J held her breath and listened for every tiny sound.

Join the debate: Does incest belong in a novel? (The author took incest out of the Prologue)

Prologue (video of author reading from excerpt below)

A dim ovular vehicle, gently shimmering in reds, greens and yellows, floated silently down the Hudson River Valley, honing in on the red and green rotating beacon on top of the George Washington Bridge. It hovered briefly over the beacon, merging with its beams. They brightened. Then it looped and glided north-eastward, unnoticed by the pair of lovers on Riverside Drive, or by the overnight truckers making their way across the bridge from New Jersey. Slowly it dipped toward the dark tar-papered roof of a six-story tenement in Washington Heights.

Within minutes a thin shimmering figure emerged from the vehicle. At first glance, one might say it was human, with its two arms and legs, loosely adorned with soft vibrant multicolored silks. But it was disproportionately thin for its almost seven feet, so thin one would expect it to struggle against the swift October winds. Instead, it stood without effort in the shadow of the vehicle, listening. Then it walked slowly toward the edge, stepped out onto a fire escape ladder and glided down to a fifth floor window without touching a step. At the same time, two other almost identical figures emerged from the vehicle, and, turning their heads toward their disappearing comrade, stood perfectly still in the shadow of their craft.

• • •

J held her breath and listened for every tiny sound. Had she fallen asleep by mistake? She must mind-protect Mommy. She must stay awake to grab Daddy’s mind and put him to sleep before he grabbed at Mommy and gave her those big black bruises. Sometimes his dizzy gasoline stink filled her nose and made her carsick, so she couldn’t send her mind into the living room way down the hall. If she could hear him coming, she could sometimes make Mommy not feel before his stink made her too vomity to do that mind-protecting thing.

When he did come home early and just went to bed, well, then she would just be able to sleep. But first Mommy had to check the room. Under the bed for bears. Push the door flat against the wall so nothing could hide behind it. Close the shade of the fire escape window because shadows from the light outside could become bouncing goblins on the walls. So many things to check. “Okay, J, I checked under the bed. No bears. See? No bears. Now close your eyes.” If her singsong voice had that slight “hurry up already” in it, J’s throat would tighten. When Mommy’s voice sounded like that, there’d be no goodnight hug.

Sometimes she fell asleep by mistake, and later in the night she would wake up to Mommy crying softly in the bathroom, right next to J’s room. Sometimes she’d brave the bears and tiptoe (can’t wake up Daddy!) into the bathroom and hold on to Mommy’s back going up and down with her crying. Mommy would be sitting on the bathroom floor next to the tub, her head buried in her arms. She’d just hold Mommy a little bit because Mommy didn’t like hugging, and then she’d tiptoe back to bed before Mommy shooed her away. Sometimes Mommy got really mad right away. That was worse. Sometimes she tried sending her mind-kisses instead; other times she’d just squeezed Mommy’s crying out of her brain.

Once she decided to be really brave. She scampered down the hall to the living room. “Stop! Stop! Stop it!” she screamed, pulling at Daddy’s pea jacket from behind with all her might. Maybe she dreamed she was so very brave. She didn’t remember what happened next. She was back in bed, sobbing under her pillow so she couldn’t hear them any more. That’s when she decided to do that mind-protecting and mind-kissing thing.

Once Daddy’s yelling and thumping had been so loud, the policemen came. J pretended she was asleep when they came into her room, her cheeks burning hot when one of them called Mommy “ma’am” and said what a cute little girl she had. Another time, somebody knocked on the pipes. Daddy’s yelling suddenly hushed. Then he was crashing pots in the kitchen. “I’ll show you who to bang at!” as he smashed them against the pipes. Maybe that’s when the policemen came.

Now Daddy was coming home late again.

If only her lady would come to her now, before he smashed into the apartment. She imagined her lady’s strong and loving hand and placed it on her back. She heard her lady’s fairy angel words in her ear. Her loving hand on her back spilled into her throat, a silent crying ecstasy. She made her lady disappear so that she could make her come to her again. In her head she made her lady say, “My poor little baby girl. Everything’s going to be okay now. You’ll see.” Then she made her lady just hold her tight so she could silently cry herself to sleep in her lady’s loving arms.

No, a better idea. Maybe she could pretend her lady helps her get onto the fire escape, and helps her brave the goblins, and then she could dangle her feet through the bars of the fire escape like she always did during the day. And it would feel so good, hanging her legs between the fire escape bars, pee-pee and tummy pressed against the bars, real hard, five stories up. Falling without falling. A good dizzy, rushing from her toes to her throat. The night goblins will kill her. That’s okay. Mommy and Daddy will really miss her and love her oh so much. And Mommy and Daddy will cry like they did when Bubba died, and love each other again. She won’t have to mind-protect anymore, ever.

She thought up her lady for one last time. Her lady will make her braver. She put her lady’s hand on her back, and scooted barefoot past the bears (waiting under her bed to grab her ankles) toward the nightmare shadows at the window, very quickly and quietly, so Mommy wouldn’t hear. She climbed out on the fire escape, sat down, and eased her tushy toward the bars. She pushed each leg out through separate openings until they swayed freely over the alleyway five stories down. Falling without falling.

She shut her eyes tight to hide from the goblins that were surely creeping toward her.

Maybe it was very late or very early, because the George Washington Bridge trucks were not humm humm humming. Maybe she just didn’t hear them.

This time, when her cry rippled from her spine into her neck and into her throat, while she was falling without falling from the fire escape, her lady’s hand (not goblins!) felt really warm and strong. Like it was stroking, pressing against her back for real. J’s eyes were wet. Her chin was wet. Her cheeks burned hot. And she very much wanted to open her eyes. She didn’t dare. She didn’t want her make-believe, maybe real live angel lady to go away.

She allowed herself to be lifted. She walked with her lady, her eyes squeezed tight, like she was asleep but awake.

• • •

The tall, thin shimmering figure guided the tiny child up the ladder to the roof, where the dim ovular vehicle glowing in reds, greens and yellows sat in silence, and two tall thin figures stood along side.

• • •

The winking yellow and white lights of the city formed a soft backdrop that night for the iridescent tableau in the center of the tarpaper roof where I met my future.
The familiar, strong and tender hand on my back, the other on my shoulder, guided me toward the center of the roof. My hugging angel lady for real! I decided that this real live lady wouldn’t go away if I opened my eyes. So I did. I couldn’t quite see my lady. Everything was wispy and blurry, but I did make out many shadows, and two long, thin wavering goblins vaguely lit by the moon glow and vibrating in rainbow colors brighter than the colors in my Crayola box. The air smelled like burnt toast, or maybe burnt chocolate pudding. I didn’t feel scared at all.
The lady on the roof said there wasn’t much time. There was some faint murmuring all around her. So these were the fire-escape goblins, I thought. It would be just fine to be kidnapped by them, just as long as my angel lady came along with me.
I think it was ten years later, when I was fifteen, I admitted to Telmx just how much I cherished her hand on my back that night. We called it “the roof moment.” She said, “When I said there wasn’t much time, we knew you had no concept of time as a dimension. Then we felt you struggling to understand our deeper meaning. It took us by surprise, and we giggled with delight. I was also very tense. You were my first recruit.”
I learned that Telmx had been a new mentor, so talented and dedicated that her research earned her the honor of being the youngest Travel Scout graduate ever assigned mission recruitment duty on a primitive planet. Because I was her first recruit, Telmx held me as special. I still feel that tingly glow when I think about our “roof moment.”*
*My life-partner Scotty crafted our recollections into Beyond the Horse’s Eye by visiting and recording the Virtual-Empath (V.E.)-dream-memories of everyone involved in the Mission. In the tradition of the Imari, she then invited each “character” to use a V.E.-viewer to enter and review the manuscript residing in one of her empath chambers (she printed out hard copies for the earthlings who weren’t yet empathically capable of entering someone else’s chambers). My friend Katie was inspired to write her own chapter; and we pushed Scotty (who meticulously had kept her personal point of view out of the book) to do the same. Everyone else tweaked a fact here and there but approved the work as is. As I revisited those times (I am almost 70), particularly the early years, I too was moved to add my reflections, which Scotty interspersed throughout. We decided to call her book science fiction, because if it were characterized as historical truth, all of us—and the work itself—would be retro-swept into oblivion. —J


The author reading from the Prologue

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