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beyond bedford falls
by John Varley

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T H A N K S !


Sometime this summer I was seized with the inexplicable urge to write a parody of "A Visit From Saint Nicholas" (more commonly known as "The Night Before Christmas") set in a trailer park (or as we full-timers call them, to distinguish ourselves from the tattooed, no-neck parolees and Paula Jones clones you usually associate with trailer parks, an "RV Resort.") When this happens it's best just to go with it, so I wrote it and decided to save it until December, when I would send it out as my annual Xmas card.

Then, two days ago, my computer crashed. First time for me. And I have been lax in the past, neglecting to back things up for weeks, or at all. Among the things I lost (not a lot of stuff, I'm happy to say) was that little bit of doggerel. It seems no other copy exists, anywhere. Bummer.

I plunged into the depths of despair. I walked down to the beach, pensively, trying to decide if I should try to recreate the poem (I recall a few delicious rhymes), or try to come up with another idea for the 2002 Xmas card.

Suddenly, as if in answer to a writer's prayer, somebody fell from a great height, apparently from a passing cloud, and splashed into the surf.

"Help me! Help me! I'm drowning!" the dude cried. I watched with interest, and it looked like he was right, he was drowning. But he proved both of us wrong by struggling through the waves and coming to stand before me, drenched and pissed off.

"Why didn't you come rescue me?" he whined, wringing sea water from the hem of his long white robe. "George Bailey jumped in the river to save me."

"George Bailey could swim," I pointed out.

"Oh. Well. Okay, my name is Clarence, and I'm an angel, sent here to stop you from throwing your life away by hurling yourself into the sea."

"I wasn't going to hurl myself into the sea," I told him. "Plunge into the depths of despair, yes, but that water is cold."

"Bet your ass it is," Clarence said, shivering. He reached into the pocket of his robe and unfolded a soggy sheet of paper. He shook two bewildered sardines and an angry fiddler crab from his sleeve as he read. The paper was headed "Heavenly Work Order" on the top. He showed it to me. "Says right here, "John Varley Suicide Intervention," and as I'm sure you know, He is never wrong. So lets get going, shall we? I've got plenty of folks to rescue, this time of year."

"Get going where?" I said.

"Why, into the world where you were never born, of course. To see what a depressing place it would have become if you hadn't been around to write your peculiar type of science fiction. I've never read any of it, I'm sorry to say, but I'm sure it must be quite good. Now, hold on and I'll say the magic words. JULIE ANDREWS!" Suddenly we were whirled into the sky, willy-nilly, like a cheap special effect. Dancing around with me in the maelstrom I glimpsed a Kansas farmhouse and a sour-faced woman on a bicycle and an old gent in his nightshirt and nightcap holding on to the hand of what might have been a Christmas Spirit. We plunged through a blinding blizzard of calendar pages, I got beaned by a spinning clock that was running backwards. Then we settled down on a street that looked vaguely familiar.

"Why. why it's."

"Nederland, Texas, your home town," Clarence said, smugly. And indeed it was. And though Nederland had never been as nice as Bedford Falls, it hadn't turned into Pottersville, either. Looking around, I saw the old streetside storm drainage ditches (translation: open storm sewers) had finally been put in underground pipes. The streets had curbs and sidewalks. The air was clear, without the perpetual petrochemical fog I remember from my youth. I didn't hear any mosquitoes buzzing. And there were people of African heritage walking the streets, something you would not have seen in 1965, when we would have called them Negroes.

"Doesn't look so bad," I told Clarence.

"No, it doesn't, does it?" He was frowning. "Let's go over to your old high school." We did, and found it wasn't a high school anymore, it was a junior high. But Clarence was looking triumphant. "There. See? It's gone."

"What's gone?"

"Why, the new wing. The John Varley Library and Institute for Science Fiction and Screenwriting Studies. Surely you remember returning here for the dedication."

"Are you nuts?"

He glowered at me, and grabbed my sleeve and pulled me down the main street of town, and pointed to a vacant lot. "Don't try to tell me you don't remember the Varley Center. It was right here, next to the Tex Ritter Memorial Windmill."

"No such thing," I said, laughing. "What are you smoking up there in Heaven? There's a Steinbeck Center in Salinas. Maybe you've got me confused with—"

"You're beginning to piss me off," Clarence said. "JULIE ANDREWS!"

Once more we were off. As I dodged hourglasses with the sand running upwards and other Hollywood backward-in-time cliches, I told him, "You know, that 'Julie Andrews' bit is from another movie entirely. I believe it was 'Bedazzled.'"

"You work with what they give you. Ah, here we are." That happened to be the local Blockbuster Video store. He led me down the science fiction aisle and pointed triumphantly to the shelves. "Here you are. Search, if you will, for the movies scripted by John Varley. You'll search in vain! Where, I ask you, is 'Galaxy'? Where is 'Have Spacesuit, Will Travel'? Where is 'Space Pirates'?"

"In development hell," I said.

"No, I was on a skiing vacation in Hell just last week, and—"

"I mean they never got out of development," I said.

"What about those huge hits, 'Steel Beach,' "The Phantom of Kansas,' and most of all, the biggest trilogy of all time, bigger than 'Lord of the Rings.' . what about 'Titan!' Wizard!' and 'Demon!'"

"Never even sold the movie rights," I said, sadly.

"Didn't you write 'Titanic II' and 'Return of the Princess Bride'?" Weren't you the genius behind 'Son of Citizen Kane"?

"Never even heard of them." But I did spot a ragged VHS copy of 'Millennium,' so I took it off the shelf and handed it to him. "This is the only movie I wrote that got made."

"Oh, sure," he laughed. "WONDERFUL movie, starring Paul Newman and Jane Fonda . he was staring at the box. "Kris Kristopherson and . Cheryl LADD? Jeez, I'm a big fan of 'Me and Bobby McGee,'. But can he act?" "Newman and Fonda were our original casting choices," I told him. "Look, Clarence, I'm a science fiction writer, I think I've figured out what's going on here. You've come from an alternate universe, one where John Varley seems to have got rich and famous from his writing. You got your wires crossed somehow and ended up here, where I live in an RV on the beach, like Jim Rockford, and can't find my manuscript for this year's Christmas card — which is why I imagined you in the first place. I think you'd better shove off now, before you start ranting about the Nobel Prize I never won and the cure for cancer I never found. Besides, somewhere in an alternate universe there is a rich and famous John Varley who's going to kill himself, probably by flinging himself from the balcony of his Park Avenue penthouse, the idiot. Bring him here, that'll straighten him out."

"I guess you're right. You're not going to hurl yourself into the sea, are you?"

"Never happen."

"Okay. Take care." And without even a Jennifer Lopez, much less a Julie Andrews, he was gone.

I was left to walk alone on the beach, contemplating my life. And you know what? Things aren't so bad. We all have a lot to be thankful for this holiday season, we all have our blessings to count, don't we? We should spend our time thinking about those things instead of what might have been. So maybe all the dreams we had did NOT come true. There have been good times, haven't there? Maybe you ARE short of money once again this year, maybe you DON'T have enough to buy your loved ones the things you'd like to get them. It's the love that counts, isn't it? And how many people get to live on the beach like Jim Rockford? So what if I'm not rich and famous? Many of the people who seem to have everything, really have nothing if they don't have peace of mind, love in their hearts, and. Jeez! What am saying? What is this, Charles Dickens? Sunday school?  The movie of the friggin' week with a sappy ending? Shall we all get together now and hold hands and sing "Silent Night"?

Gag me! I WANT all that money and that Nobel Prize! I deserve them!

Merry Christmas. Try to enjoy it. I'm going to go chew on some mistletoe and
holly leaves and get plotzed on eggnog.


John Varley is the author of seven novels and three volumes of short stories, and the recipient of numerous awards, including (at last count) three Hugos, two Nebulas, and the Prometheus Award. He and his partner Lee now live a peripatetic life, moving slowly down the Pacific Coast towards LA and Tierra del Fuego. His new novel, the long-anticipated Red Thunder, is due in Spring, 2003. This is his second cheery Christmas story for The Infinite Matrix.


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