Friday, April 18, 2014

Feature: Anthony Caplan, author of Savior



Al and Ricky, father and son, plan a surfing getaway in Guatemala, the perfect place to bond and reconnect after the death of Mary, the woman who held their lives together. But the Santos Muertos are taking over Guatemala, and when the gang discovers that Ricky has the Chocomal, the Mayan tablet which carries the secret code they need to take over the world with their fearsome Resonator, all hell breaks loose. An unwilling hero, all-American teenager Ricky must find and rescue his father and in the process save us all from utter destruction. Will he learn how to be a real man along the way?          

One -- The Hole
            The morning that Mary died there were F5 tornado warnings in the mid-Atlantic, a gunman shot up a hospital in Fort Wayne, Dittohead Larry's car dealership was promising amazing deals in Kissimee on President Washington's birthday, and a crack opened in the sky that gets bigger every day. Nobody noticed the crack, and nobody noticed that Mary and I had our two hands intertwined, as they had been for better or worse for seventeen years. Her face held just a remnant of the youthful girl I'd once known, and the lines of intelligence around her eyes and the compassion that had burned bright in them were fading before me.
            She whispered something that I had to lean down to hear.
            I pity you.
            They were her final words. She was sure she was moving on to a place beyond our comprehension and ability to touch. I have a hard time writing what I felt for her in the hospital. I wanted to turn off the television. There's something so awful about a television in a hospital room, but now I would welcome the banality of it, the familiar numbing sensation and otherworldliness of it, especially the commercials. When I think about all the time I wasted watching television, I get angry with myself. We spend so much of our lives killing off any opportunity for wonder and grace, and then when it comes we don't recognize it until too late. But Mary, even in her dying she was teaching me a lesson about how to live. I'm sure she's here with me sometimes. I'm not sure about where she is, about that place beyond our comprehension. Maybe it's there, for Mary. But I can almost hear her voice. It's the train that rips overhead like it would tear the roof off a house. I drop off the bunk and roll in a self-defense reflex. It disappears, leaving not even a Doppler, not even an echo of its passage.
            I'm in a hole, on the floor. I put my ear to it and can almost hear the ground water gurgling and working away at the stone. Blackness and the sound of the wind, not any real wind, are all I've got besides the resource of my senses. There's almost nothing to feed on. Slowly the senses will atrophy and without them I will lose my mind. Not my soul. But a soul without a mind must be a tortured thing. Some would say they are the same, but I have the proof of the contrary. His name is Ali Jajbr.
            Two, three steps and I come to the wall, the cold, wet, rough-plastered wall. Turn around 180 degrees and six steps back the other way. There is no sound, no light, no smell, nothing. But out of this nothing can come everything. Twice a day a vent opens in the wall. Somebody, I can hear the steps going away, the loud ringing of boot heels fading away as a corner is rounded, has slipped in a tray of cold rice and mush. The smell makes my head shake. Once in awhile there's a piece of grisly chicken in it. It's almost as good as sex. Then sometimes there are the beams of light shooting through the air over my head. It's a grey light, not daylight; some kind of fluorescence, but it hits my eyes like the glory of God's kingdom and lifts me to some other plane of existence. For a second it's enough to keep me sane.
            It is a living hell. The devils that have imprisoned me here expect me to roll over and forget who I am and die. But of course I have the resource, my memories to sustain me. I have to dole it out wisely though, because I don't know how long I will be here. No, it's a mistake to think that. That kind of thought lets in doubt, the pain of desiring light, touch, and mercy. There is no mercy in this underground. No light. Only myself until he comes to try to steal even that. What are the numbers that he seeks? Pi out to the fifteenth decimal silences him momentarily. It's something I learned in college. A party trick. And then I hear his outrageous screams of anger. The momentary joy of hearing his genuine pain, until the minions are strapping me to the board. I can hear the clanking of it into place above the vat. The water's cold snaps me to attention. This is real, and if I breathe I will die.
            I can't die. Ricky needs me. Somewhere above ground, in the world of light, oxygen, reason -- reality, sweet reality -- in the three holy dimensions of Earth, lit through by the sun, there is a boy. His mother is dead. I'm all he has. I hold my breath until I am blue. I say that and laugh because there are no colors in this world, only blackness and his voice ordering the minions. Something to my ears like a howling, guttural curse, and they swing the board upright.
            Once, in a far away, not-to-distant past there were the three of us, and our struggles were the common lot of American families in those days: how to make the mortgage payment; how to avoid the despair of not bright enough teeth, not green enough grass -- the under-pixilated reality of early 21st century Florida, not Miami, not Jacksonville, somewhere in between, in the palisades of retirement communities and trailer parks of central Florida. The very real beach town where we made our lives, pushing the stone uphill. And we were happy before Mary's death. The cancer cut her down and stole away our life. Could it have been his first assault? I hear the guards talking.  I have to curse him to his face because I... Don't... Know. I don't have the tablet. The fool thinks I've hidden the fucking thing, a souvenir, a trinket of our time, our innocent days in Guatemala. I have to laugh at the irony of it, because even here I see the hand of God. He comes to try all men in the proper time. This is my trial, and I welcome it. I will come through with flying colors, vanquishing blackness forever. In my day of triumph, even the night will be shot through with the prismatic effects that Mary glimpsed as she whispered to me. And I will never hear the false wind overhead. And I will be able to walk freely.
            I walk now, a super-constrained one step, two and three. Reach out and touch the condensation on the corrugated iron sheathing. There is a joint up there in that corner. I believe it's the North in that direction. Something tells me it's the North. Here my senses fail me and I put my trust in other things, intuitions, voices, the memory of ancestors and their curiosity in the night. When I face the North I can remember. I can see Ricky and Mary. And we were happy. I can almost still remember happiness. It wasn't that long ago. The truth is I've lost count. No way to track time, the days and nights indistinguishable. I sleep whenever I can and my dreams are troubled, the vague rumblings of the train and hungry images of distant memories, another lifetime, another person. His name was Al Lyons.
            That Al Lyons, yes! He graduated Phi Delta from the Georgia Technical Institute. Worked for a time, about ten years in the aviation industry, mostly buying and selling airplane parts all over the country while he worked on his book, his magnum, a history of flight, from Yuan Huangtou, the Chinese prince who used a kite to hoist himslf skyward, to the Rutan Voyager, that stilted, sprawling spit into the wind. Couldn't find a publisher, but anyway met his wife, Mary, working in the public library in the town of Plymouth Beach, Florida. Mary was everything he could ever imagine in a woman. She was smart, caring, with delicate features that inversely matched tenacity and patience. They settled there in Plymouth Beach, and when the airline industry took that nosedive at the beginning of the millennium, he took a job teaching history in the public high school, Shelby County Regional and never looked back. Coached the football team, too. Mary and he finally had a child after seven years of trying. The number seven was significant; there were seven steps on the Buddha’s path and seven continents and seven climates and seven dwarves and...
            Absurd man, you do not exist. You are a mere speck and you answer when I call. You are just a figment of my reality, and I order you now to tell me what you know of the Chocomal and the Code of the Last Days.
            You know more than me.
            Have you forgotten everything? You know the tablet. What is the answer? Is it a sequence? Is it a table of calculations?
            I've told you Jajbr. Are you stupid? Everything I know about it. You cannot squeeze blood out of a bloody stone.
            He's not happy. I can tell by the momentary silence. Then he says something and the guard flips the switch and the ions flow, squeezing my body into a convulsion that blacks out even thought. When I come to my senses, it is strangely quiet, even quieter than usual. It takes a few minutes before I realize they have left. My arms are still strapped to the gurney, but they've loosened them enough to let the blood circulate. Circulation of the blood, the Arab doctor Ibn Al-Nafis worked that out in the thirteenth century.  Pulmonary constitution. Systems of branches and the eternal pumping of the heart at the core of our bodies that mimic larger systems, everything a reflection of the Idea, the Seed that is everything and will become nothing in the long cycle, the deepest frequency. We have no way of anticipating. Not even Jesus knows the hertz measure of the final hour. So what could a number mean to these men?
            I work my arms loose, a small triumph, but maybe he anticipated that. Maybe he knows everything about me. Maybe that's part of his method, to make me doubt even my small triumphs, throw me into some kind of long-term despair until he's broken down the walls of my will, and he will then suck me dry of any knowledge I have, stuff I didn't even know I knew, throw it all into the computer that must link back to some Ayatollah's desert complex buried deep in the mountains of the East.  I stand up and breathe, put my finger on my neck and feel the blood pumping. Take six steps and put my hand up on the cold, wet metal. This is how I will stay alive and beat him. As long as there is blood still pumping and there is a mind still seeking. If he kills me I win. If I outlast him, I win. The odds are in my favor. His only weapon is pain. And I can deal with pain. Anything after Mary's death.

A former journalist with the Associated Press and United Press International in Mexico and Central and South America, Caplan currently works as a high school teacher in New Hampshire. The inspiration for Savior came while on a family holiday. His previous titles include Latitudes - A Story of Coming Home, Birdman and French Pond Road.
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and on his blog where he posts occasional rants on the weather and the vagaries of sheep farming and raising children at:


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