"Out beyond ideas
of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field.
I'll meet you there"
-Jelaluddin Rumi, 13th century
(Ed and Iris meet in a dream, in a field, where anything is possible.)
Love! You must be asleep.
Out beyond desires and fears
there is a field,
I'll meet you there.
I was indeed sleeping.
But I'm in that field now, where are you?
I'm not sure.
Somewhere with my feet leading me, and memories dripping from my fingertips.
I have called. Cried out even.
In the mist of the sunrise I've looked beyond the wheat and wildflowers, past the magnificent oaks of the wood line.
Ive heard the voices of the morning birds, but their songs have fallen on lonely ears.
Is that what that beautiful song was?
There's a swing in this oak.
Lonelier than I.
Untested in its solitude and seclusion.
Abandoned by those of us afraid to be beyond fear, and further than our own desires.
I'll meet you there!
I'm already waiting.
There's a clearing here, where the oaks form a circle. Standing guard of this most private of places. Their long crooked branches with deep rough bark nearly rest on the ground, as if arthritic and buckling under the weight of the wispy moss.
Here is where the tender flowers grow.
Protected by the mighty oak whose offering, is not too much sun, and not too much shade.
That beasts of this size are required for the life of something so soft, so small that a whisper, if spoken too loudly, could whisk it away is a testament to the magic of this forest.
So now, with sunlight filtered and the winds hushed down to a broken breeze, and the clearing floor alive with delicate colors, I can rest. I am protected.
And I will wait. Like the flowers, the oaks offer me solitude and a spot to flourish.
I see you here!
Amongst the posies and the pansies.
You've blended with the supple. Thousands of petals touching, pushing, holding against your body, unaware you're not one of them.
They cover enough of you so as you are not bare. There's decency even in the primal.
But it's what's left uncovered that causes even the oaks to cast their eyes heavenward.
We have found one another!
In this place I thought was true only in our dreams.
Cast off your clothes, your fears, lay beside me.
But my fear lies in my vulnerability, my awareness in truth.
My fear is the past.
It creeps froward in perfect time, remaining in the gap, as if to never fully distinguish itself.
It needs the shadow to disguise its true self.
Can I only watch you from here?
My darling, these flowers have no memory.
They do not know they suffered death only last winter.
They do not know this same fate awaits.
If they did how could they bear to continue on for the ages?
Who could agree to die a thousand deaths?
Now come, lay amongst the forgotten, the tender and fearless.
Be with us.
Lose your memory here.
I will. But how long can we stay?
That swing you spoke of, will you push me on it?
Will you push me forever?
I'd love to.
But what about winter?
It's the dark time.
The leaves will fall from the oaks and allow the winds in.
The biting wind will cut through us, it's frost will descend upon us, the oaks will betray us.
The soft will not survive.
Surly it will come. Every year it comes.
Come, lay with me my love.
Don't allow your fears to rob you.
Don't allow them to steal the beauty that's so fragile.
Here, I have this spot for you. It's been waiting.
It's so soft here.
The petals supporting my body.
This is where I flourish.
No more fear of winter?
What is winter?
Lionel sat back against his chair, stretching with a groan and snapped forward again, leaning his elbows on the table and staring discontentedly at the crossword puzzle. Beside him, his phone began to buzz. He wrapped his fingers around the object, lifting it to his bored eyes and read the name "Tarah" without swiping. He set it back down on the table and the call went to voicemail. Lifting his pencil, he slowly filled in the word Havoc and then the phone began to buzz again. With an aggravated sigh, he dragged his finger across the screen and hit speaker.
"…Lionel? Hello?" crackled a woman's voice through bad reception.
"Yes. Hello. You're on speaker phone," said Lionel.
There was a pause from the other end.
"Is there someone else in the room?" she asked.
"Yes, there's a whole audience all on the edge of their seat, waiting with bated breath over what you'll say next."
"Don't be an asshole," complained the voice on the other end, "Look, I'm calling because…well, you know."
Lionel filled in the words Quid pro quo.
"No, I don't. You could say literally anything. There's no way for me to know for sure," he replied flippantly.
"You're such a jerk. Do you talk to Erin like this?"
"Whatever, I bet that's why she went on vacation by herself, she's so sick of you. The reason I called is about the money."
"What money?" asked Lionel, picking up the crossword and holding it close to his face. He set it back down, erasing an earlier filled in clue and replaced Ares with Mars.
"The money that she owes me. I wouldn't be pestering you guys about this, but I'm kind of strapped right now and you know, with rent almost due, five-hundred bucks is nothing to sneeze at," said the voice on the other line.
"I didn't know she borrowed money from you."
"What do you mean, you didn't know?" demanded the voice, "She told me she needed it fast, and that you didn't get paid until tomorrow, or today, I mean, because she told me yesterday…anyway, I gave it to her because she said you could pay me back right away, she just needed help getting out of town for a bit."
"Ah, yes. I imagine so. Well, I'm sorry. I'll see if I can find it," he replied, writing down a stitch in time in the small squares.
"I mean, scrounge it up. You know what I mean," he corrected hastily.
There was a pause on the other end of the line.
"Is everything ok, Lionel?" asked the voice slowly.
"Everything is fine. I mean, it's terrible, but that's life, right?" he said, setting the crossword down and fixing his eyes on the phone. The pencil remained in his right hand, poised in the air.
"I just…hey, I'm sorry about what I said earlier. I know you and Erin are having a hard time. She told me a little bit about it when I saw her."
"Yeah, well," he retorted, his eyes rolling up to the ceiling and then back to the phone, but he had nothing else to add.
"So she took off for a bit, huh?"
"Yeah, solo vacation," he replied.
"How's her…um, how's her vacation going?"
"I think she's finding it relaxing."
"Yeah, where did she go?"
Lionel was staring directly across the table and didn't answer, so the caller repeated the question. He jolted, shaking his head.
"I don't know."
"You don't know?"
"Hawaii or somewhere like that. Where do people normally go on vacations?" he snapped angrily.
"Five hundred bucks isn't gonna get you to Hawaii."
"She didn't tell me. What does it matter?" he asked.
There was another, longer hesitation on the other end of the line.
"Lionel, if you need someone to talk to…you know you can talk to me, right?"
"Yeah, sure," he muttered.
"No, really. What are big sisters for? But, you'd tell me. If she left you, you'd tell me? You wouldn't just sit in the house and mope?"
"I'm doing a crossword puzzle."
As if to prove it to her unseeing eyes, he bent his head back over it and began filling in the word Watergate.
"You only do crosswords when you're upset. And you never fill them in correctly."
"Look, this clue was 'Who is the god of war?' and I answered 'Mars.'"
"That's a planet," corrected the voice.
"You're an idiot."
"Ok, thanks. I'll let you go. But seriously, if you need to talk about Erin…" the voice on the other end suddenly stopped.
"Yeah, yeah, I'll call you and we'll have a real heart to heart about it and everything," he said distractedly.
The voice's tone was punctuated with some serious note.
"Erin's purse. She left it here," said the caller, her voice giving weight to every word.
"It's got her wallet. Her driver's license. And the money I gave her."
"So what?" he asked, setting the crossword down again.
"Is she missing?"
"No, I told you," he said heatedly, "She went on a vacation."
"Without literally everything she'd need?" inquired the voice on the other end of the line, "I mean, she was only here the other day telling me about…telling me about you guys and thanking me for loaning her the money, maybe she got attacked on the walk home or…"
"Will you just shut up a minute?" he cut in, "I'm telling you, she left, she was fine. She took a bus."
"Somethings wrong. I'm coming over."
"Don't!" he yelled suddenly, but continued calmer, "Don't come over."
There was another silence.
"What happened?" asked the caller slowly.
"Nothing. Just…everything is fine. Don't come over."
"Lionel, what did you do?"
"I didn't do anything! I…that bitch…"
"I'm coming over," interrupted the voice.
The phone beeped as Call Ended flashed over the screen. Lionel stared miserably at the phone and then lifted his gaze slowly to the body that was seated in the chair across the table from him. He picked up his pencil, silently erasing his answers on the crossword.
The Truth Will Out
Sarah wrinkled up her freckled nose in preparation for throwing the biggest tantrum a three-year old had ever launched. She had her hysterics down to a science, calculated to get the response she desired. Angrily, she threw herself down on the hard wooden floor, kicking her feet, flailing her arms and scrunching up her chubby little cheeks. Her red hair was standing on end, almost as if electricity were coursing through her frustrated little pumpkin body. Inwardly, she felt proud that she was doing a bang up job of achieving the attention she desired as she spouted her feelings in torrents of frustration. Opening her eyes a crack, she was pleased to see that her parents were reacting as planned.
Her mother and father watched in horrified amazement because they knew no one in their family had ever had this hair trigger temper and they knew why. But, shhh! Sarah could never know. It was a secret that they would preserve to their graves.
“You don’t feel like my mother,” Sarah screamed as her face reddened to the shade of the bricks framing the fireplace. “I don’t want you to be my father! I’m not like anyone else in this family. I don’t like my red hair! Why can’t I have brown hair like you?” She began to yank strands of her hair out in chunks. Her little overwhelmed body was shaking with frustration.
Her mother turned her head so little Sarah wouldn’t have the satisfaction of seeing her tears. Taking the small child in her arms, she tried to soothe her but Sarah would have no part of it, kicking her in the stomach. Her Dad walked quietly over and picked up the hollering child, carrying her to her bedroom where she cried herself to sleep.
As she grew older, Sarah was even more convinced that she did not belong in this family unit. She was very intelligent, gifted in math and science with a flamboyant creative streak. The other members of her family were quite pedestrian. Her father was a Pentecostal preacher who considered himself the king of the household with his word being law. No matter how hard Sarah tried, she couldn’t conform. Her quick wit was secretly admired by her teachers although she was sent to detention frequently because she was so lively and untamed. Because of her strict parents, she kept extra clothes in her school locker so she could change into them after she left her house. Sarah reasoned that it was her parents” fault that she was forced to be sneaky since they never approved of any of her choices. She certainly couldn’t be blamed for their lack of trust causing her to resort to deceit.
Although she felt miserable, Sarah continued her life doubting that she belonged anywhere at all. She found herself always looking around herself wherever she went to see if she could find a family in which she would feel comfortable. Unable to assuage her longing, she began to pursue her creativity, painting wild pictures and writing erotic poems. She sewed multi-colored outfits and became a fashion show plate. She tasted the nectar of many men indiscriminately as her juices awakened in uncontrollable desire. Savoring life, she backpacked to Europe one summer and had a wild fling. Returning to the States sans her temporary lover, she enrolled in engineering at the local college, attaining top grades while she continued to carouse with her many swains. The world opened up to her like a bud on a rose as she partook of its pleasures.
Marrying and divorcing twice, she still could not find her direction. She decided to return to her home to question her parents as to why she was so different. She was now 39 years old, full of life and passion, but always with a little nagging doubt at the back of her mind. While her parents were working in the parish of their church, she decided to snoop in the drawers of the dresser in their bedroom. Finding a folder labeled ‘Sarah’, she couldn’t resist opening it to see its contents. She wondered why she found photographs from the time she was two but no baby pictures. At the bottom of the folder, she found an official looking certificate and yellowed newspaper clippings which finally satisfied her search for the truth. Shaking, she fingered the papers discovering that she was adopted after her father had killed her mother in a fit of rage. As horrified as she was to discover the early circumstances of her life, she was enraged that her parents had never told her the truth of her birth. She knew in the bottom of her heart that she would rather be the daughter of a murderer than the seed of a family of liars.
Now she understood why she had such fury. She couldn’t contain the overwhelming anger and frustration festering and boiling over her rim. Forcing her temper to take a back seat, she took a large carving knife out of the knife block in the kitchen. Running her fingers over the sharp blade, she watched in fascination as a few small dark drops of blood marched along her thumb, verifying that the knife was honed and ready. Finally accepting her heritage, she smiled in eager anticipation as she awaited the arrival home of her adoptive parents.
He had a hammer, nothing else. He never owned a gun, never had a reason. Sure, during the war he had been issued a gun, but he gave it back after the battles had ended. Turned out Edgar didn’t need one to kill, and kill he had. Blood pooled and cooled on his dirt floor. Gory hair, bits of bone, and perhaps brain stained the hammer’s head. It had only taken one blow. Now a dead man crowded his shop.
‘How could one body fill so much space?’
Edgar looked at his hammer. It was his favorite. He had many, some bought, others he had made himself. This one though, the one he held was important, it was the first one he had ever made. It contained so much sentimental value. With it he had created tools, he had welded steel, shaped iron, it had a useful purpose. It had been an extension of his arm, an instrument of his will. But now- now he would see a death whenever he swung it. With it he had created, but now, he had unmade. This was the first time he had destroyed something with it. It had become tainted. Every blow on metal, every strike to the anvil would ring out the wet crack of the dead man’s skull.
Edgar dropped the tool. It felt wrong in his hand. Like the hammer had drunk down the man’s soul when it had crushed bone. A cursed ghost forever living in the hickory handle, always seeing through the polish head of the hammer.
He was reminded of the ended life by the gory bits clouding the refined metal. For a moment he reached for it, thinking he needed to clean the hammer, wipe away the sin. But he stopped himself, unsure it would ever be clean enough.
The hammer had taken a life. It had killed a man. But it was Edgar’s anger that had powered it, his will had aimed it. The hammer delivered the blow. Blood covered them both.
He looked at the dead man, Sheriff Deputy Blake. The stupid son of bitch had threatened him; Edgar Jones, the town’s blacksmith. He had a respected position, more important than some tin star. More necessary than some Deputy puffed up with power and drunk on money squeezed from his charges. This wasn’t the first time that Blake had attempted to get money out of him, nor the second. Both those times had resulted in anger, but not death.
This time was different, this time Deputy Blake had gone through with his threat. He had showed up, smug and taunting. The Lawman made it a point to show off his new pocket watch. A watch that was not always his, it had first belonged to Edgar’s brother.
Someone dear to Edgar who had left town a few days back and had yet to return or send word. Turned out he couldn’t.
This cooling corpse now rotting upon his floor was a fabricated lawman, never true to the law he was supposed to uphold, false to its power. He stared at the body wondering what to do with it. He was uncertain how far the corruption went.
'Did the Sheriff know? Was the town Marshal in on it? Can I trust any lawman?'
'Did they know my brother was killed?'
He was certainly ambushed when he left town, waylaid by the dead Deputy and murdered to make a point.
He knew then he could not tell anybody. This was his secret to hide. His lie to tell.
Edgar needed time, the day had started, and the sun was spreading its light about. He could not move the body now, the town would see it. He had to stash it somewhere in his shop in the meantime and dump it in the woods later. The coyotes would make short work of it, there would be nothing left to find.
He cast his glaze about the work space. Most of his storage was open, hanging on walls, hooked to benches, or materials piled on the floor. The only thing big enough to hide the body was the coal bin.
He grabbed the dead man’s foot and pulled him to the large wooden box, it just happened to be made of pine.
‘Looks you’re going to be buried in a pine box.’ Edgar chuckled. ‘For a short time at least.’
With his wide faced shovel Edgar moved the small black rock and dust out of the way. Making a man sized furrow.
Some quick work had the corpse in the bin though still visible. Blood seeped from the broken skull into the coal it rested upon making it look shiny and slick.
He covered the body with the black earth, those tiny chucks of coal capable of so much. Fuel for fires, whether they be for warmth or work. Fuel powerful enough to push trains speeding across countries. A substance buried within the earth, hidden beneath mountains, now it sheltered his sin.
It was a shallow grave. It would not conceal the truth for long.
He kicked his boots at the dust, doing his best to cover the drag marks and the pool of blood.
Could he smell it? Or was the scent of spilt blood his in nose because he knew it was there?
No, he was safe. No one would know. He could easily lie; say he never saw the false lawman. At dark he’d move the corpse and hide it in the ground. The earth would eat up the body and make it disappear. He might have uncovered the lie in the lawman, but no one would uncover his.
Edgar looked at the man sized lump in the coal and wondered which fate was more befitting his brother’s killer, ‘Should I dig deep and break sweat and my back to bury you? Or my dear Blake, shall I leave you stripped and naked in the woods, nothing more than food for the coyotes?’ The latter seemed more fitting. The idea of Blake being torn apart and shat out at a later date held a certain appeal.
He laughed at that. ‘Blake always was a piece shit, why change?’
Both ideas were troublesome, both held the potential of discovery. The coyotes could prove to be fickle in their food choices leaving the naked dead Blake for anyone to find. While digging a hole was a bit more work than he was willing to spend on the dead man, and the grave could be discovered. ‘Or I be could stumbled upon making it.’
His mind was racing about; he had to rein it in.
He needed to calm himself. He needed to work. So he went about making himself busy. He decided to create a new hammer head, perhaps a cross peen. He picked up the bloody tool. The ender of life. With a rag he wiped off the proof of the killing and decided to use it one last time to make something. He wasn’t too studious with his cleaning, after all blood was on his hands as well, he figured the coal dust, smoke, and metal scale would cover what was left. They would both be dirty and stained in their work.
Edgar stacked fresh choke into his fire pit. He then filled a bucket with coal from the bin, carefully; he didn’t want to show off its other occupant.
Some work of cranking the blower had the tiny sputter of flame turn into a raging inferno. Once Edgar was certain the fire was well on its way he added to the coal and wet it down.
His heat set he went about grabbing the other tools he needed, tongs, brushes, drifts, and his flattener. He already had his hammer. Finally he grabbed a chunk of steel worthy of becoming a worker of metal, strong enough to shape iron once finished.
The labor was slow going, get metal red hot, pull from fire, beat and encourage into shape, place back into the coal, stir the coal, crank the blower, and repeat.
Edgar was so focused on what he was doing, fixated on forgetting what he had done, intent on becoming one with his hammer, he didn’t hear Sheriff Reigns enter his shop. Once he caught a glimpse of the Lawman he started. Edgar’s heart hit the ground and was off at a gallop and he felt bile rise into his throat.
Sheriff Reigns smiled, it was a lie. Anger roared behind his eyes. Those eyes cast themselves about the shop, searching. They seemed to settle upon the dirt floor, where the dirt was discolored and looked wet. They followed the drag marks that couldn’t be there, that had been covered. They fixed upon the coal bin, that large pine box.
Those eyes shot back to the Blacksmith, anger supported by smugness. He asked some simple questions, did his Deputy come by? Had Edgar seen Blake’s new pocket watch?
The blacksmith shook his head no. Edgar didn’t trust his mouth to pass the untruth.
Reigns smiled and walked toward the coal bin and began rooting around. Edgar approached him, fear running ahead of him, knowing what was to be found.
The Sheriff moved the black earth and uncovered an arm. He had proof of the lie. The Lawman’s back was still to him.
Edgar gripped his hammer. Blood and gore stained them both. They were tainted. He and his hammer shared a sin. Together they had killed. One more would not matter.
April and May
Miss May belonged to this town, or maybe it was more accurate to say that this town belonged to her. She was born here; back when here was barely enough to be called a town. Even now to call this place a town is still a bit generous. Small as it might be, it is ours, and Miss May is ours too.
When May was only twelve years old she lost her parents in a house fire. Her father managed to get her out, but died when he tried to rescue her mother. The fire took everything from May, even the land wasn’t worth much. This kind of tragedy was rare here. For the rest of her teenage years May was raised in the homes of several families that could make room for another mouth. She was welcomed wherever she went, watched over by everyone and became a daughter to the whole town. By the time she graduated at seventeen, the town had built a new home close to its center for her. The land had been donated, the labor given freely, collection plates and bake sales took care of everything else.
It has been decades since Miss May was given her home and anyone who was part of that has long since passed, but May and the town’s love of her continued. The children, grandchildren and even the great-grandchildren of her original saviors have continued to take care of May and her home. In return Miss May has always taken care of this town and everyone in it. She never married or had any children of her own, but she knew the names of each person who has lived here in her lifetime; including mine.
My mother died from cancer when I was only a few months old, but she named me in honor of the woman who helped me into this world when I wouldn’t wait for the Doc. The story is that I tried to come before May, so I was named April. Miss May was sixty-three years old the night I was born in 1953, and people say we have belonged to each other ever since. My father ran the grocery store and never remarried, so much of my childhood was guided by the watchful eyes and caring hearts here. Maybe it was this similarity that strengthened the bond May and I had. Unlike the rest of the town, she didn’t try to mother me, and I didn’t treat her like she was an addled grandmother.
I learned how to watch over the people here while planting in May’s garden. She would show to me how to keep the crabgrass away from the Camellias, making sure that I noticed that Randy the mailman spent an extra few minutes every day talking to the Peters single daughter. Mr. Peters thought his daughter could do better, but after Randy spent a hot summer day repairing Miss May’s fence, Mr. Peters rethought his opinion. Of course Miss May was careful to only damage the fence on the side that could be seen from the window in Mr. Peters den. Randy and his very happy wife have called me to babysit their three kids since I turned fifteen.
May had a reputation for being unfailingly honest, but that didn’t mean she wouldn’t occasionally be a little creative if she thought it was for a greater good. I am the only one who ever knew she would do this. As far as everyone else was concerned Miss May was above such things. When the county judge couldn’t get to town, May would be called upon to rule on small disputes and what little petty crime our town ever had. She was beyond corruption and no one dared lie to May. She was always careful to balance truth with kindness. May’s honesty and the honesty it instilled in others were as much a part of the fabric of our town as the very streets we walked on. It was not unusual for a parent to bring a mischievous child to Miss May’s porch to be questioned in front of her.
With a widowed father and an old lady for a best friend my life might have looked empty to others. Miss May made sure that I never felt a moment of loneliness. Like her, this whole town became my home, everyone in it became my family. I even knew my mother as if she had been here with me thanks to May’s stories about her. I knew what she was like as a child, how my parents met, even her favorite song and what she smelled like. Listening to everything May ever said meant that I knew these things about everyone who lived here, even those who aren’t here anymore. More importantly I knew May in a way that no one else ever really could. Memories fade and other people forget details, not May. They all know how she came to live in her home near the center of town. I know how the daisies in her front yard came from the wife of the Mayor who had planted them there for her. At seventeen I thought I knew everything there was to know about this town and Miss May. Until I found out about the one lie May had told.
In the early summer of 1970, the outside world finally touched our town. While the rest of the country struggled with wars, a depression, social unrest and painful progress, we only watched from a distance. We had never divided ourselves because of race, money or religion; we were all family here. Even the Civil War had bypassed our little insignificant patch of earth. Vietnam reached in where nothing else ever had.
Other young sons from our town had gone off to war before, but usually it was after they had already long since moved away to pursue better opportunities. There had never been war widows or orphans left behind here. If there was a tragedy like that it was always very far removed from everyday life here, a passing thought for a family that once lived here a few generations ago maybe. Miss May knew these stories too, but she was the only one to ever feel it personally. May and I were the only real examples of this town being directly touched by sudden death. We had managed to hold on to this protected peace longer than we ever really had a right to. Daniel changed that.
Daniel and I had been together since we were young and planned to stay that way. He was the only other person who meant as much to me as May and my father did. Then Randy brought a piece of paper to Daniel one day and it ended that protected peace. I don’t know what Daniel expected me to say when he told me, all I heard was the word “drafted” before I turned away and ran. I ran down streets I played on, through yards I had helped plant and past children I babysat, I kept running until I got to May’s gate. There she was, kneeling on the ground with dirty gloves and her worn out sunhat just like she had been a thousand times before and reality took hold of me in force. I am not sure how long I laid on the ground next to her screaming while she held me and shaded my face from the sun. I do know that I never managed to explain to her why I was like this, but I didn’t need to. She knew. She always knew.
May picked me up off the ground when I had exhausted myself and brought me into her house, her home built out of love for her, the very place where love seemed to live. This is when I learned her truth, the worst day of my life is when May decided to tell me about hers and the lie she told. I had been wrong, our town had been touched by war before, and it was May that it wounded the most.
When May was twenty-six years old and already relegated to the role of spinster teacher in our town she fell in love with a man who had come to help build the new town hall. She told me about their time together, the way she had told me everyone else’s stories. Anyone else may have had a hard time imagining the now eighty year old May as a young woman in love, but I knew she had always had a wild spirit. They spent almost a year together by the time America entered WWI in 1917. Joseph told her that he was going to go serve, asked her to marry him and move near a base to wait for his return. May told him no, she could not leave this town, she belonged to it. It was not something he could really understand having not been a part of this town himself. They fought, they cried, and a few days later it was time for him to go. When she stood waiting with him for the bus to carry him away he said that if she would just say she loved him he’d stay. May did what May has always done, she took care of him the way she cared for this town. She set him free with a lie, the only one she has ever told.
For the first time in my life I was angry with May, yelling at her that she should have declared her love and kept him here. Very calmly she told me that she had to let him go because he did not belong here, and she was meant to remain here. It sounded like an excuse, but as I looked at May, and her home and out the window to this town, I knew in my soul she was right. This town and May were an inseparable part of each other. I understood this in a way no one else ever could.
May did not regret staying here, or letting her love go, but she did tell me she regretted the lie. From the top of a bookshelf she brought down a box that somehow I had never noticed. In it there was an old photo of a handsome soldier and a stack of letters tied with a pretty yellow ribbon, all of them unopened. She explained before I could ask that she knew if she ever read a single word of them that her resolve would have failed and she would have left this town to find him. Joseph never came back from that war and May wished she had been strong enough to send him away with the truth about her love.
May and I belonged to each other and we both belong to this town, and I understood it all by the time May finished her story. Two days ago we buried Miss May Corbett, alongside her parents on the property that once held their home. I placed her letters in with her, still unopened. Soon the house that this town built for her will become my home to reside in as caretaker of her legacy. Today I begin to truly live this legacy as I stand next to Daniel waiting for a bus to carry him away. He stands tall and proud as the whole town turns out to say their goodbyes. When they begin to back away, giving us a few minutes alone together, I see him start to waver. Miss May has taught me well, and I am strong enough to care for him now just as I will care for this town.
“Daniel, it’s alright. You can go, I will be here and I will always love you.”
A Shade Within a Murder of Crows
Crow perched upon a high branch, drawn to the fresh corpses below by gluttonous hunger. There was a dangerous-smelling man sitting at a fire nearby that left Crow a bit wary, elsewise Crow would have been feasting on the banquet of fresh death unconcerned. Instead, Crow pondered if the delicious corpses were some form of trap to catch unclever crows.
The man looked up and smirked at Crow, as if he was waiting for him. Crow studied the man untrusting, and how the shadows surrounding the man seemed angry. Crow’s desire to steal a taste from the fresh bodies ended up trumping his distrust though. Crow glided down and settled on the human corpse, wings taunt, poised to burst into flight if the man indeed tried to trap Crow.
The man laughed as if he could read Crow’s thoughts and cawed back, “Go ahead, clever crow. Feast! Leave nothing behind but his fuckin’ bones!” Shadows flickered violently.
Crow responded to the man’s invitation by ripping off a morsel of the sweet flesh from the opened neck. As Crow ate, slowly another brother from his murder flew in to join his feast, then a sister. Once the corpses were being devoured by the full murder; the man laughed his awful laugh, and cawed at them all, “Yes! Leave nothing behind...”
The murder of crows cut off the rest of his words:
Detective Elliot spat in defiant disgust, as he looked up into the trees, never believing so many damn crows could cluster together; cawing their collective rage.
It was ominous to witness. It was irritating to listen to. It made the crime scene feel even more grim. Between the morbid display of the bodies and how the lighting threw queer shadows that seemed unbound, the scene didn’t need any help with its sense of grimness.
“Is there anything we can do about the damned birds?”
“Sorry Detective, we figured just working the scene would have eventually driven them all away,” the forensics tech responded, leaving the rest of what he wanted to say unsaid.
Detective Elliot gave the tech a slight disgruntled nod and turned his focus back to the two corpses. Both more bones than flesh now.
“Any idea why the killed deer was placed next to our John Doe like that?”
“Not sure the motive, detective. However, it definitely attracted the carrion feeders quickly.”
“Anything else odd or out of place you’ve found so far?”
“The victim’s ring finger is missing and the bone appears to have been cut.”
“Hmmmm...” Detective Elliot took in the scene, so much familiar, yet so much uniquely out of place. Odd pieces to an all-too-familiar puzzle. Puzzles compelled him forward. He had a talent making the pieces fall into place. That was why he was given these grim cases.
Detective Elliot looked forward to finding the bastard that committed this crime. There were hearts that probably needed closure, and justice that needed to be administered. He hoped punitively.
“Can someone do something about these damned crows?”
I can still feel the echo of my throat being slit, as I watch the detective and the other’s study my lifeless body. A body I do not even recognize at this point, no small thanks to the crows.
I can still recall how the blood spilled from my neck as the investigator probes what was once a simple gash.
I can still recall the feeling of trying to take a breath but drowning on my own blood instead.
I recall the exact moment of my death. My soul suddenly watching my killer hold my lifeless form, a feral smile of satisfaction on his smug, bastard face. I recall trying to attack him, but only an echo of my former shadow seemed to glance him, with little to no meaningful outcome.
To think I pitied him. To have agreed to take him with me on my usual solitary hunting trip as an act of kindness and fellowship.
The bastard lied about it all! He lied being me being one of his few friends, about his lack of hunting expertise, and about never being to this spot before. Watching him now as a shade of what I was, it was obvious he had an intimacy with this place, with my particular hunting spot. He didn’t just have a moment of passion; my murder was something planned, over a long period of time.
I recall when that crow finally chanced to feast upon my dead corpse. Choosing mine over the deer’s. I recall the rage that filled me when I felt the words, “Go ahead, clever crow. Feast. Leave nothing behind but his fuckin’ bones!” How I raged.
I knew at that moment, I desired vengeance and be damned if that vengeance sent me straight to hell!
Perhaps I should follow this detective for a time. Perhaps the most I can hope for is to find a way to nudge the detective to the direction of my killer and at least give me some justice.
I recall the haunting sound of the murder of crows when they feasting on my former form.
Screw that! I would rather have vengeance. I just don’t know how I will get it...YET!
“Mrs. Losstrum,” Detective Elliot said somberly, with a balanced compassion, “we have found your missing husband.” Elliot waited for her to respond, but notice she could read the news was not good. Instead she tensed, waiting for the blow. Elliot, more gently continued, “I am afraid to inform you that he was found murdered in the woods.”
Mrs. Losstrum wept. She wept in a way that didn’t make Elliot question that she was sincere in her loss. He still needed to ask her questions though. It was always harder to ask the questions to the innocent, but in these next moments, the subconscious tended to provide the best clues forward.
“Why would someone just want to kill him for no reason?” she eventually asked aimlessly.
“Why do you believe there was no reason?” Elliot replied, curious.
“Well, he always hunted alone and no one knew where his secret spot was. He never even shared it with me.”
Elliot pondered what she said, but didn’t say more. Perhaps it was a kindness to let her believe it was a random act. Too many hints of brutal intimacy for him to believe it was. More likely it was someone Mr. Losstrum knew and trusted.
“May I ask another question?” Elliot asked without waiting for permission to, “Can you describe his wedding ring? We couldn’t find it at the site.”
As Mrs. Losstrum began to described the simple silver band, marked with only two tiny sapphires, she broke down again in a pool of uncontrollable sobs. All he could do was watch the shadow of her on the wall and in a trick of the light, another shadow comforting her.
The illusion gave him a chill down his back and for the first time since visiting the crime scene, he thought about all of the crows and their shrill song, but it came out as:
We know-We know-We know…
“...and how well would you say you knew Mr. Losstrum?” the detective asked.
“Not well,” the man lied, while imagining how beautiful it would be to slice open this bastard cop’s neck wide open, frustrated that the bastard was interogating the staff from Steven’s old office. It was dangerously shrewd, a cruel genius to do it in a room with so much...familiarity. Easy to lie, harder to lie with the feeling of a ghost watching you. “I mean Steven and I obviously worked together and tended to be the last ones out of the office, but we really never socialized outside of the office.”
“Did Mr. Losstrum mention his hunting trip at all in one of those late nights?”
“No,” he lied easily again. Although, it took effort for him not to smile thinking about the crow eating Steven’s corpse and telling the crow to leave nothing behind but the fuckin’ bones!
“Did you know his wife?”
“No,” he lied, even as she bloomed fully into his imagination, a forbidden fruit almost in reach now, almost all obstacles out of the way. Steven had everything he wanted. Now everything Steven had was slowly becoming his. The wife was the last prize and was only a matter of time, even if she was to be a singular taste.
The detective’s shadow seemed to dance violently at that thought.
A picture frame on Steven’s desk suddenly fell over, brushed only by the shadow. It was a picture of the wife. It was impossible not to look at her for more than just a moment, his final prize.
“I mean, I met her briefly at office parties, but that was about it.”
“I see,” said the detective, “thank you for your time, Mr. Gilmore.”
“Anything to help,” Gilmore replied, shaking the bastard cop’s hand while dreaming again about slicing his throat. The detective left him wary. The way shadows taunted him since killing Steven made him edgy. The detective’s shadow seemed to shift regardless of movement of his body. It made him think the crow cawing:
He knows-he knows-he knows...
Yes, this bastard cop just might know. He might need to die for it too.
Detective Elliot looked at the body crumpled like a ragdoll at the bottom of the stairwell. If the poor bastard didn’t die of a broken neck, thought Elliot, he died from every other bone being broken. The wall was nearly as broken as the man. The head resembled a smashed fruit. It was as if someone shot the poor bastard out of a canon from the top of the stairs. It was a scene of disbelief.
“Detective! You’ll want to see this!”
Elliot turned and followed the officer to the landlord’s office. There, they replayed the close-circuit security feeds of the stairwell and the hallway leading to it. He watched the victim leave his apartment alone.
“Pause it! Yeah, right there!”
Detective Elliot studied the face. He knew that face. It was that Don Gilmore that he interviewed a few weeks back regarding the Losstrum murder. He got an odd feeling about the man, but nothing solid that would have put Gilmore anywhere near the top of the suspect listof Mr. Losstrum’s murder.
“Oh, sorry. It is just I met this man not too long ago. Go ahead, and continue the video.”
Elliot watched as Don Gilmore got to the top of the stairway. Then, he saw something unbelievable.
“Go back. Play that again!”
“I told you that you needed to see it, detective!”
They played the scene a second time. A third in slow motion. Don Gilmore’s body flails at the top of the stairwell as if he was suddenly pushed impossibly hard from behind. Yet, after his body starts to fly down the stairs, his shadow seemed to stay behind at the top of the stairs.
They watched each feed dozen more times, to see if there was anyone else there. The videos seemed to show no one else, just Gilmore and his queer shadow.
Elliott recalled how shadows seemed to actively haunt the Losstrum case. He gut screamed a suspicion.
“I would like to look in his apartment, please...”
The landlord lead Elliot into Don Gilmore’s small apartment. It didn’t take long to find what his instincts suddenly urged him to look for. Sitting naked, alone on Don Gilmore’s nightstand was a simple ring of silver. Looking closer, a simple ring of silver with two tiny sapphires.
Elliot had a vibe go up his spine. He could almost hear a crow caw:
Elliot solved one case in that moment. He knew this new case would always be a mystery. Who would believe that a man was killed by a shadow pretending to be his own?
My first kiss was on a roller-coaster. Her name was Sandra, she had blue eyes, brown hair and a single freckle on her nose that was the only embellishment on a perfectly clear, pale face.
We had been dating for three weeks. After three months of clumsy flirting between classes, it was only after I was already madly in love with her that I asked her out. Not that she ever knew that.
We held hands on all the drops, and when we were suspended upside down on the largest loop, two thirds of the way through, she leaned over and planted a kiss directly on my lips.
"Don't be scared," She mouthed over the rush of wind and the delighted screams of the other riders.
"I'm not." I mouthed back, grabbing her hand a little tighter, feeling the delicate bones wrap around mine, a lock clicking into place.
We stepped off the ride still holding hands, and on the drive home she fell asleep in the back of my mom's white minivan, our hands clasped still. I watched her sleep all the way home.
"Don't you have your own life? Your own dreams?" She said one morning, eating her cereal on the other side of the table from me. She tapped her spoon against the side of the bowl as she ate, tap tap tap.
"Of course I do," I said slowly, not knowing if this was going to be a fight or a conversation.
She blinked and looked up at me, her eyes blank, "Then what are you doing?"
We had this conversation before, and I hadn't had an answer then. Now was no different.
"I'm going to work." Is all I managed to say before I bolted out the front door to my car.
Her name was Susan and we met at work.
She had blonde hair and brown eyes, with a splattering of freckles across her cheeks. I walked by her desk exactly once a week, to get supplies from the supply room for the rest of my department.
The first week she smiled at me, the second week she told me her name, and for every week after that I learned something new about her. She liked cats, and water-slides. She hated roller-coasters.
We had our first kiss in the supply room.
"Don't be scared," she whispered in the dark, her breath hot against my lips.
"I'm not," I replied, reaching to hold her hand in mine.
"When are you going to demand that raise?" Susan said, sitting across the dinner table from me, picking at her plain spinach salad with her fingers.
"I don't know, once I'm settled. The money doesn't really matter to me."
"Don't you want things? Don't you have dreams? I want to live in a house someday you know."
"Of course, I know." I replied, stepping toward the door as I spoke.
Her name was Sara and I met her at church.
She had black hair and olive skin, her nose had a bend in it from when she broke it falling out of a tree years before. I only ever saw her smile when she was looking at me.
"I had a dream that I lived in a tent on the beach in Norway," She said one day, as I walked her to her car like I had been doing for the past three months.
"Oh yeah?" I replied, laughing.
"I think I'm going to do it."
"Do what?" I opened the car door for her as she climbed in.
"I just told you, go live on the beach in Norway."
"But...why?" I was sure she was joking.
She sighed, "Well, what do you dream about?"
Our eyes met and I felt my heart stutter.
"Mostly you," I replied impulsively, leaning in to kiss her on her pale pink lips. She frowned, pulling away.
I looked her in the eyes and saw Susan and Sandra layered over her face, although they looked nothing alike.
I couldn't think of anything to say as she drove away.
I kissed Sheila at the bar the night I met her. I was halfway between a sentence when she drunkenly stumbled into my arms for a kiss. I felt uneasy, and maybe she could tell because she told me not to be scared as she pulled me by the hand out of the bar into the taxi.
I told her I wasn't.
We clasped hands in the bed, and when I cried out I said Sandra's name.
"Who's Sandra?" She said, not sounding mad, but pulling away from my touch.
"Just a dream," I slurred, leaning in to kiss her again, "Nobody who matters."
She gave me a look, "Maybe you should find a new dream."
"I have dreams!" I said defensively, for the first time realizing it was a lie. For the first time I realized every girl was Sandra and every roller-coaster ends after the biggest loop.
I spent that night looking at old pictures, drinking a handle of rum to myself. I had more pictures of me and Sandra than anyone else, because we went so many places.
She had given me an empty scrapbook for our one year anniversary and I had kept adding pictures of us throughout our relationship.
The last picture in the book was only halfway through the pages. It was Sandra and I at the beach, our hands barely touching. I pulled it out of its sleeve to look at it and glimpsed some writing on the back I had never seen before.
"The worst lies are the ones you tell yourself. -S"
And I realized for the first time I had never really had any other dreams.
One Heart, a Lie, and Dinner
"Bright flashing lights to welcome you home.
Dark night rainfall drenching you to the bone.
Your eyes are wide before that brutal collision.
One millisecond passes as you regret that decision.
Too many drinks and not enough time.
Too little money to make this shit rhyme..."
The ink dripped off the tip of his pen, landing on the half written poem lying across his desk. The thought of scratching out one more single letter was agony.
Drip. Drip. Drip. That sound echoed through the room, bouncing off books, then coming back, hitting him in his ear like a vociferous boomerang.
His wrist ached with the forced pressure of laying pen to paper. But more so, his head cramped with the suffering of spending another night alone in the dusty study, filling those blank pages with hurtful words only because a group of repugnant publishers were throwing high numbered bills at him to do so.
He dreaded the day that turning his mental wounds into a best seller would become his reality. Forced to relive that most traumatic night over and over again just to keep the lights on and the refrigerator running. Some days the thought was too much.
For about the ninety-fifth time that afternoon, he pushed himself away from the escritoire, sliding to the opposite side of the room on a chair with a broken wheel. The squeak of strain the poor old thing released was a welcomed change in sound.
He stood. He needed a drink. "They aren't paying me to write sappy poetry. They want the vicious truth," he mumbled to no one as he ran his palm across the unkempt strands of a graying beard.
Shuffling over to the well-used bar nestled in the corner of his dying library, he poured himself a whiskey. That amber nectar was what he wanted most, and the last thing he needed. He watched the liquid dance around a few chunks of ice as he swirled the glass. He chugged it.
"Write a story 'bout the love you lost!
We'll pay you to pen it, no matter the cost!
It's so tragic she died! So terrible she's gone!
But please keep making us money! You're an amazing author, Shaun!"
He chuckled sardonically while he licked the last few drops of booze from his cup. "I'm so deplorably clever," he whispered to the bottle. "It's a shame you're the only one around to listen."
His pocket vibrated loudly. Almost dropping his whiskey, he reached across his slightly ever-growing beer belly to pull out his cellphone. He answered the call with a press of his thumb.
"Hello, Shaun! Did I catch you at a bad time?"
He glanced around at his quarter full liquor decanter, stacks of emotionally soaked rough drafts, and overflowing trash bins. "No, not at all. How are you?"
A sweet laugh danced through the speaker. He liked that sound. "I'm doing alright. I was just calling to make sure we are still on for meeting tonight?"
Dinner with the girl who has my dead wife's heart. How could I forget? "Of course. Rubio's Italian Cuisine. Eight o'clock. I'll be there."
"Sounds fantastic. Can't wait to finally meet you! We have so much to talk about."
He could practically hear her smile. "Yep. See you." Sighing heavily, he ended the call.
With one last fleeting glimpse at his decaying book collection and the writing desk taunting him with it's stark white papers draped across it's surface like a wedding gown, he headed out for some Italian grub and awkward conversation.
The lights were dim, and he preferred it that way; the more murky the brightness, the less likely she was to see the plum colored bags beneath his eyes. They sat facing each other in silence for longer than what was comfortable, even for Shaun. He chewed his lip and watched waiters hurry by with wobbly trays. The monotonous sound of ripped leather bunching up under his jeans as he fidgeted in his booth seat grated his nerves.
Just say something! Anything! "So, how's the thumper treating you?" He closed his eyes, wishing they could be nailed shut. WOW.
"Right to the point, huh?" Sydney let out an uncomfortable laugh.
"Yeah, I don't know why I said that. I must be really nervous."
"It's alright. I can't fault you for that. Although, I did have a few questions?"
Shaun sighed audibly with relief. "Of course! Shoot."
Sydney placed both of her delicate hands atop the restaurant menu, preparing. "Okay. You're writing a book about the...well the..."
He pitied her. "The car crash. And yes, I'm on hook for a detailed and interesting tale of my wife's demise, and by extension, you." He held his hand out, palm up, gesturing.
"I suppose that makes sense. It is an amazing true story." She beamed at him. "One wish, if I could have any at all, would be to tell your wife thank you for saving my life."
"She wouldn't have thought twice about it."
Sydney played with frayed edges of her emerald green cocktail dress. "May I ask how it happened? Exactly how it happened?" She wouldn't meet his eyes when she questioned.
Already a few good drinks in, and an empty stomach to make matters worse, he rushed into telling without holding back. "The night started off great. We went dancing, had ourselves a fair amount of wine. We laughed, we smoked. But that was where the good in our date ended. For some reason, a drunken stupor no doubt, we decided that getting behind the wheel to go for a drive was a bright idea. It started raining. Hard. Noelle became enraged at something so asinine that I don't even recall what it was! The yelling turned into a full-blown drunk screaming match. That's when she told me. She confessed to having an affair for the past eight years of our marriage. In that moment, it felt like I was struck by a thousand bricks straight to my chest. I couldn't believe her. I didn't know if I had it in me to believe her. As wasted as I was, I took my eyes off the road for a split second, but that was long enough. I lost control, and the wet asphalt took the car right off the side of an embankment." This time it was Shaun who couldn't meet the eyes of Sydney.
"Shaun, I'm so sorry." A single genuine tear rolled down her pink cheek. He watched it glide down and slip off the pointed tip of her chin. He realized that Sydney was easy to talk to. It was a new feeling, and he enjoyed it.
"I shouldn't have looked away from the road. Not in that kind of weather. But you know what's ironic? When she spoke those words, I absolutely needed her to tell me she was lying. That it was an angry, false statement. But that wasn't the lie. The lie was our marriage. And tonight, that lie brought me here; sitting in a crummy eatery with a pretty girl who has a heart I've known for a long time, and that makes me feel like maybe things will be alright." A smile of his own cracked his lips, spreading up to touch his dimples.
He was graced with a returning smile from Sydney.
"If you want to get macabre, I'm technically alive because of your wife's deceptive ways. If you had never found out, I wouldn't be here." She blushed, biting her lip. "I hope that didn't sound too awful."
"I think it was the right amount of awful."
To Shaun, it felt delightful to smile in the midst of a tragedy that happened nearly three years prior. It felt like breathing again.
"So do you have a name for this soon-to-be book of yours, Mr. Writer?"
Shaun thought on that for a moment, considering all of his options. But what popped into his head seemed fitting enough. "I do, actually. I think I'll call it, "One Heart, a Lie, and Dinner.""
"What, in your opinion, speared you from the herd?" Doc asked, sipping on a steaming mug.
I was on the second hour of therapy. The second hour of my slow demise.
"I have a powerful thirst." I scoffed.
"What about? For what do you yearn?"
Oh, dead Jesus Christ.
I rolled my weary eyes in frustration. This useless bag of old skin flaps has been prodding me for weeks, trying to get a morbid glimpse inside of my mind.
"Hmm, let's see...", I sat up straight in my chair and pushed invisible glasses along my nose.
"I suppose I yearn for this painstaking hour to be up. That seems like an unquenchable thirst to me, Doc." I mocked, exaggerating the S's in my sentences.
"I'm here to help, Yates. Now, I need you to cooperate if you ever want your privileges reinstated." Doc Hilliard spoke with a warmth that made my stomach churn.
"Oh, yes! My yard time!", I said, sarcastically, "Do you really believe I care to congregate with those hoodlums, sir? I'd rather dig my eyeballs out of their sockets with a rusted spoon! That sounds like a grand panoply, right? Right! That is what I yearn for sir! An exhibit of a lifetime!"
Doc perked up like he'd witnessed an experiment take an unexpected turn. He focused keenly on said experiment and wanted, selfishly, to poke at it's innards.
"Why, in your opinion, do you continue to be drawn to violence, Yates? Why do you have an incessant need to do harm? Have you no remorse for the lives you took?"
I laughed a good hearty laugh; a boisterous, nearly maniacal chuckle. I could hardly control myself, heaving back and forth in my chair.
Doc observed my hysterics intently.
Doc sat patiently, waiting for me to catch my breath occasionally jotting notes on a yellow legal pad and taking hefty gulps of his cooling brew.
Finally he said, "Okay. Now that you've gotten that out of your system, take me back to your childhood. What was your mother like? Your father?"
I could have killed him right then. I could have grabbed him by his crooked nose and jammed his clicky-clacky pen into the side of his neck.
"Hmph." I curled a smile, crossed my arms in my lap and slouched back into my seat.
"What about your childhood? Who or what inspired you to take on the duties of a psych, Doc?"
"We're not here to talk about-"
"To talk about you?", I interjected, "Oh, but why do you help the weak, Doc? Let me guess..."
I sucked my teeth, stood up and began pacing back and forth in front of the long, polished wooden desk that separated us.
"You lost a family member to the ol' dead time when you were young?" I stroked my chin and lowered my invisible glasses. I continued, "A parent? Sibling? Perhaps, you caused this grief and have to fill that restless void? Am I warm?"
Doc was fidgeting. Clicking his clacky pen.
"You need to have a seat or I will have to call-"
"Ah-ha! That's it! Did you poison dear ol' Mom?- No! You killed the family pet! A hound dog! I'm right, aren't I?"
Doc's face turned a beautiful shade of crimson red like a sun dried tomato. A vein seemed to appear in his neck and throb like magic. A single bead of sweat rolled down his wrinkled cheek.
"I said sit down or-!"
I sat with a loud plop, unable to suppress the excitement.
"Sitting! Done, sir!" I saluted like a soldier and grinned a toothy grin.
"Yates, I don't suppose you are taking this treatment seriously. Now, if you intend on achieving reformation, I will need you to cooperate in a way that is beneficial. We all want to see you heal." He said, sternly. He wiped away the remnants of nervousness.
"Oh, how considerate, sir. Your robotic compassion is electric. The truth is, and oh-- how I know you love the truth, you are just like myself! You too, have a terrible past. Although hidden from view, it's there and it's not dissimilar to my own. The difference between you and I, Doc, is that I became reckless in my pursuits and subsequently, am forced to live out my days within these six walls."
"Six?" he asked, looking away from his clacky pen and yellow pad and peering at me from behind his bifocals.
"Yes, sir. Six. Can you see the sky from this room or feel the grass beneath your feet? Let us not veer from the facts, sir. I'll spend the rest of my life here, within these walls but you will be confined within your own mind. That's the worst prison of them all, is it not?"
Silence fell between the Doc and I. He stared into my eyes and held a fiery gaze. His face no longer reddened but a pale pearly white.
"Of course, I could be mistaken," I said, breaking the pause, "You, yourself, could be a reformed man. Be it boredom or exhaustion, crime doesn't always continue the course of satisfaction."
Doc held a confused gaze. He'd forgotten to scribble notes or swig from his chilly mug. I think he'd forgotten to breathe at all.
"Don't you remember me, Doc?" I whispered.
I pressed my crossed arms into my breasts, squeezing them against my chest and leaned in closer. He glanced down at the bulge rising toward my throat.
"I was only a child." I laughed. "Fourteen years old and a whole life of violence ahead! Oh, what little I knew! The naivety of youth. You see, sir, my childhood was a dream. A fairytale, even. I could've grown to become an actress of a film writer! I could've been a doc like you, Doc! After the insidious crime you acted upon me, I was shown a new world. A childhood not robbed, but enlightened! Ha! What a twisted world in which we live! What a random bunch of nonsense!" The excitement grew wider and wider in the pit of my gut.
Doc's expression had fallen. His now sunken eyes screamed out in agony and his pen jostled in his shaking hand. Sweat beaded and fell in unison on either side of his brow like tears. His skin was turning an exquisite shade of green. He gasped for air, clutched his chest and fell onto the carpeted floor. His swollen tongue muffled his cries.
"Oh, how terrifyingly poetic." I said.
I rose to my feet and hovered over his seizing body. His old, scruffy jaw lay slacken and only the whites of his eyes were visible in their sockets. Coffee colored foam stained his white pressed button-down and seeped into the carpet beneath him.
He struggled for one last rattling breath of of air; an unquenchable thirst for life.
He fell limp.
I picked up the black clacky pen from the floor and clicked it twice. I watched as the ballpoint ducked in and out of it's casing, then slid it into the pocket of my prison uniform.
I stepped off Gazelle, my step-dad's fishing boat, and dropped into the cold water of the Pacific Ocean. My sneakers dangled in my hand above my head. I did not want the water to make them soggy. The ocean splashed up around me. Immediately, the water penetrated into my rolled up jeans and wet my lower legs. My feet touched the soft sandy ground. I wobbled, almost tipping into the ocean.
“Careful there, Roxy,” Dad chuckled as he secured the boat.
“Yeah, careful. Hate to have ta leave ya for the sharks,” added Uncle James.
Looking down into the small sapphire waves, I could see the ocean floor scattered with brightly colored seashells and clumps of seaweed. The sand snuggled between my toes.
Marching through the waves, I gazed at the small island in front of me. Tropical trees and bright colored flowers glowed on the shore. A coal colored mountain rose from the island's side. On the beach, something shiny gleamed in the sun.
Suddenly, I had an urge to explore the uncharted land.
I called back to Dad and his crew,“The island's beautiful.”
Dad took the hint, “ You can look around for a half an hour or so; just be back to do your part in harvesting the clams.”
“Alright,” I shouted back.
“Hopefully she ain't gonna get lost again,” mocked Chip loudly.
Dad jumped into the water. Two white buckets, to hold the gathered clams in, were in each of his hands.
“Find me a city of gold,” Uncle James hollered.
I gave him a thumbs up and rushed to the beach as fast as the water would allow me.
On the island, I hurried to put on my shoes. I tied the laces thinking only about the adventure that awaited me.
I first headed to the reflective metal I saw from the water. It looked to be a part of an airplane's outer cover. A white star in a blue circle was visible on one of the shiny scraps. Isn't that an American symbol? Crazy. An aircraft from the Vietnam or Korean War could have crashed here.
I did not stay staring at the old rusted metal for long. The forest was where I wanted to explore.
Climbing over mossy tree logs, I noticed a wide mouthed cave. The temptation was too great for my reasoning skills to function. I entered straight into the open cave.
My eyes soon adjusted to the darkness. A human skeleton clothed in an unraveling uniform was drooped against the wall in front of me. Gear laid beside it. The gas mask, the helmet, the dented water bottle, they all had belonged to the once breathing person.
Stepping back in surprise, I felt something under my foot. I picked up the object. It was a book. I squinted my eyes as I read the title, The Airmen Manual. I turned to the first page. The book's spine was soft and it opened easily. On the page, a name printed in dark blue ink was written, Dale Peter.
The name was so familiar. I had to turn away for a moment and look back at the old pilot. And then I remembered. My great grandfather was named Dale Peter and he had be drafted into WWII. As Grandpa told it, his father had drowned in the Pacific after the Japanese shot his plane down.
Flipping through the next pages in the booklet, I noticed hand-written notes and ripped slips of paper tucked in between. The closer I looked at the words, the more I began to realize that between the class notes and printed procedures on proper airman formation, Dale had written about his life. The further I moved into the yellowed pamphlet, the more desperate the words seem to fill every inch of space on the paper. Near the end, the writing suddenly stopped.
I turned to the page where Dale's journal started. The first sentence made my muscles tense.
He told me everything would be just swell and dandy, that war would not end this way.
I shuttered but I read on.
I think Mike told me this only to keep me from worrying. He knew I thought it was all bad news to be drafted into the war. He thought lying would shelter me. Well, not anymore.
Now I am here and my brother's good intentions have been set in flames. My crew, my friends, are all dead. Louis, Adam, Mark, we have been through a lot together. I wish I could have died along side them.
Our down plane is releasing smoke. I can see the black clouds rising over the trees. I was supposed to be an Airman Ace, but now I'm a broken solider.
Moments before, I was struggling through the brush of this helluva island. I was looking for help, hoping that I could save my dying friends in time.
I could not find aid at all and when I returned, only Mark was breathing. Soon even he could not fight his battle.
My ribs are broken, that's for sure. My uniform is wet with blood. My whole body is trembling. My head is throbbing. Death is what my mind wants. My heart and soul tell me to survive. They tell me I must tell Adam's doll back home that he loved her. Tell Sara Miller that her brother, Louis, knows she will achieve her dream to be a famous journalist. I need to give my own mother a hug.
Why is war so cruel? I never wanted to be a brave American soldier. Now I really regret not purposely trying to fail my admission test.
I'm going to find a way off this island. Whether I am rescued by the Allies or the Japs, I don't care. Just bring me home.
I glazed at the page while on the verge of tears. This was a journal from a World War II airman, my great grandfather, a solider that was desperate for comfort and help. I couldn't even imagine what he had gone through. No one knew that he had survived the crash and was stranded on the island. His parents properly got a letter saying their son had died in action. It was a lie. I forcefully closed the manual shut.
This man had fought for his country. He and his friends had given their lives for the needs of America. What I found may not be the City of Gold Uncle James wanted me to find but, I discovered something better, the treasure of truth. Grandpa won't believe that everyone has got his father's story all wrong.
I took the Airmen Manual with me. Dad would be wondering where I was.
Leaving the cave, I am blinded by the little light that beamed down from the tree tops. The musty, humid smell of the cave is gone. I filled my lungs with the fresh tropical air.
Weaving through the forest, I heard exotic bird calls echoing in the trees. I hold the booklet close to my chest.
I reached the beach and spotted Dad, Chip, and Uncle James hunched over, picking clams off the rocks. I stood and watched them in the distance, debating whether I should tell them about the book right away. After a time, I decided to wait until sundown when I could tell them the story around the fire. I tucked the manual into my jacket pocket and button it shut. I didn't want the World War II book to plummet into the ocean as I helped harvest clams.
Uncle James stood up to stretch out his back and saw me running toward them.
“Find my gold?” he called to me with a grin.
“That's a story I'll tell at the fire pit,” I said grabbing a bucket laying in the sand and head to a submerged rock covered in clams.