02 February 2011

The Dream Land I - excerpt from chapter 8

I thought I'd post an excerpt so visitors can get an idea of the style and plotting of the Dream Land series.

In this portion, the last 3/4 of chapter 8, we quickly survey the development of the relationship between the two protagonists, Sebastian and Gina.

Backstory: when they stumbled through the interdimensional doorway ["tangent"] to another world ["Ghoupallesz"], Sebastian was soon ready to return to Earth--if it was even possible--but Gina, at the time his girlfriend, elected to stay. 

After successfully returning to Earth, Sebastian continues to experiment and realizes the opportunities for appearing on Ghoupallesz in different years ["time zones"]. As he travels, he occasionally bumps into Gina, who has also been jumping around in different time zones.  Thus, he  meets her at various points in her life but out of sequence, as you will see....


Life seemed to stretch and expand for him like salt-water taffy and he became a serious collector of calendars, just to keep track of his comings and goings.
“You’ve been here long enough, haven’t you?” he dared ask Gina when she was living on the north side of the port city of Selauê in Sekuate.  It was a journey he took the next year, hoping again to coax her to return with him.  “It’s not too late to return, pick up where you left off, get back into your life.”
“I’ve got everything I need here,” said Gina.  “This is my life.”
“But won’t your family be worried about you?”
“They’ve probably forgotten me by now.”
“No, they think you’re back in college,” he insisted, “but too busy studying to call them. That’s what I told them. They call me to ask about you almost every week. And all I’ve got to say is that I haven’t heard from you either.”
She nodded, reflecting on a ghost of a memory of a ghost town life.
“You should stay here, too,” she said cheerfully. “What’ve you got going for you back there?  On your beloved Earth?”
“Well, it is my home. Where I was born. Where I expect to die. Someday.”
“Not for a while.”
He shifted uneasily on the floor cushion.
“So, it seems that I want to stay home and you want to travel.”  He regarded her, saw her eyes looking inwardly.  “I guess we won’t ever get along that way.  I see that.  What did we ever have in common before?”
She looked up.  “Love of adventure.”
“Yeah, up to a point.”
“You want to write up every experiment,” she said with a sly grin, “but I’m anxious to get on to the next experiment.  It’s what happens next that intrigues me. Not what happened last time.  This is like one big experiment.  Life is just an experiment!”
“So you’re living your experiment, huh?”
“Of course, I am!”
“Like an anthropologist, living among the natives, studying them.  Is that it?”
“Okay...sure...that will do.”  Their eyes met for a moment, then broke away.  “I suppose I am here to study this place, and the people who live here.  No, I wasn’t thinking like some researcher gone to the wilderness, but now that I’m here don’t you think I should continue?  Shouldn’t I see what it’s all about?  Then someday—”
“Someday you’ll return and publish your study?  I don’t think so.”
“You’re right.”  She pouted.  “I won’t come back.  I won’t publish a book about life on Ghoupallesz.  You’re right about that.”
“So all of your so-called research will never be shared with anyone?”
She deliberately sighed.  “Is that sad?”
“Unprofessional, perhaps.”
“I’m interested in everything, but I’m not interested in writing up the experiment.”
“You should keep some records,” he suggested.  “I’ve started a journal of my travels.”
“Well, aren’t you the good scientist!”
He pointed at the notebook beside her on the table. “Write about your adventures, then.  Someday you may need to remember everything you’ve done.”
She picked up the notebook.  “I have been keeping a diary.”
“Good for you.”  He caught himself and grinned.  He hated to use her standard phrase, but he loved how it made her squint.  “Hey, maybe you can have someone bring it to me when you’re done writing it.”
“Sure,” she said without expression, “I’ll leave it to you in my will.”

Back on Earth, he was able to easily resume his life.  He kept notes of everything.  Whenever he would step back through the tangent, he could read what he had been doing before he left and pick up his life without pause. He also kept notes of what he did while he was away.
Sure, he played around.  During the next year and a half he often stepped through one of the tangents at the quarry to see whatever he might find.  A few weeks in what he called negative space would only cost him a day or so of Earth time, a week at the most, sometimes as little as a couple of hours.  He calculated the days: a total of 617 on his Earth calendars, but more than a thousand additional days lived on Ghoupallesz.
At first he was hesitant, wanting only to see if he could do it again.  As it became easier, however, he traveled more often—in a few instances twice in the same Earth day.  Besides satisfying his curiosity, he would sometimes escort his girlfriend-of-the-moment through the tangent for a little adventure—what he suggested to them would be a “walk on the wild side.”  Merrie O’Dell was not impressed by the desert.  Margie Schmidt was frightened to tears in the jungle.  Melanie Bradshaw seemed to enjoy it but got a bad rash. Annie Kaufmann was practically ready to be a Voyager like Gina—so, of course, he rushed her back through the tangent to Earth and vehemently insisted she’d had a bad dream.  None of them were right.  None of them could substitute for Gina.  He could not even dream up someone who might replace her.  Some nights he could not dream at all.
He went in search of Gina sometimes, too, but just as often gave up whenever something else interesting caught his attention.  Still, he did find her from time to time, as he popped around the years and the cities—just as she did.  It was becoming their game, a playful chase across the tangents.  He visited her, life by life, and gradually began to accept that she would always be ahead of him in this tangent game.  He remembered the things she said to him each time he visited, vowing to forget her and stop living a lie and not worry about what she was doing or where she was or who she might be with.  She was never going to be his—never more than a good friend.

Although Gina was really only two years older than him, the next time he met her, quite by accident on an autumn journey through Tangent B-3, she looked thirty years older than him: still beautiful in a natural way, but mature now, a woman not a high school girl.  He liked the way she looked and he praised her appearance.
“You are so charming, Sebastian,” she praised him in return.
“I mean it.  No matter how weird it is to be here seeing you like this, I still love you, and I want to be with you forever.”
“Be careful, forever is a long time,” she said, blushing.  She remained relaxed, knowing that her husband, Tomak-Umrout, did not understand English.  “Somehow, I feel we’ve had this conversation before.  You’re still sweet.  But you’ve got to stop being a high school boy—or a college lad.  This puppy love thing is getting old.”
“It’s not puppy love,” he insisted, feeling like a Dachshund.  He became a Rottweiler: “We made love!  We had sex!  That means something!”
She laughed.  “Of course, Sebastian.  We had a good time.”
“I am in love with you!  I was back then, too.  I made love to you because I love you.”
“Lovely wordplay, darling.”  She saw how her words cut into him.  “Oh, Sebastian, you know how teenagers are.  Just having fun, no commitments, no long-term plans.  We were living for the moment.  That’s not to say I didn’t love you.  I do love you.  But there are at least thirteen types of love and, unfortunately, not all of them apply to you.  I care about you, but I’m not head over heels, sorry to say.”
“I understand,” he said but did not.
“Look at us,” she said.  “Just look!  You’re still...what?  Twenty-one?  And look at me: in this life, I’m—well, who can say for sure?  I look like I’m approaching fifty if I were back on Earth.  Is that the way it should be?”
“But you’re still young in another life,” he insisted, “a life I haven’t found yet.”
“Now you’re getting it!”
He wanted to shout to the moon the injustice he perceived, yet Ghoupallesz had no moon, and the nights were frighteningly dark.
“You’re right,” he said, calmly.  “Why should I want you?  Especially now?  You’re old.  I’m still young.  I’ll find someone my own age to marry.”

He massaged his chest, feeling a lingering pain there as her words ran through his mind. The years back on Earth had not lessened the hurt.  He finished college, got his degree and found a job teaching.  He made weekend trips to the other side of the universe.  Once in a while his path would again intersect Gina’s life story and they would enjoy a few moments of nostalgia, of catching up.
On March 13, Gina’s birthday, he again left for what he considered was a well-deserved vacation.  He did not plan to search for Gina, but he found her.  In Ghoupalle year 1828, in the city of Siti, in the nation of Ghoupallæssus, on the western continent, he was shown into her chamber by a butler-type fellow in a golden suit.  A tea-like beverage was served, later a plate of small, crisp, fried vegetables with a purple yogurt sauce.  They were happy to chat through the day, always keeping it light.
“So tell me,” she said, reclining Rubenesque and fully pregnant on the chaise-lounge like some queen or goddess, bored out of her mind and thankful that the jester was available to raise her spirits, “how’s everything back home, back on that dreadful place you call home?”
“First of all, you’ll want to know that your parents have stopped searching for you.  They keep calling me, even so, asking if I’ve heard from you and all I can say is ‘no.’  I want to put their minds at ease but I can’t say anything.  Even if I wanted to say something, I wouldn’t know where to begin.  And no-one would believe me, anyway.  I’ll end up in some insane asylum.  But they’ve called off the search and now consider you gone.  They filed to declare you dead.  They had a memorial service.  I attended.”
“That’s sad,” she moaned lightly, “but what can I tell them that they’d believe?”
“I understand.”
“So...what else?”
“Isn’t that enough to blow your mind?” he exclaimed, throwing his arms up.
“Almost.  I never got along with my parents, you know.  It’s better this way.”
“Is that what you think?”
“Sebastian, I’m here now.  I can’t go back.  You can still tell me about ‘back,’ though.”
He gazed at her, his eyes following the line of her distended belly, seeing her popped navel through the filmy white gown.  This was somebody else, he thought; it was not Gina.  But he knew otherwise and decided to not argue any more during this visit.
“Well, my parents have retired and moved to Florida,” he told her.  “So I’m living in the house.  The same house I grew up in.  That’s a bit creepy.  Now I’m master of the house, so to speak.  I do what I want.  Put my feet up on the coffee table, leave clothes on the floor, clean the kitchen at the end of the week instead of right after each meal.  It’s a kind of heaven, I suppose.  And I sleep in the master bedroom, which is especially weird.  I can’t have sex there without feeling icky.”
“You’re having sex in your parents’ room?”  She laughed.
“Hypothetically.”  He knew what she meant.  She was checking on him, making sure he was not lonely.  “I’ve been dating, but haven’t found anyone.  I mean, anyone like you.”
“Again with the love story!”
He jumped in to cover his tracks: “So my old room is just a study now.  I’ve got all my books in there, on tall shelving.  Doesn’t matter.  I’ll sell the place someday and move to a better place.  Something modest, not a mansion like you have here.”
“Even so, good for you!”
“And, as I mentioned before, I’m teaching Social Studies at the new high school they built across town.  Too many students in the district now, so they needed a new building.  I was lucky to get a job there, given my grades in college.”
“They’re lucky to have you,” said Gina with an air of certainty.
“I suppose so,” he said, slowly shaking his head.  “Things change.”
“They sure do.”
They both sighed, perhaps sensing a few regrets hovering in the corners of the ceiling or stuffed under the cushions.
“We were just a couple of kids back then,” he said, turning to watch the children playing with the nanny near the back wall of her compound.  “Now, look at you: You’ve got kids of your own now, and a husband.  You married well.  What’s his title again?”
“He’s the deputy marshal of the eastern district, third ward.”
“But of a big city.”
“Siti is a medium-sized metropolis,” she corrected him, “only a million in population.”
“Well, I’m sure if you live long enough you’ll continue to marry upward.  You could be a queen someday.”
“That’s a goal to shoot for, isn’t it?  I think I’d like being a queen.”
“You’d make a great queen.”
“I would, wouldn’t I?  I’d be sure to be a benevolent royal, granting favors all day.”  She let out a pleasant laugh.  “It’s a lovely fantasy, though, Sebastian.”
The pause was long enough that the butler fellow came to check on her needs.  She waved him off and turned to her guest.
“I guess it’s time to put away our childhood games,” he said rather solemnly, “and start living our adult lives.”
“I’ve been living my adult lives,” Gina insisted, “indeed, for several, um, lifetimes now.  I’m in my fifth family now.  I’ve had three husbands and two lovers here—outlived them all—and now have given birth to five children.  I have put away childhood fantasies, dear Sebastian, yet you—”
“It’s only been a couple years for me!” he announced, almost bitterly.
“I know.  Yet you still seem to insist on playing the game to the bitter end.  You’re a Romantic!  That’s always been clear to me.  But there’s no room for being a Romantic if you’re going to be an Interdimensional Voyager.  You have to be tough.  You have to be certain—about everything.  There can’t be any mush in your mind, no softness in your will, and no opacity in your view of the universe.”
He knew she was right, as so often she was.

On a trip in September 1977, while studying the political movements leading up to the Gotankan revolution of G.P. 1118, he found her in a library.  She was young again, proving that he was meeting her in a ‘time zone’ more recent for her than the previous one where he’d insulted her, calling her old.  She had not yet experienced that insult, so she welcomed him into an embrace.
After a late lunch at an outdoor café, they walked the cobblestone streets to her white townhouse, in the backwater district of the city of Peror.  She said she shared it with a man who was traveling that week.  It did not matter to him this time and she was glad he could accept it.  They stayed up late, drinking and talking history and he stayed the night.  Though she insisted that he sleep on a mat on the balcony, she was not shy about pulling him into the bathing basin with her the following morning.
“I’ve been waiting for you all this time,” he said, frowning, wiping from his mouth the last bite of breakfast.  “I don’t think it’s going to happen.  I wish you well, but I’m ready to be with someone, too.  In fact, I’ve found someone.  Back on Earth.”
“I’m happy for you.”
“That’s good to know.  How many times have I been happy for you?  I want you.  I’ve always wanted to be with you.”
“Oh, don’t be such a wimp, Sebastian!  You and me, we’ll always be the best of friends.  And in my book the best friend outranks a spouse or lover.  You’re the one I tell my secrets to; I don’t tell them to my husband.  Goxon wouldn’t get it, anyway, so why bother him with it?  He’d never understand how tangents work, or how I’m able to stay young while he ages so dramatically.  Someday I must leave him, you know, before he wonders about me.  It’s inevitable.”
“Certainly secrets must be kept.”  He forced himself to smile.  “I have found someone.  Her name is Linda.  She teaches at my school.  Math.  In fact, that’s how we met.  I walked across the hall one day after the last period and asked her to check some equations I’d put together—”
“Always the mathematician wannabe!”
“For the tangents, not personal stuff.”
“Sounds sweet.”
“She is.  Now that I’m looking at you, I have to admit Linda has a resemblance to you.  But I love her.  I think I do.  And since you are already taken, it seems I have no choice.  I’ll be alone or I’ll marry Linda and ride off into the sunset, live happily ever after.”
“That’s how all good stories end.”
“Then I’ll do it.”  He studied her wistful expression, not sure if she was genuinely happy for him, or merely hiding a jealous twinge.
They talked long into the night, one of their indulgent habits, and in the morning she had the maid bring him to her.
“Here, Sebastian,” she called, holding out a small, ornately wrapped gift, “this is for you. Something to remember me by, if you want to think of it that way.  Or, consider it a birthday gift—which ever birthday is closest.  Or, perhaps better, consider it a wedding gift.”
He took the square box and carefully opened the red wrapping, lifted off the top, and looked inside.  In the box sat a globe on four squat feet; it was gold and the top of the globe was pearl.  The globe held the outlines of the continents and ocean of Ghoupallesz.  He took it from the box and discovered that the northern hemisphere opened: it was a music box!  As the music began to play, he regarded Gina, his long lost love, and smiled.
“Thanks,” he spoke softly.
“You’re quite welcome.”
“It’s a beautiful song,” he said, a bit choked, “but rather sad.  Beauty and sadness.  They always seem to go together.”
That was the last time he saw her, met her, talked with her.  He turned twenty-five the next day and vowed never again to step through the tangents.

[end of chapter]

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