Monday, February 11, 2008

The Rider: A Bried Genesis

I first met Edmund back in 1991.

I was five years old. My parents bought their first computer, by which I mean their first computer with DOS and Windows (3.1). Their first first computer was a Commodore 64 they bought in the mid-80s. Our first computer was an IBM. It came with Windows 3.1 and a half gig of memory, which at the time the salesman claimed would be more space than they would ever need (I run about a terabyte of space between my Macbook, Desktop, and two external hard drives). The computer came with a software sampler CD that included, amongst more useful programs, an adventure game put out by Lucasarts called “The Secret of Monkey Island.” I found it and was hooked. My mom followed shortly thereafter.

We plowed through the game in a matter of months, and soon were left wondering what now to do. With a little bit of research, made harder by the lack of internet, we stumbled across a Lucasarts bundle pack which included such gems as the ever profane Sam and Max: Hit The Road, the witty return to an adventure classic The Day of the Tentacle, and Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis.

The real gem was this little game by the name of “Full Throttle.” What I had wasn’t even a game really. It was a demo. Mostly cut scenes and a few minutes of game play to give you the flavor, and entice you to spend more money. It gave you a quick introduction to a man named Ben. He was a giant of a man. Easily 6’5”. Black hair. Black Boots. A five o’clock shadow. Black leather jacket. Black sunglasses. And a big ass motorcycle. He was riding west on a barren highway.

I never bought the game. That’s the problem with being a kid. A complete lack of income. But now, in retrospect, I wonder if actually playing the game would diminish the almost mythic affect that it would have on the image this biker left in my mind.

Through middle school and high school I went through the typical phases of video games, and mythology, and science fiction, and fantasy. I read the classics, Tolkien and Bullfinch’s mythology, Clarke’s Rama series, the Book of Revelations. I played the staples, Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, Elder Scrolls. I attempted story after story, and dreamed of becoming the next Jordan or Bradbury or Eddings. And everything I wrote at the time was utter crap. But it was that utter crap that helped to awaken me to imagination and to the possibility of creating other worlds, or (if the dream was extra vivid) revealing other worlds. And always was the image of the rider in the back of my mind.

Sometime in 2004, I think, Edmund returned to me, like some prodigal son. I had my mind buried in the outline for a fantasy novel, replete with empires and a dark lord, and a mythology stretching thousands of years. Then Edmund stormed in. Kicked in the bar door with his shotgun drawn. Sauntered up to the bar. And ordered a double of Jack.

He was early, though.

The story involved a highway cutting across an arid landscape. A rider with amnesia, a motorcycle, lots of guns, and a list in his pocket. There were rumors of this thing called “the center,” and of “a war going on.” The list was full of names, many foreign sounding, all of whom he was planning on finding and killing.

I showed the start to a few friends, and the response was universal. Edmund did to them what he did for me. Piqued their interest. Who was he? Why the violence? And of course, the “stubble that gripped his face like the hand of death.” But after several failed attempts to make the hulking beast fly, I deemed it premature, and forgot about it again.

In the fall of 2005 I took an intro to art and design course while at Lansing Community College. We were given a project that involved designing a book cover for either our favorite story, or a novel that we had always dreamed of writing. And the rider reared his ugly head, and once again I was swept into the world of The Center. The cover I designed finally put a face to this road warrior of my dreams. The project got me an A. And I promptly forgot about it again.

I’d talk from time to time about this fabled “Center.” About this demon man who rides on thunder. My friends would tell me it was interesting, and they’d smile that “Nathan’s got another one of his crazy ideas” smiles, and I would ramble on, not oblivious, but just not caring.

Then in the spring of 2007, as I approached the end to a grueling year of classes I’d taken a brief trip from Chicago back to my home town of Haslett. It was one of those mad dash three day trips where I’d come home late Friday night, and have to leave again early on Sunday. I was sitting on the train and was struck with a serious need to write, not so much out of personal need, but scholastically. I closed the episode of Battlestar Galactica or Lost or Heroes, or whatever science fiction show I was watching, opened a blank word document and then sat. That was when the first line of the story came:

“The rider made a deal with the devil.”

When I was in tutoring over the summer I was asked what I had the most trouble with, and I responded (among other things) that finishing things was the most complicated task for me. I’m constantly producing story starts and ideas as efficiently as a fast food restaurant. But when it comes to closing things (at least well enough to sell) I find the broken cog in the machine.

It dawned on me the other day, as I was sitting in a Corner Bakery sipping my Dr. Pepper and bowl of chicken noodle soup, that what I have in the rider’s story is a big ending. The grand conclusion to everything.

Edmund, the rider, is meant to be a literal manifestation of the red horseman of the apocalypse. Students of that ever confusing book of Revelations will recognize the famous icons of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. The White horseman is often referred to as the conqueror (either Jesus or the Antichrist). The Red horseman of war. The Black horseman of pestilence/famine. And bringing up the rear is the Pale Horseman of death.

Following the “one who came before” is Edmund, a man of considerable strength and unfathomable anger who, after his family is killed, is hired by Lucifer to “head west” and carry a small wooden box whose contents are unknown.

While never coming out and declaring Edmund’s identity, the concept of him being the horseman of war is explored through his actions and inactions. Wherever he goes, Edmund sows chaos. There are rumors of “a war going on,” and at one point Edmund realizes that “yeah, it’s me.”

The book charts his ride west, and that of a cast players surrounding him. Many attempt to use him, aiming him like a fire hose in the direction of their desire. Many attempt to follow him, including a cult of chaos worshippers who become his de facto army only to realize that Edmund is just far too intense. Many attempt to befriend him or save him. All of it circles around this grand idea of a final end game.

The story begins with Edmund kissing his family goodbye and going east on a business venture. While there he gets news of his families death at the hands of his previous “Family.” In his rage he leaves the conference he is at only to find his room staked out by a member of this previous “Family.” Edmund kills him in self defense and then flees to a nearby park. There he is entreated by the Devil to go West. Edmund doesn’t accept, and the devil disappears, leaving Edmund to deal with two more henchmen of the “Family.” He is wounded and manages to make it out of the forest, finding a motorcycle with the Devil’s note on it saying “Go West.” Recognizing that he needs to flee the scene he takes the motorcycle and becomes the almost de facto servant of the devil. He stays the night in a hotel. The next day he wings south to Richmond, where the brother of the man he believes is responsible is staying. He takes a bittersweet revenge on the family, but is more shocked by the violence he has committed, and flees the scene. That night he crashes at a park just over the border in West Virginia, which brings us to the current state of the story.

And West the rider went.