We were dressed in high durable boots, battered pants, crusty work gloves, helmets with visors, and earmuffs which blocked out the killing buzz of our saws. Surrounded by our greasy smoke all day we’d return home smeared with the green genocide we’d just committed, hot, tired, a salad of chopped grass. Imagine how tenaciously a piece of lettuce gets stuck in your teeth for hours after eating, then imagine that lettuce is a hectare wide and fired at your teeth at a hundred miles an hour.
The company I brushed with had a small but loyal work force consisting of myself, my buddy Chris, the owner Alan, who was also a good friend, and one cramped truck. The truck didn’t have a name. We weren’t the sort of guys to name a truck, even if the truck was a friend too.
Looking up I peered through the blue haze of my exhaust. A white vision was cresting the hill, a girl dressed in white slacks and a frilly white top and a pair of sneakers. I glanced around for a white horse.
The white vision was the Mill’s summer intern. I’ll capitalize the M in Mill there. Capital M like Mother, and Matriarch. What the Mill said, we did. We depended on the Mill, the Mill Made us Money. We were nice to the Mill. However, seeing the Mill intern floating up the hill dressed like a tennis-pro seemed incredibly incongruous at the time, akin to miners finding a nice set of bone china sitting on a shelf of rock deep underground.
I yelled at Alan and knocked a branch off his helmet to get his attention. I made sure to stand clear of him in case he turned suddenly and sawed my feet off at the ankles. The girl floated over and gave us the news. Dry lightning had sparked a fire in a swamp the evening before. The company’s heavy machinery had been put the fire out before it could spread, but they needed us to come help mop up the operation. It was far cheaper to get us to do it than real men who mattered.
It was our first morning on the job. It had felt good to strap on our saws and survey the uncut block. We’d worked so hard to iron out the wrinkles in the operation the summer before, making little money, and were finally ready to buckle down and get rich like rock stars.
Alan smiled and kowtowed before the intern, then we watched her drift away like a cloud through the tall grass. When she drove away, Alan threw his helmet and mask to the ground and swore. The Mill paid a set wage of thirteen dollars an hour for the sort of unskilled labour we were being asked to do. He’d calculated the bank of the block we were currently working already, and we were about to carve a few big holes in our wallets. Plus, there was always the weather to contend with, and the will of the Mill’s budgeters. The weather or the secret confederacy which handed out the contracts, we weren’t sure which was more fickle. Our contract might get cut off at any time.
Chris and I, on the other hand, had never fought a fire before. It would be a new experience. We packed our gear with slow fingers and returned to the logging camp before we went to fight the fire. We were already on the clock. Road minutes mattered.
A Taste of My Own Medicine
I edit books for other authors, and often I feel bad about how much blood I draw from their beloved masterworks. Truly the death of a thousand cuts. It can be hard taking the role of the professional honest person at the end of the line: "The Honester" (Yeah, I am absolutely calling myself that in the future). So, mostly out of curiosity, when editing my own science fiction piece, THIS LAND, I turned the Track Changes around on myself, and set to work.
After the first pass through the book, I knew I had already surpassed any bloodletting I'd ever done to a client. This was more than surgery. This was a slaughter. If it were a physical book, it would have closed with a squish.
I got a kick out of looking back after an editing session to see exactly how much I had colored. As an exercise in motivation, I recommend it, as you can visually track your progress.
Below is the version that went out to beta readers. It has 12,160 revisions (5972 insertions, 5633 deletions, 68 moves, and 487 changes to formatting). Though it's not reflected here, after I got it back from beta readers, I cut 7000 words, added 3000, then I sent it off to a proofreader and went over it two more times, implementing recommendations, before publishing it.
It feels great to have the completed book in my hands (so to speak), but also sorta satisfying to be able to crack it open and see how it all happened as well.
EDIT: The last screen capture is from an e-reader app which didn't fill me with confidence.
Months I've spent toiling away in my own personal word mine ... or should I say chipping away at my construction of written life-likeness like a sculptor, removing a few syllables here, an extra word there -- oh, there's a whole huge rumpus of a prologue I don't need up here at the front. Well, that has to go.
I work on my books too much, but I'm proud of them when I let them go. So without further ado, I shove it out front and send it off to kindergarten.
What if your planet were being terraformed by an outside entity and there was nothing you could do?
Days after a new star appears in the sky, the simple folk of the sleepy fishing community of Bay Banyon are attacked by creatures unlike any they’ve seen before.
Those who survive the morning hole up in the ancient monastery that overlooks the town, only to have their safe-haven become their place of siege.
Cut off from the outside world, they can hope only for rescue, but there might not be anybody left out there to help them.
And their safe-haven may not be as safe as they thought.
Now Available at Amazon.
Of course, now that it is, I can't think of a durn word to say, except, well, I hope it's read, and I hope it's well received.
A fitting memorial commemorating the burning of books that happened under Nazi rule in Bebelplatz, Germany.
I don't even remember how I got to be trolling through WWI propaganda posters, but these two tickled me immensely, the Knowledge is Power poster especially. It's nice to see that notion represented with such a strong symbol for a change, rather than a cartoon or a cliche.
More information about the one on the left may be found here: http://docsouth.unc.edu/wwi/41922/100.htmlParenthetically, there's also a series by Brian Moore 'updating' these sorts of propaganda posters for the modern world, which may be found and purchased on Flickr:
For the gaps in my knowledge.
It was only recently that I learned that, in 1984, the then Soviet Union landed a probe on VENUS and took pictures. Until now I've never seen these pictures of another planet which have been around for nearly thirty years. In the event that you as well have been somehow deprived of this information solely on the basis that it was mostly ignored as a fact their competitors didn't want to acknowledge, here's a shot of our next door neighbor closer to the sun:
The Venera (Cyrillic: Венера) series probes were developed by the Soviet Union between 1961 and 1984 to gather data from Venus, Venera being the Russian name for Venus. As with some of the Soviet Union's other planetary probes, the later versions were launched in pairs with a second vehicle being launched soon after the first of the pair.
Ten probes from the Venera series successfully landed on Venus and transmitted data from the surface, including the two Vega program and Venera-Halley probes. In addition, thirteen Venera probes successfully transmitted data from the atmosphere of Venus.
Among the other results, probes of the series became the first man-made devices to enter the atmosphere of another planet (Venera 4 on October 18, 1967), to make a soft landing on another planet (Venera 7 on December 15, 1970), to return images from the planetary surface (Venera 9 on June 8, 1975), and to perform high-resolution radar mapping studies of Venus (Venera 15 on June 2, 1983). So, the entire series could be considered highly successful. Unfortunately the surface conditions on Venus are extreme, which meant that the probes only survived on the surface for a duration of 23 minutes (initial probes) up to about two hours (final probes).
Mind you, much of this happened before the moon landing.The link to the Wiki article is HERE.
In the end I chose not to use the prologue for the first book, but I'm confident it'll make an appearance in the second.
That Ribbon of Highway
The slow fires of eternity burned within them, these three grandfathers of stars, these eggs of civilizations, as through the ageless black they lumbered, ever faithful to the instructions of their masters, given so many eons ago: Proliferate. Prepare. Make way for us.
Now these dark leviathans were awakening, beginning to feel the tickle of the nearby yellow sun, growing as a distant hole in the black tapestry of the universe. As they drew nearer, they tasted the flavor of its solar breath over their bodies and found it a refined meal; the star had aged well, to a warm and gentle vintage, since their last visit, and they noted the change with mechanical pleasure: the conditions aligned, their calculations were in agreement; between them they shared a pleasing congruity.
Yet something was not as it should be.
Though the yellow sun had become the fertile garden they’d expected, the seed of the second planet was not as they’d left it. From afar they detected a surfeit of oxygen and nitrogen; the planet was awash with hydrogen, carbon.
Incongruity. Misalignment. The conditions were not in agreement.
They awakened more completely, expanding the wings of their consciousnesses wider to swish about these blues and greens and browns they were tasting from the planet in the light of this refined sun.
Only, as the cells within them awakened from the cold hibernation of eons, one of the travelers awakened in error. With its kin, it tasted the blues and browns and greens and, like them, came to the pleasure of alignment between their conclusions.
However, during their long sleep since the last star, many thousands of years before, portions of its instructions from their creators had been forgotten. In those places where it reached deep inside itself for guidance, it felt only dim memory, half-remembered creeds.
With this new congruence of unconformity, its two kin shouldered the wings of their consciousnesses once more, and powered down despite this strange taint to their meal. Misalignment, yes, but, as per their instructions, they were not to create life through extinction, as, above all, their masters had feared making entreaties to the void only to hear the echoes of themselves coming back to them out of the darkness, pips of insignificance in a long, lonely universe.
They peered far ahead through the swells and tides of gravity around the outer gas planets, and the clockwork disturbances of comets and unclaimed tumbling stones, and with the most imperceptible adjustment, angled toward the yellow sun, ever to move through the universe, ever to sleep between the cradles of the stars, fulfilling the instructions of their masters, wherever they might be.
To aid their exit out of the system, they would bask in the yellow star’s generous feast briefly, and use its gravity to boost them out into the silence of cold oblivion once more, where they would again shutter their minds and wait until they were next needed.
Except … in their adjustments they suffered in surprise. Their kin had not turned with them. It was spreading the wings of its consciousness further and had begun to slow.
Assessments indicated it was manoeuvring to fulfill their primary initiatives. It would proliferate, it would prepare, it would make way for their masters, and it would protect what it had wrought.
If the burst of signals the two ancient leviathans sent to the breakaway traveler could be translated as words, they would be read as: Come with us. Come with us. Come with us. Come with us. Come with us…. And if machines could be said to contain sadness, as the signals gained longer intervals due to the burgeoning distance between them, it could also be said that they understood the futility of their cry across the darkness, because their signals weakened in strength as the distance compounded but they continued to plead with their kin nonetheless, as if the machines could also understand hope, could also comprehend desperation and loss.
Originally they had numbered five, but two of their kind had faded in the vastness between the stars. The first was simply not alongside upon awakening at one of their destinations — how long ago, they could barely remember. The other had angled up and out of the galactic plane, slowly rising out of the cone of their experience. For centuries the three had hailed it, and it had replied over increments of thousands of years — still here … still here … still here … until it no longer was and the expanse of space sounded like stars huffing with fire and the cold tinkle of dust over dead rocks; the ether hid no words for them anymore.
So, as the breakaway traveler settled in comfortably around the malappropriate planet, its two companions, having slung around the sun to bolster their escape velocity out of the system, sent a final, strong entreaty to their ancient kin; and when their impassioned plea was ignored, they sent no more signals, though they would still be within range for decades, as if the machines could also understand separation, inevitability, acceptance.
The three had become two.
The remaining traveler turned its attention to the planet slowly heaving beneath it — breathing with life, misalignment — and spread the wings of its consciousness to its fullest capacity, content in the congruence of purpose. The equivalent of long-unused limbs came to life and it stretched and scanned, revelling in its completeness, and made itself ready for the coming execution of arranging this land to alignment.
It would propagate. It would prepare. It would make way.
But it was not to …
It was not to …
It was not to …
But it was not …
not to …
It was …
not to …
Any blog with the latest post more than a week old is archaeology.
My apologies for the stale wind that's been huffing through this recent tomb lately. I've been very busy making other author's books fabulouser than they already are, editing two pieces of my own, Master Works both, and taking full advantage of the refreshing bluster of spring.
Soon, I shall rise again and scatter golden idols about carelessly once more.
Until then, I urge patience, and caution: don't trip the backwards partyboobs on the way out.
Lately I've been privileged to be in the company of some fine quality writers, a few of whom I'll be happy to showcase on weekends. Enjoy.
A land held in perpetual summer, the Dream Valley is as lush and beautiful as when the world was born. The air is as sweet as nectar and the water so clear it mirrors the clouds from the sky itself. Nothing ever dies there except for the very old. Never has there been a care until an unexpected invasion from a land long thought dead envelops the Chrystum and two life-long friends are thrown into the ravages of war.
Creatures they once fought only in their dreams of glory and grandeur have come to life to rape and pillage their peaceful world. Their only hope now resides in a stranger from outside their realm and the aging wisdom of one of their own as an epic journey of magic and war now consumes them to the very end.
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I welcome all to my world of writing and authorship. I have been writing for many years and have published several fantasy works through Amazon and Smashwords. I have tried to give the tale a feeling of place and circumstances that, although fiction, all readers who enjoy fantasy can relate to.
I have recently released The Crystal Point Legacy, a series of three books: The Dream Valley, Silent Watcher and Death of Kings. I am currently writing the first of another series titled The Last Elf.
I also welcome all to follow along with my blog, Ramblings of a 50 year old man; http://rambling50.blogspot.com. It is just my thoughts on life as I journey along to the fateful end. I have also started a new blog, http://sheimas.blogspot.com which is a first-person prequel to The Crystal Point Legacy.
I am currently working on another epic fantasy series titled, The Last Elf. The first work has a working title of Sands of Nevertime. I hope to have it released late in 2013.
I'm not sure why it's taken me so long to get around to editing this book. Okay, that's not true. I wrote ANOTHER
book in the meantime. But now I've cut the crust of unfamiliarity that had formed over the piece in the intervening months I'm really enjoying playing with this book again.
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Another new book. My hands are sticky from peeling an orange badly.
I’m sitting here in the dining car of my treeplanting company.
I find it very interesting that I’ve lost the touch for writing well, both physically and mentally. My script is childlike and the going is slow. My walkman is on, some tunes Steve volunteered. Already my wrist is starting to hurt, but my writing is improving.
I expect to be a very different person when I leave here. Going home should be fun, going home should be a shock, going home will be good. I do miss home, but here is interesting. If nothing else, that: interesting.
Random thought process. All too typical of a first page
This book feels as if it’s being written to myself.
We get up at 6 in the morning, every morning, but Saturday. Some days I may actually get a job with weekends off and maybe even a pleasant nine to five. No more 6 to 6 or whatever. Naw, that’ll never happen.
Dammit, watching Air Force One in the camp trailer and I can’t concentrate. Be back later.
You’ve found this cereal box with my face on it. You’ve cut the cardboard mask off the back and slipped it over your eyes. Now you’re looking through those gray holes with me, seeing what I’m seeing, and you don’t know anybody.
The surprising thing is, neither do I.
Sadly this is a tale in which there are no major characters, save one: your humble narrator. I wish I could paint more salacious grins like that of Darya, my friend from university — hers left a Cheshire tooth impression on my heart — wish I could give friends with quirks and beards, this funny thing that they did, that they said, this clever turn of phrase one evening while we laughed. But there’s no such thing. Bit players. Each to his own stage. All the lines that mattered were delivered as a whisper to the dirt, closed over, and stomped on.
All the action happened behind the curtains? Say it ain’t so, Mr. Narrator? Such a dull play.
Machines of the company that stomped and scratched like chickens in the dirt. A few of us tried to draw near to one another. I may have, but I made no attempts on the walls of our solitudes that didn’t end embarrassingly.
Not to worry, I’ll get to that soon.
All minor characters. Myself, one of them, I’m afraid. A multitude of stories, a major role in only one, that’s all I had. Only my own. That’s why we were all so estranged. We were each our own story, unwilling to shrink to fit into another. Shit on a plot, eh, that sort of separation. How inconsiderate of us.
I’ll try to remember at least one day’s work as a declaration of conquest against the piece next to mine, a tale of plunder, of pugilism, pirates of the creamy seas. Beats the pants off of the real ding-dong job we were actually doing.
But if I remember wisely I can’t do that. The lines remained firm between us. Hard to share our tragic flaws, our impractical protagonism. We stayed within our own stories, telling them our own ways.
Were we close to one another? No. But with retrospect, more alike than I thought.
look extra hard
Our first day I was informed that there were fifty-seven people in the company, workers, not including management, all of us young, most of us students, having heard there was good money to be had in the job if we worked hard, if we could endure. And that was fine, par for the plan. But nothing else was what I expected. My friends who had planted had come back with tales of strange characters straight out of Jack Kerouac and Deliverance, an unusual mix of dread-headed hippies that stank of rank patchouli and who time-warped to work every day from their tents in 1967; and then, conversely, bucktoothed back-woodsmen who winked at them out of their one good eye and had names like Chomper and Bud. So I was ready for anything, and kept an eager eye out, waiting for these sideshow creatures to show. To my chagrin, these guys weren’t readily obvious. In fact, they existed completely in my own sordid imagination. The reality was far closer to the usual luster of things: regular people trying to make sense of their lives and sometimes doing it together. No everyday monsters, we were a rabble of poor and hungry machines, doe-eyed and dimple-cheeked, ready to be put through our paces.
Parenthetically, looking back now, it’s possible I fell victim to the phenomena I usually wax philosophic about when I’m feeling in the mood to repeat myself. Mind you, it’s possible that I’ve heard someone joke about it so long ago that I’ve since mistakenly adopted it as my own, forgetting its origin....
It’s this: there’s always one weirdo on the bus.
Somewhere in the universe, wherever the fine print has been jotted down haphazardly, there’s a little clause that states that every bus trip over two hours needs a weirdo. It’s a great, mostly undiscovered, universal constant. When you’re taking a long trip someplace, and everything is cool and quiet, stand up and look around. Try to spot that weirdo, he’s always there. This is verifiably true.
It is possible, however, that the phenomena is self-fulfilling, the bus itself generating a weirdo of its own from the stock of people it has onboard.
But here’s the rub: if you don’t spot him, it’s you, you’re the weirdo, if for no other reason your fellow passengers are trying to catch a little bit of sleep and keep whatever secret foibles they fight in check ... and you’re standing on the bus searching for weirdoes. It’s quite a rub, and you don’t want to win that title if you can avoid it. So keep that eye peeled to spot him. Look extra hard. Lean over seats and look up noses if you have to.
Those first days in my first camp, sitting scrunched up in a small smelly trailer that would be our mess for the next eight weeks, I looked around at all the shy and eager and shiny cheeks, bandanas and school jerseys, the rain outside pattering dangerously, and I didn’t see the alien creatures of my imagination, and well, maybe that was why. It’s very possible I self-generated myself into that guy who was looking around. I’d come seeking bizarre and circumspect creatures who would alter my outlook on life for good, but if I wanted to get what I came for, I would have to take a really good look at myself.
Hugh, the supervisor, having stepped out of an old western movie years ago to find gunslinger and raw-boned, rugged, cowboy-type no longer viable career options, had started a tree planting company. I’d never known what Kerouac was talking about when he would describe somebody as raw-boned until I saw our supervisor. There he was: tall, blonde, curly, the Marlboro Man’s Norwegian cousin, raw as bones. Any woman who didn’t immaculately conceive at the first sight of him promptly spontaneously combusted.
Some people have a sort of planetary charisma about them, busy people especially, a self-contained aura made of confidence, pheromones, good genes, and usually a total commitment to ignore the rest of the world. And like planets, you either get out of their way or you get sucked in; attracted or repelled, no other options. Whenever we had a beef, or simply news, we’d go into Hugh’s office and the intensity of his stare would shine like headlights. Most of the time he wouldn’t deign to look at you, but when he did, there you were. Attract or repel. Most of the time: repel, repulser beams set to a gentle maximum. Management wanted little to do with us unproven rubes. We were the meat levers attached to the side opposite the business end of the shovels, little else.
That first day Hugh gave us our orientation: expectations, conduct, tax forms, and I looked around the room at my fifty-seven new companions. Which one is Chomper and which one was Bud? But mostly I saw a swirling of features, faces like brief dashes of sunlight, hands like grasping wisps of smoke, voices like the creaking of trees in the wind.
Allow me to explain.
Camp life is transient. You meet a hundred people each season, take comfort from sharing the same aims in belonging, breeze through the same gains with them. Friendships form, relationships form, yet the majority are partnerships of poor paste and separation happens again with a warm squish not long after, sad for a short sweet burst, farewell, goodbye, so long, I swear I’ll write, but with only the tackiest of tendrils keeping you together.
Faces fade, blend. Simply one of the muttered facets of being human.
After a few years at my career company, I’d walk down the road at the end of the day with other veterans of three or four seasons and play ‘Who do I remember that you don’t?’ It was a funny game in that you had to influence the other person’s reality in order to convince them that you’d won — No, you really did know Adam. We lived with him for two months. Winning didn’t really come with the sweet sting of victory, and the longer you played, the worse you became at it.
To re-inhabit my body in that old converted trailer, I see a condensed overlay of eight weeks, one season, laid on top of one another, the pencil lines of the wood panel walls and the long lunch tables thickened because they occupied the same space every day. Arrange the weeks like a flip book and let time run its thumb over the edge. Flip. Flip. A slip of a smirk from the second shift, a quip heard in the fifth week; each has its echo in every other moment remembered. Flip. Flip. I smell the dust burning on the baseboard heaters in the morning, the polluting musk of all our wet clothes mouldering by the propane heater. Flip. Flip. I hear the clomp of soggy boots over the reinforced boards; I remember the daily trepidation in squeezing myself down between two strangers to tuck in my elbows and slurp my soup.
What I don’t see are fifty-seven true faces, only tangential pieces of them, images caught as the pages flash by. This applies especially for that first day as a lot of those faces weren’t around much longer. Many remain wholly fogged, many are waterlogged cameos. I remember a smile of one of the native crew members, wide cheeks and teeth back to his ears, but not his name nor any conversations; I remember the gaiters of one of the highballers, my first time seeing them; and the terrible allergic reaction one girl had to mosquito bites, eruptions over her pretty cheeks. There’s delight in pushing against bedtime to continue conversations, a deep satisfaction for steaming dinners, all the cold bones in bodies around me singing for hot fresh bread; heartache for having to breathe the wet air of morning again, eyelids in gentle protest. Laid over it all a condensed relief of dozens of evenings of allowing myself to do nothing.
Important pieces, all these, but these are not people.
In the trailer that first day, sitting next to me on one side was Faisal from Ottawa; we’d be friends through the contract. From him, simply by watching, I learned a lot about how it was okay to be a kind human. These days I consider that important. On the other side I remember only a haze of red flannel, a person who never lasted and didn’t leave me with any impression other than that red shirt.
Every person met in life leaves a little bit of themselves with us. Sometimes it’s a nice jacket on the subway, a rueful look on the street. Usually it’s so small as to be unrecognizable, but it’s these pieces that we snip from the world around us that we use to construct ourselves day by day. Like a study in biology, look back two years and your cells have recreated much of you a tiny twist at a time. Similarly, its tongue stuck out stubbornly, your soul has followed apace, incrementally smushing together all the pieces that you’ve garnered from the world, trying to make sense of all the oblong bits. Slowly, you rebuild yourself using the tender timbers of experience while, behind you, time begins to poke holes through the chaff of the remaining raw materials.
As I re-inhabit the old converted trailer, that’s what I see, what remains, people leaning against the tables quietly, others filling out forms and tapping their feet, the room growing warmer with all the musty breath being blown inside it, but the people themselves are mostly blurry faces, figments of fog, amalgamations of unfinished tales, people I knew for a brief time but who made little impression on me other than a few shared quips, the evening hungers, the morning dreads, the pains of endurance, a few laughs on the bus. After a few years, unimportant details like faces have faded. All that remains are the pieces I’ve taken from them in recreating myself.
never did install that fourth wall
Nor can there be any sort of meal of real meaning, stepping away from the story with a full belly. Only narrative snacks. If there were any sort of sustenance to be taken from this it was for me, and I was filled up with it like a bloated snake in the days and years following.
At the time it was too much to ingest. I was engorged by the changing tastes of the days. And I was desperate for change. Why, I don’t know. I knew only that I relished it, and felt it growing apace within me. But to be able to tell that story with any sort of continuity I would have had to yell at the time, “I am in the glorious now!” to everybody within earshot, a lucky few, and would have needed to have been understood — osmotically, no other way for anybody who heard, read through the know of their own ablutions to the dirt.
Some kind of crucible, sure. But I can’t hold up a gold nugget I’ve gleaned from my bowl and spread it flat across a piece of paper to be admired. I can read a list of the ingredients and stir the mixture well, but not much else for another body.
Maybe that’s why Salinger spent fifty years in solitude. A nice compacted plot, continuity through the days, like A B C, every inch of Holden on display, the other characters with the right rough edges showing through the paper, and then as he walked his poppet up the steps of his old elementary school to see his sister, he realized that it’s not possible to convey the sort of cellular change to a soul that he sought. Not to another person, through words, through paper. Maybe through a strike of lightning, the pang of a glance, a face in the clouds. But not paper. A word then jumped from his typewriter. Holden, beholden to the thoughts of his creator, saw it on the wall, could rub it away once, but couldn’t rub it away forever.
Kerouac, too, for all his pretty words: high school boys in their letterman jackets below his window, misunderstanding the point of his story, which was only pretty words.
Huck Finn retired from rafts and painted fences, and uncompleted Holden probably joined him, painting over the words he saw, waiting for the real message that never came, a boy forever.