Faces of Fandom: Christopher J. Garcia

Chris Garcia

Illustration by Michael D. Pederson

by Chris Garcia

 

Over the past few years, Chris Garcia has been a frequent contributor to Nth Degree. He’s written short stories (as Johnny Eponymous), con reviews, and gaming reviews for us but now we’re letting him turn the white hot spotlight of public scrutiny on himself…

How To Be A Toastmaster:
My BayCon 2005 Experience

BayCon is the Bay Area’s largest, oldest, and most established SF Convention. Having attended the first one, and many off and on over the last 22 years, it’s my home convention and the event that really brought me fully into fandom after a lay-off of several years. For some reason, they chose me to act as their Toastmaster, running the “Meet the Guests” event and the Masquerade. If you’ve ever been to a large convention, you know that these events can be huge and facing the task of leading them is daunting. I got a chance to chat with last year’s Toastmistress, Esther Friesner, and 1999 and 2000 Toastmaster Kent Brewster, who both gave me great pointers. As a public service, I created a set of rules that anyone who is asked to be a Toastmaster should follow.

Be memorable and make sure folks can find you among the crowd.

Friday, noon. I’d arrived nice and early, ready to get down to the fun of the con. There was already a maddening crowd. A great many folks were milling around, and for some reason, there were far more young folks than usual. In the 1980s, BayCon was the home to a large crowd of young fans who would go on to become important to fandom over-all and this was like being back in those days. By the end of the con, there were more attendees than any BayCon I’d ever been to and one of the largest BayCons ever.

As I walked through the halls, I ran into Jay Lake (Writer Guest of Honor, 2004 Campbell Award Winner and respected anthology editor), Frank Wu (Artist Guest of Honor and 2004 Hugo winner), Andy Trembley and Kevin Roche (Fan Guests of Honor and well-known party hosts) and a number of other folks, all wearing fezzes made of purple. They had one for me. The rest of the convention, I walked around with my purple fez worn proudly.

Be funny, but not offensive or out of control.

As the day went on, we were introduced to a small crowd at the Opening Ceremonies. This was simple and small and no one had anything to say, though I did manage to do a spit-take for the delight of some (OK, mostly myself). After the Opening Ceremony, I had to prepare for the Meet the Guests.

If you’ve only been to the Meet the Pros events on the East Coast you probably have no idea why I was freaking out. Meet the Guests is an event where all the guests talk for a minute or two and the Toastmaster runs the show in front of 500 or so attendees. This year, the number was likely a bit larger, as there were no free tables and little standing room left. As I had to run the thing, I was panicking, though not nearly as badly as I should have been.

I walked up and introduced everyone, saying funny things that fit with the theme “BayCon: The Con You Can’t Refuse” (Sonny Corleone couldn’t make it tonight. There was some hold-up at a toll booth) and pointing out that Jay and I had once been confused for one another, which is easy to understand as we could both be described as Big Guys with beards and Hawaiian shirts. We worked the room and Chase Masterson of Deep Space Nine fame performed a few jazzy numbers as the place opened up for the Charity Casino. A late night playing blackjack and generally having a good time.

Always show up early and ready to perform.

With all the gambling we did, and a few late-night parties, I was dragging on the way to the early morning panels. BayCon’s best panel, “5 Dollars, a Time Machine and a Dead Fish,” was a morning panel and featured hilarious and brutal ideas of how to change history for the funnier using those three things. This was the first year I wasn’t on the panel, but the guys did a great job.

Sadly, I was nearly asleep the entire day. When I made it to the panel about MonkeyCon (the convention which is always held next year), I was tired, but we all managed to have a good panel. I even got to make Jay Lake sing for the entire audience. The other panels that were going on were really well-attended, with the young fans who had shown up all coming to more panels and getting more and more involved. They weren’t just there for the parties. The only downside was that all the Guests of Honor were scheduled against one another. That’s kinda tough, as we were all friends, so we would have liked to have attended each others panels.

Remember: The audience wants to like you!

The next thing I had to worry about was the Masquerade. As Toastmaster, I was given the option of MCing it, and for some fool reason, I said yes. We gathered beforehand with all the judges for dinner and I was seated next to a lovely young thing who was working as the runner for the judges. We chatted and ate and then I headed into the Green Room, where I got to see the costumes before anyone else.

And they were magnificent.

A brilliant British Admiral’s costume, an amazingly cute Ewok and mermaid, and the best was Jem & The Holograms along with Sinergy from the 1980’s cartoon. All of them were great. I went about making sure I had everything right so I wouldn’t look like an idiot when I was doing the announcing.

Make sure you dress for respect.

I wore my tux with a Hawaiian shirt underneath. When it came time to go out there, I introduced myself as Entrant #0: Christopher J. Garcia as Evening Wear Jay Lake. Jay, who was in the audience, said that I did a better than passable job.

Make sure you go over every name you’ll have to announce to avoid messing them up.

I managed to get every name correct. Even the weird Celtic ones. Heck, there was even a Jwlhyfer that I had to work out, and I managed it.

But I should have put more into learning the names of the entries. You see, there was a word on my sheet for announcing that read A-V-E. Well, it’s obvious to me that you would pronounce that word to rhyme with Knave. I announced it as such and then she came and started singing. Started singing Ave Maria. I then realized my mistake and nearly exploded. I was trying to fight down hysterical laughter at how moronic I had been. I then grabbed the mic after she was done and said “that was Number 7, Ave” rhyming with agave. I was saved and made it through the rest of the night without incident. The winner was an excellent kaiju entry with two monsters that ended up dancing to SpongeBob SquarePants.

The night ended early, I was in bed by midnight, and preparing for my heaviest day of programming.

Try to interact with as many attendees as possible.

On Sunday, the place was jumping. It seemed even more fans were arriving every minute. I went to my panels and found myself stopped every few minutes.

“What’s with the fez?” they’d ask.

“I’ll tell you later” I’d respond in my best reference to Buckaroo Bonzai.

The Sunday panels were very good, including a panel on “How to Be a Villain” which included my dear pal Neil Zawacki who wrote the book How to Be a Villain. This was a fun panel with lots of the audience coming through with great funny comments.

I had to take a nap and ended up watching an MST3K Fanfilm on the in-room BayCon TV Network. I realized that I had nothing to do for the next few hours, so I settled in. Gen, the darling girlfriend, and Evelyn, her precocious daughter, came over and we had room service and watched Shrek which they projected on the side of the hotel. It was nice, and once Evelyn got to sleep, I managed to finish reading the National Fantasy Fan Federation Handbook and a few fanzines that managed to make their way into my hands.

Monday was a few panels, a few lunches, a nice chat with Frank and Jay, and that was that. This BayCon was younger, more vibrant, faster, harder-to-follow, bigger, louder, and more terrifying than any other I’ve been to. Having been Toastmaster, I’m ready to do it again, though maybe at a smaller con this time. The Guests of Honor for BayCon were the friendliest I’ve ever seen. I used to say that Steven Brust was #1 for inviting folks into his room for whiskey and singing at Conjecture, but watching Jay mingle and break it down on the dance floor, Frank talking to everyone, Kevin and Andy greeting everyone and making sure that folks were having a good time, these guys easily took the cake.

And I’m still recovering.

Above all, don’t swear into a live microphone.

And this is the only one of my rules I managed not to break at all.

 

LifeMemory

LifeMemory1

Illustration by Alan F. Beck

by Johnny Eponymous

 

James Gablin had turned one hundred at some point, probably last spring. He could remember April/May picnics that could have been birthday parties from parents who faded from his memory, lost in an accident, or maybe dead of old age. Regardless, he lost them long ago. They were close to him once, for a long time closer than he admitted, and then disappeared without a trace from the photos that surrounded the bedroom. One hundred years old and still a great many questions that had only been half-answered.

Death, he thought, Death will be here soon. He had shed tears when Martha was not in the room. He could not accept post-vital nothingness, but could understand no more than that as reward for a life well-lived. It was a trouble of faith; his heart had touched no music Heavenly, though he had found God a convenient discussion partner when Martha was making dinner or crying on her own.

Today. It’s today. My death. My answers. Finally, MY answers. James gripped the edge of the bed, noticed that his wife, ninety-six and still she made breakfast every morning, was gone. James wanted to call for her, tell her that he was ready to make the motion towards the things he could never understand. He made no sound, just gripped the bed tighter as she walked back into the room as if he had pulled the clap on some invisible bell. His seventy-year-old children followed behind her, each holding a hat that reminded James of trips with his father out in the fifties, when men wore such ornaments.

She’s known all along. Martha had felt it before he had, may have even known the tears that asked his thought of God for answers. They must have arrived this morning: this morning that would be his last. They came to his bed, and Martha took his hand, kissed it gently and sat in a chair that she must have brought in while he was sleeping. He noticed how much like the slow death scene in the movies it must have seemed: the chair and the children, the silent tears and the resolute stare of a dying man. He had no words for the audience, he hadn’t spoken for almost a month, the lungs no longer able to support both respiration and his thoughts. He squeezed back as best he could, though his arms were almost gone from the room, awaiting him somewhere else, perhaps. Martha held his hand still while Tyler walked around the deathbed, leaned onto the dresser that had been his pirate ship as a child.

“I know, James. I know. Just be comfortable. Let me and the boys be with you. You don’t have to fight anymore. We’re ready.”

James nodded, leaned his head back into the pillow, and moved his gaze between his two sons. He thought that he would like to see what they did with the years he had wasted. Maybe he would be there, a ghost the family would blame missing cookies on. He’d get to see the books they’d write, hear the stories they told to grandchildren. See his family’s run at nobility.

He closed his eyes as he began to feel the strongest pull of sleep deprivation. James could tell that there was something leading him, something stronger than himself, but less than the force that had created the universe. He could still hear the sounds of a family watching their patriarch go bravely into a Shakespearean rest, but it was accompanied by the rhythmic rise and fall of machinery. His eyes began burning as they reopened in the light of mid-afternoon sun off of high gloss paint as he awoke a lifetime away in another bed.

“Mr. Gablin. Mr. James Gablin. I need you to say something. I need to know that you are fully back in the present. My name is Curtis. You are in hospice care in Santa Clara. I need to hear you say something.”

James Gablin, forty-seven years old, dying of a disease he acquired and passed along to his wife in their tender moments of reconciliation. He could barely move, but his lungs were quite clear, his breath straightened and his mouth moist for the first time in his memory.

“I’m alive.”

The man in the white coat walked to his chart, checked all the numbers and looked into James’ eyes as he pulled down the lower eyelid.

“You’re alive and in hospice care, Mr. Gablin. You’ve just finished the first LifeMemory program. You’ve been out for a little over an hour. Is your pain greater now than before?”

Something came into focus for James, his heart pounded heavy, as if he had been running for hours. He remembered his childhood, chasing Cassie Heartlet down Breen’s Hill to the water where they kissed, then walked back up with wet pant cuffs. He had breathed this hard on the trip up the hill, but the pain had been far more distant than this.

“I’ve been ill?”

Curtis noticed that he had not answered the pain question, and pushed the button to release a very slow flow of morphine into his system. He took James’ weathered wrist between his fingers and counted to himself. He turned to the machine at the side and turned a few of the dials slowly, slightly raising the tone of the machine. James had not noticed the tube that entered his chest below the arch of his meeting ribs. Curtis removed the silver band that lay across his forehead, dangled it like a worm, laying it precisely back in the case he had carried in his pocket.

“Yes. You’ve been here for the last three days. This was your first day on LifeMemory. You asked that we set it to one hundred years. I hope it was a good hundred years. Do you need anything?”

James did not move, finally feeling the weight of the clear tubes in his body. Though his mouth was moist for the first time that he could remember, he felt he needed to ask for water, for reality.

“Water. Can I have some water?”

Curtis went over to the small table where a pitcher sat. He poured a glass of water for James, then walked it to the bedside. He tilted it into James’ mouth. James did not swallow, but let the water slide down his throat.

“What is LifeMemory?”

Curtis poured James another mouthful, tipping the cup deliberately.

“We are a service provided to people who are soon to leave us. We can speed your mental time, make an hour into a hundred years, a thousand years in theory, though a hundred makes for a more traditional life experience. The machine here is equipped with all your life support as well as the GigaBooster to power the LifeMemory experience. We want the patient to feel that he has found all the answers before it’s too late.” Curtis paused and walked to a cart, grabbed another cup. “I hope you made full use of your time.”

James looked around the room, noting the lack of flowers. There were a few cards on the table next to the bed, all of them the type you would give to a co-worker you didn’t like who had been laid up. He could read the name Hilary on the half-open card. He remembered Hilary Mandela, young and tan in 1978, and in this reality aging in sunlight after the loss of a husband she was better off without.

“Who are you, Curtis? A doctor?”

“I’m a LifeMemory technician. They make us train as nurses, too. The feeling of confusion is typical. You are having a perfectly normal reaction for the first time user.” Curtis returned to the machine, checking registers. “I can recharge the machine, reset the values and re-release you into LifeMemory, maybe set for fifty years? It will only take a couple of hours.”

“Turn it off.”

Curtis began working with the lower portion of the machine.

“You don’t want to go back in for a while?”

James made to sit upright, though he had no strength to move at all. Everything ran from him like a fire in a forest. He managed to make the escape into a forceful declaration.

“No. I want you to turn it all off.”

Curtis paused. “I’ll get your wife. You should…”

James made no move, but he swallowed this time to speed the process, to make his resolution known.

“No. Just turn it off.”

Curtis had the authority to turn off the support. All the personal technicians had been given explicit permission to do so at request of the dying, or as a safety precaution in case of serious troubles in the mental world. Unexpected brain death necessitated bodily death for the most part, though the natural endings of the programs were simply a way to disconnect the user. Curtis had yet to use his right, had never even been asked if it was a possibility. He wanted to follow the procedures, make the patient consider his choices, take a path according to logic and the options available.

“The pain you are feeling will go away if you go back into LifeMemory. We could even do some scenarios where you can…”

“Just turn it off.”

Curtis went to the next step of training. James hadn’t seen Martha in a hundred years.

“I’ll get your family. You should…”

James sunk into the bed. He spoke over his sudden loss of rigidity.

“Turn it off. They were with me last time and it made no difference. Turn it off now.”

Curtis had to do it; the tape would reveal that the patient had been advised properly and had made a rational decision. The rule that held most firmly burned in his walk to the machine: In hospice, those who wish to die, may die. He squared himself to the machine, set the water on top. Curtis inserted his key, turned the dials back down to the low settings, then flicked three switches.

The sound stopped.

The room was still, except for the sound of breath coming slower and Curtis’ quick steps out the door into the waiting room. James heard Curtis calling for Martha, and little else. He stopped his breathing, willed himself to fall into that sense of dread he had felt in the last years of his LifeMemory. Martha made it to his side and took his hand just as he thought a final note to his life. He died with a smile, the brief pained smile of a man who had his answer.

 

Nutria

nutria

Illustration by S.C. Watson

by Johnny Eponymous

 

Viruses are strange and daring things. Neither animal nor plant nor fungus, but far more destructive than any of those, or even all combined. They can infect anything, make them bend to the will of RNA strands that command “slash and burn!” It seems only right that a virus should bring the end to all life on Earth.

This timeline marks the end of the reign of man, that precious bookkeeper whose records become the only applicable history. It happened as such during a long Indian Summer, a few years after the world assimilated the agony of menace against monoliths. Unlike the visions of writers or directors, the end of the world was neither explosive nor complete, but the slow letting of air that flattens tires over a long road trip. A virus killed the inhabitants of a planet that considered itself to be the only destination for intelligent life. That virus came from intelligence, or perhaps it was the greatest intelligence of all. At least that’s what those dying humans needed to think; that their downfall had come about through a sinister plan by a superior mind.

Billions of visits to doctors’ offices around the world signaled the beginning. The vegetarians began to show first, wasting away on wheat gluten and steamed broccoli. Thin, though they would continually eat, nothing would become energy, nothing absorbed into the body. The commune members who would sneak hamburgers managed better, held the hands of their more headstrong friends as they wasted into immortality, shoveling plates of God’s Bounty between withered lips. It took nearly a year to discover the trouble, to locate the virus that prevented man from absorbing vegetable matter.

The university men should have seen it when the cows began to thin even with constant feeding, when the last hummingbird died. This virus chose a wide path, through man and beast and pest and fish. The oceans were lifeless in a year, the skies clear a few months later, save for the carrion that thrived and slowly faded as nothing was left to die.

Human survived longer than cockroaches. Everywhere in the cities, where bodegas and supermarkets had been raided for cans of corned beef hash and abalone, millions of cockroaches had wandered into the street. They tried to extend their lives by feeding on the dead birds, the dead men, their dead brothers. After nineteen months, the last man in New York City starved to death, a week after the last cockroach had gone on. Hong Kong had already been abandoned, and Berlin had become more desolate than an Old West studio set when filming had wrapped. Europe’s last man, a cannibal named Henry DeGlane lasted three and a half years with the virus in him, dying of food poisoning after eating a far rotten woman he found floating in the Seine. The last news reports had speculated that the virus came from comet dust, or Saddam’s pre-war biological labs. No answer ever came, no vaccine, no solution other than the death that allowed worms to make a run at some survival.

In Louisiana, the delta of the Mississippi outflow, an animal called the nutria splashed and swam and ate. A rodent like a beaver with a possum’s tail, introduced from South America, had been eating the Bayou vegetation for decades. They had been popular for alligator feeding at roadside five-dollars-a-photo farms. “You can lead an alligator to water if you have nutria on a stick,” said the guides before they starved. The alligators still in the bayou had survived. The families that lived on the edge of the swamps survived as well.

The millions of nutria in Louisiana had made it through, eating and digesting roots and shoots as they always had, unaffected and happily multiplying faster than the alligators could bite them, than the traps could swing shut, than the women and children could skin and gut and cook them. The last remaining proof that life had once run wild across the planet existed on the edges of dug-waters: a few cats and dogs, a couple of dozen humans, some vultures, a hundred or so alligators, small colonies of ants and worms, and several million nutria.

And of course, myself, watching it from the porch of an old hunter who could never stomach the taste of nutria. “Off-chicken,” he called the flavor, even when sauced for days in his iron skillet. I’d been watching since I found the gathering of my distant cousins, chewing on roots and shoots, not noticing the lack of man on land. I may not have their advantages, but I’ve written this and it will likely be the last telling of the fall of the world. I doubt the folks of the White Lightning shacks would, or even could, read my explanation for their position as Omega Men. Even with all my knowledge of the fall, I wonder why my coat isn’t as glossy as my swimming brethren; if there will be enough food for all of us once my superiors discover the ideal conditions of Earth, the scent of the water.

It doesn’t matter much, but I take pause and stare back over my notes. I’ll enter the water and take my fill, hoping that the virus in my blood doesn’t finally make its way to the nutria, cutting off the lifeline to the few who remain.

Because, honestly, who wouldn’t feel guilty if they were listed as the cause of death for every living thing on Earth?

 

The Honorable Mayor Willie Brown

airship

Illustration by J. Andrew World

by Johnny Eponymous

 

The Mayor of San Francisco, the Honorable Willie Brown, hated spending the night in San Jose. Usually, a long night mixing with the DotCom elite at South Bay galas meant a long, traffic-logged morning return to his precious city, but other times it meant waking up in the nineteenth century. Monday night, the 30th of December 2002, faded into Tuesday morning, November 14, 1896. The mayor woke; saw the walls of the hotel had gone from soothing cream, to harsh, yellow Victorian annoyance. His Honor saw that the fine silk suit he had worn all night had been replaced by a fine wool suit he would wear all day. I don’t like grey, he mumbled, but it’s better than that brown thing I had last time.

The mayor stood, the wood under his feet reminding him of the time difference, just as the taste of champagne hours previous made him forget. He heard footsteps up the wood stairs outside the room, a gentle knock and his butler, Gibson or Gimlet, a drink name either way, entered holding the early edition.

“Your Honor, the paper.”

Willie’s head was a little hazy from the trip, or maybe he had overdone it back in the twenty-first century. He stared a bit at an etching, though his attention strayed to the banner of The San Jose Bee. 

“What’s all this about, Gibson?”

“Gilby, sir. It’s Gilby, and it’s the airships. The airships passed over the city last night.”

The Mayor focused a bit on the picture, finally making out the image of a blimp floating over the tower of light. He rather liked the fact that he ended up in the body of another man of import, though spending the day as a barkeep might have been a good time for all. He folded the paper, pretending to read the story.

“Well, this is a most serious matter. I think… I think I’m going to get dressed, go down to the City Hall and call a meeting. Will you get my advisors on the phone… I mean, get them to the hall, right quick.”

Gilby turned, and started down the stairs. Willie noticed the box of cigars on the bed stand, took one and flicked the lighter on the small table, turning the perfecto gently in the flame. He brought it to his mouth, drew slowly, far more gingerly than he would have on the Dominicans he favored. Just the scent coming from the open box told stories of Cuban soil, of a perfect roll on the inner thigh of a Havana virgin. He savored it, let it roll around before exhaling with his yelled words.

“And lunch; I’d say a steak, some potatoes, something with a lot of oomph to it. I’ll get dressed, send someone with a coach to take me to the office in half-an-hour. Understood, Gilby?”

Gilby made a barely audible reply from the first floor. The Mayor made a note to give Gilby a raise if he made it through the day. He rose, removed the nightshirt and slid into the suit, gravel on bare skin when he thought of the silk he had left behind. Lunch couldn’t come soon enough, he hadn’t eaten in negative one hundred and six years. Willie suited himself up nice, a styling man, even if he paled in comparison to the Frisco Fashion plate (a term coined by Esquire… or maybe GQ). He started downstairs, the sounds of a steak breakfast ringing towards his ears.

“Morning, Mr. Mayor.”

The lovely young thing approaching him wore an apron, a smile, and a dress that managed to show off precise curves, and still maintain an air of Victorian distance. She gave a small bow, the Mayor, cursing the lack of modern necklines at a time like this, bowed his head a slight bit forward.

“And how are we this morning, Miss…?”

The girl, probably nineteen, maybe twenty-one, smiled, looked at the floor and walked into the kitchen. The mayor must have had a fine night last night. The mayor smiled the smile that made him the mayor of the greatest city in the world. He knows how to live, I’ll say that for him.

The breakfast was heavy, greasy, and a hundred times better than the granola and grapefruit juice he’d have in the limo on the way back to the City. The biscuits and steak he smothered in gravy so thick, no ladle could contain it. The potatoes, crunchy and lard-fried, smelt of rosemary, sweet-stinging on his lips. If you are going to be trapped in the body of a Victorian, you may as well take advantage of the arteries your host provides. He washed the morning down with a tankard of… well, the Mayor wasn’t sure. It was obvious that it must be the mayor’s favorite drink, as it had waited for him at the table. He finished the meal, sat for a moment looking over the paper, reading the various reactions to the war in Cuba, the stories of the airship, and had started in on a story of Japanese farmers when Gilby entered the room, a notebook in each arm, his steps hurried.

“Sir, the men are at your office and the auto is outside. Here is a full breakdown of topics that the boys have asked you to go over with them today. I took the liberty of putting the airships at the top of the agenda.”

The mayor wiped his mouth, gave a quick smile to the young maid who had stayed in the dining room while he ate. She giggled slightly to herself and looked back to the floor. The mayor tossed the napkin to the table and went to Gilby, taking one of the notebooks from him.

“Excellent, Gilby. Let’s make our way over. I’ll read this as we head over.”

Gilby stared at the mayor with annoyed amazement.

“Sir, I don’t think it is wise to drive and read at the same time, especially not this time of day.”

“Well, you could drive, couldn’t you Gilby?”

The house staff laughed, just enough so that the mayor could tell that Gilby couldn’t drive, and that the mayor would never let anyone else take the wheel anyway.

“Fine then. I’ll drive and you can give me notes on the way, just give me the gist of the topics as we go.”

The mayor walked out the front door, hoping that the car was at least as steerable as the Jag he would take into Napa on the weekends.

* * * * *

The Mayor’s office was filled with smoke from six cigars and the scent of at least ten thousand others smoked over the years. The walls were the same yellow from the house, only stained darker, giving an antiqued look that he had always associated with old lady docents at historic homes. He went to the desk that everyone had seated themselves around. This is what a mayor’s office should be. Men, crowded eight to a space designed for three at most, and the desk, the monstrous desk, affording his honor room to stretch. Every man stood as the mayor entered, Willie’s head slightly hurting from the smoke. A young man, maybe thirty, clipped a cigar and handed it to the mayor, flipping the handle on the desk lighter, sending up a perfect flame. The mayor bent, puffed it three times and set it in the ashtray, unable to subject these men to any more smoke.

“Alright, let’s talk turkey. What can you all tell me about the airships last night? Anyone have anything solid?”

An older gentleman stood in the back, his cigar smoke hiding a hideous pair of hanging sideburns.

“Well, there are theories, your honor. A great many theories, mostly floated by those with a little science. Folks in Sacramento seem to reading too many of the stories by Mr. Welles, as they are claiming that it is an armada of alien ships coming to take the world prisoner.”

The mayor had a chuckle.

“Alright, now, how about anything with a touch of science behind it?”

Another man spoke, his eyes glowing against the haze, though he too had the same awful sideburns.

“I can say that the coursers seem to be of our design, like the Germans have been experimenting with for years. I remember seeing such a device at our fair, something I believe built by the Swiss. Again, I am not certain of any of this.”

The young man who had lit his cigar spoke out of turn, received heavy warning glances that he failed to notice.

“Sir, if I may bring up another subject; I feel we must quickly speak of the Japanese issue. The area of Fourth Street was set aside years ago, and now that they are eying land outside of the area, I am afraid that we will be unable to control them for much longer.”

The mayor focused on the young man with severe control.

“What are you talking about?”

The oldest man in the room, the one who must have been present when Junipero Serra wandered into town, spoke up, his voice hoarse with decades of meetings in room like this.

“Well, a Mr. Yamamoto has asked to buy a farm near the Santa Clara border. It would be a quite large farm, some 130 acres. It would be quite near Santa Clara University, and the Chaplain has asked for us to prevent this. I am of the opinion that offering the gentleman a suitable piece of land closer to the Fourth Street section would satisfy him, if we can arrange for a drop in price.”

The mayor stood, paced and spoke simultaneously, trying to figure a way that the men would understand his opinion and not think he had dropped his mind on the auto trip over.

“Now, I am firmly of the opinion that the Japanese citizens of this fine city are, and always will be, a vibrant and important part of our electorate. We must allow them to grow, and if we encourage that, we will be rewarded with votes in upcoming elections. Do you understand me?”

The oldest man spoke again.

“You have the next election bought and paid for, sir. Besides, how would a few hundred votes sway things your way. It opens up a great many possibilities as well. What if the Jews or the Russians feel that they can simply find a piece of land and buy it to make a home? Hell, those countries will empty in a week if we fail to put up limits. Why, even Negroes may make permanent settling in the heart of the polite citizenry.”

The mayor stopped moving, leaned onto the desk, and steadied himself on both arms, a look of fire and disgust coming from Willie.

“You will listen to me. I will not allow the good Japanese of our city be discriminated against. They will live wherever they feel and will hopefully bring as many members of their families as possible. They will ensure the future of this city without question. Is that clear?”

The young man looked back at the mayor, his eyes fearful of the rage that his elder colleague had been put through.

“Your honor, I think you should think of the security issues in these times. The Japanese are… well…”

The mayor shifted to the speaker with even greater intensity.

“What could you possibly mean.”

“Well, the airships, sir. I have heard that the Japanese may have something to do with the airships. There are rumors, sir.”

A man, still wearing his bowler and smoking a long thin cigar, stood and spoke, removing his hat and holding it over his stomach as if to deflect an expected blow.

“Well, there are great kite flying festivals in Shanghai. It is quite possible that they could equip these great kites with bombs and destroy the state. Or, they could be working with the Spanish. Both are devilish races.”

The mayor made the man glad he had removed his hat, as he whipped a stack of papers at the offender, the only one to make contact hitting the hat before gliding to the floor.

“First, Shanghai is in China, you dolts! Second, that is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. Now, all of you get out! I need to take a nap, and afterwards, we will go to Japantown and discuss our options. Now, out!”

The crew walked through the door, with Gilby lagging behind.

“Will you need me for anything?”

“No, Gilby, you can take a break. I’ll be fine.”

Gilby closed the door behind him, the sounds from the street making it up to his window. The lively voices, the calling of newsboys, the sounds of horses and carriages all mixed with the heavy meal to put the mayor to sleep in record time.

* * * * *

The mayor woke up in the Palace hotel, his best black silk suit on a hanger hung on the top edge of the open television cabinet. Surrounding the bed were a dozen bottles of whiskey, the heavy scent of cigars, and a half-dozen room service trays. The knocking on the door had woken the mayor in his own time, and unfortunately in the body that had been the recipient of the mess that had once held the contents of the bottles and trays that littered the room. Mayor Brown walked to the door, opened it and let in his personal assistant, his personal assistant who seemed to be wearing a suit that Gilby would have thought suitable for a day at the office.

“Your honor, we have a busy day, and there were complaints all evening about the noise from your room. My God, look at this place? Did you buy every bottle of Jack Daniels in the city last night?”

The mayor managed a slight laugh as his stomach began to rumble under the weight of prior festivities. “I wasn’t quite myself last night. What have we got?”

The pair went over details as the mayor dressed, the silk feeling a hundred times better than the burlap the Victorians called wool. The mayor put a hundred dollar tip on the dresser, insisted on paying for the room on his personal credit card, and hopped in his car, waving and signing an autograph for a little girl on the way. Once safely in the car, he spoke sidewardly to his assistant.

“I need you to do me a favor. Call up the San Jose archivist, get me the paper for November 15, 1896. I wanna see how I did last night.”

The assistant wrote it down, then buried his face in his hand. The mayor smiled, burped, and laughed. That damn Victorian sure knew how to live.

 

The Shadowcatcher

Shadowcatcher1

Illustrated by J. Andrew World

by Johnny Eponymous

 

Kiely Van Der Rotte walked the streets of San Jose in her riding clothes on Thursday night, June the 13th, 1916. She could hear the fights, the loud crashes from bars that closed when the last man passed out. Kiely rarely came into town, preferring her small barn and instruments among the orchards in Santa Clara to the bustle and brawls. For her plan, she needed the downtown emotions: energies that all could feel, but only she understood. The nearly full moon provided her safety as she continued, passing more drinkers and theatres, to the area surrounding the University where she could set her tripod looking down San Fernando Street. She could see a bloody fistfight in front of an Irish pub, just the sort of negative energies that would bring the images forward. She removed the Magic Lantern from her carpetbag, gently placed it atop the tripod. Kiely pointed it toward the square where fights and knifings were the rule and order came from the blunt swing of a truncheon. Kiely installed the small metal box, full of Audion tubes and wires, forming the machine she called the Shadowcatcher. Her hair fell into her eyes, causing her to pause and take a gathering of those on the street; no one paying any attention to her at all. She took the Comptometer from the bag and put the wire into the small metal box, turning it to complete the connection. Kiely turned the handle on the side of the controller for nearly thirty seconds, her arm hurting as it strained against the stiff handle’s movement. Kiely paused, thinking she had turned it long enough so the machine would have a full charge when she hit the proper keys.

Kiely looked down the street once more as she flipped the bar on the side of the Comptometer and pressed the nine numbers to bring the machine to its slow whir. She took a long step back, before flipping the bar once again, resetting the numbers to zeros and bringing the machine to life. A loud whistle began to echo on the inside of the wooden projector box. As the whistle built, she could see the gathering of light twelve feet in front of her, a faint but solid gathering lit from within. The glow gained form, took shape: a man’s shape. The man had a distant stare that Kiely could note, even though she could still see through it to the moonlit buildings on the other side of the street. The figure took more form, the torso dressed in the styles of twenty years earlier; the hat on the head a stiff bowler with a small feather, the pants long-striped and tattered at the top of expensive shoes. On his sleeve she could see a rip, and beneath that, dark runs of liquid. Kiely set the controller down, walking to the vision, her hair again falling, though she did not even blink.

“Can you hear me? Are you here?”

The image turned to her, the same stare going beyond her, beyond the small patch of grass behind, beyond the tower at the far end of the quad. Slowly, the image nodded, focused more, with a stronger glow coming from within his coat. Kiely took a step back, giving the stare full view of the battle of San Fernando.

“You’ll walk to the end of the street, turn around and come back to me.”

Without acknowledgement, the image moved, his expensive shoes disturbing the dust as he walked, but only in small traces that the wind would clear in moments. The figure took seven steps, began to fade, and went transparent. Kiely walked his path, noting the slight impressions on the street. She reached the point where the impressions stopped, the point where the image returned to cold chills and whispers in unbelieving ears. Kiely paced off the distance: seventy-seven feet across, more or less. The distance was far less important than the fact that she had done it, done what mystics and philosophers had failed to realize: she had touched the plane of the past and brought it to the present.

# # #

Kiely gathered the pieces, looked over the schematics on the table, and went about connecting the Audion tube to the innards of the camera she had traded for with Dr. Warburton. The system worked on incredibly simple premises: the wires create a field of energy captured from the environment around it and the Audion amplifies that energy before sending it through the projector, creating a field approximately one hundred feet across, though this test delivered a far smaller field than the design should have supported. The whole thing just needed the proper amount of energies from the environment to gain the power to bring those Away to the field.

Kiely heard the wheels of an automobile grinding walnuts into the packed dirt that led to the barn. Kiely walked to the window, looked out into the rainy night on Jason, the driver, and her youngest sister, Marcy. She had seen neither in several weeks, mostly because they chose to sleep during the night; the time when Kiely could get days worth of work done in hours. She wiped her hands and shouldered open the swinging door, allowing Jason to drive the car in, leaving only a foot between the table and the front bumper. Kiely steeled herself up to deliver the final sell.

“You know, you could try living in the house again, sis.”

Kiely tossed the rag into the bucket at the far end of the bar, waiting to be washed. She hadn’t slept in the house for almost a year, preferring to use her small cot or just pass out at the table in the barn. The large bags under each eye spoke to this tradition. Jason stepped down from the driver’s side, walked behind, and opened Marcy’s door. Kiely and Marcy could be no more different: Marcy’s eyes glowed green from under the red hair she spent an hour perfecting each morning, while Kiely’s simple brown hair fell about her shoulders and nearly constantly needed to be moved from in front of her grey eyes. Kiely stood a fair five inches taller as well, a fact that became apparent with the great bend whenever the two of them embraced in hellos.

“You know I can’t stand the quiet up there, much more texture out in the barn. Besides, the house has other problems.”

Marcy smiled lightly in dismissal, small runs of water dripping off the curls that framed her face. Marcy went to the table, looking at the boxes her sister had created.

“Are these them? The machines you told me about?”

Kiely pulled the nearest Shadowcatcher to her, turning it around so Marcy could see the tubes and coils. Kiely knew her amazement with things scientific and she knew the machine would confuse her. Marcy leaned in, as if in a museum of oddities where the barkers will send their cane to any foot over the line. She studied every wire line, every tube connection, every component, though she knew nothing of their operation. Kiely would have explained them all, though she did not, since she wanted the mystery to remain. Jason spoke first, after drying his head with the towel on the hook next to Kiely’s hanging saws and hammers.

“So, you’ve completed it, but why such urgency to get us to see it?”

Kiely opened the lid of the projector and pushed it toward Marcy while she spoke.

“Remember when you and Jason would bring people over to the house for séances? You’d invite the wealthy folks over and Jason would shill and then you’d bring out the gigs. Well, I think we should start it up again, only this time these will bring the greatest gigs of all time.”

Jason shrugged unhappily and Marcy pulled herself back upright. The look on Marcy’s face had touches of theatre and future money. Jason had a look of last resort in his eyes. Jason had been short of funds for nearly two years and the Shadowcatcher Project represented the only option for cash that he could see.

“Don’t worry, the Shadowcatcher is like that old Magic Lantern Papa had and I can control the picture with the box over there. I can make the images turn and even walk. All you have to do is provide the scene, I’ll take care of the rest.”

Marcy smiled. She had wanted to get back into the game as Madame Van Der Rotte, but Jason didn’t have the money to buy their way back in with the traditional ooohs and ahhs. Marcy spoke as if signing on to the project.

“Who will we invite, Kiely? When?”

Two more successful tests would follow. The men trapped in a mine walked past Kiely’s view on a small hill marked with seven weathered crosses. A young boy looking for his ball paused for a moment in front of the Shadowcatcher, turned and ran away out of the field. The tests brought her closer, allowed her to tune the specificity, clean the images brought out, widen the field. She had not yet tried the three in union but knew the result: each tuned to the same frequency, stronger coverage. Each machine bringing more energy forward, allowing for the perfect vision she had promised herself. Marcy could know nothing of the reality of the device. She had played the Spiritualist too long to find truth in the Unknown.

The day had come quickly for Kiely, though Jason and Marcy were always milling around, waiting as if the hours were days spent on a rack. Kiely made all the alterations in slow turns and gentle pulls, all adding up to time running away from her. As Marcy returned to the house to dress and Jason swept clean the path for the visiting autos, Kiely finished her adjustments, placed the Shadowcatchers on a small cart. One last look at her barn and Kiely wheeled the machines out the back of the building, onto the small packed path leading to the house. Marcy took a small fright as Kiely threw open the door. The house had been distant for the week spent in cleaning and preparations, lulling Marcy into expectations of fluid silence.

Kiely set the Shadowcatchers in an equilateral triangle, the table in the exact center of the machines, the focus of three energy projectors. While each was fully capable of bringing the Away forward to the field, combined the once translucent images would gain form, strength from the focusing. Kiely could hear the first auto pulling up the drive, crushing walnuts and throwing dirt. She went up the stairs to where her mother would sit and watch them play between cooking and cleaning and picking fruits. Kiely took a concealed seat, watching in a mirror, where all the guests and Shadowcatchers could be seen and the cord to the Comptometer would not pull taught as it ran up the stairs. The first footsteps fell on the front porch and Marcy opened the door on Ken Cooler and his wife, Narla. Sweet old folks who had lived in the valley, on the orchards, since birth. Each walked with a simple cane, his of hand-carved oak, hers of white fir, stained dark with painted bird’s-eye grain.

“Welcome, Mr. Cooler, Mrs. Cooler. Please, give me your coats and have a seat.

“You’ll find a few small treats and a bottle of red wine in the front parlor. Please, help yourself.”

The small pair made their way into the parlor as the thin couple called Barcells walked in, receiving the same greeting. Others arrived, invitees to make the marks feel comfortable. Kiely recognized a couple of them, dressed well but obviously in borrowed suits. Jason entered and closed the door, his hair full of kicked up dust. Marcy made her way to the chair closest to the stairs.

“Welcome to the séance, my friends. Each of you were invited for the purpose of contact, a contact you wish to make with a world beyond. I am surrounded by a great energy, the concentrators are increasing my awareness of the Away, the other side of our world. If you will all take hands, we can begin.”

Kiely turned the handle on the controller until the charge had been achieved. She then flipped the bar and held the keys. Instantly, those holding hands could feel something that Kiely had never experienced in her tests: the breeze. A stiff breeze, not of air, but energy: colder than any wind off an icy lake. The cold kept each of the séance participants in their seat. Marcy had been through this, typically a window would be opened, sending the chill through those in the room. This time, no shill had opened a window, the energies bringing the cold were real.

“Feel them enter, the powers flowing from the coldest realm. Close your eyes, feel the surge, resist the cold and find your inner strength.”

Madame Van Der Rotte’s experiences on the road came into play. The eye-closing usually allowed Jason to put ectoplasmic cheesecloth on her, or brush a kerchief across a ladies neck for a cheap shiver. But now, a real image began to take form on the table. All the eyes were closed, save for Kiely’s, who saw the dream reflected. The woman stood tall and proud but all she could see was a back with an apron tied, a familiar double bow holding the strings. She had none of the gauziness the other visions had shown. Just a solid light giving birth to something far.

“Open your eyes, my friends, see what our energies have brought forth.”

The eyes opened and all were pushed harder into their seats. No one heard a breath escape from the circle. Marcy could feel the effect of whatever Kiely projected, the grip on either side too fear-frozen to break. She kept her eyes closed as she spoke, adding to the image of her power over other worlds.

“Now, spirit, turn to me. Show me the face you wore in life. Show the circle who you are.”

The spirit turned counter-clockwise and Mrs. Barcells gave a slow, low gasp when it faced her. As soon as the spirit had gone fully to Marcy, Kiely could make out the vision she had wished to call. Many times had Kiely seen it, seen it from the corner of her eye in the days when she still lived in the house. Kiely had confirmed what she had always believed: the spirit of her mother still watched over them.

Marcy opened her eyes, took a moment to focus them on the solid light on the table. Her mother, dead nine years, stood there in front of her, the stare going beyond her, her once warm eyes lost. Marcy could not move, always having dismissed Kiely’s stories of ghosts and feeling mother’s presence. These eyes were not warm, these eyes were cold, beyond the world. Marcy spoke, an airy note coming from her throat.

“Mother?”

The image of their mother looked down. Kiely had lied: this was no Magic Lantern show. Her eyes lost all appearances of Madame Van Der Rotte, instead becoming the young girl scared of thunder. Marcy stood, shock belting her to her feet. A scream came to her lips, but no voice could be given. This image was not a faded photograph in time, but a spirit she would never wish to see again.

She reached back, the Shadowcatcher whistling under the padding Kiely had added to silence it. Marcy took it by the tripod and pushed it down, the crash of glass and splintering of wood echoing through the house. Kiely stood, pushing tears and hair from her eyes. She ran down the stairs as the others were gripped down by what they had witnessed. Marcy ran across, breaking the circle. She reached the second Shadowcatcher as Kiely made the bottom of the stairs, noticing the fading of the image. Marcy pushed it hard into the wall, the crash even more damaging than the first.

“Marcy, don’t! It’s all I have left of mother! How can you…”

Marcy had already set herself upon the final device, pulling the tubes and projector apart and throwing the metal to the ground as Kiely reached her. Kiely turned and looked at where her mother had been.

Nothing.

Not a trace of the once solid glow of the woman Kiely had needed to contact. Marcy fell to the ground, tears now flowing from her eyes. The chill wind rushed away as suddenly as it had appeared. Jason had thrown open the curtains, the sound tearing through each viewer. Kiely went to the first machine Marcy had attacked.

Destroyed. The tubes shattered, the projector unrepairable.

She quickly pushed her way through the lot, scrambling for the door.

The second, destroyed though the coils were probably still useable.

Marcy had thrown herself on the floor, tearing at the remaining pieces of the third Shadowcatcher. Her eyes throwing water down on the dark wood, sizzling on the tubes.

Kiely fell back against the wall. After less than a minute, only the three of them remained; Marcy still breaking the pieces with now bloody hands and Jason holding the stairpost for support. No one said anything. Each had been destroyed. Jason’s dreams of money, broken with crying fists. Marcy’s hopes of respect, dead by suicide. Kiely’s wish for her mother to return, in broken glass and wood around the parlor. No one would speak for almost an hour, though the silent tears were soon replaced with heavy sobs. Jason helped Marcy up, took her to the auto in the barn and then away, away from Kiely. As soon as she could stand on her own, Kiely gathered the pieces, tried to reassemble what she could, stayed up all night, rebuilding and failing, and trying again.

That year, Kiely only saw the outside once every day, when picking nuts or fruits. She stopped trading for milk, instead drinking water. She spent most of her days on the step, staring at the makeshift Shadowcatcher standing in front of the door. Sitting next to her, the faint image of her mother, staring beyond the hallway, looking back on days when she would watch her daughters play on the porch.

Shadowcatcher2

Illustrated by J. Andrew World