While I normally put in a lot of internal links to previous, related posts here, I won’t be doing that for what I hope will be thirty NaNoWriMo posts. If you have jumped into or stumbled onto this story in mid-adventure, there are plenty of other ways to navigate around the site to find previous installments. Actually doing so is left as an exercise to the student.
There’s a meme that shows up a lot around the beginning of NaNoWriMo that describes the writing process as:
- This story is fantastic!
- This story really could be better.
- This story sucks and is worthless!
- I suck and I am worthless!
- Maybe it’s not that bad.
- This story is fantastic!
Somewhere in the middle of last night’s writing session, we entered “Phase Two”. I’m not sure how or why, but things didn’t really “flow” last night. It was more like pulling out your own teeth without benefit of anesthesia. The blue funk finally lifted toward the end, about the time that the idea of the GPS tracking beacons became clear to me. (Good thing that I had included it to begin with back in Chapter Six.)
Those who serve as mentors to those of us who are trying to learn how to do this writing thing warn repeatedly of this sort of thing. (As always, Chuck Wendig says it better than I can even dream of saying it, but he uses “strong language” so you shouldn’t read this in church or at work.) Some days it’s magic — but some days it just sucks and you wonder why you’re doing this to yourself. Most days are somewhere in between. This is exactly how I feel when running a marathon, by the way. Exhilarated at both the start and at the finish line (I can give myself a huge emotional boost at any time just remembering the last do-or-die mile of the 2012 LA Marathon), having fun every now and then, but often (especially in the middle sections) wondering just what in the hell ever possessed me to voluntarily put myself through this.
The key bit of wisdom we get from our writing mentors (and from our running coaches) is to know that these ups and downs exist, and steel ourselves psychologically to just soldier on through the down spots and trust in your training, your craft, and your faith that you will pull through the other side. Above all, give yourself permission to suck and permission to fail. This doesn’t mean that you want to fail or try to suck, but by giving yourself permission to let that be a possible outcome (“Failure is always an option!” say the Mythbusters) you allow yourself to learn from the experience and get better the next time.
So. I plowed through the tough spots yesterday, one verb and noun after another, finally “breaking through” and finishing strong.
And then I spent a huge chunk of today helping The Long Suffering Wife and our local Habitat For Humanity organization with a BBQ For The Troops event. It will be interesting to see (I’m writing this at 19:30 after finally getting home and having dinner) to see how much I can get accomplished before I collapse. The good news is that I started the day significantly ahead of the minimum pace necessary to “win” NaNoWriMo. I’m currently averaging over 3,000 words a day and that projects to crossing the “50,000 word finish line” on about November 17th or so. I’m just a shade under halfway there right now!
Having said that, this might be a tough day to keep to that pace. There may be only a portion of a chapter below. If that’s the case, look for the rest of it tomorrow, hopefully along with all of Chapter Ten. We’ll see. It’s not life and death — NaNoWriMo is much more important than that!
(Oh, no, I’M GETTING SHOUTY!! Note to self — Chapter Nine may require significant re-writing, if you know what I mean.)
Skipping dinner for the moment, Tom went straight back to his room. He quickly had a secure connection and tried to contact Jason. He failed to get an immediate reply, so he left a simple message instructing Jason to immediately start using the first tracking device to follow Ellen’s vehicle 24/7. He also said that he would activate the second device to keep in his pocket.
Tom was famished and almost went out to find dinner without bothering to activate that second device. He caught himself after he had left the room and was waiting by the elevator. It was so tempting to blow it off, but the little details like that were the only ones he could really control right now and he would hate for one moment of neglect to end up being his epitaph. Tom forced himself to go back to the room and activate the device, only then allowing himself to get dinner.
While waiting for his meal to arrive, Tom found himself nervously checking his phone every few minutes to see if Jason had responded. When an email finally did appear on his phone, just as his salad arrived, it was nothing more than a spam message (“Acai Berry Power 500 Oxycontin plus Viagra To Make Her Admire You No Prescription Needed!”) that had somehow slipped through his filters. Annoyed, Tom swiped to delete the message.
“Enter password to delete message,” was the prompt that displayed. That caught Tom by surprise. He simply hit “return”, but the message did not delete. He tried again but received the same prompt. He tried one of his generic, personal passwords. The message did not delete. Again, this time with a different password. The message did not delete. Stumped and starting to get angry, he had the presence of mind to set his phone down calmly and resume eating.
Tom knew that his normal email filtering software should be more than good enough to keep that sort of spam out of his box. He knew that spam like this still existed and plenty of people put up with it. But he wasn’t plenty of people and he didn’t put up with it. He couldn’t remember the last time that a message like that had made it into his system. For many years he had found it worthwhile regardless of the cost to keep upgrading to the best software available to keep his systems safe, secure, and private. That in turn was one of the reasons that he had been so surprised when Jason’s software upgrade had proven to be so much better. Tom thought that he already had the best.
Even given that, there shouldn’t ever be any reason that he couldn’t delete any email or file. The fact that he couldn’t made him wonder if this might be some kind of new super computer virus that was good enough to penetrate even this system. And needing a password to delete? That sounded like some kind of “ransom-ware” attack.
All of those facts should have been true even with his previous top-of-the-line system. This meant that it should be even truer now with Jason’s upgrades installed. In summary, if Jason now had him using some kind of top secret, cutting edge, and military operating system, who knew what other kinds of similar but hostile systems might be hunting such a “benevolent” system? Was he now inadvertently involved in some kind of cyber war on top of everything else?
While Tom was waiting for his main course, he decided to take a chance. He took another look at the spam message, this time reading the entire text.
- “Going bald? Grow new hair!
- “Oxycontin available, no prescriptions!
- “Testosterone replacement available!
- “Incredible results, guaranteed!
- “Testicular cancer won’t kill your love life!
- “Just make the move to satisfy her!
- “Available discreetly!
- “Satisfaction assured!
- “Only available a limited time!
- “Never be impotent again!”
Suddenly it became clear. The message wasn’t spam. It was from Jason. The system allowed it through because of that and then didn’t allow him to delete it because he needed to see it. Yet to anyone other than Tom and Jason, it was just an annoying file that was messing with his operating system and might have loaded some kind of virus or malware.
Satisfied that his message had gotten through, he finished his meal in peace.
Tom had the best of intentions, planning to do more research on the area and figuring out what his next move should be tomorrow. But he got back to his room with his stomach full and the day’s multiple adrenaline crashes taking their toll. When he saw the room’s desk covered with brochures about the area attractions, he decided instead to lie down for just a few minutes before attacking them.
He was sound asleep in seconds.
When he awoke in the morning, he was surprised to find himself sprawled on top of the bedspread, still in his clothes, with the room’s lights all on and the temperature uncomfortably cold. What had happened? It took a few seconds before his brain kicked into gear and brought him back to reality.
Tom’s perceptions were still being heavily clouded by the vivid dreams he had experienced all night. It felt like the entire night had been filled with images of cats and toothy holes filled with ghosts hovering just out of reach over him. Everywhere he went they followed him, the cats yowling as if they were in heat and the disks bobbing and weaving above, popping in and out of existence.
While the dreams had been far more detailed and realistic than any he could remember ever having before in his life, they had not been nightmares. The overall emotional feeling of them all was not fear or terror, but rather comfort or reassurance. In the dreams he was frustrated and confused by his inability to touch the disks or understand what the cats were saying, but those feelings were secondary to the overall feeling of impending acceptance.
Over all of the other events of the dreams was a continually recurring chorus of train whistles. Sometimes the trains could be heard Dopplering up as they approached and then back down as they went by. Sometimes the sounds were the warning blasts they screamed as they approached a grade crossing. But again, the sounds were never indicative of danger. It was much more like the wistful, mournful association of train whistles and sad country songs.
Tom looked at the clock next to the bed. It was just after 9:30. He had slept for over twelve hours, but he didn’t feel particularly rested. Shaking his head, trying to clear it, he downed two aspirin, started the room’s small coffee maker, stripped, and headed into the shower for a long, steamy soak. He ignored the plaque on the bathroom wall asking all guests to conserve water due to the area’s drought conditions.
As he turned off the shower and began to towel dry accompanied by the welcome smell of brewing coffee, Tom again heard a train’s warning blast. Sure that he wasn’t dreaming, he padded over to the window and peeked out through a crack in the drapes. Across the river, beyond the parks, he could see a freight train trundling through town, crossing guards down and holding up traffic as it passed. That would explain where the sounds in his dreams came from.
Once dressed, he first made a secure connection to home and Jason, and then checked for messages. As he had hoped, Jason had checked in.
“Tom, I’m at work, available for emergencies, but I have to keep up appearances. And be able to pay my rent. I got your message and we are tracking Ellen’s car. I can’t wait to hear how you found it. I think our next move will be surveillance once we know where she is. I don’t imagine you happen to have a good camera rig with you, do you? I’ll be in contact after 7:00 your time tonight.”
Tom did not have a good camera with him, just his phone. He had a whole cabinet of really good cameras, lenses, filters, tripods, and other accessories at home, but that didn’t do him any good. But he had to admit that Jason had an excellent point. This adventure was turning into a marathon instead of a sprint so he might be well advised to stock up while he had the chance.
After making sure that the front desk knew that he would be staying for at least a day more with the continuing option to possibly be there several days more, Tom went shopping. He made sure to find a mall out on the eastern part of the town to minimize the chances of running into Ellen. While out and about he tried to keep his head on a swivel as much as he could without drawing attention.
Some warm flannel shirts, a warm stocking cap, more T-shirts and shorts, socks, two more pairs of jeans, ski gloves, and an extra suitcase to carry it all. Then he found a big box electronics store and looked at cameras.
He really wanted a top of the line Canon so that he would be able to use it later with all of the lenses he already had at home, but the only Canon they had was a low-end model. They didn’t have the super high-end Nikon either, but at least they had several of the more advanced bodies. Able to shoot high definition video as well as stills, it came with an 18-135 mm zoom lens. Tom asked about getting additional lenses, particularly a really big telephoto lens, but all that they had in stock was a 70-300 mm lens. Anything bigger would have to be ordered and would take a couple of days to get. Tom took the one in stock, plus a good tripod.
Heading toward the checkout counter, Tom spotted a miniscule section of telescopes hidden next to the refrigerators and kitchen appliances. He went over and found a “cheap” Celestron four-inch Schmidt-Cassigrain which would make only a so-so instrument for a serious amateur astronomer, but would make an excellent 1500mm telephoto lens for a Nikon DSLR if he was lucky enough for them to have an adapter for the Nikon mount.
Tom’s luck was holding. They did.
Even better, with the local tourist trade so dependent on outdoor activities, the sporting goods stores were well stocked. Tom picked up a nice pair of 15×70 binoculars along with a down sleeping bag. It occurred to him that it was going to be a real pain getting all of this stuff home if he eventually found himself flying back.
Loading up his rental car, Tom pulled up some maps of the area and looked for a spot to test his new gear and put it all together. He suspected that Ellen and her supposed companion (or companions?) were somewhere to the west, so he wanted to go east. The fewer observers he had around, the happier he would be. Soon he was on the highway heading out toward Durango.
The highway followed the Animas River as it wound gradually back up into higher ground in southern Colorado. The river’s flood plain was broad, indicating a history of occasional massive floods. The river twisted and twirled along the valley as the highway repeatedly crossed it from one side to the other. On both sides, mountains climbed higher and higher.
The map seemed to indicate that he would again be on tribal lands once he got to Colorado, which was something he would prefer to avoid, although he couldn’t quite put his finger on why. Listening to his gut, he pulled off onto a side road about six miles before the border. The road started to climb with some urgency and narrowed. It was paved at first, but after about three miles it turned to dirt and gravel.
Tom wasn’t too confident of the subcompact rental car’s ability to get out of a tight spot if he got bogged down in mud or slid off into a snow-filled ditch. He tried to drive on the gravel portion of the road, but without four-wheel drive he started to have serious problems making any kind of progress after only two hundred yards. With no room to turn around, he very carefully let the little car half slide and half back down the road until he reached the paved surface again. He was forced to drive down in reverse another quarter mile before he found a spot where he could pull off onto a firm, gravel shoulder and turn around.
The spot was as good as any for what he had in mind. There was few signs of civilization in sight anywhere. The map said that he was on the southwestern slopes of Lone Tree Mountain. There were a few trees, but at this elevation they were small and scraggly. Some outbuildings were scattered across the slope without obvious purpose. Pulling out the binoculars, Tom saw that many of them were storage tanks of some sort with sheds near flat, dirt areas. Some of them had concrete pads. He suddenly realized that they might be campsites. Scanning across the mountainside he found all of them unoccupied.
Pulling out the tripod, he mounted the binoculars on it and played for a while with the combination to get used to how the tripod head panned and moved. The tripod gave him a solid platform for the binoculars. The tripod used a mounting shoe to quickly attach and detach the binoculars. Tom suddenly wished that he had thought to buy a spare shoe to mount on the camera. Maybe he could do that later.
(At 23:42, Chapter Nine to be continued…)