Chapter 1 of Lyfe
Nanowrimo 2010 Novel
Written by Ethan Yen during the month of November 2010
The newspaper reported over 3,000 people had died in the bombing. Joseph struggled – and failed – to remember the last time he had heard such a number associated with a single disastrous event. Yes, he had seen wars, political assassinations and betrayals, but reading about so many lives wiped out by the explosive actions of one person…Joseph could not bear it. Slowly, he thought about each of the 3,000 people – barely mentioned – and the lives they had lived and the loved ones they left behind. He could imagine it, their individual lives, joys and disappointments, but he could never experience them for himself. So many stories in existence; the world did not know what it was missing.
Joseph set the paper down on the end table next to the chair and lay back against the chair. After adjusting his tie and fiddling with his sleeves, he closed his eyes and took a deep breath, immersing himself into his surroundings. He could smell the faint aroma of coffee in late morning, he could feel the circulated air running throughout the lobby, and he could hear the typing of the receptionist at the front desk. Yet he failed to notice the lady walking up to him.
“…Mr. Reynolds? Are you awake?” Joseph opened up on eye slowly, seeing a young, slightly attractive lady standing near him. He nodded, and opened his eyes fully, rising out of his chair. He smoothed out his suit, remembering to fasten the buttons.
“Yes,” He said with a slightly embarrassed smile, “sorry about that.” The lady ignored the apology and looked directly down at her clipboard in hand, as if confirming to herself that she indeed had the right person. She raised her head and gave a polite, professional smile.
“I’m Ms. Lily, Mr. Ford’s personal assistant.” Joseph looked down at the outstretched hand, his mind going blank for a fraction of a second. He then remembered what he was supposed to do, and shook the ladies hand slowly. Three months back and he sometimes still forgot common courtesies such as hand shaking. Joseph wondered how long it would take before all these customs became routine, he wondered if he really wanted them to be routine.
“Pleased to meet you.”
“If you’d follow me this way, he’s ready for you.” Joseph noticed her shiny blonde ponytail swish as she swiftly turned. He felt a familiar pang in his stomach but quickly ignored it, following Ms. Lily as she led him down one of the nearby hallways. Joseph gave one last quick look around the lobby, realizing that he was the only one here, except for the receptionist at the desk. Two craftsmen were working on the large polished oak sign on the wall behind the desk, drilling in the golden letters “r” and “d” next to the words “Wilson, Wilson & Fo.” Joseph gave a small chuckle; some things never change.
“So…Ms. Lily,” Joseph said, attempting to make conversation, “How long have you been working for Mr. Ford?”
“Pretty recently actually,” She replied without turning her head. Without warning, she turned a sharp right, catching Joseph off guard, just barely turning in time to follow. “Mr. Ford was – I mean is – a friend of my father’s, they used to go to college together.”
“Oh really?” Joseph raised an eyebrow, his interest sparking.
“Yes,” She continued with little emotion in her tone or face, “My father works at the firm, he got Mr. Ford his job back.”
“It sounds like you know Mr. Ford as well.” Joseph remarked.
“Yes. Mr. Ford would come over to my house to talk business with my father when I was younger. He was a family friend of sorts.” Joseph nodded in acknowledgement. It was certainly an interesting fact. He wondered how much she remembered about Ford.
They continued to walk in silence, Joseph observing Ms. Lily silently. He could not quite place it, but Joseph could tell that this lady – or girl, as she was probably only in her early 20’s – had something on her mind.
“Something bothering you Ms. Lily?” he inquired politely, pleased to see that the assistant started slowing down to allow Joseph to keep up. Joseph waited for a reply, but Ms. Lily continued to walk silently, clearly debating with herself whether to respond. Joseph did not pressure her, but continued to walk, observing the hallway they were walking down. The arrangement of wooden doors and lighting reminded him of a familiar location. However, Joseph expected to hear the sound of their shoes clacking against the hard stone tile floor, but only heard the dull muted tone of their feet upon carpet. And why would it not be carpet? It was the 21st century, and he was currently fifty floors up in a business building. Joseph had not expected the transition to be smooth, but it was certainly taking a lot longer than he had expected.
Suddenly, Ms. Lily stopped. Joseph nearly ran into her, but managed to catch himself without the assistant noticing. They stood in front of a wooden door at the end of the hallway. A gold engraved plate with the name Robert R. Ford – Partner was nailed at eye level. Ms. Lily raised her fist to knock, but hesitated. Joseph waited, trying to hide his anticipation for the meeting. He felt a bead of sweat rolling down his temple, but ignored it. The young lady remained still, until she swiftly turned around facing Joseph.
“I’m really sorry,” She said, her emotionless face now broken by an expression of confusion and embarrassment, “I really shouldn’t intrude, but I have to ask you something before you go in, it’s been bothering me since we’ve been talking.” She clutched the clipboard to her chest, biting her lower lip with nervous energy. Joseph raised an eyebrow, slightly amused. He had seen this before, he knew what to expect. He took a deep breath; his goal could wait a few minutes longer.
“Of course,” He said with an encouraging smile. He motioned for her to continue.
“Reynolds? Is that English or German or Something?” She asked quickly, her eyes narrowing, as if to make sure that Joseph would reply truthfully.
“Um…to be honest, I’m not sure.”
“Ok,” She nodded to herself. Joseph gave another smile, this girl was really quite entertaining. A few minutes ago she was so professional, yet now her youthfulness began to creep out. He wondered if he had been like this at her age, so full of curiosity. Not much had changed after ten years; he had even more questions, and a stronger desire for answers. But he did have knowledge, which failed to serve any real purpose but to breed more answers.
“I’m just wondering,” She continued, still thinking, “Forgive me if I’m being too intrusive, but what exactly is your relationship with Mr. Ford. Did the two of you grow up together?”
“In a manner of speaking…yes, how can you tell?”
“You talk the same way he does,” she said, very pleased that she had been correct in her deductions, “I can’t quite place it, but both of your accents…they’re….different. I don’t know, it’s not European, or Australian, but it’s definitely not American…” Her voice trailed off, she had begun to think to herself. He would let her make her guesses, Joseph always wondered if anyone would be smart enough to figure it out.
Ms. Lily continued to think for a few more seconds, before she realized that she still had a job to do. She shook her head to clear her mind, and quickly apologized, still half-heartedly thinking. She firmly knocked on the door twice before waiting. A deep familiar voice resounded through the office door.
“The funny thing is,” She added, talking more to herself than Joseph, “I don’t remember Mr. Ford having an accent when I was little…” She opened the door, and walked in, Joseph following. He was beginning to wonder if Ms. Lily had forgotten his existence. He walked into the office and closed the door, turning around to observe the room.
“Mr. Reynolds here to see you Mr. Ford.” Joseph noticed that her voice had returned to the professional even tone that he had heard before. His eyes turned from the assistant to the rest of the room, taking in the office space. The room was certainly bigger than Joseph had imagined. Bookshelves line two of the walls, filled with various law books and other obscure tomes. An elaborate picture, larger than Joseph, occupied the last wall, depicting a stunning ballroom dance in a gleaming palace. The entire opposite wall was made of glass, as if a picture in its own right. The cityscape of New York could be seen from a brilliant view, and the river could be seen in the background. It was quite a sight, most of the room illuminated by natural light from the sun outside, the rays streaming into the office, leaving very little room for shadows to hide. Furniture was scare; a large wooden desk occupied the center of the room with two chairs facing it. Behind the desk sat a middle-aged man in a very expensive suit. His hair was combed back, revealing gray streaks that signified experience more than age. His face was rough yet his smile was warm. Joseph locked his eyes with those of his long-time friend and a spark inside him reignited. A familiar yet eerie feeling grew in his chest and Joseph could not help but smile, welcoming the feeling and savoring every moment of it. The connection still existed, he was not alone.
“Hello Joseph,” Ford said, still smiling. Joseph took a deep breath, and straightened his mouth, replying with a strange tone of coolness.
“Thank you Lily,” Robert said, dismissing his assistant. Joseph’s eyes broke contact with Robert, turning to look at Ms. Lily. The young lady was blushing, clearly aware that she was intruding on important business. She nodded and left the office, closing the door softly behind her.
“You’ll have to excuse Lily,” Ford said, rising from his chair and walking toward Joseph, “She’s new and strong-willed, I have faith that she’ll perform her job excellently.” Joseph nodded, choosing not to speak for fear of breaking the feeling. Ford stood in front of Joseph, examining him silently. The two men remained motionless for a few seconds before the lawyer once again spoke.
“It’s been quite awhile,”
“Yes, it has, three months,”
“Really, that long? I hadn’t realized. Sometimes I truly believe Earth spins faster around the sun.” The joke was met with more silence. Joseph simply nodded, still unable to release himself from this feeling. So the last ten years had not been a dream.
“It’s good to see you, Jothai,” Joseph blinked, returning to the world of the now. Ford had used his previous name, his real name. Memories started flowing back into his head. The rush of nostalgia nearly overwhelmed Joseph, but he managed to stand. A genuine smile crept back onto his face. He had thought that now that he returned, everything that had happened in the last ten years would disappear. But it had happened, and now there was someone he could talk to about it. His smile turned into a grin. With some effort, Joseph managed to move his feet, taking a step forward to embrace his friend.
“And you too, Roshek.”
The two men gave each other a brotherly hug, and then separated, both grinning. It reminded Joseph of two little boys, taking part in some sort of secret club, knowing a certain secret that no one else knew. And indeed, it certainly felt like that sometimes.
“Come, come, have a seat,” Ford motioned toward one of the seats facing the desk. He quickly walked around the desk and sat back in his seat. Joseph walked over slowly, cautiously sitting down as if the seat would collapse.
“Are you all right, Jothai?” Ford inquired. Joseph looked over at the man sitting across from him. He had not heard his name spoken in a long time. For the first time, he realized that this same accent was what everyone around him had been hearing. He now understood why some people would give him a quizzical glance whenever he spoke.
“Yes, I’m fine,” He said, trying to relax his muscles. “To be honest, I was beginning to think that none of you existed.” Joseph gave a nervous laugh; he could feel the use of his muscles returning to him.
“Yes, I had the same thought when I returned. I had to look all of you up on the internet to tell myself that it hadn’t all been a dream.” He motioned to the computer on his desk, the machinery still humming. “Of course, I had to use a computer at the nearest library. Imagine the look on the librarian’s face when she found out I didn’t know how to use the internet. Technology develops at an exponential rate. Of course, you and I both know that quite well, don’t we?”
Joseph made no motion or speech, which Ford took as an invitation to continue.
“Did you know there was an article written about us? I don’t remember who wrote it, but it’s a tiny little story about the mysterious disappearance of various people all at the same time. Eliath, Magasun, Adreyal, Mairah and Lukath – they’re all mentioned, but they forgot to name Gresh, Ken and Mosah, which makes sense if you think about it. But they did mention….you know….” Ford trailed off, looking at Joseph’s face for some kind of reaction. Each mention of a name in that language gave a little more life into Joseph’s body. He could slowly feel himself regaining the strength and energy he once had.
“So it was all real…” Joseph managed to say.
“Of course it was all real!” Ford stretched his arms out wide, as if proclaiming some sort of religious truth. “It was ten years of our lives, Tol. Ja T’Ulehon?” Joseph sat up, his ears twitching. He had not heard an entire phrase spoken in that language for quite awhile. You have not forgotten? His mind immediately made the translation, and he was glad that he still retained his knowledge. It had only been three months, of course he still remembered. But could he speak it? Did he dare try? Ford seemed to still speak it fluently, but that made sense, as his profession – now as it was before – required speech. He opened his mouth and started to move his lips, his tongue raised to the roof of his mouth.
“No, the experience will stay with me forever” The words flowed out like music, a soothing accent that enveloped every part of Joseph’s being. He felt safe, he felt warm, and most importantly, he felt like himself. The spell of silence was broken, and Joseph allowed his mind to fill with past memories that he had struggled to block out.
“Agreed.” Ford replied, effortlessly transitioning the conversation into the language, “How are you coping, Jothai? I imagine it has been hard..Especially since you…” Ford trailed off, eyeing Joseph cautiously.Joseph nodded thoughtfully, appearing unaffected, seeming to ignore the last statement.
“It has, especially the first few weeks. I had not realized the world had changed so much. But then again, why would I? We weren’t expecting to come back. There was nothing here for me. I don’t know how you returned, but I awoke behind the bushes of my old apartment building. I recognized no one, I had no idea what to do, so I wandered for a bit.”
“But you found somewhere to stay?” Ford interrupted, deeply concerned. “You didn’t stay the night on the streets?”
“No. Despite my very poor English, I found the police station. They seemed to not have recognized me. I searched for all my old friends and family in the phone book. Many of them had moved, but luckily I found one. I stayed with him for a few days before I headed out.”
“Sev Adrah” Ford remarked, using the saying commonly used back then. With Adrah.
“Yes, I eventually contacted a member of my family, they asked no questions and within the month I was able to find a job.”
“That is good to hear. But you are not satisfied?”
“Of course not!” Joseph blurted out unintentionally, “Ten Years, Roshek! Ten Years! How am I supposed to start up again?!” He had raised his voice louder then he meant too, and immediately regretted it, slinking into the back of his chair. He wiped the sweat off his forehead, loosening the tie around his neck. “And these damn ties, what’s the point of these things? We never wore them before.”
There was a moment of silence. Joseph, breathing heavily in his chair while Ford watched with interest. Suddenly, the lawyer burst out laughing, giving a hearty, deep laugh similar to the laugh a lion would make if capable. Joseph felt a pang of betrayal in his heart. Perhaps he had made a mistake in coming here, attempting to share his thoughts to a fellow man who had endured the same trial. Ford laughed for what seemed like ages, before settling down and wiping a tear from his eye.
“Thank you Jothai, I have not laughed like that since I returned.”
“And why not?” Joseph scoffed, crossing his arms and almost pouting his lips like a spoiled child. “You seem to have everything worked out. You’re not back for more than three months, and already you have a partner position at your old law firm, how is that possible? You can carry on with the same profession you’ve always had, the court of justice, you still wear an expensive garb upon your back. You act as if nothing has changed! I left something back there, Roshek, I left my life, my life! Did none of those ten years matter to you?”
The two men sat in silence once again, the clock on the desk ticking slowly – a reminder of the constant flow of time. Ford got up wordlessly, and walked over to the large painting on the wall, staring intently. Joseph eyed Ford, but remained still, attempting to remain showing his frustration. Ford placed one hand in his pocket, and raised his other hand, slowly reaching to touch his fingertips against the oil canvas. His hand did not touch one of the beautiful ladies dressed in elegant dresses dancing, but touched the large stone pillars supporting the ballroom. He gave a low sigh, and his shoulders dropped. In the light and shadows cast by the sun, Joseph realized that Ford was actually significantly skinner then he had first remembered; Ford had lost weight.
“You know one of the first things you learn when you become a lawyer is the ability to cover up any emotions.” Ford said softly, his voice barely audible from where Joseph sat and his eyes still on the painting. “I left a lot of things back there. In some ways you could say I left my legacy.” He cleared his throat and raised his voice, looking away from the painting, his eyes falling on Joseph.
“You remember when we first met, in the forest clearing?”
Joseph nodded, how could he forget, despite it taking place more than 10 years ago? It was the start of another life.
“I told you about my wife – Martha – and my two little sons? We’d been married for eight years, and had our firstborn five years into our marriage. We were happy, I was just rising in popularity among the public. If you think I had it all now, I had it ALL back then. What do you think happened in those ten years while we were busy playing adventurers?”
“… I hadn’t thought about that,” admitted Joseph sheepishly.
“I didn’t think so. I returned to find my wife sleeping with another man, and my two sons calling him ‘daddy’.” Joseph winced, feeling the venom in Robert’s words.
“Life goes on, even when we aren’t here to see it. I know you’ve noticed it; this world has changed drastically since we left. Its better off and worse off at the same time, as we predicted. But we fooled ourselves into thinking we wouldn’t come back, wouldn’t have to experience all the pain of our old lives again. In truth we don’t. As much as you and I both hate it, we’ve been given not just a second life, but a third one as well, even if it’s one we don’t want. We all left something behind, but it’s time to start over, whether we like it or not.” Joseph nodded, still trying to digest all the words Ford had said. He sympathized with the lawyer, angry at himself for being so thoughtless. After all he’d been through, Joseph should have remembered that he was not the center of this world – or any others. He stored the words in the back of his mind, too confused and frustrated to clearly think. He would review his thoughts another time, for now, he wanted to get the conversation going again. Joseph stood up from his chair, walking over to where Ford stood.
“So…I take it you have no thoughts about going back?”
“Going back?” Ford repeated, surprised at the question, “Jothai, Tol, you should know by now that there is no way of going back. We tried that once already, and failed.”
“True, but that was when we were trying to get back to Earth, and look where we are now. Besides, we’ve never tried specifically to return from Earth.” Ford smiled faintly, shaking his head as he did so. By the reaction, Joseph knew it was a lost cause, yet he decided to keep trying anyway.
“But…don’t you want to go back? You did so much for them, we made a difference.” Ford chuckled.
“Yes, of course I’d like to go back, but I honestly don’t think we can, it’s a lost cause. Perhaps our return was meant to show us where we truly belonged. You may try to find a way back, but promise me you won’t get too caught up in the past. I understand the reasons why you would…” Joseph ignored the inquisitive look from Ford; he wasn’t ready to talk about that subject yet.
“So you won’t help me?”
“I’m sorry, I can’t go with you, there are a lot of things I need to do here.” Ford smiled apologetically at Joseph, whose head was now hanging low. “But if you’re looking for the others, I think I can help you there.” Joseph looked up, his eyebrow raised in curiosity. Ford walked back to his desk, taking a seat and waking his computer up. “I told you before I searched for each of us who had returned. I can give you the addresses of the ones that I found. Perhaps you can convince one of them to be as crazy as you are and join you in your quest.” Joseph felt a smile coming on, and rested a hand on Ford’s shoulder, “Thank you, Tol, Adrah Gael” Ford nodded, giving a slight ‘mmhm’ before opening up his files. Joseph turned around and faced the glass wall overlooking the city. He stepped towards the pane, looking below observing the urban activity.
He could barely see the tiny specks of people walking on the sidewalks, moving to and fro getting from one place to another as quickly as possible. From this vantage point, everything seemed so insignificant, aside from the obvious background of blue water, clear skies and shining sun. It had certainly been awhile since Joseph had viewed anything from so high. But then again, people were always looking down on things. The amount of people, knowledge and energy required to make it possible for Joseph to stand where he stood today seemed enormous. The workers, the engineers, the teachers to teach them both, and weeks of labor – all necessary in order to build the floor, the ceiling, the room all around him. The culmination of human knowledge had succeeded in putting man closer to the sky, and farther away from the ground that supported them. Joseph curled his toes inside his shoes, attempting to feel the carpet floor through the rubber soles. Even if he succeeded, the feel would be so artificial, so strange to him. Joseph realized that in the past ten years, he had not gotten further then perhaps ten stories off the ground. Even the highest watchtower shrank in comparison to where he stood now. He was not sure if he could ever feel comfortable this high again.
“Here,” Joseph turned as Ford handed him a freshly printed sheet of paper, “I got the ones mentioned in the article, they are probably the only ones who you will be able to see, the rest are probably too far away.” Joseph took the paper and folded it right away, slipping it into his pocket.
“You aren’t even going to read it?”
“Not right now,” Joseph said, returning his gaze through the glass. Ford nodded and remained standing next to Joseph, the two men observing the people below them, the sun outlining their frames and casting long shadows into the office.
“Apparently, Eliath has written a book about our stay. It’s made it on the best-seller list. I haven’t read it yet.” Joseph didn’t respond, his mind wrapped up in memories of the past. He did not want to bring them up, but he needed them, he needed to experience it once more. So much was left behind. He closed his eyes, feeling the rays of the sun bathe him in warmth.
“Adreyal lives in London, probably finding the cure for cancer.”
Joseph breathed in deeply, smelling the fresh smell of rain, imagining blades of grass between his feet. He wiggled his fingers, striving to feel…to feel…
“And Mairah…let’s hope she’s surviving with that child of hers…”
He ceased to listen to Ford. Instead, the sounds of street merchants, wooden wagons and the general hustle and bustle of past life filled his ears. It was not an overwhelming sensation of sounds, but strangely soothing, an ode to an age where innocence still existed, and corruption minuscule.
“…You know,” Joseph opened his eyes, returning to the present, “In its own way, this world is still beautiful.” Both men turned to face each other, looking into one another’s eyes, attempting to decipher each other’s thoughts. Ford placed his hand on Joseph’s shoulder, his face showing concern.
“Be careful, Jothai. I know she was very important to you, but eventually, you’ll have to learn how to let go, we all will. You may not get the answers you’re looking for.”
“But I have to try.”
“Yes…I suppose you do. You were my friend in that world, and you will continue to be my friend in this world. I really want to go with you. I really do…but we can’t just pick up and leave like we could back then. I hope you understand.” Joseph nodded, and the two friends embraced one last time. Joseph thought he felt something wet on his neck, but ignored it.
“You were more than a friend. You were our leader, and you were my father.” Joseph said, surprised that he still remained calm while Ford was near tears. “I thank you for all you did for me.”
“Thank you.” Ford replied, taking his handkerchief in his breast pocket and wiping away at the corner of his eyes. “I’m glad that I could be a father for at least one boy.” Joseph outstretched his hand and Ford shook it.
The meeting ended. Joseph had received a response to his request, and it was time to move on, he still had so many things to do, he always had so many things to do. He walked over to the door opening it softly, delicately, afraid that any sound would upset the delicate silence of the farewell. With a final look back, Joseph saw Ford, still standing by the window, looking across the room at the large painting on the wall.
“Do you miss it?” Joseph said, his last question before leaving, “The dancing, the palaces, the people? Do you miss being King?” Without looking, Ford smiled.