The Mall Watchers

‘People, too damn many of ‘em’ he was thinking, turning the corner and at the same time straining to see through and over the hundreds who coagulated the wide concourse. Hesitating in his walk, he kept to the edges of the crowd, and dwelled on a small group of kids who were gathered around a bench. The muffled giggles and  high pitched squeals enhanced their strutting, preening and prancing, evidence that the young still held their youth in high regard.

One stood out. A slight young man topped with dark long hair over soft, angelic features. His right knee shredded with tendrils of string in disarray, and just above a red bandana was wrapped and knotted tight. A mark of who he was. The man winced, knowing they would meet again, sooner than both would like.

But not now. Now there was another and he turned his attention back to navigating the crowd and noted his own reflection in a store window. Turning away, he let his eyes wander, positioning his gaze to float amid the crowd and the countless vendors that populated the center of the mall concourse. Still moving slowly, he knew they were here. In fact, in all his years, he had only been mistaken once, and that was long ago and another story.

A corner of his lip turned up softly when he found them setting on a wood slatted bench. A passing surge of the crowd obliterated his view for a moment and then subsided. ‘Only need one today,’ and he made a conscience decision to take his time. He had the time.

“Wanna go get a coffee?” one asked

“No, had too much already, feeling like I’m gonna be peeing all damn day with my balder the way it is an’ all.”

“What, you’re going to end up like ol’ Voss and piss your pants all the time?”

“That ain’t what I said.”

The first man chuckled, letting his eyes dance in the reflection of a private joke.

The friend noted the look and with a finger splotched with age, nudged his black rimmed glasses up his nose where they would fail to stay. He was irritated this morning. Not at anything in particular, then again, maybe at everything.  He  thought it was somewhat funny, in an absurd sense, his agitation. Absurd because he knew there was nothing at the moment to be ticked about, but he was, and because of that, he actually was making an effort to control it. Controlling his agitation seemed to get harder as the morning along.

“Look at that, Alf,” was partnered with a gentle elbow jabbed against his, “Good God almighty,”

“Aw, wipe that spittle of a smile of your face Pete, she’s just a little girl.” And Alf’s disgust was evident in the tone, aimed more at his aches and pains than Pete’s.

“Little girl my ass, she’s at least 45, maybe even near 50.”

“No damn difference cuz you couldn’t get it up if ya wanted to, could ya? When’s the last time Pete?  With Aggie?”

Pete’s breath fell away. Letting the woman fade away into the moving crowd of color and chaos. Pausing for just the briefest of moments, he then reached into his back pocket and pulled a hanky to wipe his brow.

“What the hell you have to say that for?”

Alf didn’t have an answer and shifted his body uncomfortably,  just a bit away. Unsure why he had mentioned Aggie, her name bought memories abounding in his mind. Memories of a life lived, his life, her life, together, the good and the bad. Seventy years of too much heartbreak and he tossed those aside thinking of the good. “Dunno Pete,  Guess I’m sorry.”  And it seemed to both men, the sentiment was more of an exasperated sigh than an actual apology.

“Look at all these people, Pete,” Alf found he needed to pause, to gather thoughts, “how many of ‘em are going to end up like us, two old friggin’ codgers with nothing to do but set on a bench and watch everybody else. Kinda seems stupid, don’t it? I mean don’t it bother you that we got nothing better to do, like we lived all our lives to end up here.” And he found himself staring at Pete, knowing there’d be no answer. Pulling his own hanky, he coughed and covered his mouth, expelling a fair amount  of phlegm into the material which he then folded over onto itself and placed back into his own pocket.

“Got too damn much of this crap in my chest that just won’t go away.” Alf was saying, clearing his throat as he noticed that Pete had slide closer to him on the bench. “What the fu..” Alf intentionally halted his curse as he noticed a man had sat on the opposite end of his bench, making for a crowded threesome. Wrapping his hand around his cane which had been immobile between his legs, Alf tapped it’s rubber tip  on the glossy Terrazzo floor, leaned over to Pete, and whispered in his ear, “Why don’t you tell our friend to go away.”

Pete answered with a stare he understood as ‘shut up and don’t embarrass us’. He understood the stare as he had seen it countless times over the years, and in fact had used it often himself. Alf floated out a ‘wimp’ under his breath.

“Excuse me, am I bothering the two of you?”  the man asked, leaning just ever so slightly forward, and tilting his head told the two men.

Alf too leaned forward, balancing his weight on his old cane, and rolled his tongue, through a fair amount of phlegm, against the inside of his cheek, held it there for a minute, contemplating, than spat out, “Well, matter of fact, you are!”. Glancing at Pete, Alf’s aggravation ticked up a bit when he saw his friends sigh and roll his eyes, and then added, “We were discussing sumthing, sumthing private.”

Pete glanced sideways toward Alf, who relished in his embarrassment, and started to utter, “We weren’t talking ’bout nothing”, when the man interrupted.

“Oh, I’m sorry.” and then leaned back against the open slats of the bench.

Alf watched, thinking he had made his point when the man rested his back instead of moving, and noticed a smile, a smart alec ass smile cross his face.

“Shi…” Alf hissed, not caring who heard when Pete interrupted his curse with a “lets go get some coffee.” as Alf shook his head from side to side in disgust at the mans intrusion.

“Don’t want no damn coffee.” came full on the back of irritability.

“Too much coffees not good for you.” the stranger said as he loosened his smart ass smile yet stared straight ahead watching a hundred pairs of legs carrying their masters to and fro, back and forth, all going someplace. “Did you know that, Pete?

Seeing an opening for a portion of cordiality, Pete hoped for a parcel of an apology for Alf’s abrasiveness. He had formed the first word on his lips when it hit him, struck him broadside that the stranger used his name and it showed on the quizzical look which formed on his features.

The man looked ahead, still watching, when he abruptly and silently swung  his head over his left shoulder, to stare directly at Pete.

“Don’t be so taken aback, Peter. I know most every ones name.” His breath was soft and cool as it fell against the Peters cragged and dry face, “In fact, I’d be hard pressed to remember a name I’ve ever forgotten.”was heard with a chuckle as Pete turned to look towards Alf, who had remained silent while twirling the crook of his cane between forefinger and thumb of one hand.

Now he squinted in new found curiosity and stared at the intruder, studying him and then with his cup filled filled of question ans attack, asked simply, “You going to a funeral, Mister?”

The sounds of a thousand footsteps slapped against hard polished floor and voices drifted in murmurs towards the high ceiling where the sun outlined the grids of a large skylight which those thousand pairs of feet walked over and through with never a thought to disturb their form.

“No funeral, not today Alfred.” His dark pupils dancing in a bright ocean of white served to bait Alf’s growing attention, holding it briefly, before Alf asked his next question, “How’s Aggie doing?”

Pete winced in the stupidity of his friends question, wondering what in the world possessed him to ask such a question such as that.

“Alfred…” was a sigh of expression on the mans part, “I don’t have the time to concern myself with how every one is doing. Too much work to do, you know.”

Pete arced an eyebrow as he turned to Alf who remained concentrating on the stranger.

 “Somebody tell me what the two of you are are talking about, please?”

Alf was reluctant to turn his thoughts from the man, not daring, not trusting to take his eyes away, but he did so, haltingly, slowly glancing over toward Pete as he spoke. “He’s here for one of us Pete, or maybe both of us…”

“What the hell are you mumbling…” Pete stuttered  but couldn’t finish as Alf cut him short. “Don’t be so god damn assisine, Pete. Look cross the walk to our reflections in the glass. You see him setting on the bench with us in that friggin’ glass? See ya self, dont’cha, see me dont’cha, but ya don’t see him, do ya?”

“Oh for the love of mercy Alf, your minds finally gone, twisted ’round and fell out your big ears. You stop to think the mans dressed in black and might not reflect in the glass like we are?”

Pete had spoke with an air of his own irritability and yet even as he had done so, stole a cursory glance at the window.

“Let me tell ya something else then, you idiot. Last thing Aggie saw was a man dressed in black calling her name. I heard her say it, said he was standing just side her bed, holding her hand. You Gonna hold my hand Mister?”

“Alfred, I wouldn’t hold your hand if I had to pull you along with me, even if you were kicking and screaming.”

Pete stared at the man, unsure of what to say much less of what to believe. “Is what Alf’s saying, true?” was all that came cross his mind, and as he spoke, his words were soft, gentle.

The man started ahead, through the world which walked past him him and answered Pete’s question with a nod that was nothing more than a bounce of his head.

“Why?”

“Because it’ the ways things work. Not my idea Peter.”

“So who ya here for, me?” Alfs words were sharp, “Cuz if ya are, I ain’t ready to go just yet.”

“I understand that Alf, but just for my own curiosity, if I were here for you, what would you do?”

In a single strong beat of his heart, Alf grasped his cane, bringing it up, off the floor and then laid it back down with a loud ‘thack’, which reverberated and caused the walkers to glance their way in a nervous fashions.

“That’s what I’d do first, rap ya ‘cross your head a good one and then mebbe do it ‘gin just for the hell of it.”

“I believe you would old man and I dread the day we meet again,” then switching his focus, “and how about you Peter.”

He had listened to the two of them as he stared at his own shoes. Bringing his eyes up to Alf, Pete ran an old hand thru sparse white tuffs of hair which still sprouted like over grown weeds.

“It’s me he wants, Alf.”

Alf heard the weakness in his friends voice, the surrender which was already there and answered it the best way he could.

“Don’t have to go with him, you know that, don’t you?”

“Peter does have to come with me, Alfred, it is his time.”

Peter’s left arm tweaked with what he thought to be a muscle cramp but knew better as he raised a palm to massage his shoulder.

“This isn’t going to hurt, is it?”

“Just a bit Peter, only at first.”

“Wait a minute here,” Alf was frustrated, “You can’t be going just like that and leave me here.”

Peters cramp worked its way up the length of his arm, spreading out over his chest, gripping his heart, and he winced out the next words in pain, and trying to ignore the pain.

“I’m sorry about everything Alf, I mean Aggie and all.”

Alfs eyes had grown red, puffy as he watched this man whom he had known since childhood place an open palm against is chest and close his eyes.

“Ain’t nuthin’ to worry about Pete. It was long ago an’ nothing but a part of livin…’, wasn’t it? He asked of a man that was no longer there.

“Pete” came as a low shrilled cry as his friend took his last breath while Alf wrapped his arm around his shoulders.

Pete hurried to catch up to the man who threatened to disappear into the crowd. Matching his step, he glanced over his shoulder where he caught Alf with his head hung low, his cane lying on the floor and he heard him crying as they turned the corner.

End.

The Bus

Like every other day in his entire life, Tom woke up three minutes before sunrise, made coffee, urinated, brushed his teeth, showered, ate breakfast and groomed. Forty-seven minutes after sunrise, Tom dressed in his blue mechanics overhauls with his name emblazoned in a white oval over his left breast, walked out his front door, down the hill to his local bus stop.

Today would be different kind of day.

Today, unlike every other day, the sun was just a bit late, the above was pregnant with threatening clouds and below, a dense fog carried a smell of dead and rotting fish.

Through this horrid start of a most distasteful morning, Tom managed to smile as he waited for his bus at the corner of Lake and River, for no other reason than he liked to smile.

Tom looked to the East and he saw the dim morning running lights approach from under the bridge.  Despite the fog, the bus was still running on the best of time. Watching his bus approach, Tom began to organize his day at the office. Mr. McCracken’s harmonic balancer, Goldie’s bushing on her shifting column and what he knew would be a long, agonizing search for an electrical short in an old one-ton flatbed.

The double doors folded like an accordion, Tom flashed Gerry the driver his pass with a quick morning nod and preceded down the aisle to the middle of the bus, sitting in an empty row, half way to the rear. Tom paid his usual quick interest in the few others who populated this morning bus. He knew them all. Old Mrs. Thinner who was the first stop and always sat in the first row, right behind the doors, her small and antiquated purse held securely in her lap. Behind her, a businessman, tall, dark but not handsome. Well-dressed but lost in his own thoughts as he stared nowhere, ever, but out his window. Large Mrs. Wells always sat on the outer seat for obvious reasons and every day, she wore a different hat, of a different sort, of a different color. Tom had heard stories about her youthful days and he believed, she was once very young, thin and beautiful. Mrs. Wells would often talk with Mary, who was walking up the aisle now, taking a seat across from Mrs. Wells. Tom heard Mary’s stuttered hello, and still felt sorry for her. Mary stuttered as she spoke because Mary was slow. Mary had a multitude of deficiencies, a hobble, a slow mind, stuttered speech but one deficiency she did not possess was one of a wrongful soul. Mary was, for all her deficiencies, a beautiful person. As she waved at him, Tom remembered her father. Long ago, in another time and place, Tom and Mary’s father had been friends.

In about 90 seconds, the bus would turn in a Cul-de-sac and head back toward the bridge. It would stop first just in front of a small, yellow cape cod with tended hedges and Alice would board. Beautiful, beautiful Alice. In all the days of his life he had never seen anyone as beautiful as Alice. Tom was enthralled, smitten and forever and a day, including this day, speechless.

Just before the stop, a small curl, a wisp really, of a thought crossed his mind. The fog was thicker.

Mary boarded, the thought went the way of spent smoke and his heart was warm as he watched Alice take her seat two rows before him. Close enough so that he could smell her sweet perfume and he often thought, it was not perfume, that Alice just smelled sweet. That would not have surprised him.

Gerry’s voice boomed over the intercom, waking everyone from their thoughts, they were running a minute late because of the fog and Tom couldn’t remember ever hearing Gerry use the intercom before. A whole minute late. That had never happened before but on a day that was soon to be unlike any other day ever before, being a minute late would be about the most normal thing you could ask for.

Tom took in a deep breath of sweetness and turned to watch the river along which the route ran. He was not worried but was somewhat mystified by the darkness of the day and the thickness of the fog. Perhaps they were working together, Tom thought, to ruin what would otherwise be a naturally fine day. Not that it was dark as night, but it was dark as gray and the fog was getting worse, so much worse, that the condensation on the bus windows was in rivulets.

For a moment, Tom imagined he heard the slapping of waves. Not the crashing of waves upon a beach but the slapping of water against the hull of a small boat. Tom did not like the water, rather, did not like the open water.

Tom knew that soon they would pass under the bridge, take the left ramp and then travel up the old sledding hill and merge with the traffic passing over the river. Tom had traveled this route all his life.

This would not happen this morning.

Just before reaching the bridge, Tom grimaced, noticing the fog had grown thicker, the grey darker, raindrops starting to splatter heavily against the bus window. Suddenly, nothing was to be seen outside except the water which pounded his window. Suddenly, one half second after it had become wet and totally dark, the back of the bus fishtailed. Tom, like everyone else reached out in instinct, to brace their bodies. Tom also closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

The bus continued to swerve as it started to pass under the bridge, doing a complete three sixty as its forward momentum carried the bus under and through the bridge.

Everything was wrong!

Tom darted his eyes wide open, wider than ever before. Everything was in disarray. The sun was out, high and hot and as far and as wide as Tom could see, water! In all directions, water!

Tom turned to gauge the reactions of his fellow passengers, and like he, were most engulfed in silence. Unable to articulate what had just happened. Sweet Alice simply had placed fingers over open mouth in disbelief. Mrs. Wells stared evenly out her window, the suited businessman’s head was hung, his suit coat removed. Mary was engaged in a stuttered conversation with Gerry, the driver and Mrs. Thinner sat still clutching her purse in her lap.

There were no screams. Tom thought this odd, the lack of hysterics, of confusion. Then Tom understood, he had not screamed because there was simply no reason to scream. The disbelief was so strong that the sense of fear had been overwhelmed. No one had time to scream.

Tom understood they were in a bus, floating in the middle of an ocean on what was a very hot and bright day.

And they were sinking!

Working the gentle swaying and bobbing of the bus, Tom managed to find his sea legs, a memory from years past. From his standing position, he figured the water was up past the wheel wells, and rising. The strong rhythmic sound of waves slapping the bus were reminiscent of old memories as well, but memory and ocean waves were interrupted by the businessman who was in the wretched throes of sea sickness, making a mess over his seat.

Making his way down the aisle, he paused by Alice, who turned to look up to him.

“Are you alright, ma’am?”

“Do you know where we are, sir?”

Mrs. Wells answered, her voice raspy, deep, “We’re all dead and if we’re not, we’re going to be, soon ‘nuff.”

The stench of vomit struck Tom full force. The business man had made his way to stand behind him.

“How much time do you think we have?” he asked Tom.

Tom was quiet in his answer, “A half hour, maybe a bit more.” And then thought to place a hand on Alice’s shoulder, and a bit louder, managed a “We’ll be Okay, we’ll figure this out.”

The business man murmured “half hour, what I figured, as well.”

Tom left Alice with a slight turned smile and made his way to Mrs. Wells. Behind him, he heard the agitated business man’s voice lift loud, asking if anyone had any ides, if anyone had seen anything.

There were, of course, no replies to the dark business man’s questions.

Tom made eye contact with Mary as he was inquiring to Mrs. Wells well-being. Tom saw the concern written in her eyes and moved forward toward the front of their bobbing little bus.

“lo.. look”

Tom saw that the water had begun to flood the short, narrow stair well, seeping in easily under the accordion door.

“Gerry, is there anything on this bus that floats, anything we can hold onto?” Tom was already scanning the interior. Metal poles, metal seat frames, hard plastic seats bolted to the floor. All said and done, the interior was barren.

“It’s a fine thing I’m old and skinny” Mrs. Thinner said out of the blue. “No meat for the sharks and what meat there is, I’m too tough.” Tom saw she was smiling. Tom liked that, that she was smiling.

“We don’t know that there are any sharks in the water, ma’am” Tom replied.

Behind him, Mrs. Wells quickly wailed something about being a feast for fish.

“We are sinking, and fast” said Alice, “Look, the water is up over the stairwell.”  Her voiced, as pitched and yawing as the bus was.

Tom noticed that Gerry, the driver had positioned himself standing on one of the back seats and then it dawned on him, there was an emergency roof hatch. The business man, who had now tossed his suit jacket aside and lost his tie had moved to help Gerry, and in a matter of seconds, a stream of sunlight flooded a small interior space, and Tom hoped it was Gods fishing line, but he did know better.

Tom watched as the businessman worked his slim, masculine frame up into the hatch, his legs dangling momentarily, then disappearing up into the sunlight. Tom turned, quietly surprised to find Mary at his side, poised, she asked, “Uncle Tom, Mrs. Wells isn…, isn’t going to, to fit through that, that door, is.., is she?”

“She’ll fit Mary, she’ll fit.”

Mrs. Wells and Mrs. Thinner brushed patiently but brutishly past Tom and Mary in the aisle making their way to the back of the bus where Gerry waited to give a helping hand. Mrs. Thinner clutching her purse. Tom noticed Alice, was lost in a defiant stare, watching the water rise, up into the aisle, toward where she remained seated.

A hand shot back through the hatch, and then the man’s head, who simply with a raised voice, said, “next.”

Tom stepped in the opposite direction as Mary moved to the shaft of light.

“Are you Okay, Alice?”

“I’m… fine Tom. It is Tom, right?”

He nodded the answer, “We’re going to be okay, all of us.”

Alice turned to Tom and stared. Directly into his eyes, into his deep brown eyes and brushed his soul, “Tom, we are on a bus in the middle of an ocean and buses are not boats. Buses are heavy things and heavy things drown in the ocean.”

Tom smiled with the fact that her words were as direct as her stare, and he felt comfortable clasping a hand over one of hers as he kneeled next to her where she sat. “Alice, how is it one moment we are on a bus going about our lives and in an instant, a proverbial blink of an eye, we are adrift in a vast abyss of water. “ Reaching down, Tom dipped two fingers into the water rising in the aisle, then placed his fingers in his mouth, tasting the water, “Alice, it’s not an ocean, there’s no salt to the water.”

She stared at him for an eternity.

“Are you saying that we are, all of us, are dead and this is…”

“No… No Alice, I don’t know. Just don’t be so quick to give up, that’s all I’m saying.”

Beautiful Alice smiled, Tom’s heart warmed a degree, “Thank You Tom, I needed to hear that. Now let’s go tan on the roof.”

He helped her up and walked her toward the back of the bus, noticing Mrs. Thinner was gone and Mary’s legs disappearing up into the light. He wondered what that passage would bring him, but first, there was heavy and rotund Mrs. Wells.

Tom pretended not to notice the concern in Gerry’s look or the worry written over Mrs. Wells face as they helped Alice up through the hatch. All three of them knew it was going to be an impossible struggle.

Gerry was the first, “C’mon Mom.”

Tom’s soul dropped a million miles into the abyss of despair.

Mrs. Wells looked at her son and whispered, “I can’t… but you can and you will, do you understand me?”

Mary’s voice interrupted, “C… Come on, T… Tiffany.” her head hanging upside down in the bus, her arm extended and beckoning. Tom motioned up toward the hatch, “We’ll get you through”.

“Just watch where you boys put your hands, then again, it’s been awhile since I’ve had a man’s hand on me.” As she raised one wet leg to place a foot on a seat, to climb toward the hatch. Tom worked his way to one side, her son to the other. Mary, from above, reached out for her. Together they worked, struggled, rearranging Mrs. Wells in painful configurations.

She was bruised, scraped, and sore and perhaps even had been violated, but her legs finally disappeared up through the hatch, into the bright clean sky and open sun.

Gerry whispered a thank you, then breached the hatch. Tom took one last look, the bus was filled with clear, warm water just below his knees, and there was a straightforward awareness that it wouldn’t be much longer that they would all be floating in the ocean.

Crawling out, Tom felt the heat of the sun reflected on the roof and saw that everyone was setting centered, quietly.

“Now what?’ was on everyone’s mind. He saw it written in different ways, in varied expressions but it was the same question they all had as he joined them, sitting in the center of the bus, under a clear sky and bright sun, the bus tilted slightly toward the back, and rolling with the gentle waves. A strange, unique scene, of quietness and solitude, and Tom couldn’t help but wonder if they, including him, had already surrendered to what was their eventual fate. He knew the larger truth, there was nothing else simply to do except set there, and wait.

Mary’s question broke the deep thoughts, “Doe, does th, th, that look li, like a storm co, coming?

Tom followed the length of her pointed arm and looked behind him. He stood, carefully aware of the bobbing bus and uttered aloud, ‘Christ almighty’. Off on the horizon, the sky had turned to a deep purple and clouds had started forming and churning with streaks of lightning threading their way through the threatening skyscape.

“I don’t believe this crap.” the quiet businessman was now standing next to him and he wasn’t speaking to Tom as much as just making a statement. “Within the next thirty minutes we’re all going to be sleeping at the bottom of whatever this ocean is.” and he sat back down, let out a deep sigh, than laid out in a prone position, staring up at the darkening sky.

A raindrop fell against Tom’s forehead. And then another. A thunderclap followed and the sky overhead started to darken. The bus angled steeper, the front end was higher in the water, and everyone was starting to fight the pull of gravity that would lead them to their conclusions. The water around bus was noticeably more agitated, the wave crescents higher, more forceful, and the pitching, rolling and awing matched those of the waves in a strange foreboding symphony of nature.

Tom sat down and took off his shoes, his socks, and yelled to whoever would listen to take off anything that might weigh them down. Carefully he made his way back to Mary, and took her hand. Silently Alice joined them and the three noticed that mother and son were embraced. Tom looked over to the business man and couldn’t find him. The rain was driving harder, but it was clear, the man was gone.

The once bright sun was gone, replaced with strong winds, driving rain and streaks of horrific lightening threaded through the darkness backed by ear deafening thunder. The bus rolled to and from, and suddenly, violently, the front end was pitched near vertical and the remaining five passengers were tossed quietly, without human sound, without mercy into a dark and unforgiving place.

Tom had lost Alice’s hand before he hit the water, Mary’s soon afterward, and as he fought toward the surface, he wondered why he was doing so. Breaking the surface, he knew he was alone, knew he didn’t have, couldn’t waste the strength to call out to Mary, to Alice. Silently though, deep in his heart, he called out to God and in a strange turn of fate, God answered.

A loud, unforgiving bolt of lightning lit up the sky, and Tom saw the face of God written in the shadows of the clouds. For that split second, there lived an eternity, all held solid, honest and good, and Tom took his last breath and slipped into the comfort of the waves.

For that eternity, Tom floated free; of gravity, of all things human, of all things alive and then his mind grew heavy, his sight immersed in the few feet of water, his lungs filled with water, his thoughts were being pulled down…

An abrupt, sharp pain jolted his lungs and he hunched over on all fours and vomited in a coarse, hard and painful manner all the water that had filled his lungs. His eyes wide open in disbelief as he once more regurgitated the last of the ocean from his lungs and rolled over on the hard pavement, staring at the morning sky.

“You’re going to be alright, just try to stay calm.” Was a reassuring voice, and Tom wondered where the hell it was coming from. Glancing over, there was a person, a fireman, holding his hand, another checking his pulse. Managing to look around, the scene was organized chaos. The bus on its side, fire engines, ambulances and people carrying and cloaked in the bright yellows and oranges of medical and rescue gear. He worked to a half sit up, saw Mary with a blanket thrown about her, and she returned his look, with a broad smile.

A gentle hand on his shoulder turned his attention, and he looked into Alice’s deep, big eyes and wondered when she placed a slender forefinger to her lips, with a ‘shhhhhh…’

The Sun had come out to part the fog filled morning. Off in the near distant, Tom heard a man raise his voice in, asking some unseen other, “How the hell did the bus fill up with water?”

Alice smiled at him, not sure he understood, than he asked Alice if he knew where his shoes and socks were.

 

Upon A Stone

on-the-rocks-1192354-640x960Given grace that I could  rest
my head along this road,
I would not.

Given chance to shed a tear
along this winding journey,
I would not.

Given a moment to ponder
along this meandering path,
I would not.

Given the will to pause
along my way
I would not.

For upon trails end,
I will rest, I will cry,
ponder and live again.

Given grace to question
while I sojurn,
I would ask,
ask of whom?

For in all my steps
not one for me,
each for another,
even one for thee.

In my travels
I have found
there never comes
that time to be

Yet comes a time
before me now
where all such things
that come and go

Cry out to rest, to pause,
to ponder.

So upon a stone
aside a road,
a well traveled path,
my soul does set
eternally waiting

for death’s sunset.

Mirabella

I am old and the story I have to tell is older. Old as humans themselves perhaps, being one of love found, lost, than found again in such a way all true love is. By the ways, by the means, by the yearnings of an all too human heart.

The year is inconsequential, as is a date or even a time. Suffice it to say only that it is in the future and that humans are, well, still human. And of humans, there is one central to this story, so let us look in on his present life.

A man alone, a sailor of rocket ships across great voids. Searcher, seeker, explorer, all these things he is and more to be. Yet he remains a man alone for there are no others among the great sanitized decks and galleys as this gleaming sphere transcends stars and worlds without the slightest drop in momentum. She is headed home and there will be no further foolishness to hinder her run to earth and fresh oxygen, green trees and other people.

Before a grand portal, a viewport to the stars, stands this man, watching out over a hundred million points of light, not one really his.

Why he is here on this ship, on this journey, alone, is of no concern to us, other than to note, once it was not this way. That years ago this ship teamed with life, with families; mothers, fathers and their children. Working, playing, and being all too human.

No longer, now there was only loneliness. An eternal silence that suffocated this man into acts of desperation and irresponsibility. Emotions that possessed this human to send propulsion units into a cycle they were not designed to operate within. He did not mind, knowing full well the danger. The only thought was to reach earth long before his sanity gave way or he would die trying.

These are his thoughts then, his concerns as he stands, head hung with chin resting on chest, standing before the portal as days turn artificial day back to artificial night. All that he had needed to do, had been done. Left now was time, to stand, hope and watch stars pass by.

With interior lights dimming, the stars seem to grow brighter, illuminating a hundred thousand, thousand, brothers, and sisters, so let us look outside this speeding globe.

There, just behind, can you see a faint prick of light? No, not there. This one, the bluish speck. See how effortlessly it moves to catch up? Indeed, no match in speed is evident here, for look the light has caught its prey. Circling, searching, perhaps wondering what this strange world is.

I know that this is no mere speck of light, no simple illumination, it indeed is not! Know that as fish inherit the waters of earth, birds the skies and humans the earth, this is a creature of the cold voids. One which needs not air to breath or fire for warmth. She is as home in the voids as we are not. It is where she lives, where she belongs. Here, between worlds is where she evolved and where she must forever live.

Gods do not dictate otherwise.

She sees the man from the other side of the viewport. He cannot see her. Curiosity, she is curious as she watches what she does not comprehend. In all her travels, she has seen nothing such as this. Great worlds she has seen rise and fall, but always from cold, great distances, never participating.

Now, inches away, there is nothing separating the two but metallizied glass. How she wants to reach out to touch, to feel, to say that she is here.

Knowledge of death forbids such insanity, curbing such foolish actions, for she knows she will die in the warmth of the strange world. She has heard stories of those who attempted such a thing, and are never seen forevermore.

Could it be she is foolish or insane, as her thoughts are set? She will do what she needs to do. Perhaps, she too is simply lonely.

Loosely planted feet are uprooted by a gust of cold that pushes itself into the warmth of his environment. Quickly catching him off guard, freezing molecules do not surround him, they penetrate him, rushing through him with such great speed his body is tossed back. Falling, he cannot breath and for an instant, as hands reach to clutch his heart, a thought of a past day. When as a child he ventured out in the midst of a cold winter day and the hardness of breath sent him scurrying back to the warmth of a crisp fire. As winter cold was a thousand memories old, so too was it as warmth and security returned. Flat on his back, regaining a semblance of former self, he heard a groan from behind and he broke his stare on the bulkhead

Fear is a result of disbelief, of some one thing being where it is not supposed to be. Yet there remains a sense that if it is there, it may well be it is intended to be there all the while.  What remains, is a question of what one expects, and often what one expects, seldom gives birth to a desired reality.

Disbelief of the impossible. It could not be and the man lost his fear as he understood that the loss of his mind was at hand. There was, could not be any other explanation for the presence of a naked woman. Lying in a fetal position, whimpering like a newborn pup, she was drenched in sweat on the cold, hard floor of his ship, of his world, of his home.

It could not be!

But it was.

Time in the form of fleeting seconds and eternal minutes, healed the wound of disbelief. Because there was no other thing to do, the man found a blanket, an old tattered one, from some odd place and wrapped the women in a cocoon, then gently picked her up to lay her across the room in the confines of a large, plush couch.

Her eyes fluttered, mind stirred and did not recognize what she had become. Long, thin appendages, a narrow vision field and touch, smells, and sound all at once, all too much, almost. But again with time she grew accustomed to her human form, yet she did not understand what had happened. This was unexpected, not supposed to be. Of all what she thought would be, this was not one.

What was this strange substance this life form gave her, this man who hovered over her, sat by her, and made her feel strange. Strange in the belly; warm, full and strong. And as strength came, so too did an understanding of what had happened, not fully, barely enough to guess.

The man would talk of things she had no knowledge, even so, she listened. Much of the time not understanding. Words she knew, for she was a quick, but the words drew no picture, illustrated no certain point and this bothered her.

He had rambled. Knowing he had done so, he struggled to return to the point he desired to make andwas caught off guard when she quietly asked a question. Her first words, so quietly spoken, almost went unnoticed.

How strange the look on his face. How lost for answers to a question he had asked so many times over the period of his life. There were no words to form, no simple answer to who he was, and all he could do, was to repeat the question back to her.

Such as strange things are, a smile crossed her lips. A smile whose sincerity was reflected deep within cool blue eyes that birthed satisfaction. Satisfaction that for all she had been through, this smile made it all worth her while.

Stranger yet, he responded with a smile of his own and it surprised him. And there was satisfaction with him as well in that he was still capable of that simple human emotion. One which he had not felt for what seemed and probably had been, several years.

From those smiles grew friendship. With days passing into weeks and turning to months, they came to know each other. To know and not to fear, but to appreciate, to trust and to depend on the other. In this time which was theirs, they talked. Her of her life, of her race. She spoke howthey once roamed the galaxies in a multitude of numbers, yet now few remained. In human words, she explained why she had made her decision, from a sense she now knew as desperation, to move into the ship, to be a part of his life. Hers had been one of isolation, of watching worlds rise and fall, of watching lives she could never be a part of. She could only view from the depths of the ocean, always alone, never participating.

From all this, a great desire to be a part of something, of someone had forced her decision to move into the ship. Apparently her actions were too swift, she had pressed too hard against the viewport, entering with too much momentum and energy. She was unable to stop and instead had passed through the man in the space of his thought. It had been long enough for the unexpected to happen, to gather enough genetic information to become what she truly wanted to become, but did not believe she could.

When she was finished, exhausted, her turn was to rest and to listen as he began with his childhood, his dreams, his aspirations. The reasons he had chosen this life. How hundreds had begun this mission, how they all had chosen to stay behind to colonize their new found world, and he could not bear to do so. All others had families. Those who had been single, found mates, married and bore children and he had thought of himself as an outsider, alone, and bereft of companionship. ‘That was no one’s fault, just the way it had worked out’, he explained.

So he choose the rigors of a prolonged journey back to earth, even though home offered nothing more than what he had left behind. He harbored hope though, in a possibility of finding a wife. Perhaps even someday there could be children.

Words flowed into forming attachments between both, continuing weeks passed into months and even years. From their words grew actions. Cuddling, touching, holding hands and eventually gentle kisses. They each had come to care for the other and without expectation, fell in love.

But their love was too simple, uncontested and therefore could not be pure. True, each had suffered at their own hands, yet not at the hand of the other and for their love to survive, it must transcend individual actions. And being in love, they had no knowledge of what must be. This blindness, this ignorance of what love requires allowed both a chance that of innocence allowed. Few, including you and I have had such luck

All things, good and bad, end. Men die, women grow old, worlds collide, societies crumble, childre
n are born, and it all begins again.

As the sphere approached earth, there were thoughts to be said, things to be done and decisions to be made.

She could not survive on earth. She knew this in the manner that a man knows that without food, he will wither and die. That without air to fill their lungs, man will perish in agony. She suspected life in this form had been possible due to the small amounts of radiation that continually seeped into the spheres hull. Enough that she had been able to feed upon it. Upon earth, there was not sufficient energy to survive.

He too realized this when she spoke of her concern.

Agony and desire are twofold. Choices are never simple and are many times motivated by unrealized desires. His desire was not strong, not burning to return to his homeland.  For what reason he choose to do, escaped logic.

So it was made! A choice to return home even though his soul knew it was wrong. And he likened his choice to a moth attracted by a light that served no purpose to the moth but to end its life. There was not much difference.

A quiet, all too human and somber mood permeated the shuttle bay. He
, ready to begin his life anew. She, ready to return to surfing the particle waves of the void, and a life of loneliness.

But she would remember.

They embraced, kissed, and said good-bye with tears in their eyes and the heaviest of hearts. As he pulled away, turning to the craft for his decent toward green grass trampled by a billion lives, she called out his name, telling him, that if he ever needed her, all he need do was call her name from the cold blackness of space and she would hear. No matter in what galaxy, what system she was in, she would hear and she would come.

Speaking such, she walked from the room to return to what was her world.

He too, returned to his, to lives which were not his, to those who he could not understand as his life was now elsewhere. He had found that which was a part of him and let it go. Understand, he knew this from the moment she had left, but had not admitted it, and if he had, paid no attention.

Thus it was on a chilled, starry, spring-filled night he stood upon a hilltop in the lush countryside, looking to a night sky and back to a past he found hard to believe.

Where was she?

Would she really come?

And his decision was made, out of faith and a realization of what the truth was.

Because of this, this human found himself, again alone in a shuttle headed into the depths of spac
e. This time in a ship woefully inadequate for such a journey but that concern was not a consideration.

From the moment he had breached the planets atmosphere, he had called her name. She had not came, but he knew she would, only time was a question.

Now he stood in the pressure lock, the shuttles oxygen supply depleted, wearing a heavy, bulky suit. Opening the air lock, the man pushed himself out into the weightlessness of space. Around him, our sun and distant stars, with their planets and pockmarked little moons danced and played out their lives. He was not alone.

With his last breath fast approaching, he held no fear. He still knew she would come.

Out of air, the man gasped and unlocked his helmet to send it spiraling away. His last breath was of cold, deep space and with that last breath, he called out her name.

And she was there, as he had been there for her.

Pasquat’s Son

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Pasquat was a peaceful little town. I say was, cuz I’m speaking from memory, thinking ‘bout the day I left some thirty years ago. Funny, seems like yesterday. Wish it seemed like it was a thousand million years ago. Coming back doesn’t seem right, but there’s unfinished business, my business.

Thirty years ago there was only one road, over a bridge, that would get you to Pasquat. Visitors would cross over the bridge, and in a minutes time find themselves in the large center, paved roundabout of downtown, ringed by a café, Thrifty White, couple of small bars, a Coast to Coast, Church, and assorted ilk. Visitors, even if they bothered to stop, didn’t stay long, and headed out the way they came, back across the bridge over the Wild River.

Visitors could do that, leave. People like me, born and raised, blood soiled, mixed with the earth couldn’t. We were raised different, raised to believe that where you were, you stayed. Stayed cuz you owed a debt, a debt to your mom, pop, and the community that not only raised, but watched over you. One of the reasons there was never no other road to Pasquat, was by design, to keep people in.cottontree Not that we minded visitors, in fact we kinda needed ‘em, so they had built the old concrete bridge back in the heyday of transportation. Course, there had been an old wooden rickety bridge, but that was before my time. The only bridge I ever knew was the one I was looking at now, or rather what was left of it.

As a youngster, we’d fish off the rock pilings, had an old tire swing off that gnarled, ancient river poplar, and play hide ‘n seek along the sloping, brushed banks. Once, I tied a group of old cottonwood branches together, thinking I’d see how far I could float down the river. That particular day was when I started thinking I might want to leave someday, or better said, was when my natural curiosity of what was beyond the bridge manifested. The fact that I ended up right where I started didn’t do much to quell that desire, and truth be told, made me start to wonder what life was all about.

As a young one, I liked to ask a lot of questions. Mom and Pop, and most of the town, including friends just kinda laughed ‘em away. Never got much in the way of answers other then, ‘just the way it is’. The thing is, I wasn’t satisfied with everything being just the way it is. Didn’t understand why no one ever left Pasquat. We all knew there was a bigger world out beyond the bridge. We were able to view that world in our daily paper, on our televisions, in our theaters, our books and the occasional café stranger.

We just couldn’t cross the river. No one born and raised in Pasquat could! Physically! I guess at some point in time, people just surrendered to the fact. First time I tried was when I was 15. Dad had asked that I pick up a pound of pole barn nails at the Coast store, and as I tossed the paper bag on the seat of the old pickup I got the notion to drive across the bridge. I no sooner got across the bridge, crossing the river when I ended up right downtown, driving past the hardware store, headed toward the bridge.bridge

I came to a real, cautious stop just before the bridge, a fire burning deep within, and I seared a promise deep into my soul, that one day, that bridge would come down. That one day, I would stand on the far banks of the Wild River, turn, and never look back.

That was well past thirty years ago, and here I stand today wondering how to get back cross that river, to Pasquat.

I had spent seven years studying the history of Pasquat, watching, listening to the old timers, reading old, weathered newspapers, some going back a hundred years. Lot of stories, lots of talk about God, demons, time warps and strange things going on in the woods. Lot of plain folk felt we were being punished for some wrong doing our grand daddies did, long time back. Only thing conclusive I came up with is that nobody had a clue why no one born and raised in Pasquat couldn’t cross the bridge. That’s when I figured out my first, real attempt to cross the bridge. Shouldn’t of done it, got some people pissed, and there were some real consequences, specially for the nice family whose truck I hid in. Wasn’t their fault, they just happened to come along, stop by the café, and have a large enough pickup with a bed I could hide in. Long story short, they weren’t able to leave Pasquat either, and their retribution for being unknowing accomplices was the distinguished position of being the first of Pasquat’s new citizens in over seventy five years.

Not long after that, there was headline news about a building being blown to hell and back and that fertilizer had been used in making the bomb. That got me thinking, and it also got me wondering about consequences.

The night was humid, full of insects flirting about under a full moon and cloudless sky. Every breath was a chore as the sweat glistened in the soft spell of the warm moon. One way or another, the bridge would be gone, and so would I, and since the good people of Pasquat were satisfied with their lives, no one would care the bridge was gone. Course, there lives would come to a standstill, no more occasional visitors, no more new books, movies, or news. I figured they didn’t care that much, and if they did, they could rebuild the bridge.

The only thing I struggled with, was quit unsure with, is how it all worked. Not the homespun bomb, I knew that was going to work, but rather once the bridge went down, would I stay on the other side or somehow, be transported magically back to the other side, stuck in Pasquat without even a bridge.

By my way of thinking, I had to be on the bridge when it started to crumble. I needed the explosion behind me, so there was no bridge to cross over and yet I couldn’t be too far along on the bridge where it bought me right back, and I had been proven right with a couple of simple experiments. I knew right where I had to be on the bridge when the damn bomb went off. Question was, could I run the 20 some feet past the supports on the west end before I went down with the bridge.

Turns out I couldn’t!

When I woke up the full moon was setting and the dust of rebar and concrete had replaced the choking mouthful of flying bugs, and it struck me quickly, I was on the other side of the river banks. In the diming light of the moon, figures were made out moving in the dawning darkness across the river, muted voices, questioning, concerned.

I sat up, stood up, climbed the steep bank, over crushed concreted, avoiding spouts of rebar and looked back only once, and then never again.

Not much had changed in the decades. The dust had settled, but that was about it as I walked to the bank. I knew that I couldn’t just wander down over the old broken bridge, swim across the Wild River and walk into downtown Pasquat. I had tried that the week before.

I heard the truck before it pulled up behind my favorite Mustang. I didn’t bother to turn and greet the young man as he walked up to stand right aside me.

‘This it, huh?’

‘Yep.’

‘We start building tomorrow.’