Blog Tour: Kevin Lucia, Author of THINGS YOU NEED
This week, dear readers, I hand the reigns of this blog over to author Kevin Lucia, whose next release, a linked short-story collection, Things You Need, will be published September 28 by Crystal Lake Publishing. If you're a fan of dark fiction/quiet horror, then this next book in Lucia's Clifton Heights series (which also includes Things Slip Through, Devourer of Souls, Through A Mirror, Darkly, as well as his upcoming novella through Cemetery Dance - Mystery Road) is a must read (my review of Things You Need will be included in tomorrow's post, where I will also run my interview with Kevin regarding this most recent release, and some other things writing-specific).
As for today, one of Lucia's characters, and author in the world of Clifton Heights himself, Gavin Patchett shares a rather important tale with you.
If you prefer to download the following narrative from this blog entry and read it at your leisure, you may do so here.
And now I give way to Gavin Patchett as he presents...
The Man Who Sits in His Chair
There is a man who lives in a rented cabin at The Motor Lodge, on the eastern bank of Clifton Lake. The Motor Lodge consists of fourteen cabin rentals, the kind of establishment you don't see much of anymore, except in ruins. The Motor Lodge in Clifton Heights, however, is in fine shape. All the cabins are diligently kept by Jacob Prentiss, a lifetime bachelor born and bred here in Clifton Heights. He runs a smart, efficient operation. At a trim, active, and healthy fifty years of age, he manages the upkeep himself. The Motor Lodge is always full, and draws a reputable clientele.
No one knows much about the man who sits in his chair. Just that he's lived in Cabin #14 of The Motor Lodge for time out of mind, and that, beginning in Spring and lasting through until mid-November, he sits in an Adirondack chair on the front “lawn” of his cabin, right off Gentry Road, reading everything from Plato to Dashell Hammit; from Aristotle to Stephen King. I've also come across him reading Robert E. Howard and more contemporary pulp fiction from Brian Keene. His reading tastes are extraordinarily eclectic, to say the least.
Far as anyone knows, he doesn't have a job, nor has he ever worked at one. The story has always been that as a teenager he enlisted in the Army straight of high school and served in the war. Presumably, that's how he pays for his cabin. Through his military benefits and disability.
Of course, what war has always been a question. It's hard to tell. The man hasn't changed much over time. His face is lined and weathered, but not heavily, like the ancient old timers who eat lunch every day at The Skylark Diner and complain about politics, technology, and the economy. His jowls don't sag; the skin around his throat and neck tight. His hair is a blinding white, but it's also full and healthy, pulled back into a ponytail most days. His blue eyes are sharp and observant. He looks fit and healthy enough to work in the lumber mill on the other side of town.
Because the man who sits in his chair is preternaturally frozen somewhere in his late forties or early fifties, pinning down exactly what war he served in has proven difficult. If you ask teens today, they'll say he served in Operation: Desert Storm, and got discharged because of severe PTSD. Ask adolescents, and they'll say they heard he served in Operation: Iraqi Freedom. Speak to folks my age, and we'll all say we heard he suffered exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam. Ask our parents – many of whom claim to remember the man who sits in his chair from their childhood – and they're likely to say he was medically discharged from World War II because of injuries sustained in a mustard gas attack. That doesn't seem possible, of course, that he's that old but still only looks like he's in his fifties, but welcome to Clifton Heights.
You won't get answers out of Jacob Prentiss. All he'll say is, “His lease payment is always on time. He's quiet, respectful, and his maintenance requests few. There's nothing more I need to know.” Of course, Jacob has followed in his father's footsteps as the owner and manager of The Motor Lodge, so if you ask old man Wesley Prentiss about the man who sits in his char, you'll get the same answer.
The funny thing about Clifton Heights – and, from my experience, other small towns – is that, over time, enigmas like the man simply become part of the setting. Tourists and out-of-town visitors aren't likely to hear about the man at all. Passing through, they'll just see what looks like a middle-aged man sitting in a chair in front of Cabin #14 of The Motor Lodge, reading. They won't think anything of it.
Locals simply accept the man as an everyday element of life. Every generation, it's always the same: only the kids ask questions about the man who sits in the chair, and they all receive a different variation of the same story. I'm sure twenty or thirty years from now, the kids will say they heard he served in Afghanistan, searching for Osama Bin Laden.
Once kids hear the current variation of the man's story, he quickly fades into the backdrop of their world, becoming as natural a part of their urban legend scenery as haunted old Bassler House, the “ghost” who lingers on the old amphitheater at Raedeker Park, or the rumored ghost lion (yes, you heard that right), which haunts the generations-empty lion cage at Raedeker Park Zoo. He is a familiar landmark on their wonderfully strange and bizarre childhood landscape, as he was for my friends and I, and apparently, our parents, also.
Of course, whenever they see him sitting in his chair, they'll likely rush by nervously but excitedly, talking about him in reverent whispers; making up outlandish stories as to what happened to him, why he was discharged, and how it is he pays his lease without working (he saw something so horrible the government has to pay him off every year to keep him quiet; he discovered a buried bunker full of war treasure, and even crazier stories), and then they go their way. The man who sits in his chair fades once again into their backdrop.
No one knows his name, either. Ask Jacob Prentiss, and you'll get a polite smile, and, “Well, if you're not the police investigating a crime, and he hasn't deemed it necessary to tell you, I suppose it's not any of your business, and it's not mine to share.”
Adults and some of the braver children do talk to him, although it depends greatly on your definition of “talk.” A conversation with The Man Who Sits in His Chair certainly involves two parties making sounds by talking, but whether or not it qualifies as communication is debatable.
Most folks think (erroneously), that the man speaks only in obscure riddles or nonsensical statements which have no logical interconnection. Readers like myself, or movie and music buffs, however, quickly realize he speaks exclusively in literary, cinema, and pop music quotes.
Whether this is a symptom of whatever injuries he suffered in whatever war he served, (maybe psychological trauma which has rendered him emotionally unable to speak using his own words, like that character in Peter Straub's A Dark Matter), or an elaborate ruse to frustrate those who would pry into his life, no one knows. Whichever, it's proven very effective, as very few people talk to him. I'm one of those few, because I'm convinced – whether his co-opted speech is the result of trauma, or merely a clever ruse – that his quotes can be strung together to make meaning.
Since moving into my parent's cabin on Clifton Lake (a much simpler and more rustic affair than the expensive one I'd always imagined), on seasonable Saturday mornings I've taken to walking around the lake from where my cabin sits, to where The Motor Lodge is. I head out around 8 AM and usually make my way to the Lodge by 8:30, and sure enough, there he is, the man who sits in his chair, reading.
This particular incident happened the past summer, middle of July. Already warm out, I was wearing a polo shirt and khaki shorts. The man wore his summer uniform; jean shorts frayed at the ends, and a plain white t-shirt. As I neared him, he looked up (almost as if he sensed my presence), and raised a hand in greeting. I waved in return, and as I drew closer, said, “Morning. How are we today?”
The man who sits smiled and said in a clear, strong voice, “I've seen fire and I've seen rain. I've seen summer days which I thought would never end.”
James Taylor. And it fit the context of my question rather well. I stopped and said, “Good to hear. It's too nice a day to be feeling badly.”
The man's smile faltered. Something dark passed through his eyes, and he responded with, “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. ” He paused and looked away, his gaze suddenly distant. “All those moments will be lost, in time, in the best of times, in the worst of times.”
Blade Runner. A Tale of Two Cities. Keeping my tone neutral, wondering what wheels could possibly be turning in that mind, I said, “Sorry to hear that. Bad memories have a way of coming back when we least expect them. But there's always the promise of tomorrow. There's that, at least.”
The man looked back at me, shrugged, and offered a small smile. “I know not what end I'm going to, but I'll go to it with a smile.”
Moby Dick. “That's the spirit. Face life and whatever it offers, right?”
He nodded, pursing his lips, looking as if he were contemplating heavy matters. “But the game is afoot, my dear Watson. The mome raths are all outgrabe, and the rivers lead to an impenetrable heart of darkness.” He paused, sat forward, and added in a very serious tone, “Beware the Jabberwock, my son. The jaws that bite, the claws that catch.”
Usually speaking with the man who sits in his chair is an amusing, entertaining guessing game. Occasionally, however, his coded speech takes dark turns, as it did that morning, and he sounds more like a morbid oracle of Delphi than a good-natured town enigma. I had no idea what he was talking about, but like always, I took a stab at answering. “Well, bad times do come. There's nothing we can do about that, I suppose.”
He nodded slowly, still looking serious. “There's a bad moon rising. I see trouble on the way.” Settling back into his chair, the serious look on his face relaxed. “But all we are is dust in the wind. Cry havoc, let slip the dogs of war, and light out for the territories ahead. Chase the moon, my good sir. Chase the moon.”
Every now and then the man utters a reference I'm not familiar with - “chase the moon” for example – and it leaves me hanging. “Well, yeah. What else can you do?”
He nodded sagely as he reopened his book, as if I'd said a very wise thing, indeed. “Ka is a wheel. We are well met, are we not?”
The Dark Tower series. “We are. Yes, we are.”
The man looked back down to his book, turned a page and resumed reading, his dismissal of me clear. “It's a far, far better thing I do, than I have ever done. It is a far, far better rest I go to, than I have ever known.”
Eventually, the man who sits does drift into complete incomprehensibility, and that's usually a sign it's time for me to move on. “Well, okay then. Have a good day. See you next Saturday morning?”
Without looking at me, he raised a hand and said, “Until we meet in the clearing at the end of the path.”
I smiled, turned to leave, and then, as I do every time I leave him, I tossed over my shoulder, “Are you ever going to tell me your name? Or least, a name?”
The man who sits in his chair looked up, his smile brilliant and devilish, (which always convinces me that he knows exactly what he's doing), as he said coyly, “What's in a name? A rose by another name is still a rose, so...call me...Ishmael.”
I nodded, waved once more, and went on my way.
The man who sits in his chair still sits there, like clockwork, from about mid-April to mid November. During the colder months, I have no idea what he does, nor does anyone else. We assume he sits in a chair in cabin #14, reading.
It probably doesn't seem very significant, but his occasionally dark musings trouble me. If I were to let my fancy get away with me...I'd think that, somehow, in his own way, the man who sits in his chair is connected to the universe in a way we are not, and because of that, knows of something coming. Something horrible.
And maybe I'll write a story about that, someday.
Gavin Patchett Clifton Heights, NY