Saturday, January 16, 2016

Stephen King's Novel 11/22/63: A Book Review

I think the last Stephen King novel I read was The Stand, first published in 1978. That's probably not true, now that I think about it. It was probably Firestarter which came out in 1980.

I stopped reading King after that. His books were too long, they tended to plod along, the characters were all depressing, his towns were always depressing, and all his stories seemed to end badly.

As I recall, King's novel The Dead Zone was about a man who, after getting in an auto accident and going into a coma, awakens with the ability to see a person's future just by touching them. This story too was about a man who tried to change the future, in this instance, by assassinating another man who was destined to be elected President and start a nuclear war.

So it's possible that King was mining some of his old material when he wrote 11/22/63: A Novel. Maybe so, but it's a lot more complex a novel than his previous works, at least as far as I know since I stopped reading him over 35 years ago. This, I think, is because this time King tackled one of the most famous events in American history: the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

King himself says that the idea of writing this story first came to him in 1972, the year I graduated high school, but he didn't think he had the "chops" back then to do credit to a novel of such scope, plus the research demands were formidable.

By the end of the first decade of the 21st century that was no longer true, and Jake Epping's story was told.

I would never have known about this novel except for a chance discovery on social media of an upcoming six-part television series on hulu based on King's book. Reading the premise fascinated me and, finding a copy of the novel at my local public library, I couldn't resist giving it a whirl.

I was dismayed that this tome was over 800 pages long. I don't have a lot of time for discretionary reading, and even though I read somewhat faster than the average person, it would still take a while to work my way through the whole thing.

Fortunately, it's a page turner.

Yes, especially the town of Derry, Maine was horribly depressing and even unrealistically grim. The communities King develops tend to have personalities of their own, as if they were living (and often evil) beings. Derry: bad. Jodie, Texas: good. Dallas: really bad, but not as downright creepy as Derry.

I liked Jake Epping. He was a borderline normal human being, a recently divorced high school teacher who seems emotionally closed, but only because he's not very emotionally expressive.

Jake got into this mess because he was teaching an adult ed class, one of the students was the high school janitor who was endearing, walked with a limp, and had an acquired brain injury. Harry writes an essay for Jake's class that tells about the night that changed his life, the night when his drunken father attacked his mother, siblings, and Harry with a hammer and killed everyone except Harry. Harry lived, but not without severe consequences.

Jake showed uncommon compassion for Harry and his tragedy but there was nothing he could do about it. After all, you can't change the past...


But another resident of Jake's little community, Al Templeton, the owner of a local diner that served the world's best and most inexpensive hamburgers, had a secret. At the back of the restaurant's storeroom was a sort of "rabbit hole," a tesseract, an invisible doorway that lead to a single destination: September 9, 1958 at 11:58 a.m. You can go back to that moment in time, stay as long as you want, even years, then step back through to 2011 and you'd only have been gone exactly 2 minutes. Step back again, and it's September 9th all over again and whatever you changed on your previous trip was reset. It's as if you'd never gone through before (well, not exactly, but Jake doesn't figure that out until the end of the novel).

It's doubtful Al would have shared this secret with anyone, but another one of his secrets got in the way. You see, the "distance" between 9/9/58 and 11/22/63 is just over five years. Al had this crazy idea that he could save the life of John F. Kennedy, prevent Lee Harvey Oswald from ever carrying out the assassination.

The problem is, toward the end of the five-year journey, Al got cancer.

So he came back to 2011 and told the only man he thought he could trust, the only man young enough (mid-30), healthy enough, and unattached (Jake was recently divorced from his alcoholic wife and they had no children...well, he had a cat), and shared not only his secrets, but all his research (King's research, actually) on Oswald and associates with him, charging Jake with Al's original mission: save JFK at all costs.


Because Al believed that had JFK lived, he would have changed our nation for the better, maybe stopped our involvement in the Vietnam war, saving the lives of countless young men. Of course no one would know how history would play out until (or unless) Kennedy was saved.

A few things.

There's a yellow card man or a red card man or some other color card man who is always waiting near the "time portal" (for lack of a better term) in 1958. He's a wino, probably homeless, dirty, panhandling for money to buy more booze. But he's also connected to the portal somehow, as if he knows something, as if he can tell where Al was from during his trips, or where Jake came from.

The color of the card he wears in the brim of his hat keeps changing, indicating "something". On the day when Jake Epping finally accepts the task of stopping Oswald kill Kennedy, when he encounters the wino in 1958, the card is black and the man had cut his own throat and bled to death.

Another thing. Time doesn't like to be messed with. As long as you didn't actually try to make changes in history, time left you alone (more or less). But when you planned to make a change, time pushed back. You could still exert enough energy to overcome the resistance, but the bigger the change, the bigger the push back.

When Jake decided to save Harry's family from being murdered and prevent Harry's brain injury, the first time, he suffered through severe stomach flu, an attempt on his life by someone else who had a grudge against Harry's father, and he was nearly killed by Harry's Dad himself. Oh sure, he saved Harry, but his Mom still got a broken arm out of the deal, and Harry's brother still died (his sister lived, though).

The second attempt went much better, but Jake had taken precautions against the push back and amazingly, they worked.

But there was no going back. Rather than let the cancer kill him, Al had taken an overdose. Once his death had been reported, his diner would be sold, torn down, and some sort of mega-store would be built on its grave...

...and the tesseract would burst like a soap bubble and Kennedy's assassination would once again be reduced to a subject for history classes. Jake had only days, probably just hours, to step through the rabbit hole one more time and begin his journey through the long five years until November 22, 1963.

The majority of the novel chronicles Epping's living through the late 1950s and early 1960s as George Amberson (and King's portrayal of even the tiniest details of living in America during that time period were exquisite), would-be novelist, substitute teacher, and occasional gambler (like Marty in the second "Back to the Future" movie, Jake had been armed with the results of all the major sporting events, especially the upsets, as a means of making some ready cash), his adventures, first in Maine, then in Florida, and finally in Texas as he, acting on all of Al's research, slowly builds toward the day when he'd attempt to stop one of history's most famous assassinations.

Reading 11/22/63 was like watching one very long multi-car collision...horrible and yet fascinating. People suffered so terribly, and yet, I absolutely needed to know how or if Jake/George was going to save the President's life.

I think the original plan was for Jake/George just to lie low for five years, live modestly, make the money last, and stop Oswald, save Kennedy, and then go back to a better and brighter 2011.

But a man has to do something for five years.

Jake/George isn't a trained time traveler like you'd see in other stories. He has a few facts to go by, but unprepared, how does a man from the 21st century fit in at a time when computers filled a room, manned space exploration was in its infancy, and married couples in TV sitcoms still slept in separate beds?

But in many ways, this isn't really a story about time travel. It's like most of King's novels, about an ordinary person in a highly unusual circumstance, fighting against time itself, as if time had a life of its own, as if time was trying to kill Jake, in order to do what he thought was good, perhaps the greatest good in history.

But history fought back.

Jake/George falls in love, which makes things worse, not for him and not for his lovely Sadie, at least not at first, but for his mission. Time no longer has one target, Jake himself, to shoot at, now it has the woman he loves as well (and time makes them both suffer).

True to form, King introduces a small parade of insane, cruel, brutal individuals into the novel. The results are depressing and desperate, but like the aforementioned car wreck, I couldn't turn away. I found myself, having stopped reading to drive somewhere or perform some other task in mundane reality, terribly worried and wondering how I would ever find a way to stop Oswald. Yeah, I know. I started to identify with Jake/George. It got kind of personal.

Time batters and shreds Jake/George so that he ends up with only hours and then minutes to spare, rather than years, to find and stop Oswald. He does, but the consequences are disastrous. No, Jake/George, though maimed, lives, but so many other people die...

...and as it turns out, so does the future.

I waited a long time to get to this point in the novel and it's almost a let down. This isn't because of a fault in the novel, but because everything up until this moment, has been focused on killing Oswald and saving Kennedy, and in spite of time, it works.

But where do you go from here?

As it turns out, back to 2011, but again, referencing Marty McFly and his visit to the alternate 1985, it's the same town, but it's changed so much, and not for the better. Saving Kennedy doesn't save the world, it fractures reality. The green card man, a different one from the guy who committed suicide during Jake's last trip down the rabbit hole, explains it all to him.

Each trip doesn't exactly reset time. There are residual echoes from the previous trips. Each trip, and especially each change, tangles the different strings in time and if the tangles aren't stopped, existence itself is undone.

The only thing Jake can do is leave the alternate 2011, where no one has ever heard of Jake Epping and most of the world is a war zone, go back to 1958, do nothing, save no one, and then go back to his original 2011, go back to being a high school teacher, and let his scars and limp remind him that no one attempts to change history unchallenged.

Jake resisted. He could still save his beloved Sadie, Sadie who died trying to stop Oswald. Sadie who was almost killed and permanently scarred by an insane ex-husband (a classic King character), Sadie who was the only woman Jake really loved.

All he has to do is risk the very fabric of existence.

The novel was published in 2011, so there's plenty of information on the web that explains the ending, how King resolved the dilemma. Or you could avoid the novel altogether and watch the mini-series on hulu next month.

I'll leave that to you.

I thoroughly enjoyed the novel and almost considered reading it again. But that would feel too much like Jake's failed first trip through the tesseract, and then him going through again to replay history with a different outcome (besides, I've got a headache). Maybe a trip down the rabbit hole will let you, with great effort, change history, but King's novel will always begin and end exactly the same way.

The ending is semi-happy. At least King gave us that much.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Suspended Fiction Writing Experiment

Frankly, I just don't have the time to devote to this right now. I am actually writing a book with two other authors, but it's not fiction and, since it's for pay, the publisher should get my premium time.

It's too bad because I just thought of an interesting variation to my Arabia Terra story, one that I think I like better than my original vision. Guess it'll have to wait.

I don't know if anyone cares or not. Some of my fiction stories (more like fiction beginning of stories) have gotten some looks, but beyond that, I doubt they have achieved any traction.

I guess I'll postpone any work in this direction until sometime next year, if the bug has still got a hold of me. If not, then I guess it wasn't worth my time.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Why Am I Dead?

I'm still trying to do exercises about characterization, but none of the tasks in the Novakovich book are floating my boat.

So I'm making this up as I go along. I started this story out with one of the murder scenes in the 1984 film The Terminator (which is why we never find out who the murderer is in my short story below). 

However, as far as the film goes. Sara Anne Connor's story ends when she dies. From my point of view, there's a lot more to tell.

This is just a draft. If it were a "real" story, it would probably be longer. I'd have to "flesh" a few things out, if you'll pardon the unintentional pun (you'll get it once you start reading the story.) 

I'm concerned that I'm having Sara forgive her husband too quickly and too easily, and that she might be seen as being co-dependent by asking his forgiveness, even though he's done his share of wrongs. I think you'll see my point though, once you've read how Sara's tale really ends.

My name is Sara Anne Connor and I'm dead.

That should be the end of my story, but as it turns out, it's just the beginning.

I didn't expect death to be like this. I was always taught that as a Christian, when I died, I'd go to Heaven to be with Jesus.

But I didn't. I just stood there, looking at my body, collapsed at my feet. I was shot six times by a man I'd never seen before. I answered a knock at my door. I wasn't expecting anyone. I'd just put my baby down for her nap. My little boy was playing with his Tonka trucks on the back patio.

I had the security chain on the door. I wasn't expecting anyone and I thought someone like the Jehovah's Witnesses might be coming around again. I opened the door. He asked if I was Sara Anne Connor. I said "yes". I thought it might be one of my ex-husband's friends trying to find him. Since the divorce, he hasn't been easy to find.

But the man with the coldest eyes I'd ever seen, like a fish, like a machine, slammed the door open, breaking the chain.

I saw the gun and I was paralyzed. I knew I should run. I knew I had to protect my babies. But I froze. I don't remember what I was thinking. It was like I was asleep and watching myself in a dream.

After he stopped pulling the trigger, he turned around and left. He didn't say anything. His face never changed from being impassive and emotionless. He turned around and walked out of my house. Then I looked down and saw my bleeding corpse lying at my feet. I opened my mouth to scream but I couldn't hear anything.

I was vaguely aware that Jenny was crying from her crib. Timmy came running in from the back. I could hear the screen door slam and his running feet pounding across our worn, hardwood floor.

"Mommy! Mommy!" He was yelling and shaking me, trying to wake me up. But I wasn't asleep. I was dead. I felt dead inside, too. Then my feelings came back to life and I started crying.

"Timmy, I'm right here. Mommy's right here," I tried to say. I reached down to him but I couldn't touch him. My hands, my real hands, were lifeless and cold. I couldn't console my son. I couldn't tell him everything was going to be alright.

That's because nothing was going to be alright. My children didn't have a Mommy anymore. Their Dad left months ago, giving up on our family rather than his drinking and gambling (and other women). He wasn't going to raise Timmy and Jenny. He wasn't going to get a job to support them. He wasn't going to spend time playing with them or helping Timmy with his homework. He wasn't going to take them to church.

My babies were abandoned and I don't even know why. Why did that man kill me? What's going to happen to me now? Why didn't Jesus save me? Why didn't he take me to Heaven?

I used to make jokes about attending my own funeral just to see what it was like, to make sure my favorite hymns were played at the memorial service, to hear my Pastor recite special psalms over my grave.

I watched my sister holding Timmy's hand as the funeral ended. Her husband stayed home with Jenny. I watched my sister help my little boy into her car. I knew she would drive him back to their home in Los Alamitos. I never thought she cared enough to provide a home for my children. I never thought that, when he found out I died, Jeff, my ex, would realize Timmy and Jenny needed a family.

I pushed my sister away because she and her husband weren't Christians. I pushed her away when, no matter how hard I tried, no matter how passionately I witnessed to her and told her how coming to Christ was the best thing that ever happened to me, she refused to become a believer.

I pushed Jeff out of our home because he couldn't hold a job but he spent every spare dime we had on horse races and his beer. I tried to get him to go to church with us, the kids and me, I tried. I thought if he could make friends with other godly men that it would help turn him around, help him be a good father and husband.

He didn't want to listen to me either.

Of all the people at church, Pastor Bill, Shelly and the other women in our Bible study group, my spirit, my soul doesn't visit any of them. Only Jeff, only my sister Emily, and of course, my sweet little children. Jenny cries missing me and poor Timmy is so heartbroken and mad at God for taking me away from him and his sister to go to Heaven.

It's been five months now and I'm still not in Heaven. What's wrong with me? Why doesn't Jesus love me? Why am I like a ghost haunting my family?

Dear God, I forgive them. I forgive Jeff for all his faults. I still can't believe I'm watching him go to his first AA meeting. Emily's husband Terry, I never knew, he's been a recovering alcoholic for over ten years now, he took him.

Now I'm watching Emily at her house, rocking the baby in her arms and reading to Timmy from his favorite Bible stories book. Why is she doing that? She doesn't believe, does she? She even started taking him back to my church.

She really does love my children. She and Terry never had kids. I never knew she could be such a good...mother.

I forgive Emily for hurting me by not receiving Christ into her heart. I forgive her for loving Terry more than she loved me. I forgive...

I'm dead. I don't breathe. Why do I feel like I'm short of breath? Why do I feel scared? I can't be hurt. Why am I hurting inside?

I'm already gone from this world. I can't touch anything and nothing touches me. I feel nothing...nothing...

Nothing except sorrow and loss...and regret.

Jesus, please forgive me for everything I've done wrong. Please take me into Heaven. Please take me into your rest.

You aren't going to forgive me, though, are you?

Emily's just put the baby down in her crib to sleep, and she's getting Timmy into his PJs so he can go to bed soon. She's reading him another Bible story about Jesus. What's that he's saying? "When I die, will I see my Mommy in Heaven?"

My heart is breaking for the thousandth time.

"The Bible says that if we repent and ask forgiveness from Jesus and from anyone we have hurt, we're saved and we go to Heaven when we die," she says, comforting him in a hug.

"I'm sorry I yelled at you yesterday, Aunt Emmy," Timmy starts to softly cry. "Will you forgive me?" If only I could take him in my arms. I so love Emily for being so sweet and caring to him.

"I forgive you, sweetheart. I always will," Emily smiles down at him, rubbing his tears away with a finger.

"Please forgive me too, Emily." I hear the words but it takes me a second to realize I'm the one who said them.

Oh God. I am so sorry. "Emily, I'm so sorry for how I've treated you. You're my sister. Jesus doesn't want me to not love you. The years I've stolen from you, years where we could have acted like a family. Years you could have been an Aunt to Timmy. He didn't get to know you, to love you, because I was alive. I was selfish. I was wrong."

"Timmy, please forgive Mommy. I love you and little Jenny more than anything. I kept you from your Aunt and Uncle who really love you, too. I am so sorry. Please forgive me. Jenny, please forgive me."

"Jeff, I've been hurt and angry at you for so long. I thought everything was your fault, like God made a mistake giving you to me for a husband instead of a Christian man. You tore my heart out when you walked out on our children...on me. I was too blind to see I'd pushed you away, too...that I stopped loving you when I gave my heart to Jesus. That's not what he wanted me to do."

"Please forgive me, Jeff. Please forgive me for not being a good wife to you. You really were a good husband and father and you would have stayed, I know you would have stayed...would have stayed and not started drinking, not started gambling, if I hadn't changed so much."

I don't know how long I've been crying. I don't know where I am. I can't see them anymore. I can't see Jeff or Emily or Terry. I can barely see Timmy asleep in his bed or Jenny's sweet little face in her crib.

"Good-bye my babies. Mommy's going away now. I'll always love you. But it'll be OK. Uncle Terry and Aunt Emily love you too, they love you so much. Daddy loves you. I'm glad he's visiting you and playing with you. I'm glad things are going to be OK."

I can't see any of them anymore. I've stopped feeling sad. I love my family, and I know Jesus will take care of them. I believe that. I believe it with all my heart.

I feel so peaceful. Bright light is all around me. I feel warm and weightless. I'm letting go. I'm forgiving. I'm forgiven.

My name is Sara Anne Connor...and I'm going to Heaven.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Transformation by Vision

I've now progressed to Chapter Three: "Character," in Josip Novakovich's book Fiction Writer's Workshop. I've found that describing a scene, particularly from memory, is more difficult than I imagined.

For instance, in writing a very short illustration of The Alley as taken from the 1984 cult classic film The Terminator, I had neglected a great deal of detail about the contents of the alley (I'd forgotten how many discarded newspapers there were, water pipes running up the sides of buildings, the shapes of the buildings themselves). I saw the film again over this past weekend, and realized that I had described mainly the darkness and what I remembered about alleys in general, not this particular alley.

How much more difficult will it be to describe a person and to make that person seem convincingly real? What sort of person should I describe? Should I use an aspect of my own personality, someone I know, some famous or historical figure, a mythic being from some ancient tale of lore...a combination?

In the opening pages of this chapter, Novakovich describes the "conversion" of the Apostle Paul, what changed about him and what didn't. Of course, he takes the traditional Christian view of the Apostle whereas, my own internal image of "Rav Sha'ul" is somewhat to drastically different.

So I have my starting point, I think...

For the basis of the following short character piece, please open a copy of the Bible to the New Testament, and read Acts 9:1-19
"I would never write about someone who is not at the end of his rope."

-Stanley Elkin
His traveling companions gently deposited the Pharisee at the edge of a sleeping mat in a small, rented room just off of Straight street in Damascus. This wasn't how they'd imagined entering the city, nor was Sha'ul the man with whom they had traveled from Jerusalem. Only hours ago, he was a fiery zealot (though not literally associated with the Zealots), breathing murderous threats against the disciples of a Rav named Yeshua, who had died and supposedly been resurrected, vowing their imprisonment or destruction for (supposedly) speaking against the Temple and the Torah.

Sha'ul's once penetrating gaze had dimmed, and wide-open but unseeing eyes had become dulled in the aftermath of the blazing light that bathed their party on the road approaching this city, and a voice only Sha'ul could clearly hear had spoken to him of things astounding and forbidden.

"We will take our leave of you now, my Master," Simeon nearly whispered to the once vital but now strangely shrunken, frail Pharisee. "We need to secure our own rooms." Sha'ul seemed deaf as well as blind for he did not respond. "We'll bring back food."

Without turning toward the speaking man, Sha'ul faintly nodded his ascent as if he could still see the unknown vision from the road. Simeon and his two cohorts quickly escaped the oppressive presence of the now sightless and helpless minister of justice against the religious sect they'd learned was called "The Way." Their once proud mission was reduced to ashes.

Although it was highly irregular, Simeon would send one of their group back to Jerusalem with a message for the High Priest, who, a Sadducee, had consented to issuing letters of authority to the Pharisee Sha'ul permitting him to arrest and remove any disciples of this Rav Yeshua from the local synagogues and return them for trial. Would the Cohen Gadol have any instructions given these disastrous events? What were they to do with Sha'ul now?

"Why do you persecute, me he said," an abandoned Sha'ul muttered to himself in dim light and utter darkness. "Prosecute me? Prosecute him? How was I to know? How was I to know there was substance and power behind these measly group of heretics?" a still crushed and astonished Sha'ul murmured.

"How was I to know that you were the Moshiach, the Son of the Most High, the resurrected one?" Sha'ul abruptly screamed, as much to Yeshua as to the blind heavens!

Hearing no reply nor expecting one, the minutes lapsed and his rapid, ragged breathing slowed. Sha'ul supposed it was the traditional time for the Minchah, the afternoon prayers, and began to daven silently to Hashem, the Most High God, His God, who had abruptly become, if not a stranger, then at least the surprising source of something unexpected, as this new dimension of reality came into focus in the Pharisee's life.

Throughout his prayers, Sha'ul's mind raced in a countering subtext of desperate thought about who he is becoming now that he has been confronted by Yeshua, whose disciples he had condemned and yet how Sha'ul is condemned by the power behind and above the sect of The Way. Sha'ul had always been zealous for the Torah, for the sacrifices, for the Temple. He had kept every Law and tradition of his people in the manner of the Pharisees. He washed up to his elbows before eating every meal, kept all of the precepts so that he was always ritually pure, even when most of the time, he was away from Jerusalem and unable to make Temple offerings.

He was among the greatest of the Pharisees, in spite of his youth. A member of the tribe of Benjamin, a Jew among Jews. He had risen quickly among his peers, but then in those scant few moments of being blasted by the radiance of Heaven, he had fallen from the brightest heights and into total darkness; from the clouds to sheol.

Only his prayers offered faint luminescence, for even now, in his humility and humiliation, Sha'ul's hope was in Hashem, Maker of Heaven and Earth. If indeed this Yeshua is the Son of the Most High...

"How, Oh Hashem? How could I have been so wrong?" Sha'ul's prayers fell in disarray about his feet like wounded sparrows. "How can I put my hope in You when I have been so opposed to him? How could I have been so right and yet discover I've been so wrong?"

Sightless eyes wept bitter tears of contrition and repentance. This is the way Simeon found him when bringing Sha'ul his evening meal, which was repeatedly refused. This is how Sha'ul spent the next three days and nights, weeping, fasting, and praying, until another man who also had a vision, but a much more gentle one, came to Sha'ul's room and introduced himself to the future servant of Yeshua as the disciple Ananias.

Sha'ul was about to receive another revelation, the second among many. The Torah, the Temple, the Priesthood, the sacrifices were eternal. But in Messiah, they could now be experienced in ways Sha'ul had never imagined.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Alley

One of the exercises in the second chapter of Josip Novakovich's book Fiction Writer's Workshop asks the writer to describe a setting from the point of view of someone who has just experienced a death, and another description of the same setting from a person who has just experienced a birth.

As with this assignment and yesterday's project, I decided to adapt the suggestion to something that speaks to me in my own "language."

I'm writing this from memory, although I never let too many months pass between viewings of this particular cult classic. Obviously, I have to develop more of a perspective on these characters than was revealed in the scene from the film I'm about to describe, particularly the first character. I guess that's part of what fiction writing is all about.

The alley reeked of urine, cheap wine, and rotting vegetables as he curled up in the shadows of a doorway behind some garbage cans. Mostly the smell of wine was coming from his clothes, but the majority of the contents of that last bottle made its way into his mouth, to his stomach, his bloodstream, and finally, blessedly, his brain.

His "old lady," the aging widow who occasionally took him in out of pity and sex, locked her door on him tonight because he was too drunk to "perform." "Who does she think he is?" he slurred through intoxication and a mouth missing several teeth. "Why'd she kick me out, the damn bitch?" he whined to himself in undeserved indignation.

This alley near downtown L.A. had been his haven before. If he kept quiet and out of sight, the cops wouldn't hassle him, and neither would the gangbangers who'd have been known to roll a drunk, shove a knife through the ribs, or the really scary ones who were rumored to pour gasoline on a guy sleeping it off, and light him on fire.

But because of wine and apathy, he was beyond being afraid or caring. He pulled the old, torn and frayed Army blanket, the last memento of his service to his country and the catastrophe two tours of duty in Vietnam had made of his mind and his body, over his slight, bent frame, and used his arms for a pillow.

This evening in May in Southern California meant the concrete steps he made his bed were only a little cold to the touch. His thoughts and senses were unfocused and confused, and as he tucked his head under the blanket to avoid the street lights reflecting into his refuge, he felt embraced by a sense of wilderness and familiar comfort.

The blanket held the odors of mold and sweat and mingled with the alley's other fragrances, most of them unpleasant, and while they spoke of abandonment and loss, they also whispered "freedom." No one could tell him what to do or where to go. There were no rules. Comfortably numb, he continued to mutter to himself, occasionally cursing his "old lady," and for one more night, calling this minor corridor off of Pico Avenue his home.

Pain! Bright light! It was like being born maybe. Reese's flesh felt like he was on fire (and he'd been burned once before) as the astonishing illumination abruptly vanished and he dropped into darkness, landing hard on his knees and elbows.

It took his eyes several moments to adjust to the dim light around him after having been blinded by the startling brilliance of his brief but amazing journey. He shook off the pain, disconnected it, even as smoke rose up from his back. Then he looked up and around.

The buildings on both sides of him were whole, not burnt out ruins. Electric lights. Wires between buildings for telephones. The sounds of road traffic drifting in from the street at the far end of the alley. He was in an alley. He stood up and remembered he was naked. "Nothing dead can travel through time," they told him. Anything he needed to complete his mission he'd have to get once he got to the other side, the past, the time before the war.

"Hey buddy, did you just see a real bright light?" wailed a voice to his right. Reese cursed himself for his carelessness. He was a soldier, a veteran of countless battles against the machines, and still he hadn't noticed the frail figure lying in the shadows just six feet away.

Realizing the man was harmless, he looked around again. He'd made it. He was in the past. Reese felt the thrill of success, the thrill at survival, even as he made plans to find Sarah Connor. But first he needed something to wear. The old guy was drunk and wouldn't give him any trouble.

As Reese pulled up the stinking, moist pants he'd just taken from the man still lying in the doorway, a sudden bright spotlight illuminated him. Reese whirled around in time to see two police officers (he recognized them from an old history book he once found in the rubble of a school) getting out of a car and approaching him. He couldn't afford to be detained. They'd have guns. He ran the other way down the alley.

"He's rabbiting," one of the officers yelled as he chased the fugitive, ignoring the other man who loudly slurred, "He took my pants!"

As the two running figures receded in the darkness and the other officer drove away in his car, the older man pulled his blanket up around his shoulders thankful that the cops were ignoring him, and also crushed that he'd suffered yet another insult. He retreated into his despair as if he could melt back into the shadow of the doorway, and the pavement, and the night, and hoped the cops wouldn't come back for him. He just wanted to sleep. He just wanted to feel safe or if not safe, at least isolated from everything. That's what the alley meant to him. But it also meant a dead end, and end of time, at least his time, because a deep fear clawed inside of him, a knowledge that as he slept here he'd probably die here.

Reese's bare feet padded against the asphalt as he ran from the police officer. What was familiar to the owner of the pants he wore was an alien landscape Reese had only heard stories about from the very oldest survivors of the future nuclear holocaust, or seen pictures of in the few books and magazines that had been found in what was left of schools and libraries.

The grey cold light of street lamps, the rocks on the pavement that cut his feet as he ran, the slight chill in the air, the smells of garbage and car exhaust, all spoke of a life and a world that still had hope, that was still alive and free, of a people not yet dominated by the machines. This wasn't home. It would never be home, but if he could save Sarah Connor and somehow stop the Terminator, he could end the destruction of the human race before it ever started. The future's not set. It's just the beginning. All he had to do is survive.

Kyle Reese ran.