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Hacktreks Travel

Hacktreks 2

First Chapters
Lifestyles 1
Lifestyles 2

First Chapters: An extract from 'Eduardo Aquifer'

An exciting new first novel from Jeff Hunt

he only thing better than a shorty is the universe.
The following all happened before I moved into the House Above the World. Of course, the house wasn’t actually above the world, it was just on 47th street in Austin, but I’d spent most of August without a roof over my head. Mostly because I couldn't decide what to do. Some of those nights I’d slept in the woods off Loop 1, and some of it I’d gone to a rest stop off I-35. It made sense to go the latter, because people were even expected to be sleeping in their car there. Years before I’d learned that one of my least favorite things was being woken in the middle of the night by a policeman; him kicking the soles of my shoe and shining a flashlight in my face. But sometimes this kind of thing was unavoidable.

One night when I’d reached Dallas by bus, I was stranded because the workers were on strike. It was snowing outside. I’d wandered into a nearby bar. I sat there feeling anti-Union. There was a man there who struck up a conversation with me, some kind of international businessman. He was garrulous and generous and kept buying me drinks. These can be appealing qualities at first glance, but with time . . . .
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We eventually befriended another guy who was loitering in there like us. He was a small, almost albino fellow with thin, balding blonde hair and tortoise-shell glasses. He looked like a schoolteacher but he claimed he was in the French army. The three of us got drunk and left the bar hours later. We wandered through the streets until we came to a park. It was freezing cold. I was lying on the park bench in between them, under-dressed and shivering. They sat on each side of me like woozy bookends. We had a bag of beer. They piled extra clothes and travelling bags on me. Through all the fabric I could hear their muffled conversation. “Ah,” the businessman said, as if he was at peace. “Look at the three of us, we’re just like a little family.” He patted the mound of textiles I was laying under and swaddled in and said, “He’s our little baby. I’m the father, and you’re the mommy.”
I could sense he was busting with pride. But this didn’t sit well with our French mole friend, who was more macho than I had suspected.
“Actually,” the Frenchman corrected him, “I’d have to say that I’m the daddy, and you would be the mother. But yes, we do make a nice family.”
A family growing more dysfunctional by the second. In our little group dynamic, the businessman had not only footed the bill, but generally led the way all night. When he had said charge, we had charged. When he had mellowed, stopping to poetically consider a flower drowning in the falling snow, the albino and I had stood with our hands respectfully behind our backs and listened, mourning the flower. The international businessman throughout the night had been our leader. Therefore, he wore the pants, and now said so to the wispy French soldier. They went back and forth until it almost came to blows. I lay on the bench with my hands clasped over my ears, frightened. Mom, Dad, please stop fighting.

So here I was at the rest stop, not quite to the House Above the World yet. I sat in my truck looking at the Austin skyline ten miles away within the city limits. I looked back to the taillights of the dinosaur-sized eighteen-wheeler parked in front of me. I tried to cheer myself up, to put a positive spin on things. “From now on, it’s all going to be puppies and ice cream and sunsets,” I declared hopefully, sounding for all the world like a Playboy centerfold of the month listing her turn-ons. (And I hate rude guys!) I framed the city ahead of me in the distance with my hands. “I’m a writer outside the city gates,” I said. “It’s Austin. It’s . . . New York. New York-New Amsterdam. It’s Chaucer’s London. Rome. The old Rome. Rome Rome. It’s Constantinople, and I’m a writer outside the city gates, ready to burn the whole thing down, but in a good, literary way.” The daydream fell a little flat. I looked again to the back of the eighteen-wheeler in front of me. I caught my reflection in the rear view mirror. My eyes were big and serious. I thought you told me last night was the last night we’d have to come here. “Nerves of steel, boy,” I told myself, my accent flaring up, a sure sign of desperation. I told myself to phase all this out, to not lose confidence now, to just think of everywhere as my backyard. Yes, the world was my oyster, as they say, and for once they were right. But whoever made up that saying must have liked oysters a lot more than me. I watched the stream of headlights flow down the highway toward the city. What would the Indians have thought of this scene? I wondered. Probably the same thing everyone who ends up in Austin thinks: They eventually turn around and start wondering when all the other people after them will stop coming and bringing change with them. Lots were coming. It’s like this Chief who answered his tribe when they asked how many whites there were: “As many as there are stars in the sky,” he told them.

I watched the lights move down the highway and could see how it might seem like that. But I guess it’s the same all over. The world’s filling up. One positive of this is that lyricism and self-psychiatry are on the increase. The rising tide of growth is lifting those boats, giving people a chance to be more reflective. By that I mean that more and more people are getting better and better at recognizing the specifics of their circumstances. People have a better chance at identifying their historical situation, and even trying to show it who’s boss. Like a miner doesn’t just accept he’s a miner so much. He might think, “I’m a miner, what does that mean? Am I just a miner?” Or, “I’m a miner, let’s go burn down the company store.” The miner example is a bit lame, though. Maybe it was better to say this: Way back when in Greek times, medieval times, and ancient history in general, people believed in fate. They believed that their destiny was plotted by the stars. Now that part actually may not be so different than these days, but what is different is this: People before modern science and religion thought the ups and downs of life just made a circle. That life was a wheel of fortune, and you were either high or low. Round and round your fortune went. We on the other hand believe in progress. Whether a person thinks they’re going to Heaven, or getting better at life through studying history or psychology, or magazines or the news or going to school, the modern world believes it’s going somewhere it hasn’t been before. And unlike people of the past there is a growing confidence that we can change the world. That we can right wrongs and make improvements. That we can change our fates.

I watched the cars move down the interstate. The plot was thickening. There seemed to be more and more knowledge all the time. Maybe because there’s a larger base for it: There’s more people living at one time than ever before, so there’s more mind space and therefore more storage for knowledge. Is that how it works? Despite everything, in the past weeks I had been succumbing more and more to an awards ceremony acceptance speech type gratitude. Life could be pretty good, if you worked at it, I thought. Not money-wise exactly, but if you faced up to yourself. That to me seemed key. You had to be on your toes to outfox and diffuse negativity. Like when I’d been at the grocery store the day before, and the lady in front of me in the express checkout lane had more than ten items. An old man in line behind me was stewing about it. He nudged me in the back and started to speak in a voice loud enough to be heard by all, trying to denounce her, but I cut him off pretty quick to say, “Oh man, you mean you’ve never tried to smuggle extra through the ten-item gauntlet? Oh you’ve just got to try it! It’s fun!” He kept grousing anyway. He couldn’t see how we weren’t necessarily worse off for getting to witness the show this guilty shopper was putting on, but I thought she was adorable.

Awards ceremony acceptance speech gratitude. Don’t let me leave anybody out. I am at the rest stop. I am the rest stop tonight. I sat in my truck, daydreaming and trying to outrun reality, at least for the night. I tried to make myself laugh. (Am I the only here wearing a jumpsuit? Again?) I plugged along with the writer outside the city’s gates scenario. Being a writer was the best thing in the world, the possibilities were endless. I started getting excited, the urge to write coming over me, a feeling like “All right everybody, get in the car, I’m driving! Now, I know, believe me when I say I know that you’ve heard this one before, but everything that’s usually wrong gets fixed here! Let’s roll!” With these big dreams in my head, I slept folded up like an accordion in my pickup truck. About three in the morning there was a brutal pounding on my driver-side window. I thought the glass was going to break. I sat up quickly, trying to gather my wits. I saw outside the window this black guy looking in at me. He said, “Move your truck, I can’t get through.”

His eighteen-wheeler was idling in the middle of the road behind me. I was confused, but I quickly started my truck and began poking along hesitantly, trying to wake up and get out of the way. He was following right behind me, almost on my bumper. Through the fog of my sleepiness I wondered how I could have been blocking his way. Truckers had been driving past me all night. He blared his horn, his lights flooding over me. He blared his horn again. “Jesus, I’m going I’m going,” I muttered. I was noticing there was plenty of room for him to have passed through. I’d been parked to the side like everybody else. He blared his horn again. By the time I’d found another place to pull over, I was shaken from being air-horned repeatedly, and was pretty angry. I pulled over abruptly, got out of my truck and hopped up to stand on the open door’s ledge so I could be seen above the cab as he passed. Then I gestured emphatically with a dramatic “after you” gesture of my hand, like I was saying, “Welcome to the Royal Road. Is that enough room? Is it? Jesus Christ in Heaven, is it?” Then I shot him the finger. But I hadn’t just shot him the finger. I’d shot him the Biggest Finger in the History of the World. I’d accidentally gone way too far. It was an insult no one could let pass. With my feet in a slightly widened stance for balance, I’d reached back behind me like I was digging deep in my back pocket for something. Then I’d released myself like a coiled spring, my finger jutting straight into the night sky like a rock star pose, like a scimitar pulled from its steel scabbard. Ringgg! The Shining Finger of Defiance! Of Justice! This air-horn aggression will not stand! He instantly pulled over, nimbly jumping down from the cab of his truck. He started crossing the road towards me. He looked like a weightlifter, like he’d been pumping iron while he drove the last thousand
miles. I looked like I'd never lifted anything heavier than my middle finger. “Here we go,” I thought resignedly, and stepped down on the sidewalk to wait for him. I watched him come towards me. And I hate rude guys, I thought to myself, shaking with anger like a frustrated little bird. I think I blacked out for a second, because I don’t remember the first words that were spoken. But when I came to we were, in an irritated way, explaining ourselves. I was saying he didn’t have to practically break my window, and that how come he couldn’t just pass by me like all the others had? He was talking fast and weird, something about that setting my Spidey-sense to tingling. I wasn’t sure what his deal was. “What if I’d torn your bumper off trying to pass you,” he asked. “Then I’d have a lawsuit on my hands. I’d lose my truck. What about my family?” Sue? I hated this litigious talk. I told him I thought sue should just be a pretty girl’s name. “Look,” he said. “We’re both tired . . .” “Yeah, we’re both tired,” I interjected, and we started calming down. We both ended up apologizing. Stumbling over ourselves to apologize, actually.

At one point for the briefest second I almost thought both of us were going to cry. Stress. I got back in my truck and folded up to sleep again.

Ads in the paper were giving my life a significant amount of whatever direction it had. It was through one of these ads that I then found myself both a boarder and the gardener at the House Above the World. It was an almost-mansion built on several lots with a complicated series of gardens and projects like fountains to be built. On my first morning there I woke up and walked out the front door. A girl driving by in a small pickup waved at me and yelled, “Nice house!” At first, not used to waking up in my new surroundings, I thought she was being sarcastic. Then I turned around and looked at the house. I couldn’t believe I lived there, that my key fit the lock. It was only on my second night there that my horrible habit of sleepwalking reared its head.

Usually I don’t remember anything when I sleepwalk. The only way I know is when the next morning someone politely asks, “Hey, um, do you ever sleepwalk?” and I freeze, horrified, picturing myself in their room the night before with my eyes closed and my face blotchy from sleep, mumbling my way through a monologue about the Civil War. Or maybe just shoving their door open, then clawing for the light switch. So it was only on the second night after I’d moved into this house that I heard a voice timidly venture these words: “I think you’re in the wrong room.” Now, I didn’t know this guy at all. I had only briefly passed him in the hall when I was moving in and cheerfully said, “Hi, I’m your new roommate,” and here I was, sleeping on the sofa in his room. But it got worse. I then vaguely realized I didn’t have any clothes on. Apparently I was now stripping before I went sleepwalking. What a fun guy I was! To me, his question was really strange, because I think I’m in my room, and when I’m sleepwalking my motor skills are severely impaired. It’s hard for me to speak. When he asked that question, I was lying on my back and a great desire to answer welled up in my chest, but I couldn’t form the words with my mouth. Through eyes that refused to stay open, I could barely see my new roommate at the other end of the room, his sheets drawn up around him. The image had a mouse in its hole quality. After a long time I broke the uncomfortable silence, saying, loudly, to the ceiling, “Right.” But I still couldn’t get to my feet. It was like I was drugged or had been tied to the sofa by the little Lilliputians from Gulliver’s Travels. My new roommate helped me down the hall. The next night before I went to sleep, I sat on my bed looking at the door, considering barricading myself in, or wearing a robe that said, “Hi, I’m sleepwalking.” My subconscious couldn’t be trusted. What stopped me from rearranging the furniture, though, was the way people had dealt with me when I was sleepwalking. They seemed to understand. So I sat there on the edge of the bed, my feelings about these events alternately floating somewhere in between mortified and highly amused. Had it gone this far? Should I lock myself in? Like Mr. Hyde? Like a werewolf? As in, “No matter what I do or say, don’t let me out until sunrise. Promise me!” But I decided to see where it might lead, and would offer to pay anyone’s psychiatrist’s bill I caused. I was a little enchanted by my vague recollections of what I’d experienced. I liked coming to in the middle of these adventures; Stumbling along slowly with no motor skills, a total foreigner, unable to speak, the words trapped in my chest, a kind stranger helping me. What was this ghost driving my machine? I wondered. It was like a couple of teenagers were taking my body for a joyride in the middle of the night. Maybe fun Japanese teenagers who’d never driven before.

© Jeff Hunt Dec 2003

If you like this extract, buy the book. It's availble on line at Barnes & Noble (Click on the link at the top of page) or go to or contact the author.

REVIEW of this book here 4.02.2004

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