Time is all we Have

Happy Wednesday, e’erybody!

(For those of you that have been following this chain of posts, please take this as my sincere half-promise that this is the [likely] second-to-last blast this story will get. But the response has been pretty nice and, again, this one meant a lot. So we’ll cheers to it once more as I fan the hammer on it, then onto another of my more recent favorites.)
(If you’re new: Weeeeeee! Glad you’ve joined us!)

Without further adieu…

Fifteen Years

Rachel watched from her perch while Eddie got her son into his wet suit. The breeze salted her cheeks and she quietly hummed a tune in rhythm with the waves. He had been so good with Wesley since losing his dad the year before. There was a period of adjustment, to be sure, but she had been so much happier after he’d moved in. “Thanks again for doing this,” she said as Eddie approached and gave him a kiss.

“Hey, no problem,” he laughed, his Hawaiian accent sweetening the smile that came with it. “Besides, I have to show him those trophies ain’t fake. What better way than to get him out here with me?”

“Still, you didn’t have to. Hey, Wes,” she called over Eddie’s shoulder. “Be careful, honey. Wait for Eddie to go out there with you, okay?” The boy looked over and gave a halfhearted smile, but stayed standing with his feet in the tide. Eddie gently brushed her sandy-blonde hair with his hand.

“He’s gonna be fine, okay? I’ll keep him close.”

“I know. I just worry.”

“You worry too much.”

“Maybe,” Rachel sighed. “I don’t know. It’s just been really hard on him. He was doing so well in school, helping around the house, he even got his purple belt, and then it’s like he just let it all fall apart on purpose.”

Eddie raised a timorous eyebrow. “You think it has to do with me?”

She was quiet for a beat before saying with a smile, “It’s okay. Kids are kids, after all.” She kissed him again before breaking away suddenly. “Wes? Wesley!” she screamed.

Eddie spun around to see the ten-year-old boy walk slowly out into the waves and get pulled down by the undertow.

***

After they checked him out of the hospital, Wesley’s mom wanted to take him to see a therapist that afternoon. It was Eddie who suggested they come home first to let things settle. So they called his school and Wes had spent the last two days mostly in his room. He lied in his bed, staring up at the popcorn of his ceiling and listening to the adults in the hallway outside.

“Let me try and talk to him,” came Eddie’s muffled voice.

“Listen, honey, I love you and I know you want to help, but he doesn’t need to talk to you. Not right now. He needs a psychiatrist.”

“Probably, sure. Just let me try first. He’s been stone-quiet ever since he got back. If he shoos me away, then what’s the harm?” It was quiet for a bit after that, but there came a soft knock at the door about a minute later and Eddie stepped through. “Hey Champ, mind if I come in?”

Wesley didn’t say anything at first, but just sat up against the wall. He folded his arms around his knees and hid his chin behind them. “Sure.”

Eddie closed the door behind him and sat at the edge of Wes’s bed with his hands folded. “So,” he began slowly, “you weren’t too keen on surfing, hmm?” Wesley replied with a chuckle but didn’t say anything. Eddie gave him a minute and then continued. “You know, you really scared your mom and me.”

“I know,” said Wes, with more a tone of irritation than guilt. “You don’t have to tell me that. I know.”

“Hmm, sure, sure. Then you know what I’m gonna ask next then, yeah?”

“Probably.”

“Well, why’d you do it?”

Staring into the covers of his bed, Wesley was quiet and contemplative. Eventually, he lifted his head and looked out the window at the clouds. Heavy tears welled up in his eyes before breaking and rolling down his cheeks. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

“Hey bud, I’m hear to talk, but I’m mostly here to listen. I’ll believe you, whatever it is.”

“You say that,” Wesley laughed between the tears. He wiped his eyes and saw the sincere look on Eddie’s face. “Alright,” he said and sighed. “What if I told you that I wasn’t ten years old?”

“Okay.” Eddie held a waiting pause. “What would you say you are, then?”

“I’m twenty-five.” Eddie couldn’t hide his reaction, despite his efforts, and gave a suppressed, coughed chuckle into his fist. “Yeah,” Wes continued, “get it out of your system.”

“No, no. I’m sorry. Just, you’re going to have to explain this one to me.”

“I’m not really sure where to start.”

“Okay. How about with how, if you’re that old, you came to be a…a little brah…again?”

“Because,” Wesley sighed, “because I wished for it. I was going through a real tough time and made a stupid, fleeting wish. And it worked.”

Eddie took a deep breath and leaned back on his hands. “Wow,” he said. “You know, if I could go back in time, I’d probably play-”

“The lottery?” Wes interrupted. “Yeah, I talked to people at work before all this happened and that’s what most people said, too. Listen, I get that you don’t really believe me and you just think you’re playing along, alright? But trust me that it’s way more complicated than that.”

“Okay,” Eddie agreed, nodding his head. “Then walk me through it and how that leads to what happened on Saturday.”

Wesley tossed his hands up. “What does it matter? I’m mostly just telling you any of this because it feels nice to finally let out. Besides, no one will believe you and I can’t get back anymore, anyway.”

“Why’s that?”

Wes groaned into his knees. “Because I lost my lucky coin.”

“That old one your grandpa got you for your birthday?”

“Yeah, I kept it in my wallet but it’s been missing for a week. It’s what I made the wish with to get here. I was going to use it to get back, but now I’m stuck.” Eddie made a puzzled look on his face that annoyed Wes. “What?” he asked.

“No, sorry. It’s nothing.” Eddie smiled at the boy and shook the thought away. “Come on, you were saying?”

It took several minutes of tug-of-war with Wesley before he opened up, but eventually he started explaining.

“It’s not that simple. ‘Play the lottery’, ‘stop crime’, ‘graduate early’. Everyone has a plan they think will work out. Firstly, I never played the lottery, and if I did, I don’t remember people’s phone numbers, let alone the Super Jackpot from fifteen years ago. Secondly, stop crime? If I have to remind you, I have the authority of a ten-year-old. Even if I did start telling the cops about a robbery, vandalism, or arson I knew would happen, that doesn’t turn me into kid-friggin’-detective. They’ll rightly assume I heard it somewhere and either dismiss it or it’ll implicate the adults around me. And fly through school? Okay, assume I do that. I ace every single spelling test and math quiz until I graduate high school at fourteen. I don’t want that.”

“Really?” said Eddie, wide-eyed. “Why not?”

“Because,” said Wesley, standing up forcibly from the bed and pacing around his room, “I won’t be some genius, exceptionally dedicated, or anything, just a guy who’s unexpectedly smarter than middle-schoolers. Plus, then that shoots me passed everyone I knew or would come to know and brings me into a world I don’t want. Never knowing my friends, probably prompting moves to new school districts, or whatever. And not doing that? Well, now I’ve been spending my days trying to pay attention, feeling patronized, surrounded by kids I’m supposed to but do not relate to. Every day is an act, every word is a sham.”

“Poetic.”

Wesley gave him a frustrated look from below his eyebrows.

“What? Listen, I’m not saying that it sounds a little over dramatic – which it does, but – this all means you should know how many people would kill to be kids again. Heck, man, you’ve heard me joke about it.”

“Oh, no. It felt like a vacation at first – having meals made for me, going to a super easy job, having a ton of energy. Not to mention getting to see my mom again, being as nice as I should have been when I grew up the first time, and making her super proud just with my grades. Not so much fun after a few months, though.”

“Oh? Why’s that?”

“Hard to find anyone to have a good conversation with, first off. Can’t really do it with my classmates. I can’t do it with any adults because I’m trying to keep this cover going or because they won’t take me seriously.”

“Hey, whoa. I take you seriously when you want to be serious, Wes.”

“Really? Would you say that like that to your buddy Tom? Or be interested in discussing Machiavelli or the government’s response to 9/11 with me? The point is, we talk differently to adults than we do with kids and in this circumstance, Eddie, it’s annoying. Besides, the internet sucks now.”

“Okay, then if you want to be serious,” Eddie said with a sudden grim tone, “that thing you mentioned about getting to see your mom again. Does something happen to her?”

“What?” replied Wes, embarrassed. “Ah, no. Not really, anyway. It’s just…hard to raise a teenage boy by herself. It took a lot out of her.”

“So, you guys never met me?”

“No. Because, in my life, I’d quit judo by now, so we never went to regionals. Which means I’ve already messed up and gotten something wrong.”

“Hmm, is that so bad, though? Say this life goes differently than your last one. I’m not such a bad guy, am I? We have fun.”

“Yeah, sorry. I don’t mean it in that I dislike you for you. You’re…you’re pretty cool. I just…”

“What?”

“I need things to say the same. There’s someone I can’t risk not meeting, and it scares me to think that I might not.” The tears began to well up in Wesley’s eyes as a soft knock came from his door. Eddie placed a compassionate hand on the boy’s shoulder and answered it. Wesley saw his mother briefly while the door was open and when Eddie came back in he was smiling.

“Hey, do you want to go for a hike?”

Wesley looked at the clouds through his window and replied with a shrug and a thumb’s up.

***

“So,” Eddie panted as he pulled himself up onto the overlook with Wesley, “you sounded like you were in the middle of a big point.” His words may not have, but there had been a change to the way Eddie spoke to Wes over the course of the afternoon – his tone, his voice, his eyes – it felt like the two were speaking on the same level. Wesley wasn’t being spoken down to and he appreciated it.

“Yeah. Just that things are scary.”

“I’m sure. But come on, there was more than that. You were saying you wanted to get everything right, keep things the same?”

“Yeah, but even all of that is a craps shoot, and I’m terrified. I’m terrified because I don’t know the rules. I’m not the person I was when I was nine, nobody is. People change. People change because they have experiences and they grow. But what if this is some Back to the Future shit? What if I don’t have an experience that shaped me, either because of butterfly effect happenstance or because now I know how to handle it? Do I lose the part of me that grew from that in the first place like an old photo? Because if so, to keep who I am, I have to live every day frantically trying to relive every day, as it happened, for years. I’ll spend fifteen years never changing, never growing, constantly paranoid, ‘learning’ the same lessons, or else I lose getting to be me in the first place.”

Eddie stayed quiet but just looked at the boy. He shuffled off his pack, set it beside the both of them, and took a seat on the rock with his legs dangling off the side. He took out a couple of sandwiches and handed one to Wesley. “Hmm, and that was enough to make you wanna end it?”

“Not…really,” Wesley said, timidly taking a bite of bologna.

Eddie watched Wes closely. “Why, then? A few years with us seem so bad you need that way out?”

“No. It’s not that.” Wes was staring at the rock, away from Eddie.

“Mmhm. Who was she, this person you need to meet again?” Wes looked back up with redness in his eyes and a quivering chin. Eddie wrapped a strong arm around the boy’s shoulders and held him while he cried. “I know, brah,” he said. “It’s always a girl.”

***

“Her name’s Carmen,” Wesley said between sobs.

Wesley told his stepfather everything. He spoke about how the two had met in high school and made fast friends. He told him the tumults of their relationship then and later, and how he’d known the moment a friend introduced them that he wanted her in his life in a meaningful way. He told him of how even though their life together wasn’t perfect, he loved those imperfections. He loved the way she would talk about the things she wanted to do in life, and how he imagined doing them with her. He loved the way she would joke about things she would change if given the chance, and how he would quietly think of how grateful he felt to have her as she was. He loved deeply how, despite the infinite number of ways they couldn’t have wound up together, the universe had seen fit to provide the one where they did.

“And I know,” continued Wes, “that they’re all the cliches, but I really do miss just being able to look into her eyes. I miss waking up to her voice, to the dimples on her cheeks when she’d smile. I miss comforting her when she was ever scared. I even miss the crushing pain of crying with her if she was ever hurt. And most, I miss listening to her heartbeat like it’s the only sound that exists, praying that between us I get to be selfish enough to die first because I don’t want a world without that sound.

“We’d been together for seven years before all this happened. It’s been hard sleeping in a bed by myself for the first time in that long. I miss her, a lot, but what’s worst is that now she doesn’t even know me yet. And she won’t for another five years, and if everything goes as it should, we won’t be together for another five after that. And even if that does happen, now I’ll have a secret I can never tell the woman I tell everything: that I knew her before we met and I waited a decade to be with her again. Try telling anyone that without it ending in some kind of paperwork.

“Our life had gotten hard, real hard, and all I wanted was a way out. But now that I’ve had it, all I want is a way back. Meaning yes, badly enough to walk straight into the ocean hoping to wake up like this was all a dream. So,” he said, wiping his nose and standing as the wind picked up, “what happens now? Do you tell mom and you guys sign me up for therapy or check me into some loony bin?” He sniffled with resolve.

Eddie was very quiet. He sat with his jaw jutting and was very clearly just watching the clouds roll by in thought. “Maybe,” he finally said with a big exhale. “But I don’t think so. Those places get pretty expensive, so I figure it’ll be easier to just give you this.” He reached into his pack and tossed Wesley a small, brown, folded leather wallet.

Wesley was stunned. “How?” he stammered.

“Taylor’s dad called yesterday and dropped it off while we were in your room. Apparently your buddy took it the last time you had him over. I told you it wasn’t a good idea to brag about your allowance like that. What were you saving up that much for anyway?”

“It was, uh,” the boy choked, “it was for the bus. I was going to take the bus to San Francisco. That’s where the fountain I toss my coin into for the wish gets built next month.”

“Oof, San Fran?” Eddie let out a puff of thoughtful breath. “Might be kind of a tough to swing it with your mom given things right now. But…”

Wes looked to the man with a dumbfounded, hopeful stare which Eddie returned with a wink and a smile.

***

The sun shone bright and clear through the window. Wesley reached over to turn his clock to face him. The time was 11:11am. He rubbed his eyes and looked at the almost unfamiliar sheets. Where there had been Spider-Man, there was now a checkered cream-colored pattern.

“Good morning,” came a sweet voice. Wesley felt a kiss on his cheek. “Aw, hey, are you alright?”

“It’s just good to see you.” Wesley wiped the tears away and hugged her. “I love you.”

“Oh honey,” Carmen said, laughing. “I love you too. Bad dream?”

He laughed with her. “You have no idea.”

THE END

The Take: This was a good one that came out of my short-lived Soapbox Writers’ Workshop. The parameters were: Romantic Comedy, featuring a surfer and a lost wallet. It came together pretty quickly, but took a lot longer to edit and sharpen. I’d shopped it around for a while, but I to-date haven’t quite found the right market for it, and also realized I’d passed it by a while ago as one of my best/favored manuscripts – I still love it, there’s a lot of me in there, but I’ve grown past it a bit.
It started off with me asking around work, “If you could go back to any age and keep your current consciousness – world view, knowledge, history, memories, opinions, everything – but you had to live your life forward from there, would you?”
The responses were awesome.
Many had the expected knee-jerk responses of “zoom through school” and “play the lottery.” But if pressed, reminding them that, y’know, their history is no longer their history – family, friends, jobs, events – none of that is guaranteed, it became less of an easy question.
Others I respected immensely. I explained the question, they had me clarify, thought on it, and then went, “Oh, hell no. I love my (girlfriend/family/dog/job/friends/you-name-it). Wouldn’t want to risk that.”
Others still, left me pretty flabbergasted…
“Oh, hell yeah.”
“Even though you won’t have your family any more?”
“Yeah, they’ll be fine.”
“No, like, you wouldn’t have your kids anymore.”
“Yeah, I get it.”
“Jesus, man. Didn’t you adopt?”
To this day, I’m unsure whether or not they were having my leg, still didn’t understand the thought experiment, or were being serious and just genuinely did not enjoy their life.

Anyway, to cap it all off, writing ‘Fifteen Years’ was an adventure, one that helped me chart out just how goddamn grateful I am for the life I’m swimming through.

Have a good one, y’all.

Ciao.

Would you…if YOU could…?

Happy Tuesday, e’erybody!

This is a pseudo-re-post (which looks kind of French when written out that way). So, if you caught the O.G. post, then, thanks for stopping by! If not, you’re in for a treat. I’m going to post this once or twice more, because I’d like the story to get the coverage – I fucking cried when I wrote it, originally, so it gets a couple seconds’ more time than stories with fart jokes or whatever.
(Sorry. I’m feeling sassy. Not really sorry. Like, mostly sorry. Mostly-sorta sorry. I’m not sorry.)

Without further adieu…

Fifteen Years

Rachel watched from her perch while Eddie got her son into his wet suit. The breeze salted her cheeks and she quietly hummed a tune in rhythm with the waves. He had been so good with Wesley since losing his dad the year before. There was a period of adjustment, to be sure, but she had been so much happier after he’d moved in. “Thanks again for doing this,” she said as Eddie approached and gave him a kiss.

“Hey, no problem,” he laughed, his Hawaiian accent sweetening the smile that came with it. “Besides, I have to show him those trophies ain’t fake. What better way than to get him out here with me?”

“Still, you didn’t have to. Hey, Wes,” she called over Eddie’s shoulder. “Be careful, honey. Wait for Eddie to go out there with you, okay?” The boy looked over and gave a halfhearted smile, but stayed standing with his feet in the tide. Eddie gently brushed her sandy-blonde hair with his hand.

“He’s gonna be fine, okay? I’ll keep him close.”

“I know. I just worry.”

“You worry too much.”

“Maybe,” Rachel sighed. “I don’t know. It’s just been really hard on him. He was doing so well in school, helping around the house, he even got his purple belt, and then it’s like he just let it all fall apart on purpose.”

Eddie raised a timorous eyebrow. “You think it has to do with me?”

She was quiet for a beat before saying with a smile, “It’s okay. Kids are kids, after all.” She kissed him again before breaking away suddenly. “Wes? Wesley!” she screamed.

Eddie spun around to see the ten-year-old boy walk slowly out into the waves and get pulled down by the undertow.

***

After they checked him out of the hospital, Wesley’s mom wanted to take him to see a therapist that afternoon. It was Eddie who suggested they come home first to let things settle. So they called his school and Wes had spent the last two days mostly in his room. He lied in his bed, staring up at the popcorn of his ceiling and listening to the adults in the hallway outside.

“Let me try and talk to him,” came Eddie’s muffled voice.

“Listen, honey, I love you and I know you want to help, but he doesn’t need to talk to you. Not right now. He needs a psychiatrist.”

“Probably, sure. Just let me try first. He’s been stone-quiet ever since he got back. If he shoos me away, then what’s the harm?” It was quiet for a bit after that, but there came a soft knock at the door about a minute later and Eddie stepped through. “Hey Champ, mind if I come in?”

Wesley didn’t say anything at first, but just sat up against the wall. He folded his arms around his knees and hid his chin behind them. “Sure.”

Eddie closed the door behind him and sat at the edge of Wes’s bed with his hands folded. “So,” he began slowly, “you weren’t too keen on surfing, hmm?” Wesley replied with a chuckle but didn’t say anything. Eddie gave him a minute and then continued. “You know, you really scared your mom and me.”

“I know,” said Wes, with more a tone of irritation than guilt. “You don’t have to tell me that. I know.”

“Hmm, sure, sure. Then you know what I’m gonna ask next then, yeah?”

“Probably.”

“Well, why’d you do it?”

Staring into the covers of his bed, Wesley was quiet and contemplative. Eventually, he lifted his head and looked out the window at the clouds. Heavy tears welled up in his eyes before breaking and rolling down his cheeks. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

“Hey bud, I’m hear to talk, but I’m mostly here to listen. I’ll believe you, whatever it is.”

“You say that,” Wesley laughed between the tears. He wiped his eyes and saw the sincere look on Eddie’s face. “Alright,” he said and sighed. “What if I told you that I wasn’t ten years old?”

“Okay.” Eddie held a waiting pause. “What would you say you are, then?”

“I’m twenty-five.” Eddie couldn’t hide his reaction, despite his efforts, and gave a suppressed, coughed chuckle into his fist. “Yeah,” Wes continued, “get it out of your system.”

“No, no. I’m sorry. Just, you’re going to have to explain this one to me.”

“I’m not really sure where to start.”

“Okay. How about with how, if you’re that old, you came to be a…a little brah…again?”

“Because,” Wesley sighed, “because I wished for it. I was going through a real tough time and made a stupid, fleeting wish. And it worked.”

Eddie took a deep breath and leaned back on his hands. “Wow,” he said. “You know, if I could go back in time, I’d probably play-”

“The lottery?” Wes interrupted. “Yeah, I talked to people at work before all this happened and that’s what most people said, too. Listen, I get that you don’t really believe me and you just think you’re playing along, alright? But trust me that it’s way more complicated than that.”

“Okay,” Eddie agreed, nodding his head. “Then walk me through it and how that leads to what happened on Saturday.”

Wesley tossed his hands up. “What does it matter? I’m mostly just telling you any of this because it feels nice to finally let out. Besides, no one will believe you and I can’t get back anymore, anyway.”

“Why’s that?”

Wes groaned into his knees. “Because I lost my lucky coin.”

“That old one your grandpa got you for your birthday?”

“Yeah, I kept it in my wallet but it’s been missing for a week. It’s what I made the wish with to get here. I was going to use it to get back, but now I’m stuck.” Eddie made a puzzled look on his face that annoyed Wes. “What?” he asked.

“No, sorry. It’s nothing.” Eddie smiled at the boy and shook the thought away. “Come on, you were saying?”

It took several minutes of tug-of-war with Wesley before he opened up, but eventually he started explaining.

“It’s not that simple. ‘Play the lottery’, ‘stop crime’, ‘graduate early’. Everyone has a plan they think will work out. Firstly, I never played the lottery, and if I did, I don’t remember people’s phone numbers, let alone the Super Jackpot from fifteen years ago. Secondly, stop crime? If I have to remind you, I have the authority of a ten-year-old. Even if I did start telling the cops about a robbery, vandalism, or arson I knew would happen, that doesn’t turn me into kid-friggin’-detective. They’ll rightly assume I heard it somewhere and either dismiss it or it’ll implicate the adults around me. And fly through school? Okay, assume I do that. I ace every single spelling test and math quiz until I graduate high school at fourteen. I don’t want that.”

“Really?” said Eddie, wide-eyed. “Why not?”

“Because,” said Wesley, standing up forcibly from the bed and pacing around his room, “I won’t be some genius, exceptionally dedicated, or anything, just a guy who’s unexpectedly smarter than middle-schoolers. Plus, then that shoots me passed everyone I knew or would come to know and brings me into a world I don’t want. Never knowing my friends, probably prompting moves to new school districts, or whatever. And not doing that? Well, now I’ve been spending my days trying to pay attention, feeling patronized, surrounded by kids I’m supposed to but do not relate to. Every day is an act, every word is a sham.”

“Poetic.”

Wesley gave him a frustrated look from below his eyebrows.

“What? Listen, I’m not saying that it sounds a little over dramatic – which it does, but – this all means you should know how many people would kill to be kids again. Heck, man, you’ve heard me joke about it.”

“Oh, no. It felt like a vacation at first – having meals made for me, going to a super easy job, having a ton of energy. Not to mention getting to see my mom again, being as nice as I should have been when I grew up the first time, and making her super proud just with my grades. Not so much fun after a few months, though.”

“Oh? Why’s that?”

“Hard to find anyone to have a good conversation with, first off. Can’t really do it with my classmates. I can’t do it with any adults because I’m trying to keep this cover going or because they won’t take me seriously.”

“Hey, whoa. I take you seriously when you want to be serious, Wes.”

“Really? Would you say that like that to your buddy Tom? Or be interested in discussing Machiavelli or the government’s response to 9/11 with me? The point is, we talk differently to adults than we do with kids and in this circumstance, Eddie, it’s annoying. Besides, the internet sucks now.”

“Okay, then if you want to be serious,” Eddie said with a sudden grim tone, “that thing you mentioned about getting to see your mom again. Does something happen to her?”

“What?” replied Wes, embarrassed. “Ah, no. Not really, anyway. It’s just…hard to raise a teenage boy by herself. It took a lot out of her.”

“So, you guys never met me?”

“No. Because, in my life, I’d quit judo by now, so we never went to regionals. Which means I’ve already messed up and gotten something wrong.”

“Hmm, is that so bad, though? Say this life goes differently than your last one. I’m not such a bad guy, am I? We have fun.”

“Yeah, sorry. I don’t mean it in that I dislike you for you. You’re…you’re pretty cool. I just…”

“What?”

“I need things to say the same. There’s someone I can’t risk not meeting, and it scares me to think that I might not.” The tears began to well up in Wesley’s eyes as a soft knock came from his door. Eddie placed a compassionate hand on the boy’s shoulder and answered it. Wesley saw his mother briefly while the door was open and when Eddie came back in he was smiling.

“Hey, do you want to go for a hike?”

Wesley looked at the clouds through his window and replied with a shrug and a thumb’s up.

***

“So,” Eddie panted as he pulled himself up onto the overlook with Wesley, “you sounded like you were in the middle of a big point.” His words may not have, but there had been a change to the way Eddie spoke to Wes over the course of the afternoon – his tone, his voice, his eyes – it felt like the two were speaking on the same level. Wesley wasn’t being spoken down to and he appreciated it.

“Yeah. Just that things are scary.”

“I’m sure. But come on, there was more than that. You were saying you wanted to get everything right, keep things the same?”

“Yeah, but even all of that is a craps shoot, and I’m terrified. I’m terrified because I don’t know the rules. I’m not the person I was when I was nine, nobody is. People change. People change because they have experiences and they grow. But what if this is some Back to the Future shit? What if I don’t have an experience that shaped me, either because of butterfly effect happenstance or because now I know how to handle it? Do I lose the part of me that grew from that in the first place like an old photo? Because if so, to keep who I am, I have to live every day frantically trying to relive every day, as it happened, for years. I’ll spend fifteen years never changing, never growing, constantly paranoid, ‘learning’ the same lessons, or else I lose getting to be me in the first place.”

Eddie stayed quiet but just looked at the boy. He shuffled off his pack, set it beside the both of them, and took a seat on the rock with his legs dangling off the side. He took out a couple of sandwiches and handed one to Wesley. “Hmm, and that was enough to make you wanna end it?”

“Not…really,” Wesley said, timidly taking a bite of bologna.

Eddie watched Wes closely. “Why, then? A few years with us seem so bad you need that way out?”

“No. It’s not that.” Wes was staring at the rock, away from Eddie.

“Mmhm. Who was she, this person you need to meet again?” Wes looked back up with redness in his eyes and a quivering chin. Eddie wrapped a strong arm around the boy’s shoulders and held him while he cried. “I know, brah,” he said. “It’s always a girl.”

***

“Her name’s Carmen,” Wesley said between sobs.

Wesley told his stepfather everything. He spoke about how the two had met in high school and made fast friends. He told him the tumults of their relationship then and later, and how he’d known the moment a friend introduced them that he wanted her in his life in a meaningful way. He told him of how even though their life together wasn’t perfect, he loved those imperfections. He loved the way she would talk about the things she wanted to do in life, and how he imagined doing them with her. He loved the way she would joke about things she would change if given the chance, and how he would quietly think of how grateful he felt to have her as she was. He loved deeply how, despite the infinite number of ways they couldn’t have wound up together, the universe had seen fit to provide the one where they did.

“And I know,” continued Wes, “that they’re all the cliches, but I really do miss just being able to look into her eyes. I miss waking up to her voice, to the dimples on her cheeks when she’d smile. I miss comforting her when she was ever scared. I even miss the crushing pain of crying with her if she was ever hurt. And most, I miss listening to her heartbeat like it’s the only sound that exists, praying that between us I get to be selfish enough to die first because I don’t want a world without that sound.

“We’d been together for seven years before all this happened. It’s been hard sleeping in a bed by myself for the first time in that long. I miss her, a lot, but what’s worst is that now she doesn’t even know me yet. And she won’t for another five years, and if everything goes as it should, we won’t be together for another five after that. And even if that does happen, now I’ll have a secret I can never tell the woman I tell everything: that I knew her before we met and I waited a decade to be with her again. Try telling anyone that without it ending in some kind of paperwork.

“Our life had gotten hard, real hard, and all I wanted was a way out. But now that I’ve had it, all I want is a way back. Meaning yes, badly enough to walk straight into the ocean hoping to wake up like this was all a dream. So,” he said, wiping his nose and standing as the wind picked up, “what happens now? Do you tell mom and you guys sign me up for therapy or check me into some loony bin?” He sniffled with resolve.

Eddie was very quiet. He sat with his jaw jutting and was very clearly just watching the clouds roll by in thought. “Maybe,” he finally said with a big exhale. “But I don’t think so. Those places get pretty expensive, so I figure it’ll be easier to just give you this.” He reached into his pack and tossed Wesley a small, brown, folded leather wallet.

Wesley was stunned. “How?” he stammered.

“Taylor’s dad called yesterday and dropped it off while we were in your room. Apparently your buddy took it the last time you had him over. I told you it wasn’t a good idea to brag about your allowance like that. What were you saving up that much for anyway?”

“It was, uh,” the boy choked, “it was for the bus. I was going to take the bus to San Francisco. That’s where the fountain I toss my coin into for the wish gets built next month.”

“Oof, San Fran?” Eddie let out a puff of thoughtful breath. “Might be kind of a tough to swing it with your mom given things right now. But…”

Wes looked to the man with a dumbfounded, hopeful stare which Eddie returned with a wink and a smile.

***

The sun shone bright and clear through the window. Wesley reached over to turn his clock to face him. The time was 11:11am. He rubbed his eyes and looked at the almost unfamiliar sheets. Where there had been Spider-Man, there was now a checkered cream-colored pattern.

“Good morning,” came a sweet voice. Wesley felt a kiss on his cheek. “Aw, hey, are you alright?”

“It’s just good to see you.” Wesley wiped the tears away and hugged her. “I love you.”

“Oh honey,” Carmen said, laughing. “I love you too. Bad dream?”

He laughed with her. “You have no idea.”

THE END

The Take: This was a good one that came out of my short-lived Soapbox Writers’ Workshop. The parameters were: Romantic Comedy, featuring a surfer and a lost wallet. It came together pretty quickly, but took a lot longer to edit and sharpen. I’d shopped it around for a while, but I to-date haven’t quite found the right market for it, and also realized I’d passed it by a while ago as one of my best/favored manuscripts – I still love it, there’s a lot of me in there, but I’ve grown past it a bit.
It started off with me asking around work, “If you could go back to any age and keep your current consciousness – world view, knowledge, history, memories, opinions, everything – but you had to live your life forward from there, would you?”
The responses were awesome.
Many had the expected knee-jerk responses of “zoom through school” and “play the lottery.” But if pressed, reminding them that, y’know, their history is no longer their history – family, friends, jobs, events – none of that is guaranteed, it became less of an easy question.
Others I respected immensely. I explained the question, they had me clarify, thought on it, and then went, “Oh, hell no. I love my (girlfriend/family/dog/job/friends/you-name-it). Wouldn’t want to risk that.”
Others still, left me pretty flabbergasted…
“Oh, hell yeah.”
“Even though you won’t have your family any more?”
“Yeah, they’ll be fine.”
“No, like, you wouldn’t have your kids anymore.”
“Yeah, I get it.”
“Jesus, man. Didn’t you adopt?”
To this day, I’m unsure whether or not they were having my leg, still didn’t understand the thought experiment, or were being serious and just genuinely did not enjoy their life.

Anyway, to cap it all off, writing ‘Fifteen Years’ was an adventure, one that helped me chart out just how goddamn grateful I am for the life I’m swimming through.

Have a good one, y’all.

Ciao.

Go Enjoy Yourself, Buddy!

Happy Thanksgiving, all.

Won’t lie, I started typing out the title meaning it genuinely, but by the time I got to “yourself,” I realized like it sound like “go f*ck yourself, buddy!”

I’m sticking with it.

Hey everybody! Keeping with recent trends, I missed Tuesday. BUT, it’s only because I got swept away by a sparkling curtain of wind on my way to the marke- eh, you get it.

In keeping also with the celebratory air of gratitude meant for today, I have an older story to share. I also think I’m going to blast it out a little bit the next week just to give it a broader net, but that’s beside the point. The main point is that I realized, finally, that this story is about appreciating what you’ve got – something I didn’t really intend when I originally wrote it. Anyway, I’ve got more, but we’ll save that for The Take.

Without further adieu…

Seventeen Years

Rachel watched from her perch while Eddie got her son into his wet suit. The breeze salted her cheeks and she quietly hummed a tune in rhythm with the waves. He had been so good with Wesley since losing his dad the year before. There was a period of adjustment, to be sure, but she had been so much happier after he’d moved in. “Thanks again for doing this,” she said as Eddie approached and gave him a kiss.

“Hey, no problem,” he laughed, his Hawaiian accent sweetening the smile that came with it. “Besides, I have to show him those trophies ain’t fake. What better way than to get him out here with me?”

“Still, you didn’t have to. Hey, Wes,” she called over Eddie’s shoulder. “Be careful, honey. Wait for Eddie to go out there with you, okay?” The boy looked over and gave a halfhearted smile, but stayed standing with his feet in the tide. Eddie gently brushed her sandy-blonde hair with his hand.

“He’s gonna be fine, okay? I’ll keep him close.”

“I know. I just worry.”

“You worry too much.”

“Maybe,” Rachel sighed. “I don’t know. It’s just been really hard on him. He was doing so well in school, helping around the house, he even got his purple belt, and then it’s like he just let it all fall apart on purpose.”

Eddie raised a timorous eyebrow. “You think it has to do with me?”

She was quiet for a beat before saying with a smile, “It’s okay. Kids are kids, after all.” She kissed him again before breaking away suddenly. “Wes? Wesley!” she screamed.

Eddie spun around to see the ten-year-old boy walk slowly out into the waves and get pulled down by the undertow.

*

After they checked him out of the hospital, Wesley’s mom wanted to take him to see a therapist that afternoon. It was Eddie who suggested they come home first to let things settle. So they called his school and Wes had spent the last two days mostly in his room. He lied in his bed, staring up at the popcorn of his ceiling and listening to the adults in the hallway outside.

“Let me try and talk to him,” came Eddie’s muffled voice.

“Listen, honey, I love you and I know you want to help, but he doesn’t need to talk to you. Not right now. He needs a psychiatrist.”

“Probably, sure. Just let me try first. He’s been stone-quiet ever since he got back. If he shoos me away, then what’s the harm?” It was quiet for a bit after that, but there came a soft knock at the door about a minute later and Eddie stepped through. “Hey Champ, mind if I come in?”

Wesley didn’t say anything at first, but just sat up against the wall. He folded his arms around his knees and hid his chin behind them. “Sure.”

Eddie closed the door behind him and sat at the edge of Wes’s bed with his hands folded. “So,” he began slowly, “you weren’t too keen on surfing, hmm?” Wesley replied with a chuckle but didn’t say anything. Eddie gave him a minute and then continued. “You know, you really scared your mom and me.”

“I know,” said Wes, with more a tone of irritation than guilt. “You don’t have to tell me that. I know.”

“Hmm, sure, sure. Then you know what I’m gonna ask next then, yeah?”

“Probably.”

“Well, why’d you do it?”

Staring into the covers of his bed, Wesley was quiet and contemplative. Eventually, he lifted his head and looked out the window at the clouds. Heavy tears welled up in his eyes before breaking and rolling down his cheeks. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

“Hey bud, I’m hear to talk, but I’m mostly here to listen. I’ll believe you, whatever it is.”

“You say that,” Wesley laughed between the tears. He wiped his eyes and saw the sincere look on Eddie’s face. “Alright,” he said and sighed. “What if I told you that I wasn’t ten years old?”

“Okay.” Eddie held a waiting pause. “What would you say you are, then?”

“I’m twenty-five.” Eddie couldn’t hide his reaction, despite his efforts, and gave a suppressed, coughed chuckle into his fist. “Yeah,” Wes continued, “get it out of your system.”

“No, no. I’m sorry. Just, you’re going to have to explain this one to me.”

“I’m not really sure where to start.”

“Okay. How about with how, if you’re that old, you came to be a…a little brah…again?”

“Because,” Wesley sighed, “because I wished for it. I was going through a real tough time and made a stupid, fleeting wish. And it worked.”

Eddie took a deep breath and leaned back on his hands. “Wow,” he said. “You know, if I could go back in time, I’d probably play-”

“The lottery?” Wes interrupted. “Yeah, I talked to people at work before all this happened and that’s what most people said, too. Listen, I get that you don’t really believe me and you just think you’re playing along, alright? But trust me that it’s way more complicated than that.”

“Okay,” Eddie agreed, nodding his head. “Then walk me through it and how that leads to what happened on Saturday.”

Wesley tossed his hands up. “What does it matter? I’m mostly just telling you any of this because it feels nice to finally let out. Besides, no one will believe you and I can’t get back anymore, anyway.”

“Why’s that?”

Wes groaned into his knees. “Because I lost my lucky coin.”

“That old one your grandpa got you for your birthday?”

“Yeah, I kept it in my wallet but it’s been missing for a week. It’s what I made the wish with to get here. I was going to use it to get back, but now I’m stuck.” Eddie made a puzzled look on his face that annoyed Wes. “What?” he asked.

“No, sorry. It’s nothing.” Eddie smiled at the boy and shook the thought away. “Come on, you were saying?”

It took several minutes of tug-of-war with Wesley before he opened up, but eventually he started explaining.

“It’s not that simple. ‘Play the lottery’, ‘stop crime’, ‘graduate early’. Everyone has a plan they think will work out. Firstly, I never played the lottery, and if I did, I don’t remember people’s phone numbers, let alone the Super Jackpot from fifteen years ago. Secondly, stop crime? If I have to remind you, I have the authority of a ten-year-old. Even if I did start telling the cops about a robbery, vandalism, or arson I knew would happen, that doesn’t turn me into kid-friggin’-detective. They’ll rightly assume I heard it somewhere and either dismiss it or it’ll implicate the adults around me. And fly through school? Okay, assume I do that. I ace every single spelling test and math quiz until I graduate high school at fourteen. I don’t want that.”

“Really?” said Eddie, wide-eyed. “Why not?”

“Because,” said Wesley, standing up forcibly from the bed and pacing around his room, “I won’t be some genius, exceptionally dedicated, or anything, just a guy who’s unexpectedly smarter than middle-schoolers. Plus, then that shoots me passed everyone I knew or would come to know and brings me into a world I don’t want. Never knowing my friends, probably prompting moves to new school districts, or whatever. And not doing that? Well, now I’ve been spending my days trying to pay attention, feeling patronized, surrounded by kids I’m supposed to but do not relate to. Every day is an act, every word is a sham.”

“Poetic.”

Wesley gave him a frustrated look from below his eyebrows.

“What? Listen, I’m not saying that it sounds a little over dramatic – which it does, but – this all means you should know how many people would kill to be kids again. Heck, man, you’ve heard me joke about it.”

“Oh, no. It felt like a vacation at first – having meals made for me, going to a super easy job, having a ton of energy. Not to mention getting to see my mom again, being as nice as I should have been when I grew up the first time, and making her super proud just with my grades. Not so much fun after a few months, though.”

“Oh? Why’s that?”

“Hard to find anyone to have a good conversation with, first off. Can’t really do it with my classmates. I can’t do it with any adults because I’m trying to keep this cover going or because they won’t take me seriously.”

“Hey, whoa. I take you seriously when you want to be serious, Wes.”

“Really? Would you say that like that to your buddy Tom? Or be interested in discussing Machiavelli or the government’s response to 9/11 with me? The point is, we talk differently to adults than we do with kids and in this circumstance, Eddie, it’s annoying. Besides, the internet sucks now.”

“Okay, then if you want to be serious,” Eddie said with a sudden grim tone, “that thing you mentioned about getting to see your mom again. Does something happen to her?”

“What?” replied Wes, embarrassed. “Ah, no. Not really, anyway. It’s just…hard to raise a teenage boy by herself. It took a lot out of her.”

“So, you guys never met me?”

“No. Because, in my life, I’d quit judo by now, so we never went to regionals. Which means I’ve already messed up and gotten something wrong.”

“Hmm, is that so bad, though? Say this life goes differently than your last one. I’m not such a bad guy, am I? We have fun.”

“Yeah, sorry. I don’t mean it in that I dislike you for you. You’re…you’re pretty cool. I just…”

“What?”

“I need things to say the same. There’s someone I can’t risk not meeting, and it scares me to think that I might not.” The tears began to well up in Wesley’s eyes as a soft knock came from his door. Eddie placed a compassionate hand on the boy’s shoulder and answered it. Wesley saw his mother briefly while the door was open and when Eddie came back in he was smiling.

“Hey, do you want to go for a hike?”

Wesley looked at the clouds through his window and replied with a shrug and a thumb’s up.

*

“So,” Eddie panted as he pulled himself up onto the overlook with Wesley, “you sounded like you were in the middle of a big point.” His words may not have, but there had been a change to the way Eddie spoke to Wes over the course of the afternoon – his tone, his voice, his eyes – it felt like the two were speaking on the same level. Wesley wasn’t being spoken down to and he appreciated it.

“Yeah. Just that things are scary.”

“I’m sure. But come on, there was more than that. You were saying you wanted to get everything right, keep things the same?”

“Yeah, but even all of that is a craps shoot, and I’m terrified. I’m terrified because I don’t know the rules. I’m not the person I was when I was nine, nobody is. People change. People change because they have experiences and they grow. But what if this is some Back to the Future shit? What if I don’t have an experience that shaped me, either because of butterfly effect happenstance or because now I know how to handle it? Do I lose the part of me that grew from that in the first place like an old photo? Because if so, to keep who I am, I have to live every day frantically trying to relive every day, as it happened, for years. I’ll spend seventeen years never changing, never growing, constantly paranoid, ‘learning’ the same lessons, or else I lose getting to be me in the first place.”

Eddie stayed quiet but just looked at the boy. He shuffled off his pack, set it beside the both of them, and took a seat on the rock with his legs dangling off the side. He took out a couple of sandwiches and handed one to Wesley. “Hmm, and that was enough to make you wanna end it?”

“Not…really,” Wesley said, timidly taking a bite of bologna.

Eddie watched Wes closely. “Why, then? A few years with us seem so bad you need that way out?”

“No. It’s not that.” Wes was staring at the rock, away from Eddie.

“Mmhm. Who was she, this person you need to meet again?” Wes looked back up with redness in his eyes and a quivering chin. Eddie wrapped a strong arm around the boy’s shoulders and held him while he cried. “I know, brah,” he said. “It’s always a girl.”

*

“Her name’s Carmen,” Wesley said between sobs.

Wesley told his stepfather everything. He spoke about how the two had met in high school and made fast friends. He told him the tumults of their relationship then and later, and how he’d known the moment a friend introduced them that he wanted her in his life in a meaningful way. He told him of how even though their life together wasn’t perfect, he loved those imperfections. He loved the way she would talk about the things she wanted to do in life, and how he imagined doing them with her. He loved the way she would joke about things she would change if given the chance, and how he would quietly think of how grateful he felt to have her as she was. He loved deeply how, despite the infinite number of ways they couldn’t have wound up together, the universe had seen fit to provide the one where they did.

“And I know,” continued Wes, “that they’re all the cliches, but I really do miss just being able to look into her eyes. I miss waking up to her voice, to the dimples on her cheeks when she’d smile. I miss comforting her when she was ever scared. I even miss the crushing pain of crying with her if she was ever hurt. And most, I miss listening to her heartbeat like it’s the only sound that exists, praying that between us I get to be selfish enough to die first because I don’t want a world without that sound.

“We’d been together for seven years before all this happened. It’s been hard sleeping in a bed by myself for the first time in that long. I miss her, a lot, but what’s worst is that now she doesn’t even know me yet. And she won’t for another five years, and if everything goes as it should, we won’t be together for another five after that. And even if that does happen, now I’ll have a secret I can never tell the woman I tell everything: that I knew her before we met and I waited a decade to be with her again. Try telling anyone that without it ending in some kind of paperwork.

“Our life had gotten hard, real hard, and all I wanted was a way out. But now that I’ve had it, all I want is a way back. Meaning yes, badly enough to walk straight into the ocean hoping to wake up like this was all a dream. So,” he said, wiping his nose and standing as the wind picked up, “what happens now? Do you tell mom and you guys sign me up for therapy or check me into some loony bin?” He sniffled with resolve.

Eddie was very quiet. He sat with his jaw jutting and was very clearly just watching the clouds roll by in thought. “Maybe,” he finally said with a big exhale. “But I don’t think so. Those places get pretty expensive, so I figure it’ll be easier to just give you this.” He reached into his pack and tossed Wesley a small, brown, folded leather wallet.

Wesley was stunned. “How?” he stammered.

“Taylor’s dad called yesterday and dropped it off while we were in your room. Apparently your buddy took it the last time you had him over. I told you it wasn’t a good idea to brag about your allowance like that. What were you saving up that much for anyway?”

“It was, uh,” the boy choked, “it was for the bus. I was going to take the bus to San Francisco. That’s where the fountain I toss my coin into for the wish gets built next month.”

“Oof, San Fran?” Eddie let out a puff of thoughtful breath. “Might be kind of a tough to swing it with your mom given things right now. But…”

Wes looked to the man with a dumbfounded, hopeful stare which Eddie returned with a wink and a smile.

*

The sun shone bright and clear through the window. Wesley reached over to turn his clock to face him. The time was 11:11am. He rubbed his eyes and looked at the almost unfamiliar sheets. Where there had been Spider-Man, there was now a checkered cream-colored pattern.

“Good morning,” came a sweet voice. Wesley felt a kiss on his cheek. “Aw, hey, are you alright?”

“It’s just good to see you.” Wesley wiped the tears away and hugged her. “I love you.”

“Oh honey,” Carmen said, laughing. “I love you too. Bad dream?”

He laughed with her. “You have no idea.”

THE END

The Take: This was a good one that came out of my short-lived Soapbox Writers’ Workshop. The parameters were: Romantic Comedy, featuring a surfer and a lost wallet. It came together pretty quickly, but took a lot longer to edit and sharpen. I’d shopped it around for a while, but I to-date haven’t quite found the right market for it, and also realized I’d passed it by a while ago as one of my best/favored manuscripts – I still love it, there’s a lot of me in there, but I’ve grown past it a bit.
It started off with me asking around work, “If you could go back to any age and keep your current consciousness – world view, knowledge, history, memories, opinions, everything – but you had to live your life forward from there, would you?”
The responses were awesome.
Many had the expected knee-jerk responses of “zoom through school” and “play the lottery.” But if pressed, reminding them that, y’know, their history is no longer their history – family, friends, jobs, events – none of that is guaranteed, it became less of an easy question.
Others I respected immensely. I explained the question, they had me clarify, thought on it, and then went, “Oh, hell no. I love my (girlfriend/family/dog/job/friends/you-name-it). Wouldn’t want to risk that.”
Others still, left me pretty flabbergasted…
“Oh, hell yeah.”
“Even though you won’t have your family any more?”
“Yeah, they’ll be fine.”
“No, like, you wouldn’t have your kids anymore.”
“Yeah, I get it.”
“Jesus, man. Didn’t you adopt?”
To this day, I’m unsure whether or not they were having my leg, still didn’t understand the thought experiment, or were being serious and just genuinely did not enjoy their life.

Anyway, to cap it all off, writing ‘Fifteen Years’ was an adventure, one that helped me chart out just how goddamn grateful I am for the life I’m swimming through.

Have a good one, y’all.

Ciao.

A Baby Bird

It’s hot in L.A. I’m walking down the sidewalk with the sun tingling my scalp through my hat, and the sweat tickles the center of my back with every other step. The wind picks up, the palm trees sway, and in the distance the city buzzes.

There wasn’t a shine, a movement, or anything in particular that drew my eye, but I happened to see a baby bird. It was there, on the sidewalk, under a tree. It was so small, so fragile, and its chest rose and fell so quickly with its tiny breaths. Its feathers were small and sparse, and there were small red lines on its body that were probably cuts or scratches. I look up at the tree, and I have to squint my eyes, but I think I see the nest. A timeline of events begins to puzzle its way together into one of two possibilities.

The first, is that a hot, summer wind came along and swept this bird out of the comfort of its nest before its time.

The second, is that it was old enough – it looks big enough to be that old, maybe; but what do I know? – that it was time to learn to fly. And when its mother made this young chick fly, it wasn’t ready.

Either way, it wasn’t ready.

I look back down to the baby bird on the sidewalk. I don’t know what to do. I hope it isn’t in pain, though it probably is. I hope its mother will come for it, though she probably won’t. I hope for some reason to think it might heal, though I’m not sure there is one.

Briefly, I look around for something to end its life with, but quickly realize I don’t have the heart to mercy-kill it, even if it would be a kindness. There are no rocks, no bricks, only my shoe and I can’t bring myself to do that.

So I do the only thing there’s left to do.

I take the scrap of a paper cup lying nearby in the shade of a parked car, and scoop its limp, pulsing form off of the hot sidewalk. I place it a few inches to the side, out of the sun, in the shade of the tree. I take a moment to wish it well – the lone favor of a passing giant – and keep walking, praying it knows comfort in its last hours.

Later on up the sidewalk, I stop again and think about that baby bird. I look up, and a few moments later see no fewer than half a dozen black birds flying overhead from an unknowable origin to an unknowable destination. I small chuckle tells the lesson: We symbolize birds for their freedom, their gift of flight, and it’s usually with jealousy. But rarely, I think, do we consider the cost, the gamble they make when they’re young, and what should happen if the gamble goes poorly. I realized then and there how common a story it must be, to be a bird that never gets to taste flight. Somewhere in that feeling was a mix of respect and admiration for both: for birds whose wings we hail, and those whose wings never spread more than once.

Later, while we’re leaving the city, stuck in the usual, infamous sea of red brake lights, I see the Hollywood sign in distance.

And I chuckle again.

FIN

Roadside

There was a body on the roadside.

Kyle stared at it while the flashing of her hazard lights illuminated it like the strobe of lightning during a storm.

“Get your headlights fixed,” is what had been so easy for everyone to say. Easy advice to offer. But a busy work week and a mechanic’s shop that was across town makes that “easy” advice harder to follow. She hadn’t known she was going to be out that late, how could she have? The canyon was a back road, and there wasn’t supposed to be anyone out there but her.

And now there was a body on the roadside.

Two sounds, each like a shock from her stomach to the tingling edges of her scalp, one right after the other. The first was a groan from the supposed corpse, and the second was the sound of tires coming around the bend.

The clack of a gavel, the slamming of bars, and Samantha crying where all that filled her ears after that.

Then, lights came around the bend. Lights that approached fast, then slowed. Lights that turned off to the roadside behind her.

“Everything alright?” said the Good Samaritan.

“Yeah,” Kyle said back with a wave. “Headlights gave out on me all of a sudden. Can’t see an inch ahead of the grill.” She motioned to the clear space of gravel on the roadside.

“Oh,” said the voice. “Good thing you found the turnout. How ’bout you follow my taillights back to the main road. Dark out here.”

“You. Are. Awesome. Thank you!”

She stayed focused on the two red eyes that guided her out of the dark, not giving a moment’s concentration to the steep hills beyond the roadside.

FIN

A Hootenanny with a Hoedown, to Boot!

Happy Tuesday, y’all – how ya doin’?

Continuing on from Thursday’s stories, we’re gonna dive on into the rest of the chronicle. Bonus points if you can spot the work that inspired how they get out.

Crevarius & Bindalar Gearforge

Narrator: (The stockades and dungeons of High Bluff, particularly the Crag Cells, were held in infamy for their creative design, the torment the echoing stone was said to have play on the mind, and, moreover, their record for being inescapable. Normally reserved for fugitives and miscreants of great trespass, two unlucky individuals had found themselves on both the wrong side of the law as well as the sore temper of Keeper Falion, leaving them to commiserate in the dark, damp cave-cells of High Bluff’s harshest prison.)

(One, a man, lithe of form and bearing a curled, blonde goatee sat with his elbows upon his knees and his back against the cave wall. He was dressed in a green jerkin, trousers of blackened leather, and high soft boots of the same. Currently, he worked away, whittling a piece of stone with a tiny iron blade.)

(The second, a gnome, short but not stout, with sharp facial features and an almost perpetual smirk adorning his cheeks. Clothed in dark leathers riddled with pockets which confiscation had emptied, only his blonde hair was apparent against the black of the cave wall. He sat cross-legged sorting a small mound of various bread scraps, fatty meat pieces, and stale nuts.)

(Each young man shared his cell with a cellmate who each young man considered very boring company.)

Crevarius: “I’m so hungry.” (He groans.)

Bindalar: “Yeah? Well that’s your own fuckin’ fault, innit? Raisin’ a cat n’ all.”

Crevarius: “Do you really think it the time to-”

Bindalar: “Oooh, mate, all’s we got is fuckin’ time. Your ass ain’t goin’ nowhere! And thanks fuckin’ to it, neither is mine! Ah, good boy.”

(A small, white rat scurries up to the gnome and delivers a bread scrap.)

Crevarius: “Me? YOU are the career street thief. I’d counted on a bit more professional expertise from your end.”

Bindalar: “Ah, yeah, and who’s the bloody fuckin’ fancy archer who missed his fuckin’ shot and left me on the fuckin’ roof without a fuckin’ rope!?”

Crevarius: “I told you to just toss down the bag first! How hard was that?”

Bindalar: “I don’t trust fuckin’ cheats.”

(Crevarius prepares a retort, but jostles his eyebrows in recognition of points made.)

Crevarius: “Can you spare some food?” (He says finally.)

Bindalar: “Wait, what’s that you’ve got there?”

Crevarius: “What? This?”

Bindalar: “Yes fuckin’ that. That what’s in your hand! Is that a knife?”

Crevarius: “Yes.”

Bindalar: (In a harsh whisper) “You’ve got a fuckin’ knife and you didn’t fuckin’ say anything?”

(Pause)

Crevarius: “I didn’t think it important to mention.”

(The gnome stares dumbfounded from under the brim of his hat.)

Bindalar: “Give it here.”

Crevarius: “What? No.”

Bindalar: “Give it fuckin’ here, ya cock-sneezin’ shit bag.”

Crevarius: “Give me the bread and nuts.”

Bindalar: “For fuck’s sake!”

(The gnome shovels all the scraps in front of him through the bars at the archer.)

Crevarius: “Now, what’re you going to do with that?”

Bindalar: “You have no idea how people come and go from this fuckin’ place, do ya?”

Crevarius: “I…uh…”

Bindalar: “Suck a donkey’s tit and call it maple.” (sighs) “Just follow my lead. Oi! (calling through the bars to the distantly attending guard) we got a stiff over here! (whispers) Sorry, bruv.”

Crevarius: “You’re pretty despicable.”

Bindalar: “Ah, sad fuck was hangin’ by a thread anyway. You’s best do the same. We’ve about five minutes ‘fore they come back with sacks for the bodies. Hope your ass knows how to swim!”

Narrator: (After what may only be described as the completion of selfish, depraved, perhaps villainous, but admittedly clever and survivalist actions, two body bags are sung their last rights and cast from the cliffs of High Bluff into the ocean. The first is deftly cut open shortly after sinking below the water’s surface to reveal a very much alive and swimming adept gnome, holding a soggy white rat. The second, upon hitting the salty water swells to a plump, buoyant state and coasts calmly to the shore with the kicking gnome following hotly in pursuit.)

Crevarius: “I have to hand it to you,” (stepping out of his deflating body bag, dressed in the clothes of his former cellmate, and holding a fluffy gray cat) “that WAS a pretty great idea.”

Bindalar: (sloshing his way up the beach) “What the fuckin’ hell was that? And where the fuck did you get a cat?”

Crevarius: “Tala here? She was the brooch on my cloak. Couldn’t have a cat walking around in a prison like that. A rat, sure, but an unfamiliar tabby? Nonsense.”

(Bindalar and his rat stare at him hard for a long moment.)

Bindalar: “Well, that’s fuckin’ brilliant.”

(Together, the two set out into the evening dusk-mellowed streets to resupply themselves the best ways they knew how. Reconvening at the caravan park leading north out of town, they heard the bells of alarm ringing at the end of the peninsula and thought it best to make camp outside the city bounds that night. Regardless, the daring duo was arrested a short week later, hunted by a contracted Justicar of the Taldastius Order and her ward, a prodigal young witch.)

(To this day, no one knows what was said between the opposing camps that fateful night, but the separate two’s became four. Their forces joined, they set off to investigate the call of a priest of The Returned in Hallendren, the Jewel of the East.)

END

The Take: This was fun. I loved having the guys read this at the table, got a fair bout of laughs, and set the mood pretty well. And reading it back now, it still hits me with some chuckles. However you read Bindalar’s voice, I guarantee you got it exactly right.

And last but not least, introducing…

Nisha

Nisha had spent the majority of her life watching the sands. In them, she could read the songs of the wind and in them she could read the news of the world. Raised in the Channelers’ Fold as she had been, that life offered no freedom to explore beyond the walls of Meir and its towering spires could only extend her vision so far. Her early hopes were to distinguish herself with her talents, boast through display the connection with her chosen djinn, and bullishly earn place to be groomed for the Inquisition. But life rarely bears fruit as sweet as the yearnings of our youth would dream it to be. Nisha’s life as an Acolyte of the Inquisition was more difficult than she would ever have thought it could be. The schooling was as demanding as it was constant; the consequences for dissatisfying expectations were severe; and the closer she grew to her djinn, the more deeply she regretted her bond. Try as she might to conceal these thoughts from it, the more it pried into her mind, tormenting her with commands it hadn’t the authority to give and with violent thoughts not her own. The young, olive-skinned, golden-eyed girl would deny the shade its triumph by robbing herself of that for which it doggedly assailed her mind.

On the eve of her Conjoining, the final marriage with her chosen spirit, Nisha stood in the window sill of her spire-top room. She looked over her shoulder for a final sight at the cage that had housed her for so long and cast herself from it. She fell, feeling the wind tear past her on her descent, fill her ears, and lurch her stomach into her throat. With a slow tranquility, the girl closed her eyes and awaited that final silence, a wry smile curling her lips.

*

For years later, Nisha would ponder why it was her silence never came. When she would search the shattered memories of her fraying mind, she only knew that next she woke on a road stretching through unfamiliar sands, far away from the towering walls of Meir. Panic had hit her first, spinning this way and that but seeing nothing more than rolling dunes across an encompassing horizon. When her breath returned to her, she took to her training and with an eventual calm resolve, set herself to reading the sands. The wind carried news of ports, strange dressings, and dye fields on rainbow’d hills. Nisha knew now, she was north of Albe’lar an Tsecht, the Duskset Jewel of the Returned.

She removed herself from the wind’s song and wiped the dust from her face to see an odd group approaching, but took less notice of them than her own hands. With an eerie calm, she observed the wrinkles in the skin of her hands and with them felt the deep grooves of her withered face. Nisha reacted with muted shock as the woman in armor of lacquered silver stepped from the group and approached her (hushing the gnome making a comment about Nisha resembling a robed raisin). The woman spoke but Nisha heard not a word as she came under a much deeper revelation. The woman’s countenance turned worried as she asked with concern, “Old woman, are you alright?”

Nisha looked up to her with tears running down her cheeks and a deep smile on her lips as she replied: “I’m alone.”

The Take: Nisha’s my favorite. Of the five characters presented here, Nisha’s my favorite for sure. Not necessarily for her personality or abilities she went on abuse use to great effect, but just her intro. When asked to do up a backstory, Amanda, the player in question said something along the lines of: “I dunno, something cool. I wanna be a crazy lady.” Well dammit, a crazy lady you now have.
In case I lost you somewhere in there, the short version is this: Nisha is being reared into the Channeler’s Fold (mentioned back in Stella’s portion), a sect/temple/whatever of mages that play host to djinn for power. She was being prepared for her permanent bonding with her chosen djinn, but couldn’t take it, and tried to commit suicide by leaping out of a tall spire’s window. When she woke up, she found she’d somehow not died and was now instead an old wrinkly woman, but the djinn who’d resided in her mind was (equally mysteriously) gone.
Mark my words, here, today, the 24th of September of the year two-thousand nineteen, Nisha will feature prominently in a future novel of mine.

Anyway, Abidee-Abidee- that’s all for now folks (Porky Pig voice definitely intended).

Ciao.

Fantasy Dim Sum: Ainsley and Stella

What’s up, everybody. Happy Thursday!

Today we’re at it again: serving up a couple short scenes that wind up tying together in the end. Rather than overdoing the intro, I’m just going to let them speak for themselves.

Without further adieu…

Part 1: ‘Ainsley, Justicar of Taldastius

Ainsley stood still at the edge of the forest glade, loosing the deep breath with the slow, practiced control her work demanded. Her eyes took in the scene with that same calm measure as her plated boots clinked their tread through the soft grass. A gentle wind danced through the muted green, brushed her cheeks, tossed her hair, and carried the scent of blood – the scent of a haunting life she’d left behind.

While her task required attention, Ainsley’s focused mind would not carry the nightmares of that life. For a time, she would not be molested by thoughts of the clans her brother-and-sisters-in-arms had scattered; she would not burden herself with the memories of their screams; she would not shudder at the knowledge she held of that which corroded the earth, shattered rock, and sundered the skies. A “dishonorable discharge” it had been called, but a system of mock honor that burns and destroys the undeserving to protect its own interests held no place to judge her. No longer holding station among the zealous Elves of the Iron Fang, she had found the freedom to wander. Unwelcome by many, hated by some, Ainsley turned Nameless – finding work and a place in the darkest recesses of Mundas, thanklessly facing the nightmares that plagued its people.

And this way she lived for many years until came such a time as any for those that live the Nameless way, and she found herself ready to die as such. She had stood in a moonlit glade then as well, slowly kneeling ready to dash the lunar-gray grasses with the crimson of her life’s blood. As she had held the blade high and saw in its reflection the pale of the moon, the sight of it filled her mind and heart with a vision:

We that follow are the light that stands amid the dark and guides the helpless through its shroud.”

The Oath and its Moon Strictures now decorating the flesh of her back, her life as a Justicar of Taldastius had begun only weeks later; her stride now set with a righteous purpose beyond murky survival.

As her footfalls strode quietly through the glade, shield at her side and sword gleaming brightly in the moonlight, Ainsley heard the choking, strained gasps more clearly the nearer she drew. The girl was young, no more than twenty winters behind her, with raven black hair and eyes with blue that pierced the pallid night. The acrid smell in the air, the jagged, raking marks down the girl’s arms, and the thick, speckled quills that perforated her petite form told Ainsley more than enough: Howlers.

Normally cowardly, netherplane-dwelling beasts, something had brought them here. The girl looked up at Ainsley, lips quivering, dark trails streaking from the corners of her mouth, and unable to speak. The Justicar held the young girls gaze for a time before turning her own to a rustling in the encompassing treeline.

They were coming.

END

The Take: So, there are a couple of lore points from the larger world at work here to address that might help, might not.
Ainsley is a Justicar (or paladin-variant, basically) of Taldastius, Steward of the Moon, Keeper of the Scales, Lord of Justice, n’ all else. The Moon is the Order’s totem and it represents them in the way Ainsley’s vision outlines: they fight against the dark by living in it, but without becoming it (if that makes sense). I could go on for pages, but that’s the gist and we have more to get to (this is supposed to be bite-sized, after all).
The Iron Fang are essentially a state-funded volunteer corps of defense against the dragon nests north of the Continent. They’re comprised of zealots, desperate sods, religious nutters, social outcasts – anyone and everyone. It’s members are highly revered, though, normally only after they’ve died – being criticized and berated in life by society at large. They’re organized strictly, and when one falls out of their ranks (is insubordinate, flees, or otherwise shows cowardice), they become “Nameless,” the world’s equivalent to Witchers, basically; only finding work as mercenaries and monster-hunters.

On to the next!

Part 2: Stella Fairbay, Heiress of Shale

Stella watched the diminutive ceramic dancer slowly twirl in its place within the open music box. A slight smile spread across her narrow lips as she listened to the soft chiming sung by the inner springs and coils. She watched the last of the day’s warm sunlight glimmer and reflect off its polished curves, and these feelings left her mind awash in memories – though they now seemed so distant.

The years of her youth were of gilded halls and ballrooms, long hours in formal court, and a deep-rooted yearning to part with it all, though never once betraying her family’s storied lineage. As with many of the women in her ancestry, Stella held a particularly strong sway over the magical forces of Mundas, and nothing interfered with that secret more greatly than the life of royalty. Her potential was held captive by the very privilege which provided for her, so she stole away one night to walk the wanderer’s path and develop her talents. Her only farewell: a letter addressed to her grandmother, the ruling Duchess of Shale, mentor to Stella in her youngest years, and, moreover, only living family-by-blood left in the Duchy.

Stella fluttered her eyelids to blink the memories away and she found her vision focusing beyond the now silent toy dancer to the reflection of her own eyes in the mirror of the box’s lid. She held the sight for a breath then looked up to behold the moon, feeling now that it was almost time. It had taken many months to find this place and Stella would be damned if she’d spent that time tracking down the proper charts, conferring with members of the Channelers’ Fold, and preparing the necessary charms only to miss her window distracted by nostalgia.

The young witch carefully closed the music box and stowed it within her black, silver-laced robes. She stood sharply and grasped the spear-staff at her side, an heirloom from her late grandfather. Stella marched with conviction to the edge of a summoner’s circle she’d constructed when the sun had been high, looked up to see the moon nearing its zenith, and an eager laugh escape her lips as she began her incantation, ready to open the way. Her eyes whited over with a milky paleness to mimic the moon and the ground beneath her feet felt as if to hum in harmony with her low tone.

Slowly, like fireflies drifting in the veil of night, glowing sigils began to form out of the cold air and weave together in the bounds of her circle. A complete silence took the glade before a loud snap broke the air and a bright font of light burst forth from the ground. In a matter of moments, Stella knew, if she had done her work correctly, she would be face-to-face with an angelic archon.

As the last of the arcane light faded from the circle, an unexpected darkness shrouded the glade. Stella rubbed her eyes so they might adjust and whispered a word to her staff for light. As she did so, a horrible sense of dread fell upon her like a cloak and she heard a clicking, guttural snarl. The moments of Stella’s life to follow would be remembered only as a panicked blur.

A haunting, shrieking howl pierced the still quiet.

Her chest and arms pained by slashes of unseen claws.

She was knocked breathless against the cool, damp grass.

Stella awaited the death knell from whatever infernal creatures her tragic mistake had summoned, though it never came. She could hear them, feel them encircling her, as her vision slowly darkened until a vibrant silver light beamed from the edge of the glade and the creatures retreated from it. A woman in silver and blue plate armor stood over her, beautiful and scarred, she peered down at Stella with a look of sympathy. A noise from the glade’s edge stole the woman’s attention for a moment, and when her gaze returned to the young witch her eyes burned a brilliant silver that shone against the dark backdrop of the stars.

The woman whispered a soft, chiming tone and Stella coughed. While still in great pain, she could feel a relieving warmth spread across her body where there had been agony moments before. Seeing the young woman stable, the paladin dashed across the muted gray forest floor, her blade shining white with fire. Stella craned her neck to watch as her savior cleaved down the first two beasts in a matter of moments and briefly wrestled with a third, a terrible fray of shouts and visceral crunches, while the remaining pack closed in around. With a desperate, heaving breath, Stella sat up and looked on as long, sharp quills like those that had pierced her struck the paladin between areas of her plate. Focusing through the tormenting pain and hurried anxiety of her circumstance, Stella forced herself into trance.

The paladin fought from her back, swinging this way and that to ward away the encroaching pack, when she felt the ground beneath her shake. The howlers seized the moment of her hesitation and moved to leap upon their meal, but could not feel the ground beneath their gnarled paws. She watched as the remaining pack was lifted above the grass and pulled, flailing viciously, over to the girl in black robes, now standing with spear in one hand and the other extended towards the creatures. Quills were shaken and shot forth in Stella’s direction, though they splintered to harmless flakes in the air around her. The howlers were forced to the grass, dragged by an invisible hand to the circle from which they’d emerged and, like water through cloth, disappeared beneath the ground.

From across the moonlit glade, the two women locked eyes for the second time and together shared a well-earned sigh of relief.

END

The Take: There you have it, a bad-ass, scarred up warrior lady and a reckless, mystical witch woman ruining a gaggle of otherworldly beasties. Always fun. I always liked Stella’s half for tying in and really showing off Ainsley’s badassery, plus alluding to some other world-bits we’ll explore a bit more deeply later.

Probably put up the others of this little “mini-series” tomorrow rather than waiting until Tuesday. Til then, you take it easy and stay beautiful, you.

Ciao.