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Authors Life, Books, novel, Publishing, Writing

How My Fictional Universe Began

A couple of people have asked me about my first publication, ONE OVER X: FROM THE INSIDE TO THE CLOSER. They saw there were two books offered in eBook under similar titles. Here’s the story behind that.

In the mid-90’s I spent a lot of time digitizing a stack of typewritten pages. My now ex-wife regretted talking me into getting a home computer as every waking hour I was home I worked on that project. I had some stuff that dated back to my college years, a rough draft that has been titled TAROT, which as the title suggests had something to do with the fortune telling cards. I made an attempt to create characters based on the Major Arcana. I still have that rough draft, by the way. I’ve kept it around for humility’s sake. It reminds me of how badly I wrote at a time when I believed I wrote well.

Most of the material that I transcribed into computer files came from the period directly after my military service. You see, just prior to leaving Texas where I received a degree in Marketing, I threw away roughly 20,000 typewritten pages of accumulated bits of pieces of novels, short stories, and poetry along with the personal journal I kept throughout college. Trust me, it was trash and needed to be discarded. I’d say 95% if what I’ve written into draft manuscripts and published novels came from ideas I’ve had since 1987. However, ONE OVER X: FROM THE INSIDE TO THE CLOSER has roots in TAROT and shares many of the characters of a larger work, WOLFCATS, that date back to the late 70’s.

My wife and I separated in late ’97. For the next two years, in my spare time, I revised the material I had digitized. I wrote some connective material and rewrote large sections creating an extreme rough framework that would eventually become my first publication. While my first publisher wrestled with the editing, which all told took two years, I began writing a sequel titled A GAME OF HANGMAN. Roughly half of that book, which was also published through the same publisher, Ash Creek, and like FROM THE INSIDE TO THE CLOSER, is now out of print, became the core of the WOLFCATS story, which spans 10 as yet unpublished novels. I wrote that material in the summer of 2000, about a year before FROM THE INSIDE TO THE CLOSER was finally published.

I was never satisfied with either FROM THE INSIDE TO THE CLOSER or A GAME OF HANGMAN. The editing was sub par. At the time I was working in retail management, averaging over 60 hours a week and could not afforded the time to properly promote the books. However, I did not abandon the story. It is a series I plan to continue. There are drafts of two more novels. However, when the two ONE OVER X series books went out of print, I did a heavy revision of the material, using notes and comments from several readers as the basis for revision. Also, I split the book into two parts due to the length of the original material. In my opinion the story’s flow is much better. It is easier to follow Andy Hunter’s leaps and hops throughout the span of his multiple lifetimes. Also, it doesn’t take the reader over a hundred pages to figure out what is going on. Those books are available in Kindle format on Amazon.

Eventually, there will be a revised version of A GAME OF HANGMAN, though the WOLFCATS material has been extracted from the manuscript. There may or may not be two more novels in that series. There are additional stories involving Andy Hunter and Lee Anders Johnston of ONE OVER X, though some of that material falls into the FRIED WINDOWS series and THUPERMAN TRILOGY. So, the remaining story may be told as part of different series.

You may also notice another out of print book titled CURSE OF THE SPECTRE. The material contained in that book has been revised extensively, rewritten and reformatted. It is the prequel to the foundation material of the WOLFCATS series that I wrote int he summer of 2000. Much of the prequel is now contained in WOLFCATS I and II. Both are currently under contact with Pandamoon Publishing and I hope that one or both will be published later this year. The material that was extracted from A GAME OF HANGMAN is contained in WOLFCATS III. The remainder of the story I wrote as a separate volume during the summer of 2000 is contained in WOLFCATS IV through VII. Volumes VIII through X were written between 2005 and 2007, in response to several beta readers telling me they wanted to know how this, that and the other played out. Although there is a somewhat natural conclusion to WOLFCATS VII there are two major story arcs left unresolved. Those are completed in the final three books.

Authors Life, Blog, life, moving

If I Ever Go Back Home Again

Historic Shops along Chillicothe Street

I don’t know when it happened that most people in American lived in or around cities. When I grew up on a farm in the 1960’s and early 1970’s it didn’t feel that way. In the part of Ohio where I lived, I think roughly half the people at that time lived in small towns, on farms, or in the countryside. After visiting my old hometown, I get the feeling that things haven’t changed all that much in the past 50 or so years.

A few months ago, I wrote a piece about going home to South Charleston, Ohio. The visit was rushed because of the schedule my publicist and I were on. We had less than a week to cover scheduled and unscheduled visits in three states. It was interesting seeing some of the places I used to live, though. Noting what had changed and what had not (most things hadn’t changed all that much) fascinated me.

I had a crazy idea about visiting my old library, the place I learned to love books. I thought I’d donate my most recent books, the ones of which I’m proudest and a few others titles from my publisher, the great and underappreciated works of some of my dearest colleagues. Disappointingly, the librarians at the Houston Library of South Charleston were at best cool to the idea. To them, I was just another author (maybe they thought I was self-published) who wanted to get my opus onto the shelves of their hallowed halls. Really, what I expected was a brief conversation about my connection to the town and perhaps sharing a few anecdotes from the past – things that only someone my age might remember about the curious little town. That part of the conversation never happened.

It is a rite of passage for an author to have a book on the shelves of a library. It’s not as easily accomplished as you might think. Space in a library is at a premium. Although they may want to support authors, especially local ones, they also have to answer to superiors about their borrowing rates.

When I lived in Melbourne, FL, the local library was more receptive to my first two publications. I recall the feeling of accomplishment I had when later on I visited the library with my daughters and together we perused the stacks until we found my books, alphabetical by author. No, it didn’t appear that anyone had checked either of them out. But still, that ranked high on the cool factor for all concerned.

I was speechless after the reception I received in my hometown, which is something for me to say. My publicist commented that the ladies were rather rude. As I said in the previous blog post, they weren’t expecting me.

Houston Library of South Charleston

Since then, a lot of things have changed. I moved to Southern California, meaning I’m farther away from my roots. Although I have visited Ohio several times in the past few years, always before I stayed around Cleveland. The visits were intended to have a more local base of operation for other excursions. One year Christine and I went to Chicago, for example. As my publicist lives less than a hour to the west of the Cleveland, it made some sense going there and driving to various places across the Midwest.

Since I’m now three time zones distant, I’m not sure when I’ll next be able to swing a trip to the Ohio. I know that if I do return I want to have something scheduled for South Charleston, perhaps at the library of maybe Miami View Elementary. I’d also like to visit Shawnee High School in Springfield. That is where I graduated in ’74. Actually, I’d like to spend a few days in the general area, connecting with some old friends and relatives. On the past trip I was able to meet up with two of my cousins, Randy and Lanelle, but the schedule was so tight that even that almost didn’t happen.

I realize that everything in the world has grown older around me. I refuse to admit that I’ve changed too. I’m stubborn like that. There is a scene in one of my books where a guy who is my age is talking to a slightly older man who says, “When you get old everything starts falling apart, not just your body but the world around you, too.” To which the slightly younger character responds, “I’ll try to keep that in mind.”

Truth is that the potential I had at eighteen years of age when I went off to college has greatly diminished. I had lots of dreams, and some were pretty big. Forty-four years later, I’ve accomplished some things I set out to do, but certainly not everything. I have seen a lot of the world, places the average person from South Charleston, Ohio never has. I’ve lived here and there throughout the US. And I have friends from all over the country and many around the world.

I guess I’d like to go back home to tell the people who live there, people I have never met (or the sons and daughters of people I grew up with), that as scary as the big bad world may seem when you’re a teenager in a small town, there are enchanting places to see and wonderful people to meet everywhere you go. Most people are wonderful, you know – once you get to know them, once you get past the artificial barriers that separate us. Also, I’d tell them not to sell themselves short of the opportunity of stepping out and making a lasting mark. And, by all means, NEVER stop dreaming.

Authors Life, Blog, Books, Editing, Publishing, Urban Fantasy, Writing

2019: Starting Out in So Cal

I’ll be consolidating my Facebook pages from three to one. It has been cumbersome maintaining the three pages and, frankly, I haven’t been keeping up with regular posts. Also, my FB account has nearly maxed out with the mythical 5000 friends limit, so I’m directing everyone to my author’s page. I will be posting everything book related there and, for the short term, some of those items may be posted on my timeline as well. Ideally, I will end up with a author’s page and a timeline which caters more to my family and close friends.

2019 promises to be a wild ride. I’m starting out in So Cal. There have been some adjustments to make, but overall I like it here. And I can finally say I’ve eaten at In-And-Out Burger and shopped at Ralph’s. I’m not sure that makes me a Californian or that anything ever will, but that’s okay.

I’ve been working on a project titled Dead Men Don’t Wear Watches, which fits into the larger Fried Windows/Becoming Thuperman universe. Although the main character is a badass female detective named Mona Parker, Brent Wood and well as Will and Sandra make helpful appearances.

The book is set in this area of California. I wrote the draft for it several years ago and, while I’m here, I’ll be fine tuning the details to make a better fit to this setting. In the overall chronology of the fictional universe I’ve been working on, DMDWW come after Fried Windows and its sequel, Castles of Ninja Bread, which, of course, occurs a decade later than the Thuperman Trilogy (Becoming Thuperman, Homer Underby and Thuperman & Cassandra). It serves as a backstory piece for my Wolfcats series as well, filling it a few details not covered in that story. There is also a prequel to DMDWW, which is set in the Boston area as well as a sequel, which is set in central Texas.

Anyway, I’ll be busy for a while finishing those stories . For now, they exist in various stages of completion but certainly need updating.

Authors Life, life, moving

Settling In

It’s been a week since I flew into LAX to begin a new chapter of my life in Southern California. For the most part I’m settled in, now. It’s great being with my son again and helping he and his wife, Laia, with the newborn, my grandson, Jackson Legend Williams. But settling has required some adjustment.

The weather is considerably different here from Florida. Although the climate in Orlando is considered semi-arid, it always feels like it’s about to rain because of the humidity. And though it doesn’t rain everyday (and can go for long spans without any precipitation) it certainly rains more than it does in Irvine, CA. Here, the humidity is generally lower at midday. This time of year, it tends to be foggy in the early morning, though.

Another adjustment I’ve had to make is the time. It’s 3 hours earlier here. That means stuff I used to get up to do at 3 AM I can do at midnight before going to bed. Also, if watching a night game on TV, it usually starts before sunset and ends around 9 PM. I’m not sure my body has completely adapted to new scheduling requirements, but I am better off than I was the first day here. I’m told that adjusting is worse going from west to east. I don’t doubt that. I recall how painful it was getting used to being back in the States after spending two years in Asia.

This is not my first time living in California, either. While I served in the Air Force, I attended the Defense Language Institute at Presidio of Monterrey, where I spent about a year studying Chinese Mandarin. I’d like to drive up the coast to revisit some memories I have of the place, but I’m not sure when or if that will happen. Even though Monterrey is in the same state, it is about as far away from Irvine as, say Orlando is to Charleston, SC. Also, this is not my first time in the LA area. One of my fellow DLI students and I took a trip down here during 4th of July weekend in 1983. We stayed at his cousin’s apartment in Newport Beach, which is roughly 5 miles or so from where I’m living now.

I have some friends who live in California. One lives upstate a bit. A couple of others live in LA. A fellow Pandamoon Publishing Author, Katie Masters, lives in the next town – maybe three or four miles from here. I’ve already contacted one of the LA people, a former model, actress and author. We’re meeting soon for lunch. My friend from upstate will be driving down here around mid-month. Since her birthday is around then, I’m thinking of taking her to a movie and dinner. A couple of editors I know live here, too, as well as two of the voice actors who have done Audible books for Pandamoon authors.

My immediate plans are to finish a revision of a book that is set in this area. It’s funny, because when I wrote it I had not been in So Cal for years. There are things I need to correct.

Concurrently I’ll be looking for a job, something to help with expenses while I’m here. Yes, a lot of things in California are higher, but so far what I’m seeing is that housing, fuel and taxes are the big difference. Everything else seems to be priced around the same as it was in FL, with some variation for food depending on where it is produced. A lot of fruits and veggies are cheaper here, for example, because they are grown in state.

Amazon, Blog, Books, Fantasy, novel, Publishing, Science Fiction, Technology, Urban Fantasy

Review of Audible Service & The Three J’Amigos Trilogy (JADE, JANE and JILL) by Rose Montague

Recently, I upgraded my Kindle Paperwhite. The latest one has twice the memory and is waterproof (within reason, anyway). It also supports Audible audiobooks, which is rapidly becoming huge in the publishing industry, with many Indies and small publishers joining the major publishers with titles in release. So,  I decided to give this new thing a test drive.

Audible Trademark

Audible is an Amazon company, but you don’t need a Kindle device to enjoy the audiobooks. If you have a smartphone (who doesn’t these days?) you can download the Audible App for Apple or Android and play the book through your Bluetooth speakers, headphones, earbuds or vehicle (if so equipped). There are some special trial deals going on for little or nothing. Once you see how much it frees you up, while still satisfying your lit needs you’ll want to sign up for it. You get one free download per month and discounts on other purchases throughout the period. What I have discovered is that I can listen to an average length book in a day or so, while doing menial things like laundry, cleaning the house, riding my bike, taking a walk, just about anything.

Author Rose Montague has been an early adopter of the audiobook format for her action-packed YA/NA books. Previously, I’ve read two of The Three J’Amigos Trilogy, as well as both of her other, spin-off books, which take place in the same universe but feature some other characters that have supporting roles in the trilogy. It was just with all the requests for reviews from others I hadn’t gotten around to reading JILL, which was published within the past year or so. But it was coming up on my “to-be- read” list.

All three audiobooks are narrated by Caryn Kuhlman, who does a fine job. It is essential for continuity between books of the same series to have the same narrator, I believe. Kuhlman varies her voice to make each character distinct, which helps a lot from a listener’s standpoint. For example, Jane in the series is “London Jane” and, yes, she has a British accent.

Cover of Jade Audiobook, 1st in the trilogy.

The one thing I will say that is a difference between listening to an audiobook and reading the eBook or print formats is that if you have read the print or eBook previously, it takes a bit to adjust to the narrator’s voice as opposed to your internal, reading voice. The characters are not going to sound the same as you have previously imagined. But you get used to that in relatively short order.

As for the story – I recommend taking the time to binge read or listen to this series. If you enjoy YA books featuring Supernatural beings (Supes), like Vampires, Shape-Shifters, Witches and Faeries, this is a series you’ll love. It offers a mind-expanding journey into the imagination of the author who is a great, natural storyteller. Her books’ pacing is quick.

Cover of Jane Audiobook, 2nd in the trilogy

Her characters are diverse. Jade is a Supernatural mutt, having the attributes of just about every supernatural being. Jane is a Vampire (Vamp) and a member of her community’s royalty. Jill is the Faeire Winter Queen who interacts with the human world on occasion. The female lead characters are strong, independent, sometimes snarky, sword-wielding, dagger-jabbing, (or steel-bat-swinging) badasses who you’ll be rooting for straight out of the gate. Oh, yes, there is a dragon in the mix as well. As J.R.R. Tolkien informed us, every good fantasy needs a dragon. There is plenty of action, excitement, and globe-trotting along the way, with twists and turns that will keep you on the edge of your seat guessing what will happen next. Rose’s books are a thrill ride waiting for you to jump in and claw at anything available while you hang on for dear life.

Cover of Jill Audiobook, 3rd in the series, 

Following this first exposure to Audible, I’ve decided I much prefer listening to the three books in sequence. While waiting for JANE to be written (after having read JADE) I had forgotten some of the story and had to go back into the first book of the series and catch up a bit. I am certain I would have needed to do the same with Jane before reading Jill. However, listening to the books proved to be the best way to revisit the story in preparation for JILL. The trilogy comes to a satisfying, fitting conclusion that also directs the reader to the author’s other series which features Jewel, a budding teenage badass in her own right. Having read both available books of that series I can say that I can’t wait for the audiobooks and also look forward to the next book in that series.   

Blog, Books, Editing, Environment, Fantasy, Future, music, novel, Publishing, Rock Music, Science Fiction, Space, Technology, Urban Fantasy, Word, Writing

The Resurrection: Chapter 30 – Never Except For Always

**Note: Although the following is part of a previously self-published eBook, portions have been modified. However, it has not been professionally edited and likely contains typos and other errors. It is offered as an example of raw science fiction storytelling.**

By the time the local sun disappeared behind the skyline of Haven, one of the two moons was already visible just cresting the eastern horizon. Paul stared at the large beach combing machines the Sakum’malien drivers staged at the edge of the dunes awaiting the departure of all the human sun worshipers. Perhaps they wondered at the odd human behavior, but they said little if anything to anyone – even those who spoke some words of English.

The odd feeling of having forgotten something returned, taunting him with information he could not grasp to recall. Again, he sensed a presence but there was no one immediately around except for Chase, Julie and Clare.

“Come on,” Clare prompted. Paul turned and hurried along as the four of them were among the last to leave the beach and rinse off in the beach house before getting dressed into more proper attire for dealing with the big city life.

Julie and Clare hugged one another and said their goodbyes as Chase and Paul retrieved their coaches from the docking station. When they arrived queued behind one another, Julie hugged Paul and Clare hugged Chase. They two men shook hands. It was a nice late afternoon get together they shared.

Chase was always traveling, mainly between his company’s office in Andromeda and Haven where he worked. Paul worked from dawn to dusk daily, sometimes even going in to work for a few hours on weekends just to catch up. He sometimes worked every single day within a month just to finish a project.

Clare climbed into the floater coach and Paul entered after her, settling in at the controls of the console. He waited for Chase and Julie to get settled and pull away from the boarding curb before he pulled out of the parking area and onto the street. “You aren’t in any trouble leaving work early?” Clare asked.

Paul shrugged, “What if I am? I’ve been working there for five years. I receive minimal raises in reward for always finishing my work on time or ahead of schedule and being at work at least on time but usually early and always staying late when necessary.”

“You don’t want to lose your job.”

“Of course not but I don’t think they even know I exist. No one knows who I am but if I was missing for a while they might finally appreciate what ol’-what’s-his-name takes care of for them.”

“Maybe others would take up the slack and they’d never notice.”

Paul nodded. “Yeah, well that puts the onus back onto me, now, doesn’t it?”

After a long pause Clare cleared her throat, “What was it Chase and you went off to yourselves to discuss?”

“Were you and Julie jealous of phantoms and some imagined competition?”

Clare forced a smile but her eyes did not leave his.

“Chase knows a guy he met a while back named Pete. When I was out in New Milan with Chase last fall we both met him and I beat him at shooting pool.”

“He must be awful at it, then.”

“Thanks a lot!” Paul exclaimed even as he shook his head in disbelief.

“I’m, just being honest, hon,” she said. “My baby brother beat you when we went to visit my folks last year.”

“Yeah, that little scoundrel’s a hustler, though,” Paul countered, after receiving a wave of impressions and perceptions the memories cascaded into his mind, filling in many missing pieces of an established past that stretched back well before he stepped out of the ocean water onto the beach.

Everything was there, meeting Pete in New Milan, accompanying Chase to Andromeda on a detour while on their way home. Chase signed a band and then they returned to Haven. Paul never told Clare he and Chase detoured through Andromeda. It took them three extra travel days but Clare always believed he stayed in New Milan for an extra meeting. It wasn’t like they did anything wrong, but it was just he never bothered to tell her where all they went.

As Paul pulled the coach up to the curb of their apartment building, he pressed the button commanding the door to open and as soon as the coach stopped, Clare stepped out onto the curb and waited for Paul to do the same and dock the coach before he joined her. They both entered the building and stood in the lobby waiting for the elevator car to arrive.

“So, that was the big secret Chase had to talk to you about, this guy Pete?”

“Yeah, it was part of it. Pete’s in a band and they’re looking for a female lead singer.”

“So, of course he thought of Cristina.”

“Yep.” The elevator arrived and they both boarded. Paul pressed the button for their floor.

“I could see her doing it.”

“I could too,” Paul said. “I was waiting about calling her, seeing if she’d call first. I guess I have an excuse, now.”

“You miss Cristina, don’t you?”

“I do,” Paul confessed. Even though he felt as if he had been with her recently.

“It’s been a year a least since she left for school.”

“Closer to two years,” Paul said as he tried to pin down an exact time or event associated with it. “I mean we talk by phone or even exchange messages over the global network but we’ve not been together for a long time. The conversations we’ve had were mostly about her acting and how successful I am. I don’t know where she gets it from but somehow she thinks I’m successful.”

“Aren’t you?” The elevator arrived at their floor and they stepped out. Their apartment was just down the hall, the third door on the right.

“Maybe on a comparative basis. I have steady income. She doesn’t. That’s not how I would define success, though.”

“The material element is a consideration.” She arrived at the door two or three steps ahead of Paul, keyed in her security code and leaned against the door as it unlocked and opened. She held the door open for him as he arrived.

“I suppose what I make is a lot or most people.”

“Well, I think you’re successful.”

“I’m happy – not with work but the rest of my life’s great.” He wrapped his arms around her waist from behind and kissed her neck.

“I love you unconditionally.” She reached up with both hands and grabbed his head, then turning she releases and kissed him passionately. 

“I don’t know what I would do without you,” Paul said as their lips parted. “It’s just I’m not quite what I wanted to be and whenever Cristina sends me a message it reminds me because she’s the one who’s still faithful to her dream. I guess it makes me feel like I’ve given up and maybe sold myself short, just accepting what I can get paid to do.”

“Cristina reminds you of whatever it is that you perceive as your failures. But you’re successful at what you do.”

“I know. I know exactly what you’re going to say. I’m far from being a failure but failure lurks just past the next decision at my company. I’ve never felt like I have any sort of job security. Backstabbing assholes and highly political opportunists surround me. I have a knot in the pit of my stomach every day when I go into the office. I feel like they’re going to fire me, not just threaten it, but follow through with it. I’m not sure that enduring all of that is worth the pay credits.”

“You just take things way too seriously.”

“Maybe that’s part of it, but most of it is I work for self-serving pricks.”

“Everything in life is about perspective,” Clare said.

“And I lack perspective – is that what you’re saying?”

“I was going to say maybe Cristina is more mature than you are. You always say she handles rejection well. Yet you cannot seem to define your success. You have a good paying job. Some people would call it a dream position.”

“My job is anything but a dream position,” Paul said, flipping around a dining room chair backwards and sitting with his chest resting against the chair back.

“Nothing is easy, Paul. Is there any job anywhere that will pay you what you think your time is worth?”

Paul smiled. “Of course not. With the difficulty of the job comes the compensation.”

“Not always commensurate to the demands of the job…”

“But high enough that some damned fool, like me will attempt the job because it pays better than the last three things I tried.”

“Exactly,” she said. “So what do you want for dinner.”

“Let’s shower and get fixed-up and go out for dinner and some dancing.”

“Really? What’s gotten into you tonight? The beach didn’t wear you out?”

“Yeah a little, but I want to make it a memorable day for you.”

“It already is. “

“Then let’s work on the night part of it.”

“Okay,” she smiled broadly.

“I really need to take a proper shower and put on some lotion,” she said. “I’m sure you do too, you always burn so easily.”

“I wore enough sunscreen I think. I’ll call for reservations. Where do you want to east?”

“Surprise me,” Clare said as she headed toward the bathroom.

“I’m not sure you really want me to do that,” he called out after her.

“It’ll be fine,” she called back.

“Okay. But don’t say I didn’t warn you,” Paul said as he flicked on world viewer and brought up the index for local restaurants. “I think it’s always a good night for Italian.” He said to himself.

After calling for reservations, Paul began watching the news. By the time he heard her shower end he was ready and waiting to take his turn, tired of the dryness on his skin and the overall smell of fish.

When she emerged from the bathroom Clare headed to the bedroom to apply her makeup and get dressed. Paul showered quickly and joined her in the bedroom where he dressed accordingly, in casual attire appropriate for the restaurant to which they were going.

“Are we in a rush?” she asked while putting on her eyeliner.

“No, I made the reservations for eight thirty. Take your time.

“This is a nice surprise. Usually you take the easy way out.”

“What does that mean?’

“‘I’m tired – lets eat in and go to bed early’.”

“I’m a guy. I always seek the path of least resistance whenever possible. Sit down a relax a bit.”

“You are the one who was stressed out.”

“It’s a normal state of being for me. I’ll prevail.”

“I hope so.”

Paul joined her on the couch. “You look pretty.”

“Thank you. You look handsome.”

“We match well, then.”

She laughed. “Whatever’s different about you, keep it going, okay?”

As the news on world viewer played in the background, they shared light conversation about other things that had happened throughout the day, mainly the morning events in Clare’s life at her dance studio. She was grateful when Julie called her suggesting they take the afternoon off and head for the beach.

Clare looked at her wristband. “We probably should be going.”

Paul smiled, starting to get up a few seconds before his cell phone ringer flashed on his wrist. He tapped his earlobe, “Hello.”

“Hey, it’s me,” his sister’s voice was welcome.

“I was going to call you. What’s the news?” He tapped his right wrist to display her holographic image in the palm of his outstretched hand so that at least Clare knew whom he was talking to.

“I didn’t get the part.”

“When you didn’t call, I was worried it was something like that.”

“They wouldn’t tell me until yesterday. I went out with friends and got drunk after I found out. I’ve been sleeping it off all day.”

“Are you okay now?” He asked then allayed Clare’s concern with a nod and a wink.

“Except I want to come home and I have no money. I mean, I really am embarrassed having to ask you, but…”

“I’ll get you home if that is what you want. How much do you need?”

“I don’t even know,” she said. “I have really tried to make it on my own. I even took a job waiting tables.”

“I think Chase might have something to interest you.”

“Really, I thought he did musical groups, not actors.”

“I think you need to broaden your horizons a little, sis.”

“Well, I’m an actress.”

“You have an amazing voice. You should be singing.”

“I’ve been auditioning for musicals, Paul.”

“You’re not getting the traction you need. For whatever reason, they’re passing you over, but everyone who knows you says you have a wonderful singing voice. So, let it become your vehicle.”

“I’m trying to do just that.”

“You aren’t getting it. Listen to me, Cristina. You have to make it where you can, and then go on from there. Then you can do the other things you want to accomplish. Once you have established your credibility, you can do other things maybe something you can’t imagine right now.”

“Well, I guess if you pay my way home I should at least listen to your advice.”

Paul laughed. “If you think I’m full of shit, just tell me.”

“It’s not that.”

“I think I’m being pretty reasonable.”

“Some of what you say makes sense.”

“Cristina, honestly. I think everything will be fine for you, but you have to adapt. It’s a big, strange world.”

“Yeah strange is not the half of it. Lately, I’ve had some bizarre dreams.”

“Really?” Paul asked even as Clare reached up on her tiptoes to kiss him on the cheek and then proceeded on toward the bedroom. “Hold on.”

“Okay,” Cristina said.

“Hon, retrieve the coach and I’ll be right down.”

“Last night could be explained away by all the alcohol. But even before that…the dreams are like the world had not been completely terraformed – like it was forty years ago, you know all the cities were still domed.”

Paul laughed.

“The strangest part, you were in a lot of trouble there,” she said. “You were in prison and trying to escape. It was very bizarre.”

“And what was it that you did in that world?”

“What do you mean what was I doing there? It was a dream, or more like a nightmare.”

“No, I mean what did you do for a living?”

“I don’t…remember…well, but no, I think…I think I was actually a singer.”

“See, in your dreams it’s your destiny. Take it as a sign.”

“Maybe it is, Paul. I don’t know. I’m tired of this craziness. And I want to see you and just sleep for a while.”

“Good you can rest up and when I go to New Milan next month you can come with me.”

“I’ll be back at school by then,” she protested.

“So you have spent almost two full years learning how to act and perform…”

“But I can’t land a role at an audition.”

“Sometimes, I think destiny forces your hand. Maybe you need to audition for a rock band in New Milan.”

“We’ll see.”

“Come home and make a fresh start, sis. Take a sabbatical from your studies. I have always thought you have the potential to be a star. All you need is to find the right path. Chase seems to think you’ll work out for this band in New Milan.”

“I don’t know…”

“The two guitarists are professional sound engineers so the audition will be at a real studio. Chase knew one of them, a drummer from another association. Chase sort of auditioned them. He said what they lack is a vocalist of your caliber.”

“He said that?”

“Maybe not in those exact words, but it was his idea to ask you to audition.”

“So, he’s the one who put you up to this?”

“Yeah, well, I worry about my baby sister, especially when she calls me to tell me she’s broke.”

“Okay, I hear you. I told you I’d give it a shot.”

“Go into this with a positive attitude. I have a very good feeling about this.”

“You know me. I’m always positive whenever I audition.”

“This can work for you.”

“In a strange way, I feel good about it, too,” she confessed.

“That’s the Cristina I know and love. Go to the station in the morning. I’ll arrange everything for the ticket from this end, okay?”

“I appreciate this a lot, Paul.”

“Hey, if I was in trouble I know you’d come to my aid.”

“Since Dad and Mom…well we only have each other.”

“I know. We have to be family first. “

“I’ll call if there is any change.”

“Okay, sis,” Paul said. “Have a safe trip.”

“See you day after tomorrow.”

He tapped his earlobe to disconnect the call. He went to the kitchen for a glass of water, fully intending to go straight downstairs. He hoped Clare was not pissed at having to wait. But when he passed through the dining room he felt the strange presence again, an eerie sensation as if he just passed through another consciousness, causing him to shiver as his skin erupted into gooseflesh.

“Who’s there?” He challenged.

With no answer, even the sensation of the presence was gone.

He continued, rapidly gulping down the water.

“Is anything wrong?” Clare stood in the doorway?”

“No, I was just coming. I’m still having odd feelings,” he said.

“Maybe you need to rest. We can go out some other time.”

“No, I need to spend all the time I can with you.” He felt the presence again – behind him, but saw nothing.

“You’re sure?”

“Yeah.” He nodded.

He opened the closet door on his way out the door to grab a light jacket. After slipping it on he stepped out into the hallway to join Clare. “I hope I don’t get a ticket. I’m parked in the loading zone.”

“Sorry.”

“It’s okay. So, Cristina is coming home?”

“Yeah. I have to get her a ticket.”

Clare nodded as they arrived at the elevator.

“She’ll be here at least a month. Then she’s going out to New Milan.”

“With Chase and you?”

“Or just Chase. I haven’t decided to go.”

The elevator doors opened. They stepped inside. He pressed the button for the lobby. Then as mostly a reflex he plunged his hands into the jacket pockets, his right one wrapped around a small orb. Withdrawing his hand he looked at it resting in his palm.

“What’s that?”

“Something I thought I lost.” He closed his fist around it, the opening his hand palm up it disappeared.

“That’s from the magic act you used to do?”

He chuckled. “Yeah. Maybe that was the last time I wore this jacket.”

“You need to check your pockets before you hang things up.” She wrapped her arm around his elbow.

“I know, hon. Sometimes I forget,” Paul admitted.

“So, where are we heading?”

“I thought you wanted me to surprise you.”

“I said that, didn’t I?”

“Having second thoughts?”

“No, it’ll be fine. I’m sure,” Clare said.

The End