Excerpt from Gaia’s Hands Rewrite

There is something about her, Josh wrote, letting words flow onto the page. Lush and bountiful. Cool and deep, like a forest. Like the plants she tends. He remembered the lecture he had crept into, feeling again like a stalker, even though it was open to the public. He had no reason to be there except to see her, but he remembered her speaking about permaculture guilds, plants living in mutual relationships. Jeanne and the plants …

His vision blurred. He saw a green mound where the room had been, lit by a brilliant shaft of pure sunlight. Fruit trees and vines surrounded the hill and climbed up it, glowing in the light. And under the tallest trees, two intertwined apples bearing impossibly large fruit, Jeanne stood offering one of each apple.

Jeanne, he didn’t fail to notice, was naked.

The vision dissipated as quickly as it had come. Josh found himself again in the busy room, surrounded by the murmur of voices, the people in sweaters and snowboots, winter coats hanging off chairs. 
 I’m still not used to seeing things, Josh thought. I’m not sure I’ll ever be.  He steeled himself for the repercussions of his vision, because he never saw visions without consequences. He knew the migraine would come in a few hours, but the vision dared him to press on.

The dreadlocked waitress set down his order — a red-eye — the better to try to forestall the migraine. “I don’t know your name,” she addressed him. “I’m Zoe.”

“Josh Young. I teach at the college. Instructor in English.” He surreptitiously shut his notebook to obscure the subject of the evening’s musings. 

“This is your regular order, right?” Zoe appeared to be doing some mental arithmetic in her head, Josh noticed.

“Yes. I’ll be a regular here. It’s a good place to write.” He felt himself saying the words despite his more fearful self wanting to run out and never see Jeanne Beaumont again. He thought he could feel his fate seal with those words. 

Writing Gaia’s Hands from Scratch

I think I’m going to start Gaia’s Hands from scratch.

I’ve come to the point where I realize the bones of the book are not sound.The current version of one of the protagonists is not someone typical of men in romances: the 45-year-old cop. A former Navy Seal or Army Ranger. An uber-masculine rancher. A billionaire. In other words, the typical protector of a helpless female. Josh, on the other hand, is a surprise. His non-staid nature is in his writing and his visions. He’s a bit fey, perhaps, but without its twee underpinnings. Instead, he is brave in his emotions and his drive.  I need to be less scared in rendering Josh.

There is not enough buildup of the romance part. The book, I’m told, is a romance, given how two characters meet, discover each other, and fall in love. There’s not enough tension. There’s not a big blowout where they’re sure they’re never going to see each other again. 

I have not written this book the way it deserves to be written. Jeanne is accomplished, but lonely. Josh is young, but determined. There are all sorts of reasons why they shouldn’t be together, but they’re internalized reasons from dominant culture. 

And then there’s the fantasy part. That won’t take too much work — Jeanne’s talent of getting plants to grow + Josh’s attachment to the spirits of Shinto = surprise! In fact, if they develop Jeanne’s talent together, they grow closer. The romance needs to be attached to the accomplishments.

Now … OMG, I have to rewrite this novel. Josh and Jeanne scare me, especially Josh. He’s too close to my fantasies. Yes, I’m an older woman who’s attracted to younger men. And smaller men, too. It’s not like I’m not attracted to my husband, but whereas most women go “wow” when they see Jason Momoa, I say “wow” when I see someone built like a dancer or a lightweight wrestler. 

This fear is what kept me from writing this story this deserves. 

Reattempt at first chapter of Apocalypse

This is a potential first chapter to Apocalypse to set up a feel for the characters and the setting — the “before”. One of the big problems is that I’m not a big description writer — I try to do those things as concisely as possible and I’m not sure they’re enough. Sigh. 

At Barn Swallows Dance, the sky was still deep indigo and the air slightly damp when life began to stir. The early risers made coffee in their homes’ small kitchens; the late risers slept blissfully unaware of the small commotions of the dawn.  

Micah Inhofer, as farm manager, showed up to the farm half an hour before his staff, checking his phone in his makeshift “office” just inside the sheep barn, surrounded by friendly bleats from the Welsh Mountain flock. He ran a long hand through a shock of black hair and consulted his notebook. The cows would be milked, and the milk pasteurized for the collective to drink and make yogurt from. The eggs would have to be gathered, all the animals fed, the produce picked. 

In the commercial kitchen that served the whole sixty-odd members of Barn Swallows’ Dance, Mary Rogers, dark and slender in white chef’s gear, poured beaten eggs into the line pans of old bread drizzled with cinnamon syrup to make french toast casserole. 

Nearby, Shelby with her blue spiked hair cut up a large bowl of strawberries and added sugar to them. Early breakfast was more than just breakfast; it was the ritual that not only started the day, but cemented the residents’ sense of belongingness. 

“How are the raspberries doing? Have the birds gotten to them yet?”

“They’re doing fine, and we should have some in a couple weeks. They’re in the Garden. They’re protected from the birds there.”

Mary nodded. The Garden took care of its residents.

Outside, Jeanne Beaumont-Young, stocky and grey-haired, pulled coffee out of the solar roaster, taking a whiff of its richness, and brought the bowl inside to be ground and drunk. The early morning was like church to her, and coffee was its sacrament, which meant she was its priest. She smiled at her metaphor and put it away, feeling more comfortable with the science of roasting coffee beans.

Her husband, Josh, meditated in the Garden as he did every morning, a slight young man in the orchard entwined with vines and surrounded by herbs and berry brambles. A practitioner of Shinto, he focused on the spirits of the garden that Jeanne had designed and the collective had planted. The spirits, he believed, tended the two acres of orchard and food plants from the moment it had begun to grow. Now it was the Garden, and one could hear the capital G in the way people spoke of it. 

He heard a rustling of leaves and smiled, knowing he was welcome in this clearing in the orchard, which he considered the heart of the collective.

Gideon Stein strode back from the shower house he had built next to the small collection of tents that housed summer residents, feeling the chill against his bare torso and legs and a twinge in his back he attributed to middle age. He entered his own ger, a white conical tent with blue markings he had painted himself. He changed out of his shorts into jeans and t-shirt, then braided his long brown hair into a plait that hung down his back. He reminded himself that he needed to look at the latch to the pasture the sheep and goats shared at the moment, because the goats had managed to almost break the latch in their attempts to break out of pasture. He couldn’t help but admire the goats’ chutzpah. 

He thought about his former life as an architect and his most renowned work, the Frazier Dream Bridge in Vancouver. He couldn’t live that high life anymore, because the costs of stress were frenetic energy alternating with crippling, deadly depression.

 He had come to Barn Swallows’ Dance to recuperate, perhaps even to hide from the press that had named him a dangerous visionary. 

Sometimes he wondered what he was called to do.

In a house at the other edge of the collective, Rita Yilmaz looked down in fond exasperation at her oldest, Ty, who sprawled across every inch of his bed, still asleep. The twins, silent as always, stood behind her; she knew they smirked at their unruly brother. Her children’s hair, flaming red unlike her own black curls, reminded her of her long-gone love and the message he had just sent her, to meet him that night behind the Commons. Perhaps there would be another child. Perhaps he would leave again in the night. Zoi was a force of nature, and an enigma, she thought. 

“Ty!” she shouted. She prodded Ty’s shoulder and Ty, tall and slender like a sapling, grimaced and opened his eyes.

Ilsa Morganstern, general director of Barn Swallows’ Dance, downed her morning medications as she sat on her bed. There seemed to be more medications every year; by her early eighties, that meant a lot of pills to swallow. 

She thought about her morning announcements to the collective for early breakfast. Nothing too pressing: a pothole had opened on the north exit, there would be make-your-own sundae for dessert that night, the women’s rugby team from the university would arrive the next day for their summer session; Gideon and Larry had pitched their tents in the tent camp. 

No crises, Ilsa noted with satisfaction. No fires, no tornadoes, no crop failures thus far.

She knocked on wood.

Laurel Smith hadn’t slept. Like every morning, she put on her coveralls and checked the pockets to make sure she had the keys to her small house in the collective. She would milk the cows before early breakfast; after breakfast she would muck out barns. She regarded her deceptively petite build; she could shovel manure faster than the men in the barns; her strength had always been her most employable trait. 

She could remember nothing of her other skills and education before the attack that left her without memories, without a past, without an identity. She would skip early breakfast, to avoid revealing these secrets about her life.

Elsewhere, in a place where daylight and night had no meaning, Adam sat in a vast expanse of a room barely lit by a glow that emanated from Adam himself. The walls were uneven banks of tiny black crystal, the floor a flawless sheet of milky white that seemed almost a molten blue in the shadows. 

Adam himself looked human, if genetically blessed; his long black hair flowed like water across his shoulders, and his fine-boned Asian features possessed uncommon beauty. He wore black jeans and a t-shirt, clothes that mimicked the humanity that he watched over, and perhaps envied.

This was InterSpace, the place where Archetypes lived, maybe barely existed, in the space between atoms, as beings of energy who could shape their space with their will. Adam’s world, at that moment, consisted of the walls and floor and the comfortable leather chair he recreated from a memory of Earthside, out of the stuff of InterSpace.

In his hands, Adam held a lock of hair braided into a circlet — golden blonde, the pure tones of an Archetype like himself. A contrast to his own jet-black hair. A memory of love, however brief; something that Archetypes were not supposed to experience. 

A memory from six thousand years before in a life left waiting for something.

Waiting for the legend to come full circle, when he could reveal himself again.

Luke Dunstan, an Archetype, rued giving in to the Triumvirate.
He sat down heavily, appearing as a man of average human height, with flaxen-blond hair and a weathered face. He stared at the perpetually burning bonfire outside the vast cave his consort Su had constructed from the matter of InterSpace. The limitless space held the appearance of stars in a night sky. However, no artifice would make the formlessness of InterSpace more like the warmth of Earthside.

The fear that usually lay quiescent in him burned cold like the bonfire — a fear for humanity, the humanity that the Archetypes had been created to protect from their harsh tribal history. He buried his head in his hands, feeling every minute of his six thousand years of existence. 

Luke remembered the discussion, thousands of years before, with the three fellow Archetypes who called themselves the Triumvirate. The four sat in a room with a long marble table traced with gold, conjured up in InterSpace from a memory of Earth. The walls stood as  black crystalline arrays and the floor as milk-white glass, the natural state of InterSpace. 

“You tricked us. We meant to steer humans’ destiny,” the pre-Etruscan, with his waves of chestnut hair and pale skin, stated flatly, pounding a fist on the gilded table. Light emanated from his fist, from all the men, leaving the rest of the room in shadow.

“Humans are meant to lead, not be steered,” Luke, new to his life as an Archetype, countered, heedless of the chasm opening up before him.

“So you believe,” the Ubaidian debated, materializing a goblet in his hand. He drank of it deeply. “I disagree. They quarrel with each other and strike each other down. They do not learn. They need to be led, and you have destroyed our chance to lead them.”

“They should be allowed to find their own destiny,” Luke argued. “You cannot do it for them.”

“I think you will find that we can and we will ultimately guide humans’ destiny, and that the Council of the Oldest, whoever they are, will not interfere.” The pre-Etruscan smiled. “It’s only a matter of time.” He leaned forward. “You may play games, but we do not. There are three of us, and only one of you. Three against one — we could end you … “

Luke capitulated out of weakness, the weakness of a newly born, unworldly Archetype. He made the bargain to save what he treasured most, without seeing the loophole that put all of humanity in danger.

Luke remembered, and spent his long life ever vigilant for signs the Triumvirate would gain control.

And nobody, not those who slept in nor those who worked before dawn, nor those who lived in a world without sunrise, knew how rapidly their lives would change in the subsequent days.

First Chapter from Prodigies (rewritten)

After classes for the day, I stepped out of the music building at Lakeview Academy, a private residential school for the arts. I walked quickly down the paths, through manicured lawns, past buildings dedicated to teaching written, visual, and performing arts. I walked under trees that would show their fall colors in a few weeks, past the banks of mums that gave the campus an air of nostalgia. I could walk this path with my eyes shut, as I had walked it for seven years, ever since I was a junior high student nervously clutching my viola. Instead of the scrawny, frizzy-haired biracial child I had arrived as, I had grown tall and slender, and my hair tamed and pulled behind me in glossy tight curls. I still saw both my mother and father in my looks — brown skin, deep brown eyes, a thin and fine-boned nose. 

My mother and father, however, had died when I was fifteen, in a plane crash attributed to unknown causes. I found out when Dr. Estelle DeWinter, my mentor, found me in art history class and walked me back to the office to break the bad news to me. Although I felt like I would crumble into nothing, I cried very little through it all; I sat through bewildering appointments with my parents’ lawyers and suffered two years of a guardian who threatened to pull me out of Lakeview. Only the surprising effort of Dr. DeWinter kept me in Lakeview until I became an emancipated minor at 17. 

I think I missed what could have been with my parents more than what we actually had; I spent my life in residential schools from age seven, to develop a musical talent my parents recognized as extraordinary. If I inherited anything from my parents, it was my ambition, and from my grandmama I received humility to temper it. What I claim as my own is discipline and my own inexplicable talent, a freak accident of birth.

I walked quickly toward my weekly meeting with Dr. DeWinter. I was lucky to have a mentor at Lakeview that I could identify with as one of the few black students at the arts academy. I entered the Administration Building, an austere Neoclassical Revival building from the beginning days of the academy. Inside, dark wood paneling and white walls lent a gracious, if institutional air. I went to the front office where Mary Kravitz, the secretary, stood guard behind a low partition. “I’m here for Dr. DeWinter, if she’s ready for me.”

“I’ll ring her.” I was punctual, as Dr. DeWinter had taught me. This, she said, was the most basic courtesy of a professional, no matter what accounts of divas in the news would have one believe. 
I didn’t look forward to the meeting, because I knew that I would disappoint Dr. DeWinter again. I had not applied for any colleges yet, and it was my senior year of high school.  I couldn’t explain to her or to myself why I dragged my feet except that I didn’t want to leave the familiarity of Lakeview. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with myself — anything but music was out of the question, but I didn’t know if I wanted to go into music performance, which was what was expected of me, or fall back on music education. Therefore, I hung back, feeling guilty in my school uniform.

“You can go back, Grace,” Mrs. Kravitz said behind her counter. She hung up the phone and stared back at her computer screen.

I turned the corner and walked down a corridor of shut office doors with their shaded glass windows showing light inside. I reached Dr. DeWinter’s office, with its hand-lettered name on the door, and knocked.

“Come in, Grace,” she announced in her voice, warm and dry like a plucked viola string. I tried to read her mood from her voice and failed. I opened the door and slipped through it, into the familiar office with its jungle of plants in the window. I sat on the wooden chair that looked like it had seen generations of students before me — even Dr. DeWinter herself — and had survived them all.

“Grace,” she said, turning to me from her wooden swivel chair. “How have you been?”

I looked at her, her straightened grey hair swept back into a bun, her oval steel-framed glasses accentuating her nearly black eyes. She was my mentor, she was the mother I had never really had in a lifetime of residential music schools, and we walked through our ritual of the past seven years. “I’m fine, Dr. DeWinter. I haven’t gotten that cold that’s going around yet.”

“Good. How are your lessons going?”

That I could smile about. “I’m currently butting heads against Paganini’s 24 Caprices. What kind of demented genius could write those?”

“Paganini did. And played them, too. What does the music say to you?”

“Impish. I mean, technically very challenging. But the feel of it is that of a little imp, darling and devilish, taunting other violinists.”

“Do you still prefer your viola to violin?” Dr. DeWinter smiled.

“I know I have to give equal time to both instruments, because there’s so little written expressly for viola, and you keep telling me I have a career ahead of me. But my viola — “ Here, I sighed. “My viola is almost like a part of me. It’s like my voice.”

“And of course you’re still getting voice lessons on the side.”

“Yes, but I think my voice will always be for me, not for the public. I have a good voice, I know, with good musicality — but I’m not Norah Jones, and that’s who I’d want to be.”

“I would agree with you there,” Dr. DeWinter said — and paused. Here came the question I didn’t want to answer. “Speaking of careers — “
I would never get away with anything with Dr. DeWinter. “I know, I know. College applications. They’re due November 1st.” I felt my stomach sink as I realized I had disappointed my mentor. “I’ve been looking on the internet, but —”

“But?” asked Dr. DeWinter, eyes boring into mine.

“I don’t know what I want. I know you’re expecting me to go into music performance, because you believe I have great potential — and I know I do. I could probably get myself into some program like Berklee or USC, but I don’t know …” Here I dithered, revealing my indecision and my discomfort at anticipating the future. I had no idea how to be an adult — not even how to budget my money, as I spent money for nothing but tuition, room and board, and the occasional concert dress. I had few clothes that were not uniforms; little contact with the outside world other than field trips to operas and plays and concerts and art exhibits, not to mention performances. I suspected real life was more complicated than that.

“I think we’ve sheltered you too much here,” Dr. DeWinter said after a long pause. “You’re almost eighteen, and you’ve been in residential schools since you were seven.” It was true; my parents had placed me in an enriched boarding school called Renaissance School for the Arts when it was clear that I was a music prodigy, and from there straight to Lakeview. 

I felt a flutter of uncertainty in my stomach as I tried to explain to Dr. DeWinter: “I want to stay here another year. Explore my options. Learn — “ I hated to admit the next part — “learn how to live on my own.”

“Most people learn how to live on their own by living on their own,” she said wryly. “I want you to try to fill out a few of those applications, at least one, within the next week. You can ask Ms. Hollis in the school counselor’s office to help you with those, you know.” 

“I know,” I sighed. “I just —”

“You really can ask for help if you need it. Being on your own doesn’t mean going it alone. Take it one step at a time.”

If only I knew what that first step was.

Later, after dinner and a string quartet rehearsal, I was back in my room. I had a room to myself, which had been part of the original arrangements for me at Lakeview. I had few belongings, as I needed few. The posters on my walls, something which would surprise most people, were superhero movie posters — Captain America, Wonder Woman, Black Panther. On a shelf were the glass menorah my father’s mother had given me, a tiara I had purchased as a joke, a stuffed-toy Siamese cat, as close to a real cat as I’d ever been able to keep, and trophies I had earned in competitions. The items that declared me a princess, a reputation I had built myself in self-defense from the microaggressions, as Dr. DeWinter called the sidelong stares and condescending conversations I often faced in the classical music world. 

I lay on my bed, surfing Facebook on my phone. Various chatters from my classmates, people I knew but didn’t really know. It was as if we lived in parallel universes. In their universes they went home for Christmas, they paired up in the halls and broke up just as quickly, and some of them risked expulsion by sneaking out to the ropes course or behind the gymnasium to have sex. I had not gone there; first, for a protective instinct I’ve always had, and second, because I was saving myself. Not for marriage, but for that career I knew I should have. 

Suddenly tears started to flow, blurring my screen. There was nobody I could talk to about this — Dr. DeWinter didn’t relate to me on this level and I didn’t want to talk to the school psychologist about it out of that same sense of self-preservation in my core. So I thought about the Paganini piece and felt ready to tackle it again.

Updates on Gaia

The latest on Gaia’s Hands stuff — I changed the timeline as I said I would, and I’m adding some of the relationship stuff in that I massacred in a previous edit. This time, though, I’m writing it in terms of what I understand their budding relationship to be — at times frustrating and confusing but usually a matter of joy. 

I also did move Jeanne’s age back to 45. I don’t know why that five years makes a lot of difference, but it does. At age 45, I honestly believed I could keep up with a twenty-year-old. (In actuality, I suspect they couldn’t keep up with me. Take that how you will.)  Fifty, though? That’s a milestone birthday, and one with superstitious portent of old age.

I’m still far from finished, though. And I’m not sure the novel will clear 60k. (Can I publish an omnibus edition? Or be an outlier with fewer pages and get published? I just don’t know.)

This story is killing me.

I’m doing a major editorial change on Gaia’s Hands again. This story is the bane of my existence and I should just burn it, but I’m compelled to make something of it. 

The time table is too compressed, it seems. There’s not enough time to develop Jeanne and Josh with the current setup, because it only runs from March to May 31.  

Too little time, I think.

So I’m moving the start date back to October (which is important, because Josh needs to be riding his bike) and keeping the ending at Memorial Day (because there’s a big planting of a food forest to be done, and a horticulturalist wouldn’t plant much later than that.)

I will have to add in stuff.

I still wonder if I can make this story into something.

Writing Retreat Goal Achieved!

My goal for writing on this two-day retreat was to complete the building/writing of the first third of Apocalypse, which went entirely too fast (and was a lot shorter) in the original product. This was the hardest item in the rewrite, because it required writing some 18,000 words from scratch that nonetheless segued into the rest of the book (which needs severe revision).

Other things I needed to do: not give away the secret identity of one of the leads, develop the antagonists so they weren’t so black and white, put some tension between the male-female main protagonist pair (and it’s going to get worse before it gets better). 

I’m done with this part! My writing retreat kicked me into some creative thinking!

Excerpt from Apocalypse rewrite

Forty-five minutes later, as Laurel finished fluffing up her masses of curly golden hair, she heard a knock on her door and opened it to a grinning Adam. “May I come in?” he asked gallantly.
“Adam, you sure like to live dangerously. Someone could have seen you. Where did you teleport into?”

“Transport, not teleport. We transport ourselves, we teleport apples. And we’ve barely touched on transporting — there’s certainly more interesting places to go than your porch, true?” 

Laurel smiled despite herself, despite the total disorientation of the past couple days. “I admit teleporting — um, transporting — would be an easy and ecological way of getting places. As long as nobody was there on the other end to see you. So where are we going today?”

“What is a place where you’ve been before, that you can visualize well enough that you can take us there?” 

“Safely? Without people seeing us pop in from the middle of nowhere?” Laurel asked skeptically.

“You have a point there. Maybe we should wait until dark. We have some time to kill — a couple hours, I suspect.” Adam crossed his legs and leaned back. “Tell me about yourself.”

“Well, given that I only remember the last twelve years of my life, there’s not much to talk about. I woke up in the hospital, broke out, and spent a twilight existence working under the table for subsistence wages. I’ve slept in basement apartments, squatted under bridges, lived in homeless shelters. I’ve …” Laurel looked over at Adam, her eyes blinking. “I’ve kept apart from others. I’m not used to talking to people, because I’ve been afraid I would give away something, like my freakish ability to heal. I’ve lived a solitary existence.”

“Most Archetypes live solitary existences. We were created that way, as Archetypes who gather together could be a danger.”

“How? A danger to what?” Laurel leaned forward, as if she could find a clue to herself in Adam’s revelation. 

“Remember,” Adam said, steepling his fingers. “The Maker created us as vessels for human patterns. If we die, the humans whose patterns we carry die as well. We’re nearly indestructible, but that small possibility can’t be risked. Conflict could set us up for battle, and battle against other beings like us — strong and swift and almost indestructible — could result in our death and the death of the millions whose patterns we carry. So we are kept apart from each other.”

“Whose patterns do I carry?” Laurel asked.

“That I don’t know. I’m sure the information is in the Archives somewhere …” Adam trailed off, remembering his own unique status as an Archetype who carried no patterns.

In a Stuck Place

So I’ve been told by my developmental editor that I need to rewrite Apocalypse — not because it’s so bad, she says, but because it’s so good. My developmental editor, Chelsea Harper, knows her stuff and I know she’s right. Apocalypse is the combination of the second and third books I’d written, and I didn’t know things that I know now.

Still, I’m finding it hard to rewrite. First, because my semester is winding down, I have end-of-semester items in mind even when I’m not doing them yet, things like the final exam and projects to grade.  

Second, because — well, basically what I have to do with the rewrite is:
1) Stretch out three chapters into the first third of the book
2) Rewrite the rest of the book with fewer points of view
3) Cut out some of the lag from the second half of the book
4) Add more tension and loss.

I think I can deal with 2-4 relatively easily, but I struggle with stretching out that first three chapters to eight chapters. I’ve tried outlining it (being a plantser, or someone who roughly outlines and fills in) but I don’t feel the inspiration. 

I think I need to sit with it a while, talk with my characters and see what it is they want to do. 

Wish me luck.

What I’m working on

Rewrites are harder than I thought:

Lilly Doe thought she’d have a nice quiet evening at home.

 She sat in her sanctum, the soothing living room of her Chicago bungalow. After looking through a research paper on modern Archetypes and the female psyche, Lilly strolled over to her bookcase to find a mystery novel to read — and dissolved into a sparkling mist.

When the molecules that made up her body realigned themselves, Lilly found herself in an eerily perfect coffeehouse.  Black walls, dark interior. Scattered shelves with bric-a-brac — a stuffed armadillo, a badly tarnished coffee urn. A small stage, enough for three musicians, but perhaps not enough for four. A dusty upright piano, which she suspected was in perfect tune. Lilly felt as if her insides were still sparkly mist and her legs about to dematerialize once more. But stubbornness would not allow her to shrink from the emergent situation.

The coffeehouse, however, stood silent, and nobody sat at the tables. If Heaven had a coffeehouse, Lilly reasoned, this would be it. Who knew Heaven would be so empty?

Lilly felt goosebumps form on her arms. Her knees buckled, and she collapsed into a chair. She pinched herself and felt pain.

Just then, a man glided up to the chair across from her and sat down. The man had fine, straight, black hair pulled into a loose ponytail, wide Asian eyes, and a graceful nose. He wore unrelieved black, which almost blended into the darkness of the walls.

The man looked at her expectantly.

“Am I dead?” she queried.

“No,” he replied, in a silky tenor. “I suppose you could be dreaming, Lilly.” He  rested his chin on his elbows, watching the emotions play on the woman’s face.

“I don’t dream,” she snapped. “Do we know each other?”

The man raised his eyebrows. “I know of you.  You have touched me.” He studied her again: a short, curvy woman with sunny curls, a button nose, and at the moment a scowl on her face.

“How could I have touched you? I don’t know you!” Lilly shivered.

“I heard a story about you once. It touched my heart,” he murmured. A long-fingered hand gestured toward his heart.

“I don’t know you,” Lilly snapped, standing up.

The man gestured her back down gracefully. “Think of me as an Archetype,” he said. “An Archetype who holds a cultural pattern for humans – thousands, even millions of people at once. Without their cultural DNA, their anchoring in the world, humans will die.”

“Millions of humans? ” Fear replaced skepticism, as though the words resonated with a buried part of Lilly’s memory.

“Pretty much. Archetypes generally live in spaces between worlds, a bleak place called InterSpace, so they can be called to be the template for a human in this world. Archetypes seldom visit Earthside, except in our case.”

“If this is a dream, why are you in it?” She held her breath to keep from screaming. “People can’t dream of what they haven’t seen before.”

“Did I say it was a dream? I called you here, to the ideal coffeehouse, a space that would reassure you, so I could talk to you.” His hand touched hers, and she jolted.

“This isn’t reassuring me,” Lilly sighed.

At that moment, two large lattes appeared on the table.  Lilly took a sip; a perfect latte. “Are these real?” she asked.

“Is this not the best latte you have ever tasted?” He smiled as if he’d made the lattes himself.

Lilly remembered the setting finally, a Chicago fixture whose eclectic shabbiness had earned it renown. It had been years since she had been — Lilly shivered. This compelling man – Archetype – spoke in riddles. “So why are we here?”