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Stories from the Verse
Re Verse All
Chapter 41: Takano 26
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Previous chapter: Hastings 199
The show came to an end, and the bartender was shouting last call on the drinks. Tommy and her companions made their way to the stage door, where Tommy showed her napkin to the bouncer.
“Hey, Angel,” he shouted. “You’ve got company.”
The drummer appeared, and Tommy hadn’t realized just how big he was--certainly over six feet tall. He was also older than her father but not, she thought, as old as her grandfather. “Hey, Pete,” he called, and the guitar player from the band appeared. “Tommy here is from back home, and I’m hoping I can catch up on the news and gossip I’ve missed, if you’d be so kind as to entertain her friends.”
“Sure, Johnny,” he said. “Right this way, ladies and gentlemen.”
Tommy was a bit nervous now that it was just the two of them. It must have shown on her face, because he said, “It’s all right; I don’t bite.” He smiled a very friendly and comforting smile, and indicated that she should walk with him as he headed back toward one of the dressing rooms.
“So, how many worlds have you seen?” he asked.
“What?” The question had startled her. “Oh--oh. I don’t know, let me think. One with a strangely-shaped moon, then a forest with a satyr and some centaurs and a witch, then I was in Nagasaki just in time for the atomic bomb, and now I’m here. But it’s all a dream. I mean, it has to be, right?”
“Well, you can think that, and I guess there are versers who think that. But you can’t really live as if it’s a dream, and that means ultimately you don’t believe it, because if you believed it you would act like it was.”
“So then, what is it?”
He paused for a moment, as if trying to think of how to explain something.
“You ever heard of scriff?”
“Sure. My grandfather bought me a video player that had scriff in it. I took it apart to see how it worked, and got a bad shock. I figured I never woke up again.”
Johnny was nodding. “With me it was an electronic drum kit. That scriff stuff is not quite as safe as we’re told. If it gets in you and gets activated by an electrical charge, it becomes a permanent part of you, and every time you die it puts you back together and delivers you to another universe.”
They walked several steps in silence, and then he stopped and held open the door to a dressing room for her.
“I know that’s a lot to take in,” he said. “And maybe the people who told me that got it wrong, but you’ll probably find that it makes the most sense in the long run. You won’t get any older, I’m afraid, no matter how long you live. You won’t have children, and you won’t stay dead.”
She spotted a chair, and sat in it. He obligingly took the couch.
“So, how do I get home?”
He shook his head somewhat sadly. “If anyone has ever managed to do that,” he said, “the rest of us don’t know. And I gather there are some versers who have been trying for thousands of years, so I wouldn’t put too much hope in figuring out what they don’t know. Anyway, the best thing to do is figure out how to survive comfortably in each world until something sends you to the next.”
“Like the witch.”
“Oh, in the forest. I was trying to figure out how to get home, and the satyr couldn’t help, so he took me to the centaurs, and they couldn’t help so they asked an eagle, and the eagle didn’t know but suggested asking the witch, and the witch said that she couldn’t get me home but she could move me forward on my journey. Then she electrocuted me.”
“Nice,” he said with evident sarcasm. “It sounds like you’ve had a bit of a rough start.”
Tommy nodded, then thought of something. “Why is it that when I came here, I had this feeling that I was supposed to meet you?”
“Right. That’s the scriff. Scriff attracts scriff, they say. You can feel where your belongings are--if you relax right now, that feeling will point you back to wherever you’ve left them. You can also feel other people who have active scriff in them. I gather that some you can feel thousands of miles away, but others you have to be near, but I don’t know how that works.
“So, I gather you came from earth in the future, because this earth doesn’t have any scriff as far as I know. What year is it?”
“It was two thousand eleven when I left.”
“I left in two thousand seven, and have been traveling for decades to at least twenty or thirty worlds--I should have written them down so I wouldn’t have to remember them--but only four years went by back home. That is, assuming it’s the same earth. George Bush--the second George Bush--was President. That sound right?”
“Maybe. Obama is really the first President I remember, but my grandfather tried to get me to learn all of them. He said being an American was important, and I should know about America.”
Johnny shrugged. “Makes sense, I guess.”
“Anyway, I never did. But I think it was Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama at the end. That’s one of the tricks he taught me--if you want to learn a list, or a poem, or anything that you have to remember in order, start at the end and work backwards. So I don’t remember the whole list, but I remember the end.”
“So Bush was replaced by Obama? Never heard of him.”
“Don’t look at me. I was thirteen years old when he was elected. I’d never heard of anybody, and wasn’t really that interested.”
The drummer nodded. “So, what else can you tell me about the world? What happened between when you were twelve and when you left?”
Tommy shrugged. “Not much, really. I mean, computers got more powerful, cell phones got more features, laptops and pads became more popular, flat screen televisions and monitors came way down in price--but my dad’s an engineer, so I guess most of what I know is in electronics and computers.
“So, where have you been?”
“As I say, too many places to easily remember. It started with me waking up in New Orleans during prohibition. That was really weird, because I was a retired cop and a borderline alcoholic. But I wandered into a speakeasy where I met a guy playing saxophone who recognized me, because I’d played drums in a band where he played the guitar. He got me a gig playing drums with a jazz combo in another speakeasy. I invented the high-hat in that world, because they had something called a low-hat and I was used to it being where I could drum on it with the sticks. That’s always weird, when you do something you know is changing history but you don’t know what that’s going to mean. Like in this world I’ve probably changed music history. I’ve stolen ideas from a lot of drummers who are still unknown--Ringo Starr, Carl Palmer, Keith Moon, Michael Shrieve, Phil Collins--and used them in the bands I’ve played in. I try to keep a low profile, but it isn’t always possible. Buddy Rich came to hear me once, told me I was good and asked why he’d never heard of me before. I told him I didn’t really want the life of a famous musician, and that was good enough for him, but I don’t know that he didn’t take any ideas from me.”
“I don’t know any of those people,” Tommy said.
“Well, that’s not true. Ringo Starr, of course, but mostly because he was on a children’s television show when I was little and my mother told me who he was. Phil Collins because he was a singer; I didn’t know he played the drums. I’ve heard of Buddy Rich, I think, but wouldn’t have known he was a drummer.”
“When did you say you were born?” The smile now looked like he was kidding her. She returned it.
“1995. Fifty years to the day after I died in Nagasaki.”
“So I guess you know about weird.”
She laughed. “Yes, weird. Like minutes after I got here this lady appeared wearing a red robe over armor, ran into the street to save a little girl, was hit by a truck and vanished--but she gave me the same feeling I get from you, that I was supposed to meet her.”
“Wow, really?” Johnny seemed impressed. “That sounds like it was Lauren Hastings. I’ve heard tales about her. She’s quite something. I’m sorry I missed her.”
“I don’t think she was here as long as five minutes--but she saved the little girl.”
“Sounds like her. I’m told when she gets to a new world she tries to figure out what God wants her to do there. It’s embarrassing, really--that is, I hear that and wonder why I’m not doing that. But then, we each have to figure out our way through.”
He stood. “Speaking of figuring out our way, I promised to drive you to New Jersey, and it’s getting late, so I’d better make sure I have change for the bridge toll and get you and your friends loaded in my car. But find me anytime. If you’re within a few miles you can just relax and feel where I am.”
“Yeah, that’s weird, too. But thanks.”
He opened the door and followed her out of the room.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with five other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #365: Characters Travel. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: