The Editor’s Rant: Issue #23

by Michael D. Pederson

 

We’re changing. Again. Yep, many of you have probably already noticed that I’ve ditched the Nth Zine logo and have gone back to Nth Degree.

Why? Well, originally when I started the online zine (Nth Zine) it was intended to be a companion piece for the traditional printed zine (Nth Degree). The two were meant to co-exist, each complementing the other. Then there was a large increase in paper costs and postage rates that made it difficult to continue printing Nth Degree. The plan at that time was to keep the online version going and put out occasional “special” issues of the print zine. However, life tends to get in the way of plans.

Since the financial crash of 2008, it has been increasingly difficult to find work in my chosen field of graphic design which has, in turn, created my own financial crash. This has also coincided with the rise of online publishing. Together, the two factors have almost guaranteed that Nth Degree will exist solely as an online publication from now on.

In my heart of hearts I still think of the entire project as Nth Degree, so for the sake of tradition I have returned to the old and much-beloved original title. Perhaps one day we will return to print publication, and if we do we can revive the title of Nth Zine for online pubbing. But for now, I’m happy to announce that Nth Degree is back. I will, in fact, be going back and rebranding all of the old Nth Zines to fit into the Nth Degree numbering system.

On a more straight-forward note… We’d like to wish long-time contributor C.J. Henderson well. C.J.’s been dealing with medical issues and the accompanying financial burdens that go with them. I’m very happy to include a new Piers Knight story from C.J. Henderson in this issue, “This Memory of Happiness”. You can support C.J. at The Society for the Preservation of C.J. Henderson online at http://www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/society-for-the-preservation-of-cj-henderson/87881.

 

Con Review: RKO Con

RKOby KT Pinto

 

RKO Con
August 22–25, 2013
Providence, Rhode Island
http://www.rkocon.com

I have been to many conventions over the past fifteen years: science fiction, fantasy, gaming, horror, literature, steampunk, geek-centric, media… but even the most interesting, the most original, have gotten… routine. So I decided to do something new.

I had never been to a Rocky Horror convention before. I had been in a shadowcast (before it was called shadowcasting) in Staten Island back in the 90s, and I had always had a soft spot for the really bad cult movie and its fans. Rocky Horror was the start of an art form that has become almost a living thing, encompassing movies such as Shock Treatment, Xanadu, Ghostbusters, Repo! The Genetic Opera, and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. There are costumes, rehearsals, auditions, props, audience participation… This underground sensation has become a world-wide phenomenon, and I just had to go to a convention.

RKO Con, the 38th Annual National Rocky Convention, took place on August 22–25, in Providence, Rhode Island in various locations around town, with “home base” being the gorgeous Omni Hotel. I was able to look at this convention from various perspectives, which may be why this review is longer than most. I knew no one at this convention, save for one vendor. I had no friends there, no connections, was not a participant in any way, and was unfamiliar with the town and the venues. I also have years of con experience on concomms, on security, as a panelist, as a promoter, and as an attendee. I also have experience working behind the scenes on a shadowcast, and as a professional event planner. With all of this background and knowledge, I knew I would not be easy to please.

The schedule for RKO Con was both jam-packed and well organized, with an afternoon start time and a break for dinner each day. Signing up for the convention was a simple procedure, and the hotel liaison was helpful and knowledgeable. The concomm set up groups on Facebook for questions about the convention and for socializing with each other before the con started. The committee was hard working and very professional, but also had their fun, quirky side that was welcoming to everyone involved. Registration was open in a hotel room hours before the convention started so that people could stop by and pick up their registration packets with ease. Those that got there later could register at Dave & Buster’s, which was the first venue of the con on Thursday night.

It was there that I got my program, which was 40 pages, 8.5×11 and full color, with schedules, cast lists and vendor information. The ads (I purchased a half-page) had been easy to order, and were professionally placed throughout the program. There was also a listing in the program describing each event—which was very helpful to those who were new to either the Rocky convention circuit or to shadowcasting in general—along with a complete history of the host cast, RKO Army. What struck me the most was the other thing in the program: the thank yous. In the front was a letter from Roy Rossi, the “convention chair” (I don’t know if they used the same titles as other concomms), thanking not only his staff, but the attendees of both the con and their show; in the back was one from “the soldiers” of RKO Army, thanking everyone involved with the convention.

The Dave & Buster’s site was set up as a wedding reception for Ralph and Betty’s wedding reception (from RHPS) where BtVS: Once More with Feeling and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog were performed by RKO Army followed by karaoke and a party back at the Omni.

Friday’s events started at noon at Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel, which is a club used often by Tight Crew, an event production company who worked with RKO Army on the convention. There they had panels, vendors, and an all-star performance of Shock Treatment (“all-star” meaning not just members of RKO Army, but cast members from all over, including Canada and Israel), a rave, and then a party back at the hotel.

Saturday’s events were at the Columbus theater (which, appropriately, was once a XXX theater) starting at noon. The con had arranged for buses to take attendees and cast members back and forth from theater to hotel throughout the day. I never left the theater that day except to grab some food during scheduled breaks, because the day was packed with panels, shows, contests, raffles (with the one and only Sal Piro of RHPS fan fame), video pre-shows, an all-star performance of Repo! The Genetic Opera, then a dinner break before two hours of live pre-shows from various casts, and then the crown jewel: the all-star cast of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Then there was a wrap-up party at the hotel which lasted until 6:00 in the morning.

Sunday was an informal brunch at a restaurant called Fire & Ice. Approximately 150 people showed up for the brunch; no one seemed to want it to end.

Some things I noted at this con:

  • Security: they were everywhere, but unobtrusive. They checked badges, stood in hallways, guarded stage entrances, and herded people in and out of venues.
  • Video streaming: RKO Army had live streaming of the convention events, starting with the pre-con events on Wednesday evening.
  • Con staff: The staff/cast of RKO Army was easily visible in bright yellow shirts, and were friendly, knowledgeable, and welcoming.
  • Food: While there was food at the reception on the first night, the town didn’t seem prepared for the flood of conventioneers that descended upon them (Necronomicon was also that weekend). The Dunkin’ Donuts next to Lupo’s actually ran out of food before noon, and the local deli closed the whole weekend. Fire & Ice wasn’t prepared for so many of us at all. Luckily the pizzeria across from the Columbus was able to take us on, but it seemed to be the only establishment able to do so.
  • RKO Army: What makes this convention committee the most impressive is that this was their first con ever! A cast member told me that on the RHPS circuit—unlike on the sci-fi/fantasy circuit, where established cons bid for hosting privileges—established casts talk to the “powers that be” and simply ask to host a con. Although RKO Army helped other casts with their cons, this was the Army’s first. This con had almost 400 attendees (20% higher than originally expected), plus an extra 100 guests at the Saturday night event, making RKO Con one of the largest of its type in the last several years.

To say I was impressed doesn’t even begin to cover it.

 

Con Review: Philcon 2013

philcon2013by KT Pinto

 

Philcon 2013
November 8–10, 2013
Cherry Hill, New Jersey
http://2013.philcon.org

This is a review of one of my favorite conventions: Philcon, which took place this year (its 77th anniversary) at the Crowne Plaza in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Philcon has always been a highly intellectual convention which manages to create an equal balance of serious and playful events covering a variety of genres and interests. They are also a small enough con where finding staff and/or friendly faces as well as all the different activities is a very easy thing, even for a newcomer.

This is why I felt a little let down this year.

Philcon has fallen victim to a trap like many cons their size do: they tried to please everyone at the expense of their veteran participants’ fun.

I’ve noticed throughout the convention circuit over recent years a rash of overly-sensitive fen complaining about anti-female, over-sexualized and/or dangerous situations at smaller conventions. Now while cases of this are true—I myself have been both stalked and harassed at a couple of conventions and we’ve all seen the all-too-true reports online of these events—many of the situations are benign ones that occur when you have a bunch of socially-challenged (and I include myself in this description) fen and beautiful men and women (yes, the groups completely overlap) in one location.

The circuit’s answer to this has been to host flirting and socializing panels during the con that are aimed at educating people so that these incidents become less common. I have been a participant on many of these panels at various conventions. The audience during these panels is always filled to capacity (at Philcon it’s held in one of the large ballrooms, and last year there was not one empty seat), and I have yet to be on or at one where the panelists didn’t take the subject matter seriously. Although this is perceived as a fun panel, panelists always went over the importance of body language, saying no, inappropriate touching, personal hygiene, “flirting with intent,” and so on.

This year, things changed. It’s a change I’ve seen happen at other cons, and never for the better. From what I understand, because of complaints and concerns of some people, the flirting panel was changed into a flirting and harassment panel. I went to the panel mainly because my friends Dr. James Prego and Dr. Tobias Cabral were participants. The audience was sparse, and—although Dr. Cabral tried to keep people on point—the comments from the panelists ranged from how women are weak victims to comparing con-life to the movie Titanic (I know, I couldn’t follow that either). I think my least favorite moment of this panel was when one of the female panelists stated that women are raised to acquiesce and men are raised to demand and so females are targets for harassment.

There was another panel added to the schedule called “Codes of Conduct at a Convention.” By its description, it was yet another panel about how to interact with people and how not to harass others. I didn’t go to it because, not only was it at 10:00 a.m. on a Saturday, but I found it rather insulting that people saw it necessary for Philcon to beat full-grown adults over the head with rules for playing nice. In short, they took a panel that was fun and actually addressed the problem of harassment and turned it into a series of lectures that talked down to its audience and attracted a smaller turnout. Bad move.

I say this not only as an experienced con-goer and panel participant, but also as someone who has been a member of convention security teams and has owned a gaming company that ran LARPS ranging in size from 20–500 people. Philcon has regularly been a safe place to enjoy a weekend, and these panels seemed like overkill.

On top of all this, the rest of the con became muted out of concern for accusations. The parties—which were at first to be fun adult events like a BLT (bathing suit, lingerie, toga) party—became low-key, taciturn events which were a disappointment (more so because I actually remembered my bathing suit this time). And there was no lobbycon, which is a Philcon staple… I know because I sat in the lobby for many hours waiting for it.

I know this may all be a coincidence, but it seemed like Philcon was missing the fun.

Moral of the story: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Philcon didn’t need fixing. Like every other living organism (for that’s what a good convention is) it needs to grow and expand, not contract and chip away. Hopefully Philcon will be able to reboot and tweak itself, and get back to being the fun, safe convention it has always been.

 

Book Review: American Craftsmen

americancraftsmenby Michael D. Pederson

 

American Craftsmen
Tom Doyle
Tor, 320 pp.

American Craftsmen is the first novel from up-and-coming author Tom Doyle. For me, a lot of the joy in reading a new book is discovering new characters and new ideas and in American Craftsmen you truly feel and appreciate the author’s excitement in making those discoveries with you. Doyle builds an intriguing new world here and seems to be having a ton of fun doing it.

In American Craftsmen Doyle invents a world where magic has secretly existed since the founding of the country. Magic users have secretly worked alongside the United States government and military to keep our country safe. These military magicians—called craftsmen—have their own rules of operation and secrecy that makes them similar to a Special Forces unit so, in a sense, the story reads like a mash-up of Jim Butcher and Tom Clancy (only without Clancy’s verbosity).

One facet of the story’s setting is that different family lineages have different specialties and this first novel pits two of those families against each other in a conflict that climaxes in a no-holds-barred magical battle to determine the fate of the nation. Doyle also cleverly references the works of Poe and Hawthorne to add extra flavor to his secret history of the United States.

Likable (and a few detestable) characters, non-stop action and some of the most original ideas in urban fantasy that I’ve read in a very long time make this a book worth checking out.

 

Book Review: The Given Sacrifice

TheGivenSacrificeby Michael D. Pederson

 

The Given Sacrifice
by S.M. Stirling
Roc Hardcover, 369 pp.

The Given Sacrifice concludes Stirling’s current story arc set within his Emberverse; it’s the tenth book in the series as a whole and the seventh book in the current arc (thirteenth and tenth, respectively, if you choose to count the Nantucket series). He’s also laid the groundwork for a new series set in the Emberverse that kicks off later this year (The Golden Princess) but more on that later.

Fans of the series know by now to expect a grand conclusion to the Cutter’s War, and you get it. No punches are pulled, and we get to see more of all of our favorite characters. It’s no surprise (it’s in the title!) that a major character has to die before the end of the novel—Stirling’s been laying the groundwork for this particular sacrifice since Book One, way back in 2004—and the sacrifice does indeed come about, but not in the way that I expected. So, kudos to Stirling for giving us something unexpected and even managing to pull off a happy ending.

Given Sacrifice does not in any way make for a good starting point for the series; the story draws on way too much accumulated history and character development to make it easily accessible to a new reader. But it’s one of the best series finales I’ve read in a long time. If you haven’t yet, I recommend picking up the whole series.

All in all… excellent closure, great action, fun characters, more of a well-conceived world, and an ending that leaves room for the story to develop into new and exciting directions in the next series.

 

Book Review: Haunted

Hauntedby Michael D. Pederson

 

Haunted
Eileen Maksym
Booktrope, 114 pp.

Haunted follows the exploits of three college students (Steven, Paul and Tara) who spend their free time as paranormal investigators. The novella begins with an AP report about a haunted house in Connecticut, we then jump to a college lecture on how the human brain’s innate ability for pattern recognition leads people to see things that aren’t there. It’s a nice balance of belief versus skepticism that sets the initial tone for the story. I would have like to see a bit more of this rationality during the actual ghost hunt later in the book but it still makes for a strong opening.

Our heroes see the news about the haunted house and are quickly off to investigate. No surprise, this is a ghost story after all. More importantly though, it’s a story about people and relationships and in the course of the investigation we discover that the house isn’t the only thing that’s haunted—Tara is also haunted by events from her childhood. In a clever turnaround the haunted house becomes the “B” story and the investigators are transformed from passive observers to active participants. It’s tough to find an interesting new angle on haunted house stories shifting the focus from the house to the three students makes for a more refreshing story. And like the lecture at the start of the story teaches us, you may see a ghost story at first glance but if you look below the surface you’ll find a richer psychological character study. With ghosts.

Maksym’s strongest skill seems to be getting into the heads of her characters. She gives a believable voice to their hopes and fears, their motivations and their dreams. Fans of the genre know that haunted house stories don’t always have a happy ending—does Haunted? I won’t spoil anything for you, you’ll just have to read it for yourself to find out.

 

View From Nowhere: …to Facebook or not to Facebook

facebookAn alien perspective on the human race
by Peter Huston

 

A few years ago, I joined Facebook. My plan was to network with other authors and learn the state of the publishing world—find the best path to get my work in print, in front of readers, and perhaps even make some money. We can all dream a bit, can’t we?

On the one hand, this was a fine plan. I did network with authors of all sorts. On the other hand, the plan was also deeply flawed. Alas, despite networking, it became obvious that none of these people understood the current publishing industry either. Alas! They were all asking the same questions I was, and although we had some fine conversations on the subject, little of substance was decided.

So, what exactly is it that many writers get out of FB? Aside from interesting online chats, they also build up an entourage and get to listen as their fans tell them how brilliant they are.

On the surface, there’s nothing wrong with this, but there are hidden dangers. Writers, perhaps science fiction writers in particular, tend to be opinionated and Facebook is not the best place for persons of diverging opinions to share views. Anyone familiar with FB has no doubt seen those irritating “Yes, they are”/“No, they aren’t” exchanges that constitute most online arguments. It is quite tempting to just de-friend people whose opinions irritate you—to simply cut people off—particularly if you don’t have any offline relationship with them. In fact, some would say it’s better than wasting valuable time arguing with them, particularly when FB friends might be watching. (I lost at least one date this way.)

The problem with cutting them off, however, is that it allows writers to inadvertently surround themselves with “yes-people”—in other words, a writer’s online fan base becomes a band of sycophants reminding them of their own brilliance. Where I’ve seen this frequently is in gun-control debates. Many science fiction writers support gun control. I do not. Why? I’ve been in situations where I’ve felt having a gun made me safer.

One author, I’ll call him John, has decided that there are too many big, scary guns in the USA. This is not an unusual position. However, John, while on Facebook, attempts to discuss the issue by citing questionable sources. For example, he shared a British study that claimed to prove that gun owners were racist. The study began with the premise that no rational person would own a gun, arguing that they were more likely to be used for suicide than home defense, and then based its conclusion on the premise that one could determine a racist by their tendency to vote against social welfare programs. Finding a correlation (surprise) between gun ownership and a tendency to vote for Conservative politicians, the study therefore “proved” gun owners were racist. (Editor’s note: I’ve seen this study, it’s riddled with logical fallacies.) In response, John’s followers—90% of them—responded with bland statements about how they did not like gun owners.

Now, my impression is that John, in addition to being a good writer is a pretty intelligent guy. However, by surrounding himself on FB with “yes-men” and clamoring sycophants, he’s not likely to consider an opposing viewpoint anytime soon.

Now, do all writers do this? No, of course, not. I’ll even name Theodora Goss, as a counter-example. Dora and I attended the Odyssey Writers Workshop together fourteen years ago although I’ve only seen her once since then so it would be a mistake to call us friends. Dora and I disagree on many things but she’s a smart cookie. And, unlike some science fiction writers, she does not delete people who disagree with her from her FB page; keeping open to opposing views.

Of course, Facebook has other uses. Some writers use it to seek publicity and build a following. Facebook, they say, will allow you to tell others about your projects and help sell books. Apparently, that’s a documented fact. Then again, if you actually check Facebook to see what its book marketing process looks like, you’ll see giant webs of inter-connected authors trying to sell books to one another. Think about that.

 

Warp Monkey

Warp Monkey

Illustration by Alan F. Beck

by James Maxey

 

Jimbo Williams caught up with Alex Pure in a parking lot in Fanta, Texas around three that morning. Pure was passed out on the roof of his station wagon, using a brightly colored box of fireworks for a pillow. Sleeping inside the station wagon didn’t look like an option. The back seats were stuffed with camping gear and the front passenger seat was a wall of empty fast food detritus. A dumpster aroma seeped from the cracked windows.

Jimbo cleared his voice, but Pure didn’t move. Jimbo stepped closer, touching Pure’s shoulder. Pure didn’t respond. Up close, Pure smelled worse than the car, like a refrigerator gone wrong. His long hair was tangled, streaked with gray, and he wore a full-length navy blue wool coat that was completely out of place in the 85 degree Texas night.

Jimbo poked Pure’s shoulder harder and said, “Hey.” Pure remained immobile. Only a soft snore indicated that he was even alive.

It wasn’t too late to turn back. As science reporter for National Weekly News, Jimbo had been chasing down the fringes of truth for ten years. He’d spent endless hours on telephones having back-engineered alien technology explained, driven countless miles to look at the newest cold fusion set-up, and, to be blunt, had wasted nearly every moment of his working life talking to kooks and nut jobs. Usually, the weirdos he dealt with maintained the veneer of normalcy, building their perpetual motion machines in well-organized garages attached to nice, middle-class, picket-fence houses. Jimbo wasn’t in the habit of interviewing deranged homeless guys. How had his instincts been so wrong on Pure? Why was he wasting his time?

But, of course, he knew why. Despite all the kooks and weirdos and nut-jobs, Jimbo believed. He believed in Bigfoot and alien abductions and zero point energy, and he carried on his quest for proof with a pilgrim’s faith.

He jabbed Pure one more time, hard. The sleeping man’s eyes fluttered open. Jimbo got up-wind, lit a cigarette, and said, “Good morning. Dr. Pure, I presume?”

Pure nodded, but the rest of his body remained inert as he studied Jimbo. At last he said, “You must be Jimbo Williams.”

“Ace science reporter for the National Weekly News,” Jimbo said, pulling out his notepad.

“The bottom of the supermarket tabloid food chain,” said Pure. He sighed. “So it’s come to this.”

“You’re the one who contacted me,” Jimbo said, speaking through a halo of smoke. “I didn’t drive down here to be insulted. Let’s cut to the chase. Your e-mail said you had some evidence of black-book ops.”

Pure nodded, then sat up, his long legs dangling over the side of the station wagon. He ran his fingers through his tangled hair, and took a deep breath.

He said, “There’s a door on Dover Air Force base in Delaware that opens into a room in Houston, Texas.”

“Old news,” Jimbo said. “The warp door. We broke that story two years ago. One of the night watchmen told a friend who told a friend who told me. What do you have new on this?”

“I’ve been through the door,” Pure said.

“Sure. Why not? Your e-mail said you were a scientist with the project. But why should I believe you? How do I know you didn’t just read my article about the warp door?”

“Funny that’s what you called it. ‘Warp door’ isn’t bad, but it’s not as poetic as what we called it on base.”

“Which was?”

“The spook door. It was named after the quantum mechanical concept of ‘spooky action at a distance.’”

“Sounds more like supernatural than high tech,” said Jimbo as he scribbled “spook door” onto the notepad. “I don’t really do ghosts.”

“It has nothing to do with ghosts,” said Pure. “It’s serious physics. Einstein coined the phrase. In the twenty-five-words-or-less dumbed-down version, spooky action at a distance describes the connection between a pair of entangled particles. Theory says that if you change the spin of one particle in the pair the other will instantly—and I mean instantly—change its spin also. This happens even if the particles are on opposite sides of the universe. Since the instantaneous, faster-than-light transmission of information seems to violate relativity, Einstein called it ‘spooky action at a distance’ and believed, eventually, it would be explained away.”

“That’s a lot more than twenty-five words, but I think I follow you,” said Jimbo. He didn’t bother to jot down any notes.

“I doubt you do,” said Pure. “Like I said, even Einstein couldn’t figure it out. He never worked out the math that shows that spooky action at a distance is possible because at the tiniest scale, space contains more than three dimensions. Even though most of the extra dimensions are invisible to us, the two particles respond instantaneously because they are actually connected by these hidden dimensions. They are each three dimensional extrusions of a parent particle existing in a higher invisible realm.”

“This sounds over the head of most of my readers,” said Jimbo. “They don’t care about the theories. They want to know the nuts and bolts. Tell me about the warp door.”

“Okay. I guess theory isn’t important right now,” said Pure, with a shrug. “Here’s the practical spin off. The Air Force sunk about three billion dollars in black budget funds into capturing entangled photons, and they used these entangled photons to build two identical laser matrixes, forming two manhole-sized portals of light. Now, no matter how far apart the portals are placed, when you put something into one, it instantly comes out of the other. At least, that’s how it works with baseballs, video cameras, and mice.”

“And how about people?”

“When they built the door, they wanted to do tests before sending a person through. Even though the portals are made of captured light, they are opaque—the lasers form a perfect grid that keeps any outside photons from passing through. You can’t see through to the other side. So, the first test was a baseball. They broke out the champagne when they tossed the ball into the darkness in Dover and it instantly shot out the door in Houston. Then they sent a video camera through to try to capture images of the hidden dimension, but got nothing but static. Finally, they decided to try sending a mouse through. That’s where my specialty was called for.”

“You’re physicist who specializes in mice?”

“I never said I was a physicist. I’m a veterinarian.”

“Ah,” Jimbo said. He’d jotted the word “physicist” down and now had to strike it out.

“My job was to examine mice in Dover that came through from Houston. When I dissected them, everything seemed normal.”

Jimbo didn’t really care about the mice. He wanted to steer Pure into something a bit more juicy. He jotted the word “conspiracy” onto the notepad. “So the government has perfected instantaneous transit. Something like this could put airlines out of business. Hell, it would shut down the oil companies too. I doubt the President and his buddies are happy about this.”

“Actually, the oil companies don’t have anything to worry about.”

“Why not?”

“After the mice, we tried capuchin monkeys. Some of the physicists on the project weren’t sure how something with a higher intelligence than a mouse might react to the spook space. Maybe the higher dimensions could drive you crazy if you were smarter than a mouse. Plus, they were concerned the warp might respond to intelligence. Many effects in quantum mechanics are changed by the simple act of observation. So we had a hierarchy of tests. If monkeys made it through, we’d send chimps. And if the chimps did okay, we’d try a man.”

“But something happened to the monkeys,” said Jimbo.

“We sent them into the darkness,” said Pure, “and they never came out.”

“Any idea why?”

“Lots of ideas why. Which is why we kept tossing in more monkeys. We’d send them through asleep, we’d send them through with helmets on to block all sensory input, we sent them through with steel weave tethers to pull them back out, but it didn’t work. None ever came out of the darkness. When we pulled the tether, we would reel in empty line. We’d sent in fourteen monkeys before halting the experiments and going back to the drawing board to figure out the flaw.”

“I assume they fixed it, since you say you’ve gone through.”

“Bad assumption. Here’s where my story gets, quote, unquote, ‘crazy.’”

“I believe you so far,” said Jimbo. In truth, he had his doubts.

“You might not once you learn one important fact about me.”

“And that would be?”

“That the whole time I worked for the Spook project, I was stoned,” said Pure. “One of the nice things about being a DVM is you get to write prescriptions for things they won’t put into people. I experimented a bit in college, and liked the results of the experiments, and have spent the better part of three decades controlling my brain via daily manipulation of its chemistry. The fact that I’m alive and sane today is testament to my skills in self-experimentation. Until I went through the warp, no one suspected a thing.”

“Admitting this does make you easy to dismiss as a kook,” said Jimbo.

“I understand. But I need to tell you this because I thought it was a drug side-effect when I started seeing the monkeys.”

“‘Seeing the monkeys?’ That some kind of drug slang?”

“No, I mean the warp monkeys. It started a month after we sent the first one through. I was shaving, and in the mirror I saw something move. It was behind the wavy glass of the shower door, but it looked for all the world like a monkey. Yet when I pulled the door open, nothing was there. Except… except I could smell wet monkey. Trust me, that’s not a smell you can mistake for something else.”

“I’ll take your word for it,” said Jimbo. He dropped the butt of his cigarette and ground it out with his heel.

Pure nodded. “Later that day, driving, I thought I saw two more monkeys playing in a big oak tree in front of a church. But when I turned and went back, they were gone. These were only the start. It went on for weeks. I’d be drifting off to sleep and I’d suddenly feel a weight as one jumped onto my bed. I’d sit up and find nothing. I’d hear monkeys chattering in the closet, but when I’d open the door the voices would fall silent. In room after room I’d notice the smell.”

Jimbo asked, “Did the scientists on the base have any theories?”

Pure rolled his eyes and chuckled. “What, you think I talked about this with them? ‘Hey guys, I’m seeing monkeys. Have drugs fried my brain or is this guilt-induced psychosis?’”

Jimbo jotted the word “guilt” down and underlined it. “Why did you feel guilty?”

“I didn’t at first. I specialize in caring for animals that will be used in experiments. Almost every animal I’ve touched in thirty years has been fated for dissection. But the capuchins were always a tough one for me. They have very expressive faces. Still, I didn’t lose sleep over the first few that were lost. But after a dozen, sure, it bothered me. It started to have the same scientific value that cooking a kitten in the microwave would. The last one didn’t make it, let’s do one more to be sure.”

“And you think the guilt you felt caused the hallucinations?”

“That was one theory,” said Jimbo. “Until what happened in the supermarket.”

“What happened in the supermarket?”

“This was six weeks into my monkey visions. I was a nervous wreck, sleeping maybe three hours a night. I’d been dosing myself more and more radically, trying to get back to an even keel, but nothing was working. On one of my days off I walked to the supermarket, hoping the exercise would help. I’m in the produce section, in front of some bananas, and I start weeping. Just out and out bawling. I mean, how could I look at bananas and not think of monkeys, and how could I think of monkeys without wondering if it was all over for me, if I’d finally fried my synapses and was one slip-up away from jail or the funny farm?”

Jimbo jotted the words “funny farm” onto his notepad.

“But what happened next proves my sanity. It’s on tape. I began to hear monkeys screaming, distant at first, growing louder. Then the smell washed over me, a wave of odor. And then, they were all around me. Everywhere I looked, there was some part of a monkey. Monkey paws were materializing from thin air, grabbing at fruit, lifting tangerines to teeth that seemed unconnected to any body. A tail wrapped around my neck and I felt the weight of a monkey on my shoulders. When I put my hand up I couldn’t feel anything there, until orange pulp started pouring down on me. This was no hallucination. Other people saw it. It’s on the store’s security video. In about 45 seconds flat those monkeys tore the produce section to shreds. It looked like a bomb had exploded. I was drenched with pulp and juice.”

“Wait a second,” said Jimbo, suddenly excited. “I know about this. I’ve seen the tape. The ghost guys at the office won an award for it last year. Biggest poltergeist story of the decade. Supermarket-built-on-Indian-burial-ground stuff.”

“I’m not surprised you heard about it. I knew lots of people would hear about it, including my bosses on the base. So I ran to the base immediately, still covered in pulp. It was Sunday, the lab was practically deserted, and I still had all the necessary clearance and biometric keys to get into the lab where they kept the spook door. From the supermarket to the door on base, maybe fifteen minutes passed. I had a very small window of time if I was to act.

“For a moment, standing in front of the door, I froze. The door is pitch black, like a perfect hole punched in reality. I was scared to go in. But then I heard guards shouting in the hall, and I made my decision. I dove into the door.”

“Why?” asked Jimbo.

“To get the monkeys out, of course.”

“Really?”

“Look, I’m not claiming I was at my most rational at that moment. When the monkeys showed up in the supermarket I could see that they were scared and hungry and confused. They were haunting me because I’d once cared for them. They wanted me to help them. Maybe it was drugs, maybe it was guilt, or maybe it was some tiny spark of decency left in me. I can only say that at that moment, it was imperative for me to go inside the spook door and bring the monkeys out.”

“Did you?”

“I’m still working on it.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’ve tried telling a lot of people what I’m going to tell you now, and not one has believed me. Please keep an open mind.”

“Hey,” Jimbo said, taking out his pack of cigarettes once more. “I haven’t walked away yet, have I?”

Pure shrugged. “You write for a publication that is the last bastion of the freak show. Maybe you think I’m an interesting enough freak for a cover blurb and a two-page spread. But what I’m about to tell you is bigger than this.”

“Pure, I’m sick of your attitude,” said Jimbo, searching for his lighter. “I didn’t get started in this business to write about freaks. I do this because I believe deep down in my heart that some of the wilder stories are true. I think the world needs to know about the truth on the fringe, things that are real but get dismissed because they shake up the orthodoxy. Is it my fault that the people telling me the stories always turn out to be kooks?”

“Maybe it is,” said Pure. “Maybe there’s something about your personality that—”

“Screw it,” said Jimbo, throwing up his hands. “I’m out of here.”

“Wait,” said Pure. “Don’t go. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you. I… my people skills aren’t all they should be, you know?”

“Fine,” said Jimbo. “I’ll give you five more minutes.”
“Thank you. When you step into the door, you don’t come through the other door. You enter… a higher dimension. It’s huge in there. Look up at the sky. Looks pretty big, right? What lies in between those doors is so much bigger than that.”

Jimbo grew impatient. “Did you find the monkeys?”

“I found something even more important. I found myself. I wish I had the vocabulary to tell you what it’s like in there. My body and my mind were two separate things inside. It’s a vast, endless void, and yet everywhere I looked I could see my body. Only, it wasn’t the surface of my body, the shell. It was like I was unfolded. I could see the pattern of my body, and I could see the actual materials. My blood was spinning all around me in a fine haze, and I could count individual blood cells, the red, the white, and all the chemicals I’d put in there. My bones fascinated me—the knot of tissue where I’d broken my leg skiing years ago, the way my vertebrae didn’t line up correctly, the wear along my joints. And I could see… I could see my liver. It wasn’t healthy. It was a mass of lesions and scars. But the worst thing…”

Pure grew silent for a second, composing himself, then said, “The worst thing was my brain. I could see my synapses firing, could see the brain chemicals slipping into receptors like the most complex jigsaw puzzle ever assembled. But some of those jigsaw pieces of brain chemistry weren’t going into their proper slots because I’d jammed them full of gunk. The lesions in my liver were echoed in my brain tissue.

“It wasn’t a surprise, really. Looking over my body, I could see all the abuse I’d put it through. There was cholesterol build up in my arteries, there was inflammation in my lungs, and my whole torso seemed wrapped in a coat of puss-yellow fat. Stepping outside my body, looking back inside, made me realize what I had done. I’d treated my body the way rock stars treat hotel rooms. If I’d examined a lab rat with this much damage, I’d assume it was being fed industrial waste meal after meal until it died. I’d killed myself and hadn’t even noticed. With luck, I’d have another year or two. Such a waste. In that higher space, it was easy to see how wonderful my body should have been. It’s an amazing machine, carefully balanced and calibrated. It looked like it could have lived forever with the proper care. Instead I’d run it into an early grave.”

“Bummer,” said Williams, jotting the words “rock stars” onto his notepad.

“I didn’t see the monkeys in the spook space,” said Pure. “I was understandably distracted. But I did spot the door to Houston, and the door back to Dover. They seemed a million miles apart, yet only an arm’s reach away. By now, both rooms were swarming with guards. If I went back, I wasn’t going to get a pat on the back and a handshake for my daring journey. I’d be arrested, or worse. We’d planned on dissecting the monkeys. Wasn’t I now just a big warp monkey? I wished there were a third door to go through. And suddenly, there was. A window opened before me and I was looking into my apartment. I stepped through, back into my bedroom. I grabbed the keys to the station wagon and have been on the road ever since, going on thirteen months now.”

“Because you think the Air Force wants to dissect you?” asked Jimbo.

“Even if they didn’t, they’d keep me from finishing if they caught me. I don’t have much time. Lately I’ve been going days without keeping food down. I’m living on sheer momentum more than anything else. But my work isn’t done.”

“What work?” Jimbo said, exasperated. Pure was easily the most incoherent person he’d ever interviewed. “What would they keep you from finishing?”

“Rescuing the monkeys,” said Pure, sounding equally exasperated.

“How are you going to rescue them?”

“Here’s where even I think my story gets weird.”

“Really,” said Jimbo.

“Even though I’m here, I don’t think I ever really escaped the warp. I don’t think I’m me any more. I think that, just like a particle can exist on a higher dimension with only its reflection being seen in our world, the real me, the higher me, is still in the warp. I’m just his reflection, or maybe his shadow. All I know is, he communicates with me from the higher dimension.”

Jimbo folded his notebook closed and put it back in his pocket. He’d done his best, tried hard to take Pure at his word. But despite knowing a little physics mumbo jumbo, Pure was obviously crazy. Jimbo had wasted another night.

“He sends me messages in subtle ways,” Pure said. “I’ll go into a convenience store and pick up a map and unfold it to find that a town has been circled in red pen. I’ll drive to that town, sit on a park bench, and find a paper bag under it with a wad of twenty dollar bills inside. Two days ago I checked my e-mail at a Kinko’s in Nebraska. I found a badly punctuated e-mail from someone I’ve never met telling me that a restaurant in Fanta, Texas, makes the best ceviche this side of the Rio Grande. It said I’d meet a reporter there named Jimbo Williams, and I should tell him my story.”

“Bad punctuation, huh? The e-mail you sent me would have made my editor’s head explode.”

“Don’t you get it?” said Pure. “I never sent you an e-mail.”

“Whatever.” Jimbo took out another cigarette.

“The monkeys die when they escape,” said Pure.

“What’s that have to do with anything?”

“When my higher self finds a monkey in that infinite space, he opens a door back into our world. At least I think that’s what’s happening. I’ve done a dozen so far. They always die when they come back. I don’t think they can die in the warp, even though they don’t get enough food or water. I think the warp keeps them in a kind of stasis that holds death at bay. But when they come back, the accumulated stress kills them. It’s for the best. They’re suffering. They’re scared, and hurting, and lost.”

Jimbo lit his cigarette. “Pure, let me ask you the $64,000 question. Do you have any proof? So far all you’ve given me are wild tales by a self-admitted drug addict. Can you supply even one tiny shred of evidence to verify your claims? I know we have the supermarket video, but like I said, vengeful Indian poltergeists got the credit for that one. Maybe you read that story and decided to work it into this little fairy tale of yours.”

“Snowball will prove it,” said Pure.

Jimbo rubbed his temples. “Snowball?”

“We called him Snowball because he had a white scalp. He was actually the second monkey we sent through, the first one with a tether. I was listening to the static between stations last night and I heard the words ‘Snowball tomorrow.’ It was 3:24 in the morning.”

Jimbo looked at his watch. “Well, it’s 3:23 right now. But hearing a statement on the radio isn’t quite the kind of proof I’m looking for.”

Pure sniffed the air, staring into the distance. Jimbo stepped back as Pure scrambled into motion, rising to stand on the roof of his station wagon, breaking into a loud shout as he waved his arms over his head.

“It’s time,” Pure howled. “Come home! I’m here! Come home!”

An acrid stench rose on the night breeze. A zoo smell, a barn odor, manure and piss and something else, like the aftermath of a storm, like ozone, as the air began to spark near Jimbo. He jumped backward as all around him the ground began to screech and gibber. He stumbled over something soft that spun through the air behind him, tangling his ankles. As he hit the pavement, the sky above him swirled with teeth, with fur, with blood and meat, a whirlwind of gore that zoomed away as quickly as it appeared, gathering next to Pure. Pure dropped to his knees on the station wagon. The bones and flesh coalesced amid a shower of sparks as Pure extended his arms. The monkey voices focused into a single piercing shriek.

“Shhh. You’re home,” Pure said, as a white scalped monkey fell against him. He cradled the emaciated animal in his arms as the monkey stared with frightened eyes, its breath ragged, wet gasps, until it at last fell silent, and its eyes lost all focus.

“You’re home,” Pure whispered.

“My god,” said Jimbo, staring up from the pavement.

“And now you know,” said Pure, looking at Jimbo. “You believe, like he knew you’d believe. You know what he wants.”

“There’s only one monkey left in the warp,” said Jimbo, rising. He walked to the station wagon to put his hands on the monkey. It wore a harness from which a steel cable about a foot long trailed. The bag of bones and skin was still warm, slightly damp, and strangely beautiful.

“And after he gets the monkeys free,” said Pure, “he wants to come out.”

“And he doesn’t want to be alone,” said Jimbo.

“You understand,” said Pure.

“I can’t do this,” said Jimbo. “Why would anyone choose me for something like this?”

“He can see things, in the warp. He wouldn’t have sent you here if you couldn’t do this. He must know something about you, maybe something you don’t even know.”

“This is too much to ask. I can’t—”

“I know,” said Pure, still cradling Snowball like a baby, rocking slightly. “It’s a crazy world. Sometimes we have to search for help in the most unlikely places. All I know is, no one should be alone when they fall out of the warp.”

Jimbo shook his head, looking for a way to say no. But it was too late. In his heart, he knew he’d carry through with this. The Pure in the warp had picked his target well.

After all, Jimbo believed.