its warmth. He says, “He’s gone.”
The seconds count off, one, two, three. I say, “You mean—“
His face is turned away. “The time traveler. He disappeared a little over an hour ago.” He snaps his fingers, indicating a flash of time.
I feel the finger snap in my spine. He traveled. I’d give anything to have seen it happen, to have been there. “How does it work? I mean, will he return?”
He looks up, as if the sky or the old growth forest that surrounds The Center might have the answers. “We don’t know. He wasn’t here long enough for us to fully assess him. He wasn’t exactly—” Brad pauses, then says—“Calm.”
Score one for the rumor mill. A jolt in my stomach. We are sitting here, discussing a time traveler. For a moment I feel the urge to laugh. Instead, I say. “Brad, look at me.”
He doesn’t move. I’m losing this argument – not something I’m accustomed to. I glance down at my elegant shoes. Should I get up and stand with Brad at the window? Stoke his ego? Admire aloud the breathtaking view and ingenuity it took to build this vast, modern complex in the middle of protected land? Maybe touch his shoulder, or smooth the back of his suit jacket? I’m more than aware of his attraction to me.
But I do none of those things. Instead I say, “You called in Svenson. You must think the time traveler will return….”
He turns and the look on his face startles me. Some powerful emotion pulses behind his eyes, his gaze pins me to my seat. “Obviously, we hope so. But who knows? If he does return, Svenson will take the case.” His flattened tone belies his intense expression.
 “Help me understand your decision, Brad.”  .
He sits behind his desk and leans forward, chin on chest, like a doctor about to deliver news of inoperable cancer. “You should have seen it, Gwen. Watching him fight off four security guards.”
Damn right I should have seen it. Unconsciously, I lean toward him, not wanting to miss a word.
“He broke a guard’s arm.” Brad says, voice as low as a lover’s.
I’m a child at the campfire, letting the story wash over me. I ask no questions, I only listen, balled fists in lap, bursting with intrigue. I want to crawl inside Brad’s mind, see his memories. There’s something about the time traveler. It’s more than professional pride. I feel pulled to him in a way I’ve never experience with my patients. He brushes against my mind like a phantom memory.
Brad puts a finger to his lips, face puckered in concentration. “Watching him disappear – astonishing. Solid and real as anything, then gone,” He pauses.
I push myself to the edge of the chair and lean on the desk. He looks at me as if for the first time, as if he’d forgotten who he was talking to. “But what fascinated me most, Gwen, was what he said as he disappeared.” Brad’s muddy eyes flicker over me like a tongue. “He was calling your name.”
Chapter 4
You can’t change the past. People wonder about that when they play “let’s pretend” games about time travel. They ask, ‘what would you change if you could go back in time and relive high school?’ They speculate how, because you are there – a future you in a past event – you can successfully change what happened. Nonsense.  Nothing changes. Nothing important anyway. You can’t change the past. The past changes you.
I’m visiting a key moment in my past right now. I’ve traveled from The Center, where I have been for the last four days, and am visiting myself at age ten. We’re in his bedroom; me lying on the bed, hands behind my head, waiting for him to stop feeling sorry for himself. Actually, it will be years before he stops the self-pity. Before he realizes the time travel, unlike growing pains or puberty, won’t go away. And years more until he accepts it – how many I don’t know because it hasn’t happened yet. At age thirty-four, I  sometimes still believe this is a cosmic joke, trickery. Something God could easily change His mind about.
“It’s true?” he says, not looking at me. His voice quakes a little with unshed tears.
“’Fraid so.” I close my eyes and think about the comfort I cannot offer him. All he wants is for me to tell him he’s normal. At age ten he has had only one or two brief time travel experiences. So brief, so shocking, he can still deny their reality. He wonders if all he needs is a pair of glasses to help stop the episodes of double vision. Maybe a doctor could prescribe something to manage the weird feeling of being present, absent, and present all at once. He tells himself what has happened to him has not happened at all. My arrival has shattered all that – and more.
I lie still, let him take me in— himself as a man. This is the first time his future has folded in on itself. He looks like he might start crying, and for a moment I’m tempted to take it personally. I recall feeling let down that my adult self wasn’t handsome, or heroic. That I’d look so ordinary. He is being forced to pack away any number of dreams about his what-might-be. After a long moment, I say, “You’ll have to take up soccer.”
He pouts. “I hate soccer.”
Age ten was not my best year. He is short and slightly overweight, homage to his love of reading and the habit of his classmates to choose him last for any sports team. Parcels of baby fat cling to his cheeks and his belly pushes against his oversized T-shirt. In my time, I’m too thin to even be fashionable. I say, “I know. But you won’t make the track team until high school, and you need to learn to run now.”
I sit up. “It helps.”
“Helps what?”
I sigh. Was I ever this dense? Or maybe my practiced self-editing is too circumspect for him. He’s so young. I barely recall being him – this child. Time travel grows you up fast. “You need to be in good shape when you travel. I spend a great deal of time running.” Either toward something, or from something. I’m always running on the treadmill of time.
He’ll understand soon enough. He’ll stop reading C.S. Lewis’s fiction, and will pick up his apologias. Later, he will discover Kant, Barth, and Augustine. When puberty hits the time travel will increase and he’ll focus his efforts on trying to remain in his own time. He’ll believe he can prevent himself traveling when he kisses a girl for the first time, or attends a party where the music blares and people dance, or when he tries out for the track team, running so hard his heart feels like it will explode. He’ll be wrong.   
He pulls at his hands and fingers. “What happens to me?”
“Many things, but the important part is you’re fine. You’ll be okay.” This feels like a lie, but in many respects it is absolute truth. I’m healthy, apart from headaches. He will survive school by dropping out in grade twelve when the time travels become more frequent and last longer. He will move away and carve out a life in the best place to remain hidden – the world of the working poor. No one notices you, no employer is surprised when you don’t show up for your shift, no landlord raises an eyebrow when you open the door, bruised and staggering and tell him you don’t have his rent money. He will not be happy, but he will be okay.
He nods, but frowns. He doesn’t want to know he’ll get though it. He wants me to tell him it will stop, that he’s normal, will be normal in the future. It’s the same desire that kicks at me even now. Even in the midst of the tests and my distrust of The Center. I’m a ten-year-old boy still hoping.
“You like to read, right ?”
“Yeah. Sorta.” He won’t look at me. He hates to admit his passion for reading to anyone, even himself. He knows he’s expected to love baseball and violent movies. But he doesn’t. He loves books.
“Mom’s family bible is in the basement.”
“Okay,” he says, uninterested.
“Go get it tomorrow morning. Bring it up here and start reading.” I remember the day I found Mom’s forgotten bible. I started reading Job and thought it must be some sort of joke, a mere stage play. I left Job to his whirlwind and flipped the pages, landing at Song of Solomon. That got my attention. And I kept reading from there.
“Why?” he says.
“Because.” My vision blurs. “God is too big to leave out of the equation. I’m leaving now. You hang on. . .” my voice trails off. I grope for a last scrap of comfort to offer him. “Hang on,” I say again, but I am gone and am back in my room at The Center. The blank walls. The locked door. How did I end up here?
After my future self left my apartment with Greg, I sat thinking in the dark for a long time. Then I got up and went for a walk. I walked all night and into the next morning, stopping only for coffee. I walked all afternoon and by the time the sun was setting I had walked out of town and right up to the doors of The Center – a place I’d never been before, yet somehow knew how to find. I walked in the front doors and said to the receptionist, “I’m Morris Semper. You might be looking for me.”
You can’t change the past.

Chapter 5
Bernie is crying. Big grey head in his hands, he sobs like a lost child. In a way, that’s exactly what he is. He’s sixty-seven years old, but he doesn’t know it – age is meaningless to him. A stroke took away most of his memory and nearly all of his self-understanding.
I stand in the doorway and take him in for a beat, then glare at the two nurses who have been trying to ready Bernie for today’s tests. One of them, Franco, a young man with the bedside manner of a sociopath, holds three wires in his hand. These are connected to the electrodes he’s been trying to stick on Bernie’s forehead. Seems Bernie has other plans.
Franco sees me and crosses his arms, defensive. “He’s been fighting us for twenty-minutes.” He glances at the other nurse, a pretty, round-faced girl who looks like she belongs in high school, or working at Blockbuster. Her eyes flitter around the room, focusing on nothing. Happily, she does not speak.
Tense and distracted by my conversation with Brad about the time traveler, I simply take the electrodes from Franco’s hand. “Please leave.” I point to the door. “He is a person, Franco, not a machine,” I say, my teeth grinding together. “You can’t force him. We’ve discussed this.”
“But we’re implementing pre-test protocols,” he says, exchanging a look with the other nurse. “We have to gather this data on him before he goes to physiology.”
Franco thinks I’m soft on protocol. He never fails to point out each time he believes I’ve bent the rules to suit a patient’s mood. When I tell him the comfort of the patient matters more than the tests, he narrows his eyes in an attempt to keep from rolling them at me. A lecture about treating patients with courtesy and dignity pushes at my lips, but I hold it back. “How much useful data will phys get from an uncooperative subject?”
Franco doesn’t answer. The other nurse hands me several more wires and heads for the door.
Franco hesitates, eyes flicker to the security camera staring from the far end of the room, then follows the girl out. “I don’t need you to tell me how this department works,” I tell the closed door.
I turn to Bernie, run my hand across his shoulder and arm. “Shh, shh”
“Stop?” he says between sobs.
“Yes. They’ve stopped. I sent them away.”
Bernie lifts his head, points at the expensive, state of the art portable EEG machine. “Stop.” His face shines with tears. Big Bernie. Retired construction worker who, before the stroke, was divorced from his third wife and facing charges of assault stemming from an incident between him and his second ex-wife’s new boyfriend. Flash temper, his medical history chart says, but a brain bleed changed all that. After recovering from the initial stroke, everyone was amazed to discover that the Bernie they knew—foul tempered, foul mouthed, self-centered—had disappeared. But that isn’t what brought him to The Center. What brought him here is far more remarkable.
I help Bernie down from the exam table and the moment his feet touch the floor he wraps his arms around me. “Tanks. Stop. Tanks.”
I pat his back. The stroke has done nothing to diminish his remarkable strength. If he wanted to, he could knock me over with a swipe of his paw. “You’re welcome, Bernie. You stop crying, okay?”
He nods, and wipes his nose on the sleeve of his sweater. He shuffles out the door. I know where he’s going and I follow. Dr. Aatoon Ahmed taught me the best way to get a patient to work with you and eventually follow protocol is to learn to work with the patient – the opposite of what Franco had been doing. I’ve spent the better part of six months trying to understand Bernie’s routine, his wants, his mind. I’m patient. You can’t force answers from a damaged brain, you coax, wait, notice everything. In time, the secrets reveal themselves. Bernie is about to reveal some now.
He enters the playroom- which is actually an observation room, where we can view patients as they interact with any number of play items like games, puzzles, books, toys, and a beautiful upright piano. A large mirror takes up half the far wall. It’s a two way mirror where we can observe without influencing what happens in the room. I glance at my reflection. I look tense, unhappy.
Bernie sits at the piano and begins to play. His hands—chunks of meat shaped like concrete blocks—coax such glory from the instrument that I feel it in my spine, like always.
Eyes closed, now oblivious to my presence, he pulls notes of lament and desire from some hidden place inside the piano. The room fills with the sound of his regret, of everything he has left undone. The ache fills my body; notes of unfinished hope flood me. Unlike Bernie, I can’t name my regrets, am not even aware of them, until Bernie plays slow and dark and I feel them well up like a near-breaking wave.
I sit beside him on the bench and place my narrow hand over one of his. “Got anything happy inside you today, Bernie?”
Bernie startles and stops playing. He pouts at the keyboard, upset with me for interrupting.
I nudge him gently. “What about something happy?”
He nudges me back, grins, and digs in. His new song is a peppy jig. I’m amazed how easy it is to change a patient’s mood, just like Aatoon showed me.
Aatoon taught by example. Shortly after I started working here, her future-telling patient David flew into a rage. I was in her office with her when she got the call from the nurse observing David. She turned to me and said, “Come with me. You’ll learn something valuable today.”
The scene that met us was chaos. David screamed and flailed while several staff worked to restrain him. Dr. Ahmed spoke a single word, not to David, but to the men holding him down, “Stop,” and then waved them off the boy. She pulled an iPod from her pocket and hit play. The song ‘Candy Man and Salty Dog’ filled the room. “Let’s sing, David,” she said. The boy’s guttural moans continued unabated, but he wasn’t kicking, wasn’t flailing anymore.  Now he fixated on the iPod.
Two old maids sittin’ in the sand
One were a she
The other were a man
Salty dog, candy man

Aatoon sang along, the boy grunted, and when the song finished, David reached for the iPod and hit replay. As Aatoon walked beside him to his room, she said to me, “When a patient’s behavior becomes difficult, too many so-called professionals think brute force is the answer.” We left him in his room sitting near the window, happily grunting along with the child’s tune. She said, “But subduing is much more effective. It isn’t controlling the patient.” Her accent was slight, often undetectable, except when she was passionate about the subject. Now, her voice lilted, chattered. She spoke quickly, “It is helping the patient control himself.”
And Bernie at the piano now is proof of that statement. A nudge, a question and I had helped guide his emotions, but he is the one now in control of himself. His eyes are closed again, his mouth goes slack, and I know he is in theta waves. I don’t always need a machine to read Bernie’s remarkable brain wave activity. Like a small child, he spends most of his time in the twilight of theta waves, his imagination disconnected from reality. 
“Where’d you learn to play, Bernie? Who taught you?” I say, knowing what he will answer.
He keeps his eyes closed. “God,” he says, the word thick. He has trouble forming sounds, but the effort of speaking doesn’t cause him to stumble or pause his playing. “God taught.”
A stroke is no cause to sing praises to God, but for Bernie, his stroke came as close to a religious experience as he’d ever encountered. It transformed his personality, robbed his memory of past evils, and bestowed upon him the gift of music. Before his stroke, Bernie didn’t listen to the radio never mind play an instrument. Now, he lives to play piano. His god is in his head.
“Will you let me put the cap on you?” I say. Sometimes, when he reacts against the individual electrodes, like he did with Franco and the other nurse, he will allow us to use the cap—a shower cap type device with electrodes built into it—over his head while he plays. It isn’t as accurate, and he won’t wear it long because it makes his head sweat, but it is better than nothing. And now that he is calm, I hope to he will consent.
His fingers continue to fly. “Nope,” he says, his attention on the piano. “Nope, nope, nope.” He refuses in tempo.
I can’t help but smile. Bernie is a Mack truck, and there is no explaining pre-test protocol with a Mack truck.
Bernie’s tune changes, swells into a melancholy song that sweeps up the room. The notes paint a picture of some idyllic pasture, soft, green, a home he’s never seen. He is crying again, great tears rolling down meaty cheeks, the sounds his hand produce speak the words he no longer can. I sit still, watching his hands, feeling the miracle of it and am nearly tempted to pray to Bernie’s God of the stroke. How can trauma to the brain produce such poignant order? But after a few minutes, I can actually hear those words –they’re a question. Where is my love? Where is my lover?
The words, I realize, are not Bernie’s, but my own, they pour from my mind, filling in the ache that the music leaves.  
He called your name.
Something wrenches inside my chest, and I get up from the bench and walk to the door. I‘m overwhelmed with the need to get away from the music and the thoughts it invokes in me. Bernie will be safe here alone with his hollowed out regrets. He’ll play until he wants to sleep.
I’m nearly out of the room when the music stops.
“Sad,” Bernie says, not looking at me.
I turn to him. “Yes,” I say to his back. My voice is soft but even. “You’re feeling sad today.”
He swings his legs high to clear the bench and turns to face me. “You sad.” He points at me. “Piano says.”
I can’t help but ask the clarifying question, “Do you mean you think I am sad?” 
Bernie nods, tuffs of grey hair bob up and down. “Piano says.” He picks his legs up again and swings them to face the piano. The room fills with the same cloying song.
I retreat to my office, and slam the door far harder than I intended. Bernie’s case is complicated enough to study and document without adding delusions to the mix. Bernie has always used the piano to speak for him, he has never before indicated the piano speaks to him. More than that, it might signal I’ve missed something important in his gifting diagnosis.
And the piano was talking about me.
I sit at my desk and pull Bernie’s case file up on my computer, but hesitate. The cursor flashes, but my thoughts jumble and I can’t think straight. I get up and look out the window. The psychology pod of The Center is on the third floor at the back of the complex. The view from my window is lovely. To my right, there’s a patch of forest that goes for miles. To the left, more trees, but they break in the distance, revealing the grassy common area that travels south to meet the river. Dominating the view is a massive, gnarled and knotted tree that rises out of the forest like a giant. It looks as if it spent most of it’s ancient life carrying water on it’s back. Huge arthritic limbs twist upward to the sky, then at a knuckle change direction and grow straight down toward the ground. In the spring, the leaves bud the tenderest green, and in winter the wind sweeps it bare, reveling the swollen, distorted branches. It’s March. Spring is still a promise, and the bare tree shivers in the wind. I think of this tree as one belonging to the selfish giant who came to love the children who breeched his wall and played among the branches. Bent and distorted by time and the elements, it is oddly welcoming.
Where is my love? Where is my lover?
He called your name.
Why my name? Who is this man? How could he know me? I pull my thoughts around me. It’s useless to moon over a song. I check the wall clock, well after noon. I’ll eat first, maybe under the tree, and deal with patient files when I can get my head together.
I’m in the belly of the Whale. The cafeteria is in the first basement of The Center. The second basement, directly below the where I am standing with tray in hand, is the morgue. The Center’s complex blueprint consists of separate pods connected by shared halls and elevators. Each pod focuses on a different discipline of science, studying a specific aspect of human life. This means parts of The Center run much like a hospital, and all hospitals require a morgue. In my department we don’t deal with physical disease. When our patients require medical intervention or testing, we send them to the appropriate pod to be healed, or, in the cases of extreme age or illness, to die. I don’t think about it.
Except for days like today, when I’m standing in line waiting to pay for a wilting cafeteria salad, and a shiver up my back reminds me I’m standing on temporary graves. It’s as if the cold floor soaks up mortality from the room below. 
I pay for my food and look for where to deposit my tray. Stepping right while looking left, I run into a sour-faced man. My tray flips up and the salad lands on my chest and the bottle of water spins off behind me. I pull the tray back and the salad drops to the floor.
“Oh my,” the man says. But he’s not only referring to the mess. I’m used to this reaction, so I wave him away, but he stoops and picks up a handful of arugula and a few stray carrots.
I step away from him a couple of paces. “I’m sure they have staff who deal with these things.” I look around and sure enough, a dark haired woman in a white apron trots toward us, broom in hand. She appears obscenely cheerful for someone about to employ broom and dustpan to a ruined lunch. Up close, she is much younger than I thought, and very pretty – in spite of the hair net which holds her dark, nearly black hair in place. She holds out her hands to the man and he deposits the vegetables into her hands. Several pieces flop to the floor. The woman keeps smiling, patient and amused. “Thanks. I’ll clean it up.”
The man looks up at me, “I’m sorry.”
“These things happen,” I say, flashing an imitation of the young woman’s smile. “Let me help you,” I say to the woman. Both of us pretend not to notice when the man slinks away.
The young woman beams at me. “You have quite an effect on people.” She holds up the salad bowl.
I smile and go hunting for my lost bottle of water. I don’t need to be reminded of my looks. I know all about my blonde hair and oval face and wide set green eyes. Cat-like, I’ve been told. Who cares? I’d rather be taken seriously. Men would rather ogle me than listen to anything I have to say. Once, at a staff meeting, a doctor who conducts stem cell research commented on something I had said by saying, “That was actually an intelligent thought, Gwen.” He spoke in that slow, delighted way one uses to speak to a child. I hate being treated like a kitten playing with an oversized ball of yarn. Look, Gwen is thinking about big things – isn’t that cute?
The cafeteria woman gathers the remaining ruins of my lunch and piles it on the tray.
“Thank you,” I say.
“It’s no bother.” She points to the glass cooler filled with sandwiches and salads. “You can take a replacement salad. No extra charge.”
I eye the puckered cherry tomato rolling around the edge of the tray. “You know what? I’ll pass.”
She laughs, and nudges my arm – an absurdly chummy gesture, but somehow I don’t mind. She stands close to me; a savory aroma clings to her, as if she’s recently returned from India with a shipment of spices. She says, “I don’t blame you. I never eat this food.” She motions me to follow her. “If you want something good for lunch, come with me.” She jerks her head toward the kitchen and walks away.
I’m hungry and curious, so I follow.
The kitchen air is soggy from heat and steam. A small team of aproned workers- all women- roll around each other as they add dashes of salt, sweep onions from a grill, or pull metal bowls from an overhead shelf.
I stand beside my newfound friend in front of a huge grill, and watch as she pours fresh veggies -broccoli, sugar snap peas, bean sprouts and carrots-onto the grill. They sizzle and pop. I stand silently and watch as she adds cubes of chicken and an array of spices. Within minutes, she’s layering the food over a plate of steaming noodles. The aroma is heaven. “I’m Isobel.” She holds up the plate and two forks. “And this is your lunch.”
I take one, grinning. “I’m Gwen. And you, Isobel, are an angel.”
She says, “The plate’s hot. Grab a tray.”
I pick up a neon green tray from a short stack near the door.
“Not those.” Isobel points to a larger stack of brown trays.
She leads the way to the dining room, hollering over her shoulder, “I’m going on break.” We sit across from each other, the plate between us. I dig in, but Isobel sits silently, looking at the food. I say, “This is wonderful.”
She sits very still for another moment, then says, “Thanks.”
We each eat off one half of the plate. A sorority easiness forms between us, which is startling. I rarely feel at ease with new people, even co-workers, preferring the comfort of solitude to forced chatter around the water cooler. But with Isobel, I’m not thinking about the dead people below my feet, or Bernie’s talking piano, not even about the time traveler – although questions about why he called out my name are never far from my mind. That, and why Brad Johnson shut me out.
Isobel turns to the table next to us, interrupting the conversation of the three women sitting there. “He’s back?”
The women’s faces glow with their secret. I missed what they were talking about, but obviously, Isobel didn’t. I stab a broccoli flower with my fork. “Who’s back?”  
The older women, a full-faced salt and pepper gal I’d peg for fiftyish, falls over herself to answer. “You don’t know?”
Her two companions grin at each other.
 I chew the broccoli. There’s a slight nutty flavor and I mentally remind myself to ask Isobel what sauce she used, but I’m too busy tasting it to ask about it. “Nope.” I pop a piece of carrot into my mouth.
Isobel turns to the beaming trio. “When did this happen?”
Salt and Pepper says, “Last night. Apparently, he walked through the front door like he had something to confess.”
I sit high on my tailbone, spine like a rod. “Who?” But I already know.
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Copyright 2013 by Bonnie Grove

Friday, January 4, 2013

First Chapters: What I've Been Up To (The first chapters of my novel Time and Time Again)

After the amazing success of the free/$2.99 ebook download of Talking to the Dead, I'm left dizzy with happiness to have so many people reading my work for the first time. I never expected such an intense and massive outpouring of love (and downloads) from readers.

Talking to the Dead was published in 2009. A quick check of the calendar reveals it is now 2013. So, where are my other novels? Why aren't they published? What's going on?

Publishing is a tough, tough business. It's hard to break into, and harder to remain. I made some choices and decisions that may have slowed down my publication journey, but they are choices I know were right for me, and I have not a shred of regret.

I've completed three novels since I wrote Talking to the Dead (I'm working on two more at present). My agent is working on finding homes for two of those novels. I have no idea if or when this will happen. The only thing I'm certain of is I'm a writer, too far gone to stop writing, too bull headed stubborn allow the passing years without additional novels published to get me down.

Well, maybe a little bit down some days. But that's when a cute guy named Steve, and two smoochie children hug me and make me feel good again.

In order to prove that I haven't been sitting idly low these many months and (gulp) years, I'd like to offer up this Chapter One (and two) of my novel called Time and Time Again. (Later this month, I'll post Chapter one of another one of my as yet unpublished novels: The Season In Between.)

                                            Time and Time Again by Bonnie Grove

"What then is time? If no one asks me, I know; if I want to explain it to someone, I do not know."-St. Augustine

Begin at the End
 I imagine him splayed on the cold linoleum like a sacrifice. On his back, arms pushed to the sides, neck arching his head pushing into the floor. So thin I count his ribs, run my fingers over them like an instrument – quick and light over the keyboard of bones. I summon the pain of being ripped away, stitched back again.
This, of course, was before I’d heard his name, before I read his letters, before I loved him. Back then, all I knew was his descriptive, those two words – unbelievable as they were – time traveler.

Chapter 1
If you were perched outside the second story window, a bird maybe, or a bit of paper pressed to the glass by a strong wind, there would be little to see; a massive mahogany table surrounded by twenty or more people clad in white lab coats, sitting, a morning meeting, and nothing more. There is an empty chair at the head of the table that no one in the room looks at. We study our cuticles, thumb through papers without reading them. We don’t speak. We are coiled, waiting, our faces arranged in bland expressions of professionalism.
Dr. Brad Johnson, The Center’s CEO and mouthpiece for its mysterious, international Board, strides in, fills the empty chair. Our silence intensifies.   
He gets straight to the heart of the meeting. “Doctors, the rumors you’ve heard are true. We have a time traveler in our custody.” The silence now swirls to furious murmur. I drop my glance, notice my hands are still, not warbling with excitement like my stomach. We knew, I think, but now we know. One of the doctors, Buster from nuclear science, smiles at me and nods he resembles a high school student having just received an A on a test. I look away.
Dr. Johnson makes quick work of the assignments – which doctors will take lead roles in the case. I ease back in my chair. I’m the head of the psychology department, and the only one qualified to work on such a case. Brad Johnson hands out assignment packages to first string doctors. I refuse to glance at Buster’s notes. Brad will give me a package; I’ll read it alone in my office where I can linger over the details. Most of the top medical staff have already examined the time traveler, Brad explains. Standard procedure. But before the meeting began I overheard rumors the time traveler was in bad shape. That he fought the guards once he found out he was being asked to stay. But I doubt those rumors. We’re scientists in this one-of-a-kind facility, studying people with extraordinary abilities and potential – we’re not the brute squad.
I feel a stab of pride as I listen to Brad talk about the time traveler, a miracle of humanity inside the same building where I’m sitting. This is what we are all about. We are scientific puzzlers who strive to understand what other institutions dismiss as unmanageable: a brain injured musical prodigy, a boy with sever autism who sees into the future, a girl with cerebral palsy who moves objects with her mind. We are the only facility in the world studying these people with a goal of unlocking the clues they carry within their bodies and minds - clues to the next leap in human existence. Maybe it’s a bit dramatic, but I view us as radical scientific humanists coming together on behalf of humanity in order to build a better world.
When Brad Johnson is done making assignments, he looks in my general direction and says, “Non-medical doctors will be working with this patient on an as-needed basis.” He has handed out all the assignment packages.
I flip open a notebook, pen poised pretending to write down every word Brad says. “As needed… meaning?”
“Meaning we’ll only call you, Gwen, if the medical team can make room for you. We don’t know what we’re dealing with.”
I sit higher in my chair. My department regularly runs tag team with medical departments, assessing psychological balance and health in the midst of their intervention and testing. Our work is done over a long term, but early assessment is critical. This is a curve ball. “Which is why I would argue the need for –“
            “I know what you would argue,” he says, scanning the papers in front of him. When he looks up, he addresses the entire room. He is done with our conversation.
Brad’s voice fades to a static buzz, a hum I can’t swat away. The room expands, then falls into itself, becoming so small it might not exist. I don’t move, I’m carved from a single tree, hollowed out – not a twitch, not even a subtle lifted brow. I won’t let them see my mortification. Beside me, Buster buries his head in papers.
Brad’s lips move, he talks on and on, humming and buzzing. Buster nudges me and I turn up the volume switch in my mind, Brad is saying, “We are implementing Extraordinary Person Protocol with the time traveler. Twenty-four hour security. Everyone is checked going in and out of his room. Authorization for patient access comes through me.”
The last time The Center exercised Extraordinary Person Protocol, EPP, was when the former head of my department, and my mentor, Dr. Aatoon Ahmed worked nearly exclusively with the autistic boy able to see the future. The EPP protocol requires round the clock surveillance, as well as alternating sensory regiments, restricted diet, and exercise routines. Every aspect of David, Dr. Ahmed’s patient, was tested, adjusted, examined, and altered over time. It was hard on David who, despite his gift, often didn’t understand what was happening to him. After several meltdowns, Aatoon stopped cooperating with the research team, insisting they needed to work with David, not the other way around. David was removed him from the psychology department and Aatoon pulled from his case. She quit The Center soon afterward. It still bothers me that I haven’t heard from her since she left.
Brad moves on, explaining the details of the case, and there is no further opportunity for me to plead my argument to work with the time traveler. Doctors follow along, reading through the packages Brad handed out. I clench my jaw, the pull in a long breath. Relax, I tell myself. I’ll meet with Brad privately later. He won’t leave me out, I’ll make certain of it. I will work with the time traveler, I know it. I feel the certainty of it in the center of my being.

Chapter 2
Morris the Time Traveler
You might guess burning jet fuel, the fury of disintegration, the heat of displacement— but it doesn’t feel like that, thank God. The sensation is unpleasant, but it’s small enough. The sting of the paper’s edge slid across the palm of your hand. Then it’s over and I’m back. Deposited in the now, but I know there is no such thing as now. At any moment I will be pulled or pushed through the narrow shiver of time again and open my eyes to find I’m inside another fully formed now which is not my now. I have no control, no say in whether I stay or go. If I did, I would never go at all. I would stay, plant my feet in the now I love best, the now I was born into.
That is what I would tell people, if I told people anything, about what it feels like to time travel. I would ask them, Would you like to move ahead in time, see your future? Really? Would you care to travel further into your life, discover the people and things you thought would always be with you were gone? Misplaced in the darkness between then and now? Would you like to revisit the dull moments of the past only to discover you’ve fretted away your best chances because you were frightened, or drunk, or simply blind to the things that make you happy? To replay your life in detail and still not be able to change a single moment. That is time travel – endless circling of my days and nights. Visiting and revisiting the places and people I’ve known. Always the same places.
There are rules, of course. Rules set in action by Providence, that unknowable, unsearchable God we all wonder about sometimes in the middle of the night, or crisis, or bad storm. I’m plucked at random, pulled through time for any reason, for no reason I can discern. But the rules by which I time travel are precise – grounding. The rules keep me sane.
When I’m yanked through time, I know I’ll arrive someplace familiar. The home of my childhood, one of the many dingy restaurants I’ve worked, my hiding place beside the river. Somewhere I already know. And when time is finished showing me whatever it is I’m supposed to see – and I almost never know what that is – I’m returned to the place I left from. As if time itself overflows with little red X’s to mark the spot. Always back to where I left, no matter how much I would like to be dropped off somewhere else – like paradise, or maybe a Broadway show. Not much to cling to, these rules. Most days, though, it’s enough.
But I don’t talk to people about time travel. I don’t ask anyone questions. It’s too impossible. How do you begin to talk about it? Hello. I like your shoes. I’ll have the tuna for lunch – unless I time travel and miss lunch. No. Better to be thought an unreliable jerk, a no-show-dish-dropping-forget-your-last-paycheck-you’re-fired loser.
I get headaches.
The one I have now is from the lights that constantly shine in my room at The Center. Lights they dim at night, but never fully extinguish. I crave darkness. They tell me they can’t turn the lights completely off – safety issues, they say. Whose safety? I’m in the basement near the morgue. Who will bother me? And then there is the lock on my door.  
The doctors tell me they will help me—cure my time traveling—and I want to believe them.  But at three AM, head pounding, stomach churning, from their damnable tests, I think they must hate me. 
 I am absconded by time, but my headache comes with me. I’m no longer in my room at The Center. I’m in the hall of my apartment building, leaning against the door to my apartment. At least I hope it’s my apartment – I don’t know the date yet, so I’m taking a chance. I cup my forehead with my left hand while my right feels for the spare key I keep hidden behind a loose board. I feel the cool metal of the key. This gives me a rough sense of when I am in time. I moved to this apartment five years ago, so I know I’ve traveled somewhere within those five years. I fumble with the lock and hope to find my former self at home.
Sure enough, there I am, me from the past, the very recent past from the look of me. We are wearing the same shirt, though mine is now frayed at the collar and cuffs, and faded, as if the future will be particularly hard on cotton plaid. He is clean-shaven, while I sport a five o’clock shadow. But time travel doesn’t wait for me to change clothes or shave. It is a cosmic come-as-you-are party held just for me.
My former self offers a small smile in greeting, unruffled to see himself standing before him. I often run into myself in my travels, it only make sense, given the rules, the way I pop in and out of my own lifetime. And I seek myself out, too, like I’m doing now. Why wouldn’t I seek out the comfort of my own company? There is safety in numbers, even when the both of us add up to only myself.
He takes me in, sees the look on my face, then switches off the side table lamp. I close the door and the room is in darkness. “A bad one,” he says, referring to my headache.
I feel my way over to the couch and sit down next to him. I am literally beside myself. “Bad enough. We’ll live.” I close my eyes and revel in the darkness. “So when is it?”
He says, “It’s March, 2010.” His voice is hushed, a result of the darkened room more than in deference to my pounding head.
My eyes have adjusted to the darkness and when I open them, I’m able to make out his shape beside me. “I’m in 2010, too. August, I think.” Time, a loose concept for me, has melted into itself. Lab tests at night, sleeping in snatches at odd times, and of course, the letters, have combined to make oatmeal of my memory.
He gets up. I hear him thump around in the tiny kitchen, which consists of a counter, mini fridge and hot plate on the far wall, less than ten paces away.
March. Tiny prickles of hope swim up my spine. “What day?”
He is beside me again on the couch. “Fifteenth.”
The Ides of March. How perfect. A sign from God if ever there was one. My heart picks up speed, adding volume to the throbbing in my head. I’m right on time. I remember this visit. I remember being him, that version of myself. I know what I’m about to do. Why I need to do it. He, on the other hand, has no idea.
He sits down again, hands me something cold—a soda —and I drink deeply. The caffeine rushes aid to my pounding head. Caffeine and carbs – my life bread. Without regular amounts I suffer headaches and depression. “What are you reading lately?” I ask my former self.
“Barth. Some Augustine.” I hear the shrug in his voice. It says, what else would I be reading? Who better for a time traveler to wrestle with than Karl Barth – granddaddy of reformed predestination theology?
I answer his question before he can ask it. “I’m reading the Psalms.”
He is quiet, then says, “The comforting ones, or the vengeful ones?” My answer will tell him plenty about my situation. Not the details, where, when, how. But my mood, my mental state. How I’m coping, and in turn, what he will have to deal with when he becomes me. The Psalms are my emotional reflecting pool. I discovered them at age ten, and though them, I began to believe that I—the time traveler—might be God’s own creation. When I found the Psalms, I found God, and this is the road of faith I have followed, however tentatively, ever since.
The sharp edge of my headache has slouched away. “Psalm fifty eight. And others like it.” I take another long pull of my Coke. My former self lets out a long whistle, but says nothing. He won’t ask why I’m reading imprecatory Psalms. These are the second set of rules, set in place not by Providence, but by me. My own grasp for sanity.
I never reveal the future to myself. I’ve learned the hard way how painful it is to know about something and not be able to change it. I know what it’s like to look at my future self and feel all kinds of disappointment. If you know too much about what is to come, you stop hoping for things. You stop making choices about your life. For a time traveler, continually confronted with what I will be like in the future, I have a ridiculous belief in choice. Free will is the greatest, most menacing gift of God. And it’s the reason I don’t tell myself about the future. I want to believe, and let myself believe, that my choices sculpt the future. That I participate in my fate.
Sitting beside myself in my darkened living room in March 2010, I am beyond tempted to toss my rule - and maybe free will - to the wind and tell my past self everything. Especially about her. I want to say her name out loud, roll the sound of her around in my mouth. When I am alone in my room at The Center, I lie on my bed and repeat her name like a prayer in some forgotten language.
But I’m here for another reason then to talk about her. Instead, I get up and turn on the light. I’m amazed to regard myself as I was before her. In the dim light, the former me is placid, unaware of what’s to come. A blank slate. A flash of near hatred for him stabs my mind. A version of self-loathing not found in psychology books. He is the me that is not yet a part of her. For the first time in my life I’m beginning to see the purpose of my time travels. Perhaps purpose is too strong a word. Use, maybe. They are of use to me now, as they have never been before. I’m growing confident that I can, by free will, bend time in my hands. “Get up,” I say.
He stands and, without needing to ask my meaning, he helps me push the couch to the far wall, clearing the center of the room so we can practice. My head still aches, but at least the pulsing is gone. Sweat and effort will hopefully drive it fully away. I pull off my shoes- a risk, as I might time travel before I can get them back on again. Even though I remember this visit from when I was him, I know I can’t trust even my memory. Time is impatient, fickle. We face off from opposite sides of the frayed rug, comfortable with our familiar routine. We make good fighting partners. Why not when there are two of us present?
He stands in his too-short jeans, white tube socks showing beneath the seam. I think: He looks like a dweeb.
 “Go,” he says.
I step back and raise my arms to shoulder level, pushing energy into my palms.
He grins. “How very Kung fu.”
I return the smile, but I intend to beat him. I’ve been practicing martial arts enough these days that I know I can bring him to submission, and make him do the thing I did not do when I was him. I will show him the strong parts of himself, hidden in the mirror of me. He needs to believe he is not the shrunken, hapless man he believes himself to be. Maybe then he can escape my fate. That is why I’m here. To open a fissure inside of time and help myself escape myself.
We advance to the middle of the rug, and he swings a fist at my face which I easily side step. I push a fist into his kidney. His eyes flash equal parts anger and confusion. In response to his question—how did I get so strong?—I come at him with a one-two side punch to his ribs and ear, knocking him off balance.
He retreats, shaking it off. “Take it easy. Start again,” he says, but I’m right beside him, throwing my fist at his temple.
He responds with a simple punch and I block it with my left arm. For a moment we push against each other’s weight. “I could break your arm.” I say, my face inches from his. “It’s my choice.”
He stares at our intersecting arms. “You can only break it if you’ve already broken it.” He pushes against me, and I feel myself weakening. I’m still not fully recovered, this burst of strength is temporary, and waning. I hide my rapid fatigue by grabbing his right wrist and twisting it. “I can choose right now. It doesn’t matter if it happened before or not. I choose in the moment.”
He slaps me across the face with his left hand. “All roads lead to Rome,” he says, twisting against my thumb and breaking my grip. “What’s with the Bruce Lee act anyway? We’re just sparring a little.”
I lunge at him and he leaps back, but catches his leg on the side table and summersaults backwards.
I step back, sweating heavily. I can’t keep this up much longer. I say, “Not all roads. We choose.”
He’s on his feet. “I’m here. You’re there – in October-ish.”  He‘s sweating, which makes me feel good. He says, “No matter what I do now, I’ll end up where you are.” He shrugs as if he’s made an impenetrable defense. “All my roads lead to your Rome.” It’s the same argument I have in my head nearly every day.
I bounce on the balls of my feet, preparing to finish this fight. “You can’t point to a random moment in time and call it a destination. You can’t say where I am now is an ending.”
“You’re being a jerk.” He attempts a roundhouse kick, aiming for my head, but he’s slow and I grab his ankle and pull his leg until his toes are level with the top of my head.
“I’m being a jerk because you need to pay attention. Change your mind, change your life.”
He is nearly doing the splits along the length of my body, but manages to punch me in the gut. I bend at the waist and drop his leg. I let out a cough. “Knowledge is the key to repentance.”
His body goes still. “Knowledge of what?” He squints, a habit of concentration I picked up at age ten when I began reading my mother’s family Bible. “What are you trying to say? Is there something I need to know?” Finally, he’s starting to get it. 
I point to the couch and we put the room back the way it was without speaking. There is no such thing as awkward silence when you are alone with yourself.
He grabs two more Cokes from the fridge. He tosses me one, and I think about where to begin. I’m suddenly afraid. What if I’m wrong? If I tell him about his future, it will change my past. If the past changes, what happens to me in my time? A sharp knock on the door interrupts my thoughts. My hand shoots out and grabs Morris’s arm. I put my finger to my lips.
He whispers, “It’s only Greg.” Greg is a fellow dishwasher at the latest in a string of low paying restaurant jobs.
I say, “I know who it is. He can’t find two of us in here. And Greg isn’t a friend.”
Greg knocks again, this time he calls, “Morris? You there buddy?” The walls are paper-thin, he probably knows Morris is home – maybe even heard us thumping around if he had been lurking before he knocked. I wouldn’t be surprised.
I grab my shoes and we move to the far corner of the room, our heads close together.  “He isn’t who you think he is,” I breathe. “He isn’t a dishwasher and he isn’t spending time with you because he likes you.”
“What do you mean?” He holds up a hand. “No. Don’t tell me.” But there’s no conviction in his tone.
I don’t want to throw his future at him all at once, but there’s no time to explain. I guess it’s now or never. “It’s his job to get close to people like you.”
“Who? – I don’t get it.”
“Has he told you about The Center yet?”
He nods. “He says it’s a research facility—the doctors are the best in the world and can help me.” He points to the door. “That’s where we are going now. I told him to meet me here.”
“Don’t you think it’s strange that a dishwasher at a greasy spoon knows so much about a high-tech research facility?” I know my former self had found it strange, but having a friend had been a good enough reason to feign blindness.
He says, “So, in your time these doctors don’t find a cure? They can’t help you?”
I hesitate, then say, “No. They say they are close, but-”
More knocking, louder. “Hey Greg. Hang on,” I holler at the door. “I’m in the can.” To Morris I say, “There’s no time. Just avoid him, okay? Quit the restaurant if you have to.”
He holds up a hand. “Wait. You’re saying Greg is some kind of – what? Bounty hunter on the look out for –“
“That’s a good way to put it.” I put my shoes on, balancing on one foot, then the other.
He shakes his head. “How would he know how to find me? I don’t exactly advertise what I am.”
“I don’t know how he found you. But it doesn’t matter – everything is about to change.” I push my former self into the shadow and walk to the door before he can ask another question. I open the door, “Hey man,” I say to Greg.
The look of annoyance slips from his face and he gives me a blubbery grin. He is grimly overweight for a bounty hunter. It’s probably what makes him so effective. No one would suspect him of a more sinister motive than wanting to eat your potato chips and drink all your beer. He says, “Dude.” The cool man shtick comes off lame to me now. But the me hiding in the shadowed corner is thankful for Greg. Largely because in his time he is otherwise friendless, deeply lonely, and verging on bitter. Not all that different from me now.
I slap a hand on Greg’s meaty shoulder, partly in greeting, partly to keep him from coming into the apartment. “Ready?”
Greg’s colorless eyes brighten. “Dude, I’m the one who’s waiting for you to get the lead out.”
My heart hammers and I fight to keep my face casual. “Let’s go.”
I close the door firmly behind me and fall in step with Greg. I’m on the way to her – I’m a free man. I’ll find her, and we can be together, the way we’ve planned. That’s if I don’t travel before we get there. Please God, I pray.

All rights reserved
copyright Bonnie Grove 2013