Category: First Draft
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the Storm.
It’s always been there, behind us, whispering through the shuddering ground. A background roar behind the wind. We’d been ahead for so long, moving slightly faster than its clockwork crawl. Until the mountains. Then, as we ground ourselves upward against these slopes, we heard it rumbling closer, a rising quake in the earth. But it’s been a while since I turned around and actually saw it. Sitting here on the side of the mountain, in the frigid morning, it fills my vision and stings my eyes with the monstrous unreality of it.
It rises like an unbroken wall into the sky, obscured only by the limits of my sight, fading into the clear blue, and stretching away north and south, curving away with the earth. The sunlight doesn’t seem to touch it. Nothing does. At the ground, where the churning wall of sickly blue lightning and black clouds grinds across the earth, I can see the Unmaking. The lower peaks, already shaking apart, burst and ablate away at the event horizon of the Storm. The land dips before the onslaught, as if shying away from the kiss of the boiling wall. I can feel the violence beneath my feet as millions of tons of ancient mountain falls away into its infinite maw.
It’s going to be on me in a few hours. I wonder if I’ll die when the peak caves away, crushed in a free-fall of slate and stone, or whether I’ll be alive when the Storm touches me, shredded and atomized, erased and Unmade. I wonder, again, what it might feel like.
I shut them out, make my world the rusting footbridge, the warm air, and the dark water below. An untouched bubble of space that I alone inhabit. On the worn concrete abutment beneath me, someone has scrawled in white paint the words LOOK UP, and I do so, without thinking, the command bypassing conscious thought. The sky is perfectly blue, cerulean above me and cornflower in the distance. I tumble the words through my hands, adding to them: azure, cobalt, bondi, indigo, ultramarine. The blues merge and swirl, dripping through my hands leaving long streaming trails of letters.
I shake my head and laugh loud, listening to the sound travel on the warm breeze. Happy. For the first time in many months, I am free, in control. My life is my own again.
I try to ignore the voice, but I know Alex is already walking down the bridge toward me. The brief surge of freedom is already starting to fade. I try to hold tight to the moment, leaning out and surveying the debris choked creek beneath. What I had taken for a filthy styrofoam beer cooler catches my eye, and I look closer and see a green and mossy haunch. A rotting human thigh, the remaining skin greenish white, the rest of the body vanishing into the algae choked water.
My mother is crying so loud that at first I can’t make out what she’s saying, her voice made tinny and small in the phone. Finally I pick his name from the sine wave of her wailing, and I know my brother Lev is dead. My guts constrict, wrapping into a knot, and I feel the air rush out of me, and then I am no longer quite standing. I let her go on for a while as I struggle to control my breathing, eyes tilted skyward to stem the tears, back pressed to the cool cracked plastic of the refrigerator. When she’s out of breath I hear my father, his low baritone cracked with hurt, muttering, to me or my mother or both. After a while I start to hear his words, hear ‘shiva’, and my guts twist again, counterclockwise this time. He is talking to me.
They want me to come home.
I land just in time for the funeral, crossing the continent in a few bleary eyed hours, and I arrive at the cemetery still wearing the sweaty reek of the plane’s cabin on my clothes. The coffin is almost into the ground before I can fully grasp what it means. That this is my brother’s body, and that he is dead, and this is forever. I’m still mulling this over, spinning it in my head like a smooth stone, when we arrive at the home we grew up in. I place my bags onto a familiar bed that looks smaller than it should, and then I return to the ground floor where I shake hands, and nod politely to a swirling fog of strange and aged faces from my childhood.
I answer the same questions over and over again, my job, my life, the past 20 years. There’s a rhythm to the answers I soon nail, and then I no longer have to think about the responses. The faces drift away with the daylight, and when the house is dark and empty, everything sharpens and solidifies. Every where I twist my eyes, something triggers a tiny explosion of images and memories. A dented baseboard. Dull silver on a salt shaker. View full article »
The night before I lost her, my wife and I fought about something I cannot remember. I remember the yelling, the sweat on her brow as she spat sharp words, I remember the welling frustration inside as I tried to remain calm, until I snapped, and began to fight back, only resisting for the sake of resisting. I remember the uneasy stubborn silence as we prepared for bed, opening all the upstairs windows, pulling all but the last sheet from the bed. I remember the heat of the night, cruelly unfaltering even into the small hours. I remember wanting so badly to touch her in the dark, to begin that small reconciliation, and I remember Linda pushing me away, gently. The argument was forgotten, I have to believe, and it was only the heat that kept us apart, that pushed me away.
She was gone when I awoke, the sun already hanging, bloated in the white and opalescent sky. She had taken the car, gone to work, leaving me a small pot of oatmeal simmering on the electric stove. Next to it, on the marble countertop was a glass of orange juice and a little yellow post-it, cheery and bright, with a quick pencil sketched heart, and a single word: ‘Sorry.’ Like that, the unrest was gone, and I remembered how in love we were.
I spent the day avoiding my contracts and my studio entirely, and instead began to clean and dust the house, running a series of damp cloths over every flat surface. My allergies were already flaring as the early summer heat coaxed a thousand weeds and flowers to disgorge a miasma of pollen into the air, drifting in through every loose fitting window pane. No matter how hard the anemic air conditioner chugged, the heat never dissipated, and my sinuses flared in the thick dusty air.
Unteroffizier Erich Lang awakes long after the dawn to the distant sound of artillery. The gunmetal sky ripples with threatening black clouds, and the dusty smell of rain hangs in the chill air. He is slumped back against the earthen wall, his left arm crooked and folded behind him. It comes awake in a flare of pinpricks and fire, and he winces as he works it free and shakes. His slender frame is wrapped in his thick woolen coat, sodden and heavy with mud, and he feels cold water seeping in through his threadbare trousers. Besides the upturned helmet lying in the mud a few yards away, he is alone in narrow trench.
He pulls his long legs toward his body and stands, feeling the cold air glide through the shifting folds of his clothes. The coat tugs at him as he stands, weighted down with filth. There is water in his boots, running down his legs as he stands to soak through the layered socks that protected the last bit warmth and dryness. He scowls at the mud and the sky, and they are unmoved.
He winces against the sudden pain in his head and chest as he tries to sort out the jumble of memories and awakening thoughts. He wonders idly what day it is, but he cannot recall the chaplain’s last sermon, the only landmark he has to mark the progress of the days. He tries to remember the night before, or at least some small hint of how he’d ended here, soaking up rainwater in the trench. The preceding days are a monotone fog, a jumble of images and impressions of mud soaked boredom and terror.
“Thought you might be dead, ” comes a voice from his left. He turns to see a figure, leaning on the wooden post at the crook in the trench. His face is obscured by a gloved hand gripping a smoldering cigarette. Erich blinks and strains to focus on the man, but his blood is now surging in anticipation of tobacco.