“She is, but probably not for the reasons you’re thinking,” Galen joked.
“Cool it, peanut gallery,” Marie hissed. “If the time thing bothers you guys that much, why don’t you just leave?”
“Because it’s not that simple,” Alice replied.
Marie opened her mouth to respond, but Alice cut her off.
“Listen,” Alice said urgently. “We know that it’s not uncommon for people from Carth and Carth 2-A to visit the mainland here. They think the time rules here are fun, for whatever reason. It’s becoming a fairly popular vacation spot for rich people, for whatever reason. It wouldn’t be unfeasible for you to pose as a rich Carthigian on a trip, snoop around a little, and figure out what the hell is going on.”
“And why on Earth would I want to do that?” Marie asked, exasperated.
“Because you’re not on Earth anymore,” Elsy said quietly. “And if you do this for us, we’ll help you get back there.”
Marie’s stomach gurgled loudly, and Galen snorted. Marie flushed red.
“I’m not used to eating like this,” she said defensively, as her digestive system complained loudly again. Hershel got up and fetched his med kit from the other room. He fished around for a second and pulled out two shiny, bright yellow pills, long, skinny ovals.
“Here,” he said, and Marie held out her hand.
“What are these?”
“It’ll help with the digestion. Chew and swallow.”
Marie hesitated, but her upset stomach made up her mind for her. She complied. The pills melted on her tongue and she gagged, reaching for her glass. Milo nipped consolingly at her ankle.
“Thanks Hershel,” Marie said. He nodded.
They sat in awkward silence for a while as Marie’s stomach began to settle.
Within five minutes she felt fine.
“That was a miracle pill,” Marie said, breaking the silence.
“It is remarkably efficient, yes.”
“Why don’t you guys have any technology here?” Marie asked suddenly.
“What do you mean?” Elsy asked.
“You know, computers and stuff like that. I figured since you were apparently advanced enough to duplicate planets, you’d have computers everywhere, and automated stuff, and walls made out of lasers and stuff like that,” Marie explained lamely.
“Why?” she asked.
“You know, so you don’t have to do things by hand as much. Like, where you even get all this food?”
“I have chickens out back,” Elsy said. “One of the people who moved back to Carth 2-A planted a lovely orchard. Hershel gardens, Galen and Alice hunt and forage from time to time. There’s also another town not too far from here, with all the technology and what-not you’re probably expecting, but we’re fairly limited out here in terms of supplies and things like that, and we enjoy life that way.”
It was by far the longest speech Marie had heard from the older woman thus far and she considered it carefully.
“If there’s a town not far from here, why don’t you move there?”
“This is home,” Elsy said simply.
“We do have some technology here,” Galen added, “computers and the like, but we don’t use it much.”
“You guys are like futuristic Amish people,” Marie quipped.
Galen snorted. “Sort of.”
“I don’t understand, though,” Marie said seriously. “This place is so much like home. You all speak English, for heaven’s sakes. The food is the same, from what I’ve seen, the animals are the same. The only thing different so far, really, is the trees and the houses. And the freaky time thing.”
“Think about it this way,” Hershel said gently. “When Barth was created by Aarth, it was essentially a clone of the First Planet, similar in every way, and the Aarththons wanted it that way. Why wouldn’t they, when they were planning on using it as a second home? So on with Carth and Darth, all the way down to Earth and onward. So yes, we speak English – it’s because Aarthons taught us English, and brought down all their various languages and cultures to all the cloned planets waiting to soak it all in.”
“So Earth isn’t original at all,” Marie said sadly.
Hershel shook his head.
“Don’t misunderstand me. We all are similar, yes, but Earth has a distinct flair all its own. Darth checks in from time to time, but the way Darth’s influences affected Earth was all you. No other planet has vegetarians, for example. No other planet has quite such a fascination with music and performance. You’re quite an artistic planet, really. That’s at least something.”
Marie closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. The smell of the food was intoxicating, and her stomach growled loudly.
“Oh Elsy,” she said appreciatively, “those smell delicious.”
Elsy blushed and set the tray down as Alice handed out plates and utensils.
“Dig in,” she said. Galen pulled three off the platter before Marie could move.
“Do they all have meat in them?” Marie asked, hopeful that Elsy had remembered she didn’t eat meat. Elsy nodded firmly.
“Oh,” she replied, making a face.
“Sorry Marie,” Alice said, helping herself to a particularly large one, “if you want to blend in on this planet, you’re going to have to eat meat. We don’t have vege-whatevers here.”
“Besides,” Galen chipped in, “meat is spectacular. And full of protein. You look like you could use some protein.”
“I don’t even know what that means,” Marie protested.
“It means, eat up,” Elsy said, putting two palm sized quesadillas on Marie’s plate.
Marie sighed, picked up her fork and knife, and cut herself a tiny bite. She inspected it warily. It did smell good, although she hadn’t eaten meat in years.
She put the morsel in her mouth.
“Oh my god,” she said, chewing, momentarily forgetting her long years in various manner schools on Earth. It tasted like a reward for many long years of dieting. Also, like steak.
After that, she happy and ravenously consumed her two quesadillas and half of a third. Hershel quizzed her while they ate, asking about Earth, how she got here, and what had happened to her before Alice had found her. She told them everything, including the gunfire, the woman who had pushed her out of the way, how she’d lost her shoes and her phone and everything. Hershel nodded from time to time, but the rest of the table was silent and listening intently.
“So where, exactly, do I fit in to this?” Marie asked over her second glass of white peach sangria when Hershel’s questions seemed to have run out. She was starting to feel the grease turn over in her stomach, her system unused to eating heavy foods and meat after so many years of denial, and she tried to find a comfortable spot in her chair.
“We’re not exactly sure,” Alice admitted. “We don’t know how you got here, and if you’re here on accident or on purpose. However, if you are here on accident, then we can be sure that Xionsyes and his gang of cronies don’t know that you’re here.”
“And that’s important?”
“Yes. Because you can go figure out exactly what they are doing and why.”
“Woah, woah, woah now,” Marie spurted holding up her hands. “There are many, many loopholes to that plan, including, but not limited to, are you insane?”
As you may or may not have noticed, I have utterly dropped the ball on NaNoWriMo, and while on the one hand I think excuses are for sissies, I believe there’s a subtle intelligence in knowing when to bow out gracefully.
However, as I’m still very upset about the fact that I forgot to post a blog last Thursday, I’ve come up with a sort of combined penalty slash compromise. Compenolty. Penpromise. Thing.
I’m going to keep having a whack at NaNoWriMo and see how far I get. Then, in January, when I’ve officially finished my post-a-day challenge, I’ll finish off however many words I have to go until I reach my 50,000 words.
I think it’s fair. I’m technically doing the work of two women right now, with my mom gone, and I’ve been so swamped at work I’d be stressed even without adding more yoga classes, dog-sitting, housesitting, and chores. Add Thanksgiving and life drama and I’ve had time to eat food, let alone write 2,000 words a day.
However, I did make writing commitments that I feel are important enough to keep stabbing at (with a fork, long after they’ve died), and while I am disappointed in myself that I forgot a day, the lesson learned here is to be flexible and to keep plugging away.
I’m happy with that solution, anyways.
“When Xionsyes Xelo took over this planet,” Hershel began in his melodious narrator’s voice, “he started screwing around with how time works on this planet, and we’re not entirely sure why.”
They were back in the house Marie was beginning to consider Elsy’s. Elsy herself was bustling around in the kitchen and the room was starting to smell pleasantly of simmering butter, caramelized onions, and some sort of searing meat. Alice had explained to the other what had happened with Milo – although Marie still wasn’t entirely sure what had happened, she couldn’t deny the puppy chewing contentedly on a toy under her feet.
Marie spread her hands wide over the plaid red, pink and yellow tablecloth and felt the slightly scratchy material under her fingers. She was still having trouble believing this whole situation was real. Touching solid things helped – although she still hadn’t ruled out a long-term coma, or even a hefty dose of LSD.
“About seven or eight years ago, we started noticing the wildlife was acting strange,” Hershel was saying. “Our pets were aging and getting younger, un-aging, if you will-“
“I won’t,” Galen interrupted, entering from the kitchen with a pitcher of sangria.
“On a weekly basis,” Hershel continued, unfazed. “If that wasn’t weird enough, after a few months, there seemed to be multiple versions of our pets running around, young and old versions, even if the pet in question, the original one, was still quite young.”
Marie accepted a cold glass of sangria from Galen and took a long swig.
“Okay, weird,” she said.
“It gets weirder. One day, about a year or so after this started happening, a woman who used to live here ran into herself – a much older version of herself, out in the woods, collecting mushrooms and flowers and things in the same place where she usually foraged.”
“What?” Marie asked loudly. “How is that possible? How do you run into youself?”
“We don’t know,” Alice said, “but it’s happened to all of us. Some of us more than once. I went to a party which I was already at once. It was terribly disconcerting.
“Milo’s died now probably close to a hundred times,” Alice said tiredly. “Always peacefully, and he always disappears almost right after.”
“That’s extremely freaky,” Marie replied.
“You get used to it.”
“You don’t,” Galen disagreed. “Poor dog. What’s worse is running into people who have left the planet. Or running into yourself as a kid. Or running into yourself a few minutes in the future, because then, you walk away, and you end up running into yourself a few minutes in the past. ”
“I ran into two of me once,” Elsy said in her quiet way, bearing a tray full of quesadillas. “It was not one of my better mornings.”
They walked through the center of town, although town was probably a generous term. It was more of a mismatched collection of houses in a bizarrely mismatched collection of styles. The house Marie was sleeping in looked almost like a Spanish or Italian casa, orange on the outside, with large open doorways and a tiled roof. The house next door, however, had sliding paper walls straight out of Japan, and the one next to it was almost an English colonial.
Everything was made, however, of the same plaster, and most of the houses looked poorly maintained. Marie wondered if they had any concept of gardening on this planet or if that was an Earth thing.
Alice led her straight out of the town, back into the forest. It was brutally hot, and Marie could already feel her shirt gluing itself to her lower back, but under the trees it was a little cooler. They kept walking, and the trees kept getting bigger. Milo trotted patiently by their side, his gait a little awkward, like he was stiff.
“Did something happen to Milo?” Marie asked, used to his usual frolicking presence.
Alice said nothing.
“Okay then,” Marie muttered, flipping her hair out of her sweaty face for the umpteenth time.
Soon, they were entirely surrounded by trees, and although Marie was by no means a botanist, she couldn’t name any of the species. Although the trees seemed to be getting more numerous, the leaves seemed to be getting thinner around them. She realized the trees were actually quite far apart from each other, and that actually, the tree trunks were the widest that Marie had ever seen.
They kept walking and the trunks kept getting wider. The air was completely still and hot, and the jungle was silent apart from the occasional cry of some distance and unrecognizable species.
Alice stopped by one and put her hand on the truck, which was about as wide as a small house.
“Look up,” she said quietly.
“Good god,” Marie said quietly, craning her neck as Milo sat down next to her and leaned against her leg.
It was a height she couldn’t fathom, perhaps taller than any skyscraper she’d ever seen. The canopy was so far above them, Marie couldn’t distinguish between the leaves. All she saw was a yellow green sky, slightly blurred as if the canopy was moving in a wind she couldn’t feel.
“This single tree,” Alice said, “is older then your planet. Much older. There are others in this forest older by two or three times, measured by a unit of time you don’t even have.”
“Wow,” Marie said, having nothing else to say.
“I know you’re freaked out right now,” Alice continued, “and that you don’t want to believe that this is real. But the evidence that this is real is right in front of you, so the quicker you can come to terms with that, the quicker you can find a way out of here.”
“There’s a way back? I thought you said you couldn’t send me back.”
“We can’t, no. But there are plenty of people on this planet who can.”
“And where are they?”
“On the mainland, mostly. We’ve managed to track down a general location, but we aren’t entirely sure.”
Marie sighed and absentmindedly reached down to pat Milo, who was now leaning the vast majority of his weight onto her leg, on the head. At the touch of her hand, however, Milo promptly over, his front legs akimbo and his neck oddly twisted.
“Milo?” Marie asked.
Alice bent down and put her hand her hand on Milo’s chest. The dog was extremely still, and at the touch of Alice’s hand, he started to pee. Marie jumped back.
“What’s wrong with him?” she cried.
Alice shook her head.
“What does that mean?” Marie asked heatedly.
“He’s dead.” Alice said in an matter of fact tone, as if Marie could have obviously come to that conclusion herself.
Word count – 16502
They let her pity party for three hours before Alice went in to drag her out of her room again. She was clean this time, and had washed her hair, possibly with shampoo. Without a dense layer of dirt clinging to her, she almost looked like a pleasant, trustworthy human being.
“Get up,” Alice said from the door. She had Milo with her, who seemed to be tired, and who curled quietly at Alice’s feet and tucked his paws under his chin for a pillow.
Marie didn’t respond. She’d decided to ignore her surroundings until they went away, and besides, she now had a killer headache.
“I said, get up,” Alice said, crossing to the bed and pulling Marie out onto the floor by her wrists.
“Ow! What the hell?” Marie yelled.
“We’re done with your pathetic displays, okay?” Alice said, unfazed. You’ve been here for almost three days. You can’t wish yourself out of here by crying and acting like a damsel in distress. No one’s going to save you. Start acting like a goddamn woman and take responsibility for yourself.”
Marie drew herself up, stung.
“Fuck off,” she spat.
“Yeah, that’s real nice,” Alice replied. “How about thank you, Alice, for saving me from the middle of the fucking jungle? Or thank you, Elsy, for giving me food and clothes? Or even, I don’t know, thank you, Hershel, for tending to my wounds because I’m apparently an incompetent child?”
Marie said nothing, and stared at a long crack in the yellow plaster in the wall. She thought about how frankly, Alice was being somewhat of an ass, and also, how badly she wanted a glass of water and some ibuprofen.
“That’s what I thought,” Alice said, taking her silence, mistakenly, for complacency. “Now put your shoes on, we’re going for a walk.”
Word Count 16502
This novel, or whatever it is, is starting to make less and and less and less sense. I think I’m losing my mind.
Marie had been fully awake when Galen had thrown her over his shoulder and carried her back to the bed she’d spent the previous night in, but she let herself go limp anyways, lolling pitifully like a ragdoll and keeping her eyes squeezed shut. She imagined she was in the arms of a big, handsome millionaire, possibly a prince or a stock holder in an important company or a masseuse, and he was carrying her back to her penthouse in the city where a large chocolatini and a bubble bath were waiting for her.
Instead, she was abruptly let down onto the absurdly uncomfortable bed she’d woken up in, and left alone without so much as a tucking in of covers.
She heard Galen slam the door shut and opened her eyes. The plaster walls of the room were painted a manically bright yellow that someone who was obviously colorblind must have picked. Marie shut her eyes again. Shut eyes were obviously better in the case.
A bird of some sort made a loud noise outside and then fell silent. A different sounding bird answered it, and they had a brief, angry sounding conversation before a third bird told them in absolute tones to shut the fuck up.
Under that was the ever-presence buzz of some sort of bug –cricket or whatever, Marie thought – and a rustling like the wind through the leaves. She listened for sounds of home – the hum of the refrigerator, the whirring of a laptop, cars honking at each other, even just the sound of water running through pipes – but all she heard was nature.
Marie had not previously realized exactly how annoying bird sounds were when that’s all you have to listen to.
She tried to cry again, out of boredom, but she was either cried out or dehydrated or too drunk, so she drifted instead into an unwary doze.
Word Count – 16230