Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Eighteen years ago...

It was eighteen years, almost to the day (it was early October 1987, that's all I remember) when I first started writing Voyage. Back then, though, it was just called Xanadu. The fundamental premise was very much the same: build a ship with some money and go colonize a distant world. It totaled about 20 or so handwritten pages on yellow legal pad. I still have all those pages minus the first six, so I have no clue how the story started now (not exactly anyway). But that's how Voyage got started. I did nothing to that "manuscript" until late 1989. That bit is for a later entry.


The Past

It was a dream ...or was it?

The five year old boy stood on the edge of a field, staring into the dark woods. Twilight was fading into night. Gently, the sounds of the gurgling brook echoed from out of the forest, and a summer's breeze blew through the leaves, carrying a sweet scent.

A light grew in the woods, at first small and distant, but then brighter; and closer it came. Fearful, the child backed away from the edge of the woods as the light formed into a glowing being that seemed to glide between the trees, approaching ever closer to the frightened youth.

The full moon rose quickly in the east as the being stopped before the child. "Be not afraid," said the being. To the child, it resembled a man--stately in form, with a flowing beard. The being leaned down, saying, "I will not hurt you. I have come to give you news."

The child stared in wonder at the being, who was now kneeling in the tall grass of the field. The being smiled warmly, and the child no longer felt fear, but a sense of love that up until now was unknown to him. "My child," the being said, "the time will come when I will return to you and call on you to perform a task. You must be unwavering in your acceptance. You will not understand everything I tell you now, nor will you remember the details of this vision, but I still must show you what is to come. When the time is right, you will know what you must do."

The moon was high in the starry sky. Like the lyrics to some long-forgotten melody, a voice seemed to carry a short rhyme upon the wind:

In Xanadu, did Kublai Khan
a stately pleasure dome decree,
Where Alph, the sacred river ran
through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.

A lone metal bird--the child's father told him it was called an 'airplane'-- soared past the moon. The child wondered where it was heading. When the young boy turned around, he saw that he, too, was far above the land. His heart pounded quicker and he was overcome with fear.

"Do not be afraid," the being consoled. "I am with you. Witness. Even though you may not understand, witness. Let the image etch itself into your mind's eye for you to remember when the time is near." The being gestured to the planet below.

The child could see the oceans, the clouds, the land... it all was so strange to him. The child believed it to be a large ball, just out of reach, colored and decorated like he had never seen before. Suddenly, a bright light flashed from underneath a cloud. ...Then another. And another. The flashes came in such rapid succession that it began to unnerve the boy.

What's going on?

"The future." The voice of the being was thoroughly grave when it responded, and although the child was only six years old, he knew that what was happening on that beautiful ball before him was not good. "We should look closer at what has happened below."

I don't know if I want to.

"I understand, but we will still see." In a flash, the scene changed. Fire consumed the land, and the sky was brown and gray. Some creatures still scoured the land, searching for anything to help them survive. The boy recognized the landscape--he was back at his house, but the house was no more. All that remained was the scorched landscape and a tension in the background, like a scream waiting to tear through the atmosphere.

No more! No more! "No more! No more!" The boy screamed 'no more' over and over again like a mantra.

The father burst through the door in a panic. "Henry! What's wrong?"

"No more! No more! No more!" The child's eyes were squeezed shut, and he continued to scream his simple prayer of protection.

The man ran up to the child and picked him up out of bed. He held the boy tight. "It's okay, Henry. Everything's fine."

Muffled sounds of sniffles came from the child, his face pressed into his father's chest. "It was horrible, Daddy!"

"Easy now..." The father soothed the terrified child as best as he could. He sat down in the small bed and placed the child next to him, who was still sniffing and wiping his eyes. "What happened? Did you have a nightmare?"

"Bad nightmare," the boy blurted.

The father looked out the window to the field beyond, to the forest that hid the stream. Light was breaking in the east as dawn approached. He turned back to the child and held him close. "Tell me..."


The nightmare was long gone, replaced by the warm, golden glow of the afternoon sun. The child played in the field, chasing the seagulls around and laughing as they fled from him. His long, wavy brown hair floated as he ran (his father called it "the rat's nest" and often commented on getting it cut, but his mother thought his hair was beautiful and wouldn't have it). He stopped and watched their flight, awed by their grace in the sky. He sometimes wished he could fly like that.

"Henry!" His father called from the house. "Time for dinner!"

"Yay!" The boy ran up the path and into the house. He blasted through the kitchen, almost bowling his mother over.

"Slow down, Henry!" the mother warned. She carried the steaming casserole out into the dining room, where the father and Henry were already sitting, waiting for the food. The mother smiled at the child and placed the meal in the center of the rustic wooden table. She picked up a large serving spoon and scooped some of the noodle casserole on to the child's plate. She then proceeded to fill her husband's plate as well.

"Did you have fun today?" the father asked.


"How was school?"

"Okay." The child fidgeted at the table, waiting for permission to begin eating.

"Go ahead and start," the mother conceded. After Henry had a mouth full of casserole, she added, "But don't talk with your mouth full."


The mother finally sat down and served herself. She smiled as the three ate in quiet--of course, Henry was busy stuffing his mouth with food. "Slow down, Henry, or you'll get a tummy ache."

The boy looked up from his plate, its contents almost completely eaten. "Sowwy," he mumbled through a mouthful of food.

The father watched his son purposefully. "Did they give you any assignments to do for tomorrow?" he probed.

Henry shrugged. "Yeah." He spooned in another mouthful of food.


Henry swallowed down his food. "I have to tell the class what I'd like to be when I grow up."

His father sat there, waiting for further information while Henry just simply wolfed down his food. "And?" he finally asked again.

"I donno," Henry conceded. "Firefighter, maybe. I donno." He felt, though, there was something else.

The doorbell rang.

Frowning, the father got up from his meal. "Who could that be during the dinner hour?" He tromped out of the dining room, mumbling about being interrupted during his meal.

Henry heard the door open. His father's voice carried quietly through the house. Then he heard a second voice that was familiar. The boy looked anxiously at his mother.


"It's Scotty!" Henry was just about to scoot out of his chair when his mother stopped him.

"You can go out and play after dinner, Henry."

Henry slinked back into place, brooding. "Okay, Mom."

The father walked back in. "It's Scotty," he reported. "I told him you'd be out in a half hour, okay?" He nodded to the child.

"Okay. Thanks, Dad."

"Just you finish your meal," he replied, sitting back down at his place at the table. "And don't wolf it. You'll get sick."

The family ate in silence for several more minutes. Dessert came and went, which Henry also ate quickly. Once finished, Henry stared eagerly at his father.

The man waved his hand at the boy. "Go ahead," he said, sipping his coffee. "Be careful."

"I will. Thanks, Dad." The boy slid out of his chair and headed out of the dining room. But, before he crossed the threshold into the hallway, he stopped and turned to his father.

A thought had been floating around in Henry's mind all day, and he had no idea why. It just stuck, and the urge persisted even through dessert. He did know what he wanted to be when he grew up. He didn't know why he felt so strongly about it at the moment, but he did. "Dad?"


The boy was silent for a moment, but only for a moment. "I want to be an astronaut."


Trivia Time: The "dream" in the Prologue is based loosely on a dream I actually had when I was about four years old. I personally don't remember much of the dream, but my father does. It does involve a glowing being, outside our old house in Hancock, ME; and it involves the world being engulfed in flames. Please note that I was not brought up in a religious household, nor had ever been to church or Sunday school at this point. However, all of this information is second-hand through my father. I did, however, have two dreams that I can remember that involved said "glowing being": it was twilight and I was by a stream when the being came through the woods. However, all I remember was the being telling me to not be afraid. That's it. Finis. No flying off into space, no flaming Earth, nothing. So make of it what you will.