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         It does not go exactly as I had hoped.
         I should come striding in like a traveling bard, full of song and confidence -- like Taliesin of the medieval legends or like the minstrel gaaine of Nepal. Instead, I am a pathetic-looking beast: dirty, exhausted, stumbling out of the woods and landing in the clearing on my knees. My nearly empty pack slides off my shoulder and lands on the ground beside me without even a thump. The dozen or so people seated around the low campfire stir at my sudden appearance, but they don't look terribly alarmed. Maybe they will let me live just because I am so pitiful.

         I try to speak, but I am too weak from hunger. A woman hands me a bowl of thin soup, steadying my hand as I receive the gift. A man I don't really see leads me closer to the fire. They help me even though they don't know who I am. I murmur that I wish to earn my food by telling my story.
         “When did you get out?” one of the men asks abruptly. The question is half curiosity, half challenge. I think about my answer and realize that I am not sure.
         “More than a year ago,” I sigh, and the flashes of memory that accompany that thought nearly overwhelm me. I hold onto the bowl of soup as tightly as I can. Hot food tastes like heaven.
         Another man moves forward for a closer look. He is dirty, unshaven, wearing worn clothing.
         Reluctantly, I lower the empty bowl. “Until fifteen months ago, I was inside,” I announce, hoping my voice sounds confident. “I was there through all the changes, through all the fear.”
         I hear shuffling at that statement, and maybe a derisive snort. I see mostly smoky silhouettes.
         “I watched, along with everyone else, as our country pulled into itself and tried to shut out the world,” I continue. “As it built its walls.”
         “Walls,” the woman next to me echoes, sounding bitter. Involuntarily, I glance at her and our gazes meet. Her face is dirty and her eyes look tired. She might be in her thirties; it's hard to tell.
         “There were people who stayed and fought...” I raise my head and look around as I speak. Is anyone listening? “There were brave people who tried to work inside the system and change things --”
         “Yeah, we know,” a man seated across the fire interrupts me with a growl. “Most of us here fall into that category.”
         “John,” a woman's voice cautions softly.
         “No,” he replies brusquely, with a jerk of his head. “I'm tired of the silence, tired of the running and hiding.” He turns to me again. “Kid, if you're a government spy, I'll kill you myself.”
         “No... not a spy,” I stammer. “You're dissidents,” I add, almost in a whisper. Perfect.
         “Shut up, you old bastard,” exclaims another male voice, very close to me. “Why tell him anything?” He leans toward me. “You have a story for us?” he sneers. “Well, I have a story, too: this one time -- oh, just south of Akron, I might’a been -- I met this girl who could --”
         “Yeah, we've heard it a hundred times,” the woman next to me interrupts. She nearly shouts in order to be heard over the scattered laughter. Then she murmurs to me, “And we still don't believe it.”
         “Well, we don't even know who he is,” the man with the story protests. “How did you get out?”
         “With the army, at first,” I shrug.
         Wrong answer. The entire company is now on its feet. I jump up, too, still clutching the bowl.
         “No... not anymore,” I gasp. “Not part of...” This is going so terribly wrong. My heart pounds wildly, my sight narrowing to tunnel vision. Some are advancing toward me now, and the woman next to me is just staring, wide-eyed. I swallow hard and take a step back. I won't make it out of here alive.
         Then, something that Ileana used to say flashes into my mind.
         “Out here, you live outside the lie that our world has become,” I proclaim with a hoarse, shaking voice. “Well, so do I. And I have something tell you: a truth that is worth your attention.”
         I said the right words. They stop and wait. The woman next to me puts her hand on my arm.
         “Kid,” she says urgently, “maybe you'd better start from the beginning.”

Continued next page...


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Memory Like a Sieve

… he held the book in his hands and the silly thought came to him, if you read fast and read all, maybe some of the sand will stay in the sieve. But he read and the words fell through…

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, 1953

         The public library gets a huge amount of credit for providing most of the reference material that helped me write this story. The idea that I can see someone touting a book on the Daily Show and then order it from the library, usually getting it quickly, is just amazing to me.
         The cry of avid readers is usually “so many books, so little time,” which I completely understand, but I have another, worse, problem. I discover many interesting things in the books that I do have time to read… but then, before too long, the memory gets a little fuzzy. I know certain books influenced me and, many times, influenced some part of my story, but I can no longer effectively verbalize exactly what it was that I found so fascinating. So, I started making notes as I read…
         In this blog, I hope to present a bunch of different writings that have been meaningful to me. They will probably not be the ones that would be found in the average book club discussion group. I hope maybe to discuss them, and maybe to get some recommendations for additional reading. Because a journey is more meaningful – and more fun – when it is shared.
         Along the way, I’ll reference some literary classics, and some current nonfiction, and some Venture Brothers, liberally interspersed with quotes from Star Trek… because it’s as true today as it was in 1983 when Nena sang “99 Luftballons”: every creative work should contain at least one reference to Captain Kirk.
         (Oh, and the “minstrel gaaine” are traveling musicians in Nepal who often sing politically-charged folksongs to pay for their supper. Or so I am told.)

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