The adventure begins.
She doesn’t know Sam yet. She just knows his name. She’s not sure if she’ll like him or not. She’s afraid of making him too likable, too cliché, too unidimensional. She realizes that if she makes him too cliché or perfect, he will not be likeable. You see, she’s stuck already.
Sam is roughly her age, in his mid-thirties. The jeans and t-shirts he wears make him look like he still believes he is seventeen. He has a job, though — not a very exciting one, but a stable one. His life is outside of work, with his friends. They go out for drinks on week-ends, play video games, watch football matches.
He met a girl he liked at The Great Escape the other night. Said like that, it sounds like an exceptional event, but it isn’t. He meets plenty of girls he likes, and has plenty of fun with them, but it’s usually short-lived. He hasn’t had anyone stable in his life since he and Greta broke up. He figures he still needs time.
She thinks Sam sounds pretty normal and boring so far. She remembers that stories are about putting normal people in extraordinary situations, and seeing how they react. Like a scientific experiment. She wonders what she could do with Sam.
Shove him through one of Dan Simmons’ Brane holes, straight into another universe? She thinks that’s a little radical. Baby steps, baby steps.
Maybe to start off, she could have him arrive at The Great Escape, hoping to see that girl again, but the bar has disappeared. Disappeared, as in “never existed” for anybody but him. That’s not a new idea, she knows, but it would allow her to see how Sam reacts.
Let’s do it.
So, Sam heads out into town like every week-end, and parks his car somewhere behind the cathedral. He’s got a car, and he’s a confident driver. She gives him a car because she thinks it makes him a little more grown-up. And also, chances are a 30-something living in Lausanne with a stable job and no family to feed will have one. The car also tells us he’s probably not a green activist. The truth is he’s pragmatic, like most people: he’s got a nagging concern about the environment, but he also wants his freedom and his quality of life. He’d go for a solar car if they existed (provided it didn’t cost twice the price of a normal one).
She’s starting to feel curious about Sam now. She realizes that she’s actually looking forward to learning more about him. She’s aware it might not make for fascinating reading, but she can see herself typing through the night to satisfy her curiosity. She might even start liking him.
As she gets ready for much more typing, she notices that she actually knows more about Sam than what she initially thought. For example, he’s not that good with domestic stuff. She doesn’t know why yet, but his flat is a bit in a mess at all times (though still functional) and he’s pretty crap and shopping for groceries, so he eats out quite a lot. Another thing she knows now is that although most of his friends assume that Sam’s proper name is Samuel, it’s in fact Samson. He finds his name a bit ridiculous (the biblical references and all that) so he keeps the information under wraps as much as he can.
She’s aware that if she was really trying to write a story, she wouldn’t be dumping those random facts about Sam like that for her readers, but she would be a little more subtle, letting them emerge from Sam’s interaction with the world and people around him. For now, though, she’s satisfied with the rather dry police-description of her nascent character.
So, back to the story. Sam finds a parking spot behind the cathedral — it’s a little walk away from his favorite hang-out, but he actually enjoys the fresh air on the way. He makes his way briskly down the steps to the little square next to Palais de Rumine, and heads for the bar. He absent-mindedly registers that the usual signs indicating tonight’s match and menu are not out as usual, but most of all, he’s disturbed by the absence of people clustering around the door.
At this point, she thinks she should probably go and check out The Great Escape on a Friday or Saturday evening, to make sure she’s not saying stupid things about the place, as it actually exists. She might do that sometime next week — one of her friends goes there quite regularly, it could be an opportunity.
Well, assuming she hasn’t got it all wrong, Sam arrives in front of what looks like a closed bar, when it should be open. (As she doesn’t have the bar handy, she checks online: it’s open every evening.) Sam has never seen it closed except a few times in the morning — like many similar places, it’s open all week, every day. (She’s looking up reviews on TripAdvisor, now. This almost feels like proper research. She decides to set aside the bar for the moment and concentrate on Sam again.)
So, Sam arrives in front of a closed door when he was expecting to find his usual favorite bar a-buzz with his friends and other strangers. He walks to the door, his legs chugging numbly beneath him, his mind floating uncomfortably somewhere between “bad joke” and “am I losing it”.
He tries the door. He can see it’s closed, but he tries it all the same. He looks around the little square: he doesn’t see anybody looking lost or confused because their usual bar isn’t open. He doesn’t see anybody, actually: the square is empty.
She’s starting to feel taken in by the story she’s writing. She feels a bit bad for Sam. She put him there, after all. But it was the only way she could think of to get to know him better. But she wants to know what’s going to happen next, and the only way to know is to let it write itself.
Sam is definitely confused. He checks the time, checks the date, tries the door again. As he’s trying the handle, a sinking feeling as he glances at the building tells him more is wrong then he initially thought: the name of the bar has disappeared from the building — and from the door, too, now that he actually looks.
Something very wrong must have happened for it to close overnight (or rather, overday). And why wouldn’t anybody have told him?
He calls up Roger.
“What on earth happened to The Great?”
“Hey, Sam! The great what?”
“The Great. It’s closed. The signs are even gone from the building.”
“What are you talking about? You’re not making any sense. Oh, and when are you getting here? Sophie asked if you’d be there tonight.” Sam can hear the “nudge nudge, wink wink” in Roger’s voice when he mentions the girl from the other night.
“Oh, er…” Sam’s confusion has just gone up a notch. “I’m coming. Where are you?”
“Captain Cook! Where else? Are you OK? Come on over!”
Roger hangs up. Sam looks around again, and heads up the stairs to the Captain Cook, wondering if he is losing his grip on reality.
She stops here, and wonders if this kind of little adventure really tells her something about Sam. Wouldn’t pretty much anybody react like that? She’ll have to put other characters through this kind of exercise: make them face the disappearance of their favorite hang-out. Maybe they won’t all react the same.
But first she has to take Sam a little further. She has second thoughts about the brief phone call with Roger. Shouldn’t Sam have insisted a bit more? That dialogue makes it look like Sam readily accepts that Roger has no idea what he’s talking about. Hell, if she called up one of her friends with such an odd disappearance and the friend reacted like Roger, she would be calling the friend back instead of stumbling towards the next bar.
Maybe Roger has a history of being slightly inebriated, busy with girls, and generally not very coherent on the phone when he’s out drinking bear in a full noisy pub. That must be what Sam thought. He’s still confused, but he hasn’t yet figured out that he’s the only one to have noticed The Great’s disappearance (or escape, haha). So, he’s on his way to the Cook, confident that he’ll get some explanation from Roger once he gets there. He’s in for a nasty surprise.
Roger thinks Sam is playing some kind of joke on him. He reacts as if he’d never even heard of The Great Escape, or any kind of bar on the little square halfway down the stairs. Roger’s on his third or fourth pint, which doesn’t help Sam try and get his point across. He asks a couple of other people about The Great and gets confused looks and lots of question marks.
In an attempt to refrain from questioning his sanity, he decides to wash away his growing discomfort with something slightly stronger than usual and chats up Sophie (who confirms they met in the very same bar earlier that week, and gives him a puzzled look when he tries to talk about The Great’s disappearance).
She’s really getting into the story now. She’s going to have to make up for her tea-totalling habits with some “academic” research on alcoholic beverage consumption on normal Lausanne Saturday nights.
Sam drinks a little more than usual and follows Sophie to her place not far from the bar — not that he needs more drinking than usual to go and have some Saturday night fun with a cute girl picked up in a bar. Before picking up his car to go home in the pre-dawn haze of too much smoke, alcohol, and meaningless sex, he drops by The Great again to make sure it really is closed (“escaped”, he says to himself).
His mind is working, at least that much. There is no open bar where he remembers The Great Escape.
He drives home, collapses into his half-made bed — he must remember to change the sheets one of these days — and dozes straight off, hoping that The Great’s escape will have straightened itself out by morning, one way or another.