Kage Baker started a lot of stories while on the road. As she was a life-long passenger – she never learned to drive – it was one of the ways she entertained herself on our lengthy journeys to and from Faires. When I was driving, it was how she kept me awake. But it started on The Bus, staring out at the endless unreal vistas of I-5 and waiting for the Green Flash.
She was sure she would see the Green Flash someday, somewhere on those long stretches where I-5 looks like a post-Apocalyptic dance floor. The Sierras to the east and the Diablos to the west consistently foiled that, though; she didn’t see it until the last year of her life, at a cocktail party on a Carmel beach … though it was worth waiting for, I must admit. Looked like Davy Jones’ ship should come sailing out of it.
Instead, Kage saw other things on I-5.
We were heading North on a Friday afternoon, staring out the Bus windows at a landscape of salt marshes and corn fields. We were somewhere between Buttonwillow and Kettleman City. On the frontage road (fronting what was neither clear nor even quite imaginable) a mattress was lying, burning sullenly in complete solitude. Kage pointed this oddity out to me and then said:
“I’ve got the clearest image in my mind, looking at that. Someone walking along, between the tumbleweeds and complaining what a horrible place this is.”
“Uh-huh … ”
“And they pull out a thing like a big pocket watch, all tiny lights and gears, and they say: ‘I don’t care, though, as long as you get me out before 1906.’ ”
“Before the earthquake. A time traveler? Cool.”
A silence, wherein the smoke from the mattress faded behind us. Then Kage said, “I think her name is Mendoza …”
Thus was born Mendoza. Kage first saw her there, walking along I-5, in a wide dark hat, a riding skirt and a striped serape. By the end of that weekend, she had been incarnated as a botanist, was destined to be immortal, and had embarked on the worst love life ever.
As you approach Santa Nella, either from North or South, the first thing you see rising out of the rolling yellow plain to either side is a windmill. It’s the flagship structure of an Anderson’s Pea Soup restaurant. Its vanes are lit at night, and you can see it for miles like an hallucination straight out of Bride of Frankenstein. We used to see it on Fridays as we were heading for Blackpoint. The closer we got, the more lights and straight lines emerged against the flat blackness all around: by day, you could see it was Modesto and Los Banos and Gustine, tiny townships surrounding by miles of empty roads and lamp posts, but at night it was a mystery city.
It eventually became Troon, city of grain and emphysema in the harvest lands of Anvil of the World. The straight lines of I-5, intersected by uninhabited geometry and nameless feeder highways, became the iron tracks of the Children of the Sun. Yendri watched from the dark avenues between almond and apricot and walnut groves. Crazy demons passed us on motorcycles, trailing garish scarves and the glint of sunlight on tusks, flakes of outrageous tattoo inks hitting our windshield like the suicidal bugs.
And Kage recited the life story of Gard the Dark Lord and his saintly wife. We passed the details back and forth as the miles and hours rolled out behind us, and the story grew with every exchange.
The Bus was full of voices. It was a three-ring circus early in the ride, as people settled into their seats and caught up on the long week’s absence from the Faire family they saw every weekend. There was a constant crowd roar, with half a dozen different songs competing with some frantic rehearsal and the usual impassioned debate on the World Series or the latest Hollywood strike. As the night wore on, though, the voices diminished and grew lower; most of us fell asleep, and the insomniacs sang lullabies and told soft lies.
Kage always slept, on the Bus. But she heard the voices as she leaned on the window or my shoulder. She listened to the night sounds, and characters found their voices as she recorded them in her sleep. I am not sure precisely how Nicholas/Edward/Alec sounds – just what she wrote, the smooth dark tenor like a violin – but she heard that voice first on the Bus at night. She woke up in Blackpoint talking about it, staggering to our tent in the moonlight. I never found out who or what it was. After that, it was just the voice of The Man.
A lot of the operatives were first heard on The Bus. Joseph came to her out of the dark there, too. So did Victor and Nan and Nefer.
All those voices on the hot wind of I-5. All those voices.
Tomorrow: less memory, more work. Maybe.