The Gift of Fire / On the Head of a Pin

Two Short Novels from Crosstown to Oblivion

Walter Mosley

Tor Science Fiction


I WAS WORKING AT Jennings-Tremont Enterprises (JTE) when Ana Fried and, I suppose, the rest of us, quite by accident, happened upon the most important discovery in the history of this world, or the next.
JTE’s primary work was developing advanced animatronic editing techniques for film. It was our job, or at least the job of the scientists and programmers, to develop animation tools that would create high-end movies indistinguishable from live action.
Joseph Jennings’s childhood dream was to make new movies with old-time stars. He wanted Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre side by side with Rudolph Valentino, Myrna Loy, Marlon Brando, and Natalie Portman. These new classics, he envisioned, could be made in small laboratories by purely technical means. Had we been successful, the stock in JTE would have been worth billions. Instead, we were secretly vilified, physically quarantined, and warned, under threat of death, not to create documents such as this one. Writing this memoir, my second act of true rebellion, is necessary in spite of the danger because there must be some record of what really transpired in case the government gets to me before the Alto arrive.
But I don’t want to get ahead of myself.
My name is Joshua Winterland. I suppose you could call me a failed writer. Failed is a harsh word but valid in this case, because all my life I wanted to be a playwright. I’ve written thirty-seven plays that have each been rejected by every theater, playwriting competition, and creative writing school in the country.
I am thirty-nine years old and have been writing since the age of nine.
When I realized that I’d never be successful, or even produced, as a playwright I began work as a technical writer for a succession of various companies and institutions in California’s Silicon Valley. I was the guy who wrote the manuals for new hard- and software. My day’s work was to help consumers figure out what tab to hit and where to look up the serial number, how to register online or over the telephone, and what safety precautions to take before turning on a new system.
My fate was recast when the country went into a serious economic recession and, coincidentally, my girlfriend, Lena Berston, woke up one day to realize that she was in love with my childhood friend Ralph Tracer.
Lena told me one morning, before I was off to work at Interdyne, that Ralph had called because he was coming in from San Francisco that evening and she had offered to cook dinner for the three of us. I thought this was odd because Lena rarely cooked on weeknights, and she had always said that Ralph wasn’t her kind of person.
“It’s not that I don’t like him,” she’d said more than once, “but he just doesn’t interest me.”
I didn’t give it any serious thought. Ralph was a good guy. I’d known him since junior high school in Oakland. He was from a different neighborhood but we made an early bond. We’d talked to each other at least once a week since I was thirteen years old, sharing our boyhood dreams. I planned to be a playwright and he wanted, in the worst way, to lose his virginity.
Our goals alone spoke volumes about the value of reduced expectations.

Copyright © 2012 by Walter Mosley