Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

One Man’s Millennium, a Y2K Story

By Perry Bradford-Wilson
Author of Tales of McKinleyville: Big Doin’s at the Chinese Baptist Church, Tales of Placerville: Booksellers to the Savage West, and co-author of Midnight in Never Land

December 31, 1999

In which the new century begins

In the last years of the twentieth century people became terrified that the world was soon going to be devastated by a villain called the Millennium Bug (not a virus, not even of the computer variety).  The apocalypse that would result from this devastating attack was referred to as Y2K.  I won’t bother to explain the details here.  Just go to Wikipedia or Google “Millennium Bug” or “Y2K” and then return to this story.

You’re back?  How considerate of you.   Now, as you may have read, people’s fears turned out to be largely unfounded and the whole Y2K thing turned out to be a paper tiger (okay, Google that term if you’re unfamiliar with it).  What many of us don’t know is that there was at least one individual who was heavily affected by the Millennium Bug, and this is his story:

For Dino Exeter 1999 was not a good year.  And now, on New Year’s Eve, he stood on the edge of the bridge in the dark.  Battered by a cold, damp wind, his year wasn’t getting any better.  His clothes were soaked, his nose was turning red, and he thought he might be coming down with a case of the sniffles.

Not that it would make any difference in a few minutes.

He looked down at his watch.  It was the third watch he’d purchased that day, because the first two hadn’t worked.  When he bought this one he’d had to go through six credit cards before he found one that still had any credit on it.  Four times he’d called the telephone time service to make sure it was set properly.  Through trial and error he got the watch set perfectly, right to the second.  Currently it was five minutes to midnight… exactly.  The twentieth century would come to a close, and so would the life of Dino Exeter.

He situated the rope about his neck – tight enough that it couldn’t slip off around his head but loose enough that it wouldn’t be uncomfortable until that final moment when it snapped his neck.  He double-checked his pistol to make sure it was properly loaded and that the safety was off.  He opened the bottle of poison and swallowed the contents.  Then he looked at the watch again.  Four minutes to go.

Four minutes, stretching out in front of him like infinity, four long agonizing minutes during which he would have to reflect upon the broken man he had become and the dreadful year that had taken him step-by-step to this chilly spot.

One might say that the end of the twentieth century had not been kind to Dino.

Last January.  January 15, 1999.  That was when his luck had turned.  He went lunch with Bubbles, his mistress, at the Buttercup Pantry.  After they finished eating he lit up a stogie he’d lifted from his boss’s desk at Widgets, Inc,., ignoring the huge NO SMOKING sign directly above his head.  Puffing grandly on the cigar, he overheard a developer sitting in the booth behind them say that a huge multinational corporation was going to buy all the contaminated property down by the rail yards, clean it up and build a big industrial park.  Dino always eavesdropped on the other people eating around them (it was certainly more worthwhile than listening to Bubbles).  Now the practice was finally paying off, because he knew something no one else in the world knew.  His retired neighbor, Ponty McFarland, owned a large piece of land just adjacent to the lots the industrial park wanted would be built on, and the decrepit elder wanted to sell it.  Old Ponty said it to him over the fence just this morning when he was tossing out the used cat litter and Elsa’s vodka bottles.  But ancient Ponty expected to get peanuts for the land!

So that’s when he set events in motion, events that would have terrible consequences.  Last January.  Dino had scraped every last cent he had out of savings and bought the vacant lot from the elder Ponty and waited for the development of the industrial park to begin so that he could resell the land for a healthy profit.

By July things started to get really tight.  His wife, Elsa, graduated from one bottle of vodka and a box of bon bons every day to several of each.  She spent money like they were Rockefellers, and with all of their savings invested in wizened Ponty’s waterfront lot they were spending more than he made.

Then came September.  That was when Elsa found out about Bubbles.  He still had a crescent-shaped pink spot on his forehead where the bottle hit him.  The divorce settlement wasn’t complete yet, but she’d probably take him for everything he had left.

Which explained November, when he ran out of money staying at the transient hotel and his boss at Widgets, Inc. caught him lifting another box of fine Havanas.  The pink slip and final paycheck were on Dino’s desk less than an hour later.

Now it was December 31st and he had just come from signing over the deed to broken-down Ponty’s vacant lot to the developer of the industrial park (who still hadn’t broken ground) for less money than he paid for it.  His bank accounts were empty, his house and belongings were in the process of being taken by his wife, he lost his job, and his one chance at wealth had just been snatched away.

At least maybe he could make the newspapers as the first suicide of the year 2000.

The last thirty seconds were the hardest, watching the hand tick its way toward the twelve.  “Here’s where my luck changes,” he thought.  He took a deep breath and then, as all three hands came together (making it look, he thought, as if the watch face was flipping him off), he launched himself off the bridge.

He was flying through the air as the new millennium began.

At that very moment the Bank’s mainframe computer hiccupped and, despite (or perhaps because of) the hard work of numerous programmers who had worked for months perfecting new “Millennium Bug-Free” software, made several minor errors which resulted in two million dollars being credited to the bank account of one Dino Exeter.

At one second past midnight the Mountain Air passenger flight which was in the process of landing at the International Airport lost all tower support and FAA communication, likely because of the absence of any attempt to hire numerous programmers to correct its “Millennium Bug-Ridden” software.  Blind due to the fog, the pilot overcorrected and the plane set down on Highway 49 instead of the runway, and plowed into oncoming traffic.  The industrial park developer and his briefcase full of signed sales contracts were trapped in the plane as it burst into flame.  The tail-section broke away and landed on a car driven by an executive from Widgets, Inc., who was so busy puffing away on his expensive Cuban cigar that he never knew what hit him.

At two seconds past midnight the mainframe at Widgets, Inc., reset the date to December 31, 1998, a safety feature added by those “Millennium Bug-Correcting” programmers to keep it from resetting all the way to 1900 in case their other fixes didn’t work.  Dino Exeter was once again listed amongst the employed.

At three seconds past midnight the computer chip in the East Bidwell Road railroad crossing gate turned itself off in confusion (strangely unrelated to anything involving bugs or programmers.)  A fifty-car freight train collided with a car belonging to Elsa Exeter, driving home drunk from a party, and flung it three hundred yards down the tracks.  Upon her passing, since her divorce was not yet complete, all of her belongings – the house and jewelry – became the property of her husband.

At four seconds after midnight, Dino Exeter, just to make sure the job got done, fired the pistol at his head.  Since he was already falling through the air his aim was shaky, and the bullet missed, instead hitting the rope and parting it.  Now free, he fell until he plunged into the deep, cold lake.  The impact drove the air from his lungs and he gasped, inhaling great quantities of icy water.  Instinctively he paddled for the surface.  Breaking free into the night air he threw up, driving the water from his lungs and the poison from his stomach.

Floating in the darkness and shivering in the night, Dino sighed.  I guess the arrival of the 21st century hasn’t done anything to improve my luck, he thought.

© 2011 Perry Bradford-Wilson

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The Metric Contraction of Matter vs. The Metric Expansion of Space

By Perry Bradford-Wilson
Author of Tales of McKinleyville: Big Doin’s at the Chinese Baptist Church, Tales of Placerville: Booksellers to the Savage West, and co-author of Midnight in Never Land

This matter (pun intended) has been floating around my temporal lobe for some time (that pun intended as well).  Physicists, cosmologists and astronomers have long believed that space-time is expanding and that any two points in the universe (or polyverse, or whatever multidimensional structure this expansion may include) are growing further apart as we follow the arrow of time from the past toward the future.  I have no reason per se to discount this accepted theory.  I enjoy mental puzzles, however, and the theory of spatial expansion seems on its surface to have potential holes (ooh, more puns.)  The following discussion is strictly for intellectual exercise and the potential for learning a few new things:  I have no interest in being lumped with superstitious flat-earthers, creationists, and other crazies.

As a non-mathematician I have a difficult time reading the calculations which support the theory of spatial expansion, although I will take it as gospel from those who eat numbers for breakfast that they do confirm it.  Personally, I tend to gravitate (enough with the puns) toward the observational evidence.  The first and most famous piece of observational evidence, first suggested by Edwin Hubble, is the redshift of electromagnetic spectra, a “Doppler effect” in which light waves shift toward the red due to expansion of wavelength caused by the “stretching” of space.  This is a good clue, although I might note that it turns out space is full of Dark Energy and Dark Matter, the nature of which we have virtually no understanding.  It’s possible, is it not, that an undiscovered property of these mysterious elements, whether on a level of quantum or celestial mechanics, is that electromagnetic spectra extend their wavelength as they pass through or around them, and therefore exhibit the redshift?

But I digress.  Let’s just say that the redshift is caused by exactly what has been supposed:  the space between us (the observer) and the electromagnetic source is increasing.  What if it’s not space that is expanding but, rather, matter that is contracting?  On an atomic or quantum level matter is growing smaller?  If that was the case, all sources of electromagnetic wave/particles would be moving away from each other as they contracted.  As opposed to the universe modeled as an expanding balloon we instead have every atom in it as a deflating one.  Space seems to expand because everything in it is shrinking.

Whether or not this theory still supports the isotropic & homogenous models of the universe I leave to cosmologists.

But it does explain why my mother, as she has gotten older, has gotten shorter.

You can hit me now.

© 2011 Perry Bradford-Wilson

The First Line of Bob’s Novel
By Perry Bradford-Wilson
Author of Tales of McKinleyville: Big Doin’s at the Chinese Baptist Church, Tales of Placerville: Booksellers to the Savage West, and co-author of Midnight in Never Land

Call me Bob.

I am compelled to start this book with those words. The great American novel, Moby-Dick, begins with the words “Call me Ishmael.” I find that a fascinating opening line. I noted it the first time I read the book, involuntarily and grudgingly, under orders from my eighth grade English teacher. You see, the first-person narrator could just as easily have said “My name is Ishmael” or “I am Ishmael.” He didn’t. He said “Call me Ishmael,” which suggested to my twelve-year-old mind that his name was actually something else. He wanted us to call him Ishmael, but for all I knew his name might be “Fred” or “Susan.” I didn’t really know who he was at all.

Now, this isn’t literary rocket science. The observation certainly isn’t a new one. In fact, it was brought up by my teacher a few days later. But I had noticed it on my own, all by myself. There I was, at the tender age of twelve, and I was excited by the use of language. Perhaps that’s why I have always thought it was one of the finest opening lines in literary history. So much so, in fact, that when I adopted a pseudonym I seriously considered using the first name “Ishmael.”

I didn’t, of course. You can see that on the cover of every one of my books. It says “Bob” in any one of a variety of bright colors (although always in the same font – that part is decided by my publishers, and I suppose they consider it my “logo.”) “Bob” may not be as distinctive or unusual as “Ishmael,” but it is certainly easier to pronounce and spell and much shorter to write when autographing books. And “Bob,” handily enough, is exactly the same backwards and forwards.

I entertained several other first lines for this book. After being awakened by Moby-Dick I became a connoisseur of first lines. When contemplating the importance of first lines it is always helpful to consider those that have stayed with you as a reader and assess why they have achieved this permanence in memory. I have a long list, as you might expect.

Among the few which I reviewed was, of course, J.D. Salinger’s opening sentence to The Catcher in the Rye;

“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”

I found the beginning of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina particularly interesting;

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Then there is the classic first line of Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield (the crap alluded to by Mr. Salinger);

“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.”

One good way to begin, ambiguously yet effectively, is the statement which inaugurates Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five;

“All this happened, more or less.”

In the end, of course, I settled on Melville, and whether or not this was a successful choice you, the reader, will have to be the judge. Now that I have dispensed with the onerous task of producing that crucial first line I will get directly to my story:

For a long time I went to bed early. The alarm broke me from my slumber each morning at four a.m. and, presumably refreshed, I sat down to write.

© 2011 Perry Bradford-Wilson

The Guy Who Took Buster’s Season
By Perry Bradford-Wilson
Author of Tales of McKinleyville: Big Doin’s at the Chinese Baptist Church, Tales of Placerville: Booksellers to the Savage West, and co-author of Midnight in Never Land

It doesn’t matter who I am. I could be white, African-American, Japanese or even Antarctican. I could be a Born Again Christian, Buddhist, Muslim or Wiccan. I might be a closeted gay, married with four children, widower, or eunuch. None of that matters. The persona forced on me by the story has subsumed whoever I actually am.

I am now, completely and forever, The Guy Who Took Buster’s Season.

Sometimes, in the morning when I shave, I look in the mirror and realize that I don’t even remember myself. Details of my former life have started to fade and, like the reflection that I am staring into, I have become two dimensional. This flat vessel in the glass no longer has the space within it to adequately contain the person I was. It is an image, only pixels deep, a paper maché mannequin made of newsprint with the same headline repeating endlessly on its surface.

Even after all these months (has it been years yet?) I still go back to that moment that defines me and wonder that such a tiny sliver of a man’s life can be the point of divergence from which the entirety of his existence will proceed. No slow motion technology has been invented that could analyze those precious nanoseconds in more desperate scrutiny than I have. What conditions lead to what happened? What emotions in those shards of time drove me or others to this particular fate? What quantum fluctuation might have made everything turn out differently?
My natural survival instinct has suggested just a single course of action; let it go. It is hard enough to overrule human emotions, unburden myself and move on. But with the entire world stuck along with me, constantly putting me back in my place, it is impossible. “What? You want to be something else?” they ask me, as if I have shown unbelievable hubris. “You are not allowed to… we have branded you. You are The Guy Who Took Buster’s Season. You may not be anything else. Perhaps… if you behave yourself… we will grant you a second act someday.”

The hardest part to live with is that I am guilty. I know it. In that instant where paths diverged and my options were set before me I chose this, although I had no foresight of the consequences of my actions. I wanted to be The Guy Who Took Down Buster. I wanted to be a hero to my teammates, a hero to the fans, and to cement my place in the pantheon of baseball demigods. I wanted to show that I was at least as good a man and player as this wunderkind and Rookie of The Year. It was nothing personal, of course. I had no intention of injuring him (at least physically). Perhaps I wanted him and all those who make it seem so easy (especially because, for the rest of us, it is so hard) to feel a few hard knocks and to take him down a few notches. But I didn’t want to hurt him (I don’t think). It didn’t occur to me in those fleeting seconds that I might become The Guy Who Took Buster’s Season, that I would become the focal point of fan’s hate and anger instead of their adoration.

The other day a color commentator mentioned that Buster’s team was doing just fine and that Buster was healing and expected back in good shape by next year. He said that the other team (my team) had fallen on hard times, intimating that this was karma, a payback from the gods of the game for my naughty behavior. He also mentioned that The Guy Who Took Buster’s Season was no longer on the active roster. My name, if he even remembered it, wasn’t worth uttering anymore. The brand name called up everything the audience needed to know.

That’s alright. It doesn’t matter who I am.

© 2011 Perry Bradford-Wilson

A Moment with Edward de Vere
By Perry Bradford-Wilson
Author of Tales of McKinleyville: Big Doin’s at the Chinese Baptist Church, Tales of Placerville: Booksellers to the Savage West, and co-author of Midnight in Never Land

1592

Often when he rode through the town he could feel their eyes on him and the envy, the jealousy, and the overwhelming desire that they cast made him want to scream. These townspeople – some poor men held to the land they worked, some better men who were free to find the best work, some merchants who lived well in houses almost as large as his own – they all, to the man, looked upon him the same way when he passed. They saw the finery of his dress and they saw the value of his well-bred steed and expensive saddle and bridle. But before all else they saw his title, for nothing else in this land mattered so much as a title. He wasn’t and could never be just a man to them. He would forever be Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl Of Oxford, a member of the nobility whose station by birth made him superior to the common man.

And sometimes this made Edward weep.

For when he looked back at them he was never so similarly blinded by their caste. When Edward gazed upon the cobbler while riding by the shop each morning he saw in his mind’s eye the complete story of a man’s life, with its many chapters and its beginnings and endings. How many daughters did this cobbler have, learning the ladies’ arts at home from their mother? How many sons lived above the shop and which of them would follow in his footsteps, joining the cobblers’ guild and making fine boots and shoes? How many loves had come and gone in the old man’s life before he settled on the woman who was now his wife, and was she a loving partner or a shrew? What dreams did he still entertain, even though in his age every word of his life was surely written in stone?

But Edward could never ask the man these things. Conversation was rarely given freely between the common people and the nobility. The cobbler might answer the most basic questions a gentleman asked, but his innermost thoughts were separated from Edward forever by the disaster of the latter’s noble birth. Asking such questions of Edward’s own class would of course be redundant. No secrets were kept in the castle halls. Every secret was deliberately cried from the towers to feed the egos of the thick, preening, lifeless and wellborn.

There, the people at the market each about their own business; the gay men, the wit entertaining his young friends, the buyer debilitated by indecision as the greedy eyes of the merchant wait for him to make a choice. It was people such as this who populated the Earth, not the odd and self-absorbed vessels of the noble houses who believed themselves blessed with a spark of the divine and who breathed the rarefied air of peerage.

Aye, there was the rub. Edward’s family would have found his fascination with the lives of the vulgar ken shocking, and this made Edward keep these thoughts to himself, which only increased his feeling of detachment. “Caught between two worlds,” he sometimes thought of himself, “I all alone beweep my outcast state and trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries.”

Self-pity did not become him, however, and so he retreated to his books and diaries, places where the stories of men, albeit legendary, historical and mythical, lay ripe for consumption. Perhaps Hercules did not live the life of a simple cobbler, but at least he was human by half.

There was just one way he could communicate with them, be one with them, and show that he understood them. “The play,” he reminded himself. “The play’s the thing.”

© 2008 Perry Bradford-Wilson