Title: BEETHOVEN IN LOVE; OPUS 139
Author: Howard Jay Smith
Genre: Literary Fiction/Biographical Fiction
At the moment of his death, Ludwig van Beethoven pleads with Providence to grant him a final wish—one day, just a single day of pure joy. But first he must confront the many failings in his life, so the great composer and exceedingly complex man begins an odyssey into the netherworld of his past life led by a spirit guide who certainly seems to be Napoleon, who died six years before. This ghost of the former emperor, whom the historical Beethoven both revered and despised, struggles to compel the composer to confront the ugliness as well as the beauty and accomplishments of his past.
As Beethoven ultimately faces the realities of his just-ended life, we encounter the women who loved and inspired him. In their own voices, we discover their Beethoven—a lover with whom they savor the profound beauty and passion of his creations. And it’s in the arms of his beloveds that he comes to terms with the meaning of his life and experiences the moment of true joy he has always sought.
The Death of Beethoven
Vienna, 5:00 pm, March 26, 1827
Outside Beethoven’s rooms at the Schwarzspanierhaus, a fresh measure of snow from a late season thunderstorm muffles the chimes of St. Stephens Cathedral as they ring out the hours for the old city.
Ein, Zwei, Drei, Vier… Funf Uhr. Five O’clock.
Beethoven, three months past his fifty-sixth birthday, lies in a coma, as he has now for two nights, his body bound by the betrayal of an illness whose only virtue was that it proved incurable and would, thankfully, be his last. Though his chest muscles and his lungs wrestle like giants against the approaching blackness, his breathing is so labored that the death rattle can be heard over the grumblings of the heavens throughout his apartment.
Muss es sein? Must it be? Ja, es muss sein. Beethoven is dying. From on high, the Gods vent their grief at his imminent passing and hurl a spear of lightening at Vienna.
Their jagged bolt of electricity explodes outside the frost covered windows of the Schwarzspanierhaus with a clap of thunder so violent it startles the composer to consciousness.
Beethoven’s eyes open, glassy, unfocused. He looks upward – only the Gods know what he sees, if anything. He raises his right hand, a hand that has graced a thousand sonatas, and clenches his fist for perhaps the last time. His arm trembles as if railing against the heavens. Tears flood his eyes.
His arm falls back to the bed… His eyelids close… And then he is gone…
Plaudite, Amici, Comoedia Finite Est
Applaud My Friends, the Comedy is Over
By all accounts my funeral was a grand success.
Despite the snow and slush soaking through their shoes, all Vienna turns out. Twenty thousand mourners or more, accompanied by the Imperial Guards, guide the grieving to my grave. Streets crowded, impassable. My coffin, lined with silk, covered in flowers, rolls through the chaos on a horse drawn bier. Paupers and princes; merchants and mendicants; menials and musicians; clerics and commoners; they all come for this, their Beethoven’s final concerto.
As if they ever owned me or my music…
Plaudite, Amici, Comoedia Finite Est. Applaud my friends, the comedy are over. Inscribed herein rests my final opus.
Ja. Yes, they are all patrons and lovers… Lovers of my music, the very music the gods have forbidden me to hear. How cruel. To suffer my last decade without sound – any sound except the incessant surge of blood pounding through my veins – an eternity inscribed on the calendar pages of my life.
And so it is, these celebrants, anxious for one last encore, crowd the alleys and streets of the Hapsburgs capital in throngs not seen since the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte and the French Grande Armee oh so many years ago.
The cortege rolls on past the taverns and cafés of this fair city where dark beer, schnitzel and sausages reward the day. Ah, the saints and sinners of Vienna have always loved a good party, never mind the excuse.
Are they singing? Alle Menschen werden Brüder. All men will become brothers. They must be, yet I hear nothing.
I wonder if she is among them. My muse; my love; my passion; my sacred fire; will she be there to safeguard my voyage through Elysium?
Or is she too denied me as was the sweet sighs of love and the embrace of family stolen by gods capricious and uncaring? Are they so vengeful? So embittered by spite? Like Prometheus, have I dared too close to revelations reserved for them alone?
The clouds grow ever darker, ominous.
Must I embrace death silently ere my last symphony suffuses the stage? Is this my end? To be cast out as by our Creator as history’s cruel joke, a deaf musician? A composer unable to know the vibrancy of his own scores?
Tell me why your Beethoven, your servant whose hearing once surpassed all others in sensitivity and degree, must suffer such humiliation and torment?
Are the crowds laughing? Ja oder nein? Yes or no. I know not. Am I such a failure, such a disgrace to be shoved off the stage without your mercy or compassion?
As surely as the warmth of summer vanishes and the leaves of autumn crumble beneath the crush of winter, has all hope been stolen? Can I escape this fate? What path must I travel? What tasks of redemption are to be mine and mine alone?
Come death; am I to meet your shadow with courage? Must I depart in this winter of anguish before the renewal of spring?
Can I not find release from this cycle of sufferings like a saint or a Hindoo holy man following the dance of Shiva or a Bodhisattva, back bent upon the path of the great Buddha?
The last echoes of joy inside my heart are already fading. Will I never hear or feel those vibrations again? Never? Nein. Forever. Lost for eternity in the fog on the road to Elysium; that is too hard, too harsh.
But surely a loving father must dwell in the starry canopy above. Are you there, oh sweet Isis, my goddess of compassion? Help me, help guide me.
Please Providence; grant me this, my final wish… Grant but one day, just one day, one day of pure joy to your poor Beethoven.
Is this too much to ask before I embrace darkness forever? Oh, to be in her arms once again.
About the Author
Howard Jay Smith is an award-winning writer from Santa Barbara, California. BEETHOVEN IN LOVE; OPUS 139 is his third book. A former Washington, D.C. Commission for the Arts Fellow, & Bread Loaf Writers Conference Scholar, he taught for many years in the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and has lectured nationally. His short stories, articles and photographs have appeared in the Washington Post, Horizon Magazine, the Journal of the Writers Guild of America, the Ojai Quarterly, and numerous literary and trade publications. While an executive at ABC Television, Embassy TV, and Academy Home Entertainment, he worked on numerous film, television, radio, and commercial projects. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Santa Barbara Symphony – “The Best Small City Symphony in America” – and is a member of the American Beethoven Society.
Nothing has been done to prevent climate change, and the United States has spun into decline. Storm surges have made coastal cities uninhabitable, blistering heat waves afflict the interior and, in the South (below the Heatstroke Line), life is barely possible. Under the stress of these events and an ensuing civil war, the nation has broken up into three smaller successor states and tens of tiny principalities. When the flesh-eating bugs that inhabit the South show up in one of the successor states, Daniel Danten is assigned to venture below the Heatstroke Line and investigate the source of the invasion. The bizarre and brutal people he encounters, and the disasters that they trigger, reveal the real horror climate change has inflicted on America.
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Daniel Danten didn’t really want to have a family. What he wanted was to be a scientist, to teach at a university and produce original research. But this seemed so unlikely, given the state of things in Mountain America, that he decided to hedge his bets or he’d have nothing to show for his life. So he married a woman he convinced himself he was in love with and had three children. As it turned out, somewhat to his own surprise, he achieved his original goal, probably because he switched fields from astronomy to entomology, a subject of enormous practical concern these days. And now, with a secure position at one of Mountain America’s leading universities, his own lab, and a substantial list of publications to his credit, he spent most of his time worrying about his family. His wife, Garenika, was depressed, his ten year old son Michael was suffering from one of the many mysterious ailments that were appearing without warning or explanation, and his fourteen year old daughter Senly was hooked on Phantasie and running wild. Worst of all, his sixteen year old, Joshua, who had always been such a reliable, level-headed and generally gratifying son, had become an American Patriot.
On a blazing, early September afternoon, with the outdoor temperature spiking at 130 degrees Fahrenheit, he was sitting with Garenika in the waiting room at Denver Diagnostic Clinic while Michael was being examined by still one more doctor. Garenika thought they would get some sort of answer this time, but Dan was convinced that the doctor would come out of the examining room and say that she really couldn’t tell them what the problem is. Senly was spending a rare evening at home and Joshua was on his way back from his field trip to the Enamel, an expedition that, Dan felt sure, was designed to make the participants angry, rather than providing them with information. The doctor appeared and Garenika jumped to her feet.
“Well,” the doctor said,” I really can’t tell you what the problem is.”
“Why not?” Garenika asked, her voice tinged with its increasingly frequent sense of panic. “Why can’t you find an answer for us? Look at him –he’s losing weight, his skin keeps getting blotchier, and he’s exhausted all the time.”
“I’m sorry. As you probably know, we’re pretty sure that we’re seeing all these new diseases because the climate change has wiped out a lot of the beneficial bacteria that we used to have in our bodies. Commensals, they’re called. But we’ve never really figured out how they work, so it’s hard to compensate for their disappearance.”
“Okay,” said Dan. “So what can we do for Michael?”
“Keep him comfortable and give it time. Put cold compresses on any area where there’s a rash. Try to get him to eat, lots of small meals if he can’t tolerate a large one. We’re expecting some new medicines from Canada that may relieve the symptoms. Michael’s getting dressed; he’ll be out a few minutes.”
When Michael came out, they went back down to the clinic carport. Dan set the car for Return and sat in the rear with Michael, letting Garenika sit alone up front. They were quiet on the drive back home. Dan kept watching his discolored, fragile little boy, trying to think of something reassuring to say, but nothing came to mind. So when they arrived at the house, where Senly was waiting for them, he just gave Michael a long hug and told him to take a nap.
“Be quiet when you go into the room” Senly said to Michael. “Josh is sleeping.” She turned to Dan and Garenika. “He was really tired out from the trip, so he decided to rest up. But he’s looking forward to having dinner with you.”
“Wonderful,” said Dan, “we’ll all be together.”
“Well, actually,” Senly answered, “I figured you’d be occupied with all the news from Josh, so I made plans to go out. Anyway, the kitchen might break if it we have to program another meal for tonight. It hasn’t been working very well.”
“That was our decision to make, Senly, not yours,” said Garenika.
“I was just trying to be considerate. Remember, you told me that you wanted me to take other people’s feelings into account without being asked. So that’s what I did. I even took the kitchen’s feelings into account.”
Dan couldn’t suppress a grin. Senly got up to leave. “You can reach me on my wristlink. I’ll just be having a quiet dinner with Ranity and Sharana.”
As soon as she was out of the room, Garenika turned on Dan. “You did it again. You smiled at her for her smart-ass comeback. You seem to think that anything she does is okay, as long as she acts clever.”
Garenika was right. Dan knew that he valued intelligence too much. Somehow, he thought Senly’s good mind and quick wits would make up for her surly irresponsibility, and that she would turn out well in the end. But it was his job as a parent to exercise more control over her, to keep her from getting into some kind of trouble she couldn’t get out of, and maybe even to teach her some sense of morality.
“You need to be more careful, Dan. You have a career, but these three children are all I’ve got.”
In fact, Garenika was a food inspector for the government, but she hated her job.
Josh appeared in the multi-purpose room promptly at 7:15, just as the servo-robot was putting out the plates for dinner. He looked completely refreshed and as handsome as ever. After announcing that he was glad to be home, asking where Senly was, and telling Michael that he was looking better, he launched into his account of the trip by using his wristlink to project images onto the wall.
“I couldn’t send anything from the Enamel, of course, but that’s what it looks like. I know you’ve seen it Dad, but Mom and Michael haven’t. Isn’t it awful?”
A scene appeared of wide, flat land, part brown rock and part dark clay, with scattered pools of water, jumbled piles of brick and stone, and a few stunted, scrawny bushes. Josh had taken the footage on an overcast day to heighten the effect.
“This used to be the richest farmland on Earth,” he continued. “Until the Canadians raped it. You know where the term Enamel comes from, don’t you?”
“Yes,” said Dan. “NML — No Man’s Land.”
“I didn’t know that,” said Michael.
“They called it that because it’s supposed to be a buffer between us and the UFA, didn’t they?” Garenika asked.
“That what I thought, particularly because of the Canadian communications blackout there,” said Josh, “but Stuart told us that the Canadians would actually have been glad if we kept fighting with the UFA. American netnews writers named it No Man’s Land because no one could live there after the Canadians got through with it. Stuart really knows a lot about it.”
“I should hope so,” said Dan, “he’s probably the leading American history professor at the University of Mountain America.”
“He’s really nice. And he ran a great trip.”
“If he hadn’t been running it, dear, we wouldn’t have let you go,” said Garenika.
“There are the train tracks,” said Joshua, switching scenes. “You can’t really get a good sense of them from a picture, but it’s horrible to see them in real life. There are three sets, each twenty feet wide and running straight into Canada. Did you see them Dad?”
“No, I went to the Enamel to find insects. I never got that far east.”
“Maybe if you’d seen the tracks you would feel different about the whole thing. Stuart said it took three years for them to transport all that topsoil up to Canada, even with those giant trains. Just think, three years ripping the surface off seven states.”
“Well, we did drop nuclear bombs on their two largest cities,” Dan replied.
“We were justified. They were supposed to let our citizens move into the Arctic, instead of taking in all those Aussies, Brits and Frenchies. They just let us die from the heat. What were we supposed to do?”
“Not that. Even the Russians didn’t do that when China conquered East Siberia.”
“But both sides used nuclear weapons.”
“Just tactical ones, on the battlefield. The United States was the only country that ever used them against civilian targets.”
“Are you two going to start arguing again?” said Garenika. “I thought we were just hearing about Josh’s trip.”
“Well, the purpose of Josh’s trip was to get him revved up so he’d argue with me.”
“The purpose of my trip was to provide me with information so I can explain to you why it’s so important to be a Patriot. We were the most powerful nation on Earth before the Second Civil War. And we could be powerful again if the three Successor States united. Just think, we’d have almost as many people as Canada.”
“How do you figure that?” said Dan.
Josh was obviously waiting for that question. “Mountain America has 24 million people, the UFA has 25 or 26 million, and Pacifica has 12 or 13.
“Well, that’s a little over 60 million by my math. Canada has 150 million.”
“Yeah, but five million of them are in New England, and another 20 are in Alaska. Those used to be part of the United States. If you subtract 25 million people from Canada and add them to us, the difference gets a lot smaller.”
“But why would all those people want to leave a richer, stronger country with a decent climate to join three smaller, overheated ones?”
“Because they used to be part of the greatest nation on Earth.”
“Not the people in Alaska. They came from Australia, Britain and France, as you just mentioned.”
“Only some of them. There are plenty of Patriots in Alaska. Plus another five million people in the Confederacies, and almost all of them are Patriots.”
“They may be Patriots,” said Dan, “but according to the last count, there’s only about three million of them.”
“That information comes from a Canadian satellite survey, and they falsify the data to make the Patriots look weak.”
“Did Stuart tell you that?”
Josh was getting rattled, but he held his ground. “No, Noah told us that.”
“Noah!” Dan exclaimed, with a snort.
“Noah knows a lot.”
“Noah’s a nut case,” said Dan. “A Revivalist nut case.” He was about to add that Josh would be a nut case too if he kept listening to people like that, but he caught Garenika’s eye and restrained himself.
“I’m tired,” said Michael. Can I go back to bed?” Dan noticed that he had barely touched his food.
“Of course, darling,” said Garenika. “I’ll come in to say goodnight in a few minutes.”
“Actually,” Dan continued, trying to be slightly less contentious, “even three million people is impressive. Most of the areas below the Heatstroke Line are completely uninhabited these days.”
“That’s American ingenuity for you,” Joshua said.
“And that’s just a Patriot slogan.”
“Dad, if all the Successor States were unified, we could repopulate the South. Crops grow there, so there’s no reason it couldn’t hold more people.”
“That’s impossible, Josh. I’d be surprised if they can even sustain the present population very long.”
“Why exactly is that?” Garenika asked. “You can live below the Heatstroke Line if you have air conditioning. I mean, I’m a nutritionist, not an h-vac engineer, but the Halcyon units are really good. Ours can handle 150 degree weather easily.”
“So it would seem,” said Dan, “but it never works. It’s a matter of social organization, not engineering. You’ve got to keep a power plant going all the time. As soon as it breaks down, or the fuel supply is interrupted, or one of your enemies blows it up, you die. Then there are the biter bugs. And you’ve got to give everyone a stun gun or life is just intolerable. Even with the guns, it’s pretty damn unpleasant. You’re always on edge.”
“But everyone in the Confederacies does have a stun gun” Josh responded. “And the power plant situation isn’t as bad as you say, because they’re not so far south. You can survive in winter without air conditioning, so it’s only a little more than half the year that a power failure actually kills you.”
“Well, that was the idea behind President Garcia’s program of repopulating West Oklahoma, Central Texas and New Mexico,” said Dan, “but the problem in that case is that there’s no water. It’s a lost cause.”
“The problem,” said Josh, “is that it created an unnecessary conflict with the Confederacies in Arkansas, East Oklahoma and East Texas. We need to start working together, not competing for little bits of extra territory. The Canadians never could have invaded us if it hadn’t been for the Second Civil War.”
“Well then,” said Dan. You should be an enthusiastic supporter of President Simonson.”
“Simonson’s a lot better than Carletta Garcia. At least he’s trying to establish better relations with the Confederacies. But he’s not a Patriot. He has no vision. One day we’ll elect a real Patriot as President and start putting this country back together.”
“One day,” said Dan, “you’ll go back to fantasizing about being a medieval knight, or hunting dinosaurs, or something else that’s more realistic than the lost cause you’ve got for yourself now.”
When Dan and Garenika were in bed that night, she told him that he was being much too hard on Josh. Dan was tempted to respond that he was just following the advice she had given him about Senly, but he realized that would be a smart-ass, Senly-type remark and stopped himself.
“You know,” he said instead, “what Josh is doing can be dangerous, maybe more dangerous than Senly’s Phantasie parties with those so-called friends of hers. I trust Stuart, but when they were looking at the train tracks, they were pretty close to territory claimed by the UFA. And American Patriotism is a criminal offense there; they could all have been arrested.”
“But it’s legal here. And at least he’s using his mind and doing something constructive.” She paused. “Oh hell, you’re right. I’m worried about him too. I’m worried about all of them.”
About the Author
Edward Rubin is University Professor of Law and Political Science at Vanderbilt University. He specializes in administrative law, constitutional law and legal theory. He is the author of Soul, Self and Society: The New Morality and the Modern State (Oxford, 2015); Beyond Camelot: Rethinking Politics and Law for the Modern State (Princeton, 2005) and two books with Malcolm Feeley, Federalism: Political Identity and Tragic Compromise (Michigan, 2011) and Judicial Policy Making and the Modern State: How the Courts Reformed America’s Prisons (Cambridge, 1998). In addition, he is the author of two casebooks, The Regulatory State (with Lisa Bressman and Kevin Stack) (2nd ed., 2013); The Payments System (with Robert Cooter) (West, 1990), three edited volumes (one forthcoming) and The Heatstroke Line (Sunbury, 2015) a science fiction novel about the fate of the United States if climate change is not brought under control. Professor Rubin joined Vanderbilt Law School as Dean and the first John Wade–Kent Syverud Professor of Law in July 2005, serving a four-year term that ended in June 2009. Previously, he taught at the University of Pennsylvania Law School from 1998 to 2005, and at the Berkeley School of Law from 1982 to 1998, where he served as an associate dean. Professor Rubin has been chair of the Association of American Law Schools’ sections on Administrative Law and Socioeconomics and of its Committee on the Curriculum. He has served as a consultant to the People’s Republic of China on administrative law and to the Russian Federation on payments law. He received his undergraduate degree from Princeton and his law degree from Yale.
He has published four books, three edited volumes, two casebooks, and more than one hundred articles about various aspects of law and political theory. The Heatstroke Line is his first novel.
Title: Your Body, Your Style
Author: Rani St. Pucchi
Publisher: Koehler Books
Rani St. Pucchi, a trend-setting designer whose designs have been recognized in Entertainment Tonight, Harper’s Bazaar, WWD, Town and Country, Bride’s, Cosmopolitan Bride, Martha Stewart Weddings and The Knot, can help define the style that flatters you most — no matter what age or stage of life you are in or what your body type is.
Women from all over the world have clamored to have a private consultation with Rani so they may benefit from her expertise and regain their self-confidence and shine.
In Your Body, Your Style, Rani shares with you her knowledge of the female form and guides you to find simple solutions to your most pressing body concerns. The focus is on you — and how you can make yourself more confident and appealing in almost every situation — simply by making a few changes and different choices in planning your wardrobe.
Once you embrace your unique attributes and dissolve your bad relationship with your body, you’ll be amazed to find how irresistible you are to others!
This simple and friendly guide reveals:
* What clothes and silhouettes are best for your specific body type
* Simple techniques to determine which colors flatter you most
* Solutions to common lingerie issues and the importance of fit
* The one dress that is a chameleon, and how to transform it into different looks
* How to travel stress free by planning your wardrobe well
* 101 styling secrets, professional tricks and fashion tips
RANI ST. PUCCHI is an award-winning fashion designer, an author and relationship expert. She is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post.
If there is a seminal moment in my relationship to fashion and designing, the occasion that springs to mind is a summer in Bangkok, Thailand. I must have been about four or five years old. My cousin and I were running feverishly from the ground floor of our townhome to my mother’s bedroom on the fourth floor to get dressed for the movies and we were very late.
I looked at the choices I had and was very disappointed. Even though there were so many options I kept trying and tossing the frocks one by one on the floor. The cupboard now bare, I hit a wall: I’d run out of clothes. I remember so well the frustration and at the same time an ah-ha moment. I decided from henceforth I would choose my own fabrics and design my own clothes. After all who knew better than I what looks good on me?
I thank my parents for drawing me into the magical world of luxury fabrics and laces. As the largest purveyor of fine laces in Thailand their ateliers and showrooms became my playground where I would spend all my spare time. I had the opportunity to be around fine fabrics and get to touch and feel and know them well. I actively participated with my tailors in transforming these fabrics into unique designs for myself.
Fast forward to 1984. I was still living in Bangkok, Thailand and running my small tailoring shop in a prominent hotel, specializing in ready to wear and evening gowns, along with men’s tailored suits. A rare opportunity came my way when a client asked if I would be wiling to bring my collection to showcase at her charity event in San Antonio, Texas.
I was an avid fan of the TV sitcom “Dallas” and always fantasized living the life of such opulence and outrage as the characters depicted in the series! My wish to travel to the United States was a dream come true.
With great enthusiasm I prepared a collection of 54 pieces, comprising of jackets, skirts, blouses and dresses and some evening sheaths. I also thought it would be nice to have a finale piece, and so I designed my very first bridal gown for this purpose.
It was a blush colored wedding gown made of pure Thai Silk, entirely hand embroidered and hand beaded. Little did I know that the one wedding gown would receive so much attention as to catapult my whole life!
Next thing I knew I had already committed to showing a Bridal Collection in Dallas at the Dallas Apparel Mart, which was the ‘go to’ fashion platform where buyers from all over the world congregated. I registered my company on a wing and a prayer, and St. Pucchi was born.
When I launched my first bridal couture collection at the Dallas Apparel Mart in April of 1985 I was unsure if what I had so lovingly put together was of any value to the US bridal market. I was also clueless to the fact that white was the only color worn and accepted by the American bride at the time.
They say ignorance is bliss! By the time I learnt it was too late. My collection had already shipped from Bangkok to Dallas and there was not a single white dress among the sixteen styles I had designed. The colors ranged from ecru, blush, butterscotch and even pale blue.
I comforted myself into believing that perhaps the US bridal industry as it was could use a fresh perspective and hopefully my collection would, at the very least, bring some excitement.
It was pure pleasure to be totally immersed in an unfolding story, on a journey that is never forgotten. My first collection produced in me an intensely emotional and cathartic experience. After all I had invested all my resources and had used up my credit cards to the max. There was so much riding on my success that I could not fathom what the future would look like if…
The Dallas Apparel News ran a front-page story about my premier bridal collection and how it was a harkening of things to come. I was applauded for being a pioneer not only for using pure silks in bridal, which was unheard of at the time, but also for being so bold and daring as to introduce color to bridal wear.
The US bridal industry as we had known it would change forever.
Today, 30 plus years later, with more than 10,000 designs under my belt, I find myself very fortunate and humbled to write this book. The amazing women I’ve had the pleasure to work with during trunk shows, fashion shows, and on my travels across the globe have taught me much.
I have witnessed again and again how looking good can change a woman’s life. I have worked with numerous women, young and old, women getting married, mothers with teenage daughters, women going thru midlife crisis and those going thru menopause. The story they tell themselves is the same. Most are not happy with their bodies and wish they could change something or the other so they can feel confident in themselves.
A woman’s form is the most beautiful, most complex and the most intriguing. Yet we don’t appreciate it enough. We tend to hide parts that we feel are not attractive and we berate ourselves for being too much of this, and not enough of that. Rather than being in awe and working with the form we are blessed with, we spend more time and resources than most of us can afford, on diets and procedures that are rarely long lasting.
We’re on this constant merry-go-round and obsess about our body during every waking moment. Not only that, but the way we talk to ourselves we would not allow anyone to say those words to either our best friends or even our worst enemies!
This book does not pretend to be your road to perfection. The purpose of writing it is to guide you thru simple techniques and suggestions on how to look at your body and see what you can make better.
You are asked to assess and appraise your body type so that you can learn about the most flattering silhouettes to dress in.
You will learn how to dress your body in a way that will enhance your best assets and camouflage areas that you feel uncomfortable about or find lacking in any way.
You realize why it is so important to invest in the right lingerie. You learn the importance of fit and simple solutions to your common bra issues.
You are invited to learn a simple process to determine what colors flatter you most and which ones to part with. Color being one of the key elements that makes a woman look more interesting, more self-confident, more self-assured and in control.
You will learn about the one color that is a must staple in every woman’s wardrobe. The one piece of clothing that is a chameleon and that can be transformed into any myriad number of looks.
You are taken on a journey on how your style and taste evolves as you transition from your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, to your 60s and beyond. And you learn that sexy is never out of fashion, nor is it outdated. That in fact the older you get the more confident you become. And you realize that ultimately confidence is really what makes a woman sexy.
You become savvy on how and what to pack for your travels, whether you’re going on a month long vacation, a weekend romantic getaway to an exotic tropical island, or a short business trip.
You learn the simple four step process to sort-and-purge and organize your wardrobe so that no time is wasted in choosing what to wear each day allowing you time to become more productive in life.
You will be able to define your personal style, and become clear on how you wish to be seen in the world. This knowledge will help you embrace your own unique personality and shine.
In this book I share 101 tips and tricks on fashion fixes that help you gain self-confidence, on how to accentuate your strongest features, on dressing sexy. You will receive smart shopping hints and simple style advice for your body type and more…
In these pages I share with you the knowledge that I have garnered and reveal those secrets you will now learn so you too can look like a million regardless of the body you have, or the resources, to access trends that are so fleeting as to make our heads spin!
Thank you for the opportunity to share my knowledge. I hope it serves you.
About the Author
Thirty years ago, Rani St. Pucchi took the bridal world by storm, despite having no formal training in fashion. She is an award winning couture fashion designer and founder of the world-renowned bridal house St. Pucchi. A passionate and dynamic entrepreneur who launched her global empire in the United States in 1985, Rani’s vision was to create an avant-garde bridal and evening couture line with modern styling and classic details. That vision has been realized today.
Renowned for infusing her creations with touches of magnificently colored jewels, exquisite hand embroidery, delicate beading and sparkling crystals on the finest silks and laces, these inspired designs with innovative draping evoke the timeless elegance every woman desires. As one of the foremost designers to introduce exotic silk fabrics and hand embroidery, Rani is applauded for being a pioneer in bringing color to the United States bridal scene, having learned that white does not flatter everyone.
Rani has been recognized and nominated on multiple occasions for her design talent and won numerous awards as a Style Innovator. In addition, she has been honored with the Best Bridal Designer Award at the prestigious Chicago Apparel Center’s DEBI Awards (Distinctive Excellence in Bridal Industry).
Rani is famous for designing the wedding dress worn by “Phoebe” as she captured the hearts of millions when she said “I Do” in a unique St. Pucchi Lilac corset bodice A-line gown on the finale of the hit television show Friends.
Her range of avant-garde designs are worn by the world’s most discerning brides, including celebrities and style icons such as New York Giants’ player Aaron Ross’ wife, Olympic gold medalist Sanya Richards; Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback Tony Romo’s wife Candice Crawford; Actress Tara Reid; Jason Priestley’s wife Naomi Lowde; actress Candice Cameron and Grammy Award winning country music singer Alison Krauss, who donned a specially designed Chantilly lace and silk gown at the Country Music Awards.
Rani has enjoyed much media attention. Her signature designs have been recognized in high profile media such as Entertainment Tonight, Harper’s Bazaar, WWD, Town and Country, Bride’s, Cosmopolitan Brides, Inside Weddings, Martha Stewart Weddings and The Knot.
Rani’s real passion other than the world of design is to help women who have suffered abuse and those who are struggling to find themselves. On her quest to empower women to be their best selves, she is passionate about helping them find their voice through building their self-confidence. She believes that confidence must start with a woman’s love and acceptance of her body.
Renowned for her savvy knowledge of a woman’s form and fit, Rani is eager to share her knowledge of more than three decades with all women so they can make better styling choices. In addition to the book you are reading now, Rani is the author of four upcoming books: The SoulMate Checklist: Key Questions To help You Choose Your Perfect Partner; Seven Types of Men To Avoid: Recognizing Relationship Red Flags; Designing with Heart: A to Z Guide to Bridal Designing; and Unveiling: A Celebrity Fashion Designer’s Story, a Memoir of her Life Journey.
Born and raised in Bangkok, Thailand, Rani now happily lives in Los Angeles, California.
Her latest book is Your Body, Your Style: Simple Tips on Dressing to Flatter.
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Never Go Alone
A rash of elaborate cat burglaries of luxury buildings in Manhattan has the police and mayor panicked. When a group of social media obsessed millennials—a loosely organized crew that call themselves “urban explorers”—are suspected in the heists, NYPD detective Jake Rivett is assigned the case.
Already undercover with one foot on each side of the blue line, Rivett is ordered to infiltrate the group and discern responsibility. Battling against both his own personal demons and misgivings regarding his superiors, Rivett dives deep into the urban exploration scene in pursuit of the truth. But what, and who, he finds—deep in the sewers, up in the cranes above under-construction skyscrapers, and everywhere else in New York—will change not only Jake, but the city itself.
Purchase at Amazon.
Two feet hammered the pavement. With movement as rapid as it was controlled, the explorer’s muscles tensed for what was to come. The target, all twenty stories of unabashedly neo-classical splendor, towered across the street. Infiltrating the building would be easy, but the next step was difficult. And the rest? Brilliant meets impossible.
The explorer was wearing a small camera on his chest, which captured his viewpoint with slightly shaky but high-definition clarity. A parking post stood ahead—cement poured into a strong iron tube. The man sprinted forward and vaulted onto the post. He maintained his momentum, springing off the top of the post onto an enormous industrial air-conditioning unit. Now eight feet in the air, he had only one stride before his next jump. He sailed through the empty air, arms outstretched, fingers tensing—a twelve-foot-high brick wall ahead. Just reaching the wall, the explorer’s fingers grasped the edge. His right hand couldn’t find traction. His fingernails scraped desperately as he started to fall. But two fingers on his left hand did their job. He hung on, swinging precariously before centering himself and pulling his body up and over the wall.
The explorer dropped down on the other side. His body contracted into a tight ball as he careened toward the construction gravel below. At the last moment, he rotated and achieved a rolling landing—lessening gravity’s impact. He came to a stop. Breathing heavily, he took a brief respite from the task at hand. His chest heaved as he peered around the construction site that he’d just infiltrated. He knew that a lone security guard sat in a booth on the other side of the block. But he also knew the guard was engrossed in his cell phone, only stopping occasionally to gaze onto an adjoining street. As long as the explorer was quiet, the guard would be none the wiser. The coast was clear. He reached for a mic attached to the side strap of his backpack.
“All silent. Only one clown in the circus,” the explorer whispered into the microphone. Still out of breath, he reached for his hydration tube and took a long sip of water. Then he rotated and watched as three more compatriots covertly slid over the top of the tall brick wall.
They each hit the ground in the same rolling manner, limiting trauma with expert precision. The entire crew was clad in dark outdoor technical clothes, breathable shirts, top-of-the-line Gore-Tex pants and trail runners with all reflective surfaces blocked out by black Sharpie. Their faces were covered by bandanas or ski masks. Respirators, climbing gear, knives, and cameras were both hanging from and strapped to their belts and backpacks.
The crew split in three different directions, acting as lookouts for any errant guard or construction manager onsite in the middle of the night. It was unlikely, but their plans called for extreme caution. That’s what had made them so successful—their secret sauce was not daring; it was preparation. After confirming that the others were in position, the explorer focused on the mission at hand.
An enormous tower crane stood against the edge of the construction site. Built like a towering T, the machine’s base was a concrete shithouse holding up three hundred feet of crisscrossing steel. The explorer expertly grabbed the side of the crane. Instead of heading for the control booth at the bottom, he simply began to ascend up the latticework that made up the sides—hands followed by legs on an upstream ladder.
Stopping midway to catch his breath, the man couldn’t help but look down. Vertigo’s tendrils reached out like forbidden fruit. His foot wavered to catch hold of a one-inch bar of the latticework. But he controlled the panic, centered himself, and continued climbing.
A few minutes later, the explorer reached the top of the crane. He pulled himself over the T’s edge and gazed along the hundred-and-fifty-foot-length atop the long horizontal span. Instead of traversing in the direction of the construction site from which he’d originated, the explorer headed the opposite way. Careful with the placement of his feet, he headed towards the side of the crane that extended halfway across the street below. It was a slow process. The latticework consisted of both ninety-degree and diagonal pieces of steel, like a series of bars with a crosshatch pattern strung across it. And between the pieces of the crane’s structure was nothing—a dark void. One misstep, one hesitation, one dash of grease and the explorer would plummet over twenty stories through thin air and become one with the blacktop of the city. It was not a pleasant thought, making the already difficult process deeply nerve-wracking.
“You will not bust.” The man talked himself through the fear as he reached the far end of the crane. He was now extended as far across the street below as the machinery would take him.
The explorer gazed down the gleaming city from the Upper West Side, all the way through Midtown and into Chelsea. It was more than a place now, more than a landscape. By this point at its evolution, Manhattan represented a geospatial-and-social coordinate on the razor’s edge of modernity. It was no longer what the future could be. It was the future itself, right now, happening in front of one’s eyes and reaching the stage of infinite singularity. As the years had gone on, the surfaces of the metropolis had become smooth, the lights perfect, the façades utterly complete. It no longer beckoned for the masses humbly—it repelled them. The construction site the explorer had ascended from would soon consist of glass, marble, and sex. That was all, and that was everything, and if one was rich enough, one could buy it. The new culture didn’t care for culture itself. It did not bow to subtlety of argument or freedom of soul. It only knew money—astronomical levels of money. The only people who could afford to live here would be the progeny of sovereign wealth fund managers, tech moonshot winners, and industrial titans. Nothing was free, for anyone—not even the views.
Except for our explorer—right now. It was his, alone. He admired the panorama of New York. Yes, there was the mission, but this was deserving of a photograph. He pulled the camera off his chest harness, activated selfie mode, and turned it towards himself. He lined up, framing the background of the city behind him. Click. The camera’s flash erupted. He flipped his hand down, as if to form an upside down V slogan. Click. Another flash—another selfie—his face shrouded by a hood throughout the entire process.
Having finished memorializing the scene, the man ducked down towards the crane. As he secured something to the crane, he gazed away from the construction site and towards his target.
A sharp contrast to the modern structures popping up like weeds, the limestone apartment building across the street was built during the turn of the century—the last century, not this. Its hulking body did not undulate as it rose. Instead the building consisted of strong vertical bands that ran up to form elaborate choragic arches and support the pointed top of the roof. Four large penthouse balconies graced each corner of the building, easily visible to the explorer who stood above them on the crane. He breathed deeply, then jumped off the crane into the darkness below.
Suspended by a climbing rope, the man careened from the top of the crane and over the street, until he was positioned directly above the penthouse balcony of the old building. The pendulum continued, however, and he swung back.
The second time he was ready. His toes landed lithely on the penthouse’s balcony. He paced towards the enclosed glass greenhouse. One of the small windows of the greenhouse was unlatched, exposing a sliver of access.
The explorer carefully maneuvered the window open.
He climbed into the penthouse.
And the city’s lights twinkled as if nothing had happened at all . . .
Denison Hatch is a screenwriter and novelist based in Los Angeles. Although he lives in the proverbial desert now, he is originally from Delaware—land of rolling hills and DuPont gunpowder. Denison has a number of feature and television projects in development, including his original screenplay, Vanish Man, which is set up at Lionsgate. A graduate of Cornell University, Denison lives with his wife and big dog in a little house in Hollywood. Never Go Alone is the second novel in the Jake Rivett series.
We invite you to Marianne Stephens for authors at Romance Books ‘4’ Us’ ROPING THE COWBOY: 9 ROMANCES ON THE RANGE Book Blast today at Beyond the Books! Marianne and the authors will be giving away a $25 Amazon Gift Card! Leave a comment on each of their tour stops for extra entries!
Inside the Book:
Title: Roping the Cowboy: 9 Romances on the Range
Author: Marianne Stephens for authors at Romance Books ‘4’ Us
Publisher: Romance Books ‘4’ Us
Genre: Mixed Romance Genres
Sweet through sizzling collection of love stories includes contemporary, period, and historical romance, otherworldly romance, and romance with a touch of magic.
The Shadows in Our Past by Denyse Bridger
“I wanted a father, and I got Jonas Wilkes. I needed to trust him, and he made me feel…” She shuddered, visibly changed her train of thought. “Then I met you; Gold Ridge’s most respected citizen. I’d never met anyone quite like you, David Logan. You were handsome, sophisticated, powerful… What was it Margaret called you? A charming outlaw.” She smiled. “She was right, that’s exactly what you are. But you took my breath away the moment I saw you. I will never forget that day, or turning around to see you on the stairs of the Nugget, all elegance and danger. You terrified me, and you excited me. I felt things in those first seconds that I have never felt before. My God, David, I think I fell in love with you before you even spoke to me.”
“You do know how to flatter me, Hannah,” he whispered.
“But it’s not flattery, David. Every time you walk into a room, you make my heart feel like it’s going to burst with the love that fills me. I can’t believe you’re my husband. That you chose to give me that much of your life.”
She smiled, tilted her head to one side, whimsical yet more serious than he’d ever seen her.
“Finish, Hannah,” he requested. “I want to know what you’re feeling.”
“Do you remember the first time you kissed me?”
“I would have behaved like a common whore for you that day, and it frightened me to death, David. I was with a fine, Southern gentleman. A man well-bred, respected, all the things that a lady wants. And instead of being a lady, I was ready toÄ”
His laughter stopped her abruptly.
“You do yourself a great disservice, Mrs. Logan,” he teased tenderly. “Any gentleman is still susceptible to the charms of a lovely woman. And you do take away my sense of propriety, Hannah.”
“The first time you made love to me, I was certain that God had put me on this earth to belong to you, David. You gave me everything that my heart had ever wanted, even the things I didn’t let myself hope for. I felt safe, and whole, at peace. Every time you touch me, I feel that way. Beautiful… complete…”
“Then why are you so afraid, Hannah?”
“I don’t want to be,” she said fiercely. “I hate it, David! I despise myself for feeling like this. ButÄ”
“But?” he coaxed gently.
“Elizabeth was right,” she put her fingers to his mouth when he would have objected instantly. “She was right about some things, David. I’ll never know you the way Ellen did. I’m not from the same world. Your Southern honor is one of the things I love most about you, but it’s a mystery to me, too. You were married and fighting in a war when I was little more than a baby at my mother’s breast. Your soul was scarred in ways that I can only imagine.” Tears flooded her eyes as she stared up at him. “David, the sun in my world rises and sets in your eyes.” She gulped in a sharp breath. “I’ve never needed anyone that much, and it frightens me.”
David nodded, lifted her hands to his lips again as he kissed the fingers that shook within his light grasp; then he looked intently at her.
“Will you listen to me now?”
“Of course,” she replied, voice thick with emotion. She watched as he rose, took the other chair on the balcony, and set it directly in front of her. Then he sat and took her hands again.
Meet the Authors
This sweet through sizzling collection of love stories includes contemporary, period, and historical romance, otherworldly romance, and romance with a touch of magic by Award-winning and Bestselling Authors: Janice Seagraves, Nicole Morgan, Rose Anderson, Denyse Bridger, Gemma Juliana, Michele Zurlo, Tina Donahue, Krista Ames, and Suz deMello.
Marianne & crew are giving away a $25 Amazon Gift Card!
Terms & Conditions:
- By entering the giveaway, you are confirming you are at least 18 years old.
- One winner will be chosen via Rafflecopter.
- This giveaway ends midnight January 27.
- Winner will be contacted via email on February 1.
- Winner has 48 hours to reply.
Good luck everyone!
ENTER TO WIN!
Title: DOMINION: FIRE AND ICE
Author: D.A. Hewitt
Publisher: Double Dragon eBooks
Genre: Science Fiction
It’s the year 2075. Lunar mining and processing facilities have prospered near the lunar south pole, where the Moon’s largest city, Valhalla, rests on the rim of the Shackleton Crater.
Dominion Off-Earth Resources has beaten the competition into space and is ready to establish its monopoly with the opening of the orbiting space resort Dominion. But Pettit Space Industries has a secret plan to emerge as a major contender in the commercialization of space. The upstart company is training the first space rescue squad at a secluded off-grid site in Barrow, Alaska.
The rescue squad gets nearly more than it can handle when its first mission involves the Pope, who’s traveling to the Moon to establish the Lunar See. During the rescue attempt, they discover Earth is imperiled by an asteroid large enough to cause mass extinction. Using the unique skills taught during their training, skills emphasized by the great psychoanalyst Carl Jung, these Jungi Knights must elevate their game if they are to save both the Earth and the Pope—while not getting killed in the process.
“Opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems most challenging.”
~ Joseph Conrad
The bus chortled as it slowed, the magnetic-drive treads slowing their frenzied snow-gyrating pace. “Barrow, Alaska,” the driver said cheerily enough. “Only five percent of the world’s land mass is as far from the equator. Average temperature in January, minus twenty-five Celsius.” White billowing clouds churned briefly from the exhaust. The engine cut off. The driver stood, facing his six passengers, and said, “We’re here.”
I grabbed my bag, slung it over my shoulder, and headed for the front, shivering reflexively.
“Last chance to back out,” the driver added as the last of us stepped onto the frozen snow. His breath lingered as white mist. He looked questioningly at us and played with the door control, flapping it at us, taunting us.
We were standing in front of a Quonset hut, bundled in parkas and survival clothing, enough to keep us warm for days in the most extreme climates. And I counted Barlow, Alaska, as one of those.
“Go on—get out of here!” the tallest of us barked at the driver. I didn’t know any of their names, but from what I’d gathered from the sparse chit-chat on the drive from Prudhoe Bay (no reason was given for why we hadn’t continued the flight from Juneau to Barrow instead of the drop-off and subsequent bus ride in), this guy was the most gung-ho among us.
The driver smiled. “I’ll be back to pick up any dropouts.” He closed the door, picked up his comm device, and spoke briefly into it.
One moment, we were staring at the bus—I can do this, I will do this—and the next we were all spinning in response to a deep voice projecting out from where the Quonset hut door had slammed open.
“The sheep have arrived!” the voice boomed.
He stood in the doorframe as the door banged against him in the stiffening arctic wind. For a moment, he seemed stuck there, his massive shoulders too wide, his girth too large to fit through. Then he took a step back, spun, and said, “Follow me!”
I’d been thinking my life was getting stranger and stranger as of late, and the next thing that happened cemented that thought-trend in my mind, because we stepped into a room heated to tropical temperatures, the ground covered in sand. The room took the entire width of the Quonset hut. One other door on the opposite wall from the door we’d just entered was the room’s only other exit.
“Throw down your stuff anywhere,” the bulky man said, dropping his parka, revealing himself to be wearing only green shorts and a white muscle shirt. His chest was enormous (ah, the booming voice), and he thumped it when he caught me looking at him. He appeared Polynesian. His skin was dark and his black hair was tied back in a ponytail, thick and scruffy.
“My name today is Mister Chenga,” the Polynesian announced. Whenever he spoke, everyone’s head turned to him as though his voice subconsciously demanded our attention. “Take off your clothes to your underwear and then take a seat.”
“Where do we sit?” one of the girls—the short blonde—asked with what sounded like a Russian accent. “There are no chairs.”
The Polynesian’s face scrunched up as though he had just tasted something awful. He began jumping up and down, repeating the question to himself with his attempt at a high-pitch voice, “Where do we sit? Where do we sit? Where do we sit?”
The girl back-stepped cautiously.
The Polynesian stopped jumping and stared at her. In an oddly calm voice, he said, “On the sand.”
“Da. I did not want to get you excited,” the girl said evenly.
Mister Chenga nodded slowly, squinting at her. I’m sure she felt she was being marked as a potential troublemaker. As we began undressing, he walked a few meters away from the group and faced us. “Listen up. I’m sure you don’t want to make me mad, so the first thing you need to understand is that there is such a thing as a stupid question.” He paused and stared at the girl.
The girl visibly gulped. She was attractive, now that I was getting to see more of her. Blonde hair, angular face, stunningly beautiful, petite body. I doubted she cleared much over a meter and a half. She looked to have a wiry strength, a tight, taut body like a gymnast’s. Her underwear was black.
How in the hell did she come to volunteer for this?
“I’ll get back to stupid questions later,” Mister Chenga said. “In the meantime, listen closely. For today, call me Mister Chenga. If today goes well, tomorrow you may call me Cheng.” He grinned and spread his arms wide.
For a moment, he looked friendly with a pleasant demeanor.
“It’s more efficient,” he explained. “In a rescue situation, shorter names save time.” He looked at the northern wall. Along the ceiling, a number of slogans were displayed.
Mister Chenga’s gaze lingered on the phrase Timing is everything before continuing. “If today doesn’t go well, tomorrow you’ll again call me Mister Chenga. Is that clear?”
Several of us responded.
Mister Chenga’s forehead knotted up, as though concern rippled his skin directly via energy seeping out from the front of his brain. “It would be quicker, more efficient, if the group answers as one. I suggest a unified response such as ‘Yes, Mister Chenga,’ would serve you well.”
Everyone was as naked as we were going to get—in our underwear—and we were sitting in a semi-circle around the Polynesian. “Yes, Mister Chenga,” we mumbled.
“Good enough for now,” Mister Chenga said. He dropped to a knee, then somewhat laboriously rocked his weight back and settled into a sitting position. He shifted his butt from side to side, sweeping sand away, furrowing himself in. “It’s time we introduce ourselves. I’ll be checking for signs of grid‑loss syndrome.”
Most people never left the grid. With medical alert and GPS implants, medical response times had been cut to under thirty seconds on average for grid dwellers. The risk of death from an accident while off-grid was too great for most. Extended stays at sea? Caribbean cruises? No problem, the grid went with you, ready to stabilize any wound, any condition, until you could be ferried to the nearest medical facility capable of restoring your health.
Some people did leave the grid, though. There were two main groups of them—adventurers who traveled to extreme Earth climates such as Barrow, Alaska, and off-earthers.
The off-earthers worked in space and on the Moon, which in recent years had a rapidly growing population due to expanding lunar excavation and processing sites. The population was growing so fast that the first lunar bank had opened last year, which prompted financial institutions into a chaotic flurry of mergers and acquisitions. (The winners were the early investors in asteroid mining, especially palladium and other precious metals and rare earths. There were two of them—Pettit Space Industries (PSI) and Dominion Off-Earth Resources (DOER). The Vatican, because of its investments in DOER was also reaping rewards.)
I’d been off-planet enough to know being off-grid wouldn’t be a problem for me. The symptoms were jitters followed by profuse sweating and episodes of hysteria. Fairly easy to spot, especially now since we were all half naked.
Mister Chenga cleared his throat. “I don’t care if you introduced yourselves on the bus. We’ll do it again. Who wants to start?”
Nobody answered. I took the opportunity to examine the other recruits. Six of us in all. Two girls. The blonde gymnast I had already admired and another girl who was taller with black hair and a muscular body; in fact, it was so well muscled, I couldn’t help but think she was a wrestler.
Actually, there’s a wrestling hold I’ve been meaning to try …
Shut up and pay attention, I told myself.
The tall guy looked strong and quick, like he could handle himself in a fight. His eyes seemed to perpetually gleam like he was calculating odds of schemes that were constantly percolating in his mind.
The other two guys didn’t appear to be as strong as the tall, cocky guy. I figured them to be forest ranger types, people who fare well outdoors and who like to hike and climb and do all the nature crap. One of them wore glasses, wire rims no less. It was hard to imagine why anyone opted for spectacles in this age of correctable vision.
“You,” Mister Chenga said, pointing at the guy wearing the spectacles. “Introduce yourself. Give me a synopsis of your life.” His head swiveled as he examined his sheep. “And when I say synopsis, I mean, be brief.” He returned his gaze to the man wearing glasses. “And explain why you forgo the corrective procedure for eyesight.”
“Name’s Maxwell Lolande, but everyone calls me Max.” He took off his glasses and gently cleaned them with the bottom of his t-shirt. “Studies indicate a certain amount of blurred vision can actually increase reaction time for athletes. Something to do with mirror neurons, which react to anticipated visual stimuli, not actual vision per se. Do you see the difference?” He chuckled and pushed his glasses back onto his nose. “Never mind. Anyway, vision isn’t the only means by which to collect data.”
“Background?” Mister Chenga asked.
“Sensors.” Max’s eyes narrowed. “I may not be the quickest here, or the strongest, but I can guarantee I’ll have the best sources of information.”
Mister Chenga grunted. “What kind of information?”
“Whatever you want. I deployed a few sensors before we came inside. My outdoor drones are measuring every centimeter of this facility. From the outside, of course. I don’t want to press my luck yet.”
Mister Chenga jumped up, lunged forward, and ended up crouched in the sand by the belongings of Maxwell Lolande. He picked up Max’s backpack (crimson color, a tree intricately woven with golden thread into the back flap), rummaged through it, making sounds as though it were a bag of silverware, then dropped it and stood. “I rely on my eyes,” he said, returning to his spot. “And you sound French to me. Are you French?”
“No, Mister Chenga. American.”
“Pffft. Aren’t we all.”
“I may have French ancestry.”
“Well, the French are good at helping others in battle, but on their own, not so much.”
“Yes, well, instead of going to battle, this is supposed to be a rescue squad, right? That’s what we’re here for—a high-profile team that rescues stranded people who had enough money to get lost in the Alaskan wilderness.”
“That’s the plan,” Mister Chenga agreed. “If you can pass this training course.”
“So far, so good,” Max said.
“You’re still calling me Mister Chenga, so I guess it’s still early. What’ve you studied? What’s your specialty?”
“Physics. Communications. Robotics. And of course, sensors.”
Mister Chenga grunted again. “Well, if I need a weather forecast, I’ll know where to go.”
I suspected—no, knew—Mister Chenga had files on every one of us and figured he must have a reason for asking questions for which he already knew the answers. I thought of asking him but didn’t want to be accused of asking a dumb question.
No matter. Ten weeks or so of basic training, and I’m out.
Mister Chenga looked to his right, where the blonde gymnast sat. “What about you?”
Her voice was high-pitched, her body slight in nature (and yet so … hmmm, limber). “Julia Lipniski. I go by Julia. I study general science. But Mister Pettit recruited me because my endurance is high. And I fit in narrow spaces. Good traits for rescue team, da?”
Or maybe he selected you because you’re bubbling with enthusiasm and a can-do attitude.
“Perhaps,” Mister Chenga said. “You cross-country ski?”
“I am Olympic skater. Skate more than ski. But da. I train to strengthen my legs by cross-country skiing. Kilometer after kilometer. I love it.”
I couldn’t imagine anyone enjoying cross-country skiing. Why not go to a mountain, take a lift, and then just blast your way downhill? But no, some people liked to exert themselves and sweat, kilometer after kilometer …
Mister Chenga turned to the other female in our group. “And our other lady representative?”
The dark-haired girl laughed. “A lady? I’m guessing you haven’t read my application.”
“It was a figure of speech,” Mister Chenga said. “So you think you’re tough?”
“Damn straight,” she said.
“Watch your French!” Mister Chenga told her.
“I didn’t speak French. I swore. In English. If you don’t know the difference, I’ve got to ask myself what the hell I’m doing here.”
“I said watch your French!”
“You don’t want me to swear?”
“None of you,” Mister Chenga said. “Not yet anyway.”
“Fine. Why didn’t you say so? Have it your way. No more swearing. No more French.” She took a deep breath before continuing. “Name’s Kelly Cook. Bounty hunter. Some people say I work too hard on my attitude, but I say to hell with them.”
Mister Chenga sighed, mumbled something about dramatics, and turned to me. “Well, well, allow me to make this introduction. This is Doug Pettit, son of the late Harve Pettit, who founded Pettit Space Industries. He’s a bit of a loner. His educational background is scattered. His main employment is heading foundations.”
“Not any more,” I said. “Things have changed. It seems my dad figured he’d be doing me a favor by making me earn a living.”
“I know of the will,” Mister Chenga said.
“Right. I’m not in it. But I’ll be up front with you, Mister Chenga, because you seem like a straightforward kind of guy.”
A few snickers answered this assessment.
“You’ll get honest effort out of me,” I told him, “and I’m going to pass this boot camp, but then I’m taking the bonus and opting out.”
Mister Chenga smiled broadly. “Of course you are! Not a problem.”
I squinted, unable to detect any sign of deception. “That doesn’t bother you?”
“No. Everyone here signed the same contract. Everyone can take their bonus—enough to live on for ten years, I might add—and opt out after passing this training course. It’s either that or sign up for a five-year enlistment. Why should it bother me?”
“You’re going to spend a lot of hours training us. Seems you’d like to reap the fruits of your labor. Who wants to assemble a team only to see people quit?”
“I understand your concern, Doug Pettit. What I you fail to grasp is that I know something you don’t.”
“If you do pass this training course, this boot camp as you call it, you’ll be a different person. You’ll not think the same as you do today. I’d not make any future predictions based on how you feel at this moment. If I were you, that is.”
It was my turn to snicker. “Well, la de da. I guess we’re good then.”
Mister Chenga snorted and turned to the tall cocky guy on my left. They chatted after Archibald Blake Tannenbaum—just call me Blake—told Mister Chenga his name. Blake explained he was a test pilot and could handle any emergency situation with a cool precision that made disaster responders drool.
I tried to even my breathing. Mister Chenga had brought up the will. My blood pressure had been rising since, my breath growing shallower. Dad thinks he cut me out. He should’ve realized I may not be Harve Pettit caliber, but I can be resourceful when necessary.
Growing calmer, I casually looked around. The blonde skater—Julia—dug her heels into the sand as though conditioned to exercise her muscles during off-training hours. The others ran their hands through the sand, occasionally glancing down while sifting sand through their fingers, familiarizing themselves with this place by experiencing the tactile feel of the heated grit, making themselves at home. The sand was brownish, most likely reconstituted glass. It had the same feel as natural sand, the same as on a Carolina beach in August, with the heat pressing down, and the girl in the adjacent suite getting frisky with me in our own little Margarita-ville.
Shut up, I told myself. You and your stupid hormones will get us into trouble.
“And last but not least, introduce yourself,” Mister Chenga said, facing the last of the recruits, a thinner, blonder version of Blake. He had optimistic blue eyes but a gaunt face.
“Robert Montarro, but please call me Rob. I’m one of those new breed of environmentalists who actually travel outside the cities into the wildernesses they’re trying to protect.”
“Well, pat yourself on the back for that,” Mister Chenga said.
“I also have underwater experience, cold-water.”
“That could come in handy,” Mister Chenga admitted.
“And I’m eager.”
“We’ll see how long that lasts.”
Rob frowned but said nothing.
Mister Chenga stood and paced back and forth in front of us. “Now that we’ve introduced ourselves, I’m going to teach you your first lesson. If you aren’t complete knuckleheads, we should get through it in less than an hour. Afterward, I’ll show you to your quarters. Everyone pairs up in a room. You’ll freshen up. Dinner is in two hours. After dinner, you’ll meet your mentor for this training.”
“I thought you were our mentor,” Julia said. I liked the sound of her voice—like a songbird’s, high and melodic—and I wondered how a suggestion of bunking with her would be received.
“I’m your trainer. I am here to test you. Your mentor is here to help you.”
“What’s our mentor’s name?” I asked.
“Your mentor will introduce himself,” Mister Chenga said. He marched across the sand, through the door opposite the one we’d entered. A few moments later, he returned. Behind him, there was a narrow passageway with bulkheads. I could see the end of the passageway at the far end of the Quonset hut, where there appeared to be a dining area.
Mister Chenga lumbered toward us and tossed a baseball-size rock onto the sand in the center of our semi-circled group.
We stared at it as though expecting a beanstalk to emerge.
Mister Chenga returned to his position, just beyond the rock, sitting in the depression he’d made. “Before I begin the lesson, I want to be clear about what we’re doing here.”
“We all signed contracts,” Blake pointed out. “We understand why we’re here. What didn’t they tell us?”
Mister Chenga laughed. “There is much we’re not telling you, but you wouldn’t understand yet. You’re sheep. You can’t see past the ends of your noses. You’re all dogs chasing your tails.”
“Excuse me,” the bounty hunter, Kelly Cook, interrupted. “I’m not a dog.”
“And my sensors can perceive data well beyond the human range of perception,” Max noted, “well past my nose.”
Mister Chenga slowly shook his head. “There is power out there that your sensors won’t pick up.”
Max frowned and I almost laughed because his face scrunched up and his glasses moved up his nose, pushed by his cheeks as though in physical response to hearing something blasphemous. “What power?”
“The power of the mind, of the unconscious.”
Blake tossed a handful of sand toward the rock. “I’ve been through this before, Mister Chenga. I’m sure anyone like Julia who has gone through extensive physical training has, too. You’re talking about motivational tools. Will power.”
“Very perceptive, Blake. It’s more than that, quite a bit more, but let’s start with that. Yes, we’ll learn motivational tools to bolster, indeed to undergird, our will power.”
To me, it sounded like we were going to be subjected to a series of rah‑rah routines. We’d be expected to keep a stiff upper lip and to never quit even in the worst of conditions.
Not necessarily a bad mindset to have, though, in subzero temperatures, skiing cross-country in blizzard conditions, freezing wind shrieking through the pines as we race to save someone who fell off a mountainside.
“Contractually, you’re obligated to pass this training course or your contract is void. We have ten weeks scheduled. It’s a one-time shot. If after ten weeks you haven’t passed this course, we ship you back to Anchorage.”
Several heads nodded.
Mister Chenga smiled and spread his arms wide. “But if you pass, you get your bonus and we throw a big party!” He laughed. “And after the party, you get a two-week leave and then report to start your five-year duty.”
I cleared my throat.
Mister Chenga sighed. “Or take your bonus and opt out.”
“The ten-week training course doesn’t count toward the five years?” the environmentalist—Rob—asked.
“No, as clearly stated in the contract.”
Rob nodded as though confirming he remembered reading that particular passage, but the nod was too hesitant to be convincing.
“And so,” Mister Chenga continued, “it’s time we start. What you’ll be doing here in this training course is, for the most part, expanding on this first lesson I’m about to teach you.” He pointed at the rock. “Can someone tell me what that is?” He leered at us, his gaze wandering from one set of eyes to another, daring us to answer stupidly.
I’m sure if there’re dumb questions, there must be dumb answers.
“I don’t need a sensor to inform you, Mister Chenga,” Max said, adjusting the position of his wire-rim glasses, “that the object you’ve tossed into the sand is a rock.”
“Yes!” Mister Chenga said, clapping his hands. He appeared genuinely excited, as though our group had passed some kind of mid-term exam. He pointed at the rock, a rather unattractive piece of coal and lead. “A rock, indeed. Now, there are two kinds of objects in this universe. One of them is what we will call rock. Is that clear?”
“Yes, Mister Chenga,” we chorused.
“Anyone care to guess what the other kind of object is?”
“Living things,” I said.
I could feel everyone’s stare, but I simply looked at the sand in front of me, where I was tracing a series of short, parallel furrows.
“Let’s call them emergent beings,” Mister Chenga said. “Everyone agrees living things are beings. They are emergent in that their identity as such—who or what they are—is defined by conscious activity over time. Consciousness is emergent. If time stopped, you’d have a rock of a body and no consciousness. With the ingredient of time is added, consciousness comes into being.”
“Living things, emergent beings, same difference to me,” Blake said.
“And what am I?” Mister Chenga asked.
“According to your definition,” Blake answered, “a living thing, an emergent being.”
“Although,” I added, trying not to visualize the thought of Mister Chenga dead, with medical first responder drones blaring a waaaah sound of failure, “once you’re dead, your body will no longer be an emergent anything.” I nodded toward the rock.
“You’re body is a rock at that point,” Max added.
“Da,” Julia agreed. “Dust to dust.”
“Right,” Mister Chenga said, “but until then, my body is part of me. It’s alive, as am I.”
I thought about asking if he thought his body and him were one and the same, but I had a feeling that was going to be a takeaway from a future lesson.
“Now,” Mister Chenga continued, “all of you emergent beings focus your attention on the rock, your conscious attention.”
We stared intently.
“Note its texture, see its color, sense its mass.”
As the seconds passed, I became aware of everyone’s breathing. The room was quiet. The sand on the ground and the snow blanketing the roof of the Quonset hut dampened the sound of wind outside. Time seemed to slow, and I relaxed.
This is like meditation. Maybe this boot camp isn’t going to be so difficult after all.
As though in a trance, Mister Chenga softly said, “I want someone to make the rock move across the room.”
I frowned. What kind of mumbo jumbo is this? I glanced away from the rock at the others. Julia, Rob, and Max were glaring at the rock as though directing their anger at it—trying to make the rock move by hating it?
Rob was looking at the rock, but his eyes darted occasionally back and forth as though confusion jabbed at him.
“I can do it,” Blake said, pushing himself up. “It’s a think‑outside‑the‑box lesson.” He stepped to the rock, picked it up, and walked outside the semicircle, where he placed the rock down. Returning to his spot, he asked, “How’s that?”
His smile faded as Mister Chenga responded, “I meant without touching it.” He rolled over onto his feet, returned the rock to its original position, and calmly sat back down.
Oh really? This I have to see.
“That’s going to be more difficult,” Blake said.
I reached over to my bag and pulled out a notebook.
Mister Chenga shook his head. “Or anything that is touching your hand, such as a notebook, while also touching the rock.”
Ah well, worth a try.
I returned the notebook to my bag and looked at the others, some appearing perplexed, others thoughtful. Max propped his head onto a hand and resembled a Greek statue.
This has to be some sort of game. Blake said it was a test for thinking outside the box. That means no assumptions, no preconceived boundaries.
Move the rock without touching it.
Move the rock …
Was it a game of words?
Maybe it was about emergent beings.
“Julia?” I whispered.
“Do what I tell you, okay?”
Her poignant green eyes fluttered. She peered at me, a slight smile slowly bending her lips, which appeared naturally highlighted with a red fullness. “Okay, Doug.”
In a louder voice, I said, “Julia, stand up.”
“Walk over to the rock, pick it up, and move it across the room.”
She did as instructed and stood outside the semicircle, rock in hand, looking at Mister Chenga questioningly.
“Very good,” Mister Chenga said. “Return to your seat.”
Julia obeyed, tossing the rock back into the middle on her way.
Mister Chenga stood. He towered over the group. “This is your first lesson. We will be learning to harness sources of power of which you are unaware. It is not will power, although it fuels your will and strengthens it. You must always be conscious of this first lesson.” He wagged his finger at us, emphasizing the point.
“Excuse me,” Blake interrupted. “But what exactly was the lesson? I don’t get it.”
Mister Chenga shrugged as though capable of disseminating only so much information at a time. “The lesson is, although you can control your body and other emergent beings, you cannot move rocks with your thoughts.”
“You’re kidding me,” Blake said. “That’s all?”
“Do you think this is a trivial matter?”
Blake put his hands to his head as though trying to prevent it from exploding, then ran his fingers through his hair. “Well, everyone knows you can’t move rocks with your thoughts. Most people anyway.”
“And have you ever tried?”
Blake shrugged. “Sure. Actually, just now. But who hasn’t at some point? Everyone’s seen telekinesis in genre retro vids and probably tried it just for fun.”
“And what did you attempt after watching the genre retro vid? Was it a levitation attempt?”
“I tried making a ball roll across the floor. As I said, it didn’t work.”
“But you half-expected the ball to roll, didn’t you?”
Blake hesitated. “I wouldn’t say expected necessarily. More like wanted.”
“You anticipated the ball rolling,” Mister Chenga said.
“Part of me, I suppose.”
“That’s your ego part.” Mister Chenga walked over in front of Blake. “Sit down.”
Mister Chenga paced back and forth in the sand, his hands locked behind his back. “As we train, your bodies will reach excellent physical condition. This’ll make you feel strong. And you will be. You’ll also learn how to marshal forces of nature.”
“Like wind?” Julia asked.
“No. More like the power of the mind.” Mister Chenga paused. “Figuring out what you want gets you more than halfway to the solution, but if your solution involves wanting a rock to move by way of thought alone, you’ll fail.”
He continued pacing.
“Let me get this straight,” I said. “Our first lesson is that we have no power to move rocks with our thoughts?”
“Precisely,” Mister Chenga said. “But you do have power to control the not-rock things in our universe. And you were the one who illustrated that point in our first lesson, Doug Pettit.”
“Living things,” I mumbled.
“Emergent beings,” Mister Chenga responded. “Emergent beings, humans in particular.”
“Are you implying we can control others with our thoughts?” I asked.
“As you showed us, it’s indeed possible.”
“I simply asked her. She complied. I didn’t force her to do anything.”
Mister Chenga stopped and stood hands on hips. “Don’t get ahead of yourself.”
“I don’t think I am,” I told him. “Julia moved the rock.”
The Polynesian’s chest seemed to double in size as he drew in a slow, deep breath. He let it out equally slowly as though exercising an anger management skill. “My point is this. If you become aware of certain forces at your disposal and become adept at harnessing those forces, remember that you can use only those forces on emergent beings, most notably your self, and your body. But you can’t move rocks. It could become an illusion of your ego.”
Blake leaned toward bounty hunter Kelly and whispered, “I bet you could move my rocks without touching them.” He turned away before she could respond.
“Fine,” I said. “Use power on emergent beings only, not rocks. I get it. Can we go home now?”
“Actually,” Mister Chenga said, “you summarized it very nicely, so yes, go to your new homes now.” He pointed at the doorway with the corridor and bulkheads beyond. “Take your belongings and find your bunks. They’re in the three rooms on the right. Double occupancy. There are lockers and desks, places to store your gear. Relax and wait for the dinner chime. The head is last room on the left. Don’t go beyond the head for now. Otherwise, move about freely.”
The six of us stood and gathered our gear in silence. Blake was first to go through, having already decided that if there was a position of team leader, he’d be first in line. Kelly Cook followed close behind.
“Tomorrow,” Mister Chenga added cheerfully, “we start with a five‑K cross‑country ski trip followed by breakfast and your next lesson.”
I followed close behind the Russian skater. “Julia, you seem pleasant enough. I don’t suppose you’d care to bunk together?”
She smiled, shifted her feet so that she was walking sideways, and slugged me in the shoulder. “Nyet—but nice try!”
Wincing, I rubbed what I was sure would be a bruise in the morning.
“I’ll bunk with you,” Max said, stepping to my side. “If you don’t mind.”
“Sure,” I told him. Max seemed like the quiet type, someone who liked sitting back and reading sensor data all day. That was his thing. Which was fine with me. I had a thing, too. It was called leave me alone and maybe we can get through this without too much grief.
We stepped toward the doorway, where Mister Chenga stood with arms crossed.
As I neared the door, Mister Chenga grabbed my arm and pulled me aside. “Just so we’re clear,” he said, “I’ll try not to be biased, but I don’t think you belong here. In my opinion, your presence jeopardizes the chance of others passing the course.”
“And why would you think that?” I asked, thinking, good question!
“It’s been my experience that people with hidden agendas cause others to stumble.”
“Mine isn’t hidden. I told you mine. And besides, in your experience, you’ve never come across me, so I’d say your education has been sadly lacking when it comes to knowing what I’m capable of.”
“I’ve seen your application. You’re as capable as anyone here, but what have you achieved with your life?”
“Well, I almost got married once.”
At first, I thought his insides were going to burst right through his skin. His dark skin actually lightened, becoming flushed, his blood pressure skyrocketing. Then he laughed. “At least you’re funny. Style points count here.”
“So we’re good?” I asked.
The Polynesian nodded. “I wish you good luck.”
“It’s been my experience that luck has very little to do with anything.” I turned and stepped through the doorway, seeing Max waving at me from the second room on the right, thinking I heard Mister Chenga snicker and say, “Sadly lacking …”
About the Author
D.A. Hewitt is an award-winning author of four novels and over a hundred short stories. One novel was awarded a gold medal from the Independent Publishers Book Awards for best regional fiction. He attributes his success to hard work, honing a skill and providing an outlet for his passion for writing.
Born in Michigan, he lived for 25 years in North Carolina before returning to live in his home state. In addition to enjoying sky diving and mountain climbing, he is a proud veteran of the US Marine Corps and has earned a degree in mathematics.
Mr. Hewitt admits to a fascination with the work of Carl Jung and of the Gnostic religion. He’d always thought intertwining these topics in a science fiction novel was a stretch, but one day the storyline of Dominion came to him. He wrote the novel in a stream of consciousness. “It makes sense, tapping into the collective unconscious,” Mr. Hewitt says, “very much like Carl Jung might have predicted.”
Author: Dylan Doose
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CATACOMBS OF TIME
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that science cannot answer, and will he pay with his life?
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suffocating gray clouds.
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