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The Ode

Ode to the Writer

By Tom Foster

 

We are the lords and ladies of creation, yet we are still just players.
In the beginning we are as in the end.
We do not aspire, we simply do.
There is the dream, tempered by the reality, and given form by the thought.
By our thought, by our dreams, and by the reality we impose.
It’s a madness of the sort that only poets and writers can truly understand, and even among those only a few can comprehend.
Comprehension, that is a truly frightening thing.
We play with words, we are those that can immortalize, and those that can do what must be said and say what must be done.
It is confusion, this comprehension, and in the midst of it all, it is the single word that carries power, the one among all that is ever elusive, ever there, always waiting for us to return to, to remind us what it is that drives us, what keeps the fountain flowing.
Every last soul that has ever put ink to paper, ever put finger to key, every vague idea that swirls inward from the maelstrom we call the world, the universe, and everything in between and without.
For everything that could come, for everything that has and will come, we are there. We are the ones that do not deny the voice that tells us, “this must come to pass”, or “this must be remembered”.
It is who we are, what we do, and through everything, it is the lifeblood of those who cherish this timeless art form, this undeniable urge to say, in their own manner, “I AM”.
We are not gods, we create, and yet in the process, we are created. It is our words, penned and copied throughout the ages that have helped to shape the world, to say that, “WE ARE”, that “WE EXIST”.
Whether tyrant or savior, good or evil, saint or sinner, the words that are put to time’s test are those that will come to define the world we know. Memory is not enough, though it serves.
As do we.
We are the lords of creation, the ones whose words will last and echo into the ages, for all to see, and all to remember.
Is it truth?
The better question is: Does it matter?
We are the lords and ladies of creation, and by our words, the world we know is shaped, molded, and given to the next generation, and so on and so forth until the whole mess ends, only to be rebuilt, and to crumble again.
We are the lords and ladies of Creation, and this is our legacy.

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Infinitude (Chapter 11)

Picture sorcery Dragons Fantasy Head

Portland, OR

            This world was weak. Everywhere he looked, everywhere he stepped, there were humans. He saw no other races, only the pathetic, thin-skinned things that had already tried to harm him in their strange, metal beasts that spat fire and died so easily. His master had made him special, strengthening him while still in the egg to become a weapon of sheer and utter ruination upon the world of mankind. He had been unleashed when his master had willed it, and had fully enjoyed the carnage and destruction he’d been allowed to wreak.

            But there was no master now.

            The foul sorcerer that had entombed him and their very world within the Sealing had been the eventual downfall of his master, Lord Balenar. Drakkar could recall very well how their final meeting had gone, and what Aeson had done. Balenar had never been a hero, that much was certain, but he had been a point of order in an otherwise chaotic world that had continued to shift and churn as a result of the Great Breaking. Aeson had been little more than an adventurous sot, a wandering vagabond skilled in the ways of magic and warfare. He’d never been a hero or even the type to champion a cause unless it was in his best interest.

            Yet he’d shown that he could fool others into believing that this was not so. He’d lied and cajoled his way into the trust of so many that he could have been a ruler in his own right. But he’d been too much of a careless fop to accomplish such a thing. He’d enjoyed tormenting Lord Balenar too much to be anything but a nuisance, albeit a deadly one.

            Drakkar felt the metal frame of one of the many fleeing conveyances crush beneath one of his clawed feet, it’s jagged edges scratching against his scales without leaving a mark. His scales were tougher than any surface in the world as his master had told him, able to withstand the barbed jabs of an infinite amount of arrows, the blistering heat of a star, and even the intense pressures that lay deep within the earth that could crush a much lesser being. He knew very well by now that the frightened, panicked things he’d seen moving about in droves were not alive. They might appear so by some type of magic, but in truth they were little better than imbued automatons that could not function without their human controllers.

             These things could not attack, they could not so much as move without the manipulation of their human masters, and that made them equally pathetic. The metal creatures that had buzzed at him from the air and delivered their stinging jabs still had not damaged a single scale on his body. Did nothing in this world present a threat?

            He knew of one creature that could harm him, and that one had yet to show his face,

proving that he was still the same person he had been in the world of before, a coward. Despite

his power, despite the fact that he could in fact contend with one such as Drakkar, Aeson was still a fool, and a weakling.

            But he was a fool that Drakkar would enjoy skinning inch by torturous inch.

                                                            *                      *                      *

Coeur D’Alene Resort and Casino

Coeur D’Alene, ID

            “I don’t see why you won’t allow it,” Aeson said, “It would be quite simple.”

            “It would also be a huge red flag to wave for the agency to see.”

            “So we hit a few machines and do it all stealthy-like. How are they going to catch us if we’re not hitting jackpots on every machine?”

            Offer sighed, “You really don’t get it do you?  Without looking tell me that you see those black nodules in the ceiling. Almost every casino has them.”

            “Yeah,” Finn said with a bored look, “The eyes in the sky, I know. But they’re not always watching as much as people seem to think. Plus, we could always manipulate those too.”

            “Well hell then why don’t you just find a way to cause a power outage and we’ll have ourselves a looting party?” Offer hissed, keeping his voice low as the three of them continued to sit and watch the reactions of those around the pub.

            News reports were still coming in as armed forces had been called in to deal with the dragon, but were having little if any luck. Bullets bounced off, causing possible collateral damage and casualties, even rockets were ineffective as they detonated on impact without any sign of damage, or were knocked out of the sky by the dragon. These latter attacks had elicited a station wide shut down as test screens had been initiated and the newscast had simply gone down without any explanation.

            Offer had surmised that the missiles had detonated in populated areas and the casualties were bound to be high, not to mention the fact that the news anchors wouldn’t know how to react. Humans were quite horrible at covering such wanton acts of destruction unless they were far removed from the violence in some way. Even those that were could not always hold their emotions in check. The Portland newscasters were no doubt concerned about the safety of loved ones, or themselves, and simply would not be sticking around. It was a wise move really since it had appeared that Drakkar had been tearing through Portland like a child through a sandcastle.

            The dragon would find no impediment to its forward movement if legends were accurate enough about his strength and durability. At this point Offer couldn’t rightfully disagree that anything he’d ever heard about Drakkar was true.

            “That’s not a bad idea,” Finn said with a grin.

            “I wasn’t being serious,” Offer said, shaking his head.

            “Why not?” Aeson asked, “We need more coin to reach the east coast as you said, and this place seems to have that currency in abundance.”

            “It’s not right!” Offer hissed at both of them, “I took funds from the agency that were set

in place for emergencies, slush funds that would have sat there doing nothing and serving no one.”

            “And that makes it better?” Finn asked, cocking an eyebrow as he spoke.

            “It makes a difference,” Offer said, “I didn’t take anyone’s hard earned money to line my pockets.”

            “So now you want to talk semantics,” Finn said with a grin, “That’s interesting. If that’s the case, then what happened to Cully-“

            “Needs to stay off of your damned lips,” Offer said with a growl. He did not lean forward, but with the tone of his voice he made it clear that he would not be discussing this right now.

            “He was my friend,” Finn said, “I didn’t want him dead, just out of the way.”

            “I’m not going into this again with you,” Offer said, shaking his head, “Robbing this place would be wrong, and I want no part of it.”

            “These places are insured you know,” Finn said, “You wouldn’t be leaving them destitute. Plus, casinos aren’t exactly innocent when it comes to bilking the people. You really think their systems are entirely fair?”

            “People don’t come to casinos expecting to be robbed,” Offer countered.

            “And we wouldn’t be robbing the people!” Finn said, somehow keeping his voice low, “We’d be robbing the damned casino you walking tree stump!”

            “Why don’t you talk a little louder?” Offer said sarcastically, “I don’t think the front desk clerk heard you.”

            “Gentleman, this point is now moot,” Aeson said, putting his hands flat upon the table.

            “What do you mean?” Finn asked, looking at the elf and then looking to his left. Finn’s eyes widened as they saw no less than four big, armed security guards bearing down on them as they continued to sit there. Each man was dressed in the beige shirt with dark blue piping and dark slacks that was the standard uniform, and each of them had a gun, a taser, and a can of pepper spray on their belts.  They looked very tough, but Offer and Finn were less than impressed. The only real issue was that once this was all said and done they would have to be on their way again.

            The lead man, a big, burly-looking specimen with dark, olive-toned skin and equally dark eyes, stepped up to the table as he leaned over, placing one large hand upon the surface as he looked at all of them.

            “I’m going to need you gentlemen to come with me,” he said, his voice thick and foreboding as his eyes settled on Offer.

            “What for?” Finn asked, grinning as the security officer turned to him. The big man didn’t seem impressed by Finn, and in fact loomed a little closer as though to intimidate him. Offer almost rolled his eyes, hoping against hope that Finn would only incapacitate and not kill him.

            “We got a tip that you three are grafters looking for an easy score. This casino has a strict

no-nonsense policy when it comes to dealing with anyone that’s caught trying to scam or

otherwise defraud the system.”

            “We’ve been sitting here drinking,” Offer said, “We haven’t even gone near the machines or the tables.”

            “Your boy here has,” the guard said, pointing a thick finger at Aeson.

            “How’s that?” Offer frowned, “He’s been with us the whole time.”

            “Tell that to the security cameras,” the man growled, “Now get up, or we’ll get you up.”

            “Sorry guys, that kind of thing just isn’t our scene,” Finn said with a grin. It took the guard a moment to understand what Finn was saying, but when he did his eyes narrowed dangerously as he reached for Finn. Aeson was quicker though as he uttered a single word in the same language as before, slamming his right hand on the table as he stood suddenly.

            Both Finn and Offer frowned as Aeson just as quickly reached for both of them, grabbing their hands as a strange, glow began to emanate from where Aeson had slapped the table. It expanded quickly, moving upward, outward, and downward as the shimmering lavender glow quickly enveloped them all, and stole Offer’s breath as he watched what happened.

            As soon as the shimmering wave of energy touched anything or anyone, they stopped, frozen as though in amber. The world around them seemed to slow and stop all at once as the wave of energy continued to expand and push forward, catching everyone that stood in its path without fail.

            “What?” Offer asked.

            “A time suspension spell,” Aeson said, grimacing slightly, “It’s very hard to cast on the heels of the elemental copy spell I just cast earlier.”

            “Wait, so they were right? You were scamming their tables?”

            Aeson nodded, “Through the conjoined use of an illusion and elemental spell of wind I was able to copy myself and send several illusory images throughout the establishment. Earlier I discovered that each machine and game in this gambling hall is designed to pay out only once every so often, which leaves the game of chance ever in the favor the dealers and the establishment.”

            “Well, yeah,” Offer said, “That’s how casinos make money.”

            “But it is not just,” Aeson said, “How can so many people lose their riches so willingly?”

            “Some say it’s a sickness,” Finn said with a shake of his head, “I just think it’s being stupid.”

            “So now what?” Offer asked, looking up at the guard, “Would he feel it if I hit him?”

            “Yes,” Aeson said, “But not until the spell wears off, or I dismiss it.”

            “And how long do we have?” Offer asked.

            “Until I dismiss it,” Aeson said with a grunt, “I can hold this particular spell for quite some time.”

            “Then perhaps it’s best if we got up and took our leave now,” Offer said, “This is the kind of attention that would attract the agency if we’re here when the spell does wear off.”

            Aeson could tell that both men were trying not to act impressed, but were ultimately

failing. He couldn’t blame them, he had been duly impressed with this effect when he had first

seen it used in battle. Once he had mastered it however he had used it sparingly, preferring to use

his wits and sword skills to extricate himself from many a situation.

            The three men rose from the table, moving around the guards as they went. Finn stopped for just a moment, taking the time to carefully tap two fingers hard into several different nerve points as Offer watched with irritation.

            “What the hell are you doing?”

            “This guy wasn’t going to go easy on me,” he said plainly, “I figure I owe him a little something just for show.”

            Offer rolled his eyes as he walked after Aeson, who was already heading right out of the pub and down the main thruway that would lead them out of the casino. As they walked he could see the shimmering purple wave envelop everything as it continually moved forward. People that had noticed the effect and were trying to move away were still caught as it sped up in accordance with Aeson’s pace.       

            “How far does this effect reach?” Offer asked him, catching up as he kept an eye out to make sure Finn was following. The man was grinning ear to ear after what he’d done, but he was at least still with them.

            “If remaining in one place it is limited to a range of a few hundred feet. If I move, the effect will move with me. The fringes will begin to return to real time eventually, but only when my concentration upon them flags. Otherwise, this casino and the outlying areas will not be moving for some time.”

            “So it moves with you then?” Offer asked.

            “Yes indeed,” Aeson nodded, walking past the front desk just as the wave caught upon those in front of them, stilling everyone it touched and even halting the front doors as they opened to admit a new group of guests.

            “You are a dangerous man,” Finn said as they walked past those caught in the effect, smiling all the while, “I love it!”

            “Touch another one and I’ll break your fingers,” Offer said, pulling back just enough to grab Finn and force him forward. He was ready to be quit of this place, but first they had to retrieve Callie and Nina.

                                                            *                      *                      *

Control Room

Port Kenyon, CA

            “Is my transport ready?” Eve stood watching the screens, all but emotionless as she and the others could see the rampaging creature that was now making his way from the ruins of Portland towards the Columbia River and presumably Washington.

            “Ready and waiting ma’am,” James said, his voice somewhat subdued.

            “Have the assets arrived yet?”

            “They’re en route ma’am” James replied, “ETA roughly ten minutes out.”

            “Good. Inform me when they’ve arrived and have them escorted to my office.”

            “Yes ma’am.”

            She walked from the room without another word, seething inside as she could only imagine what was going through her father’s mind. Drakkar was something that this world had not seen in far too long, and none of those living had ever laid eyes upon a beast that could not be wounded by any conventional means. He would storm through one territory after another seeking to wreak whatever carnage he could until her father finally stood up and did something. So why wasn’t he? Aeson was walking free from the Sealing and should have been well rested by now, fully in charge of his magic, and thus able to stop the rampaging beast. So what was he waiting for?

            Her office wasn’t that far away but at this moment it felt as though it were miles apart from the control room. So heavy was her heart in that moment that Eve felt certain that she might at any moment simply collapse as she thought of the countless lives that had been lost in the past week and how such a thing could have been avoided. For all intents and purposes the former judicial and recruiter know as Offer Pendaganst had her father, Finn Parker, and a newly accepted trainee in his company and for some reason had decided to betray them. They were at large as they spoke and nowhere to be found, and Drakkar was being allowed to run free causing havoc. None of it seemed fair, and in fact it was not, but she couldn’t stand around complaining about it. She needed to find Offer and his group and get them back to headquarters.

            Reaching her office she pushed through the glass door as it swung on its silent hinges, returning to its rightful position slowly as she went to sit behind her desk. There was a great deal to be done as she hit the intercom button on her desk that would gain James’ attention.

            “Yes ma’am.”

            “Get me a line to the Battleground office in Washington. We need to inform them what’s happened if they don’t already know and to be prepared for what might come their way.”

            “Yes ma’am. The Harpy and Honey Badger have landed ma’am and are on their way to you now.”

            “Good. Thank you James. Get that line for me please.”

            “Yes ma’am.”

             The line clicked as James switched over to dial the Battleground office. She heard the line chirp once to indicate that it was connected and then a voice came over the line that she knew very well. The woman sounded rather unnerved, but she kept her composure just enough to be professional.

            “Kelly’s Flowers, may I help you?”

            “Director E code 459 Omega Bravo.”

            There were a few indistinct clicks and then a short burst of static before the woman on the other line spoke up again.

            “All clear ma’am. Director is what we’re looking at real?”

            “It is Agent Kane, and to be quite honest I’m just as shocked as you are.”

            “The Portland office is a total loss?”

            “Yes it is. The masonry is continuing to plummet as the lower floors continue to buckle,

and the entire infrastructure has collapsed.”

            “Gods,” the woman on the other end breathed. “Is there any backup coming?”

            She had to take a breath before answering, “No. I have the Harpy and the Honey Badger coming in to help with a search, but the Portland office is currently down and there has yet to be found any way that the beast can be taken down.”

            “Is this what we’ve vigilant for all these years director?” There was a note of helplessness in Agent Kane’s voice, a tone that Eve could not help but feel in her own heart as she paused for just a moment.

            “We’ve been preparing for something Agent Kane, but none of us expected something like this.”

            “Yes ma’am,” the woman said, her voice resolute now, “Is the target headed this way director?”

            “There is a possibility of that. That’s why I want you and your people to prepare the office as much as possible and then evacuate.”

            “Evacuate? We’re just giving up?”

            “We’re not giving up Agent Kane,” she said irritably, “We’re falling back and regrouping. The last thing we want to do is let the armed forces of the United States start lobbing nuclear warheads at this thing in an attempt to feel out its weaknesses. The chances are good that the bigwigs have already been talking about it, but there’s also a chance that dissenting voices might still hold sway. We need to find a means by which to hurt this thing or at least change it’s mind about stomping through anymore cities.

            “Now I need you and your people to evacuate, take all pertinent data, weapons, and other supplies that are needed and fall back towards the Longview office. I’ll phone ahead and inform them that you’re en route and are to be accepted in once you’re in sight.”

            The Longview office was at least double the size of the Portland office and ran beneath the majority of the city, it’s many sprawling corridors and maze-like passages guarded from above by shock absorbing materials and devices that had been set in place decades ago when the entire agency had been overhauled as a security measure. Back then the emergence of those with the spark had been enough to send those within the agency into a type of overdrive when it had come to their overall defenses.

            “Yes ma’am,” Agent Kane said. Her voice betrayed her disappointment, but many of the top agents in the company wouldn’t dare to question their superiors and as a result they had a very tightly-run operation where questions were rare and obedience was everything. Eve stayed on the line for a moment longer as she sensed that Agent Kane was doing the same.

            “Director?”

            “Yes Agent Kane,” she replied.

            “What’s going to happen next?”

            She was silent for several moments again, hanging her head as she could hear footsteps from down the hall.

            “I don’t know Agent Kane, but when I do, you’ll be contacted.”

            There was silence for a few seconds, and then, “Yes Director.”

            The line went silent as she raised her eyes to the glass doors leading into the hallway.

            “The hunt is on my dear,” said a voice from behind her. Eve could not disagree, but she had no idea if they were the hunter, or the prey.

                                                            *                      *                      *

Coeur D’Alene Resort and Casino

Coeur D’Alene, ID

            “Well this is awkward.”

            They walked into the pool area to see that the time stop had already affected everybody within. A few individuals looked as though they’d seen the effect coming and had tried to run, or rise from their chair, or do anything but just sit and watch. Nina and Callie had both been stretched out on their own pool lounger, each of them resting easily and somehow oblivious to the young men that had come up behind their loungers. One of the men had what looked like a wet towel in both hands and was about to wring it out over Callie’s face. The droplets of water that had been caught by the time stop still hung in the air, waiting to descend upon the unknowing features of the young girl as she lay relaxing in the warmth of the room.

            The other one had not been caught in such an innocent pose. In fact it was safe to say that had Nina woken to find the young man’s crotch so near her face she might have recoiled in horror or lashed out in anger depending on her mood. None of the men could figure out just why these two young men would behave in such a manner, but it had already been decided that it didn’t matter.

            “Can I please do something to them?” Finn asked Offer, “Please? I might be an ass but at least I wouldn’t do something like this. Just let me do something to these guys and I won’t ask again for at least another day or so.”

            Offer rolled his eyes, “You’re like a child. What’s that going to do, really?”

            Finn gestured to the young men, who couldn’t move so much as a single muscle of their body. They were essentially easy pickings in that moment.

            “The guy almost has his junk in her face!” Finn protested, “And this other little douche is about douse Callie for absolutely no reason! Are you telling me this is acceptable behavior?!”

            “No,” Offer said gruffly, “No I am not. But hurting them wouldn’t be justified either.”

            “How do you figure?”

            Offer had no ready answer for that, but still shook his head, “Why do you enjoy hurting people so much?”

            “It all depends on the situation,” Finn said, looking pointedly at the scene in front of them Offer knew he wouldn’t let in if he wasn’t appeased in some way, and so, shaking his head again, he let out a long sigh.

            “Fine, but not so bad that they can’t walk away.”

            “Hoo yeah,” Finn said, a big smile on his face as Aeson and Offer went to retrieve the

women.

            “I mean it Finn,” Offer said, “The last thing we need right now is a murder charge.”

            “Oh who would know?” Finn asked, ignoring Offer as he allowed Aeson by. The elf spoke a few words and tapped both Nina and Callie on the shoulders, whereupon they both suddenly stiffened and sat up, Callie crying out as she felt the water droplets hit her face.

            “What the hell?!” she cried.

            “Time to get up and get your clothes on,” Offer said, “It’s time we got going.”

            “What’s going on? Oh God!” Nina cried as she lashed out in reflex. Her closed fist struck the crotch of the young man that had been leaning over her, creating a dimple in his shorts that remained as she backed away hurriedly.

            “What in the hell?” she asked, looking up at Aeson.

            “It is called a time stop spell,” Aeson explained, “It is essentially allowing us to step outside of time and move about unhindered. We had to escape from several burly men in the pub.”

            “All because of your bright idea to run the machines,” Offer said, handing Callie a towel.

            “What?” Nina asked, “What in the world are you guys talking about?”

            “It’s a bit of a story, but you four should really go on now,” Finn said, eyeing the young men as though attempting to figure out just what he wanted to do.

            “What are you doing?” Callie asked Finn, eyeing him with great suspicion.

            “Teaching,” Finn said as he lashed out at the towel carrier, his right fist hitting the young man hard upon the breastbone. An indentation of his fist was left behind as he watched, and he was quick to slam his fist into another tender area as he came up from below, watching the fabric of the boy’s swim shorts  bunch and fold around his knuckles.

            For the other one he gave only a few hard slaps to the young man’s face accompanied by a hard stomp to his tailbone that would undoubtedly drop the man to his knees whenever the effect wore off.

            “Okay,” Finn said, clapping his hands together as he walked off, “I’m done.”
            “There is something so wrong with you,” Callie remarked as she reached for her clothes.

            “Thank you very little,” Finn said before walking out of the area. Offer followed, not wanting to take his eyes off of the other man.

            Callie rolled her eyes as she and Nina started getting dressed. Aeson was still nearby, but he was looking away as his eyes were aimed at the front reception area.

            “Is there any particular direction we need to be going?” Callie asked, “I can’t see much in the way of any future events at the moment.”

            “No I suspect not,” Aeson said, “Foretelling the future is difficult when time does not move. But Offer said something about wishing to head east, so I suppose that is where we will be going.”

            “How far east?”

            “To the next coast I would assume,” Aeson said, “I am still new to this world in its current form, and have yet to really understand it completely.”

            “And we have enough funds to do this?”

            Aeson grinned, “We might very well in the next few moments.”

            Callie arched an eyebrow, “Do I want to know what that means?”

            “Probably not,” Aeson replied as he walked away.

            Nina and Callie could only share a look as Callie shook her head, “You know about as much as I know right now.”

            As she walked away Nina finished getting her clothes back on, taking one look back at the young men that had been harassing them.  Shaking her head she began to walk towards the group, wondering if anything was going to make sense again.

                                                            *                      *                      *

Port Kenyon, CA

            The Harpy was female and only in her mid-thirties. Her real name was Joanne Stratton and she had been recruited as an agent when she was only nineteen. There had been something in her file stating that she had severe issues with authority and had actually head-butted her drill instructor in basic training when she was just eighteen. That type of offense should have immediate ground for punishment and possible dismissal, but considering how high she’d scored on her aptitude tests and her level of conditioning Eve had been impressed enough to bring her in. Joanne had shown a remarkable turnaround when the agency trainers had gotten a hold of her, largely because dismissal due to insubordination was not something that Eve had ever believed in.

            Instead she had instructed the trainers to hammer into Joanne a sense that she was not in control, that she was their property, and that she would do as they said. She had fought this idea incessantly for nearly three months before she had finally gotten the idea of what they were doing. Eve hadn’t wanted her broken, she’d just wanted to teach her that this world was hers if she wanted it, so long as she knew when to be aggressive and when to back down. Once she’d gotten that lesson Joanne had become one of the best operatives the agency had ever had.

            It also helped that her spark made her a relentless tracker and a strong and capable warrior. Untrained she’d been easy to take down, but after her training she had become an unstoppable force of nature. She was stronger than five of Eve’s best agents put together, and her spark allowed her to actually see the emanations left behind in the earth’s electromagnetic field when someone passed by. It was something that most would have chalked up to science fiction, but it was very real in the case of the Harpy.

            Every individual left their mark on the world in one way or another and never knew about it. Their passage through one area or another was noticed by the world in general and the gravitational field that kept them all grounded. The Harpy was able to see into the spectrum that allowed her to take note of where people had been by the signature they left behind in the earth’s gravitational field. In other words, she could see the ghostly image of their passage.

            Her dark red hair and pale white skin stood in stark contrast to the dark fatigues she wore,

but Joanne was still quite fetching. Green eyes the color of jade blazed from their sockets as she stood at attention on the other side of the desk. Her fellow agent, the man known as the Honey Badger, stood at attention as well, and almost looked bored as he cast his dark brown gaze upon the desk.

            He was a good deal shorter than Joanne but still few inches taller than Eve. His build was solid and his shoulders were quite broad. She could remember recruiting him after he’d been denied advancement in his military career due to a failed psych evaluation. Jameson Towns was a man that enjoyed what he did, and what he had learned to do the best was hurt people. As a soldier he’d been absolutely ruthless and had even wanted to join every conflict that could be found. His instructors had had to reprimand him more than once for his ferocity during training exercises and had even threatened to suggest his dismissal if he didn’t adhere to their rules and regulations for combat training.

            Jameson had been on the verge of washing out when Eve had found him. Like Joanne he’d taken some effort to shape up, but thankfully he’d done as was required of him and had finally shown that he could take orders and do what was expected. His spark allowed him an almost supernatural toughness that hardened his skin in such a way that she had seen knife thrusts and bullets do minimal, if any damage when his spark was engaged.

            Unlike Joanna however he couldn’t maintain the use of his spark for very long. Jameson was good to repel a few rounds from a firearm but after that the demand on his body would be too much. This was why his training had been so important, and why it was fortunate that he had taken to it with great zeal. When he had intentionally injured his first sparring partner though Eve had cleared the trainer to take him down with maximum force if necessary. Considering the trainer had been a highly skilled operative at one time, Jameson hadn’t lasted more than ten seconds. But it had gotten the point across and at this time he was one of their best.

            “There’s some strange stuff going on out there ma’am,” Jameson bothered to say, “Is that really a dragon that’s stomping towards Washington?”

            “It is,” Eve said calmly. Most operatives would never speak before being spoken to, but the rules had never fully applied to these two, or so they were allowed to believe. In terms of treating them like any other agent she gave both some leeway largely because they took on some of the biggest assignments and were thus afforded a slightly elevated status among the rest.

            “Is that why we got called in?” Joanna asked.

            “No,” Even said plainly, “You were called in for something else.”

            “Permission to not crap my pants then?” Jameson said in a joking tone. Eve thought this was in bad taste, but did not bother admonishing the man. It did not do to treat these types of operatives like children.

            “I would hope you realize that I don’t employ you two for anything other than what I believe you can handle.” She noticed as they both bristled just slightly at this statement, but kept going. “The job I have for both of you is one that you might find a bit more to your liking, but it’s nowhere near easy.”

            “Easy’s not as fun as some people seem to think,” Joanna remarked.

            “Indeed,” Even answered with a nod of her head, “But this is job will be something that will test every inch of fortitude you have. You’re going after Offer Pendanganst.”

            There was silence between the three of them for a moment as Joanna and Jameson’s eyes both widened. They knew very well who Offer was, most people in the agency did.

            “Please tell me that’s a joke,” Joanna said with a shake of her head.

            “No,” Eve affirmed, “It is not. Offer Pendaganst and Finn Parker are currently in possession of an asset that is necessary for this agency to halt the progress of the creature that is currently on the loose. I presume that you have also noticed the unforeseen development that has taken root in Seaside, Oregon.”

            “You mean that unknown medieval forest that’s spread from the outskirts?” Jameson asked.

            Eve just nodded.

            “Yeah, but for all we knew it wasn’t even connected.”

            “It is very much connected,” Eve said calmly, “How much do you two know about the Sealing?”

            Joanne snorted as she chuckled, as did Jameson. It was an expected reaction. After all, despite the fact that the agency dealt with those that had the spark and the supposed magical effects that they could create, science had done away with much of the belief in the arcane. In truth they were as close to the same thing as could be, but the link between humans and the unseen energy within this world had not been felt by many individuals in a great deal of time. It was safe to say that for many generations that magic had been relegated to the fantastical and unbelievable in favor of hard, unforgiving scientific fact.

            “You’re serious?” Joanne asked, her chuckling dying down as they could both see that Eve was not amused. “That was just a myth though. Something that children would believe.”

            “Do I look like a child to you?” Eve asked calmly.

            “No ma’am,” Jameson said quickly. They both adopted a more professional manner in that moment, straightening up as though they’d just been verbally reprimanded. Her reputation in the agency was well known to most, and respected by everyone. In many instances Eve had never even been required to raise her voice to regain order in any way.

            “The Sealing is very real, and was instigated long before the world as we know it now existed. It is a parallel world that was modeled from this one, meant to trap and contain the world that came before, in the days when Pangaea still existed and the world was a much different place.”

            “But how?” Joanna asked, “How could such a thing be possible without anyone knowing about it?”

            “I know about it,” Eve said softly, “Because I was there. Myself, and one other. Those that came later on knew nothing of this new world because they had been born to one that had already been established. The link between magic and this world had been all but severed, and those that remained were forced to start anew.”

            “You were there?”

            Eve brushed her fingers over her ears, revealing the truth of her lineage to the two of them in a way that she did not do lightly. Most people in the agency simply thought of her as exotic, alluring, and uncommonly beautiful. The idea of what she truly was did not occur to many, nor was it allowed to. As she showed them the tips of her elegantly pointed ears however, both Joann and Jameson frowned, and then both of the jaws dropped as their eyes widened.

Don’t Be a Perfect Writer, Be a Good One

Quotes The best part of your story is that the next page is blank and you  get to write it. | Fact quotes, Challenge quotes, Inspirational quotes

Good writing doesn’t always follow the most conventional means.  It flows where it may and often tows the writer along for the ride. Some would argue that the writer must remain in control at all times for the writing to be meaningful and worthwhile. Others might disagree, claiming that the writer is not as important as the writing. In any case the elements of a good writer are many in number.  Each element that makes a good writer exists to govern the veracity of an author’s ideas.  Listed below are several of those elements that can help any writer be successful.

1) Be focused and organized. 

    Good writers will guide their reader down the various pathways of their writing.  Whether it is a novel or a simple article the focus must remain on making certain that readers are able to understand the point the writer is trying to make.

2) A graceful flow of ideas builds a stronger story.

    Disjointed and clumpy writing leads to disinterested and even confused readers.  By allowing a story to unfold in a steady and reasonable manner the reader is better able to grasp the concept of the writing. Without flow and a small measure of grace the reader might feel frustrated and even resentful when attempting to sort out the main point of the writing.

3) Be compassionate and draw the reader in.

    Writers often write first for themselves  and then the reader.  This is to insure that they have anticipated any and all possible questions that might arise in the reader’s mind.  Having the answers to questions that the reader has not yet thought to ask is an easy draw for many readers and informs them that the writer has crafted the story for the reader.

4) Knowing your audience is the key to accurate writing.

    You wouldn’t write a science fiction story for someone who fancies murder mysteries.  Knowing your audience and what they like is crucial to becoming a receptive and worthwhile writer.  Writing is not just for the writer, and must conform at times to what the reader wants to see. 

5) Accept criticism, but don’t take it personally.

    It is next to impossible to write something that everyone will like.  There will always be someone who decides to critique your work.  Even writing the most inspired work of your life there will be those who find a flaw within it for one reason or another.  In order to better yourself as a writer it is important to accept criticism and keep moving forward.  Holding a grudge against a critic is pointless. 

6) Just write.

    The first step is always the most important.  The ideas and formulas for anything the writer wishes to put down will never go anywhere unless they are expressed.  If you write gibberish then write gibberish. Your skill will develop given time, effort, and continual practice.  The point of it all though is that you must write.  If you don’t, then there is no way to know if you’ll ever be any good at it.

For God and Country (Chapter 14)

For God And Country Canvas Prints | Fine Art America

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Washington DC

            “How’s that hookup coming Loni?” Kilsall asked, standing as he was with his hands behind his back. She couldn’t help but flush as people walked by, some of them ignoring the two of them, some tipping their heads as a sign of respect. No one called out to Kilsall though, no matter that he’d served in the US military and it was a known fact. No one dared in front of this memorial, not out of fear of being seen as disrespectful, but because it was considered by many to pay silent reverence to the fallen whose names adorned the wall. Not everyone was so respectful, but the fact that he was standing so solemnly in front of the wall might have impressed some folks.

            It felt a tad obscene to talk about this in front such a hallowed site.

            “He wants nothing to do with me.”

            Kilsall frowned as he turned to her, “I find that hard to believe. You’re an attractive woman. If I were just a bit younger I’d have made a pass at you at one time. Not now, of course not now because it wouldn’t be proper. But in the past I might have made my interest known.”

            For some reason this unnerved her in a way she couldn’t adequately describe, but she didn’t respond. In fact she didn’t even want to talk any longer. Kilsall was asking her to get back together with a man that had kicked her to the curb as the saying went, and had been glad to do it. Giving him the key back had been the smart thing since she had technically entered his residence without permission, which didn’t really count as breaking, but definitely fell under entering without due cause. Her threats towards him about her belongings had been empty, and he’d seen right through it without missing a beat.

            “He kicked me out sir,” she said calmly. Inside her heart felt like a lump of ice in her chest, despite the fact that it was still beating. Her bowels felt clenched as she spoke to her boss, as though the fear of losing her job, or something else, was keeping her wound this tightly.

            “He’s an impetuous man,” Kilsall said quietly, “But I think you can make him see the error in that. You need to go back to him and be genuine. I need this man on my side young lady. Do you understand?”

            She nodded, lifting her left hand to pluck a stray lock of hair from in front of her face.

            “Take the rest of the day off Loni. Go to Steven, find him if he’s working, and ask, beg if you have to, for him to take you back. We need him, I need him, and letting him go isn’t an option.”

            “Is my job on the line sir?” she asked. Loni felt a stab of apprehension reach inward and pluck one of the unseen chords that had been tightened so forcefully in her gut. If her boss gave the wrong answer it would crush and frighten her all at once, but if said anything different, she wouldn’t know how to respond.

            “No, nothing like that,” he said calmly, “We just need him, that’s all. And you need him too, you two belong together. Now go on, shoo, go find your other half.”

            He waved his hand at her as though shooing a dog, letting Loni know that she was dismissed. Somewhere, somehow, she hoped that a camera was snapping pictures as he did this, as the very feeling of being dismissed in such a fashion hurt almost as bad as the expectation that she might be fired if she couldn’t get Steven to see reason. She wasn’t the only aide that Kilsall had, but she liked to think that she was the most capable and the least dispensable.

            As she started walking away however she couldn’t help thinking that no one was ever truly indispensable with this man.

                                                            *                      *                      *

            They were out on another routine call, checking on a possible threat to the president, and as usual it was just another day. This time however Michael was driving and Steven was handing out pearls of wisdom when and where he could.

            “Man, is this all we’re going to do? We go around and check on any nutcases that want to threaten the president and we hang around the White House like a bunch of glorified bodyguards. Is that it?”

            “We could always see if that old train is still up and running.”

            Michael’s unlined brow creased as he looked over at Steven, “What train?”

            “The one that had a pool table that doubled as a gurney and had billiard balls that could release knockout gas.”

            “You mean like in that old movie?”

            “Hey,” Steven said as he chuckled, “That movie’s not that old.”

            “Oh c’mon man, I’m serious.”

            “If you wanted to see action you should have joined up with the Marines or the Army and lived the adventure. As it is you should know what it’s like when we’re at peace. There’s nothing to do but check on a society that will eventually tear itself apart if they’re not kept in check now and again.”

            “And we’re the guys keeping them in check?”

            “When it needs to happen, yep. So are the cops, the firemen, the government, pretty much anyone that’s been elevated to a position that allows them to do something for the common good.”

            “When was the last time the government did anything for the common good?” Michael quipped, “The only good I see them doing is for their own pockets.”

            Looking out the window Steven couldn’t help but smile as he shook his head. He knew just what Michael was thinking since it had been and still kind of was his own mindset when it came to politics. But he’d grown over time, and he had to believe that Michael would too.

            “Not all politicians are out to line their pockets man, you’ve got to have some faith.”

            “Let me tell you about faith, this young girl-“

            “Hold it!”

            Michael stomped on the brakes as he saw what Steven had seen just in the nick of time. The back end of their car almost lifted up off the tires as the sedan came to a screeching halt, the front end dipping as the person that had stepped out in the road smacked it with one hand, scowling at both of them as in his other hand he held a sign that read “WHAT’S BROKE NEEDS FIXING”. The young man couldn’t have been out of teens but he had a look in his eyes that seemed as though it could have melted steel, or at least a candy bar on a hot day Steven figured as he took another good look at him.

            He was clean cut and wearing a suit jacket over a t-shirt, a trend that seemed to be popular these days but looked kind of ridiculous. His hair was carefully styled and slicked back to make him look more professional no doubt, and from the scowl on his face down to the slick and very well-polished shoes he was wearing the young man appeared to be the type that was out to make a point and have his say. The only problem was that he’d decided it was okay to stand in the middle of the road to do it.

            Steven could already feel his anger rising, though he saw out of the corner of his eye as Michael stormed his way out of the driver’s side, hand already reaching for his weapon as Steven quickly called out to him to take it easy. The young man raised his sign high, taking a deep breath as he prepared to yell something at the two of them. But was interrupted by another man that came walking up quickly towards Steven, an angry look on his face as well.

            “Hey what the hell are you doing?! You almost hit a kid!”

            “Yeah well this kid was standing in the middle of a busy road,” Steven shot back, “Excuse me I have to deal with this.”

            “Have you killed anyone today? Huh?” the man pressed closer, and Steven could see others taking an interest in this matter already. Phones were out and cameras were recording as he’d expected, and it was going to be a miracle if this didn’t become a widespread debacle at any moment.

            “Sir please move back. I’ve got to deal with this issue before anything you might have to say.”

            “You’re a pig!” the man shouted, “You almost hit a kid and now you’ve got to ‘deal with him’, right? What’re you gonna do pig, are you gonna lock him up and throw away the key? Huh? You gonna make him disappear in one of your black sites asshole??”

            Steven had to repress the urge to roll his eyes as he looked back at the man that had approached him, an older fellow with white hair, an untrimmed beard, and a shirt reading “I Know the Truth, They Won’t Let Me Tell It” on the front. It took everything he had not to sigh as he turned and began walking towards the younger man, but what he saw only left him a little more exasperated.

            More people had joined the fracas, with a shorter, portly woman standing in front of Michael, denying him any access to the young man and moving each time he moved. This was already getting out of hand, it was time to call it in.

            “Michael back away,” he called out, raising his voice to be heard over the din of those that were already starting to block the roadway even further. This hadn’t happened in a few weeks as far as he’d seen, and the last time had been on a newscast that had come all the way from Portland, Oregon. He didn’t know why people were protesting no matter that they held signs alluding to the reason, but he did know that they were causing a great deal of trouble here and there as they decided to block roads, deny people their right to move as they wanted along public roadways, and were making a general nuisance of themselves. He didn’t see anyone in black bloc thankfully, but that didn’t mean much.

            “Michael! Come on man, go call it in.”

            Michael backed away from the young man at that point, averting his gaze as the portly woman started talking trash to him as he plucked his cell phone from his pocket.

            “Gotta call the big boss little man? You gotta call someone to come clean up your mess, huh? You’re a coward, a fucking coward you little bitch! You almost hit a kid and now you’ve got to call your big bad boss and get him moved, huh? You’re sick, you’re a piece of human garbage!”

            Thankfully only a few more people joined in before the local police decided to show up, and by that point they were just about shouted out when nearly a dozen people were zip-tied and shoved in the back of a police van that had been called up. The main instigator had been left behind to be questioned, though he too had been secured with zip ties, his hands secured behind his back as he’d scowled at everyone the entire time, the pinched look of his face making him look ridiculous.

            Ridiculous or not though, Steven could only think that this was the beginning of something that he wasn’t going to want to stick around for.

30 Years (excerpt)

Man Silhouette Sitting On A Bench In Front Of The Sea On Sunset And Reading  A Book stock photo f2b0086b-f1a3-44a8-91e1-51cd44d075d4

He finally got hold of me again.

            I had a day off just last week when Caitlin and our girls went with Hailey and Terrance and their kids to the Portland zoo. Normally I would have gone too, but that day I’d been more in the mood to just sit at home and kick back with a good book.  It was like fate was just putting words in my mouth now that I think about it, and I would have been better off going to the zoo just to spite the fickle thing.  But that’s never how it works, is it? Fate always seems to find a way around the plans we make and discover new ways to screw with us.

            So here’s how it went.  It’s September now, with football season in full swing, the weather is beginning to finally change to colder days, and the general feeling of yet another transition in this crazy ride we call life.  I know, waxing poetic is more for contemplative times than the shit storm I was about to embark on again, but I have to get it in where I can. 

            I was in reality reading a good book by a fellow author, someone I’d met and actually formed a good relationship with only a few years ago, when my cell phone rang.  Thinking it was either Caitlin or someone else in my family I picked it up, only to see that it was an unlisted and blocked number.  Now I don’t normally answer such calls, as there’s obviously no way to know who it is and what they want, but for some odd reason I pushed SEND this time.  Well, you can already guess how that went.

            I asked who it was, and for several seconds there was little more than silence, the kind of heavy quiet you just knew was about to be shattered by something earth-shaking or so revelatory that you can’t help but stand in awe.  Instead of that scenario however I was subjected to a “Hey man, remember my voice still?” as Clive spoke. 

            So here’s how the conversation went:

            “I wish I could say yes.”

            “Oh come on man, don’t be like that. How have you been?”

            “Happy.”

            Silence for a moment, and then, “That’s good. How’s the family?”

            “None of your business, that’s how they are.”

            “Are you seriously going to be this way?”

            “What way Clive? Do you mean am I going to keep my family from being any concern of yours? Then  yes.”

            “Hey I called to talk man, not to bitch at each other. Can we talk?”

            “We are talking, against my better judgment.”

            “Shit man, do I need to hang up?  You seem to be in a real dick mood right now.”

            I almost exploded, but held myself in, “I’m not sure what you expected given our last conversation.”

            “I’ve put that behind me man. I’ve moved on from it. Why can’t you?”

            Yeah, he was still the same idiotic asshole from before. “I’ve moved beyond you years ago Clive.  Or did you never wonder why I didn’t bother to call or come by?”

            “Yeah, I hear you.  But shit man, can’t you just get past it?”

            “I did Clive, three years ago in fact.  It seems like you can’t get past it.”

            “I lost my mother man, and my stepdad. They both passed within the last three years.  My mom died of pancreatic cancer and my stepdad shot himself after her death.”

            Most people wouldn’t have known what to say after that, but I took a stab at it. “Then their problems are over.”

            “Are you serious?”

            “What did you want me to say Clive? Did you want a eulogy on the spot? As much as I didn’t care for them at least they’re not hurting any longer.  Is there anything else you want to tell me?”

            “I lost my son. He’s not dead, but Tara finally managed to convince him that I’m not worth the effort.  He won’t even talk to me, and Candace and Jimmy are gone too.”

            “So she didn’t want to go another round huh?”

            “Oh come on man! That’s a really fucked up thing to say!”

            “True though, isn’t it?”

            “You asshole. Why did I bother calling you?”

            “That’s a damned good question Clive. Why did you?”

            There was silence again, but this time I got the feeling that he was really wracking his brain for something clever and stunning to say, just like the old Clive would have.

            “Are you drunk Clive?”

            He let out a breath at that point, kind of shaky and distorted over the phone but I could still hear him laughing a bit as he finally spoke again.

            “Fuckin-A I am man. I just picked up another case of Bud after polishing off a six-pack of tallboys.  I’ve got a fifth of Jack here too, just taking pulls now and then between beers.”

            “You fixing to go to sleep and not wake up?”  Again, this was on edge for things to say, but I was done pulling punches, and was more than ready to simply lay into him without mercy.  I’d suffered enough bullshit at this guy’s hands over the years and was more than anxious to let him know all about it.

            “Maybe.” That was all he said, that one word.  But he did go on.

            “What else have I got to live for man?  I’ve got three kids that want nothing to do with me, three exes, two of them I was married to, who think I’m a piece of shit, and even my employer thought it wasn’t worth his time to keep me on. I just got fired from a fucking Shari’s restaurant for Christ’s sake, a Shari’s!”  There was note of desperation in his voice then, something I’d rarely heard in Clive’s tone, and it was that which made me decide what to do next. God help me, but this was where I should have seen that it was going down the tubes all at once, at least in Clive’s case.  I’d been here before, but never with this type of severity. He’d always been able to haul himself up by his own bootstraps so to speak, and this was new territory that I didn’t particularly care for.

            “Are you still at the house?” I asked, already knowing the answer.

            “Yeah, but not for long,” he said, still laughing slightly as I could hear a movie in the background, one that I knew very well, “There’s an eviction notice on the door and the owner’s already told me I have a week to get all my shit out and hit the bricks.  My sister doesn’t want to bother with me and all my friends went on their merry goddamned ways and can’t help. Maybe that’s why I called you. You were always there for me no matter what man.” Again there was that note of hopelessness that I didn’t care to hear and couldn’t equate with Clive at all.

            “Keep the beer cold for me then, and I’ll be right over.”

            “Ah shit man you don’t need to come over for my sake.” Oh good God I wanted to kill him right then, to make me change my mind and then try this backpedaling shit. I wanted nothing more than to tell him to drink up and have another case on me, that I would drive over just to give him another twenty-four cans of liquid courage to speed him on his way. But that’s not the type of man I am, never has been and likely never will be.

            “Shut the hell up and get that beer cold bitch,” I said, reverting so easily back to the old days when we would put each other down out of affection.  That hadn’t happened much in this life, but it was still enough to get him to laugh, which was decidedly better than the other emotion I’d heard in his voice.

            “Be ready to crack one for me when I get there,” I told him, “And don’t go choking on Jack before I get a tug.”

            That made him laugh again, and all of a sudden it was like old times.  And if you’ve been reading carefully you can only imagine what the old times were like, and what they eventually brought.

            Needless to say, I didn’t think Caitlin would be happy with me after that night, and I was right.

            I called her and relayed what had happened, who had called, and what I was going to do. She told me to be careful, to not get too drunk, and to please call her if anything happened. At that point a chill ran down my spine as her words sank home.  I didn’t want anything to happen was the worst part, but I had no idea what I’d be walking into.   Caitlin ended the call by telling me she loved me and to just be careful, and to bring Clive back if I could.  That simple statement had me on edge from the moment I hung up the phone to the moment I knocked on Clive’s door before walking in. The door was unlocked as always and I went in to find Clive sacked out on his couch, a brown monstrosity that dominated the living room space and was at the current moment littered with empty beer cans, pizza boxes, and take out cartons that had thankfully been emptied of their contents. 

            The place stank like cat piss and stale beer, and it was all I could do to open the windows and kick on a fan or two to get some ventilation going.  Clive remained passed out through this part, snorting only once as he rolled over on the couch, oblivious to me, to the television blasting the ending credits to From Dusk Till Dawn, and to basically everything.  This was a man in his early sixties who had simply given up on life, and had done nothing worth giving up on as of late. I wondered why I had come in that moment, and it took every bit of resolve I had to not just walk out and let him drown in his own misery.  Turns out that staying or going wouldn’t have made one damned bit of difference.

            When he woke up I was sitting on the far end of the couch, having restarted the movie and grabbed myself a beer, which was thankfully cold. Apart from everything he’d at least put the beer in the fridge, if nothing else.  You can always trust an alcoholic to have cold beer I suppose, which means they still do have priorities.

            The snort and shifting of his inert body on the couch was what really got me to notice that he was awake. By that time I’d only been there for around a half hour, but already his place had smelled better and the garbage had been put in the cans and out to the curb. I’m not a neat freak, but I refuse to sit in trash in a home where I can actually make a difference.  I had also taken the liberty of doing the few crusted over dishes he’d had in the sink, but they’d been so fouled up that I’d just blasted them with soap and left them to soak.

            “How long have you been here?” No “Hi man”, or “Thanks for coming”, but to be honest I didn’t really expect much. So here’s how this conversation went, to the best of my memory.

            “I’ve been here about thirty minutes or so.”

            He looked around his place at that point, taking into account the missing garbage and policed beer cans. The Jack Daniels was still on the table, I’d taken a couple of shots from it and had a pleasing warmth in my belly at that time, but not much else.

            “You cleaned up.”

            “Yes I did.”

            “Why?”

            “Because if you kill yourself tonight I’d rather it not look like you turned into a reckless slob overnight. I hope you’re wearing clean underwear at least.”

            “Ha ha fucker,” he said, settling back as he put both hands over his face. He’d grown quite a scraggly beard at that point and looked kind of grizzly to be honest.  He also had bags under his eyes heavy enough to be considered luggage, and his eyes were so red that he might have been mistaken as a vampire in some cultures. 

            “What are you doing Clive?” I asked.

            He snorted again, then farted, which made a sound like a damned bugle.

            “What do you mean?”

            “You know goddamned well what I mean,” I said, and he knew it too.

            “I’ve got nothing left man, no one and nothing.”

            “You’re alive.”

            “And that’s a good thing?”

            “Your body would say so I imagine if the rest of it could talk and not just your ass.”

            “Why did you come over here again?”

            “Perverse and morbid fascination with the plight of the white-skinned alcoholic,” I replied. I was pulling no punches that night, and meant every word I said.

            He paused at that point, looking at me as if to see if I was just kidding. My face was dead serious as I looked back at him. I wasn’t in the mood to laugh, but I would stay there regardless of what I thought.  A small part of me still insisted that this man needed me for something, if only for someone to talk to that wouldn’t gladly spit on him.  He had enough of those in his life.

            “I didn’t think you’d come.”

            “It took an effort.”

            “I bet.  I’ve wanted to talk to you for so long man, you don’t even know.”

            “You’re right, I don’t. I stayed away for a reason Clive, and more than just because you were an asshole.”

            “You’re right,” he said while pointing a finger at me, “You’ve always been right about so much. All my friends ditched me, everyone I thought cared about me is gone, and you’re still here.”

            “Against my better judgment, yes.”

            “Well if your better judgment is telling you to go then why don’t you?”

            “Don’t tempt me right now Clive.  My patience has a set limit tonight.”

            “Well let me know when I hit then.”

            “You’re close,” I said.

            “Shit man I don’t want to fight. I never did. We always fought about the dumbest things too.”

            “We fought because you either couldn’t keep your shit together or you couldn’t keep your mouth shut.”

            He’d grinned at me then, that same charmer’s grin that had won over so many women I could recall from past lives.  It didn’t work on me, nor did that sense of camaraderie he liked to fall back on affect me in the least.  He’d almost burned the bridge between us, and it was holding on by just a few very badly frayed threads. Why was I there? That question kept repeating in my mind over and over, haunting me as I tried to sort it out for myself. I failed each and every time, and as we began to talk a little more, getting further into our discussion, I was just as stymied as before.  It was only when he suggested that we switch movies and watch something else, an offhanded way of changing our discussion, that I began to relax slightly. Besides, by that point I needed a beer and so did he.

            Had I known that this would be the last movie we watched together I might have taken every last beer and the bottle of Jack and whatever other alcohol he’d had in the house that night.  We were almost the entire way through the next movie, a favorite of both of ours titled the 13th Warrior, when I finally couldn’t stay awake any longer and passed out, nodding off with my head on the far armrest of the couch and my back kinked horribly so that the next morning I was in a great deal of pain for at least a couple of hours.  That wasn’t the worst part though.

            Throughout the entire movie that we’d seen more than a dozen times between us Clive had seen me nodding off, and had obviously pretended to do the same. I kick myself in the ass to even now thinking that I should have known better, that his tolerance level was high enough that he could have outlasted me easily through the night. But that hadn’t been his plan. 

            When I woke up the next day I was sore and hurting like I said, but when I looked over at Clive, who appeared to be just as dead to the world as he’d been the day before, I was struck with a kind of certainty that I’ve known more than once in my life.  I watched him for at least two minutes before I could see for certain that his chest wasn’t rising and falling, that I couldn’t hear any semblance of breath coming in and out of his mouth or nostrils.  In other words he wasn’t breathing, he wasn’t moving, and my worst fear at that moment was obviously true.  I looked to the bottle of Jack on the table then, noting immediately, even through blurred vision, that it was almost entirely empty. Only a few drops had remained, wetting the bottom of the bottle as was normal.

            I got up, slowly, painfully, and walked over to Clive, hoping like hell to hear a breath at any moment, but knowing that I wouldn’t.  When I reached out to grab his wrist in order to find a pulse the cold, clammy feel of his skin told me all I needed to know, but I still felt his neck for a pulse. There was nothing, not a damned throb, not even a tiny hint that he was still there.  Sometime during the night he’d emptied that bottle, and seeing as he hadn’t puked or made any other type of noise, he’d just drifted away.  Something felt wrong to me about it, especially considering that the bottle had been laid so carefully on the table, almost as if he’d planned it. 

            The police had to question me thoroughly as I’d been the last person to be with Clive, and it was only when the coroner had finally gotten the final results, the Clive had simply stopped breathing, fallen into a deep coma, and drifted away, that I was finally in the clear. That happened just the other day, and I still find myself haunted by the last thing I heard Clive say to me before I passed out.

            “You’re the only one that’s always been there for me.”

            As epithet’s go it’s not the worst, but at several times in the past week it’s seemed almost like a curse. In some cases I think that’s exactly what it is.

            Hailey’s been pretty upset about it. She hasn’t given the guy much thought in the past several years other than to collect the child support, and hasn’t even tried to get him involved in their kids’ lives.  She’s fully embraced Terrance and his support of her and the girls, deciding that he is their father now, a decision that I am all for but still feel a hint of conflict over in the light of this tragedy.  She’s a very deep-feeling person, she always has been, and I’m not entirely surprised that she would react this way, but a part of me still wants to know that she’ll move on and never feel this way about him again. I know that’s not fair, and won’t happen, but I can’t help it. Forgetting Clive would be preferable to remembering him with all the shit that’s happened between him and everyone whose life he touched.

            I suppose that’s still unfair.  He did manage to have some good times in there every now and then, times when it was easier to laugh and not worry about what might happen the next day.  For my own part I have too many different memories of the man from too many different lives, and I know that it would be ultimately too confusing to share them all, as most people would look at me as if thinking I’ve finally began to lose my last little bit of sanity left.  I wouldn’t care so much about them judging me, but the effort of trying to dredge up all the good times would be an effort in futility simply because no one would understand, and no one would believe.

            It’s happened to me and I don’t want to believe, how’s that for paradoxical?

            Did I put my ass on the line for Clive? Yes, many times.

            Did I think he was worth it at the time? Obviously so, otherwise my life would have gone a lot different.

            Was he worth my friendship?  At one time, yes.

            Will I miss him?  Get ready for it….no.

            I say no with all honesty because I get the sinking feeling that I’ll see him again in another life, perhaps further down the road or sooner than I’d like, but I’ll see him, of that I have no doubt.  It’s just a matter of time at this point, just the ticking of the clock until the end, and the expectation of doing it all over again, doing my best not to trip and screw up again, not to alienate a man that should be my best friend, and to not let him ruin his life once more, while still allowing him the freedom of choice. Sounds easy enough, right? Oh, and let’s not forget Hailey, as I’m sure she’s still a big part of this.  As to anything else, I guess I’ll do my best and hope for the worst, or some silly shit like that.

            I reached the hump and tripped again, that’s all that seems to matter. Now I just wait for the end.

                                                            *                      *                      *

Age 74

            I hurt all over these days.  My joints creak, my back hurts, and when I walk I swear it feels like half the time I might totter in the wrong direction and just fall over.  Someone once told me that getting old can be absolute hell on the body, and I believe it now.  So much has been lost in the past decade and a half, so much has changed.  My beautiful Caitlin is gone, taken by congestive heart failure, a hereditary trait that runs in her family, and thankfully is absent thus far in our daughters.  Paige, Jenna, and Taylor are doing well, having started their own families and moved to various points within the Portland Metro area.  Paige is now the dean of Portland State University, a subtle but very inspired career change she happened upon after college, while Jenna and Taylor continue to write under the comforting umbrella of my former company.  I sold my stock for good only five years ago, and was handsomely rewarded for my time and effort in the publishing industry. 

            Believe it or not I still write, and more than just this piddling documentary that will likely never reach the light of day.  These ramblings of a madman have been on hiatus for so long I was shocked to see them still on my thumb drive, under the simple heading “Believe”.  I didn’t want to honestly, but once I clicked upon the icon and opened the story up I had to read it to the last entry, and then I felt I had to keep going.  I don’t need the confession mind you, only the chance to put down what I feel now as it’s been almost two decades since Clive drank himself to death.  Do I miss the son of a bitch?  Yes, I do, and I can admit it now.  I imagine I will see him again, but I sincerely hope that whatever force is keeping me chained to this particular path will see fit to let go finally.  I can only hope, but it’s one that’s in vain as I’ve said before.

            Hailey and her hubby Terrance are doing well still, and come to visit me now and again. Their daughters have done well for themselves as well, finding good, decent husbands and making their own families.  They’ve both graduated from Oregon State University and gone on to not only excel at everything they do, but also become quite good friends with my girls, almost another family so to speak.

            Everything has gone well to this point, and I can’t help but think that I might finally get to rest. But like I said, it’s a hope in vain, and one I don’t particularly believe in.  Ah well, I suppose I’ll put this somewhere I’ll remember if the time comes when I need it again, and perhaps then I can either start it up again or just continue on with my rambling.  If I talk to you again reader then I suppose I can say that my hopes were unfounded.  If not, then make the life you have the one you treasure.  If it’s the only one you get, you’ll be fortunate.

Smiling at Haters is Fun

Hope Ann on Instagram: “Right? 😂” | Writing humor, Writing memes, Writer  memes

Let’s face the facts, if you decide to become a writer you’ve already opened the pit trap and are only one step from falling into it since people are waiting and eager to rip your precious project to shreds and declare you the worst writer they’ve ever seen. It’s okay, it’s not meant to be personal, until it is. And even then, if you have a thick enough skin you can laugh as they laugh and remind them that everyone that ever went into writing had to put up with those that forgot that their own words weren’t gospel. In short, laugh because they feel the need to recognize your work, and laugh harder because your work threatens their idea of what’s ‘good enough’. Seriously, push on and remind yourself that this is YOUR dream, and that they’re (trying to) standing in the way.

Mid-week meme: Bad Writers – H L Petrovic

This is debatable to be fair, but bad writers will come to the defense of their work most often when it’s maligned in any way since they don’t want people knowing that even they believe it could be better. The best writers in the world won’t often admit their superiority since they’re the worst critics they could ever have. Keep in mind that if what’s in your head makes it to the page that it’s still bound to change into something you might not have wanted, which means it could always be better. Good writers and the best writers will admit there’s something else that can be done, some other way it could be written, while the worst writers are those that are stiff when it comes to change and think that their story is perfect.

Pin on Writing Humor

One thing about writing that’s true for everyone, without exception, is that you won’t please everyone, so don’t bother trying. It’s easier to count the grains of sand on a beachfront than to please every reader, since someone out there will find fault with what you’ve written or just won’t like it because of personal taste. That’s okay, it’s not personal no matter how it might sound, since someone either doesn’t understand your work, might feel threatened by it, or might even be jealous. But the trick is, write the way you want and remain versatile enough to take constructive criticism. But just write, and keep writing, especially if it’s what keeps you happy. And remember, when the haters come, smile, even if you look like a wolf ready to devour the sheep.

The Last Tree

Lonely Tree III by IsacGoulart on DeviantArt

Portland State University

June 2nd, 3021

3:28 pm

            “Myths and legends, fairy tales and fables line many pages of text that were once thought to be rather important to our species.  Upon these pages were stories of individuals, groups and creatures large and small that were often capable of feats that we know today are simply not possible.  The ink used upon the pages was a co-conspirator in a way to the lie that was told by the authors of such tales to amuse and divert our kind’s attention from the world we knew.  Yet perhaps the greatest crime of all was the material used by each unsung individual to transfer their often hedonistic and sometimes cautionary tales.” 

Alyssa paused as she gauged the attention of her audience, raising her eyebrows as though to accentuate the point she was about to make.  There were far too many half-closed eyes that were barely focused upon her, especially given the lack of attendance that had thinned her class to less than half of its original size.  She lamented that many of these absences were due in part to the fact that those who had not chosen to attend this day would not be returning.  She was fast becoming unpopular in this place, just as she had in others. 

            “Paper, as you all know, has become a highly restricted medium. It was once upon a time something that mankind took for granted because it was there, readily available, and easy to use.  Of course the thought of where it came from never once entered the minds of those who wrote upon it, tore it to shreds, used it for mundane and sometimes vulgar purposes, but that then is the point of this course.  The study of conservation is one that came far too late for our benefit, an idea that was born in the time of our grandparents and yet was somehow not implemented until it was too late.”  Alyssa watched with just a little heartache as two students, a young man and a younger woman, rose from their seats with backpacks in hand, each of them already reaching for the breathers that were stowed so haphazardly in amongst their other school materials.

            No one wanted to hear about something that couldn’t be changed any longer, and as a result her course, while barely tolerated at any university, was swiftly becoming like the fabled forests of ages ago. It was dangerously close to becoming extinct.   

            Another student got up to leave, though he at least gave her a backward glance, perhaps to see if she was going to keep going or not, or maybe just because he had at least something of a heart.  Nonetheless he was up the stairs and out the door into the steadily increasing winds that had scoured the city clean only a few days before.  The weather patterns of the past several centuries had shifted so erratically that at times even the barriers that encircled the great cities had not been enough to keep the worst of the windstorms out.  At times she had to wonder if she was even reaching any of her students. Most of them took this class as something easy to pass, an elective that could allow them to keep their grades up, or in some cases allow them to catch up on their beauty sleep.  In any regard it felt like a bad joke, and she was the punch line.

                                                *                      *                      *

6:54 pm

            She was enjoying a pleasant sip from the glass in her right hand while holding onto her holopad with her left when the doorbell to her office chimed. One of the perks of being a tenured professor at any university was that she had at least rated an office with more than a single room and its own toilet facilities.  As such she had spent many a night in her office either drinking herself into oblivion after a hard day, or studying up on her ongoing research, which was more common.

            Inhaling through her nose she set her glass down sans coaster, something that seriously irked one of the only friends she had at this place, keeping the holopad in her left hand as the strap that adorned its back rested snugly against her knuckles. Rolling up from her chair she made her way to the heavy, metal door that had been installed long before she’d ever been born. Everything made of wood had slowly but surely been replaced as the material had slowly been allowed to fade and dwindle away.

            The world’s wood supply wasn’t gone, but it might as well have been.

            Reaching the door she peered at the viewscreen at the hinge-side of the door, smirking as she saw the goofy-looking woman mugging for the camera outside of her office.  Melodie Amberveldt was anything but a normal person in her estimation, but she was a good friend.  She’d known Melodie since high school, and had kept in touch throughout the years despite the distance that had separated them at times. Pushing the intercom button that would carry her voice to the hallway just outside her door she spoke.

            “I’ve had my quota of crazy today. Peddle it somewhere else.”

            “Ah but I’ve brought a new and unique brand of psycho bitch that you may not have experienced lately, and are desperately in need of. So open the door o’ favorite love pet of mine.”

            Rolling her eyes as she reached for the lock Alyssa wondered idly, for the millionth time perhaps, how she and this wild force of nature had ever stayed friends for so long.  She had heard that opposites attracted one another throughout her entire life, but was always reminded of its absolute truth every time she spent time with Melodie, or “Mel” as she liked to be called. Even before the door was all the way open Mel was pushing her way in, brandishing a bottle that sloshed welcomingly as she clicked her tongue in greeting. 

            A faint noise drew her attention as she looked back to the hallway, her steadily blurring vision showing her nothing more than the empty, somewhat intimidating hall lined by marble tiles on the floor and drywall along the faded and chipped walls.  This wing of PSU had yet to receive a true upgrade that required actual money, but it was still functional at least.  Shaking her head she decided it had been nothing, perhaps just the janitor making his rounds. He would be the only one still here aside from herself after all, the other professors all had lives or homes they enjoyed returning to.

            She had a studio apartment only a short walk away that offered little more than the flat screen television filled with newscasts of how the world was dying a little more each day.  There was a TV in her office too, but was hardly ever turned on save to watch a movie or something else of interest.  Alyssa wasn’t much of one to watch TV, she much preferred the classics, old, ancient movies really that had for some reason been preserved throughout the centuries.  Her favorites were the films and cartoons that featured the very subject of her research.

            “So my little dandy throw rug, what’s on the docket for tonight?”

            Mel had a way to speaking that normally astounded whomever she talked to, especially her students. She’d had more than one student complain over her use of the English language, thinking that she was being impolite or even degrading at times. To those who really knew her, like Alyssa did, they would have understood that this was how Mel signified that she liked someone. It was a little bit degrading in fact, but the tone she used was almost always with love, and Alyssa had learned how live with her quirky, sometimes off-color friend a long time ago.

            “Oh, I was thinking of kicking back with a pleasant, stomach-warming vintage and perhaps switching on some of the oldies.  Care to join?” Alyssa collapsed into her oversized, very comfortable chair as she pointed at the television where it sat upon the wall, the proverbial fly that would only buzz when she desired.  A holo-player sat affixed to the all just below it, a full load of ancient programs loaded and ready to go at her command.

            “Tom and Jerry or Looney Tunes?” Mel quipped.

            “Maybe both, or maybe I’ll feel adventurous and watch The Sandlot just for kicks, or the The Goonies even. Maybe I’ll have an all out oldies orgy.”

            “Sounds fun,” Mel said with a smile, “Should we order in?”

            In truth she’d been kidding, but as her friend continued that maniacal smile that Alyssa loved so much she had to laugh.  It did sound like a damned fine idea.

                                                *                      *                      *

8:59 pm

            “So are you still on about your research into the world of long ago?” Mel said, stabbing at a wad of greasy noodles in their plastic packaging as she finally managed to wrap a few around the plastic fork that had come with the meal.  Food was never far away in a city such as Portland, and given its ethnic diversity they’d had a wide variety of places to choose from. Despite it all, they’d gone to their favorite, Panda Express.  It had been their favorite as kids and remained so to this day.

            “As much as I can be,” Alyssa replied, swallowing her current bite before going on, “Professor Lansden thinks I’m nuts of course.  He tells me that researching something that went extinct over a hundred years ago is like searching for a single rock at the bottom of the ocean.”

            “Pacific or Atlantic?” Mel mused.

            “Oh shut up,” Alyssa said with an amused smile.

            “You have to admit that it’s almost a lost subject,” Mel said as she kept stabbing at her meal, as though expecting it to fight back. “Trees have been dead and gone for a long time now ‘Lys, no matter how people tried to preserve them.”

            She nodded, “I know, but I also know that there’s likely a chance that a few still remain.  If I could only-ow!”

            The crunch of her tooth upon something solid and unyielding forced her to sit up

in her chair as she quickly set her food and utensil down, reaching two fingers past her lips to retrieve the item she’d just chomped on.  Her jaw ached a little from the unexpected effort, but as she saw what it was that had been hidden in her chow mein she and Mel both raised an eyebrow. 

            “I didn’t know they were giving out prizes in noodles these days,” Mel quipped, her eyes focused on the object that Alyssa now held in her hand.  A plain platinum band without any decoration lay dormant upon her palm as she and Mel looked down on it, almost innocent in a way despite the ache in her jaw.  It wasn’t much to look at, but Mel pulled back suddenly as her eyes widened. Putting down her box of chow mein she looked hard at Alyssa, her jaw working as though in thought.

            “What the hell?” Alyssa asked, still looking at the ring, “Did someone drop their damned jewelry in my dinner?”

            “Put it back ‘Lys,” Mel said quietly, not bothering to look at her, “Put it back and pretend you never saw it. Please.”

            Alyssa looked at her friend with confusion written plainly on her face, “What? Why? Someone just lost a ring in my food is all. It’s gross and unsanitary but it’s not-“

            “Put it back ‘Lyssie, please.” There was no mistaking the urgency in her tone now as Mel leaned forward, “I’ll explain later, but please just put it in the box and throw it out. Believe me, you’ll understand soon enough.”

            “What’s wrong with you?” Alyssa asked, palming the ring as she stood to her feet, “It’s just a ring.”

            Mel sighed, a sound that was usually reserved for her students when they were being naïve or intentionally stupid. It wasn’t a sound that Alyssa was used to hearing directed at her.

            “Give it to me then,” Mel said, “And I’ll show you why it should be tossed in the trash.”

            Alyssa wasn’t stupid, she’d seen enough old movies to see where this was heading, or at least where it might be heading in theory. 

            “Why Mel?” she asked, “That is your name, right?” She was only half-kidding, but the sudden change in Mel’s demeanor and the fact that she’d used a variation of Alyssa’s name, Lyssie, that she hadn’t used in years, had alerted her to the fact that something was very off about this situation.

            “Alyssa I’m your friend, and you can trust me. I’ll explain it all once you give me the damned thing.  Just, please.”

            Alyssa handed the ring over slowly, watching Mel closely but not wanting to believe that anything untoward might happen. She’d known Mel since they were kids, she didn’t want to believe that anything she’d seen in the old movies could possibly be real.  Despite the fact that the futuristic depictions of the world back then were in some sense coming true, she still didn’t think that the drama of such films could possibly have occurred in the exact manner that she’d viewed them. 

            “Activate,” Mel said into the center of the ring, her lips almost brushing the metal as the ring suddenly glowed from within.  Alyssa had seen such things before, as most things nowadays had hidden circuitry buried deep within to keep the item in question from appearing as anything other than a mundane object.  The effect was nothing new, but if not for Mel’s action she might have thought it was just another wedding band, or something similar perhaps.

            Instead the ring began to glow with a bluish-white tinge, an inner mechanism causing the interior of the ring to shift and spin slowly until a minute click could be heard, and a voice issued forth.  Alyssa felt a slow, methodical frown crease her brow as she could have sworn she recognized the voice, but she listened without interrupting.

            “Forty-five point six-two-two-four North, One hundred twenty-two point seven-zero-one-eight West. June 6th, 3021.”

            “What is that?” Alyssa asked, looking to her friend. Mel swallowed hard, closing her eyes as she shook her head. As the ring went inert again it gave one final click, but Alyssa didn’t notice. She was too interested in what her friend might be holding back from her.

            “Mel, what is it?”

            “Those were coordinates,” Mel said in a voice barely louder than a whisper. “They were meant to direct the selected individual to a designated location at a certain time.”

            Alyssa waited, and waited, but her friend was obviously ready to stop talking.  She wasn’t ready to stop listening though.

            With a sigh, Mel said, “This wasn’t an accident ‘Lys.”

            She was ready to laugh at the joke, but she saw that Mel wasn’t in the mood.  Instead of smiling Alyssa suddenly felt her stomach turn to ice. Her heartbeat began to quicken slightly, though she still didn’t know why.

            “Do you know where those coordinates point to Alyssa? Do you have any idea?”

            Alyssa shook her head, “I don’t do latitude and longitude, that’s your forte.”

            Mel nodded as she sat down, lacing her fingers over her abdomen as she leaned back. “I know.  That’s why I was hoping this would never happen.”

            Alyssa’s frown deepened, “Mel you’re starting to scare me.”

            Mel shook her head, “Honey you have no idea. But you will.”

                                                *                      *                      *

June 3rd

6:26 am

            “The last tree was reportedly cut down as part of a preservation project in the year 2998, over two decades ago when the Presidential Accords were signed to act in order to preserve what was left of our fading atmosphere. The effect of eliminating the last of the earth’s forested regions had a drastic effect upon the ecosystem, creating vast gaps within the food chain that were necessary to fill with other, artificial means. 

            “What this mean for humanity was that our race soon become the beginning and the ending of the food chain, as we were forced to resort to drastic measures to keep life moving ahead in a manner that would prove beneficial for our race.  Due to new innovations in DNA and technological advances in artificial agriculture it was possible to all but eliminate the risk of our atmosphere failing and our world eventually becoming a poisonous greenhouse that would eliminate all life on earth.”

            Alyssa waved her right hand over the holo-control embedded into her chair. She didn’t want to hear anymore, especially after last night. Her head was still whirling from what Mel had told her, though she found herself wanting to believe at least part of it. What had been discussed was so unbelievable that even her own bias towards the subject seemed to be weighing against the decision she felt compelled to make. Mel had of course told her again and again to throw the ring away, and she had almost listened.  What Mel hadn’t told her was why she had never bothered to tell her that she was a part of something so clandestine in the first place. 

            She wanted to be mad at her friend but it wasn’t as easy as all that. Mel had given her the truth during their little talk, and had even expressed anger that she’d been given the ring at all.  The issue of who had put it in her food and why hadn’t been touched upon as much, but she had at least asked. That part Mel hadn’t been able to decipher, though she had at least made a guess.  What was truly confusing and yet still gave her the smallest glimmer of hope was what Mel had said at the midpoint of her explanation.

            There was a tree still living within the world.

            It had sounded like a bad joke to be honest, something that she might have seen on a documentary or a movie from the modern age.  Trees had been a disappearing resource since before she’d been born, and had died out finally when she had still been in grade school.  Her teachers had always told her class that absence of trees was why they wore breather masks, and why they would never be safe outside for long periods of time.  When it was needed human beings could go outside for about an hour or two at most before the radiation and poisonous gases that existed in the atmosphere would begin to affect them. 

            The scrubbers and various windmills that were designed to cleanse the air and keep the earth from being completely overrun by carbon dioxide had been installed worldwide nearly three decades before.  Such a system was reported to have a veritable army of redundancies just in case one section went down, but it was still far from perfect. The coordinates that had been revealed by the voice from the ring were directly in the middle of one such area that had gone down when she was still in high school.  It was officially called the Neutral Zone, like something out of the old Star Trek films, but in truth it was called the “Dead Zone” by anyone living within twenty miles of it.  That was  how close anyone had ever come to the area once known as Hayden Island since the year 2923, when the world had felt the first massive effects of deforestation. 

            Alyssa and Mel had been born into a world where it was necessary to remain indoors more often than not, and had never known the joys of running in the long, green grass as was depicted in the films she favored. They had never built a tree fort or swung from an old tire swing.  Humanity had  been forced to adapt and change far too quickly for anyone to recall the old memories of a world that had moved on before the next generation could catch their breath.  It was a cruel joke really that the culture and records of such a life would be left to be viewed and remembered by those who had at one time walked barefoot upon a lush, green lawn, or climbed an actual, living tree.  It all seemed so horribly unfair.

            There were no classes today, and no one had bothered to check and see if she was still here or not. As a professor she was required to check out of her office every so often just to keep with protocol, but as an individual she often made the decision to use her office as her living space. It was well within the rules after all, but the need to leave every so often was recommended by the council of health that overlooked both students and faculty.  It was to avoid the dangers of isolation and to insure that professors were kept psychologically healthy.  Today though she didn’t feel like going anywhere, and she especially didn’t feel like venturing to the Dead Zone.

            That lack of desire though was slowly losing ground to the desire she felt to see whether or not the words Mel had spoken were true.  For almost three decades trees had been relegated to history, a growing myth that the new generations cared for and knew even less about.  An important part of the world had been eradicated and no one seemed to care.  Of course when a person had never experienced something for themselves they didn’t know there was anything to be missed.

            The knock that came upon her door was not expected, but it was hardly unexpected either.  Going over to the image that presented itself in the viewscreen she was hardly surprised to see Mel standing there, but her friend wasn’t mugging for the camera any longer. Instead she just gave a sad look into the camera, as though she had come to a very difficult decision.  Sighing to herself she went to open the door, allowing her friend inside before closing and locking it. For some reason she felt the need for privacy and security, as much as she could get.

            “Any change in that scotch-soaked sponge you call a brain?” Mel asked, seating herself in one of the office chairs. The attempt at humor was at least mildly comforting, but right now it came off as a bit flat. 

            “After you dropped that nuclear bomb in my lap? Not really.  My research will likely keep going, but with this in mind now I don’t know as I’d be able to look at myself in the mirror without at least checking the veracity of it.”

            “I kind of figured you would say that,” Mel said, shaking her head, “But at the very least the people I talked to last night have agreed that we should move ahead.”

            Alyssa frowned, “Move ahead? What are you-? No, no no no.  You can’t mean going out there!”

            Mel nodded, “That’s exactly what I mean.  If you’re going to know everything then you need to see everything. People have theorized about this subject for a long time Alyssa, but no one has ever been allowed into the truth in this manner.  Public opinion was formed and fostered a long time ago in order to keep interest from becoming too high on this subject. People were made to believe that trees were no longer important once civilization found other means of keeping itself alive.”

            “But the exposure between here and there-“

            “Is minimal when considering how you’d be transported. And the methods that have been used to keep it alive are such that the environment it uses are far more suitable to life than in any sterilized, artificial setting. It’s a clean room without peer ‘Lys, one that relies on its own natural ability to cleanse itself.  But it isn’t infinite.”

            “This is all coming really, really fast,” Alyssa said, closing her eyes as she held one hand to her face, “Last night I believed that trees were extinct, just like the rest of the world.”

            “Ah, but you always suspected I believe.”

            “No, I didn’t.” Alyssa said, shaking her head. “I was along for the ride with public opinion. I really thought they were gone.”

            “One immutable reality of our world young ‘Lyssie is that matter cannot be created or destroyed, only altered. So in truth, trees are around, but in ways that we no longer recognize.”

            “I know that,” she almost snapped, “But, but it’s not the same.”

            Mel nodded, gaining momentum now, “You’re right. You can’t scrub carbon

dioxide from the air with a sheet of paper, or with an antique chair covered in untold

layers of stain and lacquer.  But the reality of it is that the trees still exist, just in a

different form. Thus, their DNA still exists as well.”

            “No,” Alyssa said, shaking her head, “That isn’t the same thing.”

            “No,” Mel said, nodding, “You’re right. But it is still there.”

            “What’s your point Mel?” she asked, growing a bit irritated now.

            Mel leaned back a bit, interlacing her fingers as she placed them over her stomach. “If the remains of a tree are real, then so must be the tree.”

            “Just tell me what is going on and what you want me to do. After last night my head is still spinning.”  Alyssa sat down with a groan as she spoke, pinching the bridge of her nose lightly between thumb and forefinger.

            “The people who I’m in contact with want you to see something,” Mel said plainly, “I wanted you kept away from it, as it’s a secret that is more than a little dangerous.  But after your last little lecture they decided to bring you in on the little secret. Well, it’s not really a little secret, but something along the lines of a world-changing conspiracy that might just get us both locked away or killed at any moment.”

            Alyssa sat forward, looking at her friend as though she’d gone insane. “What’s that now?”

            Mel just grinned.

                                                *                      *                      *

June 4th

4:54 pm

            Her lecture that day came and went without fault.  Alyssa was looking for someone, anyone, who might be paying more attention to her words than the others, but she saw nothing.  Mel’s words were still echoing in her mind as she took to instructing her students by rote, not even hearing her own voice for the strange clanging in her head, alarm signals that she knew were part paranoia and part inborn security systems meant to keep people safe.  The only problem was that she had absolutely no idea which way to look.

            Alyssa was gathering up her materials for the day, closing books and turning off the holoprojector in the front of the class when she suddenly noticed that she was no longer alone in the room.  Fashioned after the old-style lecture halls, the stadium seating that this room featured allowed the students to keep line of sight to the front of the class, but could easily obscure anyone from the view of the teacher, if that teacher did not look up.

            She felt her breath hitch in her throat as she did look up, noting the individual seated in one of the rows nearest the door. His laid back posture indicated that he had been waiting patiently to be noticed.  The small grin upon his stubbly features told her that he was perfectly at ease, and that he was anything but an interested admirer.  There was something dangerous about that grin, almost predatory.  It was the grin of a man who knew he had his prey cornered.

            Deciding to play the authority card she tossed her long, curly brown hair back behind her neck, “Can I help you?”

            His eyebrows rose as he leaned back a little further. She could see that he was in excellent physical condition as the dark shirt he wore stretched over a torso she might have been attracted to under normal circumstances.  Alyssa could also see what looked like a gun holstered beneath his right arm.  Now her heart began to pound, and she wondered if she might survive this encounter. 

            “Yeah, I suppose you can.  If you could just give me the coordinates that you were handed a couple of days ago I’d be on my way and you could go on lecturing about ancient history.”

            She was thunderstruck, despite what she already knew.

            “What?” she murmured, “Who, who are you?”

            “Professor,” he began, leaning back a little more, “I could tell you everything you want to know before I get what I want, but-gah!”

            The man attempted to get up, but a light shock from the cattle prod now pressed against the side of his neck stopped him cold.  He jittered madly in his seat for a moment before attempting to pull the pistol from its holster under his arm. Unfortunately for him the wielder of the prod jabbed him again, sending another shock through his body as his teeth clacked together, painfully from the sound.

            “If your ass moves from that seat big boy you’ll be shitting sparks for the next few days.”

            “Mel?” Alyssa asked, “Where did you-?”

            “It’s not the time and we need to go,” Mel said pointedly.  “Dick-lick here beat me to you by just a few minutes it would seem, but at least he’s the type that likes to talk before he takes. Get the stuff you need ‘Lys and let’s scoot.”

            “But-“

            “Now Alyssa! Please.”  Mel adjusted her tone as she held up her free hand, putting it quickly upon the base of the prod as the faint humming that Alyssa now heard cranked up just a bit. “As for you Mr. Assmunch, I would prefer you not remember a single thing about this meeting, but I’ll settle for you being reduced to a jittery mess of nerves for the next few hours.  That way you won’t be following us where we’re going.”

            “Y-you don’t ha-have the b-b-balls,” he managed to stammer. The electric shock was still firing through his body as he tried to regain control, but as she dug the prod a little harder into his neck she smiled.

            “You’re right about that,” she said cheerily as she pushed the button. The prod actually sparked as it discharged its deadly current into the seated man, making him jump high and hard enough that he upended his seat, almost knocking into Mel as she leapt backward. 

            “What the hell?!” Alyssa exclaimed, “Mel?”

            “Oh he’ll live,” she said nonchalantly, “Just get your stuff and let’s get going. I get the feeling that he isn’t alone.”

            “What, I mean how, I mean-“

            Mel started walking down towards her, sneakers squeaking slightly as she approached Alyssa calmly, quietly, turning off the prod as she came.

            “Alyssa, I told you all about this,” she said in an even tone, “I told you it would be trouble if you kept that ring.  What we spoke about is something of a secret that has been kept for a long, long time now, since before you or I were born.  My family has kept the secret for many years, and I was initiated when we were still in high school.”

            “Let me get my stuff,” she said stiffly, still not daring to believe what was going on was real. Mel stayed with her, following Alyssa from the lecture hall back to her office, making good and sure they weren’t being followed or in any way watched.  So far as she could tell they were in the clear.  Now the only hard part would be reaching their destination without a  hitch.

                                                *                      *                      *

June 5th

3:23 am

            Her world had been turned on its head.   No, scratch that, her world had been turned upside down, inside out, and then broken apart to be pieced back together with components she’d never known existed.  Only a couple of days ago she’d been a tolerated professor at one of the more prominent universities still left in the state. It hadn’t been a glamorous existence, but it had been comfortable. Her life now was anything but torturous, but it was so foreign to her that Alyssa still hadn’t learned to cope yet.

            The area known as Hayden Island, or Jantzen Beach from historical records, had for a long time been off-limits to the public, as it was a hot zone of seismic activity and was continually flooding from the various weather patterns that sent the river it rested upon into a frenzy.  At one time it had been a garbage dump, then a water park, and then a shopping center according to records that were accessible to the general public.  She’d overlooked this stretch of land many times largely because of its designation and the fact that twenty miles or more of barren and forgotten landscape surrounded it. 

            Portland and Vancouver, the two cities that had surrounded Hayden Island, had been walled off and kept away from the continually shifting island for centuries now.  Reports had come in continually throughout the cataclysmic era that Hayden Island was in continual danger of simply dropping into the Columbia River and washing downstream bit by bit, but to date it was still there, a blasted hunk of rock where nothing grew and no one dared to venture.  There was no interest in the place for even the clandestine government agencies that were in charge of keeping people safe and secure behind the walls of ordered society.  It was for all intents and purposes a place that lived up to its name.

            She was only now discovering just how wrong they’d been.

            “Beautiful aren’t they?” Mel asked, her voice filled with wonder and a strange quality that Alyssa had only heard on a few occasions. It was longing, a desperate cry to the past that might have been had humans ever learned to live with their home rather than destroy it. Alyssa was no activist, but she didn’t need to be to know that human kind had done more damage to the planet they lived on than any natural catastrophe could have ever accomplished. 

            “They are,” she nodded, still breathless as she knelt before the grandeur, the majesty, of the small grove in front of her. “But how do you keep them safe? How do you keep them from being noticed?”

            Mel smiled, “Technology can be a lifesaver, but it can also be a very effective method of keeping secrets.  You see that shimmer in the air?”

            Looking up Alyssa squinted as she tried to see through the darkness to whatever Mel was talking about. The heavy-carbon-dioxide-laden cloud cover didn’t allow for star or moonlight, but she could finally see a faint shimmer as an errant breeze rippled across an unseen barrier.

            She gasped, and Mel chuckled.

            “There is a holographic barrier over this place that was designed specifically to fool every possible scan known to human kind.  People in key places know how important this secret is, and are doing their very best to keep it.”

            “But, but how?” Alyssa asked. Words were failing her at every turn just now, refusing to take form in her mind or be delivered to her tongue.  Never before had she felt this type of awe, this type of absolute wonder that could steal away her very breath.

            Mel sighed, “Well despite how much you like those old, ancient movies that keep getting recycled for some reason, there is no order, no secret society, and no other clandestine reason for keeping these trees except for the one thing that’s kept my family in this whole mess from the start.”

            “How long?” Alyssa asked, “How long has your family been…?”
            “In charge of this place?” Mel asked, eyebrows raised. “Oh man, since my great grandfather really.  The dead zone was created a long while ago, and back then most people had figured this place as a lost cause. I mean it still floods, the bedrock is failing, but overall it’s still an ideal place to keep these beauties alive.”

            “But the atmosphere,” Alyssa said, now thoroughly confused, “How do they survive?”

            “If there were more of them they might thrive on their own and make a difference in this small part of the world. But we have our own scrubbers and filtration systems hidden here and there, all covered by the barrier so as not to draw any unwanted attention.”

            “Are they viable?” Alyssa asked, looking back to the trees, “Are they able to produce more trees?”

            Mel smiled, “At one point there was only one of them. So what do you think?”

            Alyssa turned her head back to the wondrous, leafy sentinels, her jaw hanging open as she began to count each one. 

            “There are twenty in all,” Mel said, leaning over her shoulder with a smile, “The last tree took root just about twenty years ago.  The first among them, we call her Genni, has been here for roughly three hundred years and counting.”

            “Genni?”

            “For Genesis,” she said, grinning at her friend as Alyssa grinned back, feeling the contagious emotion as it finally washed over her. There were trees here, and suddenly life had gained a very different aspect.  There was life to be had for their world, if only they protect it for long enough. 

            “So what is my place in all this?”

            To that, Mel could only smile.

The Town That Disappeared

Woodland Washington

April 2nd, 2014

Somewhere along I-5 Northbound

            It was there, I know it was.  A whole place doesn’t just up and disappear.  It doesn’t, I know it doesn’t. I saw the lights starting to glow before it was gone, and I knew it was there.  I’m not crazy, I know what I saw, and I know what was there in front of my goddamn eyes.

            I’m not crazy!

            I was walking along the highway one day, it’s not too far from my home after all, and I expected to reach the small town of Woodland, Washington only a few hours after leaving my home.  You might think I’m nuts to even bother walking along the highway, it’s not at all safe and runs the risk of a cop picking me up because it’s so “illegal”.  Pah, my father would have gladly spat at the cop and told him where to go with his illegal bullshit.  But my dad’s been dead and gone now for nearly thirteen years, and he surely would’ve smacked me upside the head for thinking what I’m thinking now.

            The whole world around me has gone crazy, and I can’t understand it.

            To be fair I’m what’s known as the town drunk, always in my cups and don’t give two shits about what anyone thinks.  But just because my lips are always around the rim of a bar glass or a bottle doesn’t mean I’m nutso.  I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest now for going on fifty-two years, and I know what’s what.  I know that Kalama, where I’m from, is only a little over eleven miles, a short enough distance for someone that used to do the hood to coast run when I was younger. If I was still in the same shape I was in when I was in my thirties I could cover that span in a little over an hour.  Now it takes me a little over two hours most times to cover the distance, if one of the local highway patrolmen don’t bother getting up in my business, as the kids like to say.

            But I tell you now and I say it before Jesus Christ Almighty and before all of His saints and angels alike, the town was not there.

            You think I’m drunk right? Hell no, that would be more fun and offer me a better excuse. I might have pickled my body and my brains years ago, but I know what’s what and I know that the town of Woodland disappeared when I was there. I saw it!

            Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. Old duffer’s gone and let the drink fill in the empty

spaces that the alcohol destroyed.  My mind is still as razor sharp and fit as it ever was despite

my drinking. I still hold down a job and keep it under control long enough to get an honest day’s

work in. I manage to keep a household secure and in one piece. I don’t hit my wife and have

never struck my kids. I’m known as a happy drunk goddammit, I don’t hurt people when it’s not

necessary. But I’m still a drunk, and everyone knows it. After work I’m drinking, during dinner

I’m drinking, and whenever I’m not at work or have a free moment I’m drinking. My wife has

learned to live with it, as have my kids.  I can say with a straight face that I’m a responsible drunk, or, excuse me, alcoholic.

            I sometimes forget that people feel the need to be all PC and shit.  I grew up in a time that if you had something to say you said, and if the other person didn’t like then you might get a hard knock in the nose.  Nowadays people need a “safe place” and over-obsess about their feelings and the motivations behind why this person said this or that person said that. I’d dare a shrink to try and analyze my mindset after seeing what I did. I’d probably be sent to the nearest psychiatric facility and pumped full of sedatives in the next hour.

            I’ve seen old pictures of Woodland, when it was a logging camp primarily and didn’t have the fancy roadways and overpass it has now.  Back then the land was owned by only a few people and the government, but was still wild.  People didn’t really know what to do with such wide open areas in that era, except maybe to settle them and make a homestead.  Believe it or not the town didn’t really get a reputation as logging town despite where it sits.  It was a trade town, built around a single homestead that eventually blossomed into a city.

            Nowadays it’s gone the way of a lot of older cities that started well over a century before.  Businesses have come and gone, people have come and gone, and the town just kind of drifts now and then, unable to find itself for a while before something or someone comes along that reminds the people of their supposed greatness. It’s kind of inspiring in a way, but sad too considering that they’ll lose that focus once again, and all too soon.

            I can’t say much, as I’m a Kalama native.  My city was at one time a part of the logging industry but has since that time kind of fallen into lethargy. You can see the bulk of our little town, city is such a strong word, as you speed by on the highway. It’s a place where people tend to drift and just stick like barnacles, or like seedlings taking root.  Yeah, that works a little better. 

            It’s the kind of town that if you’re raised there you try like hell to get out once you have the chance, or you get stuck.  I got as far as Longview in my youth and then felt myself getting pulled back, and here I am.

            But back to that disappearing city.

            Places don’t just fade away like I’ve seen.  I’ve done a bit of research on ghost towns and found some interesting sites.  Even sober and with a ringing headache I can honestly say that what I’ve found is kind of disturbing.  I looked up this town called Ashley, Kansas, and didn’t initially believe what I’d read. It was like someone had put zombies, demons, and UFO’s into a blender just to see what would come out.  The story was obviously unbelievable, and even looking up Ashley, Kansas on the map revealed that the place didn’t exist.

            There were plenty of reasons given as to why and how this could be.  People want to believe the unbelievable, they want to be frightened and shocked all the damned time and won’t see past the sensationalist garbage to realize that the truth of the world is less than glamorous and mystifying.  People want to believe so badly that they’ll fool themselves.

            I didn’t want to see this, and I for damned sure didn’t want to start thinking of myself as a crackpot.

            You won’t believe me, and that’s okay. I barely believe and I’ve seen it. That’s how the explanation is supposed to go, isn’t it?  The one telling you he doesn’t believe is supposed to convince you through sheer willpower that he’s telling the truth and that he’s not the crazy asshole he seems to be?  Well shit on that, you’ll either believe or you won’t, and I’ll tell things the way I saw them.

            I was walking along I-5 as I’ve done in the past, making my way along without a care in the world, a flask in my hip pocket and a pint in my rear left.  It would have been easily seen by any of the freeway cops that patrol the strip so regularly, but I tend to keep out of sight when I want a nip. I might be an alcoholic but I ain’t a goddamned nitwit like some other folks.  I also carry a fifth in the pack I always carry on long walks such as this, as well as a decent-sized meal that can carry me through. 

            The traffic on that day was fairly light, being as it was about a month ago on a Sunday, and on the Lord’s day most people don’t want to travel as much, unless of course it’s coming home from vacation or taking off to someplace no one knows where.  People are funny, they wait and wait to take vacations and once they do the vacation is most often worse than the life they’re trying to escape from.  My own family likes to take vacations, but just so long as its somewhere we can get away from one another for a short while.  Hell I’ve lost count of how many vacations we’ve spent in the same place but still apart. I think it has something to do with me being a drunk, but by the time we get there I’m three sheets to the wind by the time the trailer’s set up.

            Anywho, I was alternating walking close to the highway and just beyond the guard rail as much as possible. I didn’t want to be seen but I also didn’t want to slip down the embankments that run the length of the highway. Some of them are damned hard to walk even in dry conditions, and that day we were still coming out of a wet winter, so the ground was plenty saturated. 

            I didn’t think a thing about anything, this was just one more walk down the same highway I’d taken before, but I guess I should have known something was up. There weren’t any screeching tires or panicked faces that I could see through the windows, not even a hurried glance back that might have indicated something was wrong. A lot of people though, around the time that the sun was starting to set, started getting this really funny look in their eyes.

            You know that look you get when you’re really, really tired, but don’t want to nod off just yet?  It’s a glazed kind of look, the type most people reserve for when they’re so out on their feet that they don’t even realize it until their body gives up the ghost and dumps them to the ground.  People can still operate in that mental fog I’ve noticed. Hell I’ve done it plenty of times before my boss told me to not bother coming in if I wasn’t laced up tight and without a drop of the nip in my blood. 

            I was still walking along, assuming it was a good day to be out in the ever-decreasing

wilds, when I happened to notice a few individuals across the highway shaking their heads as

they passed by.  I took the opportunity to stop within one of the wide, grassy medians that

separates the northbound and southbound lanes, having risked my life to cross the busy road just

so I could have a nip and a bite, but I saw them. 

            Most of the time if you’re moving you don’t have much chance to see the people in their cars. The speed they’re going is just too damned fast to allow anything more than the barest glimpse inside those dark windshields. But I could see enough of them that I noticed something funny.  One or two people looking strung out, worn out, or otherwise tired, is pretty normal. People travel I-5 back and forth all the time, and there’s always those commuters that make that ungodly trip from point A out in the goddamned BFE to wherever they might be working in the city.  Can’t be helped sometimes, the pay is just too good to pass up despite the time you spend on the road. The missus and I did it for awhile until the kids damned near burned the house down on one occasion.  

            Anyhow, I was biting into my sub sandwich, heavy on the spices and meat and light on the veggies like the missus knows I like it, when I started paying attention to the drivers headed north.  It was kind of hard to see at first, but a few of those were going slow enough that I could see them shaking their heads so as to clear the cobwebs or something like that.  I found it kind of odd that so many people would be so tired all at once, but as strange as it seemed daylight was wasting, and I meant to make it to Woodland before true sunset, so as to be able to call the missus to come and pick me up. 

            These little walks of mine have been a particular quirk for years, and one that the wife and kids have learned to live with.  They worry about me and all that, but they know too well that being born and raised around this place I know my way around. They still worry though, and despite not showing it or telling them, I appreciate it.  Drunk I might be, and watched closely everywhere I go, I’m still not completely heartless.

            After taking another few drinks and stowing what was left of my meal and my drink back in my pack I braved the mostly empty lanes of traffic again in order to make it back to the east side of the highway, finding solid enough ground to tread upon while making my along the final stretch into Woodland.  Only problem was I didn’t see anything that would have allowed me to recognize the area I was looking for.  This here is the part where I might begin to sound a little cracked in the head, as my dad would have liked to say.  It’s also where I began to feel like things around me were becoming a little bit unraveled. 

            I know the entrance into Woodland well, and I know what to expect.  The road signs that hang suspended above the highway have stood there since I can remember, always telling travelers and commuters alike which way to go, which road goes where and faithfully delivering them to those places without fail.  Only now they weren’t there.  I thought at first that I might have had a more than just a nip during my last stop, that I’d somehow drank more than I needed to in order to keep going, but that just wasn’t the case.  God help I think I wished it would have been just then.  Having my wits disappear down a bottle would have been a hell of a lot better than living with the memory I have now.

            The signs weren’t there.  The turn-off wasn’t there, and as I crested the rise I felt the

strange sensation of pushing through a warm, stiff barrier almost like a rising mist, but I couldn’t

see anything.  Once I was past that feeling I shook myself several times and looked forward. I

saw Woodland, but it didn’t look right.  I know, that sounds like the rambling of a drunkard who’s taken one too many before going on a long hike. But it did not look right at all.

            It looked almost like a picture out of focus, fuzzy in a way due to bad exposure or the hands of the person behind the camera shaking too damned much.  I had to stop on the side of the road and continue to blink as I sat my ass on the guard rail, hoping no one would just come plowing into me.  Or worse, I didn’t need a member of the vaunted highway patrol coming by to perform a damned breathalyzer. I’d been collared enough times by then to be on a first name basis with most of the precinct, an honor my wife isn’t too proud to claim.

            I got back up and started walking again, noting how the setting sun was kind of turning the whole landscape ahead of me ablaze with color.  Drunk I might be, but I can still appreciate a good sunset and the way it seems to revive the land if only for a few moments.  Just then it was like the land ahead of me was on fire, just waiting to burst into flames. It was so bright I had to squint just to see, and even then I had to put up a hand to shade my eyes from the brilliance. That was when the weirdness really started to happen.

            Once the sun was down the highway remained, the bridges near the end of town remained, still supporting the traffic that continued onward, unfazed it would seem by the swiftly dissolving buildings, the way that people on the side of the road, in the market parking lots, and those busily going about their business, just seemed to disappear.  I felt my jaw drop at this as in their place I saw trees, nothing but trees and gently rolling hills for as far as I could see.  Remember, I know Woodland, been around here all my life. 

            But it wasn’t there anymore.  As dusk swiftly made its transition to night I stood on the side of the road, finding a perch to settle my butt down on as cars came and went. None of them even slowed down as they went by, as though the disappearance of an entire town was something that happened every day.  I felt almost like I was in a movie, or perhaps one of those shows where the dipshits with the mesh hats jump out and yell “Surprise!”  Imagine my disappointment that nothing even half as crazy as this happened.

            I didn’t have a phone on me at that point, and it’s probably a good thing I didn’t. My wife likely wouldn’t have understood a damn thing I would have said just then, and I wouldn’t have blamed her.  Anything that might have come out of my mouth at this point would have sounded like a whole mess of nonsense that no one wants to deal with.  I was there, and I was just waiting for my senses to clear and someone to tell me to get the hell out of their way. After all, I’d sat right where a road should have been if not for the soft hillock I’d found to park myself on.  But nothing happened. Cars just kept going by, and by, and by.

            Most men and women might go stark raving mad at such an occurrence, and I think I felt a few screws loosen upstairs, but not enough to send me over the edge.  Really, I just wanted a drink.  So I sat there and I drank, and I drank, and after a while I think I must have passed out because by the time I woke up it was early morning, and the sun was just starting to crest over the woods to the east. 

            Of course the first thing I did was look around, and all I saw again were hills and trees.

The town hadn’t come back at all, not even a single building, and cars were still going by on the

highway just a hundred feet away. Surprisingly I hadn’t been hauled off by the highway patrol, which was just as odd.  I think I was more grateful than anything really, considering that I could have been spending that night in the county clink if they’d bothered to look for me. 

            I smacked my lips, I slapped my cheeks until they were rosy, and I blinked however many times I could to make things come back, to make myself think it was all just because of a drunken binge. But nothing happened as the sun continued to rise in the sky, painting the overhead landscape a gentler, less imposing blue as a few clouds were shown high above the mountains to the east.  I was all set to gather my pack and just get going until the blast of a horn nearly made me soil myself. 

            Now recall I said that I had been seated on the spot where a road would have run through.  The horn was issued by a driver that had seen me somehow appear in the middle of the road at the last second, and couldn’t have stopped had he tried.  The truck, a big-ass Peterbilt that managed to skid to a bone-jarring stop only a hundred yards off, would have flattened me like a pancake if I hadn’t dove out of the way, scraping one shin pretty good on the pavement and scuffing the elbows of my sweater considerably. Small prices to pay to avoid being road pizza.

            The driver got out of the truck and came running back to me, partly to see if I was hurt and partly to cuss me out for being in the middle of the goddamned road. He actually asked me if I’d passed out in the middle, being as he could smell the alcohol on me.  I replied with a grimace that if I’d parked my ass in the middle of the road the smokies would’ve already tossed my flea-bitten hide in the drunk tank.  His anger subsided a bit, but he still wanted to know where I’d come from all of a sudden.

            My mind was whirling too fast and was filling with too many questions to give him an honest answer just then, so I said the only thing that could come to mind. I’d been walking, and unfortunately not watching where I was going. My head was filled up with one lie after another as I fed it to him, and he accepted it grudgingly but a firm nod of his head as he told me to be more careful. After ascertaining if I was indeed alright he went on his way, tipping his cap while grumbling the entire way back to his rig.  People had stopped to look by then, but it wasn’t a big crowd.  Around these parts it doesn’t take much to gain attention, but unless it’s a big accident you don’t warrant a second look by a lot of people.

            I stumbled off to find a safe place to walk, looking all around as a few people still stared after me, perhaps thinking to call the cops, perhaps to even wonder just what kind of element was inhabiting their town now. That’s how it happens you know. A single person can be noticed in a town of any size if they act just a little different than what is considered normal.  It takes almost no effort at all to be noticed by those who are otherwise unfamiliar with the different ways people act outside their sphere of influence.  You take a person from the big city and put them out here in the border towns and you’ll notice. Take one of us and plunk us down in the city and there’s bound to be notice.  My kids tell me that way of thinking is outdated, old news, but I dunno, I happen to think it still applies.

            Woodland was back, and I didn’t know. Worse than that, for all the times I’d walked

through this place, all the memories I had here, and all the roads and avenues I had memorized, I

now felt like a stranger, an intruder.  It was as though  the disappearing act pulled by the town had excluded me in a way I’d not been prepared for.  Somehow the town had just faded off into dusk and been reborn by daylight.  It kept wracking my brain trying to discover if anything I’d ever heard in my life could make this make sense.  Unsurprisingly nothing came.

            I gained more than one odd look as I made my way around town, still ogling the mundane, normal view I was afforded.  In truth I think I might have looked like a madman, hair all askew, clothes rumpled and probably filthy, and looking around like I’d just seen a ghost.  Honestly though, it was almost like I had.  My mind was still moving a mile a minute trying to figure out just what had happened. I mean really, how do you process something like that?  It’s like someone turned off the lights and the town just disappeared, and once the light came back, so did the town.

            Eventually I headed into the only place I could find to sit and make sense of what I’d just seen, one of the local taverns.  It’s a place where a few bar flies know me, but everyone just sticks to their own business for the most part.  Small town folk might seem a lot nicer than those in the city, but overall we tend to keep our own business close to the vest so to speak, if only to keep everyone from knowing about it. This wasn’t something I was ready to start screaming to the heavens about, but it was damned close.

            Instead I ordered a beer and sat there, nursing the bottle while I mulled around in my head the idea that if I sat there long enough I might soon disappear with the town.  Does that sound crazy? Well then hell’s bells, took you long enough to get to that point.

            That one bottle was the longest of my life as I sat watching the faded, dusty television that was suspended over the bar, waiting for something, anything, just a word or two about the disappearance of Woodland the night before. The rational part of my brain, the part that insisted it would never come to pass, was rewarded  when, aside from several horrible reports about killings in the city, car accidents on the highway, and even a horrific rape only two towns away, nothing was said.  I wanted to laugh, I wanted to smash my bottle on the bar and cackle like a loon. Hell I wanted to dance on the bar and tell everyone in there, all five people including myself, that we were doomed if we stayed here.  But instead I just sat there and continued to drink my beer. 

            It was going flat by the time I ordered another, dimly realizing that it had not taken me this long to drink a beer since I was fifteen and just getting into the habit. I had wasted more time thinking about how this could be spun to make sense than I had about the drink in my hand, which was extremely out of character for me.  Normally I would have drained the first one and had two or three down me by that time and be reaching for the fourth.

            Something about the way this was all turning out had me wanting to be at least halfway sober though.  My mind had already stalled thanks to the number of questions that had attempted to make themselves be known en masse.  I badly needed a rest, and I needed to get home. At that point the wife and kids would have been worrying about me, though it wouldn’t be the first time I’d ever stayed in Woodland after a walk. That’s quite a hike after all.

            Unfortunately it was the first time I didn’t make the effort to call.  That alone would get

them worried, but they hadn’t called the cops they told me later, mainly because they already knew from experience that a person has to be missing at least 48 hours before they’re considered truly missing.  Ain’t that a bitch?

            You could be dead at the bottom of a ditch, stuffed in some creep’s trunk, or suffering any other horrific fate and in order for the cops to do something you’d need to be absent for at least two whole days.  Meanwhile, your body is undergoing torture or decomposing wherever it might rest.  The legal system is just a divine process of absolute bullshit I tell you.

            I made it back to Kalama that day, and boy did I call it right.  The wife and kids were on me like flies on shit, asking me where I’d gone, what I’d done, and what in the hell I thought I was doing just up and leaving without my phone.  I tried to apologize to my wife and warned the kids to watch their tone, but only the missus refused to back down.  The kids know better at this point in their life. I’ve been drunk around them so many times that they’ve become almost immune to it, but they know too well when I’m sober that I’m to be minded, if only because I will defer to their mother before getting drunk.  Any punishment for stepping out of line that they might incur will be handled by the sober parent who can remember what they said.

            That seemed a little unfair at times, but thus far it had worked.  I felt a little more guilty than usual when I screw up though, mostly because during their tirade I wasn’t thinking of how badly I had scared them.  I was thinking of Woodland, and how those within the town might have felt if they’d known that they and the town itself had disappeared for an entire night.

            I’d been going to Woodland by day and night for years and this had never happened. I’d stayed in the town countless times and never noticed it.  So why was it happening now? Part of me wanted to say that it was because I was getting old, perhaps slipping a cog upstairs or something, but I didn’t want to cop to that. Agreeing that you’re slipping is a step down the path to senility that I don’t want to tread.

            I thought about Woodland all day and night for nearly a week before I’d made the decision to go back, but in truth I’d been thinking about it ever since waking up in the middle of the road.  There was some next level shit going on around, or in, that town, and I wanted to know what was going on.  Call it being nosy, or call it just needing to know.  I wanted to see why the town had disappeared, and why it had never once been noticed.

            Science fiction and fantasy theories abounded in my head, but I couldn’t get around the illogical premises that vied for my attention. I wanted to believe that there was a perfectly logical explanation for what had happened.  It had to be something with me, some hallucination brought on by too much drinking or something.  I’d read up on such things before in the past when my wife had suggested AA. She suggested it, she didn’t demand it.  That’s part of how our marriage works, she doesn’t demand anything and neither do I, unless it’s important of course.

            After all the years I’d been drinking though I didn’t see how it could have been a hallucination, or even the product of a diminished mind.  I know what I saw, and I knew after the next week that I was determined to experience it again.

            This time though I was gonna be smart about it.  To be fair I just kind of stumbled onto the effect the first time. There was no way to be ready for it, and no way I could have possibly expected what came next.  This next time though would be different.  I wasn’t going off to war with some unknowable and evil force, but I was out to settle what was, in my mind, a very serious issue that needed solving.

            I didn’t really expect what I would find.

            I went back, against my wife’s wishes and without even hearing my kids. If that makes me a shitty husband and dad I suppose I have to live with it now.  I don’t have much else to live with.

            I made my way back to Woodland, following the same path, carrying the same items, and expecting the same result.  Part of me was almost frightened that it wouldn’t happen again, that I was a crackpot and was just deluding myself.  But I know what I saw, and unfortunately it had become a compulsion to see it again.  I took off around 2 o’ clock in the afternoon, almost two full hours before sunset this time of year, and I was making damn good and sure to stay where the highway cops couldn’t see me. I didn’t need my trip back to madness being interrupted after all.

            My wife made me take my cell phone this time. I’d conveniently forgotten it the last time, as I’d wanted just a little peace and quiet for a while.  This time though she’d badgered me into taking the damn thing just so she could check in with me now and again.  I had thoughts of chucking it into the woods, but at that point she might have actually called the cops, as she’d given me a good half hour lecture on why I needed to just let this go. Funny, she didn’t seem to think I was crazy at all, she just wanted me to forget about it.  I guess I should have listened a little closer.

            But I’m stubborn. It runs in my family and will no doubt emerge in my kids when they get older.  That simple fact has damned me more times than I can count.

            So I went back, and once I got to the highway signs I’d already started to notice the people in their cars again. They were shaking their heads as though trying to clear them, coming out of a stupor they couldn’t understand, and likely as not wouldn’t remember that they’d seen a town starting to fade away like a Polaroid in reverse.  I thought nothing of it as I made my way into the town, fully expecting to see it fade and shimmer as it had before. 

            Even being prepared for something like that though your mind doesn’t let you just accept it. I was breathing hard and felt my heartbeat going a mile a minute as I began to make my way into the town proper.  I had to wonder what would happen once the sun went down again, and I had to see it.

            This time was no different, it was already starting to shimmer and waver like a heat

vision as the sun was just barely tingeing the tree tops a golden hue.  Every last bit of the town

was fading like a mirage when I saw someone approaching me.  It was a man, and he was

smiling, but I didn’t understand why at first.  When he reached me he stopped only an arm’s

length away.  I still didn’t know why he was smiling, or why he’d approached me like he knew

me.  All I knew was that I was about to witness something that I believed that no man before me

had ever seen before.  Boy did he set me straight.

            “Sonny,” he said, despite the fact that he was obviously several years younger I was, “You just made a big mistake, possibly the last one of your life.”

            I felt my eyes widen as he said this. Obviously I didn’t understand, but it sounded like he was threatening me just then.  He still had that smile on his face, but it was fading just as he was, along with the rest of the town.

            “What do you mean?” I asked.

            He chuckled, “Only a real dipshit would see something like this and come back to see it again.  You might’ve at least learned the rules after that first glimpse.”

            Now I had no idea what the hell he was talking about. I do now, but of course, hindsight is always a bitch, and not a very nice one.

            “What rules?” I asked him.

            He just shook his head, still smiling, “You don’t get to leave now big guy,” he said jovially, “Anyone that knows about this place knows that.  You might as well just settle yourself in for as long as it lasts.  I expect it won’t be too long.”

            I wanted to ask him what he meant again, but at that point the darkness had been coming on quick, and the town was gone before I could voice my question. The wilderness of before had come back, and as I have already found out, it is not a particularly nice place. 

            Did you get that?  The town disappears, poof, gone like that.  But when it comes back, so do I.

            If you don’t get it by now then I’m done explaining. It’s time for a drink, then I’ve got to go.

Symbols

Zodiac Symbols and Meanings | LoveToKnow

“I am courage.”

            “I am dependable.”

            “I am responsive.”

            “I am loyal.”

            “I am exuberant.”

            “I conscientiously analyze.”

            “I balance with charm.”

            “I desire an ideal.”

            “I see optimistically.”

            “I use to be steadfast.”

            “I know of friendliness.”

            “I believe in compassion.”

            “This meeting will now come to order.  Ladies and gentlemen of the assembled Zodiac please assume your rightful seats.”  With an imperious gesture the figure that beckoned to those twelve that had each entered the room upon speaking their key phrases.  The room in which the figure stood was quite plain, composed of granite walls that had been painted over in a variety of colors from a deep and passionate red to a gentle aquamarine.  A swatch of color had been painted to denote the color that was known to correspond to each individual sign, each of them easily five feet across and reaching up to the ceiling twenty feet above. 

            Ten feet from the wall, in front of each color, a chair sat facing inward towards the raised platform the figure now stood upon.  Each seat was carved from a solid piece of teak and fashioned in the sign for the one that would sit therein.  From the first seat, that of the Ram, to the last, that of Pisces, each chair was carved to resemble the creature or personage each sign was known by.  Great curving horns adorned the top of the Ram’s seat, while the horns of a massive bull had been carved upon the armrests of the second.  Twin sculptures rode the sides of the third chair, Gemini’s trademark, while the armrests of the fourth chair were carved in the shape of a crabs claws. 

            Hidden by the feminine form that sat in the chair of Leo was the fierce visage of one of nature’s supposedly most noble creatures, the mighty lion.  The back of the chair around the face had been carefully rendered into a flowing mane, the artistry so detailed that it was easy to believe that at any moment it might leap from the chair and attack.  The back of Virgo’s chair was etched deeply with the likeness of a woman that could only be described as heavenly, her face at peace as she cradled to her bosom a staff and a handful of delicate flowers.  As with Virgo, Libra’s symbol, that of the scales, was carved upon the back of the chair, deeply etched with one side just barely higher than the other.

            Scorpio’s chair was unique like the others in that it appeared to be no less than a very large, two tailed scorpion, its bulbous stingers raised in attack position as they curled over the head of the one that sat upon it.  A leaping centaur graced the back of Sagittarius’s chair, while the feet had been designed in the form of hooves.  Horns that curved backward, much like a goat, denoted Capricorn’s chair, while upon the back of Aquarius’s chair was a scantily clad woman gently stroking the feathers of a great bird, perhaps a heron.  Rounding out the group was Pisces, whose chair was verily covered with the images of fish swimming all about, their bodies so finely rendered that they might soon swim from the surface of the chair and seek refuge elsewhere.

            As each person took their seat the figure standing upon the platform appraised them all in turn, enjoying the absolute authority she had over them.  With her cowl and bulky robe none of them would truly know who or even what sex she was.  Her voice was being carefully modulated by a specialized mouthpiece she wore over the lower half of her face, allowing her to remain completely anonymous.  As for the robed and hooded figures that now sat in a half circle before her, she could easily tell the men from the women.  After all, she had selected each of them many years ago.

            Aries, Gemini, Leo, Libra, Sagittarius and Aquarius were all masculine while Taurus, Cancer, Virgo, Scorpio, Capricorn and Pisces were the feminine aspect of the Zodiac.  They were placed from left to right beginning with Aries, each individual facing from their seat towards the Speaker, who commanded the most respect of any in the room.  Standing a good five feet above them all, she could see by observing their supposedly calm demeanors that at least a quarter of them were nervous.  The subtle tics and shakings of their garments betrayed their emotions.  A slow smile spread along her face, hidden by the voice modulator.

            “Dark times have come to our doorsteps my gentlemen and ladies, thus have I called you hear this night to discuss such.  We stand on the precipice to a new age, an age in which those of us and others who are like minded must decide on how best to control what will be left from the ashes.” 

            No one spoke, as they hadn’t been given leave to yet.  She enjoyed this type of power, it was intoxicating in a way, but also liberating.  So long had she been a pawn in the earliest stages of her life that the absolute and total control over others was a balm to those sensibilities that she had felt were abused and taken for granted by those who had looked down upon her for so long. She would show them all what she had become one day, when she and her brood were the last ones standing. They would see-

            Her thoughts were rudely interrupted by the sudden wash of light that came from above, forcing everyone around her to wince as they too were taken by surprise. The magic, if one could call it that, was broken in that moment however, and as she looked in irritation to the portal leading into the realm she was forced to call home, she saw the heavyset and gray-haired form of her sire, holding out a vaguely U-shaped communication device as he refrained from stepping into the lair.

            “Tandy I just got a call from the superintendent of your school.  You and I need to have a talk young lady.”

            She closed her eyes in frustration, pressing her lips tightly together as she looked around. Her sire, her father, looked around as well, his eyebrows rising in expectation as he gave them all the same look.

            “In case you were wondering o’ mysteriously hooded strangers, that means out.  Your leader and I need to have a chat.”

            Murmurs and words of assent reached her ears as Tandy watched her friends, who’d known each other right away of course, get up from their chairs and go shuffling out. Many of them removed their hoods before passing by her father, who nodded at some of them and just shook his head at others. He didn’t approve of all of them, but more often than not minded his own business when they were over.  She could only imagine why he had picked this time to step into her personal life.  With the look he gave her at that moment as the last friend exited she had no doubt that she was about to find out.

                                                *                      *                      *

            After another hour had passed and her ears had already finished burning from the scathing lecture she was back in the garage, sitting on the single step as she looked out upon the gathering room.  Most times she could just close her eyes and pretend that the scene in front of her was as it should be, with the vibrant colors and magnificent carvings and the grandeur that it was worthy of.  She wished for that everyday instead of the shabby, knockoff appearance she’d worked so hard to make seem authentic.

            She’d started the Zodiac council as a joke to start with. It’s beginnings had been simple and taken place within the confines of a storage room in their high school with the permission of the principal. At first it had just been a chance for the bunch of them to get together and bullshit about their day, but after a while they’d wanted another reason to get together beyond hanging out. A social club could be anything really, from the nerds who enjoyed debating about fantasy novels and television shows to the jocks who often made their way down to the weight room or the local stores where they hung out to talk about their interests. Among their number they had a few of everyone from the hierarchy that so typically ran a school, yet none of them had ever felt the need to judge each other.

            They were friends, best buddies, and more than that they’d been together for so long it was hard to imagine being apart. In another couple years at least a few of them would be gone, off to college and a new life outside of their small town.  But for now they still had each other and were loathe to let each other go. Attempts to get them to break ties with one another had begun once junior high had hit and several of them had started developing new friendships with others.  That hadn’t stopped them from getting together though.  But still, they’d eventually needed something else to do besides just hanging out. 

            The Zodiac council had been her idea, as she was the eminent nerd/popular/jock in the group. Among them all she was one of a kind, and the others knew this. That was why they had come to her with the request that she find something to keep them interested. It wasn’t that they would go on and forget about each other, but they wanted variety in their friendship now, and she could totally understand that.  She’d been wanting a bit of a change as well, and she had found it in the Zodiac.

            Her interests in astrology, which many thought of as a pseudo-science, had always been fairly strong, and with her minor background in astronomy that she’d coddled since the sixth grade she’d come up with a fantastic idea.  At first the Zodiac plan had been a little hard to weather for several of her friends, but after about the second meeting the lot of them had gotten into it, and had even started to make suggestions on how to make it better. From that point ideas had been accepted, evaluated, and either respectively dropped or integrated into the main idea, and the Zodiac council had begun.

            To date they’d kept it going for nearly two years, and in all likelihood they would keep it going until one or more of their members left.  The fantasy of it was something that they all enjoyed, but it had never gotten so crazy that they forgot the real world they had to go back to. Sometimes though, she wished she could.

                                                *                      *                      *

            “I’m sorry I embarrassed you in front of your friends sweets,” her father said as she stepped back into the house, “But missing school is a serious issue and makes us both look bad.”

            She knew he was right, and that he had a valid point, but her feelings were still slightly hurt.  He’d gone after her like a bull chasing a red flag when her friends had finally left. At least he’d had the decency to give her that much before lighting her up with his latest lecture.

            “I know dad,” she replied. Deep down she knew he meant well and that he cared, but it seemed to be an unspoken rule that no teen would ever dare show their parents that they understood how much they cared. 

            Slipping on a light jacket she made for the front door, her hand closing around the knob as her father spoke again.

            “Where are you going?”

            “I just wanted to take a walk is all. Maybe down to the corner store and back.” The corner store was a good mile away, her father knew this, but she also knew that they lived in a relatively safe neighborhood. 

            “You’re sure you’re okay?” he asked, becoming the doting father once more, the guy she loved dearly and always wanted to appease. She didn’t have a bad life at home, but sometimes she wished for a little more.

            She nodded, “Yeah, I’m okay.  I just wanted to take a walk is all. I’ll be back soon.”

            “Okay,” her father said with a nod, “Just be careful out there, it’s getting dark.”

            “’Kay dad,” she said as she slipped out the door, knowing full well that he would watch her until she was out of sight.  It was kind of irritating, but at least it meant he was a good father, and not just a yelling, swearing tyrant.  Her life was pretty good.

                                                *                      *                      *

            Forest Grove was the type of place you went to be ignored she believed.  There was plenty of community and enough to do to keep busy, but it wasn’t like other towns she’d visited during her high school years. Some towns, smaller towns and even bigger ones, had a great deal more pride in their schools, their community organizations, and even their school teams.  Forest Grove was proud, but it seemed muted sometimes, almost as though they would only come together under the worst of circumstances.

            Night had fallen as she’d stepped out into the open air, and she was walking largely in shadows as she made her way towards the corner store, fully intending to do just what she’d told her father.  She had walked this way so often that she no longer feared the deep shadows that pooled around and within several of the properties that she passed. Some of them were ringed by high bushes and trees whose branches hung down like tendrils from some huge, ominous beast, but for the most part the rest were clean cut and kept up pretty nice. 

            One such home that hadn’t seen the touch of a gardener in a long time was the old McLowry place. The home itself was still in good condition, but its yard had long ago gone wild, and not even a notice from the city had done any good. The real reason behind this of course was that the McLowry’s hadn’t been seen for nearly a year’s time.  While there were many theories about where they’d gone and what had happened to make them just pick up and leave, the one that seemed to persist more often than not was that they had fallen behind on their house payment and rather than deal with the banks had just up and left. It was a simplistic and unsatisfying rumor, as well as a bit unrealistic if one had known the McLowry’s, but it was the one bit of gossip that had become the norm.

             She’d known the McLowry’s pretty well, and had hung out with their three eldest boys throughout their younger years. The eldest, Eric, had always seemed kind of spacey, but he’d been a nice guy, as had his two younger brothers, Sam and Caleb. Their youngest brother Cole, who had been born only about five years ago, had been in first grade when the family had up and disappeared.  No one had ever given any thought to the rumor that foul play might have been involved, which was fortunate.  To think that anything had happened to any of them would have been horrible.

            Corrin and Leonard, the parents, had been nice people, kind of laid back and prone to being on the go all the time.  This was probably why she’d never bothered to count the McLowry boys as anything other than good neighbors instead of best friends. 

            Now as she stood looking at the empty home with its jungle-like front yard, she couldn’t imagine why she would have stopped. The wide front windows  were devoid of any curtains, allowing for a very clear view into the house.   As she and anyone else could see there wasn’t anything inside, not even a rug left behind for the tile floor of the kitchen area near the back of the house.  Why had she stopped though? Usually she gave a glance at this place and kept on walking. It held only a few better than average memories for her, and was not a place she would have thought would evoke such melancholy.

            Tandy.

            She was about to turn and walk away when she could have sworn she heard her name whispered from somewhere on the grounds, close enough that she should have been able to see the speaker. But all she saw were shadows, and she’d seen enough horror films to know better than to go investigate. If someone was playing a trick it was better to just keep going.

            We’re still here, Tandy.

            Now that was damned spooky.  She was about to walk forward again when she suddenly realized the view of the street had been replaced by the faded and blank view of the garage door at the end of the front drive.  Shaking her head and blinking her eyes did not change the view, or the disorientation she suddenly felt. How had she gotten here?

            Inside, Tandy.

            She blinked again and she was startled to find that she was now at the front door, which was standing wide open, the screen door propped open as she stared into the empty interior of the house.  What in the hell was happening?

            Tandy.

            Again that sounded too close, and she had to be anywhere but in her right mind if she was getting this close to the house. This was becoming way too much like a horror movie, but she got the feeling that if she started trying to resist the result would only be the same, and that she might soon enough be put in front of something that she wouldn’t like.

            Close the door, Tandy.

            She tried to shake it off, but as before she blacked out for what felt like a second, and when she woke next she was standing in the front room, slightly closer to the hallway that would lead towards the three bedrooms that were located at its terminus.  Her throat clenched as something suddenly passed through her peripheral vision to the right, there and gone before she could even register what it had been.  Turning she thankfully found that she could move, but still she could see nothing as she looked along the front window and then to the wall that separated the living room and the garage. 

            There had been something there, and as she looked closer her breath caught as she saw something upon the wide front window.  Upon moving closer she could see it was a small handprint, like that of a child.  The faint lines and patterns of the palm print were so distinct that she could imagine that the young child that had made it might still be nearby, though such a thing was impossible.  Leaning over she noted that the handprint wasn’t fading away as it should, but instead was becoming more distinct as something else was appearing above it. 

            It took her only a moment to realize that what was appearing were the smudge-like letters that were often made by fingers when writing on the condensation that formed on glass.

            Hi Taddy.

            Tandy wanted to back up but couldn’t, her mouth opened wide to scream despite the fact that all she could muster was a choked squeak.  Taddy had been what the young McLowry brother had called her in the past, as his minor speech impediment had not allowed him to pronounce his n’s.  She wanted out of here like now, but as she tried to turn she felt a presence looming behind her, something she could not see but could sense in a way that seemed far more visceral and oppressive held her in place.

            Do not struggle.

            The strange, almost willowy voice could not have belonged to any of the McLowry’s, though as she tried to fight she felt the grip of not one but two separate individuals upon her wrists as they dragged her forcefully forward, not stopping until her palms were flat upon the glass.  She felt the sensation of flesh upon her own, but could see nothing as she struggled to escape the unseen grip of her captors.  Before she could so much as shout however an equally invisible hand covered her mouth, clamping down just hard enough to stifle any sound that might emerge.

            Her heart was racing as she felt the presence loom even closer, ghostly breath seeming to tickle her neck as she suddenly had visions of rape, dismemberment, and a death so grisly she could not fully appreciate its horror.  Surely someone would come by and see what was happening?  Someone out walking late at night like she was would perhaps come by and see a young woman being forced up against a window, against her will?

            But she had conceded at this point that it was Forest Grove, and the town started closing up around 8 o’ clock.  Few if any individuals would be out at this point. She was alone, and would likely not survive this.

            Be still.

            She could not, and even as the sleeves of her light sweater were pulled back she attempted to struggle, but to no avail. The force that had her wasn’t letting go, and as she felt rough hands lightly grasp her forearms she tried again to scream, to kick, to even bite, but nothing worked. She was trapped.

            You will bear these marks, the voice said, these symbols.

            Before she could wonder at the meaning of the words she felt something burning itself into her forearms, hot, aching heat that slipped past her flesh and scoured bone as she tried once again to scream.  The hands did not let go, nor did the burning sensation end as the hands now clamped around her forearms, the same hands that were burning her, slipped down slowly, initiating new points of pain only to move on again and again as her entire arms felt as though they were on fire. She wasn’t allowed to move as tears streamed down her face, her conscious mind not allowing her to pass out as should have been warranted in such a situation.

            You will serve, as you desire. The voice slipped into her ears like venom, muddying her thoughts and creating confusion as the pain continued to rise.

            Finally the unseen hands came to rest just above her budding breasts, eliciting disgust and rage so strong within her that she bucked again, this time finding a small amount of leverage as the hand seemed to withdraw ever so slightly. Sensing that miniscule bit of freedom she attempted to break free, but the hand upon her mouth clamped harder and was suddenly added to as more hands wrapped around her waist and legs, firmly pinning her in place.

            The last marks seared into her chest, causing more tears to flow as the voice spoke to her again.

            You shall be our vessel, it said, our link to this world. Through you, we shall thrive once again.

            The burning within her arms and chest continued to simmer as she stood there, realizing only a moment later that no hands bound her, no one was holding her in place, and she could work her lips once again as the presence had departed.  Tears stained her cheeks as within she could sense another presence, something, or someone, watching from behind her eyes, a simple observer and nothing else. This should have unnerved her greatly, but as Tandy looked up to the window she saw something that truly scared the hell out of her.

            The McLowry’s were there, all of them.  The parents, the four boys, they were all visible within the window in stark detail as though they stood right behind her.  Her pain was forgotten for only a moment as she turned around, half-expecting to see them and half-expecting what she found, which was nothing.  Looking back to the window she saw nothing but the unkempt yard outside and the dark street beyond. 

            Her sleeves had been rolled down again, and the pain she could recall from only moments before was gone, as though nothing had ever happened.  Rolling them up she almost dropped to her knees as she saw the symbols etched into her flesh, each one vibrant and bearing such detail that she almost wept at the sight of them.  Her horror was swiftly replaced with awe as she sank slowly to a knee, unable to breathe as she held her arms to her body.

            “Tandy.”

            This voice was real, and startled her so badly that she slipped as she spun around, landing hard on her backside as the shadow behind her did not advance.  She could see form the ambient light that the stranger was male, and that he appeared to be in his late teens or early twenties. But apart from that she didn’t know him. Something though, some part of her, said that she should have. 

            “Who are you?” she said shakily, fear staining her words once again as she attempted to keep her distance. The figure did not move towards her, but neither did he move away.

            She couldn’t help but feel somehow drawn to the man, no matter that she was instantly afraid of him as well.  He was good-looking, blonde, with a well-kept beard and moustache. There was a lean look to him despite his obvious and impressive musculature, a look that gave her the impression he had done and seen much in his time but had remained unbroken.  This was a man that looked as though he’d walked through hell just to see what it was like and then walked back out under his own power.  It was an odd thought to have, but one that seemed to fit.

            “No one you’d know now, but someone you or yours might come across in the future.  I have one bit of advice for this new life you’re about to embark on.”

            How did he know anything about her?  Who was this guy?  More and more questions began to pile up as the seconds passed, but she couldn’t entertain them all as she licked her lips, focusing instead upon the moment and not what she would have liked, which was getting the hell out of here.

            “What do you mean?”

            The stranger turned as if to go, his ice-blue eyes raking across both Tandy and the house as though evaluating every square inch.  It was a look she did not care for as it made her feel as though her every fault was laid bare, her every lie exposed.  But then the stranger had turned all the way around, and the feeling passed. 

            “Keep one eye on the horizon Tandy. There’s a storm coming.”

            “What do you-?”

            She was about to ask what he meant, but in that instant the darkness took hold again and when she woke she was outside, on the road, her sleeves rolled down again.  Frustration and fear warred within her as she looked back to the McLowry house, seeing that the interior was completely dark and, as far as she could tell, empty.  She looked long enough to satisfy herself, but could not see anything other than the bare flooring and the shadows that played along the walls and ceiling. 

            Had any of it really happened?  As she rolled up her sleeves she had her answer.

            Oh yes, it had really happened.

In A World of Sheep and Wolves, Be a Bear

Image tagged in sheep - Imgflip

There’s a lot of talk about those that act like sheep, those that follow without a thought in their head as to why they follow or who. Many would attribute this to Trump supporters, many would attribute it to the ‘vote blue no matter who’ Democrats, but the truth is that anytime a person follows someone simply because others are doing so and because it seems like the best course, they’re letting go of their own interests and following the mob because being on their own, with their own ideas and their own thoughts, either terrifies them, or they don’t want to be ostracized for thinking differently. The funny thing is, thinking differently and being unique is what makes this world work.

wolves don't concern themselves with the opinion of sheep | Lone wolf  quotes, Wolf quotes, Warrior quotes

To be a wolf is to be someone that still runs with the pack, but can at the very least make their own decisions and believe the convictions that they speak. A wolf doesn’t simply fall in line with the rest of those around them, but they will follow the pack to be stronger and to remain fed, if those metaphors are coming through.

Seriously. WTH does the FB poke accomplish anyway?! - Imgflip

That’s why it’s better in a world of sheep and wolves to be a bear whenever possible. These are the folks that go about their business, they’re part of the world but don’t feel the need to snap or bleat at people about their beliefs, and they’re usually content to let things go on as they are. But if they’re poked and prodded enough and pushed a little too far they do get a bit riled up and will gladly give their opinion no matter who likes it or not.

So in the world of sheep and wolves, be a bear, it’s usually far more relaxing and not quite as demanding.

The Fine Line

Mental Health and Change: Depression Comes with Transition (But It's Okay)

   At some point in everyone’s life they come to realize several things all at once, and it’s moments like these that they begin to question: Am I really where I want to be?  How would I know that? I’ve been there, repeatedly.

                Now I know the thoughts that come up in light of such a statement, and I know very well that anyone who reads this, if you get the chance, will think I’m about as nutty as a Payday bar, but hear me out. I’ve said this time and time again, over and over, to people like you who either didn’t want to listen, or couldn’t comprehend and chose instead to call me a kook, a liar, a douchebag even.  I’ve gotten it all, and by God I’ll no doubt get it again and again throughout my life, but guess what, I’ll still keep saying it, at least until the loop finally stops.

                If it stops.

                You go through life and think you know at least enough to get by, but you really don’t.  I was told this by someone I can’t fully understand, and I believe it to this day, whatever day it might be to those who get to keep on living out their lives, instead of being stuck in one day, in one place or another, for as long as they can imagine.

                Now I know you probably think this sounds like a movie, not one of the greats, but one that was memorable enough to warrant a dip into the old junk pile of nostalgia that goes back to only God knows when.  My own is a hodgepodge of crap and other material, but honestly it’s like a briar patch in there any longer. That’s most likely why I don’t tend to venture into the darker recesses any more than I absolutely have to. But yes, it is kind of like a movie, you know, main character is a douche, has a love interest he doesn’t know about yet, an irritating sidekick that’s always there at the wrong time, and a life that, while grand in his mind, is really quite depressing.

                Well, I’m two for four I suppose, three if you count the asshole that currently shares this existence with me.  I don’t have a love interest that might help get me out of this current funk, though it would be nice to have someone to warm the sheets every now and then, someone that might remember me and how great I was, or wasn’t.  Let’s be honest, not everyone rings the bell just right on every night, not even me.

                But that ship sailed a long time ago, and despite the fun I did have when this all started, that’s kind of dried up now.  Oh, women will still have something to do with me, and I can still get laid whenever I want, but the allure has kind of just, faded, for lack of a better word.  I suppose when you spend a lifetime in different places but in the same day that’s bound to happen.  God I’m depressed.

                Oh I suppose you want to know what happened to me, why I am this way, and why I’m talking in this manner, right?  Enough of this pity-party and get to the good stuff, yeah?  Well this is my story, my eulogy in a way, so back the hell off and just listen, or put it down and go away, I don’t care.

                So here’s how it is, I don’t work for a news station, I’m not a journalist of any sort, and I don’t have a goofy sidekick and a woman that could possibly turn my life around.  I left that latter part of my life a long time ago, and at that time thought I was all the better for it. 

                My name is currently Rodriguez Martine, but I was born Henry Adam Dell.  I suppose my initials are a bit ironic at this point, but I digress.

                I currently, for this day at least, reside in Puerto Vallarta in good old Me-hi-co, or Mexico to those who might get confused by my attempt at wit.  I’ve been here for all of six hours since I woke up in a dingy little basement apartment next to a local woman who, though pretty, doesn’t have a damned tooth in her head.  It might be meth, it might be coke, or it might just be she’s never heard the word “hygiene” in her entire life, but the woman’s breath is like the inside of a dumpster in the middle of a heat wave.  But hey, she was in a good mood when she woke up, and given that she didn’t mind going ass up and face down, it suited me just fine.

                Yesterday I was in Bavaria, and the woman I woke up to then was just, yikes.

                That’s how it’s been for me for a while now, I’ve kind of stopped counting how many days have passed, and how many women I’ve woken up to.  From one pole to the other and from east to west I’ve had women that I never knew existed, and only a few times have I had women I’ve recognized.  Don’t get me wrong, the ones I recognized were no prize really, but damn, if I could write a memoir that would actually stick, I’d probably have an instant bestseller on my hands.  Oh if I could only tell you the secrets of some of the current starlets, lord a-mighty.

                But enough of that, it’s not just about the sex, but that is a nice part, sometimes it gets me through the day.  The real meat of this current existence however is that I can’t seem to find a way out. In the movie that conforms to my life the most, the guy at least was able to figure out what needed to be done to bring the next day rolling over like the next digit on an odometer, but I’ve yet to find anything that might aid me in the same manner.

                I’ve done the altruistic and humanitarian bit, and brother let me tell you, it’s not as easy as Hollywood makes it look.  If you recall that old show, Quantam Leap, with Scott Bakula and his goofy sidekick, that Dean whats-his-name, you’ll also remember that he too was supposed to make things right before “leaping” to another situation, another time, and another life.  At least he got to visit different time periods, hell he even got to be a woman now and then, but I think I’d like to pass on that particular experience.  Being a man is good enough for me.

                I’ve done what I can to make things better in each new spot I’ve been placed in, and man it’s a headache sometimes.  Each time I’ve only ever seen my own face in the mirror, and no one has known me, no matter if they knew someone that interacted with me the day before, which is funny, because the day before never happens any longer.

                It’s always sunny, a bit balmy, and with a few clouds drifting in from the west that look vaguely like faces when I’m placed in a position to see them clearly.  The date is always March 25th, and the time I wake up, well, that at least varies, but it’s always some time before five o’ clock in the morning.

                At one time I woke up in a weather station situated up at the north pole for shit’s sake, snuggled into a  cot meant only for one with a very fetching graduate student.  The mystery of how I’d gotten there was pretty commonplace to the student, her name was Emily I remember, and I was her teacher, but to me it was hard to imagine. How does one just appear somewhere, and how do the people other than myself know that it’s natural?

                If I was really paranoid I might call that a cover up, but honestly, I don’t subscribe to the Roswell Literary Group.  I tend to want things to make sense, but I’ve gotten over that now.  The year when I somehow slipped into this weird little crack in time and space was 2012, though I kind of wonder when it might be now, if things have really moved on without me.  I’m not conceited enough to think that they can’t, I can accept that the world still turns, but in all truthfulness my mind is still attempting to wrap around the fact that I’ve been forgotten so many times that not even a hint of me remains in the world once I wake up the next day.

                But that’s how it happens.

                Part of me would like to believe it’s some vast, unknowable government conspiracy bent on driving me crazy or experimenting in mind control of some sort.  Tell me now just how ridiculous that sounds, go ahead.  I’ve had trouble swallowing it for the past who knows how long, and I’m the one who thought up such a screwball theory.  Throughout this entire time, however long it’s been, there has only remained one constant, and as God is my witness, I sincerely wish this bastard would leave me be.  If I’m going to spend an eternity waking up in a strange place next to a strange woman then dammit I at least want some consistency.  I know, weird thought right?

                Anyway, this bastard, his name as he claims is Ralph, has been popping up ever since the beginning, when I first stepped into this strange gap in the time continuum.  That’s my explanation, not an actual one by the way. But anyway, back to Ralph.

                He’s not a bad looking fellow, kind of tall, the type that could blend into most crowds and even go unnoticed in a vacant lot, but he’s still a bit creepy.  His words, the few I get, are almost always cryptic, telling me something about this is the day I get, the day I need, or some junk like that.  He usually doesn’t say much of anything else, just that and something else equally as vague.  It’s irritating really, but I’m always glad to see him leave.

                I haven’t seen Ralph now for at least three or four cycles, and honestly I’m beginning to wonder if he’s giving up on me.  Strangely enough I don’t know how to feel about that.  In the beginning I would have given anything for the guy to let me be, but now, I think I’ve gotten used to him being there, like an annoying noise you can’t silence but can’t stand.  Ralph’s like my white noise, and he’s just as eerie.

                It’s nearing the end of this day, and I’m wondering why I even bothered to write this little piece of nothing. I won’t be able to pick it up tomorrow, as I’ll no doubt be hundreds, even thousands of miles away. There’s always the chance I’ll be only a few minutes away, but it’s not as likely.  I mean come on, I can give you at least the last ten days of where I woke up, the rest is swiftly becoming a not so fond memory, other than the physical gratification of course, but let’s not get into that, I’d be writing until I finally fell asleep, and that would be an even worse waste of time.

                Ten days ago, my days mind you, I woke up in one of the higher rent districts in Tokyo, and brother let me tell you, the woman I woke up next to was a freak with a capital F.  It was interesting, as was the rest of the day, I went from resting in a penthouse apartment on the top of a skyscraper to jet-setting from noon to midnight with ladies who thought I was simply the hottest thing around. Going to sleep that night had been more of a passing out moment, as I’d been downing enough alcohol to put and Irishman to shame.  But waking up hadn’t been that great.

                The next day I woke up in a low-rent tenement in Hackensack, New Jersey.  I was slapped awake that time, a full five-finger salute to the side of my head following one of the roughest sexual escapades I’ve ever been in.  I swear to you now I must have gone the rest of the day with a press-on nail stuck to my ass, and a hickey the size of a tomato on the left side of my neck.  It’s always sex when I wake up, no matter if it’s following a fight I don’t understand or a restful night that leads into a very good morning. My current sackmate, Mariah, made up for her rotten breath with her enthusiasm, but hells no I wouldn’t kiss her afterwards.

                After Hackensack was Vancouver, Washington, a full two thousand plus miles from where I’d been born.  I’m a Midwest boy born and bred, but I’ve always felt the pull of the city, which was what took me away from farm country when I was still seventeen.  My parents, may they both rot in the bottles they kept themselves in, didn’t even fight it when I got myself emancipated.  There’s a reason I’m so cynical, and if you really look you can see it in the bottom of each bottle my besotted sire and mother ever drank out from.

                Anyway, Vancouver, right?

                The woman I woke up to that day was, in my opinion, a part of the Prozac nation.  Twitchy, amped up, nervous all the time, a true member of the better living through chemistry association.  This woman must have had a pill for every last aspect of her day.  Even in bed it seemed like she needed a pill.  If that was why she was a bit, l don’t know, off, I wouldn’t have been surprised.

                After that, oh hold on, my memory is getting a bit fuzzy these days, I want to say it was some no name little burg in Poland, but that could have been just a few days ago for all I’ve been paying attention.  I really don’t want to remember the Polish woman, eesh.  Can you say cellulite city?  She was one hell of a good cook though.

                I do recall Los Angeles though, God what a tense place.  The bed I woke up in was only slightly removed from Watts, and believe me I know the feeling of a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.  That time I woke up in a dominantly black neighborhood, and while a great deal of it was made up of hard-working, decent folk, we were still on the fringe of gangland, and apparently I was boffing the main ho of a notoriously violent drive-by artist.

                I am white, not lily-white, I can tan within a half hour in the sun, but I am white enough that a person of mulatto persuasion can make me look pale.  And I woke up in a black neighborhood.  It doesn’t help to say I’m not racist, which I’m not, but in that place, I felt my heart pounding a mile a minute each second I walked around the ‘hood.  With a nine millimeter thrust in the front of my pants, a backwards cap denoting the Raiders, whom I can’t stand, and a heavy jacket that would have been ridiculous even in colder weather, I spent that single day wondering just where the fatal bullet was coming from.  But obviously I’m here, and nothing happened, other than the main ho, her name was Taneesha, yeah I know, bitching me out for this and that, mostly about cigarettes, her hair, her nails, and all the other beauty regimens she felt I should pay for.  Needless to say I was actually glad when that day was over.

                Next up was one of the strangest days I’ve experienced in some time.  My eyes opened to see a small child lying between me and the woman I’d apparently appeared by, a younger blonde I found out was named Millicent, an odd name, but still kind of nice. The child, Nathan, was apparently my son. 

                Yeah, believe me, I know how that sounds.

                Ralph had been showing up intermittently throughout all these days, and he was in full force this day as “Uncle Ralph”, which only compounded the strangeness.  Millicent treated him as though we’d both known him for a lifetime, and Nathan had cooed and burbled at Ralph as though he was the most trustworthy person on the face of the earth.  It jarred me to say the least, that I had a son.  A part of me almost didn’t want to give it up, but the rest of me knew I wouldn’t have a choice.  That day was hard to leave, especially when I was able to see just how much Millicent loved me, or thought she did.

                You know, I’ve tried to figure out if these people still exist the next day?  That’s really when Ralph steps in, he lets me know that this is not allowed.  That leads me to believe that they do, since he doesn’t seem like he’d be interested in keeping me from harm.  He seems more like he’s there to keep me on the straight and narrow, nothing more.  I do wonder though what might happen if I pushed my limits.  I’m a little nervous putting this all down, thinking like maybe he might just decide to pop in for a surprise visit or something, mash my fingers into the keyboard perhaps to prevent this from going any further.

                It’s not a nice thought, but I can’t help it.

                Anyway, the next one I woke up to was in Nepal, and she was fourteen God help me.  It was considered natural in that part of the world I guess, but to me it was just flat out creepy.  That was a long, long day, and not just because of my own inner issues with being married to a child.  God it still gives me the creeps just thinking about it.

                But moving on, right?

                Next was some little mud and straw shack out in the wilds of Ghana, and another black woman, but one that didn’t worry so much about her appearance.  I suppose that goes both ways, but this woman was actually not too bad.  Oh, did I mention that each place I appear in, I somehow speak the language of their indigenous peoples?  In Tokyo I understood and spoke everything from Japanese to Russian, and given that I was apparently something of a businessman, I guess it was fortunate. But speaking Swahili, boy that was, ah, interesting.

                Going down the top ten once again I was in Austria just the other day, and hoo boy, I’d like to go back.  I woke beneath a mammoth pair of, ah, well, hell I’ll just say it, I woke up under a rack that would have made Anna Nicole Smith weep with envy, and a body that would have been accepted without reservation by any modeling agency on the planet.  And not only had Inga been a smoking hot fox, but she’d been a good cook, an insatiable lover, and by and large, someone I could really talk to.

                I didn’t want that day to end, and despite doing everything right, being nice to people, being charitable, running around with Inga to do every last NICE thing I could, it still ended.  Shit, even Bill Murray eventually got to settle down with his dream girl.  I don’t even get a second chance with mine.

                But like I already said, yesterday I was in Bavaria, and the nearly toothless hooker I woke to was a nightmare, a kind of payback that I don’t even know what I did to deserve.  They say that karma, or fate, is a bitch, and I’d like to amend that. She is a vengeful, hung-over, that time of the month, break it off and stick it in, conniving, man-hating bitch.  I’ve done everything right so many times that I can feel a perma-smile trying to etch itself onto my face at times, and still I can’t catch a break.  I’ve waited patiently, longingly, never asking for anything and taking all the shit life and fate can both dish out, and still I’m stuck in this cosmic schtick for no better reason I can see than to torment me until I break.  Well guess what? It’s going to take more than life can give.

                This woman’s breath was worse I think than today’s woman, but at least she had a couple of teeth in her head, I mean when she opened her mouth it didn’t look like a black hole staring back at me.  I’ve kind of wondered today how this woman, Mariah, eats anything that’s not a liquid or a soup.  Trust me, you don’t want to watch her gumming a chicken leg, it brings to mind some images I’d rather not share.  She’s a good lay, but that’s about it.  Her cooking sucks next to Inga’s, and the physical part of it, well, let’s just say I’m glad she doesn’t try to talk much and keeps to herself for the most part.  If I had to kiss that mouth, ugh.

                Today I didn’t do anything NICE, I didn’t do anything BAD either, I just kind of went about my business, I’m a chicken farmer by the way, and avoided pissing anyone off too much.  Honestly I used to see Puerto Vallarta as a nice, happening place where Spring Break was king and the liquor flowed like water for anyone with the cash and the lack of shame to enjoy.  I’ve been here more than once and never seen where I live now, but then I was always more interested in the night life and the tourist attractions, namely the women that did have teeth and were kissable.  I’ve never seen this place, and up until now I can say I’m glad.

                You wouldn’t believe how boring the life of a chicken farmer is, walking around feeding the little clucking, pecking, shitting things.  Personally I prefer my chickens dead and crispy fried, original or barbecue style.  But here, with feathers, beaks, and an overall nasty attitude, I’d just as soon punt one of the little bastards as look at it.  Well, it won’t last much longer I suppose, and then, well, I’ll move onto the next woman and the next life.  Maybe I’ll luck out again like I did with Inga, or maybe it’ll just get worse.  Who knows?

                I’m starting to get a little tired, probably going to head off to sleep and whatever comes next soon enough.  I hope this plan I came up with today works, otherwise I’ll just keep writing for no reason and getting more and more pissed off that I can’t break this moronic cycle.  I’m going to take this memoir with me to bed tonight, and hopefully it will be there with me in the morning.  If nothing else, if it does remain behind when I’m gone, it might just confuse the hell out of Mariah and whomever she’s left with.  You see, I get the feeling that one of two things happens when I go to sleep.

                Obviously I move around, though given the choice I would have stayed with either Inga or Millicent.  What I can’t figure though is who I’m replacing, or if I’m replacing anyone at all.  What if, now just follow me for a moment on this, what if the worlds I’m bouncing into every night are either non-existent and void until I arrive, and then gone once I’m taken away, or, even wilder, there are others like me, switching out night after night, but with no real knowledge of how or why?  Ralph of course wouldn’t be the only person out there keeping tabs on us, there are more if my theory is correct, but just think about it.  The slate has to be wiped clean for each woman I sleep with, and then something written into their lives that let’s them recognize me as their own husband, boyfriend, or whatever.  And my son of a few days back, Nathan?  I have to admit, if my theory has any merit that bothers me more than a little.  He was a cute kid.

                Moving on though.  If I’m right, and this memoir stays with me, then I will be, well, um,  I’ll be right to start with, but, I’ll also, ah, I’ll be scared shitless.  Because it means there is no real control in the universe.  If this is true and what’s happening to me is real, it means that anything and everything is up for grabs, and no one is safe from this happening.  I mean think about it, think about all you do in a day, all the people you interact with even on the most minute level.  Everything changes with the most unsuspecting deviance to the routine, and in that one instant, that one defining moment, the fine line between order and utter anarchy is breached, and to be dead honest, true to the soul and bone and whatever else honest, it scares me to think what might happen if that line is crossed by more than one person at a time.  It terrifies me to think that such a line might be treated with such indignity, with all that’s riding on it.

                I digress again, because I’m starting to scare myself, and Mariah is calling me to bed in her broken, garbled, toothless language.  But if this comes with me,  I will add to it, and I will continue to catalogue what I’ve done and seen.  Trust me on this, the fine line between chaos and order won’t be broken by me, at least not willingly.  Someone’s got to keep this place in check.

                And it might as well be me.

Good Night, pray for me,

Rodriguez Martine

Janichiro Kurisawa

Vincent Copeland

Muriel Lander

Teshann Burdwell

Bradley Gunn

Kopu Garr

Dijmon Koat

Bjorn Seynvka

Dmitri Sovenaya

(Henry Adam Dell)

*                             *                             *

Munich, Germany

4:32 am

                I’ve been awake for an hour and a half now.  The woman next to me is someone I don’t know, but she is at least very pretty, a little heavy, but I can get over that.  What I can’t get over is the simple truth: I failed.

                The memoirs of yesterday didn’t make it along for the trip, even though my memories did.  I wonder what might happen if I try telling my story aloud? Would Ralph come out and stop me?  I don’t know, but it’s tempting.

                Damn it.