Here’s a first-draft excerpt from my new book Endless (working title), of which I have three chapters left to finish at the moment before I start polishing. This section is told from the point of view of Lucas, a survivor of Huntington’s Disease, thanks to gene therapy.
The air of San Francisco was deliciously clear, but the Californian attitude towards the sea was giddying to someone from a land of dykes and canals.
Lucas stood at the top of Corona Heights, breathless from the climb up the stairs, and stared out across the clear distances toward the green hills of Berkeley, where houses spilled recklessly down the distant slopes toward the water.
It was as if they welcomed the water, tempted it. Two nights ago he had been in a house built right up to the crashing surf, huge windows open and glaring out at the enormous waves which hurled themselves unceasingly at the rocks. As if the house itself were a middle finger raised at Poseidon: Come and get me if you dare! Lucas himself had not been able to sleep that night, listening to the pounding of the surf outside, imagining the water crashing through the windows downstairs, filling the house, drowning everyone in their sleep.
So different from the polders, the low-lying lands behind the dykes on the western coast of Belgium.
He liked San Francisco, despite its feeble watery edges. Liked the way it rose into the air, houses poised like ranks of well-clothed soldiers staring out across wide distances. Liked the clarity of the air, the color, the youth, the constant variety.
And he liked the way the locals held themselves apart from the rest of the Bay Area’s gene-therapy economy, the way they refused to allow big industry into city, the citywide ban on GM foods, the strict oversight of the UCSF hospital’s use of gene therapies. At the same time they enforced strict anti-discrimination policies within the county of San Francisco toward people with GT-cured disorders. He liked that, too.
Lucas breathed a huge sigh, drinking in the fine clean air of freedom, and headed back down the muddy trail. He had quite a walk ahead of him to get back to the hotel, unless he caught the Divisadero bus. Debating this in his head, he marched down the stairs and along the lower trail into the little streets around Castro. He was hungry. Perhaps he would walk until he found a place to get some food, and then take the bus back toward the hotel.
He glanced at his phone again, wondering when Alex Cartier, the rep for EuGene Industries, would get back to him. Perhaps he was being fobbed off, although it seemed unlikely that EuGene would want to be too obvious with a GeneWatch representative.
The tree-lined streets of Castro opened out into the boulevard of Divisadero, with an accompanying rise in noise and population. His stomach rumbled, and he watched for appealing restaurants, wondering what Eritrean food tasted like and if he wanted to eat “hom-cooked soup.” Among the cafes and scruffy home-decor shops were scattered galleries, and tall crumbly hotels disgorged young European tourists.
Ahead of him six or seven youths in hooded suits lounged, holding a desultory discussion about nothing in particular. Lucas didn’t like the idea of walking between their ranks, but his only other options were to turn back to the corner or cross the busy street from the middle of the block; so he forged ahead, not looking at them.
“Hey, you got a cigarette?” one of them called.
“No, I don’t smoke,” Lucas said, and then tripped on the uneven sidewalk.
The pavement came far too quickly up to meet him as he twisted, the sky whirling past, and landed heavily on his side, his elbow and hip cracking painfully against the ground. He lay for a moment, breathless with pain, his heart thumping in terror. The second sign, it’s the second sign, a general lack of coordination and an unsteady gait. First sign, problems with mood or cognition. Have I…?
“Whoa! Dude! Are you all right?” The youths were all around him, their shoes near his eyes, a blur of bright colors and stripes. Hands took hold of him and hauled him upright, brushed him off.
“That was nasty,” said a gaunt blonde boy in a voluminous jacket.
“Gotta watch where you walk,” said another, tall and dark-skinned.
Lucas only stared at them, the terror clutching at his tongue. Did they know? Would they haul him into that alley and beat him senseless?
“Dude, he’s in shock. Look at his eyes! We should give him some water or something,” said a third, this one younger and more effete.
Lucas shook his head. This is San Francisco. I’m safe here. “No, thank you, I think I only bruised myself and knocked my breath away,” he said awkwardly, the unreasoning rush of fear leaving his English chaotic in its wake.
“Hey, where you from?” asked the dark-skinned youth. “England?”
“Nah, he’s not English,” said another.
“Europe,” Lucas said, trying to look bold as he said it. “Flanders.”
“Fl-anders, where the hell is that?”
“Dude, in Europe, like he said.”
“Damn, you must be happy to be here, then. I heard Europe’s pretty hairy these days.”
Lucas shook his head. “No, it’s better now, with the new government.”
“Oh yeah? They close the camps and all that stuff?” the gaunt one eyed him suspiciously.
“Yes, that was the first thing they did,” said Lucas. “Closed all the camps.”
“Dude, how come you know so much about Europe?” said another of the boys to the thin one.
“My grandma’s from Austria, she never shuts up about it. You knew that!”
“Oh, yeah, I forgot.”
Lucas took a tentative step forward, feeling his feet’s movement, but nothing seemed wrong.
“Well, thank you. I must be going.”
“You sure you don’t want any water or anything?”
“No, no, thanks very much. I must keep walking so I can find some lunch. I think hunger is making my feet lazy.”
They laughed and waved him off, and he went on, thinking how much he liked this city.
At the next shop-window he stopped, taking the opportunity to straighten his coat and check his face in the reflection. There was a streak of grime down his left side, but it brushed off all right; luckily it hadn’t rained in a couple of days. His arm ached, and his left knee burned a little as if he had scraped it. He was feeling hollow with hunger.
Something inside the window gleamed: a delicate structure, reaching cautiously out to him. Impossibly geometric filaments linking and separating into fingers that seemed to yearn toward him, begging him.
Problems with mood or cognition…
He shook his head. No; he wasn’t misunderstanding, wasn’t in the middle of a euphoric fit. It was an art gallery, and this was the piece in the window — a marvelous piece, crystalline and deftly graceful. Next to the window, an old-fashioned door proclaimed:
Sculpture – Painting – Bioart
Bioart? He pushed through the little door, a bell ringing as he entered the warmth inside.