Senior Trip (A Tale of the Tempus Fugitives)

TimeLike so many of us, in this bizarre time of isolation, I’ve been trying to use my energy towards something creative. A few days ago, I had an idea for a short story that I realized I could tie into an older story of mine, one I’d never really done anything with. I’m presenting the short story, “Senior Trip,” right here. If you like it, I invite you to check out Tempus Fugitives in my QuaranTidbits folder, where I’ve been giving out different pieces of writing for weeks now, totally free, to help everyone out there pass the time. And as always, if you like the story, I would LOVE to hear from you on my Facebook Page.

Senior Trip

Felicia arrived to find Douglas sitting at his workbench, almost vibrating with excitement. A small control screen was on the bench, next to an empty metal plate. A piece of old-fashioned writing paper, a pencil, and an envelope were on the other side of the bench, nearer to where she walked in. There were wires connecting the plate to a contraption about the size of a suitcase — wires and tubes, and something that looked a little like a copper slinky. The smile on his face could have split his head in half.

“You look pleased with yourself,” she said.

“I usually am,” he said. He pointed to the metal plate. “Watch this.”

“Watch what?”

Tapping the control screen, he looked down at the bench. The empty plate was no longer empty. There was another envelope there, identical to the first. At the same time, a timer on the control screen began counting down from 120 seconds.

“How did you do that?”

“You’ll see.” He pushed the new envelope aside and handed her the piece of paper. “Write something. Anything. Then put it in the envelope and seal it.”

She frowned at him, skeptical, but did as he asked. Then, he pointed at the plate where the other envelope had appeared. “Put it there and wait.”

“Wait for what?”

The timer was down to 93 seconds. “Just trust me. And hurry.”

And because she did, she did. She started at the envelope intently, skeptically. Until, exactly two minutes after the first envelope materialized, the second one vanished.

“Okay, how did you do that?”

He smiled. “Open the envelope.”

She picked it up and broke the seal, pulling out a piece of paper and reading it. When she looked back up at him, the grin on his face said it all. “Well? Is it what you wrote?”

She turned the paper towards him. Scrawled in her pristine handwriting were the words, “You’re a putz.”

“It is,” she said. “What are you doing?”

* * *

Douglas gripped the wrench as hard as he could and gave it one last twist to the right. The seal was the most important thing here. If there was any break in it whatsoever, when the machine started up he and Felicia could be sucked out and get completely lost in space and time.

“Are you done yet?”

“Almost, Fel.” He dropped the wrench and hit the seal on the bubble with a blast from the spray can of epoxy. It would harden in seconds, finishing off the airproofing he needed to make the journey through time safe, and then he could take a test run. He counted to ten and ran his fingers down the seam. It felt perfectly smooth, perfectly secure.

“Okay.” He pulled himself out from under the sphere and stood up. The bubble was a little larger than his car, filling up most of his father’s garage. It was tinted blue — a bit of a polarizing effect because he wasn’t sure what the visuals of the timestream would be and he thought a little protection was called for. The hatch was opened and closed by the remote control Felicity was holding. There was nothing left but to run the test.

“Are you ready?” she asked.

“I’ve been ready since ninth grade.” The project had taken up the last four years of Douglas’s life, two and a half longer than he and Felicia had been together. It was one of the graduation requirements at Salk Magnet High School: students had to map out a four-year course of study culminating in a senior project that corresponded with their chosen scientific concentration. Douglas was by no means the first person to choose the timestream as his course of study, but most senior projects had involved viewers into the past, most of which were ineffective for looking back further than a few days. If he could pull this off, Douglas Green III would be the first student in history to create a working, functional time machine. And if that didn’t get him an A in old man Lynch’s quantum physics lab, nothing would.

“I still think you’re crazy,” Felicity said. “What if this disintegrates us or something?”

“You’ve been watching too many old movies,” he said. “I showed you the prototype.”

“You showed me a magic trick. I’m still not totally convinced.”

“It was perfect!” he said. The trick with the envelope had been the start. A few more experiments convinced her that he wasn’t totally crazy, and from there it hadn’t been hard to persuade her to help him in the final construction of his device, with the understanding that next year he’d help her in any way she needed when she completed the oxygen replenishment system she was working on for her own senior project. Now though, with the time bubble finished, looking at it in all its splendor… she was starting to get nervous.

“You don’t have to get in,” Douglas said. “I can test it myself.”

“And let you get stranded in the Renaissance with all those nude models literally lying around? No way. Let’s go.” She hit the button on the sphere and one side of it slid open. Taking her hand, they climbed in together and she shut the hatch.

“So where are we going? What’s the maiden voyage of the S.S. Terrible Idea?”

“I thought hard about that. I wanted it to be something personally significant to me, not like going back to see dinosaurs or throwing a tomato at Hitler or anything. And my grandpa…” his voice trailed. Douglas’s grandfather had been his biggest supporter, his biggest fan. Nobody had believed in his project more. The fact that he was no longer there to see its completion, she knew, was a dagger in his spirit.

“Okay, then, let’s go visit him when you first told him about your project. We can show him that your machine works.”

He shook his head. “No, I can’t do that. Too great a risk of running into myself. If I’m right about how all this works, you can’t actually change the past, but your younger self seeing your older self still probably isn’t the best idea.”

“I’ve got just the thing, then,” she said. “Let’s go back to the day he was born. We can see him in his little hospital bassinet and nobody will ever know what’s going on.”

The smile broke his face. “That’s perfect,” he said. “Okay, setting a course for April 10, 2020.”

If pressed, Felicia would have to admit there was a thrill in watching Douglas work. Granted, the whole point of Salk Magnet was to shape students into creating things that could change the course of human history, but it was really only about twenty-five percent of them who actually succeded with their inventions, and even fewer tried something as ambitious as Douglas did. Being inside the bubble with him would be an even bigger mark on her record — even if her oxygen system failed (she did not anticipate failure, mind you, she was very confident about her work) she was still going down in the history books as being one of the first time-travelers. It was the main thing on her mind as he tapped his commands on the control screen, set course for their destination, and activated the device.

When she observed his experiments from the outside, the time transition had been surprisingly subtle. Something either was gone or simply appeared, with no fanfare, although Douglas told her that a large enough object would probably cause a popping sound as air rushed in to replace its mass when it was gone. From inside the bubble, taking the trip, it was very different. When he tapped the button, the clear plastic of the sphere sparked and their view of the garage workshop was replaced instantly with a swirl of blue light. Tendrils of energy clawed at the surface, and she watched as bolts of electricity in the distance raced towards them, glancing off the plastic and dissipating in their wake.

“It’s working,” he said. Although his voice grew no louder or faster, the excitement underlying what he said was clear. “It’s working. We’re going back in time.”

“It’s like we’re… rolling into the past.”

“Something like that,” Douglas said. “I think it’s more likely our brains can’t quite comprehend the four-dimensional structure we’re moving through, so they’re interpreting it in a way that’s more familiar to us. It doesn’t really look like this.”

“Well whatever it is, it’s something else,” she said.

“I think we’re accelerating,” Douglas said. He pointed to a box on the control screen that showed their current date. When he’d hit the button it showed their date of departure. Now it was scrolling backwards, and he was right, it was speeding up. They were in the 2050s now. Now the 40s. Now the 30s.

As they rolled further backwards, the electricity dancing around them intensified. It became louder, brighter, more violent. Bolt after bolt lanced into their screen, and more than once Felicia was afraid it would rupture the plastic, but Douglas’s design held. Still, as they crept past 2033, the bubble began to quake. She grabbed the sides of her seat, then grabbed Douglas’s arm. He was already holding hers.

“Is this supposed to happen?” she asked.

“I’ve never done this before,” he said. “But I don’t think so.”

2029, and the shaking became worse. 2024 and Felicia could feel her teeth rattling inside her skull. 2022 and she finally began to question the value of being the answer to a trivia question one day.

When they hit the spring of 2021, the shaking stopped.

So did the bubble.

“What’s happening?”

“We’re caught,” he said. “Something has frozen us, we can’t go any farther.”

“Is it the lightning?”

“I don’t know how it could be, it’s just a random manifestation of the timestream.”

“Random?” she said. She pointed out the screen. “Are you sure about that?”

“That I am sure of. Why?”

“Because that wave of electricity ahead of us looks like a fence.”

The bolts crisscrossed each other, forming a perfect lattice, and stretching out in all directions, wrapping around something in front of them. Douglas look at her, the shock in his eyes unnerving her. She’d never known Douglas to be shocked by anything. “This doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “There shouldn’t be any… any thing floating around in the timestream. This looks artificial. Manmade.”

“Or woman-made.”

If not for the seat restraints they were wearing, they both would have leapt from their chairs and crashed into the control panel. As it was, the voice speaking from behind them startled Felicia enough that the straps dug into her shoulders and chest, and she was pretty certain there would be a bruise tomorrow.

They turned around to see the woman who had joined them in their bubble. She was only a few years older than them, with a smile that was knowing, but not unkind. “Hey there Felicia. Douglas. I’m Diane. Big fan.”

“How did you get here?” Douglas said, his voice hushed. “Where did you come from?”

“I got here more or less the way you did, Douglas. I used a time machine based on the principles you invented. Good for you.” She pointed out into the timestream, behind them, towards a cluster of electrical bolts. “You might not be able to see it, but it’s out there, waiting to bring me back.”

“My designs?” he said. “What are you saying?”

“That ship was made in your future,” she said. “And it works great. You’re in the books, just like you wanted. You too, Felicia. Your oxygen system is what keeps us alive inside that thing. You guys are like the Curies a couple hundred years from now. I mean, minus the slow and painful death brought about by radiation poisoning.”

“That’s a relief,” Felicia said.

“How do I know you’re telling the truth?”

“I guess you don’t, but I promise you I’ve got no reason to lie. I’m just here to give you a heads-up. What you’re about to try to do? Don’t do it.”

“Don’t do what?”

“Go to 2020.”

“Why not? If I’m right about the timestream, it can’t actually be altered. Whatever happened always happened. Any time travel would simply cause the original events to happen in the first place.”

“You’re almost right,” she said. “Time is pretty resilient. It’s hard to change, and almost impossible to change the big stuff. But the little details can be changed. That’s why the electrical net is there to prevent anyone from going to 2020. No researchers, no chrono-tourism, nobody is allowed to travel to 2020 for any reason.”

“But why? What’s so special about 2020?”

“I know you guys are all sciencey and whatnot, but didn’t you pay attention in history class? Do you have any idea what happened in 2020?”

“I remember some stuff,” Felicia said. “Australian wildfires, a viral pandemic, then there was the–”

“Well so what?” Douglas said. “There were worse disasters. Pompeii, anybody? There were worse pandemics. You mean I could go back to the Black Plague, but not to 2020? Why not?”

“All that crap that happened in 2020 — none of it was the first time, you’re right. But it was the first time anything like that happened in the information age. People spent weeks, sometimes months at home, locked away with their families, barely seeing anybody else.”

“It must have been awful,” Felicia said.

“For some people, sure. But for the first time, even stuck at home you could still talk to people. Phone calls, text messages, video chats. Musicians played concerts online, filmmakers streamed their work and talked to the viewers, writers gave away books and artists taught tutorials. It sucked being stuck at home, but what people did with it… that was something else.”

“So what? I can’t see my grandfather’s birth because some guy locked in a basement was watching a boy band do a livestream?”

Diane shook her head. “You’re missing the big picture, Douglas. That’s okay, it wasn’t until we started using your design to map the timestream that we figured out how important this was.”

“What difference does it make?” he snapped. “You said yourself we can’t change the big things!”

“Douglas, listen to what she’s saying. She’s not talking about the big things. She’s talking about the little things.”

Diane pointed at Felicia. “You see, I knew you would be the smart one. The stuff that people did to keep themselves sane during the 2020 madness? All of it was little, but–”

“But the little things make up the big things.”

“You’ve got it again, Felicia.”

Douglas shook his head. “I still don’t understand this.”

“The things people are doing inside that giant electric fence in the timestream form the foundation of culture for the future. Stories that are written, songs that are composed, friendships and partnerships that are forged on the net that later branch out into the real world… they’re important.”

“You’re still talking about art. So what? Science is what matters.”

“Science is how the universe works, Doug. Art? The things that bring us joy? For a lot of people, that’s why the universe matters.”

He looked at her, stammering, still trying to argue his point, but Felicia glared at him, making it clear that she wasn’t going to take his side on this one. “Well,” he sputtered, “I guess I’m outnumbered.”

“Anywhere else in the timestream,” Diane said. “Any other point in the entire continuum is yours. But stay out of 2020, for everybody’s sake. Nobody breaks that rule, not even the most ruthless time pirates.”

“Time pirates?” Felicia said. “There are time pirates?”

“Oh yeah. Bounce into 2255 some time, there’s a great movie about us.”

“About you?”

She smiled. “See ya.”

Before Douglas could voice another objection, Diane was gone. She’d simply ceased to be, just like the envelope he showed Felicia the day he first explained his experiment. And, as anticipated with a larger mass, her disappearance was accompanied by a small “pop.” Before Douglas could say anything else, there was a flash in the distance. The blue lightning glanced across a huge mass, something green and metallic that had huge fins protruding from the side. It pulled away and retracted into the timestream, finally vanishing completely.

“Are we going to be able to get out of this?” Felicia asked, looking at the electric barrier.

“Yes,” he grumbled. “It’s not restraining us, just preventing us from entering. I can go back or go around, but not through.”

“What are we going to do, then?” she asked.

He shrugged. “I don’t even care,” he said. “You pick.”

She smiled and put her hand over his. “Why don’t you set a course for the future?” she asked. “You can take a girl to the movies.”

QuaranTidbits

QuaranTidbitsLike so many of you, I am stuck at home for an indeterminate amount of time. This whole COVID-19 thing has closed down schools for a month (or more) and I’m doing my best to leave the house as little as possible. And like so many of you, I’m trying to find some way to be productive during this chaotic time. I’m trying to write, jotting down little things, pulling together scraps… maybe even hoping to find a way to a larger project as things continue to shake out.

My solution? A little folder o’ fun I’m calling QuaranTidbits.

I’ve watched other artistic friends of mine looking for ways to stay in touch with the universe during this situation. Musicians are doing live performances online, artists are teaching drawing via Facebook… these are all great things. Writing, however, does not necessarily lend itself to live streaming. I heard once that Harlan Ellison used to set up shop in a bookstore window, write a short story, and tape each page to the glass as he finished. Frankly, I am no Harlan Ellison, and I’m not sure if that technique would work in a world of social distancing anyway.

So instead, I decided to create this folder, make it free to read for anyone who wants it, and fill it with little bits and pieces of writing. Some of the things you find here will be things I’ve shared before, while others will be bite-size pieces of other projects. I hope I’ll even come up with new stuff to add here as the Coronapocalypse progresses. Among the things you’ll find here are a selection of short stories set in the world of my Siegel City novels, selections from my humor book Everything You Need to Know to Survive English Class, and the entire first volume of my film study series, Reel to Reel: Mutants, Monsters, and Madmen, in which I analyze and discuss some of the most important and influential horror movies of all time (up until 2012, when I wrote it). Since there’s no telling how long this thing will last, I’ll probably end up adding other things as we go along, and my “Apocalypse Journal” document will probably get a mini-update at least once a day, so keep checking back!

I do this because I have to. I have an itch to create and put something out there in the world, and many of the avenues I would have used in the past are not practical, for one reason or another. This is a weird little experiment, I know, and it may end in dismal failure. If you like what you read, though, I invite and encourage you to share this folder with anybody else you think would enjoy it. (If you REALLY like it, it wouldn’t hurt my feelings at all if you checked out my author’s page on Amazon.com and helped yourself to some more substantial reads in this age of Corona.)

So poke around, have fun, stay safe, and wash your hands.

Christmas 2019: I Can Explain

dearsantaEvery year, for almost two decades now, I’ve created a new short story for Christmas. After the 2017-18 marathon of Santa’s Odyssey, I wasn’t sure if I would continue the tradition. Especially in light of how the holidays have gone for my family this year, it seemed increasingly unlikely. But then something hit me.

So the tradition continues. Please enjoy this year’s epistolary short story (and it’s shorter than usual, I admit), I Can Explain.

And Merry Christmas.

Dear Santa Claus,

First of all, I wanted to thank you for the microscope you gave me last Christmas. It was really cool and I saw all kinds of awesome things until Corey gunked it up it trying to see if the molecules in regular peanut butter cups look the same as the ones in the Easter peanut butter eggs.

Speaking of Corey, I know you and your elves are watching all the time, so I thought I should give you my side of the story. The only reason Corey wound up in Urgent Care last week is because he kept coming into my room even after I told him not to. I told him that Mrs. Beans was not his teddy bear, and I told him to go play with his own. He never listens!

It is also not my fault that Mom needed that ice pack. How was I supposed to know she was going to bend down to help Corey up as soon as she walked into the room? If she stayed standing straight up, her head wouldn’t have been anywhere near that chair when it was falling down. Totally not on me.

I have been a very good girl this year, and I would like a rock tumbler and some Bixby and Pals cards for Christmas. Thank you.

Love,

Dana

* * *

Dear Santa,

I know Dana wrote you a letter, and I know she’s probably made it sound like everything that happened was my fault, so let me set the record straight. I wasn’t trying to play with her dumb old bear. The only reason I was in her room is because the batteries in my Rocket Ranger Laser Gun were dead, so I was going to borrow the ones from her talking Princess Castle, since she never plays with that anymore anyway. I only touched the bear because it was on top of the castle. I didn’t realize that she’d rigged up a stack of Lego boxes on top of her desk chair so they would fall down as soon as I moved the bear.

I guess I overreacted a little when I started screaming that she broke my head open, but I didn’t even realize the boxes were empty. And I’m sorry I told Mom that the avalanche punctured my spleen so she would take me to the doctor and make Dana feel bad, but Mom needed the doctor anyway after she hit her head on the chair. I am very, very sorry.

In conclusion, please bring me a set of golf clubs and a basketball pump this year. The basketball you gave me last year doesn’t bounce anymore.

Corey

* * *

Dear Santa,

I wasn’t snooping, Corey just never turns off his iPad, so it’s his fault I saw the letter he wrote to you. What a liar! He’s got a billion toys he could have gotten batteries out of if that’s all he wanted. Why did he need mine? He’s been sniffing around Mrs. Beans for months now, and it’s really getting me mad.

Did he tell you what happened at Halloween? I couldn’t find Mrs. Beans anywhere, I looked for days and days, and then when we were getting ready to go Trick-or-Treating he showed up dressed like a superhero with his bear and Mrs. Beans wearing masks like they were bank robbers. And he stuck the masks on with glue. Mrs. Beans still has a smudge on her face where he put the glue on!

Corey has been a real jerk this year. Bring him a sack of coal, or some scorpions, or some coal scorpions.

Affectionately Yours,

Dana

* * *

Santa,

Dana just stomped into my room and read that last letter she wrote to you. I think she was trying to make me think she “got” me. My Halloween costume wasn’t as good this year, so I needed some props so that people would know who I was supposed to be. That’s why JoeyBear and Mrs. Beans were dressed like robbers. And the bottle said “fabric” glue. I thought that means that it was safe to use on fabric and it would come off. Did you know that it’s really the opposite? They should call it “don’t use this stuff on fabric” glue.

She’s crazy about that bear anyway. For the first week of school, we couldn’t even convince her to leave it at home instead of taking it with her. Oh yeah, that reminds me — the fight wasn’t my fault either. Kevin Dardar was making fun of her because she was carrying around a teddy bear at the bus stop. I mean, I thought it was stupid too, but she’s my sister. What was I supposed to do, just let him say stuff about her? Anyway, I saw Merril Alvarez eat some of that grass on a dare last year, so I knew it wouldn’t hurt Kevin. I am completely a victim of circumstance and a biased media.

Oppressedly,

Corey

* * *

Kindest Santa,

Corey doesn’t know I know his password.

Okay, so Corey beat up Kevin when he was picking on me. I guess I owe him for that. But he’d spent the entire summer picking on me himself! He said the same stuff Kevin did every time he saw me carrying Mrs. Beans anywhere. He said only babies walk around with teddy bears (not that it stopped him at Halloween) and that I should just grow up.

Corey also doesn’t know I can hear him through the bedroom wall, or how many times I heard him talking to JoeyBear late at night. I can’t hear what he’s saying, but I know that’s who he’s talking to because one night last May I got up to go to the bathroom and I peeked into his room and saw him holding JoeyBear and telling him– well, it doesn’t matter what he was telling him. What matters is that he talks to his bear, but he makes fun of me for carrying mine. I think that makes him a hippogriff.

I don’t want this to be a big thing, Santa, but Corey’s been such a jerk this year and I don’t know why. Bring him a dead fish.

Yours in jollytude,

Dana

* * *

Dear Santa,

I’m changing my password, and Dana needs to learn how to log out when she’s using somebody else’s tablet.

I do NOT talk to JoeyBear. I mean, I don’t have conversations or anything. It’s not like he talks back. I just have to talk to someone sometimes, and his shirt… I want to talk to his shirt, okay?

Teddy bears are for kids. I just wanted to talk to someone.

Stupid Dana needs to mind her own business.

Corey

* * *

Dear Santa,

I heard Corey talking to JoeyBear again last night. I haven’t heard him talk that much since we got JoeyBear and Mrs. Beans, and so I went out to hear what he was talking about. He talked about when we got JoeyBear and Mrs. Beans, and how they used Grandma’s shirts. And he talked about how she helped us get ready for school, and cook, and make our Halloween costumes and everything else. And I first I thought he was talking to JoeyBear about Grandma, but… after I listened for a little while…

Well, he wasn’t talking about her.

Kevin Dardar is a jerk.

Love,

Dana

* * *

I’m sorry, Dana.

* * *

I’m sorry too.

Santa, you don’t have to give him a dead fish this year.

Love, Dana

Dreams, y’all.

Dreams, y’all.

This is kind of long, but read to the end. It’s worth it.

I had a dream where I was pushing Eddie’s stroller through a transportation center; we’re waiting to meet some people and then catch a bus or something. Erin is on her way there. And as we’re standing around talking, I feel somebody squeeze my butt. Underneath, like REALLY intrusive and uncomfortably. So I look at the person who did it and I tell them to stop — that it’s not funny, you’re a grown adult, cut it out. I turn away and resume my conversation.

And it happens again.

I spin back on the person who did it and I start yelling. This is NOT right, this is NOT funny, it’s embarrassing and invasive and you–

And while I’m yelling… It happens AGAIN.

I reach down and grab it and I’m holding on to a kids toy fishing pole. The person poking me with it works there and is laughing. I grab the pole and break it over my knee and I start shouting at him, while at the same time trying to apologize to the person I thought had done it in the first place. I’m fuming. I walk outside to calm down and call Erin and tell her what happened. After a few minutes I go back inside and I’m apologizing to the people we’re with for causing a scene, while the manager of the place is scolding the guy who was poking my ass.

And it happens AGAIN.

I grab the hand of the person who is doing it and, without even looking to see who it was, I PUNCH THE GUY SQUARE IN THE FACE. This is something I have never done in my life, but at this point I’m so angry and hurt and violated that I don’t have any other option. I smash his face in, and while I’m whaling on the guy…

IT HAPPENS AGAIN.

Now EVERYBODY in the place is grabbing my ass in the SAME SPOT, laughing because they think it’s funny that I’m reacting this way. I start to run and they keep after me, grabbing and laughing and laughing and grabbing and–

And I wake up. It’s one of those times you’re glad to be awake but confused and a little shaken up by how vivid and strange the dream was, but at least it was over–

AND. IT. HAPPENS. AGAIN.

Well now I’m FREAKING out, because the dream is over but WHAT THE HELL. And I reach behind me to solve the mystery–

And I grab Eddie’s foot. The little squirt was in bed with us, and sometimes he sticks his feet under us because it’s warm. And his foot. Was. Twitching.

And that’s how my adorable, precious, angelic little son nearly gave me a panic attack while we were both asleep.

Preparing to go back to class

Summer is rapidly approaching, my friends, but as any teacher will tell you, that doesn’t mean the work ends. In fact, I’ve been thinking for a few weeks now about heading back to English Class.

No no. This one.
RevolvingDoor

You see, my friends, although I was certain that the original 180 pages of sheer brilliance was more than enough to encapsulate the totality of literature from the dawn of time right up to modern classics like the Chicken Soup For the Soul books, some people have informed me that some of their favorite works somehow escaped our notice. Some people feel as though it would be in everyone’s best interest if I fired up the ol’ lecture series and prepared future installments. Some people would really like it if there were another English book to sell to the people who tell me they enjoyed the first one.

So although it is not going to materialize very soon, I’ve begun work on Everything Else You Need to Know to Survive English Class. Unlike the first book, which was arranged more or less chronologically, the new book will be divided into sections dedicated to different types of writing that maybe didn’t get a lot of attention first time. I’ve begun sections on children’s literature, drama (that’s plays, not Jerry Springer), poetry, and graphic novels (that’s comic books, not Fifty Shades of Gray), although there will probably be more sections before all is said and done.

But, in the spirit of true educational equality, I would like to hear from you, the knowledge-seekers of the world. What are some authors, stories, great works of art that were not included in the first book that you would like to see included in the next edition? You can drop your suggestions in the comments, or email me at BlakeMPetit@gmail.com.

Not sure what was included in the first book? NO PROBLEM! You can still purchase it for surprisingly few American dollars in either print or ebook format at Amazon.com. And if you stick around my author’s page on Facebook, I may be dropping little bits and pieces from both the original and the sequel as I work on the new volume.

So please, let me know what you want me to cover, sharpen your pencils, and get ready. Class is back in session.

Santa’s Odyssey: New Year’s Eve

On Christmas morning, as Santa Claus and two of his helpers returned to the North Pole, they came under attack by a group of holiday Icons angry that Claus was monopolizing the holiday glory. This year, stranded in the human world with no way home, Santa will be forced to take on the tasks for every other holiday — the Icons are on strike.

Previous Installments:

Epilogue: New Year’s Eve

“Are you certain about this?”

“Yes. It’s not a bad place. I liked a lot of it there. I want to see more.”

“And you’re sure it’s not just about…”

“Would it matter if it was?”

“No. No, I suppose not. Well… we’ll miss you.”

“I’ll miss you too. But it’s not like we’ll never see each other again.”

“It’s not?”

“Say hello when you drop by.”

“When on Earth would I have cause to drop by?”

“Seriously? Once a year. On Christmas Eve.”

December 31st, 1150 p.m.

The party was no different than last year. Back at the same bar, Gary stood in a corner, holding a drink that went down his throat slowly. All around him his friends were dancing, laughing, getting ready for the big kiss at midnight. It was cold outside, but he felt a chill even inside.

He sat down on a bar stool next to a blonde woman with long hair flowing down over her ears. She was short, but he didn’t realize just how short until she turned towards him and he saw her legs dangling in midair. “Everything okay?” she asked him.

“Hmm? Yeah. I’m fine. It’s just…”

“Not much of a party guy?”

“I guess not. It almost feels like an obligation, coming to this thing every year.”

She looked around at the couples canoodling in the corner. “It’s probably better if you’re with somebody. Are you?”

“With anybody?” he shook his head. “No. The only person I’d really want to be with is my son, but he’s with his mom tonight. That’s okay, though, I got him for Christmas. That was the deal.”

“You got the better end of that one.”

“I know.”

“Nobody else?”

“You know, I had a couple of roommates until a month or so ago. Good guys. I…” He trailed off, realizing if he went any further she might start asking for details. The thing that bothered him the most about his roommates being gone was not that he couldn’t remember much about them. It was that when he stopped thinking about the fact that he couldn’t remember them, he didn’t even remember that he couldn’t remember them. It was an absurd thought that struck him two or three times a day, but only for a few minutes before he was distracted and they left his thoughts all over again.

“What about you?” he asked.

“I just left a job I’ve been at for a long time. Good people there, almost family, but I did a little traveling this year and thought I would like to go out and see what else there is in the world.”

“What are you doing now?”

“Nothing at the moment, but I have a few ideas. Next year is going to be big for me.”

“Here’s to that,” he said, lifting his glass. She smiled as she clinked hers to his. It was a lovely smile.

People started to rush around, crowding in front of one TV screen or another. “It’s almost time!” someone shouted. “It’s time for the countdown!”

“Midnight already?” Gary said.

“Oooh, this will be great,” she said, raising her glass. “What do we do at midnight?”

“What, you’ve never been to a New Year’s party before?”

“Oh, sure, but it’s different where I’m from. What do you do?”

“What do I do? I just finish my drink and go home.”

“Well that doesn’t sound like much fun. What does everybody else do?”

Gary didn’t have time to answer her before the countdown started. People cheered and rushed together and clutched each other.

“Ten… nine… eight…”

“Well… they do…”

“Five… four… three…”

“Come on, Gary, what do they do?”

“One… HAPPY NEW YEAR!”

Everyone began to shout and cheer, blowing their noisemakers and drinking champagne. And of course, the kissing. People held onto the ones they loved, or the ones they liked, or the ones they barely knew but they were just drunk enough to share this moment with, and they kissed. Gary didn’t remember the last time he’d had a New Year’s–

The blond woman grabbed his neck and pulled him in, giving him a gentle kiss. It was soft and sweet — strange, that someone with the initiative to kiss him so boldly would do so in a way that felt like she’d never done it before. When it was over, he pulled back and looked at her, She was smiling. So was he.

“That’s what everyone was doing,” she said. “It’s seemed appropriate.”

“I guess it was,” he said. She giggled, he laughed, they drank.

“Hey, did I tell you my name was Gary? I don’t remember that.”

“You must have,” she said. “How else would I have known? I’m Eleanor, by the way.”

“Nice to meet you, Eleanor.”

“Nice to meet you. So, Gary, do you have any plans for 2019?”

He couldn’t help smile. “Not a one,” he said.

The End

Santa’s Odyssey: A Postscript

First of all, let me deeply thank everyone who has stuck around with me for the last year as I took Santa Claus on his little journey through the different holidays. It has long been my tradition to write a new story for every Christmas season, but obviously, this was a little different. Several years ago, I struck upon the idea of telling a Santa Claus story that tripped through all the holidays over a course of a year. (An idea, I don’t mind telling you, directly inspired by the classic Jeph Loeb/Tim Sale graphic novel Batman: The Long Halloween.) I didn’t try it before because, although I liked the idea, I didn’t really have a story to go with it. This is a common problem for writers and, in fact, some of them manage to build an entire career without ever finding a way to solve it.

For me, the tipping point came when I thought about modeling Santa’s story on Homer’s epic. It wouldn’t be a direct, point-for-point correlation, but I liked the idea of Santa being away from home, linking certain of the holiday icons to different points in the journey of Odysseus, and having Mrs. Claus play the Penelope role in my little drama. And although I didn’t originally intend it that way, the trick of writing more or less in “real time” allowed me to have a little fun, throwing in topical references and using rare events like the 2018 Easter/April Fool’s Day match to my advantage. No matter what changes happen in future drafts of this story, I think I’ll have to keep it set in the year 2018.

Oh yes, there will be future drafts. That’s the other thing about writing this story the way I did, guys — there was no opportunity to go back and revise as I went along. Normally, the writer has had a chance to go back and tweak things in chapter one after the final chapter is written, but the conceit of this story did not allow for that. So what you read this year was, in essence, a first draft. It has rough edges, there are characters I want to develop much more, and I’m sure there are continuity errors a-plenty that I need to address. You’ll see this story again someday, after it’s ready.

But you’ll see it again just a little sooner than that too. It’s not over yet, you see. Not quite.

There’s still one holiday left in 2018. And what better time than New Year’s Eve for an epilogue?

Merry Christmas, everybody. See you on the 31st.

Oh — and if somehow you’ve read all this and have no idea what I’m talking about, start at the beginning!

On Christmas morning, as Santa Claus and two of his helpers returned to the North Pole, they came under attack by a group of holiday Icons angry that Claus was monopolizing the holiday glory. This year, stranded in the human world with no way home, Santa will be forced to take on the tasks for every other holiday — the Icons are on strike.

Previous Installments: