Father and Son

My old gaffer was a mountain of a man. His physical presence was powerful, and his intellectual stature surpassed his physical height by about a mile. I think about him a lot. Even more lately. You see, my life is about to change once more, in one of those ways I wish he could have been here for.

I am going to have a son.

I knew the guy for twenty years, and I knew I could always count on him to say the right thing. No matter how angry I made him, what he was going through, or what was going on in the world, that dude was quick with the comeback.  I knew that no matter what I threw at him, he would take a drag off his cigarette, look at me over the rim of his glasses, and the next words out of his mouth would calm me to my very soul. Even when he didn’t have answers, he had a way of phrasing things that made the world seem like an alright place. But that’s not why I miss him today.

I am going to be a father. I wish I could have one last cup of coffee, sitting on the warped deck in that overgrown backyard, with the smell of dew and smoke in the air. I wish I could tell him. I wish I could see his face light up. I wish I could feel him wrap me up so tight I think I’ll collapse like a pop can. I wish I could hear the excitement in his voice as he told me he was proud of me. I wish I could feel his happiness reverberate around the yard as he told me for the thousandth time about the day his life changed, about the day I was born.

This is one of the happiest days of my life. Diminished in no way whatsoever by my seemingly constant grief. They are parallel, these thoughts. I am exuberant, and all I want to do is call the old man, and hear him shout his hallelujah. To see him try to subtly wipe the tear from his eye.

I wish, more than ever, I could show him this crown jewel of my life. I’m not the perpetual fuck up that I was when he knew me. Sure, I’m still a lost cause, but I’m a lost cause who has started to make a place for himself. I found a career I want, one that pays the bills and gives me a good life. I found a remarkable woman (or really, she found me), and she brings me more joy than I surely deserve. We have found a nice home, in a nice area, and we live comfortably. And now, to top it all off, we are bringing a baby boy into the world, a boy who carries my father’s last name forward.

Everything is wonderful. I struck out on my own, and dammit, I MADE it. Finally. I have something worth holding onto in my life. Many somethings. I just wish I could show him, because, for the first time in my stupidly short life thus far, I feel I have lived up to his pride.

You called me. The day before it all changed, and you left me a voicemail. We had fought, hard, two days prior. You told me that no matter what I did, you loved me and you were proud of me.

But look, Dad. Look at where I am. Look at what I did to get here. Look at all the sleepless nights I was kept awake by the memory of your voice, turning your words over and over in my mind.

Look at the fruits of your labor.

I have a family of my own now. And they are so beautiful, both in visage and soul.

I hope I can be half the father you were. He’ll be one lucky kid if I can manage that.

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Player Two Has Entered The Game

There comes a point where you are no longer the protagonist of your story. Where you must humble yourself and accept a lower place in the cast list. This is not a bad thing; it just feels that way sometimes. Perhaps you feel you never truly reached your rightful position. Maybe you think your “protagonist potential” was never fulfilled. Ultimately, that does not matter. Your opinions don’t change the facts. Fighting to stay at the forefront of this story can have disasterous consequences. You can, in a mere breath, become the hated villain. If you greedily cling to the title card, you will find yourself opposed to the new hero of the tale. When you find yourself in this place of transition, face your slow demise with grace and class. Your part is not over, but diminished. That is a small mercy. The responsibility of carrying the story no longer lies on you. You can become the wise sage, or the wisecracking sidekick. You can be the mentor, or the inspiring old wanderer, or the boon giver. We all think we will be older when the world moves on and we are replaced. Perhaps instead of being a side character whose only story development is taking an arrow in the knee, we can use what is left of our youth and fervor to better equip the new adventurers. My time at the helm has come to a close. I can embitter and enfuriate myself, ruining what is left with pride, or I can accept it and look forward, walking into the next chapter of this saga with my character and nobility intact. I’d rather be left behind by the next quest than be the evil that inspires it.

Varying Eternities

The Traveler led the Warrior along the broken, icy path that lazily wound its way up The Mountain. Their journey had taken them across barren wastelands, through lush, green forests, dusty towns, and giant, bustling cities. The path had brought them a long way, carrying their feet along for over a thousand sunsets. Now, as the top of The Mountain loomed above them, their quest seemed to be nearing its end. They had persevered for so long, drawing ever nearer to the Temple of Time, yearning for the day they would stand face to face with The Storyteller.

The Traveler turned around, pausing briefly to check on her charge. The Warrior trudged along several paces behind The Traveler. He noticed the look in The Traveler’s eye, and grunted and nodded, acknowledging that even as worn out as his body was, he could carry on. Their exhaustion seemed to melt just enough that the passion for their goal could spur them onward towards their destination.

They continued on for several days, rising almost imperceptibly into the clouds. Finally, they broke through the clouds, and they saw it. There, a mere league ahead of them, stood the ancient temple. The Temple of Time was believed to be older than time itself, and by appearance, that belief could almost be assumed to be true. The temple was segmented into five sections, five separate buildings that stood together as a single unit. At the four corners of the construct, Pillars rose into the sky, seeming to scrape against the very stars. In the center, where one would expect a central spire, instead a low, single story mound of stone brought together the strength and might of the four Towers of the Winds with a subtle grace and humility. And at the entrance to this mound stood an old woman.

As the pair drew closer to the woman, they saw that while she seemed to be as old as the temple itself, she stood tall, unwithered by the assault of the millennia she had endured. A light breeze whispered through her hair, gently playing with her silver locks as they lay loose on her shoulders.

“Greetings, sister,” The Traveler said when they grew near enough to converse.

The Storyteller smiled thinly.

“It has been many cycles since we last met, young ones,” she said softly.

The Warrior dipped his head.

“Too long, if had been but a day.”

“You tell the truth, brother,” The Storyteller replied.

The Traveler shifted her pack to her right shoulder. “You know why we are here, yes?”

“Of course, dear one. But the Tale has told me that you are to tell me nonetheless. You must ask your questions.”

The Warrior sniffed. “Why can’t you just tell us the answers without the ceremony of asking?”

The old woman’s smile lit her face with joy brighter than the noon sun.

“Brother, in all the lives you have lived, you still do not understand the Tale any more than when you were on our mother’s breast. I do not write the Tale. Nor do I dictate what I see. The wind speaks to me, and I write its words in the book. I do not imagine the story of this world, even though it reaches my imagination long before it ever comes to pass. Those events must come to pass as they have been foreseen…more or less. It is integral to your journey that you come to the crux of your story on your own terms. It would be more of a crime than a gift to do things any other way.”

The Warrior huffed, but did not reply. The Traveler searched the face of her sister for some clue about where to go from here. They had arrived, and now it felt as if they were further from finding the answers they sought than when they had begun all those years ago. A crushing wave of despair washed over her as the questions they had set out to have answered disappeared from her mind. She suddenly could not remember why they had come, and both the absence of purpose and the frustration of having come so far to be stumped by her own mind hurt more than any wound, sickness, or loss she had endured thus far. She closed her eyes, squeezing away unexpected tears.

“What does the book say we should do now?” she asked quietly.

The Storyteller took a long, slow breath, and looked up at the sky.

“Wait. Your quest will find you once again. Wait. Watch. Listen. Exist for but a moment; let your worries quiet themselves.”

The Traveler opened her eyes again, and noticed that the sun was setting to her left. The three turned towards the red-gold of the sunset. Birds sang in the valley far below. How she could hear them, the Traveler did not know, but the birdsongs comforted her soul. The skies danced in shades of red and yellow, slowly giving way to brilliant purples and blues. The stars, which seemed close enough to touch, shone and twinkled silently, watching the Tale unfold below them with bated breath.

They stood like that for a century or more, the sun swinging above and below them over and over, with each pass being similar in beauty, yet unique and breathtaking. They did not speak. They only watched. Waited. Listened. And when their hearts had calmed themselves and the fire of their passion had burned down to stubborn coals, The Traveler looked back to The Storyteller.

“Sister, does the book permit us to walk through the temple?”

The old woman nodded. “It does much more than that; it demands it. But it also demanded that you ask it so.”

The Warrior was silent. It seemed that after all this time, he was beginning to understand. The Tale. Beginning. He still understood almost nothing, but the beginning is important, as understanding little is infinitely superior to understanding nothing. It is a slight, yet critical difference of mind.

The Storyteller led the way into the Temple of Time, and the Traveler and The Warrior followed her. The world below stood unchanged. Time had stopped. Or so it seemed. While the days kept changing, the land was more or less the same as when they had set out on this adventure. The Tale was not something that came to fruition in a day, or a lifetime, or even a million lifetimes. The Tale was written on the tapestry of time from the first second to the very last…and beyond. The Tale had a different name among the mortals who lived below. They called it “eternity.” And they could no better understand it than the two Prime Walkers who had ascended to the Temple of Time.

Inside, secrets unfathomable were shared, questions begat more questions, and answers simply led to more inquiries. And as far as those who lived below could tell, the Traveler and The Warrior never emerged again. When the first eternity came to an end, and a new Tale had need to be told, they came forth, being some of the first to lay eyes upon the uninked pages of the new eternity. The next stage of their quest had begun.

The Sound of Silence

My mind betrays me on an unnervingly regular basis. This wonderful machine that opens up the world to me is also my greatest burden. The darkness is equal to the light, reaching depths parallel to the dizzying heights I can achieve. And it is never at an opportune moment; always it is at a time I would rather have full control of my mental faculties. Then again, I don’t think there is ever a “good” time for mental fracturing. Perhaps just better and worse moments, then.

It is in these times where I know, with no sense of illusion, that my mind is attempting to trick me into making devastating decisions. My thoughts whisper that those I love conspire against me, use me, and feign care. In a louder voice, they tell me that I am a dismal failure and that even my best intentions are worthless, as nothing I do or say improves anything. At best, these thoughts tell me, I put delay the inevitable destruction of everything around me. After all, who am I that good things would happen to me? No, this is nothing but the deep breath before the plunge, wherein the world will drag me to the bottom, beyond the reach of any ounce of light, where I belong, to slowly drown and have this wasted life squeezed out of my lungs.

Eventually, my darkness takes a stronger form, shouting in my face, saying I am better off dead. That everyone I know and love is better, happier, if I am gone. I am worth more dead than alive; that isn’t saying much, though. After all, it is pretty easy to be worth more than worthless. This darkness screams at me to jump. To end everything in various ways. IT takes the traditional route sometimes, quoting all the typical ways of ending one’s life. Rope. Gun. Knife. Substance. Occasionally, it gets creative. “Put the car in neutral and lie down behind it as it rolls downhill.” “Give away all your possessions. Walk into the mountains. Take no provisions. Feed back into nature.” Regardless, the result is the same. This depression in my soul becomes heavy enough that it leaves an ever deepening depression in my mattress, making it nigh impossible to get out of bed, let alone walk around and pretend that everything is alright.

But that is what I must do. Because unless I plan on pulling the trigger on myself, moping and aching does no one any good. I must not be a worry or a burden. I cannot let the darkness be right. I can’t let myself be so heavy on my dear ones that I am their cross to bear, their burden to wear, the pain they share. I have to get up. I have to pretend. I need to be okay. Fake it til you make it. God…this might be worse.

There comes a point where it cannot be faked. I cannot hide behind the facade of a smile any longer, for the void has drained the strength from my face to even slightly lift the corners of my mouth. I can hardly speak. I cannot eat. It hurts to move. I wish so completely for death that I dream of the end like one would fantasize of a quiet beach getaway. It is all I want, and everything I can’t have. Because this life is a bowl full of suck topped with shit sprinkles, and isn’t that exactly what I deserve?

Some part of me says no. I don’t know what part. I know others would say I’m better than this. I disagree. I am wretched. This pointless, causeless, useless emptiness proves my point. Nothing makes me this way. Nothing happens that makes me angry at my own existence; I simply wake up that way. Nothing hurts me, I simply implode for no reason whatsoever, dragging down those around me as I crumble like a toppling tower.

I despise it. This darkness and decay, I hate it. I never wanted to be like this. I’ve tried so hard for so long to not be this way, but I cannot seem to shake this beast from my back. These demons plague me, and I hate their voices so much, I would die to silence them. But perhaps…not really. I mean, I haven’t done it yet. There must be some rational side of my brain that keeps me here. Of all the times I’ve thought about it, and all the different ways I’ve planned it, I’ve only once tried…and thank whatever powers may be that I was far too young to be successful.

I think I know I can’t help but be this way. Perhaps medication would help, but chemicals scare me. I don’t want to be a zombie. I’d rather be in periodical anguish than feel nothing at all, ever. That’s no way to live. At least when I’m like this, I can punch myself and know I’m still alive, to some degree.

So I sleep. and I eat. and I try to outlast the storm. Because I do know that it is a storm. Eventually, these black clouds pass, and I am more or less okay after that. Usually incredibly tired, but okay. I’ve survived every dark onslaught so far. There is no reason to believe this one will be any different.

I just wish when the Void came calling my name, I could keep it to myself. No one else deserves to go through any of this with me. No one needs to be confused, hurt, or upset by me, especially when I’m not in my right mind. I wish I could disappear for a few days when this…thing…takes over, you know? Get out of the city so the blast radius doesn’t hurt any bystanders. Cuz, you know, none of this is their fault, either.

It tires me thinking that my mind will be on an eternal rollercoaster ride, rushing from up to down to up again at a pace that already gives me whiplash. I wish I could just stop the ride in the middle. Not too high, not too low…riding the balance.

I suppose I should get out of this bed and get some food in my belly. Take care of myself the best I can, get through the rest of the day, and hope for a better tomorrow.

The Hanging Man

The crow sat perched on the branch above, head cocked to the side, as if listening and watching in curiosity as the two men below sat on their horses, staring up at the mutilated man whose body swung from the noose. The crow fluffed its wings and stepped sideways, standing directly on the rope, its attention even more firmly fixed upon the figures on the ground. The first man took off his gloves and dusted them off on his chaps, then tilted his wide-brimmed hat back on his head. He sighed deeply, staring up at the hanging body.

“Good lord, what in the sam hell happened to him?”

The hanging man in question was a horrific sight to see. The hung heavily by the neck from the tree, his neck clearly broken, his face splotchy shades of blue and purple. It appeared as if he had been thoroughly beaten before his demise, and as the cowhand looked closer, he could see scratches, cuts, and scuff marks hidden by the dark bruises. Below the neck, his body was even more gruesome. His shirt had been torn open, revealing his bare chest…or at least what was left of it. His skin had been peeled open at the sternum, and several of his ribs had been cracked and removed, the broken bits of bone lying on the ground beneath him. His heart had been removed. It had not been cut out, but the torn lungs and shredded flesh indicated that it had been forcibly, brutally pulled out by hand. The peeled skin hung down to his waist, flapping slightly in the breeze, smearing cold blood over his belt and the top of his pants. His shoulders and his thighs appeared to have been slashed repeatedly by talons or claws, cutting him nearly to the bone. His knees and his ankles had been snapped and repositioned at unnerving angles.

The second cowhand pulled his hat further down over his brow, casting scarce glances at the body hanging before him, fighting the sick that was forcing its way up. He had disposed of dead animals before, so the acrid smell no longer bothered him, but the image swaying gently before him turned his stomach like nothing ever had before. He spat to the side, and took a shaky breath.

“Whoever did this is one hell of a hateful being. I’ve seen men killed in anger before, but this…this is a whole new level of sinfulness I ain’t ever seen.”

The first man shook his head in amazement, unable to tear his eyes away from the disgusting sight. It chilled him, and where his friend could not look at the hanging man, he felt a strange fear, a tingling at the base of his spine, superstitiously telling him that if he looked away, he might meet the same fate. He coughed and shifted in the saddle.

“We better cut him down, Levi. Not even the devil himself deserves to be strung up and put on display like this.”

Levi nodded, still not looking at the body, averting his gaze for as long as he could. The first cowhand, James, dropped to the ground, his spurs lightly clinking as he pulled the tomahawk from his saddlebag and walked towards the hanging man. The spurs went silent as James swung his weapon, cutting the rope that held the man aloft. The body fell limply to the ground, folded uncomfortably over itself. The man’s innards spilled out, splattering across James’ boots. The crow squawked angrily as the rope beneath it gave way, staring down disapprovingly at the man who had disturbed its rest.

“Aw, damn it all!” James swore quietly. He put his gloves back on as he wiped the bloody mess off his boots into the grass. He sniffed and dragged the hanging man’s body to a dry patch of dirt nearby and whistled to Levi.

“Toss me that kerosene, wouldja?” he barked.

Levi turned and ruffled through his saddlebag and James pulled his bandana up over his mouth and nose. Levi found what he was looking for and tossed the jar to James, who quickly unscrewed it and dumped its contents all over the body.

“Wish we could give you a proper burial, friend, but we ain’t got the time nor the means. Forgive us; we did all we could.”

James struck a match and lit the hanging man’s body ablaze, and Levi said a silent, timid prayer. James walked back to his horse and the two cowhands watched the body burn. Within an hour, the flesh had been consumed, and the two men turned their horses back towards the ranch.

The crow watched them leave, tutting and squawking in apparent laughter. IT fluffed its wings once more and flew down to the ground, landing near the body. A thick black mist surrounded the bird, and suddenly, in its place stood a black wolf, which paced over to the burned corpse. It sniffed the smoldering body, licking the blackened meat with quiet interest.

After a short time, it lifted its head and looked in the direction the cowhands had ridden. At first glance, it appeared as if the canine was…grinning. It began to cough…no, not cough…the wolf was…chuckling. The black mist returned, and a humanoid figure appeared as the mist dissipated. It appeared to be a man, with broad shoulders and a strong yet slender build. Despite it being midday, its face was darkened by deep shadow, with only its eyes being visible. Eyes that would make a man’s blood run cold. Eyes that were not human, but most closely resembled those of a spider. Unlidded, with dozens of small eyes clustered within each socket, it stared out towards the ranch. Its black duster swayed in the wind, with dust rising softly from the base. The creature raised a hand and ran its fingers along the brim of its hat. It wore leather gloves, with two-inch talons poking out through the tip of every finger. It raised its other hand to where its mouth would be found, and it licked its fingertips. It moaned in satisfaction.

It leaned its head back and sniffed the air. The smell of the kill still hung steadily in the air around the tree, and it excited the creature. It sighed. It could feel its strength growing. The ritual had begun. There would be many more nights like the one before, and every feast would bring it closer to its goal. But it must be patient. As much as the thrill and the feast brought the creature untold excitement, it must wait. It must plan its moments, plan its kills, and plan the steps of the ritual carefully. This was a delicate process, one to be savored and respected. It narrowed its vision to the ranch which lay on the slow-rolling mountainside across the canyon and if its face could be seen, it was surely grinning. Its time would come soon enough. The ritual had begun, and there were none left alive who could stop it. There was no hurry, no rush, no need to race to the end. It had all the time in the world to get everything just right. Its time had come, and these quiet green hills would be covered in blood by the time it was finished.

Ghosts Of Days Gone By

Depression has no sense of time. It wakes you up in the middle of the night, violently urging you to dig through the photo album of your memories. Mourning is a special kind of depression, dragging you through every ounce of regret and remorse stored up in your soul, replaying all the laughs and sighs you’ll never hear again. Sometimes it’s a bittersweet sadness, others, it’s a crushing weight on your chest as you lie there, trying desperately to think of something else. It rears its head when it pleases, paying no mind to timeliness. Not that there’s ever really a good time to be enveloped in its embrace. Death is not the curse of Adam; living on, feeling the ache of loss and heartbreak long after the graves grow grass…that’s the real curse of mankind. The tragedy is not that we die; it’s that we must keep on living, grasping so tightly to those which we hold dear, beyond the days when they walk alongside us, until the day we realize we can’t remember what their voices sounded like…even in our dreams.

Into Dust

Oliver Conrad Davis was a loser, and everyone he had ever met knew it. Not that he was such an appalling character that he was utterly hated, although that might have been a step up from what he was. At least if people despised him, they would feel strongly about him in some way. As it was, his existence was simply acknowledged, never contemplated or appreciated in any way.

No one intentionally placed him in the space in their hearts reserved for unimportant things, but it was his very nature that put him there in every case. He was just a loser; no one could explain it, he simply was. He wasn’t particularly ugly, but neither was he recognizably handsome; he had a face so forgettable that people subconsciously forgot what he looked like between blinks as they stared at his face. He wasn’t known to have any skills, and nor was he spectacularly horrible at anything. No one would admit out loud that they believed he had no potential, but ninety-nine percent of the people who met Oliver had that very opinion of him. Those cursed with caring hearts and empathetic souls would adamantly oppose the thought that he was devoid of potential, but none of them could think of any way in which he displayed any whatsoever. They refused to believe he was such a useless lifeform, despite the fact he may have been the most pointless being to ever draw breath.

Oliver worked hard at a bone-wearying job, six days a week, making almost enough to dream of a comfortable lifestyle, but never finding that it was within reach. Every time he found he had a couple nickels to rub together, something in his life would fall apart. Occasionally the crumble would be cataclysmic, but generally, it was just enough of a tumble to keep him locked in his place in life, just shy of suffering, never quite comfortable, far from thriving, never dying.

If he thought about it, it felt as if the universe had been half-heartedly trying to kill him from the second he had been conceived. His mother had cancer, and that cancer nearly took him while he was still in the womb. nearly. He had been a somewhat sickly child; not dangerously sickly, just mildly weak and relatively pale. These traits were still mostly true of him in his adult life. He had lived a rather violent young life, finding himself of the action end of more than a few angry fists. Continuing into adulthood, his “unnecessary” organs had all conveniently failed. None of these infections or surgeries killed him, obviously, but they kept him laid up for a significant amount of time. Seriously, who has their tonsils, gallbladder, one kidney, appendix, and spleen all stop working during the course of their lifetime, and still remain above ground?

So it was that he continued every day, mostly existing, not really living, wishing he could muster up the courage, and quite frankly, the energy, to face death on his own terms. For some reason, he kept waking up and going about his mundane life, day after wasted day. He contemplated suicide rather often, but could never bring himself to hate himself enough to terminate the drain on the world that was his living body. Even Oliver didn’t really have strong opinions about Oliver.

He woke, went to work, went home, mindlessly watched tv, and went to bed, only to repeat the process again and again. Nothing brought him joy, nothing stirred his mind, nothing made him want to live. His entire life was one long shrug of the shoulders. He knew that was possibly the greatest tragedy in existence, but being the most forgettable man who ever lived, even he could not bring himself to care. Were these things true of any other being, it would be heartbreaking; since it was just this loser, it didn’t really matter. He wasn’t affected by his own life, why would anyone else bother to be affected by it?