Flights of Fantasy

Other than by the default of being human I’m not sure what makes our species so interesting. We spend much of our time concerned about food, we move about in more or less set territories and even smaller circles of familiarity within them, we seek pleasure and avoid pain, we call to each other in audible sounds indicating this or that of potential interest to the other, we play sometimes and fight at other times, we have intercourse, we touch, we congregate, we defecate, we lie down to rest – not terribly unlike the vast number of other animal kingdom organisms on the planet. And if one were to only slightly adjust the above list we could shift that last clause to read “not terribly unlike every other animal kingdom organism on the planet”. When you get down to it we’re not really that special, and even the domains that we once thought were ours exclusively turn out on further inspection to either already be there or to at least potentially be there in nonhuman cases (such as recent evidence of proper name use among dolphins or sacred and ritual practices among chimpanzees). In fact it wouldn’t be a stretch, I’d say, to make the point that we don’t have anything specifically more when it comes to nonhuman animals, we have just more of everything. Very brazenly and loudly more of everything – it’s enough to give one a headache.

Why then all these stories about ourselves? Why do we insist on telling (and in many instances re-telling and re-telling) the same general plot lines, arcs, developmental schemes, and interactions? There is comfort in the known, but that can’t be it. These archetypes we so love can be tweaked though, and that might provide some stimulation; along those lines here’s a scenario for you (taken from this article titled “Truth and a Good Life” by Prof. Lloyd Reinhardt): A man lies on his deathbed, with his wife on one side of him and his best friend on the other, each holding his hand. He smiles as he passes, comforted by these two great and loyal comrades whom he so cherished during his life. After he has crossed the threshold the wife and friend look lustily at each other, push the recently deceased to the floor and energetically engage in one of the activities from our above list (you’ll know which one I’m referring to). The questions Dr. Reinhardt is concerned with are: Have they done anything wrong to the man given that he knew nothing of their affair? and Would it have been better for him to know the truth while still alive?

The truth – that’s a sticky one. There’s no truth in fiction, some say, others that only fiction has the real truths. What is truth anyway? Is there any value in it? Any pure objectivity? (I make a case here on the same great site that regarding the latter there cannot be, that a certain perspectivism is unavoidable.) Personally I’m increasingly of the opinion that pretty and livable lies are far preferable to any tyrannies of “objective truth”. And good fiction can provide comforting lies like little else. With our man above I can’t see how his knowing would have helped him, even in the “truth shall set you free” sense. There is an argument to be made from the point of view of his reputation, but that assumes that others were privy to his wife’s infidelity with his friend, and perhaps no one was. Some say – again thinking of reputations – that posthumous harm is possible, and in the hypothetical given however secretive the two lovers might have been before their hospital room tryst word surely seems likely to get out to some degree after it. Yet I remain unconvinced by such thoughts.

We’ve come back to our talking about ourselves, to our sharing, gossiping, storytelling. Maybe we can’t help it, maybe it’s just how we’re built: born narcissists. Even our mythologies, after all, have strong anthropomorphic tendencies running through them, and culture appears to make little difference there. One people’s ancient tales look a lot like another completely different people’s contemporary tales. Archetypes again. But is this a given? A necessity? If we can think our way into a creature then we can think our way into their being, and that might be wildly different than ours. There are of course limits to consider, and in some cases thinking our way in might be impossible (a la Thomas Nagel and his famous bat piece), but why not try? Oh, I’m as guilty as anyone of writing about the human, but from where I sit now I really believe there is much, much more to explore in our literary pursuits, especially when we unfetter ourselves from the cut-and-paste contours of the mainstream and the pressures of trad-concerns and trad-demands. We can go anywhere and write anything – what’s stopping us?

 

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The Show Must Go On

As we’ve frequently discussed here, and as has almost become something akin to conventional wisdom, creative endeavors nowadays really can’t expect any degree of support from anywhere. Partly this is due to the economic and social climate, but partly too to the simple fact of over-saturation: millions more people are now expressing themselves – or seeking to express themselves – artistically than has ever been the case in our collective history. That in itself is laudatory, and a real turning point in our evolution. It is also, however, terribly unmotivating to think, to know, that all of your effort will garner nary a glance from the world outside your immediate circles. And often even those within your immediate circles won’t care. It’s a cold planet.

Such for fiction, and maybe par for the course all things considered. Here though is something else I’ve discovered about the more purely professional side of things: it’s similarly closed but for entirely different reasons. And this I’ve found from what you’d expect to be its softest spot – textbooks. Having gone through the long slog of creating, proofing, editing, formatting, and beta-testing an academic writing textbook a co-author and I decided to shop it around a little. Cue the standard hours and hours spent on submission package preparations and the “not taking on new projects” and “not interested” flurry of brief mails in response. Well, one must keep at it. We’ve all heard the stories of “just one more” that landed a contract and bestseller listing. Sure; dreams, hope.

Then a very kind editor based in Singapore responded with something totally unexpected: a real explanation. He told me that textbook publishers now typically hire multiple authors to do separate bit parts, join with an outfit to provide extra media (videos, websites, etc.), and then package the whole thing together. People don’t really “write” textbooks anymore, it seems. The whole thing has gone corporate. That was very enlightening.

I then remembered a friend who left teaching after many years of (very admirable from my point of view) labor in the junior high school trenches and who currently works for a major publisher in their customer service department. I asked him if what I heard is the case at his employer too. He told me that what he’s found, and that what his wife has realized through her own attempts at getting her written works out, is that publishers – nonfiction, fiction, whatever – only show interest after all of the work has been done for them. I’d heard this but wasn’t aware of the extent to which it applies, nor how deeply it runs at all levels. Authors today must either pay a small press or self-pub and “get on the speaking circuit” (as he put it), giving lecture tours, touting, marketing, generating buzz, and oh by the way I’ve got some copies available on the back table. After thousands and thousands of books have been sold suddenly a publisher might become interested.

You can no doubt see where I’m going with this. We’re writers, not salespeople, and very few of us, I would imagine, have the time or even access to something like a book tour. At least, beyond in the local sense. Yet this is the game that must be played. How to respond? There are many options to choose from, and each will naturally be highly dependent on circumstances, but no less on personal attitudes. If one can make peace with doing the thing for the thing itself then in my view that’s probably the best bet, at least as far as mental health goes. That’s a hard road for many though, and a painful one, a diminishing one, a coming-to-terms one. Dreams, hope: they haunt, they are specters. “Success” can after all be found in multiple modes, layers, nuances, but if it’s the traditional sense of the word that you’re after then it appears you’d better invest in a good travel bag.

 

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Writing on a Prayer

“But I have trusted in thee, O Light, and said: Thou art my saviour. And my commandment, which thou hast decreed for me, is in thy hands. Save me out of the hands of the emanations of Self-willed, which oppress me and persecute me. Send thy light over me, for I am as naught before thee, and save me according to thy compassion. Let me not be despised, for I have sung praises unto thee, O Light. Let chaos cover the emanations of Self-willed, let them be led down into the darkness. Let the mouth of them be shut up, who would devour me with guile, who say: Let us take the whole light in her, – although I have done them no ill.” Pistis Sophia, First Book, selection from Chapter 48, translation by G.R.S. Mead (revised edition, 1921)

I will admit to enjoying the eggheaded pastime of reading the sacred books of the world’s many religious traditions. To me the correct approach in this is to take any given work as a piece of literature and give claims to exclusivity no truck. There is no doubt something to the numinous, but truth has many forms and can be found in many guises. “Let that which speaks, speak” would be my motto if I were to have one. History calls to us from these books of the distant and near past, but for all their epochal idiosyncrasies there is so much recognizable in these authors’ cries. Being human, after all, is not so different now from what it was in the third to fourth centuries CE (the above’s likely period of composition), nor the sixth century BCE (for Job – surely one of the Hebrew Bible’s highlights), nor even the fifteenth to twelfth centuries BCE (for the Rigveda). We are social animals of remarkable consistency amidst all our situational changes, and our needs then are our needs now as our needs tomorrow will be too. A shrug of the shoulders, a return to the page, and another passage of prayer found – calling out to the divine for help, for benefits, for recompense on those who have wronged the writer.

You have to wonder if this is how the divine wishes to be addressed. So many desires, so much of “give me this” and “please for that” and “don’t let them get away with it”. It can all seem so petty, but then the world is a scary place and who among us hasn’t wished for some help from time to time? We can perhaps cut our ancient friends some slack. But our characters? In many ways we stand in relation to them as the standard understanding of the divine does to us. Creator, controller, interactive and in charge. (And incidentally, one of gnosticism’s many interesting points is that for its theology the divine is only some or none of those, depending on the subgroup.) The people that we inhabit our worlds with very quickly take on lives of their own and then raise their concerns to us as we might in our moments of need. Do we listen?

The question is deeper than it may appear. You have your structure, your plot has been laid and meticulously planned, your characters have layers of details to them – some more than others – and the relations between she and he, they and there, it now onto that, all have careful forethought invested. Then suddenly out of nowhere Main Character A runs off the page in an explosion of spontaneity as you’re in the middle of writing chapter four. You didn’t see this coming; but then that’s when a story gets really interesting, when it takes on its own momentum and asserts its own voice. Or does it? Does it be allowed to? This is where we must choose carefully.

If we grant our imagination free reign all organization may well go out the window, but what a ride it will be. Maybe – it could after all prove to be a disaster. If, on the other hand, we pull back, rein in, and return a firm hand to our work in progress and its mutinous denizens we do maintain control, but at the cost of stifling potential serendipity. Is there a middle ground here? Rewriting later is always an option, but only for those with the time and patience to do so. How much are we ready to give? The craft, I think, does seem to call for both, and so to favor the former of our listed options. The creative process is a spontaneous one, the muse strikes when she will, and a writer with neither the time nor patience to rewrite is, well, a journalist. To my mind then rather than playing God to our characters we instead say our prayers to them, we pay them heed and let the lives we have breathed in break loose and teach us what they will in the worlds we have shaped. We see what happens, where the paths lead, and then – then – we rework, re-plan, juggle, shift, and twist, smiling all the while at the unpredictability of our own penned fiction.

 

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An Audience of One

In last week’s post we considered the issue of being misread and some responses or attitudes that a writer could take towards that particular prickly pear. In thinking about being misread though we might miss the larger picture, which is being read at all. That, we must never forget, is a luxury and the furthest thing from a bygone conclusion. Our situation today has charitably been described as one in which there is simply so much of quality available that getting any attention is a great honor (a caveat: that was written specifically in reference to contemporary research articles in philosophy), and I would agree with that. There is also, of course, so much of everything available – of quality or not – that it daily overwhelms us. Busyness in all imaginable areas seems to be rule, and even just opening one’s email inbox can be daunting. Given all that, is writing still worth it?

Obscurity is the norm, as any academic will tell you. We are required to conduct and publish research, and so we do. Yet when one’s evaluated and ranked job performance, and the commensurate life-sustaining pay that comes with it, hinges on such quantitative data as publications count, the clear choice is the more the better. Churning out articles equals workplace security, production is king because easily quantifiable by bureaucrats and administrators. Competition for spots in journals thereby increases, publishers see profit potential and the number of journals increases, and the whole ball keeps spinning madly out of control with the only declining factor being readership. Who has the time for it? It’s a funny world.

The suddenly-famous Slavoj Žižek is said to have labored in obscurity for a quarter of a century before he was “discovered”. The man’s work has been there all along, and as far as I can tell has been following more or less the same trajectory of concerns all along (as is fitting for a specialist), what happened for him to have been dubbed “philosophy’s rock star”? He even has his own associated conspiracy theory, namely that he is a false prophet meant to seduce and then mislead leftists who might otherwise pose a threat to the status quo. True? Who knows, but such can really only increase his exposure. He gets read now where he never did before; does that mean that we too might have some hope? A glimpse of a brighter future?

Hope is a dangerous beauty. There is a reason, after all, that hope was the last element to escape from Pandora’s Box – and it isn’t the flighty good reason that is often assigned. No, I think sensibly we can count on nothing, and certainly not on winning the lottery. Our labor must become our labor for reasons other than receiving recognition and kudos, reality’s harshness will teach us that whether we like it or not. In the Bhagavad Gita Krishna instructs Arjuna that he is to do his duty (his work) not for results but for the thing itself – how many of us can think that way? It’s a struggle to be sure, but it is one that will almost assuredly be forced on every person engaged in individual artistic creation.

There is no ultimate point to writing, nor to painting, composing, sculpting, drawing, dancing, performing, etc., etc. All are a passing of the time, acts of self-expression in a universe that is vast and silent. Purpose must come from within, but can appreciation? I think that if it cannot then we really ought to throw in the towel, for down the road of hope, down the path of “definitely better this time” lies only disappointment, pain, suffering. Down any path of expectations lies suffering, and the world’s philosophies and faiths are filled with remedies for this condition – take your pick.

If you’re a writer, you write, and it’s as simple as that. If there is anything you write “for” then it’s for the craft itself, for the honing of skill. In the end it won’t amount to much, even if we are blessed or cursed with fame, with a comparatively long legacy (because all legacies eventually disappear), with a name left behind. Yet along the way will be all those moments, and some quite beautiful. They will be your moments, maybe too shared here and there, but mostly yours. Is that enough? Does that make it worth it? You tell you. Be your own best audience.

 

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Anticipating reader sloth

If there’s one commonality between what I’ve learned through my studies in my graduate degrees and my personal experiences as a writer it’s that very few people read well. With care, with precision, with enough time and effort to hold the text in line and by the hand as one advances from Point A to Point B to Point C. What is unfortunately far more common is reading Point A, making all sorts of assumptions, and then misreading Point B before completely flubbing the purpose of Point C. A result of our increasingly brief attention spans, perhaps, or a consequence of having – and therefore expecting – easy answers easily accessed at all times. Whatever the reasons involved, poor reading is something every writer will have to deal with.

The obvious response is of course to write with as much clarity as possible. In doing so though, how much style is one willing to sacrifice? And how much subtlety? Then there is the purposive employment of hidden meanings and (of a sort) subterfuge, facets that the always interesting Nick Cody and I have both discussed on these pages (see especially here and here). Yet even within such considerations any given writer will likely strive to pen their works in a way that can be understood, possibly aiming for a generally educated audience, or a specifically oriented readership – yet aiming and writing with them in mind.

However careful one is though misreadings are inevitable, and we need to admit that. Many elements factor into how a piece is taken: issues of reader age, gender, sociohistorical background, economic class, personal preferences, characteristics, traits (a good deal of which are determined genetically), as well as overall mood, current emotional state, the myriad details of life that hover over every day, and on and on. There is no conceivable way anyone could account for all of that when crafting a written work. How many readers can we expect to be willing to fight through that morass? To make the extraordinary efforts required to take words purely for what they are on the page within the context? Not a great number, I would think. It’s an issue of busyness and time, yes, but also one of awareness and gumption, and for better or worse the digital age lauds busyness as greatly as it generates it, while not in any sense rewarding either awareness or gumption. Our device founded and centered lifestyles are not machine-systems for churning out thoughtfulness. Regardless then of caution, transparency, and accuracy, misunderstandings seem the rule rather than the exception.

Balance and acceptance: As writers is that our path through this thicket? Writing in a clear and accessible manner but admitting to oneself that some readers will take it the wrong way, and then swallowing that bitter pill? That is probably the most sensible response. Another option, one embraced by notoriously self-confident and dismissive geniuses like Friedrich Nietzsche or arrived at through a kind of default by equally self-confident but less dismissive geniuses such as Martin Heidegger, is simply not to care overmuch. Write your way, for the sake of your work, and let everything else hang. There is something admirable about this other choice, but also something terribly self-damning. Nietzsche wanted to be read, and he wanted to be understood, but only by the right sort. Maybe as a result of that – or who knows? maybe simply as a result of the dense webs of random connections and interrelated cause-effect equations we all fall into at birth – he was essentially unread during his lifetime and for decades after it. His sister is probably the one who secured his legacy, and she did it primarily via Nazism and its antecedent currents. What a horrid road to fame.

Fame? Nothing. Death warmly greets us all and posthumous fame is about as comforting as a pair of shorts when it’s -25C outside. That other option, the latter, is attractive though, isn’t it? It fascinates, it romanticizes, and of all the creative arts it seems to fit writing particularly well. The first or the second? It’s a decision every writer will have to make, chosen at the outset of a project and then stuck with. I wonder how I’ll approach my next book.

 

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The Writer’s role

Writing – what’s the point anymore? Oh, there are those of us who write for their daily bread, and for them the raison d’être is as plain as day, but for those of who don’t live in New York City or London just what are we doing? Why? And what are we trying to accomplish with all these spilled words and flung-out sentences? What can a writer hope to do – to be – in today’s world?

Writers need readers, but reading too is not what it was. It used to really mean something, it was central to countless lives. And for many, thankfully, it still is. But do books hold the cultural importance that they once did? Do magazines? Articles? Reviews? Op-eds? In daily life we still read all the time, of course, but how much of what we read is only for informative purposes? Or for entertainment? Take the example of email as an indicator of this writing/reading trend. I actually remember quite vividly the first email that I ever sent: it was back in 1996, I had recently entered university, and for the first time in my life had an internet connection at home. Imagine that. For me, for all of us then, sending an email was a very fast way of sending a written letter, and we followed the conventions and formats of traditional letter writing when we typed our emails. The approach was more or less identical. Fast forward a couple of decades and we now have an email culture that in many cases has either come to mimic text-style chatting in content or has itself degenerated into text-style ultra-brief missives in form. What has been lost in the process? Quite a lot of meaningful communication, of course, but written communication is still happening, and reading – of a sort – is still taking place.

Into this mix we place the modern writer. Someone for whom the word still rings with logos, someone for whom the word carries a weight that belies its digital-byte quasi-immateriality. What is this person meant to do in our contemporary setting? For the professional writer the demands faced will be specific and frequent enough that we can place them in another category, their role(s) are well-defined and expectations clear. For everyone else we find a rather large question mark hovering over their names. For truth be told this latter type of writer is producing what is ostensibly neither requested nor even really desired. There is no specific demand, after all, for writing done voluntarily. Yes, you are reading this blog post and are no doubt getting something (at least something) out of it, but I could just as well have never written it and your day and your life would not be affected all that much. Writing of this sort – and its volume is vast indeed – is superfluous: culturally so, economically so, definitionally so. We might wonder why such writers bother, but that is not our question here (although it has often been asked on this site as a quick search shows). Our query rather is how we readers (and many probably also writers) relate to, or ought to relate to, such people.

And this, I think, is up to the writer in question. A writer now, a writer that writes for the sake of writing, a writer for whom it burns in their soul and must be done regardless of reward or its lack, is in the enviable position of being able to define their own role. Since nothing that they do is necessary in any kind of ultimate sense they are fully free to do as they will, and to express that will however they will. That is powerful. That is in fact life itself, and in the role(s) taken on by this type of blood-sweat-and-tears, art-for-art’s-sake writer, we find the expression of an existence declared. Life is an unwanted commodity – no one asks to be born -, and when we find ourselves alive we are confronted with the terrible question of what to do with it. Nonhuman animals do not face this dilemma in the manner we do (though some species do come near to it); our blessing and our curse is to be terribly aware of being so terribly aware. We must find some way to pass all this time, and the burden can be overwhelming. (Incidentally, understanding this quickly removes any desire for immortality – it does for me anyway.) For the writer the answer is primarily to write, and secondarily to read in order to write. What? When? How? Those are the factors, and not why? For this type of writer the issue of role is so wonderfully open that each can respond to it differently, and in that pure uniqueness give voice to that within: solely, purely, singularly, exceptionally. Life can take meaning in that, time can find purpose. To these unfettered spirits we who read say in unison: Be the writer you already are.

 

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Happy holidays, Freedom’s Mask, and back in January

All of us here at Drugstore Books wish you the happiest of holiday seasons, however you may or may not celebrate them. Time shows itself well in this season, and so let’s take it. We’ll be back in January with new content and a few more developments down the line.

Also don’t forget to order your copy of Freedom’s Mask now before the increased sales outlets available from the new year force the cover price up. Get it while it’s cheap!
 

Frank Tollman has just woken up in the middle of a rice paddy. Under a blazing sun. Being poked by someone he does not know and who is speaking to him in a language he has never heard. The last thing he can remember is stopping for drinks and then stumbling to catch the Tokyo Metro home after another day of grinding numbers for a multinational. Life abroad was supposed to be so much more exciting. And then suddenly, in a most unwelcome way, it was.

In the tradition of Camus, Hesse, and Huxley, Freedom’s Mask is a breathtakingly fresh philosophical novel that follows its hero-anti-hero on a quest for knowledge and for self. As Frank struggles to make sense of the world he finds himself in, he is forced to face the difficulties of meaning, the purpose of choice, consent, and the vast puzzle of being. He must not only relearn how to live, but come to terms with what it is, or what it could be, to live well. With its unflinching look at identity, self-making, and the ceaseless struggle of life alone among so many others, Freedom’s Mask is the kind of book that haunts you long after you’ve put it down. Frank’s story is our story, and his questions might be our answers. Don’t miss your chance to ask them too.

Buy this book and start your own journey today.


 

Till then!

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Freedom’s Mask – Chapter 1, Part 5

This week’s post is the final portion of the first chapter of Andrew’s new novel, Freedom’s Mask (© 2017, ISBN: 978-1-976-40079-7). The book is NOW AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK FROM ALL AMAZON OUTLETS! Get it today before the price goes up once it is also available through other retail outlets. An ebook version can also be found here as part of Amazon Kindle’s new Scout campaign. A standard Kindle version will be available after the new year. Be the first to buy and the first to review this thought-provoking new book.

 
Chapter One, Part Five

I tried to apologize but my throat was still not having it. I’m sure I looked very embarrassed though, and I certainly felt every bit of it. The atmosphere was heavy, incredibly uncomfortable, and not helping matters any the boss silently got up and headed towards the bathroom. Tomor looked at me for another long moment, sighed, and then stood himself. He came back to the table a moment later and set an opened bottle down in front of me that looked a lot like a beer. Was it a peace offering? Had my nonverbal apology been accepted? I glanced up at him and saw that he was already back at the stove finishing whatever he had been preparing earlier. For the moment it appeared that the storm had passed.

The sound of water being run wafted over to me from down the hallway and I deduced that meant that the boss was at least able to wash to some degree; she must have been using the sink to make do. Not as good as a shower, true, but certainly better than not washing at all after a hot day spent in the great outdoors. Everything had worked out fine, I thought; kind of. I would have to be careful the next day, if I were even still here to shower at all. It was both freeing and frightening to be so powerless to make any decisions about my own person.

I timidly started my drink and found that it was in fact a beer, a very nice pale ale that seemed to perfectly suit an evening at home. Immediately I began to feel better, more relaxed and much more at peace. I watched Tomor as he cooked; he was just stirring whatever he had in the frying pan and glancing at a couple of pots on the other burners, it didn’t look too demanding. He was chatting away again, possibly to himself, but turning his head in my direction every now and then. He really must have thought I spoke their language. He motioned a few times to the bathroom and repeated the word “milee” in a compassionate tone. Was he talking about the boss? Was that her name? I recalled that she had introduced herself and the others when she first spoke to me but I couldn’t remember what she had said at the time. As soon as my voice was back I thought that I’d have to try out my new “Yemore Frank Tollman” line on her and see if that prompted a reciprocal re-naming on her part. Whatever was wrong with my vocal chords the medicine that Tomor had given me for my head didn’t seem to be helping. I assumed that if they had had something for my throat they would have already given it to me; they knew it wasn’t working, after all. I saw little choice but to just stick it out. It would have been nice to be able to communicate, but anyway I couldn’t speak their language and they evidently couldn’t speak anything other than their own so it was probably just as well, all things considered. I was surprised that they hadn’t at least tried out a little English, but then there was an awful lot that puzzled me about the place. I was nearly ready for another beer.

The boss came back with her hair down. It was shorter than I had thought it would be but suited the way her face formed a soft angle at the chin, more or less following that line and bobbing under slightly just above the shoulders. She still looked a bit irritated; I sat up straighter and tried to hide the fact that the beer was sitting in me so well. I had always found appearances to be paramount. Noticing her hair made me realize I hadn’t bothered to notice much about Tomor’s. His was tied up in a bun as hers had been, I saw. Jet black though, a couple of shades darker than the boss’. Somehow that made me think that despite everything else I was still in Asia; I found that comforting. All roads on the continent lead to Tokyo, I told myself. Or that was at least how Tokyoites saw it, and for all intents and purposes that is what I was. The locals would never admit to that; me being first, foremost, and always just a foreigner to them, but after a decade in the city that was how I saw it and nuts to them if they tried to tell me otherwise.

Dinner was then served. A bowl of mixed vegetables over a bed of rice with a side dish of fried tofu and another of most likely seaweed soup. A fresh beer as well, for each of us I noted. My impression was that it didn’t look bad – it looked good, actually – but that it was a little on the light side; maybe it was just starters, I told myself. It wasn’t.

We all ate with spoons, and for me that didn’t take long. Had I been able to join in their conversation I might have eaten a bit more slowly but there really wasn’t much to get through. Based on all that I had seen thus far the couple didn’t appear to need to cut corners – aside from their farm tools, that is. Was I being served some kind of Buddhist diet? If I was then we definitely weren’t anywhere in north Asia as I didn’t know of anyone in the region who took the whole no meat precept seriously, but then I already knew that it hadn’t been north Asian flora I was seeing. The food did taste nice, and I did feel mostly full afterwards, but where was the fun? It occurred to me that if everyone here ate like this then it would be yet another reason why all the people I had seen looked so thin. Had I somehow got caught up in a weird healthy cult?

Whatever its demerits, dinner – and the beer – at least had the effect of relaxing the boss and that lifted the mood of the whole table. It had been a long time since I had a dinner at home without the TV and/or my smartphone for company and it felt nice. I would have offered to wash the dishes afterwards but I was worried about water use, and anyway Tomor motioned for me to sit down while he saw to the cleaning up. The guy impressed me. As he began on that the boss disappeared for a couple of minutes and then came back carrying a load of wet clothes in a big wicker basket. She pulled open a sliding door behind the dining room table and started to hang them to dry on a rack on their balcony. I immediately jumped up and began handing clothes to her from out of the basket while Tomor saw to the kitchen. She nodded her thanks to me as she continued working; step one of ingratiating myself and the beginning of my charm offensive had clicked into gear. I had no idea how long I’d be staying here but I had to do something to get on their good sides, and the boss especially I was eager to please.

With the chores done I was more than ready to just relax and happily followed the boss into the living room while Tomor wandered off for what I guessed was his turn to wash himself. The boss pointed at the couch and said something over her shoulder to me as she headed towards where I knew the bedrooms to be. I wasn’t sure what to do and didn’t see a computer or TV anywhere so I sat down and just kind of looked at the surface of the coffee table. After that trick Tomor had pulled with his smartphone doohickey I thought that maybe there was a projector or screen hidden somewhere in there that we could all watch things on. I had already seen so much that was new, and become so completely disoriented by my circumstances, that I felt like nothing would have surprised me. When the boss did come back with a twelve-string guitar in hand, she took one look at me sitting there on the couch and stifled a laugh. I will admit that I probably appeared a bit ridiculous if you were to take the time to pay attention to me. I was wearing what must have been Tomor’s clothes, and as he was taller and thinner than me the combined effect of those factors meant that my sleeves and legs were hanging loosely off their ends while absolutely everything else was too tight. She set the guitar down on one of the upholstered chairs and went away again, returning quickly with what looked like a tape measure. She then had me stand up, took my height, shoulders, waist – that part greatly excited me – and also measured my feet, chatting away in a friendly banter the whole time. After she had finished that, she next retrieved and punched away at the little tablet gizmo, re-measured my feet and then typed a bit more, before finally smiling and saying something along the lines of, “Douforkentetalaborsinth. Temsikurlteyendogo. Sotou!” What I heard was two sentences and an exclamatory word on the end, but I understood well enough that for the time being I would be wearing what I was wearing. She plopped down into one of the big, deep chairs and started tuning her guitar. I returned to my place on the couch opposite her and settled in. If we weren’t going to be watching any movies at least I could stare at the boss.

I must have nodded off. A hand on my shoulder startled me and I lifted my chin off my chest to see the boss standing there, Tomor now seated in the other chair at the end of the table reading a book. An actual paper book. What a legend the man was. The boss said something and smiled a little before taking a step towards the hallway. Was she leading me away? She must have been. Finally. We were going to their bedroom for wet, sloppy, and intense sex while Tomor sat there and read. At least in the flicker of my fantasy we were; what actually happened was that she led me to their spare room and pointed at a padded mat that had been very generously laid out on the floor.

That, though, was another odd detail. I was used to sleeping on futons from my days before I moved into the city and spent the money to get a real bed, but I hadn’t seen them anywhere outside of Japan. Other places had things they called “futons” of course, but usually they either involved a folding couch in some respect or were single mats. A proper futon, I knew, has both a firmer lower mattress and a softer upper mat, the sheets and blankets then go on top of that layer but the whole ensemble can still be folded up into thirds. My bed was just like that; and all set up in the manner of good hospitality, ready for me to crawl inside.

I kind of bowed my thanks to her – old habits, I guessed, as I still had no proper bead on where we were, but then again I supposed that we still might have been in a bowing culture – and as the boss shut the door behind her I took a moment to look around before returning to dreamland. It was a simple and small room, carpeted in a shade of white that was a touch darker than the walls and mostly empty save for a few books that had babies on their covers and some mixed newborn toys and clothes inside a wooden chest that sat in the corner. Was the boss pregnant? Were they trying? That would be perfect – a side fling with me could then easily be disguised by the boss. The thought of that as it formed made little sense even to me, but I was still half asleep and given what I had been through that day my brain was clearly at low tide. I then allowed myself to wallow in anticipation. If I did in fact find myself stuck for some days wherever it was that I was then pursuing the boss would have to be my goal. It was decided. Moving into the soft folds of the futon the next incoherent thought to take root was that I might somehow bed down for the night and wake up back in my own apartment, or at least on one of the platforms in my home Metro station; that both comforted and disappointed me. I felt that if I did then it would mean having missed out on a singular adventure. An adventure that perhaps had not been real after all, but it had seemed real enough as I lived through it – and wouldn’t that make it real? Waking up like that would also, though, mean safety, security, and the pleasing continuation of the known. All that I was used to. As appealing as those features usually are for people, to me they were only partially reassuring. I had a life to get back to sure, but it wasn’t one that I couldn’t let go of.

 
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Freedom’s Mask – Chapter 1, Part 4

Our preview of the first chapter of Andrew’s new novel, Freedom’s Mask (© 2017, ISBN: 978-1-976-40079-7) continues. The book will be available in all formats by mid-month – with plenty of time for the holidays. You can also find it here on Amazon Kindle’s new Scout campaign. Next week will be the final installment.

 
Chapter One, Part Four

We exited on the thirteenth floor and I followed them down a hallway to room number seven on the left. Unfortunately Tomor didn’t stop to let himself into any of the other rooms; it appeared that the two did in fact belong together. No matter, I told myself. The boss ran her thumbprint over a pad next to the apartment’s front door and it slid open with a satisfying shooshing noise. We all stepped inside and as the door automatically closed behind us Tomor and the boss started taking their clothes off. I was shocked. Excited of course, but shocked. They slid off their rubber boots in the little sunken entrance as I expected them to, but they didn’t stop there. Up came the pyjama tops, down went the pyjama bottoms. The boss had an even more exquisite body than I was prepared for. Slender shoulders that trickled down into lithe limbs, a smooth taut belly with just about two fingers of fat at its edges that flowed into slightly rounding hips. Silky thighs that betrayed the tension of the muscles beneath as they slid down into shapely calves, tapering at just the right degree. She was sadly wearing panties and what must have been a sports bra of some kind, but both were bare enough to give my imagination plenty to go on.

Tomor’s body I barely glanced at; it looked like a hairless muscular but thin thing, the kind of body a male model would likely have, but in Tomor’s case it was probably a lot more functional since his physique no doubt came from his farm work and not from avoiding carbs while “working out” with tiny one kilogram dumbbells. While I stood and stared at the boss both of them signaled that I ought to disrobe as well. I wasn’t ready for such an eventuality. Taking off my shoes was not a problem, it was evidently their home after all, and I would be happy to get my soggy socks off too, but I was unaccustomed to getting naked in strangers’ entryways. Then again, when in Rome; also I apparently had no choice. I took my sports jacket off, folded it, and placed it on the floor next to where they had put their pyjamas. My shirt and undershirt followed and I took my time with them; they were my work clothes. Then my pants. I was glad to be wearing briefs that day as the tightness of the material was helping to hold down the Eiffel Tower that the sight of the boss’ body had breathed my lifeblood into. The random erections of my early teenage years were enough of an embarrassment to last for a lifetime; I did not need another episode well into adulthood. And also the boss needn’t and shouldn’t, I thought, get acquainted with the Tollman’s tollgate until after we had first got rid of Tomor. Such was not to be though, at least not then, as the boss gathered up all our clothes and headed into a different room while Tomor mumbled something and waved for me to follow him.

Their apartment was lovely. Everything looked so modern, hypermodern really. That shouldn’t have surprised me given the robots I had seen tooling around outside, but being disoriented, lost, and deeply confused sets your mind in strange and unpredictable ways. I had thought that Japan had the most advanced robots in the world but where I currently found myself seemed to be ahead in the game. Wherever it was. I was reminded by that thought that I would eventually have to get back to my real life, but at that moment everything was far too new and interesting to worry about such. My inner explorer had been activated and I had always been a nomad, always on the lookout for the unknown and the intriguing. Besides, it wasn’t the first time that I’d failed to show up at work and I hadn’t been fired yet. As long as I met deadlines my boss didn’t seem to care too much about daily attendance; when she bothered to step out of her office and notice, that is.

Like the outside of the building the interior walls and ceilings of the apartment were all a sharp white that was accentuated by either a wood flooring or a really good facsimile of a wood flooring. Whichever was the case it was also glossed over and felt cool and soothing on my feet, especially after the heat of the day. To my right must have been the living room, a couple of deep upholstered chairs sat on one side and one end of a low table, opposed by a three-seater sofa of the same material. Some oil paintings by an artist that I didn’t recognize hung on the wall under a large round clock. Abstract, I guessed, all lines and shapes and bold colors that jumped right out at the viewer. Ahead of us I could see the kitchen, a typical island countertop design with the sink, oven, and burners against the back wall surrounded by cabinets above and below. I didn’t see a microwave. Next to that was a small living room table. Tomor led me through to a hallway off of which appeared to be two bedrooms and a nice bath unit.

The apartment was a good size; knowing that there was at least another room next to the entrance where the boss had disappeared, I estimated the whole thing to be around eighty to ninety square meters. A space that big would cost a pretty penny in Tokyo, and the effect was impressive. I felt somehow at ease, despite my being a total stranger; the whiteness and the layout and the coolness of the air all combined to yield a real sense of elbow room. I grew up taking that for granted but years of being an expat in the world’s most populated metropolitan area had warped all perceptions of normality in that regard. It had also warped my English and made it a hodgepodge of bits and pieces from all over the Anglophone world, but that was another story.

It seemed that I was being introduced to the shower. Tomor explained – he must have been explaining – at great length, and in a noticeably slower manner of speaking, as he demonstrated how to turn the water on and off, which of the tubes along one wall to use for washing my body and which one for washing my hair. I was a bit offended by the manner and depth of his presumed explanation, and I got a sneaking sense of being mocked again, but I decided to make allowances for cultural differences. He then led me back towards the entrance and I saw that the other room our boss had gone into was a washing and storage room. She was still in there, and still in her underwear heaven be praised, rubbing the excess dirt off of their farming tools and lining them up neatly. It hadn’t clicked earlier but it struck me how low-tech and crappy, really, those tools were when compared to the breath-taking cleanliness and efficiency of the city and of their apartment. When I first saw their farming equipment I guessed that I was in some remote and backwards hamlet, and the entire long walk on the dirt road to get to the city did nothing to dispel that image. Nor did the uniform and entirely uninventive clothing everyone wore. The sheer oddity of what I was experiencing totaled up on me, startled me, pounced on me, and I was at once mystified afresh; just where in the wide world had I ended up? And how?

Tomor took a towel from off a shelf and said something to the boss to which she replied with something else. A lesson that I had learned every time I moved to a new country was that not knowing the language of a place can be quite liberating in some ways; I hadn’t a care in the world what their exchange had been about; I just wished it would have gone on longer so that I could have stared at the boss’ body a bit more. Instead I was taken back to the bath and ushered inside. A shower was in fact what I badly needed, but I still remembered to point to my head and make a grimacing face. Tomor smiled a little as he made what might have been a joke and pulled a bottle out of a sunken area behind the mirror, tapping out one small pill and handing it over with a nearby glass that he filled from the tap. He didn’t seem to mind sharing with me the glass they evidently used for rinsing their mouths and whatnot, and as I didn’t either I proceeded to shoot the thing down. By the time he had left the room and I had started to fiddle with the waterworks my pain had subsided considerably. Whatever was in that pill was pretty good. That and the warm water splashing over me soon had me feeling right as rain. Thoughts of our boss bubbled up as I held my face under the showerhead and all the blood that had been pulsing behind my right eyeball made its way to another eye, of sorts, and pulsed with a lot more spirit. What else could I do? I wanked the thoughts right out, or at least wanked the urgency out of them. I saw no point in holding back and no need for decorum. I tried to take it slow and enjoy the ride but in my imagination the boss was just too much; not even half a dozen strokes and I was already pollocking the wall in front of me. Being a guest I knew that I’d have to clean it up but few things are easier when you’re already in the shower. That accomplished, I leisurely turned to wash my body, getting all the sweat and dirt off, enjoying every moment of what was a good long soak. And then when I got out I found a set of house clothes already waiting for me to put on, resting on a low rack next to the sink. How very considerate.

Thoroughly refreshed I made my way back to the kitchen where I saw Tomor, now in house clothes exactly like mine, stirring something in a frying pan over one of the burners. He gave me a look that could have killed. Glowering is too soft a word for it, glared isn’t even quite there. His were the eyes of rage. I was dumbfounded. I looked over to the boss, who was sadly clothed as well and seated at the dining table, but there was no support to be found from those quarters. If possible she looked even madder. Right after I had finished masturbating to her she was getting annoyingly three-dimensional on me, ruining the fantasy I had built up. People and their feelings, I thought, purposely leaving the thinker out of that category. Tomor turned the burner off and motioned for me to sit down, barking out a word that must have meant the same. I duly took my place at the table and avoided looking at the boss, much as I wanted to. She said something in a low voice that didn’t really come off as aggressive but it was clearly serious. And a little ominous. When Tomor sat down across from me he was holding a small device that was about the same shape but a bit bigger than a smartphone. He managed to control whatever was eating away at him and spoke very slowly, very clearly.

I naturally had no idea what he was saying, but seeing his little gadget reminded me that I had left my smartphone in my briefcase which was who knows where by that point. That had a depressing effect on me as I had recently gotten a high score on “Dance-a-panda-monium”, one of those free puzzle games with little baby pandas that danced to a frenetic club beat. What a shame it was to lose that record. With luck I thought that someone might have found my satchel and dropped it off at the station’s lost and found. One thing that I had always appreciated about Japan was that people rarely stole goods they came across; you could even get your wallet back with your cash still in it. That was an entirely remarkable feature of the country and didn’t get noted often enough.

When Tomor finished whatever he was going on about I sat and stared at him blankly, but with an effort to appear polite nonetheless. His anger seemed to redouble and he began once more in that same steady – but at times quivering – slow and clear voice. When he again finished I again stared at him blankly. Once more: slower and clearer, and just barely contained. I felt bad for him; he was making such an effort and I had no means with which to reciprocate. If my throat had been functional I would of course have stated my case in English since I knew by then that whatever language they were using wasn’t Japanese and English was the closest thing we had to a universal tongue. But my throat, and hence my voice, were for whatever reason as lost as I was. Very visibly frustrated, he finally gave up speaking and started drawing something on the mini-tablet he held. When he finished he put his fingers over the screen and made a pulling motion with his hand which lifted the image out and displayed it in the air as a hologram. I was transfixed. He then flipped the flat image upwards so that it hung there suspended like a whiteboard. This is what I saw:

Surprise doodle here!

For being such a fancy-looking device I was a little disappointed by his finger art, but I thought I more or less understood what he was getting at. As if to emphasize his message he then pointed a menacing finger at me, the seventy-five liter mark, the boss and himself, and finally the no shower mark. They must have had a meter for tracking water output; I had used up too much and they wouldn’t be able to shower that day. I was sorry, but I could hardly have known that the area was under water rationing. After all, I had just washed up on their shores that afternoon. I was Gulliver on unintended travels. Surely they could pardon me for that?

 
The final part next week!
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Freedom’s Mask – Chapter 1, Part 3

We continue our preview of the first chapter of Andrew’s new novel, Freedom’s Mask (© 2017, ISBN: 978-1-976-40079-7). The book will be available from tomorrow, 30 November, in digital format as part of Amazon Kindle’s new Scout campaign. Look for the paperback by mid-December, and keep checking in here for updates!

 
Chapter One, Part Three

And then we had. The dirt road gave way to a grassy field and I looked up to see that we had arrived. The pavement was in fact a light and pleasing peachy-pinkish tone, and stepping onto it after first having gone from the barren road to the mowed grass I realized that each texture had actually gotten softer. What a nice touch. The hard dirt to the resilient earth to that spongy, giving yet firm, type of hardened rubber, or perhaps a similar material. We were then just a few meters from the round building and I could clearly see past it and into what I noticed to be not a town but a full-blown city stretching out into the distance, complete with a set of trolley tracks winding its way from just in front of where we stood deep into the receding sets of buildings beyond. Everything was a clinical white and everyone I saw was wearing black pyjamas and the goofy cone hats.

Only it wasn’t just people that I saw. I also saw robots. Yes, robots. I couldn’t believe my eyes, and it was so startling that I was using both eyes, my pain momentarily fading into oblivion as the steel blue humanoid figures mounted on a pair of wheels buzzed here and there. Were they running errands? Picking up trash? Fixing things? I had no idea but there were at least ten of them in full view right at that random moment. My jaw must have been on the ground because I heard someone burst out laughing and turned to see that the mirth was directed at me. It was our boss, and I noted that she looked even more gorgeous with her face lit up like that. She took me by the shoulder and led me over to a window at the front of the round building behind which sat, or rather stood, one of the robots. It was chirping away about something, I supposed it must have been in the local language, and a little red light was flashing on the side of its round and nondescript head. I looked at it, looked at our boss, and then must have looked lost because she put her hands on either side of my face and held my head steady in front of the robot. Her fingers were thin but calloused; I wouldn’t have called them delicate but their touch excited me. The robot’s light flashed long and then short and then short again, and she let go. I wasn’t sure what had just happened but after that the rest of our group took turns standing in front of the robot while the light blinked a different pattern: just one quick flash for each of them. We moved around the cone-topped building, evidently some kind of checkpoint or gateway – although I didn’t see anything blocking entry into the city if one were inclined to just blow by the robot guard –, and to a low platform that was positioned behind it and protected from the sun by an overhang; what must have been the trolley tracks, but of a type I didn’t recognize, stretched out ahead. That, at least, was familiar. Not the trolley itself as such, although Tokyo did still have two lines for those as I recalled, but the feeling of waiting for the train. We didn’t have to wait long.

A striking light blue trolley car with a green stripe down its side pulled up to our platform and its passengers all disembarked from the rear while we entered at its front. Of course, as that was the end of the line, the front became the rear and vice versa, but trolleys are wonderfully symmetrical in that regards. There was no driver. My companions all boarded and so I assumed it to be safe enough and stepped up into the entrance. Habit is a funny thing; I had only ridden Tokyo’s Arakawa trolley line once but when I did I noticed that it used a similar ticket system to the city buses, something that I was fairly used to from the time when I lived outside of Tokyo – a paper ticket system for those who didn’t have a scannable electronic pass, that is. In those days, before my company had transferred me from the branch I was at into the capital, I would hop on a bus and take a little ticket with a number on it from a machine, and that number would match with a display board above where the driver sat, a board listing the various fares for each number depending on point of pick up. The rate increased as you rode and when you got off you dumped your ticket and the coins required into a little feeding machine next to the driver. It was all very orderly and transparent. Without thinking I assumed the trolley I had just boarded would work like the Arakawa Line, which worked like the city buses, and so I stood there searching and searching for a numbered piece of paper to take. There was no such paper. There wasn’t even a ticket machine or, apparently, a machine for payment. Given that wherever I was it was no longer Tokyo that should not necessarily have surprised me, but like I said, habit is a funny thing. Tomor finally came over and pulled me down onto a bench on the side of the car opposite the platform, between him and the woman who had given me her hat. The object of my fast-developing crush was seated next to Tomor so we were all in a row. The inevitable fatigue brought on by the whole experience of that day washed over me as soon as I was settled and my head knocked back against the trolley windows of its own accord. As the cone hat got pushed down over my face by the impact I remembered that I was wearing it and sheepishly took the thing off to return it to its owner. She smiled her thanks and set it in her lap. I wondered how thoroughly she’d wash it before putting it on again, and what that would say about her opinion of me.

As tired as I was, the city slowly unfolding around me as the trolley clacked its way down the broad tree-lined avenue it dominated was too remarkable to let myself drift off to sleep. Not really “clacked”, that is, it would be better to describe the sound the motion of the carriage made as fizzed or fuzzed or foozed, or something along those lines. It was nearly silent and the ride felt very smooth. I wished I had gotten a better look at the type of tracks we rode on but there were far too many other details demanding my attention. Through the window opposite us I could see a pattern developing in the ground floors of the buildings that lined the street. The first in the series would have an open marketplace where otherwise rooms or apartments would be, permanently in the shade of course, nestled amongst the upper floors’ supporting beams and with a cool and inviting look. That would be followed by the next building housing an indoor sports or recreation facility behind floor to ceiling windows with the word “Stathor” written above, and additionally labeled with a smaller word afterwards that was preceded by a dash. Judging by the differing activities I saw inside I assumed that smaller word indicated the specialty, such as a type of tennis-like sport, or swimming, or running, or weight lifting, or a throwing game of some manner. The third building would then have either what looked like a board game, reading, or otherwise sit-down-and-do-something-mental area, or a café, while the fourth always had what must have been a restaurant. All of those were similarly labeled with simple signs above their windows, and after a sequence of these there would be six buildings that didn’t seem to have anything other than private residences on their bottom floors, making the overall pattern one of units of tens. What was also striking was the complete lack of advertisements anywhere on the street, or indeed even within the trolley car. That took me aback and I realized just how utterly bombarded with ads Tokyo, and every other city I had ever been in, really was. Rising above all of the marketplaces, gyms, cafés, and restaurants, were buildings of roughly equal size though varying in height and containing what were surely apartments. I arrived at that conclusion mainly by the laundry hanging outside in the balcony areas, but I still felt pleased by my own astuteness. I then realized that I had not yet seen an area of stand-alone houses, or even a single stand-alone house. Did everyone live in an apartment? And where were the offices? I had seen a few buildings that clearly weren’t apartment complexes but whose first floors still held to the regular pattern; I wondered if they were places of business. It was hard to tell.

The trolley fizzed on and we began curving outwards, away from a large round building with another cone-shaped roof that was coming into view, similar to the gateway building at the city’s entrance only much larger. I elbowed Tomor and pointed at it with what I hoped would be perceived as a quizzical look on my face, and he duly responded with a long string of words, the meaning of which were all lost on me. Perhaps sensing that he then made two beaks with his hands and squawked them at each other before pointing to me, himself, and then our boss and walking two fingers across a palm. He appeared to find that, or maybe doing that, very amusing. I blinked at him; I felt a little like the butt of a joke.

The tracks curved sharply again and after another trolley went past us going the other way I saw an identical cone-topped building come into view, which we skirted in a similar fashion as we had the first, although this time the trolley wound round the opposite side of the building before the tracks straightened out once more. About a block later I was pulled to my feet and we all alighted from the carriage onto a platform – without any of us paying anything, I noted. As the others walked ahead I stopped to look at a map posted next to what must have been a timetable for the train services. It seemed the city we were in – possibly called “Sheenda” based on the label – was oval in shape, with the point of the egg evidently the area where we had entered. The two large round buildings I had noticed were roughly in the center, and in addition to the one main avenue going through the town that we had just been traversing on the trolley, there was another running east-west, which also looked to have a tram line on it. Very many side roads and alleyways also spread between the buildings, of course, and all were laid out in a grid save for the primary north-south boulevard. That street for the most part ran straight down the middle of the city from the narrow point to the wide, except for when it got to the two big buildings in the center, at which point it wrapped around one side of the first building, cut back the reverse direction to travel in between the two, and then around the other side of the second building before resuming its regular top-to-bottom route. It was an intriguing way to lay out a city and the design of it was clearly pre-planned in great detail; the whole effect lent a good deal of weight to the two main buildings as well – whatever they were for –, especially when considered that way from a bird’s eye point of view.

I heard an “Ohoto!” and turned to see that Tomor was beckoning to me to hurry up. I joined them at the edge of the platform where to my surprise we waved goodbye to the woman who had lent me her hat and watched her cross the street and head down a side alleyway into a hive of clinically white buildings. The sun was beginning to set and the extreme heat had waned considerably. I was feeling much better although my headache remained and I wondered what was to happen next. We started walking again. Naturally. It made sense to me at once why everyone was in such good shape: all they did was walk. We hiked for about twenty minutes down narrow side roads and passages between buildings, with all sorts of different services and shops sprinkled here and there on the ground floors of apartment complexes, before finally stepping into the entranceway of one of them. Were we going to Tomor and our boss’ place? Were they a couple? The thought depressed me somewhat but I remembered that wherever I was I would need to be quickly making my way back to where I should be, and so the marital status or otherwise of the two wasn’t really an issue. Besides, even if the boss were married to the guy I knew that I’d still make every effort to set anchor in her in the time available. I considered it a duty to myself, a tribute to my manhood, an acknowledgement and recognition of the value that was imparted on me by what I did with my penis. I was a straight-shooter in that way, and not afraid to call things as I saw them. I even took some measure of pride in my callowness.

We walked across the clean and empty foyer and stopped in front of what had to be an elevator. Thank goodness we apparently wouldn’t be taking the stairs. The doors opened and we stepped inside, Tomor and the boss chatting away amiably. On the floor selection plate I noticed that the numbered buttons were displayed in the familiar Arabic numerals I had always used. The Latin script on the buildings outside had been unexpected, but those numbers weren’t; yet again the question pushed itself on me: where was I? Once I realized that we were surrounded by rice paddies I had assumed I was somewhere in Asia, but then nowhere in Asia that I knew of was like the place I was in now. The people around me also clearly weren’t Asian, but then they weren’t clearly anything that could be nicely and squarely fit into a racial background box to be ticked on a customer survey form. I left work, I went to my Metro line, blackness, I woke up. The universe was toying with me. I knew that I belonged in Tokyo, but that I couldn’t get back to Tokyo until I could find out where I was, and I couldn’t find out where I was until I could speak again and tell these nice people that I had no idea what language they were using and to please speak to me in something else – preferably but not necessarily English. I fought the doubts that something far deeper than a geographic shift was afoot, despite all the clues pointing in that direction. I could only handle so much, after all.

 
Part four next week!
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