Sunday, March 10, 2013

Thursday's Children: A Stranger in a Strange World — Part II

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Inspired by strangers. Who muck things up.


So you've got a stranger in your world, interacting with your main character. Do they influence that world just by being there? Do they change things? Like really muck stuff up?

In Part I of our favourite inter-dimensional reporter's visit to Ilium, things seem to be going okay. With Vergil's help, she seems to have brought Neas out of his shell — even coaxed a few actual answers out of him for her interview. Smooth, yeah? In and out, right?

Not so fast.

When a stranger visits your world, it's a two way street. Their guide influences them, but they influence their guide too. They plant ideas, stir up memories, and maybe even impact where the story goes from there.

They are mucking with the laws of space, time, and fiction, after all.

Rule number one: tread carefully!


“Goose-it! Get behind that column, pronto!”

I jump! I just catch the buzz—like bees, wind, and my computer fan mixed together—before lights with riders roar by my hiding spot. Neas has disappeared in the fog.

He’s back before I can see where he hid. “Yikes,” he says. “You still itchin’? Perfect. See those two bogeys? The ones whizzin’ down the road? Those markin’s mean they work for that gooser I was tellin’ you ‘bout earlier. Gore. Yeah. And you hear that whizzin’ when they flew by? Soundin’ kinda like Vergil?”

“Like me, Sir?”

“Yeah… that’s my favorite sound. The whizzin’ a hoverboard makes when it boosts across the road. Always wanted to try ridin’ one… yet another thing Mentor won’t let me try. But they’re hard as heck to find, you know? And bikes ain’t the same, no matter what Acamas says. I can see it now… wind blowin’ through my hair, boosters flyin’ me higher and higher, then… BAM! All of Ilium right in front of me. The stars and the spires and everythin’ in-between. Yeah…”

“That sounds pretty cool,” I smile. I can see it—shoot, I have seen it. But I won’t spoil the surprise for him. Aeneas, Ilium's future unwilling savior, doesn’t need pro-tips from a—uh—‘porter’ like me. “Yeah, that sounds really cool. Kind of brings me to my next question—what's your dream?”

“Hmm… my… my dream?”

“Like, what do you want most from your life?”

“Oh! Okay, okay. Sorry, pal. Thought you were gettin’ all personal again, dang it.”

I mean, I was, but he has a different idea of personal, I guess. He goes on.

“Don’t tell Mentor this, but I’ve always dreamed of… of seein’ the world. The world outside the Wall, you get me? The mountains… the forests… the deserts… even the, um… the coats!”

“I believe you mean ‘coasts’, Sir.”

“Goose-it, Vergil! But, um, yeah. The coasts. The water, you know? Always wanted to try swimmin’. Feelin’ the cool water on my skin. With the sun all beamin’ down, kinda like Vergil’s spotlight… but… but bigger… and brighter! Yeah. Goin’ swimmin’… very pigeon.”

I love it—his beaming face, the power behind his voice—that’s what I do intergalactic interviews for. It’s totally ‘pigeon.’ But the poor robot looks like it’s getting nervous with all this travel-talk. “We have water too, Sir,” it says. “Right by our home.”

Vergil… that’s not the same, buddy. Vergil’s talkin’ ‘bout the sewers… that’s where we live, you know. And yeah, sure… we got tons of water. But it ain’t exactly the swimmin’ type. Hey… hey porter… you want me to level with ya?”

Level with me—tell me something, true, right? “Yeah. I'm listening.”

“I kinda. You know. Envy you or somethin’. Bein’ able to travel all over the world. Visitin’ people. Truth is… I’m tired of hidin’ down here. Tired of livin’ in the dark. My dream—you gettin’ this or what?—is to get my own ship… a pirate ship’d be perfect… and get outta this place. Get outta this place for good. And see the world…”

“Sir… you would leave us? Leave our home?”

Vergil… c’mon!”

Vergil’s spotlight dims. It swivels away from Neas and looks off in the distance. I want to hug it.

“I would miss you, Sir. My circuits are not meant for processing such…”

“Stop itchin’ buddy! You’d be comin’ too of course! We’d all go. Me and you and the boys. We’d get outta this place and travel the world in our own pirate ship. Yeah. That’s my dream.”

“That's an awesome dream,” I grin. “Hey, last question.” I pause this one to watch his face straight-on. “What's your biggest fear?”

Neas bites his lip.

It’s not a fair question to ask a stranger. It’s a worse question to ask a stranger when you’ve read his life story before he’s lived it. I open my mouth—

“Hey, no one’s gonna know—and—” But you can’t talk that kind of thing out of a person. I stop walking for a second, lean against a nearby column, and just wait with a soft smile. Next move’s his.

Neas swallows hard.

“Well, porter. With all those goosers I was goin’ on ‘bout before… Gore, the spooks, jukes, and even those bogeys in the towers… might think I got a lot to be afraid of. But… truth is… I really just don’t wanna be alone, you get me? Mentor, Acamas, Byron and the others… I may make fun of’em and everythin’, but…those guys’re like my brothers, you know? Like family. Only family I’ve ever had. Don’t know what I’d do without’em.”

“…you do have me, Sir. I will never leave you.”

“I know, buddy. I know.”

I glance away at my feet. It’s strange, bringing fears and dreams to the light, and then standing over them as they hit you, full-blast, with all their scents and graspings and feelings. It’s worse that I already know his fears will come true. I croak: “Hey, thanks for sharing. You’re a good interviewee.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

He’s shrugged and sealed it all off again—he doesn’t ‘give a goose.’ But I’m feeling queasy—and it’s not because of the scent, a bit like blood and old burger, that’s rising from the narrow alleyway we’re squeezing into. I’m hearing screams, laughs, the clinking of glasses and raucous music from the gaudy building on the right.

“Well. There it is.”

We’re in the back alley behind Gore’s pub, about two yards away from the dumpster—

From the dumpster where Neas gets caught. And beaten. And today is his—


I know this scene. My eyes widen—I’m trying to open my mouth to warn him. We’re literally minutes away from the beginning of his story—

Dangit! His family!

“Go home, right now!” I cry. “Go home, save your family!”

But the words I hear, in my voice, are, “Oh, shoot, I gotta get home. I’ve got a family interview in ten minutes.” No I don’t!

Sure you don’t wanna stay for dinner?" Neas asks. "Heard that melonhead’s plannin’ a big performance tonight… gonna be tons of food left for us to…”

“No, you need to get out of here right now!” becomes “No, I gotta jet right now.” Jet? Whodahell says that?

“Oh. Um… yeah, okay. Stay, don’t stay… don’t really give a goose. Just more for me anyways.”

I’m stomping, cursing. I’m trying to make signs or something to warn him. But I see my reflection in a murky puddle of I-don’t-wanna-know besides us, and in that reflection I’ve got a reassuring, apologetic smile, and I’m waving as I step away. It’s a rule about interdimensional interviews: I can’t change the story. It’s a rule I’ve never tried to break before, but this poor kid, on his birthday—! My gut’s twisting; I’d have clenched teeth and hot, frustrated tears if the forces of this reality would let me.

I’m almost out of the alleyway—I stop, shoulders sagging, when he calls to me.

“Hey porter? You, um… you won’t forget ‘bout me or anythin’, will ya? You know… when you’re out there, portin’ in some other gooser’s city?”

“No. You’re a pretty unforgettable character,” I sigh. He can’t see the sad smile. “Hey, Neas?”


“Happy—happy birthday.”

He grins that smirky, friendly grin. The last I’m going to see of him as the rules take me around the corner and leave him to his fate.

“Well, c’mon buddy! Let’s goose-it while we still can. I’m hungry!”

His voice fades, and I’m gone as his story begins.


Lastly, an inter-dimensional message from your favourite inter-dimensional reporter, Petre Pan:

I'd love to help your book get more 'chatter' around the internet by interviewing one of your characters. E-mail me - petrepan(at)gmail(dot)com - with the "place" your character wants to meet me, and I'll send you a few questions to answer in your character's voice. This fun collaboration gives you writing practice, and hopefully generates you a little extra readership. For unpublished authors, this is also a great way to deepen your character!

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