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Day Two Hundred and Ten: The Only Real Man

December 17, 2011 Leave a comment

For the month of December, I’ll be world-building. This means taking a look at the people, places, and institutions that I have created over the last six months and trying to figure out more about them. This will involve a look at the stories in which they’ve appeared, and then some speculation, stream-of-consciousness writing, and with any luck a few revelations. In addition, I may come back and add new material as the Elves in my unconscious ship out new ideas, so I’ll be sure to link them up.

Your feedback as readers is, of course, more than welcome. There are probably questions that I’m forgetting to ask and holes that I need to fill.

Wish me luck!

——————

Now this should be interesting. My random number generator (courtesy, as always, of the fine people at random.org) gave me a character who has the unique privilege of existing in two universes at once.

Let me explain: when I started going through all the characters in all the stories, I realized that I basically had four universes going on. There was Earth Prime, which held most of the stories, a high fantasy Earth, an Urban Fantasy Earth, and then there was Outer Space. That last universe could well be linked to Earth Prime, or it could be separate. As yet, there are no reasonable connections between them.

Except, of course, for Eddie Holsclaw. And unless he’s an immortal, I can’t really use him to link them together.

Here’s what happened. As you know, I occasionally like to mash random characters together and see what happens. This one time, I rolled up Eddie, from day 9, Reunion, and Jani Morgan, from day 25, Babysitting. The result of this was that I had to make a choice: do I take Jani out of her spacefaring sci-fi setting and put her on 21st-century Earth, or do I move Eddie up into space in the far future? I chose the latter, and that gave me day 110, In Transit.

Now, one could ask oneself, “One, which Eddie is canonical? Which one is real?” Fortunately, One, that’s an easy question – the original Eddie is the real one, since I wrote him first and the mash-up stories are all only canonical if they add something to the overall world. But the interesting challenge was fitting him into two very different environments while still keeping continuity between both appearances. He had to be the same person, no matter where or when he was.

The trait that most defines Eddie is that he suffers from Capgras Delusion. This is a psychological disorder in which the sufferer believes that the people around him are not who they say they are. Despite looking exactly like your wife or your brother or your friend, this person is an impostor. You can’t explain how you know – you just know. The most recent research seems to suggest it arises when your temporal lobe (the part of your brain that recognizes the person) stops talking to the limbic system (the part that would normally generate the feelings associated with that person). You see your husband, but you feel nothing for him. The rest of your brain, not knowing how to cope with this, comes to the conclusion that this is not actually your husband, because if he were, you would feel something. Therefore, he must be a very clever impostor.

With Eddie, I took this a little bit further. Not only does Eddie think his friends and family have been replaced with doubles, he believes that they have, in fact, been replaced with robots. Capgras sometimes comes in with schizophrenia, so I decided to go the whole distance with him.

In Reunion, we see Eddie at a family reunion. [1] He is utterly convinced that his aunts and uncles, his grandmother, are all cleverly programmed robots that are trying to get to him. He believes that they not only replaced his family, but tortured them first to learn everything they know. He won’t eat the food, as he believes it’s been drugged, and is constantly looking for ways in which the robots have slipped up on their mimicry. Above all, though, he tries not to let them know that he knows what they are.

Until Rachael Decker shows up. She was one of the few people in high school who was nice to Eddie (who, let’s face it, was a bit weird). The thought of her being tortured and replaced by a robot is too much for him to bear, so he grabs a barbecue fork off the picnic table and starts stabbing her with it. He is wrestled to the ground by family members as the story closes. While it’s not explicitly stated in the story, Rachael does die [2], and Eddie is shipped off to a mental hospital.

The other story, In Transit, involves Eddie being transferred from a secure holding facility outside of Antares so that he can be sent to a slightly more secure prison asteroid. During the trip, Jani Morgan tries to talk to him, only to set him off again. He still believes he’s being targeted by a vast conspiracy of robots, only now he seems a little more free with letting them know what he knows. He speaks openly about it, and starts ranting before one of the guards hits him with a tranquilizer.

Of course, there are two big problems with Eddie as a character, from a writing point of view.

The first is that you have to be careful when you write someone with mental illness. The effects of Capgras and schizophrenia are well-documented, and this isn’t something that you can just make up as you go. [3] If I’m going to hold on to Eddie as a character in the future then I have to really sit down and read about this condition. How do people deal with it? How does it affect the families and friends of those who suffer from it? What are the treatment options, if any? How can the illness be managed? Is it any easier to live with once you know what it is, or does it become more frustrating, knowing that your brain has betrayed you? I don’t have the answers to any of these questions, but using Eddie will require that I do my best to find out.

The second is that, Capgras Delusion or not, Eddie is still a person. There’s more to him than an unfortunately short-circuited brain, which is true of anyone with a mental illness. Unfortunately, it’s easy for a writer to just wrap a character around a neurological disorder and be done with it. Why? Because it’s easy, especially when the character is not the protagonist. Regardless of the role that your character plays, though, he is more than simply a mental illness with a name slapped on it. So it is imperative that I find out more about Eddie apart from the Capgras and the murderousness, but a lot of that is going to be contingent on the above-mentioned research.

And despite what he became in the mash-up story, I don’t want Eddie to become a villain. I think he’s a decent guy who has been pushed into a very unpleasant place in life, and doesn’t have the skills to cope with it. Maybe the treatment he gets following Reunion will allow him to live a little better.

———–

[1] I still need to work on my titling skills.
[2] She’s my Kenny. I have to put her on the list for a character sketch.
[3] Which I kinda did. My bad.

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Day One Hundred and Thirty-two: A New World [REDUX]

September 30, 2011 1 comment

On the last day of each month, I’ll take a story from the previous month, clean it up a little, see if I can make it better than the first time it appeared, and post it up. This time I’m taking another look at A New World from Day 76, wherein a man comes back from some time in a mental hospital in order to deal with delusions of a fantasy world – only to realize that it was real. I didn’t make any radical changes to it, but just put in a few sentences here and there to fill in some cracks. It’s an idea I’ve had in my head for a while, so I want to figure out how to do it well.

———————————————

Adam let the door swing open and stood on the front step, looking into his house. His sister had kept it in good shape for him while he was… away. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been gone, though. A few months in the hospital, but the time before that was indistinct. Cloudy. He touched that space in his memory like it was a sprained ankle, a bone-deep bruise, and then left it alone.

He stepped inside and took a deep breath. The air smelled dry and flat, unused. He dropped his suitcase by the door, which he then shut and locked. The lights seemed too bright, but they were still working, so his sister must have been paying for the electricity. He felt bad, what she had been through. She didn’t have a lot of reason to be so kind to him, and they both knew it. There were too many years apart, too long between just a simple phone call and a chat. But when he asked why, she said, “Because you’re my brother. What else could I do?”

The water in the kitchen sink sputtered a little when he turned it on, but it came out cold and clear. He held his hands under it, letting it fill his palms and then wash away. For a moment, he felt something else. A stream. Snowmelt from high, impassable mountains. A woman, over his shoulder who made him smile.

He spun around, and there was no one there. The memory, too, clouded back over and he couldn’t quite remember what it was he had remembered. But it made him feel sad, whatever it was.

There was no food in the fridge, of course. It had been switched off and was disconcertingly warm when he stuck his hand inside to turn the dial and get the cold going again. There were probably menus somewhere, someplace he could order from. Even being away as long as he had, there would always be delivery menus. He went through a drawer under the phone until he found a bunch of menus from a Chinese place, Jade Hall. The menus, classic red-on-white printing, had a great sinuous dragon flowing across the top, and he found himself staring at it, unable to move, unable to look away. A voice came to him from the depths of his battered and broken memory, and it was terrifying. It resonated like a funeral bell the size of the world and held nothing but contempt for him and everyone else in creation.

“Very well, then,” he remembered it saying. “We are agreed.” There was a smell in the voice, like burning metal.

Adam felt a sudden pain in his arm, like someone had set a burning iron against it. He howled and grabbed at his sleeve, nearly tearing it off as he ran back to the sink to hold his arm under water. A sob broke through his teeth as he held his burned and mangled arm – and when he looked at it, the skin was clean and undamaged. The burning feeling was gone, along with the voice.

The fear settled into his stomach like a lump of iron. “No,” he said. “No, no.” He started walking around the kitchen, gripping at the sides of his head. “This is just what the doctors said would happen.” He was aware that he was talking to no one, but the silence of the house seemed worse. It seemed to be watching him, waiting to see what he would do next. “Oh, hell, damn, damn,” he said, slumping down on the kitchen floor with his hands over his eyes.

Doctor Greer had recommended against Adam leaving the hospital when he did. He called Adam into his clean, wood-paneled office and sat him down, and then looked at him with that weird, avuncular smile he had. “Adam,” he said. His beard gave his voice a gentle, muffled tone that probably went a long way towards calming his patients. “Adam, we want to help you, you know that?”

“Yes, Doctor Greer,” Adam said. He sat up straight and tried to push out a bright and cheerful voice from the back of his throat where it usually wanted to sit like a frog. “I know that. But I really feel like I’m better now.” Smile. This would be a good place for a smile. “I think I’m going to be okay.”

“And that is wonderful to hear, Adam.” Doctor Greer took up Adam’s file and looked it over, as if he hadn’t been treating the man for months. “No more intrusive fantasies? No more of those voices?”
Adam shook his head. “No, doctor,” he said, and it was true. He had gone a long time without flashing back to that strange reality he’d built for himself. Without thinking he had to get back. Greer said it was just an escape fantasy, that it was all brought on by stress. Work, with the cutbacks. His mother’s death. His marriage. Nothing was staying the way it was supposed to stay – stable, reliable, true. The bargain that he thought he had made with the world was breaking down, and the things that he had counted on were slipping through his fingers.

And so he had retreated, the doctors said. He had gone into his mind, into another world where things made sense. Where he could be the hero and impose order on the world and make it make sense. It was a fully-realized place in his mind, far better than the world he just happened to be born into.

He’d gone crazy, in other words. Nuts. Wacko. Or, in psychological parlance, “experienced a near-total disassociative state of mental dissonance.”

And, after a lot of therapy and a regular regimen of medication, Adam knew that they were right. They had to be. He’d gone off the deep end, lost his marbles, and when they found him in that field, laughing and crying at the same time, well, how else could you explain it? What other explanation could there possibly be? That he had gone to another world? That he had become some kind of fantasy hero, battling dragons and saving princesses?

It made no sense. It never had, and when he walked out of the hospital that morning, Adam was ready to face the real world, the true world. The only world that was really real.

“We are agreed,” that burning, horrible voice said again, and it made Adam cover his head and scream. It opened up cracks and fissures and gaps in his mind, and it let other things flow up out from between them. A great mansion gilded and perched atop a high mountain. A woman with eyes as blue as the sky on a late autumn day and skin that was deep, almost impossible violet, and her breath smelled of honey when they kissed. Red skies and rains that burned, and great insects that flew and carried people off only to let them fall from the sky again. A blade in his hand that sang to him and called down the lightning when he needed it.

“It was all a dream,” Adam said. “It wasn’t real,” and he said it again and again and again, but he knew… In his heart he knew.

There was a stone, and that stone was a key.

There was a door, but it wasn’t a door.

There was a path, and it was a path he could not see but he walked anyway and it led him to her. To the keep.

To the dragon and the battle and the promise. And the field.

The truth and the loss hit Adam like thunder and he wept. He cried for a long time, curled up on the kitchen floor.

Day Seventy-six: A New World

August 5, 2011 3 comments

Adam let the door swing open and stood on the front step, looking into his house. His sister had kept it in good shape for him, while he was… away. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been gone, though. A few months in the hospital, but the time before that was indistinct. Cloudy. He touched that space in his memory like it was a sprained ankle, a bone-deep bruise, and then left it alone.

He stepped inside and took a deep breath. The air smelled dry and flat, unused. He dropped his suitcase by the door, which he then shut and locked. The lights were still working, so his sister must have been paying for the electricity. He felt bad, what she had been through. She didn’t have a lot of reason to be so kind to him, and they both knew it. But when he asked why, she just said, “Because you’re my brother. What else could I do?”

The water in the kitchen sink sputtered a little when he turned it on, but it came out cold and clear. He held his hands under it, and for a moment felt something else. A stream. Snowmelt from high, impassable mountains. A woman, over his shoulder.

He spun around, and there was no one there. The memory, too, clouded back over and he couldn’t quite remember what it was he had remembered. But it made him feel sad, whatever it was.

There was no food in the fridge, of course. It had been switched off and was disconcertingly warm when he stuck his hand inside to turn the dial and get the cold going again. There were probably menus somewhere, someplace he could order from. He went through a drawer under the phone until he found a bunch of menus from a Chinese place, Jade Hall. The menus, classic red-on-white printing, had a great sinuous dragon flowing across the top, and he found himself staring at it, unable to move, unable to look away. A voice came to him from the depths of his battered and broken memory, and it was terrifying. It resonated like a funeral bell the size of the world and held nothing but contempt for him and everyone else in creation.

“Very well, then,” he remembered it saying. “We are agreed.”

Adam felt a sudden pain in his arm, like someone had set a burning iron against it. He hissed and grabbed at his sleeve, nearly tearing it off as he ran back to the sink to hold his arm under water. When he looked at his arm, the skin was clean and undamaged. The burning feeling was gone, along with the voice.

“No,” he said. “No, no. This is just what the doctors said would happen.” he was aware that he was talking to no one, but the silence of the house seemed worse. “Oh, hell, damn, damn,” he said, slumping down on the kitchen floor with his hands over his eyes.

Doctor Greer had recommended against Adam leaving the hospital when he did. He called Adam into his office and sat him down, and then looked at him with that weird, avuncular smile he had. “Adam,” he said. His beard gave his voice a gentle, muffled tone that probably went a long way towards calming his patients. “Adam, we want to help you, you know that?”

“Yes, doctor Greer,” Adam said. “I know that. But I really feel like I’m better now. I think I’m going to be okay.”

“And that is wonderful to hear, Adam.” Doctor Greer took up Adam’s file and looked it over, as if he hadn’t been treating the man for months. “No more intrusive fantasies? No more of those voices?”

Adam shook his head. “No, doctor,” he said, and it was true. He had gone a long time without flashing back to that strange reality he’d built for himself. Without thinking he had to get back. Greer said it was just an escape fantasy, that it was brought on by stress. Work, with all the cutbacks. His mother’s death. His marriage. Nothing was staying the way it was supposed to stay – stable, reliable, true. And so he had retreated, the doctors said. He had gone into his mind, into another world where things made sense. Where he could be the hero and impose order on the world and make it make sense.

He’d gone crazy, in other words. Nuts. Wacko. Or, in psychological parlance, “experienced a near-total disassociative state of mental dissonance.”

And, after a lot of therapy and a regular regimen of medication, Adam knew that they were right. He’d gone off the deep end, lost his marbles, and when they found him in that field, laughing and crying at the same time, well, how else could you explain it? What other explanation could there possibly be?

“We are agreed,” that voice said again, and it made Adam cover his head and scream. It opened up cracks and fissures and gaps, and it let other things flow up out from between them. A great mansion, gilded and perched atop a high mountain. A woman with eyes as blue as the sky on a late autumn day and skin that was deep, almost impossible violet, and her breath smelled of honey when they kissed. Red skies and rain that burned and great insects that flew and carried people off only to drop them from the sky. A blade in his hand that sang to him and called down the lightning when he needed it.

“It was all a dream,” Adam said, and he said it again and again and again, but he knew… In his heart he knew.

There was a stone, and that stone was a key.

There was a door, but it wasn’t a door.

There was a path, and it was a path he could not see but he walked anyway and it led him to her. To the keep. To the dragon and the battle and the promise. And the field.

The truth hit Adam like thunder and he wept. He cried for a long time, curled up on the kitchen floor.