The Sanity's Edge Saloon (The Sea and the Wasteland Book 1)

BOOK: The Sanity's Edge Saloon (The Sea and the Wasteland Book 1)
4.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

The Sea and the

Wasteland: Book I









Mark Reynolds






This book is a work of fiction. The
characters, locations, and events are all products of the imagination, and any
resemblance to any actual events or persons, living or dead, is purely


The Sanity’s Edge Saloon
– Copyright © 1997. This work was
first copyrighted in 1997, and filed with the United States Copyright Office in
2001. Subsequent versions of the same title that have been edited by the author
are similarly protected under the original copyright.


Cover art and design by Mark
Reynolds, Copyright © 2013






are more people to thank than space, but I would be remiss if I did not mention
a few. Thanks to those first readers who graciously offered both advice and
encouragement: Eric and Katie, and Kerri and Katie. And Dan for asking if I
ever considered publishing my book on Kindle. And my parents for instilling in
me a love of reading, even if they could never figure out why I liked the
strange books I liked. But most especially, I want to thank my wife, Linda. She
has always been beside me, my most ardent fan, and I am eternally grateful.
















The first day of summer began like
any other day, Jack’s routine calcified over time until it gained the
permanence of words carved in stone. Awake by six, he got ready for work,
donning a drab gray suit, black shoes, inexpressive tie, all per usual. He
rinsed his breakfast dishes and left them in the sink; he would wash them up
with his supper dishes tonight, and leave them in the rack to dry, so that he
could do it all over again tomorrow: just like usual, every morning, five days
a week, every week. By ten after seven, he was in his car and headed for Stone
Surety Mortgage, and by 7:33 he was parked in the company’s south lot. There
was a certain security in routine, in its precision, the semblance of normalcy
it contributed to life. Reality become clockwork, order overseeing the tedium
of life’s mundane events. And in turn, the clockwork left his mind free to roam
the halls of his imagination at will.

For Jack Lantirn, the trade-off was

The one great drawback to clockwork
is its inherent fragility, the inflexibility of gears and springs. A machine
once broken is ruined forever; discarded; replaced. Normalcy reveals itself as
little more than an elaborate fabrication, a lie we tell ourselves over and
over until it finally loses all cohesion, breaking apart when we believe in it

In twenty-eight hours, a bomb placed
in the basement of the Stone Surety Mortgage building would explode, debris
scattering as far away as a quarter mile.

But today—the first day of summer—was
a beautiful day.

Light traffic found him five minutes
ahead of schedule staring at a thick layer of gray cloud pushing against the
blue sky, the wind already warm and electrified with the approaching storm. He
should have called in sick; no one needed a report analyst for a broken

In a deal finalized three weeks ago, Stone
Surety’s parent company, cash-strapped and lacking any cohesive direction,
auctioned off the bulk of the mortgage company’s assets to a lending house
based out of South Carolina. The two hundred and thirty-five employees fell on
the wrong side of the balance sheet, and were summarily terminated. Those still
expected to show up to work everyday either worked very little or very hard;
neither had a future with Stone Surety.

Jack Lantirn was a part of the
former. Who cared about progress reports or product forecasts when your job was
going away? Most of his co-workers were given sixty days off with pay; not for
courtesy or kindness, but because state law required it.
Two months with a
paycheck. Start your job search. Take a vacation. Paint your house. Just go

Jack was not so fortunate. He was at
work on this particular Tuesday, the first official day of summer, absently
tending a dying job.

He entered through the loading bay
like always. The door—normally locked and accessible only with an employee ID
card—was blocked open to accommodate the movers loading a semi in the bay with
banker’s boxes of mortgage files; what was loosely termed “assets.” He walked
past rows of empty cubicles once loud with telemarketing reps; management saw
no reason to keep them around. Jack, apparently more trustworthy, was expected
to come in for eight hours a day on the off-chance someone had a report-based
question about numbers that no longer mattered.

The funny thing about being
trustworthy, he realized, was that it wasn’t a compliment. It meant that you
were afraid, that you wouldn’t step out of line or do anything unusual, and
could be trusted to do exactly what they expected. And on that last day, when
the company expected him to walk away without raising a fuss, he would probably
do that, too.

The only thing worse was the
realization that they were correct.

A large dry-erase board greeted him
at the end of the empty cubicles, a stark contrast of naked white but for a
single, inelegant phrase hand-printed in violent green:
. Where once the board would have
been occupied with lists and plans and assignments for the coming week, month,
year, now there was nothing but emptiness. It might just as easily have said
that the day would be no different than any other he was doomed to exist
through, the same as yesterday and the day before and the day before that. It
might have promised that today would be repeated over and over and over until he
went completely insane. It might have said all that and been true. But this way
was simpler.

It was also a lie. Each day was a day
closer to unemployment. Soon he would be reading want-ads, cold-calling
companies, asking anyone and everyone he knew if they had heard of any
openings, and could they let him know about any job-postings they might come
across. Eventually money would run out, and he would get some desperate job
that paid less, made him work more, and put off his dreams of being a writer a
little longer. Just thinking about it made him feel sick.

So he tried not to. Denial. For now,
for today, it was a day like any other.

In twenty-eight hours, a cardboard
box containing one hundred and fifty sticks of dynamite would explode near the
gas main in the basement of the Stone Surety Mortgage building. The detonation
would obliterate most of the building and those inside of it in what
authorities would call the most devastating singular bomb blast on American
soil since Oklahoma City.

But not for another twenty-eight

Jack spent the next forty minutes in
the cafeteria, killing time before the start of his shift, writing and drinking
mediocre coffee served from a vending machine. In its heyday, the company
employed over seven hundred people, the cafeteria serving both breakfast and
lunch. The cafeteria closed a year ago during the first round of layoffs—
should have seen this coming, then, you know
—leaving only the vending
machines behind.

I just want to be a writer.

He was working on his book; it seemed
so much more important now. Writing was what he did: for himself, for his
sanity, for no other reason than he hoped to be a real writer one day. But
writing didn’t pay. Truth be told, it probably cost more in time and money than
it was worth. He’d heard stories of first-time writers getting fat advances
from publishers; of semi-literate pop icons releasing bestsellers into the
market; exceptions that proved the rule. If he wanted to continue eating and
paying rent, he needed a job.

Dreams could wait.

Through the cafeteria’s wall of
windows, he looked at the early morning sun golden on the lawn of Stone Surety
Mortgage, the summer grass still new and bright, begging the question:
stopping you from leaving? From simply getting up from this chair, and walking
out the door, and never coming back? Not to your job or your apartment or
anything? A dozen steps. Twenty at the most. Open the door and just walk away.
It would be a whole different world then, wouldn’t it? So what’s stopping you
from simply leaving?

The question occurred to him more and
more often. And more and more often, he had trouble coming up with an answer.

They officially announced Stone
Surety’s closure a week ago Monday, most of the immediate terminations taking
place Wednesday afternoon. By Thursday morning, Jack had ten pre-programmed
phone numbers that rang dead lines.

And on Friday, Jools left.

Technically Jools left sometime
Saturday morning, but it was over on Friday.

They met every Friday at Finnegan’s
Pub for dinner, part of his comfortable clockwork routine. Jack arrived
early—there was nothing at the office to occupy his time or keep him late—and
saw Jools sitting with someone, sitting too close, laughing too comfortably.
Then he leaned towards her—this man she was with—and they kissed. Jack watched
it all from across the room, not knowing what to think, how to feel, what to
believe. There was only emptiness, a void of thought and emotion. He was
actually prepared to dismiss it as nothing, his misunderstanding:
this other
man is just a friend, a relative perhaps, and Jools is affectionate;
demonstrative; a kiss means nothing. After all, she’s your girlfriend. Six
months now. Hardly a lifetime, but it means something. He should—

Jools leaned into the stranger’s
kiss, eyes closed, the space between them disappearing.

… should …

And six months evaporated in an
instant—a meaningless waste, empty time—as two lovers kissed in a bar, her hand
brushing a stranger’s cheek, his fingers caressing her hip with dreadful

… should …

Then she looked up and saw him; saw
him standing there, watching, doing nothing.

And it actually got

Her expression held neither surprise
nor guilt, only resignation and something like pity.

Jack nearly collided with the
doorframe as he tried to escape, pulse deafening, hands weak and trembling. He
wandered uneasily to his car and drove home in silence, hands gripping the
wheel so tightly that his knuckles ached. Back in his apartment, he collapsed
into a chair as the last drop of strength poured out of him.
This must be
what it feels like to bleed to death
, he thought, the notion both romantic
and ignorant, and he sat there in the swelling darkness, nursing his own
misery. He needed Jools to be there for him; selfish perhaps, but what was the point
of love if you couldn’t depend on it when you needed it?

This notion was similarly romantic,
and just as ignorant.

He never particularly cared about his
job, but he genuinely cared about Jools. Jack was a long-haired dreamer doomed
to be utterly ordinary, utterly forgettable, a hapless victim of mediocrity.
But Julie Eden—she nicknamed herself Jools because it sounded exotic—was
anything but ordinary. Beautiful. Bright. Exciting. She even had a tattoo. What
she saw in him, he never really knew, and he never thought too hard on the

It would have surprised him to learn
that Julie Eden was actually a romantic, a believer in the adage that still
waters run deep. A self-professed writer, Jack sounded exciting at first.
Unrealized potential. Raw clay to be molded and shaped, his inner qualities
coaxed to the surface. But when Jools reached into the pool that was Jack
Lantirn, she made a disappointing discovery: it wasn’t really all that deep.
She’d tired of the labor, and decided to move on to more willing clay, more

All dreams end eventually, and we
wake up.

If he was being honest with himself,
which was rare, Jack supposed he did not love Jools so much as he loved the
of Jools; that glimpse into another life, a more pristine life of sated wants
that writers and artists deserved. But that same honesty would force another
revelation he was even less prepared for: he was not a writer or an artist. He
was no one. Nobody. Nothing. When you cut through the bullshit, Jack was a writer
who had never been published, not once, not even in a school paper or some
local literary magazine with a circulation of less than a hundred.

Her disillusionment was
understandable, her betrayal not unexpected—if he was being totally honest with

But that was rare.

She walked in, finding him alone in
the darkness; he’d given her a key two months ago, that eager to believe it
would work. “Jack? Can we talk?”

He didn’t answer.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t want you to find
out like that.”

“How did you want me to find out?”

Light from the street-lamp outside
turned her to shadows and lines. “I wasn’t really sure how to tell you. This
isn’t easy for me.”

He wasn’t aware he was supposed to
make it so.

“I … I guess I just thought it would
be different. When you told me you were a writer, it sounded kind of exciting,
you know. I guess it was silly of me to think that.”

“I’m sorry to disappoint you.” He had
hoped the remark would sound venomous and scathing, but realized it came out
very much like an apology.

“It wasn’t you, really. I just
expected more. For a while I thought I could deal with it, but I can’t. I’m
sorry you found out about it that way, though. It wasn’t fair.”

“Neither’s life,” he remarked. “I’m
getting used to it.”

“Please don’t hate me.”

And the break in her voice just then
was the cruelest thing he could ever have imagined. Cruel because it held out
the illusion of hope. There was just enough light in the room to see tears on
her cheek, making him regret the hurtful things he had said—
or meant to say
him want to comfort her, hold her in his arms and press her head to his
shoulder, feel her warmth against his skin, even …

BOOK: The Sanity's Edge Saloon (The Sea and the Wasteland Book 1)
4.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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