Authors: Bill Hiatt
LIVING WITH YOUR PAST SELVES
by Bill Hiatt
All text is copyrighted by William A. Hiatt, 2012. All rights are reserved.
The cover photograph is copyrighted by Losevsky Photo and Video and licensed from Shutterstock.com.
The cover fonts are Net Night Show (by Shopwell) and Hidden Dreams (by Digital Juice), both variations on Moonlight Magic and both licensed from Digital Juice.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
This novel is dedicated to the many students I have had the pleasure of working with during my 33 years of teaching. None of you are exactly like Taliesin Weaver, but each of you, like him, is capable of greatness.
As John Donne wrote, “No man is an island, entire of itself.” My students over the years have provided much of the inspiration for this novel, and my colleagues have made its creation possible, because without them, I would be a very different person now, and probably not one with the desire to write—or teach. They have kept me sane during good times and bad.
A NOTE ON THE GEOGRAPHY
The story is set in Santa Br
gida, an imaginary coastal town between Summerland and Coast Village, just a little east of Santa Barbara. There wouldn’t really be enough room for such a place to fit, so you have to imagine a somewhat longer coastline that what exists in reality, with inland territory to match.
A NOTE ON WELSH FOLKLORE AND OTHER MATTERS
I began this novel with the intent of being true to the Welsh folk tradition. In other words, though this is fantasy, not a factual work on Welsh mythology or folklore, I wanted to draw the details for material such as the nature of monsters and the way magic works as much as possible from early Welsh sources. I suppose my teaching background pulled me in that direction; in the classroom one of my goals has always been to get students to learn as much as they can about other cultures. Unfortunately, modern readers have different expectations than those of early medieval audiences and are certainly curious about different things, with the result that relying on unaltered medieval material as the basis for a modern novel leaves gaps a modern reader would find unsatisfying, particularly since I was not creating a retelling of Welsh myths but a story set in modern times. In addition, with regard to the Arthurian materials, modern readers are used to later versions that draw on the early Welsh tradition but include many other elements as well. Finally, I had to come to terms with the fact that I was writing fiction, not a factual study of the early Welsh tradition. In the interest of the story I wanted to develop, I ended up keeping as much Welsh material as I could but also used some non-Welsh sources and a considerable dose of imagination. I hope if any lovers of the early Welsh literary tradition honor me by reading my work, that they will not be too offended by my deviations from that tradition. I take comfort from the fact that early Welsh writers handled the sources before them in much the same eclectic way.
Since the novel presupposes that figures like Arthur are historical, I had to wrestle a little with differing theories of chronology and location, as I have had to do with issues regarding the original Taliesin. Inevitably, I had to make choices. These choices do not necessarily reflect my judgment of the best reconstruction of whatever history may lie behind the original stories, but rather my attempt to create the best framework for the story I was telling.
Finally, I had to wrestle with how to render Welsh names from some of the early sources. I am not a speaker of Welsh myself and pretend no expertise in the pronunciation of the language, but I know some of the names will be puzzling to readers unfamiliar with Welsh. If it helps, comparison of various forms of the same word suggests that
(in words like
) seems to be pronounced somewhat like
. (Yes, I could have just anglicized it as
, but that choice would inevitably have conjured up for some readers an image of giant invisible rabbits derived from the movie,
, and the original
was not that warm and fuzzy.)
CHAPTER 1: UNWITTING BETRAYAL
“Stanford, can you hurry it up?” I said with mild irritation. Yeah, his name really was Stanford, though I didn’t usually call him that unless I was annoyed with him. Guess where his parents wanted him to go to school.
“I’m doing this as fast as I can,
!” he snapped back, his fingers clicking extra hard on the keys. I knew I had pushed too hard. He never called me Taliesin unless he was genuinely mad at me. “And it’s Stan.”
“I know. Sorry. I’m just anxious…”
“You’re always anxious! Maybe if you would learn how to use a computer better yourself, you wouldn’t have to rely on someone as slow as I am.”
“You’re not slow,” I replied, giving him a pat on the shoulder. “Hell, you could probably work faster than the people who designed the computer in the first place.” That wasn’t just empty flattery. Stan knew technology like a time traveler from the future. I, on the other hand, couldn’t quite figure out how to update my Facebook status.
“Okay,” said Stan in a tone that suggested I was not yet quite forgiven, “the virus scan finished, and I made sure all your security software is up-to-date. Your computer is clean for now, but stop clicking on links in email from people you don’t know.”
“Thanks, Stan. My computer would have gotten the digital equivalent of leprosy long ago if you hadn’t been around.” I got a little smile out of Stan then. I made a mental note to be more careful not to call him Stanford. It wasn’t that he was really that temperamental. Well, actually I guessed he was pretty temperamental, but he had good reason. His parents put as much pressure on him as if they believed he was coal and were trying to make a diamond out of him. Whatever he achieved—4.5 grade point average, getting into AP Physics (normally a senior class) as a high school freshman, creating a successful website design business with several corporate clients—nothing, and I mean nothing, was ever enough. They gave him some praise, yes, but then they started right on pushing him toward the next big achievement.
Add to the parental pressure the fact that Stan and I had known each other practically since birth, but that recently, I had been a constant reminder of what puberty hadn’t yet done for him. We were both sixteen, but I had, as the adults were fond of saying, “shot up” and “filled out,” so that, though I didn’t exactly have the build of a basketball player or a bodybuilder, I could draw the occasional female glance and was sometimes mistaken for eighteen. Stan, by contrast, was a sixteen-year-old who looked thirteen or fourteen. It’s okay to look like a cute little kid when you are a little kid, but not really all that great when you’re sixteen. The fact that I could fend off the bullies that would otherwise have circled Stan like sharks should have been some consolation, but, though we never talked about it, I felt sure Stan didn’t want to be dependent on me—or anyone else—for that kind of protection. He had tried martial arts, where his size wouldn’t have been as much of an obstacle, but he apparently didn’t have the coordination for it, so he ended up dependent on me, whether he wanted to be or not.
“Tal?” asked Stan. I glanced over, and Stan was looking back with an odd expression on his face. He looked like guys our age look when they first realize their parents have left some details out of the sex talk, and they want to ask a buddy but don’t quite know how to bring the subject up without sounding completely clueless. Since I was pretty sure Stan’s parents viewed him as more machine than guy anyway, I could almost see the gaping holes his dad’s talk would have contained—if they had even had the talk at all.
“Yeah?” I replied curtly, mentally bracing myself.
“Can I ask you something?” Oh God, here it comes!
“Sure!” I said with very, very fake cheeriness. “Ask away.”
“You remember a few weeks ago, when you stayed over at my house?” Okay, so I hadn’t seen that one coming.
“Yeah,” I answered, trying to figure out where he was going with this.
“Do you know you talk in your sleep?”
The question hit me like a brick right between the eyes. Hell, more like a whole brick wall. I realized that I had started breathing faster and tried to appear calm.
“I don’t know,” I quipped lamely. “After all, I’m asleep when it happens.”
“Well, you do.” Stan opened his mouth as if to continue, but he didn’t.
“Okay, enough with the suspense.” This time the fake cheer sounded fake even to me. “So what did I say?”
“I didn’t know at first. I couldn’t understand. It wasn’t until later I realized I had left my computer on that night. I have a very sophisticated language recognition program on it, something my uncle, you remember, the Berkeley linguistics professor uncle, sent me as a Bar Mitzvah gift. I also have a really powerful microphone on that computer, and it picked up what you were saying. The language program identified it and tried to translate it.”
And here I was, worrying about what I might have said, when the biggest problem was apparently how I said it.
“The translation part didn’t work,” continued Stan, sounding more and more puzzled. “The software didn’t have a complete dictionary and grammar for the language you were speaking built in. But the program could at least identify the language. It was Welsh.”
“You know, my family is from Wales. My parents don’t speak Welsh, but I do have a few relatives who do. I must have picked up—”
“No!” shot back Stan, so vehemently that I reflexively pulled away from him. “There has to be more to it than that!” Now it was my turn to be puzzled.
“Why? Usually you are all about the logic, and that is a perfectly logical explanation.”
“Except that the language wasn’t modern Welsh. The software could have translated that. It was
Welsh, apparently an early form that is actually closer to the original Celtic. Unless someone in your family has been around for fifteen hundred years, you couldn’t have picked it up from them. There aren’t more than a handful of specialists in the world that can read it, and no one who can speak it fluently. My uncle confirmed that!”
Well, damn your uncle to hell.
“Okay, Stan, there must be a glitch in your software.”
“I have double-checked…”
“So, what are you suggesting?” The cheerful tone was really wearing thin, but I didn’t know what else to do at this point. “Demonic possession? I think then I’d be doing Latin backwards, not medieval Welsh. No, maybe I’m a vampire who lived in medieval Wales. Though I’d like to think my abs are really more like a werewolf’s…”
“Don’t make fun of me!” Stan’s retort wasn’t exactly a shout, but it was certainly higher volume than he needed to make his point to someone who was sitting practically right next to him. It was also high pitched enough to be funny, but I suppressed even the faintest hint of a smile. “I’m asking a serious question,” Stan continued, slightly more calmly. You’re my best friend. If you don’t take me seriously, who else is going to?”
Choose your words carefully.
“Stan, I’m not making fun of you. You have to admit, though, that the question isn’t exactly scientific, and you are always scientific in the way you analyze situations. Maybe the problem is that I have no idea where you’re going with this.”
Stan leaned closer and almost whispered, a sharp contrast to his previous shout. “The ancient Celts believed in reincarnation.”