Nick Fuse's third novel, North Eden, is the story of one man's escape from a regimented, high pressure life devoid of meaning into a realm of spiritual light. Sandy Tenney, an accountant at Biztek, trapped on the corporate treadmill, finds his only relief in the numbness of alcohol. When his wife suddenly dies he embarks on a binge that leaves him wandering in a snowy graveyard. Waking from his blackout he encounters two bearded brothers who take him from the graveyard to a strange Victorian house where he meets Percy, a dishevelled but apparently clairvoyant old man. As the story unfolds and Sandy's confusion grows, his daily tribulations in the Biztek bureaucracy are interwoven with nighttime visits to Percy and his friends. Finally Sandy is taken in hand by the lovely, otherworldy Holly, and gradually he begins to "see the light." As always with Nick Fuse's work, North Eden is both stylistically and thematically unique. But what makes this arguably his finest novel is that, beyond the melancholy wit and black humor, North Eden is infused with a surrealistic, poetic, dreamlike quality that jumps from the page to the reader with an irresistible and apparently effortless force.
Excerpts from NORTH EDEN
All excerpts copyright©1999 by Nick Fuse
Late for work, Sandy crossed the parking lot to the formidable steel and glass Biztek building, its sidewalk and entrance way swept clean of snow. Inside the air would be a regulated seventy-five degrees Fahrenheit, no matter what conditions prevailed in the world outside. The Biztek building was an island existing unto itself, and this building was just one of a multitude, a northern outpost of the vast Biztek Empire. In every corner of the known world, a Biztek organization ran at a profit, capitalizing on the local resources. He passed the massive Biztek logo: the tail-end of a fighter plane spewing orange and black smoke into a pink neon sunset, choking the life out of everything in its wake. Biztek: We've Been There. The Almighty Biztek Corporation was destined to sweep the planet clean of its resources and atmosphere, not to mention flora and fauna, before it would fall. Sandy Tenney, in his own small way, prepared for another day assisting this inevitable outcome.
Sandy considered himself a crusader for Humanity within the Biztek Machine, although Biztek recognized him only as Financial Expense Account Researcher, Grade B. The FEAR Department had direct dealings with the United States Government, mostly concerning Government Regulations 5 and 10.
Government Regulation 5 was a two volume set of five hundred page texts (in all caps) expounding the simple principle: ALL FUNDS SHALL BE ACCOUNTED FOR. Government Regulation 10 was considerably shorter in content but totally impenetrable, having been written by an accountant with the Internal Revenue Service (also in all caps). Sandy interpreted this document loosely as meaning: ALL APPLICABLE TAXES SHALL BE APPLIED.
Several Biztek outposts had recently fallen into Government control, having shown gross disregard for Government Regulations 5 and 10. Sandy's position and the very FEAR Department itself were set up by Biztek as a counter measure to recapture these outposts and beat the Government at its own game.
Working against the Government kept Sandy from thinking of the vile actions he helped the Biztek Corporation commit against Humanity everyday in exchange for the money he needed to remain alive. Biztek paid him well for his services, but the money was meaningless to him now. He thought vaguely of the bills piling up on his wife's desk. She had always paid them promptly. It was one of her responsibilities.
He passed through the heavy double doors into the Biztek reality, thankful to still have a purpose in life, albeit a dubious one. As he waited for the elevator to descend and deliver him to the top floor offices, he was joined by the Zombie man, a man close to Sandy's age, but in the advanced stages of professional deterioration.
The Zombie man had once-blond hair that now grew in patches on his head at irregular intervals. His jacket was not new, and stained, and did not match his pants, which were too short, revealing mismatching socks. His tie hung loosely around his ill-shaven neck under a frayed and soiled collar. His hands gripped the largest cup of take-out coffee Sandy had ever seen.
The Zombie man did not wish Sandy a good morning or raise his eyes from his giant cup of coffee, but stood beside him silently, rocking slowly back and forth as if fighting to keep his balance. Sandy watched him, fascinated. He did not notice the elevator's arrival until the bell rang and the doors opened.
Sandy turned and nearly ran into a large, fat man blocking his path.
"This elevator's goin' to the third floor," the man said. "You goin' to the third floor, Pal?"
"Well, no," Sandy confessed.
"This elevator's going to the third floor only!" the man said. He pushed Sandy into the Zombie man, who quivered but did not fall. Some coffee from the oversized cup spilled onto Sandy's shoes. The elevator doors slid shut.
As they stood there waiting for the next elevator, they were joined by the Harpy woman. Sandy knew these people to work for the Bullish Corporation. His business sometimes brought him in contact with these people, although he would not choose to mix with them socially.
"Having elevator problems?" she asked the Zombie man.
"Hey. Some big guy pushed us off the elevator," the Zombie man spoke, surprising Sandy. "Pushed us right off."
"That's the first thing I'm going to bring up at the meeting this morning," the Harpy woman said sharply. "We ought to have top elevator priority during business hours. Isn't that why we pay all this rent for? I came in on Saturday morning and the other elevator was locked up on the top floor and this one was dark as the tomb, and there's this sleazy guy in there saying, 'Hey lady, can I give you a lift,' and I said, what are you, crazy? You think I'm getting in a dark elevator with you?"
Sandy stared at the elevator doors and shuddered at the thought of being stuck in a dark elevator with the Harpy woman. At least he wouldn't be able to see her, but he could still smell her. She wore some overpowering deodorant or cologne that did not sit well on his empty stomach and reminded him of the accident on the highway.
"Are we going to have donuts?" the Zombie man asked.
"I'll send Fred out first thing. It will probably take him forever to get back here with this elevator situation the way it is. How the hell are we supposed to carry on business without top elevator priority?" she demanded.
An empty elevator arrived and Sandy was crowded into it. He hung to the rear, unable to push the button for his floor as the Harpy woman and the Zombie man stood directly in front of the control panel. He did not like to ask them to push it for him as he was doing his best to remain invisible. He had his own theory concerning the elevator situation.
Biztek controlled the elevator's functions for its own purposes, made them go down when you pushed up, up when you wanted down and sometimes caused them to stall inexplicably between floors. Sandy had learned to endure if not enjoy these unpredictable rides from floor to floor, sometimes taking as much as an hour to travel ten feet. Biztek leased the lower floors to corporations like Bullish to keep an eye on their activities. Soon the mighty Biztek Empire would expand and squeeze the smaller corporations out or take them over, as was good and just in the Business Ethic. At least he wouldn't have to ride on the elevator with the Harpy woman and the Zombie man any more. He held his breath and promised himself not to be late again.
Upstairs, he took the back way to his office, hoping to avoid Ms. Rodan, his boss. He heard voices as he passed the open door of the conference room and spotted a flash of orange hair, Ms. Rodan herself with her back turned to him. Someone he couldn't see addressed Ms. Rodan in a loud, authoritative voice. Not many people at Biztek had the power to speak to the Manager of FEAR this way, and Sandy lingered outside the door, enjoying the moment. Perhaps the voice emanated from the mythic General Manager himself, the one man who could strike terror even into the shriveled heart of Ms. Rodan. The voice was so strong and true and inspiring, Sandy felt sure it must be the GM, although it worried him that the man was rattling his boss's cage so early on a Monday morning. Repercussions would no doubt trickle down to his own level.
"Regular or decaf?" Ms. Rodan said, and Sandy slipped on down the corridor, feeling apprehensive but pleased that he had managed to side-step his boss and secure himself in his cubicle before she could discover his tardiness.
"Hello," Sandy called in the direction of the breathing. "I was wondering if you could help me."
"What's that?" a crusty voice answered from the pile of rags, and then a head emerged from the floor, a great, bushy head covered with molted gray hair. The eyes gleamed at Sandy with a light of their own, a brightness that did not appear to be reflected from the single candle lighting the room. The head hardly appeared human, regarding Sandy upside-down. The open mouth labored weakly, sucking air.
"Can you hear me?" Sandy asked in a loud voice. The man lying on the floor before him might be having a stroke, Sandy thought, but he kept his distance.
"Course I can hear you. What impudence! What do you have to say that I want to hear anyway?" the head asked angrily.
"Well," Sandy began.
"Never mind, I know what you want. You want to go home, is that it? You feel lost, am I right?"
"I am lost," Sandy told him, turning his head to affect a more natural angle of conversation. "I was told downstairs that you might be able to help me."
"Help you how?" Percy asked, sitting up in one graceful motion, raising a cloud of dust and poisonous gas. "You say you seek direction. How did you get here, answer me that if you can," the old man taunted.
"I don't know," Sandy confessed. "I came from the graveyard."
"Then you must be a Worm!" Percy exclaimed, the gleam in his eye brightening with the accusation.
"A Worm! Only living things ever crawl out of graveyards is Worms, anybody knows that. I suppose you would argue that you are alive, wouldn't you?"
"Look, I don't want to argue, I just want -"
"I know, I know. You just want to go home, back to Grant Street and your unworthy life of solitude," Percy said seriously. "But why?"
"Well," Sandy said, and then caught himself. He did not remember mentioning Grant Street to Percy, and he certainly never mentioned his qualms about the purpose of his existence. How did this malodorous pile of rags get to know so much about him, he wondered, sizing the old man up.
"You want to know how I know so much about you. You think your life is some kind of secret, do you?" Percy asked, pleased with himself.
"But how - "
"It's my business to know! How am I supposed to help you if I'm ignorant of the facts? But I'm still a little hazy on a few particulars. Why don't you sit down, Worm, and bring that bottle over here," Percy said. He pointed to Sandy's feet.
Sandy looked down and saw next to his right foot a gleaming red bottle, a wine bottle, if he was not mistaken. A wine bottle that was not there a minute ago, unless he was very much mistaken. He bent down to one knee and picked the bottle up, turning it to read the label. Le Sang Bourgogne. A French vintage with no date. He sniffed the bouquet and nearly retched. It had the same burning malodorous scent permeating the room in concentrated form. It was, he reasoned, the source.
"Don't mind the smell, you'll get used to it," Percy told him, beckoning him closer.
Holding the bottle at arm's length before him, Sandy approached. The concentrated sniff had adversely affected both his sinuses and his thought patterns, or maybe it had cured him. At least he could smell again. On the other hand, now that his senses had returned, his dream theory was fading fast. The hard evidence smacked of a drunken reality. Without his wife to restrain him, he was out of control. He must have drunk himself into a stupor, gone wandering, and now was suffering the after-effects of a toot of major proportions. He sat on the floor and handed the bottle to the old man in a daze.
"Where is your wife, Worm?" Percy asked him from far away.
"My wife?" Sandy said, thinking of Christy as if for the first time in ages.
"The woman you married, remember?"
Sandy's mind consolidated on a single thought: Denial. It had often worked in the Business World, especially in dealing with Government Auditors. He was in over his head here, and felt the need for caution.
"My wife has left me, but then you must know that already," he said, trying to gauge his host's reaction.
"Yes," the old man said simply. He seemed to be expecting more.
"I don't know where she is right now. Maybe you could tell me?" Sandy asked suspiciously.
"I could, but that would hardly help matters, would it? Why did she leave you, that's what you want to know."
"Well, yes," Sandy said. He was finding it difficult to lie to this clairvoyant pile of rags.
"Clarity. It is important to retain clarity, especially in matters of the heart, and yet nearly always impossible," Percy said. He poured out two glasses of the Sang Bourgogne.