A large handwritten sign caught her eye as she was walking to brunch with Alex and Kate at Cervantes. It said BOOKSALE – AS LOW AS A DOLLAR in painstakingly written black letters. The sign was hanging outside of a small shop she had never noticed before, wedged between two of her favorite clothing stores. That’s odd, she mused. I figured I would notice this before. In the window there was a display of classic love stories lovingly stacked in a tower, their covers old but still eye-catching. Marie looked inside. A few people were milling about, looking at covers and rustling through bins of books. She took a deep breath. She was feeling inexplicably nervous for some reason. To hide her nerves, she opened the door quickly and stepped inside, raking her hair back with one hand and tilting down her sunglasses with the other.
The bell on the door chimed noisily, but no one even looked up or glanced her way. Marie suddenly felt stupid. Of course none of these nerds would know her and expect a showy entrance. She stepped inside lamely, feeling anticlimactic, and looked around.
The shop was bigger than it looked from the outside and extended farther back then she thought it would. It smelled like old paper, an oddly familiar scent. She suddenly recalled the library where she used to spend hours as a kid and smiled fondly. At the front by her feet were bins full of books that seemed like the source of the musty smell, with a sign that said 1 DOLLAR in the same bold print as the sign outside hovering above the bins. Marie crouched down in front of them, her feet in her three-inch heels protesting, and grabbed the book off the top. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen, in paperback. The cover had been ripped off and taped back on badly. She fingered the creases in the tape with one hand. Wasn’t this a movie with Colin Firth in it? She hadn’t realized they had written a book about it. She put in on the floor next to her. She was a big Colin Firth fan.
Twenty minutes later, Marie stood stiffly, wincing and kicking her feet, but triumphant. Her legs were sore and asleep, but she had five books bundled in her arms – Pride and Prejudice, Life of Pi, by Yann Martel, My Life in France, by Julia Childs, a prettily bound hardcover of the Ramayana, and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. She was proud of herself. Marie hadn’t read any of the back covers, but the assortment would look good on her coffee table.
She looked around for the cashier and was surprised to find the store was deserted, save herself and an older looking man reading quietly behind the cash register in the back. Walking up to him, Marie was overly aware of how every click of her heels on the floor disrupted the silence of the store.
The man at the cash register looked up as she approached and smiled, leathery skin crinkling along long worn laugh lines.
“Hello,” he said, still smiling. “I see you found what you were looking for. You were digging in those bins for quite a long time.”
She put her books on the desk and dug in her purse for her wallet. Finding it, she took out a twenty and dropped it unceremoniously on top of the pile but stopped as a cover caught her eye.
On the wall behind the cash, on a ledge built into the wall, there was a set up of old children’s books. Side by side sat The Neverending Story and The Phantom Tollbooth. She stared for a second and stopped him as he was about to hand her change back.
“Wait,” Marie said slowly. “I’ll take The Neverending Story as well.”
The cashier pulled it down from the shelf and put it in a bag with the other books, then put the money back in the register and handed her change and the bag of books. She took them without thanks and walked hurriedly to the exit, pulling her cell phone from her purse as she did so. The old man watched her go curiously, then shook his head and reopened his book.
Continued from here.
It was hours, or perhaps minutes, or perhaps days later when Marie broke into a clearing and took a few stabilizing breaths. She sank down onto a grassy patch in the shade and put her head between her knees. She had long since left beneath any signs of gunfire, and the only noise that accompanied her own ragged breathing was the occasional flirtatious chattering of the birds in the trees, and the shrill yodeling of a solitary monkey. The sun, which was hard enough to see through the dense foliage of the jungle, was flickering just a few feet from the horizon now, and had little chance of making much headway between the ranks of thick old tree trunks.
Marie took her right foot into her hands and pulled it into her lap. The bottom was cut and bleeding, and for the umpteenth time, she cursed herself for dropping her purse and her extra pair of shoes behind her. In New York, she had prided herself on her baby bottom soft skin, pampered by weekly pedicures and mud baths. Now, she wished she’d made a little less fun of girls who went barefoot habitually and had callused heels.
Out of habit, she reached into her back pocket for her cell phone. Her jewel encrusted iPhone was missing, but she pulled out the forgotten Loubouton heel and turned it over in her hands. She found the reminder of home vaguely satisfying.
At the thought of home, Marie finally confronted her surroundings. She had never been the outdoorsy type, but she distantly remembered watching a survival show on T.V. once, and her family had a vacation house in Puerto Rico.From the location of the sun, she was able to determine that it was almost nighttime. Marie recalled that there were other things she could determine from the sun, but she could not for the life of her remember what those things were.
Marie closed her eyes and leaned back against a palm tree trunk.
Okay, she thought to herself. Nighttime in a tropical jungle. I went from the office to a tropical jungle. How did that happen?
All of the sudden, she felt extremely tired. The adrenaline was finally wearing off, as was the last cup of coffee she’d had with lunch.
She had had a weird lunch with Dakota earlier at a bizarre, hippy cult restaurant.
Perhaps I’m tripping.
The thought struck a satisfactory chord. Marie had never done any hallucinogens, but she knew what they were, and she had eaten a sandwich with mushrooms in it. Besides, she didn’t have a better explanation of how she’d gotten here.
I must be on drugs, Marie thought to herself. I’ll wake up in my office, and my PR team can take care of everything tomorrow.
Reassured, she readjusted her grip on her piece of heel, squirmed down into the bed of wild grasses she was sitting on, and drifted to sleep.
When the elevator door opened, Marie was finishing a text message to Kate, asking if she wanted to meet up after work for happy hour.
If she had bothered to look up, she would have noticed that she was no longer in the Everline building.
She was not, for that matter, even on Earth.
She was in a tropical jungle where the afternoon sun was at the apex of its journey across the sky. It was about 88 degrees Farenheit, and there was a war on.
Marie did not look up, however, until she realized that she had no cell service where she was, and by that point it was far too late.
She blinked in the sudden sunlight, felt behind her for the elevator, and, feeling nothing, turned around.
The movement attracted the attention of the closest sniper, who fortunately enough for Marie, had been drinking before he was called in. He took aim with unsteady hands, swaying slightly in his tree perch.
The bullet whizzed by her right ear taking out a few branches behind her before embedding itself deep into an old palm tree. Marie had never been particularly athletic, but she executed a nearly perfect sideways jeté attempting to scramble out of the way of the attack, dropping her iPhone somewhere in the underbrush.
Upon landing, the spindly right heel of her favorite pair of Loubouton’s snapped off at the stem. Miraculously, she managed not to fall.
“Fuck!” Marie cried.
“Fuck,” the sniper thought to himself, taking aim again.
He shot and missed again as Marie bent down and grabbed the broken piece of her heel, staring at the shiny red underside.
Close by, somebody else screamed as they were successfully hit by a sober marksman.
With shaking hands, Marie opened her purse and took out the pair of folded-up black ballet flats she always kept on hand in case of emergency. She tucked the broken heel into her back pocket and stood up to change her shoes, as a wild woman came charging out of the bush and shoved her.
Marie fell back, losing her grip on the flats. She swore again.
“What the fuck?”
“Gurgh,” the woman replied, clutching at the bullet wound in her chest. She gave Marie a long look, as if she wanted to say something very important. Her dirty fingers clenched reflexively as the red stain in her shirt started to widen.
“Gurgh,” she said again, more insistently, before keeling over.
Marie took that as her cue. She kicked off her broken Loubouton’s and ran.
Okay, so protagonist Marie isn’t changing much from where she started. She’s still a bitchy, fashion magazine editing socialite who cares too much about her popularity and too little about anything else.
The book opens in one of those very fashionable night clubs where the bartender knows her name and where she thinks it’s okay to waltz in and lord over her domain. She rejects someone at the bar who she thinks is hitting on her, gets her drink, and disappears into the V.I.P. section with her two idiotic friends. The bartender and the rejected young man have a conversation about how big of a bitch she is. End scene.
Shortly thereafter, however, everything changes. She still has a conversation about how useless she is with her patronizing and unsympathetic father. She still has a fight with her secretary, Claire, whom she promptly fires.
Then shit gets real.
From this point forward, the rest of my manuscript for this book is out the window.
Marie gets into an elevator at work and is transported to another dimension. The rules or parameters or guidelines of this dimension are as follows:
-The 3A Dimension was created by a billionaire named Xionsyes Zelo. The purpose of 3A is to serve as a testing ground for a possible Utopia.
-Because of the way the 3A Dimension was created, time is very thin, and several different realities are overlapping on 3A at any given time. This means that it is possible to run into someone else’s timeline more than once. During her stay on 3A, Marie crosses her own timeline at least twice, and Dakota’s at least 4 three times.
-Marie learns that Earth is the 5th reiteration of the same planet. There are 10 in the series, in alphabetical order from Aarth to Jarth. Each successive reiteration is about 1000 years behind the previous. 3A is an exact dimensional replica of Carth, where Xionsyes is from.
-Aarth is missing. No one knows what happened to it.
-Claire, Marie’s former secretary, works for Xionsyes. The dimensional shift was meant for her.
That’s all I’m giving you for today. I know it’s new and shiny and different and very weird, but I’m excited about it.
Tata for meow.
Marie hurried through the double doors and nearly walked straight into Dakota, who quickly grabbed her shoulders to prevent a straight-on collision. They stared at each other briefly in surprise before Dakota broke into a wide smile.
“Couldn’t get enough of me?” he asked jokingly. “I’ve never had a stalker, but it’s pretty flattering of you.”
Marie was thrown off guard, and blinked.
“No, this is my office building,” she explained, jerking her thumb back towards the Everline skyscraper. He looked up at it instinctively, following her motion.
“And of course I’d be stalking you, who else would I stalk?” she added coyly, a beat too late.
He shot her a sideways glance.
“Out for lunch?” he asked innocently.
“Care to join me?” he added.
“That was the plan,” she shot back. He chuckled and started walking again, Marie tagging along.
“Where do you work?” she asked, to fill the silence.
“You know the old library down on King Street?” he asked. Marie didn’t, but nodded anyway. “I work the special editions section, you know, all the really old or rare stuff. Cataloguing mostly, but some research stuff. It’s pretty fun.”
“So what are you doing in this part of town? King Street’s nowhere close to here.”
“I started a small publishing company a little while ago, and the office is just down the street from you.”
“That’s ambitious of you.”
“I suppose. I just wish I had more publicity. Business is slow.”
He stopped in front out of a small restaurant with Vera Jon’s painted above the door in a pink that stood out from the garrish green door frame.
“How’s this?” he asked, looking down at her for a reaction.
“Here?” she blurted out incredulously.
She shrugged, swallowing the words Because no one else will be in here and smiling.
Dakota led her into the small restaurant, which had a bunch of small wooden tables packed between it’s crumbly brick walls. The chairs and tableware were mismatched and brightly colored, and several surrealist charcoal drawings hung on the otherwise unadorned brick walls. It had the air of a coffee shop, complete with several college students poring over piles of books and a shy couple out on their first or second date.
The perky hostess, who wore a brightly colored scarf wrapped around her hair and had different colored fingernails, led them to a back table between a student reading Shakespeare and a group of middle aged women clearly on lunch break. She handed them each an organic looking menu with Vera Jon written brazenly across the front, told them her name was Shay, and left them to her own devices.
They flicked open the menus and read in silence for a while. The restaurant was advertised as a ‘Sand – Which’ shop, and the menu featured 3 or 4 pages of creative options. All could be eaten on gluten-free bread or as a wrap, and all could be halved and eaten with either a soup or a salad. The most expensive was 16 dollars and had lamb, avocado, basil, balsamic vinegar, walnuts, and pear slices between its two slices of challah.
“Ham and turkey on multigrain with cranberries, sliced apples, mayo, and cheddar cheese,” Dakota mused.
“Bacon and marmalade on pumpernickel?”
“Grilled cheese on country white with pesto, pine nuts, sundried tomatos, bacon, and garlic paste.”
“That sounds simultaneously terrible and amazing,” she said, looking at Dakota over the top of her menu.
“Most of these sound simultaneously terrible and amazing,” he replied. Marie nodded.
“But in a good way.”
“In a good way.”
Here’s a really random scene about Dakota rowing? I don’t know. Go with it.
Dakota opened the door of his car and got out. The early morning air was thick with dew and fog, so thick he could taste the heaviness in it. He ignored it, breathing deeply. The rain that was predicted for later would clear out the air.
The misty light made everything look somewhat hazy, but the color of the grass and the leaves on the trees was a spectacular lush green, even though the tree trunks had receded into grey masses that had barely any weight or substance. It was as if the greenery had sucked up all the surrounding density so that while everything else was a hazy nothingness, the greenery was almost overwhelmingly thick.
The boathouse itself was transformed into an almost ethereal form, looming mistily from behind several large and bushy maple trees. The faded, peeling white paint and the aging wood behind it blended into a soft grey. The gutter, which by day was a useless rusted thing hanging to the building’s columns by a single screw, had become an interesting object, alive with dripping dew in the persistent wet. It sparkled somewhat dimly as Dakota walked by it, catching rays of light that had somehow made it past the thick cloud cover.
As he unlocked the boathouse and pushed back the heavy wooden door – the slide it was attached to was rusty and complained noisily about the intrusion – he couldn’t help the sudden rush of excitement he always felt about going out on the water. He was especially fond of rowing alone. Dakota had loved the bustle of his boathouse back home when he was on the team in high school. That boathouse had been far newer and more state of the art than this one, which was really a decrepit old house that had had its garage emptied out for boats. Coming here felt more like a sacred and private ritual than an experience to be shared with teammates. Sure, he knew other rowers here, and had gone out a few times in a double with a guy friend from work, but he preferred having the place to himself.
Dakota signed out a single and picked out oars, carefully laying them down on the dock within reach, but out of the way. He went back to the boathouse and took a deep breathe before hoisting the boat he had picked up and over his head and walking it carefully down to the dock. He flipped it and put it gently into the water with one practiced motion and secured his oars, before quickly running back to the house and locking the door back up. That was the most nerve-wracking part of rowing alone; there was no one to hold the boat for him while he locked up.
It only took him a few strokes to bring himself up to a good pace, body moving fluidly, oars slipping seamlessly in and out of the water, flicking horizontally at the end of a stroke and hovering just over the surface as he moved forward to take another stroke. The single moved forward without jerking, the clean wake a sign of good rhythm. Every few strokes he cast a glance over his shoulder, watching his point.
Within five minutes the inlet widened into the lake and Dakota set a course along the west shoreline, keeping in within sight so he didn’t get lost in the fog. It hovered over the lake in dense clouds, and as he rowed through them, it became harder to see long distances. On the horizon, the water blended with the sky seamlessly, the shoreline impossible to see through the haze. Dakota felt like he was rowing amongst the clouds.
Back from Boston. Too tired to explain this random scene.
Claire slammed her fist on the desk. Marie flinched, surprised.
“The people in this office aren’t intimidated by you!” Claire screamed at her, bracing her hands on the desk and leaning forward, “They think you’re a laughingstock! Honestly, can you get over yourself for a minute? You waltz in here like you’re the Queen of England and throw orders around that half the time don’t make any sense – half the time you’re late or hung-over or god knows what – you haven’t been here for a week – everyone knows you got this job because your father gave it to you, which is a shame because, god, M, you could be good at this!”
Claire paused, breathing heavily. Marie hadn’t moved a centimeter since she started.
“Listen, some of the things you come up with on a whim are brilliant,” Claire continued, softening somewhat. “If you tried, if you applied yourself to this job, you could excel at it, really. Why don’t you have any ambition?”
Claire stopped, apparently waiting for an answer. Marie shifted and looked up.
“You ugly, pathetic bitch! How dare you question my right to be here?” Marie screamed, standing up. “Get the hell out!”
Claire whirled on her heel and stomped to the door, yanking it open and pausing. She turned her head back to Marie.
“No one gives a shit that you’re pretty and popular. One of these days, you’re going to have to face the music, and what will you do then?”
She walked out, slamming the door behind her. Through the clear glass Marie watched her grab her purse from her desk, storm towards the elevators, and slam the button with one hand. As Claire disappeared behind the closing elevators, Marie felt the attention in the office turn towards her. She heard a low murmur of voices and grins concealed hastily behind hands, eyes reluctant to meet hers, but wanting to see her reaction.
Marie swiveled in her chair to face the giant picture window with its idyllic view. In a movie, she thought dryly, this is where the clouds would roll in so it could start raining to symbolize my internal turmoil. Unsurprisingly, it’s a beautiful day. She watched the sunlight glitter on the water until her urge to smash something had largely faded.
I’m turning twenty-five in three days, Marie mused. I’m still single. Most guys would sell their souls to sleep with me. I’m still attractive. I’m getting older. I’m still extremely popular. I have a high-paying job. My dad got it for me. My employees think I’m an idiot. Am I an idiot? Claire thinks I’m an alcoholic. I’m definitely not an alcoholic. Oh God, am I an alcoholic?
Marie rubbed her eyes hard with her fists, then looked down at the bruises on her wrist.
“I’m definitely an idiot,” she moaned quietly to herself.