UPDATE: You know, I got so caught up in all my various busy-work projects that I completely forgot to announce that I have actually, finally, finished the first draft on this novel! I’m going to let it sit for a while and then start in the rewrite after I move to Chicagoland in May, being that I will probably have a lot of alone-time on my hands.
My new novel is a fantasy about surreality and beer.
A big part of this novel is the main character’s contention that it was beer, not wine, that Jesus drank, and later in the novel it turns out the wine industry has been suppressing this fact for nearly 2000 years.
I love the surreal. Obviously. And I have always had a passion for beer. I’m not an expert at it, but I make up for the lack of expertise with enthusiasm. So as part of my research of beer for this book, I started a website called GroovyBrew Beer, where I tell beer stories (I have plenty!) and do beer reviews. In the beer reviews I’m searching for the taste of the beer that was in the Holy Grail.
Now, I’m going to do something a bit unorthodox and risky, but I’d doing it to both stir up interest in the book as well as motivate myself to keep working on it… I’m going to post a few short excerpts of what I’ve written so far.
Keep in mind this is a first draft and by the time I’m actually done with the novel things may be quite different.
Without further ado, I bring you excerpts of Eleven Days on Earth…
The trouble with beer is that it makes you want more beer.
Jon August tried to remember the taste. He couldn’t, not really. Somewhat bitter? A bit like bread? A metallic tang? They were just words to him now, not actual sensations. He couldn’t remember, and neither did anyone else.
If enough people gathered in one place and shared their memories, then there would be beer. That’s how it worked here. But it was just his luck to land in a dead zone where everyone preferred, instead, their memories of vodka.
Some people called the place Purgatory. Some said it was Hell. To Jon it was the place after death with no beer. He’d arrived some time ago — he didn’t know how long, because time didn’t work the same way in this place — and found everything hauntingly familiar. Yeah, said others, because surrealist painters had been there in visions, and painted what they saw.
That was it. The barren red vistas, the ugly sky, the fuzzy amorphous blob of a sun … Jon had seen it in paintings. It wasn’t Purgatory, Hell, or even Heaven. It was surreality. The merged, shared hallucination of souls of the dead.
With no beer.
“They have beer in the town on the other side of Clint’s Plateau,” said the soul of Rasputin. He spoke in Russian but Jon understood — languages weren’t a barrier in surreality — but others edged away from him, like they always did. “There’s a ghost town over there, like out of your West, and cowboys drive rusty half-remembered pickup trucks and drink beer and whisky at a saloon.”
Unlike the others, Jon enjoyed Rasputin’s company. It felt natural and normal for someone to be so deeply weird in such a bizarre place. They sat together in the shared hallucination of a European tavern, though when Rasputin was around, it was a lot colder in the room, and there was straw on the floor and rats scurrying along the walls. The bedraggled, wild-eyed man sat sipping a tumbler of vodka, which had a tiny frog swimming in it.
Jon sat upright in his chair, gathering his focus. Colors deepened, edges hardened. “Pickup trucks and beer,” he said. “Why didn’t anyone tell me Heaven was just on the other side of Clint’s Plateau?”
“Heaven? You call it that?”
“Some might, especially if there’s mud-wrestling women in the saloon.”
“Ah,” Rasputin said, “it’s been so long since I’ve seen mud.” He sipped his vodka, and the tiny frog jumped up and clung to his nose. He brushed it back into the tumbler.
“You’re serious, though? They have beer?”
“Yes my friend. I have no reason to lie.”
“Where is it, exactly? Can you draw me a map?”
Rasputin’s face twisted into a lopsided frown, an expression that looked like he realized he’d just made a mistake. “Maps are of little use here, you should know that.”
“You can point in a direction. You can give me landmarks.”
“The town sits on the shores of the sands of time, right under the bridge of eternity.” Rasputin tilted his head to the side, twisting his jaw in an unreadable expression. “A very dangerous place, if the winds of the ether shift.”
“Have you been under the bridge of eternity, my friend? It rains bricks!”
“Oh so what?” Jon said. “I’ll risk a brick to the head. It’s not like it’ll kill me.” He threw his hands into the air, a mock expression of shock on his face. “Too late!”
“Ah, well,” Rasputin said, “as there are many lives, there are many deaths. What if the next place is worse than this one?”
Jon sighed. “I just want a beer.”
Rasputin appeared to think it over. Finally he tossed down the rest of his vodka and crunched on the frog. “Outside,” he said, “I will point the way for you.”
And then later…
They walked on. The bump on the horizon grew larger. The shape suggested something like a bell on its side, partially buried, but it was the size of a large hill. A giant rock perhaps? Like the Ayers Rock he’d seen in Australia? Or maybe a building?
Off to their left he spotted a chair. It stood out not because it was an odd thing to see — everything out here was an odd thing to see — but because it seemed to be in pristine condition. Jon changed direction and walked over to it with Rasputin dragging behind him.
His eyes flowed over the dark, rich wood, the shine of it, the delicate features. Sitting on four thin legs, it appeared to have just come from someone’s shop, not even a speck of dust on it.
“Ah,” Rasputin said, “something to sit on.”
“It’s beautiful,” Jon said. “Look at the color. Like a rich dark Munich lager.”
Rasputin sat. “Comfortable, too.” He shifted his rumpled, robed frame. “And solid.”
“I wonder who it belongs to?”
“Belongs to?” Rasputin said. “Jon, you are such an American. It doesn’t belong to anyone.”
“Why do you say that?”
“The only thing that truly belongs to anyone is their memories. Nothing else.”
“Let’s take it with us, then.”
“Okay.” Rasputin stood up, and moved aside so Jon could pick it up.
It felt so light it surprised him, like it were made from balsa wood. He slung it over his shoulder, focused his energy on the horizon, and resumed walking.
They passed dogs and horses fashioned out of dry sticks, some standing, some lying on their sides. Once he nearly stepped on a black and white striped snake — not quite a snake, it had no head, just a tail on each side. It wriggled its way quickly into a hole. The chair grew heavy and then light again, depending on where they were. As they neared the giant rock, building, whatever it was, the sun began to sink for the first time since they started the journey.
“How did you know it would be night by the time we got there?” he asked.
“It is always night there,” Rasputin said.
The bloated glowing blob of fire sank to the edge of the plateau, gleaming off the top of their goal. The surface of the object was dull but smooth, and it now loomed before them like a 50 story building. It still looked like a bell, and Jon realized it looked like that because that’s what it was. An enormous, colossal bell lying on its side. When they were nearly up to it, and the sun was almost gone, Jon had to stop and sit in the chair and simply contemplate the sight.
Rasputin stood beside him. “It is unfortunate that we only found one chair.”
“Look at that,” he said.
“I mean, look at it.”
“That must be something that God dropped. Something belonging to Him.”
“Did He lose it, you suppose, or did He throw it away?”
“Garbage of God. Yes.” Rasputin nodded. “Can I sit?”
“You feeling dizzy too?”
“No, my legs are weary.”
“Oh.” Jon slapped his hands to his knees, then stood. He took a few steps toward the bell and stopped, oblivious to his companion and the chair. “Could it be that this isn’t really big? That instead, here in the afterlife, we’re just very, very small?”
“Sometimes it feels that way. Sometimes it felt that way in life.”
“Can you imagine the sound it made?”
“Yes, sound. It must have vibrated to the core of everything in the Universe.”
“I should imagine it was quite loud,” Rasputin said. “The slurping of God.”
Jon nodded, then realized what Rasputin had said. “Slurping?”
“Yes, I imagine.”
He turned and frowned at Rasputin, then looked back at the sight. His perception shifted, and Joe realized he was not looking at a giant bell half buried in the red dirt, but a chalice. Now that he knew what he was seeing, far to his right he could make out the base just barely protruding from the ground. “My God, could this be the Holy Grail?”
“I doubt that Jesus could use such a cup at the last supper, my friend. It is but a big goblet, nothing more. They call it the ‘Cup of Night.'”
“I’d call it the Cup of Wonder.”
“It’s a cup of a lot of nothing,” Rasputin said, “but it is a good place to rest.” He stood, then picked up the chair. “Oh, this isn’t heavy!” He slung it over his shoulder, as Jon had.
Jon couldn’t take his eyes off the chalice, and as they resumed their walk toward it he kept stumbling because he wasn’t watching out for obstacles. He kept wondering, who had put it there? How did it get knocked over? How long did it take for it to be buried so far into the ground? The Universe was old, very old, and this place seemed to be far older than Earth. What wonders abounded here while the Earth was still a ring of dust around a young star? What giants walked this place?
So, have I piqued your interest? Want to know what happens next? Jon ends up going through the sands of time and returns to the land of the living, himself a sort of half-ghost half-living mortal, and ends up searching for the Holy Beer, which has become his own personal Grail quest.
So that he can save the Universe, of course.