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04.16.05 10:29 p.m.

I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can't see from the center.  

-Kurt Vonnegut


Previously in Xenology: Xen met Emily, and it was unlikely. However, they never climbed a mountain together before.


I wonder at my karass. A karass, in the words of Kurt Vonnegut in his book Cat's Cradle, is the circle of people with whom you are connected to do god's work on earth.

Right now, there are two sisters with whom I am connected. One has been mentioned before: the girl who took my library job. Seeing her for the first time, I know that there was something about her that was noteworthy, but it seemed likely that it was just my welling of jealousy that I had been replaced in a job at which I excelled. I would have thought little of it and in fact I did until I began noticing a familiar blonde in the teachers' lounge at the middle school where I currently teach. To my embarrassment, it took several days and cold medicine before my brain shifted gears and I realized that she was familiar because she was the sister of the job usurper.
On top of Breakneck  

What does all of this mean? Neither of them apparently live nearby, so their both finding employment so close, specifically employment involving me, is more than coincidental. A Bokononist (the fictional religion in Cat's Cradle) would say that there are no coincidences.

I wonder if this is how the characters I write about feel? To know that I am part of a story that is unfolding, but unfolding much too slowly. I want to know the meaning behind all of this now, not to meanly pass people on staircases with a flash of wordless and placeless recognition.

This is not a one-way karass; they never are.

The sisters are, likely, still nothing. Just two girls, as I have no real chance to do god's work with either of them. I am not close with them. I do not and have not felt any need to be close to them since the very first meeting of each. They are inert in my story now, having both done whatever it is they needed to do.

Who else belongs in my circle? Who do I barely know now that I should? For a very long time, it perplexed me that I had no attachment to Emily before I met her. Prior to that, every girl I had kissed or wanted to be kissed by was part of an inexorably complex social tapestry. Only a degree or two separating us at any given moment. Emily was a mystery, a stranger out of the mists of the universe. The only connection I eventually found for her was that she is the acquaintance of a friend of an old high school girlfriend. This is not a path I was likely to walk in order to have found her. While Kate and I felt inevitable in most realities given the number of her friends and associates I knew or would come to know, Emily exists only in this one. If I had not met her when I did, I may not have met her.

What work am I doing in my circle of the slightly unglued? I do not kid myself, the vast majority of my friends suffer from attention deficit disorder, hyperactivity disorder, bipolarity, or social anxiety. Maybe these are the names we give to ignored problems in our past. I do not excuse myself from their ranks, but flatter myself by not too carefully diagnosing myself.

Who else am I to meet to put things in order to a divine plan? Are things in motion already? Is this, in fact, where I belong to my unglued karass?


I had planning my hike all week, as I gambled on the weather keeping up over the weekend after a long string of rainstorms and inconveniences. To my great shock, the day was far more serene than I could have anticipated.

The night before my hike, Emily and I had walked the railroad tracks until we made our way to the 84 Diner to meet Dan and Kei, Emily fretting over the potential of Colorado in our immediate shared future with every eighth step. Over our diner smorgasbord, we asked Dan and Kei to join us in living near the mile high city and they both seemed thrilled at the prospect, even without the guarantee of delivered furniture. The mutual conceit at the table seemed to be that the Hudson Valley is a serviceable spawning ground, but it is not a place to stay. I still prefer to think of it as home when I can.
Dan and a tree  

Before continuing, let me define my intentions for the hike. The four of us would drive to the gated entrances of Cornish Estates, a group of houses that were gutted by fire long before my parents were born. We would wander around and, despite Emily's boisterous assertion that she was making it to the top, would go no further than a mile on the winding trail to the top, stopping at one of the houses to eat a picnic lunch and deciding to forget about any further ascent in lieu of exploration.

This is not quite what occurred. Emily told Keilaina to park at the next available spot as we were approaching the mountains at fifty miles an hour. To either side was a sea of shining vehicles and backpack-wearing hikers with a sterner look toward the pursuit than any of us could muster. This was fun to us, not an audit.

The spot at which we stopped was at the base of Breakneck Mountain. Yes, there is a reason for that name and, yes, it is exactly the reason you suspect. However, I have grown up in this area and it is just the name of a landmark. If you lived next to "Murderous Monkey Forest" most of your life and never went in to the degree that you were molested by monkeys, you would cease to pay the words much mind. In fact, none of the locals seem to notice to the name and it is generally people from dozens of miles away that rechristen the mountain yearly. Cornish Estates was about a mile away, but we did not know that yet. It would not occur to us until we reached the top of the mountain (so designated by an American flag and not, as the lay person might expect, when we reached the highest bit of rock we could find). Once there, it was ludicrous to wander several mountainous miles to get to our intended destination.

We made it to the top, I hopping on rocks like a mountain goat until my endocrine system decided to impair proper functioning of the pulmonary and Emily grimacing at every foreboding rock until it offered her purchase and insisting until we reached the top that we were not coming down this way. Dan and Kei lagged behind, so we would occasionally stop and yell back. As long as we could hear them, we seemed to believe that they were largely fine. Dead people make very little noise, you see. Dying people make a lot, of course, but usually only briefly.
Kei and a rock  
On top of the world

Our summit provided us a lovely vista in which we could nearly see the path we should have taken. At least, I observed brightly, our singular pack would be lighter for the descent down Ice Age granite. We were told by a grizzly fellow that our plan was possible, but it would require us to scramble about over several more mountains over the course of four hours. We felt this was a lousy idea when gravity could do so much of the work of getting down for us if we just applied posterior to sheer rock.

Dan somehow became the person to chart our path down the mountain, which served to allow us to make him the scapegoat, particularly when he genuinely did lead us to a rock face that allowed no other way down but controlled sliding at a 70 degree angle. We cannot fault his adventuring spirit, but Keilaina can fault him for harming her khaki pants.
M and Kei getting down  

I was not bothered by the descent because at least we were going down. I am embarrassed to note how unmountain-worthy I can be. I had gone up, and that was okay, if strenuous. Now I was going down. That was also okay. Physical stress makes me Buddhist.

Once free of the mountain's pull, we made our way to Cold Spring to use get cleaned up and do some shopping. To my surprise, the waitresses at the cafe we abused for a bathroom asked if I was one of the hikers.

Perhaps my hair was matted or I was sweaty. I do not know and the bathroom mirror betrayed nothing particularly telling about my appearance, but it almost felt worth it to climb the mountain to have these strangers ask if I was a hiker. Or I could just have looked homeless and they were being polite.

In our browsing, we happened upon an outdoors and kayaking store. While I was distractedly playing with a boomerang that Dan would later buy, Emily was apparently lectured by the store's proprietress for having had the foolish audacity (her exact words are reported to have been "stupid and reckless") to climb Breakneck without a map. When we left, Emily informed me that she would never climb Breakneck again and explained what had been said.

"May I ask you a question?" I said flatly.

"Are you going to ask if I would have climbed the mountain again if I didn't know it was Breakneck?"



"But in knowing it has the name of a fatal injury?"

"I don't want to, no," she stated.

"Well, okay then."

Kei jumped to the defense of our tall rock pile. "I really don't think she knew what she was talking about. Children and dogs were climbing the mountain with us." This was entirely true, we even stopped and chatted about how lower centers of gravity and extra legs would improve our ascent.

"Plus," added Dan, "she does run an outdoors store, full of maps. So yelling at you is good for business. How much map could we need? We went up. We went down."

"Granted," conceded Emily, "but I am still never doing it again."

Instead of arguing further, which was unlikely to be fruitful and anything but academic for the moment, we went to a park and threw around Dan's new boomerang.

"I think this is the best day we had had since the one with Zack and Eve," Emily affirmed between doing Tae Kwon Do forms to delight young girls. She is likely right. There is something life affirming and eternal about these sorts of days, where sunset seems never to want to come and no one regrets it.

Soon in Xenology: I can see oversized dolls.

last watched: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
reading: Carrie
listening: Underdog Victorious
wanting: Mountain tops.
moment of zen: Looking down on large buildings.
someday I must: Hike to the New Paltz tower with M.

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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