Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wednesday Writings # 24 - Testing the Boxes

My "Wednesday Writing" posts were initially created as a writing exercise for me to try and keep myself motivated and on track by making sure that I spend at least 30-60 minutes each week (with the follow-up goal to turn it into a daily writing practice).

Over the past few weeks, I've been continuing the same story with a single post each week. To help you catch up with this serialized story, you can use the following table of contents:
  1. Morning Machinations
  2. Communication Between Friends
  3. Daydreaming Decisions
  4. Off to the Park
  5. Driven
  6. Coming Home
  7. Revealing Photographs
  8. Just a Dream?
  9. At the Tower
  10. Caught
  11. Revelations
  12. Lunchtime
  13. The Watch
  14. Visions
  15. Escape
  16. Evan (part 1)
  17. Evan (part 2)
  18. Evan (part 3)
  19. Formulating a Plan

A brief aside

A few paragraphs of ramblings before the story starts...if you want to jump right to it, click here. For those interested in my writing whims, continue to read the next few paragraphs and find the story after the ramblings.


On a whim (and to make it easier to edit this entire work), I went through and copied all of the previous posts from this story into a word document. As I did so, I saw a large number of disconnects between some of the earlier "chapters" and the current arc of the story. Granted, some of these disconnects provide areas where I can flesh out later chapters...and there are other places where I'd need to replace some earlier elements with ideas that need to be better established based on where the story has gone recently.

One of the other interesting elements that came out of this copy/paste job was the discovery that this story has reached ~220 double spaced pages with a word count of ~43,000. Since I definitely have a few more "chapters" to go before reaching a conclusion (and each segment has averaged ~2,000 words), this should end up in at least the 50-60,000 range when finished and before editing.

I've just sort of gone with this week after week and had fun developing the characters in the story...but it took actually compiling it all in a single location to realize that I've actually put as much investment in it as I have.

As an interesting comparison (more for myself than for you readers), the novella that I wrote ~3 years ago (once again, started it here on my blog) only ended up being ~40k words (so about where this one is now). That particular story is one I keep needing to get back to in order to do some major editing (one of the main problems with that story is that it ended up having two competing end goal is to turn this one story into two stories...but I'd like them each to end with the same or greater approximate length, which is part of the reason for my hesitation).

Anyway, what does all of this mean? It's further proof to me that I much prefer to "create" than to "edit" and "revise." I have once again created a large work when part of my motivation in doing these "Wednesday Writings" was to just write quick short works to keep the creative juices flowing while I dove into editing my previous work.

Oh well, I'm invested now. I need to "finish" this story out...and then take the "Wednesday Writings" back to smaller pieces...and focus on editing my larger work.

*sigh...stepping down from soap box*

On to the story...

And now, without further ado, here's this week's episode

Critiques, suggestions, comments, etc. always welcome.


Testing the Boxes

Trickles of moisture and the sensation of added warmth pulled Gabby from her crying. Looking around, she found herself in a light fog. Steam filled the small bathroom as the shower poured on, mimicking her tears. Choking back one more sob and wiping her cheeks, Gabby made her way into the shower. The hot water refreshed her and snapped her mind back into a sense of clarity.

By the time she stepped out and dried herself off, she was once again resolved to save her mom and Julie in whatever way she decided was best. Part of her nearly trusted Evan, but another part of her thought he was just as crazy as Dalton and motivated by his own plans. She didn't want to put back on her rumpled clothes, but she didn't have much choice and they really weren't that dirty anyway except for a small stain of food on her pants from the struggle in Dalton's dining room.

She opened the bathroom door and a cloud of steam accompanied her into the main room. Evan still sat on the couch with tools and scraps of metal and wires strewn out before him on the coffee table. She stared for a moment and when he didn't look up, she walked towards him and cleared her throat.

"Any luck with those?" He looked up, notably started by her presence, then turned back to the table and picked up one of the boxes, rotating it in his hand.

"Yeah. A lot of progress. I'm almost there actually. I have this one nearly 100% and as soon as I get it up and running, the second one will be a snap." He looked back at Gabby and his eyes flushed with compassion and sensitivity for just a moment before returning to their look of serene dedication.

"How was your shower?"

"Good. It was good."

Gabby shifted her wait from one leg to the other as the silence slowly drifted over them like the steam in the bathroom, lightly tickling her skin and making her slightly uncomfortable. Clearing her throat as if to speak, but not knowing what to say, she made her way to the bed and sat at the top, propping pillows up behind her. As if relieved to see her move away, Evan returned his focus to the boxes and tools on the table.

Gabby milled around, thumbing through the complimentary hotel magazine, skimming newspaper pages from the past few days, even pulling the Bible out of the bedside drawer and reading a few verses. Finally, she stood and walked back over to where Evan was working. She didn't want to bother him, but she was antsy.

"Can I help you at all?"

"What? Um, oh, no. Not with this part anyway. Sorry." He did seem sincerely sorry. Gabby hovered by him for another moment and started to walk away.

"Gabby." She twirled quickly around, which put him in a momentary stutter. "Um, if you'd like to watch. I can show you what I'm doing. That is, if you want to. I know you don't really like this sort of thing."

"Who said I don't like this?" She came back to him in a single step and plopped down beside him on the couch.

"Well. You did, actually." He chuckled and she gave an embarrassed smile.

"Oh. That was different I guess. Then. I mean, in the future. Ugh, that seems so weird. Anyway, when I said that, I'm sure it was different. That time you were working on it as an experiment. This time, I have a huge investment in seeing this through. In understanding it. Right now, this all seems very interesting."

She tried to sound convincing but as she stared at the wires, tools and small bits of circuitry, she wasn't so sure just how interested she really was. Evan smiled, nodded and returned to work. For the next five minutes, Evan narrated each step he took. She quickly realized she was in over her head. She heard familiar terms like circuits, resistance and current. She tried to understand the difference between capacitors, transistors, diodes, inductors and a dozen other terms but instead, she began to feel a little dizzy. When Evan started rambling about something called Moore's law as helping explain why he could build a machine like this on a coffee table, Gabby decided she'd had enough and leaned back into the couch and closed her eyes.

She heard Evan chuckle softly and she opened her eyes.

"I told you. You don't really get into my work." He smiled kindly and gave a wink. She grabbed the throw pillow at her side and threw it at his head. With a quick pat on her knee, he returned to his work and she closed her eyes again. What felt like an instant later, Evan shook her awake. The room felt a bit darker. Glancing at the windows, Gabby noticed that it was dark outside. She'd fallen asleep. How long had she been out?

"We're in business." The enthusiasm in his voice was electric. Gabby looked at the coffee table, empty except for two metallic boxes sitting side by side, a soft glow coming from each one.

"I ran a basic self test on each of them, but I wanted to wake you up for the official test."

Gabby leaned forward and stared inside the box nearest her. A light mist flittered around the inner walls of the box. The ends of the wires in the center glowed alternately blue and then pink. The LED display on the front said READY in glowing green letters.

"Let me show you how this works. Normally, we could connect from a laptop. Carlisle actually built some cool software to interface the machine. But, the program won't launch on my laptop, presumably because, in this time, Carlisle hasn't written the program yet. So, we're going to have to do this the way we did it originally."

Gabby looked at Evan's face with a feeling of wonder. She'd seen the box work when she was in Dalton's house. It had shown her images of Julie's funeral and then an image at Gabby's apartment where her mother was alive. She had no doubt that the box could show her visions. Whether the images were real or some elaborate trick, she didn't know. What she didn't quite believe yet was that the boxes could somehow transport her through time. And yet, the sincerity and excitement on Evan's face almost convinced her. He motioned at the box.

"OK. So, the first thing to note is the lever on the side. With the lever in the UP position, the machine is set for OBSERVATION mode. This means the box will pull back the curtain and let you look through time but as a passive participant. You will be a wraith, allowed only to look, but not to act. With the lever in the DOWN position, the machine is set for INTERACTION mode which means your entire being will be taken through the box to the destination moment and placed into your body at that new location in time. Naturally, it's important to note how the lever is set.

"The dials are used to specify the moment in time you wish to scrutinize or interact with. Each dial, as you can see, has two gauges. By pressing or pulling the dial, you can adjust the value of either the inner or the outer gauge for each dial. The right hand dial controls minutes and hours. The left hand dial controls days and weeks. Not that you need to know this right now, but the small smudge to the left of the left hand dial is actually a counter to indicate year and can be adjusted by pressing on it. Anyway, just as with a watch, as you turn the dials counter clockwise, you are specifying a moment in the past and by turning the dials clockwise, you are specifying a moment in the future. As you adjust the dials, the LED readout will update to indicate the change."

Evan looked over to see how much of this Gabby had grasped. She looked a little dazed, but she was also gently fingering the machine, obviously eager to either prove or disprove the truth of all she'd been told.

"Before undertaking our plan, we first need to be sure these are working properly. Would you like to help me test them out?"

Gabby didn't say a word, but Evan could tell by her glance that she was ready to try.

"OK. So, let's move the lever UP first for Observation mode. And then turn the right hand dial to set us for 2 minutes. Good. Easy enough, right? OK. Now, you'll see there are three buttons. The RED button is an emergency shutoff. Press that button and all power is drained and you'll be returned to wherever you were. The BLACK button is sort of the return home button after standard interaction. Pressing this will return you to wherever you were before initiating the action. And, of course, pressing the GREEN button will start the specified action."

Evan stopped and stared at Gabby. He remembered the excitement of his first time going into the box. Of pulling back the curtain of time and looking at a moment in his past. And then of going back as an active participant. He could see the anticipation in her eyes. She hovered her finger over the green button and looked at him. He smiled and nodded.

"Alright. Let's do it."

Each of them pressed the green button. Gabby felt herself whirling through mist, light and darkness and then found herself sitting on the couch. Evan sat beside her smiling. Then he started explaining how the box worked. He told her about the lever and the dials. She looked at the box in front of her. It looked different. Instead of the almost still mist it had before, it was now filled with a swirling greenish mist. As Evan continued explaining about how the dials worked, she tried to interrupt him. To tell him she understood, but he didn't seem to hear her. She reached out and touched him. He felt solid, but also cold. She pushed against him, but he wouldn't move. Looking back in the box, she stared intently at the swirling green mist. In the center, sometimes hidden by the strange green clouds, she saw an image of herself, sitting alone on the couch, holding the box and staring intently into it. Next to her sat Evan, staring into his own box.

She pressed the black button on her box and the green mist swirled around her. Almost instantly, she was back on the couch. Evan continued to look into his box, but after just a brief moment and a flash of dull green, he looked up at her and smiled.

"Well? How was that? Now should we try Interaction mode?"

Gabby, still slightly in shock, just nodded. She watched as Evan adjusted the dials again, this time moving backwards ten minutes. When he paused and looked at her, she quickly turned her dials to match his.

"Now. This time, you may feel even more disoriented. The passage through time will be slightly longer. And it will likely move you to a new location in the room. If my estimate is correct, you will probably end up over on the bed fidgeting with the magazines. Also, because we don't want to get ourselves out of sync or risk causing a ripple in time, we don't want to actually stay in the past. Granted, for as short a trip as this is, we could easily just wait the ten minutes and catch back up. However, we may as well be conservative, especially considering we'll be making bigger changes in the near future as we confront Dalton."

Gabby noticed Evan's face grow tense as he mentioned Dalton. She felt her own mind grow anxious at the thought of him. Evan began to speak again but apparently thought differently and instead he just looked to the boxes and nodded. They each hovered their fingers over the green buttons and pressed them down.

After another few moments of swirling, Gabby found herself on the bed. The box sat on her lap and she held the hotel magazine in her hand. She looked over at Evan. He beamed a broad smile at her and stood up to greet her. She started to move but felt more dizzy than she had in ages. She closed her eyes against the movement. Evan's hands were suddenly on her shoulders to steady her.

"Easy there. The first time through is usually the worst. It gets better the more you do it." She opened her eyes and Evan's face was right there in front of her.

"You're a natural." He smiled and then cupped her cheek in his hand and kissed her softly on the lips. Pulling back, he hovered in front of her face, his brown eyes looking intently into hers. She felt herself being drawn into the eyes again, wanting to fall into them. And then she looked down and broke the connection. He moved back to the coffee table and cleared his throat.

"Alright. Well, let's go back. Black button. You ready?"

She couldn't bring her face up to meet his. She just nodded slowly then pushed the black button. With another dizzying trip through light and mist, she was back on the couch beside him. She looked up at him. He met her gaze then turned away and stood up.

"Good. We know they work. If you give me a few minutes to get cleaned up, we can use these to plan our move against Dalton. We don't know exactly where he is, but we can look ahead a little bit as observers and figure out a way to catch him unawares."

Evan was pointed in his avoidance of Gabby's eyes. Had she offended him somehow? By breaking away from the kiss? She tried to understand his sudden coldness.

"Give me 10 minutes to take a shower. Then we'll go look in on Dalton."

Without another word, Evan disappeared into the bathroom. A moment later, Gabby heard the water. Her emotions poured through her like water, spewing in every direction. She wanted to trust him. She actually wanted to love him and to believe that all of this was true. But she kept coming back to Julie and her mom. She stood and put her ear against the bathroom door but couldn't make out anything other than the sounds of the shower.

Returning to the couch, she looked at the boxes. If this whole time travel thing was true, then it didn't matter much what she thought or didn't think about Evan. If he and she were to be married, it would happen, right? Which meant, if it was all a lie, then it wouldn't happen.

She felt like there might be a flaw in her logic somewhere, but she didn't want to pursue it any further. What she wanted to do was to take action. She pulled Dalton's cell phone from her pocket and stared at it as if willing it to make the decision for her. She pressed a button on the phone and called up the address list. A single entry stared back at her. WALTER Impulsively she made her plans. She made a quick change to the phone number entry and then picked up a pad of paper and wrote a brief note.

I'm feeling really antsy so I'm going to take a walk. When you're done with your shower and ready to go after Dalton, give me a call and I'll be right back. I really hope we can find a way to save Julie and make everything all right. Thank you for everything.

She tried to make the note as friendly as possible. She almost signed it "Love Gabby" but her apprehension wouldn't allow her to do it, especially considering the plan she was setting in motion.

She set the note and the phone in the center of the coffee table where they couldn't be missed. Then she picked up Evan's backpack, shoved one of the boxes inside along with the schematics notebook and her dream journal and walked out the door.


Hannah said...

I'm like you. I much much prefer creating over revision. I'm just not very good at it. I wrote what I intended to write. The end. No, I don't want to look at it again.

Brian Miller said...

editing does suck...its like a necessary evil...intriguing installment. i feel like we are about to crest the hill of the rollercoaster to go rushing headlong down the other side...

quick edit note...did she really throw the pillow at her own head?

Phoenix said...

I definitely prefer the creative part of writing over the grunt work of editing and re-editing. I just want to write something the first time and have it be brilliant. I can do that, right? ;)

Another great chapter, although I was confused by the same thing Brian was - I don't know how someone throws a pillow at their own head. I assumed either a) she threw a pillow at Evan's head, or b) she threw a pillow OVER her own head.

Okie said...

ah yes, the joys of editing...and yet, as was pointed out in the comments, it's definitely worthwhile.

Thanks for the comments on 'she threw the pillow at her head'...was 'obviously' supposed to be 'his' head...fixed now.