Book to Movie to Book, and Other Matters

The deeper I get into writing, the less interest I have in watching movies. For someone with a library of a couple of hundred movies, that says a lot. The Road is the first DVD I’ve bought in a couple of years, and it took me a month or so to get around to watching it. Several years ago, I read the book the movie is based on and hadn’t liked it. Mostly because the writing style bothered me. But I’ve been thinking that might have been too much of a snap judgment, and maybe seeing the movie would inspire me to reread in a less critical mood. So I watched it last night, and pretty much hated it. There I am being critical again.

I don’t really remember anything about the book except the style. But I’m willing to bet that it’s nothing like the movie. Does Boy find another family at the end, as the movie shows? I’ll be reading the book again next month, just to find out. But all through the movie I had the feeling: this incident has been made up, or jacked up, in order to give the film a dramatic punch. And are there really flashbacks to the protag’s life with his lovely wife who just happens to be Charlize Theron? Can’t have the audience becoming progressively more bored and depressed. There has to be drama. Including ominous noises that seem to come from nowhere and have no relevance to anything happening on the screen. And a fire. A big fire. Apparently, the film makers couldn’t find any justification for an explosion, so they had to make do with a fire. And an earthquake.

More relevant to SF movies in general than to the book is the number of objects the characters found that were in perfect condition: canned and bagged foods, blankets, etc. No rotting fabrics despite the fact that the sun apparently never shines and it rains all the time, and this has been going on for years. No rats or mice in evidence anywhere. It reminded me of the  problem of there being no sound in outer space, no whooshing rockets, despite Hollywood’s penchant for irrelevant and unrealistic sound effects.

I’ll find out next month whether The Road will surpass Children of Men for a horribly filmized book. I’m betting on they’re being neck and neck.

In other “news”

It seems that I’ve committed myself to this year’s NaNoWriMo, though I reserve the right to change my mind at any time. I’ll be going (if I go) to the least developed idea of all those I might have chosen. For now, its title is A Bright World of Sorrows. A pair of aliens comes down to earth, alarmed at the apparent mental deterioration of one of their observers. They must decide what to do with their observer and about the inhabitants of the planet, which is in an advanced state of environmental deterioration, and embroiled in large and small wars.

Writing “slow” dystopias

To come soon, unless I get distracted by other subjects, the problems of writing believable dystopias. It takes research unless you’re planning to just do the thousandth iteration of Hunger Games, starring the thousandth version of the teen who saves everyone (and the world, while they’re at it).


SF Quickies

SF as Wish Fulfillment

Skimming through the science fiction blogs on WP today, I came across a statement that struck me, as such statements usually do, with how far outside the norm I am in almost any area of life. “At some point in their lives, all readers of science fiction and fantasy have wished, however fleetingly, that they could leave their mundane world behind and enter the world of their favourite book. That is, after all, why so many people read: to escape reality and go someplace else, be someone else, even for a little while.”

That’s probably true of most, or many, science fiction readers, but I can’t remember ever reading about a place or time that I wished I could explore in person. Of course, it isn’t only science fiction that appeals to readers in terms of wish-fulfillment. But it’s a state of mind that’s foreign to me. The lack, like many other lacks, does sometimes make me ask what kind of person I am.

Imaginary Societies

From John Michael Greer’s latest blog post, A Time for Retrovation: “Not all that many decades ago, SF authors routinely spun future societies as radically different from ours as ours is from, say, the ancient Maya, but such visions are rare now. I don’t think that’s accidental.”

For the most part, those societies were somewhere in outer space — alien societies that allowed writers to be as outrageously imaginative as possible. Or they took place in a far distant future that allowed the time for a complete overturn of everything we know, plus the possibility of humans having mutated or evolved into something quite different from us.

So, it isn’t surprising that most attempts to create a radically different kind of society tend to be nothing more than variations on the patterns that constitute our idea of “normal.” Those, in turn, divide into two mutually exclusive realities: a world which has regressed to random violence, war, and the brutality of trying to survive at the cost of other humans. Or a world in which our best characteristics immediately or eventually come to the fore and new cooperative enclaves are built.

Both depend almost exclusively on a catastrophic event: an instant ice age, the sun suffering a major glitch, a worldwide pandemic wiping out a good portion of humanity, nuclear war, etc. The alternative is the frog in the pot on the stove, which I’ve mentioned before. That really offers a lot more leeway for innovative thinking about society than defaulting to the either/or choice of cooperate or kill.

I’ve given this a lot of thought and I have to say I can understand why a gradual slide into a dramatically different kind of society hasn’t been tackled. Maybe it has, by someone, but I’m just not aware of it. I imagine a book like this would probably fall into obscurity pretty quickly, even though it would be more likely than the others to offer hope for the future.

Is it even possible to write such a book?

Between One Thing and Another…

Between one thing and another, I haven’t been doing any writing for the last week or two. Not good, because I’d set goals that should have been reachable without a lot of hassle. One of the things is that my Scrivener file for Camp Expendable became corrupted — again — and I just couldn’t face dealing with it again. At least I discovered the cause. It’s being dealt with on a temporary basis and will have a permanent fix as soon as I receive the 8 GB memory chips I ordered and get them installed. I’ve always known my Mac Mini doesn’t have enough memory, but for some reason it’s become critical lately, rather than just annoying. The other thing was an extended bout of being seriously under the weather.

As usual, though, I’ve been making notes for various WIPs, including Expendable, since that part of my brain never seems to shut down, no matter how rotten I feel. To NaNo or not to NaNo is still up in the air, and taking a good deal of my own working memory, which makes me feel somewhat like a NaNoWriMo newbie rather than a scarred veteran.

What makes it even more challenging to make a decision is that a new contender for my attention is shoving A Well-Educated Boy to the curb. That wouldn’t be a real problem except that this story is nothing but a concept and a few notes and short fragments. No plot, no structure, and not much in the way of characters. So why am I even contemplating it? That’s the 64 million dollar question.

The only reason I can come up with is that I’m bored with the two novels I’ve been working on and want to get into something new — something that’s a real challenge. And what’s more challenging than pantsing a story that is still just a vague idea? The first time I tried to do that was also the last. That was the first time I entered NaNo. It was a complete failure of course, because it was also my first attempt at writing a novel.

So there’s an element of: can I pants a novel now that I have several under my belt and know a heck of a lot more about what goes into a novel? There’s no way to answer that except by doing it. Which I may do. Or I may not. I doubt I can come up with 50,000 words in one month, starting out with so little preparation, but it feels like something worth trying.

It’s science fiction, of course, and somewhere in the neighborhood of Clarke’s Childhood’s End. Just barely in the neighborhood. And it will be my seventh year of doing NaNo if I don’t count the first two years of trying to figure out the whole noveling thing and failing miserably.


Turning Dry into Drama – Bentham’s Dream

This is an unplanned followup to yesterday’s post. It may be somewhat disorganized, even a little incoherent, since I’m thinking with my fingers. Bentham’s Dream was originally intended to be part of a short story collection about prisons, from about the early 19th century to the 2060s or thereabout. Somehow, Bentham’s Dream took over and shoved the other stories out of sight. Credit the last few years of research about the death penalty, solitary confinement, and other aspects of criminal justice. The story has grown, from some 8,000 words to 26,000 words and is still a long way from being finished.

I think it was at about 25,000 words that I realized I had a problem and needed to do some very deep thinking about where the story was going. More important, and I think yesterday’s question about why anyone would want to read it was a trigger, the problems coalesced into one question: how do I turn a somewhat dry subject and two talking heads into a story that will fascinate rather than send readers off into slumberland.

This might serve as a metaphor for any subject that might grab a writer, but seems to have little potential for attracting readers. Fortunately, science fiction allows a lot of latitude in topics, and any serious sf reader probably has fond memories of books dealing with subjects that they never would have considered worth their time. This is worth thinking about in this age of formula writing. How many Hunger Games clones can you bear to read? How many zombie novels or post-apocalyptic end-of-the-world reruns?

There are thousands of possible topics waiting for the science fiction writer with some imagination, someone who’s willing to take some risks and walk away from the clones and clichés. But it won’t be easy. It’s probably been well over a year since I started writing Bentham’s Dream. My original concept was fairly limited, but turned out to be nothing more than the skeleton from which to hang something much more complex and, I hope, more dramatic. Something I discovered about my writing is that I tend to place my characters in very restricted circumstances. Well, there’s nothing more restrictive than a prison where there is zero chance of prisoners causing any problems for the staff. So, no riots, no murders. None of the clichés that we associate with prison stories. Just two people wandering around the prison, observing the prisoners, and talking about it. How in the world can I introduce action and drama into such a setting?

Originally, the main protag, an inspector for the region’s penal system, does his job and then leaves, trying to decide how he wants to slant his report. He and the warden have had an interesting and enlightening discussion, but never touched base with each other as human beings. Dull, dull, dull. After much backing and forthing about POV, I’m writing the story in first person, from the point of view of Jerry Stanton, the inspector. This puts us closer to him than third person would be, but also limits what we can know about Chandler, the prison warden. Since Chandler starts off as an efficient bureaucrat, Jerry’s point of view is important if we want to see him as a human being, possibly with doubts about his job.

As the story evolved, Chandler turned out to be the key to the drama, and to a very different ending than I had planned, one that will be, if I do it right, a shocker.

WIPs Have Their Own Agendas

Sometimes I think WIPs have their own agendas, even a kind of life, that is independent of my priorities and ideas about what I should be working on. At the moment, Camp Expendable is waiting for me to stop dawdling and get it formatted, converted, and published. I had planned to get it out of my hair by the middle of the month, and that’s tomorrow. But I haven’t touched it for over a week, so that’s clearly not going to happen.

What shoved it out of the way? The story that is least likely to find readers, but has its grip on my mind and won’t let go. No matter what else I’m working on, Bentham’s Dream shoves its way to the front and demands that I get on with it. Who’s going to want to read a novella (which is what it’s turning into, from a short story) that takes place in a mysterious prison where the most horrific criminals are condemned to a life in solitary confinement. Even worse, there are only two protagonists, who spend all their time talking — about the problems and ethics of maintaining such a prison. Very exciting stuff.

It’s that kind of obsessiveness, willingness to let the stories dictate to the writer rather than the other way around, that separates some of us from the mainstream. We not only don’t write to market, we can’t write to market. We are internally inspired, driven, and motivated, whereas most writers seem to be externally driven and motivated. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re always going to write books without any chance of success in the marketplace. It does mean that we will put every bit of our creativity, and months or years of effort into book that we know very well will remain obscure and unloved.

Money is always welcome. Even a little bit of fame would be nice. But we’re willing to sacrifice all that for something that has meaning for us, even if that meaning may sometimes be obscure. It’s like a quest with an uncertain outcome, something you have to do whether or not it makes sense to anyone else.

A Well-Educated Boy – the 19th Century Concept

I sometimes work up the covers for my books before they’ve been written. Hunting down the most appropriate image and fonts, and then fiddling with the design of the cover, is a great way to procrasinate. When I came across this image, purely by accident, I knew instantly that I didn’t have to go hunting. It was perfect for A Well-Educated Boy. Now I have to make a decision about the font. Should I use one that matches the period of the image, or go aggressively modern to suggest that the book is looking down the road at another version of the future?

The illustration is one of a large set of postcards created in 19th/early 20th century France. The images were whimsical predictions of what life would be like in the 21st century. They prove that we tend to predict the future in terms that reflect the world around us, and are usually limited by the images and concepts that we are already familiar with.


The text at the top of the image is: “In the year 2,000.”

In 1986, Isaac Asimov published fifty of the set, with commentaries, in a book titled Futuredays: A Nineteenth Century Vision of the Year 2000.
To see more of the set:

Pantsing NaNo 2016?

It’s still completely up in the air — whether or not I’ll do NaNoWriMo this year. On the one hand, I’d like to get a first draft of A Well-Educated Boy written. On the other, I have too much on my plate right now to spend the necessary time to get all my notes into a more or less coherent shape. Since I have no idea yet how I want to structure the thing, my usual planning for NaNo can’t happen without an expenditure of time and energy that isn’t available.

The story is first person YA SF that probably won’t work in a normal chronological order, so trying to whip it into shape before it’s written, in time for NaNo, is just going to be an exercise in frustration. I could probably sit down and crank the whole thing out in a couple of weeks, but then would come the most massive revisions I’ve ever had to deal with — putting everything in a logical order.

The more I think about it, the more it seems as if that could actually work. So what I’m now considering is just writing scenes based on the material I already have, but without trying to put them in any order. In other words, pants the heck out of it, and deal with the mess later. I’ll still be editing as I go, as I always do, because “mess” does not mean incoherent sentences, misspelled words, etc. I have so many notes about the characters, the changes Hart goes through, the events that take place, and the background for the story that it probably won’t be too difficult to just open up my brain and spill whole scenes. All I’ll be leaving out during November is how to order and connect them. What I’ll wind up with, to work on in 2017, is the meat-covered bones without the joints to make them hang together. Looked at that way, it’s kind of scary, since I’ve never worked that way. But what’s life without challenges?

Stumbling Over Inspiration

Writing inspiration is all around you, unless you live under a rock or in one of those dark, dank artist’s attics that we’re supposed to inhabit. I love it when I stumble over something that I can’t wait to add to a story. I just did my daily check-in at and ran right into one of those delightful details that not only reminded me of my own school days (and not in a pleasant way), but demanded to be written into A Well-Educated Boy.

Down with classroom icebreakers: Can we all just start teaching instead? is by a teacher who probably remembers his own school days, and has some excellent advice for teachers who insist on boring the pants off their new classes as a way to start the school year. I don’t remember if I had to sit through recitals of the entire year’s syllabus, but I do remember icebreakers, and not just from school.

As a very private introvert, right from birth, probably, I detested those “getting to know you” sessions that rarely do more than embarrass the hell out of everyone who’s forced to participate in them. It’s another of those social rituals that are rarely disrupted by someone with the courage to say that they have nothing to say. Everyone meekly reveals their name, their favorite whatevers, and heaves a sigh of relief when it’s all over.

Every time I read some bit of news about how schools have found yet another way to violate kids’ privacy, sense of self, sense of safety, I look back and wish I could do it all over again, but with my mature experience of life and the perspective it’s given me. I would like to be the one who says “I don’t give a damn about everyone’s favorite whatevers and I’m not going to tell you mine.”

I do believe that’s what Hart is going to do. And it will be another black mark on the record that sends him to an alternative school to learn to keep his mouth shut and follow the rules.

Random Bits for Labor Day

None of the bits have anything to do with Labor Day. You can thank me when you get around to it.

You don’t have to be a grammar snob to dislike the Weather Channel website, but it helps. In today’s report on the storm still hanging around in the upper Atlantic: “Hermine is well off the Northeast Coast, but the effects of the storm is still effecting the New England Coast.” Who writes these things? Maybe they can try for three errors in one sentence next time.

Strange Trend in Blog Subscriptions

Why do I keep getting new subscribers with blogs that contain nothing but photographs? These people don’t write anything; they don’t have any information about themselves, and they generally leave the example text that WordPress inserts for the edification of people who need an explanation of how to blog. What’s the deal here? Is someone passing the word around that subscribing to random blogs might attract viewers to their own? If so, they’re wasting their time. If I had a driving need to view picture of animals and buildings, I might be tempted. Might. More likely, not.

Is the crazy getting crazier?

Maybe I just read the wrong news sites, and too many of them. But it does seem that crazies are crawling out from under every rock lately. A state’s freedom of religion law as justification for beating the crap out of your child? Pouring water over a kid’s head because he spoke Spanish on the school bus? Going into hysterical rants at total strangers because you believe they’re an ethnic group/religion/political persuasion that you hate? A tremendous number of recent crazies have the whiff of The Donald about them, as if he’s given permission for them to spout their delusions and act them out. Apparently, that whiff also allows them to believe that no one will notice and that they will escape any legal consequences.


Another Taste of Camp Expendable

I don’t take vacations or observe holidays, so it’s appropriate that I post another chunk of Camp Expendable during a holiday weekend.

Chapter One, part two

Most of the men were on their feet now, pulling their belongings down from the overhead racks. A few shoved their way to the front of the bus, followed by angry shouts.

Jake pointed a skinny finger. “Take a gander, will ya? Gotta be the first off, even if you ain’t nowhere when you get there. Just like it used to be on air flights. You’d think people with the money to ride a plane would be politer than these assholes, but there ain’t really much difference. Except airline passengers smelled a whole lot better.”

Was this going to be one of Jake’s stories about the old days? They were usually amusing, and every now and then they let slip clues about Jake’s past life. But right now, all Casey wanted was off, as fast as possible. His ass hurt from a night and almost two days of sitting, and he was as stiff as if he were Jake’s age instead of thirty-eight.

“If they’d been riding on a broke-back bus with all the windows shut, and dust still sneaking through the cracks, not to mention the damned heat, they’d probably have been stinking to high heaven, too. Just like us.”

Each time they got back on the bus after a rest stop and a chance to breathe some fresh air, the fug of body odor, foul breath, and stale urine had hit him right in the gut. He couldn’t smell himself most of the time, thank goodness, but he itched all over. Maybe this new camp would have enough water for long showers. Hot showers. He could dream, but he knew better than to hope. Long was rare; hot was almost non-existent, an impossible luxury for anyone on the drift.

The smells had become part of the background of misery between stops, unavoidably there, like the aches and pains that came with long hours of immobility and the fatigue of too little real sleep. The worst part of the trip was that they had driven through the night, two of the soldiers taking shifts, while Sargeant Marshall—damned Marshall—sat like a grim statue, his rifle across his lap, watching, always watching. Every time Casey woke up and looked his way, he was wide awake. Maybe he slept with his eyes open. The damned man probably wasn’t human, but Casey was too desperate for sleep to stay awake and try to catch him with his eyes shut.

“Yeah,” Jake said.  And they’d be bitchin’ and moanin’ about it to beat the band. But I gotta admit those were the good old days before …” Jake came to one of those abrupt halts that meant he’d almost touched on something in his old life, before the streets and the transit camps. That was the only topic he was tight-mouthed about.

Two years now and Casey still didn’t know much about his closest friend. His only friend. He was pretty sure Jake wasn’t the grammar-challenged bum he seemed to be. That persona slipped now and then, but Casey never made the mistake of appearing to notice, or of asking questions. Jake wasn’t the only one in the camps with a past life closed to discussion. That was something most people respected.

“And they had soft drinks on the plane. And whiskey. And beer. And water! Man, I could drink a gallon or two right now. And then jump in a shower and stay there till I prune all over. I’m just about as dry inside as out. I don’t think I could even take a piss.”

Casey grinned. “Can’t piss. Can’t spit. You’re in bad shape, Jako. I think you’re just about to dry up and blow away.”

“Real funny,” Jake growled.

“Water,” Casey murmured, as a tendril of memory flew by, too fast to catch. Even vanished, the dream continued to bother him. “A lot of it. I remember that. But why salt water?”

Jake gave him a puzzled glance, then a commotion up front caught his attention. “Oh jeez! Would ya take a gander at that poor bastard? He ain’t never gonna get all that stuff back together.”

An elderly man was trying to save his belongings from the scavengers picking through them. A torn plastic garbage bag hung from the rack above him, trailing a few raggedy items that looked like salvage from a dumpster. The rest was scattered on the floor or being yanked back and forth between the men around him. Casey sympathized. Everything he owned was in his duffle. He couldn’t blame the old man for trying to save his possessions, even if they did look like trash. The soldiers sitting up front watched what was going on, but neither of them moved to put a stop to the thieving. In fact, Sergeant Marshall was grinning as the old man tried to grab something that was being held up, out of his reach. Casey turned to look out the window, disgusted, then startled at a shout.

“Enough! All of you sit down and shut the hell up. Where do you think you’re going, anyway? Some fancy hotel? I don’t want to see any more pushing and shoving. And lay off grubbing through that crap. What the hell you want with that old geezer’s garbage anyhow?”

Complete silence fell, and every face turned toward Marshall, now standing by the driver. Typical, Casey thought. The sergeant didn’t give a shit about the old man losing his stuff. It was just another chance for him to throw his weight around, like he’d been doing during the whole trip, and even before they got on the bus, acting like he’d love to shoot someone if they’d give him a justifiable excuse. One of his first targets had been Jake. In the exodus from the camp, Marshall had treated the men as if they’d deliberately set out to make his life difficult. He yanked one man around, then another, for no reason that Casey could see, creating more confusion than if he’d let them alone to line up for the bus. By the time they’d finally formed up to the sergeant’s standard, his patience was apparently exhausted. He’d given Jake a hard shove in the back as he stumbled on the first step. Jake fell to his hands and knees, trying to catch his breath before pulling himself the rest of the way up. Casey got between them, infuriated, when Marshall reached out for the old man again, cursing at him for his clumsiness.

“Don’t you dare hit him, you son of a bitch!”

Marshall’s face had turned a violent red. He raised a fist toward Casey, but noticed the other soldiers  and the camp supervisor watching them. “I’ll be keeping on eye on you, asshole,” he ground out in an undertone. “Don’t think I won’t.”

“That’s just great,” Jake had told Casey. “That’s the kind of son of a bitch that holds a grudge. And now you’re in his line of sight, too. You should have just let it go.”

“And let him hit you? Don’t worry, Jako, I won’t have any problem keeping an eye out for both of us.”

Just like Jake had warned, Casey had caught the sergeant staring at him several times during the long trip. Whenever their eyes met, the soldier gave him a toothy grin and swung his rifle toward Jake, just for a fraction of a second, as if he was adjusting its position. He did his best to shut out the man’s voice, but it rode over the commotion. He hoped the bus would do a quick turnaround once they were all off and take the bastard with it. It wouldn’t be too soon to see the last of Marshall’s ugly face

“That means everybody. Nobody gets off the bus until I say so. And you!” Marshall pointed his rifle at the man scrabbling to save his belongings.  Everyone near him ducked. “Get that trash off the floor. The rest of you set your asses down until I say you can get up.”

“Yes, sir. Yes, sir,” Jake muttered in a low voice, flipping off a quick parody of a salute. “I’m already gettin’ pretty sick of these soldier boys. At least we didn’t have to put up with them in the camps.”

Casey stretched and groaned as stiff muscles protested, then concentrated on what little he could see through the windshield, shifting in his seat to get a wider view. “You might have to get used to the soldier boys, Jake. Can’t see a whole lot from this angle, but that looks like a row of army barracks.”

“Aw no! Tell me it ain’t so, Casey.”

“Okay, it ain’t so. That make you happy?” Casey couldn’t help laughing at Jake’s  expression. “Look on the bright side. A solid roof over your head instead of tents flapping in the wind. Maybe even hot showers. And hot meals!”

“Don’t get my hopes up,” the old man grumbled, running his fingers through his tangled and filthy white beard. “You don’t even know if those barracks are for us or the soldier boys. And speakin’ of hopes, when are we gonna get off this rattletrap?”
As if in response, the bus gave a jerk as the gate slid open, pulled forward, and turned toward a dirt parking lot. When the engine died, Jake gave a big sigh. “It’s about damned time.”

On Being Told What and When to Read

Labor Day is just around the corner, and that means summer is over. Which means it’s time to get serious about your reading. No more beach fluff. Get your mind in gear and read the books “we” think are important.

I have the same reaction every time I see a list of the books we “should” be reading: my back stiffens, and I say no thanks, I’ll choose my books myself, and read them when I darn well want to. I realize that Literary Hub’s new list of 18 Books You Should Read This September isn’t meant to be taken literally. I’m an obsessive reader, but even I can’t read 18 books a month. That title is just another form of clickbait.

Neither is the selection of books meant to appeal, in its entirety, to everyone. Out of the 18 on the list, two sound like something I’d read — someday– but they don’t belong on my priority list. From some lists, I take nothing at all because, as with so many aspects of my life, and like Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt (read her new post: I Am Always the Wrong Survey Demographic), I don’t fit anyone’s demographic. Thank goodness!



Preview of Camp Expendable

I”ve been debating about doing this and finally decided “why not?” The first chapter is about 4,000 words, a pretty long read, so I’ll break it up, and if anyone shows interest, I’ll post it all, over a few days.

Chapter one, part 1

Casey staggered, flailing his arms wildly in an attempt to stay upright as the ground shook beneath him. A voice where no voice should be protested, “Ow! Damn it, Casey, that hurt. C’mon, wake up, buddy. That’s gotta be one hell of a nightmare. Looks like we’re here, wherever the hell here is, so get your ass back in the real world.”

Bleary-eyed, he pulled himself up straight in the hard seat and looked around in confusion. The ground wasn’t shaking, but his heart still pounded even as the terror began to fade, leaving behind the smell of something vaguely familiar. Then it was gone, along with the rest of the dream. Jake was staring at him with a concerned frown.

“What?” he rasped from a throat choked with dust. He reached for the bottle lying between them, then remembered he’d drunk the last of his water hours ago. He tossed the bottle on the floor, not caring that Marshall had warned them not to litter. “The hell with Marshall. The SOB can pick the damned thing up himself.”

“C’mon, get yourself together. Unless we’re gonna be overnight guests, this looks like it could be the end of the line. At least we’re gettin’ off this damn rattletrap for a while.”

The end of the line? The phrase struck an ominous chord. Stupid! It was just a leftover from the nightmare that had already faded away. But something else was trying to get his attention. Someone had hurt Jake!

“Wait a minute. Someone hit you? Who’s the asshole?”

For the moment, his concern for Jake outweighed any curiosity about where they were. A quick look had told him there wasn’t much to see, anyway. Just like the whole miserable trip. The view through the dust-covered side windows was a brown blur. The two half-circles the bus’s windshield’s wipers managed to keep clear hadn’t offered much more: road, road, and more road, endlessly, and flat, featureless desert to either side. Now the bus idled in front of a tall wire fence.

He’d spent as much of the trip as he could dozing, usually managing to sleep through the noise of 30 men joking, arguing, yelling. Usually.  He’d wake up with a start whenever the bus hit a pothole, then fall asleep again, knowing that the short stretches of interrupted sleep were going to take their toll later.  But it was better than letting himself soak in the fear and hostility that hung in the barely breathable air right from the first. No one knew why they’d been rousted out of the transit camp or where they were going. Rumors were their only amusement and the source of constant arguments. Casey had listened in now and then, out of sheer boredom, but he’d mostly given up even that attempt at making the time pass. Sleep was far preferable.

You’re the asshole, you dumb lunk.” But Jake sounded amused, even grinning as if it were a big joke. “You were thrashin’ around like the devil was after you, and your elbow got me. Hey, it’s okay! You didn’t do any damage, but I thought for a few seconds there, you decided we weren’t friends anymore. A pretty bad dream, huh?”

“I guess.” Casey tried to remember what it had been about, but it was gone without a trace. Probably just as well if it had made him strike out in his sleep. “Something about water. And the ground shaking. I guess that part was the bus getting into it. It’s a wonder the damned thing didn’t shake itself to pieces by now and leave us all sitting by the side of the road.”

Jake laughed. “It ain’t too surprisin’ you dreamed about water. I’m sure as hell dreamin’ about it, and I’m wide awake. Heck, I’m too dry to even work up a good spit. Gonna be hackin’ up a nasty lump when they let us off this heap.”

“It was salt water,” Casey said, more to himself than to Jake. The shadowy memory teased him. “Why salt water? A cool mountain stream would make more sense.”

“Well, maybe you’ll remember it later, and you can tell me all about it. Hey! The gate’s openin’. I sure as hell hope this is the last stop. I’m gettin’ downright tired of wanderin’ from pillar to post and back again. Just wanna settle down somewhere for a while and get comfortable.”

“Don’t count on it, old man.” One camp was exactly like another in Casey’s experience, and he didn’t expect this one to be any different. But like Jake, he’d had enough of moving from place to place with no goals, and no hope for the future. Settling down for a while didn’t sound like a bad idea. Whether this was the place to do it? Hell, they might be piling back on the bus first thing in the morning.