Note: This is all the rest of what I wrote of this novel before my computer crashed. I managed to dredge this up off Facebook. When I got the ASUS back, I wasn’t sure where to go with the story… so I wrote “Ryel’s Journey,” “Road to Bluehorse,” “The Lyceum Story,” “Homeward by Night” and “His Daughter Sophie” instead.
But this 1/4 of a novel has a neat idea and some very nice lines, and I’d love to do something with it. I just don’t know what. I put it out here for people’s enjoyment, and under the fantasy that someone will email me and say, “You need to finish ‘No Traveler Returns’! I will buy the TV rights!”
Anyway, do read and enjoy, and if you can figure out what to do with it plot-wise (who killed Foster? What’s going to happen with the Whitey Bulger character? Who originally shot Dash and Dox?) then maybe we can be co-authors, huh?
Six: A Long Walk Spoiled
Dox and Dash let this statement suffice for a mile or two. They were headed generally south, with the super-sized version of the Androscoggin a varying distance away to their left. There were a few houses still, and then they came to a place where the trail met two other trails at angles of 120 degrees, and beyond, in both the new directions, the forest appeared uninhabited by humans.
Liz paused in the intersection and had some water from her canteen, but then she set off westward with only a smile to the others. Dash and Dox gave each other a glance, and then Dash started after Liz. Dox stood where she was.
“Coming, dear?” asked Dash as the two women moved further apart.
“Why should I Just tell me that,” Dox replied. “Where’s she going?”
“I have a rendezvous with fate,” said Liz without turning. “Lovely day, isn’t it? Yeah, someone’s going to find out if there’s a Third World, and I don’t plan on it being me. She coming, or not?”
“Just tell me why I should!” Dox yelled after her.
Liz stopped finally and turned around. “You don’t need to. I got your ex-husband for backup.” Dash smiled apologetically at Dox and backed away toward Liz.
“Well, what do I do?”
Liz rolled her eyes. “Geez, Dox,” said Dash, “why don’t you decide that for yourself? I mean, I don’t mind if you come with us.” He looked at Liz. “Is that okay?”
“Of course it’s okay,” said Liz. “I still want to know some things about her.”
“Like what?” asked Dox.
“Like,” said Liz, “whether or not you killed Dash here. Your gun killed him. Why wouldn’t you be the one who pulled the trigger?”
“I didn’t! I swear I didn’t.”
“Well, who did?”
Dox’s face clouded. She pushed at her messy red hair. Dash wondered how long before the grey roots started to show. He was, he recalled, headed back to the house this morning—this morning, really?—because he was supposed to color her hair.
“All right,” said Dox, “I don’t know. I actually don’t. Okay? Now what do you know about what killed your friend Foster?”
“What the hell do you mean, you don’t know?” replied Liz, half turning as she continued to stride along the trail, straight and wide in the sun-dappled woods. “How could you not have at least a clue as to who murdered you? Where exactly were you in this house of Dash’s? Back yard or something, wasn’t it? You get shot from behind?”
“Yes, exactly,” said Dox emotionlessly.
“And you have no idea who did it?”
“Um, no, not really.”
“Not really? How about sort of? Any idea sort of?”
“It doesn’t matter,” said Dox. “Who killed Foster matters. I mean, for instance, if we’d walked faster we might have walked right in on him. It. Honestly, what happened to him, I’m not sure it wasn’t, you know, a mad bear or something. And oh, yeah, they wanted to put us in jail for killing him, don’t forget that aspect. So you see, it matters. Let’s talk about that.”
“Eudoxia dear,” said Dash, “they wanted to put us in a Second World Orientation Class. With Mr Sullivan, who I think might have been the other gym teacher at Littleton High in First World. Wasn’t he named Sullivan?”
“The fuzz thought we were suspects,” said Dox. “And stop calling me Eudoxia. It’s patronizing.”
“What should we call you instead? Ortho Dox? Hetero Dox? You’re still hetero, right?”
Liz snorted. Dox reddened. “You certainly are,” she replied hotly, “you can’t keep it in your pants around other women.”
“Eudoxia,” he said, “you say the sweetest things about the fact that in my entire life I have been the lover of exactly two women.” He smiled toward Liz, who was looking ahead. Nice rear end, actually.
“She’s just changing the subject,” said Liz. “I wonder why.”
(6.3) They walked for a while. It was a lovely day. Liz was in front, then Dash perhaps five paces back, then Dox a few paces behind him. It reminded him of a lot of things. It reminded him of movies about jungle journeys, or Monty Python on jungle journeys: Liz would be the native guide, Dash the explorer, Dox the line of native porters. But it also reminded him of gangster movies: was it Miller’s Crossing? Something like that. He wasn’t sure if he liked the movie. It was supposedly based on a Dashiell Hammett novel, and given his name, Dash had at some point had to read all five extant Dashiell Hammett novels. And this was supposed to be The Glass Key, which Dash had liked quite a lot, though the ending was not what he normally expected from an ending. But he couldn’t help feeling that if the Coen Brothers, or whoever, were going around saying that they’d made a movie out of The Glass Key, then Dashiell Hammett ought to sue. Just as, in Dash’s humble opinion, Tolkien ought to sue the guy who made the Lord of the Rings movies, except that Tolkien’s family, who probably only owned half of England to begin with, probably got enough from the movies to buy the other half and a bit of Wales too. Yes. This could be Lord of the Rings. Liz would be what, Frodo? No, Gandalf her; Dash got to be Frodo, because this was his movie, darn it. So what did that make Dox? A black rider? Certainly not Aragorn or Sam Gamgee; they were useful for something.
Boromir. Of course. Eudoxia was Greek feminine for Boromir.
But perhaps the Coen Brothers were more the ticket, even though he didn’t remember any weather in any of their movies as decent as this. No, but the weaponry was right.
And with that thought, and that vague reminder, the feel of his own murder weapon tucked into the back of his pants, Dash was into another zone of reverie, and the day rather lost its lustre.
Because he still had a lot of questions, and they weren’t ones that Liz was going to answer. Who had killed Foster? What had killed Foster? Who had killed Dox? Who had killed Dash? He felt that question merited more pondering than he had given it.
If you die in the Second World, is there a Third World? He felt that question deserved an answer too. The old religious and philosophical questions—he understood, he had always understood, why religions and philosophies tended to beg them. They were hard to answer—the undiscovered country from whose bourne, and all that—but people felt they had a right to know them. You could get a guarantee about all sorts of things, your coupons, your car, your vacation, your lawyer, lots of things, and if you found yourself aggrieved, you could hire another lawyer and go after the first one for all he was worth. But not the one thing people really went into with their eyes closed. Not death.
And the fact that he had already been given a second chance—the fact that he had died and found himself alive again in another world—well, apparently this was comforting enough to some people that they took risks such as running at Liz Leduc, who was brandishing a gun and warning them in no uncertain terms. But he was inclined to her view. His second life didn’t make him trust the universe any more than his first life did. Which was not at all.
So they swung along on an easy hike on a lovely afternoon in this twice-size version of the Pine Tree State, of Vacationland, Liz, then Dash, then Dox, maybe five paces apart. Liz called a halt and they all went behind different trees to pee, and then they had some water and said nothing. They resumed their hike, and now Dash could hear Dox muttering her questions, but not loud enough for Liz to feel the need to respond: where were we going, were we going to hunt, were we expecting Boogie Freakin’ Carter to jump out from behind a bush and sweep them with a tommy gun.
Dash thought Liz flinched at the last one, but not in fear so much as mirth. He was pretty sure Dox hadn’t noticed, because if she had noticed Liz reacting, she would have raised her level of obstreperousness to a level Liz couldn’t ignore. Dash himself had plenty of experience ignoring her. Dox lapsed into silence.
And thus called to mind, their married life returned to enfold him in comfort, mess, love-making and horror. It was years ago, when they would put Liane to sleep and wait for her to quiet down and then creep upstairs to the guest bedroom and make love. And ah, the magic of Eudoxia Gibson undressing, ah, Eudoxia telling Dashel what to wear—Nothing! was the command of the Queen—ah, the cries of her joy, her nearly impossible joy, as if she were in some kind of terribly pleasant pain. And then, how her mutterings of love would drift into sleep, how they would awaken hours later and creep back down to their own beds giggling.
How he had messed it all up, how she had messed it all up, how she had changed, all on a night it seemed, one of those trips away for two days, how he had found solace—oh, that phrase.
It hardly mattered now. They were dead. Everything was different.
And even if Kate appeared in front of them, or whoever it was that maybe Dox had dallied with first, the fact was that Dash was alone, he was fifty something even though he felt and looked twenty something, and he had a bad, bad feeling that his days of pleasing women in that innocent, lurid pursuit were over for good. Kate was his guilty pleasure, but Kate, with the chance to take Dash for her own, had not shown any interest, which hardly surprised him at all.
It had driven him crazy, the loss. It had made him think of killing himself. Odd, that. Because right now, having died, he couldn’t help but notice that his sex life showed no sign of improving.
So Dash walked along, his ex-wife behind him, and what ahead of him? Well, that would be Liz, and if she was his future, his worries were just getting stahted.
But you know, she did look pretty good from behind. She had taken off her jacket and stuffed it into her backpack, which she wore on one shoulder like she she was a college student. A well-armed college student: she held her bow in her right hand. She was down to her white tee shirt and black jeans and boots, and now poor Dashel was forced to walk along watching how that all worked, because he couldn’t look away. It was a lovely day in the woods, it really was, but he was powerless.
And the thing was, Liz was nice looking but she wasn’t anything amazing—she wasn’t, oh, Cindy Crawford or Angelina Jolie or that babe from Firefly. She was just a woman in the prime of her life, albeit her second life. She wasn’t trying to get his attention with her rear end. Most likely, she had no particular desire to get his attention. Perhaps she wished she could turn it off, but she couldn’t. She was dressed in a completely utilitarian way, really; her jacket was off because it was hot, not because she was “hot.”
They couldn’t turn it off. And he couldn’t turn off his receptors. They could turn off their receptors, he was pretty sure of that. He could ask Liz and Dox around the campfire tonight. Oh, right, that would surely work.
Dash was what, thirty years out of high school? Thirty-five? And he was still thinking the same predictable things. He didn’t understand women. They knew something he didn’t. They were all in on it together, and they could read his mind. Right now, Liz was thinking, that bleep, he’s walking along behind me for hours just hypnotized by my hiney.
Of course the idea that Liz and Dox were in on anything together was risible. But they were still implicit allies. They both knew all they needed to know about him, they both knew already if they would ever under any circumstances show any interest in him, and they both knew that his entire mental faculty on his best day was no match for their brain power with one lobe tied behind their backs.
What was that joke about the guy who asked the genie to make him 50,000 times as smart as the smartest man on Earth? The genie made him into a woman. And while she would be insecure and overly cautious and obsessive about grooming, she would also not spend ten seconds of every fifteen thinking about sex.
With an effort, Dash dragged his mind off that subject and threw it like a big heavy moldy blanket at the scene in Mr Foster’s house.
Foster was certainly dead. Foster, if his consciousness still existed somewhere, was in possession of the secret of what came after the Second World. Foster was no more: bereft of life, he rests, well, not in peace maybe; he’s not pining, he’s passed on. He was an ex-steelmaker. And if there were bullet holes in him, they were obscured by all sorts of other holes as well as lacerations, abrasions, punctures, cavities, fissures, craters and complete separations. Dash had heard people say of scenes like that, “How could I forget? I remember ever horrible detail.” But even though he had spent longer with Mr Foster than his companions had, he didn’t have a photographic image of the situation, just a general idea.
And the general idea challenged his hours-old picture of Second World as a gigantic first person shooter.
His question wasn’t why had Foster been targeted by some other member of the National Second Life Rifle Association. His question was more in the area of how. He felt as if the why question didn’t quite fit the situation. How. What.
And that rather spoiled the lovely walk in the woods for Dashel. And that concerned him, because he needed to pee, which involved going behind a tree, and, well, who knew what that might involve?
“Excuse me,” he said to the women, “can we pause a moment? I need to use the bathroom, er, and I, er, I’d kind of like someone to keep an eye on me.”