Valley of the Shadow

Okay, this is a major “what if” and probably the biggest break that Necropolis by Moonlight has ever made from a relatively normal modern world that follows an acceptable pattern of rules. It is also the first time I’ve followed certain other sub-plots (unmentioned here and possibly objectionable) and I’m not 100% sure I will keep to those, but I may need an attitude adjustment here. Especially from Zag and Rose. (I don’t think Charity reads this journal, but I could be wrong. If you do, feel free to rip into me) Am I crazy?

On the surface, Necropolis by Moonlight is your average mystery/adventure with a clever herouine, mysterious hero, and some very greedy bad guys. But, Necropolis by Moonlight is also a Mummy’s Curse type story (devoid of any actual curses, but more along the lines of Theophile Gautier’s classic book of short stories–I have a 1903 English translation of “The Mummy’s Romance” that I treasure) and a ghost story. The “creature” is a herouine/villianess in her own right similar to H. Rider Haggard’s SHE.

The problem lies in the fact that, no matter how well I research, I will never present an accurate Egypt because I have never actually been there. While that does not stop some writers, I don’t want to be the type that sets a story in Paris and only shows the view from the balcony of the hotel where the characters are staying. If that’s all your going to do with it, you’ve wasted a huge imagination budget by shooting on location. You may as well have set the novel in Waldo, FL and written it on the back of a picture post card. We’ve all seen the Eiffel Tower. Show me a back alley or a hidden street in the Sourbon.

I try to do that with my Cairo. Only, the accuracy is limited, because I have to create my back alleys and hidden streets. I also have to create the network of criminal contacts that my main character grew up with and portray a prison. It is nearly impossible to do these things accurately and sensitively (Gautier was not politically correct at all, by the way) without having seen and experienced them first hand. Plus, everyone knows what a stickler I am for first hand research. I think the myth of the uncomfortable early corset is one that deserves a quiet death, yet writers who have never laced one up continually bring it to the forefront.

Anyway, that brings me to my second problem. What do you do when the real world location/culture that you are writing about does not fit the requirements of your story? Comparing crime rates, I would be far safer walking down the streets of Cairo than I would be in New York or Los Angeles. For the most part, Alex is safer there than Chicago, but she does walk through a world of thieves and smugglers. Anyway, a writer only gets so much leeway before the world she is writing becomes fantasy. Of course, with Haggard and Gautier for inspiration, I am mired in fantasy to begin with, but a fantasy that has a grounding in a world whose rules conflict with the events that are happening. When you have a world like that and are also bound to get some details wrong or change some for your own reasons, you may as well go for the whole nine yards or else suffer the consequences of inaccuracy. In other words, an alternate reality that is unmistakably alternate. To average people, ghosts do not exist, parapsychology is a spooky soft science that is undeserving of research, and mummy’s do not rise from the grave. (Now, don’t get your hackles up. I’m saying “to average people.” No one reading this is “average people.” However, you will agree that society runs on the general expectation that people die, you bury them, and you go on with life not seeing them when in a conscious state. Half of the children on a given school yard will tell you “I don’t believe in ghosts” and will continue to do so well into adulthood.)

This came up when I was trying to flesh out Jake’s character. I walk a tight-rope with him, because he is such a shadowy character, but he does reveal details here and there. I never say exactly what he does, other than hire out for dangerous jobs. He is not a spy or secret agent or police officer. He does accept assignments from British Intelligence and carries an Intelligence grade identity card that gets him certain priviledges. From the earliest versions of the story, he has been about seven years older than Alex (who is twenty-six in this iteration). It stands to reason that there have been other women in his past, perhaps even a wife. The more I thought about it, the more I liked that last detail. It would have to have been a short marriage, because I have always pictured Jake going from assignment to assignment without much of a break. That sort of behavior is bad relationships. When I tried to picture a potential ex-wife for Jake and could only come up with another British agent. If she were an agent, it made sense that something might have happened to her, perhaps after the marriage was over. It would go a long way to explain Jake’s immediate attachment to Alex when he finds out that her life is being threatened.

Then, while watching a portion of some war movie at Chad’s father’s house, I saw a scene where a soldier had been badly burned. I thought that the makeup/effects crew had seen too much in the way of baked ham, but the metaphor in my head was so strong that I sat down to record it in a file as a description. Before I was done, I had this (It’s a bit graphic. If you want to, it’s ok to skip the itallics):

On some distant level, his body was aware of the tilt and dip of the plane as it crashed through layers of fast moving air, but his mind came to the site of a burned out car in Brussels. Heather was always such a tiny person, but the charred body that gripped the stearing wheel seemed impossibly small. The skin of her face was cracked and split like the greasy fat layer on a side of pork. Her hair melted and clung to her cheek and her body shuddered with sobs.

The medics could do nothing for her, but rather than let her go, they had called in the parapsychics, who held her bound to her decaying flesh while he asked his questions. Her lips trembled in pain as she answered him, outlining her death and the names of her killers with a clarity that seemed impossible.

International law gave no mercy to the dead. He knew that she would have to identify the criminals, that she would have to mumble testimony in front of a jury before she would be allowed to find peace. The dead felt no pain, or so he had always been told, but he saw pain and worse in her shadowed eyes. He ached to hold her; touch her porcelin cheek; wake up beside her with her long auburn hair flowing over the white linens. He would give his soul to make it all go away. Instead, he droned on with his questions, just as he had that day, and the dead woman answered through lips like charred meat.

Parapsychics? People who can shove a person’s spirit back into their dead and damaged body for the purpose of gaining information? Laws that don’t protect the reanimated dead from abuse? Oh yeah, we’ve got some interesting fiction going on. From there, I began extrapolating a world where parapsychology was a quantifiable science in the same way that the different fields of chemistry and biology are quantifiable. (Yes, I know there are instruments and readings and various forms of photography. My mother took part in some of the esp studies of the 1960s. But, what I am talking about goes beyond that. I mean a science that is widely accepted even by the “seeing is believing” crowd, who for some reason can be made to accept quantum mechanics but not telekenesis.)

Even so, the world has to have rules. Things that can’t happen if there are so many things that can happen. Ghosts obey the law of entropy. Therefore, after a certain amount of time (two or three years), a ghost cannot manifest without continued outside intervention. (In the above passage, Heather would probably continue to manifest for up to 4 or 5 years due to the energy that was pumped into her, but she would have faded out about a year or so before the story.) Continually used burial sites would be store houses of energy, enabling ghosts to manifest for a longer period of time (until a time several years after the last burial). Grave Yard Effect. Anyway, it would be, by their science, completely impossible for an ancient Egyptian ghost to manifest, right? Right??? (Wicked Grin)

If you have parapsychics, then you have to have other psi skills. It stands to reason. But in every story that has special skills like those, the heroine is a little wench who is completely hot with some kinds of magic. It’s an archetype almost–or maybe a cliche. Alex was never meant to have any skill with magic or psychic phenomenon. She’s scary-good in her field, and as a reformed thief she has all the contacts she could want, but psi power does not fit her. It exists. She can’t do it. It’s a little strange because about half of the population will test positive for some kind of psi skill, but it isn’t rare or unheard of. This fact will come up early when strange things begin to happen around her. I want it clear that Alex is not responsible.

That got me thinking. How would you know? There would have to be some kind of official testing, but I also got a different image in my mind. The image of little girls chanting to Bloody Mary Worthington in dark mirror. If you’ve never done it or at least talked about it with other girls, I’d be surprised. Also that “Light as a feather, stiff as a board” thing. I wonder if, after the movie “The Craft,” girls still do that or if they do it more because of the movie??? Toy sections are also full of various types of Eight Balls and Parker Brothers makes Ouiji boards. It follows that it should be possible to get a poor quality kit for testing marketted to children as a party game. That would make some version test kit readily available.

Basically, I’m talking about a society that accepts the existance of ghosts because they can prove it and although I am talking about setting what is essentially a “ghost” story in a world that believes in them, the plot I am weaving goes against their science on ghosts. I have cut almost all of the “historical” scenes from this story. They don’t really belong to it and would take away some of the suspense. I would like to make those original scenes a bit darker and include them in a sequel. It would make both stories significantly darker and make more of the detractors I’ve had (who mostly think that Alex should have been fitted for a stylish white blazer with the optional long sleeves a long time ago) go away. Anyway, what do you think? Will it work?

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