12.07.2018

Movies: Juliet, Naked

This is my favorite Nick Hornby book, so I doubt that anything would really live up to my expectations. That said, I think this film is remarkably well cast (Rose Byrne, Ethan Hawke, and Chris O'Dowd) and fairly charming. It's rote, though, and has been quite altered from the source material.

Byrne plays Annie, the long-suffering girlfriend of Duncan (O'Dowd), who has a pop culture obsession that he's parlayed into a day job as an instructor at a small-town university in Sandcliff, England. He teaches a class on The Wire. But his true love is nitpicking the work of reclusive rocker Tucker Crowe (Hawke), who abruptly disappeared from the music scene some 20+ years ago. Duncan runs a website dedicated to Crowe where visitors deconstruct the music and theorize on his life. Blurry pictures of Crowe "sightings" abound.

Annie is mildly dissatisfied with life but too cautious to shake things up. Then change comes to her in the form of an anonymous CD sent to Duncan of the demo tapes of Tucker Crowe's album Juliet—only this is called Juliet, Naked. She listens to it before Duncan, sparking his ire. After they spar, Annie writes a scathing review of the recording on Duncan's own site.

Her contradictory point of view grabs the attention of Tucker Crowe himself, and he and Annie begin an email correspondence. Things more or less go paint-by-number from there, with Duncan of course also having a physical affair with another instructor so that Annie can look like the better person in this narrative. If Duncan had only been obnoxious but Annie had carried on with this emotional attachment, she would run the risk of being the bad guy.

That said, it is a cute little movie, if rote. I still greatly prefer the book because there's something about the tone of the novel that this film doesn't quite catch. But the movie is worth a watch on its own merits.

I have a tendency to think of Ethan Hawke as a villain, or at the very least intense—he was my inspiration for Uncle Eoin in my Hamlette novel—so it's nice to see him in a more laid-back role. And Azhy Robertson as Tucker's son Jackson is adorable.

In short: a good movie but, as is so often true, the book was better.

12.05.2018

IWSG Reminder

I know some of you stumble over here after clicking on a comment I may have left on an IWSG post. But I don't post my IWSG here. It's over on PepperWords. So please do hop over there for a look, and thanks for stopping by!

Q: What's the difference between the two sites?

A: This one is for reviews and the other is my author site.

Q: Why not have it all on one site?

A: I'd love to, but I don't have the time and energy to merge them. One day I may bring two blogs into one, but today is not that day.

11.24.2018

Movies: Ralph Breaks the Internet

Voices By: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Gal Gadot, Taraji P. Henson, Alan Tudyk
Directed by: Phil Johnston, Rich Moore
Written by: Phil Johnston & Pamela Ribon (screenplay); Rich Moore, Phil Johnston, Jim Reardon, Pamela Ribon, Josie Trinidad (story)
Walt Disney, 2018
PG; 102 minutes
3.5 stars (out of 5)


_______________________________________________________

Okay, so I'm going to make a big confession here: I never saw Wreck-It Ralph. I've had it explained to me, and I've seen enough scenes from it that I basically understand the story, and I've just never felt compelled to sit down and watch it (no matter how many people told me how great it is—or maybe because of that).

So maybe you have to already be a fan to 100% love this movie. I only kind of liked it. I thought the representation of the Internet was great, and there are definitely some cute moments, but either I already needed to love the main characters or... Something.

The story: Vanellope is bored. The levels in her game are all the same, nothing ever changes. So Ralph tries to make her feel better by creating a new racing track in her game. The result: the girl playing the game at the time breaks the steering wheel and Mr. Litwak can't afford to buy another one (the only one being on eBay since the game manufacturer is out of business), so he plans to scrap Sugar Rush.

Clearly, this is a problem. But thanks to Mr. Litwak also recently joining the 21st century by acquiring Wi-Fi, Ralph and Vanellope are able to jump online in search of that elusive steering wheel. Hilarity ensues? I mean, to some extent, I guess so. But none of it made me truly laugh. Maybe I'm just too hardhearted. Or am not the target audience.

The major conflict is that Ralph wants to get the steering wheel and get back to life as they know it. Meanwhile, Vanellope has now been exposed to the wider world and wants to stay in an online racing game called Slaughter Race. The theme of the movie then pursues rather predictable and tired lines: following one's dreams, friendship, "Let It Go," etc. In fact, the whole thing is a bit heavy handed for my tastes, and while I can see that much of what happens (no spoilers) is Ralph's fault, the fact that Vanellope is never called out on some of her behavior bothers me.

Largely, I enjoyed the style of the film. However, the attempts to thrust what I suppose counts as "substance" down my throat... Sure, I want substance in my movies. But there is such a thing as too much, and this movie definitely works overtime to make sure I "get it."

Bottom line: cute but a bit too pointed with its message. I don't really like Ralph or Vanellope, so again, maybe I needed to see the first one in order to appreciate the characters here. As things stand, though, I give this a slightly better than middling score. It's entertaining but—at least for me—nothing special.

11.23.2018

Movies: The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned from a Mythical Man

These stories have been around for ages, sometimes accompanied by photographic or video evidence: Bill Murray showing up at random house parties, Bill Murray stealing someone's french fries while at a fast food restaurant, Bill Murray stepping into someone's engagement photos. It boils down to the sense that Bill Murray is a pretty cool guy. I'm not sure we needed an entire documentary about that, but it's interesting to pool the stories and hear the theories on why Bill Murray does what he does.

I used to watch Saturday Night Live with my parents. Looking back, I'm surprised I was allowed to, but I'm guessing my parents were banking on a lot of the jokes going over my head. Same with National Lampoon's Radio. But the one thing I picked out right quick when listening to National Lampoon's was Bill Murray's voice. It was very distinct to me. "There's a lobster loose!" I heard the car radio say, and I looked at my dad and said, "That sounds like Bill Murray." (It was.) Yet even though I grew up in the 80s, during Murray's hey day, I don't recall seeing many of his movies. I saw Ghostbusters, but it scared me. I didn't see Groundhog Day or Scrooged until much, much later. And it wasn't until the Wes Anderson movies that I really noticed Murray on the big screen.

Okay, that's my history with Murray's work. But what about this documentary? It goes to people and asks them to recount their I-met-Bill-Murray stories. And then hypothesizes on why Murray would do these things. For fun, maybe, or to stay in touch with the world and still feel like a person rather than a star. In the end, the film goes for the easy way out: "It doesn't really matter." Which kind of makes the movie feel like it doesn't matter either? I think maybe the filmmaker (Tommy Avallone) hoped Murray might actually turn up at some point for this, but he should have known better; it's worth much more to Murray to retain his mystique.

Still, I'll hazard my own explanation for Murray's behavior. It may be subconscious on his part, but I think he's somewhat aware that his legacy is more valuable in the small moments than the large ones. Think of it this way: there is the widely consumed media (movies, television), in which everyone has the same  "Bill Murray experience." We all see those movies, and those are static, fixed. But in smaller, unexpected doses... In real life, in the moment... the experience is very different and far more valuable. He's leaving little memories of himself everywhere.

And making memories for himself too. So many people focus on what they get out of these brushes with stardom that they seldom consider it from the other side. Stars are people. They remember interesting encounters and fun nights out same as anyone.

These aren't the only possible reasons for Bill Murray to wander into people's houses or baseball games or whatever. In fact, there's surely no one reason so much as a confluence of them. But these are reasons I didn't hear mentioned in the film, so I wanted to pose them.

The truth is, I've met—worked with, even—a fair number of famous people, but I've never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Murray, though I sure would like to. He reminds me of my dad, and when I looked up his birthday I understood why—he's only 10 days younger than my dad. They have a similar laid-back intensity, which is hard to understand if you haven't lived with it or dealt with it regularly. It's a weird mixture of gravitas and whimsy, an oddball humor married to an undercurrent of depression. It makes no sense, but there it is. I don't know that having near birthdays explains their similarities, but I'll pretend it does.

No one I know personally has had a run-in with Bill Murray. Maybe some day... Until then, I'll have to live vicariously. This movie is a pretty good place to start.

11.17.2018

Movies: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Zoë Kravitz, Ezra Miller, Callum Turner
Directed by: David Yates
Written by: J.K. Rowling
Warner Bros., 2018
PG-13; 134 minutes
3 stars (out of 5)


_______________________________________________________

Well, I liked it more than the first one. But... There are still a lot of problems here. At least for me.

This film picks up six months after the last one ended. Grindelwald escapes during his extradition from New York's Ministry of Magic to London's. Three months after that, we discover Newt has been confined to the UK, his... travel pass or whatever the Ministry of Magic gives out... revoked. He's given the chance to travel again if he'll join his brother Theseus, the auror, in his work to find Grindelwald. Newt says no.

But then Dumbledore asks Newt to go to Paris to search for Grindelwald anyway. Um... I dunno. All the motivations in this film crisscross into knots. People want to find Grindelwald, they want to find Credence (remember him?), they want to find their girlfriends and sisters and... 🙄 There are a lot of unnecessary flashbacks and subplots, a lot of hitting the audience over the head with information, and not a lot of actual tension. Plus the action scenes are so heavily edited that one can't follow them; you just sort of sit and wait for them to play out. Very little sense of wonder here, or amazement at what we're seeing. And the big reveal can be spotted miles away—and contains some revisionist history so heavy handed that I just couldn't swallow it.

All this and yet, as I mentioned, I did actually like it more than the first one. Which isn't saying a ton, since I found the first one pretty meh. This one is meh, too, in other ways, and a bit irritating (again, with that revisionist history), but the story overall was more interesting. Though it had almost nothing at all to do with "The Crimes of Grindelwald."

And if you were one of those people who anticipated that Jude Law would only be on screen for about ten minutes... You were right. Pick up your prize at the door.

What did I like, then? Leta LeStrange. I think her story would be fascinating. And I like Theseus Scamander, too (what little I've seen of him). I think younger Dumbledore is cool and wouldn't mind more of that, either. Even Nagini's story might be interesting to read or watch.

But. Newt + Tina does nothing for me. Jacob + Queenie does nothing for me either. ::shrug:: I'm not sold on either of those relationships or plot lines. Not feeling the chemistry there.

So. I know I'll be in the minority. But I'm no huge Harry Potter fan to begin with; I only ever thought the series was okay. So this movie isn't aimed at me, and my lukewarm feelings toward it won't douse the fire of all the fans who are sure to love it.

11.13.2018

Vote for Faebourne!

My novel Faebourne (now available in paperback as well as on Kindle!) is up for a Reader's Choice Award, but is sadly lagging in the polls. Mind giving it a vote? It's on page 14, under Historical Fiction. I appreciate the support!

11.11.2018

Movies: Crazy Rich Asians

I was really excited for this movie. The book has been on my TBR list for a long time, and at first I thought I'd try and read it before seeing the adaptation, but last night I gave in and watched. And... I was a little disappointed. Like so many things these days, I think it might have been overhyped.

This isn't to discount the fact that a film with an all-Asian cast made money. I'm so, so glad to see new faces, new cultures on screen. And I'm equally enthused that the film did well. Hopefully that will open doors to more of these kinds of movies.

And by "these kids" I also mean good, old-fashioned rom-coms of the type they really don't make any more. Ultimately, that's what Crazy Rich Asians is, and I guess that might be where it fell down for me. Because I do love rom-coms. But this one was so predictable, so rote... And I think maybe the book has more depth? The film hits all the typical beats, and in some cases developments seem to come out of nowhere (the dad thing), or get semi-lost in the shuffle (the affair subplot). Everything is really slick here—it's actually a gorgeous film to look at—but it loses something in introducing so many characters that none of them gets enough screen time to make much of an impression. (Peik and Oliver excepted, of course.) Like, we're introduced to Amanda as a "threat" in the form of an ex, and then she just drops off the face of the film. Bernard and Alistair are jerks, and that's their only defining qualities. The grandma switches sides on a dime. And we're supposed to feel bad for Astrid, but he hardly know her either. Meaning a lot of what should have had tension... didn't.

At least for me. But I think the casting and acting was spot on. It was the script or the editing that failed. Perhaps it presupposed that viewers had read the book and already knew the characters? That we'd walk in with the background info we needed to fully enjoy what we were about to watch?

I think what I'm getting at is: I should have waited and read the book first. I still want to. And, to be clear, this isn't a bad movie. The hype just didn't do it any favors because it made me expect more. Still, I enjoyed it. In a sea of action flicks and... whatever else they're making these days (horror?)... this was a nice change.

10.31.2018

Like every teen, I went through a phase where I wrote [really, really bad] poetry. And today, as I was cleaning my office, I found this tidbit. Please don't judge.

By the way, this isn't the entire poem. So you're starting kind of in the middle here. The first part of the poem is about the Archangel Gabriel growing impatient for Judgement Day. In the bit below, Gabriel has just blown his horn and God comes bursting out of His throne room and...

One fanfare bringing lightning,
One blare forcing tears,
And Heaven's gate was trembling;
The Rapture Day was here.

Then everything grew quiet.
Everything got still.
And Earth was left with nothing
But one tiny, grassy hill.
Gabriel frowned down on it;
Something had gone wrong,
And God folded his arms, saying,
"Well, what a lovely song—

But, Gabriel, that's not your trumpet."

The angel peered down at the
Instrument in his hand,
Saw Lucifer engraved on it
And began to understand.
"My Lord, can you forgive me?"
"Yes, of course I can.
But my world is now left empty,
And I'll have to start again.

"You've done me quite a favor,"
The Lord added with a wink.
"The men I create this time
Will be much improved, I think."

"Sure," said Gabriel, rising
To help Peter with the gate,
"But it's all the more million years
I'm going to have to wait."

😂 I still thought you had to capitalize every line! And that poems had to rhyme!

It's so weird to stumble across old work. I haven't written poetry since 2004, and this is a fair example of why.

10.27.2018

Movies: BlacKkKlansman

Time for me to make an embarrassing confession: the only other Spike Lee "joint" I've ever seen is The 25th Hour. But I did really like that movie. And I really liked this one, too.

For those not in the know, BlacKkKlansman is an adaptation of the true story of Colorado Springs' first black police officer Ron Stallworth (played by John David Washington). In the early 70s, Stallworth infiltrated the KKK with the help of a white narcotics officer named "Flip" Zimmerman (portrayed here by Adam Driver). There is, as one might expect, a fair amount of tension in the situation. But it's been well tempered by lighter moments. In all, it's just a really good and engaging movie: well acted and thoughtfully composed.

Lee is a weensy bit heavy handed in the parallels to today's political climate, but the comparisons are justified. Unfortunately, a movie is unlikely to make a difference in people's ways of thinking or behaviors. The kinds of people Lee is preaching against are the kinds that won't be watching BlacKkKlansman anyway.

Then again, the movie also touches on the militancy of the other side, at least at that time. Stallworth attempts to reason with his activist girlfriend who insists all cops are racist pigs (without knowing that her boyfriend is a cop). She rejects his diplomacy with a very "for or against, no middle ground" kind of attitude. So maybe the message here is that neither side is correct, and that the truth and the good in the world lies in the middle, in the gray areas.

Still, the sides are not equivalent. There is a difference between sexual assault, shooting, and bombing and peaceful (if loud) marching and protests.

In all, the movie made me want to read Stallworth's book. And it was a really entertaining film in its own right.

10.19.2018

Theatre: Miss Saigon

I finally saw this . . . I went in only knowing, er, Saigon, I guess? And that there was a helicopter. So I didn't really have any preconceived notions or expectations. And . . .

I didn't enjoy it at all.

It was bombastic and melodramatic. I could tell it had been written by the guys who did Les Mis (which I've only ever seen the film of). There was just . . . so much wrong with it, I can't even.

Okay, okay, I get that this play is nearly 30 years old. So sensibilities have changed. Even so, gah. The songs weren't catchy, and they repeated the same handful of information over and over again. The Engineer would sing about girls/whores and wanting to go to America. Kim would sing about being in love with Chris, and then about missing Chris and still being in love with Chris. Chris got to sing about being in love with Kim a few times, but then he was relegated to wallpaper status. We were told he tried to find Kim, but we don't see it. We never see his struggles except, like, one nightmare maybe? I couldn't tell if he was supposed to be a sympathetic character or not. I suspect not given that two French guys wrote this about America taking over Vietnam after they had it.

I cringed my way through most of the show. The actors we saw were amazing and had great voices. The dancers were terrific. But the show is just . . . It's not good. I kept wondering what my uncle who served in 'Nam would have made of it. While I understand they do (kind of?) show the horrors of war, the writers also romanticize it quite a bit. If most of the songs had not been about love and longing, and if they'd shown more of Chris' PTSD or his frantic attempts to go back to Vietnam/Kim only to be told he couldn't, maybe it would have been better? Who can say? I don't think those changes would have made it any worse anyway.

Ugh. I'm sure a lot of people love this musical. But let's face it, "You're sunlight and I'm moonlight" is super cliché. Like, were the writers even trying? Or did they look at each other after the success of Les Mis and say, "Let's expand on the prostitute character and just pick a different setting"? That's what it felt like to me. I couldn't stop rolling my eyes through a lot of it.

Oh! And the thing where she kills her betrothed? That really went a whole lotta nowhere. There's a plot thread that someone dropped for sure. I guess they felt we needed more songs about her loving Chris and loving her son and stuff.

Sigh. Just . . . not a fan. Maybe I'm missing something, or maybe I'm cold hearted. I dunno. But this show did nothing but irritate me.

10.17.2018

Television: Doctor Who, "The Woman Who Fell to Earth"

I really agonized over whether to suck it up and watch the remaining Capaldi episodes or just pick up with this one. In the end, I wasn't interested enough to finish out Capaldi's season. I couldn't muster the enthusiasm, or even the basic sluggish energy, to pull it up on my DVR (where it has been sitting... and sitting... and sitting...) But people kept asking me what I thought of Whittaker as the Doctor, so I decided to fire this one up and dive in fresh.

Long story short, I don't have the Capaldi backstory, though based on this it hardly seems necessary?

In the interest of playing fairly, let me acknowledge that I'm one of the people who find Moffat to be a terrible show runner. And I really like Chris Chibnall's work. Well, I adored Broadchurch anyway.  And Torchwood. So I was primed to really like this, too, because (a) sweet release from the Moffat era, and (b) Chibnall has shown to be competent and compelling in his work.

So, yeah, as expected, I really liked it.

Spoilers Ahead, Sweeties

Not just Whittaker's Doctor, but the entire supporting cast. And even though we'd only just met Grace, I felt the impact of losing her because she'd already left such an impression. This is what Chibnall does so well—characterization. And really good, tight stories.

What was this story about? Well, Ryan Sinclair is... I don't know how old he's supposed to be, actually, but seems like 20s? And he lives with his nan Grace and her second husband Graham. When Ryan discovers something strange, he phones in to the police, and they send Yasmin, who just happens to be someone Ryan went to school with way back when. Meanwhile, an alien attacks the train Grace and Graham are on, and the Doctor shows up, and things pretty much go from there at a fair clip.

Whittaker's Doctor is a tad manic, but many of them have been to some extent. And sometimes they start off that way after regeneration and then calm down a bit. We'll see what happens, but I don't mind this take on the character. It's fun. And she has a depth of compassion that we haven't seen in recent Doctors.

Mostly I'm just glad to be excited about Doctor Who again. To be enjoying it again because I honestly haven't liked it in years. It became more of a chore than something to look forward to, which is why I eventually quit watching at all.

Now I'm back, fresh, and it seems like I needn't worry too much about what I missed, which is good. It will allow new viewers to catch on, too, so that's a smart move. Looking forward to seeing more.

10.14.2018

Books: Faebourne

Well, the ebook is finally here! (Paperback forthcoming.) You can pick it up on Amazon Kindle for just 99 cents for a limited time. Kindle Unlimited patrons can read it for free.

Those who enjoyed Brynnde will, I hope, enjoy this book as well. However, this one is less typical of the Regency romance genre. I call it a "Regency fairy tale" because there are fantasy elements to the story. Also, more conservative readers should know there is a homosexual relationship in this book. If that makes you uncomfortable, you might want to skip this one.

Blurb:

Duncan Oliver was in every respect an unremarkable gentleman. 

When mild-mannered Duncan Oliver is abducted by the Milne brothers and taken to their legendary home of Faebourne, his unexciting life becomes much more interesting. Adelia Milne has been cursed, and Duncan is her chosen champion to break the spell. Duncan may not be a hero, but he is a gentleman, and he refuses to leave a lady in distress. He becomes determined to take on the quest on Miss Milne's behalf.

Meanwhile, an unlikely rescue team forms in the pairing of Duncan's best friend George and valet Davies. As they set out for Faebourne—and also perchance to learn more about Davies' obscured family history—what begins as an unequal partnership quickly blooms into friendship... and possibly something more.

10.12.2018

The Dream Cages: Update

I haven't forgotten you! (The, like, 11 of you who might even care.) I'm on a deadline with my current novel and will come back to TDC when it's done. Should be another week maybe? Thanks for your patience!

Television: FBI & The Good Cop

Tried the first episodes of both these new procedurals. Here are my thoughts:

FBI was incredibly generic. The characters were all so monotone, with no personalities whatsoever. I mean, maybe the show is written and directed by A.I. robots? I also had the sense that the episode I was watching was not the first one—like maybe they'd aired them out of order. (Too lazy to go look it up and see if that might be true.) Because there was no real introduction to the characters or anything. When done well, that can be fine. When you slowly show the characters' personalities, when the characters bloom open as it were. But that didn't happen here. Or if they're trying to do that, it's too slow for anyone to find it interesting. The difference between watching an actual flower grow in real time vs. time lapse. (Hint: people watch time lapse videos; they don't sit and watch flowers actually open.)

The storyline itself was fine. ::shrug:: Nothing very different from any other procedural, really.

Verdict: I took the series recording off my DVR. But the show got a full season pick-up, I think, so there must be some people who like it.

The Good Cop was . . . not as funny as I thought it would be? This show seems to be very self-aware of the fact that it's dragging up some old tropes. But it also doesn't seem to know what it wants to be when it grows up. Like, the title sequence is riffing on old 80s shows (and when you have Tony Danza, what else are you going to do, really?), and the music cues are over-the-top sitcom stuff. In fact, a lot of the show is over the top. The characters are all extreme versions of their types: the straight-laced, by-the-book cop; the ex-con cop; the buffoon sidekick; the dorky science guy, etc. They all seemed to be overacting a bit, and I couldn't tell whether that was intentional and, if so, why. Like, what effect the show was going for. A lot of it looks and feels very tongue in cheek, but it wasn't actually funny, so I couldn't tell if it was supposed to be or???

The plot was very basic, too. The titular good cop is framed for a murder that his ex-con cop dad may have committed. But there's an absolutely throwaway plot spur in which said dad confesses and goes back to prison. Something like that should add weight or tension, and here it didn't seem to have any impact on the story or the characters whatsoever.

Verdict: I'm still a little intrigued to see if this show finds its feet. So I'll probably try another one or two episodes.

10.06.2018

Movies: Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Oh, man. It's difficult to make me cry (unless there are animals involved), but I bawled through a lot of this documentary about Fred Rogers' efforts to reach children with his message of how they all have value. Like many kids growing up in the late 70s and early 80s, I spent my fair share of time in Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. I'm very sorry my kids were born just a wee bit too late to learn from him, too. Mr. Rogers was soothing, comforting, understanding. I believe his methods inform the way I speak to my children even today. Why, just yesterday I spoke to my youngest about how it's okay to be angry—normal, in fact—but the important thing is what we do with that anger. Mr. Rogers taught us that it's okay to make mistakes, something I think our society forgets far too easily.

WYBMN? focuses specifically on Rogers' mission, his television work. It's very well done and interviews a number of family members, cast and crew, and friends. It also makes extensive use of archival footage so that Rogers speaks for himself via old interviews as well.

That said, I'm not sure I learned anything about Rogers that I didn't already know or suspect. That he was more or less exactly how he came across on television, a good and caring person—that's nice to know, I think, because it allows me to maintain my faith in him and every lesson he instilled in me as a child. Still, I might've liked to hear about his childhood or family life, but that was beyond the purvey of this documentary.

The world could use a few more Fred Rogers, but alas, he was sui generis. He knew we had it in us to be better, but I fear we've let him down.

9.21.2018

Movies: Ocean's Eight

I just . . . didn't care. About any of these characters. None of them charmed me* or made me want to cheer them on. And there was a noted lack of witty banter, which is usually the backbone of these kinds of films.

Between this and the all-female Ghostbusters, I feel like scripts are really giving female-driven movies the short end of the stick. Instead of playing to strengths, they just try to take male characters and plug women into them. The result is a mismatch, something that comes off as vaguely discordant.

I worked with Sandy Bullock, and she can be so funny and charming. This movie just didn't do her justice. Nor did it do much for any of the other wonderfully talented women involved.

For anyone who might not know, this girly version of the heist franchise centers on Bullock as Debbie Ocean, Danny's (you remember him as George Clooney) sister. Apparently the entire family are unrepentant criminals. Make a family reunion movie, guys. It'd probably be way more entertaining than this was.

Anyway, Ocean gets out of prison and immediately puts together a big job—stealing a famous necklace during a Met Gala. Because we all know women like jewelry, I guess.

The writers tried to shoehorn in some revenge-on-the-lover-who-put-her-away story, but though hinted at early on, it wasn't brought forward until much later, which gave the whole thing the feeling of, "Oh, we need something to thicken this plot soup." By then, we didn't care and it was too late to get us to start.

The short answer is, the movie took itself too seriously. Even in the moments I think it was trying to be lighthearted. There needed to be greater ease between the characters, a more relaxed atmosphere over all. Instead, everyone was stiff. Dour. It wasn't fun to watch, and these movie need to be fun. That's the point of them.

And we need to care. About the characters, and about whether or not they succeed. That's where tension comes from, and here there just was none. The whole thing was flat and uninteresting. Meh.

* I did kind of like Helena Bonham Carter's character?

9.16.2018

My YouTube

So, I started putting videos on YouTube. Nothing major, and it was not really planned as a "channel." Thing was, when I uploaded my videos to Facebook, the audio sync kept getting messed up. So I started shelving my videos on YouTube instead.

There are only four there atm. But it's where I'll be putting all my videos from now on, so if you want to keep up with me talking about books and writing subscribe here. Or just look up M Pepper on YouTube. You'll get a lot of Dr Pepper ad videos, I think, but I'm in there somewhere.

I'm not very techie. I don't have cool graphics or edits or whatever. Maybe I'll learn more of that as I go along. In the meantime, ICYMI, here is my most recent video:

Minchiate Etruria

I was meant to have these cards, and here's how I know:

When I ordered them, I didn't realize they were limited edition and numbered. So I was surprised when I opened the box and found this:



All my life, the numbers 1, 8, and 0 have continually turned up in myriad ways and combinations: addresses, phone numbers, dates, and even the style number on my wedding dress (I'd picked the dress before seeing the style number and was floored). Later in life I learned that 18 is a significant number in Judaism, meaning in an alpha-numeric shorthand "life." In short, this number and variations thereof have followed me my entire life. So when I opened the Minchiate box and saw this, I took it as a sign.

I first heard of the Minchiate when I picked up a book called The Creative Tarot by Jessa Crispin. She described a deck that, instead of the usual 78 cards, had 97. I looked it up and it just so happened Llewellyn and Lo Scarabeo were recreating a Minchiate deck. Out of curiosity, I ordered it.

What makes the difference between these cards and a standard tarot deck? Well, there are 41 Major Arcana cards in the Minchiate. The usual suspects are there (excepting the High Priestess), though reordered somewhat. Then there are four Virtues, four Elements, and the twelve Zodiac.

Ace of Pentacles, Sagittarius, Water cards from the Minchiate

How does one read these additional cards? No idea. The booklet that comes with the deck is thin and offers no information on how to use the cards. I'll be doing some online research soon, but I also think this might be a case where I study the cards for a bit and get a feel for what each wants to tell me.

The pip cards in this deck are plain, rather like the Marseilles tarot decks. They offer no extra visual input, so for those who like to read their pips by the artwork (like the woman in the walled garden on the 9 of Pentacles, say), this deck won't work for you. That said, the artwork, such as it is, is quite lovely and detailed. If you're a collector—which I am; I don't use many of the decks I own, but I keep them because I love the art—you might enjoy adding this one to your shelf. Or wherever you keep your cards.

9.12.2018

The Dream Cages #16

"It's not intentional," Adam said, more to himself than to Matthew. It didn't take much to convince himself Ronan hadn't realized what he was doing, what Cabeswater was doing. After all, Ronan had come after them and had seemed as confused as they'd been.

Ronan... Adam hoped wherever Ronan had woken up, he hadn't been too bloodied. It occurred to him Ronan might try to return. They needed to get out before Ronan got back in, else the cycle might be endless. It was already vicious.

Adam extended his hand to help Matthew to his feet. Then he regarded the dragon. Some ten to twelve feet tall, but not as impeccably designed as most of Ronan's dream creatures. Because, of course, this wasn't one of Ronan's.

This one was his.

Or, rather, it had come from the spaces he frequented when he scried. Adam didn't make those things, they simply existed in the black. Spirits or demons or... He didn't know. He sometimes caught glimpses in the candlelight, but he'd never seen one so exposed.

Yet it wasn't totally bare to scrutiny. The leathery skin that was the color of dried blood, the bat-like wings, the claws, the beakish maw, the yellow eyes—Adam could discern these features, but they were were somewhat obscured, as though the creature kept a cloud of dark smoke around it that prevented it from being seen clearly. The dragon was not a fully formed idea.

"I think it can only take us one at a time," Adam said.

Matthew shrugged. "It's all right. I'm not going."

It took a moment for the words to penetrate. Even still, Adam couldn't trust what he thought he'd heard. "What?"

"I'm fine here," Matthew insisted. "I like it."

"If I don't get you home, Ronan..." Will never forgive me. Will come back here and get himself killed.

But Matthew only shrugged again. "He can visit, can't he? He was just here."

"He thinks you're dead."

"Then me staying should be a relief," Matthew reasoned. "I mean, at least I'm here."

"Matthew..."

"Look," Matthew said, and though his signature smile remained fixed, something other than his usual sparkle showed behind his blue eyes. "I'm not smart like Declan and Ronan. I never really expected to be or do much of anything in life. And the truth is, I don't really have to. I'm not saying I just want to live off the money Dad left, but..." His gaze drifted toward the cows. "I'm not really fit for anything else."

Adam swallowed the lump in his throat. It wasn't his place to tell Matthew that his flaws were not his fault. That they came from a three-year-old's inability to shape the intricacies of humanity. When Ronan had dreamt Matthew, he hadn't been looking for "smart." He'd been looking for happiness. And Matthew was that, made flesh.

Yet there was no such thing as pure happiness. Because happy didn't exist without sad as a contrast.

Could a dream be self-aware?

But even as Adam wondered, the moment passed, and Matthew returned to his uncomplicated, smiling self. "I'll stay," he said again. "You go tell Ronan that I'm all right."

It was, Adam decided, an argument for another time. And Matthew was in less immediate peril than he was anyway. Dream bodies slept. They didn't die.

"Okay," Adam said. He turned to the dragon. "Lead the way."

9.07.2018

Movies: Destination Wedding

I can't . . . Like, I can't even . . .

Sigh.

I love Keanu and it's been great seeing Winona have a kind of renaissance thanks to Stranger Things. They work fairly well off one another here, but the material is a bit clunky at times.

In this film, Winona plays Lindsay and Keanu plays Frank, who find themselves thrown together at the titular destination wedding in Paso Robles. (I actually enjoy Paso Robles, so . . .) Lindsay is the ex-fiancée of the groom, and Frank is the groom's half brother (? if I understood correctly?). The "fun" starts when they meet at the airport while waiting for the same tiny plane. They argue then predictably get stuck sitting beside one another.

Things go on from there, also in expected fashion. The entire movie is Lindsay and Frank having a series of conversations in various locations during the wedding weekend. There are some genuinely funny moments, but on the whole the story is thin and every event foreseeable. Except maybe the mountain lion.

The tone is reminiscent of Woody Allen. Not sure if that's intentional, though I don't know how it couldn't be. From the stylized title treatments to the music to the very absurdness and cynicism of the discussions between Lindsay and Frank, the whole thing smacks of trademark Allen. Yet if you like that sort of thing, I don't think you'd find this a fulfilling substitute. This is the lo-cal version.

Part of me wondered as I watched whether it was maybe originally planned as a stage play? Only Keanu's and Winona's characters have any lines; everyone else are mere extras. The result is something that feels like a classic two-hander.

Bottom line is, I can't decide if I liked this movie. It's cute, but maybe tries too hard? And fails to be very original. Yet somehow, despite these flaws, I still kind of enjoyed it. Even as my rational side insisted I shouldn't. So I don't know. It's definitely not for everyone, but I wouldn't necessarily warn people away either. Your mileage in traveling to this wedding may vary. Probably depends on where you're starting from.

9.02.2018

The Dream Cages #15

When Ronan disappeared—woke up, Adam supposed—the creature did not cease to attack. Only, as it turned out, it hadn't been attacking at all. Well, it had been attacking Ronan. Which was par for the course in Ronan's dreams; horrifying creatures assaulted him quite regularly while he slept. But the... "dragon," for lack of a better word... did not seem intent on hurting Adam. It only wanted to take him somewhere, and its method for that was to dig in its claws and drag him.

The more Adam fought its grasp, the tighter the talons became, until finally Adam yelled up at it, "Okay, I get it! I'll come with. But you're hurting me."

He could almost feel it thinking as it carried him another yard. But in the end, it relented and released him. Adam landed unceremoniously on his ass in the dirt and the dragon landed just behind him. Not with a thud or the shuddering of the earth, but silently. The only reason Adam knew it was there was because its shadow fell over him.

Adam sat looking at the farmhouse in the distance. He turned to look at the cows in the pasture. "Matthew?" he asked.

The dragon let out a low growl but then lifted off again and glided with remarkable grace to circle over the cows. The cows didn't appear bothered. Maybe dream creatures had some kind of understanding? When a dream thing meets a dream thing coming through the rye...

Am I a dream thing?

No, he wasn't. He was only a consciousness caught in a dream. Ronan's dream. Ronan's recreated Cabeswater. He thought about what Ronan had said, about creating a dream Barns to fit over the real one. Two planes meshed into one. If it worked, could the sleeping creatures be awakened? Could the Barns become an extension of Cabeswater?

Ronan had said he didn't want to make a bigger cage, but maybe he'd become that desperate. Or maybe this was a stop-gap solution until he could fix the underlying problem.

But why am I here?

Screaming brought Adam's attention back to the immediate moment. The dragon was returning, this time with Matthew in its clutches. Matthew kicked and shouted things Ronan would not have liked hearing his innocent, sweet little brother say. The dragon ignored him and dropped him beside Adam. Matthew looked at Adam, wide-eyed, then scrambled to his feet to run, but Adam said, "Don't."

Matthew sat back down. He made more of a thud than the dragon had.

"It doesn't want to hurt us. It wants to take us somewhere."

"Back to its nest to feed us to its young or something," said Matthew.

"I don't think so. Do the numbers six and twenty mean anything to you?"

Matthew's brow wrinkled but a moment later he jolted where he sat as though physically struck with a thought. "Sure, it's Ronan's favorite verse."

"Verse?" Adam asked. "Like a poem?"

Matthew laughed. "Nah. I found a book of poems by Shelley under his bed once, though." He laughed again. "He was so pissed."

"The verse, though?" Adam prompted.

"Matthew 6:20. Something like, 'Store up your treasures in heaven, where moths nor rust corrupts, and where thieves do not break in and steal.'"

Adam thought about this a moment. "Shit," he said. He looked at Matthew—a little dirty, but none the worse for wear. No wounds where the dragon had grabbed him, no blood. He looked at his own shoulders. Same. "Shit," he said again.

He stood up and turned to the dragon, which waited patiently for them to figure things out. "You're trying to take us back," he said.

"Back where?" Matthew asked.

"To the waking world," Adam told him. "We've been... imported here. Not on purpose, but still, we can't stay. We have to get back to our bodies. If we're gone too long, they'll die."

"I feel fine," Matthew said. "I feel like me. If my body dies, then can't I just stay here?"

"If your body dies, so does your consciousness." Well, mine does, anyway. But Adam could hardly tell Matthew his brother had dreamt him. "That's what's here now. If your body dies, and your consciousness dies, there won't be anything else to stay here."

"So how did our consciousness end up here? We're having the same dream?"

"Not exactly. We're part of someone else's dream. Ronan wants to keep us safe, and in some backward way, this is how Cabeswater is granting his wish." When Matthew still looked confused, Adam said, "We're Ronan's treasure."

8.31.2018

Television: Can Sherlock Be Saved?

I'm going to pause here for a second and go back to something rather old at this point. It's no secret I really, really disliked the last couple series of Sherlock. And I came off the fourth series sort of assuming that was the end of it. Like, they seemed to have wrapped it up in a bow, right? But people keep talking about how to fix the show in the next series, and I just keep thinking, Is there going to be one? Is it even worth trying to fix and keep going?

The show's stars are busy with other things now, and Moffat and Gatiss have talked about doing Dracula or Frankenstein or something, haven't they? So I don't really know that there will be more Sherlock. But for the sake of argument, let's say there will be. Someday. And that the show needs to be course corrected. Because, Jesus, that last episode in particular was just so, so awful. But honestly, it's been going downhill for a while, yeah? Starting with the third series? With the making fun of the fans while simultaneously doing random fan service that felt pulled straight from bad fan fiction?

What made Sherlock good in the beginning was the very careful amalgam of plot + character. What made it slowly go bad—like takeaway left out to spoil—was the shifting imbalance of those things. 1. Plot became less important and often less concise, which is the kiss of death when telling mystery stories in particular. 2. Character also became less well defined as the characters began to behave in odd ways that seemed not to fit the way they'd been originally established. So: viewers who had come for the plots were disappointed. And people who'd come for the characters were equally unhappy. It just all went off the rails, really.

When we left the show, where were we? Sherlock had an even smarter sister who . . . was criminally insane? And was upset, I guess, that Sherlock had forgotten her? She's apparently orchestrated his entire life, or at least the last several years of it, by injecting Moriarty (now very definitely dead?) into it. I'm surprised we weren't told she was the one who introduced John to Sherlock in some backward way.

Okay, but the sister is all safe and sound now, and the Holmes family is somehow quite fine with . . . whatever the f*** happened there, and based on the coda to that last episode, John and Sherlock are happily raising a baby together and solving crimes and teaching a baby to solve crimes.

Yeah, that feels like an end to me.  I don't see a path forward there short of something really, really awful like: it was a novel John wrote that was so bad it never found a publisher. Or even a series of novels John wrote, and they did get published, but it was all fantasy. So let's reset to . . . when? How far back would we have to go to make Sherlock good again? I think we'd have to start back at series three. I think we'd have to explain how he survived the fall (and we all know that the writers don't know, which is why they didn't answer that question and instead chose to make fun of the fans for asking). I think we'd have to change Mary or remove her entirely. Because, honestly, the whole mercenary thread? It was pretty awful. I think, if we go with the idea John was writing novels, that was John writing a wish fulfillment/attempt at a James Bond thriller. I think if he's got a girlfriend or a wife, she's probably something fairly normal and not half the fun Sherlock is, which is why John wrote her as way more exciting.* Because he missed Sherlock while Sherlock was "dead."

This is a stretch, I realize. This is Dallas' "all a dream" or St. Elsewhere's snow globe to the maximum. But it's the only way back to good that I can see.

Still, it seems far more likely they'll just leave it and move on. Viewers keep hoping for "one more miracle"—that the show will come back from the dead and redeem itself—but I'm not sure it has any left.

* John's actual wife: "But, dear, why did you kill off the wife?"
John: "The readers didn't like her."

8.24.2018

The Dream Cages #14

"Jesus," said Gansey.

Ronan's body had pitched itself from the chair onto the floor, and as the blue eyes opened, rents appeared in the back of Ronan's shirt, in his flesh, copious amounts of blood spilling onto the scuffed hospital linoleum.

"Henry, no!" Blue shouted as Henry dove for the emergency call button.

"But..." said Henry, gesturing broadly to the expanding puddle.

"It's fine," Gansey said, "he'll be fine." Though, truth be told, it sounded a bit like he was trying to convince himself more than anyone else.

"This is normal?" Henry asked.

"None of this is normal," said Blue.

"And all of it is," Gansey added.

Henry threw his hands up in defeat. "Okay, man. You the boss."

"We need to clean it up, though," Blue said. "Henry, go get some paper towels from the bathroom."

"Why me?" Blue just looked at him. Gansey had bent to check on Ronan, though he was careful to stay outside the margins of the gore. "Fine," Henry muttered, and again, "Fine," before disappearing into the hallway.

"What happened?" Gansey asked Ronan.

For a little longer, Ronan didn't move. Couldn't, Gansey suspected; Ronan always came back paralyzed from dreaming. Only the blue eyes roved in the direction of Gansey's voice. And then, suddenly, Ronan was bolt upright. It happened so fast Gansey didn't even see it; Ronan had been flat out on his stomach, then he was sitting up, then he was on his feet and next to Adam's bed.

"Where is he?" Ronan asked.

"He's right there," said Blue.

"No," Ronan told her. "He was at the Barns. With Matthew."

Gansey's brow folded into confusion or concern; the two looked the same on him. "The Barns?"

"Dream Barns," said Ronan. "That thing..." His words came fast and his hands went to his head in the universal sign for someone who is overwhelmed and doesn't know where to start. "I need to check on Matthew."

Henry reappeared with two fistfuls of paper towels. He looked to Blue, then Gansey, neither of whom noticed him. With a sigh, he dropped the towels over the blood. "That's all I'm doing," he announced. "I'm not scrubbing this stuff. I've got both my shoes."

When no one answered, Henry said, "Hello? Cinderella? Shoes? Is this thing on?"

But Ronan and Gansey just stared at each other until finally the latter sighed and pulled out his cell phone. "I'll call Dec—"

Ronan took his phone out, too, and swore. "Don't bother. I have about fifty messages from him." He handed the phone to Gansey. "I can't."

Gansey pocketed his phone and took Ronan's. "Speaker?" he asked and Ronan shook his head. So Gansey hit play and held the phone to his ear. Ronan watched the way Gansey's throat moved as he swallowed. The way his hand shook just a little as he looked at the screen, moved to the next message, on and on through about five of them before he stopped and handed the device back.

"Same," Gansey said.

"What does that mean?" Blue asked.

"As Adam," Gansey clarified. "Declan found him in his room this morning. Breathing but unresponsive."

Ronan swore in a long and impressive stream before demanding, "Why? Why didn't they come back with me? Adam said—"

"You saw him," said Gansey, and when Ronan just stared, "We weren't there, remember? I think you'd better start from the beginning."

"It was dark, and there was a hall, and a voice, and then I fell to the Barns—"

A high-pitched noise cut Ronan's Cliffs Notes recap short. For a moment, he thought it was Matthew screaming again, somehow. Then he thought it was Adam. Because it was coming from the bed, this sound. He turned, expecting to see Adam's eyes open, to hear Adam trying to speak, even if it only came out as this thin stream of sound. But Adam was as still and silent as ever.

And still he didn't understand until Gansey said, "Shit."

Adam wasn't screeching, and it wasn't an errant night horror, and it wasn't some PTSD memory from the dream he'd just had. The equipment was shrieking. One long, ear-piercing blast.

Someone grabbed Ronan and hauled him back away from the bed.

"What?" Ronan asked, but feet coming down the hall like troops distracted him. Suddenly the room was full of people in coats and scrubs, one of them skidding precariously on the paper towels strewn across the floor, more wheeling a cart.

"Out!" one of them shouted. "All of you, out!"

"What?" Ronan asked again because it still hadn't sunk in. Too much had happened, and he was no dummy, but his brain just could. Not. Keep. Up.

Gansey dragged, Blue pushed, and then they were out in the hall.

One more time, the only word he seemed to be able to summon: "What?"

"Ronan," Blue said, and she used that soft and gentle voice that people used when they were about to give you bad news. Ronan glared at her, but she had become immune to his particular brand of venom.

"Ronan," she said again. "Adam just flatlined."

8.23.2018

The Dream Cages #13

Sorry for the long wait.

Adam froze to his chair, but Ronan shot up and out the door without hesitation. The piercing noise sounded not at all human, and Adam didn't even comprehend at first what he was hearing. Even when the truth sank in, he couldn't move for several seconds more. By then, Ronan had begun shouting as well.

"Leave him alone, you ugly bastard!"

Finally, Adam unstuck himself from the chair and forced his feet to take the steps to the screen door. His legs didn't want to. They were stiff, leaden. Not from fear; it seemed like Cabeswater itself was trying to hold him back. Like a huge, invisible hand pushed back against his chest as he advanced. But he was stronger—or his will was. The place that usually worked to help him struggled when his desire ran counter to its own.

Adam made it to the door, though the seconds it took to get there felt like minutes. The screaming had stopped, but Ronan continued to yell no longer intelligible words, just angry sounds of vexation. When Adam stepped out, Ronan shouted one word: "No!"

Adam didn't even have time enough to see what had happened, was happening. A shadow fell over him, and then a searing pain like light and heat penetrated his shoulders.

His feet had left the ground, he realized, but whatever had its claws in him seemed unable to climb very high. Adam heard the snap of huge wings like an oversized flag in a fierce wind.

A night horror?

If so, it was either injured or incompetent. Or perhaps Cabeswater was trying to restrain it, too. Adam's feet dangled no more than a foot from the ground, and they'd only traveled a yard or so when Ronan hurtled into his legs and pulled him free.

The pain was immense. Almost intolerable. The creature's talons ripped through Adam's shirt, his flesh, then he landed hard on his back in the dewy grass, Ronan on top of him.

"It got Matthew," Ronan said in a strangled voice.

Adam turned his head, trying to see the field where the cows dawdled, where Matthew had been, but he was at the wrong angle. And what did he expect to see? A rent body? A heap of torn clothes and bloody blond curls that had been Matthew?

Except it wasn't Matthew. Not really.

If they died here . . . Their wandering consciousnesses would what? Disappear? That didn't happen to Ronan. He woke with wounds but didn't die.

Except that one time.

Could he, would he, create a second self? (A third self, if Adam counted the one already dead and buried.) Could Ronan make another Adam, another Matthew?

Adam thought about the old superstition, that if you died in a dream, you died in real life.

He looked up at Ronan, not sure of how long his mind had been loose. Ronan's eyes were squeezed shut, his arms on either side of Adam as he held himself up. And blood . . .

Blood . . .

Pouring off Ronan as the creature ripped at him. Not a night horror. At least not any kind Adam was familiar with. But something nightmarish all the same. Four clawed feet, two leathery wings that extended beyond Adam's limited view. The whole thing the color of dried blood. It didn't screech like a night horror, either. It roared like a T-rex in a movie.

Adam knew he should be afraid, but he felt oddly detached. Outside of himself. Which, he supposed, he was.

He studied the lines of Ronan's face, pinched with pain. Jaw set to keep from screaming. Ronan's sweat dripped onto Adam's face—maybe tears, too, though it was hard to tell—the blood onto Adam's shirt. Ronan's breath came in gasps and went in gusts. This was Ronan, saving him, protecting him. Dying for him.

And for what?

Adam reached up and put his hands on Ronan's cheeks. Ronan's eyes tightened.

"Ronan."

Ronan shook his head just a little.

"Ronan, open your eyes."

A sliver of blue appeared between the eyelids.

"I'm not here," Adam told him. "And neither are you."

8.16.2018

The Dream Cages #12

"I just landed on my ass in a cow pasture," Ronan declared. "What the fuck do you do when you scry, man?"

Ronan knew he was being loud. He knew his anger was irrational. But anger was always first in line when he expressed himself. When he was sad, it came out as anger. When he was scared, it came out as anger. When he was relieved—and Jesus Mary was he relieved—it came out as anger.

Lucky for him Adam had learned to read the shades of his anger. The relief Ronan felt reflected back at him in Adam's expression.

"You want some grilled cheese?" Matthew asked from his station at the stove.

"Fuck no. What are you even doing here?"

Matthew shrugged, ever unperturbed. Ronan had forgotten to give him anger when he'd dreamed him. He'd kept it all for himself.

"And why is there death metal playing in the barn?" Ronan went on.

"I thought the cows would like some music," said Matthew. "And that's the only thing that boombox plays." He brought a plate of grilled cheese to the farmhouse table. "Soup coming right up."

"Don't bother," Ronan told him. He folded himself into a chair and grabbed a sandwich. Adam took a seat more slowly and showed no interest in the food.

"We need to get out of here," Adam said.

"You think I don't know that?"

"This isn't really the Barns."

"You think I don't know that?"

"What's it doing here? In Cabeswater?"

Ronan sighed and used his full mouth as an excuse to stall. But he couldn't chew forever. "I thought if maybe I fit this one over the real one... If I brought the dream world and the real world together..." He sighed again. He couldn't explain it. But it made perfect sense in his head.

Adam seemed to understand anyway. "Even if it worked," he said, and he had that careful tone Ronan hated because it was the tone that meant bad news was coming, "it wouldn't really achieve your goal of making them truly alive and independent. Would it?"

The final question was fake, Ronan knew. Because Adam already knew the answer to it. Ronan threw his back against the back of the chair, just to expend the energy his irritation gave him. "No. But it might work as a temporary measure until I can figure something else out."

Adam's mouth worked in a way that suggested he wanted to say something but was stopping himself. Fine. Good. Ronan didn't want to hear all the reasons it was a bad idea or wouldn't work.

Matthew set cups of tomato soup in front of each of them, spoons sticking out like garnish, then sat down and began to eat as placidly as the cows. Ronan watched him with a mixture of fondness and exasperation. "Why are you here?" he asked again.

"I don't know," said Matthew. "I figured I was dreaming. Am I?"

Ronan's brow furrowed, and he turned to Adam. "Why were you scrying? And what the hell is that place?"

Adam shook his head, not as negation but to indicate the questions caught him off guard. "I wasn't. And what place?"

"I tried to go where you go when you scry. Wait, you weren't? Then how are you here?"

"Jesus," said Adam. "And no, I was just reading a textbook. Then everything went... wrong. What do the numbers six and twenty mean to you?"

"Six two oh," said Ronan. "That's what the whatever in the scrying space said."

"It spoke to you?"

"Doesn't it to you?"

Matthew's gaze darted between them as he followed the conversation. "This dream is really kinda boring," he said. "But I like seeing you guys and being home." He got up and set his cup and spoon in the sink.

"Wash it out," Ronan told him, but Matthew was already pushing the screen door open.

"I cooked. You clean." He went out.

Ronan watched him go then turned back to Adam. "You're in the hospital." Adam jolted where he sat, and Ronan went on, "I got a call. You made me your emergency contact?"

Adam only stared.

"Gansey and Blue and Henry... Gansey's managing the doctors. I came in to find you. We thought you'd been scrying and got lost or something."

"My body is still...?"

"The doctor said you had no brain activity or whatever. But the rest of you is working."

Air rushed out of Adam. "Where are you?"

"In the hospital room."

Adam nodded thoughtfully. "I'm sorry," he finally said. "I don't know why Cabeswater snatched me. And I don't know how to get back."

Ronan looked over his shoulder out the screen door. He could see the green of the fields, smell the grass and livestock. "This isn't Cabeswater, not in the way we know it," he said, as much to remind himself as to inform. "This is the dream version of it. At some point it bleeds into the real world, but..." He turned back to Adam. "If you imagine them in layers, this one above the physical world..."

"Like you were saying, about slipping this one over the real thing."

Ronan loved that Adam understood him so quickly.

"So how do we line them up?" Adam asked.

"I don't know, I—"

And then, carried on the fresh, sweet air, came the sound of Matthew screaming.

8.13.2018

The Dream Cages #11

Ronan was not there.

Matthew was.

Adam paused in the doorway of the barn and watched as Matthew opened a stall and coaxed a black and white cow out with nothing more than an encouraging wave of his hand and his brilliant smile. Matthew was something of a cuckoo in the Lynch nest; he had his mother's golden hair, and his smile was softer than his brothers'. But Adam had seen the same smile on Ronan, rarely, and usually when Ronan thought no one was looking. Matthew was Ronan's gooey center made flesh, as though Ronan, when dreaming him, had wanted to put his vulnerability elsewhere so that he could safeguard it and not carry it with him. It hadn't worked; Ronan still had plenty of soft spots if one knew where to prod. Adam suspected he was one of those spots, a bruise waiting to manifest on Ronan's heart.

Don't break him, Adam.

But high school sweethearts seldom lasted forever. Especially when one left home and one adamantly refused to.

Later. Every time Adam started to board this train of thought—and he found himself at the station more often than he liked—he decided to wait for the next one. There were always other things that took priority: like school work, or being stuck in Cabeswater.

The cow followed willingly as Matthew turned and walked to the back of the barn where another door stood open. Adam saw the boombox set on a hay bale nearby. The cow's ear flicked as it passed the music (if it could be called music), and Matthew stepped aside to allow the cow to pass out into the pasture beyond. "Atta girl," he told the cow. "Go play." Then he turned to look down the row of stalls. "Who's next?"

Matthew spotted Adam then, their eyes meeting, though Matthew didn't immediately register any recognition. For a split second Adam thought maybe his body wasn't physical after all, that Matthew couldn't see him. But then Matthew said, "Hey."

"Hey," Adam echoed. He stepped inside the barn and eyed the cows, all of which he recognized. But now they were awake. "Where's Ronan?"

Matthew shrugged. "No idea. Haven't seen him."

"What are you doing here?"

"Cows," said Matthew.

"Yeah, but..." Adam frowned. "You know this isn't actually the Barns, right?"

Matthew shrugged. "It is, though. I mean, it's here and I'm here, so it's real to me."

"But you... Your body, your physical self... Where are you really?"

"As far as I know, I'm here. Home is where the consciousness is, I guess. Want to help me get these ladies out into the pasture?"

Adam didn't want to; he wanted to go look for Ronan. But he felt bad saying no, so he did his best to help. It took more cajoling from him than Matthew. The cows clearly had misgivings when they saw Adam and were slow to move. Only when they saw their fellows going out did they follow.

"Lunchtime," Matthew said cheerfully as the last brown cow swished through the back door, and Adam wasn't sure whether he meant for them or the bovines. "Come on," and Matthew said it to Adam the same way he had to the cows. "Let's wash up and eat."

"Aren't you worried?" Adam asked as they trailed toward the house.

"About what?"

"Yourself. How you got here. How to get back to your body and your life."

"Nah," said Matthew. He pulled open the screen door and held it for Adam.

"Well, are you worried about Ronan?"

The door snapped shut behind Matthew like a trap, and for the first time the youngest Lynch appeared something less than happy. Not concerned, exactly, but maybe doubtful. "Should I be?"

"I don't know! Where is he?"

Matthew shook his head. The doubt began to morph into fear.

Adam knew Ronan would never forgive him if he made Matthew cry. So he said, "I'm sure he's fine." After all, he's not stuck here like us. But that would be saying too much.

Matthew's expression cleared and he walked past Adam to the kitchen sink. "I'll make us grilled cheese and soup," he pronounced, then paused and looked over his shoulder. "Is that okay?"

"That's fine," said Adam. It's fine. This is all just fine.

The screen door creaked open again, and Adam turned to see Ronan standing there, countenance thunderous.

"What the fuck is going on?"

8.11.2018

The Dream Cages #10

Adam was tired. He didn't know how souls worked, exactly, but apparently they could wear themselves out. The body he inhabited didn't physically exist in the real world, but it was physical enough in this place to operate accordingly, and he'd been walking for what felt like, as Ronan would call it, for-fucking-ever.

And all he saw were trees. The cottage had been the one difference. Adam imagined a road sign stuck outside the clearing: LAST EXIT FOR MILES.

He wondered if, as he thought it, it had come into existence. Not that he was going back to find out.

Cabeswater, though, was often slow to react to thoughts and wishes. You usually had to concentrate, focus, ask outright. Every now and then, however, it picked up something from the subconscious and pulled it forward into view. Adam still didn't completely comprehend what made the difference. It was one of the reasons he'd chosen to take psychology; he wanted to understand how people worked, how he worked, and maybe by extension places like Cabeswater.

Though at the moment, Cabeswater didn't seem to be working at all. It had provided the path as requested, but he felt like he was getting literally nowhere. Yet Adam kept walking because he couldn't think of a better option. Or any other option, for that matter.

How much time had passed? Had he missed his Latin quiz? How long before someone came looking for him and found his body? Adam had been made an RA—he was reliable like that—and one of the perks was a single room to yourself, so he couldn't count on a roommate tripping over him. But Ronan would notice when he didn't call, though that would be almost an entire day...

What if my body is already beyond saving?

He'd know, though, wouldn't he? He'd be able to tell?

He trudged on, and finally the trees began to thin, the line of them pulling back from the trail, which now looked more like an actual road. When had that happened? It didn't matter; it was a change, it was something. Adam pushed his legs to move a little faster.

Then a couple things happened at once: music and numbers.

He felt the music before he heard it, something that had become commonplace for him since losing the hearing in his left ear. The thudding vibrations ran through him like tiny waves. He couldn't tell where it came from, but based on the beat it was one of Ronan's loud and angry electronica songs. A good sign.

At about the same time as he noticed the music, Adam started seeing the numbers on the trees. Faint at first but clearer as he continued down the road. They were scratched into the bark, on the last few trees deeply enough to cause sap to weep from the wounds. Sixes on some trees and the number 20 on others.

Adam's mind immediately flew to tarot. Six was the Lovers. Twenty was Judgement. Together they meant... what? A clear choice, perhaps. Coming to an understanding about something. The revival of a relationship. He needed more information to know for sure, and he didn't have his cards so asking Cabeswater directly was impossible.

The road began to climb, and suddenly Adam knew exactly where he was.

But I'm not really here.

His soul had not been transported hundreds of miles. He was not walking in the physical world. He kept telling himself this like a litany, else he'd forget because it looked so real. It even smelled right—the scent of the grass and the trees and the cows.

The gray, plasticky sky overhead broke into something weathermen would call "partly cloudy." The still air began to move in a cooling, comfortable breeze. From somewhere overhead a raven cried out.

Adam crested the rise in the road and took a deep breath of the brisk air. The music was louder now and clearly originated from the open door of one of the many barns that dotted the yawn of grass. Islands of flowering clover nodded sleepily in the scudding light as the sun played peek-a-boo behind the clouds. Definitely spring here.

Home.

But not really, and not only because this was Cabeswater and not the Barns. The Barns was Ronan's home, not his, even if he used it like one. Ronan would disagree, which was why Adam never said it aloud. But he still longed for things that were his.

Something borrowed, something...

His gaze snagged on something not right. His subconscious caught it before his conscious did, so it took him a minute to understand why he was staring, fixed, at the house. His eyes didn't want to let it go. His mind insisted he look, see, discern. It was like one of those games in kiddie magazines: What's Wrong with This Picture?

The numbers again. On the house this time in big, tarnished metal figures. 620.

Adam didn't think the Barns had a street address, but even if it did, he knew that wasn't it. Those numbers didn't belong on the house.

Somehow, it came as a relief. Proof that he wasn't truly at the Barns, that this wasn't real. A touchstone, like a pinch when you were dreaming.

He started down toward the open barn and the pounding music. Ronan would be there. All would be well.

8.10.2018

The Dream Cages #9

Dark. Not like a dark room. In a dark room you can sense the potential for light. This space had none. Light didn't dare tread here, it couldn't survive it.

Kind of like your head, I guess.

Ronan couldn't see anything, not even his own hands when held in front of his nose. The best he could do was be aware of his body, feel it when he moved.

No sound, either.

Nothing.

This is what being dead must be like.

Oh, God, is Adam dead?

How long have I been here?

Though his arms moved freely, his feet felt rooted. For all he knew, this place was filled with people like him who were unable to see or move.

"Adam?"

The word hissed back at him from all directions.

Which means there are walls, something for sound to bounce off of.

Close walls, too, given the speed and trajectory of the echo.

Take that, Adam, I did learn something at school.

Wait, am I in a box?

Ronan reached his hands out slowly, experimentally, half afraid something might take a bite out of one of his arms. His right hand brushed smooth, solid wall. His left only hung in the air. He took a tiny step sideways, then another. There, the other wall. He reached up but couldn't find the ceiling and didn't want to jump to try. He reached forward and found only air, turned around and touched the wall behind him.

His pulse jumped as claustrophobia set in. More than Ronan hated yellow, he hated feeling confined. He tried to take deep breaths, but the space felt airless. His panic threatened to launch into hyperdrive.

You're never going to find him. He's gone for good this time. You promised you wouldn't let him disappear, and now...

Ronan turned back around to face the way he'd originally been standing. At least, he thought he was facing that way. He hoped so. He reached forward again. Nothing. A small step. More nothing. Step after minuscule step, like a toddler learning to walk. Every now and then he tried the side walls. Still there.

It's a hallway?

He worried that he might run into someone else. After a while, he hoped that he would.

An interminable time later, he stopped. This was literally getting him nowhere. "Fuck you," he told the blank black around him. Fuck you, it whispered back.

Was this really where Adam came when he scried? But Adam supposedly saw stuff, didn't he? Whatever abilities Adam had, Ronan clearly didn't share them.

He needed a different perspective, but he didn't know how to get one. Wake up and try again?

Dreams and scrying occupied the same space; he was sure of this. They used the same energy source at the very least. They were the non-space of the mind. Except Cabeswater had become a physical place, and this...

Did this place want to become real, too?

"You can't be real," Ronan said. "There's nothing here. Nothing means nothing. You can't exist if you're just an absence."

Black holes exist.

Had he thought that or had the space around him spoken?

"I'm leaving," he said. He folded his legs under him so that he was crosslegged on the floor and scooched to lean back against one of the walls. He hated to imagine the expressions on Gansey's and Blue's faces when he woke up. This whole pointless excursion had wasted precious time.

You wanted to come here. You wanted to see for yourself.

"There's nothing to see."

You can't see.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Silence.

"Fuck you," Ronan said again, but this time the words didn't slide back to him. Ronan stood up and walked toward what should have been the opposite wall, but he never found it. He tried several inches to the left, the right, but his fingers only found empty air.

If Cabeswater is a construct of my mind... This is Adam's?

He comes here, the space answered. He comes here to see.

"We're talking in circles," said Ronan. If 'talking' was even the right word for it. "Is he here now?"

... No.

"You couldn't have told me that sooner?"

You didn't ask.

Ronan balled his fists but in the interest of time let the argument go. "Then where is he?"

Six two oh.

"Six two... Is that supposed to mean something to me? Are they coordinates or what?"

Six two oh. Goodbye.

"What does that—?"

But then a hole opened beneath Ronan's feet and he fell.

The Dream Cages #8

It was right and wrong at the same time. The trees looked familiar... ish... but the path was not one he'd seen before. He supposed Cabeswater had created it when he'd asked for a way to Ronan.

Spring and fall had clashed here. There were unfurling leaves on the branches above him but freshly fallen ones on the ground, a confetti of brown and red. No yellow. Ronan didn't like yellow.

The sky refused to be defined. Not blue, no sun, but also not cloudy. Just white-gray that made Adam think of science fiction—everything on those shows was this non-color. Space-station gray he decided.

Maybe Ronan had not finished the sky, or maybe he was in a bad mood. Maybe this was Cabeswater in energy-saving mode, waiting for input.

Where are you taking me?

Nothing but trees and the trail. Was this all there was?

But then a familiar clearing came into view: a cottage with rosebushes around it. "Mrs. Lynch?"

Had Ronan recreated his mother?

Adam approached slowly. No question of season here; the roses were massive and came in every color, probable and improbable. The grass formed a lush carpet, and a sudden sun shone through the trees to gift everything with a green-yellow cast. The air was warmer, too, more humid. It looked and felt like a fairy tale.

The door to the cottage was closed, however, and the structure bore a hollow, uninhabited atmosphere. Adam felt the need to tiptoe as though in a graveyard. Not that he had to tiptoe in graveyards, either, but he always did.

It took a stupid amount of time to get to the door that way, and when he tried the door, it wouldn't budge. He tried to peer in through the windows, but though there were no curtains or blinds, all he could see was the shadow and shape of his own reflection. Mirrored glass? It didn't look it, but it acted like it.

Dream stuff.

With a sigh, Adam concluded he was alone after all. If one could ever really be alone in Cabeswater. He hadn't realized how much he wanted to see another person until the likelihood of it had vanished.

Back to the path then. Maybe Ronan would be there... somewhere...

8.08.2018

The Dream Cages #7

“You don't scry,” said Blue.

“But I dream,” Ronan said, adding because Adam had once said it to him and it sounded good, “with intention.”

Blue made a face that suggested she didn't think it sounded that impressive. “So you're just going to what? Lie down on the floor and fall asleep?”

“Let me understand this,” Gansey put in, and Ronan realized that if their gang were a car Gansey was not so much the engine—the assumption Ronan had always made, that Gansey was the one running things—as the brakes. Ronan knew he needed brakes, at least some of the time. This was not that time.

“Let me understand this,” Gansey said again. “When you dream, you go to Cabeswater, don't you? And when Adam scries, he goes...” He frowned and turned to Blue. She shrugged.

“I don't scry either,” she said. “But from everything I've heard, it's dark. And weird.” She cocked an eye at Ronan. “Not so different from your head, I guess.”

“We don't have time for this,” Ronan said, not rising to the bait. Why were they stalling?

“There's a chair,” Henry said quietly. They all turned toward him, and he pointed at a sagging vinyl chair that had been shoved into the corner of the room. “So you don't have to lie on the floor. Though I dunno, man, the floor might be more comfortable.”

“If you go to Cabeswater, how is that helpful?” Gansey pressed. “Then we've lost two of you.”

You haven't lost anything, Ronan thought, but he couldn't say it, didn't want to, because saying it would be to admit things had changed. Priorities had shifted. Allegiances... They would always be friends, brothers even, but they wouldn't ever be as close as they used to be. Ronan knew this was normal, but he didn't have to like it.

Aloud he said, “I won't be lost. I'll just be asleep. Not out of my body like...”

Every head swiveled in Adam's direction.

“Just... take care of the paperwork,” Ronan told Gansey. “I'll be right back.” He said the last part with more bravado than he actually felt, and he was fairly certain Gansey knew it. But Gansey only nodded and looked again at the stack of papers he still held.

“There are some tests we can request, stuff just to keep the doctors busy while we...”

Keep you busy, too, thought Ronan. He wondered, fleetingly, if it had been a mistake to call them. But no, he couldn't have done this alone. Or maybe he could have, but he didn't want to.

He flung himself into the chair. Henry had been right, the floor probably would have been more comfortable. Less lumpy. But Ronan had cultivated the ability to sleep anywhere, anytime. He threw his head back into one corner of the chair and his legs over the opposite arm, and almost immediately the world began to turn gray around the edges.

Hang on, Adam, I'm coming.

The Dream Cages #6

Note: I had been away for a couple weeks, so this scene somewhat overlaps with the previous.


This Cabeswater was both familiar and foreign. Adam recognized it well enough to know he was in Cabeswater, though not all the pieces were in place yet. He stood in a construction zone of sorts, a living dream, and in the way of dreams, the things he could identify were not quite true—that rock formation used to be taller, that tree had too skinny a trunk, the crooked wooden swing that had hung there was missing.

Was he truly back in Henrietta? Could he walk out of Cabeswater and find himself in solid, unchanging environs? Adam didn’t think so. He’d been at school, studying, hundreds of miles from Henrietta. Cabeswater had snatched him, not physically but mentally or spiritually or… something. The body he wore now was not physical.

How long could he stay separated from his physical body without it giving up on him?

If Ronan had created this place, there had to be a way to contact him, let him know he needed help. The question was where would Ronan be? The clearing Adam stood in looked mostly finished, but maybe there was some area Ronan was focused on building or refining. That assumed Ronan did anything in a methodical way, but Adam had no other options. He didn’t know which direction to start in, how large this Cabeswater was, anything.

He closed his eyes against a rising wave of anxiety. What if I’m already dead? He shook his head, deciding he could tackle that problem if and when it arose. And if he was dead and this was the afterlife, well, there were worse outcomes when faced with eternity.

Ronan, Adam thought and then immediately pushed the that thought away, too. He didn’t want Cabeswater to fabricate a clone of Ronan in an attempt to appease him. Show me, he thought. Show me where he is, or where he goes when he’s here.

Adam opened his eyes and saw the path bending ahead of him through the trees. It looked as though it had always been there. It begged the question, “How could you have missed it?” Yet hanging beside the seemingly well-worn track was a splintering wooden swing that definitely hadn’t been in evidence minutes before.

He hesitated. The appearance of the path might be anl answer to prayer, but the swing felt ominous.

“What do you want?” he asked the trees. “What do you need? Why am I here?”

The trees rustled and whispered but Adam could not distinguish any distinct words. Did this Cabeswater speak some other language? God, did it speak that weird dream language from the puzzle box? If so, he was screwed.

No time. No time to stand around and ask questions while his body slowly died in a dorm room somewhere.

He began his trek through the strange new Cabeswater.

The Dream Cages #5

Things slipped sideways. The words of his psychology textbook blurred, and for a moment Adam thought he had literally toppled over. Am I that tired? he wondered. Wouldn’t be the first time.

But then the book wasn’t there. The room wasn’t there. Everything went black.

Some time later—Adam wasn’t sure how long—he became aware of discomfort. His right shoulder rested against something hard, his head hurt. His entire right side was damp for some reason. His eyes felt glued shut, but he forced them open.

Green-yellow light. Adam squinted. A Bambi-like deer stepped into view and put its nose to Adam’s forehead, snuffling his hair.

“What the…?” Adam struggled to sit up and the deer backed away, turned, darted off into a stand of trees. The dampness had been the dewy fallen leaves, now stuck to Adam’s arm and the side of his face. He sighed and picked them off then craned to get a better view of his surroundings. Trees, tall and thin as sentinels, crowded around the patch of leaf-strewn dirt where he sat.

Cabeswater.

Ronan had been recreating it, but Adam couldn’t understand how he’d ended up there. He hadn’t scried.

“Persephone?” he wondered aloud. Maybe she still existed there, somehow. Maybe she’d dragged him there because she needed him to do something. Usually she came to Adam in his dreams, but maybe she hadn’t been able to wait for him to fall asleep. Maybe it was an emergency.

The forest remained stolid and silent.

“Ronan?” Was he here, working? Had he somehow called Adam in?

Nothing.

“Goddamn it.” Adam got up, his limbs protesting; he felt banged and bruised, like he’d fallen from no little height. He looked up at the swaying treetops, as though to find the entrance. He didn’t know how he’d gotten there… which meant he didn’t know how to get back out, either.

How long had he been there? How long did he have before his body decided he wasn’t coming back?

The Dream Cages #4

“I don’t get it,” Henry said for about the thousandth time. Ronan would have beat Henry’s head against one of the hospital room’s walls long before now if Gansey hadn’t kept angling himself between them. Every now and then Gansey said, “Henry, maybe you should…” But he never finished the sentence, so Henry never “…” and therefore continued to irritate Ronan to distraction.

And he couldn’t afford distraction right now. The longer Adam stayed out of his body, the more likely he would die. Ronan couldn’t figure out how Adam had stayed alive this long as it was.

Though, to hear the doctors tell it, Adam was already dead in all but the most basic sense.

Gansey flipped through a handful of papers, documents the hospital had given to Ronan that Ronan had not bothered to look at. “He has a DNR,” Gansey murmured. He shook his head and went to the next page, scanned it, looked up at Ronan. “How is it that you’re his power of attorney?”

“The fuck do I know?” Ronan asked. It felt good to swear and be angry, even if it didn’t help the situation. It helped him.

“I mean, you’re eighteen,” Gansey reasoned. “Still, do they not know Adam’s parents are still alive? I’m sure Mr. and Mrs. Parrish would contest this.”

“Who’s going to tell them?” Ronan challenged.

Gansey froze. He met Ronan’s gaze then exchanged a glance with Blue through which they somehow communicated complex information. Watching it made Ronan want to wrap his fingers around someone’s throat though he didn’t know why. Ronan Lynch didn’t speak the language of envy, didn’t know how to name it when he felt it.

“No one, I suppose,” said Gansey. “He’s emancipated, after all.”

“And probably doesn’t trust his parents to have his best interests at heart,” Blue put in. “They wouldn’t, you know, have all the information.”

Everyone turned to look at the figure in the bed, the shell of Adam.

“And we do?” Henry asked. “‘Cuz I don’t feel like I know very much.”

Gansey ran a thumb over his bottom lip, and Ronan resisted the urge to slap his hand down. The familiar gesture only irritated him. It meant Gansey was thinking, and they didn’t have time for Gansey to think; they needed to act.

“Who found him?” Gansey asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Well, what was he doing before he collapsed?”

“How the hell should I know?”

“If he was scrying…” Blue said.

“Why would he?” Ronan asked. “He knows better than to do it alone.”

Even as the words left Ronan’s lips, a cold dart shot through him like an arrow. What if Adam hadn’t been alone at the time? If he’d been with someone… scrying with someone… what did that mean?

“I have to go after him,” Ronan decided.

“What?” Blue cried. “How?”

“Dreams and scrying occupy the same space,” said Ronan. “If anyone can go find Adam, it’s me.”

The Dream Cages #3

Ronan woke abruptly with “Adam!” echoing through his head, which was not unusual. What was unusual was the strange light by the side of the bed. He lifted his head just enough to see his cell screen aglow. Chainsaw stood over it, sinisterly lit from underneath, head cocked as though to read whatever message might be coming through.

He nudged her back and picked up the phone, not because he planned to answer, but because he was already awake so he might as well look. The number was not Adam’s (he used the dorm’s landline because he still refused to let Ronan give him a cell), but it was the same area code. Maybe Adam calling from a different phone?

A notification popped up to tell him he had a new voicemail.

A brief debate: hatred of phones vs. it-might-be-Adam. Of course Adam won. Ronan touched the voicemail icon and listened. He missed the man’s name, heard “emergency contact,” heard “found unresponsive,” and had to listen to the hated message a second time to catch the name of the hospital. Then he threw a handful of random clothing items found on his bedroom floor into the back of the BMW and drove. He stopped once for gas, at which point it occurred to Ronan to call Gansey.

“Ronan?” He heard Blue’s incredulous voice in the background. “On a phone? What's the occasion?”

Gansey listened and said, “We’re heading for the nearest airport now. We’ll be on the next flight.”

Ronan hung up and continued driving, arriving 90 minutes earlier than the GPS thought possible. He wished Gansey had gotten there first, though, because he was having a very difficult time remaining calm and polite in the face of blank stares from behind various desks. Gansey would have known what to say, how to say it in a way that got him heard, got results. The only thing that kept Ronan from smashing things with his fists and swearing up a storm was the notion such behavior would get him kicked out or arrested. Normally not a concern, but not helpful to Adam. So instead he made fists that he didn’t use and took deep breaths to keep his voice steady. He didn’t smile, though. He couldn’t make himself go that far.

Finally, someone understood. Even still, she eyed Ronan dubiously. “You’re the next of kin?”

Was he? What had Adam put on his forms? Ronan had no idea. “I’m his emergency contact.”

She asked to see his ID. He showed her. She tutted some more but otherwise didn’t protest. “The doctor will want to speak to you,” she said. “Just have a seat.”

Ronan couldn’t sit. He’d been sitting for hours while driving. Now, without a speeding car to transmute his anxiety, he couldn’t remain still. He leaned against a wall of the waiting room, arms folded, and glowered in a way that prevented anyone from taking magazines from the table beside him.

A woman in a white coat called Ronan’s name, yanking him from his brooding fog. From her expression, he knew it wasn’t good. She led him through swinging doors and into the bowels of the hospital.

“He’s got no neural activity,” she said without preamble. Ronan leveled a deadpan stare at her. “No brain waves,” she said, in order to clarify. “It’s like someone shut off the lights inside him. All his vitals are good, but…” She grimaced and looked at Ronan in a way he suspected was meant to be sympathetic. “You’re going to have to make some hard decisions here.”

She pushed open a door, and there Adam was, adrift in a sea of hospital sheets and blankets, a herd of monitors blinking lazily around him.

It only took a split second for Ronan to sense that Adam wasn’t in there. Not in his body.

Adam was gone.