I just finished the preliminary edits for this, my latest, and the beginning of what I hope to be a long, extraordinary adventure. It’s a near-future, speculative fiction set in the wake of environmental holocaust. It’s also probably the best thing I’ve done so far.
This sample bit that follows isn’t actually a part of the book, not as I see it. Rather, it is a kind of secret soliloquy I wrote in hopes that people who one day fall in love with (the yet unpublished) Graveyard Children can by chance unearth this prologue on my page and be delighted. So, I suppose this is both a fist-raising announcement of completion and a love letter to future GC enthusiasts. I hope you like it.
If you want to know exactly where we’re going, from the coast, it’s directly thirty miles inland. That’s three days walk over the mountains, or about an hour’s drive via the winding two-lane highway. The factories are on the east side of the mountains, right where the desert starts to take over.
The city at the side of the sea is a large one, and grew to be so because passing decades brought more and more people into a fossil fuel glutted local economy and a near-zero unemployment rate. By day, many of those coastal inhabitants traveled through the low hills to work, where there were good jobs accompanied by the honest and reliable income of heavy industry. If you were traveling east from the coast by car, you were most likely heading to work because there wasn’t much else to drive towards. It was a nice drive, but only until you got to work, because after that it was just a brown desert for a few hundred miles.
The speed limit is 45, but two-lane highways have a pecking order that supersedes law. Mornings were perilous and people from out of town were lucky to survive the journey if they dared to intrude on the competitive sport that was the endlessly repeated drive to work for many people who left home late every morning, to then make up the time by driving bat-shit crazy fast. And there were sightseers sometimes because it was a beautiful drive. The entirety of the scenic, natural route was dearly appreciated no matter how late you were that morning, or how tired you were that evening, and though the drive was green and beautiful, there was a particular bend in the road you looked forward to most, every morning.
No matter how many times you drive to work, coffee in hand, waiting for your retirement, or perhaps simply your dinner that evening, the factories come into view around the bend, and it always, no matter the radio station, takes your breath away. You marvel at the industrial megaplex, the solid statement of it all, the indestructibility, the strength. It was beautifully strong and forgivable for being ugly. The towering smokestacks and empirical volume of things were calming in this ugly way; the way ugly, powerful things make you feel safe – and speaking of safe and ugly it’s a good thing that damned minivan ahead of you going 40 is built like a tank or they’d be run right off the road – but anyway, we were talking about work.
Work is not a pretty place, but the complexity of the engineering that must’ve gone into the district’s design was a thing to be proud of, and the large, clockwork-like manufacturing warehouses nearly baffle in their scope.
Depending on your job and unique contribution to the industrial process, you could perhaps know enough about what went on here to break it apart in your mind and see how beautifully and mathematically such an assemblage of factories and refineries and assembly lines all interact with one another. It’s a jigsaw puzzle, you conclude, one way or another, imagining your piece of the enigma as the more important one, obviously, and be contented with your honest and deservedly self-serving conclusion of this incongruity every morning.
While this went on in your head, as it did in all the thousands of cars, trucks, and whatnots who traveled this highway every day, you, and most everyone else wouldn’t notice the dirt road off to the left of the bend. It hadn’t been used since the mines were in use and had since then fallen into disrepair to the point that it resembled a dried up stream bed.
Leaving you to go to work, the hidden road led a different course; straight north through the forest, into a sparsely wooded, enclosed, high valley, where the old facilities stood.
Once upon a time, men came here for shifts that lasted weeks at a time, or months at a time, or longer.
Their living quarters, a large dorm, lay in the northwest of the valley, at the edge of the woodlands and the mountains shortly beyond; a bit of distance from the work site on account of there being only small sections of land flat and spacious enough to accommodate anything larger that a shed.
In the shadow of this dormitory stood a complex of small storage buildings, food stocks, and all kinds of goods that made living easier when your home was a sweltering dormitory full of other tired, mostly middle-aged, and otherwise unemployable men. No one ever spent long enough there to call it home or call it anything for that matter.
The structure remained nameless for a long time, but not forever. It was named nearly sixty years after its original construction. It came to be called a castle, of all things, the Ottikan castle. The master of which is a young man named Ikari Sanotetsura, but that’s a different time, I’ve skipped ahead, sorry, back we go to the car.
To get to this place, this home away from wherever you’ve come, you had to pass the workshop at the edge of the forest in the south end of the valley. This was a piece of land that came to be owned by a mechanic that had something to do with the work in the mine. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to call him, the mechanic. He worked on your car when it made funny noises. He also worked on the trucks in the mines when they made funny noises. Truck-sized trucks, trucks with tools built onto them, some trucks that could turn a pine tree into a telephone pole in six seconds, and some trucks the size of buildings. This equipment was complex and required some level of specialty when serviced, but this one particular mechanic, the mechanic, was so crafty and skillful that he was never, not once, unable to fix a thing. Except for the one time a runaway sixteen cylinder turbocharged diesel engine, well… exploded, but that wasn’t his fault. He was good, but he was not without limitation, at least, not just yet.
Moving forward in time, as you grow closer and closer to retirement, and many dinners later in your own life, the mine began to dry up and die, which is how the mechanic came to own the land. The foreman sold him the workshop and the surrounding land, in order to fight overhead.
The mechanic set up a nice workspace for himself since he was no longer needed full time in the mine. So came Mr. Ridley to work in the middle of nowhere, repairing and restoring a range of machines and automobiles with skills that put the world’s city-garage owners to shame. People explained to him that he should have been an engineer, and when they did he smiled back at them and continued to regret nothing.
His work was going well, and he was happy. His workshop was itself a masterpiece, suitable for servicing small cars just as easily as the very large vehicles and a wide range of other things. The upstairs of the two-level shop stored a vast range of replacement parts, tubes, gaskets, shapes of metal and plastic that seemed limitless in their variety, limitless even though space was limited. As he came to provide a larger and larger variety of services, he, Mr. Ridley, the multi-faceted genius of construct, built himself additional rooms and sheds on his land to hold more and more things. He even had a machining workshop for when he required making custom bits and fittings. He had all the tools, a lathe, bore, grinder, all that, but also an anvil and forge, and just about everything one would need to build just about anything that couldn’t fly. He had a bad habit of making his own parts when he didn’t have the right one at hand, especially when they told him he couldn’t because it was impossible or dangerous. That was how his town car came to be a particularly ancient station wagon sporting a V-8. Not one of his most triumphant machinations, but for the time that it ran he sure showed them. Moments like those defined him.
In a particular moment of success, Mr. Ridley built a race car he never drove but sold to someone who placed second in a desert race in another state. Some said it was the largest profit margin in the history of racing, and he spent several of the years that followed doing nothing but building racing cars for disgustingly wealthy amateur racers who wanted to go faster than they knew how to drive. He did that until he was bored with it and went back to toying with station wagons. In that stint, he managed to make all the money he would ever need and continued working for the rhythm and fun of it.
He had another, smaller business, that certainly wasn’t a non-profit but wasn’t really a business, either. He had apprentices; talented, eager young men and women who, despite their abilities as mechanics, found themselves duped into the roles of drivers in a small fleet of tow trucks he sent into the city collecting vehicles. They scavenged abandoned vehicles, recalled ones, twisted wreckages, and ones donated by people like you, out of the sheer generosity of not wanting to deal with the piece of crap anymore.
This operation fell somewhere in between ‘a business’ and a ‘non-profit’,because yes, he made no monetary profit, however, Mr’. Ridley delighted in accruing mountains of spare parts and indulged his fondness of cars by amassing acres of abandoned vehicles. He’d give your other cars the tune-up of a lifetime if you let him have that rusty nightmare sitting in your garage.
Now, as his workshop could not hold more than it already did, he had the young men and women in his employ dump all these cars outside. One or two old cars became, very quickly, hundreds. This proved visually unpleasant and vastly unorganized, but it didn’t upset him so long as his actual workspace itself was tidy; the outside he didn’t really care about. Such was the man who worked in this wild mountain junkyard.
That is precisely what the land became: an automobile junkyard, which also delighted Mr. Ridley. His eager young mechanics graduated from tow-truck drivers to become scavengers, sent into the high-walled metal labyrinth to find specific makes and models and replacements, or convincing substitutions, in the kilometer-wide circle of broken cars behind the workshop. To them, these eager minds hunting an elusive apprenticeship, this became hell’s backyard.
Because of the mountain altitude of Mr. Ridley’s expanse, this was indeed a hell that froze over. They spent every day beneath every possible layer of weather cataloging and salvaging parts instead of learning from him, the illustrious Mr. Ridley, their respected mentor.
Most of them lasted only a season or two, but Mr. Ridley didn’t particularly care. It was this quality of indifference that led him to become ‘Mr.’ Ridley. He was only about twenty-six to begin with, but had the focused eyes of a man whom you addressed as ‘sir’, and a vaguely disinterested demeanor that impelled you to keep doing so.
The mine failed, the land sold to some holding company or nameless institution, and as cars changed into new kinds of machines that were more computers than clockwork, people stopped making the journey all the way out to see him, despite his keen and fairly priced work. In his own words, he refused to work on “any car that was smarter than he was,” and he would further explain that he was a machinist, not a psychologist.
Eventually, Mr. Ridley moved back to the city, where he got married, bought a house, and lived casually. He didn’t sell the land, as he didn’t need to; he had money. He figured land was more valuable than money anyway, and so left it where it was, with the deeds tucked away in some forgotten box in his suburban basement.
At one point, another parcel of land just adjacent to his was sold to an actor, who built a reclusive cabin in the woods. Mr. Ridley never betrayed his neighbor’s mountain getaway to anyone, liking the idea that he was keeping a movie-star buddy’s secret for him. He didn’t need anyone to know that he knew, either. In truth, he was the sort of man who didn’t really need much, especially not attention. He lived a life of having enough to keep him happy and all was as it should be.
The valley, half wild, half inhabited by the rubble discarded by humanity, was fortunate to be shrouded in mountain forest that stretched for hundreds of miles both north and south of the valley. And further hidden by the ocean on the west and the almost endless desert flatlands of the east.
This valley forest was untamed, formidable, and where the story about these children takes place. Though first, it starts with Mr. Ridley’s workshop, which also came to have a name; Audrey’s Castle, kindly forgotten and placed far away from the cities, and the catastrophes yet unmentioned.
To begin with, you were driving a car, though only for the sake of explanation. You would not be driving your car anymore, nor would there be a job for you in the machine city at the edge of the foothills. Should you travel the mountain road now, you would be doing so very carefully, most likely on foot so as to remain unseen. This is later, by the way, many years after Mr. Ridley left his workshop. You would be older, and your retirement would have probably come by now, though your pension isn’t in the mail. All of the make-believe riches of the world have vanished so utterly that it is as if they never existed at all. The city is still there, in the way that those things take a while to disappear entirely, but the spirit of indestructibility is gone. All that remains of what we made to last forever are shells, husks, exoskeletons, and pockets of things that appear without purpose, scattered across your country and perhaps in others. Your television is long gone as well, sadly, because that might have explained to you how you’d come to find yourself in such an abysmal place, void of human expression. All you would know now, in these times, is to run from those who would do you harm. And if you were given the chance when the world was set on fire, to remake things from the ashes and useless bits that remained, where would you begin? For Mr. Ridley, it began over thirty years ago, in the only place he could think of that stood untouched by the calamity. The junkyard, and a workshop that would become a castle.
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