Whatever’s After

I was given a prompt to write about my perception of any kind of afterlife. This is probably a meandering mess of a thing, but I came up with this:

A golden city with jasper walls. Agates and sapphires, onyx and chrysolite, and whatever jacinth is.

I remember my first taste of Heaven, from under a down comforter in the middle of winter, snowflakes falling through my window with a backdrop sky so black it rang blue. I was young, borderline manic with an active mind, and so I had trouble sleeping. I’d rest my back against a cabinet set up at the head of my bed, one side of a sliding set of doors moved aside where rested a cassette player.

Classical music. That’s what helped me drift off at night. Elegant birds swimming through my mind to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Two lonesome lovers dancing in a dark, empty ballroom to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. A yearlong journey of whimsy and growth through Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. The music played at my back, behind my head, through my ears, so gracefully behind the lids of my eyes.

Because of that,because I was such an imaginative child that I pulled things into my dreams, I often found myself also being affected by the books I read. Creepy crawlers terrifying me after the latest Goosebumps novel saw me to bedtime. Magic spells lighting up the sky like fireworks after tearing through whatever fantasy novel I ordered from the school book drive.

So yes, I remember my first taste of Heaven.

Twelve gates of pearl, and streets of gold so clear they may as well be glass. Eternal day that lights the paths of the pure.

My grandmother was a woman of God and wanted to bring me up on a path of righteousness, or – at the very least – general goodness. I was no stranger to prayer, though I struggled at keeping still with closed eyes while someone used their words to speak for me. I worked as a deacon in the church, collecting, counting and cataloging the weekly tithe. Most importantly (to me), I read the Bible nightly. No particular passages, but rather cover to cover (though I would regularly reread the stories that meant the most to me, or that I found particularly compelling). So I remember the winter night I first found myself in the book of Revelations, reading about this New Jerusalem, this city for the chosen loved of God while elsewhere burned a pit of fire. For the unrighteous. For the generally bad.

But in the city, there was no death, no sorrow.  No crying, nor any pain. I dreamed of these things, and this mountain city that was itself a divine temple. I dreamed of the crisp and clear air, and the laughter from within bejeweled walls.

But my fitful sleeping mind would take it further. I dreamed of walking to the cliffside, a dirt path laid out before me, surrounded on either side by snow that gave off no cold. I dreamed of looking down into a deep, green valley, one hand on a singular, twisting tree the rich brown of polished mahogany, capped with leaves of all different colors.

I dreamed that somewhere back behind one of those pearl gates, my always-absent parents were finally always-present and always-patient, waiting for me to return so that we could share just one meal together that didn’t end in yelling.

But I am not dead. And so that taste of Heaven, be it a true and wholesome thing, has yet to reach past the tip of my tongue.

And, undead, I have traveled through these years dipping my fingers into the afterlife whipped cream and licking celestial inevitability from them. I have sampled Sheol and its dead earth, feared the heat of Gehinnom. I have longed for the pleasures awaiting me after my second life and my second death, in olam haba. Or perhaps it would be a seat in the presence of Our Lord and alternatively a great nothingness should I not find the greatness necessary to fill my place beside Him.

In times of pain and anger, I’ve wondered if my struggles would qualify me for a seat in Valhalla should my eternal battle with depression finally trigger an aneurysm. I wondered how lonely the realm of Hel might be if not. Or perhaps it would be the realm of Hades, neglected and unfairly judged brother of Poseidon and Zeus. And after I take that journey across Styx, likely infuriating Charon with questions and observations, would Hades at least allow me the company of Persephone during the long winter months? Not for anything untoward. Just to talk for a while. Just to compare tastes in music. Would Handel be held favorably up to Amphion? Would Chopin be as admired as Orpheus?

These tastes of Heaven and Hell, of Eden and oblivion, of spectral realms and mead-filled halls, these tastes are exotic, they are ancient, they are unclear.

But I am not dead. And so these tastes leave my throat dry and my stomach uncertain of a meal.

Because maybe there is nothing. Maybe my good deeds and my mistakes and my pleasures and my sins will not be held accountable against a feather at the end of my life. Perhaps my heart is in no danger of being consumed by Ammit, forever damning me and barring my escape into the sun-lit fields of Aaru. Maybe my heart is destined only to be consumed by worms and I’m left leaving only memories for those still living behind me.

That would be a shame. That would be a shame, because it means I would have no chance to connect again with you. To see the way your right cheek dimples when you smile, and the way your eyes dart that same direction when you laugh. It would mean I never get to say sorry. It would mean I never get to tell you I love you every day until the very last star shudders one last flicker of light and the very last molecule stops its steady movement, freezing us in a picture we never got to take. One last still-frame before turning the lights off on the universe.

Or maybe we’ll resurrect. Resurrection is an option, too. And I feel I’d be a dung beetle, but maybe I’d turn into a caterpillar and you would be one too, and we could make a cocoon somewhere nice and safe and warm, melt ourselves down into a gooey pile of memories and love, reinvent ourselves as two beautiful butterflies and find each other again. Somewhere without nets. Somewhere without birds.

Maybe that will be our heaven, our Heaven, our Nevaeh (because after reading that Bible cover to cover, I read it back again): a cyclical chance to love and be loved again.

Because I can tell you one thing for sure: I don’t need to have died to know that life here without you is already Hell.

We’re All Stardust

David Bowie passed away peacefully yesterday. He fought against the cancer eating away at his body for a year and a half, and all the while, he was creating more art to share with the world. Throughout his storied career, he put out 25 – twenty-five – albums. That is an absolutely insane body of work. That’s not even mentioning how many different times he reinvented his style and himself. He was never afraid to embrace new things (or if he was, he didn’t let that fear slow him down) and immerse himself in the sheer passion and beauty and weirdness that was life and this sad, strange, incredible little rock we ride through space.

Like millions of others, I was a fan of Bowie. I admired him as a musician, as an actor, and as a man. I was a weird kid, into learning and comic books and other things that got me labeled as a nerd and kept my peers from inviting me to things, so to see someone dress and act so flamboyantly/bad-ass/striking and still pull off so much charm gave me a little hope that some day I could just own my interests and quirks and pull off my own style with the same success.

And while the first time I think I really saw David Bowie was as Jareth the Goblin King in Labyrinth (a movie I must have watched a hundred times as a kid), rocking an outfit nobody should have realistically been able to pull off, I was already a fan and didn’t know it. I got a lot of my musical taste listening to the bands and artists that my dad liked, so I had already picked up and jammed out to a score of Bowie songs before I even knew his name. They still put a smile on my face years later. It’s good music, great songs.

Now… all that being said, I have to admit that I was never the kind of guy to buy albums. I didn’t obsess over a band’s entire catalogue. Hell, half the time I couldn’t tell you the name of a song that’s playing, or even who performed it. I just know what I like and enjoy it when it comes on.

I wasn’t and am not as well-versed in David Bowie’s work as many others are or even as much as I probably should be, considering my tastes and how much I admire who he was, what he accomplished and what he put out. If you’ve paid any attention to the things I’ve written before, however, you’ll know there is at least one unshakeable truth about me: I believe in and unabashedly love art in all its forms. I may be the Story Man, but paintings, performances, poems, and especially music all serve to provide an outlet for energy, and an escape from the stress and the mundane.

To that end, when a brilliant artist passes, it’s felt less like a ripple than a wave. There is a sudden void where once there was vibrancy. A light was extinguished and with it, an eternal darkness covers all of the potential art that could have been. Even passing fans are deeply troubled by the ceasure of that existence.

But as that sadness permeates in our chest and behind our eyes, we find ourselves doing what we do whenever a great artist passes: revisiting the things they gifted to us. When Robin Williams passed away, we turned on the films that made us laugh and cry throughout the years of our lives. When the tragic news broke about David Bowie, we immediately turned the records on, we popped in Labyrinth and The Man Who Fell to Earth and even The Prestige, because even though his turn as Tesla was relatively brief, it was performed with gravitas.

We’re left with so much music and so much influence and we use what he gave us to help cope with the fact he can’t give us more, that we can’t see him perform live, that we can’t meet him.

David Bowie was an artist. He was more than that, especially to his friends and family, but to most of us, he was an artist. What puts him on a different level than so many others is that he was his art. Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke, the Goblin King. As many times as he changed his musical styles, he changed his personas and allowed it all to work together to create something haunting, strange, beautiful, captivating, passionate, and ethereal. He constantly shifted his art, but he always lived and breathed it. So rarely are there Michael Jacksons and Robin Williamses and Freddy Mercurys and David Bowies that when they leave us, everyone has to stop and take a breath because those people are creative giants who have affected not only the world with what they’ve created and how they created it, but also because of the inarguable imprint they’ve left on the sheer concept of art. They inspire new styles, new chances, new bravery. They help us cope by showing us beauty in the world when we’ve forgotten how to look for it alone.

Lou Anders wrote a touching tribute to David Bowie that puts into words so much better the things I feel and wanted to say. You can and should read it here: Something Happened On the Day He Died.

Rob Bricken wrote a more comprehensive analysis of the impact David Bowie left on music, art, science fiction, and really, the world. You can and should read it here: All the Ways David Bowie Changed Our Lives and Expanded Our Minds.

Bowie’s influence has and will stay with us on an emotional and inspirational level. It’s a juggernaut of strangeness and versatility that can’t easily be shaken. And why would you want to? I’ve heard it said that physiologically we’re made from the same elements as the stars. What better evidence that we’re Stardust than hanging on to Bowie?

Recap Redux

I’ve written or shared a hundred posts now, and it has been an absolutely rewarding experience so far. From being able to experiment via short stories set in worlds I plan on exploring in more detail later to reflecting on my life/my relationships/my family and friends, what started out as sort of a trial outlet for my thoughts and creative endeavors has turned into a cathartic routine.

Even more so, by sharing it online and via Twitter and Facebook, I’ve received a number of comments and personal messages expressing a wide variety of emotions. That’s good! That has been the point of this. I want you to be able to experience my type of art. I want you to think and to feel things, and if you’re going through an experience or feelings similar to something I’ve gone through,  I want you to be know you’re not alone.

Every fifty posts or so, I’ll create one of these as sort of a recap. With so many posts coming out of me and with no real regular schedule,  there’s a chance you may have missed something that pertains to your interests. This is meant to act as a quick guide to the posts, separated more or less into different categories.

If you read something you feel particularly thought-provoking or touching or infuriating or garbage, I encourage you to share it with others.

First off, you can find a quick recap to the first 49 articles here: FIVE OH.

Then:

About Me:
My Own Worst Enemy
I’m a Man Who Was Raped
Oktoberfest, Or That Time I Crippled Myself
Vagabond
Distilling Who I Used to Be
The Metal That Gave Me Mettle
Hundo
I Fell In Love
Playing the Doldrums
Kisses Have Pictures Beat
Office Space
Story Time With Grampa Jered
Just Plane Silly
The A Word

Family and Friend Profiles:
Go Out and Get ‘Em, and a Birthday Note
Mama Mia
Blondie
Father Of Mine

Writing Tips and Opinion Pieces:
Six Reasons Why 50 Shades of Grey Sucks, and Why It Doesn’t
Ten(ish) Books That Tickle My Fancy
Getting the Gang Together
Things I Love: The Malazan Book of the Fallen
Thanksgiving: A Better Christmas
No Place Like Home

Miscellaneous:
The Best Medicine
The Beautiful Last Breath of Day
Remembrance
The Wedding Bells Are Ringing
The Carolina Reaper

Fiction:
A Nice, Slow Day
Satori and the Key
The Wrong Kind of Flop
The Velvet Anchor
Love and Bullets
The Balloon Trick: An Absolute Zeroes Story
The Owl Part I: A Curious Shoppe
Trixie: A Flatliners Story
Yellow
The Lost Journey of the Stalwart

Poetry:
Shadow Hurt
Stoke the Fire
She, Of the Pale Stars
You Know
I Could Write
The House In the Ocean

Guest Entries and Shared Posts:
Life Is a Coping Mechanism by Jessica Michelle Singleton (follow @JMSComedy)
10 Tips and Tricks For Creating Memorable Characters by Charlie Jane Anders (follow @charliejane)
As Good As New by Charlie Jane Anders
How to Create a Killer Opening For Your Science Fiction Short Story by Charlie Jane Anders
Cars. Booze. Central Oregon. by Robert Brockway (follow @Brockway_LLC)

So there you go. Hopefully you’ll find something you haven’t seen before that you like, or you’ll have a convenient way to link a friend.

Thank you to everyone who has followed, shared, commented, read, or even encouraged since Word Whiskey has started. It means the world to me.

Story Time With Grampa Jered

I haven’t been sleeping well lately. I’ve been getting to bed late and waking up early. I’ve been having a lot of nightmares, too, because if I’m only going to get three or four hours of sleep, those hours better be filled with distressing thoughts and images.

I’ve dreamed separately of my mother and my father and both have involved arguments. Terrible, horrible arguments that had me waking anxious and nauseous. I don’t know where those dreams came from but they can go back to whatever hell they pulled themself out of.

Anyway, between exhaustion and general dismay I haven’t had anything worth writing about. Until today! Today, a friend’s Facebook status asked: “What are the stories that you are going to tell your grandchildren?”

That is one hell of a question. My knee-jerk reaction is that I want to be the grandfather who waits until his grandchild/grandchildren reach that age where they just know me as the nice, old, unassuming guy who gave the best Christmas gifts and then reveal stories of my youth that would blow their fucking mind.

Stories about the first time I got really drunk and vomited into an entire party’s shoes. Or the time I was tripping balls on mushrooms and saw a poster of an elegant looking woman while lilting music played in the background so it felt like she was singing to me and – naturally – I fell in love. Or about the time I had to beat the shit out of a guy behind a bar because he sucker-punched me, and only the next morning did I find out he did it because I winked and finger-gunned him and if any action deserved a sucker-punch, it’s that.

I just remember learning about my dad’s stories from his youth and some of the stories of my grandfather when he was in the army and I remembered how it blew my mind. That these vanilla people in my life, the authority, The Man had these stories of derring-do and debauchery. I wanted to hear about their adventures. The times they cheated death. The places they got kicked out of. The bones they broke and the liquors they liked. That kind of thing turns a boring old codger into a man of legend and mystery.

I would tell my grandkids these stories and tell them it was our little secret, and they’d run and tell their friends how awesome their Pappy was or whatever.

And you know, those stories are fun and they come with lessons all their own. That being said, I started thinking more about the kinds of stories that make you think. The stories I really wanted to leave behind. The stories I wanted to hear from my grandparents.

So what stories would I tell my grandkids?

I’d tell them about every woman I ever fell in love with. The ones I loved for years, who built me up and broke me down and taught me more about myself than anything else could. I would talk about our inside jokes and the little quirks that made them unique. I would talk about the women I loved quietly, the ones who slipped through my fingers like air, the ones whose backs I smiled at as they found happiness elsewhere in the world. I would talk about the women I loved for a night and the sparks that danced across the cocktails we stared at each other over, or the women whose backs I traced novels on with my finger tips while the golden rays of dawn played with their hair.

I would talk about love and I would talk about heartbreak, and the projects I threw myself into to avoid seeing their ghosts in every corner, and hearing their voice in every song.

I would talk about struggle and pain and loss and desperation. When twenty dollars was two weeks worth of food and 2-for-1 cans of pork and beans was a deal only in a liberal sense but certainly not in any culinary kind of way. How a Canadian roadie named Pat the Pirate would spot me a few bucks for Jack in the Box “tacos” because I couldn’t even afford that. How suicide and car wrecks and old age and adorable animals can take you from
the highest high to a shivering and sobbing wreck effortlessly, because it is a delightful thing to hear about love and kindness but without consciousness of tragedy and that fairness is a myth and that things never quite work out exactly right, you never truly appreciate everything and everyone you have.

I would tell them about the letters I never wrote, the plot ideas I would pass on, the places I missed, the spots I scribbled my name around the world. I would tell them that my favorite kiss is always the first one: if it’s great, it’s everything you hoped for and the greatest feeling; if it’s bad, it was either never meant to be or it could only get better. There’s a thrill in the unknown.

I would tell them my favorite kiss is the last kiss. Last kisses are a painful, hopeful, desperate ocean of art. There are a thousand words in goodbyes and none shouted more loudly than in a last kiss.

I would tell them the closest I ever came to God was in every dawn and dusk I witnessed and impress upon them the importance of reflection, even on this little rock floating in circles in the vastness of space. I would tell them whatever stories made me realize that in the grand scheme of things, we might be insignificant, but to each other, we are the grand scheme of things.

I would tell my grandchildren stories of life and death, of love and loss, of art and absence, of how the slightest success can vanquish the hardest failure.

And then…after all of that…I would tell them about the three (3) times I greeted a pizza guy in the middle of a party wearing nothing but a gauntlet over my genitals because I’m fucking awesome.

The House In the Ocean

I woke up in the sea and
It was grey and
It was cold and
I had but a
Broken piece of a
Broken ship to hold
The stars that hung above me
In unfamiliar constellations
Spawned a sickness in my stomach
By way of tremendous trepidation and
As my legs grew weary kicking and
My hands gained splinters sticking
I turned my eyes o’er the turbulence
But for what, I do not know
To my surprise, I spied at hand
A lonely house at a distant span
Bathed in a lantern’s sickly yellow glow
With numbness threatening to make me lame and
My clothes clinging tightly to my frame
I swam in hopes I’d not grown mad
Into the waves, mouth full of brine
I sobbed and bobbed and spat and whined
I chattered, sputtered, sank and stuttered
Until at last solid purchase was had
I retched with relief, then
Moaned low and hoarse
The sand ‘tween my fingers fine and coarse
With heavy ears and a handful of fears
I raised my head to the house I’d come upon
Mind and body soundly beat
Ocean tongues lapping my feet
I rose with singular need to carry on
The curtains were still, the windows dark
The outer walls serene and stark
The door wholly unimpressed as I approached
I reached for the knob and gave a twist
Found to my bemusement it did not resist and
Strived for silence as I then encroached
I noticed first the carpet weave
Which did my aching soles relieve
The softness there between my toes
Kneading as my temp’ture rose
I crept and scouted through the halls
Too chilled and scared to risk a call
To wake what residents might lie within and
I realized my plan was thin but
I knew not where my tale’d begin
So I did hem and haw and pause and stall
I left a trail damp and damning
While my all went to staying standing and
I staggered into a den of some grandeur
Art and trophies on floor and walls
Hardly room to store them all
These totems that through decades did endure
I spied antlers of half a dozen beasts
Portraits of the finest feasts
A display of snow globes two score deep
A suit of armor that looked asleep
A piano, a lute and a lyre
But though the richness of these things amassed
Compared to my own, far surpassed
My eyes were jarred from left and right
To take in with a mild fright
A crooked man seated by a crackling fire
“Come in, come in,” he gently said
I tried to speak but wheezed instead and
With a shame I couldn’t explain, I took a seat
I fidgeted in where I’d set
Knowing I was getting the leather wet but
He insisted I relax and enjoy the heat
“I don’t know what to say”, I said
“I’m so sorry to intrude.
My appearance and demeanor…
I’m sure I come off terribly rude.”
“Put your mind at ease, my friend.
You’ve been through an ordeal.
My home is yours until you’ve gained your strength.
Take some time to heal.
For one so drenched from head to toe,
You look thirstier than any man I know.”
He procured, then, a cup of tea
From where I did not see but
It was aromatic, it was warm
It tasted both of honey and orange and
Feeling returned to my legs and arms

I said, “My name is-” but he waved
“I know who my house saved.
The defiant eyes, the dimpled chin.
Crow’s feet borne of troubled sin.
You looked for storms, boy, and one you found;
A storm that almost left you drowned.
I can see you wonder how much fault is yours,
What drove your journey so far off course.
The answer, surely, is one of choice:
The one you make despite a voice of
Reason, a conscience disagreeing.
This is what happens when you
Live not by feeling but by seeing
How much you can get away with and
Just how far you can go.
Those choices led you here, this house,
Quite near the end of your bumpy road.”
I found a response hard in coming and
Myself quite offended
How could this feeble hoarder know
What outcomes I’d intended
“I’m grateful for your tea, sir, and
The comfort of these flames but
If I’m completely honest,
I take umbrage at your claims.
You say you know me clearly, but
How could that possibly be true?”
“Relax,” he urged, “it’s quite simple.
I know because I’m you.
I’m the you who made right choices.
Every one, in fact.
I’m the you with fame and fortune and
All my dignity intact.
My den is filled with treasures from
Ages past and countries far and
Diplomats invite me to their dinners
Even though I know not who they are.
It took me years to get here,
So I built this house myself
As a monument to my endurance,
My accomplishments and health.
The ocean that so plagued you?
That made you claw and gasp?
I never saw it in my journeys until
You scrabbled from its grasp.”
“Wait,” I said, a sudden drowsiness upon me
I realized belatedly there must be something in the tea, but
Answers I needed, especially now
If any of this was truth
“Tell me,” I managed, with lids suddenly heavy,
“You had even a flawless youth?”
“I made the right choices,” he repeated again,
“From childhood to now, and
As a result, I’ve reaped what I’ve sown.
A more fulfilling life couldn’t be asked for,
But for one thing: I…am alone.
There are pictures of me with the famous,
The prestigious, the world-renowned,
But not one of myself with a woman who
Could ever settle me down.
My bed has always been half empty.
Even when it’s not, there’s a great divide and
I’ve found, though the spotlight adores me,
There’s a ‘me’ I’ve tried always to hide.”
“This is the me that does right?” I mumbled.
“The one with no mistakes of his own? Then what chance do I have, who’s slipped up, oh so often?
Am I always destined to wind up alone?”
“Not all who are right are righteous, my boy, and
Not all who do wrong will be damned.
Remember no matter how many crossroads you come to,
It’s most important to always take a stand.”
My breathing grew heavy and my eyes closed
A sleep was swiftly descending
Yet my mind was a swirl of chaos
Even as my body was mending
“One last thing,” I heard the older me say,
“One more thing before you go.
Can mistakes lead to love, or a better life than mine?
For your sake, I hope, but I do not know.”

There was nothing.

I woke up on the beach and
It was black and
It was dry and
It was nothing for this
Broken piece of a
Broken man to cry

Love and Bullets

Skaz Martin might be my favorite writer. I’m biased of course because I wrote a romantic comedy novella with him and plan on writing at least one epic with him. I’ve known him for years, read his poetry, short stories and the horror novel he’s working on which is like nothing you’ve read and genuinely gave me nightmares.

He’s the writer I click the most with when writing. The yin to my yang and the creative consultant I trust the most. I trust him to help me develop ideas, to prompt me when I’m stuck, to present the questions I hadn’t considered so I might answer them, to tell me when I’m wrong. I trust him enough to bring into projects I don’t think I can handle myself.

Skaz is one of my best friends, the writing partner I’d be truly lost without and I’ve never met him in person. But his brilliance and his talents can’t be denied, at least by me.

For his birthday, I asked him if he wanted a flash fiction from our war epic, from our rom-com or something personalized. He asked for all three. So here it is.

******

Once the region had begun to recover after the Devastation that had wrecked both land and lifestyle, the greatest construction workers of the Imperio Paramesium moved out into the savaged outlands and began salvaging what they could from the wrecked and abandoned cities. Towering buildings were left to deteriorate in the elements, worn down by storms over many years. Some had collapsed, their skeletons draped disgracefully across the ground. Others leaned precariously, a constant threat to anyone who moved around them. Still others stood tall, the dying remnants of a civilization that no longer existed.

Basilio stood in the middle of the city, back pressed against a massive collection of debris. His pistol was gone, emptied of its rounds and dropped somewhere in a muddy puddle during a mad scramble to avoid being shot. He held a long, curved knife in his right hand. Sebastian had given it to him one year as a birthday gift; Bas thought at first that it was a replica and was pleased at its functionality.

The sky above was forlorn, blues and grays holding hands and trickling a steady curtain of rain down on him. He slicked his hair back with the outside of his thumb, careful not to stab himself in the face. His left hand ached and he glanced at the bloody rag wrapped right around it, hoping to staunch the bloody wound where his ring finger used to be.

His wife was going to kill him for losing his wedding ring. Basilio coughed a chuckle and smiled to himself. That’s if Rhoco didn’t find him first and finish what he started. Here he stood, back against what once was a wall, maybe, or a ceiling, with nine fingers and a knife. Jonathan would have laughed that crazy laugh of his and said that ten fingers was too many, anyway, but it had been many years since Jon had said anything.

How he heard the click amongst the pitter-patter of the rain, he couldn’t say. He simply acted instinctively, pushing away from the debris and pivoting. His right arm came up and the knife flew from his hand like an extension of himself. The man with the gun was perched atop the piled bits of rock and metal. To his credit, he merely grunted when the knife sank into his shoulder and swore not at all when the firearm slipped from his hand.

Basilio darted forward, intent on getting the gun. The other man pulled the blade free from his body and leapt down. They crashed into each other hard and continued into the ground, slipping in the mud. Basilio bit into his cheek and tasted blood. Tiny rocks on the ground bit into his side and back. They wrestled for a few panicked moments, each trying to get a grip on the other. Rhoco tried to angle the knife for a lethal thrust. He was met with several strikes to the ear and the side of his neck.

The two men rolled away from each other. Basilio was the first to his feet and lashed out with his foot, catching the other man under the jaw. He stepped in to follow up with another kick and slipped in the mud. A sharp pain lanced up from his ankle. He retreated and his opponent rose up slowly.

“You picked a fitting place to die, Constantine,” the mountaineer said. “Amongst towers that, for all the impressive things once said about them, amount to nothing but being broken, abandoned relics.”

Basilio smiled. He could feel his own blood coating his teeth. “Take it you didn’t like how my boot tasted. Too bad. I stepped in horse shit just for you.”

Rhoco Makara’s eyes went flat. He shifted his legs, pulling his left back and putting a slight bend in his right knee. His hands came up in front of his face in a similar manner. It wasn’t a stance Basilio was familiar with but he had stopped carrying some time much earlier.

“When I kill you, I’m going to take the rest of your fingers and make a necklace out of them.”

********

“Hey, you’re up?”

“Hmm?”

“You’re next. Come on!”

With great reluctance, Franklin pulled his head up from the book he was reading. The line he and his girlfriend had been standing in had disappeared at some point, leaving an open space between the author’s desk and them. He looked at Roz and lit up like a kid on Christmas morning.

“I know, I know,” she said, rolling her eyes. She placed a hand on his back and pushed him.

Together they walked up to the table that had been set up. Books were set up on one side of it to be purchased. The other side just had a plain white sign propped up reading, “Free Signings.” Where two men, co-writers and collaborators, were supposed to be seated, there was only one. The other had developed a severe case of food poisoning. Skyler Martin was there, though, and to Franklin, he was glorious. An angel who wielded a monstrous lexicon as his flaming sword.

Franklin shuffled up to the table and held his book out. Martin took it, glanced at the cover, looked up and smiled.

The Life of Marcus Demastocles, eh? What part are you at?”

“Makara and Constantine’s fight to the death. It’s my third read-through.”

“You can’t pull him away from it,” Roz said. “Even when there are more important things to do. No offense.”

Martin smirked. “None taken. Who should I make this out to?”

“If I had one complaint, though, it would be that you haven’t finished it yet,” Franklin said.

“Blame the other guy. He’s the one who’s always busy with other projects.”

“It’s been years, though. Don’t you think he’d want to be writing this? Or writing faster? Can’t you guilt him into it?”

Martin paused, tilted his head. “What was your name again?”

“Oh. Uh, Franklin.”

“What do you do for work?”

Franklin looked at his girlfriend, thrilled that his favorite author was interested in his life. Roz raised her eyebrows and feigned enthusiasm. As long as he was happy.

“I’m in IT.”

“Like tech support? Like a call line?”

“Yeah, more or less.”

“When do work next? I’d love to help you in your ventures there and I think showing up and encouraging you to answer more calls or resolve issues faster will make the time pass by more speedily and increase your success rate substantially.”

Franklin deflated. “I didn’t mean…”

“I know.” Martin smiled again and picked up his pen. He opened the cover to the novel. “To Frank-”

“Franklin. Sorry. I, uh, never took well to just Frank.”

“To Franklin. May your deeds become lesson and your life become legend.” Martin finished the dedication with a scrawl that resembled his name. He handed the book back. Franklin took it reverently.

Instead of embarrassing himself further, Franklin simply nodded his appreciation and moved away with Roz. His cheeks burned but he was also filled with excitement at meeting someone whose work he respected so dearly.

“Hey, Franklin.” He turned. Martin grinned from ear to ear. “Soon. I promise. And if it isn’t soon enough, maybe we can work something else out.” He pointed at the book.

Confused, Franklin flipped open the cover. In the lower left corner, a couple inches under the dedication, was an email address. He hadn’t even seen the author jot it down.

“Roz…”

“Franklin, I love you and I love those books and I’m glad you introduced me to them, but I’ve spent two hours in a line with you reading while the neckbeard behind me stared at my ass and my stomach’s about to consume itself.”

“Lunch, then?”

Roz grabbed Franklin by the back of the head and pulled him into her lips. She kissed him deeply, twining her fingers through his hair. When they broke away, he was breathless.

“I almost ate you just now,” she whispered. “That’s how hungry I am.”

“…let’s get lunch.”

A Memoriam

I have been remiss in posting the last few days. That’s on me. I was coming up with the third part of my Care Needed series (focused on sequels) and it was a little bit more difficult to formulate into words expediently than I expected.

So I thought, well, I won’t get it out Thursday, but I’ll pop it up Friday. Friday rolled around and I thought,  eh, I don’t want to post it so late, we’ll just swing Sarurday and I’ll apologize.

Then my best friend called me up to tell me that a mutual friend (and one of his best friends and one time brother-in-law) passed away a couple days back from a brain tumor he had been dealing with for a couple years. Frankly, I stopped worrying about updates. I did, however, feel compelled to write something so I could try and deal with the feelings.

Even so, I’m unsure of the words I want to choose to put down. It’s difficult, sometimes, to articulate the ways someone impacted your life. The loss is much more difficult for my best friend who had a stronger and closer friendship with him. Even so, the man was someone I had many interactions with over the years and was engaged to someone I loved very much. I was invested in him too, and though we were never terribly close, I admired him for his intelligence and his humor.

His sarcasm was on a whole different level. People often weren’t sure if they should be offended or not because they had a difficult time understanding the jokes he was making. He liked to push boundaries and buttons but he also was very loyal to the people he cared about and he was excellent at helping brighten a situation or a mood with a well-timed joke.

He was smart. Very smart. He was hilarious. He was loyal. He was good-natured and strong. He was far too young.

I went out last night with the intention of losing myself in a booze stupor. I was in a funk and my response to that, unhealthily, is to drown it. I felt sorrowful and was content to languish.

That didn’t happen necessarily. I took my new roommate out. He moved up from Oregon and knew nothing of the Anchorage nightlife, so I took him to the biggest bar in town, introduced him to some of my friends and we played pool (meaning he slaughtered me, because I am terrible at billiards). When we got there, I ran into this girl I like.

It’s funny. She’s beautiful. Artistic. Sings like nothing I’ve ever heard and I can’t get it out of my head. She’s funny. A bit nerdy. Most of all, she’s just fucking easy to be around.

I needed that. I did. We didn’t talk much while she was there. She sat and watched me suck at pool and drank her wine and didn’t talk shit. It was nice just…having a presence there for a little bit that I knew was supportive.

After she left, the night was a blur. Shots and toasts and memories and stories. I didn’t want to break down in front of this roommate I barely know but I did get temperamental with someone over a pool table towards the end of the night which is something I’ve never done. So there’s that.

I woke up today unsettled. This was the second friend I’ve lost in a month. Both were young, incredibly intelligent, had a sharp sense of humor. Though the circumstances around their passings were vastly different, they’re equally tragic and came way, way too soon.

I’m reminded of the fragility of mortality and how fleeting is the passage of time. It is a jarring sensation that puts things into perspective. On one planet in the vastness of the cosmos, how much energy are we wasting on grudges and negative emotions,  on wishing on what could have been or should have been? It’s difficult sometimes to see the beauty in life, in the little things. The smell of a flower on the wind or the way the sun glints off snow. It’s difficult sometimes to appreciate the impacts other people have on our lives with something as simple and small as a kind word or a thoughtful gift.

I have seen and am seeing the reprecussions of death amongst the friends and family of those that have been lost recently and it is absolutely heartbreaking. You can’t measure grief or emotional devastation, nor can you predict the waves in which it comes. The personal pain I feel is magnified by the ache I feel for those who knew them better and I only wish there was something more I could do.

For my part, I think it’s time I put a little more stock in the appreciation I show others for being a part of my life. I want to focus on taking more chances on the things I care about, on not letting my personal demons get the better of me. I want to let past tragedies and mistakes go and focus more on my future.

Life can be so beautiful if we only endeavor to look. It can also be so, so short. Too short for harsh words and doubts and regrets and the things that were never said.

Rest in peace,  my friend. The world’s a little darker with you gone, but our hearts are much lighter for your having been.