Monday, December 6, 2010
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Monday, August 30, 2010
Monday, August 16, 2010
Monday, August 9, 2010
His cousin, a beautiful girl of sixteen, had been killed in a car accident. Her fair features were bloated, somehow set awry in death. Her familiar warm colors had been changed to something startling, like a black-and-white photo with painted-in accent colors. There had been no beauty there any more, only a husk that had once been a person’s body.
He had no tears for Gennie yet: only a wild fear that ran through his blood and made it beat faster. He felt himself go cold, a pale feeling crawling up from the tips of his toes, up the back of his calf, then creeping up his spine like a leak in icy water bed.
He wanted to hold her tight, as though it might save her, but did not want to wake her. He rose, knowing that there was work to be done for the day. An early start, things to do, things to put in order.
Gennie’s mother’s visit brought with it boxloads of junk from their old place, and it had sat like unfamiliar furniture across three Saturdays in which neither of them had had the time to tackle it.
Michael found the folder in among Gennie’s old school papers she had insisted on keeping all these years. He had already dispensed with all of his long ago, or so he thought. Whatever he hadn’t thrown away he thought for sure had been forgotten in his dad’s attic in the decades since he moved out.
He had told himself that he wouldn’t open it--the yellowing manila folder with decayed, photocopies of hand-written pages of college ruled loose leaf. He feared making a mess far bigger than he had the strength or will to clean up before the weekend expired and forced him back to work.
He knew he had some of his old stories in the folder. These had been his means of escape in the hell of junior high school and had, in a way, become a career.
He had to escape now, but this was not a conscious decision on his part--only a whim that he felt he couldn’t resist, and which he never gave himself the time to challenge.
The vaguely familiar handwriting grabbed his curiosity. A few words in, and Michael was hooked.
“Silent Killer” was the title scrawled in precise-yet-awkward cursive letters, and the name of his old friend Omar Jiles.
The name brought up a face which he hadn’t seen since their third year of high school: the year when Michael and his dad had moved away.
This copy had been one of six passed around the room during a session of a weekly writer’s club meeting held after school. Michael had almost been too embarrassed to hear Omar read the story out loud in front of everyone else. He felt that he was being watched--a paranoia that had been shared by all his classmates, he was now sure, but which had been acutely intensified by the fact that this particular story of Omar’s had him, Michael, as the central character.
The story was not long, only a ten to twelve hand-written pages. Omar had been changed, unimaginatively, from Michael to Mike.
The wording was awkward in most places. The characters felt a little bit flat and ordinary. Some of the spelling was horrendous.
What kept Michaelf frozen in place as he sat alone on the living room floor, awash in a sea of cardboard, old paper, and bits of junk, was not the story’s quality, but it’s content.
Michael, in a fit of narcissistic boredom, had asked Omar to write a sci-fi story about him: a story that would take place in the future. “Silent Killer” was the result of that challenge. Parts of it had riveted his attention: the details about his wife in particular. Michael had searched in vain among the girls at school who might fit the name and description of his future wife in the slightest way.
But over all, Michael had been disappointed by the result. It hadn’t described the adolescent fantasies of his future quite the way he had hoped, and now he knew why.
It had accurately described his life in the present day with chilling accuracy: an argument he had had with his editor only yesterday, the color of his wife’s hair, and the heartbreaking news concerning Gennie’s health. He had gotten her name wrong, however, spelling it “Jenny.”
Numbly, Michael read it to the end. Omar had not really finished it--a work in progress, he had said. Michael remembered that he had asked Omar to get on with it, wanting to know what happened next. Omar had said he had lost interest and was working on something new.
When Gennie came home from therapy she found Michael sitting still, holding the story in his hands, a tear staining his face.
She came over and immediately embraced him. She had been crying herself, and had no more tears left. She held her husband as he sobbed silently. Soon his breath slowed and he held her close to him. He whispered into her ear.
“Yeah,” she said.
“That old boyfriend of yours--do you happen to know if he’s still a private investigator?”
To Be Continued
Monday, August 2, 2010
“Get up! Why don’t you get up?” they said.
Another said. “You’re faking. He’s faking.”
They went out and they never came back. I still remember where he fell. Everything seemed big then, in the way that large important buildings are big in the adult world. You moved down the hall away from the cafeteria, past the vending machines, around the corner. Another left down the stairs--concrete clad in gripping rubber-- and the landing, and then the long flight down into the dark.
You move through the dim hallway that was dim in sickly fluorescent light. It turned black when the people ahead of you opened the door wide in to the bright sunlight facing south.
We had laughed a lot at lunch. We almost ran down the hall, forgetting rules, forgetting everything. His big legs frenzied down the stairs like we had done together a million times. He jumped the last steps. He fell, and didn’t get back up. He shouted and I came back to see what was wrong.
“Can you get up?”
He wasn’t crying. “Just give me a few minutes. It just really hurts right now.”
I looked at him and someone opened the door, letting the light into the long dark hallway. I left and joined them.
I wandered around the playground. I came in on a game of foursquare, then waited in vain to be picked for kickball. I toyed with tether ball alone. I trotted slow and alone from this game to that toy, like a kid in a nickel arcade waiting for his ride home. I thought of my friend again and I went back. Nobody else had.
He still laid there. “I’ve tried to get up and I just can’t,” he said.
I tried to lift him on one side. He was always heavy. On the day of our physicals I watched silently, invisble as I could be as the other kids laughed at him.. One hundred and fifty pounds in third grade was unforgivable. He didn’t look very fat. He was heavy, and fell from my hands when I tried to lift him..
People had stopped coming through. Lunch was over.
He tried to slip his leg under himself and shouted in pain, his voice echoing down the dark hallway.
“I’m getting a teacher,” I said.
The paramedics arrived with flashing lights, parking near the opened door at the end of the hall. Everyone gathered and watched in a circle and pretended they cared about him.
His face was dusty with the tracks from size 8 tennis shoes that had been brand new in September. They had his ankle braced tight and loaded him into the aid car like bread into a truck.
When we were gathered and corralled inside I turned invisible in the back corner of the classroom where my desk was and brushed my fingers along the margins of my text book. I wondered if he was okay. I wondered if he would leave me alone there, and if he would come back and try to do for me what I had done for him.
The next morning I cried and lost control and told my mother that I wouldn’t ever go back to school again.
It was another week before we saw him again, and we all pretended it hadn’t happened in our heartless way.
We didn’t go to the same high school.
Monday, July 26, 2010
-dedicated to Isaac Asimov
John had plenty of trouble with Eric. He himself, of course, had never had any problem rising at that hour. It was just something he was always able to do since he was a kid, rising early with his own dad to help with the landscape business.
All he had ever had to do was set in his mind what time he wanted to rise. He would set his alarm clock dutifully, winding the hands on the face until they lined up just so, and then would settle himself in for a long rest. The time of his rising settled in his mind as a small point of thought fixed in his head,, but shrinking with his consciousness as he fell off to sleep. The next morning he would find he had awakened himself, sometimes seconds before the alarm. It was a trick of concentration he had come to rely on, and he hadn't owned an alarm clock since college.
The work he woke up for had been brutally difficult, but character-building. Still, to this day he had nightmares about shoveling snow or melting under the summer sun while manicuring the lawns of the
He was tempted to congratulate himself for giving Eric an easier time than that. Sure, it was early enough to still be dark, but it would be worth it, he was sure. The sunrise over the monuments would make them feel as new and magical as when they had first approached them on highway
"Come on, let's go."
After a good jostling, he managed to coax a low grumble out of his son.
The boy's lips shifted and he half-mumbled, half-breathed the word "tomorrow."
"No, come on. We won't be here tomorrow. Let's go."
Reluctantly, the boy seemed to surrender, not willing to fight it. He pushed himself up, his hair a disjointed pile of straw in the light of the electric lantern.
John passed his son another granola bar from his pocket, and tried not to let the dazzling display of stars overhead distract him from making his way.
"Hurry or we'll miss it."
Eric was a good hiker, but at this hour he still managed to drag his feet plenty. He tried to comply, his wiry limbs fumbling with his day pack and maneuvering his feet around rocks and brush.
"How much further?" he asked. John grinned with pride: there was barely a hint of whine in the boy’s voice now, a characteristic that had been much more prominent the previous year when he was still only eleven. His voice had only recently turned. That helped a lot, he was sure, but he liked to think the boy was beginning to get tougher.
They settled in at the selected lookout and John broke out his last pair of granola bars. They had made excellent time. The sun hadn't even begun to rise. In fact, there wasn't even a hint of pale blue or gray in the sky, not even the slightest fading in the spilled-sugar ceiling of stars overhead.
An hour later, Eric was wishing he had snuck his new sports watch into his day pack.
"No electronics," Dad had insisted. "We're looking to get away from the things of man."
All Eric wanted was the time; the video game he had begged his dad to let him bring last year might have been diverting, but all he wanted now was to know the time. Such a simple thing.
The sky was still dark.
"No wonder I'm so tired," Eric said. "Must be the middle of the night."
"This isn't right," his father said, evenly.
"Why didn't you bring an alarm?"
"You know I don't need one. I've done fine without it. I've been up right when I wanted to be every day so far. Remember when we went fishing on Monday?"
Now that Dad mentioned it, Eric realized it was something he hadn't even considered. He still took it for granted that the adults in his life knew better than he did what was next and when it was time to go. He was just in the habit of doing what he was told.
There was something about Dad's voice that he didn't like at all.
"We better head back to camp. This can't be right."
It concerned Eric that Dad seemed so serious, and about such a simple mistake. Lighten up, Dad. You're not a human alarm clock, just a human. We'll get back to camp and it'll be three in the morning. You'll see.
"I'm sure it's just not as late as you think it is," Eric offered out loud.
"Yeah," Dad said absently.
Eric's dad powered up the GPS; something they swore they would only do in an emergency.
Dad was fidgety, impatient to get it powered up. Eric was just glad to be back near his sleeping bag. He figured it wouldn't take long to get it nice and warm again.
He had just settled his head down on his travel pillow and shut off his light, giving himself over to the cocoon of darkness in the tent.
"What?" he heard his father mutter to himself. The man's voice dripped with disbelief. "Eric, please come here."
Eric groaned inwardly and reluctantly left the warmth and darkness behind.
In the light of the lantern Eric's dad looked half way to dead under his ginger beard, his cheeks colorless, his expression haunted.
"These things aren't wrong. Do you understand why? The time can't be wrong. Can you tell me why that is?"
"Um, I don't know. I guess it uh . . . you don't set the time on it, do you? It finds the satellites, and then satellites tell the computer where it is. The computer then comes up with the time based on where we are. Something like that."
"Then why do you suppose, even though it's pitch black out here, that this clock says it's Mountain Time?"
Eric had no more answers than his father did. They resolved to go back to bed, to forget all this. That would have been Eric's first suggestion if Dad hadn't said it first.
Somehow, the darkness in his tent didn't seem half as inviting, and he found that he had trouble quieting his mind enough to sleep.
Some time later, Eric woke up. Dad's panic was contagious.
"Eric, you see those stars up there, right?"
Poking his head out of the tent, he nodded.
"And this display says it's . Mountain Time, right?"
Eric looked at the display. There was no mistaking it. The sun was late.
As the pair made their way back to the lookout John had picked out, neither dared to say anything. Eric felt he'd give just about anything to see sunlight. The light of his flashlight now seemed so feeble, even pointless. Neither of them questioned the need for the hike. They just moved, as if somehow they could find the sun if they just moved fast enough and waited at the lookout long enough.
They sat on their rocks once again, looking up at the stars that now seemed menacing and strange.
Light filled the sky. The sun appeared as though in fast-forward.
Together they sucked in their breath, and both felt the unmistakable sensation of falling. The sun grew smaller, smaller. In the smallest moment, a massive noise of rushing air filled the open space of the desert.
The stars tumbled away, the sun joining it as a speck of insignificant light, and were lost.