Heir of Nostalgia- Chapter Zero

Heir of Nostalgia- A Gathering Darkness

Present Drocktrails21ay…

I couldn’t stop shaking, no matter how much I tried- the air around me cloying, buzzing and twisting in the night, scythes of light slicing through darkness. ‘This is what withdraw feels like- like dying. Like my entire body is someone else’s and I’m dying.’ I’d seen the beggars in the street, vagabonds, winos and drunks and addicted, cast from society like trash to be thrown out, waiting to die, waiting to be saved.
Maybe both.
Someone sobbed behind me. Stones scattered and clacked. I didn’t care. Let them find me. Let them end me. I might as well be dead anyway, my family was dead, our line ended.
In the distance, growing ever closer, the scream and wail of sirens, like the world was coming to an end- in a way it was, ‘And all because of me- of what I’d done…
Hadn’t done.’
Should have done!
On my knees, prostrate before the body of my father, his hand outstretched and still, fingers twisted, gripped in death, reaching and begging for a mercy he couldn’t find in life, ‘Only death and blood and betrayal. Lots and lots of betrayal…’ Mainly blood though, blood beyond imagining. We’d been swimming in rivers of it, first 42nd Street and Leo’s, then Kaelynn’s flight, and now this, Central Park burning in the night, littered with corpses.

Bile, like acid, burned the back of my throat. It was all I could do to lean away, gagging and retching, spilling my insides out… only to spill nothing, just strings of blood and spit.

‘Seems I can’t even die right…’ And I wanted to die, oh god how I wanted to die…
The King’s sword, or at least what remained of it, seemed to weigh a ton in my hand, the weight of it like the world, but slick with blood, sweat and tears.
“He shouldn’t have pushed me, I’m just a kid… I had to.” While in the back of my mind, ‘They never showed anything like this, on Sesame Street.’
“Maggie…?  Aaron…?” Did the names ever end, those that were gone because of me, of what we’d done? My throat felt raw. Too much screaming- too much weeping. Seems I’ve been mourning since the dawn of time.
‘And it’s still not enough.’
“Damn you…” I shook my fist, strings of blood, now cooling, lacing the rock beneath me. ‘Umpire Rock… that’s rich.’ No matter how I tried, how angry I became- nothing but silence and accusations surrounded me. ‘I really have become death.’ Again I leaned back and screamed, vented my anger against a star-spangled sky already gone bloody.
More rocks scattered behind me.
They were getting closer.

How the hell did I even get here, that’s what I wanted to know? To this place, this position, covered in blood and guilt and shame. How could I have gone from beloved son to homeless vagabond to stone-cold killer? ‘Three years, from royal apartments to city streets, and now murderer?’ My mother would have been so proud.
If she had lived.

Fata Morgana- Chapter Nine & Ten

Chapter Ninemed_res

There is a saying that comes to mind, something from an old movie that I’d seen as a kid all those years ago, and it spoke to me still, ‘I was ninety-nine point nine five percent parched, and I needed a drink.’

Clambering to my feet, after giving a wary look towards the silent darkened windows above me, I struck out in search of a well, that or a water faucet. Right now I’d take anything. (In my mind I was really hoping to find an old garden hose and twist knob faucet. For those of you who have never experienced the sweet goodness that can only come from a garden hose on a blistering hot day, crystal refreshment just begging to be tasted, just a hint of the hose, the crisp tongue-biting tease of wetness that can parch even the staunchest of souls, there are simply no other terms or words to describe it, other than absolutely heavenly. In fact, I’m sure that heaven will have its fair share of garden hoses as well, if for no other reason than to relive the sensation, the absolute joy of quenching ones thirsts from one.)
Upon entering the backyard, the first thing that I noticed, other than the overgrown patch where a garden would have been but only weeds ran riot now, was a dull gray pipe sticking up out of the ground next to a wooden pole, both wound in dark green ivy. Topping the gray pipe was a sun-bleached red-handled pull faucet. (Sadly, no hose though.) It took two yanks on the handle, the second yank more desperate then the first when it seemed the damn thing wasn’t going to work- to come so close, yet be denied –but finally I managed to draw forth a stuttering stream of rusty, then running clear, water.
Needless to say, I immersed my head twice, before I could no longer resist, shoving my face fully into the stream where I simply opened my mouth and allowed the crisp wetness to drown the fire ragging within my throat and soul.
Timeless moments later, my thirst quenched, or should I say slackened as it would take some time to replenish what mother nature and the sun had so callously stripped, I stood, wiped off the excess water and took a good long look around. (I didn’t leave however, for now the faucet and the water was my friends, long lost friends.)
As before, the farmhouse was a two-storied structure sporting a three-quarter wrap-around porch, complete with white-washed columns and a porch swing. Jutting out on the backside, where I currently stood, was a cracked and much-stained concrete pad. The pad acted as a patio, per se, and was dominated by a series of rusty-green lawn chairs with seashell backs; which in turn seemed to be standing sentry to a screened-in back porch, its door closed.
Just to the left of the patio stood another door, the basement door, wooden and sagging on its hinges. A bricked-lined path led from the patio to its darkened threshold. Unlike the back door, the basement door was wide open, not invitingly though. Darkness seemed to pour from the opened doorway like ink from a spilled inkwell.
Needless to say, I decided to investigate the upstairs first.
Something about darkened basements made my skin want to crawl. Despite the coolness, which I’m sure would be welling up from darkness below, basements usually smelled of rotten potatoes and rusting metal cans. Not only that, but did I mention how much I hated spiders.
The screen door leading into the house was about as stubborn as the front gate had been to open, squalling hideously as I yanked on it. The weathered and swollen inner door was just as bad, requiring two good shouldering’s and a shower of rotten wood and paint before it too, finally let go and lurched open. The only difference being, the inner one would skid to a stop about halfway through, prompting me to worm my way around it.
It was obvious the farmhouse had been abandoned for quite some time.

The first room I entered was the kitchen, with its pale-yellow walls and green linoleum floors. Floors that were warped and buckled in many places, hence the door stopping halfway. It was obvious that the ravages of time, moisture and humidity had rotted the subfloor, as it had the plaster and lathe walls. Simply put, the house was a mess of rot and mold.
Cabinets of darkened cherry barely clung to the walls, many with their doors hanging wide open and askew. A gas stove and refrigerator, (I could only imagine the horrors contained therein) and a battered three-legged kitchen table, dominated the rest of the room. All were covered in thick layers of dust, debris and mouse droppings. Layers of tattered spider webs completed the picture of a farmhouse long in the tooth, and abandoned to both time and the elements. Three wooden chairs set tucked up under the kitchen table, the fourth, currently on its back like its owner had been in a hurry to leave, lay near the head.
Straight ahead, on the opposite side of the room, lay a darkened hallway with a full-length mirror on one side, and a closed wooden door on the other.
Far off to the right stood a small shelving unit holding the desiccated remains of moldering cardboard boxes and rusted cans, what had once been a pantry, and beyond that an opening showing angled stairs leading upward to the second story.
For the moment I decided to continue my investigation of the farmhouse downstairs.
The smell of disuse and rot seemed to permeate the entire house, with motes of dust drifting lazily across shafts of brilliant sunlight.
I sneezed twice before making it to the hallway- allergies.
The closed door across from the full-length mirror was locked and all the tugging in the world would not open it. This was a good thing, because I think it led to the basement- the last place I wanted to be at the moment.
For some reason I ignored the mirror.

Beyond this, and straight ahead, lay a large living room of darkly paneled walls. One wall was hung with countless pictures in a variety of dust and cob-web covered frames, the images they contained and the faces therein, of people, places and things, now faded to jaundiced ghostly images trapped forever behind glass.
In the far corner, across from a sagging and much-rotted divan, its course multi-colored weave faded and heavy with clumps of wind-driven leaves, set an old console television set, its darkened screen long since shattered, remnants of straw and dried grass poking from within its broken confines.
The only other objects in the room, besides the patchy shag carpeting rotting underfoot, and an old wicker shelving unit its shelves collapsed in a heap at its base, along with the shattered and dust-covered remains of what they once held, were two openings leading off to my right. Both of these ended in bedrooms, now nothing more than rat’s nests of shredded clothing, sagging bedsprings, broken-down headboards and the collapsed remains of a couple of dressers and a nightstand. The pictures hanging in these two rooms were just as bad and indecipherable as the ones hanging in the living room.
This left me with a dilemma of sorts, if I wanted to continue exploring the house, which didn’t seem half as ominous from the inside as it had from the outside then I’d have to go either upstairs, and possibly fall through rotted floorboards, or downstairs and wade into the basement.
Upstairs it would be.

Chapter Ten

The stairs leading up from the kitchen were choked with leaves and the remains of tattered clothing. It was here that I discovered a shattered baseball bat, a Little Slugger. It had been wedged between the third step and the cracked and weathered handrail of the stairwell. Stepping over this, my eyes continued to travel upward, into the dim darkness overhead.
Reaching the top of the stairs I was confronted by a long hallway stretching away from me the length of the house. Behind me was a long window, nearly floor to ceiling, its eight panes covered by a cracked and yellow blind. Unlike the windows downstairs, this window, as well as the other one at the opposite end, had their blinds pulled, casting the entire hallway in a darkened pall, a brownish glow that seemed to absorb even sound. The carpet up here, though dusty and strewn with bits of leaves and grass, seemed intact, its softness muffling my footsteps.
Curiously, the hallway stank of recently mowed grass and gasoline. It reminded me of a time when-

We had just moved for the third time in as many years. (This would have been about a year or so after the whole Richard getting punched in the nose, incident.) My father was still a police officer, still had his temper, but in a light bulb moment, figured out that us leaving the trailer park was by far, better than Mom leaving him. So, instead of pushing his luck, and her buttons any further, he had decided we needed to move into a more stable environment.
The house we moved into was an old two-story unit that sat across from the city’s ball park. It too, was a rambling ramshackle of a place, with hollow wooden floors, plenty of plaster and lathe walls and rooms filled with cheap wood paneling. But it had a temperament about it, a stubborn, in your face hatred.
That and it was haunted as well.
My strongest memory of the place, and the reason I thought it was haunted, became clear the night we first moved in.
For some reason that night, while my brother and I lay upstairs on a temporary mattress dad had thrown down on the floor; we both began to feel ill. Whether it was the smell of the place, with its mold and general stink of disuse and neglect, or whether it was something we ate for dinner that night, we both ended up spending most of the night downstairs in the bathroom throwing up this orange chunky bile, bitter and acidic. (I can still remember how it burned the hairs in my nose and the back of my throat.) According to Mom, we threw up most of the night, just me and my brother. Mom and our new baby brother never did get sick.
After an hour or so of us worshipping the porcelain throne, Mom decided she’d better call dad and ask him to stop by during his shift, to take a look at us.
Which he did, even if begrudgingly so…
I can distinctly remember that through it all, he never really showed us too much concern, and in the end chalked it all up to something we must have eaten the day before.
By daybreak the barfing had quit, thank god, and we were left feeling weak and puny, pale and sweaty.
And that’s pretty much it.
So why have I told you this story, and when do we get to the haunted part?

Since that night, and many nights since, I have often wondered whether it was really food poisoning we had suffered from, or just us being kids and picking up some weird bug. It wouldn’t be until years later that I would develop another theory, however.
Like I said, dad had chalked it all up to something we must have eaten earlier in the day, but now I’m beginning to think it was simply the house hating us.
I know, sounds crazy, how can something inanimate like a house hate?
Because it was cursed from the very beginning, since its conception- first board cut. Houses can do that, people can do that. Houses, like people, have personalities. They can hate, become jealous, scheme even.
I seriously believe, even to this day, even with the general lack of evidence, that that house, across from the ballpark, rumored to be haunted, hated us, and what the house hated, it wanted out. This puking we suffered was simply its way of trying to get us to leave.
Needless to say, it didn’t work then, and it sure as heck wouldn’t work now. Even though that same ‘sick to my stomach’ feeling was returning, that acidic, orange, chunky I just can’t wait to throw up, feeling’. When the spit in your mouth gets all stringy and your legs turn to water, and you feel like somebody has just reached down your throat and grabbed you by the guts and was busy twisting them into knots. This was the exact same feeling I was getting now, here, in this farmhouse, stranded at the top of the stairs. Whether it was from lack of water, the heat, or that I’d drank too much water too fast because of the heat, some small part of me, the part that still remained a kid, knew beyond the shadow of a doubt, that this house was like that one before, it hated me being here and it wanted me gone.
The only difference being, this time I was grown. I was an adult, and I could do what I want.
Yea, right…

It occurred to me then, even as I choked back the nearly overwhelming urge to hurl, that I’d almost fallen into ‘day trip’ mode again, the absolute last thing I needed to be doing right now.
I needed to stay put.
I needed to remain grounded in the here and now, not the once upon a time. Mainly, because I needed answers, and the answers I needed, could only be gotten by me staying put for once.
Granted, there for a moment the world had gotten fuzzy around its edges, but in the end I remained- despite the fact that I was holding back enough nausea to power a small city

Along the hallway before me were three doors, two on my left and one on my right. The doors on my left were both closed. The door on my right, however, was open just a crack, not a lot, but enough to allow one stabbing beam of sunlight to cut its way through the gloominess of the upstairs hall and illuminate what looked to be a flowered pattern worked into the hallway carpet.
Pausing, I gathered my wits. (Why was I so nervous, so scared? After all, what could really happen to me, I was already dead… right? Besides, nothing has happened so far to make me scared, other than being completely confused. One would think that after having faced the absolute last act of living and breathing and coming through it alive, I would have at least a smidgen more of courage.)
But I didn’t. I was afraid- enough for a half dozen people.
My goose bumps had goose bumps.
In fact, the last time I felt this scared I must have been around five or six-

*

We were living in Darton, in a little pink house situated on the very outskirts of town just off the curve of a highway. (This would have been just prior to the two-storied hating house and the trailer park.) Darton would be our new beginning, another starting point, one we desperately needed. The house, however, despite the newness of the town, needed a lot of work, the yard especially. Dad was still working construction in the city, so my parents were still able to pay the bills, something dad would later remedy. For now, though, we were the consummate picture of an American family.
Mom, dad, my brother and I had just finished working in the yard outside, chopping down the roof-high weeds surrounding the house, and clearing out most of the brush in the yard. My brother and I were completely worn-out from helping dad mow. Being just liddel-in’s we were put down for naps.
I loved those days, when parents actually scheduled naps and kids were required to sleep during them. Though back then, I don’t think we truly appreciated them like we should have. Years later, especially during my early teenage years, I would have killed for a nap-
I can remember laying there in bed, in what would later become our bedroom but for now remained a storage room. My brother snuggled up against me, his forehead and hair matted with sweat. Smudges of dirt surrounded his mouth and marked his left cheek.
It’s a couple of minutes in and I’m already half-in half-out of ‘it’- not really awake but not all that asleep. (At least I didn’t think so.) That’s when I begin having this dream… this ‘day trip’ sort of thing.

The room was dark except for a back-lit doorway immediately in front of me. Through it I can see my parents, still up and working in the living room, moving things about- furniture and such- that and this brilliant light shining in from above, illuminating this single thread of crystal-like web above me.
Normally I’d be freaking out, but I’m not. For you see, I’m not afraid of spiders… yet. So, instead of freaking out, I just lay there and watched this web, the way it shimmered in the sunlight, especially the way its brilliance outshined the rest of the room, redefining what darkness could be.
After a couple minutes/hours of lying there, I begin to notice this tiny little figure working its way along the webs length, making its way from my left to my right. (Remember, this web is really no more than a foot or so above the bed, so if I set up it gets destroyed.) This tiny little figure is a spider, its legs and body just as crystal clear as the thread it weaves. Located in the middle of this spider’s little bitty body, is this tiny blue shimmering flame, kind of pulsing along like a heartbeat, but this tiny blue light beats really fast. (The most amazing thing about this whole experience is the way the sunlight seems to shimmer off the spider and its web, diamond-like glitter, cutting across the room, as well as my vision, and absorbing all my interest, all my mind.)
So once again here I am, absorbed by this mesmerizing sight, a singular strand of web cut horizontal to my world, which is mystery enough, for how could a spider this small, or of any size for that matter, spin a web horizontally? Where was gravity and why wasn’t it working? And then there’s this tiny crystal spider working its way across it, like a tiny blue flame flickering diamond bright, a lit fuse slowly burning down.
Looking beyond the web I could see my dad. At the moment he was watching me, this most amazing look on his face, like he’s so proud of me. Immediately I smile back, and then, in a moment of absolute love, I ask him to come in here and witness this sight I’m seeing, that he would surely love it more than anything in the whole wide world, that, and I wanted to give him a great big hug for being the best-est Father in the whole wide world.
And that’s when I notice the ‘other’ spider
The bigger spider
The reason I’m so afraid of spiders to begin with, spider.
This thing here in the room with me, with us, has to be the size of a small dog, I’m not kidding you. Its eight glittering eyes look like flickering red flames, flames that are watching me, have been the entire time, probably. And worst of all, it’s crouched just this side of the wall next to the open door, just waiting to pounce on the first thing foolish enough to come through.
I’m literally frozen in place, as still and as sure as if I’d been wrapped up in silken thread and caught in a trap. I was nothing more than bait; I realize that now, and my father would turn out to be its next victim.
Unless I did something
Much to my horror, much to my surprise, here he comes though, this man I call Father, that same look of love and pride on his face. He’s coming to get his oldest son. To pick him up and kiss him on the cheek; tell him that he loves his oldest boy more than anything in the world.
Possibly ‘whole wide world’
That his boy did an awesome job out there this morning, helping his Dad rescue their new home from the ravages of time and decay-
And all the while, there it waited, the spider, crouched just inside the doorway, its eight legs quivering in anticipation. Venom dripped from its fangs, striking a thin vaporous line as it scarred the filthy hardwood floors.
And all the while I can’t say a thing! I can’t even scream. All I can do is lie there, mouth open, face frozen, too terrified to even move.
I can’t even wake my little brother up, tell him.
And my Dad is almost here, almost to our room, and there the spider is, waiting, waiting to pounce, waiting to bite- waiting to trap.
The crystal spider that was above me is gone now; having vanished off to my left, vanishing once more into darkness. Its little blue flame, now a flicker of brilliant blue stars all around me, hundreds… no thousands, of flickering blue heartbeats, all crouched in anticipation within the warm still darkness of the room. It was then that I realized we had entered her lair, her home, the place where she kept her young, where she put her young down for naps, possibly after feasting on stray cats, kittens and a rabbit or two… anything foolish enough to enter- and we had entered.
We were going to be next.


The entire house was a trap, her web in disguise. Instead of using leaves and bits of twigs and things like most hunting spiders, she had used windows and siding, pieces of wood, hardwood floors and carpeting, furniture and drapes…
“What is it son, are you ready for Daddy to come get you out of bed?”
He was here, it was too late. The fingers of his left hand were mere inches from the spider’s front legs- and I still couldn’t say a thing. All I could do was sit there and whimper, peeing myself under the blankets, my brother snoring softly beside me, his forehead all matted and sweaty, his cheeks dirty.
This is what she wanted me to do all along, she wanted me to lay there silent and afraid, whimpering like a baby, because that way my dad would have to come in and get me.
She was always such a devious little bitch, that one.
With his eyes focused on mine, his smile still evident, Dad stepped into the room… and in that instant the fear was gone, my paralysis vanquished. I immediately began to scream, even as she struck, even as her fangs sank deep in his side and filled him full of poison.
And then, like that, she was gone, shriveling back into the darkness to hide deep within her lair.
As she struck, Dad flinched to the right, lines of anguish striking across his features, his mouth opening in a silent scream, aware for the first time of the trap that had been set and successfully sprung by his oldest son, a willing and silent participant-
And I saw it, even as the love left his face, drained from his eyes, and in its place a new darkness fell, a flattening. I can still see him standing there, even today, right hand gripping where he had been bite, staring at me accusingly, even as the last visages of my true father fell away and were replaced by something else, something evil, a venomous black stare, a darkness her venom had introduced into the world.
And I knew then, even as I knew now, that because of my silence, my inaction, I’d murdered my dad, as clear and as clean as if I’d pulled the trigger on a gun myself. For in those eyes stood Cain, and on his forehead for the whole world to see, was that black spidery blotch, the mark that God had so righteously put there after Cain had murdered his own brother in cold blood.
The love of my father died that day, even as I ran to him, now freed from my paralysis, and threw my arms around him, and sobbed to him that I was sorry, that I didn’t mean for this to happen, to forgive me… and yet, even as I pled and begged, even as that old bitch crept out of the room, out of our house and out of our lives- even as the coldness of my father’s limbs surrounded me and lifted me up to his face to be kissed, I knew, as sure as I could no longer look at him for fear of what I might see reflected in his face, the flatness of his eyes, that my father was gone for good, and that no amount of childhood wishing, or tears or regret, would ever bring him back to me or to my family, again.

I wrapped my arms around me, willed myself to return, to shake off this feeling of cold creepiness stealing through me-

This time I’d been ‘day tripping’ and then some. Though, unlike all the other times, this time I remained in the farmhouse.
But why here, why now?
What was so different this time around?
What was so different about this place?
Every other time ‘day tripping’ meant movement, travel- frequent flier miles. Never once did I just ‘hang around’ afterwards.
Then again, I was still new to this, maybe the rules didn’t apply here. Maybe they had changed somehow…

Check that, I had moved after all, not so much in miles but in feet. To my horror I found myself standing halfway between the first and second doorways along the hall. And the first door, much to my chagrin, was now open, the darkness leaking from it looking like spilled ink.
Or blood…
Gazing down and back, I could see clearly, as plain as day, my footsteps leading from the top of the stairway, on down the hallway, only to stop before the now-open first door. Once there, however, they simply stopped, and did not pick back up again until now, directly beneath where I was currently standing.
But how? Between that place and here was a gap of about five feet- five undisturbed not a footprint in sight, feet.
Directly in front of me was a single shaft of sunlight, its golden bloom illuminating one tiny yellow flower woven into the carpet at my feet. For a moment I found myself wanting to fall into that light, to dance within its midst, revel in its warmth, for I had suddenly grown cold, and all the miles and miles and hours and hours of traveling life’s highways and byways had fallen heavily upon me. I didn’t though, because as far as I was concerned, this little adventure was over.
As in right now.
Instead of finding answers within the farmhouse, I’d only found questions, disturbingly dark questions. Questions I felt had no answers- because in the end, they dealt with me.
And at the moment I was an enigma wrapped in a mystery, just like this place I was in.
So I did the next best thing. I ran.
I turned to go, but not before catching a glimpse of what lay beyond the open doorway of the room. Mind you, I didn’t catch all of what lay beyond its threshold, but I did catch a glimpse, and a glimpse was more than enough to send me sprinting towards the stairwell like a madman. With a cry more whimper then words; I stumbled down the stairs, throwing myself down them three at a time, tripping over the broken baseball bat and sprawling out on the kitchen floor. Getting up I sprinted through the kitchen, arms wind-milling, stumbled into the table, sending it crashing to the floor, and out the back door.
As I rounded the farmhouse I found myself back under the sun, beyond the elder American elms reach, beyond even, the lilacs intoxicating coolness and scent.
I would take my chances on the road. I deserved the road. I deserved the sun.
I deserved to run till the end of time.

I would end up sprinting almost all the way to town, never once looking back for fear of what I might see, for fear of what I might behold, for fear of what might be watching me from those damnable upstairs windows on the second floor, from behind that damnable open door halfway down the hall.
In a room without drapes, a room whose windows had been papered over except for one tiny tear, one tiny hole allowing just enough light in to illuminate the darkness of hell, light enough to outline a figure that shouldn’t have been setting there but was.
Or was he?
What the hell do you think! Of course he had been there. Why else would I be running, breath ragged and tears streaming down my face, with all my fears, all my terrors, coming in sobs, great ragged cries, screaming like a man who had lost his mind, whose very sanity seemed perched on the brink of oblivion and madness.
Why else would I be running from the visage of a man I’d known since childhood, loved all my life, but feared from the very first time he picked me up in his arms that fateful Darton day so many years ago? The very individual who had gifted me with ‘red’, had bet me fifty cents that I couldn’t punch some kid’s lights out… the very architect of who I would later become in life?
My mind refused to believe it though, accept the truth, or at least the truth I thought I had glimpsed just beyond that door setting in his chair waiting for me to enter, wearing his blue jeans, cowboy boots, red western-shirt and brown leather vest, his dark hair sparse and slicked back, his arms tanned and scarred.
Father… surely not!
Why not, though? Why not my father, the very man I’d betrayed? The very man who’d lost his soul to a spiders bite? Even when all else failed to make sense, with all this craziness going on around me spinning out of control- everything I’d witnessed up to this point, the vision of him setting there, smiling at me, his eyes no longer flat and dark but worse, flaming red, the eyes of the bitch reflecting from his, and his words, an otherworldly rasp, welcoming me home, welcoming me back, thanking me for bringing him here and that more than anything, he wanted to return the favor I had so graciously bestowed upon him all those many years ago.
And yet, even as I stumbled out into the light and heat of the highway, away from that house, even as I discounted such visions as mere hallucinations, my fear remained.
And grew
I made up my mind, right then and there; I was never going back to that farmhouse, not for any reason. Whatever lay before me had to be worlds better then what lay behind, and more often than not, within me.
It just had to be.
Alonehall1b

Salvation shouldn’t come from the barrel of a gun.  Neither should it come from the hand of an angel.

Salvation needs to be earned.

Some books refuse to be categorized, Fata Morgana is one such book.  Part autobiographic, part fantasy, both horrific and exhilarating, Fata Morgana will leave you breathless and wanting more.  You simply have to read this book to experience it.

 Also by S.M. Muse:

The Valerian Cycle
Heir of Nostalgia- A Gathering Darkness
Heir of Nostalgia- Kaelynn’s Tale

Standalone Novels
Fata Morgana

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Text copyright © 2009 by S.M. Muse
Second Printing- Revised 2014
Chapter-art copyright © 2014 by FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Worldwide Edition

Visit me on the Web!
https://phillipsjournal.wordpress.com/

spider animation

Fata Morgana- Chapter Seven & Eight

Chapter Seven1399664955126

I figured my job at the moment was to stay put. Concentrate on the here and now and don’t think about anything else. Because I needed to remain here, in this exact place, if I was ever going to figure out exactly where and when, here and now was.
The asphalt underfoot, long faded to a watery gray by endless summer suns, reflected heat like a blow torch, heat that radiated upwards through my shoes (a pair of brown canvas hiking boots) like a blast furnace, searing the air and making my eyes water.
Assuming that over my shoulder meant the direction I’d just come from; then straight ahead must be the direction I need to be going. (How’s that for logic.)
Head down, I continued walking.

Time… if I didn’t know any better, I’d say I was the one standing still and the world passing beneath me.

Cotard’s delusion… ever hear of that one? I just did. For some reason the word, or should I say the diagnosis, just leapt inside my head. The idea that I’m dead, but I’m really alive, believing I am dead.
I know, sounds even crazier than being crazy if you ask me, however, the possibility could exist.
I suppose
Then again, I’ve never heard of anyone suffering from Cotard’s delusion thinking he was dead but alive, wandering through Kansas or Nebraska in the middle of a heat wave, either.
Go figure.

Another moment in time
My eyes must be playing tricks on me, because if I squint really hard and use my hand to shade my eyes, I swear the horizon seems darker than before.
I’d been traveling for what seemed hours, all the while making very little obvious headway.… and now, after an immeasurable amount, I spot something on the horizon, something ominous looking just beyond the range of my vision but near enough to break the monotony of the endless fields on either side. Another quick glance confirmed my observation; it was definitely darker ahead of me than behind.
At least it was something to strive for. With any luck it would be an approaching storm.
With renewed confidence my pace quickened.

I continued to walk like this for a couple more hours, head down, teeth clenched, mind centered on remaining exactly where I was, intent upon placing one foot in front of the other and making a dogged effort to reach the darkness first glimpsed on the horizon sometime back.
What confidence I had gained earlier was swiftly fading.
I’d taken to walking alongside the highway, not because I was afraid of being run down by a passing motorist, because there weren’t any, but because it was habit. I’d already accepted the fact that I was alone, that this world had passed on. In my mind the highway was a farce, a story I’d been told that had no ending- the hard, sure promise of something that would never completely be.
Besides, the heat seemed less intense along the highways edge.

The next time I thought to look up, busy within the confines of my own misery, the darkness had grown, been replaced in fact, but not by what I had hoped for. As it turned out the darkness I’d spotted earlier hadn’t been a storm at all, nor was it the promise of a cooling rain or cloud, but something much, much better, or worse depending on how you looked at it. The darkness turned out to be a town, but not like any town I’d ever seen or known before.

Chapter Eight

Between one footfall and the next, between boiling darkness on the horizon and the hope of rain, there came the first house on the outskirts of a town. It had materialized from within and without, shimmering between wave after wave of glassy heat rising off the asphalt and reaching towards the heavens.
Could this be a mirage, madness, maybe an illusion? Better yet, maybe it was a delusion? The fantastic byproduct of dehydration, perhaps-
Did it even matter what it was, as long as it was something other than endless fields and blistering highways.
The fact that I had been hoping against hope, praying for a miracle and/or wishing upon a star, escaped me at the moment. All I knew for certain, was that my entire being, my entire universe, seemed to be rooting for the first real signs of life and civilization I’d come across since my unexpected ‘arrival’ here.
It could not have happened at a better time.
My mouth felt and tasted like worn-out shoe leather, my tongue, all but swollen, and my throat an arid canyon of raw pain and dryness. All these signs and more, alerted me to the fact that if I failed to find shelter or sustenance soon, I’d be a set of sun-bleached bones littering the side of a highway that no one would ever drive down or see-
No road signs to welcome the weary traveler. No fanfare for the forgotten.

One moment, open fields for as far as the eye could see, and the next, a two-story, white-washed farmhouse with a wraparound porch. The farmhouse was topped by a green-shingled roof and anchored by an eerily familiar red-brick chimney. I noticed that a series of smudged and rainbow-hued windows, three across the front on the first floor and two on the second, overlook a white-picket fenced yard.
A massive hedge of lilacs, now out of bloom, their forest-green leaves curled under from the heat, dominated the entire left side of the yard, next to the open fields.
Along the front of the farmhouse, and the white-picket fence, were a couple of untrimmed rose bushes, now run rampant, a smattering of red glimpsed among green and thorns. (I can remember thinking how odd this was, for roses to be in bloom this time of year.) From looks, the grass hadn’t been mowed for quite some time. Branches lay scattered throughout the yard, clumps of year-old leaves, etc.
The front gate, next to the road, had been left open, not enough to seem odd, more like someone had to leave in a hurry.
Around on the other side of the house, stood a series of outbuildings, three in all, and a garage. All the exterior buildings were painted the same color as the farmhouse and all three had green-shingled roofs. Between these, as if separating yard from field stood a handful of what looked like American elms, gigantic trees with huge crowns, their dark trunks twisted and darkened with greenery. Their enormous branches seemed to sag under the weight and mass of their immense emerald crowns. The slightest of breezes would bring an ocean of sound, a rush of shushing and creaking, and the promise of shade.
And yet, despite the cry of relief escaping my lips at the moment, there were no signs of life to be seen. No drone of tractors toiling in the fields, no whir of window fans to beat the noonday heat. No slap of screen door as Farmer Brown heads into town or out to meet me. No grunt of pig, no low of cow, no baa of sheep. Nothing whatsoever but silence, pre-natural and still. Like the highway, and every other damn thing around here, the farm and the fields surrounding it seemed desolate and empty, almost listless.
A mile or two on down the road and I could see even more buildings, first on the left side and then on the right. There were single-storied Ranch styles, two-storied farmhouses and so on. However, there were still no signs of respite, no billboards or advertisements, garage sale signs or banners, just the same dual-lane highway cutting through their midst, passing from nowhere into somewhere else.
And to think, it all began here, what I referred to as, ‘At Least it’s Something Else other than nothing’.
Without another moment’s hesitation I broke into a staggered and wobbly run, the only thing on my mind being the sweet salvation of shade looming just on the other side of that white-picket fence.
Passing through the front gate, which swung, open with a squeal of protest, its rusty hinges flaky and arthritic, I made a beeline for the closest shade tree, a gigantic American elm. When I got there, having passed from death into life, blistering heat into soothing shade, I simply collapsed, allowing the world and the ground to catch me.

Time passed… could have been hours… could have been days…

It felt so good just to lie there amidst the deep and darkening shade. Overhead, flickering beams of sunlight began to play hide and seek between the shifting and swooshing branches. The lush fullness of the grass beneath me, sharply scented and itchy- now going crisp in the mid-summer’s heat –was enough to support me.
There was the slightest hint of a breeze to ruffle my hair and tickle my nose.
I’d made it. Somehow and against all odds, I’d made it. I didn’t care how and I didn’t care where. All I cared about was the opportunity to lie down and breathe, relax, listen to my hammering heartbeat as it downshifted from overdrive into third, from third into second and then finally into idle.
I closed my eyes and allowed even more time to pass.
What, me in a hurry?
I smiled-

The next thing I know I’m waking up.

My throat was sore, parched a better word, but not nearly as dry as before. Thanks to the grass and the support it offered, my clothes, for the most part, had dried. My hair was still a matted mess though, plastered to my forehead.
I sat up in a panic, forgetting for a moment where I was, forgetting that I was supposed to be dead. Realizing that my circumstances, though improved somewhat, were still the same but different somehow. I still had no clue as to where I was but I had fallen asleep, and that was something.
Upon awakening, and after peaking up over the tall grass and realizing the farmhouse was still there, I came to the realization that for the first time in a long time, at least since my arrival, I hadn’t gone ‘day tripping’, I’d remained here.
It was a start, at least.

Alonehall1b

Salvation shouldn’t come from the barrel of a gun.  Neither should it come from the hand of an angel.

Salvation needs to be earned.

Some books refuse to be categorized, Fata Morgana is one such book.  Part autobiographic, part fantasy, both horrific and exhilarating, Fata Morgana will leave you breathless and wanting more.  You simply have to read this book to experience it.

 Also by S.M. Muse:

The Valerian Cycle
Heir of Nostalgia- A Gathering Darkness
Heir of Nostalgia- Kaelynn’s Tale

Standalone Novels
Fata Morgana

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Text copyright © 2009 by S.M. Muse
Second Printing- Revised 2014
Chapter-art copyright © 2014 by FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Worldwide Edition

Visit me on the Web!
https://phillipsjournal.wordpress.com/

 

Fata Morgana- Chapter Five & Six

Chapter Fiveindex

The next thing I know, my next memory of that day anyway, Dean winds up on the ground, glassy-eyed, blood leaking from his nose and I’m standing over him looking down through a sea of blood-red haze. My fists are clenched and my heartbeat is thundering like crazy. Somewhere behind me, pulling at my arm and screaming my name over and over again is my little brother. He’s been trying everything he can think of to calm me down.
But I was calmed down- hence the ‘red’ leaving.
As I said, the last clear memory I had of that moment was of me hitting the ground, after Dean had put me there with a well-placed karate kick. After that, nothing else but a sea of red for as far as the ‘eye’ could see.
I knew better than to try and speak. (This isn’t the first time ‘red’ made its appearance.) Besides, speaking only made it worse, the emotional part anyway. I tended to look like I was crying, that or shake like a leaf. Anyone watching or listening, at least in my experience, tended to get a false sense of ‘sissy’ or ‘security’, like I was afraid of them or something, when in reality; I always figured it was God’s way of warning them to get as far away from me as possible, before the ‘red’ fell completely. Because, when the ‘red’ fell, I felt nothing, no remorse, no pity, and certainly no mercy. I’d attack them with hands, fists, teeth, feet, whatever it took to beat my opponent down and keep them down. (Matter of fact, ‘red’ never completely left me my entire life. How I kept from killing someone, accidentally or by intention, the entire time I was growing up, is beyond me.) I think some serial-killers must suffer the same debilitation, the inability to control oneself in a given moment of time and complete and overwhelming anger.

I had this like, dislike for ‘red’. It was my so-called, Ace up the sleeve, because when ‘red’ had hold of me I was literally invincible, ten feet tall and pretty much bullet-proof on top of that. In fact unless you killed me outright or knocked me out completely, there was nothing, absolutely nothing, that you could hit me with or throw my way that could stop me from stomping a sandbox up your caboose.
Later on in life my mother would often mention how this ‘red’ was also another unwanted and unneeded gift from my father, one of many it seemed, along with his wild-ass temper and hair-trigger responses. In fact, it wasn’t unusual for the four of us, mom, dad, my brother and me, to be setting around the kitchen table when all of the sudden Dad would look up, smack dab in the middle of conversation, and say, “I’ll pay either one of you a quarter, if you go next door, knock, and ask for Richard. (Richard was our next door neighbor’s kid… chunky, thick rakish hair and a bad case of acne. On a good day he smelled like old fish, on a bad day, week old gym socks,) When he comes out, without saying a word to him, rear back and bloody his nose.”
My mother absolutely detested this sort of behavior; in fact, she absolutely wanted nothing to do with it. She’d been raised by a good Christian family and this was no way to ‘love your neighbor’ and all that church stuff. Being my father had its advantages though, and one of those advantages was this, ‘The king rules the kingdom, so what the king says is law.’ (And there lay the groundwork for a myriad of arguments and downright disagreements, many of which sometimes grew quite heated, like the time he threw our Christmas tree across the living room because we’d pissed him off by not saying ‘Thank you.’)
The entire time he was egging us on, she’d be protesting. He’d be taunting, she’d be trying to defuse or deflect… but eventually he’d reach down into his pocket and pull forth two quarters, thus ending all arguments.
‘Money talks, mother-f’er! All others walk.’
“I’m not saying you both need to go over there at the same time, but I’d be willing to pay fifty cents to the one who does.”
I can remember looking over at my kid brother and thinking, ‘you’ve got to be kidding me. We’re in the middle of freaking lunch, in fact I’m just finishing up my fried bologna sandwich, when all of the sudden, out of the clear blue wonder, Dad wants us to go next door and punch this kid Richard in his great big pie face?’
Dilemmas, dilemmas
On one hand, Dad was dad; and you need to understand that under our roof Dad was King. As for the rest of us, his subjects, we were all living within the protection and jurisdiction of his kingdom, the Kingdom of Dad. So any sort of standing up to the King brought consequences, maybe not right now, maybe not tomorrow, but sooner or later the King always pay’s back, in spades. So despite my mother’s words or concern, my brother and I were already on our feet and racing for the front door, ready to carry out the King’s wishes.

“Why…? That’s all I want to know, why?” This would be the question my mother would ask my father later that night, after us kids were already in bed and out of earshot. (It never boded well to question the King in front of his loyal subjects; doing so might buy you some ‘royal’ retribution of your own.)
My father’s simple answer- ‘It will make men out of them.”
This statement would haunt me for the rest of my life.
Nevertheless, my brother and I were already on the path to our own destruction by then, and my father’s words, like my mother’s worries, seemed so distant as to be invisible.

It was Richards’s mom that answered the door that day, wringing her hands on a dishcloth tightly clutched. With a smile and hello she welcomed us, after all we were just a couple of kids Richards’s age, as well as his next door neighbors. So we must be friends… right?
We asked her if Richard was home. She said that he was
Looking back, I’m sure she was just glad that her son had made some friends. Their recent move had been especially hard on the family. Richards’s dad, her husband, had just lost his job; as a result the family had fallen on hard times. Add to this their losing their home, and then being forced to move to a trailer park- let’s just say living like this had definitely taxed the three of them, emotionally as well as spiritually. At least her son had an escape, had friends, and here three of them were, knocking on their front door and asking for her one and only son to come out and play.
I can remember her hollering back for Richard. Richards’s dad was in the front room, his butt parked in a recliner, newspaper in hand. The TV set in front of him turned down to a steady roar.
In no time at all Richard came be-bopping to the front door, big-ass smile on his face. Looking back at his mom he smiled, thanked her aplenty and turned to open the screen door to let us in.
My fists were already clenched before he got there, my heart beating out a rhythm like the rolling drumbeat to the Star Spangled Banner… when all of the sudden with his face only inches from mine a simple but effective ‘red’ haze seemed to fall over everything, coloring my world.
In retrospect, ‘Red’ had just popped my proverbial cherry.
“Hey guys, what’s up?”
My answer to his question was simple and direct- a right hook, one that seemed to contact his nose straight on. In slow-motion action my fist smashed his nose to his right cheek, where it flattened with a sickening smush. Immediately, Richards’s eyes watered up as a geyser of blood squirted, first from the left nozzle and then from the right, dotting his tee-shirt and smearing red across my knuckles.
I’d just earned my first of many fifty cent pieces.
Within the confines of their trailer, darkness swiftly fell. How quickly his mother’s smile seemed to slide off her face, replaced by an anguished look of shock and dismay, her hands on either side of her mouth, her voice a silent scream as the dreams she’d had for her son to fit in, to be accepted and wanted, fell to the floor in a flutter much like the dish cloth she’d been holding. Behind her, dear old dad had set up at the impact, the paper he’d been holding wadded up like a fan in his right fist. He had this one vein in particular bulging right up in the middle of his forehead, and the most peculiar of looks in his eye-
And like that we were gone, my brother and me, and the ‘red’ quickly followed.
I can remember laughing as we ran back around the side of the trailer, laughing and cat-calling, while at the same time running for our lives.
In the end we had accomplished exactly what we’d set out to do, what our father had asked of us. We’d delivered what needed delivering, and in doing so discovered the power of ‘red’ for the very first time. As powerful a craving as cigarettes, as addictive as cocaine, this feeling of power, or ‘red’, would haunt me for the rest of my life, and many times during the early years, especially as my kids were growing up, I’d let ‘red’ out of its box myself. For you see, ‘Red’ was particularly handy when raising kids, or so it seemed at the time. ‘Red’ was always the easy answer, the quicker fixer upper. In the long run, however, ‘red’ really didn’t fix anything, other than breeding its own version of ‘red’ in others. A fact that I realize now, years later, but only after having seen Richards’s eyes reflected in my own children’s eyes.
I’m a firm believer that ‘red’ was there more often than not, usually unseen, like an agent plotting and destroying behind enemy lines, or in my case, the home front. Be it thirty pieces of silver, or fifty cents, the price of betrayal remained the same. And ‘red’ would gladly answer anybody come asking, anyone willing to give something up- usually their compassion, their mercy, as well as their simple human dignity. And as long as there were children out there willing to give up a little piece of themselves each and every time, then ‘red’ was happy.
One other thing I need to mention, there is a price to pay for having ‘red’ hang around all the time, it was the look Richard’s father had given us on that fateful day all those years ago, the same look Abel must have given Cain just before his betrayal- murder.

Chapter Six

It was hot again, and the sun was back in all its brutal glory. I’d lost Dean, Corky, Ray and Daisy, as well as my childhood memories to the effects of ‘red’, and to the shame I felt for what I had done to Richard. As a result, I found myself, once again, deposited alongside a two-lane highway, just another transit hitchhiker thumbing a ride.
Things were different now; my entire situation/location had changed. And not for the better, either.
Earlier I’d stumbled across an intersection of sorts, a place where the four cardinal points of north, south, east and west met. In order to proceed I would have had to make a choice, pick a road, chosen a path. The thing was, after my latest little ‘travel down memory lane’, I seemed to have already done that, chosen a direction, made a choice-
Because the intersection was gone
Looking back over my shoulder only verified this. There was nothing to be seen of the blinking stoplight or the intersection it patrolled, only another stretch of endless, hellishly hot highway, which in turn, seemed to be surrounded by even more miles of wavering grass. In other words, once again I could be anywhere, and seemingly nowhere, all at the same time.
One more haunting thought before I go on, which direction, which route, had I chosen to go down, and does it even matter? Add to this another trifling point of contention, would it even be worth my time to turn around and retrace my footsteps? Maybe discover which path I had chosen?
But how? It’s not like I’ve been mapping or dropping breadcrumbs along the way like Hansel and Gretel. Without some fixed location, some initial point, I was lost, clear and simple. Besides, where would I end up if- god forbid -I did try and retrace my footsteps, only to go ‘traveling down memory lane’ again?
Now I knew how Alice felt after falling down the proverbial rabbit hole- it was apparent that something had happened to her, that her world had turned itself upside down, that things would never be the same again. And in the end she conceded these two points quite readily. The only other question left to answer really, was the obvious one- not what had happened to her per se, but what to do next.
That, and was there any going home afterwards?
Another thing throwing a monkey wrench in the whole kit and caboodle, some small part of me didn’t want to go back. Why? Because going back for me, would mean dying all over again.
There are some things a person knows deep down inside- two plus two equals four, the Earth is round, and that death and taxes are the only two constants in the entire universe.
Like I’ve already said so many times, I’m supposed to be dead. I can remember dying. I even know where I was when my dying happened- and I know how it felt. I saw the whole tunnel thing, i.e., the bright light at the end, however, instead of finding Heaven or possibly even Hell waiting on the other side; all I did was wake up here.
Wherever here was!
Now, you may be asking yourself, what if this place I’m in really is Heaven (or Hell.) After all, it’s not like triple ‘A’ has ever been here before scoping the whole thing out. As far as I know, other than Jesus Christ himself, no one has ever really returned to give us the low down or the 411 either way. (For the time being I’m going to ignore all those so-called ‘return to lifers’ out there, with their books, their talk shows and their made-for-TV movies and late shows. Some of those guys and gals are really something. What’s funny is that almost every single one of them describes something a little bit differently on their journey to this ‘after life’ they’d found. Granted, they will tell you that for every one of us, heaven is probably something different, whether it’s thru gifts or crowns or stations… as each is to receive as each has given. Personally, I think that maybe even a few of them actually experienced some phenomenon that cannot be explained away so easily. However, I think the majority of these so called ‘return-to-lifers’ fall prey to the whole ‘get rich in a hurry’ scheme. After all, religion as a whole, equates to big bucks.
(At the same time, however, I believe and still believe even though I have yet to see him, that God and religion are two very different things altogether.) So the question remains, after the world went dark, after the whole ‘I’m falling through a tunnel’ thing- even after I approached the proverbial ‘light’, where did I end up?
Heaven or Hell
If Heaven, then where was the big guy, you know, God? If this was Heaven, I wanted the whole package, clouds, angels playing harps… you know, what was sold to me Sunday after Sunday by legions of televangelist’s worldwide?
Personally, I find it hard to believe the big guy would be so quiet. And I refuse to believe that he’s given up on us. (Regardless of what we did to his Son.)
On the other hand, perhaps this is Hell. It was surely hot enough. Seriously, I was literally soaked through and through, the mere act of standing here, and the general lack of any real breeze to speak of, was enough to send my throbbing temples into overtime.

Enough philosophizing… There was some reality here I needed to address, mainly survival.

Ignoring the trickles of sweat meandering their way down my forehead, I figured the first thing I needed to do was find some shelter, some water and some food, with shelter being my primary concern. I had to get out of this sun before heat exhaustion, or worse yet, heat stroke, set in. And from the way my heart seemed to be beating and my temples pounding, I probably wasn’t too far away from either. Besides, once I procured these, I could actually take time and take stock of what it was exactly, I had to work with, besides the obvious lack of anything?
For all I know, it could be the heat causing all these ‘delusions’, all these ‘trips down memory lane’. (What I really wanted, what piqued my interest most, was what I looked like now, after death.)
Was I still me?
I thought so.
Overall I felt strong. My body seemed sure of itself. I appeared steady and my stomach flat. My agility, (as I jigged a little dance) seemed quick, and my feet sure of themselves. Not like the last few years of my ‘other’ life, with time being the bastard it was, stealing my strength, my stamina and my ability to use my body as I saw fit. So I am pretty sure I looked exactly how I felt, somewhere between my mid-to-late twenties, which was definitely better then how I’d exited the world, far into my eighties.
But did I have my face? The same face I was used to seeing in the mirror day in and day out, ever aging, ever maturing. Better yet, would I even be able to recognize myself again, say at twenty or at thirty?
What if… what if what I saw reflected back at me was the face and eyes of a stranger, the angle of my cheeks, my jaw-line, all wrong, then what? Who would I call to complain to?
How could I ever figure out where I am and what I’m supposed to be doing, if I couldn’t even recognize who I was supposed to be?

 

Alonehall1b

Salvation shouldn’t come from the barrel of a gun.  Neither should it come from the hand of an angel.

Salvation needs to be earned.

Some books refuse to be categorized, Fata Morgana is one such book.  Part autobiographic, part fantasy, both horrific and exhilarating, Fata Morgana will leave you breathless and wanting more.  You simply have to read this book to experience it.

 Also by S.M. Muse:

The Valerian Cycle
Heir of Nostalgia- A Gathering Darkness
Heir of Nostalgia- Kaelynn’s Tale

Standalone Novels
Fata Morgana

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Text copyright © 2009 by S.M. Muse
Second Printing- Revised 2014
Chapter-art copyright © 2014 by FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Worldwide Edition

Visit me on the Web!
https://phillipsjournal.wordpress.com/

Fata Morgana- Chapter Two thru Four

Crossroads_logo

Chapter Two

Crossroads- a place where two roads meet intersect and intercede.
It is the craziest of things, not knowing how to precede when standing at a crossroads. When there is a choice to be made, a decision to be reached, a path to be made. Do we turn right, veer to the left or stay the course?
Making matters worse, how can I possibly explain to someone what steps to take to where I am going, if I am unable to qualify or quantify the destination myself?
~Road Trip S.M. Muse

Where do I even begin?
There are so many questions burning in my mind, childhood memories and dreams- visions even.
It makes absolutely no sense. How could I be dead one minute and alive the next? Six feet under- worms crawl in and worms crawl out –only to end hitchhiking through an abandoned world?
Strange to say the least
It also makes me question everything I thought I already understood. Maybe all this open sky and run-riot weeds, blistering heat and noon-day sun, has something to do with my brain letting go, those final few sparks of life- my synapses letting go-
Be free
The sidewalks of life rolling up
Then again maybe Bill Murray was right all along, maybe we are cursed to relive our memories, our lives, over and over again- at least until we get them right.
But who gets to decide what’s right?
God, if you’re up there
There’s something else I needed to consider as well, and that is every time I relive a part of my childhood, I’m also traveling, as in moving from place to place, and not only down memory lane. Miles seem to be passing, entire sceneries changing, all except time.
Time seemed to be the only exception.
It was as if I had gotten stuck in neutral, grinding my gears, nowhere near forwards or reverse. (At least not in any perceivable, measurable way I could discern.)
The first time around I’d simply been reminiscing about my parents and their first date. Why I needed to relive that particular moment, no clue. For something like that, dreaming before I was born, there should have been some sort of announcement made:
Hold on little buddy, it’s about to get bumpy!

Breathing deeply I closed my eyes, afraid of seeing, more afraid of not.

It was still too hot by far, with little to no breeze to speak of. The locusts were ‘searingly’ obnoxious with their see-saw song, and to top it off, I was literally- to quote a famous philosopher -sweating balls.
Nix the part where ‘I’m possibly dreaming’ or ‘having one of those out of body experiences’, even the proverbial ‘this must be my ‘brain on dying’ things. Thanks to Mother Nature my tee-shirt was literally soaked. And my jeans, (at least this wasn’t one of those dreams where I showed up to school absolutely naked in front of my class) felt like they were made of lead. My hair was soaking wet and hanging down in front of my eyes, distracting me.
Wait a minute, did I say hair
Holy crap, I have hair!
I love hair. I absolutely love hair… and why am I carrying on like this? Because way back when I actually had hair.
This must be heaven!
Not that fuzzy stuff of my Thirties, but actual handfuls of thick wavy hair, like in my Twenties.
I can remember telling myself, back when I had plenty of hair to begin with, that growing old and losing my hair would be no big deal, and that I would be okay if I lost it. But then I began losing it, not all at once mind you, but gradually- until one day I looked up and it was all but gone-

*** When you see these three little dots, think of a white space in which I’m gone from one world and visiting another.

My family and I had just stopped at a local gas station to refuel the car. (We must have been coming back from a shopping spree in the city.) I can remember going into the gas station to pay, (this would have been back before the ‘card swipe’ days), hoping to be quickly on my way. As it turned out, though, we weren’t the only ones coming back from the city or refueling.
I was waiting my turn to pay like everyone else. I hadn’t wanted a drink or a candy bar or a pack of smokes, which was unusual, I only wanted to lay down my cash and hit the road.
Counting me, there were four other customers waiting to pay. (The wife and kids were waiting in the car.) There was farmer Bill wearing his Bibs, and what looked like an excessive amount of cow manure. He was sporting a keg for a belly and no shirt to cover it. (Thanks for the visual, like I can ever un-see that.) Bunches and handfuls of salt and pepper scruff seemed to be growing out of every nook and cranny on him.
Behind him stood an oblivious teenage couple, barely old enough to be driving. I speculated that from the way her tee-shirt was hanging, all wrinkled and out of kilter, and the massive hickey on the side of his neck, that they had been out doing more than just driving around and burning gas.

And then there was me.

So I’m standing there, waiting my turn to pay, and trying not to stare too long at the shorty-shorts the girl in front of me is wearing, (that and the way her boyfriend’s hand sort of draped across her shoulders, one hand resting possessively on a breast) when I found myself staring up into the gas stations security monitor. A moment passes, then another. All the while I’m thinking about that poor sucker in front of me waiting to pay, you know, the one with the great big spot of bare skin on top of his head… big enough to land an airplane on and twice as shiny.
And that’s when it hits me, that guy I’m making fun of, it’s me!
I’m him. I’m ‘that guy’, the one standing in line for the whole world to see with no hair and a whole lot of skin.
I think I might have screamed that or slipped into shock. I really don’t remember.
Screw losing it a little at a time. Screw growing old gracefully. The last thing I wanted was to be bald. Wrinkles, arthritis, acid reflux, fine, I’ll take them in spades, but growing bald…
I can remember thinking God must have some sick sense of humor.
My wife, God bless her, was always quick to point out life’s little facts to me, as well as the irony of it all. “You can’t live forever,” she’d say.
“I realize that, I just…”
“You just what…?” By this time she’d have that little grin tugging at the corners of her mouth, a mouth just begging to be kissed, “You just what?”
“I just never thought I’d miss having hair, that’s all.”
Understatement of the century… that would be like saying you hated sleeping in on Sunday’s, or that bacon serves no real purpose. (How dare you!)
Looking back on it now, it all seemed so childish, this great big production I was putting on, especially compared to everything else. Not only was I losing my hair, I was also losing years- spending time with those that I loved.
For some, an entire lifetime even.

*

All of the sudden I was back, no longer standing in line waiting to pay for gas. I was back ‘here’, standing in the middle of Ventura highway.
Looking down, I realized for the first time how young I actually was. My hands were wrinkle free. (Funny, how I never noticed that before, at how young I had become and seemed to be since arriving here.)
Thank you Lord.
And for once in my life, I actually meant it.

TrafficLight2

Chapter Three

Despite the lack of vehicles, despite the lack of people even, it was still hanging there, a single, solitary traffic signal. Something that should not be, a twelve-cowled, rhythmic sequence, of red, yellow, green.
Click, click, yellow
Click, click, red
Rinse and repeat.
More important than this however, is what the traffic signal represented, at least in my mind- chaos, confusion, a calliope of noise.
In other words, civilization
But where was everybody?
Despite my initial elation, basic questions remained; ‘What am I doing here’, and more importantly, ‘What am I doing here with a heartbeat?’
I know you’ve heard me mention the fact that I should be dead, that I shouldn’t even be here…
That I had died some time ago. (Then again, what is the term ‘some time ago’ to the recently- or not so recently -deceased?)
To have died recently would mean that at some time I would have to have been alive. And to be alive I would had to have been born, so…

There are documents galore about how I had entered the world, (just not this one) still, breathless and blue. And if that isn’t proof enough, you could always ask my parents or grandparents, (if they were still alive) I’m sure they would be more than happy to relate, how, instead of checking back out quicker than I was checking in, that God decided he must have wanted me to hang around for a while. (Eighty-two years to be exact.)
Starting out, though, I discovered that it would take more than just a slap on the derriere to start my engine; it would take some doing, on the doctor’s part as well as my parent’s.
The doctor’s part was easy, ‘Salad spoons’ to pull me out, a slap on the behind to revive me, (no response, so a quick rush over to the incubator, a little oxygen, a little chest message) and like that, I’m off and running the human race- pink and getting warmer– all the while screaming my freaking head off.
Then came the proverbial, ‘parental handoff’, that’s when the real fun began. Leave the hospital and find out on your own about dirty diapers, colicky cries, sleepless nights, dragging days, spit-up, baby formula, doctor’s visits, and excessive worrying. I may have been brand-spanking new as far as the world was concerned, but in the bigger picture, God must have built me on a Friday afternoon thirty minutes before quitting time.
In other words, I probably should have been recalled.
As for my mother- I’m not saying she had it any rougher than most, but those early years had to be a lot for a young mother all of twenty-three to handle. Especially since she was someone used to having her own way and doing what and when she wanted. Not saying she was a bad mother, to the contrary, you could not have asked for a more loving parent- considering the company she kept, namely my foul-tempered father, who happened to be… well, what shall we say… brutish, to say the least. Nevertheless she soldiered on, a real trooper my mom, all this despite the nearly over-whelming (I’m sure) thoughts of strangulation at times, of both me and my father. I’m just glad that in the end she took enough pity on me, and him, to keep us both around; hoping against hope and against all odds that somehow all her hard work would pay off someday. (As history would show though, Dad never did work out. As for me, well, let’s just say that I’m still a work in progress… a challenge, obviously. Even from beyond the grave.)
Eventually I got beyond the childhood stage, made my way past the diaper stage, the colic stage, past the learning to walk stage, the eating on my own stage, (thank God and Hallelujah) the even bigger potty stage, (most people have no idea… no idea at all what this stage is like) And before you knew it, I was all grown up, or so I thought so, for even this too was a stage. (Possibly the worst stage, my teenage years, and trust me, we won’t even go there- at least not for now.)
My mom used to tell me, ‘That you usually spend the first few years of your child’s life trying to teach them to walk and talk, only to spend the rest of your life yelling at them to set down and shut up. This saying would change later, of course, especially during my teenage years, to another great proverb, one that she seemed immensely fond of repeating over and over again like it was some kind of magic mantra or something wished for-
‘My greatest hope, is that one day you will have a houseful of kids all your own, and that they all turn out to be just like you!’
Little did she know what she was wishing for?

Chapter Four

Telephone poles lined each side of the intersection. The poles were tall, stained and stinking of tar. Sagging power lines linked the poles together, resembling little more than badly drawn lines of a Sharpie marker.

Leaping the ditch, its length chockfull of strangling vine and giant foxtail, I made my way over to the nearest pole. A dull silver box was strapped to its side, gleaming in the noonday sun. From within came the heavy clank and un-clank of relays, each thud and lurch corresponding to a color change happening overhead.
A cursory inspection revealed that it was just an average Department Of Transportation box made of cast iron and coated in nearly endless layers of peeling and flaky silvery paint. Stamped in bold relief across its access door were the letters ‘G’ and ‘A’. (The letters were separated by a jagged fork of lightning.) What the letters stood for I hadn’t a clue; only that they were evidence of civilization, civilization that at the moment, appeared to have successfully hidden itself completely from me, until now.)
Electricity still flowed, hence the red, yellow and green overhead, and obviously someone still paid the bill.
Note to self: Back to wondering where I might be, I’m pretty sure this isn’t Nebraska. In my mind Nebraska is synonymous with Sand Hills; miles of rolling sand and sparse vegetation as well as the occasional abandoned gas station. Kansas on the other hand, cradled its more-often-than-not ‘plain-ery’ for as far as the eye could see, with nary a hill in-between. In other words, Kansas lay as flat and exciting as a prepubescent school-girls chest.
Speaking of Kansas, I actually lived there once, among many other places. Then again, according to my wife, I lived just about everywhere and did just about everything, at least once. And she was right to a point, if you count Missouri and Kansas as living everywhere and flipping burgers, working at a greenhouse, and greeting shoppers at your local Wal-Mart, as having done everything.
Mother used to tell me changing jobs and addresses was a disease I’d more-than-likely inherited from my father. (Trust me, there were worse things to inherit, I know. My real father was what some would call a bastard, a real piece of work. In fact he lived most of his life using an alias, some made up name, even with his family.) First of all, what the hell was he trying to do, hide from his family? It’s not like he was in the witness protection program or something, and most certainly wasn’t a spy.
Since we’re on the subject of my father, there’s something else you may need to know, something important to what happens later on. My father used to be a cop, which is pretty scary, considering his temper. (My Grandmother used to say my father had a temper like an unlit match, and his family was nothing but an excuse and a matchbox.) Secondly, cops are issued handguns, and a license to use them. My father with a handgun was like issuing an alcoholic a bartender’s license. Given enough time and latitude, trouble was sure to follow. (This was one of the few times in the man’s life that he actually worked for someone other than himself, which made him pretty much an everything, anything else, sort of man… as long as it wasn’t a constant paycheck for his family, sort of man.) In my opinion, this accounts for what I like to call, my ‘white trash’ up-bringing. (The words, ‘white trash’ reminded me of barefoot kids out running the streets at all hours of the day and night, complete with crew cuts, no shirts, little tan bellies, and wearing cut-off blue jeans for shorts. It also brought to mind swinging on swing-sets, exploring streams and the roots that fed them, endless sunny days spent fishing, playing outside and throwing rocks. (‘Only niggers throw rocks’, my dad used to say.)

*

Their names were Corky, Ray and Dean. And the first time I met them, I hated them. They had a big black German shepherd named Daisy as well. And Daisy liked to kill snakes, big, fat, nasty black snakes.
It was the summer of ’73. We were currently living in a mobile home trailer park just off Interstate 70.
The trailer parks main office, which also doubled as the parks on-site laundry facility and post office, resembled a great big southern colonial; complete with front porch columns big enough that I couldn’t put my arms around them. Course I was nine or ten at the time… maybe a little older.
On the backside of the colonial, beneath a pine-green roof, lay the heart of the house, at least as far I was concerned, a room full of quarter vending machines complete with finger-smeared glass fronts. (At that time it was all Payday for me, chewy nougat surrounded by peanuts. Snickers never knew what hit them.) Best of all, besides the glass-bottle soda machines (nothing like an Orange Crush out of one of these baby’s, so cold it set your teeth on edge) and rainbow filled gumball dispensers, it was air conditioned and seldom monitored by adults.
Pretty much, during the blistering days of summertime, this was the ‘place to be’, our so-called ‘hideout’; with ‘no girls allowed.’

That summer my brother and I decided to open a Kool-Aid stand. (There wasn’t any better way to make some cold hard cash during the summer months, especially for a couple of snot-nosed kids.) With Mom’s help, (Dad was out running the roads making his next great million bucks- right!) we assembled a card table, a stack of multi-colored glasses, a pound or two of sugar and an assortment of Kool-Aid packets… Oh yeah! (We had cherry, orange, grape, root-beer and lemonade.) We mixed up a couple of jugs of water, put in some ice, hung out our open sign and entered the wonderful world of business ownership, minus the taxes of course. (Not bad for something to do one late summer afternoon because we were bored.)

The day passed like all summertime childhood days do, slowly and with great deliberation.
We’re setting there, my brother and me, minding our own business. Up to this point we’ve been doing pretty well, seeing as we’ve cornered the market by setting up shop on the busiest and only intersection leading into the trailer park, when all the sudden we notice, just up the street from us, there is this slow moving truck pulling into the park. Trailing behind it, like some long lost mutt, is this old beat up woody station wagon, minus its hub caps of course. (The naked wheels looked like two bruised eyeballs staring out at us from under rusty brown eyebrows.) Chugging to a stop, the station wagon doors open, and along with smoke from its wheezy exhaust, out pour this family. Mom, looks like a sumo wrestler wearing a flower-print tent, minus the diaper. Dad looks like an escaped convict caught somewhere between sentences and out on parole, and then there are their three scrawny kids, and a dog.
The first kid to hit the street was a good six inches taller than me, which would have been about five and some change, blond crew-cut capping a narrow, sort of hatchet-like face (pretty much like his old mans). The second kid resembled my brother, who happened to be younger than me by more than a year. This kid was also kind of chubby, with bushy brown, almost black, hair and a pumpkin-round face. (I wonder if, like my brother, he really liked Doritos and Dr. Pepper. You could tell this by looking at his belly, the way it shot out past his shorts.) The last kid to get out of the vehicle was different, short and stocky, and carrying a shock of blond hair. Even from here I could tell his eyes looked like little red peppers.
None of them, besides the parents, were wearing shoes. (Then again, neither were we.) The kids were wearing cut-off blue jeans, like their dad, and button-up beach shirts.
The youngest one, old pepper eyes, spotted us right off, pointing us out to his brothers, so while Mom and Dad were helping with the moving van, the brother’s trio, under the leadership of the eldest, old hatchet face, advanced our direction, their eyes grim, like they were heading to the last round up at the OK Corral.
“Looks like a bunch of punks if you ask me.” I remarked, feeling all macho and such.
“Yea,” brother replied, grinning from ear to ear, “punks.” After all, we’d been living in this trailer park for almost six months, which pretty much meant we ran the place.
I can remember taking a step out from behind the table, feeling all bad, (all fifty some pounds of me if I was wet and fully dressed) my brother right behind me. About ten steps away, old hatchet face draws up short, puts his hands out to stop his brothers and fires the first round across our bow. “We’re the Deshane brothers,” he says. “Who the hell are you two?”
I was stunned. All I could do was stand there, my brother just as shocked as me. Had I heard right, was that a cuss word he’d just uttered? Sure, our old man swore all the time, but he was an adult. As for my brother and I, we weren’t allowed to cuss yet. We hadn’t asked permission. (My father, in a fit of parenthood, had mentioned to us a year or so earlier that when we figured we were big and old enough to start cussing, that we would need to come to him and ask permission. If he agreed, that we were both old and big enough, he’d think about it.)
Panicked, I did the only thing that I could think of. Thrusting out my chest, I reached back to the memories of my Dad and his words, and brought forth the foulest, meanest words I could think of… “Oh yeah, well you and your brothers are sons of bitches!”
Looking back on it now, in the end all this did was pretty much buy us another second or two.
With the words, ‘My mom’s not a bitch,’ still lingering on the breeze, Dean, in an amazing, at least to a nine or ten year olds mind, feat of karate, kicked me square in the stomach and knocked me all the way to the ground and out of breath.
Needless to say, I wouldn’t be leaving it at that.

 

Alonehall1b

Salvation shouldn’t come from the barrel of a gun.  Neither should it come from the hand of an angel.

Salvation needs to be earned.

Some books refuse to be categorized, Fata Morgana is one such book.  Part autobiographic, part fantasy, both horrific and exhilarating, Fata Morgana will leave you breathless and wanting more.  You simply have to read this book to experience it.

 Also by S.M. Muse:

The Valerian Cycle
Heir of Nostalgia- A Gathering Darkness
Heir of Nostalgia- Kaelynn’s Tale

Standalone Novels
Fata Morgana

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Text copyright © 2009 by S.M. Muse
Second Printing- Revised 2014
Chapter-art copyright © 2014 by FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Worldwide Edition

Visit me on the Web!
https://phillipsjournal.wordpress.com/

Not all beginnings have an end!

Alonehall1b

Salvation shouldn’t come from the barrel of a gun.  Neither should it come from the hand of an angel.

Salvation needs to be earned.

Some books refuse to be categorized, Fata Morgana is one such book.  Part autobiographic, part fantasy, both horrific and exhilarating, Fata Morgana will leave you breathless and wanting more.  You simply have to read this book to experience it.

 

 

Also by S.M. Muse:

The Valerian Cycle
Heir of Nostalgia- A Gathering Darkness
Heir of Nostalgia- Kaelynn’s Tale

Standalone Novels
Fata Morgana

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Text copyright © 2009 by S.M. Muse
Second Printing- Revised 2014
Chapter-art copyright © 2014 by FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Worldwide Edition

Visit me on the Web!
https://phillipsjournal.wordpress.com/

 

To Janet, who continues to be my inspiration

And so it begins….

There may be a reason for the words in red, but never an excuse.

“Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. (It) Comes into us at midnight very clean. It’s perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we’ve learned something from yesterday.”
~ John Wayne, 1971

But that the dread of something after death the undiscovered country from whose bourn No traveler returns puzzles the will and makes us rather bear those ills we have than fly to others we know not of.
~Shakespeare, Hamlet

Prologue

The year is 1963. John Fitzgerald and Robert “Bobby’ Kennedy are still alive.
Martin Luther King Jr., standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and feeling prophetic, would stand and deliver his seminal “I have a dream” speech. That same year, the Los Angeles Dodgers, seemingly against all odds, would win the World Series by defeating the New York Yankees four games to none.
On a much larger stage, America was about to stumble into conflict with the small Southeast Asia nation of Vietnam, however, in the spring and summer of ’63 it hadn’t been labeled a war yet, but a Police Action. Kent State, Woodstock, long-haired hippies, and the peace sign were still a long ways off.
On the home front or at least as close to home as I was concerned, my mother had gotten pregnant for the second time. Her first experience at motherhood had been a few years earlier, and had ended rather abruptly in a miscarriage. (Oh, how she wanted a baby, but as luck, fate or the universe would have it, such was not to be, at least not the first time around.) And though she’d bounced back from grief, as it were, (with but minor scaring to her heart and soul) this second birth would test her in ways she would be unprepared for. Like ’63 itself, the year and her pregnancy, would end on a bad note. By mid-November, John Fitzgerald Kennedy would be dead, his legacy and life faltering, before finally failing, on some operating table in Dallas Texas. Two weeks later my mother would suffer a similar fate, on a similar table in a similar hospital, though this one would be north of Dallas by over five hundred miles, and instead of life ending, she would be giving birth to a son. Though at the time and according to everything the nurses and doctors in attendance would later repeat, the child would enter the world in a bad way, still and blue, and seemingly on the very same journey as the late, soon to be great, John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

Chapter Zero

“The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.”
~William Faulkner, 1951, Requiem for a Nun

The lighthouse has always been here; if not physically, then most assuredly spiritually, its long shadow casting out over my soul reminding me that all our journeys have a beginning and an end.
This is just how my story ended.

Chapter One

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.
~Traditional Folk song

Isn’t it though, a dream.
Or at least life seems that way at times.
Life can also be a nightmare, an endless trek through a forbidden wasteland where everything seems to be either dead or dying.

I have no memory of how I got here; but I do know that I am here. It’s a start.

Dying is the easiest thing in the world. It was the living that was hard.
Dying was like jumping off the end of a pier or a boat dock, that or falling downstairs. All you have to do is throw yourself out in the air and allow nature and gravity to take over, everything after that simply happens.
Living, on the other hand, is like climbing a mountain or swimming upstream… that or trying to solve the riddle of life. All are difficult and one nearly impossible to achieve. Living is going against the grain of the world, clambering over sharp rocks and scaling cliff-like walls.
Living is like climbing Mount Everest in the middle of a snow storm.

And then there is summer, the hardest season of them all; that long stretch in-between birth death and rebirth.
I hated summer.

Mid-August in Missouri- literally hell on earth, an orange-hot inferno filled with locust’s screams and dogs panting, nature baking beneath an endless steel-blue sky. Vegetation, which only weeks before had been vibrant and green, now burnt so crisp and brown that it actually crunches underfoot like broken glass. In the dead of summer, there is usually not a breeze to be bought or a spot of shade to be had, not even for all the rice in China.
Wouldn’t you know it, despite the obvious impossibilities; here I am, alive when I should be dead, smack-dab in the middle of it.

Horizon to horizon, for as far as I can see, nothing but gun-metal skies and endless fields of waist-high grass. No fences to screen, no cattle to low, only endless rows of identical- cast-in-silhouette -telephone poles fading off into the distance, their raggedy-drawn power lines hanging heavy and low.
They reminded me of scarecrows holding hands.
Hammered out in a swath before and after me are two strips of dark, sun-blistered asphalt, in some spots faded, other spots cracked, all times watery in the noon-day sun.

Row, row, row your boat…images

Again, I shouldn’t be here. I’m supposed to be dead. I can clearly remember dying. And yet, for all my disbelief and evidence to the contrary, the world- this world -remained.

You would think I would have found it strange, that my only other memory, besides of living ‘my before life’, was of this place, standing in the middle of what could have been either Kansas or Nebraska.

Without warning the world tilts, before up righting once again. (This would be the first of many such occurrences, where I would become off-kilter, widdershins to the world. When it seemed as if my particular version of reality was about to be pulled out from under me like a ratty threadbare rug.)
What I needed, more than anything, was to get a grip, on reality, on anything.
Make sense of it all.
I needed all this ‘whatever it was that was happening around and to me’, to clarify itself.
Become self-evident.
There’s a word for you, clarify- to become clear, to not be so damnably confusing.
Instead, all I got was another flashback, to a time when I could not have been more than six or seven year’s old-

***

It is the middle of the night. I’m setting in the car with Mom. We’ve just pulled up outside a little no-name diner in the middle of what could have been anywhere.
The stars in the sky are diamond-cut bright.
The only sources of light I can see are a pair of jaundiced streetlights that seem to hug the darkened highway like a mother cradles her babe. Their globes swarmed with clouds of insects, mosquitos, June-bugs and gnats.
Directly in front of us is the back door of the diner. (I think the diners closed for the night, because the parking lot is completely empty.)
After a moment or two we get out of the car. I’m holding Mom’s hand because I’m too little to be by myself. (Mom’s all dressed up, smelling great and is pretty much the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.) Without a word spoken between us, we walk towards the long portal of light being cast by the diner’s rear door. It’s a wash of yellow and light.
A clatter of pans spill out across the night.
Once we get to the door we stop, silent as two church mice during Sunday morning choir practice. As we stand there, hand in hand, we watch Dad; he’s wearing faded blue jeans, a white tee-shirt with rolled-up sleeves (of course) and one of those dorky paper cooks hats. There’s a hand-rolled cigarette tucked up behind his left ear and he’s elbow deep in a big stainless-steel sink full of suds, soap and water all around.
We stand there for what seems an eternity, but is probably no more than thirty whole seconds.
The entire time I’m thinking, ‘Wow, this is so cool.’ Dad’s busy as a bee, sweat running down his forehead and his nose, and his forearms are slick with suds, soap and water; and I can tell right away he’s in a hurry. Want to know why, because we’re here, and the last thing he has on his mind is to be working. More than anything he wants to dry off and rush outside to hold Mom, probably end up kissing her on the cheek and lips. (Yuck!) After that they’ll laugh together and he’ll whisper secrets in her ear and she’ll turn all red and glance my way, acting as if he’s somehow totally offended her, but inwardly loving every minute of it. After a moment or more of this she’ll turn back my way and wink, as if me and her, not him and her, were sharing the deepest and darkest of secrets.
The weirdest thing about all this, other than I’m telling it to you, is that even now I have no real memory of how the night ends, this little rendezvous, of Mom and me meeting Dad outside his place of work late one hot summer’s eve.
Years later I would ask her about this night, right after he had died of a heart-attack.

I’m already changed, from my funeral best to a pair of shorts and a tee-shirt, mainly because I’m ready to go outside, ready to go on with my life.
Ready to not be dead like my dad
Instead of running outside to play however, I find myself walking into my mom and dad’s bedroom, that’s where I find her sitting on their bed.
She’s pale now, older by far, having just buried her husband of sixteen years. She’s got this old, ratty shoebox out and she’s rooting through it, digging amongst old letters and postcards like an archeologist seeking hidden treasure, turning photographs over and over all black and white (some color) all curled from age. All the while, she’s reading the backsides of them, all the lines of chicken-scratch in pencil and ink.
Trying to make conversation, I ask her what she’s doing.
She sniffs a bit, wipes at her face and eyes with a couple of wadded up Kleenex’s she’s had since the funeral, a good three hours prior, and tells me that she’s just ‘reliving some old memories of dad’.
For some reason, in the back of my mind, that night at the diner comes up, and since in my mind, it seemed to be one heck of a night, with her and him all laughing and giggling, the three of us as a family sharing a moment, I decide to bring it up, our meeting Dad, how pretty she looked that night with her hair cascading in long amber curls way past her shoulders, the way her dress seems to whisper against her legs as she sways from side to side walking and waiting to meet him. How she reminds me, even then, of a young girl- her future so incredibly bright, heading towards her rendezvous with destiny.
As I recollect these memories, give them a voice, she gets this look in her eyes; her lips draw pale and thin, the lines at the corner of her mouth hard and serious. I stop right there of course… well, more like I stumble to a halt amidst all my jumbled words.
“What in the world are you talking about?” she demands.
“Me and you meeting Dad,” I reply, hands all sweaty, heart pounding away like a big bass drum. Why do you always make me feel this way… so nervous when I talk to you? “Why…?”
“You know damn well why,” she states, her sorrow gone, replaced by something else… fear, anger, perhaps a heavy dose of both. “Who told you about that night, anyway? Was it my mother? Was she the one who told you? You tell me right now young man!”
She has that tone now, the one I hate so much. The one that makes feel small and insignificant, like a bug about to be squished.
And all I can think about is, ‘Why would your mother, my grandmother, tell me anything? She hates kids, grandkids especially!’ I’m also confused, because she’s staring at me with this look in her eyes, the same look she gave me and my brother the time we accidentally burned down our neighbor’s hay bales. (At the time we lied to her about the incident. We were too afraid to tell her the truth, how my brother and I, playing in the fire and burning plastic milk jugs, watching the melting plastic it go zoom-zoom while she was taking a nap, had carelessly laid a burning mop head up against one of the neighbors hay bales. Why exactly did we do this? Because we were young and dumb, that’s why.)
Taken aback by her sudden mood, I once again reiterate the events of that night. I stress the point of our arrival at the diner, our meeting him outside of his work-
Again she interrupts me. This time she questions me about the car she was driving, its model, type and brand. She asks me about the dress she was wearing, the time of night that it was. And finally, after all this, she asks me to describe my father, what he was wearing… what he said to her, pretty much everything she could think of about that night.
The entire time I’m thinking, she’s lost her mind, I know she has; her grief over his dying must run deep.
Maybe she’s just forgotten…
But no, she gets all defensive, her tone and face angrier, harsher by the minute, until I finally give up altogether and ask her the obvious question.
“Why are you so angry with me, Mother? I’m sorry I even brought it up. I just thought it would be nice to relive some of the more pleasant memories of you and Dad together.”
“I’m just trying to figure out why you’re making all this up.” She replies, like she never even heard me- like she’s paying me no mind.
As I begin to mumble something about how, “’I’m not making it up. That I was there that night and I should know,” she cuts me off again.
“There is no way in heaven you could have remembered that night,” she says like her minds made up. I could see the denial written in big black letters across her forehead.
LIAR
“But you don’t understand,” I began, “I can remember everything, down to the last, the way your hand felt, how hot it was, how the light seemed to spill from the screen door… like liquid gold.
Shaking her head, she continues as if I hadn’t spoken a word. “Son, I don’t know where all this is coming from, but I can guarantee you one hundred percent that there is absolutely no way you could have known anything about that night. What you are describing is the first time I ever met your father… it was our first date. I’d just met him earlier that morning and promised him, if he was lucky, that I’d stop by at the end of his shift so we could talk.”
As you can imagine, by this time I’m more confused than ever. However, before I can argue any further, she jumps back in and delivers the coup-de-grace.
“What I’ve been trying to tell you this whole time, is that there is absolutely no way you could have been there that night, sweetie. You weren’t even born yet!”
In fact, you weren’t even a twinkle in your old man’s eye!

And just like that I’m back on the highway. The flashback fades, and with it the sound of my mother’s voice.
How peculiar, to be standing on your feet and still moving through the world.
The sun is beating down, and it’s still hotter than all get out.
Oh, yeah, and for some godforsaken reason I’m still alive- for the second time.

Crossroads_logo

 

 

 

 

New Read- Highly recommend you get your hands on this!

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From New York Times bestselling author Rachel Vincent comes a richly imagined, provocative new series set in the dark mythology of the Menagerie… 

When Delilah Marlow visits a famous traveling carnival, Metzger’s Menagerie, she is an ordinary woman in a not-quite-ordinary world. But under the macabre circus black-top, she discovers a fierce, sharp-clawed creature lurking just beneath her human veneer. Captured and put on exhibition, Delilah is stripped of her worldly possessions, including her own name, as she’s forced to “perform” in town after town.

But there is breathtaking beauty behind the seamy and grotesque reality of the carnival. Gallagher, her handler, is as kind as he is cryptic and strong. The other “attractions”—mermaids, minotaurs, gryphons and kelpies—are strange, yes, but they share a bond forged by the brutal realities of captivity. And as Delilah struggles for her freedom, and for her fellow menagerie, she’ll discover a strength and a purpose she never knew existed.

Renowned author Rachel Vincent weaves an intoxicating blend of carnival magic and startling humanity in this intricately woven and powerful tale.

SideNote:  I highly recommend this book.  About as good as it gets.  We read stories about good guys and bad guys, the right and wrong sides, them and us.  This story flips everything you know upside down.  We get to see through eyes rarely noticed, into the very heart and soul of what it means to be human- even if we are more than human.

Click Here to order this amazing adventure-

Rachel’s Website/Blog

 

A Final Gathering- Book Three of the Valerian Cycle

It’s been awhile, I know, but believe it or not, the ending of the Valerian Cycle is nearing its end.  Finally, the story of Phillip, Theo and Kaelynn will be told, in all its awful, amazing, incredible, glory.  Will Theo’s throne be won or lost?  Will Nostalgia be returned to history, or will an entire people be lost to the winds of war and the whims of time?  Will Theo’s dog, Thumper, ever be revealed…

Only time will tell…

Until that time, however, here is Chapter One of the Final Gathering.  Hope you enjoy!  As always, I am open to suggestions, comments, or even feelings…

(Advanced Readers Copy- Non-edited)

Chapter 1
Phillip

Absolutely no clue what to do next. Open to suggestions.

The apartment was as dark as sin when we slipped in. Maggie went first as her eyes were the best- that and she still carried that otherworldly glow from the park and the battle which helped the rest of us escape- Dad went in next, followed by me and then Kaelynn.
We tried our best to be quiet.
Thinking of church mice here…
Beyond the sliding glass doors of my father’s apartment the world seemed to be on fire. Sirens wailed throughout the city like a million angels mourning the death of the world, choppers chopped and ambulances careened. The absolute definition of chaos if you ask me, pure and simple, and the closer one went towards Central Park, the epicenter of tonight’s events, the more chaotic and crowded the world became.
Also, so much deeper the darkness.
In the ensuing chaos following the final battle, my dad’s return and our frustration and despair at finding Belvedere Castles remaining gateway vandalized and beyond repair, we’d managed to evade New York’s finest by winding our way down darkened alleys and deserted city streets, past flying fire trucks filled with lights, bells and voices, and a night air filled with smoke and red/blue strobe lights. When we reached Dad and Kaelynn’s apartment, the doorman let us in with little more than a glance and mumbled ‘Hello’, even as he strained his neck south towards the epicenter of mayhem and madness.
Central Park, or at least its closest approximation.
“Have you seen what’s going on,” he asked, neck on a swivel.
Needless to say we ignored him and went on inside. After all, he really didn’t need to ask what was going on, all he had to do was lean out and see. The middle of 42nd street burned as bright as a funeral pyre, still, partly from the explosion and collapse of Leo’s and half the block it seemed, and partly from what seemed like the entire New York Police and Fire Department vehicles all lined up and waiting to arrive at the scene. Near Leo’s, emergency crews were still scrambling to pick through the wreckage and debris, putting out stubborn fires and the occasional re-flare, while still combing for bodies and such.
It would take a while. A long while.
As for Central Park, I could only imagine. To put it succinctly, much had been lost in the aftermath of the world’s first and only violent magical terrorist attack.

Before entering the apartment, Dad and Kaelynn had stopped to look intently upon their next door neighbor’s door- what had once been Aaron’s apartment. Their giant friend had perished in the park defending Kaelynn from marauding shadow mastiff’s. This made me wonder, who would watch his giant television set now? Buy the latest in technology?
Speaking of perished, Lycan, dads proverbial Benedict Arnold, and Fallon his body guard- as well as the man with the silver singing spurs and my entire reason for coming here- to exact my revenge -had also been lost in the battle, but who was really counting?
Not me.

The apartment was as quiet and warm as a tomb, and at the moment just as dark. Dad mentioned we should leave the lights off, especially after Kaelynn had filled him in on Aaron’s apartment and Hitchcock’s attack of the birds.
Along the south wall, the sliding glass doors, blinds currently drawn, managed to mute most of the flashing lights and chaos that was downtown. In the ensuing silence, Dad’s tick-tock wall clock sounded like Big Ben.
It was a little past three in the morning of a very long and eventful night. Not nearly as eventful as Dad’s and Kaelynn, though.
Dad had died, Kaelynn had fallen down a rabbit’s hole.
Funny, how quickly life can change. One minute you’re wondering if your favorite TV show will be on tonight, or pre-empted for the game, the next, you’re fighting for your life and the lives around you, in the middle of Central Park.

Once inside, and after Maggie had taken a quick look around, Kaelynn had closed and dead-bolted the front door, sagging against it afterwards like all the life had been drained out of her. “Finally,” she said, her voice sounding broken and haggard. “We’re alone and home.”
Dad, careful as always, went from room to room double-checking the windows and doors, even after Maggie had inspected them.
Can’t say that I blame him. Dying and being brought back to life was bound to make a person just a wee bit paranoid.
Too soon?
“Are you sure you’re okay?” It was Maggie, once more my best friend, all signs of her ‘fallen angel’ persona gone. Just a simple girl asking a simple guy she cared about, if he was okay. Steel shone in her eyes, had since the park.
She was one tough cookie.

Maggie’s hand gripped mine as she stared into my eyes. I tried my best to smile back, failed, so instead nodded in return.
In the back of my mind all I could see was Dad dying over and over again, his eyes going wide as Blair’s dagger plunged in again and –
“I’m fine,” I said. “Besides, I should be asking you the same question. You look like someone whose been in a cat fight in the middle of a sticker bush.” She was literally covered in scratches and cuts. “Besides, it was you who took on the… whatever Neit was, and survived.” Barely…
At the sound of the dark demon’s name Maggie winced. I leaned in and pressed my forehead against hers, breathing in her scent. “Sorry,” I said.
In this instance, it was obviously too soon.
About that time Dad returned to the living room, taking the stairs from their bedroom two at a time, his eyes as wary as ever. His shirt, still splotched with crusty dried blood, stuck to him in all the places Blair’s dagger had stabbed him.
I turned away.
“We can’t stay for too long,” he said, “we need to get out of here.” His eyes flickered towards the windows and door, again.
Behind me, Kaelynn sagged to the floor, head in her hands. “They’re locked,” she said, sounding defeated. She was as pale as newly fallen snow, of which, there was plenty outside. Though it had stopped around midnight.
As he started to say something, Maggie reached out and gripped his arm. “Surely we can stay for a moment.” Her eyes said more, however. They said we all needed a break.
“Perhaps that would be best,” he said, the tick at the corner of his left eye dancing. He may be saying it, but he sure wasn’t thinking it.
With a gentleness I hadn’t seen in quite a while, he guided Kaelynn over to the couch where they sat down. Maggie took up her station by the front door, arms crossed, back straight, while I sat down across from my dad.
We’d all removed our winter garb, at least for the moment.
Which brings us full circle to what I’d said at the beginning, ‘What the hell do we do now?’
“I have no idea,” answered my dad.
“Shouldn’t they be done with us,” I asked, “after all, they essentially won. I didn’t get you back home before midnight.”
“And why exactly is that relevant,” Kaelynn asked. “The midnight thing, that is?”
“We need to formulate a plane,” barked Maggie, wringing her hands.
“Not sure exactly, you’d have to ask Phillip. He’s the one who told me about the deadline.”
“I’m loath to say they’ve won either way.”
“We are so screwed…”
As you can see, there were about a thousand conversations going on, none of them making much sense.
“Time out,” said dad, holding up his hands. By this time Kaelynn had gotten up, gone over to the refridge and gotten each of us a bottle of Da’Nasty water. Nasty or not, it sure tasted good. Other than the sirens going on outside, and the dull thump of helicopters, the apartment complex seemed pretty much asleep- what we should have been. “We’re not going to get anywhere with a hundred separate conversations going on. One at a time, okay?”
There he was looking all serious. Not anything like he’d been dead just awhile before.
Ouch!
“At least the son-of-a-bitch responsible is dead,” I said. “And his conspirator gone.” I was meaning Fallon and Lycan, of course, the Black Magister and his silver-singing spur wearing friend. With that being said however, I looked a lot more joyful on the outside then what I felt on the inside.
Dad seemed to sense it as well. I could see the disapproval in his eyes, thankfully, he let it stay there. In my opinion, I just had to say it- even if it still didn’t feel like victory. Father getting killed by Blair on Umpire Rock had wrecked all that, even if he had returned.
“Say what you will about Lycan,” Dad intoned, “in his mind he was doing what he thought to be right. He was also following my orders.”
“Did that include betrayal?” I asked. “You can defend him all you want. But still, in the end, Mom and Sis are dead pretty much because of him. Don’t forget that, either.”
The silence after my words weighed a ton.
“I don’t even know where to begin,” muttered Kaelynn, almost under her breath.
“What did you say, hun?” asked dad.
“I said, I don’t even know where to begin. Even now, it all seems like some sort of bad dream, or a nightmare.” And with that she launched into what I feel, even now, to be the most extraordinary story I’d ever heard.
At the very least, we should have had hot cocoa with marshmallows.

Heir of Nostalgia-  This is Book One of the Valerian Series- Now available at all your on-line book stores.

Heir of Nostalgia- This is Book One of the Valerian Series- Now available at all your on-line book stores.  Click below to purchase.

http://www.amazon.com/Heir-Nostalgia-Valerian-ebook/dp/B005VEEMU4/ref=pd_rhf_ee_p_t_2

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