Monday, November 13, 2017

Tilted Halo (short story)

Tilted Halo

The stars shown dimly in the sky as I walked through the dirty streets of old New York. Above me I could see smoke rising from a jagged husk of a building, what was once the Empire State Building. All around me were the noises of battle, of flying bullets and crashing bombs. I could hear my sergeant shouting at me as I walked but I could not hear what he was saying, his face appeared as a blur through my tear streaked eyes. Someone grabbed my shoulder and dragged me behind a beat up old car lying on it’s side.
“Michael!” He screamed. “Can you hear me?”
I nodded and pushed his hand away, staring out at the carnage before me. Bodies littered each side of the street, clad in black shirts and camo green military pants, the new battle dress uniform in these futuristic times. I looked over at the man beside me, recognizing Trent Kane, my brother, a private first class like me, one of the few men I truly trusted in this war. He grinned lopsidedly at me.
“Geez, Michael, you gave me a scare, are you goin’ wacko or something?”
I thought about it, about where my mind had been minutes before, completely lost somewhere else, and I wasn’t too sure I could answer his question with no.
“Maybe,” I said. “But I’m okay now.” I added in order to not embarrass myself completely. He laughed and pointed his M16A2 around the corner of the car, firing back at our faceless opponents.
“How do you do it?” I asked, firing my rifle as well.
“Do what?” He asked.
“Be happy, I dunno, survive without any psychological damage.”
He pondered it for a second, still firing his rifle, and then grinned.


“Could be I’m just a psychopath, I kinda like killing. At least I think I do…” He trailed off, seeming confused for a second.
“I wouldn’t think about it too much, you might not like the answer.”
He nodded, agreeing, and we continued to shoot our rifles, doing as we had been told to do all along.

***
Night had fallen completely, and the echoes of gunfire were becoming distant as me and my squad gathered around Sergeant Michaelson. He’s a gruff type with a large white scar going down his face, beginning at his top eyelid and ending at the jaw line. He smoked on a cigar as he spoke out of the side of his mouth. Almost like something you’d see out of some stupid B-movie action flick
“All right!” He yelled, his voice grating on my nerves more than usual. “We are gonna take this group north, towards where the enemy has surrounded a hotel. In that hotel is General Sanders, holed up there with several platoons. Marcus, I want you to drive the BFV, I’ll man the gun, Trent and John, you be the last ones in and the first ones out, we’ll be moving quickly so look sharp.”
We all nodded in tandem, a couple of the men clanking their rifles together in a brotherly salute. We looked like a bunch of kids playing at war in the middle of the street. I looked over at Trent who was smiling his usual macabre smile and tried to feel the same way he did, but I just didn’t, I was a man without a meaning, with no purpose but to obey orders, and I felt no joy in it. I hated the sound of gunfire, and the rumble hum of the M1A1 Abrams tanks that seemed to be everywhere. I literally wanted to throw up sometimes as I saw yet another mangled up dead body. Having already been shot to death, the drivers of the tanks didn’t even stop, they simply just ran over them. But what else could we do? We moved as quick as possible into the BFV waiting for us across the street, me and Trent counting heads as they passed up the ramp. We were missing a few from the last time we counted. I counted four but later Trent would tell me it was five.


We rode for what seemed like an hour, feeling every bump as the sound of the treads groaning against the ground overlay everything else. No one talked, no one even moved. We just held our rifles, and waited. I sat back trying to catch a few winks when I heard the BFV stop.
“Move!” Sergeant yelled. We moved, our limbs in perfect time with our choreographed steps, we’d done this drill a million times, and we would do it a million times more. I stepped out into a street filled with smoke and debris. Not far off I could hear gunfire, and the occasional boom from an RPG wielded by the enemy. They weren’t terrorists, not like those in Iraq or Afghanistan years ago, these were a different kind of opponent, though they tended to use the same weapons and tactics. Their leader, a man who simply called himself The Master Chief was a bit of a cult leader, a psychotic despot who wore armor made up of old sheets of welded together metal, and a motorcycle helmet. He carried two old M16 rifles and liked to shoot them at the same time, mowing down his enemy.
A shot rang out near me and I could hear Sergeant cursing loudly, a string of f-words in a crazy long run on sentence that barely made sense but truly got his feelings out. Apparently we had come in at a bad place. All around us were figures standing in the shadows of the smoke, some holding rifles and some holding handguns, they were all clad in similar clothes though, a gray uniform that had lines drawn on them in geometric patterns, almost as if someone had gone out to the neighborhood Wal-Mart and bought a cloth representation of medieval armor, only this looked more futuristic, and they all wore motorcycle helmets. I could hear several of them snickering and talking through some headphone and mic headset to each other.
Trent growled and I could hear him stepping forward, preparing to fire. No, I thought, not a good idea, not when we’re surrounded. A sound then came rumbling down the street and several dune buggies drove up, all of them had an M249 Saw rifle lashed to the forward bar, with one man standing up in the buggy, holding the rifle as another drove.
“Caught some, I see.” One of the men said, his uniform had a light blue square on it with a diamond dead center in the middle. A lieutenant in their rank system. He was also helmet-less, and had a shock of black hair, cut in one of those old fashioned “emo” styles. He got out of his buggy and walked over to inspect us, his eyes never straying from our rifles, or our trigger fingers. He stopped in front of Sergeant and grinned.
“Well, I suppose you thought you could save your precious General, but of course you know that is impossible. We don’t allow any rescue missions to go well.” He turned to the rest of the group in the Dune Buggies. “Warthog battalion, prepare to escort these men to the HQ where we will interrogate them.”
We were less than them, and so it seemed for this time at least they were going to win. We had 8 men, all veteran privates, and a sergeant who had seen more war than any of these sick twisted cult members had, but he was still young enough to be acting the part he had seen in the movies. Truly, we were all young. Several years ago in the spring of 2010 a sickness had broken out among our elders, killing off many of them. Age seemed to be the prime candidate for reasons why, though no one ever figured it out. Some, like pastors and Christians, believed it was some kind of punishment on the young, for their rebellion and hate. Some, like me, thought it was just life, and that it’d screwed us over yet again, only this time en masse.
We followed the warthogs, as they liked to call their makeshift dune buggies, down a series of streets, far from the sound of gunfire and far from any sense of where we were.
We ended up at a mall, the lights in the stores flickering on and off and the escalators not working anymore. The cultists took us from one end to the other, finally ending up in a furniture store. The seats and couches were arranged in a new pattern, not for sale anymore, they were used now as a command center. Several computers and laptops were wired across wooden desks throughout the room. Here and there a TV was on with several of the cultists gathered around it, clicking and clacking on their game controllers as they played a mini version of what was happening outside.
One of the men, this time with three stars on his uniform arranged in an arrow pattern, approached us. A sneer spread across his face.
“Take their guns,” He said. “We can use them.”
I actually felt a little relief as I handed mine over, maybe I wouldn’t have to use it again. I could see the struggle in Trent’s eyes and prayed he wouldn’t do anything stupid. Instead a small grin spread across his face as he handed his rifle over.
“I wanna join you.” He said, looking over at the TV sets, what seemed like a dawning realization blossoming across his face.
“Excuse me?” The man who had ordered our guns taken, a major, said.
“I wanna join you,” Trent repeated. “All this time I’ve been fighting this stupid war for the wrong side, you guys are like me, you enjoy the thrill of it.”
“Do you renounce your call of duty?” The major asked, a small smile on his face.
“I do, I’m tired of feeling like it’s wrong to enjoy shooting the hell out of some idiot who can’t fire a rifle half as well as me.”
The major clapped him on the back, and I felt a pang of loneliness as Trent walked away with him, not even looking back at the rest of us.
“He always was an asshole.” Sergeant said. His cigar was now tilted at an odd angle on his face, lowering slowly, til he opened his mouth and let it drop out. He looked like a man defeated. The cultists came over then and handcuffed us all, leading us to another store nearby, this one a toy store, and pushed us inside. Then they pulled down the grille, locking it to the floor. A fake prison in a fake world. We were all just kids. I was only twelve and hadn’t even finished elementary school when the sickness broke out, leaving me and my older brother Trent to take care of ourselves. When a boy rode up on a motorcycle one day and said that the new President needed us to join the army we had shrugged and gone. It was better than sitting around watching a TV full of fuzz and playing Call of Duty. That was the difference between us and them. We played different video games. They called RPG’s rocket launchers and dune buggies warthogs, their leader was a Master Chief, and ours was the President. We were all just children playing at war in a world gone mad. I could feel sleep finally overtaking me, and I sat down against a shelf full of model cars and airplanes, wishing that I could be building one of them with my dad right now, and slept.

***


I woke with a start as the sound of metal clinking on metal hit my ears. I looked up to see a young girl standing at the grate with a pushcart beside her, handing plates to the men through gaps in the grate. On the plates I could see two hardboiled eggs and two slices of bread. I got up to go forward, and stared at her as she handed a plate through to me. Following that she gave water bottles out, each bearing the name of Aquafina on it, a relic of times past. I stared at her cause she was beautiful. The way her hair seemed to sparkle even in the gloom of the unlighted store mesmerized me. I could feel her uncomfortably at my staring and I tried to look away, but it was hard. I could see a glint of sea-colored blue in her downcast eyes, and it reminded me of a day long ago, when my Dad took me and Trent to the beach. We had raced each other out as far as we could go in the ocean, and when I realized how I had gone too far out I called out to Trent, but he was already on his way back. I had had to grit my teeth, fight the weariness and swim back. I still almost drowned.
“Why do you stare at me?” She asked, her eyes seeming grayer now, like clouds on a rainy day. I tried to smile but I could tell that was not what she wanted.
“You’re really beautiful I guess…sorry…” I didn’t know what else to say, her reaction was different than I expected.
“All beauty ever got me was raped,” she said coldly, then walked away.
I watched her go, then turned back towards the others. Several of them were crowded in different groups, eating their food quietly. A couple of them wandered back into the aisles and shadows in the back of the store, possibly to find a private place to piss. I sat down by Sergeant who was just staring at his food. He was about 21, with a fullbeard, and laugh lines on his face. We all liked him, even if he was tough on us. His name was Charles, but nobody called him that to his face. He looked over at me and I could see what seemed like tearstains on his cheek. The strongest man among us, and he was the one that cried. He didn’t speak, just looked back at the ground, fumbling at his pockets as if seeking another cigar. I didn’t say anything either, for there was nothing to say, just patted him on the shoulder then leaned back into the wall looking up at a wall full of action figures. Batman stared back at me and somehow I wondered how he would have dealt with this. The opponent would definitely be The Joker, playing a hellish joke on the whole human race. Chaos is meaning he would say, and then blow up the world. I shuddered, then clenched my fists.
“Never.” I said to myself. “I’m not gonna die like this.”
I stood up, walking over to the grate and called out for whoever would hear me. No one tried to stop me, and I was surprised when the girl came back her weary eyes looking at mine in annoyance.
“What?” she asked. It was then a plan formed in my mind, this girl hated it here as much as we did.
“You wanna get out of here. I can tell you do.” I said, searching her eyes for some form of agreement.
She looked away. “No one ever gets out of here, if I helped you in any way, I would die.”
I looked up at the sky, praying to whatever God there was up there that my next few words would pierce her armor somehow.
“Do you remember when the sun came out and it meant something good, a day to go play outside, or go to the pool, or the beach, a day to pretend we were astronauts, or knights in a foreign land, do you remember what it was like to love and to hate, to breathe in the smells of flowers and trees. Well, I do. And I’ll be damned before I give up on that.”
She didn’t say anything for a long time, “What do you need me to do?” She finally asked.


“Just get me the keys, I’ll do the rest.” I said. She looked up into my eyes then, and I saw a glimmer of hope in her eyes. Then she nodded and walked away.
I walked back over to Sergeant, sitting back down by him once more.
“We’re getting out of here.” I said. “I’ll need your help to get the men ready.”
He didn’t move, just continued to stare at the floor.
“Charles!” I hissed.
He looked up then, a small look of anger, but then just frowned.
“Why the hell you think we’ll make it, huh Michael?“ He growled. “There’s hundreds of cultists out there, even if we got out of this store, we’d have to fight through them. Don’t be stupid.”
“I don’t care, I’m not gonna die like this.”
“We all die Michael, face it.”
“No, not like this, you can stay here, but I’m leaving and I’ll take whoever wants to go with me.”
Several hours later I heard a small tap on the grate and looked up to see the girl standing there, keys in her hand. I didn’t ask her how she got them, some things are better left unasked. After unlocking the bottom clasp, and pulling up the grate as quietly as we could I looked back at the men. There were only about 6 of us. Sergeant still sat in the same spot, his plate of eggs and bread rotting beside him. He’d given up, there was nothing for me to do for him, but the others.
“Well?” They all looked at the freedom standing before them, but they seemed defeated as well. I didn’t understand. Why didn’t they fight? Why did they give up?
“Don’t go, Michael, it’s stupid, that’s an order.” Sergeant said.
“I’m done following orders.” I said. Sadness filled my heart, but I wasn’t going to drown here. I didn’t look back as I followed the girl out of the store.
She looked at me then, her eyes searching mine.
“I know an exit near here.” She said, and we moved quickly through the mall, hiding when we heard noises, but for the most part we were alone. When we reached a hallway with a sign that said bathrooms over it we went down it, past the bathrooms and to a door that said EXIT in big red letters.
We were about to push the bar which would open the door when I heard a footfall. I turned to see Trent standing there, handgun pointed at me. He grinned coldly.
“Trying to get away, huh little brother?”
“Look, just let us go Trent, you don’t have to kill us.” I said.
His grin flickered for a bit, but he still held the gun up.
“You’re a prisoner. I can’t let you go.”
“We’re brothers Trent, think with your heart for once, at least.” I said. “I never told you, but that day at the beach, I called out your name, and you almost let me drown. Did you know that? Did you know I almost drowned? Did you ever love me Trent? If you did, if you do, let us go.”
He frowned as his eyes seemed to flash in stages, first coldhearted killer, then loving brother. I slowly inched toward him, taking the gun softly from his hand. He didn’t fight me.
“I…I’m sorry.” He said.

“Thanks,” I said. “I’ll see you Trent.”
We walked out then, me keeping the handgun for protection. I was surprised to see several of the others, even Sergeant follow us out. Trent watched us all with a very deep sadness in his eyes. He turned away then, back into the dark mall, letting the door fall shut behind him.
The girl took my hand then, her tiny fingers twining into mine. She looked out at the blasted landscape and her breath made clouds in the cold air.
The other men moved away then, passing like ghosts into the smoke, Sergeant grinned at me as he passed, his eyes thanking me. I nodded at him in goodbye.
“Where now?” The girl asked.
“What’s your name.” I said without answering.


She frowned, almost seemed embarrassed that she’d forgotten to say it.
“Mary.” She said.
“Well Mary, I always wanted to visit Australia.”
She smiled. The first time I’d seen her smile since I met her. It was a beautiful smile.
In the gloom above us a single glimmer of light shone through the smoke clouds, the shaft of light spreading on the ground around us, illuminating us like a message from God above.
“Australia it is then,” she said, and we began to walk, hope strong in our hearts

The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise (short story I wrote for Naomi as a wedding gift)

The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise

Space. Quiet as a black and star filled night, and the same in every respect. As the ship hovered in orbit above earth, William woke to the beeping of his console.
He was home, sort of. Earth was where he had been born, but like many young men of his generation he had joined the Starfighter Corps and left Earth behind to reach out to the stars. 5 skirmishes and one war since he’d finally returned to the little blue dot of a planet. Looking down on it now, he noticed less blue and more brown, more grey where the beautiful oceans had once been. He skimmed over his console, tapping in the commands for approach to the last existing starport on the continent of Asia, in the country of India. Hyderabad had once been a bustling city of millions of people running left and right, weaving through cars and taxi’s. Now it was a ghost town, as many of the cities of Earth had become as more and more people left for the stars, for the planets and space roads above. As he slowly approached, a bored voice came over his speakers.
“Identity and Reason for Landing?”
“This is Lt. Colonel William Ambrose, returning for shore leave.”
“Copy, Hangar 18 is available for landing, have a good vacation Lt. Colonel Ambrose”
From what he could see all the hangars were available for landing, but he took 18 anyways.
After putting his ship on lockdown, and exiting the cockpit, he crawled down the makeshift ladder onto the hot ground of Hyderabad. An Indian man was waiting for him, his head bobbing back and forth.
“Welcome to Hyderabad my friend, I have been sent by the American Consulate to make sure you make it to the coast and your ship for home.”
Ever since the Migration, there were no more airplanes, only old cars and boats.
William nodded, and followed the man into the dirty streets. India had always looked like a post apocalyptic landscape, but now it seemed as if it was beyond even that, it was gutted, forgotten and alone. Huts stood beside skyscrapers, and side roads were at every block. Dirt covered the streets and ratty looking dogs hovered at the edges of his vision. He stepped into the little yellow taxi another Indian man was driving, and chuckled to himself as the little man weaved back and forth across the road as if it was bustling traffic, though he was the only automobile on the road. Here and there were children, orphans left behind by families that could have been there to take care of them. It seemed the earth had been left to the children, no one to show them how to take care of it. One little boy ran beside the taxi, hollering in his own language, lifting little yellowed fingernails into the window. As the taxi sped up, he was left behind.
The consul man, named Abraham, smiled a toothy smile.
“Even now they ask for coins, it’s the only thing they know to do. Travelers are rare though, even though we are the only starport.”
A dog barked at them, and the city sped by, the smells that had once been floating like a thick cloud over the city now replaced with the smell of dirt and dust.

……

The coast was all plastic bags and soda cans, a dead fish or two floating on the grey water. It couldn’t be called ocean anymore, more like sludge, trash made up 90% of it. This was the world left behind, left to the last dregs of humanity, those too old or too stubborn to leave. Robots weaved among the trash, little hands picking it up, and shoving it in old compartments, there to be taken to another dump, which would later be cleaned by it’s own robots. The hovership stood waiting for them, the bottom covered with much of the same trash and a ladder lowered to them. Abraham smiled his toothy smile at William and nodded his head.
“I hope your trip was not too boring, perhaps we will see each other again on your return.”
The unspoken “if you return” hung between them like a line of laundry. William stepped onto the first rung, and began the climb. He reached the deck in about two minutes. Several white men were standing around, smoking cigarettes, one of them glanced at him and snickered.
“You must be the passenger, alright let’s get this ship to movin’,” The other men stared at his uniform for a minute then grunted and went down into the bowels of the ship to get the hover motors working. The man who had spoken revealed his name as Captain Petyr Blankenship, Petyr with a y he said. A cold smile covered his face as he spoke, it was well known that most of the people left behind who had had no choice in the matter were convicts, prisoners and men of low repute. These were left to the transportation of those few who had chosen to stay behind. They were surly men, but each had a ring around their legs that would shock them if they went too far from their designated areas. There were no guards, no people to police their behavior, and some had found ways around the electric rings.
“If ya need anything let me know,” Petyr said, and went below decks himself. William stood at the railing for a time, staring off into the grey ugly horizon. He began to wonder why he had come home, why of all places he could have vacationed he chose to return to Moses Lake WA. There were no seagull calls over the grey seas as he floated over the horizon, in time he went below as well. Through a dimly lit corridor he found his bunk, a dingy, rust stained room, the walls old and flaking. On the bed was an old ipod, the note on top read
“Only means of entertainment ‘round here, welcome to Hell”.
He chuckled to himself and put on the too large headphones, flipping through the songs. There was a little bit of everything, but he found one song he remembered from his childhood.
“Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older?” The harmonized singers sang, and he felt nostalgia creep up over him.

It was 1992, and the world was still alive with light and soul. William, then called Will, was sitting by a tree in the snow, watching his father. His father was standing as still as the tree beside him, gun in hand and raised to shoot, sighting down the barrel at a buck grazing in the clearing. Breath became cloud of smoke as Will waited for the inevitable thunder and lightning. It never came though, and his father came back to sit beside him as they watched the buck continue to graze.
“Majestic creature,” His father said.
Young Will just nodded.
“’Spose you’re wonderin why I didn’t shoot? Well, it’s as easy as knowin we got enough food fer survival, that there buck’s just tryin to do the same.”
Will didn’t question the logic.
“Sun’s gonna go down soon,” His father said, pushing curly black hair out of his wide face. He was a big man, a lumberjack who spent most of his twelve months away from the family off at camp in the high tree lines. This was a man who loved nature, and saw wonder in the smallest and largest of it’s creatures. He pointed at a butterfly roaming near them, alighting itself on a branch not far above their heads. The sun shone on it in patterns of light and triangle. Will smiled. His father patted his head.
“Time to git you home before Momma whoops us both.”
He took his father’s hand and they walked down the trail, the buck watching them, then bounding into the woods.

“Wake up,” Petyr poked at William’s shoulder, and William groggily came to. He’d fallen asleep with Pink Floyd singing about crazy diamonds, and his father’s voice in his head, telling him goodnight for the last time.
“We’re nearing Oregon, that’s where we leave you.”
He nodded, pulling himself out of the bed.
“You think I could keep this ipod?” He asked.
“Hell, keep it, not like any man ‘round here really appreciates it.”
They neared Portland about thirty minutes later, and he stepped off into the cold morning, fog on the horizon.
From here he would have to walk, or buy a car.
He shivered, and pulled his jacket closer, then began to walk.

1995, and the sun was shining bright over the playground where Will, almost 12, was sitting in a swing. Kaely Anne was standing with her friends, the pretty red-haired girl his reason for sitting in the swing. Her skin was pale, her laugh echoing across the field.
Brian poked him in his side.
His best friend grinned.
“You ever gonna ask her out?”
“She’s too good to date, she’s the kinda girl you marry.”
Brian made a farting sound with his mouth and poked Will again.
“Sheesh, hey c’mon, let’s go play with your Genesis.”

Night edged over the sky like Van Gogh paint strokes as William walked for hours. He could hear music playing in the dark, but nowhere could he see the source of it. It was quiet, folksy and jazzy even, a man’s voice singing “The Times They Are A Changin.” by Dylan. As he neared closer he came upon a strange scene. Sitting around a campfire were several dirty faced children smiling and listening to a black man playing on an old acoustic guitar. The man was clad in a Buba and Sokoto and had a gray beard that stuck out from his head like a finger pointing to the ground. He saw William in the firelight and smiled, his face was kind as only an old black man’s face can be, lines echoing the patterns of earth in between his eyes and forehead. His voice was that of a lonely wolf who had found a home. The children each and every one listened enraptured at the old Dylan song, and all around the landscape echoed it’s truth in stark reality. He was transfixed himself and waited for a while. It was such a different thing than he had expected on this forgotten world. The old man finished playing and laughed and joked with the children as they ran off in different directions. He nodded at William as he walked up, eyes both kind and wary.
“I was looking for a way north to Washington, and wondering if you have a car to sell, or a horse or something?”
The smiling man grinned, “Horse? Nuttin to feed it with. A car needs gas, and gas is a luxury these days, rarer than gold. I’d suggest finding a bike or something, can always find one left by it’s family in some abandoned house or something.”
“Times sure have changed.”
“Sure have, sure have, noticed you listenin to the music, you a Dylan fan?”
“As much as the next guy I guess, I enjoy most of his work.”
“Indeed, well, reason I ask is cause I been needin a companion travel north with, going to Seattle myself, what part o Washington you headin?”
“Moses Lake, eastern side, the desert side.”
“Oh yeah, yeah, I been that way once or twice, beautiful sunrises out that way.”
They had started walking while talking, sort of an easy pace, the black man was older and slower than William.
“What’s your name by the way,” William asked. “Mine is William, William Ambrose.”
“Eh, friends call me Richie, it ain’t my true name, but I admit I forgot that a long time ago. Gettin’ old is bad for the memory.”
The houses they passed were decrepit and broken down, hearts without a home, William found himself wanting to explore them, study their history and past. On Filandis 5, a planet light years from Earth, he had been part of a reconnaissance team, surveying a possible new building place for hostiles, among the rubble of old what seemed like adobe huts he had found an engraving. It wasn’t understandable, what seemed like faces, but could have easily been legs or animals, or something else altogether, but he liked to believe it was a picture, forgotten in flight, of a happy family.

He never talked to her, he’d always wanted to, but she was popular, and he wasn’t. It’s not that he was ugly, or even all that nerdy, he was just not all that interested in socializing with anyone but his few friends. And he liked to read, all the time, probably to a fault. While his friends were out seeing the latest flick, he was in his room, reading White Fang, or Huckleberry Finn, or even something by Stephen King. For him childhood was late nights in the neighborhood, a stick thrown to his dog Yeller, escapades out to the woods behind his house, or what passed for woods in Moses Lake.
To call it a desert was a bit of a misnomer, there was water, and trees, but the land was all flat, and mostly farmland. The smell of cow dung filled the air more often than not, and while he’d become used to it, any newcomers were wont to complain about the air as much as anything else they said. He hadn’t always been there, back when he was eight they lived in a cottage up near the Cascades, while his father worked in the lumber yards. But when his father passed after a freak accident involving chains and a chainsaw and a large cache of lumber, his mother had returned to her hometown of Moses Lake. It took some getting used to, but he had made friends, Brian one of them, and like every boy he bounced back from death and sorrow with flying colors. His mother remarried, a kindly older man who worked with computers at a potato plant, and was rarely seen on account of his working the night hours. She seemed happy, and that’s all that mattered to Will. They had a house out in the country, off Road 1 and his new father planted a copse of trees by the house where his mother could go and plant flowers. Brian and he would go off into the trees some nights and camp out, pretending they were in the great forests like the Tillamook, and there were animals all around. There was a horse who sometimes got out of it’s pen over at his neighbors, sneaking over to munch at his mother’s flowers. The horse was brown and white, splotched all over with a white face and brown mane. Will thought he was beautiful, and though he was not a riding horse, Will liked to pretend that it was his horse and he was a knight defending his kingdom. Their neighbors also had sheep, and a big beautiful collie that sometimes would play with Will.
His mom bought him a bike and he used to go riding as far as he could, sometimes towards 17, sometimes toward I-90. The roads were always bustling in those times. It was on one of these rides that he first met Kaely Anne, right when they’d first moved in with the new dad, and he had started going to a new school. She was in a little farmhouse about five miles from his house, far down R road which became S Road. She was outside watering some flowers when he rode past, noticing her and almost crashing into the ditch by the road.
She laughed as he stood up sheepishly.
“Uh…hi,” He said, grinning.
“Hi, what’s your name?” She asked. Beside her a beagle was watching him with narrowed eyes, and began barking with a bellow.
“Don’t mind Becky, she don’t like strangers much.” She smiled and hushed the dog.
“Kaely Anne! You get in here right now!” A woman’s voice was calling from the house.
“Sorry, I gotta go…” She smiled again and turned towards the house, Becky already was halfway there, not looking back.
“My name is Will,” He said quickly as she walked away, she stopped for a second and grinned back at him, then was gone.
That was the day he fell in love.

Richie was shaking him awake, their campfire down to embers in the morning dew.
“Best be getting on before the day gets away from us.”
The old man was watching the road warily.
“Something wrong?”
“Dunno, there’s been sounds I heard for a while now. Seems to be someone’s got some kinda machine and they’re using it, but I can’t tell what it is.”
William listened and as the loud buzzing sound came again he realized what it was.
“A chainsaw, someone’s cutting trees.”
Richie nodded.
They began to walk towards the sound, despite Richie’s misgivings, and as they walked William reflected on the last time he’d heard that sound.

It was 1990, the turn of the century, and two years before he and his father took their last hunting trip. He was six years old, and sitting in the car as his mom coughing stepped from it to greet their dad who was walking up from the trail back into the trees. She was still coughing as he came to her, and he asked her if she was okay. She said yes, just a bit of bronchitis and he frowned. He drove back and let her sleep in the passenger side.
He smiled back at William who was looking out the window at the blur of green and yellow sun. He grinned back, a small exchange, but deep with meaning.
“Don’t worry, your mom will be fine,” His dad said. “I gotcha a book, you wanna read it?”
Will nodded.
His dad tossed a book back that was old and weathered.
“Belonged to a friend of mine, but he sold it to me for a quarter, was one of my favorites when I was a boy.”
The cover showed a wolf standing at attention, staring off to outside the book’s cover, wild eyes wandering paths unseen. He was beautiful. The book was called White Fang, and Will thought it the best name ever for a book about a wolf.
He began to read, and didn’t even notice when they made it home a couple hours later.

The man with the chainsaw had his back turned to them, but William could tell even from the back that the man was very old. He stood stooped over, and leaning against a tree nearby was an old banjo. The man was wiry, with a shock of gray hair and as he turned to them his face looked chiseled from rock. He smiled.
“Well, what do we have hur?” He asked cheerily.
“Heard the noise, thought we’d investigate.”
“Heh, that is what people tend to do when they hear noise I guess.”
He looked to be about 60 or 65 with glasses hanging on his beak of a nose. He looked like something out of a southern gothic novel, the ghost of Roscoe Holcomb.
“Spose yer wonderin what a man like me is doin in a place like this with a chainsaw?” He laughed and showed them, the tree he was cutting was wider than William was, and covered in vines. From the vines came a cheeping sound and a beaked animal peeked out from a hollow in the tree before flitting back in.
“Heard em as I was walking through the trees, seems like their pappy or momma done left em”
His voice was southern too. High and lonesome it sounded.
“Thought I’d save em, but they don’t seem to want to come out. Thought maybe I’d cut the tree down then they’d fly off.”
Richie laughed.
“Where are you from?” William asked.
“Me, I’m from Arkansas boy, out towards Little Rock way.”
“You’re surely far from home.”
“Indeed, sure am, out East ain’t so safe no more for old men like me, it got lawless out that way fast. Heard of a town out this way where the water flows freely and the people are kind, so I took my banjo and began playing my way out West.”
William believed it, he’d heard what happened to New York City, the homeless had risen up, and in their bitterness had turned the city into a walled castle, no one allowed in or out. He wondered what it was like in Little Rock, but he didn’t ask.”
“You know how to play that ole’ gitar?” The man asked Richie.
“Sure enuff, been playing it since I was ten.”
“Sure enuff?”
“So what do they call you?”
“Oh, they call me Dock, I was named after some old bluegrass man.”
A woman appeared then, quiet and unassuming, she was older than William, but younger than Richie or Dock.
“Well, seems my party is all here, spose I should leave these owl chicks to the fates and git back on the road.”
He led them to an old wagon, where two large oxen munched at the grass by the side of the road.
“You men need a ride? I don’t have much, but I can tell you’re good men, and me and the lady could use some friendship and song on the road.”
Richie agreed quickly, and William too.
They rode in the back, legs hanging from the edge and the road flowing beneath them, a swift river of asphalt. They went quickly for a wagon, passing forest and field alike. The Tillamook loomed on the horizon and soon they were swallowed by it.
That night as they sat by a fire, the woman sang them a song as Dock strummed on his banjo. Richie joined in as he recognized the song, an old one, older than both old men.
“Ain’t got no sugar baby now…” She sang, sadly, and with feeling.
Dock told their story, of how they’d started out a whole family, him, his sister Daisy, the woman with him now, who was his younger sister Nellie, and Nellie’s husband. Nellie’s husband had died trying to cross a swift river in Colorado, his older sister of fever when they got caught in a snowstorm.
As she sang William felt the song rise like a prayer into the night sky, and tears came to his eyes. The next morning as they set out once again he left the ipod sitting by the side of the road for some other wanderer to find. One always needed good music as they traveled.

In 1993 His father suggested they go see a movie, he’d heard of this new movie about dinosaurs directed by Spielberg called Jurassic Park. Though Will was only ten his father felt like he could handle it, and so they got in his old pickup and drove thirty miles down to the nearest town. The dinosaur movie was the only one playing at the cinema, and it was almost sold out.
“You’re the last two tickets we have for it,” The ticket lady said.
She handed the tickets over, and for almost two hours Will and his dad were whisked off to another world, where dinosaurs could roam and terrorize people freely, and a little boy a lot like Will helps save the day. The scientist played by Sam Neill, with his cool hat and his easy smile, he became one of Will’s heroes that day. Outside as they got into the car, Will watched his dad looking out the rearview mirror, making sure they didn’t pull into oncoming traffic. It wasn’t a tyrannosaurus rex coming after them in the mirror, but it was danger all the same, and he realized that every day his father watched over him and saved his life.

The Tillamook forest was wide and deep, moss covered trees like something out of a Tolkien novel. William almost expected the trees to sprout legs and a face and begin talking in a deep and earthy voice. At night their fires warmed them, and by day they followed the old paths made by men before them, some of the paths had not been tread in hundreds of years. One night William swore he saw a wolf, come down from the northern mountains, out of Montana or British Columbia, it’s gray and white fur a blur in the moonlight, but then it was gone. Nature was truly the mother of this place, and it’s roots were deeper than time itself. As he followed the two older men and woman, having had to abandon the ox and wagon when the paths grew too narrow, he felt a stranger in their midst. They talked of old things, the 1960’s, Vietnam, and Korea further back. Dock’s father had been in World War 2, and his great grandfather in the Civil War. As old as they were, it was as if no time had passed at all, as if America was still as young as a newborn child. Day by day passed and the woods sheltered them and fed them with it‘s bounty, til they finally came to the end of it. They had reached Washington, and the flat farmlands of it’s east. They came to a river some days later, living on the supplies they had stored from the trek through the forest, and as they came down the road to the river they saw the long and narrow suspension bridge they would have to cross. Winds rushed strong across it, and William remembered it being hard even for cars to cross back in the day.
“Well, this won’t be easy, Will, but I hope you do well.” Richie was smiling his gentle smile, the kind of smile that laughs.
“Me? You’re the one heading on up to Seattle alone, you still have the Cascade Mountains to go through,” William said.
“Oh I’ll be fine, I’ll be fine, I got this here guitar to play, and God above to watch over me.”
William smiled, they shook hands and he knew he would miss the old guy as he walked on up the road.
“If you make it to Seattle, go leave a flower at Jimi Hendrix’s grave for me!” He yelled.
The old man waved, then he was out of earshot.

After that first encounter, Will pretty much kept away from Kaely Anne, despite being in love with her. He felt she was too pretty for him, too perfect, too pretty and perfect for anyone really. He also felt like the only right way to be with her was if he married her. So he waited, and hoped, and the time came that he graduated from High School, and began looking for a place to go to college. He wanted to be a writer, to write novels like Jack London and Neil Gaiman, to visit places he’d never been and do things he’d never done. His mother, having lived in Moses Lake all her life, didn’t really know where to send him, so it ended up that his English teacher was the one who told him about a little college in Jackson Mississippi called Belhaven.
“But it’s so far away,” His mother said. She’d never had any other children and his step dad was often off on business now that he’d become a big shot at a fruit plant that had it’s home base over in Europe.
“It really looks like the best place Mom, and it’s Christian too, I’ll learn a lot, but I’ll learn it from people like us.”
She finally assented, and Will applied and got in. He excelled at it, his teachers said he had a genius’ touch at writing, and his friends loved him. He got involved in a little church, and learned a lot more about God than he had in many other places. But what he loved most about it was the surprise he found standing before him the first day he walked into the Student Center.
“Will? Will Ambrose?!”
Kaely Anne was standing there, clad in what looked like tights under her shorts and a tshirt.
“Wait, you go here?” He asked in astonishment.
“Yeah, I mean, I’m in the Ballet Department, oh my gosh what are the odds!”
He hadn’t even known she was applying, he hadn’t even known she was into ballet.
They were close after that, seeing each other every day. He’d find himself at her dorm every Open House, and she came to see him and his roommate, a quirky Biology major named Derrick, every time his dorm’s doors opened up for the girls.
“Can I tell you a secret?” She said one night as they took a walk by the lake.
“Sure,” He replied, and something about the night made his skin crawl, but in a good way. His hands were sweating, he had to tell her how he felt.
“I had a crush on you in high school, I know it sounds weird, we never really talked or anything, but I would see you in class and remember that time you fell off your bike when you first met me, and Becky barking at you, and it made me giggle.”
He smiled.
“I had a crush on you too, no…not a crush, I was in love.” Am in love, he thought.
“Really?! Wow, I never knew…” She trailed off and she looked strange, nervous.
“Can I tell you a secret now?” He asked.
“Okay…” She said very quietly.
“I still am in love with you.”
Her cheeks reddened and she looked up at him, into his eyes.
He leaned forward to kiss her, and she put her hand up to his face.
“No…”
“Oh wow, I’m sorry, I totally misread you,” He felt like a jerk.
“No, you didn’t, I just…I made a promise that I wouldn’t kiss til my wedding day,” She looked worried, “Is that okay?” She asked.
He laughed, “Of course it’s okay silly, I guess I’ll just have to marry you then.”
She didn’t object, and they decided holding hands was a nice compromise.
“So I guess we’re together now?” She said.
“If you wanna be….” He looked at her, apprehensive.
“Oh, I do, I think I’ve always wanted to be.”

The bridge wailed and wailed like a crying baby, and the three companions stood waiting, for what they didn’t know. For the wind to die down, or for a giant hand of God to sweep them up and deposit them on the other side.
“I think we should just go for it.” Nellie said.
“That’s my little sister, the brave one.” Dock laughed.
They finally decided going was better than waiting, and began to trek across. Though the wind was strong and the going slow, it turned out not as hard as it would seem.

It reminded him of another day, the day he’d walked down the aisle, toward a minister, and the milling group of people crossing paths with him as the wedding was about to start.
Brian had come back from Afghanistan, buzz haircut and all, to be his best man, his mother looked beautiful in her blue dress, and his step dad gave him a wink.
It was the longest walk he ever took, when he finally got to the minister the man smiled.
“So, we ready to do this?” He asked cheerily.
For a second Will couldn’t speak, his mouth felt like cotton and his whole body was cold in sweat.
“Yeah,” He finally got out.
“Don’t worry,” The minister said as Brian and his groomsmen came up to stand beside him, and Kaely Anne’s bridesmaids and maid of honor stood on the other side. “The first step’s the hardest, and now you made it.”
It was nice, not completely true, but it did help him get through the wedding.
He turned to watch her walk down the aisle, the whole place turned to watch her, her face was glowing, like candlelit flame, her hair curled and framing her face perfectly. Her dress was simple, yet elegant, a dress that spoke volumes of the kind of person she was. Her father, still alive, walked her down the aisle. He was grinning when he handed her over.
The rest of the wedding was a blur, even the reception was only a small buzz in the back of his head. She was the only thing he saw. He barely even remembered getting in the car and them driving out to the little place he’d bought for them both. He couldn’t have told how he made it home, or if he went the long way or the short, he couldn’t even have told what kind of night it was. He was bursting at the seam with love. He was crying on the inside a torrent of happy tears. He was falling apart and coming back together again. He was the Big Bang, he was the Great Flood of Noah’s day, he was supernovas and the birth of stars, he was the whole universe, and just himself. He was a man in love with a woman he knew loved him back, and now he was going to spend the rest of his life with her.

The roads began to be familiar, the houses to remind him of old times. They finally made it to Moses Lake. The night was bright with stars and he didn’t know where he was going. His own house, the house he’d bought for him and Kaely Anne, was on the lake itself, and he was sure that she’d left it when he did. Still he found himself making his way to it, marveling at how the town had changed.
The buildings were still the same, but people lived in them now, instead of held business. Tents and pavilions lined the streets. The place was crowded from end to end. There were fires, and people singing in the night. It was truly what Dock had said it was, a town where beauty and hope still reigned. As he neared his house he heard singing coming from an old church, a church he remembered going to as a child, and despite himself he walked into it.
The preacher was a plump man, tall, with glasses that seemed to not want to stay on his face. His face was smiling and beaming as he shared the joy of the lord. He spoke of how he’d once been a writer, but after The Great Migration, people had needed someone to give hope, and so he had taken it on himself to help the town thrive during the hard times. After the service as William was leaving the man walked up to him.
“Welcome, soldier, we are honored for your service.”
William had almost forgot he was still wearing his uniform. It was the only pair of clothes he had.
“Th..Thanks,” He said.
“So what brings you here?” The pastor, who introduced himself as Justin, asked.
“I came home, I used to live here, shore leave..” He mumbled out.
“Naomi! Come meet my new soldier friend.” Naomi was his wife, a pretty woman with a smile that could light up a room. Beside her walked a little boy and a girl.
“Kaely, Liam, say hi to the nice man.”
The boy said hi shyly, but the little girl walked right up to him and shook his hand. She had a smile that reminded him of the other one who had the same name.
“Will?” Someone asked.
The voice was so familiar, it drove a knife through his heart.
“Will, it’s me, it’s Kaely Anne.”
The woman who had been talking to Naomi was standing there too. She looked older now, but still just as beautiful. Six years had barely changed her at all.
“Wait, this is Will?” Naomi asked.
“Kaely, I…” He wanted to say he didn’t know she’d be there, and that he was sorry for intruding, but his mouth was just as cotton as the day he married her.
He walked away before she could yell at him, or blame him, kill him with the words he’d been killing himself with for years.
“Will, wait…” Kaely Anne said, but he was gone.

Their marriage was a happy marriage, the best kind of marriage. He’d given her a home, and he had a good job with the newspaper. She took up ballet teaching and eventually opened up her own studio. They even bought another beagle, this one named Becky Too. It was perfect. It was not to say they never fought, because they did, over finances, over other things, but they always made up, and he let her have her way more often than not. But in the end it was the news that wounded them the deepest. A scientist had developed a way to propel a ship through space at faster than the speed of light. Terraforming was being revolutionized and a colony had already been built on Mars. The traveler in William longed to see it, and Kaely Anne was content where she was, in their small home. He found himself resenting her, despite his deep and abiding love, he found himself becoming angry at her small dreams.
“They’re the stars!” He would say, as if that made all the difference.
Brian, who had been in the air force, came home finally with a wife from Japan. She was petite, and extremely beautiful, with a round apple face and gentle smile. She was also in the airforce, just like him, and whenever Brian came over to watch the space race, as they called it, she was right there by his side.
He was different from William, he hadn’t grown up religious, and he was just as prone to party and alchohol as most guys. Kaely Anne thought he was a bad influence, but William said that it was a good way to witness, opening up their house to Brian and Kiko his wife. Kiko and Kaely Anne rarely talked, and it hurt her that Kiko wanted to be with the guys more than her. She felt alone often as they sat in the other room, the tv on, talking about space and how Star Trek had had it right all along.
One night though it was just Kiko that came to their door, and she had been crying. Brian had died in a car wreck, he was drunk. Instead of going to Kaely Anne for comfort she went to William.
Now it was just two people in the other room, and Kaely Anne felt more alone than ever before.
“I think I’m gonna apply to the Starfighter Corps.” William announced one day.
Kaely Anne watched him over her soup, uncertain whether he was joking or not.
“Kiko says…”
“Kiko, it’s always about Kiko…why don’t you just go sleep with her already and get it over with.” She knew the outburst was melodramatic, but her heart was hurting. She was ready to have children, and he was off with another woman. She knew him, she knew it was harmless, and yet, he came home too tired to even try most nights, and now he wanted to go off into space?
He looked hurt. “Honey, seriously, do you hear yourself? I mean look out there, it’s beautiful, think what it would be like from a spaceship? And you could live in one of the new colonies, so many families have left already…”
She shook her head and left him sitting at the table.
A couple days passed, and instead of making up, the silence extended into indefiniteness. One day when Kaely Anne came home she noticed her flowers were drooping and dead.
“You forgot to water them again?! I asked you just this morning!”
“Why do I have to water them? Why can’t you?”
“I work all morning and afternoon, I don’t have time, you know that.”
It wasn’t even about flowers, they both knew that, but with an angry yell he walked out the door, slamming it behind him. She watched him go, tears falling down her face.
“I didn’t want you to leave…” She said.


William found himself sitting in an old Japanese Garden, thinking of their argument, and what he had done that night. The garden was overgrown now, and yet the chaos of plant and water was far more peaceful to him than it’s ordered beauty that had once been. He remembered coming there many times with Kaely Anne, before it all fell apart.
“I’m so sorry…” He said to no one in particular, and to everyone.
A cricket sang among the bushes and he pulled his hands in close, shivering in the night, he fell asleep on the bench, dreaming of a girl with golden red hair, and a smile like the sunrise.

Two weeks after the fight William left her, he barely even said goodbye, just left her a note on the kitchen table. He wasn’t divorcing her, just leaving, he would be back when he felt like it, if he ever did, but for now he wanted to live among the stars and save the universe.
Training was rigorous, and hard, and he hated every minute of it. He’d never been the most athletic of men, and had gained weight after marriage. But in time he found the rhythm, and the will, and before long he was one of the best starfighter pilots in the corps. Kiko had joined the Corps too, in the Medical Division. She ended up joining a medical team on Zirak, and helping in the Zirak/Abor war, while he went off with the main contingent of the corps deep into space, as part of a reconnaissance team, their mission to explore the new planets found, and make sure they were safe. On one of the planets he found the engraving that reminded him of a happy family, and old feelings washed over him that had long been dormant. Perhaps it was the reality that the stars while beautiful, were not home, or that she wasn’t there with him, but he found himself longing to see her again. Longing to see Kaely Anne. Six years passed, and whenever shore leave came, he opted out of it. He would go to the most dangerous corners of the galaxy, trying to find ways to die. He couldn’t go back, but he couldn’t go forward. He couldn’t do anything, and so he found himself in a med ward with a non-fatal wound that he hoped would kill him regardless, and he waited for the end.
It was Kiko he saw walk into the room, smiling at him lying in the bed.
“Well, if it isn’t William Ambrose…” They talked for a while, she had gotten remarried, to a colonel, and they had had two boys, crazy little buggers that lived on Mars with their nanny.
“I really don’t get to see them enough,” She said.
“Why don’t you retire?” He asked.
“What and leave all this?” The wrongness of her response really struck William, but he didn’t say anything.
“What about you? You and your wife still together?”
“No.” He said honestly.
She looked at him strangely, reproachfully almost.
“You know, Brian spoke highly of you before we met, he always said, ’That Will, he’s a real loyal guy, he’d never leave or hurt a brother or friend.’ and after I met you, and found out that you and Bri’ disagreed on a lot of things, yet how you always opened your home, I knew it was true. I could also see how much you loved her, your wife, it was like she was the only woman in the world. It made me jealous to be honest, Bri’ always had the wandering eye.”
“Did in high school too, I never knew the guy without a girlfriend.”
“Yep, that was Brian,” She laughed. “When he died I’ll be honest, I felt relieved, but you were different, I never thought you’d leave her, that’s not the guy that Brian loved like a brother.”
The words stung worse than a thousand bee stings.

He shivered in the dark, and woke with a cry, the night was cold, and he had no blanket, no home, not even any other clothes than a uniform he hated more than anything else because it reminded him of how horrible a person he was.
A dog barked in the gloom, and it sounded like a beagle, the bellowing bark hard to not recognize.
“William…” A voice called.
He was so tired, he didn’t want to answer.
A man’s voice called then, and he recognized it as Pastor Justin’s, then another man’s, then a dog’s cold nose was sniffing at his face, licking it with a warm wet tongue.
“We found him, he’s over here!”
Justin and some other men showed up then, Kaely Anne and Naomi with them.

He didn’t want to go back, but he knew he had to, not to see her, but to just get some peace and quiet. He’d heard about the town even that far away, out in a totally different world, about how a pastor there had turned the place into a beautiful commune where the refugees of the Migration could come and find warmth and friendship. Most of his friends snickered and laughed, but he understood why, the Earth was their home, it always would be their home, and someday if they ever returned, they would find it strange and inhospitable, unforgiving of their abandonment, if not for men like that pastor.
So he went back, not even thinking he would see her.

“Thanks guys,” Kaely Anne said to them, then walked over to the beagle and man shivering on the bench.
She put a blanket around him and sat down on the ground, looking up at him.
“Oh William…” She said.
He didn’t speak for a long time, but found himself scratching the beagle’s head, and the dog liked it.
“I figured Becky Too would have died by now,” He finally said.
“She did, that’s not Becky Too, that’s Benny.” Kaely Anne smiled.
“Benny…” He found himself smiling a little too. “It’s a good name.”
He looked over at her then, and was surprised to find no anger in her eyes. What he did find there made him look away though, and made his heart hurt.
She took his hand, and he didn’t pull it away, though a part of him screamed at him to do so. He looked at the ground and his face felt like stone, his mouth like it was sewn up and he couldn’t speak.
She didn’t speak either, for a time..
The quiet was peaceful, and even healing, and her hand in his felt right, he guessed that’s what it was that gave him the courage to finally say
“I’m sorry…”
“Oh Will, I forgave you a long time ago, I just wanted you to come home, why’d you leave me here alone?”
He looked down at her, at her beautiful eyes, and the way she was smiling, he realized she was made of stuff tougher than stars and more bright too, she would never explode in a burst of light and fire, and she would stand steadfast, always, shining in his heart like the sun. And even the sun would die someday, but she never would, even into Heaven she would shine so much brighter than the night sky that had tempted him away.
“I was guilty, and afraid, and lonely.” He admitted. She squeezed his hand.
“I can’t believe you waited, that you…forgave me.” He said.
“I love you William Ambrose, I love you even when I don’t love you.”
He realized it was true, and that it was true for him too, otherwise why had he felt so guilty?
“I’m such a fool…” He said, sitting up and letting her sit on the bench beside him.
“But you’re my fool, and you’re finally home.”
“Can you take me back, can you be my wife again?”
“I never stopped Will, I never stopped.”
The night was ending, the stars fading into mist, and memory, in their place came the sun, glorious in orange and pink, yellow and red, filling the sky with a song as beautiful as any he’d ever heard. He told her then of his journey, and of his time in the Corps, of the engraving he’d found on another world, and of the strange people he’d traveled with. Angels, she said, probably, watching over him. He agreed.
“But in all of it, the three moons of Celtis 5, the Maholian Nebula all purple and white, the most beautiful things you’ve ever seen, and I could write for days of it all, even the Tillamook as we passed through, it was all empty, homeless, not as beautiful as it could have been, because I missed you, I realize that now, I missed you.”
She smiled and the sun was rising in her smile, and he knew that it was that smile, the special one she had only for him, that he had been needing all along

The Third Law (short story)

The Third Law
"I can prove to you God doesn't exist."
That's what he said to me one day as we sat drinking tea. Both of us were believers in a healthy diet, and a good cup of tea really hit the spot now and then.
As I looked across the table at him, he winked at me, his eyes then taking on a faraway look.
"After you've seen the things I've seen, you will believe."
I stared into my hands, thinking for a moment. It's not like I had been to church in a very long time, and me and God really weren't on speaking terms, but to entertain the thought of His nonexistence bothered me deeply.
"Fine...,"I finally replied. "Prove it."

We left his house, getting into his Chevy, and driving far off into the country. I was beginning to fear that he was playing some joke when we came upon an old factory. Driving into it's gates, my friend parked his car at the front of an old warehouse.
"You must promise you will never tell anyone what you see tonight."
I nodded in promise, and smiled reassuringly. The wrinkles in his forehead didn't lessen, as he looked around, almost as if he was worried about being watched.
"We shouldn't even be here..."
The night was cold, and a hint of snow was on the breeze. You can always tell when it's about to snow, the air just seems..icier.
"Follow me."
He led me towards the warehouse, and through a side door, into a vast and cavernous chamber. There was a hint of something in there with us, but with no lights I could not see much of it. Only that it was huge.
"A few years ago what everyone thought happened at Area 51 really happened. But it wasn't like we anticipated, they didn't come from outer space, they came from another dimension." He'd found the lights by now and switched them on before I could ask him any questions.
What I saw sitting there defied the imagination, not to mention physics. For it was a normal sized box, colored the drab silver of a elephant's hide, and bearing strange markings all over it. What defied everything I understood of science was that while it was normal sized, what my eyes wanted to tell me was that what I was looking at was the size of a house. A nice big two story house. Yet as I stared both and down at it, I knew it was as small as a present under the christmas tree. This is what my mind told me, even if my eyes argued with it.
"Uncanny isn't it?" He asked.
I nodded, my head beginning to ache as I tried to understand just what was going on.
"The first time I saw it, I began to cry," He said, laughing embarassedly to himself.
"Come," He said. "There's more."

We walked forward and as I passed under the shadow of what my mind told me was the walls of the vessel, we found ourselves somehow inside the box. I know this is strange, because it wasn't any bigger than a kleenex box, but now somehow my body had shrunk, or it had grown bigger, and we were inside it. I could see one hallway heading east for as far as my eye could see, and another heading west, just as far. The ones behind and before me stopped, and behind me it was only black, but before me I saw light. And the light seemed to be moving. In fact as we got closer the light disintegrated into smaller pieces, like a rain of tiny comets, and we were in middle of it. These lights, they turned out to have faces, and each one was smiling.
"Welcome to Elrythia, my friend," He said, and as I turned to reply he was not there. There was only the light, and then there was not even that...it was...something else.

I woke as in a daze, unsure of how I had even fallen asleep, and in the back of my mind I remembered parts of what had happened after I passed into the light, but for the most part it had all escaped. His laugh made me turn towards a hole in the wall, and I realized I was lying on a slab of stone. It was a strange place, this box, for I had still not decided to call it a spaceship. It was no spaceship, like my friend had said, this came from another dimension.
What I had first taken for a door was not exactly a door, it was more like a rift in reality. For on my slab of stone I could see into the hole and what I saw was the hallway heading back towards the shadow, and outside...to my world.
But where I was, was something else entirely, and it turned out I knew it had to be the curtain of light that had brought me here, somehow the little beings, almost like fairies had transported me from one dimension to another.
"So, you called this place Elrythia?"
"That is what they call it, or at least the closest understanding I have to how they say it. They don't speak out loud you see, they speak in your brain, and it's in the same voice as that little guy in your head that speaks anyways."
I understood what he meant, but my brain was still hurting.
"Why is the only thing I see here this slab of stone."
"Well, in truth they stuck that stone there to give you some bearing...here is not like our dimension where things make sense, where solid is solid and liquid is liquid and such, here it is more like the bottom of the ocean, only no pressure, and the black is more of a presence than a state.
"He was right, other than the rift in reality, and the stone slab, all I could see...feel?...was nothingness.

Even as I write these words I struggle to describe what came next, for it was unlike anything I had ever experienced. Not that what had come before was either. But in truth this was just child's play.
I felt a road open beneath me, the slab of rock disappearing and suddenly I was standing on the road. It was not so much that I could see the road, as I knew in my mind it was there.
My friend was beside me too, even if I couldn't see him either.
"What happens now?" I asked.
"I never really know, they tend to do this differently every...."
His voice was cut off as I felt an invisible force propel me forward, or the presence around me backwards, I was never really sure...but one moment I was standing in the void, and now I was standing in a large white room.
I call it a room because there were walls, though it was more like standing in the center of a room and the walls are under, above and to both sides of you. I felt I was floating and yet the road beneath my feet felt as solid as ever.
In one corner, side, above me and below me of the room a face formed. It was the same face I had seen on all the little points of light that had transported me to this place.
-Welcome- my voice said in my head.
-WE and I, are not beings of your universe, though we built it to suit our needs.-
"Built it?" I asked aloud, but my friend shushed me.
-Yes, we built it to provide for us a laboratory. You see, in a million years from now, when we have enough data recorded to prove our hypotheses, we will begin to build a universe that will last. There will be no entropy, or evolution, there will only be the universe, and our continual monitoring of it.-
"I don't understand."
-Your universe, as you call it, is a staging ground, a ship in a way, like our "box", it holds all the thoughts and desires of our species that can never come true for us. In a way, it is our prayer to what you call God.-
"But my friend here said he'd prove God doesn't exist by bringing me here."
-He is right, God does not exist, and that is why we have built your universe, because we believe that God will exist when there is a need for Him.-
"You mean you don't need God here?"
-No, unfortunately we are so advanced that we have reached a state of perfection that God is not needed, and yet, when we reached this place we felt empty, alone, and lost. It is strange but there is nothing we can do about it. Nothing I can do. We once believed in God as you do, but we kept on waiting, wanting, growing and advancing. We came to realize that it was flaw that made God exist. Not perfection. So we sought to build a flawed universe. So that God could exist.-
"So why has our...your...universe not fulfilled enough that we don't have to be scrapped."
I asked these questions even as the better half of my brain screamed at me that I had lost my mind. There was no up or down here, right or wrong, black or white. Everything was a lie. And everything was the truth.
-Humanity proved to be more difficult to maintain than we thought, for while you are very flawed, you are also just as desirous of perfection and completion as we are. We are afraid that if you continue in your continual progression forward in science and in philosophy that you will come to outlive the need for God as well. We cannot allow this to happen, so we hope that a new hypothesis will come true. That is that a universe without humans still needs God.-
The utter harshness of it floored me, that we were simply an experiment, a flawed experiment that in a million years time would be scrapped for a better one. Still, a million years was a long time. Perhaps I could...
-You will not remember any of this. We can tell you will not keep your promise like your friend here does to keep all this silent. So we will draw your memories out now. Thank you for visiting us.-

The second time I woke up, I began feverishly writing all this, trying to remember the dream, for it probably was just a dream, I mean how could it be true. When I later asked my friend about it he looked at me like I was speaking about pigs flying or something, laughed and clapped me on the back.
"You have quite the imagination." He said goodnaturedly.
I swallowed, and held my notebook close, deciding then and there that somehow, someday I would tell what happened to me.
Still, to this day I have never revealed that truth, and now, as I write this, garnered from a dream in which all is hazy, and everything I've put together seems disjointed and out of place, I hope it will make sense to you.
What if there is no God? No Devil? No angels and no reality.
What if what we stand on is not solid at all, but it's all just in our heads.
I sound like a raving madman.
Of course there is a God.
There has to be.
I hope.
I hope it was all just a dream.

He stands over the fire with the words written in his hands, written in belief that the dream had been true, and he must admit, even now he still believes it was. But he is believing less and less, for he knows things, things experienced in waking and not sleep, things seen with eyes and not just felt with the mind, things oriented and with foundation. The light here is not disintegrated, and the voice that speaks to him is not his own.
God does exist, he tells himself. It was all just a dream, and even if it wasn't...I still believe God exists.
Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
And he threw the writings in the fire, never to be seen again, burning as in the flames of Hell

The Surly Bonds (short story)

The Surly Bonds (Story)

He's listening to Led Zeppelin at night, record scratching in time to the music. It is something he does every night, puts on a record and plays it while he writes in his notebook. He is writing about his day. Black ink scratches across the white page lined with dark lines. He writes furiously, intent upon the page, pushing his glasses up from time to time as they slip down his nose. In his house all the lights are turned off save for the room he is in. That's how he likes it. Every night, precisely at 7 pm, he will write in his notebook about his day. At 8pm he will turn on his radio, listening to the news. This is what he's done every night for the last 10 years. He writes:



-7am, woke up, sun seems dreary this morning, a few clouds in the sky

-8am eating breakfast, cereal with some milk

-9am library reading The Godfather by Mario Puzo, pretty good so far.

-10 am strange girl sits down across from me.

-11 am girl asks me for the time, I look at the clock behind her and tell her, she looks at clock and laughs to herself.



He notices as he writes about the girl that he finds her intriguing. She is pretty with dimples and laugh lines, he can tell she enjoys laughing. She smiled at him as he read, and he moved to a new place. He doesn't think he will sit in that area again. The rest of his writing is filled with times, and dates. He has been keeping track of the Apollo 11 project, and has several graphs and dates for all exploration before the project began. He can tell you that on March 2, 1968 Zond-4, a Russian unmanned spacecraft, launched 300,000 kilometers above the Earth's orbit, and had to be destructed due to a malfunction. He has every rocket named, every person recorded who is involved, every time stuck in his memory. He is fascinated by space, by the way the stars sit up in the sky and don't come falling down around them. Earth seems drab in comparison. He wanted to be an astronaut once, but he is far too sedentary, and he has too many "ticks", as one of his professors said back when he attended school.



He looks up from his writing noting the stain on his brown carpet. He has scrubbed that stain ever since he first saw it. He doesn't care that he can't seem to clear it. The stain came with the apartment. Just like the 1950's furniture, and the old tv he's never turned on. He doesn't like seeing the world, it scares him quite a bit. He'd rather just listen to it by radio.



At 8pm he turns on the radio, listening to the news of the day. They are talking about John Fairfax, the first man to row across an ocean solo, having taken 180 days. He waits impatiently for news of The Eagle, the spacecraft that is supposed to be entering orbit of the moon soon. There is no news though, and he finds himself saddened. He watches the clock tick down to 9pm, not listening anymore. At 9 he begins to prepare for bed, unclothing and putting on his blue pajamas. As he drifts to sleep he thinks of the girl again, and finds himself dreaming of her the rest of the night.



He wakes up at 6am, showers, eats and prepares for the day. His job at the library begins precisely at 9am and he likes to get there right at the dot. As he looks over his notes from the other day he frowns at mention of the girl, remembering his dreams from the night before. What is it about her that is so interesting? She's like any other girl. Is it cause she smiled at him? No, other girls have smiled. Sat beside him? No, other girls have done that. It has to be some abstract attraction she engenders in him that he can't understand. He'd never really thought of girls for a long time, they were like other planets to him, walking in the same dimension but completely 'other'. He couldn't stand the way they made him sweat, and the way his tongue ties up when having to talk to them. Older women were okay, but any girls his own age cause him to break out in hives. He looks at the clock and noticed it's 8:57. He's going to be late for the first time since he started the job. He panics, a strange overpowering fear keeping his limbs from moving. He can't be late! He just can't. Outside his window a traffic light turns green, and he  feels a certain peace from it. He heads out the door.



No one even notices that he is late, and he slips into the books with a quiet shuffle. He begins to shelve the returns all the while looking around him, wondering if she will be there. 15 minutes later he sees her sitting in one of the soft seats, reading a book, though he can't see the cover. She looks up as he passes by and seems about to say or ask something, but he hurries past. He can feel her eyes on his back. He drops the book in his hand, slippery with sweat. As he bends over to pick it up he looks back at her surreptitiously, she is reading again. He sighs.



The rest of the day is quiet and uneventful, just like he likes it. Few people talk to him while he is in the stacks, and he likes to keep it that way, just shelving all day and finding a quiet corner to read a new book whenever he is on lunch break. At 4pm he heads home, he's finished The Godfather and is reading Slaughterhouse Five now. In the book the protagonist becomes unstuck in time, and finds himself on a crazy journey. He feels like that man, whenever he thinks about her he feels unstuck in time. Like somehow her gaze knocks his very spirit out of him, breaking all ties to gravity and mass, he's floating through some other dimension, walking on a white desert full of sand so fine it's like dust. He's drifted off to sleep while reading. He begins to worry about himself. He's never been like this before. The clock reads 8:15, he's almost missed his radio news. As he turns it on he hears the announcer saying that there is a special report coming in. The Eagle has landed, Neil Armstrong is about to walk on the moon. For the first time since he rented the apartment he wants to actually see the news rather than just hear it. He turns on the tv, surprised it still works. The news is full of coverage of the Apollo 11 mission, and everyone is waiting in anticipation for Armstrong's first words on the moon. Video feed of him descending from the module is now playing on the screen. He holds his breath, like he's sure the rest of the world is. The picture is grainy, and you can barely see Armstrong, he seems more a ghost than a man. He's talking about how the ladder doesn't extend to the ground completely, and how the ground is grainy, like a very fine dust. He steps off the ladder. "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." The words ring in his head, one small step. How giant a small step, to leave something that's touched the earth, and the next second be not on the earth at all. He doesn't understand how Armstrong can do it. As much as he hates earth and longs for the stars he realizes now such an act would terrify him. Buzz Aldrin is descending now, and they go on talking. Their camaraderie is palpable. Two men sharing the greatest moment in history together. He thinks of her again, of the way she smiled at him. He trembles at the thought. The newsmen are talking now, and he turns off the tv. He can't stop thinking about it. They walked on the moon. They were brave enough to walk on the moon.



He sleeps fitfully, tossing and turning all night. There is nothing more terrifying than change. Nothing more fearful than the unknown. His parents died when he was 17. They left the house one morning to drive down the coast on a day drive. Hours later he heard the telephone ring, and it was a cop on the line, informing him his parents had been in a wreck and were killed on impact. Since he was only a few days from 18, he sold the house himself, and moved into the city to live on his own. He bought the apartment, got a job at the library and never changed his routine from then on. He was a ghost, drifting from hour to hour, relying on time to keep him anchored. His walls were covered with notebooks.



When he wakes he still feels the wonder of that moment, despite it's terror. The moon. As close as eyesight, but as far away as time itself without the proper vehicle. To him, it was literally another world. He eats his cereal in contemplation. His eyes blink rapidly in nervousness. He can't believe he's thinking of it.



He slips into the library quietly again, emotions all awry. He is Neil Armstrong descending from the lunar module. He is Edmund Hillary reaching the peak of Mount Everest. He is Lewis and Clarke exploring the Pacific Coast. He is himself, stretching a hand out tentatively to the shoulder of a girl. "Hello," He says, almost too quietly. She turns, and she smiles.

The Scars That Never Heal (short story)

He stands at the edge of the platform, late in the evening. He’s  mostly alone, but he doesn’t even seem to notice. He’s texting on his phone, smiling at the words on the screen. A presence comes up beside him, smelling of alcohol, reeking of sweat.
“Hello,” the other man says, his voice high and nervous.
“Uh, hi,” the man finally notices he is alone, and then he notices something else, a cold hard presence pressed against his stomach.
“So, if you wouldn’t mind, give me some of that nice money you must have, and that cell phone.”A hand grabs his arm, as he tenses to run, the man he sees before him now is smiling a cold smile, but there’s still a sense of nervousness in his eyes.
He yells, “help!” and jumps away, even as the knife swings through empty air, inches from his skin. He swings his fist, distant whistle of the oncoming train still so far away, the night quiet, except with the sound of grunts.
They circle each other, one trying to get away, the other trying to victimize, each breathing heavily.
Glint of light, the knife falls again, sweeping across flesh with a blood filled scream.
A dog barks and voices echo down the stairs, the robber runs away, the victim stares down at his bloody arm, slash looking wider than it is for all the blood.

He stepped back from the concrete platform, eyes opening and staring around him. There is no subway now that comes down this track, the twelve years that have passed have changed much. The platform is just a platform now, the track forgotten and unused.
He grunted at the memory, tears coming to his eyes, but he wiped them away. In the distance he can hear the the subway heading down other tracks, and above him the sounds of people passing, no one noticing the broken lock on the grate separating the steps down into this pit from the rest of the world.

He looked down at his arm, at the scars all jagged that sits there. In his hand is a taser that he always had with him now wherever he went. He can’t forget. He won’t forget. Every year he came out to this same place so he wouldn’t forget.

The scar looked a little healed now, so he dug into his pocket and pulled out a knife. He kept this just for this occasion. Pressing it against the scarred area he dragged it across, wincing in the pain, but not crying out. He can’t let the scar heal, if he did he might forget. He might forget to protect himself, and he might forget that not everyone is kind, or good, that some will betray you and hurt you. He put the knife back in his pocket after a moment, looking down at the now bloody arm again.  This will help him never forget.

He knew every crack by name, and the torn flesh beneath. He’d tread its landscape over and over those past twelve years. He knew when it ended and where it began. He knew that if he ever let one inch of it heal he might just start to forget, and even worse, forgive the man that’d done this to him.

He closed his eyes again, remembering that night, every second. He cannot forget, or he might just start to heal.

Drip, Drip, Drip, the blood fell to the platform, becoming just another red stain where many red stains already lay.

He’d forgotten other things from that night, like the fact that he’d been texting his fiancee, a beautiful girl with pixie hair, or that he’d just gotten a promotion that day at his job. He’d forgotten the clear crisp air above, and the smells of hot dogs and cotton candy from the fair that’d opened a few blocks away. He’d forgotten the sounds of laughing children, half screaming and laughing as they rode the tilt o whirl, or braved the endlessly looping rollercoaster. He’d never remembered those moments, those smiles, because they’d been scarred over, and long forgotten. Just like this lost and forgotten subway track no thoughts treaded those memories now, no joy peopled those moments that had once filled his nights with wonder rather than terror.

He’d watch people now with fear, and paranoia, calculating the lines of their faces to see if they matched up with the somewhat blurry memory of his attacker. Sometimes he’d see his attackers face and he’d finger his taser, wishing to do something, but always there were people around and always he felt a little unsure.

He never forgot the taser, bringing it with him everywhere he went. He watched the people pass by, and pretended in a cold paranoia that each of them was planning his doom. The fear filled worry of that coming day filled every night of his dreams and sleep.

His fiancee left him finally, and his job fired him. He lived in a new building now, one that had been condemned but housed by many homeless. He’d picked a room far from the others, boarded it up and there he stayed, never forgetting. The only possessions from his old life were his knife and the taser.

A boot fell on the concrete above.

“Hello? Anyone there?”

He saw a man come down the stairs, in a hoodie, kindly brown face smiling at him, but then eyes widening in shock.

“Oh my god, dude, you’re bleeding!” He stepped closer and the man tensed with fear. This was him, his attacker. He just knew it.

“Do I know you?” the other man asked, seeing the recognition in his eyes.

“You ruined me,” The man said. “You took away my life! You gave me this!” He brandished his arm at the man, the scar almost covering his whole arm now, completely unrecognizable from that night so long ago.

“Man, I have no idea what you’re talking about, but we need to get you some help.”

“You can’t hurt me again,” He stepped up to him, pressing taser against his chest and pressing the button. Electric shock rocketed through the other man’s body, as he fell to the ground, the man bending down, keeping the taser pressed to his chest. In time the man stopped twitching and his eyes glazed over.

The smell of piss filled the air, the man had wet himself.

He looked down at the face of his attacker, less sure now that it had been his attacker. He heard shouts, and running footsteps. Someone had seen him tasering the man, the man that wasn’t his attacker, the man that hadn’t given him any scars.

The knife was still in his other hand, dripping blood that was his own. He looked down at his arm again, wondering why he’d never let himself forget. He’d only wanted to protect himself, to not let himself get hurt ever again. He’d only wanted to validate his pain, to give it the right to exist. He’d only wanted to find some way of punishment for the man who’d hurt him.

Yet it’d led to all this, and as he knelt there, taser dropped on the ground now, blood still dripping from knife, cops shouting at him, he wished he’d just forgotten, wished he’d just healed, wished that the scar on his arm had just disappeared over time.

Passover (short story)

Passover

It was the summer of 1968 when Daniel Swaggart returned home to Cold Lake, a mostly unknown little village in the forested mountains of the Ozarks, not far from the southern border of Missouri. Daniel was a tall man, and he sported a high collared tshirt with buttons at the top close to the neck; on his chest was a pocket where he kept his writing utensils, at this time a pencil, since pens were prone to break and leave wide inkstains.
He walked briskly up the path to the old house his parents had raised him in, sometimes almost tripping on the stones that lined it. In the chill morning air he could hear the gentle call of a mockingbird, singing as the air itself misted in and out of vision. He remembered as a child running down that same path barefoot, the crickets singing in the sweetgum and the morning dew lightly wetting his toes. He would laugh and pretend he was a mountain goat. Now as he walked up the path he felt very much an elephant, the precarious winding trail almost a direct climb up.
He’d only been gone for ten years, some of that in college, most of it working for a publishing firm in Chicago. Now as he walked up the path he wished he’d worn different clothes, he almost felt as if a polo shirt and shorts was an insult to this place that he’d grown up in.
Pulling his sunglasses off, and panting, he finally reached the top of the path. He looked up towards the house, a log cabin held together by long lines of cement, and the old rocker sitting on the roofed porch. It was all wood, and smelled the part. Wood shavings covered the light brown porch, and the overhang was a darker brown, mostly unshaven wood, still thick with the bark that the original tree had. In the rocker sat his father, a big man with overalls and red hair who was whittling away at a stick. Even after all these years his father still hadn’t got one gray hair, Daniel thought. His father noticed the man then and smiled, standing up as Daniel made his way through the grass to the porch steps.
“Danny boy, as I live and breathe,” his father said, “You look like some city boy in them fine threads of yern.”
“I am a city boy Dad,” Daniel laughed.
“That’s the truth, that’s the truth,” his father grinned, “Well come on inside, I’ll throw a pot on the stove.”
His father cooked up some old deer meat sausage he’d been saving, and they sat down at the table. Daniel could smell the wood chips from the walls and floor and the table itself, and the smoke from the stove. Over to the right of the table lay an old cot. There’d once been a bed there, when his mother was alive. There’d also been a smaller bed where he slept, on the front right-hand corner of the house, but now there was just a bare spot there.
“So how’s Chicago?” his father asked.
“Windy,” Daniel joked, not sure of what he really wanted to say. How could his father, this big mountain man, understand about midday traffic, and the way hundreds of cars sounded as they passed your Main Street penthouse suite that you’d covered the walls with Monet paintings. How could he understand what it was like to sit in the pub downtown and discuss Freud and Nietzsche over cigars and a pint of beer? He couldn’t.
“I expect,” his father said, looking over at Daniel with a strange look in his eyes.
“They say the war is changing, perhaps in our favor,” Daniel said, trying to change the subject, though he wondered why he’d picked that. His father didn’t have a tv, much less a radio and his only way of knowing about the outside world was Earl the shopkeeper down at the town over.
“Don’t know much about the war, jest that them Vietnams been shootin our boys well up in them jungles, why I remember what it was like in Germany, at least you could see each other, bastard Nazis left and right, but at least you could see ‘em.” His father spat some tobacco into a tin pot at the side of the table.
Daniel picked at the sausage, then took another swig of water that his father had laid out before him in an old tin cup. Outside he could hear the sounds of thunder and figured it was about to rain.
“So, uh, how is the business?” he finally asked, unsure what else to ask.
“Goin well,” his father said, “we got some nice hogs in last summer and been reapin’ the rewards since. Percy thinks we’ll break even for the first time in years.”
“That’s good.” Daniel looked up into his father’s eyes as the rain began to pour outside causing a cacophony of sound on the aluminum roof up above. He remembered loving that sound as a kid, now it just annoyed him.
“Well, I’m sure you’re wondering why I’ve come back after all these years,” He said slowly, trying to draw out the inevitable as long as he could.
“A little, though I thought it might be you missed your old man and the home you grew up in.” His father smiled and his teeth were yellow and brown from years of tobacco.
The way his father smiled Daniel knew he figured it couldn’t actually be that, but the way he almost self consciously said it broke his heart. His father might not look old, but he surely felt it, out here on the mountain all alone except for when he went to work, which couldn’t be as much as it used to be.
“You don’t have to tell me yet, we could just sit here and think about old times,” his father said, smiling a little less than before. “You remember that old coonhound we had, the hunts me an’ you went on when you was younger?”
Daniel nodded. “Red was his name, and those were some good times, you taught me how to use a 20 gauge and we even got ourselves some deer now and then.”
The familiar pattern of speech settled on his tongue easier than he suspected it would, and he felt almost like he was betraying his father by using it. He could feel the cold hand of truth touching him on the shoulder and yet he couldn’t raise his tongue to speak it.

* * *


When he left Cold Lake for the first and last time, Daniel had been only 18 years old. It was the year Campanella had the accident that caused him to be paralyzed, and Elvis Presley was inducted into the U.S. army as a private. Both of these affected Daniel deeply who had come to spending a lot of his time down in the town of Ridgeville, about 3 miles from Cold Lake and where Daniel met a young girl named Tracy. It wasn’t a chance meeting, he’d known of her in school and knew she traveled from Ridgeville to the small one room village school Cold Lake ran. Many had wondered why her parents would want to send her there instead of the larger Ridgeville schools, but when one met her parents, you didn’t wonder any longer. They were the strict southern baptist type who attended services at a church that if you were lucky you’d get to hear the pastor give a rousing sermon that consisted mainly of singing the old folk song Preacher and The Bear and having a roll call at the end to come up and accept Jesus as your personal savior.
Tracy was the kind of girl who drew every boy’s attention, especially Daniel’s. She had an almost demure way about her that caused every young boy to struggle with lustful thoughts and when Daniel found himself in Ridgeville at the local library it was mainly to catch more glimpses of her. She was very quiet, and liked to read books, so he wasn’t surprised to find her there, reading from a novel which had only recently been published. Her face was scrunched up in a frown though as he sat down on the seat near to her.
“Hello,” He said somewhat awkwardly.
She looked up and smiled a little. He could tell she recognized him, and that she seemed a little happy to see him gave him renewed strength to talk to her more.
“Daniel right?” She asked politely.
“Yessam, that’s me.” He said it as if he wished he didn’t have to say it that way. Suddenly for the first time in his life Daniel felt embarrassed at the way he talked.
She giggled though, softly.
“Whatcha readin there?” He asked. Though he’d never liked books that much, he did know how to read, and was actually pretty good at it.
She pushed the book towards him, and he picked it up, the name was some kind of weird Russian name, Nabokov, and the book itself was called Lolita.
“I don’t really like it, it’s kind of debasing of young girls.” Tracy said. “Surprised the library even let it be here, it’ll probably be banned before long.”
He could tell she liked giving her opinion on books so he nodded along and acted as if he cared. One line in particular grabbed his attention and he stared at it for a long time, almost forgetting she was there.

“She trembled and twitched as I kissed the corner of her parted lips and the hot lobe of her ear. A cluster of stars palely glowed above us, between the silhouettes of long thin leaves; that vibrant sky seemed as naked as she was under her light frock.”

He had never read words quite like that, nor did he fully understand what all it meant. But the erotic beauty of it caught his eye, much like Tracy had. He found himself returning to that library many times after that, not just to talk to Tracy anymore, but to read from the strange book written about American teenage girls. In a way Tracy became his Lolita, the light of his life and the fire of his loins, as the writer had said, and as they stole kisses underneath a pale starred evening for the first time, out by the lake itself, he felt that he finally understood what Nabokov had been trying to say. It was then that Daniel told Tracy he wanted to be a writer too, and she smiled kissing him lightly on the mouth, pulling him down into the blankets. He never asked her why him, he was always afraid of the answer, and always a little afraid she might admit she wasn’t thinking, and realize she’d committed some sin that God would never forgive her of.
He left with her in the last days of 1958, just a couple months after he’d come to her in the library, wishing to see the wide world of America, far from the embarrassments of an old mountain family, none of them educated but the boy, and none of them ambitious to see anything more than just another day on the mountain. He’d walked away with barely a word of goodbye, and when he and Tracy reached Chicago, and Daniel worked to go to college, and later work for a prestigious firm, he’d come to realize he’d never regretted it at all.

* * *

The rain outside pounded loudly as the father and the son faced each other from across the table. His father stood up and walked across the room to a dusty old bookshelf where there were only two books. One was the Bible, well worn and read over and over. Daniel could remember how his mother would read him to sleep, going haltingly over the sentences since she’d only reached a third grade reading level. Sometimes he would stop her to ask what a word meant, and she would either shrug or try to tell him. It wasn’t til school later that Daniel even began to realize that sometimes his mother had lied to him.
Daniel’s father picked up the second book, and Daniel frowned. He recognized it, the only book he’d ever written despite his dreams. It was a novel about a young boy growing up in the mountains of Missouri in the 1950’s and while being generally well received had never won Daniel any awards. Too many people had seen right through the fa├žade to realize that Daniel was merely writing a creative nonfiction piece about his own life, and the bitterness he had at it.
“Your mother read it before she died,” His father said, sitting back down at the table, the book between them. On the front a young boy stood at the edge of a lake, looking out over the waters, as if wondering what lay beyond it. In the reflection the reader could see that his mother and father stood behind him, holding hands and watching him. Their reflections were more wavy, while his stood out as stark as the moon itself overhead.
“She said it made her sad, and yet happy for her son that he’d had a chance to live a better life than the one he felt trapped in.”
Daniel felt the pain of that one sentence like a knife to the heart.
“I ain’t never got a chance to read it, too many big words and not enough simple thought.,” His father went on. “You always did think too much. Took that from your mother I expect.”
Daniel felt hurt, but kept it to himself. How could he expect the man who sat across from him to even get the deep psychological mire the boy had dealt with as he fought countless inward battles to rise above the hog slop and rough country wisdom he’d been trapped in. He’d hated it, every inch of it, and as he’d grown older he’d only had dreams to keep him going, dreams of escaping.
“I’m sorry son,” His father said. “It weren’t that you thought too much, but jest that that was always a wall between us, I mean I ain’t got much education, and I never really wanted more. My pa raised hogs with Percy’s pa, and we jest figgered that would be the way we did too, I hope I never made you feel like less of a son for it though.”
The anger, even the bitterness in Daniel’s heart left in an instant. The rain had stopped outside and the earthy smell of deluged forest hit his nostrils. He could feel almost the same feelings he’d had as a younger boy, before the bitterness set in, back when the stars and the sunsets on the mountain had been beautiful to him, and not signs of the nature that kept him from his dreams. He wished he’d stayed, wished he hadn’t given it all up for the wrong reasons. Guilt set in as he looked up at his father, the man he’d both loved and been embarrassed by. His father was standing up again, stoking the fire in the oven, and as Daniel watched him, he realized he’d never known another man more worthy of the word father. He was a good man, a man who’d loved his mother well, and tried to provide for his family the best he could. Sometimes working for hours in the slop with the hogs, and in the stink and sweat of the slaughter house. This was a man Daniel knew was a better man than he ever would be.

* * *

The problems started about a year into Daniel’s time at Roberts and Wells Publishing Company. He’d been getting into drugs, and often was penniless for it. Tracy left him about a few months after they’d graduated from college, running off with a member of the Black Panthers, a big handsome black man who’d played jazz at the coffeehouse they frequented. He had stolen her heart in one smooth riff on the guitar. Daniel had never liked him, and hated him even more when Tracy had run off with him.
After that he spent more time alone, got drunk more, and found himself often downtown at dark alleyways where people experimented with the new drug LSD. It wasn’t like San Francisco where hippies abounded, but it was still pretty bad, and Daniel had been as much a part of the scene as he could be. His employers ignored it, being mostly hippies themselves, and the whole company went under in only three years. After that Daniel lived on the streets, and passed from one commune to another. It was a different world, and one that changed him completely. A few weeks before he decided to return home he was in his friend‘s penthouse suite, lost in a stupor of cocaine when a knock came on the door.
“We know you’re in there Dan, open the door.” It was one of his friends, Marko, a black dealer who’d often gotten him some nice stuff when he needed it.
“Come on in, man,” He said.
Marko walked in followed by two big men who looked slightly Italian.
“Hey man, this here’s Rudy and Luigi, they was lookin for you,” Marko said, smiling sheepishly.
“Sorry man, I had to.”
Then Marko moved, revealing that Rudy had been holding a gun to his back.
Luigi sat down in front of Daniel, who was still tripping too much to realize what was going on.
“My boss sent me, see?” Luigi began. “You owe him some money you ain’t payed for the whole time you owed it. We are here to get it.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Daniel said, sobering up a bit.
Outside the window a yellow traffic light flashed to red, and the room was bathed in a blood like light that made Luigi’s face as macabre as the devil’s.
“Oh don’t play coy with me, Mr. Swaggart,” Luigi said. “We knows you knows what we’re talkin’ about, now where’s the money.”
Daniel didn’t move for a second, but the drugs coursed through his system and he thought fast, diving between the couch he was sitting on, and then driving up the coffee table into Luigi’s face. The big Italian just sat there, clutching a bloody nose, crying for Rudy to shoot the bastard.
Marko was struggling with Rudy though, now, trying to take his gun, and Daniel used this short interval to hit Luigi in the face again, this time with his fist. Luigi moved clumsily firing off a shot with his gun that crashed into the wide penthouse window, now bathing the room in an alien green light. Glass shattered all over the floor, and Daniel almost cried out as he moved across it, his bare feet slashed to ribbons on the glass.
Luigi was more lucky this time as he shot again, clipping Daniel in the shoulder as behind him he could hear another gunshot and outside the sound of incoming sirens.
Rudy lay on the ground in a pool of blood, and Marko held his gun towards Luigi who raised his into the air.
“Give the gun to me, asshole,” Daniel said, cursing as he limped to where Luigi was standing.
Luigi handed the gun to him reluctantly and Daniel shot him in the face. He felt like God for the first time in his life, and all the pain of his leaving echoed in the rage of that gunshot.
Marko was shouting now that they needed to run, that the cops would be there soon and Daniel dragged on his shoes, covering them in blood, and they ran out of the room fast, onto the balcony outside the shattered window and down a fire escape into the alley. If not for it being too narrow for a police car to get down they probably would have been caught. Inside the room was bathed in a yellow sickly light, much like the feeling in Daniel’s stomach as they ran away.
Daniel woke up a day later in Marko’s apartment, his eyes red, and his heart torn. He had killed a man, and he had not even flinched from doing so.

* * *

“So why don’t you tell me why you came here Daniel.” His father asked as they sat outside on the porch. That night his father had let him sleep on the cot, as he slept on the floor, using an old navy blanket he’d owned since the War. Daniel now sat at the edge of the porch, his legs hanging off and waving in the air. His father sat in the rocker and put a cigarette in his mouth.
Daniel thought for a time, about how lonely the mountain could be, and about how his father had not had his mother for a good couple years now. How could he tell his father he had killed a man and then run away from the law. How could he admit that he never should have left, and that his father was a better man than he ever could be. He couldn’t. The disappointment alone would kill his father, if not for the worry. He was an old man now, a man from another age, a man with honor.
“I came because I missed you dad,” He finally said. And the way he said it he knew his father would believe him. He’d gotten good at lying over the years.
I came because this is the only place in all the world I’ve ever felt safe. Daniel thought, but he couldn’t say that. Behind those words lay all the secrets he could never tell.
“I see,” His father replied, blowing a puff of smoke into the noonday air. The mountain itself seemed to listen as Daniel told his father some of the truth, about how things had gone down in Chicago. He only told him the good parts, which were few, but were good enough to make his father smile.
“I missed you too, son,” His father said. “I want you to know we forgave ya long ago, for leavin without sayin goodbye. I can understand why you did.”
Daniel felt his heart light up with a joy, but also weigh down with continued guilt. He knew what he had to do, what he should do to repay his father for showing him how to be a man.
As they embraced and said goodbye, Daniel promised he’d come back again someday, though it might be awhile. His father smiled, and nodded, believing him, and Daniel almost cried as he walked down the well worn path from the old house. He could hear the crickets again, and felt like running. He took off his shoes, long since washed of the blood on them, and ran down the path.
He almost didn’t see the big rock before he tripped over it, flying headlong toward the edge of the path, and near the cliff face that lined it. He lay near the edge for a long time, laughing in a way he’d never laughed before. His head hung out over it, and he could see the whole world below him. He surely deserved to have fallen over the edge, but he hadn’t, and perhaps there was hope in that. As he pulled himself up, and walked down the path a little more gingerly, he decided he would return to Chicago, and face whatever the consequences. He had to. It was what his father would have done, and for the first time in his life, Daniel wanted to be just like his father, no matter what it took, and what sacrifices he’d have to make to be so.