In the Land of Ago

A reading of 11.22.63 by Stephen King

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How often do we think: “If only I could change this”, or, in whatever form, “if only I could have a second chance, go back, and do something different”? Going back, erasing, and changing the past is an old dream, the subject of countless tales and fiction works. Of course there is a second law of thermodynamics, to keep things simple, that says “no-can-do” – but still…

But imagine one could go back, reverse entropy, and travel back in time, would it be possible to change anything? Or, is the past resistant to change, obturate enough to stop, or at least oppose, a time-traveller interfering with what was, and, maybe, should be? And, even if the time traveller could change the past, what would be the cost? Perhaps more ominously: what would be the consequences?

Changing history is a special case. History, they say, is written by “the victors”, whoever they may be. It can also be rewritten, and this without, perhaps because of (not), going back to the past. There is the “official” version, and the “conspiracies”. A long-lasting, and still sinister, such story is that of the assassination of President Kennedy.

Jake Epping, not a crying man, is an English teacher at a high school in a small town in Maine. The year is 2011, and this is the end of term. Jake is, unique among his school colleagues, the customer of Al Templeton, the proud owner of the fat burgers diner. More than just a customer. He’s soon someone with whom Al is about to share a deadly secret. At the back of Al’s diner trailer is an anomaly: a fissure in time. Al has a mission, one he cannot complete, for he is dying of lung cancer. He wants Jake to take over, as he has identified Jake as someone who could, who will, bite at the bait. So Al teaches Jake, explains how this could work, and Jake listens. There is a first trial, then another. On the other side of the fissure it is Spring 1958, and America is young. Jake likes what he sees. He enjoys the fresh taste of root beer, the sweet air. Jake also has a personal objective: to prevent a domestic tragedy and help his friend Harry Dunning. The first leg of the story is there: the killing of Frank Dunning. Jake, armed with Al’s mission and notes, as well as dollars of the time, embarks on the journey.

Saving the Dunning family will take two attempts to get it “right”, or so Jake thinks. Then his personal odyssey will start , on the road to Dallas. For Al’s, now Jake’s, aim is to prevent the assassination of President John Kennedy, on November 22, 1963, nothing less. Jake has five years to adapt, plan, live, and, finally, execute Al’s mission.

Jake follows a route of nostalgia: an all-American Ford Sunliner, overnight stoppages in motels, drive-in cinemas, finally a small town, and an equally small school, in Texas. Later, much later, there will be Dallas and the horror. For a while it is (almost) paradise, his class, football, friends, a girl he falls in love with, America’s early 60’s: (almost) perfection.

Jake decides to stay, he won’t go back to 2011. But, in the end, he does. For fulfilling the mission has unpredictable consequences. When, on the threshold of his desperate return, Jake faces a dystopian 2011, he finally understand what Al had missed: that interfering with the strings of time has a price, and this is proportional to the change.

The novel concludes on a note of hope, an ending for which Stephen King credits his son, Joe Hill, at the end of the book.

11.22.63 is a great novel, to read, reread, and cherish. It is also a book to meditate on, seriously, listening carefully to the voice of its author.

Photo: Ford Sunliner 1958, via eclassicautos.com

 

The triangle #fivewords

Weekly Writing Prompt #132

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Francis wanted to capture the dream: for the third night, he had read the name of a place he had known, and, now, wanted to build into the story. There were three, at equal distance from each other, the monk had said. The last day, his stare fixed on some old manuscript he had dug out from the loot of a raid, years back, he’d looked for clues. In the morning, like today, he could not recall the names. Long ago, he had travelled, feverish, and briefly lived there, at the vortices of the triangle, carried away by the rage to discover the truth.

Where he was now, near the small park, in the city he loved, was one of those places, he was certain of it. He tried to lift his arm, and discovered he was almost unable to move: he would have to go back to his therapist. He had to work, look again at the archives.

In the park, he had met the shadow of an old monk, one night. That was before the first dream. The monk had spoken in an old, forgotten, language, and Francis had only understood a few words. Where were the other two places?

Picture source: Monastery Garments

Neophyte #thedailypost

Neophyte

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The streets are empty, and rain starts falling. Some windows are lit, high up the tall buildings. Fallen leaves fly in the wind. Slowly he begins to hear the voices of the city. He has so much to learn: the geography of those unknown spaces, where the wall once stood, the secret boundaries, what was once the East, what is still the West, the ancient churchyards, the parks, the statues.

He listens to the voices, far away. He walks, he writes, he speaks to her. She says: “you have to forget what you learnt: this is different, you are on the other side of a mirror, you have to start again, and you cannot guess…”

Wisp #writephoto

Inspired by Sue Vincent’s Thursday’s photo prompt

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“There are many universes…” she said, in the voice of a factual statement, “and, sometime, voices filter, from one to another. Then one has to know how to read the signs.”

I waited, hoping for an explanation. The clouds formation, above the rocky landscape, was turning weird. The air was icy cold.

“If you want to learn the way,” she resumed in a lower tone, “then I can show you, but there is a price.”

“Let’s assume I am prepared to pay that price…” I said, wanting to sound confident, and surer of myself than I really was.

“It’s not a matter of assumption,” came her reply, now uncompromising. “Do you want to learn, or not: that is your choice.”

I paused. I’d met the woman during the long hike, through a landscape that felt as if it belonged to another world. We’d talked about the scenery, then about alien worlds. And now, the sky, the wisp. Wasn’t that ice formation, high up, close to the upper atmosphere?

“I do want to learn. What is the price?”

“O, this is very simple, in order to teach you, I have to take you to where I come from…”

Afrikanische Straße

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I leave the lutheran bells ringing clear, behind, the sky a dull lead blanket, but soon I see the green shoots: Nature, the knowing lover, is holding them back, in this chilled Sunday morning, as if to moderate our impatience. She knows how to prolong the foreplay, make us wait, nurse our lust, dream of future ecstasies.

The park is silent, even the birds talk in polite, muted voices. A few runners, the dog walkers, I must be the only tramp. The lake lies still, its waters not yet enticing: the beach is deserted, but for a couple of philosophical ducks. An old crucifix stands, alone, reflecting on a better, perhaps even, glorious past. Yesterday’s winds have covered the ground with small, brittle branches, it may rain soon.

The cool bier goes down so well, a not-quite-Spring treat, solitary pleasure. Some youths walk past, so quiet, survivors of some late Saturday’s party. I take my bulk further north, to the limit of the park; on the other side of the motorway lies the airport. The grumble of sparse traffic can be heard, faintly. The sport grounds are busy, with the serious shouts of enthusiastic soccer players. More dogs are entertaining their mistresses, bored, probably wondering about the human mind . The rain has started its cool morning exercise.

There are two small ponds before the street: I am back in Africa now. I follow Afrikanische for a short while, turn left on Transvaal: where else could I walk in a few minutes across thousands of miles? When I cross over Togo, the pavement is shiny with rain. Soon I find Kameruner: I am home. Girls are walking back to their nests, carrying bread.

Back to my space, I carefully recycle the beer bottle. Bless this city, and its inhabitants.

Image: Samuel Araya, via aeszaaesza.tumblr.com

Reflections in a Mirror #WritersWednesday

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We retrace our steps, without intention, it just happens: suddenly we see ourselves, there at that terrace, one evening, or there, along those walls, pushing our bikes. It’s later at night, and the Neue Gallerie is not yet closed, we meet there, in a concert of bright lights and laughter.

That was three years ago, then it was Spring; how fast time goes in this City? Those ghosts are us, or perhaps, we have become them. We know those streets, we can follow our shadows. They, us, look at us, interested and tender, those younger faces, ours, so familiar, now observing us from the other side of the mirror.

But which side are we in?

 

Photo: inspired by the beautiful blog https://streetberlin.net/, street photography. berlin.  kulturforum. 2016 © martin waltz

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