I’ve had a hard time reading lately. I haven’t been able to sit down and focus and really dig into anything. There’s always something else going on, something else on my mind, something else I need to do or feel guilty for not having done. The ‘Want To Read’ list on my Goodreads has become what the stacks of books that used to pile up on my desk or coffee table, the stairs or next to my night table used to be.
I’m almost afraid to buy any new books and that’s really no way to live. But I can’t even look at the two piles of books on my desk right now, partially hidden behind the rack of drying laundry I’m not folding in order to write this; one stack is the bunch of books I finished before my son was born, the ones I’ve been meaning to write reviews for so I can feel accomplished for having completed them. The other stack is all the books I’d love to get into, some are the next in the series, most are standalones. A few are even from the used book sale the Ken-Ton Library puts on every year that I was really excited to find last year—that’s the sale that just took place again, a year later, and those books still sitting where I put them.
I could say there isn’t enough time, but that isn’t really true, is it? There’s plenty of time, I just tend to sleep through it if I sit down for too long. Its tough to read a novel, no matter how good it is, if I crash after two pages. Usually one page I spend fighting it, so the next night I have to reread that last page again.
That’s part of the reason I went looking for Loren D. Estleman’s Amos Walker short stories. Maybe as a way to retrain my brain in small doses to sit down and relax, to fall into a story intended to be brief, to do something other then stare at a screen, whether its my phone or the baby monitor. Part of it was to learn something as well, to learn how one writes a compelling mystery story in only a few pages. If there’s one thing I’ve done less of then reading, its writing, and the lack of both is driving me a little crazy.
A good way to take care of both problems was Amos Walker and his short adventures Estleman wrote about to pass the time while the rights to any current and future full length Amos Walker novels were tied up between bickering publishers. Not only have I been catching up with the best private detective in Detroit by digging into Loren Estleman’s massive collection of Amos Walker short stories but I’ve maybe learned a little bit about the art and pacing and basic how-to of the mystery short story.
Not every mystery needs a convoluted plot or a handful of red herrings or tortured villains. Sometimes it’s just an old man who needs an alibi, a woman searching for her dog, a mob hit gone wrong, a couple of mob hits gone right, or a girl in a hotel room who should have known better then to answer the door….
I came across this old advertisement, framed, saved, taken care of, in the basement of a house I was doing some work on, updating it before it would be sold. This basement was definitely a working man’s basement, an organized basement, one well maintained with a workbench and assortment of tools and saved parts and old metal coffee cans full of screws and more tools older then I am that still looked as good as the day they were purchased, collected odds and ends and useful bits that could be put together to tackle any type of household handyman task. This was a good basement.
Seeing this framed ad, this simple small poster, I was intrigued. It wasn’t just the awkward sizing of letters in some places that drew my attention; or the date or ticket price, or even the mention of the Harugari Temple, a “secret” society I’d never heard of before a week prior to finding this sign, when I’d driven past another sign for the Ancient Order of the Harugari, or my interest in local history and what might be at this location now. It was a little bit of each of those things sure, but I wondered if there was something more personal to it.
Here was an old framed advertisement in this meticulous basement. What did this mean to the man who kept an organized workbench and well maintained tools, a space that was functional and purpose driven, not cluttered by the accumulated detritus that seems to swallow up any spare space one in my generation might happen upon. What was significant about this event? I wondered what this event, this night may have meant, that the advertisement was saved, preserved, framed and held onto. Protected just as any work of art or family photograph would have been.
What kind of story does this prompt for you? Was there something historically significant that occurred on that date? Or was it something at that party to be personally commemorated?
Or maybe it was a cool looking old poster
The smoke billowing from the base of the rocket looked normal enough, but the purple flames added an unsettling, unearthly glow. That’s an astronaut joke. Unearthly glow. Get it?
Well, it isn’t my fault you don’t have a sense of humor. If anyone shouldn’t be laughing it’s me. And just for the record, the flames from the rocket’s ignition were purple due the high amounts of chlorrasiride in the atmosphere, which was also the reason for our three hundred pound EMARU Z-Suits. That trademarked string of garbage, by the way, stands for extravehicular mobility and reconnaissance unit, in case you weren’t paying attention during the mission briefing. Although, you got me as to what the hell the Z stands for since I nodded off during that part of the briefing. We just called them zuits anyway, so it couldn’t have been that important.
Those zuits may have allowed us to stretch our legs without our insides instantly liquefying and pouring out of us (I’ve mentioned the chlorrasiride-rich atmosphere, haven’t I?) from our most southern bodily orifice, thank you very much to this planet’s gravity that was nearly double what Earth’s used to be. But these zuits were also the reason Terry and I didn’t even try to make a run for it when we saw that purple smoke start to kick out from the prelaunch.
It had taken us just under an hour to walk to the primary target area. From prelaunch to full ignition and liftoff, we wouldn’t have made it a quarter of the distance between, even back on Earth at a full run without all this shit weighing us down. But in a zuit with a full load of oxygen and all our diagnostic gear? Fuck all, man. We didn’t stand a chance of doing anything but wasting our breath, and that was something we were suddenly very short on.
All we could do was stare off at the horizon, hailing nothing but static on the ship to shore. There we were, the only two people on this planet that I thought knew how to fly the Lamplighter—hell, I thought we were the only two people on this planet, period—watching their ride blast off to who the hell knows where.
Terry reached up to shield his eyes from the nearer of the two suns that AMC-IV circled around. He could have just flipped his visor down, I don’t know why he always had to be so dramatic about these things.
“Steve, isn’t that our ride?” he asked.