Welcome to the wide crazy world of TJ Klune

As you can see, this is a blog (a blog, you say? You're like the only person in the world that has one!). Here are my promises to you: I promise to up date this as much as I can. I promise that at some point, you will most likely be offended. I promise that I may show naked dudes (but honestly? I've been told that my taste can be a little... strange). I also promise to make this some place where you can see how my mind works.

You've been warned.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The First Look At BOATK3, The Art Of Breathing

Wow.  It sure has been a long time since I've written on my own blog.  Too long in fact. I may have to make this a more regular thing.  Time has gotten away from me, as I'm sure you understand.

As a way of saying thank you for the release of the anthology Grand Adventures, I wanted to give you the first look at BOATK3, The Art Of Breathing.  This excerpt is not spoilery (and damn if it didn't take me a while to find one that wasn't spoilery), so don't worry about the story being ruined for you.

Here, the Kid has come back to the Green Monstrosity for the first time in four years.  Why he's stayed away from Seafare that long and what happened to him while he was away is something you'll have to wait to find out.  But you will soon, I promise.  I think we have the release date nailed down in June.  Can't say what date just yet, but it's soon.

In this excerpt, you'll also be introduced to a new character, Corey. Corey is...well.  Corey is one of my favorite parts of this new book because of what he represents to Tyson.  Yes, that is frustratingly vague I know, but trust me when I say he's going to rock all kinds of hardcore.

You also may notice this scene harkens back to a similar one from Who We Are that was directly before a certain awkward dinner scene.  This is intentional as I've written a pseudo-sequel to the Most Awkward Dinner Ever.  At first, Ty's story parallels his brother's before it branches off into something else entirely.  This book will be funny, but it's also going to be heartbreaking. Let me put it this way: my editor is one tough nut to crack, but she told me she cried more in this book than she did in BOATK and Who We Are combined.  So...you know.  Heh. Heh. Heh.

Anyway.  Enough chitchat.  To all of you that have helped Eric and I on our Grand Adventure, I say thank you.  This little look into the future of Bear, Otter and the Kid is for you.








        “My God,” Corey breathes as we pull up to the Green Monstrosity. “Photos do not do this house justice. This… this is beyond epic.”
It is. It always has been. The Green Monstrosity is way past epic. A two-story piece of offensive architecture that rises out of the suburbs like a big fuck you to the rest of the neighborhood. It’s weird, really, the feeling that hits me when I see it again for the first time in close to four years It is epic yes, the green so grotesque it should be illegal, but it’s still just a house like any other. It has walls and a roof and a yard.
So why then, when we pull up next to it, the driveway already packed full of cars I don’t recognize, does a lump form in my throat? Why is it that I can feel heat prick my eyes? It’s just a house. That’s all it is.
But that’s a lie. It’s more than that. The Green Monstrosity was the first time since I could remember that I knew that maybe, just maybe, things would be okay for Bear and me. We said good-bye to the hole-in-wall apartments with the gross carpet and the peeling walls. We said good-bye to a life where we existed merely by floating along. We said good-bye to the life where I wasn’t sure we’d make it, though I tried to put on a brave face, at least as much as an nine-year-old ecoterrorist in training could do. I was just a little guy, but I would have torn the world apart with my bare hands for my brother if called upon to do it.
It’s just a house, yes, but it’s also more than that. It’s a sign that things could get better.
“Please tell me you’re never going to paint over that,” Corey says. “Seriously. It’s like the Jolly Green Giant masturbated all over your house.”
“And there’s an image that will never leave my head,” Bear says.
“Would his semen be green?” Otter wonders out loud. “That seems like it could be true. And very gross.”
“It’d probably taste like peas and carrots too,” Corey says.
“At least it’d be good for you,” I say. “Maybe that’s what the mashed peas baby food is.”
“That is foul and offensive,” Corey says. “Most likely correct as well.”
“Thank God this is already starting,” Bear says. “We’ve been home for a minute and we’re already discussing the Jolly Green Giant jacking off for baby food. For once in our lives, could we please have a normal conversation before we enter a social gathering?”
“Bear’s just upset because now that’s all he’s going to think about,” Otter explains to Corey. “It’ll probably make him feel a little hot under the collar.”
“Gross!” I groan. “I do not want to think about Bear getting turned on because of the Jolly Green Giant. Or for anything. You guys keep your weird role playing to yourselves.”
“We don’t role-play Jolly Green Giant!” Bear says, sounding insulted. “Canned-food mascot sex is not one of my kinks.”
“You have kinks?” Corey asked, ears perking up. “Dish. Now.”
“Never in your dreams,” Bear assures him.
“You can tell me,” Corey says. “I’d listen.”
“That’s my brother,” I say as I smack him. “And my Otter, who is my sort of dad-brother. That is not okay.”
“We could get, like, a green body suit,” Otter tells Bear. “And tape green leaves and asparagus to you or something. That’d be kinda hot.”
“This is why I have to go to therapy,” I say to Corey. “Because of stuff like this. It happens all the time.”
“You want to tape asparagus to me?” Bear asks. “I could probably get into that.”
“It’s good to know that even old people can get funky,” Corey tells me. “Gives me hope when I’m their age in like forty years.”
“That was probably not the best thing you could have said,” I say as Bear starts to sputter indignantly.
Old? I will punch your kidney right out of your body, you little—”
“He won’t really,” I say. “He just likes to sound tough. He couldn’t hurt a fly.”
“Isn’t it normally wouldn’t hurt a fly?”
“Normally. But this is Bear. He couldn’t even do that.”
“Once again,” Otter says, “I don’t quite know how we got to this point.”
“That seems to be a common occurrence with you guys,” Corey says. “I can’t wait until we go to dinner. I’ve heard Bear gets loaded on wine and cries, and then the whole thing dissolves into a big case of what-the-fuckery where everyone talks at once, and it usually ends in overshared feelings and hugging.”
“That was one time!”
“What about the Kid’s high school graduation dinner?” Otter asks.
“And when you got that teaching contract?” I ask.
“And when the New Yorker bought that photo of that homeless encampment I took?” Otter says.
“And when I made the dean’s list my first year?” I say. My first and only time.
“I might have a drinking problem,” Bear mutters.
“And an emotional-style vomiting problem,” Otter says.
“And a verbal diarrhea problem,” I say.
“It was the Green Monstrosity,” Corey says, trying to reign us all in. “That’s how we got here.”
Bear shrugs. “We talked about repainting it, especially when the paint started to peel on the siding. Couldn’t bring myself to do it. Didn’t feel right.”
“It took the Home Depot  paint guy at least three weeks to match it,” Otter says. “I’m pretty sure he had to go through the Russian black market to find the components to get the color right.”
Bear rolls his eyes. “It wasn’t that hard. He just wanted you to keep coming in so he could flirt with you.”
“You were just projecting your insecurities on him, dear. He wasn’t flirting with me.”
“Oh really? Was I? So I suppose it totally matters to paint color when he asked you how much you worked out and that he thought you were just so vascular. He laughed like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman  at every single thing you said!”
“I’m funny,” Otter says. “And vascular.”
“You’re not that funny. And when your veins stick out, it’s gross.”
“That’s not what you said last night.”
Bear grins and rolls his eyes.
“Last night?” I say in horror. “In the hotel? We were sharing the same room!”
Bear shrugs. “That’s why the bathrooms have locks.”
“Home Depot guy definitely wanted your penis,” Corey says.
“Here we are,” I mutter. “Back to the penises. I’m never going to get out of therapy. I’ll be in my nineties and still haunted by the memories of Bear and Otter as sexual beings.”
“Way sexual,” Bear says.
“Super sexual,” Otter agrees. “Asparagus and all.”
“I hate you all.”
“Teenage angst is hysterical,” Bear says.
“Such a little drama queen,” Otter says.
“They’re funny,” Corey tells me. “You’re very lucky.”
“Go fuck yourself, sunshine,” I reply.

“Hey!” a voice shouts from outside the car.
We all look.
Creed Thompson stands at the door. What can only be described as a miniature version of him stands next to him, imitating the crossed-arm pose of his father. One looks intimidating as all hell. The other is Creed.
“You guys just going to sit there all day?” he yells at us.
“Yeah, all day, you guys?” JJ shouts in echo.
Others begin to pile up behind them: Anna. Stephanie and Ian Grant, her mom and dad. Alice and Jerry Thompson, Otter and Creed’s parents.
I begin to wonder why it took me so long to come back.
The rain stops as I open the car door.
I am home at last.

 



Saturday, May 11, 2013

Pre-Release Thoughts on John & Jackie


Once upon a time, I wrote the following words:

…It may not yet be legal/but it’s better than eating a beagle/so won’t you please marry me?

The end.

I was thrilled. I was elated. I’d done it! I’d finished my first novel. Jesus Christ, I thought. I am badass. I AM A MOTHERFUCKING ROCKSTAR! I AM KING OF MY DOMAIN!!! I… need to start working on my next book.

I’ve said before, and I’ll say again: I am one of those writers who can only work on one thing at a time. I’m also a very slow writer. That’s why you don’t see me have sixteen books out per month like other authors in this genre. There’s nothing wrong with them, obviously; it’s just not for me.

So I’d finished BOATK. What next? Burn wasn’t quite ready in my head, so I thought to work on another idea that’d been gestating for a bit. It was ambitious, to say the least. It was going to be a decades-spanning love story. It was going to be HUGE, probably at least two or three books. I was going to show how love started when the two men were just boys, and how it grew through all the trials and tribulations, the heartaches, the good and the bad times, all the way up until they were very old men, spending their last days together. So I started writing. It was stupendous! It was amazing! It was…

Awful.

Oh God, was it awful.

Seriously. It was so saccharine and sweet, you’d have thought a unicorn had barfed rainbows on a pile of puppies who then rolled around in sugar covered flowers while having adorable hiccups and barking in that high pitched way puppies do.

It was, in a word, ridiculous.

So, after having written 30K words on it, I pushed it aside.

But these two men, John and Jackie, were never far from my thoughts. I tried again after I finished Burn. And again after Who We Are. And a few more times during writing both of those. But each time I tried to start over, or tried to salvage what I’d already written, it just didn’t compute. For some reason, John and Jackie weren’t telling me the story like I wanted them too. Sometimes, as authors, that happens. It sucks, but it is reality.

Then I wrote a novel on exploring grief and faith. In Into This River I Drown, I was able to explore a newer side of my writing, and, if I may be a bit snooty, it’s a more “artistic” style of writing, rather than a straight forward narrative. Some parts work. Some parts don’t. But through that book, I learned a lot. And I thought I’d finally found the key to writing about John and Jackie.

River was my longest book. John and Jackie would need to be my shortest. I’d make it a novella, using sparse language, and instead of telling their whole life’s story, I would pick five key scenes from their lives. Five scenes that made them who they as they approached their later years.

Then a new problem arose: John and Jackie also deals with the idea of grief, though not as saturated as River. I was sick of grief and sadness after spending so much time with Benji, Cal, and Big Eddie. I wanted something lighter.

I wrote Tell Me It’s Real instead.

And when I said good-bye to Paul and Vince, I knew I’d come to the right time.

I planned the story to be 15K words. It grew to 30K words. I was tempted to make it longer, but knew I’d eventually fall into the same traps as I’d had many times before while trying to write it. By the time I finished, I felt exalted. Shaken. Tired and heartsore, but in such a good, good way.

I gave it to my beta reader who suggested I submit it to Eric Arvin, who was trying to put a self published anthology together. I was nervous, sure, as I’d never had anything self published before. But then Eric showed me that he’d amassed some big names like Abi Roux, SJD Peterson, and some newer writers, like Jason Huffman-Black and SA McAuley. It wasn’t going to be the traditional anthology, filled with hearts and rainbows and sunshine. Each writer was tasked with stepping outside their comfort zone and writing something different. The anthology called Crack The Darkest Sky Wide Open, will be released next Friday on all formats and available through the usual third party sites such as Amazon and ARe.

I can’t speak for the other works as to their ideas of romance, or if there is even romance in their stories. I can say, without a doubt, that my story, John and Jackie, is the most romantic thing I’ve written. It's also written a bit differently than my other books, as it's meant to read as if slightly dream-like, where the edges are slightly fuzzy and certain moments come into sharper focus. And, much to my chagrin, the shortest thing I’d ever written has turned out to be the longest thing in the anthology. Ah, well. Maybe next time.

On May 17th, we’ll ask you to take our hands as we show you what happens when some of your favorite authors crack the darkest sky wide open. I can’t wait for you to read John and Jackie, and I promise you, that even in the dark, there will be light.

Tj

P.S.

The anthology is available for pre-order at a cheaper price of $4.99 through our website. If you purchase now, you'll get a reminder to download it to your e-reader of choice on the release date. It should be pretty simple. It'll be available on all the usual third party sites on May 17th.

Pre-order link: http://crackthedarkestskywideopen.tum...

Saturday, April 13, 2013

After Thoughts On Into This River I Drown





Warning And Threats

To proceed, know that I will be discussing key plot points for Into This River I Drown and (surprise!) another of my novels, Burn.  There is also a brand new short story at the end of this post.  If you haven’t read River and are planning to, you shouldn’t read this as it will be filled with a lot of spoilers.  If you haven’t read Burn, that’s okay, but some of this might not make sense.
            Still here?
            Okay, so how much do you hate me right now? 
            The messages and emails I have received from readers have been very sweet, often telling their own story of how they lost a loved one in their lives at one point or another.  But at some point in said email or message, is a variation of the following sentence: “I cursed you out SO much in this story, especially at (fill in the blank)!”  What was awesome, was everyone seems to have a different “fill in the blank” part.
            Ah.  I love that.  So much.
            I’ll be discussing a few of the hows and whys of certain things that happened in River.  Then, at the end, I have a story for you to read, for those that want to go just a bit further down the rabbit hole.
            Ready?
           
Calliel Didn’t Exist

            When I first started writing River, Calliel was to be a guy called Jake and he was a drifter who blew into town, and at some point, would be revealed to have been part of the drug operation that was running through the small town of Rosedale, which was revealed toward the end.  There was nothing supernatural about Jake, who was just a regular dude.
            And then it hit me one day, weirdly, right after I’d gotten done writing the first chapter, that I wanted it to be paranormal, given that I was sure that Benji was actually haunted by ghosts, not just memories. 
            What if he was an angel? my weird little inner voice asked me.
            Uh… what?
            Think about it: he’s like this big, badass, fallen angel dude who crashes into the woods in Roseland!
            Uh… I don’t know a single thing about angels.
            Oooo.  Yeah.  And you hate research of any kind. 
            Yeah.
            So he’ll just be some boring drifter guy named Jake.  Neat. Yawn.  I’m already bored for you and no one will like this story and you’re stupid.
            I like the boring drifter guy named Jake!
            *silence*
            Goddammit!  Fine!  I’ll make him a fucking angel!
            And so I did.  And yes, I hate research of any kind.  I hate it with a passion.  It also didn’t help that I am not a spiritual person in any way shape or form.  I don’t go to church.  I don’t have a specific faith I subscribe too.  I had a very rudimentary understanding of God and angels, mostly what I’d heard from other people.
            But I knew if I was going to do it, I’d have to do it right.
            The angel Calliel is “real”, at least as far as angel lore goes.  He’s lowly placed on the totem pole, and as soon as I came across him and his name, I knew I’d found the angel I was looking for.  The hierarchy for angels is a fascinating thing, with literally hundreds if not thousands of named angels that are supposed to serve God in one way shape or form.  And each one was supposedly created to serve a different purpose.
            So I had my angel.  Jake became Calliel, or Cal.  I went back and made some changes, then soldiered on.  I found quickly that going the angel direction opened up some awesome new ideas, but it also created some big problems, of which I won’t bore you with here.  Suffice to say, I may not have been a religious person, but an early draft of River sounded way to fucking preachy, like I was giving a sermon and didn’t know what I was talking about.  Trust me when I say it was pretty bad.

It Goes On…And On…And On…

You think River was long?  You should have seen the completed first draft. When I started writing River, I knew it was going to be a long-ish story, maybe around the length of BOATK.  So, imagine my surprise when I finished River and it was almost two hundred and fifty thousand words long.  It was a bit ridiculous, really.  My plan initially was to split it into two books, but then my betas got ahold of it and both said it worked better as a single book, so I cut, cut, cut.  The version you read of River is 189,000 words.  That’s a lot of shit cut to the floor.  Most of it that was cut needed to be cut, because it really was extraneous, no matter how much I kicked and screamed.  A couple of things that were cut, however, hurt like a motherfucker. 
You know the ending of River, how the final chapter is called The Sunrise?  Benji and Cal sit on the roof, watching the sunrise and all is well.  Well, there were two additional chapters after that, the first of which I thought wrapped up the story in a very cyclical way, mirroring back toward the beginning chapter called “You and I”.  And the other chapter? The very last one?  Well, the last chapter was about some old friends of mine, ones I hadn’t written about in a while.  Friends that came out of nowhere and inserted themselves into River.  But more on them in a moment.

Twists and Death

            While I tried to inject some humor into River, I knew even before I started that it was going to be a dark book.  It’s bleak through most of it, the weight of Benji’s grief a palpable thing.  There can be a point when that begins to be too much, so I tried for some levity every now and then, a little bit of light in all that dark.
            It was still dark, regardless of the humor.  I know this, and I don’t know that it could have been told any other way. There are a few points, though, I knew were going to be hard for most everyone to read. 
            Abe.  Ah, Abe.  That sucked.  Like really, really sucked.  Originally, Nina was going to be the one to die.  That was in a version of the story where the storm at the end destroyed the whole town, killing off a lot of the residents of Roseland.  I came to realize that not only was it overkill, but also Nina had become more important to not just this story, but to another story as well.
            So I had to choose someone who was close to Benji.  Why?  Because I needed Benji to reach the lowest of the lows before he could face Michael in the White Room.  I don’t think he could have had the same understanding about the idea of sacrifice had he not lost someone near to him after Big Eddie.  I considered, very briefly, having it be Lola, his mother, but again, that seemed like overkill, given that he’d already lost his dad.  So it was Abe, no matter how much I didn’t want it to be.  I went back and added a bit more about his wife that had passed, Estelle.  And then I wrote his sacrificial scene (“THY WILL BE DONE”).  And it sucked having to have that happen.  Horribly.  However,  I think it illustrated just how far Benji had come and just how evil Griggs was.  If there has ever been a character I’ve written to be hated, it is Griggs.
            And Christie?  Did you see that coming?  I hope not.  I hope it was a gut punch.  I knew from the very beginning that she was going to be the “boss.”  Every time I had to write her character, I was scowling at my laptop monitor, thinking I HATE YOU!  But I also knew I had to keep it as secret as possible, so I needed to pass her off as the sweet and caring aunt.  And honestly?  I do believe she loved her sisters and Benji in her own way.  They were family, after all.  I think, however, that she was drowning in her own river, and that came before anyone and anything else.
            And be honest: how many of you cursed my name when Cal was shot on the bridge?  Did you really think I’d kill him off?  C’mon now.  That wouldn’t be very nice of me, now would it?
            Why, that would be just downright mean.

The Hardest Things I’ve Had To Write

Two chapters in River are the hardest things I’ve ever had to write.  The first was the chapter titled “These Flickering Lights.”  If you’ll remember, that was the scene where Benji has to walk down the long hallway to go identify his father’s corpse.  It was tough because you know that Big Eddie has died, that Benji will see his body, but some part of you still hopes that he won’t have to, that it was really a lie, a dream, a horrible nightmare and that Big Eddie will be there and everything will be okay.  I ached for Benji when writing that.  That long walk down the hallway, hearing Big Eddie’s song sung in his head, those memories rising like ghosts.  And then to have him pull back that scratchy sheet covering the body, only to see the greatest man in his world lying beaten and broken?  That’s where it became real for Benji.  That’s when his river started.  For want of his father, he was lost.
The other chapter?  You probably figured it out.  It was the one called “The River Crossing.”  I knew from the very beginning that Benji would get to see Big Eddie one last time.  He needed it.  And more so, I needed it, as Benji’s caretaker.  I dreaded it as it approached, and when it did, it took me a full week to write it.  I’ve never written anything more difficult than that final meeting.  And I think that chapter is the best writing I’ve ever done.  If you read the dedication to the book, then you probably know I didn’t write it just for Benji.  I wrote it for myself.  I said the things I was never able to say in real life.  And that, to me, was Michael’s gift.

The Biggest Secret Of All

            Oh, my Burn readers.  How I adore you.  How I love you.  You patient, patient people.  How I like to mess with you so, so much.  Admit it.  You didn’t see that coming, did you?  Yeah, neither did I.  Imagine my surprise when Michael showed up for the first time and started talking about Elementals.  I remember writing that, then sitting back and going, “Uh, what the fuck?  Seriously?  Seriously?!?!?  As if I didn’t have enough shit to worry about here!  FUCK!!!!!!”
            But then I thought about it a little bit more.
            And then I got this evil little smile on my face.
            The references to Burn and the Elementals add up to no more than 500 words out of 189,000.  Originally (as you’ll soon see), there were more.  As a matter of fact, the original entire last chapter of River was dedicated to Burn.  However, it came down to the way to actually end River on a good note, and I didn’t want to weigh down the readers for those who hadn’t read Burn yet.  I have to tell you, though, that it killed me to keep this connection a secret. 
            Given this all, I had to pick and choose what of those 500 words that I wanted to keep in River.  Let me be clear about a few of things. 
One: the paragraph towards the end of the book where Raphael talks about the Split One entering the field is the most important for Burn readers to know.  Look at his last sentence there. 
Two: the Tree is Metatron, the lost angel, in case you didn’t that from Raphael’s words.  Metatron, the Tree (It) is corrupt as all fuck.  And does he have some scary-ass plans for not just Felix’s world, but all of them.
Three: this exchange in the chapter “The White Room” (do you remember the White Room from Burn?):
“That image, that burnt image of a child, was meant for a man named Seven who might be the key to not only saving his world, but the ones on every level above and below him.”
“Who is the child?”
Michael closes his eyes. “One who has the power for great destruction growing within him. It remains to be seen what side he will choose. In the end, though, the boy will burn.”
            Some interesting things coming, I think.
            Will there be a sequel to River? No.  Not directly.  I think Benji and Cal’s story has been told to the full extent it needs to.  I will smile quietly at my time spent in Roseland, but I don’t see myself going back.
            But.
Will you see some of these characters again? Possibly.  Probably.  I won’t say which, but one or more of them might pop up somewhere else.  In a different place.  Where the earth moves, and the water flows.  Where the winds howl. 
            Where the fires burn.
            And with that, I proudly present the original final two chapters of Into This River I Drown.
            Love,
            Tj 




YOU AND I

            To meet my father, you’d have to go for a bit of a drive.
            Let us say that’s what you do.  Let us say that one fine fall day, you find yourself out for a drive.  Maybe you’re lost and somehow ended up taking exit 235A.  You don’t really know how you got there, but you did and you decide to follow it, just to see where it goes. 
            You continue down this old highway until you see another sign, this one letting you know that you are entering Roseland, Oregon Pop. 876. Established 1851. Elevation 2345 ft.  Gateway to the Cascades!      
Roseland?  This place sounds familiar to you.  You think back and… was it on the news?  Was that where you heard it?  Something had happened here.  You shake your head, unable to remember what it was exactly.  It doesn’t matter.  Someone in town should be able to point out the way back to I-10.  A small beep sounds in your car and you look down at the dash.  You need gas, a little light says.  You hope there’s a gas station in Roseland.
            And then the town appears and you enter onto a street called Poplar.  It feels smooth underneath your tires as if it’s been recently paved.  You marvel at the buildings that line either side of the street.  It’s so quaint, you think.  So quintessentially small town America.  It seems like a wonderful place.
            People are walking on the sidewalks, the stores looking busy.  It’s a gorgeous fall day, leaves of orange and red blowing in a brisk wind.  People smile at each other as they pass on the streets and say hello, and you think how different the big cities are compared to this place.  Back home, no one looks each other in the eye as they pass.  Everyone’s to busy talking on a phone, reading newspaper, or just not caring what is going on around them.  Not here.  It’s seems so strange to see.
            Gas station.  Gas station.  Gas station. 
            A-ha!
            A spinning sign, just up ahead on the right.
            You get closer and snort when you see the name of the station: Big Eddie’s Gas and Convenience.  You wonder if you’ll get to meet Big Eddie himself.  You don’t know yet that he’s not actually here, but a couple of miles north.  But you’ll meet him.  In time.
            You roll over a black cord stretched out near the pump.  A bell rings inside the store.  You wait.  There’s a tiny garage next to the station and there’s an older model Ford pickup truck sitting inside.  It looks like it’s in the middle of being rebuilt lovingly, one piece at a time.  You wish you had time for such a task, but life is busy.  That’s just the way things are.
            You hold your breath when a huge man walks out from the garage, wiping the grease off of his massive hands with an old rag.  He smiles at you as he approaches.  The sun hits the short red hair on his head and the red stubble on his face and it shines like fire.  There’s a bit of grease on the tip of his nose.  There is something about this man, something you can’t quite place.  He seems…ethereal.  Unworldly?  Not…from around here.  He is beautiful, but most of all, what you think is blue.
            You shake your head, trying to clear your mind of such random thoughts as you roll down the window.  “Help you?” he asks in a deep voice.
            “Just need the tank filled up and some directions back to the freeway, if you please,” you say faintly.
            He grins at you again.  “That I can do.”
            He walks around the front of your car to fill the tank.  You fumble with your credit card, tapping it against your leg, waiting for him to finish.  You can hear the gas flowing into your car.  “That your truck?” you ask, pointing toward the garage.
            He laughs quietly as if in on some joke.  “It will be,” he says, “once it’s finished.  Mine and Benji’s.  It’ll be so cherry that it’ll break your heart.  Going to take some work, but we have all the time in the world.  At least for now.”
            You have to know.  “You Big Eddie?”
            He shakes his head, looking up at the sign that circulates above.  A look of such touching magnificence comes over his face and your heart almost stops in your chest.  “No.  No, Big Eddie was my friend.”  He smiles quietly, but it’s not for you.  It’s for a memory that rises like a dream.
            The gas pump dings, signaling it’s finished.
“Forty-two fifteen,” he says, coming back to the window after he’s closed the lid to the gas tank on your car.
            You hand him your credit card and he moves to go inside, glancing further down the street.  He stops suddenly and the smile that follows reminds you wildly of galaxies exploding, of worlds colliding and crashing.  It’s everything, that smile, and you can’t help the tears that burn your eyes. 
            You follow his gaze and see me walking toward him, carrying a plastic bag at my side.  I look like I just came from that small diner farther up the road.  People wave to me on the street and I wave back, but my eyes are on the guy who has just filled your tank.  I reach him and you’re pleasantly surprised when I stand on his tip-toes and plant a swift kiss on the bigger man’s lips.  You look around at people passing on the street.  Those that have seen what you have, the few that there are, smile widely.  No one hoots and hollers.  No one sneers in our direction.  No one looks angry.  What is this place? you think.  Such an odd little town.
            “I got you a meatloaf sandwich,” you hear me say to the big guy.
            He scowls.  “I don’t think I’m going to like that.”
            I roll my eyes.  “That’s what you say now, but then you’ll love it and demand that Rosie make it for you every day.  And she will and then it’ll be just like the time she made you pork chops and you ate them for three weeks straight.”
            He moans.  “They were so good.”
            I laugh fondly, my hand reaching up to touch his cheek.
            “I’m glad you came back,” he whispers loudly, looking back at you for a moment.  “They gave me one of these card things and I don’t remember how to do it.”
            “Cal, I’ve shown you like ten times!”  I don’t sound exasperated, just amused.
            “Only six times,” the man named Cal says, his eyes sparkling.
            “Come on, then.”  You watch as I grab Cal’s hand and pull him behind me toward the store.  You wave at me briefly with the hand that has the food in it, holding up a finger to let you know it’ll only be a minute.  You nod, entranced by the look of love in Cal’s eyes as he watches me.  You know it’s something more when we go inside the store, and you see me looking down at the credit card machine on the counter and see Cal not paying attention in the slightest, but watching me instead, obviously using the excuse to stand close.  You start to get the impression that Cal knows exactly what he’s doing and you smile to yourself.
            You see me point out the food in the bag and Cal sits down while I come back out of the store to you.  You watch as Cal looks suspicious as he raises the sandwich to his mouth and takes a tentative bite, only to immediately start devouring the entire thing with a look of ecstasy on his face.  He must like it more than he thought he would.  This doesn’t surprise you like you thought it would.
            “Here you go,” I say cheerfully as I reach your car, handing you back your card and receipt.  “Cal said you needed help getting back to the ten?”
            You nod. 
            I point down the street.  “Just follow Poplar to the intersection.  Hang a left.  You’ll pass by a cemetery and after that, you’ll see the signs for the freeway.  Only a few minutes away.”
            “Thanks,” you say.  “Have a good day.”
            I grin as I glance back at the store.  “It’s always a good day now,” I say.  I turn and walk back to the store, where Cal is waiting for me, his smile growing wider as I approach.
            Somehow, you drive away.
            You head down Poplar, just like you were told.  You reach the intersection.  To the right, the road twists into a forest and everything you think is blue.  Straight ahead the road disappears up a hill and you think of home.  You turn left, as you were told to do.
            It hits you, two miles later, when a sign that says LOST HILL MEMORIAL comes into view.  You see a figure, back in the distance of the cemetery, rising up from the ground.  It looks radiant. You don’t know why, but it feels important to you.  You must stop and see what it is. 
            You park your car in the lot and walk up the path slowly.  The figure comes into a sharper focus.  You’re distracted, momentarily, but another plot covered in blue flowers so bright it causes your heart to hurt.  A small pocketknife sits on top of the headstone.  You briefly see part of the inscription on the grave marker before you continue on to the figure that waits for you.  ABRAHAM DUFREE AND ESTELLE DUFREE.  You wonder who they are, but you are glad that they are together.
            And ahead, here, at last, is a stone angel.  You think she’s beautiful, from the wings on her back, to the carved hands that stretch toward you in supplication.  Your breath catches as you see a large blue feather placed between her fingers, held there by a bit of twine.  The feather sways in the gentle breeze and you smell the earth, deep and rich. You tear your eyes away from it and look down to see an inscription of fifteen words below:

EDWARD BENJAMIN GREEN
“BIG EDDIE”
BELOVED HUSBAND AND FATHER
MAY 27 1960 – MAY 31 2007

Big Eddie? you think.  From the gas station?
            Yes.  One and the same.
            But that’s not all there is.
            Below that are seven more words.  Seven more words that look newer than the ones carved above them.  Seven more words that cause your soul to quake.
I WILL ALWAYS BE MY FATHER’S SON
            You wait for only a moment longer, there, next to the angel.  She doesn’t speak, but then she doesn’t have too.  You touch the feather just once and everything is blue.  You wonder if words are enough to show the measure of a man.  You decide that maybe they are.  At least these words are enough.
            Then you remember your own life.  You have things to do.  You can’t be late.  You hurry to your car without looking back.  You drive away and leave the little town of Roseland behind.  Maybe one day you’ll think about this place again.  Maybe you won’t. 
            And that’s okay.
            We’ll still be here, whatever you remember or if you ever choose to come back.
            My name is Benjamin Edward Green, after my father, our first and middle names transposed.  People call me Benji.  Big Eddie wanted me to carry his name, but felt I should have my own identity, hence the switch.  I don’t mind, knowing it will always bind us together.  It’s a gift and because of him, I was able to find my life again.  I was able to find meaning in all the colors of the world.  Because of him, I was able to find my home.
            This is at once the end and the beginning.
            This is the story of my love of two men.
            One is my father.
            The other is a man who fell from the sky.




FROM THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN

            You are not alone in this.
Let’s leave them, shall we?  Let’s leave Benji and Cal and the rest of the Roseland inhabitants.  You and I may return here one day, just to check in to see what the people in the town are up to.  I like to think they will live happily ever after because that is what they deserve.  They all have been through so much and I want to think that things can only get better for them. But there are others.  Others that have not gotten their ending, that have been left hanging in limbo while my mind wandered here and there.
            I have something to show you.
Do you remember what Michael said?  There are infinite planes of existence.  There’s one where people can do the most beautiful things with earth and water.  With fire and wind.  They can control the elements like it’s nothing.  But there is a darkness coming there.  One we don’t know how to stop.
The archangel Michael was right.  There is a darkness coming.
So let us leave Roseland and fly up through the air.  Let us leave Oregon, the Pacific Northwest, the United States, the world.  These planes exist like a large building with each floor dedicated to something different than the one before or after it.  But this isn’t like a building you’ve ever seen before, Empire State or Cantio or any other.  There is truth to Michael’s words, about how endless it is.  I don’t think anyone will ever see them all, not even God himself.  I don’t know if he’s even aware of certain floors. 
But he does know of the one I speak of.  I believe he knows it very well.
So let us go there, an express elevator taken seventy-seven planes above the one we’ve left Benji and Cal.  It feels different, already, doesn’t it?  The air is different here.  Time moves differently here (and as well it should, given how many times these times have happened).  This place is not a normal place and it is not the same when as when we left Benji and Cal.
A large city stretches out before us.  It looks familiar, and you may think you’ve been here before.  It’s not New York City because New York City doesn’t exist this in this iteration.  No, the monstrous towers of steel and glass you see stretching miles before you make up a quite different city altogether.  This is a city where electronic signs exist on every block, reminding everyone in brilliantly blue writing that ALL ELEMENTALS ARE REQUIRED TO CARRY PROPER IDENTIFICATION AS PER THE ELEMENTAL REGISTRATION ACT OF 2014.  It further warns that ANY ELEMENTAL FOUND NOT CARRYING PROPER IDENTIFICATION WILL BE PROSECUTED TO THE FULLEST EXTENT OF THE LAW.
Prosecuted?  What has happened here since we left?
Come to think of it, Terra City seems awfully quiet.  More subdued then the last time we were here.  It’s eerie.  It’s odd.  The City feels…well, it feels suppressed. But even through this suppression, if we close our eyes, we can still feel them.  A man with gray eyes. A traitor who broke a Circle.  A scarred woman who would be King.  A Split One, though he is not ours.  And one other, one we are not familiar with, not yet.  Her name is Lan-Dinh Ngo, and she might be more dangerous than all the rest, though only time will tell.  We are not safe here.   We must leave while we can.  We should seek out safer places before we make an impossible journey. 
Some of our old friends are still around, though I fear I may have left them alone for too long.  If we fly over the city to its outskirts and follow a highway, we’ll get to a small village, the name of which is not important.  What’s important is a stark building that rises out of the ground, so much bigger than anything around it, a monument of times past.
The Portandum Station.  For trains, an old friend once said.  Not for police.
Can you feel them in there?  It’s like a last bastion for a war that is about to begin.
Here is what we see:
A woman named Amy is in a place called the Training Grounds.  She takes down a team of Elementals in a complicated series of flips and twists.  She wipes sweat from her brow and thinks about how empty her heart feels.  She tells the team to stand up and starts the exercise all over again.
A man named Jason sits on the eighth floor, staring out the window, wondering why he sees a thin gold pulse outside his window, a thread leading him toward the City.  He doesn’t know what it means, just that it’s getting louder and who it points too.  He doesn’t know how much longer he can avoid the call.
A man named Otis sits at a desk in his room on the fifth floor, studying a book that contains word problems that are supposed to exercise his damaged brain.  He brushes his finger over the scar on his temple and his thoughts wander to a man that he’s been thinking about more and more lately.  He wants to be fixed so that he may tell this man how he really feels.
A woman named Edna is alone in a Council Chamber, poring over ancient texts, trying to find any hints as to why there are two, why she’d never known before that there are two.  She shudders and thinks of a man named Dan Evans who has died in a forgotten tunnel far below the City.  She sniffs and wipes away a tear before turning back to the text.  The answer must be there somewhere.
A fractured man named Tick sits in a place called the Tech Cave.  He stares dumbly at the computer screen in front of him, the zeros and ones of a complicated line of binary code stretching out in front of him.  But he’s not reading it.  He’s not even seeing it.  He’s lost, you see.  This half of the Clock Twins no longer knows his place.  He’s always under a cloud of suspicion, not that he blames anyone.  He should have seen more.  He should have done more.  Everything that has happened, he thinks, is all his fault.  He switches the monitor off to go find Otis.  He needs a hug, and the big guy is great at giving them.
There’s one more we should see while we are here.
I don’t care if It is God, he once said.  I would destroy It to find you.
It is not God, as you will soon see, but something else entirely.
But here, on the third floor of an old train station, is a man who suffers more than the rest.  Seven.  Our Seven, the heartsworn to the Findo Unum—the Split One—who disappeared months before in order to save them all.  His love, a man who is now fighting against corruption that moves like black oil within him, is gone and Seven still doesn’t know how to get him back.  He prays that it is not too late.  “I will find you, little man,” he says to the empty room, ignoring the way his voice cracks.  “I swear on everything I have that I will find you.”  He touches a medallion that hangs from his neck, a silver heptagon that has a flame on one side, a green tornado on the other.  And, of course, the words Es Cor Meum.
You are my heart.
And now we know.  We have caught glimpses of our old friends, and I feel that our separation from them at this moment will not be as long as the one before.  We’ll leave them now, not with a good-bye, but a see you soon.
We leave the Station and float high in the air again until we are above the Earth.  But we are not leaving this plane of existence.  Not quite.  There is no need to get on the elevator to switch floors, as the allegory goes.  Instead, think of where we are headed as like a balcony to the floor we’re already on.  It’s attached, but separate. Let us head there now.
It’s not as difficult as one might think, to get to this place, and before we know it, we’re here.
Do you smell that?  In the air?  Smells like flowers.
Before you and I part, I will show you this:
An impossible field.  An improbable field, as our old friend Big Eddie might say.
            This field is covered in flowers as far as the eye can see.  But they are silent flowers, at least for the moment.  They don’t speak of twos and corruption.  They are not covered in black and they do not shriek.  They just wave and waft in the breeze.  It seems to be a sunny day.
            And in this impossible field, lies a fallen angel.  It fell one day longer ago than you and I could ever possibly imagine.  It fell from the grace of God and became stuck in its ideals.  It became rooted in its belief that God was not correct, that he was not the way for humanity.  The fallen angel once had a name, and that name was Metatron.  He was the highest ranking angel in existence until he saw the destruction of God’s ways.  He sought to change things.  He sought to break them.  And so God cast him from Heaven and he fell through the planes, through the floors until he wanted to fall no more and landed in a field he himself created.  His anger overtook him and he became fused to the ground.  His fury caused his skin to harden and split apart.  His anguish caused his fingers to lengthen and sprout leaves.  His corruption caused his insides to fill with oil that spilled like sap down his sides.
            The fallen angel became a tree.
            A Great Tree.
            And It felt, on this day, at this moment, the humanizing of the guardian angel Calliel. And it smiled.
            “What now?” asks a voice from below.  “What happens next?”
            The Tree bends Its trunk and peers down at Felix Paracel and the fallen angel smiles again, Its branches bending upward.  It does not miss the way Felix shudders at the sight of its foliage.
            Felix.  Our Felix.  Split.  Halved.  Trapped in a place known as Infiniti Agri.
            The Infinity Fields.
            “What now?” he says again, and even through the desperation, we hear his strength.  It’s almost time for him to stand.  It’s almost time for him to stand and be true.
            “Now,” the fallen angel Metatron rumbles, “we begin. If these worlds cannot burn then I promise you that they will break.”