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The Fun in My Day

Most of us know what it’s like to go to work, to punch in and settle into a routine. We understand why we work, why it’s a necessity, and what it means if we don’t work.  The hours we put into a job, whether we like it or not, are a few hours that we keep ourselves and our family from being on the street.

Some people are very comfortable, they do minimal work for maximum profit. Others do maximum work for very little profit. I’m not here to talk about the discrepancy in pay since I understand that it exists and by all means should not. Nope, what I’m here ranting about is the simple fact that what we do each day is meant to be fulfilling. It’s meant to do something, to make life a little better, maybe a little easier for someone else.

You ever think about that? Each and every time you go to the market, to the gas station, or anywhere else you happen to work, someone is there to at least try to make your life easier. You will do it for them too when they buy whatever you sell or use whatever service you happen to provide. Many people don’t seem to realize this and go about their day with tunnel vision, seeing only that which pertains to their own life in the here and now.

Open your eyes once in a while. Understand that your contribution is no more or less than anyone else’s. It doesn’t matter if you dig ditches or run a business that employs thousands of people, what you are doing matters. Even if you can sit and tear your job apart until it makes little to no sense, there’s a reason why you do it. It matters on some level because otherwise you wouldn’t be doing it.

Take my life for an example. I write articles and academic papers for students and businesses that either don’t have the time or inclination to write it themselves. In effect I make other people look by producing work that they then pass of as their own. It’s a mind-numbing and very thankless job at times, and it doesn’t always pay what it’s really worth, but I do it because it does pay, and it does allow me to do something I love to do.  I am helping people by providing a service, and I do something that matters.

But that’s not the fun in my day.

I have another job as well, and that’s being a dad.  Sure my kids scream on occasion, throw fits, and even act up just because they can, but overall I feel lucky to have this job, because once again I am doing something that matters. Writing is a way to pay the bills, to enjoy myself, and to keep whatever sanity I still have left. But my kids are the fun within the day that don’t need much more than my attention, and the payback I get is a helluva lot better than any company I’ve ever worked for. The fun in my day is seeing the smiles on my kids’ faces, and knowing that one day, they too will know how to make whatever they do matter.

The fun in my day is knowing that one day, my kids will know what their parents did to keep them safe, and will do the same for their own families.

Family Honor

Family Honor

By Tom Foster

 

 

Summer, 2003

Friday, July 11th

 

            Hit, kick, block, it felt so natural.  Why this was so he couldn’t understand, it just felt right to execute each move with a precision that was borne more of habit than practice.  Since the age of five Simon Roninsay had found that fighting had been as natural to him as hunting was to a wolf.  He wasn’t the greatest fighter, not even after seventeen years of faithful lessons in every available martial art he could find Simon had yet to find a style that truly set him at ease.  In his heart he had always felt that something was missing from his life, despite his parents telling him otherwise. 

            He knew he was adopted, his parents had never told him otherwise when he had asked.  Since age six he had known this, early enough that he would hold no resentment towards them and harbor no confusion.  In the last few years however he’d found himself wondering at times if they’d told him in order to absolve their own feelings instead of his.  He’d never come to them with this however, preferring to keep it within his own mind, one of those few secrets that he allowed himself. 

            They loved him, just as they had for the last twenty-two years of his life.  He loved his parents as well, his loyalty to them was that of a son who was closer than even blood could bring him.  They’d sacrificed much in their lives to keep him safe and happy, he owed them more than he could ever repay.  Hit, block, kick, block, his thoughts were still a jumble, the clear-headed state he often enjoyed during these sessions failing to come easily this time. 

“Is this a bad time young sir?”  Simon felt himself falter as he spun around, the aches and pains in his body all coming due at once as he winced in pain.  The older man he saw standing in the doorway of the dojo clucked his tongue at him, causing a wrinkle to form in his forehead.  Who was this man to be making such noises at him?  He shook his head, banishing that thought immediately as he began walking towards the back of the large room, wiping the sweat from his brow.  Simon ignored the man for the time being, wanting to change before he talked to anyone. 

            His teacher was in the back dusting shelves and rearranging pads and gear for the thousandth time this month.  Simon knew the man’s down time was in no way due to lack of business, this dojo was more than well funded, it was fully paid for save for utilities and property taxes.  Regular class times were held in the afternoons, his teacher liked to schedule his time so that he had plenty of free time to plan his lessons.  In the morning and the evenings he held a few private lessons.  Simon had watched his regular classes at times, he’d only participated a few times however, having advanced beyond the basics of what his instructor taught.  He didn’t even feel the need to take private lessons from the man, though he did pay for the time he was in the dojo. 

            It wasn’t by any means common for an instructor to allow someone they’d never taught to practice this way, though his teacher was nice enough to make an exception.  He couldn’t even rightly call the man his teacher, since in reality he’d shown him very little in the year he’d been coming here.  It was true that the man had indeed helped him polish the rough edges from his person, helping him to hone his skills into what they were now, but aside from that, Simon had come with most of the work already done.  The only stipulation that the old man had given him in fact had been that if he ever heard of Simon using his skills to intentionally harm another or for other immoral purposes, his dojo would no longer be available.  Simon had found no quarrel with this rule, his self-control had long ago been cast in iron, almost as unshakable as a mountain.  There were times when he felt himself in danger of losing this control however, he was only human after all. 

            Aside from that however he’d never really felt the need to harm anyone else.  In his mind he had different ideas, but in his heart, what he really listened to, he knew better than to use his skills to harm.  His teacher’s words hadn’t fallen on deaf ears, though he’d been paying him half of his attention.  All his life his parent’s had taught him to never raise a hand to another unless it was to defend himself.  This alone had tempered the natural fire that burned within his veins, insuring that above all he stayed out of the trouble he was capable of. 

            Simon could count on one hand the number of times he had been forced into a fight.  Each time he had done his best to end it without serious harm to his opponent, and each time he had succeeded.  The only thing he had ever really wounded was the other person’s pride, though that was often remedied later.  Simon was not a violent person, but neither was he a pacifist.  He liked the grace and fluidity of combat, but the end result in any contest often left him wondering at the true wisdom of humanity knowing of such things.  Humans were fragile enough without knowing intimately every soft spot in their already vulnerable bodies.  As a human he at times felt a little uncomfortable around his own race, knowing that despite the average lack of martial skill in the average person it took only the simple knowledge of how to heft a heavy object or squeeze the trigger of a gun to bring harm. 

“Excuse me young sir, but I’m wondering if you can help.  I’m looking for someone named Simon.”  He was halfway into the changing room, pushing past the large curtain that separated the open space from the training area.  Halting in mid stride he paused for a second, listening more to the man’s tone than his words.  From the confidence he seemed to radiate with every syllable this was a man who was used to being listened to.  Simon had learned a few years ago to pay strict attention to the visual and audible displays that most people set out for the benefit of others.  Some people used body language and inflections within their voices to tell others to stay away, some used the same to attract people.  Another group, to which this man no doubt belonged, were those who either believed or knew that they carried with them an authority that others must bow down to. 

            There was no hint of challenge in his voice, just pure self-assurance in himself.  Simon shook his head once, already knowing that he most likely wouldn’t like this man.  He’d never cared for those who felt the need to flaunt their internal sense of power, his belief in courtesy and humility lending him the patience to deal with such people.  This was what enabled him in the next moment to step away from the curtain, grabbing a towel that hung from a peg just inside the opening first, and begin walking towards the man. 

            Simon was tall, standing almost six three and weighing only two hundred and fifteen pounds.  The majority of this was bone and muscle, since after so many years of

faithful exercise and training he carried little body fat.  He kept his mop of dark blond hair fairly short and was blessed by not having to shave all that often.  The facial hair he did get was slow in coming and light enough to barely show.  Though he wasn’t built like a world class weightlifter he was in no way soft.  His body had been through trials that many in the world wouldn’t have been able to achieve if given half the chance. 

            This man was older than he was, and in truth that was about the only difference besides his slightly shorter stature that Simon could see.  If he were asked he might have said that it was not unlike getting a picture of what he might look like in the next twenty to thirty years.  He caught himself staring at this man in the next moment, clearing his throat before speaking.

“My name is Simon.” 

“Simon Roninsay?”  The man arched his brows ever so slightly, his well manicured hands folded neatly in front of his waist.  Simon could tell he at least considered himself well refined, though judging from the cut of his clothing, a light sports jacket with an unbuttoned vest and a dress shirt with the top three buttons undone lending him the air of someone with wealth.  His pants were well ironed and his dress shoes were spotless, leaving Simon to believe that this man rarely went anywhere without this sense of style. 

“I suppose that’d depend on who’s asking.”  This was a weak dodge to the question, he knew this, this man knew this, but Simon still felt the need to offer it up.  He didn’t know this man, so a small level of caution was warranted. 

            The man grinned however, dipping his chin as he scratched lightly at his temple.  Simon was a good enough judge of character however to realize that his words had irritated the man slightly.  The scratching of his temple was obviously just a way to hide the emotion, meaning he must want something with Simon that was important enough to deal with his attitude.  Walking forward two steps the man raised his eyes once more, his icy blue gaze holding none of the patience his face showed and even less mirth. 

“I see that the family attitude has passed down as well.”  Simon felt his brows pull together in confusion.  He’d never met this man, how did he know anything of his family? Tilting his head sideways at the man Simon noticed as he smirked lightly, further confusing him. 

“Look sir I’m just getting ready to head out, so if you’d tell me what this is about it’d be nice.”  Slinging the towel over one shoulder Simon kept his body loose but ready, something he’d picked up over the years with only minimal practice.  Violent or not he enjoyed a state of alertness that he felt was quite healthy, physically if not always mentally. 

“You can relax son, I’m only here to talk.  And you’re right, let’s not waste time.  My name is Tobias Vittoria, and I’m here to see you.”  The two of them stood staring at each other for the next few moments, a short span of time in which Simon didn’t so much think of his words as realize that he and the man had entered a test of wills without his knowledge.  The realization hit only a few seconds later as his teacher’s voice came from

the back, not startling either him or the man in the least but offering a new element to the moment.

“Simon?  Is someone here?”  Mr. Yin was one of the nicest men Simon had ever met, though looking at him one wouldn’t think that he was as powerful as he was.  The little man only stood a hair over five foot four and weighed maybe a hundred pounds soaking wet.  Simon had found out a few times however in sparring matches just how solid he really was.  After being sat on his ass a few times he’d learned not to limit himself to thinking that he was stronger for knowing several styles as opposed to just one.  Mr. Yin had been born and raised in America but had studied the art of Kung Fu since he’d learned to walk.  His parents, as he’d told Simon, had raised him with the traditions of their motherland, immersing him in the American culture while still practicing the beliefs they’d been raised with.  As a result Mr. Yin was one of those unique individuals who saw life not in terms of black and white but in an infinite scope of colors from which to choose. 

            Both Simon and this uninvited guest looked in the direction of the storeroom as Mr. Yin’s light footsteps drew near.  Looking back to one another in the next moment Simon saw him smile again, though there was little warmth in the gesture.  In truth it was as though this man was growing more agitated by the moment, the small space between them seemed to be growing charged with a mix of emotions he could not entirely fathom. 

“Oh!  Hello there sir.  May I help you?”  Simon did not take his eyes off the older man as he graced Mr. Yin with a short smile, his eyes flashing just a bit dangerously as he looked at the smaller man.  He didn’t believe anything would happen, this wasn’t a bad action movie or anything, but being suspicious had at times been known to save people unmeasured amounts of grief. 

“To be honest I was simply looking for this young man.  Is he your student?”  The man, Tobias, gestured towards Simon with one hand, looking at him briefly before leveling his gaze once more at Mr. Yin. 

“My young friend has passed beyond the title of student some time ago.  I consider him more of a kindred spirit to be honest.”  Mr. Yin smiled at the man graciously, to which Tobias responded with a small snort. 

“I see.  Do you think I might have a word with him in private?  Perhaps I can learn a thing or two in our short time.”  Mr. Yin looked to Simon for a moment, his deep brown eyes conveying only the slightest concern as his young friend nodded once.  Shrugging his shoulders the old man smiled once more, spreading both hands out in a gesture that Simon knew meant this matter was now not his concern.

“I’m sure that I saw more in the back that needed doing.  Just tell me when you two are done so I can lock up. Nice meeting you sir, Simon.”  Nodding to both of them Mr. Yin then slowly departed, not sparing a glance back as he once more disappeared into the back room.  Tobias watched him go, a look that bordered on relief passing over his features.  More and more Simon was finding reason not to like this man based on his gut alone, though he was smart enough to keep his emotions from showing. 

“Well, now that we’re alone again, I don’t truly know where to start.”  Simon chose to remain silent for the moment, his instincts telling him that this man was not to be

entirely trusted.  Tobias took another step towards him, making Simon tense inside just a little more, like a young warrior facing off against a battle-hardened veteran. 

“You know my name now, so I suppose I should go from there.  How much do you know about the time of your birth?”  That set alarms ringing slightly within Simon’s mind, his own personal alert riding rather high.  Who was this man?

“I know it was the year nineteen seventy-nine and that I was born in Gig Harbor up north.  Aside from that all I know is that I’m adopted.”  He had no qualms with giving out such information, it was not harmful to him in the least.  Still he kept his teeth close together thanks to his mounting frustration over not understanding this man’s presence.  Tobias nodded mutely, tapping his chin with the index and middle fingers of his left hand.  His other arm he held against his abdomen, wrapping his right hand against his side. 

“You know what you were told then.  I see that your mother at least tried to hide what she did.  She did a rather good job it seems.”  Simon finally did take a step back, holding his towel low at his waist as he narrowed his eyes at this man. 

“What did you say?”  Tobias smiled at him then, whatever warmth he meant to convey with the gesture was lost as Simon looked into his eyes, finding no trace of anything even resembling a friendly manner. 

“Your mother never did like my idea’s concerning you, she thought my way of life was just too, harsh.” 

“How do you know my mother? Who in the world are you?”  He clamped his mouth shut against the flood of questions that threatened to spill out, feeling his ire rise at this man.  Tobias grinned once more, leaning against the glass enclosed counter that sat near the door as he tilted his head back.  He looked to be no older than perhaps his late thirties, though Simon guessed he was really in his forties at least. 

“I don’t mean that fearful shrew of a woman I talked to yesterday.  I mean your real mother, the woman who brought you kicking and screaming into this world.  I mean you birth mother, your blood Simon.” Tobias stood as he spoke, drawing nearer to Simon who did not retreat, the words this man spoke ringing with enough truth that he could say nothing against them.  It was insane really, but he found himself unable to dispute the crazy words of this man despite wanting to laugh in his face.  The mention of his mother as a shrew however kept that laughter well in check. 

“The man who calls himself your father had that same expression when I told him who I was, he didn’t like me much either.”  Tobias waved a hand dismissively as he spoke, not seeming to notice as Simon’s hands clenched slightly.  At least he was observant enough to realize Simon’s mood at that moment. 

“Maybe you should tell me who you are so I can feel justified for feeling this way.”  Simon wasn’t so much glaring at the man as offering a silent challenge.  He’d heard a few others in his life disrespect his parents this blatantly, but words were words, they were easy to ignore.  For some reason however Simon found it difficult to ignore them at this moment. 

“Okay then, I suppose you’re right, no point stretching it out any farther.  I know this will be a lot to take at the moment, but I’m your father, your real father.”  He

emphasized these last three words with raised eyebrows, not seeming to care that Simon’s eyes widened noticeably. 

“I know this is a lot to take at just a moment’s notice, and I know you’ll be in disbelief for at least a short amount of time if not longer.  So in that spirit I will take my leave.  If you feel the need however, here’s my card, it has my cell number which you can get me at anytime.  Call me when you’ve come to terms with this.”  Placing a white card upon the glass counter he turned to leave, reaching into his left pocket to retrieve a pair of sunglasses that he donned as he walked out into the day.  The sunlight that so rarely graced the northwest this time of year highlighted Tobias, making him seem to glow with an otherworldly radiance.  If Simon hadn’t already taken at least part of his measure he might have thought the man was a divine presence.  From his arrogant manner however he was clearly one of the biggest assholes Simon had ever met.

            Unfortunately that wasn’t where his mind was at just now.  The last words the man had spoken still rang in his ears.  When he’d “come to terms with it.”.  If not for Tobias having told him before that of their supposed connection he might have laughed.  Instead he felt little but numb, standing in the exact same spot that he had upon coming to talk to the man who claimed to be his father.  Several minutes passed before he closed his eyes, turning to his right as he started to walk by memory towards the far right corner of the training room.  Simon opened his eyes as he reached out to the wall, feeling about the gathered items there for what he was looking for. 

            Mr. Yin came out into the dojo once more as he selected twin rattan fighting sticks, tools that he’d used a few times in his life during sparring matches.  The small Asian-American looked towards his young friend curiously for a moment before he started walking in his direction.  Simon disregarded him though he knew the man was there, walking towards one of the large punching bags that hung only a few yards from the weapon racks.  Mr. Yin didn’t often teach with weapons, though there were advanced classes that students could take in which he instructed them mostly for show.  The old man had taken students to competitions sporadically over the years, choosing to do so only when a student was interested and skilled enough to compete.  He’d actually asked Simon once if he would be interested in competition, to which Simon had politely declined. 

            Over the seventeen years of his life in various martial arts he had learned many things, but the need to prove himself to others had never arisen.  He knew he was an adequate fighter, he didn’t feel the desire to flaunt his skills in front of anyone.  Many people had told him that such was not the case in competition, but still he had abstained, for personal reasons more than anything. 

“I trust your conversation went alright?”  Mr. Yin’s voice was tinged just barely with concern as he stayed out of Simon’s range.  He had no fear that the young man would hit him, he was simply wise enough to know that accidents could happen.  When Simon didn’t readily answer him however he knew that something was wrong.  In the years he had known this young man he’d only seen him pull out weapons for one of two reasons.  One was that he wished a sparring match, though usually he made his wishes clear.  The other was that he was greatly troubled, in which case he needed to unload a fair amount of aggression. 

“I see.  Then are you interested in a friendly match?”  Simon shook his head slowly, twirling each stick in his hand a few times as he crossed them over, twirled them, crossed them over and then struck the bag in front of him with a resounding slap of wood on leather.  Seeing the indentation that he left in the surface of the bag Mr. Yin raised his eyebrows slightly.  He had learned over the past two years that Simon was not the type to become agitated easily.  The man who’d been here moments ago must have said

something that truly upset the young man in front of him.  Another hard slap hit the bag, denting it at roughly the height of a man’s knees. 

“This isn’t like you Simon, are you sure everything is okay?”  Two quick slaps of the sticks against the bag followed his question, more of an answer than Simon’s words could have given. Mr. Yin lowered his gaze for a moment, breathing deeply as he tried to think of what he might say to his young friend to calm him down.  After several more hard slaps to the bag however Simon lowered them to his sides, breathing heavily as he closed his eyes.  He wanted to at least offer the young man a comforting hand upon his shoulder, though after knowing him for so long he didn’t know how Simon would react.  The young man was as unpredictable as a wild animal at times.  In one moment he was calm, controlled and more than pleasant, while in the next he was still quiet and calm, but his propensity for violence increased exponentially. 

            He’d trained a large number of people in his life, from those who were merely interested in staying healthy to those who were interested on a much deeper level.  Mr. Yin could count on one hand how many he’d ever met like Simon.  The young man was so pleasant most of the time, but there’d been moments when Mr. Yin had seen something within Simon that he did not understand.  He was in his fifty-sixth year of life and he’d seen many things in his quiet career, but Simon was something he had never once been forced to deal with.  He was a good kid, but there was a secret within his soul that not even he knew about. 

            Mr. Yin watched as Simon walked back over to the weapon racks, depositing the rattan sticks in their place as he clapped his hands together under his chin.  He frowned slightly as Simon rocked back and forth for a few moments, his eyes closed in obvious concentration.  Opening his eyes back up Simon began to walk towards the dressing area once more, breezing by Mr. Yin without a word.  He’d almost reached the curtain when he stopped, turning back to look at his older friend with a look of concern upon his face.

“Mr. Yin, what would you do if someone told you that they were your father?  Someone you’d never met in your life, who just showed up all of a sudden.  What would you think?”  His voice was sincere as well as troubled, leading Mr. Yin to believe that whatever the stranger who’d been here only minutes ago had said, it had deeply concerned Simon. 

“Is this what that man said?”  Simon nodded a few times before looking towards the doorway, his eyes haunted as though the man might step through the entrance at any time.  Mr. Yin had known Simon was adopted for some time, though whenever the conversation had ever come up about his biological parents Simon had gone quiet, saying only that he’d never found out who they were.  It had taken Yin nearly six months to learn that Simon didn’t really care if he ever found out their identities, he was just fine with not knowing. 

            Of course the whole truth was that he wasn’t sure whether or not he really wanted to know.  The entire issue of his adoption raised questions about more than just his inner feelings, it raised as well concerns he had about his health and the impending years he still faced.  Heredity was perhaps his greatest concern, though to this date he had found he was as healthy as he could be. 

“I know I should be calm, this shouldn’t bother me this much.  But that was one helluva bombshell.  Whether or not he’s a kook or if he’s telling the truth, it bugs me.”

“Understandable.  You’ve led a good life Simon, maybe you should put that ahead of this trouble.”  Simon nodded his head, keeping his eyes towards the doorway still. 

“Is Tia picking you up today?”  Again the young man nodded his head, running one hand through his short hair.  Yin wanted to reassure the young man, to tell him that this would pass along with everything else.  But that was not his way.  And furthermore Simon would not listen.  He was as stubborn as a bull headed mule at times, though Yin found that this made him a stronger personality.    

“Go on, get ready and cleaned up.  I’ll stay out here and tell her she’s wasting her time on young men and should really try older, more refined gentlemen.”  That got Simon to look at him, a sly smile on his face as he nodded appreciatively at his older friend.  He chuckled slightly as Mr. Yin offered him a smile, shaking his head as he walked into the dressing room. 

“You’re a funny man Mr. Yin.” 

“It’s all part of the charm.”  Simon laughed loud enough for him to hear from behind the curtain, lifting his spirits easily.  He liked this kid.

                                                *                      *                      *

 

            As Simon was busy toweling himself off and changing clothes a deep forest green Ford Taurus pulled to a stop next to the walkway that was outside of the dojo.  Inside the sedan the temperature was a moderate sixty degrees, pleasant enough for its sole occupant at the time.  Throwing the car into park and shutting off the engine the lone woman that sat behind the wheel opened the door, stepping out with a grace she’d learned only in the last few years of her life.  Before then she’d been a boot-wearing, beer-drinking, truck-driving tomboy. 

            In truth she still was, though only when she wasn’t going to or getting off from work as she was today.  Instead of hiking boots, blue jeans, a t-shirt and a baseball cap she was clad in one of her best business suits, dressed for success as the saying went.  From her sensible blue heels to her pastel blue miniskirt and pinstriped vest she was a vision of professional beauty.  With a professional ponytail and authentic Oakley sunglasses the look was neatly rounded out.  The only jewelry she wore were her small gold hoop earrings, a silver chain bearing a small crucifix, and an engagement ring that adorned her left hand.  Every piece she wore had been a gift to her from her betrothed, who made a very comfortable living working for the county. 

            As the sunlight washed over her she felt obliged to shake her head a couple of times, a few loose hairs falling across her face as she brushed them aside.  Looking to the doorway that led into the dojo she was about to enter she saw that one side of the twin

glass doors was opened, the sole proprietor standing there with a large smile on his wizened face.  She returned the smile, her own large enough to light up a room.

“Mr. Yin, how are you today sir?”  She walked past him into the dojo, placing one hand upon his slim shoulder in greeting as he ushered her inside. 

“As well as can be Ms., soon to be Mrs. Roninsay.”  She smiled at him again, her cheeks flushing slightly.  Her maiden name was Ramsey, though she didn’t mind at all when people called her by Simon’s last name.  The two of them had been engaged for almost five months, having planned for a summer wedding shortly after his proposal.  She wore his ring proudly and with complete devotion, needing only to look at it to remind herself that he was worth waiting for.  Her parents, God love them, had wanted to have the wedding as soon as possible, meaning only a few months maximum after he’d proposed.  With much convincing and just as much understanding however they had been made to see that the wait would pay off. 

“Is Simon in the back?”  Mr. Yin nodded, tapping his chin with two fingers as he did. 

“I’ve told him about us you know, how you like the older more sophisticated man.”  He grinned before laughing with her, their mirth an old way of speaking to one another.  They’d had this conversation so many times that it was common to fall into it whenever they talked, though they did tone it down around Simon.  He understood well enough how they thought, so it was with good humor that he listened to their banter.  To them however it was just a measure of the respect they each had for him to quiet down their wit when he was around. 

“Mmm I see, and how did he take it?” 

“The poor boy is back there crying like a baby.”

“I heard that.”  Simon raised his voice slightly to be heard better, the humor in his words easy to determine.  The two of them shared a look before laughing once more. 

“Babe c’mon, we need to get going so we can make dinner with your folks tonight.”  Taking off her sunglasses finally she held them in one hand as she placed the other on the glass counter. 

“Yeah, yeah I’m comin’”  She rolled her eyes before blowing out a breath, fixing her gaze on Mr. Yin once more.  He raised both hands in a helpless gesture, smiling at her once more.  Returning the smile she started suddenly as a strident ringing came from within a pocket on the side of her vest.  Mr. Yin  nodded to her once before heading back to the back store room.  She nodded back as she pulled her phone from her pocket, looking at the LCD display before simply answering it.  The black letters that appeared on the small screen below the time and date read RONINSAY, Simon’s parents.  No doubt they were calling to make sure that the two of them would be on time for dinner.  Pressing the button to receive she held the phone to her ear, hearing the end of a conversation as Simon’s mother Grace said something to his father Aaron. 

“Hello?  Tia?”

“Yes Mrs. R. I’m here.”

“Dear how many times do I need to tell you?”

“Sorry Grace, force of habit.”
”It’s okay.
  Are you two on your way yet?”

“Actually no, I just got to the studio to pick up Simon.  He’s getting ready to go right now and then we’ll go home to clean up.”

“Oh, oh that’s great actually.  We’re caught in traffic and won’t be there for another thirty or forty minutes.”  Grace held the phone away for a moment as Aaron’s voice came from the background, claiming that it wouldn’t be that long.  Tia grinned as she listened, knowing that the two of them had been arguing about being on time amongst several other things during their trip from their home in Woodburn.  The two of them had moved to Oregon only a year before, finding a quiet little retirement community in which to settle.  She, Simon and Aaron’s employees, friends of Simon’s, had repainted, rewired, and done every other renovation to the small home over the past year, helping the two of them move into their new home. 

“So we’ll just meet you at the restaurant then, we should both be there at the same time it sounds like.  See you there okay?”

“Okay Grace, see you there in a bit.”

“Oh, did you get the tickets to the movie?”  They’d all agreed to go see the newest horror movie that had just come out in theaters, some hack and slash film.  Grace wasn’t much for horror movies, neither was Aaron, but they had relented after Simon and Tia had reminded them that they’d picked the last movie they’d all gone to see.  It had been a film concerning the life of Howard Hughes and to be honest, she had almost fallen asleep. 

“Yep, I picked them up on my way here so we’re good to go for that.”

“What time is the movie?”

“It starts at 7:45, so we have plenty of time to eat and get to the theater.”

“Dear you are just a peach, see you in a bit.”  The phone chimed in her ear as Grace hung up abruptly as usual.  This wasn’t an insult, it was just how the older woman was.  She was one of those people who was kind in person but on the phone seemed a little blunt and at times hard to understand.  Tia just grinned as she closed her phone, placing it back in her pocket. 

“Simon c’mon let’s go!”  Her attention was drawn to the dressing room as the curtain was thrust aside, her soon to be husband stepping through in his street clothes with his gym bag hung over one shoulder.  With his sunglasses in his free hand and the strap to his bag in the other he walked up to her, planting a kiss on her lips as she wrapped one arm around the back of his neck, drawing him close.  He smelled of sweat and a deep musky scent that she had to admit she enjoyed.  Even the thin sheen of sweat still upon his skin didn’t repulse her in the least, since it comforted her to know that despite his absolutely phenomenal conditioning he was still capable of growing tired like everyone else. 

“Ready to go?”  Tia looked deep into his eyes as she held him, loving the depths of his deep green orbs. 

“I was just waiting for you.”  She laughed lightly at that, tilting her head back as their hips met.

“I’m sure.  C’mon let’s get going, your parents are on their way.”  She let him go as she walked towards the door, shaking her hips suggestively as she glanced back at him.  Grinning she walked through the door, placing her sunglasses back upon her face as

she stood near the entrance.  He grinned back at her, turning back to the face the doorway into the store room. 

“Mr. Yin I’m leaving now.  I’ll see you on Tuesday.” 

“Lock the door would you?  Oh yes, see you Tuesday Simon, take care.”  Simon grinned as he thumbed the latch on the double doors, truly grateful for men like Mr. Yin.  The old man was a friend that had never expected to find in his life, though in truth he was perhaps one of the people that helped keep him stable.  Walking over to his future bride’s car he slid into the passenger’s side, closing the door as she threw the car into gear. 

                                                *                      *                      *

 

“Simon, is everything okay?”  She took her toothbrush out of her mouth long enough to speak, thrusting it back in as he failed to answer.  Tia knew he could hear her over the noise of the shower, they were only separated by five feet of space.  It had only been a matter of minutes to reach their home, a single story three bedroom house with a spacious backyard and a free standing garage.  They’d moved into the house only shortly after deciding to live with one another, finding it thanks to some very welcome help from his parents and friends of the family who’d owned the house.  The going price had been rather low, only slightly over one hundred thousand, thanks to the condition it had been in. 

            When they had first seen the outside it had been a depressing grayish brown color with red trim.  Since then they’d painted it two different shades of blue, the agreed upon colors a compromise after several nights spent arguing over what would be the best.  Much of the work they and a few of their friends had done, both inside and out, though his parents and hers had contributed much in the way of the inside.  The midnight blue carpet had been paid for by both of their families, while the paint and other materials had been paid for by them. 

“Simon?”

“Yeah, everything’s as good as it can be.”  She looked over at him after that odd statement, wrinkling her brow in concern.  Simon stood with his eyes closed and both hands placed flat against the wall of the shower, his right side facing her.  Water from the showers head struck his lowered head before running down his back and dripping from his face, his naked wet body sending a thrill through her despite her concern.  Something wasn’t right with him.  Of course, something wasn’t right with her either.  She felt the need to tell him of her little escapade at work today, though with their impending date with his parents she didn’t see the point of ruining the night early.  She kept her gaze on the mirror in front of her, brushing side to side and front to back before spitting out her mouthful of toothpaste.

“A man claiming to be my father walked into the dojo today.”  Tia froze.  Staring at herself in the mirror she felt goose flesh rise on her arms at his words, her experience today coming back to her in full force.  She had been in her office, busily sorting out accounts and files when the door had opened unexpectedly, a man who looked so much like Simon that it had been uncanny stepping boldly into the room.  Tia had gazed up at

him with only mild irritation, going back to her papers for just a moment before he had cleared his throat. 

            They’d talked for only a few minutes, but that had been long enough for Tia to know that she simply did not like him.  True, he had looked enough like her betrothed that his claim had held a shred of merit.  But he had been cold, so unlike his supposed son that an hour after he’d left Tia had still felt chills. 

“Yeah, he uh, came to see me too.  Older guy, looks a lot like you?”  She met Simon’s gaze as he opened his eyes, ignoring the water that ran past them.  He nodded a few times as she turned her face down to the sink, closing her eyes for a moment. 

“He could be lying you know.  He could just be some crazy old bastard.”  Simon shook his head as she spoke, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands.

“I’m not even going to think about it right now.  All I want to do is get ready to go and have a good evening with my parents.”  Tia smiled at that, offering him a wry glance that he just managed to return. 

“Of all the reasons I love you Sy, that’s got to be one of my favorites.” 

“And what’s that?”

“You’re undeniable ability to sort through the crap in life and get to the good stuff.”  As Simon turned off the shower and pulled back the curtain she tossed him a towel from the cupboard behind her, sitting on the wide bathroom counter to watch him dry off.  She’d done this so many times that he no longer felt self-conscious in the least about it.  He had such a nice body to look at, not too lean, not loaded down with fat, just right.  Of course if he had been a little chunky she’d still have loved him, his personality was far more important to her than his body, that was just a perk. 

            Since the first day they’d met in college Tia had found that Simon possessed a quality about him that she still had yet to define.  He was kind though he no doubt could be cruel, his manner was that of a gentleman though she’d seen he had the capacity to be rude.  Simon was a constant contradiction, always keeping her on her toes but at the same time never letting her down.  She loved him for so many reasons that at times they were hard to count.  He loved her just as much if not more, she knew this in her heart even he never expressed such in words.  His actions were more than enough for her. 

“Are you ready for a family Simon?  And I mean a family aside from the ones we come  from.  You know what I mean?”  Tia stroked her flat stomach gently, thinking idle thoughts of what they’d talked about so many times in the last two years.  Simon looked over at her as he toweled his hair off, wincing as he hit a sore spot near his forehead. 

“Well, lord knows we aren’t hurting for money.  I just wonder how much our lives would really change though.  A child is a big step.”

            Crossing her legs Tia smiled as she kept her hands on her stomach.  The two of them had talked about this so many times that they’d actually thought up names for their unborn children.  This often brought on bouts of laughter as they explored each and every name they could think of at that given moment, never resorting to any sort of baby book or even outside sources.  They were both agreed that they wanted children eventually, though the date had as of yet escaped them.  This was their decision, no one else’s, and when the time came they felt that they would no doubt know it. 

            As their eyes met Simon was tying his towel about his waist, his body mostly dry though his hair was still wet and mussed.  Her nostrils flared as she tried to pin him with her eyes, her hazel eyes catching his green ones.  Simon raised his eyebrows at her as she allowed her tongue to dart out slowly, licking her lips as she leaned even farther against the counter.  His body tensed slightly as she almost purred at him in her best come hither tone. 

“Um, do we have time?”  Tia nodded her head at him as he asked, answering only with one finger as she beckoned him forward.  As he came close she wrapped her long, shapely legs about his body, pulling him closer as their lips met.  She pulled her mouth away from his long enough to whisper into his ear, her hands firmly entwined in his hair as he began to kiss her neck.

“There’s always time for this babe.” 

*                      *                      *

 

            Mr. Yin always found himself staying here far later than he needed to.  Being a single man with three children who had years ago reached adulthood he had very little to keep him busy.  His dojo was his life anymore.  His kids visited from time to time, they and their kids loved him dearly, just as he loved them, though they’d never embraced the life of martial arts he had lived for so long.  Yin didn’t blame them for this, he believed that in life each person was meant to find their own path.  That his own children didn’t follow his had at times troubled him, but in the end he’d come to realize that their choices had been the best for them. 

            As much as they came around however he felt a little closer to Simon at this point than he did his own blood.  The young man intrigued as well as concerned him at times, though he did his best to understand.  His understanding of the martial arts was uncanny for one his age, though after seeing him in his own training sessions and having sparred with him Yin could easily tell how much heart and soul he’d actually put into his practices. 

            There was something missing in the young man, of that he was almost certain.  What it might have been was in question, since Simon didn’t often talk about his most inner feelings.  Yin didn’t press him, he felt that if Simon was going to reveal anything he would do so in his own good time.  As he sat staring at the figures for the past month Yin found it hard to concentrate on the numbers as he thought of the young man.  Leaning back in his office chair he gently massaged his temples with his fingers, closing his eyes as he allowed his thoughts to drift back to Simon.

            A sharp knock against the front doors gained his attention as he sat up in chair, confusion writ plain upon his face.  As he stood up he pushed the chair back, wondering just who would come calling at this time of the evening.  His kids were each out of town, Simon and Tia were out with his parents as Simon had told him, so that left virtually no one he could think of that might be at the door.  His office was located in the very back of the large space he’d managed to purchase years ago, a small space that had at one time served as little more than storage for whatever had been here before his dojo. 

            He walked slowly towards the door that led out into the main area, caution creeping into his mind for whatever reason.  As he exited his office he had a clear line of

sight towards the front of the studio, the glass panes that looked out on the shared parking lot showing little but the shadows cast by the arc lights that were spread throughout the small strip mall.  A figure, little more than a silhouette really, stood at the double doors, his features little more than shadow.  It was a man, of that he was certain, though as he came closer he began to realize that he’d seen this man before.  He was the same man who had walked into the dojo earlier that day, the gentleman who’d been talking with Simon for a few minutes before he’d left. 

            Yin felt again the need for caution as he approached, this man just did not seem right to him.  Whatever he’d said to Simon had upset the young man enough that Yin had no trouble holding an instant dislike for him.  Walking up to the glass he stood very calmly with both hands behind his back, waiting for just a moment before speaking.

“I’m sorry sir but I’m closed right now.  Tomorrow I’ll be open around eight o’ clock am.”  The courtesy in his voice wasn’t forced; just because he’d decided to dislike this man didn’t excuse bad manners.  His voice carried easily past the glass, to which the man replied first by grinning not unlike a hyena, showing many of his far too white teeth and stretching the few lines around his face.  Yin doubted somehow that the wrinkles were laugh lines, and if they were then he didn’t want to know the sort of things this man found amusing. 

“I’ve actually come to see you sir.  When I was here earlier I didn’t get a chance to introduce myself.”

“I truly apologize sir but I was just about to leave for home.  Perhaps we can speak in the morning?”  It wasn’t a total lie, since he’d been planning to go home for the last hour or so.  The man didn’t seem to accept this however, shaking his head as he lowered his chin. 

“I’m afraid not sir, this is rather urgent.”  Did his eyes seem to flash as Yin watched?  Taking it as little more than a glance from the lampposts outside Yin shook his head in response.

“I’m sorry but it will have to wait until morning, I’m really just about to leave.”  His breath hitched in suddenly as the man scrunched up his face in obvious frustration, pulling from the back of his tailored pants a very mean looking nine millimeter pistol.  He had no love for any sort of firearm, though he did recognize them when he saw them.  His first instinct was to back away, though looking at the man’s face he figured this would not be the wisest move. 

“I know, this is uncivilized, not the proper way to do things at all.  But in the effort to save my hands it needs to be done.”  As he finished the man raised the pistol to the glass, firing off three shots in rapid succession.  The first two were eerily quiet while the third was just a little louder, the glass cracking and then breaking easily as he pushed his way through in the next second.  Yin backed away hurriedly then, knowing he should run but having no desire to be shot in the back.  His only hope was that someone down the way at the bar had heard the glass breaking and would either come to investigate or call the police.

            It was only a little after eight in the evening however and the bar wouldn’t begin getting its heaviest traffic for at least another hour.  Still, he held out hope even as the man walked forward, using his free hand to brush glass slivers from off his clothing.  He

was wearing the same suit he’d been in earlier, still pressed and neat without a stain or wrinkle anywhere.  He was now glaring at Yin, the pistol rock steady in his hand as he aimed it towards him. 

“I gave you a chance to simply let me in, you were foolish enough to deny me.  I need information Mr. Yin Juang, that’s all.  If you choose to give it then I will leave without ever needing to return.”

“And if I don’t answer?”  The man smirked at Yin, not moving so much as an inch as he closed his eyes briefly.  Yin entertained the thought of trying to disarm him only for second, sensing a strength in this man that he did not care for.  This man held himself in such a way that it was impossible to not realize that he was at least moderately skilled in the martial arts, or at least one hell of a good bluffer.  Yin was not foolish enough to think that even with a lifetime of martial arts he was fast enough to disarm this man, at least not with the distance he was keeping.  If he were to even try he had no doubt that the man would fire. 

            Death didn’t frighten or concern him, he knew that eventually it would come, just as it did to all living organisms.  If this was his time then so be it, he just wouldn’t have ever wished to be gunned down by a coward. 

“Believe me when I say, it is in your best interest to answer me.”  He narrowed his eyes at Yin in open challenge, lowering the pistol as his face took on a more calm and serene expression. 

“I’m not going to shoot you old man, if that’s what you’re really worried about.  Such a death for those like us is rather, cheap wouldn’t you say?”  Yin chose not to respond, matching the man’s easy stare with his own. 

“Now, let us begin.”

                                                *                      *                      *

 

            Tobias left the dojo nearly two hours later, having obtained all the information he could from the old man.  He had a cut above his left eye and several bruises that were thankfully hidden by his now much rumpled clothes, but other than this he was feeling just fine.  The old man had given him more of a fight than he’d anticipated, landing several good blows before he’d finally put him down.  If he wasn’t dead by now then he soon would be, Tobias had left him in such a state that death was inevitable. 

            He had started the fight shortly after realizing that the old man had given him all he was going to, his misguided sense of loyalty forcing Tobias’s hand.  Loyalty only went so far until it began to rear back on the fool who used it.  He was loyal only to one person, and that was himself.  All others he watched carefully, never giving them his full trust no matter how much they were willing to do.

            His wife had learned this the hard way only five years ago, when he had finally caught up with her in Walla Walla.  She had moved herself all over the state of Washington for the past seventeen years, always staying just out of his reach somehow with false names, new homes and even once a faked death.  Had he really been that bad as a husband?  So what if he’d wanted their firstborn to be raised as a warrior?  He had been and nothing bad had ever happened. 

            She had never approved of his plans for their child, warning him time and again that he didn’t promise to renege on his word and allow their child to grow, then she would take that child and run.  He’d never thought she was serious, always maintaining the thought that her fear would keep her close.  Tobias had found out the hard way however, coming home after a training session one day to find both wife and child gone.  It wasn’t until seventeen years later when he’d found her that he had learned that she had given their child, their son, up for adoption. 

            He’d listened to her break down in tears as she’d told him the story, of how she had made the toughest decision of her life to give away her baby boy.  She’d damned him over and over, beating her fists against his chest in impotent rage as he’d almost laughed at her.  Tobias had been blamed for everything from her incessant need to move every two years to the medication she took to calm her nerves.  He was also responsible for the fact that she had never once found a man she could settle down with, as though he were

some gigantic jinx upon her life.  Tobias had indeed walked away from her laughing, leaving her to wallow in her own misery shortly after obtaining the name of the adoption agency she’d gone to. 

            Tobias knew himself well enough to understand that only one thing in this entire mess that was his fault was that he had allowed his wife to run with their child.  His anger when he’d found out had been so great that his ex wife was lucky to still be counted among the living.  She had cried and carried on, her own rage giving her the courage she’d never before possessed.  They had waged a verbal battle for nearly an hour, ending when he had walked away.  He should have been quit of the woman long ago, before she’d become pregnant.  What had ever brought the two of them together he could no longer fathom, the two of them were as different as light and shadow. 

            He had found his son only two years ago, his surprise at how close he’d already been setting his heart to racing.  Tobias had then watched Simon from afar, learning the boy’s daily routines and how he lived his life.  All in all it was a rather mundane existence that his son had been condemned to, a blue collar job, a beautiful but insipid girlfriend and two parents that were so weak that Tobias had been tempted to simply take them from the equation.  To do this however would have been to play his hand far too soon.  He’d wanted to watch his son, this Simon, more closely in order to figure out just how a child born of his loins could be so, average.

            Only when watching Simon, ye gods what a horrible name, display his martial skills did Tobias feel a spark of hope.  During these few times he had witnessed his boy he’d felt his heart surge as much as it could, the knowledge that all was not lost giving him new faith that the world was not entirely against him.  As he walked to his car he gently massaged his knuckles, looking disdainfully at the bar just across the way with its flashing lights and gaudy displays.  To think that his son might have gone into such a place more than once by choice sickened him. 

            His son would choose better than what he now had.  His son would not knowingly stoop to such an average life.  No, his son would instead rise above those who tried to keep him at an even keel, he would rise over those who were not his equal just as his father had.  Of course, that was what he had thought before having actually met Simon

for the first time.  He had envisioned what he might say to the boy upon their meeting, though it had not gone at all the way he had pictured. 

            It had become apparent after only a few minutes that those who had raised his son had instilled within him their backward, outdated values and mannerisms.  He had seemed genuinely shocked to hear that Tobias was his father.  He’d been sure that his son would be happy to hear that thanks to his unique parentage he was not like everyone else.  Instead all he’d seen in Simon’s eyes had been anger and mistrust, none of the wonder and awe he’d been expecting. 

            Opening the door of his silver Escalade he slipped in with a grace that belied his age, the smoothness of his movements that of a man half his age.  For his entire life Tobias had managed to stay fit by honing his body in any and all ways he could find, from simple workouts in the morning to mountain climbing in his spare time.  His family had always possessed great wealth, and he had inherited much of it upon his parents

death.  After a few careful investments had been made Tobias had found that working for living had not appealed to him, so he had done as he pleased, whenever and wherever. 

            Being independently wealthy had its many perks, among them being the ability to simply go when he wanted and not have to worry over a home or a family.  Starting up his vehicle he began to think of the next day, when he would go to Simon’s home and confront him once more.  The boy had to learn that his father would not brook this kind of behavior from him. 

                                                *                      *                      * 

 

July 12th

 

“I found him.”

            Tia stirred in bed as Simon spoke, stretching languidly as she opened her eyes.  Sitting up in bed she saw her fiancé sitting at the computer at the far end of their room, his face almost pressed to the screen.  Twisting her lips in concern she realized then just how shaken he really was about this man they’d both met. 

            All night they’d both gone without thinking of Tobias, putting him as far to the back of their minds as they could in order to have fun.  Dinner had been great, the movie had been ridiculous, and their time spent with his parents had been fun as always.  Tia loved his parents, they were always nice to her and treated her much like a daughter. 

            When they’d come home the night hadn’t ended, the two of them picking up where they’d already finished before leaving for dinner.  They’d been only a few minutes late, his parents having gotten them a table near the door since his father had always had a strange quirk about wanting to be as close to the entrance as possible. 

“Did you use google?”  She yawned shortly after speaking, swinging her legs over the edge of the bed as she slid off. 

“Yeah, and it’s kind of interesting what came up.  Apparently my biological mother, one Anna-Marie Vittoria, filed two different restraining orders against him around the time they had their first child.  Twenty-two years ago she had a son whom she gave up in the same year of his birth.  Apparently Tobias had a fit, went after her and made the papers for assaulting a few people who’d been friendly towards her.”

“Wow, you got all that off of google?”  Walking up behind him Tia leaned over Simon’s shoulder, placing her chin near the crook of his neck as she nuzzled into him. 

“Yeah, free information is a great thing when you need to know if a psycho decides to show up unexpected.” 

“So what if he tries to see you again?  Are you going to call the cops?”  To be honest the thought had ran through her head since yesterday, the intense dislike she had for the man making it easy for her to entertain such a notion.  Simon shook his head however, rising from his seat as he turned to face her, stepping from the chair to wrap her in his arms.  Tia melted into him, their lips meeting in a brief kiss as they stood there wrapped in each other’s arms.

“If he does show up again I’ll make it as clear as I can that he’s not welcome.  If there’s a problem after that then I’ll deal with it the best I can.”  Tia lowered her eyes for a moment, meeting his again only when he lowered his head to try and catch her gaze.  He smiled at her as she returned the gesture, laying her head against his chest as he placed one hand on the nape of her neck. 

“Hon’, unless he’s coward enough to come at me with a gun, then I’m really not worried.  The man at least thinks he’s my father, so I doubt that he will.  So you don’t worry either.”  Rolling her forehead against his chest she snorted before laughing lightly. 

“Simon if I was worried about you I would have said so.  I’m more worried if you meet him again that he won’t be walking anywhere for awhile.” 

            Kissing her gently on the forehead he began to walk out of the room, reaching the door in only two strides as he entered the hallway.  Reaching in through the bathroom entrance he flicked the light on, walking past the doorway into the living room.  The blinds were still closed on all the windows since he’d just woken up only a short time ago.  Two large windows and one smaller one offered views of the street and one of their neighbors.  In the kitchen area off to the left the window in the door and the one next to it looked out on the back yard. 

            Walking over to his right he opened one set of blinds and then the next, not bothering to look up before walking back into the small dining area to open the other set of blinds.  Again he didn’t look up before walking into the kitchen, pulling up the blinds on both the door and the window.  Running one hand through his hair he walked to the fridge, opening it up to pull out the milk.  He was reaching into the cupboard that hung above the kitchen sink for a glass when he happened to look to his right, out the window towards the back yard.  It took every ounce of will he possessed to not drop the glass into the sink where it would have exploded, his body tensing as he saw someone walking around on his property. 

            Standing at the window he could easily make out the figure of Tobias, though he was dressed differently than yesterday.  Instead of the leisure clothes he had worn he now was garbed in a rather elegant jogging suit that looked as though it might cost more than Simon’s entire wardrobe.  Its rich blue material, maybe suede by the way it caught the sun, fit Tobias’ frame nicely.  Simon could see that the man was indeed fit, the way he stalked about like a giant cat on the prowl was only slightly unnerving.  His anger began to grow as the seconds ticked by, his hatred of this man growing stronger by the moment.

Simon wasted little time, placing the glass and the milk down as calmly as he could on the counter before opening the door. 

He saw Tobias turn about as he heard the door open, the look on his face one of distaste.  Simon could just guess why he affected such a look.  From the cut of his clothing he was obviously a man who was used to the finer things in life.  The home that Simon and Tia had moved into however still needed quite a bit of work, no doubt he didn’t approve.  In all honesty Simon didn’t care what he approved of.  This was their home and he was most unwelcome.

“Good morning Simon.  I trust these accommodations will be temporary at best.  It’s quaint, really, but you should really try-“

“What are you doing here?”  Tobias stepped up so that he was face to face with Simon, his eyes taking on a steely cast in the next second.

“First, don’t ever interrupt me again.  Second, you-“

“I am no longer amused Toby, so unless you have something worthwhile to say then I suggest you leave.”  Tobias reached out with an open-handed slap to Simon’s face as he finished, rocking the younger man back a step.  Simon felt his eyes go wide as Tobias pointed a finger at him, all thoughts of whether his neighbors would see this or not fading quickly from his mind.  The people to his left he knew wouldn’t be venturing outside for at least another hour, while the old couple to his right hardly ever came out save to tend to their flowers. 

“You listen to me boy and listen good, y-ah!”  Tobias was forced to cut off his own words as Simon grabbed his pointing finger viciously, twisting to his left and yanking down.  He tried to counter by grabbing towards Simon’s throat, his hand being batted away easily as the younger man yanked on his finger even harder. 

“You’re going to leave now old man, or I’m going to drag you down my driveway and kick you into the street.  Show up again around me or anyone I care for and you won’t be walking anywhere, anymore.”

“I’m not leaving until you acknowledge that you are my son.  You were born to be more than this.”  Tobias winced as Simon applied more pressure to his hold, almost dropping him to his knees.  His son was strong, there was no doubt, but he was also weak.  From this decrepit dwelling that could only loosely be called a home to his understanding of how to fight, he’d been tainted. 

            Ignoring the pain in his hand Tobias lashed out quickly with his other hand, catching Simon squarely on the nerve that ran along the outside of his left thigh.  Simon stiffened noticeably as Tobias hit it three more times in rapid succession.  He felt his knee begin to buckle from the blows as his own grip lessened.  Tobias rose to his feet, the look of pain he’d worn for only a few moments changing to a triumphant grin as Simon tried to back away.  He managed only to hobble as his left leg threatened to give out, the damage not permanent but still enough trouble him. 

“You are a born warrior my son.  But you’ve been allowed to become weak.  I will be around for some time, I hope that you will come to realize this and will seek me out.  At the moment I’m staying at what passes for a hotel downtown.  Penthouse suite at the top of course if you have the nerve to come see me.”  With that he sauntered off, turning his back on Simon as though he were of little concern.  Simon was too busy massaging the side of his leg to care, wincing as he touched the area that had been struck. 

He heard the door open shortly after Tobias left, Tia’s soft steps treading across the gravel driveway until she stood next to him.  Her light touch upon his shoulder forced him to look up at her, seeing the concern etched across her features. 

“He was here.”  Her eyes went wide with concern as he spoke.  Dropping down to a knee next to him she took his hands away from his leg, taking over gently as he leaned back on the lawn. 

“Why in the world was he here?”  Her gentled rubbing became a hard kneading as she dug into the muscle, trying her best to ease his pain.  Though she’d only been with him two years of his life she knew how deeply into martial arts he was.  As a result she’d had the chance to soothe and massage his body after many a training session.  She knew just how to get rid of his aches and pains, a trait that he was more than grateful for. 

“Oh you know, demean our way of life, tell me I’m a weakling, that kind of stuff.”  Tia furrowed her brows at him as she continued to massage his leg, not appreciating the cavalier way he was dealing with this man who had intruded into their lives. 

“Do you think it’s time to involve the police?”  Simon had to admit that the idea was enticing.  He knew where Tobias was staying now and would have no problem getting the man into trouble.  Simon also realized however that Tobias was not stupid.  No doubt he had calculated the risks involved in such a direct approach and had made amends to where he would be safe enough should Simon involve the authorities.  Or maybe he was just as crazy as a loon.       

                                                *                      *                      *

 

            They found out about Mr. Yin later on that day, catching the newscast while flipping through the channels.  Being a Saturday Tia was off, while Simon had lucked out and traded shifts with one of his coworkers.  As they’d sat on the couch together, enjoying a quiet day together, each of them had bolted straight upright at the mention of the Mill Plain Kung Fu studio.  The report that a single man in his fifties had been found in the back of the studio had gotten both of their attention. 

            Simon had turned the volume up as they’d watched, his blood turning cold as Tia had gripped his arm tightly, her lower lip trembling slightly as the newscast had continued.  After only a few minutes the news crew had gone on to speak of another topic, leaving Mr. Yin behind.  Turning off the television the two of them had then risen from the couch, shaking slightly as they’d gone without a word to the car outside, Simon grabbing the keys while Tia grabbed their jackets. 

            It took only minutes to get to the dojo, though they weren’t optimistic about getting anywhere near the entrance.  Several county officers had cordoned off the area, while one person dressed in plain clothes who might have been a detective walked the scene.  They had felt it best to stay away, knowing that if they were asked any questions they would have to be truthful and give the scant information they had on Tobias.  Tia had tried to talk Simon into doing just this, to allow the cops to deal with the older man, but Simon had refused.  Instead he’d driven the Chevrolet pickup they shared back towards home, though he had kept driving until he came to the end of their road, turning left as he headed towards the waterfront. 

            After a few more minutes of driving they had reached the small section of beach that lay just behind the Red Lion on the Columbia River.  The public area was often empty of any human presence, and today was no exception.  Stopping the truck Simon and Tia had sat in silence for a few minutes before he had exited, walking alone down to the gritty sands of the beachfront.  A few gulls had cried out in flight, though he had ignored them.  The sound of Tia walking up behind him was a comfort at that moment, her strong yet gentle grasp upon the backs of his arms soothing him.  She’d laid her head against his shoulder, her body shaking slightly as he’d turned to embrace her. 

            And there they were, the two of them clasped tight to one another as they had been for several minutes now.  Tia had broken into quiet sobs only a few moments ago, her grief over Mr. Yin finally too much to bear.  The man had been a friend to the both of them, a trusted mentor that each of them had cared for over the last two years.  Worse yet, he had been killed in such a way that death was not instantaneous.  The news report had been thorough enough in their interviews, the coroner on the scene having told what was deemed enough for the general public but not gruesome enough to be censored. 

            There was no question in Simon’s mind who the murderer was.  Police had little to go on they said, but they were busily asking anyone and everyone in the bar if they’d seen anyone strange near the place last night.  Simon and Tia both knew they wouldn’t find anything that would help them, Tobias would have thought of this.  If he were really smart, and they had no reason to believe this was not so, Tobias would be watching the newscast just as they were.  No doubt if he learned the cops were coming for him then he would disappear, using whatever he could to just go away.  Then he would most likely bide his time once more before making further contact, and he would since Simon had no intention of turning his name over to the authorities. 

            Simon had a dislike for police that no one, not even Tia, could truly understand.  Sometimes Simon didn’t even understand his dislike towards those who wore the badge.  He figured it was just one of those things he would never know, much like he had thought his bloodline would remain. 

“Simon, we need to go to the police.”  Tia sniffed as she spoke, her eyes wet with tears as she pulled her head back to look at him.  His gaze was as of stone as he looked at her, his mind already made up as to what he would do.  Tia seemed to read this in his eyes, her own growing wide as she grasped his train of thought and tried to hang on. 

“The police won’t solve this matter T.  Tobias came for me, and it’s me he’s going to get.”

“What the hell does that mean Simon?  Do you really mean to take him on?”  He nodded as she asked this, never once taking his eyes from hers.  Tia lowered her head to his chest, hugging him tightly once more as he returned the embrace.

“Who are you doing this for?”  There was only one answer she would accept, one only person she would be able to stand him fighting for in this case, and it was not her or Mr. Yin.  The old man wouldn’t have wanted Simon fighting for any reason, but even he had stated a few times that there were moments in which a person could only back up so far.  In those moments he had told them it was important to push back instead of simply bowing down. 

“Myself, and no one else.”  There was no apology in his eyes as he said this, making her smile weakly as she caressed one side of his face with her palm.  This was the man that would be her husband, the strength and stability her heart so badly needed at times.  She loved him more at this particular moment than she had ever imagined possible, her blood racing so fast that she felt her face flush a bright red. 

“Then go kick his ass.” 

                                                *                      *                      *

 

“Vancouver Hilton, this is Michael at front desk how may I direct your call?”

“I need to reach a Mr. Vittoria, I believe he’s in the penthouse suite.”

“Just a moment sir, let me check.  Ah yes, Mr. Vittoria is in suite number 23, hold on please.”  The line clicked as the transfer went through, the hold music that most businesses seemed to find so useful playing for a few seconds before the phone began to ring.  After three rings Simon was rewarded for his patience as the receiver on the other end was lifted.

“Hello?”  He wanted to yell so badly at the owner of the hated voice that it was all he could do to keep himself in check, gripping the plastic receiver hard enough to make it crack along its seams.  Tia placed a calming hand upon his shoulder, standing just right next to him at the payphone.  From where they stood outside Key Bank they could see the Hilton easily, making it all that much harder to not simply stride into the place and seek him out.  Tia’s hand squeezed a little harder, helping Simon to focus on speaking evenly.

“Whatever point you’re trying to make I think you’ve made it.”

“Ah my son finally comes to his senses and calls me.  I trust you weren’t childish enough to involve any unneeded and unwanted authorities?”

“The cops have nothing to do with this Tobias.  This matter is solely between you and myself.”

“You will refer to me as father Simon, or this conversation is over.”  Simon ground his teeth together.  Damn the arrogant bastard!  It seemed to make no difference to him that he’d so casually killed a man that Simon had looked up to.  His anger slowly kindled as it began to turn into a white hot rage, the only natural reaction he knew would allow him to stay focused. 

“I have a proposition for you, if you’ll take it.”

“I’m listening.”

“Tonight, in the field just beyond the dojo, you and I will meet.  There will be no one else, just the two of us.  On my word of honor.”

“How amusing, your ‘word of honor’.  But still you sound sincere enough.  What will happen in this field?” 

“You’ll find out once we’re both there.  Ten o’ clock, no one else, just you and I.”  With that he firmly set the phone back in the cradle, his jaw clenched painfully as Tia stepped up next to him. 

“You’re sure about this?”  He nodded as she checked her watch, seeing that it was still only a little past noon. 

“It ends tonight.”  She could only nod in response, holding him tightly as they walked back to their truck.

                                                *                      *                      *

 

            Simon made Tia promise to stay home and not come to the field, he didn’t want her to see what he planned to do to Tobias.  He knew too well that she hated him just as much, but this fight was Simon’s alone.  It was in this spirit that he arrived at the spot he had designated a good two hours early, awaiting his biological father in the shadows of the evergreens that grew in the back of the lot.  Simon found it hard to even think of the man as a blood relative, he was more like a predator that had shown up out of the blue for reasons only he knew. 

            Tobias Vittoria was not a man, he was a monster given human form.  Simon had met many people in his young life, but few had ever possessed the sickening qualities that this man did.  The two of them had only met the day before but in that time Simon had clearly decided that the man was not in any way a good person.  That he would kill Mr. Yin only made Simon’s assumptions stronger. 

            Waiting in the shadows he did not remain idle, running over each martial art he had ever learned in his life, taking himself through the most basic of stances and techniques.  Kung Fu, Karate, Tai Chi, Taji Chin Na, Shaolin Long Fist Kung Fu, Aikido, Judo, Capoeira, and even elements of Muay Thai boxing, all of these styles were pieces of his life from the past seventeen years.  Each art had helped sculpt his body and raise his level of discipline over the years, giving him a better understanding of who he was as a person.  

He did not share the same arrogance or the same foul demeanor that apparently was indicative of his bloodline.  Perhaps his biological mother had been a kind person.  But then why had she fallen for a man like Tobias?  Had he been different then?  Simon shook his head to clear it of such thoughts.  The last thing he needed right now were doubts of any kind. 

Sitting down against a large evergreen he took a few deep, calming breaths, slowing his heartbeat down after several minutes and entering a state of relaxation.  He would rise again within a few minutes, wanting to keep himself loose for when Tobias showed up.  Simon would not think of the man as his father in any way.  His parents were those who had raised him to be the young man he now was, not this stranger who had shown up out of nowhere. 

His true parents had always been honest and up front with him, allowing him to know he was adopted at a young age so there would be no confusion.  They had taught him to be a fair, honorable and reasonably level-headed young man and he thanked them every day of his life.  Punch, kick, block, it was all so natural, each movement seeming as though it originated within his being before being executed. 

Simon had always felt the need to fight, though this had been tempered by both martial arts and his parents.  They had not cultivated his aggressive streak, it had always been this way.  It was a part of Simon that he had never tried to fight but had rather embraced, gaining control over it after many years of patience and hard work.  With the aid of teachers, friends and his mother and father however Simon had grown into the man he was now. 

 

“You said ten o’ clock correct?  I see you enjoy being early just as I do.”  Simon started as Tobias walked forward into the shadows, the jacket of his jogging suit open to reveal a stark white t-shirt beneath.  His skin was tanned all over it seemed, his closely cropped graying blond hair standing out in contrast. 

“So tell me, what was this proposition you had in mind?  I trust it has something to do with you accepting your place as my son.”  The smile he gave Simon sickened him as he stood to his feet, fists clenching and unclenching as he stared hard at the older man.

“Not quite.  It has to do with you leaving town under your own power, or in an ambulance.  Should you choose the second option I’ll make sure to tell the cops about what you did to Mr. Yin.”  Tobias’s smile faltered as Simon spoke, turning into a grimace as he finished.  Clearly he’d thought that this situation was his to control.  Simon had planned for this however and had realized how ridiculously easy the man would be to control.  Arrogance often blinded those who used it extensively to the machinations of those around them. 

“You cannot be serious son.  Do you not remember what happened just this morning?”

“I remember it a little too well.  This is going to be different.”

“Oh, how do you figure that?”

            Simon exploded out of the shadows, launching himself into a front flip that ended with the heel of his right foot almost crashing down on Tobias’s head.  The older man was taken off guard, but still managed to evade the blow just barely as he backed away.  Simon wasn’t done however as he continued to attack from his seated position upon the ground, lifting himself slightly off the ground as he swung his left leg forward, looking for Tobias’s ankles as he then swung his right leg forward in the same manner.  Tobias evaded each attack, sneering in contempt as Simon then spun about, still low to the ground, and thrust his right foot back hard towards his midsection. 

            Still he did not stop moving as Tobias was forced to go on defense, blocking each seemingly wild blow and kick that Simon sent screaming his way.  He recognized the style of fighting his son had chosen to attack with and he was not impressed, knowing that it was only a matter of seconds until he found the proper opening. 

“Capoeira is indeed flashy son, but hardly effective.”  As Simon executed a spinning back kick Tobias stepped forward, looking to plant his right knee into the younger man’s lower back.  As though he sensed this however Simon moved quick as lightning, spinning to his right even as Tobias drove forward.  The result was that his knee just barely clipped Simon’s side, affecting his balance enough to drop him to a knee. 

            Tobias was quick to follow with a cross to Simon’s temple, taking advantage of being above his son as he drove his elbow down.  He was too quick however, evading the blow as he rolled to his feet, closing once more with the older man as he tried to land a straight kick to his knee.  Tobias easily stepped away from this however, gaining enough distance for the two of them to breathe.

“You think you can take me down?  I’m your father son, I helped bring you into this world.  No one knows you better than I do.”  Simon’s eyes went wide at his proclamation, his nostrils flaring with intense hatred. 

“I know who I am.”  Simon attacked again, looking to kick Tobias in the exact same spot the man had kicked him this morning, not caring that he seemed to be just as skilled as he was.  The older man stepped out of the way, launching kicks and punches of his own in return that were easily blocked.  Each time either of them countered it never fell, each of them remaining unmarked until only a moment later when the most telling blow of the fight came from Tobias. 

            Simon was just about to land a kick to Tobias’s head when the older man caught his leg in the crook of his right arm, halting his momentum effectively.  The older man then drove his elbow into Simon’s knee several times, attacking the muscles above the kneecap savagely as his lips pulled back into a snarl.  Simon managed not to cry out in pain but couldn’t help a groan as he finally managed to wrench his leg free, taking both himself and Tobias to the ground, a large cloud of dust exploding around them.  As he tried to stand he found that his leg would no longer support his weight, spilling him back to the ground instantly where he grabbed at his wounded knee.  Tobias was already to his feet, brushing ineffectively at his clothes as he kept his distance. 

“You’re very good my son.  But you haven’t fought as much as I have in life.  Practice only covers so much.  Experience, now there’s where a winner is born.  No matter how natural fighting comes to us, we are nothing until we’ve been tested time and again.  In time you will learn to expect the unexpected, to anticipate your opponent and eventually learn to crush them in the first few moves.”  Was this man serious?  Even as he lay there holding his injured knee Simon couldn’t believe the audacity of the older man.  He wanted nothing more than to silence him for good, though he knew even now, when he was angry enough to do so, that he would not stoop to murder.  It was an odd thought really, he was on the ground and somehow he still believed he could take this man’s life.  Simon felt as sure of this as he did of anything, though his body seemed to feel differently.

“It’s time to come with me son.  This life you’ve been forced to lead these twenty-two years is over.  Your place is now with me.  I am your family, the only one who can show you who you really are.”  Simon felt a white hot rage explode in his gut as Tobias spoke, the words igniting a molten ball of the purest hatred he had ever felt deep within his being. 

“I am not your son, and I know who my true family is.  As far as fighting goes, I’ve seen far better.”  Again Tobias reacted beautifully to his barb, striding forward with a look on his face that could have killed.  His leg was still aching fiercely, but he knew what he was about to do would gain him at least another moment to regain his feet.  His chance came in the next moment as Tobias raised his foot to stomp down, presumably on his knee.  At the very last second he yanked his leg away, watching carefully as the older man’s foot hit the ground in a puff of dust.  In the next heartbeat Simon sprang forward, groaning mightily as he wrapped his injured leg around Tobias’s, pushing with all his weight against the older man’s body.  This resulted in Tobias falling backward, his weight not centered enough to resist Simon’s attack as they both spilled to the ground. 

            The air left Tobias’s lungs as Simon fell on him back first, the back of his head striking Tobias in the mouth hard enough to draw blood.  Rolling off quickly Simon

continued to move about, keeping his injured leg behind him as he kept away.  Tobias gained his feet once more, spitting blood upon the ground as he glared at Simon.

“Street fighting is not honorable son.”  Tobias now looked less like the cocky, self-assured man he’d appeared to be only a short time ago.  Now he looked dirty, disheveled and extremely unbalanced, just as Simon had planned. 

“Who ever said this was anything but a street fight.  I see no referee’s or rule books, just you, and me.”  With a savage growl Tobias attacked, looking to grapple Simon as he rushed forward. 

            Simon was ready however, knocking the older man’s arms out wide as he threw his body into the older man.  Tobias went tumbling to the ground again as he was unprepared for this unorthodox attack, sputtering madly as he rose again, shaking himself free of a very large cloud of dust.  He was more cautious this time, moving in with a steady and determined pace as he raised both hands to protect his face.  Simon did not defend himself, keeping his arms ready but not raised as he waited for Tobias to come in on him.  He even went so far as to keep his head sticking out so as to offer a tempting target. 

            Again, no doubt thinking himself the better fighter, Tobias attacked, taking the bait as he swung for Simon’s head.  The blow came close to landing, though Simon had

the advantage of being quicker, moving aside just in time as he snaked his own arm out, catching hold of his opponent’s wrist in a vice-like grip before moving closer.  Twisting to the left Simon could hear as bones began to give in the man’s arm, the popping of joints alerting him to just how far he had to go.  Tobias fought him tooth and nail, trying to use his other arm to block the move as Simon pressed on. 

            He didn’t care about this man, there was no shame in harming him at all.  As the crunching noise of the bones in his forearm reached his ears Simon kept going, not stopping until he’d twisted far enough and long enough to dislocate Tobias’s shoulder.  The older man howled in agony, his screams high pitched like a woman’s.  Still Simon could not bring himself to feel sorry, wondering if Mr. Yin had been afforded a chance to even defend himself before being brutalized. 

            Letting go of the man’s now useless arm Simon stood as best he could, knowing that tomorrow his knee would all but worthless but for now not caring.  On the ground before him Tobias writhed in pain, struggling to rise to his feet as Simon watched.  He wouldn’t kill him, but he would make sure that this man who had claimed to be his father would think twice for the rest of his life whenever he thought of him.

            Surprisingly Tobias found the nerve to force his thoughts past the pain, offering Simon yet another glare that spoke of a deep and resounding hatred for the way he was.  Some might have pitied this man at that point, though Simon found that he could do nothing but return that burning hatred that he saw in Tobias’s eyes. 

“You are more like me than I thought son.  Whatever happens now, I am content in knowing that you will grow to be like me, no matter how misguided you’ve become.  This is natural to each of us, as easy as breathing”  Simon’s only response to this was a grim smile that he did not truly feel, knowing that it would further incense this man.

“I am nothing like you.  I imagine I’m more like Anna-Marie was.”  It was like someone had just slapped him, Tobias’s eyes went from narrow to wide in less than a heartbeat. 

“Don’t you ever speak that name!”  Lurching forward Tobias howled as he swung his good arm towards Simon, not caring that his attack was so horribly off balance. 

            It was child’s play for Simon to catch his arm, pushing against the man’s elbow with all his strength until it emitted a loud, and very wet pop as Tobias howled once more.  Striking up into the man’s armpit he sought to even this arm out with the other as he yanked down on his arm while thrusting upward with his other arm.  The pop that had come from Tobias’s elbow only a second before was no comparison to the one that sounded as his other shoulder dislocated.  The older man’s eyes rolled up to their whites as only a thin gurgle came from his mouth this time.  Simon realized he was close to passing out from the pain, though he didn’t care.

“After tonight you would do well to remember what will happen if you try and contact me again.  If I see you, hear you or even think you’re in the vicinity there is no measure to how hard and how fast I will do this to you again.”  Yanking on the older man’s hair he brought his face square to his own, glaring into the almost closed eyes with an intensity that was beginning to fade.  “And I will not hesitate.”  With that said he allowed the man’s head to flop back to the ground, rising to his feet to look down with contempt upon his broken form.  Before walking away he lifted one leg to waist height, stomping down hard upon the man’s left knee.  The sound of cartilage popping wasn’t pleasant, but the reaction to the blow was at least comforting.  Checking the man’s pulse he found it deep and slow, he was still alive, just badly beaten.  That suited him just fine.

            As he turned towards the direction of the dojo and the bar he saw as a few curious smokers who’d stepped outside began to walk in his direction.  There was no way they could see him or Tobias, which meant that he still had a chance to get away.  No doubt someone would be good enough to call the police, and then it would be someone else’s problem.  Before he turned to walk way Simon bowed one final time in respect to his friend, the darkened dojo seeming a sad testament to a man as great as Mr. Yin.  Turning to leave Simon melted easily into the shadows, disappearing amongst the trees as he went on his way. 

            Tia would no doubt be glad to find that he hadn’t sustained any serious injury, though the temporary damage to his knee would keep him moving slowly for at least a few days to come.  Still, there had been one thing that Tobias had said that Simon couldn’t discount, the words ringing over and over in his head as he made his way along as fast as he could.  Each kick, each punch, even the grapples he had eventually used to lay the old man low, it had all come so natural. 

Wizard World Comic Con ’17

If you’ve ever been to the Oregon Convention Center before you know what to expect. A big building, elegant in ways that seem to befit its stature, the Convention Center is still a young fixture to Portland relatively speaking. It was finished in 1989 and opened in 1990 as one of the premier locations for conventions, meetings, and any other type of gathering that one can imagine.

Just recently my wife and I had the chance to attend the Wizard World Comic Con at the Convention Center, and were simply blown away.  Now it’s not the same type of venue as you might expect in San Diego, CA, but the spectacle was still impressive. In truth the event held more to the classic Oregon style, appearing more like a swap meet for those that are into cosplay, comic books, and the mental wanderings of the freak and geek culture that has become so prominent within the past decade or so. In other words, it was rather impressive.

Walking in my first thought was that we would walk around, see what was there, maybe purchase a couple of things, and leave. But we managed to stay for several hours, walking the same circuitous route, and never once did we get bored or see too much of the same thing. Every time we went around we found new people entering in full costume, vendors pulling out new items to replenish what had already sold, and new sights that were more than a little impressive.

I will admit that the prices seem a little over the top, but in some cases I simply couldn’t resist the wonders that we saw, finding that the price was just right.  It would have been uniquely awesome to get an autograph and a picture with a few of the celebrities on hand, but just to see them in person seemed more than adequate. I can honestly state that I had a blast at the comic con, and would recommend it to anyone. me-and-deadpool

Going Back

Going Back

By Tom Foster

 

March 1998

 

 

 

You shouldn’t be here.  The tiny voice inside her mind would not be silent as a smile crept along her full lips, the gesture a remnant of a time long ago when she’d allowed herself to feel, to enjoy her life.  It was hard to comprehend that such a life had ever ended, that she was so far from what had been so long ago.  Yet she knew it was true, she could not reach out and grasp the memory that had in effect brought her to this place.  It was a fragment of her fantasies, a fading wisp that once glimpsed began to fade, retreating once more into the past where it belonged.

This was not her place, not anymore.  Or perhaps not for the time being at least.  As her lips stretched into another smile the woman couldn’t help but wonder at the workings of fate. Surely it had been fate that had brought her to this place, not dumb luck or some trick of the almighty one.  She’d began to doubt His existence long ago and for good reason, at least in her way of thinking.  Why worship a god whose followers had done their best to send her to His judgment as a bundle of cinders?  That was not the path she chose to tread, no matter how forgiving He might be.

Looking out upon the glass-like surface of the lake that was stretched out before her the woman couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of peace wash over her body.  It always happened when she came to this place, that sensation of calm, as though not a single trouble within the world could intrude upon this serenity.  The small dock she sat upon had been here for a number of years, its age showing in the rotted and slime-coated pilings that still supported the foundation of the structure.  Slender stalks of green and yellow spartina brushed against the underside of the dock, set into their gentle motions by the constant lapping of waves that broke softly upon the shallows beneath and surrounding the dock.

Closing her eyes the woman listened intently to the small sounds that dotted the lakeside.  There were few to be had this time of year, though the gentle smile remained upon her face as she picked out several distinctive voices of the surrounding woods.  Spring was still on its way, arriving just after the silence of winter, breaking softly through the veneer of silence that was so haunting in this part of the world.  The lakeside homes that ringed the area known as Loomis Lake were mostly empty and would remain so until mid-spring to summer.  The renters and owners of the homes often relocated to warmer climates during this time of year, returning only when the weather began to warm up.

The Longbeach Peninsula was not a winter getaway.  If not for the popularity it had come to enjoy as a tourist location it might never have grown to be more than a cluster of old, moldering shops meant to store memories rather than sell them at ridiculous prices.  She’d enjoyed the peninsula a great deal more when it was still a wild place, back in the days when the famed explorers Lewis and Clark had yet to cut their damned trail.

Back then this place had been a haven of sorts, a place that she had been tempted to call home.  The Lady hadn’t let her though.  For the longest time she hadn’t been able to figure out why, especially since they’d seemed to get along so well.  Only later on she had found out the reason.  Its simplicity had shocked her even as the Lady had spoken her peace, stating that in no uncertain terms that this would not be her home until the time was right.  That cryptic statement had confused her, though strangely enough on some level she had understood.  It hadn’t been her home then and it still wasn’t.  At least not yet.

Keeping her eyes closed she could still hear the dull sound of steel as it met wood.   The unsatisfying knock caused her to smile even as memory took hold, leading her gently down the misty hallways that would remain hidden until she desired otherwise.

*                      *                      *

 

Fall 1316

 

 

 

Another strike came before she could even cry out in pain, striking the knuckles of her left hand just hard enough to make them sting.  Again she had no time to protest as she was struck again, this time right on the crown of her head where she knew from experience the sting would not fade anytime soon.  Her assailant was a blur of motion, moving around like a damned hummingbird as Caylin tried desperately just to keep track of her.  Hitting her with the heavy two-handed blade in her hands seemed impossible.  What was worse was the fact that the woman attacking her was using only a stick.

Well, to be a little more accurate she was using a staff, almost like those Caylin had seen used in certain parts of China and even Japan but still different.  For one thing this woman’s staff was far less flexible, though it hurt like hell when she was struck.  Worse than that, Caylin had a sinking feeling that if the woman decided to stop playing around and actually strike her it would more than just sting.  She had an idea that if the woman put even her slight weight into a blow it would prove disastrous.  Caylin was already hurting in too many areas from the damned staff, she didn’t need to hurt any more.

Caylin hadn’t come here to fight, she’d come looking for someone, though it was obvious that this woman was not the one.  She had a way of knowing things about people, though this woman was so far a total blank, an aggressor and little else.  Surprisingly the woman was smaller than Caylin and yet she was so much more ferocious when it came to fighting.  Caylin had only stopped near the lake to rest as she’d been making her way back to the south after finding that this stretch of land ended not far to the north.  She’d been able to see the bay that separated this spit of land from the larger mass it was connected to, though she’d not thought to find a boat that would take her across.  Aside from this she had come to this lake not only to rest, but to hide.

The natives of this land didn’t seem to take well to her for some reason, though perhaps she could guess why.  Her appearance was not like theirs, she was much more fair of skin despite the tanned appearance she now held thanks to a life spent traveling from one land to the next.  Since she’d turned sixteen Caylin had been on the go, never staying in one spot for too long lest the inhabitants discover the secret she tried so hard to hide.  Caylin was not a normal human being, though in truth not even she knew what she was.  For some time she had secretly believed the accusations and insults that had been hurled at her within her small village back in Ireland.  She’d been called a witch, a demons spawn, something unfit to live.  Her mother and father, lord bless them, had tried their best to cope with her abnormalities but in the end they had kept her at a distance as well in order to keep their relative good standing in the village.  She had become their cross to bear, though many times they had told her that she was still their daughter.  Caylin hadn’t believed them, though she had waited until she was old enough and strong enough to leave.

She’d said not a single goodbye, taking only what she needed to survive until she found her own path.  After a bout of plague had wiped out most within her village, she had left and never looked back.  Caylin had made her way within the wider world outside of the island where she’d been born, experiencing things she never would have known had she stayed in her parents’ mud shack back in Ireland.  She had come to know many wonders and make many acquaintances that had been able to look past the odd points of her character as well as the physical strangeness she exhibited.  Caylin had taken to wearing a cloth version of a bolero to hide her features, minus the gaudy feather that she’d seen worn by others.

The overly large hat had served to hide the only physical trait that set her aside from other humans.  Her eyes were a solid black, without iris, pupil or any hint of white within their forms.  This alone had caused the villagers where she’d lived to believe that her parents had made some deal with the devil and had therefore cursed their youngest daughter.  Caylin had been forced to undergo trials, ancient pagan rites that were used to expel the demon in her soul, everything that the village elders could think of to free her from the evil taint that had stolen away her eyes.  What they hadn’t realized was that Caylin was not a demon seed, she was merely a young girl that had been born with a very strange and unknown stigma, one that not a single one of the villagers had ever heard of.

A solid knock against her left elbow brought Caylin back to the present, causing her bones to vibrate briefly as she backed away, feeling the soft mulch beneath her boots as she worked on not slipping.  She had no idea if the woman would be merciful with such a mistake, though she wasn’t about to gamble on it.  As she raised her blade to deflect a swipe towards her head she realized too late that the move was a feint, feeling as the air left her body in the next second as the dark-haired woman poked her hard in the breastbone.  Caylin fell back another step, barely able to breath as she glared openly at the woman.

“You aren’t as strong as I would have believed.  You haven’t come to realize just who you are yet, have you?”  The woman’s voice was just as delicate as she looked, though Caylin knew now that such a look was deceptive.  The aches and pains throughout her body could attest to the woman’s strength.  Her words were strange though, there was a hint of an accent that Caylin could just barely pick up, something she’d not heard before but yet was so achingly familiar.

“Who are ye?”  Caylin managed to croak out, keeping her blade raised as she struggled just to stay upright.  She wasn’t about to quit, though she could feel that a few solid knocks with that staff would put her out in no time.  As she watched though the smaller woman, she couldn’t have been any older than a teenager, set one end of her staff firmly upon the soft ground beneath her, a slow smile coming to her perfectly formed lips as Caylin watched. Amazingly enough the younger woman seemed not to have broken a sweat, though the two of them must have been fighting for quite some time by Caylin’s reckoning.  For all that effort though the girl looked as though she might have been taking a leisurely stroll through the woods.  Her simple garb, a pair of worn brown pants and a ragged tunic, spoke of either piety or poverty, though the girl didn’t look underfed.  It was the appearance of her youth that bothered Caylin most since she didn’t look any older than an adolescent.  Yet she fought not unlike a master, patient and inherently deadly with each strike.

“I’m what you’ve been looking for so long.”  Caylin narrowed her eyes at the young woman, not understanding her words or their vague meaning.  This was not the person she’d been seeking, she could sense that much.  Though at the same time she could sense somehow that the woman did not speak a falsehood.  Caylin was very good at discovering a lie, though this woman was telling the truth, or at least she believed she was.  Caylin grinned slightly as she lowered her blade only a little, not fully trusting the woman or what she said.

“How do ye know what I’m searchin’ for?”  Caylin did not try to dampen her rich accent for the strange woman, figuring that if the lass knew so much she could infer enough for her words without them being repeated.  Far too many people in her travels had asked her to repeat herself thanks to the Irish lilt that was so prevalent in her speech.  She had come from Ireland, there was nothing to be done for how she spoke.

“It is the same thing all our kind search for Caylin.  Most don’t even know they’re looking until they find it.”  Caylin’s eyes widened as she came on guard again, her blade rising as she backed away a step.  She was immediately leery of the woman once more, pressing her lips tightly together as she spoke.

“How d’ye know my name?”  The woman responded with a grin as she stood where she was, one hand holding her staff and the other rising slowly to beckon towards Caylin. For some odd reason she felt like stepping forward, though her natural stubbornness allowed her to resist.  At least that’s what she thought it was.

“Your human side is quite adamant when it comes to trust, isn’t it?  You have nothing to fear from me Caylin Mcullough, on that you can trust.”  Hearing her full name pronounced in such delicate tones did nothing to assuage Caylin’s already mounting suspicions or the brand of anger that had began to burn in her chest.  Who was this woman? How did she know her name?

“Get thee behind me devil.”  Caylin spat the words at the woman, almost snarling as the beatific features of the stranger widened noticeably in surprise for a moment.  The look was soon replaced by a warm smile as the young woman laughed pleasantly, her voice ringing out across the lake as she threw her head back.  Caylin bristled slightly as she thought of attacking, though something held her back, staying her hand as she heard the pleasant tones of the woman’s laughter deep within her heart.  The effect of the laughter was that she felt her anger slowly subsiding, almost extinguishing altogether as she stubbornly refused to drop her blade.

*                      *                      *

 

 

 

 

 

1998

 

 

She hadn’t been the devil, though at the time Taegan, once Caylin Mcullough, had known so little that she’d had no idea just who she had crossed paths with.  The first blow thrown had been hers, though the last that had ended the fight finally had belonged to the Lady, to Aliyana, one of the last true-blooded Shapers in existence.  The Lady had not introduced herself until later, when Taegan had been taken proper care of.  Aliyana had gone so far as to feed and even shelter her for the first night, saying little but making sure that she was well cared for.  Unused to such generosity from strangers, Taegan had remained suspicious of the woman until Aliyana had finally deigned to speak her own name, introducing herself politely as Taegan had remained cautious.

That had all been so long ago, though in her mind it may as well have happened just yesterday.  This area had been nothing back then but wilds, home only to the natives that had later on come to this place in greater numbers.  The Indians that had inhabited the peninsula had stuck mostly to the north, where game and other food sources had always been plentiful.  Back in the time she had met the Lady they had still been few in number, though great enough that she had kept her distance from them once she’d eluded them.  They hadn’t taken kindly to her appearance, nor had they responded well to her black eyes when she had doffed her hat for a moment.

She had been chased throughout the forests of the peninsula for hours until she had finally come to the lake, hiding herself near the still waters in the hopes that her pursuers would pass by her.  She’d heard not a single sound that had indicated she was still being chased, which had unnerved her after a short while.  The dark-skinned natives had given up on her apparently, perhaps thinking that they had done well in chasing her away.  It was then that she had attempted to leave, stopping only when she had seen the dark-haired beauty standing in her path.

Taegan grinned as she remembered thinking how odd it was to see such a young lass out here all on her own.  She had at first thought to ask where the lass was from, though the Lady had simply smiled, offering nothing as Taegan had quickly changed her mind, thinking the girl to be a dullard of some sort.  It was not uncommon for even beautiful folk to be dull of mind, she had been thought to be so more than once when she had not deigned to speak to men who wished her more amorous company.  Of course, when the men had found out just how feisty she really was Taegan had been treated far differently, at least until she had shown just how unwilling she was to share her company.  Her blade had made many a philosophical point for her in the past.

When she had attempted to go on her way the girl had continued to stand in front of her, that strange white staff held to her side as though it carried an importance that Taegan couldn’t fathom.  Each time she had tried to move past the Lady thought she had been blocked.  It had been when she had tried to push the woman out of her way that she had been soundly struck in the chest.  To be fair she had tried to bull her way past the Lady as rudely as possible, but it had gotten her nowhere of course.  The strength of the girl to push her back had been amazing, she’d thrust Taegan nearly three strides back as she’d struggled to keep her balance.

Raising her face into a gentle breeze that wafted across the lake Taegan allowed herself to dive once more into the wellspring of memories this place brought back to her, inhaling the sweet scents brought forth by the wind’s passage through the boughs and branches of the plant life that ringed the small body of water.  Time seemed to roll back in that moment as she enjoyed the scents of the forest, feeling an ache for home she’d not known in some time.

*                      *                      *

 

1316

 

 

 

Six months passed as the seasons turned gently from spring to summer to early fall, the surrounding lands swapping one set of colors for the next as they progressed along with the shifting of the world.  Caylin had never in her life endured such harsh training as she had at the hands of the Lady, finding that no matter how toned she was, no matter how far she could run or how limber she was, her conditioning had been far behind Aliyana’s.  The woman was capable of feats she’d only ever dreamt of, amazing bouts of strength and stamina that Caylin still couldn’t quite match.  Whether it was a sparring match or a run along the beach, Caylin found herself hard pressed to even keep up with Aliyana.

She’d come to view the woman as a benefactor but little else, she still hadn’t learned much from the woman aside from the fact that she was not a normal human as she had once thought.  Caylin had staunchly denied this of course, claiming that her eyes were a birth defect of some sort, one that she had no control over.  Aliyana had laughed at this, though the sound had been anything but mocking.  Something about this woman had kept Taegan from leaving, some quality that the strange woman possessed that she could not define.  She was normally so good at reading people, but Aliyana, for all her friendly smiles, was almost impossible to figure out.

“You are distracted far too easily, even after so many months have passed.”  Taegan hissed in pain as Aliyana’s staff cracked against her knuckles, forcing her to step back with a follow up swing that came just barely clipped her right shoulder.  Caylin moved away quickly as she swung her blade to intercept a blow that was aimed at her midsection, reversing her grip as she saw the feint coming this time, shifting her weight to her left leg as she dropped down just a bit, raising the edge of her blade to catch the true blow, the one that Aliyana aimed at her head.

The staff rebounded from her blade without a nick to show for the effort, a quality that Caylin still did not understand to this day. No piece of wood, no matter how tough, should have been able to stand up to the hits that the staff had taken from her blade over the past several months.  The stout piece of wood was marked, though the runes that were inscribed along its length were unknown to her.  Not a single chip had been taken from its length no matter how hard she had hit it, showing not a single bit of effort that she had taken to defeat the Lady.

“Good, you are learning.”  Caylin almost smiled as she quickly checked herself, not wanting to give the woman the satisfaction of seeing her pleasure.  She still didn’t fully trust the woman after all this time, no matter how much she had taught her.  Caylin’s mistrust of anyone had often ostracized her from many a gathering, no matter if she was a guard for a caravan or if she were part of a sailing crew as she had been in the past.  She knew how to be companionable, though often she kept to herself out of habit, not willing to let anyone inside her guard too far.  Few people had ever opened her enough to see past the stony façade that she affected towards the world in general.

As she defended against several more swift and lethal blows Caylin felt a bead of sweat running down her forehead, trickling close to her right eye as she felt the lid twitch just a bit.  She didn’t want to reach up to wipe it away, though she could tell that it would not stop until it reached the delicate tissue of her eye, offering a distraction that she could ill afford.  The Lady smiled as Caylin trembled just slightly enough to be noticed, her blade still moving to intercept each blow as she just barely managed to defend herself again and again.

Aliyana surprised her in the next second by stepping away quickly, settling her staff in the crook of her right arm as she held her left palm towards Caylin.  She knew what this meant by now, though as always the Lady had strange timing when it came to halting the sparring session.  Caylin still couldn’t believe that the woman did not sweat during such matches, nor did she seem even a slight bit winded.  Planting her blade point first into the sand she leaned over, placing her hands upon her knees as she sucked wind for a moment, realizing quickly that she had been far closer to fatigue than she’d realized.

“You’ve come quite a ways in six months young lady.  Perhaps it is now time to finally give you the answers you’ve been seeking.”  Caylin couldn’t help but look up, the sweat stinging her eyes as she quickly wiped them clear, hissing as she discovered her hand was partially covered in sand.  Shaking her head she used the relatively clean palm of her left hand to wipe the sweat and grit away, blowing out a long breath as she straightened up.

“And how would ye know the answers I’m seekin’?  Ye’ve done little more than run me up and down this spit o’ land fer the last six months now!”  There was frustration in her voice as she wisely left her blade in the sand. She’d learned in the first two months the folly of attacking the Lady in anger.  It had taken her days to heal properly after the thrashings that Aliyana had given her.

“You’ve been free to leave at any time Caylin.  Yet you’ve stayed.”  Caylin had no ready answer for this, though truth of it caused her cheeks to flush a bright red as he turned to her right, facing the ocean instead of the Lady.  The cool winds that blew constantly along the beachfront eased the burning in her cheeks just a bit, though not enough.

“So what is it ye have t’tell me?”  She turned her gaze towards the Lady just enough to see as Aliyana smiled, motioning for Caylin to follow her.  Frowning in confusion Caylin grabbed her blade, shaking it free of the clinging sand particles as she walked after Aliyana.

The Lady took a seat upon one of the massive pieces of sea-scoured wood that had washed up upon the beach not long ago.  Its root system had been torn apart during its underwater travels, leaving only jagged ends that were still connected to the smooth, gray trunk.  The trunk was perfect for sitting upon, as though the ocean had smoothed the large hunk of wood for just such a purpose.  Seating herself upon the bench-like space of the trunk Aliyana patted the spot next to her, still smiling warmly at Caylin.  She almost bristled, thinking that the Lady meant to treat her as a child, though at that moment Caylin wisely reigned in her sharp tongue and quick temper.  The Lady had said she was going to give her answers, she didn’t want to ruin that chance.

Settling herself beside the smaller woman Caylin still couldn’t help but find that Aliyana was almost possible to read.  She offered nothing and yet she hid nothing either.  Caylin could sense that as much mystery as there was to the woman she was as open as an old book.  It was a mystery she would have loved to discover an answer to, though something had thus far warned her away from such a perilous expedition.

“You were born in Ireland, correct?”  Caylin knew that the woman might be able to deduce such a thing from her accent alone, though of course this would only be possible if Aliyana was at least half as traveled as she was.  Caylin decided to give her the benefit of the doubt this time.

“Aye, in the south o’ Munster.  I’ve not been back in many years though.”

“May I ask why not?”  Caylin thought over her response to this question for a moment, wondering just what she should reveal.  In the end she decided the truth might be best.

“I wasn’t accepted there, on account o’ me eyes an’ somethin’ else.”

“What was that?”  Damn and lords if this woman wasn’t nosy!

“The village had an outbreak o’ plague when I was just a wee one.  It killed off nearly every child and several o’ the elders, though I was left alone.  The disease didn’t even touch me.”  Aliyana nodded her head in response, as though she could understand just what Caylin was speaking of.  That was rubbish of course, no one aside from those within the village would have ever understood the horror of watching those around them die.  The plague that had hit her village had been terrible, they’d been forced to burn the bodies so that it wouldn’t spread.  The black spots that had claimed the lives of so many had not once appeared upon her flesh, though even her parents had been afflicted for a time.

“Ye can imagine that seein’ I wasn’t affected didn’t settle well on top o’ the appearance o’ my eyes.”  Caylin pointed to her black orbs as she spoke, feeling a familiar clenching within her chest as she expounded upon her past.  She’d only ever spoken to a few people in her life about this, though Aliyana seemed to pay strict attention as she continued.

“After that my parents looked at me like the rest o’ the village did, like an outsider, a freak o’ nature as some put it.”  Aliyana’s smile widened just a bit as she reached over to pat Caylin’s right knee tenderly before moving away again. She didn’t feel the need to push the woman’s hand away, though a part of her still tensed as she felt the delicate touch.

“You’re no freak Caylin.  You can trust in that.”

“Yeah, well I ain’t a normal person either.  Other people have normal eyes, not like mine.”  She turned towards Aliyana then, glaring pointedly at the woman’s dark brown eyes as she twisted her lips slightly to make her point.  Aliyana merely chuckled as she closed her eyes, lowering her chin before she opened them again, looking to Caylin once more.  What she saw forced her to jump slightly as Aliyana’s smile didn’t wane a single bit.

“You, you’re-“

“Just like you Caylin, in a way at least.  Would you like to hear of what I am?  Of what you are?”  Caylin could not respond for the moment, feeling oddly breathless as she found that she couldn’t take her eyes from Aliyana at that second.  The woman’s eyes had gone from the lovely shade of brown she’d seen at first to the same blank field of black that she’d seen in her own reflection for so many years.

“You are not a freak Caylin, you are a descendant of a race that has not existed in great numbers upon this world for many millennia now.  Our race were known as Shapers, masters of the world in a sense that we could control the very elements with but a thought.  Ours was the first race upon this world, before the immortals, the titans, the gods themselves.  Even the angels came after us, products of our benefactor, the Creator.”

“Ye, ye mean we’re, I mean you’re, immortal?”

“In a sense yes.  I can still be killed as any being of flesh and blood may be, though time has no hold upon me, as it does not upon you.  Have you not wondered why you still appear youthful, when all your years heaped upon another would bow their back with age, or line their face with wrinkles and loose skin?”  Of course Caylin had wondered that, in fact she had kept on the move for that same reason more than once, traveling from place to place lest anyone get too attached to her.  She did not age as others did, though she could not understand why.  She had been born in the year of our lord 1248, well over sixty years ago.  By anyone’s reckoning she should have been an old crone by now, though she was as fit and supple as she’d been when she had first left her village.  She didn’t even have lines around her eyes or mouth to show the passage of her years.

“So I’m an immortal?” Aliyana smiled again as she patted her knee once more.

“You are a half-breed, one who is half-human and half-Shaper.  It is a rare thing to be really, since our people have all but vanished from the face of this world.  Yet you are a wonder as well, someone who is a part of both our world and that of the humans.  You are a miracle of sorts Caylin, one who can threaten the balance or aid it.  Not many like you have ever been born.  There have been half-breeds in the past who have found themselves subjected to tortures of the worst sort for who they were.  Human kind cannot suffer an immortal to live it seems, they tend to despise anything that is different than themselves. Yet they offer fealty to beings such as angels and even at times demons, vying for power from a being they would otherwise spurn.  It is a hypocrisy I have witnessed far too often.”  Caylin shook her head briskly. This was all too much, too soon for her to accept at once.  Aliyana offered her a slightly pained look then, as though realizing the storm she had just unleashed within Caylin’s mind.

“I realize this is a great deal to take in now Caylin, though you must be made to learn this part of your heritage.  The human aspect will become known to you soon enough.  What I am here to teach you though is of your other half, that of the Shapers.”  Caylin turned her gaze over to Aliyana then, letting out a long breath as she then spoke.

“How long would that be takin’ do ye think?”  Aliyana’s only response was a wide smile as Caylin could swear that she saw a twinkle in the woman’s dark eyes.

*                      *                      *

 

1998

 

 

 

It had taken a little over two years for Taegan to finally learn of her unknown heritage, during which she had learned a great deal more of how to fight, how to survive and how to utilize the power that lay within her being.  According to Aliyana, the power to shape and mold the world around them had been genetically fixed into the mind and soul of each Shaper ever born.  They were masters of the world in the sense that they could control nearly every aspect of the elements that surrounded them.  A Shaper could build mountains or destroy them, cause a river to flow or to halt its forward motion.  They could shift entire continents if gathered into groups, though there was only one force upon the world that even their gathered numbers could not hope to overcome.  The vast oceans that covered so much of the world would not bend to a Shaper or any other save for the Creator as Aliyana had told her.  Taegan had no trouble understanding how something so vast and unknown could be beyond any living being to affect.  Strangely enough though humans had affected the world’s oceans and seas quite readily, poisoning them slowly, methodically and even worse, unknowingly.

The world had changed a great deal since she had last seen her mentor, though not always for the better.  She could believe at times that back in those days everything had been far better than it was now, far more clean, more unsullied.  Taegan knew that hopes for the world’s health had not waned to the point of no return, though humanity had done a rather poor job of taking care of the precious jewel they had been given so long ago.  Not a one of them seemed to truly realize how delicate their world was, not even those who advocated programs, rallies and other such inane drivel to increase global awareness.  They did what they thought was their part, though in reality they did very little.

As a half-breed Aliyana had told Taegan that the power so prevalent in the Shaper race had not been as strong within her as it would have been in a pureblood.  This was not an impediment however since Aliyana had explained to her that the loss of such awesome power was really not a loss at all, but a boon.  Taegan would never have to know the terrible responsibility of the balance, of keeping to a practice that had been ancient when the race of mankind had still been young.  Taegan possessed power, it flowed within her veins just as it did Aliyana’s, though instead of being able to affect the elements around her, Taegan could alter her body instead, shaping herself as was needed to conform to what she desired.

Very rarely had she ever used this amazing ability, though it had come in handy a few times in the past.  Taegan smiled as she could remember a few moments in the past when it had been the only thing that had saved her skin.  She had learned a great deal from Aliyana, though at the end she had felt as though she still had much to explore.  Gazing towards the center of the lake she couldn’t help but think that for all she had been through, all she had experienced, there were still, as always, new things to discover.  It was a lesson of her mentor, one of the most important.  No one, not even an immortal, will ever know everything.  Life will always move forward, it will always present new challenges and wonders to be enjoyed or met.  Nothing ever stays the same indefinitely.

*                      *                      *

 

1316

 

 

 

Two years passed, time in which Caylin learned a great deal of her heritage and even more about how to fight and survive.  Aliyana was a veritable wellspring of knowledge as well as power, her wisdom such that Caylin could no longer help but bend her will to this enigmatic woman.  She had come to care about Aliyana enough to call her a friend as well as her mentor, though still a part of her remained guarded.  Her outlook towards the woman had changed greatly in the last two years, enough that she could smile back when Aliyana offered up a warm grin.  She was no longer the stone-faced lass she’d been when she had first come to this place.

Seated upon the same piece of driftwood where Aliyana had first told her of her heritage, Caylin looked out upon the rolling waves, deep in thought.  She’d come to this spot many times, enjoying the wide vista that was spread out in front of her. There was a spirit to the ocean that she couldn’t bring herself to describe, a force that was as indefinable as it was majestic.  She knew of its power, it was a treacherous mistress that would take to its depths all those who were unwary of its danger, no matter their beliefs or loyalties.  The sea would always have its due.

“Thinking of home?”  Caylin smiled at the light ribbing from her mentor as Aliyana walked around from behind the stump, her staff, as always, held at her side as she smiled up at her student.

“I feel as though I am home.”  Caylin responded, earning another smile from Aliyana as she beckoned for her student to stand.

“That will be true someday my student, though not now.” Caylin couldn’t help but frown as she hefted her blade, she never went anywhere without it, standing upon her feet in front of her mentor.

“What do you mean?”  Aliyana cast her gaze out towards the ocean, closing her eyes as a gust of wind blew her long black locks back, caressing her frame as she grinned.

“Look at the waves Caylin.  Do you see?”  Caylin looked out to the breaking surf, to the waves that had yet to break and beyond.  She shook her head as she failed to see her mentor’s meaning.  “They each roll ever onward towards the shore, seeking a home.”

“But they crash on the beach, they find their home.”  Caylin could understand at least a little of what Aliyana was saying, though at the moment she did not like the direction the conversation was going.

“Indeed, they crash upon the shore.  Though if you look closely they are pulled out, leaving only a remnant of themselves before they venture towards yet another shore.  Each wave has seen many homes in their time Caylin, they have left many pieces of themselves upon far, distant lands.”

“I don’t understand.  You want me to leave?”  Aliyana turned towards her, the smile upon her face pained as she looked serenely at her student.

“I do not my friend, though it is necessary.  You can grow upon these shores no longer, you must make your way into the world once more.  I can show you no more, you must discover what it is that calls to you now in this time.  You have found what you sought here.”

“But this is home.  I’ve seen the outside world.  I’ve done so much.  Why can I not stay here?”  Caylin felt a welling within her heart that she tried to tamp down immediately, though it would not be stayed.  Aliyana merely shook her head, closing her eyes briefly before looking to her student once more.

“This will be home for you my student, in time.  But for now you must depart.  I came to bid you farewell, for I must leave as well.”  Caylin shook her head lightly, not wanting this to be real.  She couldn’t just be leaving!

“But, but I’ve so much more to learn.”  Aliyana smiled gently as she reached out to clasp her student’s shoulder.

“Yes you do my student, and I’m sure that when next we meet you will be much wiser and much more learned.  For now though our ways must part.  I will miss you greatly Caylin, though this must be done.”  With that said Aliyana began to walk away towards the south without another word.  Caylin thought to call after her, to demand a straight answer for what she could not understand, though at that moment she somehow knew that Aliyana spoke a truth that was went beyond words.  She could no longer remain here, she would have to go back into the world.  It was time to move once more.

*                      *                      *

 

1998

 

 

Leaving had been hard upon Taegan, though looking back upon such a time she couldn’t help but realize as she had many years ago that Aliyana had been right.  There had been no more growth to be had upon the peninsula, it had been time to move on.  She’d packed her few belongings, namely her sword and a few meager rations that had sustained her for the first part of her journey, before making her way south, along a different route than her mentor.  She had never seen Aliyana again, though for some reason she felt stronger for this, as though the absence of her mentor was a boon that had made her that much stronger, that much more reliant upon herself.

In the last several hundred years Taegan had experienced life in much the same way she had done since leaving her village, doing what seemed right to her, surviving when necessary and walking lands that she’d only heard rumors of in taverns.  Never once had she settled down, always keeping herself moving across country and even open water, earning her keep doing a number of odd jobs that kept her on the fringes of civilization.

A small gust of wind blew across the water once more, touching her gently as she smiled again, sensing a presence within the woods that she’d not felt in too long.  Taegan would not seek the figure out, she knew better. She knew that she wasn’t even supposed to be here now.  It would take time, but eventually she knew this would be home, the haven she had always desired so badly.  It had changed a great deal since she had last been here, though it was still essentially the same land, the same home she had left so long ago.  Somehow Taegan knew that when it came time, going back to the past she had enjoyed so thoroughly would be a venue that was finally opened to her, a path she would gladly walk upon, one that she would feel was so richly deserved.

“Thank you teacher, ye opened my eyes long ago and I’ve not forgotten.  I’ll be comin’ around again, though not yet.”  Taegan offered another grin to the surrounding woods, bowing her chin in respect to the figure she knew was watching.  Their paths would hopefully cross once more, though if not, she had been grateful for the short time  she had been allowed to spend with the woman.  Rising slowly to her feet Taegan kissed the pads of her fingers before placing them softly upon the dock.  The small ritual was something she’d learned abroad and it seemed rather fitting.  Turning to go she kept the smile upon her face, never once letting it slacken as she could feel the light pressure upon her mind as the unseen figure reached out to her in farewell.

The Trust

The Trust

By Tom Foster

 

 

            They have a file on you too, y’know.  Everything you’ve ever done, every transaction, every keystroke you’ve ever used online.  That ambiguous “they” know absolutely every facet of life you’ve ever been willing to put on the grid.  Before the advent of technology they still knew, but their methods were far more insidious and much more busy work for those they employed. Plus, as I’ve discovered, they went through a lot more individuals in an effort to compile the information they thought they needed so badly.  If you even sneeze on your keyboard it’s likely that they know.

            Conspiracy theory is of course the term echoing through your head right now, just as it did mine when I was still young enough to believe that the shadows were just darkness shed by light.  I haven’t been that naïve in a long time.  I shed my doubts a long time ago, more out of necessity than choice really.  Once you step into the world beyond the one you’re born and taught to believe in there’s no way to go back.  Well, there is one way I suppose, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

            The internet, the dark net, the social networks and untold number of media connections that affix people to their sites like flies stuck in an unseen web, these are only a few tools that are kept and utilized to keep tabs on people. There are so many methods to date that I only know those which are in a constant state of upkeep, and those that are being used to track me.  I broke from the practice of using those tools to monitor others only a relatively short time ago.  On that day I became the hunted, but what my pursuers don’t realize is that I know those systems inside and out, and I know each and every way they can come at me.

            Some of them might realize this I suppose, but hubris is a bitch. It doesn’t allow people to admit when they’re outmatched and outclassed.  I know I’m vastly outnumbered, but outclassed I shall never be. They trained me, schooled me, gave me their secrets and taught me how to store them in the system. Hell they even walked me through the system when they found out how skilled I was.  In truth I had so much freedom that I might have been content to do what they said for the rest of my life and not say a single word against them.  But greed, like hubris, is a picky, fickle bitch that doesn’t know when to keep its goddamn head down.

            Hundreds of people know that I’m well aware of their secrets. A photographic memory that tested off the charts back in training is what kept me in their employ for so long, and what is now keeping me moving forward as I figure out each new move I’ll take against them.  They screwed up when they decided that I was a liability, a risk that was best neutralized rather than trusted as I had been for so long.  It was time to clean house I guess, and I was deemed as expendable somehow.

            Was I surprised?  Hell no, not really.  Everyone’s number comes up eventually,

especially those who won’t bend over for the powers that be or kiss ass just to stay where they

are.  Never once did I kowtow to the bastards that think they have me on the run, and never will

I. My wife, the memory is still painful, always told me to never say never, but I think I can easily make that stick this time. I’d rather eat a bullet than take shit from anyone.

            I’ll admit it would have been nice if they’d just given me a pink slip like I hear is common in the private sector, rather than attempt to eliminate me all Jason Bourne-style.  Assassins are hardly ever like you see them in the movies, nor are they are all badasses that can throw down at the drop of a hat. Everyone has specialties, tricks and methods that they call their own. I’m one of the poor bastards that got bounced from one specialty to another and pressured to within every limit my body possesses.  As a result I broke many bones, suffered many muscle tears, and my body probably won’t last much past the age of fifty, if I’m able to reach that milestone.  I’m only about a decade and a half off at this point, so if my current plan works I might just be able to pull it off. 

            Hell, if this plan works all those thirty-something year old women will actually be able to gain a bit of credibility when they say they’re 29. 

            So I guess you’d like to know the plan now, right?  Well to be quite honest a big part of my plan is simple. I’m going to break into a top secret, high security location deep within the heart of a mountain region that isn’t supposed to exist and is a safely kept secret from the majority of the world.  Easy, right?  Tack onto that the fact that this location is rigged with numerous traps and failsafe devices that can cause the memory core that runs the place to either shut down or copy itself and then go dormant before eliminating the inner chambers, and the simplicity gets a bit more difficult.  There are enough sensors, cameras, and security measures within this place to keep God out, if it came to that. That’s what I’ve heard anyway.

            So they should be able to keep little ol’ me out, right?  I mean if the interior design of the stronghold wasn’t hard enough, a character wanting to gain access has to be guided in by a trained professional, who is sworn to secrecy on pain of death, and then blindfolded for the last hundred yards or so towards the hidden entrance.  To scans and thermal imaging the stronghold simply doesn’t appear.  Shielding that could withstand a full on nuclear assault keeps the place from being located by scans or cameras of any kind.  It’s the full on, movie grade bullshit that so many conspiracy theorists have wet dreams about, but it’s very real.

            Oh yeah, and to get to this place takes a chopper to even get to the start of the trip. So I won’t have a chopper, I won’t have a guide, and I won’t have any of the codes needed to get into the stronghold.  I know, I went straight up Jason Bourne to Ethan Hunt just then, huh?  Well as awesome as Cruise and Damon look doing it on film, I think both characters would find out the difficulty level of this particular challenge would push them to limits they don’t have.  Only a handful of other individuals I’ve ever had the displeasure of meeting possess the same level of skill I do, and I know very well that they’re already on the non-existent trail I’ve been leaving.

            I have yet to confront any of them. My path is forward and I don’t want to waste the time

fighting when I have my goal so close at hand.  Like I said I don’t have a chopper, but that

doesn’t mean I wasn’t able to commandeer one.  I didn’t have a guide, but I didn’t need one. 

The only issue with not having the codes is that I need someone to open the door for me, and you

can well imagine that simply knocking and asking isn’t bound to get me much more than dead. 

            Even someone placed as high as I was in the ranks wasn’t given everything, if only to avoid the kind of scenario that one might see in the high-dollar films that they churn out every year.  I’ve watched a few of them and gotten a good laugh at the actors who make the plight of the working spy and servicemen seem so grandiose and yet so gritty.  Some movies get it mostly right, others are just a throwback to childhood and the belief that G.I. Joe could rid the world of cartoon evil by giving a courageous yell and pushing a button to activate whatever hi-tech, ass-kicking gadgets had just been cooked up in the lab.  Reality doesn’t work that way I’m sorry to say, otherwise my problems would already be over and I’d be sipping a Mai Tai on some tropical beach with my wife by my side and our child running and playing in the surf not too far away. 

            Ah but those dreams aren’t bound to come true anytime soon.  Did you want to know why?  Sure, why not, I’ve got a few minutes to kill until someone notices my little housewarming gift.  Let’s reminisce….

                                                *                      *                      *

 

            So by now you probably think I’m a crazed, conspiracy-believing, off the reservation nut job who’s looking for payback against the people who screwed me over, right? I’m no anti-hero in a fancy red skin suit looking for a maximum body count, and I’m no do-gooder in a kickass outfit looking to make the world better. No, I’m just a supposedly dead Marine sniper who’s good and pissed off at the people who employed me and is willing to do what it takes to get  them off my ass finally.  Ever since they realized I was still alive it’s been a constant sprint to a finish line I only just conceived of a few months ago.

            But that’s getting too far ahead.

            I don’t have super powers, I can’t heal within seconds, and apart from being damned skilled with nearly every weapon I’ve been handed throughout my thirty-six years, I’m your basic, run of the mill person.  I was born to a loving family, taught how to respect and honor thy mother and father, and wife of course, and blah blah blah.  My life was pretty good at one point despite the fact that my wife was getting a bit fed up with my constant deployments and wanted me to finally retire and come home. 

            While I never did come close to a kill count like the famed but tragic Chris Kyle I also wasn’t so gung-ho that I wanted to fill the shoes of a man like that.  I wanted to do my part, get in, and get out. But somewhere along the way I fell into the same trap that so many enlisted men and women find themselves. I got hooked to the job, and I wanted more.  In truth I wanted to spend more time with my family, but I also wanted that world that was just beyond my scope, I wanted to see that fleeting burst of red mist more and more.  I wanted to see the life exit the targets I was assigned.  Sick shit, huh?

            I guess it depends who you ask, but when I told my wife, yes I told her everything, she

confessed that she loved me with everything she had and no judgment.  The killing part kind of

creeped her out, which is understandable, but she believed she knew me well enough to realize

that deep down I was a good person.  Past all the bullshit and governmental programming I’m

starting to come to the realization that as misguided as her reasoning might have been, she might

have been right.  After all, my vendetta isn’t against one person in general.  I have an entire world filled with government bitches and toadies that I’m attempting to screw over.  Is that justice? Not a chance in hell.  Is it worth the effort? Depends on who you ask. Are you asking me?  Then hells to the goddamned yes.

            Anyway, back to the story. Yes I do ramble so please forgive me…or don’t, I don’t really care.

            I was coming back from one of my most recent tours, a relatively short stint in Qatar where absolutely nothing was happening, when I was called to Washington to meet with my commanding officer, a lowlife dickweed named Charles W. Mullright.  What a tool this guy was, or is, I’m not certain if I can say that he has much of a life any longer after what I did to him. But I’m getting ahead of myself like always.

            Going to Washington D.C. was no big deal at that point, I’d been operating under the auspices that I was still a Marine sniper and nothing else for around five years at that point.  At this point I knew secrets unlike any other, and some that even the good ol’ president himself likely didn’t know.  Anywho I made the trip after calling my wife to say that I would be taking a slight detour from my months-overdue pleasure ride awaiting me at home in the sack.  She wasn’t too pleased obviously, but couldn’t help but tease me with what would be waiting when I got back.  At that point it was kind of hard to even remember we had two wonderful little children who I could hear screeching with delight in the background. 

            Upon reaching D.C. I reported directly to Mullright.  Now keep in mind this guy is no general, no captain, not even a goddamned military man if all is to be revealed. No, this guy was important because of his business contacts, his dealings with the most unsavory characters that could and would help him turn a profit, and unfortunately because he was in a way my boss.  Despite his many shortcomings, hint hint, he was still an influential and irritatingly powerful person with a massive superiority complex and a knack for pissing off people who would just as soon clip his tenders and fry them for breakfast.  Believe me, gross as it sounds I’ve managed to chuckle at the mental image.

            We didn’t meet at the Pentagon, we didn’t even meet a government building. We met at a goddamned Starbucks, where I paid roughly six bucks for a cup of coffee that almost came with a bitch slap to the pimple-faced little kid behind the counter.  What kind of country do we live in where our coffee costs the same as an entrée?  Oh I love my country, at least the idea of it anyway, but Jesus please us, can’t we keep anything simple any longer?

            So Mullright and I sit down to talk, and what he says is something I’d hoped to never have to hear again.  I was being ordered back to the Trust.  It sounds like a bank doesn’t it? Like you’d expect to walk into the place and see several large signs pointing you to HOME LOANS, or CAR LOANS, with a wall off to the left or right where the tellers would wait with a smile on their lips and a “fuck off” in their eyes.  Oh let me assure you, this place is much worse.

            At least the tellers don’t always carry fully-loaded automatic pistols and a variety of pain-

inducing devices.  Walking into the Trust one can almost feel their butthole pucker in

anticipation of an electric shock, a beat down, or just a happy slappy free for all.  It’s a

goddamned fortress, and for a good reason.

            If you know what the Trust is then you immediately understand why it’s the most secretive and sensitive area you’ve ever conceived of. When I tell you that it is a place where every secret is kept I’m not exaggerating.  Every last bit of dirt, every bit of joy, and every last little keystroke have entered the system that dominates the subterranean chambers of this place. There is a city of machines that are hooked into the worlds servers, churning day and night to discover the secrets that people think are so well kept and filing them away for later use if needed.  If you’re on the grid, then in the words of Pink Floyd, “Welcome to the machine”.

            So this secret place that only a few people know exists is like a repository of largely useless and potentially dangerous information, and we were supposed to guard it like it was the crown fucking jewels or something.  I do understand the reason behind it, but not the sense. The overkill laid into the place with the traps and insane number of sensors should have easily precluded the need for a human presence, but then that’s why I’m labor and not management, my mind actually seeks to make sense of things.

            You ever notice how screwed up that seems?

            Anyway, back to the story.  I did as I was ordered, with an ear-blistering lecture from the missus on why it was important to keep commitments and why didn’t the Corps just go and select another poor sap to go and perform their babysitting duties. She didn’t know about the Trust, but as you’ll soon learn that didn’t matter to the people that put a serious monkey wrench into my life. She was collateral damage in their eyes, something else to be swept up under the rug of hush along with so many others that had been of no consequence.  At this point in my life it’s just another reason why these raging hemorrhoids need to be excised and eliminated.  Too colorful? Meh, deal with it, I do.

            So I went to the Trust, blindfolded on the trip, as usual, at least until we landed on some desolate air strip in the middle of a mountain range I recognized but didn’t bother telling anyone.  Imagine me opening my mouth and shouting “Hey, I know where I am!” and then imagine the dull report of a pistol only seconds after, and the blood and brain matter that come spurting out of my distorted skull almost freezing into a grotesque, 3D sculpture that might be featured in some Indie art gallery in New York for around a few grand.  Yeah I ramble, but you get the point.

            From that point I had a guide to take me to the entrance, and all was going fine when I walked in. To be honest everything was going fine until I heard the alarm that would unknowingly signal the end of my life as I knew it.  The routine check I’d been sent to perform had in fact been a setup that I feel stupid for never seeing.  Of course Mullright had been smart enough in his own chimp-like way to at least tell me that our shifts at the Trust would be changing in accordance to losses in personnel. In other words, some guy got offed and the rest of us were making up for the lost man hours. I still should have suspected something. I mean after all this is a part of who I am, a questioner and a doubter.

            I was about to enter a wide chamber filled from wall to wall with servers nearly as tall as

I was and twice as wide labeled NORTH AMERICA when the sound of the first klaxon slammed

into me like a damned physical force.  They keep the alarms nice and loud so there’s no confusion as to whether something is off or not, but if you stuck your ear next to one you might actually feel your brain turn to jelly.

            Once that alarm hit I knew I was screwed.  Not once during my visits to do as I was told had those alarms ever sounded.  The Trust was a well-oiled machine that did not normally break down and was only once in a blue moon forced to undergo drills to keep their people sharp.  And sharp they were and sharp they used.  Huh? Oh yeah, you don’t have the slightest clue what I’m talking about in some cases. I’ll explain.

            The Trust is guarded by some of the deadliest human beings known to this world.  You know those washouts you hear about that don’t quite make the cut in the armed forces? Something about personality problems, being borderline psycho, antisocial tendencies, that type of thing? Well, a lot of those individuals end up at the Trust, becoming guards and system analysts that are kept on so long as they don’t mind being kept under untold tons of rock, all but erased from the world in a little box all their own where they do as the world governments tell them.  It’s like a camp for whackos, kind of.

            Well those whackos are under strict orders to not discharge their firearms, pistols mostly, anywhere within the Trust. The entire structure is solid and durable, but remember those sensors I mentioned earlier that all but cover the place from head to toe?  Any one missed shot could ricochet and take out anywhere between ten and twenty high-end sensors that can cost as much as my former mortgage payment.  Oh, and since those sensors are so touchy and are in essence the triggers for several of the wonderfully dangerous traps hidden throughout the Trust, once they start getting tripped its easy to forget just where to stand and how much pressure one should put in one certain spot or another.  In other words once the sensors get tripped just bend over and kiss your ass goodbye.

            That day the guns weren’t drawn and I was forced to defend myself from not one, not two, not even three, but six different individuals who were all close to as skilled as I am and well aware of my capabilities.  Taking a guy one on one is easy enough, you can either psych him out or just kick his ass if he doesn’t know what he’s doing. Two is only marginally more difficult, as the odds of the second man running begin to increase.  With three you’re looking at the beginning of a pack, as well as clearly defined roles.  That only strengthens when you take on four and five individuals, as there will always be an alpha, a dominant personality who will direct the others and attempt show their strength.  Those types are so much fun.

            But six, now that’s a fight and a half, not to mention that in confined quarters and with nowhere to run I was kind of trapped.  The roles were assumed quickly as the alpha, a real prick named Darin Jemson, a failed Marine who had always let me know just how lucky I was, rushed at me first. Darin was a skilled combatant and pretty damned good with a knife, but he was also too straightforward with his attacks, he never hid anything or even made an attempt at subterfuge. When he fought it often looked like an ailing water buffalo trying to perform ballet. 

            I say was because he didn’t survive the initial charge. When he reached me I hadn’t freed

my knife yet, but instead of bothering to take the second or two I managed to first evade his rush

and then step forward, after snaking my right arm around his head. I could actually feel the asshole trying to bite me as I yanked back on his neck, turning it around in the crook of my elbow as I applied my left hand to the task of breaking his neck with a loud, resounding crunch.  He fell to the ground like a dead puppet after that, and so I picked up his knife.

            After that I don’t remember much except getting pummeled and stabbed a few times.  I didn’t get stabbed to death, nor was my head crushed in. That would have been a fairly painless, not to mention easy.  The sadistic assholes that were so often employed by the those who ran the Trust didn’t want me to just die. They wanted me to suffer.

            I took down a few of them, but the others got me. A mob will always win, even if it’s a small one.  I felt the few stabs that got through my guard and I felt when my left knee was dislocated.  Throughout my time with the Marines and afterward I had gotten used to pain, but nothing like this had ever entered my experience.  I felt the hurt acutely and wasn’t able to cope after a time. My body just shut down and the last sensation out the door turned the lights out before leaving me in the dark. 

            What I recall after that was waking up to cold, freezing winds and snow that all but obliterated any sign of my presence upon the mountain where the Trust is located.  I’d been left for dead, and there are still times when I can’t really come to grips with whether or I survived or if I’m dead and I’m in hell.  If not for the coup de grace that was delivered to me before the lights went out I might have gone with the latter.

            When I was beaten and couldn’t go any further, but before I was placed on the defunct list, they showed me footage, live footage they claimed, of my family being slaughtered.  One man held my almost unconscious body up while another held a laptop where I could see it, with the volume raised to the max and the resolution absolutely perfect.  I watched as several men took turns with my wife, and beat my children to death only moments before tearing my wife apart.

            I watched, and I raged, but my body wouldn’t allow anything other than a shudder that ran from fingers to toes. After a solid knock to the skull it wouldn’t even do that. 

            So I woke up cold and wet, shivering and shuddering and certain that I would be dead within a few minutes. I’d been stripped down to a t-shirt and pants, sans my boots and socks.  Hypothermia should have set in long before I was able to find a way to stay warm, which on the side of a goddamn mountain without any gear is virtually impossible.

            But as I’ve already pointed out, I was trained in ways that make guys like Rambo, Ethan Hunt, and Jason Bourne look like soft little pussies. There are ways to stay warm in the snow, but often they involve multiple layers, supplies for a fire, and of course food of some sort.  Those are the easiest ways to survive, but without any of that I fell back upon one of the skills that any wise mountaineering individual would do in the cold of winter. I made myself a snow cave.

            It was rough going considering the fact that I had to use my hands, had no pine boughs to

use to line the floor, and especially didn’t have any other way but to huddle my ass in the middle

of the finished cave and hope like hell that just piling the snow behind me in front of the opening

would be enough to keep the heat in.  My hands were aching as I laid there, hoping like hell that

if I went to sleep that I would wake up eventually. 

            Well, obviously I woke up, but how I woke up is a different story.  I thought I’d been abandoned far, far away from the Trust, but either something got screwed up in the directions or the guys that dumped me were just being lazy and counting on the environment to kill me.  Whatever the case, I call it providence.

            The Trust is located underground, as I said, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any other bipedal forms walking around.  I was found by a guide and almost killed by the agent he was escorting.  By that time I was almost gone, my hands were crooked into claws and my body was cramping so hard it hurt to unfold myself. But at least that part was taken care of for me.

            The agent knew very well who I was, we’d trained in the Trust together more often than not, but never grown friendly.  It makes me wonder why he thought I was such an easy mark to dispatch.  Crooked fingers or not I managed to headbutt him in the forehead and then grab for his weapon. Granted I didn’t get it, but I managed to latch onto his throat with my teeth and rip his goddamned carotid open.  The warmth of his blood actually invigorated me for just a moment, long enough to allow me to lash out with my left foot and block the gunfire that might have gutted me if left unchecked.  Unfortunately for the guide the angle I kicked the gun in stitched him from groin to heart, killing him instantly.

            It took me a little while to really understand what had just happened, but given that my shelter had been handily destroyed and I was in danger of freezing to death in a few minutes I made the best of my situation. With as much pain as I’d already been through you would think that I wouldn’t even have blinked at stripping both men and using their clothing to my best advantage. One thing you can say about the Trust and those who work with them, they have top of the line gear, and in almost no time my body heat was working just fine and aside from the cramps in my knees and thighs I was feeling almost human again.

            As far as weaponry it’s always advised on trips into the mountains to pack light. One primary, one secondary, and plenty of ammo. Some people don’t adhere to this and get bogged down or run the risk of having their weapons jam if left out in the cold for too long.  The scouts never went armed, and this time was no exception, but the agent, I won’t bother with his name, was armed to the teeth.  I followed the old rule and only took a primary and a secondary, as well as an M21 grenade I found clipped to the dead asshole’s belt.  Grenades are never a good idea in the mountains as far as I’m concerned, but I knew that I could put it to good use eventually.  The only thing I didn’t find in either of their packs were rations, which was damned peculiar, and a crying shame.

            It was hard to judge how from the Trust I was at that point, but obviously I wasn’t too far away as here I am after what feels like only a half hour or more.  I’m still nice and warm, like I said the gear is top notch, and I’m not too far outside of the perimeter, but just far enough so that the sensors I know are hidden in the snow that covers the hillside won’t detect me.  I know the ins and outs of this bitch and trust me, I’ll find a weak spot.

                                                *                      *                      *

 

            Night falls quickly in the mountains, and so far no one’s bothered to wander out or even raise an eyebrow, metaphorically speaking, about the missing agent.  I know better than to think they’ve just written the guy off, after all this place runs like clockwork, and he’ll be required to check in after so long.  What I’m wondering at the moment is whether or not they suspect that I’m out here.  It might be paranoia, but keep in mind that’s been the stock and trade of this place for a long, long time.   

            After a while even the warm clothing is no longer helping. I’m slowly freezing without any reprieve and I know if they decide to wait me out I’ll need to find another option.  At this point I’m wracking my brain trying to think of any way that could possibly….wait.

            Wait just a second. I know how I can get in. 

            The Trust is a closed system insofar as it doesn’t allow it secrets out unless one is authorized and the transfer is of an electronic nature. But in regards to its onsite personnel it has to deliver goods every so often. Even those kept in isolation such as this need to eat.  There’s a shaft underground that lets out somewhere back near the village where the initial trip is begun. That means hiking all that damned way back without food, without rest, and…..dammit.  It was a good thought while it lasted but not all that feasible considering that my stomach is already beginning to cramp up.  I can go without food for at least a few days, but that’s generally when I’m in good health and haven’t had the shit kicked out of me and been left to die in the cold.  In this condition I might go a day, tops, before I’m unable to function at all.

            There’s another idea I might have, but it’s one I kind of tried to avoid up until now.  I’m going to have to try and knock out a sensor and see if they come running.  Well, honestly I AM going knock out a sensor, but whether or not they come running is still up in the air. There’s so many sensors up and down these mountains that it’s a little surprising they haven’t come out to get me yet.  But maybe if one of them nearer the Trust goes down, they might take notice.

            It’s not hard to find really, they don’t hide them all that well since there’s no need.  The one I pick is ballsy even for me to take out, considering that it’s right over the front entrance. At this point and time the only lights on near the front door are those that are used to identify the entrance from the rest of the mountain.  I still have to wonder why no one’s coming out to even look for a sign of the missing agent. Did he call in his find before he woke me? Or was he convinced he could take me on his own and not even bother?  I get the feeling it’s the latter.

            Smashing the sensor is easy enough, it’s designed to handle the weather, not blunt force trauma, and it smashes apart on the third hit.  Now all I can do is stare into the night and see if it works.

                                                            *                      *                      *

 

            Believe it or not, they sent a tech.  No guard, no armed escort, just a lowly tech that

couldn’t hit a target if it was two feet from the barrel of their gun.  It’s not an attitude, trust me, I

tried to train a few of them and found it easier to explain the dynamics of target shooting. If I

was paranoid I would think they were all badasses in disguise and might rip me a new one if I

underestimated them. But sneaking up on this guy is so simple you’d think he had cotton stuffed

in his ears and blinders the size of textbooks over his peripherals.

            In the movies it might be feasible, mostly for effect, to say something or get the guy’s attention before snuffing him.  In real life it’s something a dipshit does. Breaking out one of the knives I pilfered from my other recent kills I stab the guy repeatedly in the back of the neck, reaching my desired goal after the first two stabs. The third through tenth stabs were just out of sheer frustration that it had taken me so long to think of this plan.  As the tech goes slack in my arms I cast him to the side. Even if someone else does come along the wind is already blowing and the blood pooling by his body is so little that any driving snow might not allow much of a visual. Plus, it’s night out, and, well….shit. 

            So I’m not always in high gear, okay? I cover him in enough snow to make his body look like a part of the landscape and then head in, having swiped his keycard and his walkie-talkie just in case control decides to ignore the rules about radio silence.  I’m telling you, the Trust doesn’t screw around with these types of things, especially when it comes to using four words where one will do.  Right now I’ve got two words in mind for them that I don’t think they’ll appreciate.

            I’m back.

            Wait, that’s like three words originally. But at this point who’s counting?

            Getting in with a keycard is a thing of ease, and being dressed for cold weather makes it even easier as I manage to get to the first guard, first of many, without a hitch. It’s when he looks at the ID in my hand and my face and form that he decides to get all uppity about my appearance.  The asshole doesn’t even have a chance to raise the alarm before I’m on him, burying my already bloodied knife in his armpit, puncturing a lung before wrenching his head to one side and then the other with my left.  He’s done and gone before he hits the floor, and I’m on to the next checkpoint, well aware of the hell I’m already raising. That’s okay, I know how to bypass the Trust and all its security.  After all, I used to run this bitch for all intents and purposes, so as far as secrets go, there’re none that I can’t get around.

            Only one thought runs through my mind as I make my way deeper into the trove of secrets I once protected, and it’s one that makes me smile.

            I’m back bitches.

Acts of Kindness

 

Acts of Kindness

 

Spring 2002

Saturday, May 18th

 

“There is a tree that sits just on Mcloughlin Road, behind the high school and facing the college.  I want it cut down.”  Jack Kruse looked up from his plate of eggs as the man across the table from him spoke, confusion written plainly on his face.  This contrasted greatly with the confident smirk that graced the wizened features of his breakfast companion.  Smacking his lips once he set his fork down, picking up the paper napkin that sat to the right of his plate.  Wiping his lips he leaned back in his seat, the fake leather cushion settling a bit more under his butt as he set his hands flat on the table.

“And here I thought you were buying breakfast just cause you liked me.  What a jip.”  Jack had known the man across the table for longer than he’d known his own parents, as sad as that truly was. The lined features of the older man were as familiar to him as his own face, the silvered moustache and slicked back hair seeming slightly out of place upon his lined and wizened countenance.  A grin split the man’s features as he leaned back in his seat, the fake leather of the cushion groaning in protest as he settled once more.

“I’ve always liked you Jack, you know that.  This is something that I cannot entrust to another.  You understand.”  Jack nodded as he arched one eyebrow, knowing that Sidney Victor Solus was a man who was not to be disputed.  As much as he didn’t understand why he’d been summoned, other than the obvious that had just been stated, Jack knew better than to flat out deny the old man anything.

Sidney was perhaps one of the most well-to-do men in the town of Vancouver, though he was also without a doubt the most mysterious and reclusive.  He’d been a friend of Jack’s family for the last two generations, his unnatural longevity leaving many people to believe that he was something of an oddity.  Jack had no doubt this was true, but in all likelihood the man simply knew how to take care of himself.  He didn’t know just how old Sidney was, but honestly he didn’t care.  If he absolutely had to guess then he’d say the man was in his seventies at least, though by the way he moved about one could have decided that he was far younger.

“So why just this one tree?  I mean don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying no.  It’s just kind of an odd request is all.”  Sydney smoothed his moustache down with two fingers before responding, grinning lightly at Jack as he did.

“It has become a health risk for the students since lately its leaves have been reported to contain some rare toxin that has become somehow lodged within the tree’s root system.”  Jack looked uncertainly at Sydney as he went back to his breakfast, noting as always that the old man ate nothing, content to sit with his single cup of coffee that usually went untouched.  He was a strange one, but then so were most people who were worth so much, it went with the territory.

“I don’t know much about trees and the way they conduct things through their roots, but that seems a bit farfetched Sydney.  I mean how in the world do the toxins survive after the leaves crinkle up and turn brown?”  Sydney gave Jack one of his long suffering looks that told Jack he’d just asked a rather foolish question.

“Normally you’d be correct my young friend, though in this case the toxins this tree has been reported to produce are extremely resilient.  In fact they remain within the leaves even when dead, and within the bark that surrounds the exterior of the tree itself.  Eccentric and crazy it may seem I have had my own specialists run many a test on the tree only to find that it is a veritable haven of filth and decay.  Truly it is a marvel that no one has yet noticed the effects.  Why, the asthma rate alone has increased dramatically in the past five years in the student population.”  Jack liked Sydney, though this request seemed a little, well, off.  That was nothing new when it came to this man, though Jack couldn’t help but, like always, think that eventually he would break down and do as the man asked.

“So why just the one tree then?  If it’s really a health risk then shouldn’t we just go and take them all out?  That would make a little more sense than just taking down one tree Sydney.”  Jack felt the beginnings of a slight headache as he spoke, grimacing just a bit as he placed two fingers upon his right temple, rubbing it gently as he continued to look at the older man.

“Normally that would be a matter that the city would take into its own hands, though if it became known as an epidemic then far too many people would become involved and there might be a public scare if such a thing was brought to their attention.  This way it is kept quiet and hopefully contained.”  Sydney gestured with one hand as he spoke, his fingers moving in an almost hypnotizing way as Jack couldn’t help but notice the man’s slightly bony hand   He did have a good point, though it still seemed a little ludicrous to chop down just one tree when the risk of such an incident occurring in another specimen was possible.  Shrugging his shoulders Jack raised his fork, looking down at his plate as he prepared to dig into his eggs again.

“Okay, I’ll put a couple guys on it in a day or two, it’s going to take a small crew to get it done quick and with as little fuss as possible.”  Sydney frowned as Jack speared a few bites of egg on the tines of his fork, almost shoveling them into his mouth as he chewed contentedly.

“This needs to be done immediately Jack.  As foreman you should have the ability to go to your superiors and have this taken care of with all haste.  This cannot wait.”  Jack looked up from his plate, wiping his lips again as he swallowed his food before speaking.  He couldn’t imagine why this one tree was such an issue, though Sydney sure seemed agitated about it.

“Sydney, if this tree is where you say it is we’ll have to cordon off the area while we’re working. We’ll be turning that small section of Mcloughlin into a one-lane road for the period of time it’ll take to bring that tree down.  We can’t just zip in there, saw it down and zip out.”  Sydney closed his eyes as he nodded his head, pressing his lips tightly together as he did.  Opening them up again Jack could have sworn he saw something, a gleam or some sort of reflection that shone in the old man’s eyes, a glimmer of something that he didn’t understand.  Matter of fact he didn’t think he would want to if it was real.

As soon as it was there it was gone, leaving Jack wondering if perhaps he’d been getting enough sleep as of late.  He’d been pulling double shifts every other day for the past month now.  Ever since they’d had to let go of three of their workers for reasons he would rather not think of he and the other crew members had been forced to pick up the slack.  It was a point of frustration with his wife since both she and their two kids didn’t see him enough and when they did he was little more than a zombie.  He needed a rest, though until they found someone who could replace the three idiots that had gotten themselves fired times would be a little hectic for everyone.

“Are you okay Jack?”  Sydney placed one hand close to Jack’s right arm, leaning forward as the man could have sworn that he smelled something foul, something that had no business in a place like this.  A part of his mind said that such an odor had no place anywhere in this world, though he couldn’t put any sense to that thought as he frowned slightly.  What was wrong with him?  Maybe he was coming down with something, maybe Patricia, she hated being called Patty, was right when she said he was working too hard.  He pulled his arm back just a bit from Sydney’s hand, not wanting the old man to touch him at that moment.  He knew this reaction was unfair and didn’t wish to offend the older man, though he couldn’t help but think that being touched by the old man right now would be more than a little uncomfortable.

“Yeah, yeah I’m okay, just nerves is all I guess, workin’ too hard or something.”  The old man nodded as he smiled, the gesture seeming somehow comforting and terrible in the same moment.  Jack was no longer hungry as he glanced down at his eggs, finding that the rapidly cooling yellow mound of food didn’t seem in the least appetizing anymore.  Pushing the plate away he smiled weakly at Sydney, clearing his throat as he reached for his cup of coffee.  “Sorry Sydney, I must just be out of sorts today, I was really hungry just a few moments ago.”

The old man smiled a little wider, still nodding his head as he closed his eyes briefly.  Jack cast his gaze out the window to his left as he viewed the parking lot for a moment, seeing what he had expected to see, cars, cars, and more cars and across the way the glassed-in fronts of the medical supply shop, the beauty school and other, smaller businesses that lined the curb.  Everything seemed as it should, normal in its own way and serene enough as people came and went, going about their business as though nothing else but their little world mattered.  Jack was not a philosophical thinker, he didn’t enjoy the big picture as some people called it, he was more grounded in reality, he enjoyed knowing that the world around him was tangible and could be touched, heard, smelled, tasted and seen.  Anything else was just so much science fiction and fantasy, with great emphasis on the fiction.

“So how soon can this be done?”  Jack raised his eyebrows as he turned back to Sydney, seeing only the same old man that had been a friend to his family for so many years.  This man was a part of his world, someone that could be seen and touched, though Jack could not remember one moment in his life when Sydney had really enjoyed being touched.  There had been no embraces, no contact outside of a handshake that he could remember, as though the man were afraid of human contact.  Of course, he was a bit eccentric, something that could easily explain how he was when it came to such things as touching and interacting with others.  Some called him a kook, though Jack ignored such labels.  Sydney was a friend.

“I’d say within a day or two Sydney, no longer.”  The old man sighed as he smiled, nodding his head in resignation as he wrapped his bony hands around his cup of coffee.  Suddenly Jack felt very hungry again, as though his stomach had decided to reverse its sudden decision of only a moment ago.  Taking a sip of his coffee Jack placed the cup down just a moment before he began to dig into his eggs again.

*                      *                      *

 

He didn’t know why he’d been drawn here, though Kyle felt as though he’d had very little control in the direction his steps had taken him.  Sitting in front of the large tree that stood in back of Hudson’s Bay High School Kyle wondered just why he’d felt the need to walk this far and stop here of all places.  He’d sat against the rough bark of the tree as though it were the most natural act in the world, settling against the Old Guard, as it had been called by students and teachers alike.  Kyle didn’t know how long this tree had been here, though it had existed during his high school years and for as long as he’d lived in Vancouver.  It was a landmark of sort in this part of town, though in that regard so were many of the other trees that dotted the landscape of Vancouver.

For some reason though this one just seemed to grab the attention, its spreading boughs seeming to demand that others stop and ponder its existence.  It could take minutes, it could take as little as a few seconds, though Kyle had been sitting here long enough this morning to notice that those who walked, drove, cycled or ran by seemed to always cast their eyes towards the tree, as though it were a matter of great interest that could not be ignored.  He found this curious though still strange as he’d watched each person look either at the tree and then at him or just at the tree itself.

Kyle knew that his wife would think nothing of it if he was gone for an hour or more on a Saturday, she’d told him once she actually enjoyed having the house to herself for a short period of time.  This allowed her to get such things as vacuuming, dishes and other such household duties taken care of without anyone in the way.  She’d said this in as polite a way as possible, though Kyle had known what she’d meant.  During the week he worked his ass off, pulling each and every shift his boss had given him lately thanks to the cut backs in manpower they’d suffered.  It was amazing to know that with all the workers that Clark County employed that they could possibly be shorthanded, though just three men being let go had almost doubled the workload of everyone else.

He’d come to value his weekends off and as such had used them to wander around the surrounding neighborhoods, fully enjoying the freedom to go where he wanted without being barked at.  His friend Simon was in the same boat since they were on the same crew, though on the weekends Simon went instead to the dojo up on Mill Plain to work out his frustrations.  Kyle had watched the man during practice a few times and had to admit that he’d never want to find himself on the wrong side of his lifelong friend.  Simon was just outright deadly it seemed.

Aside from just getting out of the house and enjoying a pleasant spring morning Kyle had to admit to himself that it was nice just to stop once in awhile, to do nothing, find a spot and just relax.  He could have done this at home, though he would rather not be a burden to his wife.  Besides that he knew that Simon’s wife Tia would no doubt wander over as she did when Simon and Kyle were elsewhere.  This gave Jenna, Kyle’s wife, a pleasant day alone with another woman, who would no doubt understand the need to have the men out of the house every once in while.  Kyle knew that if he was gone long enough they would pop open a bottle of chardonnay and get to talking about whatever it was that women talked about, no doubt getting a little tipsy as the day wore on.  Thankfully Simon and Tia lived only a little ways down the street from Kyle and Jenna, it was a short enough walk even for a woman that had tipped one glass too many.

The day around him was pleasant as he watched the comings and goings of the people that moved about in their own methods and at their own pace.  This was a good town, a good place to live and to maybe one day raise a family.  He and Jenna had been married now for only a year, having finally tied the knot after the massive unpleasantness that had occurred during the past three years.  His two nieces, Aeris and Belle, had finally moved on, forming their own lives after the disastrous events of the last few years.  Life had finally evened out and for Kyle Feylan and his remaining family the world had finally began to make sense.

The gentle buzzing that came from his right hip pocket caused him to close his eyes in annoyance as he placed his hand over the vibrating patch of denim, groaning slightly as he reached into his pocket.  Taking out his cell phone Kyle could see on the LCD display a number he’d hoped not to have to see for the next two days.  It wasn’t uncommon for his boss to call him on weekends, though Jack had specifically told his crew in person that he would not be calling them until Monday, and even then he would only call them if they were late to work.  To think that the man was about to go back on his word meant that there was something that really needed to be done.  Jack Kruse wasn’t the kind of man that went back on his word by choice, which was why he rarely gave it.

As bosses went the man was a hardass but he was still cool enough that his workers knew he could be trusted to keep the promises he’d made.  Working for the county though didn’t allow him to always keep his word, something the man lamented at times since it made him look like a fool.  Kyle could respect Jack, though at times like this he really didn’t want to answer his phone.  Unfortunately Jack had him and Simon pegged, he knew that the two men always had their phones on them and as such there was no reason for them to not answer.  Kyle had been enough of a smartass to state a few reasons why he wouldn’t or couldn’t answer his phone, though Jack had shot each of them down in turn.

Flipping the top of his phone open Kyle still debated hitting the SEND button before bringing the phone to his ear, sighing as with his thumb he hit the green button that would allow him to speak to his boss.

“What’s up Jack?” he said cheerily, putting as much mockery into his voice as he could.

“We won’t be going out to Ridgefield on Monday Kyle, just wanted to give you a heads up is all.  I’ve already called Simon and told him.”

“I’d be lying if I said I was disappointed.”

“Yeah I know you wanted to lay blacktop on some back country road so badly didn’t you?” Jack laughed as Kyle joined in, narrowing his eyes as he wondered what job would be taking the place of the tedious labor, “We’ve got an assignment that’s closer to home though kid, one that’s just down the street from you and Simon matter of fact.”  Jack Kruse knew where Simon and Kyle lived, they both had housed on the same street and Jack had been to both of them several times on social occasions.  To Kyle and Simon the man had been a good friend and a trusted drinking buddy, though at work they kept their relationship professional as could be.

“Oh yeah? What’s the job?”  Kyle could have sworn he felt a tingle run down his back in that moment, as though something had crawled down his shirt.  Leaning away from the tree he looked up and behind him, seeing nothing upon the bark.  That would make sense though if something had already crawled down his shirt, it would no longer be on the tree itself.

“There’s a tree outside your old high school that needs to come down.  Don’t ask me why but Sydney and I were havin’ breakfast today and the old man told me all about it, somethin’ about some disease or illness the tree might be spreading.”  Kyle raised one eyebrow in disbelief.  He knew very well who Sydney Victor Solus was.  The man was one of the only residents within Vancouver that all county workers knew to either avoid or revere.  Kyle knew too many higher ups that liked to kiss the old man’s ass just because of his standing in Vancouver and his supposed contributions to the “beautification” of the city.  Personally Kyle thought the man was just downright creepy, like the type of person who was shown in movies that could pass for a demented scientist or an aging serial killer.  In any case Kyle just didn’t like him.

“Really.  And what kind of diseases exactly does this old tree have that would harm a human being?”  As Jack sighed on the other end of the phone Kyle knew that the man had already given into whatever request Solus had made of him.  Kyle liked Jack quite a bit and had no problem doing whatever the man asked at work, though it was and had always been a mystery as to how old man Solus had been able to get Jack to do what he wanted.  Even worse was that Jack’s bosses never seemed to find fault with the old man directing what jobs he wanted done.  They didn’t work for Sydney, this wasn’t Solus County, it was Clark County.

“Don’t get me started on that kid.  I just wanted to tell you that on Monday we’ll be down on Mcloughlin.  I still need to speak to the school superintendent and let him know what we’re doing, plus there’s a few other people I need to talk to.  Just make sure you and Simon are ready to go then alright?”  Kyle narrowed his eyes as he felt yet another tingle as he laid his back against the tree again.  Staying very still he tried to feel tiny legs upon his skin, figuring that maybe an ant or some other insect had given up the rough terrain of the tree for something slightly smoother and less exposed to the light.

“Alright, see you on Monday then.  Hey wait, did the old man, I mean did Sydney tell you any valid reason this tree needs to come down?  I mean there must be dozens of trees around the school Jack, if one has a disease the rest could have them too. Plus from where I’m sitting they don’t look diseased to me.”

“Kid, you don’t know how much I had to talk to the old man to get him to at least try and see my point of view.  You know how it goes, if he wants something done then eventually no matter who he has to use it’ll get done.  Let me guess, you’re sitting near that specific tree right now?”

“If it’s the one I think you’re talking about then I’m sitting against it, yes.”  Another tingle ran down Kyle’s back, though he didn’t feel as though anything was crawling upon him.  Instead it felt as though the feeling was coursing along his spine in a way, as though it were a sensation being elicited from deep within his body.  It was not unpleasant, though it was definitely noticeable enough to be distracting.

“Took another one of your walks did you?  Look kid, you know that the county doesn’t belong to the old man but those that run it listen pretty close to what he says.  If Sydney says something needs to go then it needs to go.”

“I always thought there were committees for things like that.”

“Normally that’s how it would be, but look at this way, it’s one tree, it’s not a whole forest.”

“At least not yet right?”  Jack sighed over the phone as Kyle responded, he’d obviously been speaking to the old man longer than he was admitting, though Kyle couldn’t conceal how he felt at that moment.  The tree he now sat upon was just one plant out of a bunch of them that lay around the surrounding area.  Vancouver was a rather green city when it came to plant life, it wasn’t quite as much concrete and asphalt as a city such as Portland, its closest neighbor.  Hell even Portland had its fair share of greenery covering its hills despite its much larger population.  Kyle didn’t see the difference one tree would make if it was cut down.  Aside from that were the complaints that might arise from the school board, the students and even the college students across the way.

Many of the students attending Clark Community College just across the street had gone to Hudson’s Bay High School and several could no doubt remember Old Guard fondly.  The trees lower limbs had been removed long before anyone who was still alive could remember, preventing injury from the zealous few who thought to climb into its higher reaches, though it was still a favored gathering spot for young high school kids when school let out or just to pass the time on a weekend.  For Kyle the tree had always been a nice place to sit as it was now.  He could remember more than a few times when he and Jenna had leaned against the rough bark as they’d sat to talk and discuss what they would do once they graduated.  It was here that Kyle had first thought to propose to his wife, though that plan had been ruined quite effectively by the death of his family years before.

“Look Kyle, we’ve been given a job to do, that’s all there is.  That tree’s coming down on Monday, just be ready to go alright?”

“Alright Jack.”

*                      *                      *

 

“So he’s really gonna have us cut Old Guard down huh?  That sucks.”  Simon cracked the lid from his beer as he then flipped the cap into a large bowl that already held an uncounted number of different colored caps.  Taking a long swig of the cold brew Simon kept his eyes on Kyle as saw the strange look pass over his friend’s face.  He’d seen such a look on Kyle’s face before, it usually meant that the man was planning on doing something uniquely stupid or dangerously innovative.  In other words it signified trouble.  Simon had to admit that he kind of liked trouble at times.

“I’m still wondering why he would ask us to cut it down.  One tree out of a bunch of them doesn’t make sense.”

“Maybe whatever disease the old man found is confined to that one tree.” Simon offered, taking another swig.

“And it just now sprang up?  C’mon man that makes no sense.”  Simon shrugged helplessly as he looked at Kyle, wishing his friend would let the subject go.  He’d arrived home shortly after Simon had shown up, taking the rest of his day off in favor of spending time with his friend and mentor Yin Juang, or Mr. Yin to those who knew him best.  Simon had found in the older man a good friend and a patient ear when it came to his martial arts studies, which took up a great deal of his time every now and then.

“I don’t make the decisions Kyle, neither does Jack really. We just do what we’re told is all.  I remember Old Guard just as fondly as you do, but in all honesty I can’t see getting all bent out of shape over an old tree coming down.  If it’s a health risk then we really don’t have a choice but to do what we’re told.”

“I’m surprised though that they aren’t having a hazmat team or something come in to at least supervise or take control.” Seated upon the large blue couch that dominated the Feylan’s living room, Tia Roninsay, Simon’s wife, sipped delicately from her glass of wine.  As Kyle had thought the woman had come over to keep Jenna company and the two had already tipped back a bottle before he had arrived home.  Jenna was seated only an arms length from Tia, nursing her own glass of pale yellow wine as she followed the conversation.

“It’s not a chemical spill, it’s just a tree.” Simon replied.

“But still, if you’re taking it down because it’s diseased then why wouldn’t they have some form of containment or something along those lines ready?”  Simon and Kyle exchanged a look at that moment that Jenna didn’t miss, her lips tightening into a thin line as she looked at both of them.  “What?”

“Hon have you ever seen a tree fall?  There’s no way to contain it adequately.  Even if there was the cost of resources and manpower would undoubtedly be way too much for a project like this.  That’s why it doesn’t make sense.”

“Oooh, sounds like a conspiracy.” The two women laughed as Tia waggled the fingers of her left hand, her eyes widening as she smiled at Kyle.  For his own part Kyle merely rolled his eyes, grinning as he shook his head.

“Ah just let it go man, we hack down a tree and we get paid, no big deal.  I kinda wonder though why we’re doing it on a weekday when school’s going to be in instead of on a weekend.”  Simon shrugged as he spoke, taking another pull from his bottle.

“Do you think it will traumatize anyone?  I mean Old Guard has been there since our parents were young, maybe before.”

“It’s been there for at least close to a century if not longer, I mean they built the damned sidewalk around it instead of taking it out.  I can only imagine how far its root system must go.”  Kyle said, the image of the large tree coming into his mind easily at that moment.

“Oh well, that’s how things go sometimes.  It’s called progress babe.” Jenna said, earning a small frown from Kyle as she reached out to him with her free hand.

“So what movies did you bring over T?” Simon asked, stepping forward to stand next to his wife as she reached back to take his hand.  The Feylan’s residence wasn’t any larger than the Roninsay’s, they even had nearly the same size backyard save for the fact that Kyle and Jenna’s was a little wider.  Each of them had apple trees in their back yard, though the Feylans’ hadn’t produced anything but green leaves for a number of years now.  The apples on Simon and Tia’s tree were often riddled with worms before they could harvest them, though every now and then Tia would make an apple pie that was to die for.

Squirrels and scrub jays darted to and fro constantly along the large expanse of lawn, providing an amusing ballet of sorts as they at times quibbled over seeds and other such edible morsels that lay upon the ground.  More often than not they would run in fear or dart about as though to tease Coda, the black and white husky that had been with Kyle and Jenna for three years now.  They’d brought the dog home when she had been only four months old and had her flown up from California at a great expense, though each of them had fully enjoyed the husky since their earliest days together.  Coda had learned quickly the rights and wrongs within the house, though there had been times when the dog had overstepped her bounds and required some form of punishment.  It had been then that Kyle had come up with his method of ‘time out’ for the dog, placing her at the end of the short hallway that led to the house’s three bedrooms.

Coda had learned to sit in time out without a peep until either Kyle or Jenna had told her it was okay to come out, lying peacefully against the door that sat at the end of the hallway.  It had been amusing to others to see the husky sitting so quietly in her time out spot like a child, though Coda had had to learn that it didn’t matter if company came over, she still had to mind. Time out was not interrupted for any reason.  Thankfully the husky had learned to mind Kyle and Jenna after a time.  She obviously had not enjoyed time out.

Currently the husky was outside running around as she terrorized the squirrels and birds that seemed to enjoy the chase as much as she did at times.  Kyle had actually seen a scrub jay buzz the dog one day, his eyes widening as Coda had snapped at the bird.  He’d know very well from the way the dog’s jaws were formed that the bird would have no chance if Coda got hold of it.  A husky’s jaws were designed to work in a scissoring motion, giving them a decided advantage when it came to cutting through anything that was not tough enough to withstand their sharp teeth.

The inside of their homes were similar thanks to the fact that many of the homes around this particular neighborhood had at one time been a part of the army barracks back in the fifties.  Many of the homes along their street had been used to house officers and had remained where they were for decades.  The Feylan residence had been remodeled almost completely on the inside when Kyle had first moved in, from the floor up.  The light blue walls had been Jenna’s idea while the royal blue carpet had been Kyle’s.  The kitchen had been redone completely, the appliances were new and the combination living room/dining area was just big enough to accommodate all four of them comfortably.  The couch that took up most of the room was a sectional and designed to hold many more, though the two couples found it was just the right size for enjoying what they had come to know as movie night.

“Well, I couldn’t decide whether to bring a comedy or a horror so I brought both.  We’ve got Trading Places and Event Horizon to choose from.”

“What’s Event Horizon?” Jenna asked.

“The movie we’re going to watch I guess.” Simon replied, earning him a laugh as he sat down next to his wife.  Kyle was slower to sit as his mind kept going back to the tree, thinking of Old Guard as he tried to figure out just why the request to cut it down seemed so wrong.

“Hey you, come sit down.” Jenna said as she tugged on his hand.  Shaking his head slightly Kyle went to sit next to his wife, putting any thoughts of the tree from his mind for the moment.

*                      *                      *

 

Hours later Simon and Tia had left for home, leaving the two movies on the coffee table in front of the couch.  The four of them had enjoyed the movie despite the fact that it had been a bit graphic for Simon’s taste.  The science fiction thriller had been about a killer space ship that had somehow been infested by an evil spirit of some kind and then convinced its crew to murder one another.  All in all its special effects hadn’t been bad, though Simon and Jenna had each thought the story to be a bit stretched.  Kyle and Tia had enjoyed the plot, thinking it was just deep enough to entertain even if it was slightly demented.  The four had agreed that it was at best a B movie, though before they had made it as far as considering Trading Places they had each realized the time.  Simon and Tia had walked home not long after the movie had been over, stating that they would see if they could squeeze in any time for a movie the next evening.  As far as Kyle knew he and Jenna weren’t doing anything, though he had already convinced himself during the movie that tomorrow he would be taking another walk.

He hadn’t said anything to Jenna or Simon, knowing that they would surely assume that he was going to walk back down to Old Guard, perhaps to spend some time remembering all the moments he’d sat beside the tree.  Kyle was just a bit nostalgic, everyone who knew him realized this right off the bat, though he couldn’t convince himself that this was all that his interest in the tree was.  Something about Old Guard seemed, different somehow, as though the tree were more than just an overlooked landmark.  He couldn’t convince himself of the strange feelings he had for the tree any more than he could tell himself that it was something spiritual, but Kyle knew somehow that it would be wrong to just chop the tree down like it was any other.

He and Jenna had gone to bed shortly after tidying up the living room and kitchen, slipping under the covers shortly before Jenna had enticed Kyle into a little late night recreation.  Coda had thankfully found somewhere else to be as she always did when the two were engaged in adult activities, leaving them to their shared passions until she had somehow sensed it was okay to come in.  The husky had made a practice of sleeping in the same room with her people since she had been brought home, a habit that neither Kyle nor Jenna had ever discouraged.  She was after all a part of the family, it would be wrong to simply kick her out into the hall at night like a lowly mongrel.  In Jenna’s eyes she was a little girl in all but form, which meant Kyle had to follow along with such a thought.

Kyle awoke to a cold nose nuzzling his shoulder as his eyes opened groggily, a low moan issuing from his lips as he saw a blurry white and black form at the side of the bed.  Coda nosed him again as she then backed away, her jaw hanging open as she panted lightly, looking at him expectantly.  Kyle could almost swear the dog was grinning as she lowered her eyes slightly, ducking her head as though trying to see if was awake.  There were times when the dog was far too much like a human for comfort.

“You know where the dog door is hound.”  Coda’s lower jaw shut for a moment as she cocked her head at him, as though she did not understand his words.  Kyle knew very well that she knew what he was saying, the dog was smarter than she let on at times, as she had proven in the past.  Jenna stirred lightly beside him as Kyle waved his left hand at the dog, turning his head away as he sought to go back to sleep.

Up until they’d put in the dog door Coda had always come to either Kyle or Jenna to be let out to take care of her daily functions.  She’d peed on the floor only once before the door had been put in and that had been during a bout when she had been quite sick and unable to move very fast.  After the installation of the door just last year she had been faithful in taking herself outside and doing what she needed to do.  Why she would be bothering Kyle now was odd, though he wasn’t about to waste much energy on figuring out the reason behind her waking him up.  As he felt her nose jab him lightly again though Kyle couldn’t help but groan again as he turned back to the dog, whose crystal blue eyes still looked at him expectantly.

“Is the door stuck or something?”  He knew Coda couldn’t answer, though Kyle wanted a damn good reason for being made to get out of bed at this time of night.  Closing his eyes again he knew very well that if the dog wanted something she would not quit until he was awake. If the door was stuck though it would be better to let her out rather than deal with the mess in the morning.  Looking at the digital alarm clock on his nightstand though he could see that it technically was morning, making him groan again as he slid from the bed.

Jenna hardly stirred as he stood, pulling on a t-shirt before padding from the room slowly, careful not to bump into the walls or the door.  He’d stubbed his toes so many times when waking up in the middle of the night that he knew where every edge and obstacle was, though it still hurt when he ran into them.  Coda preceded him out of the room as he shuffled wearily down the hall, yawning deeply but silently as he rubbed his arms, feeling a slight chill as he made his way to the kitchen.

Coming out of the hallway Kyle opened his eyes just a little more as he turned to the left, his feet meeting the cold floor of the kitchen as he took the few steps he needed to reach the door.  The blinds over the kitchen window and the smaller panes set into the top half of the door were drawn shut, though he could see the darkness behind them as he grimaced\again, dropping his eyes to the large dog door that had been cut into the bottom half of the door.  Coda was not a big dog, though the smaller dog doors had not been big enough for her to come and go as she pleased, therefore Kyle had been forced to cut out a section from the middle of the door and spend the money it took to make sure that it was secure and sound.  The cost of a larger dog door had been too much at the time, though he’d done well enough in his effort to make a door for Coda.  The inner part of the door latched so that at night Kyle or Jenna could lock it, making sure that nothing else decided to come inside.  They’d left it unlatched many nights without incident, though every now and then they would latch the door.  There was no telling when a stray possum or even a crazed squirrel would seek to find shelter indoors.

The door was unlatched and could therefore be pushed in quite easily by the dog, leaving Kyle to frown at Coda as the husky took her regular spot beneath the kitchen window to the left of the door, grinning up at him in her own peculiar way.  Kyle yawned again, not appreciating Coda’s strange antics at that moment.

“The door’s fine you nut, go on and do your thing.”  Coda simply looked at him, closing her jaws as her bushy tail wagged several times behind her.  Kyle rolled his eyes as he ran a single hand down his face.  “Fine, but if I’m going to open the door you’re going to do this my way. Sit.”  Kyle’s voice was laced with irritation as he raised his left hand palm up.  In response Coda sat, her tail ceasing its cheery wag as she looked up at her “daddy”, waiting patiently for him to open the door.  Kyle turned the knob only to remember that it was locked.  Unlocking it he then lowered his hand, his palm now facing Coda as he didn’t say a word.  The husky was well-trained enough now that he didn’t even need to say anything, she simply knew the commands and knew what to do.  Opening the door Kyle felt the chill of the outdoors immediately creep in as he tucked his hands into his armpits for warmth in the next moment, opening the door wide with his elbows as Coda continued to look up at him.

“Go on, do your thing.”  Kyle said, standing at the edge of the open door as he allowed enough space for Coda to breeze by. The husky twitched slightly as she had in her earlier months when she had still been acclimating to her training.  Kyle rolled his eyes again as he pressed his lips into a thin line.  He did not have time for this right now, he could be back in bed, sleeping, enjoying his rest, anything but standing here and freezing his ass off while Coda decided to play.

“C’mon Coda go on and do the do, I’m freezin’ my-“  The husky moved then, almost bounding out the door as she snorted once in what sounded like frustration.  Kyle cocked one eyebrow as he stepped into the doorway.  As he went to yawn again Kyle’s eye suddenly fell on the roofline of the garage, his eyes widening immediately at what he saw.

The garage was independent of the house, sitting nearly twenty yards away from the small back porch and close to the fence that separated the Feylan’s property from their neighbors.  It was a spacious building, able to house all the various items that Kyle and Jenna had purchased over the years as well as Jenna’s car.  Kyle’s own vehicle was in the gravel driveway that lay just off to the left of the main drive, between the house and the garage, though at the moment it looked less like a car than a strange gathering place of the feathered and beaked intruders whose claws were no doubt scratching the hell out of the paint job.  Kyle quickly reflected that it was rather odd to worry about material damage in lieu of the sight he’d suddenly been afforded.

There were birds everywhere, on his car, on the roofline and even on the power cables that ran from the top of the garage to the house.  Kyle blinked rapidly as he remained in the doorway, not even noticing as Coda seemed to not even mind that there were so many fun things to chase in her yard at the moment.  The dog chuffed once, looking first at the birds on Kyle’s car and then to the ones on the roofline.  There were even several smaller birds upon the basketball hoop that was bolted to the front of the garage, each of them eerily silent and still as the focus of each beady eye seemed to be upon Kyle.

As his eyes adjusted a bit to the darkness he could identify several of the birds as he stood motionless in the doorway, feeling as though he’d just stepped into a modern day rendition of an Alfred Hitchcock movie.  Strangely enough he was not afraid, though he couldn’t help but feel extremely uncomfortable as the cold-blooded gazes of so many birds seemed to pin him in place.  Atop the garage there were large, thin-legged birds that could only be herons, three of them in fact that stood near the apex of the roof.  Along the roofline he could see owls, hawks and even two other types of birds that he could not readily identify.  The roofline was packed with the feathered invaders, though not a one of them seemed to mind the close proximity.  Kyle could have sworn that such species did not care to occupy the same space, leaving him to think that this might be a dream, a very lucid and very, very strange dream.

Coda chuffed again as he looked up at the wire that delivered power to the garage’s fuse box, seeing more hawks and a few more of the birds that he could not place a name to.  Every last one of them was glaring down at him with their cold eyes, making Kyle feel not unlike a cornered field mouse as a few of them cocked their heads curiously at him.

“Coda, inside girl, c’mon.”  Kyle’s voice was just a bit breathless as he kept his eyes upon as many of the birds as he could.  The husky showed no fear of the birds nor, and Kyle was thankful for this, any inclination to start chasing them around.  Aside from the herons and a few of the owls on the roofline, not a single one of the birds was large enough to give the husky problems one on one, though Kyle could sense that if they were to suddenly turn violent that Coda would have not a chance in hell of getting away before she was torn to shreds.  His little girl was tough in her own right, but these animals were still wild and as a result knew how to be undeniably deadly.  Their claws would shred the dog into so many bloody ribbons if they decided to take offense to her gentle chuffs.

Kyle was about to call to Coda again when one of the hawks, there was no way to tell which one, screeched aloud, sounding not unlike a set of nails being dragged across a chalkboard.  He couldn’t help but flinch at the sound as suddenly each bird took flight, each of them pumping their wings as they ascended quickly into the night sky. The thunder of so many wings unfolding at once caused Kyle to spring forward, seeking to drag Coda inside if he had to.  He would undoubtedly take a few nasty cuts and scrapes but he would at least save his little girl from a certain and gruesome demise.  The distance to the door from where the husky was standing wasn’t that far, he could make it.

Even as he looked skyward to see how many of the birds would descend upon him at a time Kyle felt his eyes widen once more.  A single feather alighted upon his shoulder as he looked up in amazement, seeing not a single winged form as he blinked rapidly, looking down as much as he could at the feather upon his shoulder.  He’d reached Coda but had not had the chance to cover her.  The husky chuffed at him as though reassuring Kyle that all was well.  Brushing the feather from his shoulder Kyle stood absolutely still for a moment, wondering if what had just happened were entirely real or just another part of this strange, very real-seeming dream he was having.  His mind wanted to believe that nothing strange had just happened, that he was still asleep in his bed, that there had been no strange gathering of birds looking at him as though he was dinner.

The cold of the night could be explained, the human brain was quite adept at fooling the body into believing it was experiencing certain things even with very little material to work with.  He could have kicked the blankets away from himself, thus the inside of the house would be colder than under the blankets with his wife.  Maybe Jenna had rolled over and breathed on his shoulder, that would perhaps explain the light touch of a feather on his skin.  Kyle began to walk towards the door, barely noticing as Coda followed at his side.  The husky had always preceded him or followed behind when he had walked back into the house, she rarely if ever walked at his side.  Yet Kyle was in a state at that moment that did not allow him to comprehend this.  What about the thunderous sound of so many birds taking flight at once? What about that?  How could his brain explain away the roar of the many wings as the small flock had taken off all at the same time?  What could have possibly caused that?

Kyle found that he didn’t have an answer.  Even when he managed to close the door, walk back to the bedroom and slip under the covers he still couldn’t think of a single thing.  Sleep was rather slow in claiming him again as that thunderous roar crowded its questing into his thoughts, seemingly adamant in forcing him to think of an answer for the strange occurrence.  What could have caused that?

*                      *                      *

 

Sunday, May 19th

 

 

Kyle woke before Jenna as usual, though on this day he gave her only a single kiss on the cheek before rolling out of bed, his body wakening quickly as the thought of what had happened just several hours ago came back to mind.  Kyle was out of bed and into a comfortable jogging suit in seconds as he made his way from the bedroom to the kitchen again.  Coda did not accompany him this time, remaining on her side as she continued to slumber, barely twitching as he moved past where she lay at the foot of the bed.  The husky didn’t even open her eyes as Kyle left the room, though she chuffed once in her sleep as he exited, her eyes moving behind her furry lids as she dreamt of whatever it is that canines dream of.

His mind was still wracked with the single thought that had followed him into a troubled slumber, the issue of what had caused that thunderous noise that had erupted as the birds, there had been birds he was almost convinced, took off at once.  Kyle felt tired, worn out and weary, though he still had to know that he wasn’t going crazy in some strange, as of yet undefined way.  He had to know that he wasn’t seeing things, or maybe he needed to know that he had been seeing things, whatever the case he needed to know.  That was of course the main point.

Kyle was striding across the kitchen floor, ignoring the cold hardwood beneath his feet as he could see the daylight spilling through the blinds.  He almost expected to hear the ruffling of wings or an early-morning hunting cry, or something to indicate that the weirdness of last night was about to be revisited.  Unlocking and opening the door though he swung it wide to reveal nothing more unusual than his car as it sat in the gravel portion of the driveway.  He’d expected, if the dream had been reality, to see his rig dotted liberally with the white remnants of bird crap and perhaps a multitude of feathers, though its normal color was unmarred by a single feather, scratch or even a hint of droppings.  Kyle blinked several times as he tried to sort out the events of last night with the absence of any tangible evidence today.

Sunlight streamed down from above, barely warming Kyle as he felt the chill of last night still, unable to break free as of yet from the strange feeling that the dream, had it been a dream?, had elicited.  Kyle liked things to make sense, though at the moment this made no sense. Everything had seemed so real, right down to the cold way that the birds had looked at him.  But where was the evidence?  Where was something, anything to support his case?  All he had to go on right now was that thunderous roar that still defied any ready explanation.

Kyle heaved a large sigh as his shoulders drooped, feeling a bit helpless at this point as he cast his eyes down.  His eyes widened just a bit as he saw something lying next to his car, something that normally could be easily explained, though at this moment caused his heart to beat a little harder in his chest.  Kneeling on the far side of his car Kyle swallowed hard as he plucked the single item from the ground, remembering the slight feel as the object had landed upon his shoulder the night before.

Birds flying over, such as crows and even gulls at times, shed feathers all the time and as a result left them to float randomly into the yards of those who thought them little more than nuisances.  Kyle had seen more than a few feathers in his time appear without explanation in his back yard or elsewhere on his property, though this one was far different.  He wasn’t an ornithologist, nor was he even that interested in birds, but he knew the feather he now held in his left hand was not from a crow or a gull.  The striping and coloration were all wrong for starters, leaving Kyle cold as he realized that here was a small piece of the proof he had needed.  Last night had happened.

“Kyle?  What are you doing hon?”  Kyle lowered the feather quickly, feeling a lump forming in his throat as he looked over at his wife.  Jenna stood in the doorway, one hand running through her long brown hair as she yawned deeply.  She was clad in sweatpants and a t-shirt, her feet bare as she moved aside just enough to allow Coda to squeeze by as the husky bounded outside.

“Nothing, just thought I heard something nosing around out here is all.”  The excuse sounded lame, though Jenna merely shrugged as she turned to go back inside.  Kyle didn’t know what was more unnerving, the fact that she had bought his excuse so easily or that he was still trying to convince himself that last night hadn’t happened.  Feathers fell all the time, birds flew over homes back and forth at random day and night, it didn’t mean that last night had been real.  The feather could have come from almost anywhere he told himself.  Looking down at Coda as the dog came to stand next to him Kyle could have sworn, as always, that the husky was grinning at him.

*                      *                      *

 

Kyle found himself at the tree again, though today was slightly different than yesterday. For one thing fewer people were in evidence, even the road was all but abandoned as Kyle sat against Old Guard again.  Sunday’s were busy days for some parts of town, though around this part of town things were pretty quiet on a usual basis.  Plus at eight o’ clock on such a day many people were still in bed, enjoying their time off or just passed out from whatever activities they’d participated in the night before.

He was an early riser, always had been and most likely always would be.  After a quick breakfast of cereal and milk Kyle had made his way down Mcloughlin to where he now sat, finding that just placing himself near the tree seemed to assuage his nerves.  The question of last night was still with him, though the walk to this spot and the several minutes he’d already spent seated with his back against the rough bark of the tree seemed to be enough to calm his mind at least in part.  Currently Kyle had his eyes closed as he took in the early morning sunlight, inhaling deeply now and then as he could smell the blooms and the scent of freshly cut grass all around him.  This place was perhaps one of his favorites within town limits, it just seemed as though it were more vibrant than many others.

There were other spots all over Vancouver that were far more serene and offered a much wider variety of plant and wildlife, though Kyle couldn’t deny that something about this spot was just so, calming.  It was almost as though the tree alone were the epicenter of the serenity that this spot offered, its many branches radiating a sense of peace that permeated the surrounding area.  Kyle didn’t even try to think in that moment as he leaned against Old Guard, enjoying the feel of its rough skin against his back.

Look at all we’ve lost.

Kyle’s eyes snapped open as he leaned forward suddenly, looking all around as he sought the speaker of the words.  No one was around, not even a car could be heard in the distance.  But he had heard a voice!  It had sounded as though the speaker was no more than a few steps away! Kyle’s heart beat a little faster as he placed both hands upon the ground, listening intently as he slowly rose to his feet.  He moved cautiously around the tree, expecting at any moment to see someone sitting on the other side.  It was strange to think that he hadn’t heard anyone approach, but then he had been deep in his own thoughts at the time, he supposed he might have missed the telltale sound of footsteps.  Except as he came around the other side of the tree there was no one there.

Why do we keep going? 

Kyle spun in place, the voice now sounded as though it were right behind him!  With eyes wide he raced around the tree, fervently hoping someone was playing a joke on him.  It would be a poor jest but it would at least make Kyle feel a little more normal if he were to find someone racing him around the tree.  At least a hoax would be real.

There was no one there though.  Kyle went around the tree several times before realizing that no one was playing a trick on him, no one was eluding him around the tree.  No one was that fast or that quiet.  Licking his lips nervously Kyle placed a single hand upon Old Guard for balance, breathing heavily as he looked in all directions. Thankfully no one drove by at that moment, they might well have believed him a madman for playing chase around a tree all by himself.

To stop is to die.  The voice came again as Kyle took his hand away from Old Guard, quickly as though as he’d been scalded.  He could only wish that such a thing were true after realizing that the voice was not coming from behind him.  It was coming from above.  Kyle knew that climbing Old Guard was strictly forbidden during school hours, though kids would be kids and after hours, on weekends and even when the teachers weren’t looking kids did what they weren’t supposed to do.  Breathing a little easier Kyle looked up, expecting to see someone on the verge of busting up with laughter after spooking him enough to make him chase his tail around a tree.

What he saw though was anything but laughable.  A very large owl stood upon the lowest branch, glaring down at him as Kyle’s jaw dropped noticeably.  He had no idea how to respond at first as the owl’s wide, penetrating eyes held him in place.  Kyle had no words or even a coherent thought at that moment, all was jumbled as he found himself warring with such thoughts as owls being nocturnal, or not prevalent in the surrounding neighborhoods, or even that this specimen was easily large enough to cause him a good deal of harm.  The bird never once even batted an eye as they stared at one another, the tufted feathers that rode high above each eye twitching in the gentle winds that blew through Old Guard’s branches.

Was this one of the bird’s that had been on his garage roof last night?  Kyle shook his head slightly, that was an irrational thought he wouldn’t entertain.  The bird continued to glare at him as he looked upward, as though silently demanding that he state his business here or move on if you please.  Kyle almost laughed then as his mind attributed such a human attitude to the bird, though it wasn’t really that funny.  The owl looked as though it would swoop down and claw his eyes out if he proved to be rude enough to laugh at that moment.

To stop is to quit, and we don’t quit.  Kyle took a step away from the tree as the voice came again, sounding strikingly familiar in that moment as he took several more steps away.  He didn’t stop until he was out from under the tree, away from the owl’s somehow damning glare.  His heart was beating madly as he continued to look at the tree, his eyes pinned to the spot where the owl still perched, though he could see only hints of the large bird from where he now stood.  Blinking rapidly several times Kyle found that after another few seconds he couldn’t see the owl any longer, as thought it had somehow vanished.

Kyle made as though to step forward, wanting to affirm that he was not losing his mind.  Yet he made it only one step closer to Old Guard, finding that he couldn’t bring himself to step back under the shadow of the tree once more.  Whether it was fear or something else he could not define, Kyle felt that he was no longer welcome in the shade offered by Old Guard, as though he had outstayed his time in its comforting presence.  So powerful was this emotion that he couldn’t even walk past the tree, finding the need to cross the street as he began his walk home, never once looking back at the towering form of Old Guard.  It was only when he reached the intersection where Mcloughlin met Grand that he finally began to feel better, and it was only after he reached home that the entire incident seemed not to matter anymore.  Though it was still there, in the back of his mind, Kyle found that he could for a time put the matter of the tree aside, focusing instead on other matters that needed his attention, at least for a while.

*                      *                      *

 

Monday, May 20th

 

 

The proper calls had been made, the right people had been informed and by nine o’ clock that morning a crew of seven men including Kyle and Simon had been gathered in the east parking lot of the high school.  The seven men had waited patiently for Jack to arrive, sipping coffee and smoking cigarettes during said time.  Kyle had already instructed two men to pick up their butts when they were done, they didn’t need to give the teachers or anyone else any reason to make a complaint.  They’d already fielded enough questions and complaints on the fact that Old Guard was scheduled to come down. There had been a great deal of controversy as well as confusion when they had been unable to tell anyone just why the tree had to be chopped down, though with the coming of the first class bell the seven men had been left alone to wait for their boss.  Jack Kruse was normally a punctual man, though today he’d had a few minor errands to run here and there before meeting up with his crew.

Kyle and Simon both knew that they should have already been prepping the site for the tree to come down, though as they’d gone to get ready each of them had felt a disquieting sense of wrong, something so disturbing that they’d gladly halted their progress to wait for Jack.  The other men had seen no problem in sitting idle to wait for the boss since it was required upon such jobs for a foreman to be present.  It had something to do with liability if something went wrong, though Kyle knew very little about such procedures, he just did his job to the best of his ability.  Thus far that had kept him well paid and out of trouble.  This job just felt wrong though, aside from the sentimental loss of it.  He couldn’t help but feel as though they were about to do something that would eventually turn out to be a really, really bad idea.  But that made no sense, it was only a tree.

The seven of them were either sitting on or around the work truck that the county had allowed them to use for the day, a one ton monster that was capable of hauling a great many tools as well as more equipment atop the metal racks that extended upward and outward from the bed if need be.  Currently it held only a few items such as three chainsaws, one of them a monster with a twenty-inch blade and a gas tank that looked like it belonged on a small car.  Kyle would be handling the machine that a few of his co-workers had jokingly named “Big Ceese”, though he’d found that he didn’t look forward to feeling the chainsaw as it bit into the wooded form of Old Guard.

There were axes as well just in case such was needed.  It was not uncommon for a chainsaw to jam or suffer some other malfunction, which meant that a backup would be required.  Jack had drilled each of them on being prepared at all times, which had eventually reached each man well enough that they knew what to pack for each particular job.

“It’s a tree Kyle, let go of it already.”  Simon took deep draught from his thermos as he spoke, though even he didn’t feel right with what they were about to do.  He was more practical-minded than Kyle though, he could accept that it was just part of a job.  Still he couldn’t deny that it seemed wrong.

“I know, it just feels like we’re tearing down a part of our childhood is all.”

“Aww, poor little baby wants his tree.” The other men laughed as Kyle joined along, shaking his head as he took his ribbing in good humor.  The sound of Jack Kruse’s Dodge Ram tearing up the road towards the parking lot caused each of the men to move into action suddenly, those who were smoking snuffing their cigarettes while the others put their coffee away before going to the back of the truck, pulling out the tools they would need to bring Old Guard to the ground.  As the truck pulled into the lot Jack cruised close to the work vehicle, giving them each a view of who was in the vehicle with him.  Simon and Kyle each rolled their eyes as they saw the slim form of Mr. Solus, the Old Man as he was known among most county workers.

The man had been a thorn in the side of more than a few people, making his “requests” on more than a few occasions when it came to the so-called betterment of the city.  For some reason he was listened to closely by those in authority, as though he were some all-important know-it all whose word was enough to get things to happen.  It was because of him that Old Guard was coming down, though the reasoning behind this was still unclear.  All that any of them knew was that their bosses did very little to work against Mr. Solus and as a result they were given the choice to follow orders or find another job.

“What the hell is that scarecrow doing here?” one of the men muttered, taking a chainsaw from the back of the truck.  No one touched Big Ceese, leaving it for Kyle to handle.  This was not procedure, it was more like a tradition that the man who got to do the cutting was the only one who handled the tool.  The two newbies in the group, they’d been on the crew for nearly six months, had had to learn this the hard way on another job when they’d grabbed the chainsaws that Kyle and Simon had been meaning to use.  The overzealous men had been berated and derided, all in good fun, until they had finally learned the error of their ways.  In short they had grown so tired of the insults that they had learned to realize just who was going to be using what before they simply pulled tools from the truck.

“Careful, he might hear you.” Simon said to the man that spoke.

“He’s still in the truck.  How could he possibly hear me?”  Simon only raised his eyebrows at the man, knowing that Sydney was somehow quite adept at knowing when people were talking about him.  As Jack and the old man exited the Dodge the men began to haul their tools from the truck, making as though to start heading towards the tree.  Old Guard stood several hundred yards away from where they currently were, barely visible around the corner of the school.

“Hold up guys, hang on just a sec before you get going.”  Kyle couldn’t help but note that Jack looked as though he hadn’t slept very well, his face was still covered in beard stubble and his eyes were vaguely bloodshot.  He looked almost as though he’d been drinking, though there was every sign that he was clean and showered, plus he didn’t stumble or slur his words.

“Mr. Solus is going to be attending today just to make sure the job gets done thoroughly.  Now this doesn’t mean he doesn’t trust us,” Jack looked over at Sydney as he continued, “He’s just concerned for our welfare and that of the people who come by here on a regular basis.  Now that that’s said and done let’s get the tools and get to it, I want this tree down within the next couple of hours and completely gone by tomorrow at the latest.”  The men stepped lively as they gathered their tools, shouldering the tie-downs and cables they would use to guide the tree towards the ground.  It had been decided that they would fell the tree towards the school since the space between the brick structure and the tree was expansive enough to offer enough space so that nothing would be damaged.

Simon and another man would direct traffic since they would still be closing off one lane of Mcloughlin.  Jack had initially wanted to close off the entire road, though his superiors had seen no reason to divert traffic around the high school if they could drop the tree on its back lawn.  Simon and the other man would simply be making sure that if the tree somehow did fall towards the road that damage would be limited to as little as possible.

Kyle shouldered Big Ceese as he spared one glance at Mr. Solus, seeing a slow smile creeping upon the man’s face as Jack turned to speak to him.  It was no secret that very few people who worked for the county liked Sydney Victor Solus, he was a strange and fairly off-putting character.  Kyle had never spoken to him before but he had been present far too often when Jack spoke to the man and found Sydney’s voice to be unpleasant enough even when it wasn’t directed at him.  Turning away he didn’t see as Sydney’s gaze traveled over to him, narrowing imperceptibly as Jack continued speaking to him.

“C’mon man, let’s get this done and I’ll treat you to a cold one at the Hideaway.” Simon said, clapping one hand on Kyle’s free shoulder as they began to walk towards Old Guard.  Kyle said nothing, merely keeping one foot in front of the other as they walked.

*                      *                      *

 

Nearly a half hour later Simon and his partner had cordoned off one side of Mcloughlin, directing traffic around their large orange cones as they waved the people onward.  The motorists that came and went accepted the blocked lane as they did so many other things in their lives, puttering right past it as though it were of little consequence.  Simon watched the short side of the road near its intersection with Reserve Street, holding up his stop sign and switching to show the slow command printed in bold black letters on the opposite side when needed.

Kyle and the others had prepped the tree by this time, lashing several tie downs to its lowest branches and checking their equipment to make sure that they were prepped and ready to go.  Jack and Sydney stood far to the right, watching Kyle as he went about the business of priming Big Ceese before approaching Old Guard.  Jack looked somewhat conflicted, as though he too were having an issue with what they’d been told to do.  He couldn’t go against his superiors, though at that moment he was sorely tempted, though he didn’t know why.

There were many faces pressed to the windows despite the urgings of the teachers to sit down and pay attention, as though the cutting down of Old Guard was such a monumental act that those who watched could not bear to miss it.  Even a few teachers were interested enough to stop their daily lessons and watch what seemed to be one of the worst ideas in the history of this school.  No one at that time could have said just why this seemed so wrong, though each one of them felt it so acutely that they could not tear themselves away from the windows.

Kyle couldn’t help but feel a tremor run through his body as he approached Old Guard, his muscles tightening just a bit as hefted Big Ceese.  This didn’t seem right, but he was being paid to do a job, that was all there was to it.  As he reached for the cord of the chainsaw he felt his heart clench just a bit, his fingers pausing on the pull cord as he closed his eyes.  He wanted to apologize, to say something, but he never got the chance.

A screech that was hauntingly familiar rent the air as Kyle and the other men were startled from their places by the sudden flapping of wings as they stood out from underneath Old Guard, looking skyward as they did.  What they saw was so unbelievable that each of them knew they would remember this moment until the day they died.

The sky off to the west of Old Guard had suddenly grown full with uncounted forms, each of them winging swiftly towards the massive tree, their wings beating loudly as their great mass rose over Old Guard’s highest branches.  In the next moment the massive, integrated flock of birds, there were everything from sparrows to great blue herons, dove headlong into the concealing branches of the tree, causing it to shake from its top to lower branches as they settled.  The swaying motion of the tree was so violent that Kyle, Simon and the other five men stood well away from Old Guard, their eyes widening as the sounds of wings rustling and claws scratching wood drowned out nearly everything else.

No one spoke for several moments as even the traffic along the road stopped, startled onlookers glancing in either awe or outright fear upon the tree as it slowly began to settle, its many branches creaking under the weight of its current occupants.  Kyle swallowed hard, there were far more birds now than there had been atop his garage just the other night. The memory of all those cold-blooded eyes, the eyes of remorseless predators, staring down at him froze Kyle in place as he just barely heard footsteps approaching him from the right.

“When you’re done staring young man perhaps you’d like to do your job.”  This was not the first time Kyle had heard the man speak, though he still found his voice severely unpleasant. To Kyle it sounded as though Sydney had swallowed a razor blade and gotten the razor lodged in his throat.  The resulting sound was almost akin to a savaged voice box trying to function as though nothing had happened.

“Hang on there Sydney, I tell my guys what to do.  Remember?”  The old man nodded as he stepped aside, allowing Jack to step closer to Kyle.

“I do apologize, but I would very much appreciate if you tell your workers to go on about their business.  I understand that this is indeed strange but it in no way should hamper your ability to work.”  Jack eyed Sydney carefully as the old man spoke.

“Actually it does.” The voice came from behind Kyle as all three men turned around, seeing a short, balding man standing not too far away.  His eyes were just as wide as anyone’s though Kyle could see a gleam in them that matched the small grin he wore very well.

“I’m sorry, who are you?” Sydney asked, his eyes narrowing as he frowned at the smaller man.  The balding man grinned up at Sydney as though in recognition.  Kyle wouldn’t have been surprised if the man did know him despite being new to the school.

“I’m Harold Allman, Mr. Allman to my students, I teach Environmental Biology here.”

“And your concern with this is what?” Sydney pressed on, folding his arms over his skinny chest.  Kyle was beginning to like the old man even less if that were possible, his condescending manner was simply too much to weather.  Harold didn’t seem to mind though.

“Well, as a part-time activist and a supporter of PETA I can assure you that if you go ahead and chop down the tree now the county will be dealing with a whole slew of legal matters that will no doubt tie this matter up in courts for some time to come.”  Harold continued to grin as he looked from Sydney to Jack to Kyle, still grinning as his gaze lingered on Kyle for just a moment.  Kyle couldn’t help but grin back, though he turned his head away as he felt Sydney’s gaze on him in that moment.

“This is absurd.  Jack, order your men to cut this tree down.  If there are any legal ramifications I will deal with them personally.  In the meantime, good day to you sir, Jack, let’s get to work.”  Sydney turned around then, guiding Jack along as Kyle stood looking at Harold, who simply shook his head.

“Don’t do it kid, I’m telling you now that if Old Guard comes down you’ll never live it down.”  Kyle nodded as he turned around, noticing that Sydney and Jack were waiting for him.  His boss’s gaze was reluctant, though Sydney’s was almost murderous as he glared at Harold, who simply kept grinning.  Walking back towards the two men Kyle didn’t say a word as he walked past them, shouldering Big Ceese once more as he kept his eyes upon the concrete pathway.  Harold Allman stood there staring at the three of them, his grin never once wavering as he kept his hands in the pockets of his tan slacks.  It was almost as though he knew what decision had already been reached.  Jack and Sydney turned away then, remaining where they were as they watched Kyle approach the giant tree.

Kyle was beside himself as he approached Old Guard, barely seeing the other men around him as he approached the old tree.  His mind was taken back to just yesterday when he’d sat beneath the tree.  The voice that had seemed to come from just behind him and then above him returned, still fresh in his memory as he came to stand beneath the bird-laden boughs, looking up into the many eyes of the predators that now glared down at him.  The chainsaw was in his right hand as he stepped close to the tree, placing his left hand against its bark as he closed his eyes.

Look at all we’ve lost.

            Why do we keep going?

            To stop is to die.

            To stop is to quit, we don’t quit.

            Why do we go on?

            There’s no other way, we go on because we must.

Kyle opened his eyes as heard the voice again, his heart swelling as he came to a decision that he somehow knew he would have done in any case.  Looking down at the chainsaw in his hand he grinned, dropping the heavy piece of machinery to the ground.

“Kyle, what are you doing?” asked one man to his left, no doubt sensing that something was wrong.  Kyle didn’t respond for a moment as he took a deep breath, letting it out as he looked up again to the many birds that continued to look down at him.  As he did this he could almost believe that their deadly stares had softened somewhat, as though relinquishing the killing tool in his right hand had caused him to rise in their estimation just a bit.  It was a ridiculous thought of course, though Kyle couldn’t help but entertain it nonetheless.

“I can’t do this, and neither can any of you.” Kyle replied, turning around as he took a seat upon the base of the tree, grinning as he leaned back against Old Guard, casting only one more glance up at the fierce birds of prey that were even now staring down at him.

“Kyle, hey bud, what are you doing?” Kyle just barely glanced at Simon as his friend came striding over to him, “I mean I know how much the tree means and all but is it worth your job?”  Kyle shrugged as he continued to smile, turning his gaze from his friend as he saw Jack and Sydney stride up to him.

“So ah, what are you thinking Kyle?” Jack asked, looking at him evenly as Sydney looked ready to foam at the mouth.

“I can’t do this Jack, I’m sorry but I can’t.  Old Guard needs to stay right where it is.”

“The tree is diseased!  It needs to come down now!  I, Jack, discipline this lazy ass!” Sydney yelled, pointing a bony, accusing finger at Kyle.  Simon frowned at the man as his chest puffed out slightly, his sign dropping from his fingers as he took a seat next to Kyle.

“You’re gonna have to discipline me too then Jack.  This old fart ain’t our boss, you are.”  Simon sat next to Kyle as the two men exchanged grins, lightly pounding their knuckles together in friendship as they then looked towards their boss and the old man.

“Me too Jack.” One of the other men sat on Kyle’s right as he looked to both Kyle and  Simon, nodding that he was with them.  The other four men joined the three of them quickly enough as they sat around the tree, informing their boss that he would have to discipline them all.  Jack looked as though he had no clue what to do, while Sydney looked ready to commit murder

“Guys c’mon, it’s one tree for God’s sake, just get up and let’s get this done.  I’ll worry about the legal issues, I just need this done.”  Not a one of them moved as Kyle looked up at Sydney, finding it difficult to even meet the old man’s hate-filled gaze.

“This tree isn’t coming down old man. If you want it down so badly you’ll have to cut it yourself.  But we’re not moving.”  Kyle smiled as Sydney glowered at him, making it seem as though he would do just that if his demands were not met in the next moment.

“The tree is a health risk.  It needs to be cut down and uprooted before it affects others.”

“Well unless you’re a tree doctor I think we need a second opinion.  So long as this equipment is out though I’m not moving.” Kyle said, letting Sydney know with the tone of his voice that he meant every word.

“Me neither.” Simon said.  The other five men voiced their assent, though Kyle wondered if they knew why they were agreeing to such a thing.  Hell he wasn’t even sure why he was doing this.

“Guys please-“ Jack started.

“If you pursue this I’ll make sure each one of you are fired, reported and ruined in this city, this county, hell this state if you push me far enough.  No one goes against my word boys, so if you’re so eager to throw your futures away for one old, diseased tree then go on and test me, because I promise you-“

“Now hold on there Sydney.  No one threatens my guys, not even you.  I agree this needs to be worked out, but there’s no need-“

“Oh shut your mouth you washed up excuse for a foreman.  I should have known you would eventually back these lazy, no good slackers.  If I were you I would fire them and take on this job yourself or find another crew, because I can have your job as well you hack.”  Jack’s jaw hung low as he stared hard at this man who had been such a good friend for so long.  He could hardly believe that Sydney was speaking thusly to him.  His decision should have been greatly muddled by the many years he’d known this man, though in that moment Jack felt a strange liberation as he stepped away from Sydney, closer to his crew as he openly glared at the old man.

“I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it then Syd.  For now I feel the need to stand with my guys on this.  Old Guard isn’t coming down today.”

“You’re going to break your word?”  Jack nodded as Sydney glared at him, smiling slightly as he did.

“One of the only times I’ve ever done it willingly Syd, but this time it actually feels right.”

“You’ll regret this Jack, I promise you that.”

“Oh, I somehow doubt that.”

*                      *                      *

 

Tuesday, May 21st

 

 

Kyle and Simon went back to work the next day. Old Guard was tested by a specialist that was brought in due to a differing of opinion between Jack Kruse and Sydney Victor Solus.  In the end the tree was given a clear bill of health and deemed suitable to remain where it was, a damning claim that seemed as though it would ruin Sydney’s credibility in the town of Vancouver since it was the first and only decisive dispute that the old man had ever lost.  Jack had unfortunately been given the duty of delivering the news to the old man, though Sydney had not received the disruptive message.  Strangely enough the old man had disappeared.

In all honesty no one had minded all too much when they’d heard the old man was gone, many figured he would pop up again at a later date, perhaps to demand that something else had to be torn down.  Jack Kruse was questioned thoroughly by the unfortunate police officers that were put in charge of the old man’s disappearance, though when no damning facts or pieces of evidence were found Jack was allowed to go back to his life as usual.  He did wonder where the old man had gone, though like everyone else he found that he didn’t really care.  It was a strange attitude to have towards someone that had been around his family for so long, but after yesterday’s outburst he couldn’t help but feel a little grateful to Kyle for his quiet refusal over the cutting down of Old Guard.  Such acts of kindness were often thought of as rather eccentric, things that activists who routinely supported organizations like Greenpeace might practice, but Jack couldn’t help but think that Kyle had known exactly what he was doing.  Whatever the case he believed he’d done the right thing in backing his crew instead of his old family friend.  He was just grateful that his bosses thought the same.

 

Hard Truths

We’re born knowing absolutely nothing except the most basic tenets of life. We cry, we eat, we shit, and for a while all we know is that it gets taken care of. Then we grow up, we still cry occasionally, we still eat, and we still shit, but eventually we are trained to realize that we need to take care of it on our own. Many people learn and do this without much prompting, others go kicking and screaming into their more independent years.  Ever seen an adult that refuses to grow up?  Too often it’s because no one ever made them.

It’s easy to blame the millennial generation for this faux pas, as quite often it’s seen that someone within that generation will raise a stink over having to do things the hard way, or will claim an entitlement that many others have to work for.  But they’re not the sole problem.  Anyone from any generation can think they’re entitled to anything, the difference is, some people are and some people are just crying and taking a shit without having to understand that hard truth.

You get out of this world what you put in.

If you want something then go get it. If you know what you’re worth then find a way to earn it. Cowards and fools talk shit without having the balls to go out and get it. If you want a better life then make one. Don’t blame this person or that person because you’re not where you want to be. They aren’t responsible for the actions you take and the life you lead. If you want to be a thinking, reasoning adult, then act like one. Otherwise you’re just wasting time, and aren’t worth the words you speak.

No Questions Asked (excerpt)

April 3rd, 2011j

Vancouver, WA

 

 

I should have gotten out sooner.

No you shouldn’t.  It’s that you couldn’t.

You shut up! You’re not real, you’re not even real!  You’re really not real!

Yes I am, I’m the only one who’s real.  You just won’t listen.

That’s right!  Lalalalala, I won’t listen! I say damn you and go to hell and won’t listen so lalalaladeeda you goddamn figment!

How droll.

Shut up!  Can’t hear you, remember?  Lalala can’t hear my imaginary voice cause I’m ladeedahing!

Will you tell the story at least?

Oh yeah, I’ll, wait a minute!  Dammit I say what’s happening, not you!  Are you there?  You’re still there, aren’t you?  I know you are even if you don’t talk! Well then fine!  I won’t talk to you either you stupid scrap of malfunctioning brain matter!

So where was I? Oh yeah, I should have gotten out sooner, but I didn’t.  It wasn’t that I couldn’t, like some would have you believe, but I didn’t out of choice.  It was a bad choice obviously, yep, bad, bad choice, bad choice bad voice bring the noise and all your toys, ha-ha!

Excuse me, it’s getting a little harder nowadays, you know, ‘cause I’ve been here forever and all.  I wonder how long it really takes a person to lose their sanity?  No one here’s been able to tell me, but of course that’s cause we’re all mad here, in a way that it is.

I’m not really insane, just, ah, damn, lost my thought. Um, what was I about to write?  Oh well, it probably didn’t matter.  I’m tired anyway, and soon I’ll have to make my rounds.

Always the rounds.

Yep, always the rounds, gotta love the rounds, and more than that, gotta love always finding a new way around the rounds, ha-ha!  Someone told me that before, but it’s only funny sometimes.  The rest of the time it’s kind of sad, and then kind of funny, and then kind of scary sometimes too.  But, ah damn, I had a thought and I lost it again. That’s happening a lot lately, but I guess it’s been happening a lot for a while.  ‘Cause you know I’ve been here so long I’ve gone mad, and don’t let anyone tell you different.  Only the dark guys know any better, and I’d rather not see them.  They, they…

They scare you?

Yeah, I mean no!  They’re too quiet, they don’t say anything, they just, stare at you, until you go and do something. Then they kind of, I dunno, they kind of go away, but they don’t really go away, they’re always there.  I know they are.  But, I’m done now, gotta go do the rounds.

Always the rounds.

Yep, always the rounds.

 

Life

It’s a race you don’t win.

It’s a game of inches.

It’s a gamble that doesn’t always pay off.

Sometimes it’s a punishment, sometimes it’s a blessing, but it is what it always is regardless of the euphemisms and niceties that are affixed to the simple principle. Life simply is, without question and without any better reason.  Any definition that attempts to nail down the finer points is a rationalization made by those that don’t yet fully understand the underlying tenets of what they have, if they are to begin with. Sometimes it almost seems as if human beings try so hard to fool themselves into believing that something has meaning that eventually they lose all sense of what they’re searching for.

Life doesn’t carry the same meaning that we affix to it. It’s very nature demands that it change, conform, adapt, and break out of whatever neat little box we seek to put it in for examination and study. It doesn’t follow rules or plans, not in the conventional sense that people seem to desire. What life will do whenever possible is wreck any well-laid plans and go about its own course. Its chaotic within its own orderly concept, seeking to break out into its own unique pattern that few if any can really understand.

What life is and what it does is as beyond human reckoning as our daily lives might be to housefly.  We don’t know what to expect, and in fact every prediction we make is bound to become altered in some way because we made it so. Life won’t always follow the path you set for it, no matter how carefully and how forcefully you plan.  The only time that life will alter its course is when it is forced to do so, largely because of the actions you take. Is it right?  Do any of us have the right to direct such a course? Many would say yes, of course we do, it’s our destiny as humanity to shape the world around us. Others might take a different tact and decide that life must simply happen as it will. So who’s wrong and who’s right?

None of us are.

If you’ve been reading closely enough, it won’t matter if you plan your path according to life’s designs or your own. It will happen as it must, even if one seemingly directs their own path. We are no more apart from life than it is from us. What we do affects it and is part of it all at the same time. Trying to deny that your path is a product of life’s designs is much like trying to deny that the air that fills your lungs is what keeps you breathing. Each and every one of us needs life and its many twisting pathways, no matter your belief.

To be alive is to accept the reality of that life, even if one cannot embrace it.

30 Years

30 Years

By Tom Foster

 

 

Prologue

Before…

 

            I screwed up.  I’ve been over this so many times in my head, wondering what I could have done, what I could have said, and what I could have tried to make her believe, to make them all believe, and I’ve come up with nothing.  It wasn’t enough to do what could be done or say anything that came to mind, no one believed, and all those previous times seem to have been for nothing.  It’s like having an itch for three decades that you can’t scratch, but once you do you can’t stop until it’s red, raw, and bleeding.  Sometimes the pleasure isn’t really worth the pain that comes after.

            This isn’t the first time I’ve been through this, that’s the worst part. People always think I’m crazy when I tell them this part, and I can’t blame them.  After all who would really believe the kind of story I’ve been living now for probably three or four different renditions?  It’s the same thing each time, the same problems I’m presented with no matter how much I change it around, no matter what I do or say. I’ve tried to change things, both for the better and the worse, but it always seems to snap back to this moment, the moment I first open my eyes, and feel realization flooding in.

            I screwed up.

            At that point I can’t tell anyone.  If I did the next instant might be filled with the floor rushing up at me and a pain in my skull that lasted only a short while before I had to go through it all again.  Sounds crazy doesn’t it? Shit, live in my life as it is now and you might find yourself rooting through your medicine cabinet for the pills most likely to knock your ass out without remembering what you’ve just learned. The mind has a way of keeping itself from going crazy right?  Sure, and if you believe that I’ve got a bridge to sell you, as the saying goes.

            If you’re reading this it means that I’m on my way out again, and damned if I don’t fully believe I’ll wake up to the blurry, fuzzed out vision I’ve become accustomed to at the beginning, and the squalling that I soon enough realize is my own.  It’s a do-over see?  A chance to either make things better or make them worse depending on what I do and how I act, but here’s the problem.

            As much as I remember what happened before I check out, I simply don’t understand what it is I’m supposed to be doing, or why.  Ever have someone give you a vague problem and say “fix it”? That’s my dilemma, I know something’s broke but I don’t know what and don’t know how to get the job done. So I keep going, doing what I can to just get through, and then bam, there I am again at the beginning.  It’s confusing isn’t it? You’re probably scratching your head and getting ready to put this damned book down before proclaiming me to be a kook, and I don’t blame you.  But really, just keep reading and it might make sense. No promises though.