Call From A  Distant Shore.

Published by Roc Books, August 2000,

ISBN# 0-451-45792-7

OUT OF PRINT--Try eBay . . .

Below is a brief excerpt from the novel,
the first chapter, where we  meet one of
the main characters.

 

 
Part One:
Precursor

Dan's Wakeup Call

    Dan Francisco, better known to his millions of viewers as the one and only Dan the
Virtual Weatherman, rarely had trouble sleeping.
    Some people are prone to lying awake at night because they can't stop thinking. Not
Dan. His mind could almost always flop down like an old dog on a shady porch, curl up
nose to tail and be snoozing in minutes.
    Nor did he, like some, expect trouble once he reached the safe haven of sleep. His
dreams tended to be as easygoing as his waking personality. Nightmares were rare,
and almost never made him wake up screaming and levitating above the bed. About the
worst that could happen was a 4 AM bathroom call, a minor emergency he could handle
with his eyes half-closed.
    When he had gone to bed just before midnight he'd laid his head down on the pillow
with no immediate worries on his mind, no expectation that the night might turn on him,
nd no sense that his life would be irrevocably changed by morning. There had been no
warning psychic flashes. No signs and portents had popped like cryptic, hops-scented
genies from the two bottles of Labatt's Blue he drank that evening.
    That was probably for the best.  Knowing ahead of time something like that is coming
for you could easily make you nuts.
    Three o'clock had come and come and gone. Dan was sprawled across the double bed,
snoring and dreaming that he was fishing with his producer and director Morty. This was
as weird as his dreams usually got. Morty participating in such a placid enterprise was about
as likely as his going to a biker bar and picking a fight with the biggest, ugliest guy there.
Which was something Morty would consider a great way to spend an evening.
    So there he was, adrift on Skyles Lake in his old wooden rowboat, pole in his hand,
beer at his elbow, sun on his face and the world his oyster. He felt a nibble, then a
promising tug. Just as he was thinking Good one! he was snatched out of that place and
state like he'd hooked onto a sea monster.
    In an instant Morty was gone, the boat and the lake under it were gone, wiped away as
something came out of nowhere and took its place. Something strange and powerful and
unexpected and unprecedented as a volcano bursting up from an anthill in his neatly trimmed
front yard. Something just as impossible to stop.
    Dan's closed eyelids fluttered and twitched as REM sleep warped into something else
altogether, something thirty-six years of practice sleeping had never prepared him for.
    It arrived in light, a bright spark that within a heartbeat ignited into a blinding Technicolor
radiance pouring into his head; a light bursting with pictures too dazzling to see, like staring
straight into the lens of a movie projector. He began to writhe and thrash under its pressure,
rucking the sheet and blanket covering him with long bony arms and legs no longer entirely
under his control.
    Riding the light like music wrapped in a radio wave came a presence, spooling and spinning
into him, rising to become a scintillating tornado of otherness sweeping across the shivering
flatlands of his brain. His movements became even more spastic and uncontrolled as this
inexplicable intruder grew wider, higher, brighter, approaching the proportions of a good old
fashioned mushroom cloud.
    Sleep finally shattered under this assault, and he jerked upright in a tangle of covers, gasping
for breath, his brown eyes wide and staring. The quiet, slightly messy bedroom around him did
not register. He was as much elsewhere as there, other as himself. His mind reeled with
dislocation and intrusion, overwhelmed and on the ropes like the 140 pound weakling he
happened to be wrestling a 5000 pound Sumo champion made of sensation and thought.
    Just when his poor brain was on the verge of blowing like a child's balloon hooked to an
industrial air compressor, the pressure abated slightly, transmuting into a chaotic, abstract, all
-encompassing noise overwriting the normal contents of his head. This cerebral cacophony
seemed to twist slightly, and an emotional subtext to it all suddenly rose up out of the babel,
homing in on the frequency of his heart.

***loneliness*loss*grief*despair*fear*pain*desperation***

    "N-no," he panted, begging release from this empathic gale gusting across his quivering
nerves, tuning itself to his emotions, making it and him one. "--stop . . ."
    His protest went unheard or unheeded, the sirocco of feelings blasting through him unabated.

***loneliness*loss*grief*despair*fear*pain*desperation***

    In the midst of all this the pictures and sensations that had filled his head from the very beginning
continued on in a rush of vivid surrealistic flashes. They were sharper now, but none made any
sense to him. He was a Neanderthal man subjected to the sensory assault of a jump-cut barrage
of drock vidyo clips played at quintuple speed in TruSound HiDef 3D with every control set to
cortex-nuking Max. The images and sounds and smells and flavors burst upon him, rolling over
him and replaced by others too fast for any one to be identified, too strange for him to grasp even
if he'd had all the time in the world to dope a single one out.
    Without warning the maelstrom between his ears stopped.
    There was a pregnant pause that seemed fit to birth marvels or atrocities. His heart thumped
once and he sucked air greedily.
    Then there inside his head spoke a voice. A voice clear and pure and beautiful, its message
simple and unmistakable.

***help me***

    This message delivered, the intruding presence began to withdraw like a deafening light
dimming, a blinding noise falling silent, leaving behind a deeply graven impression of hope mixed
with fear, of deep and abiding weariness.
    It had the sound of someone lost on cold horizonless waters who thinks they have just
glimpsed a hopeful gleam of light on a distant shore. A chance to survive after all.

***help me * please***

    Fainter now, like an echo. The safe familiar confines of Dan's bedroom slowly swam back into
focus around him, lit by the actinic light of the screen facing the bed, and the warmer yellow glow
cast by the Rockett Raccoon nightlight there for the nights when his daughter Bobbi stayed over.
Once again he was safely surrounded by walls covered with the fancy gold-flecked wallpaper his
ex Tammy had insisted on back when they had shared this room.
    Unreal vistas of obscure shapes and eye-crossing colors gave way to the vidyo screen and the
Salvation Army dresser he'd found and refinished after she took all the Ethan Allen with her. Pale
moonlight streamed in the curtained window, proving that the world outside this room still existed
as well.

***help me please* * * *

    The voice faded like the steam of a sigh, evaporating into nothingness.
    Released and alone in his own skull once more, Dan freaked, scrambling out of bed as if that
had been the antenna which had drawn this outrageous shit his way. Safely off it, he stood there
shuddering, an almost absurdly tall and thin man with wild hair and wilder eyes, breathing hard
and trying to wipe away the feeling of terror and loss and hope left like a nightmare's black
skidmark on his consciousness.
    "I must be losing my mind," he whispered to himself, to the empty room. No voice from
elsewhere spoke up to argue the point. He raked his bushy mane of long brown hair back from
his narrow, sharp-featured face. Both face and hair were soaked with sweat.
    He was pretty damn sure that this had been no nightmare, no divorced dad's wee hours
anxiety attack. That much was as certain as the difference between a gecko and Godzilla. Other
than this bit of non-info he was clueless as to what it had been, or why it had happened. To him.
    Like most people--a few of whom are sadly and badly mistaken--he'd always assumed that
he was perfectly sane. Now he had to wonder, and anxiously began conjuring up a dozen
flavors of insanity which could explain what had just happened, a sort of psychiatric menu
heavy on the fruitcake and banana-nut combinations.
    Was this the way it went? One moment you're all right, the next you begin hearing a voice
in your head and presto-chango, you've become bait for the men in the white coats? And if
so, why?
        Going back to bed was out of the question. Standing there considering what sort of heavy
 meds might be in his future wasn't helping ease his mind.
    A little something to settle his nerves suggested itself. Finding and drinking a beer was an
uncomplicated, easily attainable goal. Maybe after that he would be together enough to examine
other options, like a shower and maybe one of Tammy's sleeping pills, still in the medicine
cabinet all these years later.
    So he headed for the kitchen, the thought of a cold beer like a restorative Holy Grail in his
mind. He had no idea that he was not the only one so visited.

Copyright Stephen  L. Burns, 2000

    From here we go on to meet the others who have been visited. The story is fast-paced,
funny and exciting. One reviewer likened it to Close Encounters meets Planes, Trains,
and Automobiles
. The book is a finalist for the  2001 Philip K. Dick Award for best novel.

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