The House That Jack Built: Prologue

The prologue for this is set in 1961, after fifteen years of divergence. The Daughter of Babalon careens toward the decade of decision…and a date with an important figure. This took me seven months of research and plotting, all of which amounted to 51 of the best pages I’ve ever written…but alas, the drive exploded when I had what amounts to a death in the family in summer of 2014. I just couldn’t write this anymore, and there was some doubt as to whether or not it was my story. I’m definitely not interested in pursuing formal print publication, and I’ve lost the research. The drafts you’ve seen recently were done with the recognition that the action needed to be jumped to…consider the 51-page zero block a background to all those timelines in some divergent universe-shard, if you like. If I feel the impulse, I’ll throw out pieces of that draft from now until…whenever it’s gone.

But I have rambled enough. Enjoy! 😀

1961

Elpis Parsons was a very unusual teenager. Her life, however, was usual. That sounds like a paradox, you say. Well yeah, she might reply, smirking. With my parents? Growing up between Santa Fe and Alamogordo, with Uncle Bob and Uncle Vernie? Sammiched between love and tomorrow? It’s normal, just that for everyone else, it’s abnormal.

Such things she might say, civilly, but with an undercurrent of sarcastic humor…for despite the men in suits who had visited her dad when she was a kid, she had been raised right. People in Portales talked about those Beat fools when she went to Uncle Jack’s church, but come on…it was 1961, she was fourteen, and her dad didn’t even believe in teenagers. It was just like every other military brat’s childhood, except you know, not.

She was an artist in media that didn’t exist in the physical, and had model rockets that made the Estes kits boys older than her got in the store look LAME. She had been homeschooled, the only kid she knew who put up with that indignity. Her mom, kindly blue eyes behind red military bob, always told her she’d understand someday. Her dad just smirked and told her to deal. And deal she did…for she did not simply exist, she conquered.

Her own crown was red, her eyes blue, like her mother’s…but sometimes she saw green flashes in them that reminded her of that thing you see at high altitude, or on the ocean, mixed with the aurora borealis and Venus, which she could pick out with the naked eye on any given night. Her hair flowed, her body was tall and lanky in a weird way that was deeply annoying at fourteen…she was a free spirit. Almost something of a Melvin, at times, though she normally expressed it in healthy ways. You would too, if you’d heard Uncle Bob’s horror stories and been to a Wizard of Oz fan convention or three.

In any case, she often wondered, as someone with an understanding of the magical role of a name does, why she was named something dumb like Elpis. She wondered why her Mom hadn’t named her something normal, like Crystal. She blamed her Dad…weirdo. But one day, curiosity, which had slain an army of cats and now dreamed of Mars, finally got the better of her…she asked them both, as they sat at the breakfast nook in their thoroughly modern ranch house.

Jack looked at her quizzically, putting down a folder marked BYEMAN TOP SECRET and covering it awkwardly with his palms.

Marjorie raised a finger to shush Jack preemptively. “You know Jim, right, Ellie?”

“Yeah. He’s an asshole. Acting out, being special. Not worthy to shine his dad’s shoes.” Why was this coming up?

“Your dad was like that once. He was Orion and Epimetheus and James Dean in one useless cross.”

“The proverbial tits on a Baphomet, one might say.” Jack Parsons smirked, remembering fondly.

“Well that figures. He’s a weirdo.”

Marjorie nodded, smiling. “But a good weirdo. He wanted Pandora so badly, wanted the fire to descend and save the world, even if it destroyed him in the process. Pandora was very willing to play along…she had just finished a trip through the looking glass to help the Battling Bastards of Bataan, and was kind of lonely. Needed someone. Anyone, as long as they would tell her she was real.”

“She was.” Ellie had an idea of where this was going.

“Yup. She just needed to be reminded. Orion over there needed more work. He was like a Googie motel with a perpetual neon VACANT sign, if it had a lonely, bookish boy trapped in it capable of becoming Norman Bates. So I moved in and kept house, nursed his soul back to health. Kicked out his friends….users, all of them. I’m a witch, you see…my skills are exactly this and nothing more.” Marjorie considered. “Well, that and a bit of usefulness with photos, maps and art. Images.”

“I who am the image of an image…” Jack laughed, sticking a forkful of omelette into his mouth.

“And I finally acquired a high-enough gain signal to use. You had gained your dazzling rocket reputation on one part chemistry knowledge, three parts magical insight. I just had to teach you to be grounded enough in the actual science of rocketry to fly yourself out of Pasadena’s orbit.” Marjorie sipped orange juice thoughtfully, a million miles away.

“Forman was pissed. Phone calls from some redheaded floozy of mine, interfering with my REAL work.” Jack’s tone was sarcastic mockery of an old friend, with less enmity than was normally implied.

“I will remind you I kicked him in the balls. With a decent pair of work boots, no less. Heels are for hussies.”

Ellie looked at this interplay in wonderment…who in blue blazes were these people? Both weirdos, that was for sure. Weirdos who bore an odd genetic resemblance to her…

“Then I got a call from President West. And Von Braun showed up at the Parsonage. And you told me you were pregnant. I about shit my pants.”

“You’d never seen your dark dreamy posturing WORK before.”

“Well, except once. When I was thirteen.”

“You got off easy that time.” Her finger was now accusatory, contradicting the light in her eyes.

“So doomed. I got a wonderful life right here with you and the kid. And projects going at Aerojet-McDonnell.” He smiled.

“Thank your guardian angel, not me. He knows how to pick ’em.”

Jack shrugged. “Well, I learned, didn’t I?”

“You should have invoked him more often. In any case, beggars can’t be choosers about their path to the Emerald City.”

“You’re right, DOROTHY.”

“God dammit! Do I live in a sitcom? Just get on with the Bullfinch’s reiteration already, DESILU!” Ellie Parsons could not often stand her resemblance to these old, doddering losers for long.

Marjorie worked her jaw, staring in fire at her daughter. Jack simply folded his arms, leaned back, and smugly mumbled “That’s my girl.”

“Anyways, marriage is about learning to be real. So we did. And Prometheus and Pandora lived happily ever after.”

“But who’s Elpis?” Her eyes were dancing galaxies, with question marks where the pupils normally sat.

“The spirit of hope. Trapped in Pandora’s box…the last thing we were left with, and what we came to realize was the only thing worth having.”

“That’s me?” Her voice was breathy with awe.

“Yes. That’s my daughter.” Marjorie Parsons grinned.

“Okay…so I get the beauty of the name. But why does it sound like L-Piss?”

Jack Parsons choked on his orange juice as it went down the wrong pipe, laughter ringing from his core. “Lord Xenu commanded it.”

“Jack…you recalcitrant BRAT!” Marjorie had just gotten this, after fourteen years.

“That’s my dad.” Elpis Parsons grabbed a cloth rag and began to clean up the dribbled orange juice, finally understanding a lot of things. Jim Morrison wouldn’t know what hit him by next month.

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