Sunday, November 07, 2004

One Week

Well, I made it through the first week, and for the first time so far I'm slightly ahead on my word count (but only by about 300). Today was a lot more sluggish than yesterday, but it worked out alright eventually. Apparently Week Two will be the real hurdle, though. We'll see.

Chapter 11

Seamus shut the book at that point, and tied the leather fastener in a double knot. Then he shoved the book deep in the back of one of his dresser drawers and lay back down on his bed, trying to collect his thoughts.

He didn't know what precisely had happened just then. Clearly, he had been inside The Life of Pi in some sense, but it wasn't clear how. Had it been a hallucination? Had it been real? What would "real" even mean, if the story was fictional to begin with? Was it real in the sense that he could have been physically injured by the hyena or the sharks, or could he have simply woken up from it, as from a dream, safe and sound? On a different level of reality, would someone reading that scene in The Life of Pi at that exact moment have seen an extra sentence or two, where Pi has a brief vision of a strange new person on the lifeboat with him?

And then, regardless of the reality of it all, where did this even come from? The book had asked "Do you know what you can do?" Did that mean that this power was somehow inherent in him? Or was it something the book contained, to be accessed by anyone? Was it triggered by writing, reading, or merely thinking? Could it happen with books he hadn't read? There were just so many questions.

Seamus was too shaken and, let's face it he thought, outright scared, at the time to try to figure it all out. He looked around his room. The journal was safely hidden away, but the rest of his books were everywhere, as usual. For once in his life, he didn't want to be anywhere near them. Who knew what could happen?

He left his room and headed outside, hoping a walk would clear his head. He went downtown but avoided the bookstores he usually frequented. Instead, he spent a while at the Apple Computer store, drooling slightly over the new iPods and wishing he could afford to upgrade. The new models even had a feature that would speed up spoken word audio slightly, so you could get through audio books faster. Seamus felt an initial excited interest when he saw that feature listed, but it quickly soured as the mention of audio books reminded him of what he was trying not to think about. He left the store and went down the street to the Sprint PCS store to look at camera phones instead, not that he could afford a new cell phone, either, of course.

He got a Subway sandwich for lunch and then spent the afternoon on the Stanford campus. He liked it there – it was a beautiful place to walk around, even in winter. He visited the Rodin and Papua New Guinea sculpture gardens, took a turn around Lake Lagunita, and meandered along the paths of the arboretum on his way back downtown. Still avoiding going home, he went to the Stanford Theatre to watch Arsenic and Old Lace, figuring there's nothing like a good laugh to distract the mind.

When he finally got home, his room appeared the same as ever. He checked his dresser drawer, pushed aside a few t-shirts and saw that the book was still safely tucked away. He left it there.

Chapter 12

The next day Seamus started a new temp assignment. He had been lucky enough to get another one lined up by the end of the previous one, so he didn't have any downtime in between. The occasional mini vacations between assignments were nice sometimes, but it was also good to minimize them in favor of getting paid. And besides, a new assignment gave him something else to think about and pay attention to. Even if it was only data entry this time, at least he could focus on learning the system for a little while, before it became the ingrained habit that data entry always becomes. And there were new people to get used to, and a new company (real estate this time, something Seamus knew nothing about) so that kept things moderately interesting.

He was fairly tired that evening. Being very much a creature of habit, the first day of changing to a new job always took a bit more out of him than a usual days work. He figured it was probably good for him, but he never entirely got used to it. Now, at the end of a busy day, he just wanted to curl up with a book and relax. He was a bit nervous though, remembering the day before.

Still, he figured, I'm going to have to face it sometime. And I'd probably go into some sort of book withdrawal soon if I don't, anyway. I'm a junkie and I know it.

He saw The Life of Pi sitting on his dresser, in his "currently reading" stack, but he wasn't about to open that book again just yet. So he started running his finger along the book spines on his shelves until he came to an old favorite: The Phantom Tollbooth, which he had read and reread most of the way through third grade. An oldie but goodie. Seamus had never seen the point of "growing out of" children's books. Some of them, sure, but not all of them. The really good ones, he always said, were good no matter what your age. He picked it up and began to read.

There once was a boy named Milo who didn't know what to do with himself – not just sometimes, but always.

So far, so good. Nothing weird seemed to be happening, so Seamus figured it was probably safe just to read, and he went on.

He had always loved this book, and always felt somewhat of a kinship with Milo. However, he only made it to the third page before he realized there was a new connection here now.

Milo had just received the mysterious package containing his genuine turnpike tollbooth. He didn't know where it had come from, or that it was more than a toy and would actually send him to the "lands beyond" as advertised on the packaging. He was about to drive his toy car through the tollbooth and have an adventure he never would have expected.

That's what I've got, Seamus thought, sitting right there in my drawer.

It wasn't a tollbooth, certainly. It didn't come with a map, assorted coins, or the "Three (3) precautionary signs to be used in a precautionary fashion." But it was offering him something and he couldn't very well just turn around and ignore it.

He put Milo back on the bookshelf, opened the dresser drawer and pulled out the journal. Opening it up, he saw a new line at the end of Sunday's entries.

Are you ready to try again?

He picked up the pen and began writing.

I think so, yes. I'm going to be more careful about it this time, though. Here's what I want to do:

Milo has just gone through the tollbooth and entered the land of Expectations. I'm in my own car, following a little ways behind him —

There was a bump as the car's wheel struck a rock in the road. Seamus was scrunched into a tiny toy car, with his knees almost up to his chin. He was driving down a small country highway. A sign on the side of the road welcomed him to Expectations, and around a bend up ahead, he saw a dozen colored balloons rising up into the air. Milo must be up there talking to the Whether Man already.

When he turned the corner, Seamus pulled up at the sign advertising cheerful information, predictions and advice. A little man in a long coat was just heading into the house next to the sign when he heard the car behind him and bustled back out to greet Seamus.

"My, my, my, my, MY! Two visitors – two! – right in a row! My goodness! Welcome to the land of Expectations, to the land of Expectations, to the land of Expectations! Now what can I do for you?"

Seamus had to laugh a bit at seeing the Whether Man, just the way he'd always imagined him.

"Well, I don't think there's anything you can really help me with, since I don't expect to be here long. I got here in a rather unusual way, so I'm hoping it will get me back, too."

"Ah, yes, yes, yes. There are plenty of ways around here, plenty of ways, usual and unusual, especially unusual, which makes them usual, I suppose. Why, I was just telling another young man that he was bound to find SOME way wherever he goes, though I did ask him to return my way, should he happen to find it. By the way, do you think it will rain? I can't remember what the other young man said about it."

"Looks like blue skies to me," said Seamus. "Nice talking to you, but I think I'd better be moving along now. Bye!"

"Good bye, GOOD bye, good BYE, GOOD BYE!"

Seamus headed down the road again. He briefly considered following Milo all the way through the Doldrums to Dictionopolis, but the decided against it. This was still an experimental trip he was on. He had managed to enter a book at will, and it seemed that he could interact with the characters in it without a problem. At this point, what he was most curious about was how easy it would be to get back. He wished now that he had thought to ask the journal about it, though he wasn't sure he would have gotten a straight answer out of it. It's line of work seemed to be more along the lines of facilitating than explaining.

Thinking of the book, it occurred to Seamus that it too might have been transported here. He pulled the car over to the side of the road and started rummaging around in the glove compartment. He found a map and a rule book, like the ones Milo had, a pen, and a few coins. Nothing under the seats or anywhere else he could see.

This made Seamus a little nervous. Since the journal had gotten him into this place, it would have been comforting to have it with him as a way to get out. But on the other hand, he didn't remember having it with him in the lifeboat on Sunday, either, so he figured he ought to be able to get home without it. He wondered how this would work.

He decided to sit very still, close his eyes, and imagine that he was back in his room at home. He tried to picture himself just as he was when he left, sitting at his desk with the pen and the journal. He felt a slight shiver, as though the air itself had shimmied around him, and opened his eyes. He saw the landscape of Expectations looking somewhat fuzzy and distorted, but it immediately dropped back into focus as soon as he was paying attention to it.

Okay, he thought, something happened there, but it didn't quite do it.

He tried a couple more times, but got the same results as on the first try. He got up and paced around the car a few times, and then had another idea.

He opened the glove compartment again and got out the map and the pen. He opened the map and turned it over. Most of the back was blank. He lay it across the hood of the car and started to write.

I am Seamus Gilbert, and this is my journal.

The air around him started to shiver, but he carefully avoided looking at it.

I am in my room, sitting at my desk, writing. My room is in the attic of number 283 Cowper Street, Palo Alto, California —

And he leaned back in his chair, looking at the journal on the desk in front of him. The journal contained the lines he had just written, and beneath them the words

Well done.