Surrealist storyteller Pete O'Brien delivers his first novel, ARRIVAL DAY, a phospholuminescent romp about a pivotal accident and its aftermath that is as strange as peacocks. With two of his friends in comas, Chester Landsman must move through a world of crumbling certainties and trade places with a man from another world.
Inside this book...
An excerpt from ARRIVAL DAY.
Copyright 2020 by Pete O'Brien. All Rights Reserved.
In the beginning, it hardly mattered which way to go: the roads zig-zagged every which way and a person was just a person no matter which path he decided to chance, no matter which way he took and discovered.
One might just leave it at that, and pretend that there was no destination to aim for, nothing to find, nothing to resolve or become. But the opposite might equally be the case, on the flip of a coin so to speak, so one should be prepared to live life on purpose.
Chester Landsman had an inkling of weighing and balancing both possibilities and of doing so as an act of self-preservation. He had no interest in dying, and by the same token he had no interest in wasting away his life if it was going to amount to something in the end.
This was then the coin, the face, the yin and yang, the opposites, the magnet with its opposite poles, and so on. He might spend all day contemplating just that quandary or reality, but then he'd only have gone half way in. So he kept his meditations to a time, and then picked up his feet and stepped out into the world to face the other option: that death served some purpose and that he Chester Landsman would come to know it, which would then require that there was some meaning to his life, even if but a little. You must do something. You must act. That's the only way something will happen—to you—to the world.
A shaft of light or the tomb thrown open to full sun. The appetizer or the main course. In the end, both are the meal. Ponder, Chester! Keep on! You can linger for a while, but you have to pick up your feet too. Oh, and you must do this every day.
On November 15, 1492, Eustace Hollenger received a phone call, but the only way this is possible is that (1) somebody is dreaming this; (2) somebody is writing this and making something up that shall make sense in the fictional sense (3) it's a lie (well, we see a lot of options, more than we anticipated are surfacing here) (4) it's a mistake or work poorly done since 1492 had no phones (5) history is appallingly and grotesquely incorrect (6) time travel has come to pass, and the notion of a linear chronology is no more, it has been debunked.
This is the sort of pickle that vexed Chester to no end. Sometimes he had in mind to be creative. Once or twice he even imagined he had what it took to pen a history. He'd go out, see an exhibit that juxtaposed Edgar Allan Poe and William Shakespeare. He'd follow that with a grocery errand at one of the largest grocery stores around and come out of the Giant with everything but buttermilk, which lately no grocery store had been carrying and why not? He'd find even the coveted cheese ball to satisfy a recent inexplicable craving, the cashier would speak to him about how happy she was to be back and go on to say that she'd been in a serious automobile accident and then in the hospital for a year. As she spoke she would combine politeness with brusqueness until they had bagged his food, he paid, and left. The pain in his arms would keep him from using them very much.
The groceries went inside the house in batches, so there was less weight to lift at a time. Lunch. Coffee. Tea. The shortest of walks—around the block. A spell of rest in bed and lying on his back on the hardwood floor in his room. Then dinner: fresh rainbow trout from another grocer, sweet potato, green beans, french bread (the latter likewise not from Giant). Dessert: two spoonfuls of chocolate pudding, a few chocolate mints (still packaged the same way as when he was a boy and tried them for the first time thanks to his grandparents), likewise a few, well, four or five dark chocolate covered almonds.
Then up to his desk to write the sentence, On November 15, 1492, Eustace Hollenger received a phone call. And this was to be the statement that would launch a whole lot of other words and his hopes for a history one day finished and done? Alas! What mental process in the world would allow him to write such a thing, if he was not intent on failure from the get-go! It was hard to get past the first guffaw. The brain was always throwing punches like that. Why, unless it was asleep. In sleep, there were no rules. In sleep, when he tasted something sometimes there was even a taste! But the time was 7:15, and he was awake. The words hung on the page, he'd put them down, clear as day.
Now Ray Bradbury would have had no difficulty finding a way out of that pickle. He wrote impossibilities right and left as a matter of course, and instead of crossing them out, he continued on, just going with the flow. But Chester was Chester, not Ray. And 1492 was about Europeans landing treacherously in North America, to rout the Indians until the white man had his way with the west, which Columbus thought was east, and laid waste to the land, without the luxury or advantage of voices to be heard over a wire.
No, Chester needed another sentence. Or something else to do. Linger. Or move on.
Well, this is how you said it would be. Now, contrary to the line about a phone call in the times of westward expansion and discovery, the line, "Well, this is how you said it would be," would present far fewer difficulties, Chester believed, but he was through thinking about writing. Once again time and the initial obstacle had proved too much for him and he was on to other things.
For some reason, "Well, this is how you said it would be," felt quite apt. If he were two people, and one of his selves had a mind to affirm the other's 'I told you so,' then there it was.
It was a day later, Chester was enjoying a weekend day, which he used for the purpose of trying to repurpose his life. In particular, a life off the assembly line.
He'd been out. His neighbor was having a birthday party tomorrow, and Chester had been invited. He was helping out making the soup Ernest James, the person whose birthday it was, had requested. The day had started with a malfunctioning dishwasher while he was over; turned out the machine had a hat or a flying saucer-looking thing in it that had something to do with water inflow. The problem had been that the the water wasn't getting in to wash.
The customer service representative from Sears was located in Arizona. She was very patient. She explained that it could be an electrical issue, whereby flipping the fuse switch corresponding to the dishwasher should reset the machine and fix the problem. The problem was Ernest had gone down to the fuse box but needed a light to see by as the closet with the box was dark and had no light. The woman waited on the line as the whole house hunted for the flashlight, found four broken ones including two of the kind that you wind up by hand to light, and one run on AAA batteries, which were dead with one exploded and leaked in the device, a bike light cat eye requiring four AA batteries (there were none), so Ernest said he'd need to ask a neighbor. Chester said he had one—if he could find it, but Ernest was already out the door and across the street, waking up the neighbor there we found out when he returned, but she had provided the necessary tool.
Still on the phone, well, Ms. James, Lori that is, was now on the phone covering, a renewed foray was made to the basement, where Chester thought hope was slim, but wouldn't you know it—the switch was found, it was flipped off and on, the dishwasher was restarted, and presto!, after some moments of dedicated listening and not quite accepting that the trickling sound in there was water, the water ran somewhat heavier inside the machine. Voila! "You fixed it!" said Lori to the woman. And Ernest rushed off to his guitar lesson, harried with the running about and trying to fix, and no doubt the question mark of what had happened to the house flashlight on his mind instead of chord progressions and what you can do with F sharp major.
When he returned from the long guitar workshop, Ernest spoke very highly of the customer service woman from Sears who worked out of her home in Arizona, where the fuse box was located just outside the house, she said.
The annoyance of the dishwasher and missing flashlight that coincided with the guitar lesson and Ernest's birthday and birthday preparations and waking the neighbor across the street showed how the day was from the very start going quite screwy. It was one of those days when neglected chores popped up from every corner—the trash, the vacuuming (the floor never did get mopped), and a brief hiatus for a walk out of doors was delayed by a pair of mislaid sunglasses, which had been left in the basement in the cupboard where Chester had gone to return the batteries he'd used to test some of the lights during the flashlight search. The obsolete or broken lights went in the pile to go to the dump for electronics recycling. Then finally the walk. After that the soup and more food preparations for the party: a veggie dip plate; and later, after some vacuuming and rest, a homemade pizza for a shared dinner (since he lived alone, Chester often sat down to eat with the James's, and helped them out this way and that), and finally, while the pizza was in the oven and string beans were steaming on the range top, Chester delegated the supervision of cooking the meal and stepped out the door for a walk.
He went first to his house—but perhaps I should tell this in the first person. Or no, let's leave it as is. He returned to the yard of his own house—feeling somewhat restless—the restlessness had also pulled him out of doors—he walked to the road, thinking to go round the block, but stopped and went instead through his yard with all the plants sorely in need of rain this late January day, where the weather was supposed to reach sixty and had under a clear sky, but the full sun had been brief and then the temperature dropped by ten degrees under cloudy skies—in the back yard, he started round his little path through the azaleas and as he went heard voices calling from the park that abutted the house (the yard descended down a hill with a creek at a bottom and then the ground picked up across the creek and road on the other side and went up to some apartments). The loud voices went on or ceased. He couldn't tell, there was music and other sound—someone had a radio going in the park; it sounded fairly close. This wasn't so usual during the times he'd come out into the yard, though certainly happened more often in recent months than years before—the area continued to become more densely populated.
The music was jazzy-bluesy with vocals. He couldn't make out the words or the song; it seemed to be moving away. But by then he'd reached the back of the backyard and the path turned back towards the front. The activity to the side of the house and the sound, which he could still hear as he stepped up towards the garage, decided him on going on around the block as he'd planned, though when he started he had some reluctance and felt the walk had little point or attraction.
As he went though, he noticed the thick salt on the road catch the white streaks in the cloud-sky. It was dusk. No one was about.
Mainly what there is to say is that as he went down Henderson Road, the final street before his house, he found himself noticing that something was odd about the color of things. Usually, he walked when it was lighter out, and he rarely failed to go out without sunglasses. But now, since the sun was setting, he'd not taken sunglasses, and yet the sky looked as if it were sunglasses-changed, amber-tinged, say. As he walked down the street, he wondered about the sunglasses effect (surely it doesn't always look like this?), and his mind settled on the image he was witnessing, including the moon which was about two-thirds full in the sky, he noticed towards the end of the street, as a genuine moonscape. It was a movie-set or a painting. It was strange and peculiar.
When he returned to the James's, and reported that the outdoors had this moonscape look to it, Ernest replied that it was a blue blood moon in just a few days. A blue moon is simply a moon that is full twice in the same month. Naturally, that happens when there's a full moon right at the beginning of the month, so it can reach fullness again at the end. But nothing about a blue moon is any different in appearance from any other moon. But a blood moon? What was that?
Ernest told him it was an eclipse. In some places, a full lunar eclipse, where the entire moon would be blocked from view. Otherwise, here, on Tuesday (today was Saturday), it would be a partial lunar eclipse—a so called "blood" moon. This happens when the earth's orbit takes it between the sun and the moon, but doesn't entirely block the moon from view. It is interesting to see.
And Chester said to himself, Ah! But the moon knows what's soon to happen. The earth is getting closer to this blockade. So things are out of joint—missing flashlight (subsequently found on Lori's bedside table), misplaced sunglasses, shut down dishwasher,—not to mention there'd been some electrical surges through the house and the power went out for a moment as a result—the restlessness he could feel in his bones! And now the moonscape outside! Oh yes, the moon knew what was going to happen. The earth was taking on qualities of the moon as it passed in this relation to it. It was a look at the moon to be sure—when you walked outside, the change was everywhere.
Turns out there was more to the moon than a blue blood moon. It was also a super moon. So it was a super blue blood moon. The last one was 1866. A super moon occurs when the moon is at the closest to earth throughout all its orbits around Earth. The blood and the blue, we've already discussed. The super moon factor helps explain the moonscape phenomena at dusk as much as Wednesday's fast approaching lunar eclipse (I'm writing this addendum on Sunday).
Here near the city, there's the YMCA for learning how to swim. If you get in the pool in your formative years, then you stand a good chance of being a more or less competent swimmer. K.L. now—she went all the way and beyond. It wasn't so much that she won all those events and broke so many world records. What was so amazing was the manner in which she did. And that was by finishing so far ahead of the second place finisher and the rest of them that, in terms of Einstein's theory of special relativity with respect to space and time, once she touched the wall she had time enough for tea and coffee before anyone else arrived.
Something happened in January 2018. The plutocrat requested from an art museum a work by Pissarro to hang in his daughter's mansion. The curator responded, 'No, you may not have the Pissarro. But we do have an outhouse with your name on it in graffiti. We'll let you know how to use and care for the thing. What do you say?'
At this point in the story, I feel I should expand more on my imaginary world. Perhaps, dear reader, you think it strange for an adult to frequent such a place in his head. But I beg you to consider—all the great literature of today speaks of the virtues of children and of staying young forever. This is repeated so many times that more than a few blockheads go about preaching the virtues of going about tender and innocent long into old age. At the same time, some of the equally duped but also still quite rational ones say, 'Oh yes, be young at heart, but act your age, too!' Very well. This brings me to the matter of the imaginary world. The question is, Is the province of the imagination to be given over entirely to the little ones? Clearly, I stand against this proposition. Or let's say that I intend to test and experiment with the alternate conclusion, that the imagination is not just for youths.
'Fine. Just live in an imaginary world then!' —I imagine the skeptics and realists calling this out on their way out the door to pursue a very sensible activity, one without the least bit of fantasy involved in it, such as shopping, work, or some entertainment. Meanwhile, here I am. The world has seen fit to place obstacles in my path: I'm everywhere surrounded by people without the least creative streak in them, people who rely on external stimuli to shape their ideas, prejudices, thoughts, and behavior. Jobs exert pressure to sell more and more. Creativity is a word to throw about and try to break, instead of a plant to grow.
So yes, I built a world, one I told nobody about, one that I put on the page for reasons that will later be quite plain, one that I imagine describing and sharing completely with a couple of friends, who because of some cruel fate have found themselves stuck in comas. Whether they hear me or not, I don't know.
Was it a succession of dead end jobs that led to this scenario? They would have included part time and full time jobs. In them, I existed. I had my hobbies in snatches, but had so little time and energy to spare for them that pleasure was brief. Once, when the agency I worked for cut my department in half, I quit, only to accept within a year another full time slot at the same ball of wax. My new situation paid better, and the problem was the opposite. Work was dumped on me in such quantity that I would never find my way out of it. I lasted three months before my boss took me aside and said, 'This is it. You do great work, but you're not happy here.' In truth, that was the truth. I was doing a good job, but as always my heart wasn't in it. No hunger for making good shit out of compost. To sit as desk clerk was not my cup of tea. Whose cup was it, I wondered? It takes a special sort of person, I suppose. And she or he belonged at my desk. Not me.
So I helped out a fish market for a while, painting and doing odd jobs that prepared me to apprentice in cabinet-making when the opportunity came. Started no family of my own. The world had a population so great I thought it best not to add more folk to it—financially I couldn't afford a wife and children anyway (and I was not the sort of man women sought after but once in a super blue blood moon)—and this brings me to—; lived rent-free in a small room that a friend had given to me to use for the time being, and so had nothing besides a room; and chased my life-long dream of watercolors in an age when nobody cared for much diversion but a technicolor screen.