Archive for the 'short stories' Category

28
Feb
09

New Short Story–Part 1

The Welder

 

I been thinkin bout this thing for a while now. I gots to tell someone bout it.

I been thinkin bout what makes people go. Well, what makes them do good in life. How come some people’s so sad and others strut around all giddy and happy.

 So what came to me was Jake Stephens. Ol Jake lived in a trailer down my driveway right next to the garage. Skinny? You aint seen a man skinny as Jake, but he’d work as a horse every day. Every damn day. Never had friends ova. Don’t know he had any cept maybe the guys he worked with.

“Beer?” Jake’d ask me anytime I went to check on him. He’d hold out a cold can. Kept nudgin it at me. “Beer?” Now I don’t drink much. Can admit there’s a day or two when a sip of Single Barrel does me some good, but not too often.

See, here’s what was strange about Jake. He was the only man I ever met seemed happy without connections.

“That’s life,” he’d say before taking another sip of beer. “You wake up, go to work, come back home, have a little somethin’, get up do it again.”

He had eyes brighter’n a light house. But like an icy color–blue. Arms like taut ropes, always movin, doin somthing. Always got a project.

“I’m a mechanic, John. That’s what I  do, jus like my father did.” He’d pull out a smoke  after he’d said something like that. “That’s alls I got to offer anyone. What a man does is what he is. ” His eyes would sparkle like you wouldn’t believe when he start talkin and drinkin a few. Still be in green Dickys, holes burned through all over like someone’d poured holes out a shaker. His hands had cracks on em, an his fingers were knotted up. Looked like driftwood.

Then he’d say this after he kept drinkin: “Yep, a man is what he does. That’s what Dad use a say.” A man jus layin there don’t mount to much. Some people likes ta think a man’s worth somethin even when he’s layin round. I say he’s worth less than nothin. He’s takin, not makin.”  He’d take a few more sips.  ” An a man either has a family or’s tryin ta get one.”By then Jake’d have a sheen coverin his eyeballs. A glow bout his face, too. He’d fall asleep for two minutes at a time. Think he’d be sleepin anyway, then his eyes’d pop open an he’d start jabberin away again s’if he’d been pretendin ta sleep. Maybe he’d jus been thinkin.

“You know I love ma boy, John. Evey day I get up an go and do my thing so I can be a man worth bein, jus hopin ma boy’ll see me an be proud for the first time. Proud a his papa.”

Now Jake never said a word bout his boy till he’d made a twelve pack disappear. But the beer washed away all Jake’s surface thoughts so that the thoughts he’d been thinkin without even knowin it came out.

I guess I’d known Jake then for at least fifteen years. Knew him from when we used to have breakfast at Jill’s Diner. Heard he was a drinker, but just sos you know, I never known him ta miss a day’s work on account of it. When he’d start talkin about the work he’d do on the cars and some weldin job he had comin up–I knew he was the real deal. I’m a welder myself.

When Jake got his divorce, only thing he had left was his camper–trailer. I had plenty of place to put him on my lot, so I let him settle down by my garage. He was down there, I’d say, bout three years. Didn’t change his schedule much. Sometimes he sucked up some overtime at work on Saturdays. Generally, we’d have breakfast most everyday at Jill’s, and most nights Jake’d pull down another twelve-pack.

Then, bout four months ago, somethin clicked in im. Jus somethin I could see was different. Despite everything, divorce from his wife an the beer an not havin his house, Jake was such a happy guy. Least he seemed it.

Right before Christmas I think it was, yeah I remember cause it was about twenty below with the wind that night–I went down to make sure Jake didn’t need anything.

“Common in, John”, Jake said. He stepped away from the door and fell back into his chair, which should have hit the dump about ten years prior. The way he fell back looked as if he’d given up on somthin. Normally, Jake’s a wiry lookin fellow. All stringy an jumpy. But that night he was kinda swishin around all loosy–goosy. His eyes told the rest of it, cause even when Jake was three sheets to the wind, his eyes normally sparkled.

He started in on me.

“John,” He looked like he’d start bawlin. “You know a man’s either got a family or’s tryin ta get one?” He chucked an empty can he’d been holdin, right over his shoulder. It bounced off the bathroom door an settled back by his foot.

“Yeah, you said that before an I guess you’re right.”

“An I’m glad for a lot of things, you know. Got a good job. That’s more’n my father had most a the time. Prolly worse a man not have a good job than no family. Wanna hand me anotha?” He flicked his hand at the beer case, which was torn open an layin by the front door. Bout six left in it. Guess maybe a draft was keepin the beer cool cause there was a pile of snow hedged along the bottom of that door an I could see flakes flyin up from the wind gettin in. I did what he wanted.

“Mind?” I said. I held another beer in my paw after he’d grabbed his.

“Plenty more where tha came from, John.”

So I popped it open and took a draw.

“This is it, I think.” Jake took me by surprise when he said that.

There was a long time before I said anythin. Just sat there waitin for him to finish.

“What’s it?”

“This is the last Christmas, I think.” He cleared his throat, settled down a little further in his chair. But then the old Jake showed up, a little grin on his face. “Sent Bobby, ma boy, Bobby, a letter. Told im how good I’d done. Told im how sorry I was for all the stupid shit I’d done long time ago.” His grin went down. “Sent the letter last week an told his mother ta tell im to look for it. Ain’t heard back yet.”

“He’ll  get it, Jake. Just take it easy. Why not come up to the house an have some pumpin pie? Vanessa made it today. She puts extra cinnemon in it. It’d win a ribbon somewhere.”

“Naw. That’s alright. Think I’m settled in for the night. Jus thinkin.”

“Don’t think too much,” I said. “it’ll get you in trouble, is all. All the thinkers out there, seems ta me ain’t done much but get us in trouble. Don’t get much done, an others seem a take their ideas places they weren’t meant ta go.”

04
Jan
09

Story Hits #1 on Helium.

Here it is: http://www.helium.com/items/488564-short-stories-life-lessons

15
Nov
08

Think this can’t happen?

Abu Hakim removed a photo from the glove compartment. He looked at the photo; it was himself, astride a bicycle, the Washington Monument rising in the background. Abu Hakim’s hair was jelled and he smiled widely and genuinely in that photo. That was two years ago, when he had come to America to study at Cambridge.

The smell of car exhaust crept into Hakim’s car, as it sat idling in the Seattle drizzle, the gray sky matching Hakim’s mood. It had come to this. In Hamminayah, his mother worked and sent him money to help with his classes. The part-time job at the gas station could not pay for all of his expenses and he was so busy with his studies. He remembered the exuberance he had felt for the American way. But then there was the American invasion of Iraq. His country had been torn apart by unbelievers, and to make matters worse, his brother, Raham, had been kidnapped by Shia death-squads, his body found in a ditch near lake Habbinayah. The Shia heretics had used a power-drill as a torture device, drilling holes in Raham’s legs, making special targets of his kneecaps. His eyes were gone too. And all because of America. Because of oil. That is what the Imam told him and Hakim felt in his bones to be true. When he had received news of his brother’s death, he flew home to grieve with his family. His city lay in ruins. Most of the buildings around his neighborhood were dusty shells, amongst which insurgent snipers crept, day and night, killing everything that moved across the empty streets. Even women.

Islam, which had never before been that important in the mind of a younger Abu Hakim, now became a fire in his soul. Allah had lit that fire and it would burn until this city of Seattle was but ashes. Almost, so close had Abu come to living an American dream. He shoved the transmission into drive and motored in between two cars stopped in the heavy Seattle traffic, thinking about someone that had almost kept him from the fate he was about to face. A year ago, he met Sarah in class. He became like a child around her, her blonde hair reaching to her waste down her back. That blonde hair fascinated him. An angel must have hair like that… But then she had left him. After his brother had died, he became withdrawn and brooding. He had no time to grieve! She didn’t let him grieve… She wanted him to be happy all of the time, but that was not possible. Now someone else could feel and smell Sarah’s hair. Abu’s sinuses tingled and he pounded the steering wheel with his palm. He whimpered, cried a bit at the thought, then noticed that someone in a car next to him was staring. What a fool he was being! Letting the world’s pleasures come between he and his operation.

The Space Needle sought to pierce the sky. Traffic became ever more tangled, but Abu had much patience. Finally, he pulled to a spot under the Needle, leaving the engine to sputter in the damp air. The Al-Qaeda operatives had given him everything he needed. His consort, whom he’d met with months earlier had explained to him how the Uranium would be smuggled into the US: Hidden amongst stacks of wall clocks with Tritium arms, to fool the customs officers and their radiation detectors. All of it shipped into port in huge crates. Russia had provided the know-how. Jealous Russia… The trunk of the car was packed with a carefully constructed sphere of explosives. At the sphere’s core, the small amount of Uranium, holding all of the magical and invisible power, waiting for destructive release. Abu reached under the front seat and pulled to his lap a plunger with wires leading to the car’s engine, the bomb’s power source. He rocked to and fro. Alla Akbar, Alla Akbar, Alla Akbar…

Robert Jenkins jogged, painfully along the sidewalk, dodging puddles, dodging people. He’d forced himself to run after two months of inactivity. His wife, Jessica, had wanted some potatoes for tonight’s dinner, but the traffic was too horrendous to drive. So he ran. With potatoes. It was always interesting, all of the things you noticed while jogging that you never noticed at other times. He saw the leg of a child’s stuffed animal, laying along the curb, in the road, the water rushing over it. He could hear people talking too, their voices carrying despite the rain, bouncing off the high walls of businesses.

His back hurt. His right knee hurt. But what he’d seen in the mirror hurt more, so it was time to start exercising again. No more excuses. Yes he’d been busy at work, but… He wanted to get back home now though. Take a shower and watch a movie. Kiss his little girl good-night. Ahead, he could see the Space Needle. From where he was , he needed to take a right, then just a another mile or so.

Shadows. Then a blooming and bright lotus. So bright Robert became blind and fell. Could he have seen, could his scorched retinas have registered reality, Robert would have seen that lotus form a mushroom cloud, the Needle crumple like a straw, its customers and benefactors smashed on the street. The power of a broken atom swept out and away, carrying a vicious wind, which shattered windows and as he wind retracted, pulled people and everything else out into the street, only to burn in a hellstorm.

Shiva walked the Earth.

Robert’s mouth tasted metallic. Blind and confused he moved to where he remembered the sidewalk to be. The whole city had become silent. But no. A rushing wave of destruction. First only a little warmth, for a second, then the heat of a small star. The water in his body evaporated and mingled with the ether of a now-clearing sky… Alla Akbar Think this can’t happen? http://link.brightcove.com/services/player/bcpid1274179818?bctid=2132859001

02
Nov
08

Little Things: A short story

  Little Things: A short story

I’m not sure if I’ve put this one on this blog or not, but it is posted at Helium.com. This story represents an effort on my part to make a story that James Joyce would have appreciated.

Hope someone likes it. Here’s: Little Things

Pine Sol. The whole room smelled of Pine Sol.

“I don’t think you got the corners,” said Agnes as she lay in her bed.
“Of course I did, Mom.” Rachel ran her hand over her mother’s forehead, smoothing back the white wisps of hair. “I always get the corners. Is there anything else I can get you?”
Agnes layed down again. She turned a bit onto her right side. It was a slight movement, accompanied by a grunt indicative of extreme effort. She stared at a corner of the room intently. “It’s dirty I think.” She collapsed back.

“I’ll take care of it, just rest Mom–please.” Rachel walked out of the small bedroom, down the stairs. She went to a closet in the house’s foyer and removed a mop. Her brother, Jim, stood from his seat when he saw her. His face looked drawn; dark circles orbited his eyes, skin bland as sheetrock.

“Everything alright?” Jim asked.

Rachel dug in the closet as she spoke: “It’s the same thing. The mopping. Or the door to the bathroom creaking.” She stood before Jim, holding the mop, her face showing no emotion. “She’s almost gone but she cares that the door needs WD-40.”

After dabbing the corners of Agnes’ room with the mop, Rachel went back downstairs where she found Jim applying lubricant to the squeaky hinge. He swung the door open and shut. When he’d finished the job, he stared at the can, spun it in his hands as if to distract himself.

“The doctor,” Rachel said, “will be here in half an hour.”

Jim only nodded.

Returning to her mother, Rachel told her of the doctor’s impending visit. Agnes’ eyes lie closed. Her lips though, were parted. Agnes seemed to be sinking into the bed before Rachel’s eyes, the cancer that grew in her body pulling her down and away from her family and friends. Rachel imagined that; mobs of dark and knotty hands growing from the bed, curling around Agnes, greedily pulling her away–forever.

Raspy words escaped Agnes: “Did you pay the phone bill? It’s the first.”

“Mom, I’ve taken care of it.” Rachel stood and leaned over the bed. She pulled a curtain open allowing blazing shards of sunlight to crash in. Agnes shuddered as if she had been hit by a hammer. Quickly, Rachel shut the curtain.

Rachel sat in a chair beside her mother’s bed and began to read a magazine. She worried about Jim. He seemed unable to breach the wall of pain that stood invisible before the door to his mother’s room.

“Phillip’s son is coming to mow the lawn on Wednesday. The gas for the mower is in the shed on a shelf. A red can,” said Agnes. Her words trailed at the end, like someone speaking as they dozed off.

The doorbell toned. Muffled conversation made its way up the stairs. Agnes’ eye lids burst open. “Dr. Krutzburgh’s here,” she said. Footsteps chugged up the stairs.

“Good morning, Agnes.” Dr. Krutzburgh walked in. He wore khaki dress pants and a blue, button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled to his elbows. “How are we?”

Rachel stood from the chair and Dr. Krutzburgh took her place.

The doctor carried with him an illusion. It is the illusion that all good men of the medical trade must be able to employ at will: That pain, suffering and even death are subject to him. Though the patient’s mortal confine is ravaged beyond rational hope, everything will be alright.
He lifted Agnes’ arm from under the blanket and gently slid a blood pressure cuff on. After noting her numbers, he removed the cuff and pressed a chilled stethoscope to her bosom. “Take a deep breath for me Agnes.” Her chest rose slightly, followed by a deep groan. Her face contorted. Then, a long silence.
Rachel stood near the door observing, biting her lip. The quiet had a disturbing aspect to it. She half-expected the doctor to stand and announce: “The cancer’s gone. I’ll be on my way.” Instead though, he removed a syringe and small glassine bottle from a case he’d carried in.

“I’m going to give you some medicine to help with the pain, okay?”

“I don’t want it. And you don’t have to talk so loudI’m not deaf,” said Agnes.

“There’s cookies if you want some. My daughter made them.”

“I think I will, but I want you to take the medicine,” said Dr. Krutzburgh.
Rachel saw the word: morphine on the bottle that the doctor held.

“If that’s what it takes for you to stop pestering, go ahead.”
The doctor administered the opiate then motioned Rachel into the hallway. He placed a hand on her shoulder. “She’s going. This may be the last. I’ll stay here for the day. I don’t expect things to go on after that.”
Rachel went to tell Jim, then returned upstairs and stood in the bedroom pacing.

“Did you check the mail?” asked Agnes, through delirium. “It’s one o’clock. The mail comes at one.”
Indeed, Rachel’s watch confirmed it was one o’clock. How her mother knew this without a clock nearby, Rachel couldn’t say.

At twelve past one, the doctor felt for Agnes’ pulse and found it missing. He looked up at Rachel.

She understood. It was true what they said; that only two things really mattered: Death and Love. With that realization: relief that it was over. When she told Jim, he picked up the phone to call for arrangements.

Rachel walked to the driveway. Outside, her senses exploded and Rachel noticed all of the little things that everyday she took for granted: the undulating chirps of chickadees, calling, rasping in uneven harmony, never to find a chorus; crunching gravel beneath her feet, the rolling stones mashing and finding their place amongst brothers, small stones pounced upon by the pricking rain, light, cold as lonely steel; a rain that pulled down the smell of lightning ozone from damaging gray cirrus, mingled it with the surrounding pines, offering the smoke as sacrifice to her mourning soul; a soul that felt the thick breeze moving and lifting her hair, grazing her eyes and ears; yes, ears that recorded the echoes of barking dogs, lonely, calling for the pack to undo exile, the sadness imposed upon the lonely for all time; ears pulled by the band of children playing in the joy of youth, evident in randomness, cleverness, carelessness; a bouncing ball, a clatter unknown, smashing against the muscular tones of distant motors, angry, huffing, pulsing, flowing down tunnels of concrete, running to escape the droning populace, racing for the muffling of forest and ocean and river, collapsing, swirling, finally, again, waiting for the one such as Rachel, who would hear, smell and see.

18
Apr
08

Short Story

Wrote this one in while eating pizza and drinking a beer at Mello Mushroom in Greenville.

 

Can you figure out who the narrator is?

The Thirteenth Labor

 

 

Yea, I know. I’m puttin’ the demi back in demigod these days. Stop staring. I’m workin’ on it. Bought one of those ab machines last week. I broke it. Piece of junk. So what if the gut’s a little flabby? I can still kick ass if I need to.

     Things have been okay; got me a place downtown, on First Street. A decent car too; good gas mileage.

     Like a beer? I like this Coors Lite stuff; doesn’t fill me up and it’s cheap. Back in the day it was all wine. Used to drink the stuff like water, then the years passed and I fell on hard times. Three bottles a day of Wild Irish Rose. I went downhill quick. Strictly a beer-man now.

     Don’t shake your head. Despite what you see here, I was a ball-buster when I was young. And if you tell me you’ve never heard of me, I’ll slap the taste outta your mouth. Things just started gettin’ to me. Around the time of the Stymphalian Birds. Got a little twitch in my right eye, a little shake in my hand. What? A legend can’t have issues? You try takin’ out a flock a’ flamingos-from-hell, see how it is. Pretty soon, you’ll be getting’ a disability check too.

     Geryon sealed it though. I was pretty messed. Drunk pretty much all the time after that. Kept goin’ though. Put the beat-down on Cerberus even though I could barely stand. That was one pissed off mutt. By the way, he didn’t have three heads; I just saw three heads. Homer (who was a chick by the way; no she wasn’t hot) thought three heads made a better story than one. I’d have to agree.

     My therapist says I’ve got Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She gets paid a lot of money to come up with that crap. But what would anyone expect? Theseus kills a guy with horns on his head. Perseus offs Medusa. They’re big-time heroes. Ladies all over ‘em all the time. Me? I gotta do twelve suicide missions. One’s not enough for my lovely step-mom. Oh yea. Step-mom. Real sweetheart, that one. Tries to punch my ticket at every turn but Dad still won’t leave her. She’s got him by the short-n’-curlies. He knows she’d get the mansion on Olympus and besides, no ruler-diety can get divorced; it breaks up the image of perfection. Just keep smilin’ when you’re out in public, Dad. Course, Dad makes his own problems. Can’t keep it in his pants. Really likes the mortal ladies. After all, here I am.   

     Finally, I just had to get away from it all. My last wife knew about Dad’s shenanigans and she knew a little of his act rubbed off on me. So she just couldn’t help but try a little of Nessus’ saltpeter on me. Hydra venom does have the tendency to take the romance outta ya. Thanks, Hon.  Got a huge tat on my back trying to cover up the scars from where my skin ripped off. No, it doesn’t say: I love Mom. The pain’s still bad, but the pills help. There’s a saying: Religion is the opium of the masses. I say opium is the opium of the masses.

     So after the fourth divorce, I faked the whole funeral pyre thing. Hit the road. Saw more of the world. At least Hera left me alone. Even the other Olympians felt sorry for me, started the rumor that I’d been accepted as one of them. Mommy-dearest was too busy messin’ up the war in Troy to see any different. I kicked ass a few more times, but nothin’ serious really.

     I had to get this all out. Go ahead, write it down, print it, talk about in on Oprah. Whatever. People have to know the truth. I want kids to know that someday, they can be on top of the world and then it may all come crashing down. That’s when they’ll find out who their true friends are. Oh, and drugs are bad—real bad.

     For right now, I’m lookin’ at a comeback. Got an agent. Been workin’ out. Little less beer. The gray hairs can be fixed. I’m workin’ hard on this—real hard. Memoir; Hollywood option. But you’re the first to hear it made public. A photo? Hold on, let me get my club.

 

18
Apr
08

Real Cop Stories

 Since my friend Mike seems to be spending the evening talking on the phone again, and because I’m feeling ancy, I’ll burn off some energy by writing my first entry of Real Cop Stories.

Names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent. Yes it’s true.

Pet Bumble Bee

I’d been working as a police officer for the Bangor Police Department for about 4 years I think. Still had a lot of energy, still liked to get into trouble.

It was a fall day as I remember it, and I’d seen a fellow that I knew to have warrants for his arrest. By the time I parked my cruiser somewhere around the corner, near Main St. he’d disappeared.

Later that day, I was working through on some overtime, and I saw the same fellow on the same area of Main St. in front of what used to be Sweet’s Market. This time I was already in a position to park quickly.

Walking around the corner of the store, I saw him immediately change direction upon catching sight of me. I quickened my own gate, and told him to stop, that I needed to talk to him.

He did stop. He turned and produced what looked like an Altoids tin. I asked him what it was for, and he said that his pet bee was inside. Indeed, he cracked the lid, and a bumble bee staggered drunkenly around inside the box. He snapped the lid shut, and looked at me as if he’d showed me the contents of the Ark of the Covenant.

Let’s call the fellow Bill. Little did I know that Bill was suffering from a terrible brew of Schizophrenia, Lysergic Acid, and a bad childhood. I politely and professionally informed Bill that there was a warrant for his arrest. He shook his head and said confidently, “No there isn’t.”

He said it with such grace and assurance, that I almost caught myself saying: “Oh. Sorry to bother you, Bill. Nice Bee. Have a good one.”

Shaking off such thoughts, I reiterated the warrant issue and told Bill to turn around and place his hands behind his back. Nope. Uh-uh. Bill had plans tonight, he and his bee. He started to walk away from me, each step quickening as I followed trying to close the distance. Finally I lunged and caught his arm.

Have you ever seen video of a feral cat that discovers it’s attached to a leash? This was now Bill. My favorite maneuver for getting people to the ground was to grasp them by the wrist with one hand, while applying pressure to the back of the elbow. Then a quick turn of the hips, pulling the suspect around in an ever closing circle, down to the ground. Worked every time–almost.

Seems like Bill’s experimentation with psychedelics, combined with whatever else he had going on, was enough to give him the agility of Tarzan. Oh yeah–he was bellowing like an enraged Mandrill too…

After about three revolutions, I figure that we looked like we were dance partners. Quickly brushing off feelings of disappointment at my favorite technique’s failure, I changed directions and launched him Judo-style into a flower bed at the base of a tree. I immediately dove on top of him, as he didn’t seem in the least stunned by the fall.

There he was face down on the pavement, my knees pressing into his back. I managed to get one hand in a handcuff, when Bill begins screaming at the top of his lungs: “He’s trying to fuck me in the ass!” He repeated his assertion several times. I looked in through the glass to Sweet’s Market, making eye contact with several customers standing in line. In my mind, I really hoped they saw my uniform, so they’d know that I had no interest in Bill’s rear end.

Then Bill amazed me again. Not only had he foiled my invincible take-down attempt at a mere 150 lbs., he also was managing to keep his other hand away from me. I can’t remember anyone that I had so much trouble hand-cuffing in almost 8 years. The whole time, he’s still screaming, and I’m pulling at his other arm.

Then a man, maybe early to mid-fifties kneels down next to me. He’s wearing a ball cap that said he was a retired US Marine. He asks me in a calm voice, if I’d like some help.

“Oh no….I’m….doing….alright. Thanks though.”

He helped me anyways and we got Bill into cuffs. The man walked away and I never got his name and I never got to say thanks.

Mr. Marine Veteran, if you’re there. Thanks.

 

17
Apr
08

Mourne Plain

Wrote this a couple of months back. Not sure what to think of it.

Mourne Plain

 

 

 

Anderson Edwards hunched over the old table; a table covered in the etchings of family member’s names. There was Bobby and Joseph and Crazy Ed.  Bits of sand scratched his elbows, but he didn’t notice for the four shots of vodka that now sat in Anderson Edwards’ stomach. He touched the loaded semi-automatic handgun that lie before him, dragged his index finger over the serial number, felt the steel grip as if it belonged to a sacred relic.

     Indeed, the gun was a sacred piece to a newly formed death-cult, of which Anderson was the founding member, the only member—the final member.

     Anderson Edwards swung his lolling head and peered out a window. He saw the universe mocking him, flaunting the beauty that he had failed to see all of his life. Blue moonlight sprayed obliquely through the two windows that faced the lake, falling upon half his face and half upon the table, further roiling him by highlighting the names of his father and mother, each separated by a small carved heart and dated 1968. They’d left him too, like everyone else had. His thoughts drifted to his ex-wife.

     “That’s right, Honey, you got the kitchen sink. There’s nothing left now. Are you happy!” he swayed back, holding the bottle of vodka, yelling at the timbered ceiling of the camp’s bunkhouse.  He stood with the help of the table, shuffled his feet on the gritty floor and found the mirror that hung on the wall at the foot of the bunk-beds.

     He stared into his own eyes, scanned the reflection of his face. The vodka seemed to be pulling his cheeks down and his eyes too. Also the corners of his mouth. Anderson Edwards watched himself sip from his shot glass. Water of Life is what the Russians called it. “Water of Death’d be better,” he muttered.

     It wasn’t long before his image danced before him; a mesmerism in the shadow. Edwards watched his form stretch, the borders of his body become pliable as if he were putty being molded by an invisible child. The vodka of course. And he was tired. And he wanted to die.

     Then the reflection gathered, reconstructed itself to become a semblance of what it had been before; a simple man, alone, in the dark with no one that loved him, in a world that he hated.

     His lip quivered a bit, his chin wrinkling. He swirled his drink and gulped the rest. The burning of the alcohol choked back the cry that tried to escape his throat. Looking up from the floor, weeping ambushed him.

     Great sobs echoed through the damp wood of the cabin. It pleased him to see himself weep. Anderson Edwards seemed to gain some great self-knowledge as he watched his face crinkle, tears roll down his cheeks. Best of all though, was the sound—a symphony of despair. The sound proved that the world was no place for him.

     He studied his own eyes again, thought about going back to the table for the gun. But now his eyes shone with a joy that Anderson Edwards thought vanished since childhood. He shifted his vision down to his mouth and found the corners upturned. His teeth were even showing! The shot glass bounced twice on the floor, the now empty hand reaching to probe the terrain of his face. A smile?

     No. His fingers found the same frown. Still, the drying trails from his tears covered his cheeks.

     “Hello, Anderson.” His reflection’s mouth moved with the intonations of the words. “Why so sad?”

     Adrenaline shot through his body. “What…” He stumbled back, a hand reaching by instinct and smashing through a window into the crisp air outside. He dragged his arm back through the jagged glass, streaming sanguine fluid.

     “Careful, Anderson. See, you’ve cut yourself.” The reflection’s smile softened only a bit.

     “This isn’t real,” insisted Anderson.

     “Isn’t it? Does it matter now? I know what you plan on doing.” The figure in the mirror folded his arms, and now its eyes seemed to be set afire; they shone with a color like that of the moonbeam. “I think you should reconsider. I have a better plan.”

     Anderson shook his head. “This is the plan for me. Nothing’s gonna stop it now. There’s nothing left. No reason for anything.” He cursed himself for debating with something he knew wasn’t real.

     “Let’s switch places then. The universe is a big, complicated place, Anderson. It’s bad place. But here, where I am, it’s pretty darn good.”

     “Who are you?” said Anderson.

     The thing snickered. “Who do I look like?”

     “Me.”

     “Than I’m you.”

     Anderson slumped down against the wall until his rump hit the floor. His head hung between his knees as he spoke. “Look out there. The lake, the moon, the pine trees. Can you smell them?”

     “I know. It’s horrible isn’t it? I’d like to help. Do a little switcharoo with you.” The thing motioned to Anderson. “Common.”  

     What was there to lose? He’d planned on spraying his brains across the lake anyway. Gathering himself, his rose. Blood quivered at the end of his fingertips before splashing onto the floor. Two steps forward and he stood face to face with his smiling reflection, the simmering moon-glow of the simulacrum’s eyes pressing into his soul.

     “Just say it. That’s it and you’ll be here, I—there,” the reflection said.

     “Where are you? I mean what is there?” Anderson flittered his head toward the mirror and stared intently at the area behind the figure. He saw nothing but the shadows and the broken window behind him. A loon knelled from the dark lake.

     “It’s a place where you can finally find acceptance.” The figure’s face became serene, seemingly losing its contour. “I’ve been here for a while so I think it’s time I share my spot with someone else.”

     “But you said you’re me,” said Anderson.

     “Well, I will be you—I want to be you.”

    “That’s a mistake. You don’t know what it’s like to have no one. It’s better being dead—you’ll see.” Anderson Edwards scratched his head, brought his hand to in front of his face. The ache from the wound had finally burrowed through his drunkenness. It throbbed with each beat of his heart. “Okay. I want to be there.”

     His image still stood before him though, and the grin had returned. “Thank you Anderson. Thank you so much. You’ll find what you want, I’m sure.”

     Placing his hand on the mirror, Anderson tried to push through it, into the other world. But his hand did not penetrate to another existence, it merely settled on the cool, dusty glass.

     It brought a jolt to him when his reflection took a single step back, spun on its heel, then walked away. Anderson Edwards angled himself with the glass so that he could watch his image walk. He watched the mirage pause at the picnic table, pick up the handgun, then walk out the door without looking back. He turned to look at the real table. Gone. The loon had fallen silent. And there was no breeze—no cabin walls.  

     But there was a moon. No! Two! And blood red, one as big as a cup platter, the other a dinner plate, each faintly streaked with flowing yellows and orange. The air felt a tinge warmer. Anderson Edwards began to choke. He rubbed his eyes.

     Then, marching from the antediluvian mist that wafted around Anderson’s feet, from the utter darkness that surrounded Anderson Edwards but for the crimson swath cut by the terrible moons, two dark men, skin the color of onyx, dressed in white, linen robes. As they approached, Anderson saw that they had no hair, their faces possessed an inhuman angularity—sharp and long. Their arms hung a bit too low; a few inches below their knees, and their legs, long and lean, strode with inordinate grace. When they’d drawn to within ten yards, they stopped and stared.  Anderson Edwards heard a voice, but both beings’ mouths remained still—some would say grim—but when Anderson heard the voice, he heard the voice of an angel. Had he in fact off’d himself at the lake and found what the here-after is like? Maybe God found a bit of mercy for poor, unloved Anderson and decided he shouldn’t remember the final act.

     “Anderson Edwards,” the voice said “welcome.”

     “Where am I?” asked Anderson, strangely calm.

     “This is the epicenter of the multiverse’s pleasure—and its pain. From here, you can move from one shadow-reality to the next. The only caveats being that in order to leave one’s previous reality, another must willingly replace you, and the sum total of pleasure and pain in the universe must remain balanced. It is a rare distinction to be given this chance, Anderson Edwards.”

     What was Anderson’s replacement doing now? Probably finishing off the vodka.

     The voice continued: “We understand that you wished to terminate your existence, as you lack the feeling of being loved. Since the adoration of others, at all costs, seems to be what makes you happiest, we believe we have found a proper match for you.”

     In the space between Anderson Edwards and the strange beings, a rectangle of purest darkness bloomed and hovered not more than a foot from the ground. It bore the same shape as the mirror in the bunkhouse.

     “Look,” said the voice.

     Hesitatingly, he walked to the dark rectangle. He ground his teeth as he edged himself around to peer into space and time. Within the blackness, beyond it, a man paced to and fro, his hands locked behind the small of his back. Somehow Anderson Edwards knew the face, but more he knew the clothing. The man turned and walked to stand in front of Anderson Edwards.

     A deep sorrow flowed from the little man’s eyes. Those eyes told Anderson Edwards what to do next:

     “Let’s change places for a bit. I know what you’re planning. I can see it in your face. There’s a better place for you here.”

     The man jumped and spoke in a language not familiar to Anderson Edwards, but that he somehow understood.

     “Vile revenant! Be gone. My hour nears and I’ll face it with honor. No escape for me.” The man straightened his long blue coat, swiped his hand across the tops of his high leather boots, then inspected his work. Finally, with his fingers, he combed back a tuft of his thin, dark hair from his forehead.

     “You won’t lose any honor by living another day. It’s only smart,” said Anderson Edwards. “And maybe you can come back someday.”

     The man paused. It was obvious that he now considered the truth in Anderson Edwards’ words. A few more moments of negotiation and finally the man said: “Very well, another start for me. Another exit from doom’s stage.”

     At the words, Anderson Edwards found himself adjusting the very same tall boots, straightening the identical jacket and hair, his former life only an echo in his subconscious mind. He strode out through the flapping aperture of his tent, pulling on his thick, leather riding gloves and fixing his cavalry saber at his waste. With great arrogance he set his famous hat on his head. Around him, men saluted as he moved by them. In their eyes, Anderson Edwards saw what he cherished most: unconditional admiration. Each man saluted him, but such was their respect, they cared not that no salute returned to them, only an astute nod.

     All across a wet, grassy land, thousands of men had gathered, all dressed in the same vestments as Anderson Edwards, and preparing themselves for some great endeavor. Thousands of men, hundreds of thousands of men, each of them as his beck.

     He climbed onto his steed then weaved his way through the encampment. The horse snorted its own love for its rider. Anderson found what he looked for: eighty cannon manned by his expectant soldiers. He glanced at his pocket watch: 11:50.

     “Soldiers of the Fifth!” he cried, lifting his saber from its scabbard. All of the men within earshot turned. “Let us finish this before supper. Your emperor can ask nothing more from you than your blood.” He smiled at this, and snickers rippled through the regiment. “But I prefer to ask for the blood of our enemy!”  At this he cut the air with the blade, prompting a roar from his soldiers.
     “Vive L’Empereur! Vive L’Empereur!”

     A Lieutenant locked eyes with him, and with a determined countenance, turned and shouted orders at the crews attending the cannon.

     “Grande Batterie—charger le canon!” Thirty seconds later: “Feu!”

     The guns thundered, vomiting ball shot. The iron spheres fell amidst Wellington’s troops as they assembled for war. Some spheres found their targets, tearing brave men apart, others simply sunk deep into the wet mourne plain of a small village called Waterloo.

     Anderson Edwards never felt more loved.

 




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