Despite misgivings, newlyweds Noah and Archer set out for a dream honeymoon in Amsterdam with a shoestring budget and negligible travel experience between them. All goes well until they leave home.
Noah, who once hoped to become a comic book or graphic novel illustrator, is completely blind due to a degenerative eye disease and has rarely left the Seattle area since his diagnosis. While Archer has never previously traveled for longer than a weekend with Noah along.
Reaching the Netherlands, they face a chaotic world better suited to a particularly alert cat than a young blind man and his novice guide. If the physical fear and stresses of public transportation and city streets are not bad enough, Noah and Archer find even their marriage threatened by the daily battle they wage without and within their own relationship.
Includes a bonus story! Go back to the beginning with the prequel and see how Noah and Archer first met and how their relationship evolved.
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"Dr. Chamaeleo?" Archer jabbed my shoulder with two fingers. "Really? How many superheroes or villains already exist who have chameleon or camouflage or shapeshifter abilities and names?"
"Meaning it's a classic," I said. "Who gets tired of shifters?"
"I don't know. You can do better, Noah. I thought you said you wanted to create a blind superhero. Where's that guy?"
I didn't answer for a minute, distracted by the plane's engine, voices of passengers concealed by the roar, and an infant crying a dozen rows ahead of us.
Archer shifted beside me, probably looking out the window. We had a whole row of three to ourselves, having followed advice from my father about booking a window and aisle seat toward the tail of the plane. The middle seat never sold, leaving us room to roam.
Archer insisted he wanted an aisle. He liked to be able to move. Really, I was beginning to wonder if he was claustrophobic. I had never known that about him. Maybe that was the point of these trips? Getting to know everything you had missed about one another before the vows.
Not as if I could enjoy the view, so he had taken the window while he could still see the vanishing Cascade Mountains or ocean or British Columbia. I wasn't even sure which direction the plane was taking. North or east?
I had badgered him to read the opening scene — first page, first draft — of my masterpiece in progress while we waited to board. We'd been interrupted by irksome matters like getting on the plane and settling in and taking off. After all the waiting, Archer had finally said something. Yet, now I had a funny feeling about the whereabouts of all that admiring praise I'd been expecting.
What if Archer did not appreciate how much work it had been, writing that first page?
"I did," I said about the hero question. "I just ... I'm not sure —" I shrugged. "No one wants to read about a blind superhero."
"That's your motivation now? 'No one wants to read it'?" I could not hear Archer sigh over the noise of the plane, but I was sure he did. "I thought this was for fun. What difference does it make if nameless strangers want to read your comic book? One step at a time, Noah. Isn't the point of the outline writing what you care about? Next, you'll be telling me your hero isn't even gay."
"I just don't think blind will work." I felt into the now empty aisle seat to my right for my water bottle.
"That's mine," Archer said as I removed the cap.
"It is not. I tore the paper on mine so I could feel it." I drank. "You're such a dickhead sometimes."
"What would I do besides enhanced non-sight senses? Hence, a Daredevil ripoff?" I asked, carefully twisting the cap back in place. "It's been done before. Anyway, don't you think a gay, blind superhero is a bit much?"
"Maybe for the 1970s. You just said it: so much has been done before. It's time for a blind gay superhero. Not to mention a few leading women who dress like normal people in safe, practical costumes. Not bras and shin guards to fight all the creatures of the underworld."
"Your views are too radical for today's fantasy audience —"
"First of all, that's not even true." Now he just sounded irritated. "There are a lot of smart people in the world who are fed up with panty heroines, and there are gay superheroes around already. Second, I told you to stop with the audience bit. If you're not doing this outline for yourself, who, exactly, are you writing for?"
I sat in silence, leaned close to him at the window so we could hear one another.
Of course I couldn't admit it, but that was a damn good question. When, and how, had I gotten it in my head that I wanted to develop my comic book idea with an artist and actually publish? I wasn't sure, but ... there it was.
I had somehow regressed over ten years to junior high when I had read everyone from Chris Claremont to Jim Lee, Frank Miller, and Tim Truman, then drew and wrote my own, filling sketchbook after sketchbook. A long, long time ago. Yet, apparently, not as long as I'd led myself to believe.
So was I interested in seriously writing a comic book? Even if I could no longer be my own artist? Even if I had to collaborate with someone else, whose work I would never see? It sounded like a horrible idea. So I felt surprised to discover that I was unsure of the answer.
I said none of this to Archer. I had told him I wanted to do an outline just for fun and I'd welcome his feedback, and for now, that was the story I was sticking to. Trouble was, Archer hadn't given much feedback. Asking where the blind guy was and why I cared about a mythical audience? Not helping.
"Anything else?" I asked. "About the first page?"
"Except?" I prompted. I knew that tone.
"Except ..." Maybe a shrug? "You know."
"No. That's why I asked for your feedback. I'm just starting outlines and scenes and characters. Now's the time."
"Well." Like a sentence. Like, No.
"You know Whiteout is an office supply, right? No one is going to think of blizzards or anything if that's what you're going for."
"I thought of blizzards."
"And you used the word 'column' wrong. Column implies a vertical construct, not horizontal. And using Twinkies as a metaphor in your opening line sets a juvenile tone, don't you think? Unless your main character loves junk food and you're trying to develop him."
"Anything else?" I repeated, feeling stiff in my seat now. Yes, I wanted feedback, but this was minutiae. This stuff didn't matter. I wanted to know what he thought about the setup itself. The tension, drama, danger, and details. All those dead bodies.
"You said the weeds were 'frosty' or something in the same sentence you said it was raining. I guess that can happen, right at the moment it starts to rain and everything was already frosty, but it doesn't make sense. If you want to show how cold it is in the story, just note one: either freezing rain or frosty ground. Which one depends on the tone you're trying to set and the season."
What the hell did he know about tone and point of view? Archer didn't write. As far as I was aware, he had never shown the least interest in it either. I was the one into English and the classics. The one in school for it.
He might have grown up on some of the same comic books, but computers and games had been his thing.
I sat there, listening to the crying baby, not wanting to argue for the whole trip. Things had already been tense before we even reached security — when I thought I'd lost my passport. We both had to get them especially for this trip, neither having been outside the United States before.
"You're talking about trivialities," I said after a pause, trying not to sound too accusatory or snappish. "What about the overall concept? That's all that matters at this stage."
"Overall, okay, I guess. It's a little cliché, but if your hero is gay and blind and there's a fully dressed female lead, you can make up for it."
Nothing like a nice backhand to crown a heap of criticism.
"Thanks," I said stiffly.
Archer shifted beside me. "You said you wanted honest feedback, right? Not platitudes and pats on the back?"
"Sure. I'll think about the hero some more."
"You're really creative, Noah," Archer went on. "You wouldn't have any trouble with this if you did whatever you wanted. Don't worry about 'readers', or Daredevil, or that something's been done before. If you make it your own and do what inspires you, it's not going to matter. You'll do something great."
I leaned my head on his shoulder. "I'm sorry I called you a dickhead."
Archer chuckled. "You've called me worse."
"Then maybe I'm the dickhead."
"That seems more likely. Move. I'm going back to the aisle." Archer climbed over me, relocating our stuff from that seat, standing on my foot, and finally flopping back down. He let out a long breath that I could hear now. "Next stop, Amsterdam. Only ten short hours away."
"Can't wait." I leaned into him to kiss his jaw before resettling myself. "Happy honeymoon."CHAPTER 2
For most of the flight, I listened to audiobooks, though I could hardly pay attention. Instead, I thought of what Archer had said. The first step to writing the best comic book outline I could must be winning Archer over as a reader.
His lack of praise not only stung, but shocked me. It took me recalling showing him my artwork — sketchbooks, scraps, flip-book animations when we were in high school — to make me understand why.
Archer had loved my art. Besides being embarrassed and irritated when he realized how much I'd been sketching him, he had never said a bad thing about my work. But that was years ago. We were twenty-four now — him out of school, programming computers; me having gone back to school while still working my tele-jobs that long ago became my comfort zone. I hadn't drawn a picture in the past six of those years.
As the light had faded through the end of high school, while I lost my dreams of being a graphic artist, illustrator, or game animator, Archer had remained a source of constant encouragement — as well as the kinds of long, drawn-out sighs that made sight for reading expressions or body language unnecessary. A source of praise. But, unless it was about my pigheadedness or self-pity, he was not a source of criticism. I could always turn to my little sister, Shiloh, for that if needed.
Despite changing my interests from art to literature, now working on a BA in English to lead to an MA in world literature, I could not even impress my new husband with my own whimsical writing skills. My vague hope was to eventually be teaching the subject — although I'd never been a great planner and was taking my whole education one step at a time.
Archer's tepid reaction made me wonder anew if I wasn't deluding myself. When it came right down to it, I did not like English.
I'd been working at this college stuff for over a year and was still waiting for it to grow on me. What I cared about were the books. About classics — I had Crome Yellow, A Soldier of the Great War, The Scarlet Letter, and thirty more on my iPod just for this trip — and modern literature and journeys and feelings and characters. I didn't really give a damn about the hidden meaning behind every line, the social commentary that the author was allegedly making with each character, or anything else that involved dissecting a dazzling book like a stone-cold cadaver.
Not only was I failing to get into the spirit of analyzing every syllable of someone else's work, I'd also been getting flak about my own writing. Shouldn't that part of English study already be behind us?
I just didn't care whether or not there was always a comma before "too" at the end of a sentence, or if that was only old-fashioned nonsense. Did that comma, or lack thereof, ever change how anyone felt about a great story? If I had something to say, why couldn't I just say it?
Though frustrating, grammar and structure were rare reprimands compared to the suffering from chewing up and spitting out so many previously beautiful books. What used to be entertainment, a joy, had been militarized by a truckload of judgments aimed at every inch of a page until there was no way to get lost in a narrative.
Endless analyzing, as well as the rules I was apparently so lax on, had been crushing the English experience into a sham of classroom survival — having little to do with enjoying literature or eloquent expression in words.
By last summer, I'd decided to drop out.
Archer's encouragement and support — no surprise — got me back on campus in August. We had the wedding coming up by then. A blind guy with a minimum-wage job was one thing. I couldn't let Archer marry a dropout to boot.
My grades might be only so-so, but I could do this. At least for long enough to graduate and move on to purple pastures and sage skies. I hoped. What if the MA work was worse? No ... then no one would do it.
After the abuse — and despite having no hidden story agenda to cryptically include between the lines myself — it had taken me a while to come to the conclusion that I could give personal writing a try. Although somewhat hamstrung by English, I'd finally taken that deep breath and jumped in. I had an idea for a comic book. I was going to write it.
Plowing through four times the number of books we were assigned to read by using increased playback speed on audiobooks allowed me to revisit favorites, assess what worked, and decide for myself. It wasn't as if dissecting them made them better books. No more than shaving a cat made it more adorable. But there was something else: not as if those greats, old or new, followed the rules either.
Which made the rules guidelines. Which meant that the rules really were bullshit. Which still didn't help me get better grades.
By this autumn, and our wedding day, I had been feeling much better about English. Maybe that was just because I was taking an extra long fall break for the honeymoon, or maybe it was because I felt liberated by all the notes I'd made about my comic story, even writing out the first scene. I was ready to embrace words in lieu of art once more. Comic books were my first love anyway — and perfect examples of not following rules.
So I had told Archer about my idea to try my own comic book treatment. In the whirlwind of the wedding, family, school, work, and leaving for this trip, I hadn't gotten very far. Still, I'd confidently pushed my little darling at him in the airport, all set for him to react to my clever first page as he used to react to my visual art.
Boom. As they would say in those jagged yellow boxes. Smash! Crash!
Damn. So it wasn't just that I didn't like picking apart other people's work. I sucked at it myself. What I was good at, what my life had laid out for me, was art. And that life was as dead as a raccoon on I-90.
Still, I couldn't be disheartened from one page and one critique.
By the time the nonstop flight reached the Netherlands, I had plans for my next scene and my hero to impress Archer.
The odd thing about us reaching the Netherlands was that, though we heard an announcement about being ready to land, and Archer moved back to the window to see, nothing else happened.
"What's going on?" I asked, aware of tense human silence in the cabin now. Not even children squalling.
Earbuds out, I leaned against him over the armrest between us, disconcerted by being unable to hear his breathing in the roaring plane.
He sat back from the window, more toward me. "Nothing but cloud out the windows. We must be circling the airport."
His words were hardly out when another announcement reached us, first in Dutch, then in English. Severe thunderstorms in Amsterdam had delayed both landings and takeoffs, so we had to wait in line at some distance before being allowed to land.
"Didn't we discuss weather?" I asked Archer, smiling.
Archer had every detail of this trip planned out. Yet he never mentioned lightning at Schiphol.
"Just a fluke," he said, again shifting away. "It'll clear up."
I heard many voices around us now, near and far, in Dutch, English, and one or two others. Many universal tones of surprise. Thunderstorms over Amsterdam? In October?
We waited. I went back to listening to Dickens on airplane mode since Archer was tensed up and not adding anything about the view. We waited more.
Ten minutes, half an hour.
No more hush on the plane. Infants crying, people arguing.
A solid hour we circled that airport. I was nearing the end of Oliver Twist when my stomach lurched and I knew we were finally descending.
Archer didn't warn me when the runway was approaching. I jumped and swore as Sikes ran from the crowd in my audiobook. I'd thought for a fraction of a second that we had hit something midair. Maybe a lightning bolt.
Archer did not bother apologizing either, but I left him alone. He didn't do well when his painstakingly laid plans got derailed by even a whisker.
As we taxied, I pulled the earbuds off and felt for the pouch to put everything back together in my carry-on.
Archer also put away and cleaned up, saying things like, "Finally," and, "The train into the city should be straightforward. Hopefully not affected by lightning."
Then we sat on the tarmac for an hour waiting for a gate.
Archer felt like a masseur's nightmare by the time we were at last allowed to stand up.
He hurried into the aisle and opened our overhead. It took me a while to stand, stretching and reaching with one hand for the low ceiling tucked back over the seats below a spout of cool air and round plaques, one of which feeling hot to the touch: reading light.
Archer pulled my hand away. "You'll be calling for an attendant in a minute."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "First Sight"
Copyright © 2018 Jordan Taylor.
Excerpted by permission of NineStar Press, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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