Bent Anvil

The first couple of pages of one of my science fiction novels that I’m currently doing the rewrites on:

What the hammer? What the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? What dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp? —from The Tyger, by William Blake

Chapter One

The explosion reminded Victor Hanson of a fire cracker going off, until the concussion wave blew out his living room window and the shaking ground knocked him off his feet and tumbled the books out of his bookshelf.

“Son of a bitch,” Victor murmured as he pulled himself back to his feet, thankful that he hadn’t been standing in front of his living room window. He stared at the shards of glass sticking up like deadly grass blades from his carpet. The house next door was lying in bits scattered across his lawn and the street. Black smoke and flames roared skywards, blocking the sun.

Victor shook his head. Why was it so hard for Stu to figure out that he shouldn’t replace his own damn batteries? Three times at least, in as many years. It was getting to be a habit for him. Of course, Stu couldn’t really remember any of the incidents, given that they had killed him each and every time.

* * *

“Look, some people maybe can replace their own. But every time you try, you wind up knocking down the neighborhood and destroying your house.” Victor had just met Stu outside the local Four Winds facility and Stu still had that shaky, confused wobble that people always had when they had just been reassembled. Stu was wearing his favorite red and yellow Trojan t-shirt and his red shorts. His Nikes looked scuffed. “And why’d you backup looking like that?”

Stu shrugged. “It was late and I knew it had been awhile, so—”

“What day is it?”

“They told me inside. I know it’s Saturday and that it’s two in the afternoon. “I’m not an idiot.”

Victor bit his lip to keep from disagreeing out loud. “So what day did you think it was?”

“I knew I didn’t know as soon as I woke up and saw where I was.”

Victor lifted his left eyebrow. As a cop, he found it a handy technique; it tended to intimidate people. Stu didn’t seem to notice.

“Okay, so it’s been a month since my last backup.” Stu’s eyes dropped toward his shoes.

Victor exploded. “You’re supposed to do it at least every day! God, how could you go a whole month? Most people set themselves to backup on an hourly basis; hell, I know some paranoids do it every ten minutes.” Or, every five minutes. Like me. “Depends on what’s going on, of course. Some people, when they’re driving, set it to once a minute. It’s not like you can’t afford it!”

The front door of Four Winds swung open and shut, puffing air conditioned coolness over them. Victor glanced over and saw Stu’s wife Beth. She was wearing black shorts and a mostly white t-shirt. She just stalked away, not even bothering to glance at her husband. Stu watched her hop into a waiting yellow taxi.

“She’s pissed off, isn’t she?”

“You think? And why wouldn’t she be? You didn’t just kill yourself this time, you know. That’s bad enough.”

“The neighbors?”

“Blew off half of the Baumgartner’s living room. Took off half of Mrs. Baumgartner’s leg, too.”

“Oh, geeze,” he held his head in both hands and dropped his eyes toward his shoes.

“You have any idea the trauma involved in something like that?”

“Well—” he began, dropping his hands and glancing back at Four Winds.

“I guess you do—more than most. But still. It’s damn inconvenient. She was ten minutes late for her gardening meeting and you know how she hates that. Plus she hadn’t backed up her garden in a week, so now it doesn’t match the pictures she’d just posted for the meeting. That really bugged her.”

“I’ll apologize when I get home.”

“You’d damn well better. Blew out my windows, you know. Knocked down a bunch of books.”

Stu looked back at his shoes.

“I put the books back by hand.”

Stu glanced up, puzzled. “Why’d you do that?”

“It wasn’t many books. Didn’t seem worth it. Oh—and I had to replace the carpet. Glass shards in it. Scared I’d step on something in my bare feet.”

“So you didn’t do a whole house revert?”

“I don’t like to do that unless I really have to.”

“Like the last time.”

Victor rolled his eyes. “Needed a new arm then, too. Any idea how much losing a limb hurts? You should get Mrs. Baumgartner a new rose bush or something.”

“She likes cheese cake. I’ll get her a cherry cheese cake.”

“Maybe you’ll get her to speak to you again. In a week. Or two.”

“Yeah.” Stu nodded. “I don’t know what I’m going to do about Beth.”

“When did she last backup?”

“She’s on a schedule. I think. Maybe. She does it every day.” He sucked in a deep breath. “Or is it every week?” He put his head back in his hands.

“So maybe she didn’t lose much. If you’re lucky, which seems improbable all things considered. But you still lost a whole month.”

“Beth is going to be so pissed.” He let his shoulders droop; his arms dropped back to his side.

“You’ll be missing a month’s worth of TV shows that you’ll have to re-watch. And then there’s that new Bond flick you saw Friday—you know the one you’ve been going on about?”

“Ah, geeze; she’ll be so pissed if she didn’t backup after we watched that.” He closed his eyes. “She’ll insist on going again. I know her. God, do I know her. I’m so dead.”

“Not at the moment. You’re much better now.” Victor grinned.

Stu did not return the expression. Instead, Stu looked up at the sky, as if imploring the God Victor suspected the man didn’t believe in. “All that money. Gone. For nothing. And that fancy dinner too. With my luck, she won’t remember any of it and so she’ll want I do it all over again. Just one more flipping thing.” His nostrils flared. “A whole month! I’ve lost a whole damn month.”

“So get yourself on a better schedule.”

Of course, Victor had told Stu this before. Like the last time he’d blown himself up. And the time before that. Always meant to get around to it, he claimed. But then, very obviously, nothing had changed. Nothing ever changed for Stu. And yet probably most people were just like him. Who ever really expects to die?

“Come on, Stu. Let’s get you home.”

“It’s already back together, right? My house, I mean.”

“Yeah, just like before you blew it to smithereens. When was the last time you backed it up, anyhow?”

“Oh God—” he closed his eyes and once again put his head in his hands.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm a deacon at Quartz Hill Community Church. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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