K. A. Williams has been published in various magazines including Mystery Tribune, Yellow Mama, The Blotter, Literary Yard, Calliope, Tigershark, Ariel Chart, Transfigured Lit, Visual Verse, Nuthouse, The Creativity Webzine, View From Atlantis, Corner Bar, Altered Reality, and Bewildering Stories, with upcoming fiction scheduled for Trembling With Fear and The Rockford Review. When not writing, she enjoys music, computer chess and text adventure games.
Chet mowed Mrs. Cahill's yard and used a trimmer to attack the grass around the old Volkswagen Beetle. It was red where it wasn't rusty and it sat on four flat tires with a cracked windshield and a broken window.
When Chet had finished, Mrs. Cahill came outside to pay him. He took the money from her and looked at the car. "Mrs. Cahill, would you sell me your Beetle? I've been saving my money and I can fix it. I'll sand all the rust off, paint it cardinal red and get it running again. I can do it - I took auto shop last semester and made an A."
Mrs. Cahill shook her head. "I'm sorry dear. If I was going to sell it, there's no one else I'd rather sell it to than you."
Chet didn't understand why she wanted to keep the car when he was willing to buy it and restore it. He offered to buy the Beetle every time he mowed her yard that summer. He had even told her he would mow her yard all next summer in exchange for that car, but she refused.
Chet grew obsessed with the Beetle. There must be some way to get her to sell it to him, he thought. One day while he was riding his bike by Mrs. Cahill's house, he saw a snake sliding through the broken window. He got an idea and smiled.
The next day, Chet rode by her house on his bike and it pleased him to see the official city vehicle in the old lady's driveway and the orange sticker now pasted on the Beetle's cracked windshield. He'd just wait a day or two, give her time to think about it, then make his offer again. This time she wouldn't refuse.
That afternoon Chet's parents announced that they were all leaving for a trip to the beach the next day. Chet loved the beach but wondered if he'd be back in time to buy the car before the city towed it off. He couldn't tell his parents he didn't want to go because they knew how much he loved the seashore.
When Chet got home, the car was gone. A dead patch of grass the size of the Beetle was all that remained. Mrs. Cahill came out of the house when she saw Chet standing in her yard. "Where's the Beetle?" Chet asked in disbelief.
"One of my neighbors reported my car to the city," Mrs. Cahill said with tears in her eyes. "The city official said I had to move it in seven days - it was a health hazard. He found one little snake in the car. I called the city but all I kept getting were those stupid automated things. I couldn't even get in touch with a real person. Your next door neighbor said that you were at the beach. I had to do something. City Salvage gave me a hundred dollars for it, for the metal."
Then tears flowed down Mrs. Cahill's cheeks. "My late husband bought that car for me when it was new. I wanted to keep it for sentimental reasons and now it's being crushed. I wish I had sold you the Beetle, Chet. I know you'd have done anything to get that car."
"Yeah," Chet murmured in anguish. "Anything."
The Bornean Uprising
Sara Kil lives in Orange County, CA. She is part of the Fashioned Magazine and West Angeles Church blog. She has her blog, kilsara.blogspot.com. Check out her other writings on fashionedmagazine.blogspot.com. You can find her work in Blue Guitar & Blue Guitar Jr. magazine. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
KHOP Mexico Mission Trip
The last time I went to Mexico for a weekend mission trip to Tijuana. I was 17 years old, a high school student.
I haven’t been on a mission trip for a while. I have never been on a mission trip outside of the United States yet.
It was the first time experiencing this kind of culture shock. I saw kids begging for money with no shoes on, barefoot. I saw the homeless on the streets wandering, stray dogs roaming around.
It was crazy at the borderline it was like a circus.
It is a different kind of poverty. It’s so near us yet faraway.
It was my first time at the Source church, and I first heard of Khop there because of their joint Source/Khop Thanksgiving dinner in 2018.
Then a while later went to Khop didn’t know what to expect but I liked it, kept coming back.
KhopLA (Koreatown House of Prayer) is a house of prayer in the heart of LA. It’s a safe place to come together to encounter God and be filled and refreshed. We worship and pray together, be the hands and feet of Jesus in the city of Los Angeles.
The Khop ministry has partner churches in Mexico. We annually go there and do a variety of services and events. Go around meeting up with partner churches and bless them with supplies and needs.
KHOP went to Camalú this weekend to help with a work project. We were putting oil/diesel mix onto the wooden walls of the church to help protect from termites.
Originally there were supposed to be five people going on this mission trip. It ended up being three people Johan, Shane, and me. I got to know two different kinds of Oppas (older brothers).
We left in the evening and got there later in the night. While waiting in traffic to get to the border, We saw food trucks going into Mexico. You knew something was happening.
We were there during the weekend of the 52nd Annual SCORE Baja 1000 single-loop race. November 19th – 24th, 2019 Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico.
We first stayed overnight in Ensenada Baja California, Mexico.
I had a room to myself, the boys shared. We took precautions and brought water bottles to use to brush our teeth. I had a good night’s sleep.
Then in the morning, we met with our translator Perla, we all had breakfast together. I had Birria (Mexican Goat Stew) served in a styrofoam cup at Birrieria Rodriguez Restaurant. Also, I ate Tortillas Rojas dipped in oil & consomé and their spicy salsas. Then, we left to go to church in Camalú, Mexico.
We saw the house, got the church tour of Casa Barro Nuevo (New Mud House). Even though there was a language barrier with our host family, we are grateful for their warm hospitality and smiles. Thank you for google translate.
We went straight to work, given a mixture of oil/diesel to paint over the wooden walls of the church.
We first had to dust off the building, get rid of the dirt build-up then we applied two coats of paint over it.
The tree branches and plants helped scrape off the dirt buildup better than the paintbrushes. The natural resources helped, we’re useful.
Carla, one of the congregation members, came in the afternoon to volunteer to help us paint the church.
Even though she spoke little English, she worked hard. And we appreciated her help.
We painted almost half the building, listened to worship music, talked, and joked around. It was hard work, yet rewarding. I admired the work ethic of our team.
We would finish as much as we can for the day and finish off what we can in the morning. Since the hot water; was working, I took a shower.
Plus, afterward, we had homemade Empanadas. We had a food fellowship. I like Mexican Coke better because they use real cane sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup like they used in the US.
Afterward, during the evening, we went to meet up with Victor to visit his school, also a girl’s home. He gave us a tour of the property owned by his mother in law. We prayed over him, blessed the ministry.
It was one of my favorite moments of the trip because we were outside, and we can see the stars in the sky, you can’t get this in California. I get to look up and enjoy God’s creation, his handiwork. Then we drove back to the house.
Again, I got a room all to myself, which was nice. And the boys shared a room.
It was my first time using the outhouse. It is interesting. You appreciate the bathroom, especially when you need to go at night. Thank you for new experiences a good flashlight comes in handy.
On Sunday, morning our last day there, we saw Johan putting on some final touches on the wall.
I admired my team for their servant’s heart. They put their faith into action. They loved the people as Jesus did. They sacrificed their time and was humble.
The congregation wanted to honor us by serving us lunch for our hard work.
We attended the Sunday morning service at Casa Barro Nuevo with Daniel preaching. Thank you for the English translation Perla. We were playing with the kids it was the most simple games, that made these kids happy, just kicking a ball around was fun, in their world. We ate good food and had fun, smiles all around the room!
The highlight of the Mexico trip is Erik’s tacos. The food was the bomb. I liked the shrimp tacos. You pick the fish they cook it for you on an open grill and bring it to you. There was a performer at the restaurant we tipped him. Yes, the tacos are indeed worth the trip.
We drove back home. We talked, something about being in the car for hours, you get to know people.
I got to listen to a few podcasts, learn some new random facts.
As we drove, we saw the beach that was extending like forever. It is nice taking in the view, that the Lord has provided us amid poverty there is beauty. There is the good, bad, ugly, and God is watching over this city.
Before we came to the border, there was a checkpoint an officer told us to get out of the car so he can check it. We saw people sitting down, waiting. It didn’t take long for us.
There are prior stories before this trip that I heard didn’t apply to us. I heard of no hot water, no hot shower, and a long wait at the border. You would come home late.
But for us, the hot water was working plus we took hot showers and had limited waiting time, less than an hour at the border. We got home at a reasonable time. We were blessed.
As we were waiting at the border with churros in our hands, life is sweet. We were going back home back to reality. I want to cherish life, not take things for granted, enjoy the simple things.
You see the riches and poverty of Mexico while driving.
One of the culture shock for me was when we’re driving by a run-down shack and saw someone living in them but looks happy.
When I think of Mexico, I think of smiling children, God’s people worshipping Jesus, and the stars in the skies. The same stars we see in our backyard. We are more similar than different. We bleed red, the blood of Jesus Christ.
God is simple, and he loves us so we can love others. I am trying to be more like Jesus every day. Thank you, Mexico, for the lesson in gratitude and ministering to my heart!
KHOP Photo Diary
Playing with the kids!
Food. Fun. Fellowship.
Teamwork makes the Dreamwork
Photo by courtesy of Shane Wongsriphorn
Do you get lost while going to the beach? Are the kids arguing in the back? There is traffic? Car sickness? Did someone steal your parking space? Then you have to carry all the beach stuff. And, the lunch and snacks you brought because you are not going to buy overpriced beach food, that isn’t even good. Then those beach rules.
Hear me out. You step out onto the beach, the first thing you see are all the rules.
Just in case you didn’t already know, there are 101 rules on what not to do. Fun Huh? Some are stupid, some idiot, just ruined it for all of us. I get it; there are rules to keep us safe. No one wants to deal with a lawsuit. Someone just took the fun away from us. There are no rules on how to have fun.
But do all those rules make you return to your car and go back home? Of course not. You drove to go to the beach. Why did you come to the beach in the first place? There is a reason why you’re here. You wanted to come.
First of all, before you can even touch the water, you have to find parking first. There is a parking fee or street parking. That is a bummer in itself.
Is it easy access to the beach from the parking lot, or do I have to walk down many stairs to get down to the beach?
The bathrooms are stinky, dirty, and scary. The beach smells like piss. The beach is gross. The sand is getting in my sandals. There is half-eaten food lying on the sand. There is seaweed everywhere. People steal things. The weather is not good. The water is cold. The water is dirty, depending on where you go? There are homeless people.
But does that make you stop going just because of people, places, and things? Most of the time you go to the beach, you have pleasant moments there are those few times that are not so good. But you still go to the same beach or some other one. You go beach hopping too.
So many excuses. So many complaints. Sounds familiar? Church? There are shark sightings. Shark! No one wants to hear that. People get hurt even in beautiful places; some may call paradise.
People are afraid of shark attacks at the beach. When you more likely to get hurt in an accident getting to the beach. People are paranoid about things that most likely won’t happen like a shark attack.
There are sharks in human form, thirsty for blood ready to devour the weak and the helpless at church. The shark lurks. Tread carefully! But when you get bitten, you bleed internally. And you get offended, and it stays with you, only God can heal it. There are dolphins in human form, nice ones. There are genuine people. Who loves the Lord and speaks the truth.
It’s about the memories. Sometimes you have good and bad memories of the beach and church. You get hurt. Remember, we don’t go to church for men you go to church for God. Of course, there is fellowship/communion with people. But the focus is on God.
You travel to different beaches, enduring the traffic. You try to go to the safest beaches with the cleanest waters. You’re looking for the right weather want to protect the family. You want to have memories with the little ones.
If you’re waiting for everything to be perfect, you will be waiting. Perfection doesn’t exist. Good/bad things happen at the beach and church. You can’t let people ruin it for you. Sometimes people ruin good moments. God can make it better.
There is the lifeguard on duty keeping people safe. The comforter and guide, if you’re in danger help, is on the way. But you should be careful navigating the waters and use discernment.
I am an awestruck wonder at his creation. You marvel when you see the ocean waves crash into each other.
You look around God’s fingerprints are everywhere. God authored everything. We get to enjoy them. Someone bigger had to create this. You see the bigger picture. It’s all worth it. God is everywhere.
Let’s go to the beach and have some fun now. Life is good!
Take a risk. Dive in!
It Smells So Good
“Leave the cake alone. You little imp. I made that cake for your faithless father,” said Mother Magda as she left the kitchen with a swish of her black robes.
Dagby looked from side to side, broke off a corner piece, and shoved the morsel into his mouth.
Mother Magda loomed out of the shadows and screeched, “I told you the cake was for your father.”
“It was just a small piece,” whined Dagby. “He’ll never miss it.”
“Like father, like son. You’re both no good. You’ll get what’s coming to you.”
Dagby’s throat clenched, his eyes bulged, and he struggled for breath before he collapsed onto the floor. As his vision faded to black, he saw Mommy taking a piece of cake to Daddy.
KS Marquez is studying Medicine in lovely Wuhan, China. His early experience in storytelling was with Singapore’s The Improv Company. His work has appeared in AHF Magazine. He is currently worried of his cholesterol levels shooting up. You can follow his blood cholesterol updates and the rest of his misfortunes on twitter @karlitokaloy.
I ignore how my thighs sore from running, how my bare feet bloody from cuts. Spiky rocks and rough soil piercing through my soles. I ignore how I am gasping for air, needing to breathe every time my feet alternately strike the earth as I bolt through the forest. The running shadows cast by the skinny trees suffocate deeply into me. It seems as though my ankles have been strapped only in one place. How long have I been running? I don’t know if I have that answer. I just need to get there. To where? To that bright clearing, remember?
Panting for air, my top is drenched in sweat. I’ve never perspired like this in my entire life. Already taking huge heavy breaths, I can no longer achieve a good breathing rhythm, my inhale-exhale ratio no longer makes sense. My lungs seem like they are being squeezed tightly by a man’s heavy hand.
Spinning my head around to check the trail I was leading, to my horror, there is nothing. Pitch black. As I turn my head back, there appears one beautiful deer running ahead, galloping across the field so effortlessly. Its majestic antlers clearly visible while it gracefully whizzed through the damp woods. As my sweat continuously drips down my face, another deer run past beside me. It gallops faster, further ahead of me. My heart racing and my pulse throbbing abnormally before I realize more and more deer are chasing past me.
A herd speed through when a gunshot echoes across the woods. One of the deer drops, blood spilling everywhere. Another sound of a gunshot coming from behind roars all over the surrounding awaking even the tiniest creatures that may have been in slumber. More and more bullets breezed through the air as more and more deer fell on their knees, dead even before they can reach that bright clearing. It is a blood bath. The deer are running for their lives as much as I am running for mine. Boom. Zoom. Splat. The blasts getting closer and closer to me. I’m next! My heart is thumping like a madman. Run, Alicia, RUN! I hear myself belt out a scream as I wake up with a start.
My chest is tired and heavy. Blanket soaking in sweat. Trying to gain all my senses together, the memory of my dream slowly fades as my eyes constrict to adjust from the daylight. I’m not sure what time it is, but it must be midday. It isn’t the first time I’ve been haunted by a nightmare in the past few weeks since the isolation. My sleeping pattern has been altered and my body’s internal clock can no longer grasp a sense of normality.
I lean over to look at my mother’s bed to see if she heard me scream. Living in an old cramped shack, it’s impossible if she didn’t hear me. Then realizing, she isn’t here in the first place.
God knows what time is it already. My body is ordering me to get up and eat. I am too tired to do any of these. I’m not just physically tired but mentally exhausted as well. I’ve been stuck in this house for seems like an eternity. Our town’s chief public officer has repeatedly reminded us to stay inside. All public gatherings are prohibited. I obediently comply not only for fear of catching the deadly influenza but also because as a medical student, I know the dangers brought by the germs.
I turn my attention straight up to the ceiling made of oak wood panels I’ve known too well. For days and days, I’ve gazed at this ceiling. Nothing to do but lie in bed like a carcass waiting to be eaten. Staring up the canvass of leak stains and brown spots, I am already well familiar with each wooden lines and curves dancing across the panel surface. Some areas have elongated egg-shaped lines enclosed in another graceful mystified ellipse, then into another until it merges with a different formation. I’ve been acquainted too well with where the darker spot areas are and how the gradient transitions to the lighter regions. I have very well studied where the nails are carefully buried across the panel edges. Some nail heads are rustier than the others, but all of the heads lay flat perfectly on the exterior.
After countless of tiring days of isolation, my perception of the then seemingly nothingness of the ceiling is completely changed since. I continue to marvel at its vibrant glory. I wonder how I never noticed the interesting pattern of lines and blotches on the ceiling before. I could connect them like the Big Dipper that can be formed from the night sky. Right at the center of the ceiling, I can trace out a figure of an open libro.
It looks just like my Delafield and Prudden textbook. During my hospital clerkship, I would constantly recall the steps of a medical procedure in my head. I could recite them in detail and know them like the back of my hand. I excelled at standardized examinations. But every time I perform a procedure, I became clumsy. During practical tests in the real hospital, I failed miserably. I trembled every time I wait for my turn even if I knew the medical procedures by heart. My skills fell short.
Francisco, that pesky kid who always overshadowed me, could perform medical procedures like a professional. He could do procedures effortlessly like chest compression, phlebotomy, and even the complicated endotracheal intubation. I fumbled like a fallen animal while Francisco, like a deer, whizzed through the air elegantly.
Focusing my attention again at the ceiling, on the right corner from where my head lies, I can find an image of a tortilla. Mother’s favorite food.
Just before the isolation, the authorities brought my mother to the quarantine facilities after getting the odd summer cough. Living in the university dorms for scholars, I needed to go back to our old shack up in the countryside upon hearing the news. I was advised not to visit her, to avoid being infected.
Mother likes to keep the house clean and neat even for its small size. But the longer I stay here alone, the smaller the house seems to become. The surrounding walls inching a bit closer towards me every single day. The main door facing east at the end of the house stood so distant to me before but now appears to be much nearer. The stale air caused by closed windows makes it more difficult to breathe.
Still scanning the ceiling surface, my heart leaps at the sight of a special figure. It’s not even an image, it looks like curvy lettering of a name I adore the most: Sal. Cowering under my blanket, I turn left to face my diminutive bedside desk with an ornate candle lamp. Right beside the lamp is a framed portrait photograph of Sal. His boyish smile flashing back at me.
I received no word from him since he was drafted a year back. Before leaving for the army, he promised he will return for me. We would travel, see the world, and start a new life together. It’s unexplainable how I terribly miss his touch. It’s particularly hard these times when you can see the dead bury the dead. Thousands of people die in a day. I have seen piles of dead bodies being transported.
It was just a matter of days before the health officers placed the town on strict quarantine and advised people to stay indoors. Gatherings were banned, including church services and festivals. Rations had been implemented by the government, so I didn’t need to leave home. I had seen some of my neighbors leave their houses and never return. I fear for the life of my mother, but for now, it’s too dangerous to set foot outside. I perceive death is creeping me around the corner, and I am morbidly dreading it. The officials are calling for medical volunteers due to a shortage of doctors and nurses. However, for the life of me, there are absolutely no circumstances that will make me leave this house. I don’t see it as a possibility at all.
Ultimately, at the far lower-left corner of the ceiling, I find the most striking figure: a striding ciervo with its obvious antler popping from its head. How strange. It feels like I just dreamed about deer. Or did I?
Lightheaded, I finally get up heading towards my desk where Sal’s dark eyes gaze back at me. Mustering my remaining strength, I pull a wooden squeaky chair and slump onto it. Inside the desk’s drawer lie Sal’s love letters for me from which seems like centuries ago. I read all his letters over and over again since the isolation. I have memorized every single word in it.
I unfold my favorite one dated 23rd September. It was when he confessed his obsession and intense passion for me. He scribbled how he longed for my embrace and soft lips, how he wanted to caress my back and feel my warmth. When I read his words, I can hear Salvador whisper in my ear, as though all the text came right from his mouth. My hands start to shake. Salvador wrote how he wanted to kiss every inch of my body, missing no spots. He pleasured tracing the moles of my feet with his moist tongue, like drawing constellations from the night sky. He wrote how he longingly wanted to slap my arms, my legs, and my face in fervent admiration. I can’t help but touch myself as I run my hand down my bosoms. I miss them being squeezed by his heavy hand.
I pick up his photograph, his dark eyes staring intensely through my soul. I imagine us from a long time ago, kissing passionately, keeping each other warm as if there’s no tomorrow. I close my eyes as I reach down, down to the core of my womanhood. The wooden chair squeak against the room floor as it moves along with my motion. Squeak…squawk. I feel my heart racing, my pulse throbbing. Squeak... You are such a coward! Squawk... You have been weak all your life! Squeak... When the world needs you, you are here hiding! Squawk... You want to be a doctor, but when you are needed the most, you hide! Squeak… squawk… squeak... squawk… Alicia, you pathetic FOOL!
I hear myself belt out a loud moan of ultimate relief when the radio suddenly turns on. A loud frequency noise roars across the room. Boom. Zoom. Splat. A low-pitched announcer speaks up. “A Hero’s Welcome will be held later today at the military base for our dear soldiers who will finally be returning home…”
He’s finally back. Astounded, I slowly touch my face abruptly wet with tears. Without a trace of hesitation or fear, I dash towards the door to open it. The shimmering light from the sun hit my eyes. For the first time in a long time, I’m ready to leave the house and face the Spanish flu.
“Doesn’t look like missed much.” He waved to me as he put his hand on Tucker ‘s shoulder and pushed him off the apple crate he was sitting on.
“Asshole,” Tucker whined as he stood up and dusted his pants off. Jim settled down beside Thorton and gave him a friendly shove as well. Jim’s long legs stuck out of his faded jeans as he stretched out.
“Sorry dude,” Jim said to Tucker, “I didn’t see you there.”
Tucker was about to say something and Donnie cut him off.
“Let it go Tucker, don’t get your panties in a wad. He was just messing with you.”
Tucker took a deep breath to calm himself. It didn’t take much to get him to start jumping
around like a frog on a hot skillet. He focused on cleaning his glasses with the bottom of his t-shirt. The right eye piece was cracked and held together with a piece of tape.
“Well, what do we do the rest of the afternoon?” I asked.
Donnie used a stick to corral a couple of black ants that were trying to get away from
“I say we get in the river somewhere, do a little floating and a lot of beer drinking.” He
replied as he focused on the ants. He used his massive paw of a hand to wipe away the sweat from his forehead. It was a hot summer in Crainesville, South Carolina. Even the crickets sounded hot and exhausted.
“Anything to get my mind off my draft number, it’s pretty low.” complained Jim.
“How about a little bridge hopping?” I suggested as I waved away a fly.
People around here had been jumping off bridges ever since there had been bridges. Most of the overpasses we jumped off were about one to two stories high, no more dangerous than jumping off a high-dive diving board at one of the local pools. It was all about the rush. First off, it was illegal. There were signs on all the bridges forbidding it. You were some sort of desperado, breaking the law. Secondly, when you jumped off a bridge, it really got your heart going. As you jumped away from the edge, there was this jolt of adrenaline as your body suddenly realized, This is a little higher than I thought. We shouldn’t be doing this. It’s hard to describe the feeling of the wind rushing past as you hurtle towards the water and the wind howls in your ears, getting louder as you pick up speed. It’s like you are almost defying gravity, suspended for that brief moment. You pressed your hands to your sides, grabbed a gulp of air, pointed your feet, and felt the water explode as you entered. Thousands of bubbles wrapped your body and face as you entered. The higher the bridge, the bigger the rush. For a brief moment, while you were in the air, it was like you were free from everything.
“Hey guys, I have an idea. Let’s go jump the trestle,” Thorton said excitedly. His plans had a tendency to get us in trouble. That’s why he was my best friend. He had the daring I wished I had. He would just do things and not care what happened or what people thought, kind of just let the chips fall where they may. I had no problem getting into mischief, but when it involved Thor, it could get out of control pretty quick. It was that running on the edge that made it fun.
“Naaaah,” all of us said in unison.
Tucker moaned, “Not again.” Tucker was a small guy, the smartest fellow that I ever knew. I think all of those brains made him a little paranoid. He saw the problems with everything.
Thorton pleaded, “Come on, guys, we can do it. We’ve jumped off every other bridge around here. Think about the high from jumping off a bridge. Can you imagine the rush of jumping off that thing? There’s nothing but wind and the water rushing to meet you. Just floating in the air. I don’t know, it’s kind of like for one brief moment, time is suspended, like you don’t even have a body. School is ending soon, this may one of the last times we all hang out together. We have to do this, for old time’s sake.”
Thor referred to the train track that crossed the Savannah River outside of
town, near the high school where we are all seniors. About four stories high, we revered it as the Mount Everest of bridge hopping. No one we knew could claim that span as a prize, but we had rumors of college kids jumping off it. To jump this bridge was a particular goal of Thorton’s. He’d always angled for more of a rush than the rest of us.
Tucker replied, “We don’t have to do anything.”
“Aw guys, you’re not going to make me jump off that thing all alone are you?”
Donnie spoke up, “Yeah, well, you remember the story about the college girl, don’t you?”
Thorton replied, “Ha ha, that’s not true, nobody ever found her body. It’s an old wives’ tale.”
“What story?” asked Jim,
“You’re kidding,” I replied. “You’ve never heard of ‘The Tale of the Trestle Walker?’”
“No, I’ve never heard of any trestle walker story.”
Donnie said “It’s been a local legend for years. A bunch of college kids went to jump off the bridge under a full moon and one of the girls died. They never found her body. All they found was a pink ribbon that had tied her hair back that night.”
He paused for dramatic effect.
“It is said that on certain nights in the summer when the moon is full and the wind is blowing in from the west, you can see her ghost as she walks the span hunting for the pink ribbon for her hair.”
“Dang,” Jim said to Thor. “Let me get this straight. You know about this story, and you still want to jump off this bridge?”
“Yep, I heard it. It’s just a story. It never happened.” Thor replied.
“I wouldn’t be so sure couple that,” Donnie replied
Thor dismissed him with a wave of his hand. “Listen, guys, this will be the last year that all of us will probably be together. If we don’t do it soon, we will never do it. Most of us won’t see each other after school gets out. What do you say, one last hurrah?”
“You know we are always going to see each other,” said Tucker.
Thorton continued, “Seriously, we don’t have a lot more time to do things together. Summer‘s coming fast, and then we will scatter to the wind. How often do all of us get together anyway?”
Everyone thought for a moment.
“Sure, why not, works for me. I mean, you only live once,” said Jim.
Tucker replied,” Yeah, and you only die once.”
“I’ll go, but Donnie, will you promise to hold my hand and not let go?” I asked.
“Aw, what the heck, count me in,” grumbled Tucker.
Donnie said, “I’m not gonna hold your hand, but I’ll tell you what I will do. I’ll get my dad’s boat and drive up close to the base of the bridge where you guys are going to jump so in case anybody gets hurt, I’ll be there and pull him out. There will even be beer for the survivors.”
We realized he had outsmarted everyone. He seemed pleased with himself.
Tucker, seeing an opportunity to bail, volunteered to go with Donnie.
“I can go with him and help pull all you guys in the boat.”
“That’s okay little buddy,” Donnie told him. “I can handle the boat fine by myself. You need to go jump so that you can have a story to tell your grandkids. Provided you have grandkids after this. Maybe you will learn something about yourself today”
Jim and I grabbed Tucker by the arms. “Come on with us, Tucker. Maybe he will make up a ghost story about you.”
“Yeah, maybe they will call it The Wandering Egghead,” I said.
“Hey, why are you guys grabbing me?” Tucker asked.
“We want to make sure you don’t disappear between here and the trestle,” said Jim.
“Ha, ha, real funny! Don’t forget, you guys are jumping, too.”
“Sure, we are,” I replied. “We’re gonna throw you off the bridge first to make sure the water is deep enough.”
“Yep, you guys are a real bunch of comedians. That settles it. I’m not going.”
Thor was surprised and said, “Tucker, come on, you know they are only joking. Nobody is going to throw you off. Nobody is going to get hurt. I tell you what, I will jump first. When I surface, I can show you the best place to jump. It’s a piece of cake.”
Tucker mumbled, “Alright, I’ll go, but I’m not happy about it.”
“Proud of you, Clarissa. I will see you at the bottom with a cold beer,” Donnie said.
We dropped Donnie off by the marina.
“Alright, see you guys at the bottom. I should be there in a couple of minutes.”
“I think I should go with him. You never know what could happen. He might need an extra hand,” remarked Tucker.
Donnie showed his hands to Tucker. “Do I need another hand? You go along with them and have your fun. I’ll have a beer with your name on it waiting for you at the bottom. Oh, I forgot to ask: Any last words?”
“Yeah, bite me.”
After a quick ride, we arrived at the east side of the bridge. Driving through the open gate, we pulled up close to the bridge.
After pulling off our shirts and shoes, we walked towards the rails. Tucker lit a cigarette before he left the truck and inhaled deeply. He acted like he was about to trudge out in front of a firing squad. The span appeared different today for some reason—very old, very somber, very large. A massive structure, it consisted of concrete piers and a rusting wrought-iron deck. It seemed like several giants had walked into the river, clasped hands on each other’s shoulders, bowed their heads, and never moved again. Because it was a train trestle and not a road bridge, the structure had no guardrails or retaining wall of any kind. There was a short but steep embankment covered in gravel that we would need to climb in order to get to the track. The rocks slid nosily under my bare feet as we made our way up. Once we got to the top of the ridge where the tracks ran, I spotted Donnie pull up beside one of the bridge supports.
“There he is,” I said as I waved.
“Great, so now he can fish my remains out of the river,” moaned Tucker.
A large murder of crows in a pine tree at the edge of the woods cawed loudly, as if laughing at our foolishness.
Donnie waved back and revved the motor on his dad’s old green jon boat. He relaxed by the motor in the back, one hand on the throttle, the other hand holding a beer. The boat seemed small and a long way off, like a toy in a kid’s bathtub.
“Alright, guys!” Thor exclaimed, “This is it! We are really going to do this. It will be so wild!” He bounced up and down with excitement. The rest of us focused on each other, trying to guess which one of us would chicken out first.
Tucker shielded his eyes from the sun as he gazed at the clear blue sky. “Oh well, not a bad day to die.” He grimaced. “At least this way, I don’t have to finish my science project.”
We stepped onto the tracks. The rails looked almost white under the afternoon sun.
“Whoa, these rails feel a little toasty,” said Jim. “Glad it’s not any hotter.”
The beams felt sticky from the sun heating the creosote, and the gravel was rough. We proceeded gingerly down the rail line. I walked a little on the rail, and when it felt too hot, I walked on the gravel. We hiked about twenty-five feet before we even approached the edge of the river. The gravel fell away as the bridge pushed out from the bank, revealing about a five inch gap between the crossties. Looking in between the rails, we could see the water swirling below. That’s when the reality of it all hit me. My stomach began to churn, from a nasty combination of fear and excitement.
As expected, Tucker cracked first. “Guys I don’t think this is such a good idea.”
“And we have a winner!” Thorton yelled out. We all laughed, and it seemed to lighten everyone’s mood.
“Quiet, Tucker, are you trying to get everyone to bail?” Thorton said.
“Bwock, bwock,” said Jim in a high-pitched voice, flapping his arms as he walked.
Tucker repeated, “I don’t think this is a good idea.”
Thorton said, “We can do this. Don’t believe those old ghost stories. Besides, Donnie is right down there.” Thor waved, and Donnie waved back.
The boat still seemed to be a long way off.
“How much farther do we need to go?” asked Jim.
We walked about forty feet out. Down below rolled the edge of the river. The stained water swirled around the rocks at the river’s edge. I said, “I figure we are about halfway to where we need to be before we can jump. What do you think, Thor?”
“Sounds about right. We need to find the deeper channels. Jump in the wrong place and you land on rocks that are barely under the surface and break a leg.” Thor was leading the way.
“Now that piece of information really makes me want to jump,” whined Tucker.
“Relax, dark water is deep water, pretty simple. Like I said earlier, I‘ll pick the spot and go first,” Thor said. The river pushed up little waves and whitecaps where it encountered shallow shoals.
A gust of wind almost knocked me off the rail. This far out, the tree line no longer offered much protection. “Guys, the wind is starting to pick up out here, so be aware of it. Don’t get too close to the edge.” There wasn’t even two feet from the rail to the edge of the beams. Not a lot of room for error.
“Just dandy,” muttered Tucker. “And if I die, all Donnie is going to do is pull me out so that I can get buried.”
Thorton turned around. “Will you put your big boy underwear on? Stop whining!”
I noticed that the crows in the tree behind us suddenly fell quiet. I didn’t hear anything at all.
Guys, do you hear anything?” I asked.
“Hear what?” asked Tucker.
“Everybody stop for a second.”
“I don’t hear anything,” replied Thor.
“That’s just it,” I replied, “it’s too quiet.”
“If you are trying to freak me out, you have succeeded,” complained Tucker, “I’m out of here.” He turned to leave.
“Just stop for a second,” I said. I reached down and felt the rail. There it was, a small, faint vibration. I remembered that feeling from when I was a child. When I was younger, my dad would take me to the train station, and we would watch the trains come in. He showed me how you could feel the train coming before you could see or hear it. I would place a penny on the rail and watch it dance as the engine approached. The wheels would crush the penny and toss it aside. We looked for what was left of the coin after the train left.
The vibrations increased. They ran from my fingers and worked their way to the center of my chest. My face flushed. I could feel sweat erupting on my face. My stomach was in full revolt, preparing to come out either end. There was no excitement now, only fear, the primal fear of death and dying.
“What are you doing? Are you okay?” demanded Tucker.
“There is a train coming, but I don’t know from which way,” I whispered, frozen in my crouch.
“You’re kidding right?”
As I forced myself to stand, I heard a faint, low moan in the distance behind us.
“Oh, Jesus,” wailed Tucker, “is that what I think it is?”
We listened, hoping not to hear what we already knew was there. The sound came again, a long, low pull of a train whistle. It was headed our way.
Everybody’s eyes went wide open. “You’ve got to be kidding me!” wailed Tucker.
“We’re going to have to make a run for it!” Jim said.
No way could we make it to the far side. “We either run and jump into the river or run back the way we came and try to jump for the bank before it gets to us. What do we do?” I asked.
Tucker had already made his decision. Without saying a word, he took off for the bank, towards the land, towards the train. Scampering like a bird that had lost its feathers, his arms flailed wildly. He struggled to keep his balance on the railroad ties. What little confidence we possessed evaporated like water on a hot griddle. The panic became too much. We ran after Tucker without saying a word. I ran towards the bank as well. After a moment, I realized Thor was not behind me. He could run like a jackrabbit being chased by a pack of hounds when he wanted to. I turned to see what had happened to him.
“Thor’s not with us!” I yelled. Jim was right behind Tucker. Jim slowed long enough for me to catch him. Thor had run in the opposite direction, towards the far side.
“Holy crap!” Tucker said, “He’s crazy! He’ll never make it.”
“Not any crazier than the rest of us,” Jim panted.
I then realized what Thor planned to do. “He’s not running to the far side! He’s going to jump!”
“Holy crap!” replied Jim as we ran. “Tucker, get your butt moving, or I will toss you off this bridge myself.” We bunched up behind Tucker.
“I’m doing the best I can! Leave me alone!”
The whistle wailed louder. The engine leaped from behind the trees moving faster that I had expected, getting ready to pounce on us. The closer the train came to us, the angrier it sounded and the faster we ran. The low rumble of the engine vibrated the rails. I focused on not letting my feet land between the railroad ties. Given that there was a good gap between each tie, if you slipped or stepped wrong, you could easily snap your ankle.
Jim yelled, “Like hurry up, we have to get off the track!”
I watched his long hair sway back and forth in front of me. Given that he was the best athlete of any of us, there was almost a grace to his stride even amid all the chaos.
Gravel reappeared on the tracks as we approached the bank. My feet began to feel as if someone had been hitting the bottoms with a hammer as I stepped on the loose rocks. The train reached the straight part of the track, hurtling towards us. Dozens of old red boxcars and rusty flatbeds stretched out behind a grimy black engine. My calves ached from trying to stay on my tip toes as I ran. I almost fell as the balls of my feels landed on a large piece of gravel.
“You have to run faster Tucker, or you will get us all killed,” I yelled.
“Tucker pick up the pace!” yelled Jim.
Jim tried to pass Tucker and nearly knocked them both off the rail.
“Don’t touch me. I’ll fall!” wailed Tucker.
Tucker stumbled to his knees and wailed, “My glasses, where are my glasses? My Mom is going to kill me!”
“Forget about your glasses. I said as I jerked him up by grabbing underneath his shoulders. There was blood coming from his right knee.
A howl from the engine’s whistle raced towards us. Suddenly, the pain in my feet disappeared. My adrenaline roared into overdrive. Everything intensified. I could feel the energy of the train. I sensed my heart racing. My head began to swim. I didn’t need to see the train to know where it was. The rails rumbled as the engine bore down on us. I focused on my feet, trying to make sure that I didn’t miss any of the crossties. Glancing up, I saw the engineer leaning out the window waving at us to get off the tracks, pulling on the horn. Every time it wailed, my heart felt a little closer to popping. He kept blowing that whistle; it grew louder and louder as the train approached. Tucker must have felt it felt it too, he was a couple of steps ahead of everyone now.
“Why does he keep blowing that thing?” I yelled. “Doesn’t he see we’re moving as fast as we can?”
“Dunno, maybe he’s hoping he can get us to run a little faster,” Jim replied, breathing heavily.
“I can’t run any faster without falling over the side,” wailed Jim.
“Run, run faster!” I shouted at Tucker. We were piling up behind him again. I was debating whether to push him off the trestle in order to save the rest of us.
I glanced up and saw the dirt and grime on the front of the locomotive. The rumbling and roar of the engine grew louder. Loose gravel danced on the crossties from the vibrations as the train bore down on us. The whole bridge began to shake. Finally, the bank emerged below us. Twenty feet to the ground… fifteen feet… ten feet…
“Sweet Jesus, have mercy on my soul!” Tucker yelled.
“Oh God, oh God, oh God!” Jim shouted as he jumped, Tucker leapt right behind him.
I watched as they fell with their arms flailing wildly and then I jumped.
The grinding of those metal wheels against the rails drowned out our yells as we landed in the grass and dirt below. I was so close to the engine that I could hear sand and rocks being crushed as I fell. Rolling about ten feet down the rocky bank, I wound up landing on top of Tucker.
“Get off of me, you moron!” he whined. “I banged up my arm!”
Pieces of gravel fell on us as the boxcars above rumbled angrily past us. The diesel fumes singed my nostrils as it flew by.
“Is everybody alive?” Jim shouted. We had made it. Bruised and cut up from the fall, but nobody seemed to be seriously injured.
“Oh my God,” Tucker yelled above the rattle of the wheels. “I can’t believe we made it!”
I thought of Thor.
“Thor!” I yelled, “Where is Thor?” The wooden boxcars continued to clack by above our heads.
We turned around just in time to see him leap away from us on the other side of the tracks as the train bore down on him. He floated in the air, his arms outstretched, trying to keep his balance. We saw the wind rushing through his hair and then he vanished behind one of the supports.
“He’s dead,” said Tucker “I knew at least one of us would die.”
“Shut up, Tucker, you can be a real pain in the ass!” I yelled at him. “Let’s go to the other side and see what happened. Maybe he did make it.” We ran across to the other side and saw Donnie steer the boat downstream.
“Do you see him?” I yelled.
“Not yet,” replied Tucker. “The boy lost his mind.”
“I hope that is all he lost,” said Jim. “Hey, wait a minute, I can see him! He’s a little bit in front of the boat!” We saw Thor’s head about ten feet from the jon boat.
“Oh my God! He made it!” I cried. We all whooped and hollered and patted each other on the back as if Thor had won a gold medal in the Olympics.
“He’s crazy! He’s absolutely crazy!” shouted Tucker. “I can guarantee you one thing: I am never coming back up here!”
Even from this distance, I could tell that Thor felt pretty good about himself. He waved to us as Donnie pulled alongside him and then grabbed the edge of the boat. I heard both of them yelling and laughing as the train roared away from us on the far side of the trestle.
We scampered down the hill and made our way to them. Donnie pulled Thor into the boat and gave him a beer. Dangling his feet off the front of the boat, he grinned like a mule eating briars as they pulled up to the shoreline.
“What were you thinking?” I asked.
“Well,” Thorton said, “given the circumstances, I felt that I might not ever get another chance to jump. I figured that with the train coming when it did, it probably scared you guys off that bridge for good.”
“Yeah, but the train could have killed you,” Tucker said.
“I know, but it almost hit you guys as well,” laughed Thorton. “Six of one, half a dozen of the other. Glad it worked out the way it did. We all got lucky today.”
Donnie grinned at Tucker. “So, tell me little buddy, who was the first one to make a run for it?”
“I would rather not talk about it. I want to forget this day ever happened. I did learn something about myself today though. I learned that I am never going to set foot on that bridge again!”
Donnie then turned to me. “What about you? Were you scared?”
“Naw, I wasn’t scared at all,” I replied, “I was absolutely, one hundred percent terrified out of my mind.” He laughed.
“Donnie,” Tucker asked, “do have any more beer in that cooler? I need something to calm my nerves.”
He smiled. “As a matter of fact, I do have a beer or two for some chickened-out bridge hoppers.” He reached into the cooler he had brought with him on the boat.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, like you would have done anything different. Give me one of those stinking beers,” said Jim.
Donnie laughed. “Such a brave group of friends I have.”
Amanda Ochranek is the author of Speaking Through Sound Waves, her first published short story, and a senior in high school. Often found playing violin or lost in the classical music coming through her headphones, she lives in a small town near Dallas, Texas with her parents, brother, dog and two cats.
With her brows furrowed in frustration, she let a torrent of air escape her lungs, her frown deepening as her eyes fell on the music in front of her. Why did it all have to be so hard?
She knew the answer, of course: because Tchaikovsky had written it that way. And because the level of repertoire that stood perched on the music stand in front of her was expected to be learnt by any aspiring performance major with her instrument.
She looked over at it. Dark mahogany wood overlaid by a smooth black strip that held the instrument’s strings looked back at her, the very top of her violin curling in on itself and staring back as reassuringly as an instrument could.
This hadn’t been her first violin. No, she had started out with something much smaller and shinier, perfect for a beginner at the tender age of six as she was when she had very first started the instrument. But now she was bigger, older, more experienced, as anyone would expect from an added fourteen years of honing her talents.
She scoffed, shaking her head. Talents. Much too glorified of a term if you asked her. All she had to do to create differences in pitch was put her fingers on the tapes around the fingerboard, which should have been gone long ago, though she had her reasons.
And the precious few who knew them paid no mind to the way she did things, her eyes always looking over at her fingers, studying them as she played. The many who didn’t, however, would throw an accusatory look her way, as if she should know better than to play with the different strips of tape forming what seemed almost like a rainbow against the inky black neck of her violin. The tapes, however, were the tool of a beginner, not to be seen on a college sophomore’s instrument, much less a future performer.
The sudden absence of cold, smooth wood beneath her fingers broke her out of her reverie and her eyes snapped open, her hand grasping the neck of her violin just before the body of the elegant instrument crashed into the ground.
Her eyes stared wide at the violin that was, thankfully, intact as it sat in front of her. Quickly checking it over to make sure no real damage had been done, she let out a quick breath and returned it to her shoulder, glaring at the music before her once more and cursing Tchaikovsky in her head, as there were times when she had little control over how loud her voice could be. Shaking out her right hand, she gripped her bow and began to play again, drawing it in long, smooth strokes over the strings. Though, soon, her bow strokes became light and bouncy, her fingertips flying over the tapes and landing perfectly on every one of them. Well, as perfect as a violinist playing with emotion can make them, of course, as she had learned certain techniques over the years that had only heightened her playing.
But none of that crossed her mind now as her eyes stayed trained on her left hand until she lifted her bow off the strings with a flourish. Her chest heaved in exhilaration as her mind imagined the cheering crowd. Then, she let her bow drop, finally basking in the feeling of pride coursing through her that, as every instrumentalist knows, only comes after a performance worthy run-through.
With a feeling of contentment slowly replacing the rush she had felt only moments earlier, she carefully laid her violin inside its case and zipped it closed, then checked her watch, her eyes widening when she saw the time.
Hurriedly, she slung the strap of her case over one shoulder, her backpack on the other, and bolted out of the practice room, almost forgetting her music on the way out.
Stuffing it under her arm and making a mental note to return it to its place with her instrument later, her eyes flitted down to her watch. She began to run faster. But it didn’t matter. She was already late.
Eventually, though, she made it to class and took her seat, which, unfortunately, was at the very front of the classroom.
“Lost track of time,” she mouthed. The professor, who had always been a little more lenient to the students who worked hard inside class and out, gave an understanding nod in return.
She smiled back at him, then took out her notebook to write down what she could from the board in the remaining time, though she knew her professor would send her an email containing the spoken word from the lecture after class for her to take down what she’d missed.
Though, for now, she simply sat and wrote diligently, her eyes flitting up and down from the board to her notebook as she tapped her toe to an imaginary beat, Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto playing in the back of her mind.
Another practice and another few missed notes greeted her the next day, though no tardy arrival to class joined it. One could say that she had learned her lesson, but, in reality, classes were over for the week, and now she was free to play Tchaikovsky to her heart’s content for the weekend, though content was the last word she would have chosen.
She grumbled, dropping her instrument from her shoulder in frustration, though she was careful not to let it slip from her hand this time, and glared at the music just as she had done yesterday. Breathing a diligent huff, she raised her instrument to her shoulder again. It was always those few measures leading into the cadenza that she stumbled on, though playing alone was normally never a problem. In fact, most of the time when she was practicing, with the added addition of a piano or orchestra or not, the thought of playing alone never even occurred to her, as she was so lost in the music she could rarely tell if an accompaniment even existed.
Running through a measure or two a few times until they reached her level of approval, she kept her eyes glued to her fingers, then let her instrument rest, a satisfied smile on her face as she finally allowed her mind to wander.
She didn’t have many in the way of friends at the university. The only person she would even think to consider one had to be her roommate, who, in her mind, only looked past the barrier between them because they stayed in the same room together. Though, she could be wrong. Her roommate did seem genuinely nice and had even accepted learning how to break that barrier with a smiling face when the opportunity had presented itself. Besides her, no one else had proven themselves to be anything more than a casual acquaintance. However, that suited her just fine. She couldn’t ask for anything better.
Shaking her head with an expression almost as bright as the sound of her violin, she laid the instrument in its case – being deliberate in stowing her music away with it – then slipped the strap over her shoulder. Taking care not to close the door to the practice room too loudly, she walked out of the building, pulling her jacket tightly around her.
It wasn’t exactly cold, not like the winters there that froze even the air, though a sudden gust of wind, even now in the spring (which she found to be just bearable in the year that she had lived on campus), could still send a slight chill through her bones, especially when she had been cooped up in a stuffy practice room for hours on end as she had been only moments ago.
Shaking off the sudden rush of cold, she zipped up her jacket and adjusted the strap on her shoulder, though of how many times she had done the same few steps over again she wasn’t sure. Returning the strap to the position it held when her jacket had been unzipped, she continued walking, the feel of her shoes hitting the pavement sending vibrations up her legs and into her body.
Her head looked up occasionally, mostly to watch for oncoming cars or people; otherwise, she kept her eyes on her feet, determined to make it to her dorm as fast as possible with no interruptions.
Suddenly, she felt a hand grab her and pull her roughly to the side. Her head snapped up. Her hands raised, curled into tight fists as she mentally prepared to fight off her aggressor. Then, she looked around. A white car was driving across the intersection she had been about to cross. Whoever had grabbed her, she realized, had pulled her out of harm’s way.
Her hands dropped and she turned to face the person whose hand had pulled her back, her chest heaving as her eyes brightened with thankfulness.
He was nothing in the way of special, with brown hair and eyes just as she had. Even so, she could sense they shared some common interest, even if she couldn’t quite make out what it was.
“You okay over there?” he asked. She nodded, only just realizing she was beginning to shake as the gravity of the situation dawned on her.
“Thank you,” she breathed out, scanning quickly over his expression after she had responded and letting a flicker of pride zip through her when it remained indifferent.
“No problem,” he said, casually sticking a hand in his pocket. “Were you going somewhere?”
She shrugged, hiking the strap of her case – which seemed very much a squeaky wheel at times – farther up onto her shoulder as she gave a slight shake of her head.
“Just back to my dorm,” she told him, watching him nod.
“I was going to go get some lunch,” he said. “Want to come?”
“I’m not that hungry,” she said, receiving a shrug in response.
“Come anyway. It doesn’t look like you get out too much.”
She laughed, though it was quickly stifled. She hadn’t heard her own laugh in years.
“Not really,” she responded with a soft chuckle, though even that was soon reduced to silence.
“Why do you do that?” he asked, her eyes filling with confusion.
“You’re not letting yourself laugh,” he said. Her face fell, quickly losing the grin it had once held. He was attentive, she’d realized, making a mental note only to smile whenever he’d said something funny.
“You should,” he continued. “It’s pretty.”
“Really?” she asked, amazement filling her eyes when he nodded. “I guess I forgot what it sounded like.”
“You don’t know what your own laugh sounds like?” he asked incredulously, making her sigh and tuck her hair behind her ears.
“What are those?” he asked, beckoning her to follow him down the street as she trained her eyes on her feet again.
“Hearing aids,” she responded after a moment, looking up at him to survey his expression, though it only seemed to be fueled by curiosity. “They help me hear the vibrations from things like cars when I’m walking, but you had to pull me out of the way of one just now, so they must not be on.”
As she finished her sentence, she reached a hand behind her ear and ran her fingers over the black treble clef on one hearing aid, then the other, flipping switches on the back of them and smiling contentedly when a low buzzing reached her ears.
“So, what do you need hearing aids for?” he asked, watching as she stuffed her hands into her pockets.
“Um, I’m deaf,” she said quietly. “They just help.”
“Oh,” he said, confusion filling his expression. “So, how can you understand me?”
“I can read lips, so I’m fine as long as I’m looking at you,” she said, making him nod in understanding.
She threw an appreciative look his way, partly for his indifference and partly for continuing to walk with her. She’d never gotten this far with most others.
“I’m guessing you didn’t expect me to stick around,” he said. She shrugged, giving him an affirming nod.
“How did you know?” she asked him, looking up to make sure she caught his words.
“You seem surprised.”
She laughed, completely forgetting her habit of stifling it while she showed off a toothy grin.
“Um, I’m Allison,” she said, stopping long enough to stick out a hand.
“Christian,” he responded, shaking her hand with bright eyes. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you too.”
In the weeks that followed, Allison saw more and more of Christian, sometimes agreeing to a lunch after she’d practiced, and other times simply letting him walk her to a few of her classes, chatting about little things on the way. Today, she had agreed to lunch.
Sitting across from him at one of the many small, round tables in the school cafeteria, she gently took her case with her violin stowed safely inside and nestled it under the table, taking care to avoid her and Christian’s feet.
“Is that a violin case?” Christian asked with his mouth full, nodding his head towards it.
“Mmhm,” she responded, earning a confused look from him.
“But how—?” he began, though she cut him off with a sly smile.
“How do I play?” she said, Christian nodding mutely in response. “I have tapes that tell me where to put my fingers.”
“I’d like to hear you play sometime.”
“Yeah, I’m sure you would,” she responded, looking back at her sandwich in silence.
Christian sighed, tapping her on the shoulder and begrudgingly making her look up at him.
“What, you don’t want to play for me?” he asked, feigning a look of innocence.
“No, I do,” she assured him. “I just don’t usually play for a whole lot of people.”
“I don’t know how I sound. Hitting the right notes is about all I can control.”
“I’m sure you sound great,” said Christian, taking another bite of his lunch as Allison threw a thankful look in his direction. “What’s your major again?”
“Violin performance,” she told him before letting out a laugh at the ridiculousness of the simple statement.
“Wait, so, let me get this straight,” said Christian, holding up his hands in confusion. “You’re a violin performance major, and you don’t like to play for people?”
“I never said that!” Allison said indignantly, folding her arms in defiance. “I just don’t like to hit the wrong notes when I’m performing.”
“Uh-huh.” Christian nodded, wincing when Allison shook her head and hit him playfully on the arm, grinning.
“Stop it. Let me eat,” she said with a laugh, that was, for once, not hurriedly stifled like so many others, and finally took a bite of her sandwich.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Christian throw a warm, amused smile her way, then return to his lunch in silence.
A few minutes later, he broke the quiet, prompting Allison to tap his shoulder and making him look over at her.
“I can’t see you,” she said, shrugging when he mumbled a quick apology. “What were you saying?”
“Um, I’m not trying to be offensive, but, you know, since you can’t hear yourself talk—”
“That’s a nice way of putting it,” she remarked playfully, taking a bite of her lunch before looking back at Christian, who mimicked the half-smirk on her face for a moment before continuing to talk.
“So, how do you sound like you’re…”
Christian stopped, placing his chin in the palm of his hand as he sat in thought for a moment, looking occasionally over at Allison in hopes she would finish his sentence.
“How do I sound like I’m hearing?” she suggested after a moment, her eyes brightening when Christian nodded.
“I wasn’t born deaf,” she told him as she took a bite of her lunch. “I got really sick when I was around eight and ended up losing my hearing from the infection. But it’s good that I can still talk like I’m hearing, considering I haven’t heard my own voice in twelve years.”
“Yeah,” Christian agreed, a small smile on his face. “Um, it's beautiful, by the way.”
“Thank you,” Allison responded, a pale blush climbing her cheeks.
“Sure,” Christian said with a shrug. “So, um since you’re deaf, do you know, um…hold on, I can’t remember what it’s called…”
“Sign language?” said Allison, making Christian look up with a grin on his face.
“Yeah, that’s it.”
“Yeah, I do. Some people can get by with just that, but I personally think it helps to have sign language and lip reading for nicknames and stuff that I can’t sign.”
“Cool. So, can you teach me?”
“Sure.” Allison bobbed her head, her eyes bright with happiness at the prospect of another joining the small group of family and friends she held dear.
“Awesome! Um, I can help you work on playing for people, if that’s okay.”
“Great! So, a deal’s a deal, then?”
“Yep,” said Allison, sticking out her hand and giving Christian’s a firm shake. “A deal’s a deal.”
“Come on, please? We shook on it.”
Allison shook her head, holding the neck of her violin carefully in one hand and her bow in the other as she sat on one of the two hard, metal chairs in the practice room, avoiding Christian’s gaze.
His chest moved heavily up and down as he sighed, moving to sit on his heels in front of her with a pleading look on his face.
“Please?” he said again, receiving another shake of Allison’s head.
He sat in thought for a moment, then reached out and put his hand on hers, making her head snap up. Looking pleadingly at her one last time, he slowly took one hand and held it up to his chest, moving it carefully in a circle from left to right to sign “Please,”.
Reluctantly, Allison moved her violin carefully to her left hand and taking her right, with her thumb pointing towards her and her fingers outstretched, and pointing three times to her left, expertly signing “Fine,” in response as she rolled her eyes.
A quick twinge of satisfaction blanketed Christian’s expression, then he pulled her up, reassuring her with a quick look before she turned her gaze to her violin, returning it to her right hand as she quickly made sure the instrument was in tune, then put her fingers to the strings in a few different patterns. After a minute or two went by, however, she turned to Christian, letting her violin drop from her shoulder.
“I don’t know what to play. What do you want to hear?” she asked, Christian shrugging in response.
“Anything. It doesn’t matter to me.”
Allison nodded and stood deep in thought. A moment of silence passed, then she lifted her violin to her shoulder and, shaking her right hand out one last time, began to play. The fugue from Bach’s Sonata No. 1 in G Minor soon flooded the room, crashing against the white painted walls like tidal waves.
Christian had told her once, in one of their many meetings over the past few months, that music, for him, had always been a form of release, a chance for him to relax and just be himself, without the forged expressions and attitudes he walked around with to appease people. Allison had thought much the same, though music, to her, had always been more than just letting her walls down. In fact, it was the very thing keeping them up, keeping her trapped in her own little world where she could communicate with others in a way they would understand. At first, that world contained only her parents, who watched with nothing but pride as she, at eight years old, put her fingers to the tapes of her violin and began to play, though she could not hear it. Then her world grew, Allison finally allowing in her roommate when, after almost half a semester of pleading, she played for her in the dorm they shared, being applauded with her roommate’s open hands shaking quickly back and forth. Now, almost a semester later, it grew again in a cramped, stuffy practice room as Bach sailed through the air and the brown-haired boy in front of her watched intently, his eyes glued to every movement. Allison’s fingers landed on the last sequence of tapes, sending the last few notes to Christian’s ears before she dropped her bow. Searching the space for Christian, as she had suddenly remembered he was in the room, her eyes drifted to the chair he had been sitting in, then widened, blinking confusedly when she saw him on his feet, clapping.
“That was amazing,” he told her, though the immediate relief that had begun to pool up inside her was soon stifled by doubt as she shook her head.
“You’re just saying that,” she said quietly, watching as he jerked his head up suddenly with what could have been a scoff, though she couldn’t be certain.
“Are you kidding? You play better than some of the professionals I’ve seen, and much better than me, and you. Can’t. Hear. Allison, that’s amazing! You’re amazing.”
“Um, can you repeat that a little slower?” she asked, turning to face him fully. “You were talking too fast for me to follow.”
“Mmhm.” Christian nodded, moving himself and his chair closer to Allison. She smiled, then suddenly tensed, pulling back ever so slightly when he put a hand up to her face and kissed her, though, after a moment or two, she relaxed.
Almost bursting at the seams with happiness, Christian broke away, a small smile curving upwards on Allison’s face.
“You’re amazing,” he repeated softly, a breathy laugh leaving Allison’s lips as she began to register the feeling of Christian’s lips on hers from only moments before. “Also, I play violin.”
“You what?” Allison exclaimed, her eyes widening in amazement and joy. “Since when?”
“I’m double majoring in music and engineering, so I’m not practicing as much as you have to, but I still play. If you want how many years I’ve been playing, I started when I was around eight, so almost thirteen.”
“What are you working on?”
“Right now? Um, Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto.”
“Me too! I’d love to see you play sometime.”
“Then, will you give me an encore?” Christian said softly, confusion filling Allison’s eyes.
“Sure…” she said slowly, a bemused laugh following her words. “With what?”
Christian remained silent, quietly clearing his throat in attempt to give Allison a hint, a flash of victory welling up inside him when her eyes widened.
“Tchaikovsky?” she asked incredulously, only to receive a nod. “No. Anything else.”
“Oh, come on, please? You’d probably sweep the floor with me.”
“No,” she signed, definitively shaking her head.
Christian laid a gentle hand on her shoulder, making her turn reluctantly to face him.
“Please?” he signed back, a questioning, pleading look in his eyes as she sighed, then began to speak.
“Um, you know that thing you did earlier?” she asked with a smirk as her mind wandered back to the moments after the last notes of the Bach she had played began to fade away. Christian nodded, his mind straying back to those same few moments as his expression began to mirror Allison’s.
“Mmhm,” he said. “What about it?”
“Uh, could—could you do that again? Then maybe I’ll play for you.”
Christian beamed, gently taking Allison’s hand and pulling her towards him, then meeting her lips with a quick, shy peck. Allison returned it after moment and both violinists sat, quietly giggling as if they were only schoolchildren. Then, Christian spoke up.
“So, now you’ll play?” he asked, brightening when Allison giggled.
“Maybe. We’ll see,” Allison answered playfully.
“That’s good enough for me,” whispered Christian, gently taking her hand as they gazed into each other’s eyes.
Allison watched pridefully, a small laugh leaving her at the sight of yet another repetition of the simple sentence she had taught Christian as he signed it for what had to be at least the twentieth time that day, his eyes alight with fascination.
“Honey, I think I know what your name is by now,” she told him, making him laugh in response, though he still carefully signed, “Hello, my name is Christian,” one last time before looking up at her.
“You do it,” he urged her, a soft sigh leaving her mouth at his request, as he had already voiced it several times that day, though she complied with a lighthearted chuckle nonetheless. Lifting her hands from her lap, she quickly signed, “Hello, my name is Allison. Nice to meet you,” as Christian watched, fascinated by her speed and ease.
“How did you do that last part?” he asked confusedly, bringing his hands up and attempting to copy Allison’s motions.
“I’ll show you,” she told him. Laying her left hand face up in front of her, she took her right hand and brushed her palms together. “This is the sign for nice.”
“Okay…” Christian nodded slowly, carefully copying Allison’s actions and brushing his palms together just as she had done. “Like that?”
“Mmhm! Then you sign this for meet.”
At this, Allison took her hands and curled them into fists with her pointer fingers sticking straight up, then touched her hands together, her two first fingers facing each other.
Christian carefully copied her actions, looking up at her only to receive an affirming nod which caused him to brighten in response.
“Then you just point to whoever you’re talking to to sign you,” she continued, pointing at Christian with a smile. “And you put it all together like this.”
Looking up to make sure Christian was watching, Allison slowly signed “Nice to meet you,” then prompted Christian to follow.
“Nice…to meet…you…” he signed hesitantly. Looking up at Allison again and receiving another approving nod, he let his hands drop, then held up two fingers as his head tilted questioningly to the side.
Fighting back a laugh, Allison shook her head, taking Christian’s hand in her own.
“Like this,” she told him, curling his middle three fingers down to shape the sign language letter Y and moving it back and forth once between them, then dropping her hand from his to demonstrate, weaving the new sign into her previous sentence seamlessly.
“So, like this?” Christian asked, signing “Nice to meet you,” slightly faster than before, then taking his hand and curling his fingers into the shape of the new sign, moving it slowly back and forth between the two of them.
“Mmhm. Exactly.” Allison nodded, leaning forward to give him a peck on the cheek. “You’re a quick study.”
“I have a great teacher,” Christian responded, returning her kiss with one of his own. “And speaking of being a quick study, um…”
Christian warily raised his hands, his brows furrowed in concentration as he slowly signed “My friends want to meet you,” then looked back up at Allison, who was staring at him in surprise.
“Why?” she signed back, a sort of apprehensive confusion entering her eyes.
“Because I’ve been talking about you a lot lately and they’re curious, that’s all,” Christian told her. “If you don’t want to, I can just tell ‘em to wait. I don’t mind.”
“No, I don’t mind, it’s a good idea, I just haven’t had a good track record with hearing guys,” she whispered, looking up at Christian when he laid a hand on her shoulder.
“I promise they’ll be nice, okay? And if they’re not, I’ll talk to ‘em and we can just try again another time. It’ll be fun, Allie Cat.”
She chuckled softly, her hands subconsciously forming her name sign that Christian had turned into a spoken nickname within minutes of it being taught to him.
“Okay.” She looked up at him with a nod.
“Awesome! They wanted to meet us in the cafeteria for lunch. Is that okay?”
Allison nodded again and Christian pulled her up, lacing his fingers through hers and walking out of the door of her dorms down to the cafeteria, waving at his friends when he spotted them.
“You okay?” he signed to Allison, who gave his hand a squeeze.
He returned it happily as they walked up to the three young men sitting at a larger table they had put together.
“So, um, this is my roommate Chase,” Christian told her, pointing him out and watching as Allison gave him a wave, Chase happily returning it. “And this is Jordan and Gage.”
“I’m Allison,” she told them all, receiving waves from the three of them. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“You too,” Chase responded as he lifted his hands and smoothly signed “Nice to meet you.”
Allison’s eyes grew wide, a comfortable sort of surprise welling up inside her.
“You know sign language?” she signed back, watching intently as he nodded.
“I had to learn for my cousin. He’s hard of hearing. Are you?” signed Chase, thankful of the chance he had gotten to hone his skills. Allison quickly signed, “I’m Deaf,” in response, making Chase nod understandingly.
“Can you read lips?” he asked. Allison nodded, sneaking an amused glance at the look of pure befuddlement on Christian’s face.
“He’s so confused,” she signed to Chase, making him laugh.
“Hey, what are you saying about me?” Christian said after he had gotten Allison’s attention, forcing her to take a deep breath or two to avoid bursting out in laughter.
“Nothing,” she said, kissing his cheek reassuringly. “Chase was just asking me some questions, that’s all.”
Christian brightened and pulled Allison closer, kissing the top of her head.
“You’d better be good to her, man,” Jordan warned him. Christian flashed him a reassuring look as he sarcastically remarked, “Yeah, I will, Dad, don’t worry.”
Jordan rolled his eyes, turning to Allison with a friendly, questioning look.
“So, what’s your major?” he asked.
“Violin performance,” she responded, earning a look of confusion from the three of them.
“But how—?” began Gage, Allison cutting him off with a laugh.
“I have tapes so I know where to put my fingers,” she told him, making him give an understanding nod.
The rest of the afternoon passed with happy banter, a few laughs and a sign language conversation or two between Allison and Chase until they said their goodbyes and she and Christian made their way back to her dorm room happy and content as ever. Maybe, Allison thought, just maybe, hearing people weren’t as bad as they seemed.
“Hey, so there’s this implant thing—”
“Christian, drop it,” Allison snapped, her eyes brightening in triumph when she saw Christian’s lips stop moving. Though, when he sighed, bending down in front of her with his thumb gently grazing her cheek, she huffed, turning away with a slight frown.
“What’s wrong, Allie Cat?” he whispered, always able to turn whatever mood she was experiencing into happiness at the use of her nickname.
“Nothing,” she told him, turning away again. Christian followed, determined to stay within her line of sight. “Just don’t talk about that, okay?”
“Why?” Christian signed, earning a prideful smile from Allison as he showed off his newest word.
“Because,” she signed back, throwing his sign back at him as her eyes filled with annoyance.
“Do you want to talk about it?” he asked softly. “I won’t make you.”
Allison sat in thought for a moment, averting her gaze from Christian’s until he turned her face towards his, giving her hands a reassuring squeeze.
“You can trust me with whatever it is,” he told her gently. “I just want you to know that, okay?”
Allison nodded, making the mistake of blinking back tears in Christian’s line of sight as she battled with her emotions, apprehensiveness at the forefront of them all. He let out a long, deep sigh, worry pooling in his eyes as his mind ran wild, trying to figure out any way to comfort the girl in front of him.
Eventually, he led her over to the couch in the apartment he shared with Chase and sat her down, wiping away her tears with his shirtsleeve.
“Shh, it’s okay, Allie,” he whispered as he hugged her tight, knowing she could feel the vibrations of his voice rumbling through his chest as he spoke. “You’re okay.”
Silence surrounded the two of them for what felt like an eternity, then Allison sniffled, laying her head on Christian’s shoulder with a thump as he held her in his arms.
“Do…do you think I’m broken, Christian?” she asked hesitantly, feeling him shake his head as he turned to face her.
“I have never, ever, thought that. Not since the moment we met, do you understand me? You’re not broken, and even if you were, I wouldn’t want to fix you. You’re perfect just the way you are, I promise.”
Allison let out a shaky breath and wiped away her tears. She glanced at Christian’s expression, which brimmed with worry and curiosity, though it didn’t seem to push her towards divulging anything. He simply waited patiently for Allison to speak. She took one breath, then another, and finally began to talk, her voice shaky as she fought off an oncoming set of fresh, hot tears.
“Um, the last hearing guy I dated…” she began, looking up to meet Christian’s gaze to make sure he was still listening. “He was nice, for a while, and everything was okay, but then one day he kept bringing up the implant and he just wouldn’t let it go and when I’d asked him about it, he said he’d found a way to…I think his exact words were ‘to cure my deafness’ because he didn’t want to try and learn how to communicate with me anymore because it was ‘too hard’ for him and—”
“Oh, Allie, I’m so sorry,” Christian cut in, hugging Allison as tight as he could while she dissolved into a quietly sobbing mess of brown waves and clung to Christian as tightly as possible, though she still met his gaze when he put a hand up to wipe away her tears. “I promise I’ll never do anything like that to you as long as we both live. I promise. That guy was a jerk, and he had no right to say anything like that to you.”
“I know.” Allison nodded. “I broke up with him later that day if that makes you feel any better.”
“Good for you.” Christian chuckled warmly, sitting her up and running his fingers through her waves as he let his eyes brighten, hoping to make Allison see the humor in the situation.
Christian kissed her forehead, attempting to convey all the pride-filled love he held for her, then she spoke.
“I was thinking about getting the implants for a while, you know,” she said, Christian blinking in surprise.
“Really?” he asked. Allison nodded.
“I almost went through with it too,” she continued, shifting into a more comfortable position, though she was still wrapped safely in Christian’s arms. “But then people started thinking I was the broken girl and I took it to heart and—”
“But you’re not broken, Allie,” Christian whispered.
“I know. I’m just sick of everybody thinking it.” She sighed, looking up at him. “I just can’t hear, that’s all.”
“I know. You want to know why I brought it up?” he asked as he ran a thumb over Allison’s temple. She was silent, eventually giving him a nod. “Because I want us both to hear how beautiful you play. I feel like you deserve that, but I’ll only go through with it if you want to. I’m not forcing you.”
Allison nodded, sitting silently as she fell to thinking, then quietly spoke up again.
“My birthday’s coming up soon,” she told Christian, who smiled as he pulled her closer, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear.
“Well, then, how about you can get the chance to hear me play if everything works out?” he suggested. “Would that be okay?”
“That would be amazing!” She nodded excitedly, wrapping her arms around his neck and hugging him tightly. “Thank you.”
Christian hummed in response, hugging her tightly while the look in his eyes filled with pleasure at the pure joy radiating off the girl in front of him.
“You okay?” Christian signed to Allison as they walked into the hospital waiting room and Christian signed her in, watching as she quickly shook her head back-and-forth. “What’s wrong?”
“Nervous,” she signed back. Christian gave her a tight one-armed hug, watching her hands intently as they sat down. “I don’t like surgeries.”
“You’re gonna be okay,” he reassured her, receiving a thankful smile as she laid her head on Christian’s shoulder and he leaned across his chair, sticking a hand out towards Allison’s father. He shook it, then Christian slowly raised his hands, Allison watching with a prideful smile on her face as he carefully signed his next words.
“Hello. My name is Christian. I’m Allison’s boyfriend.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Christian,” Allison’s father responded. “Did Allison teach you that?”
“Um, she did, actually,” Christian responded with a laugh. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you were hearing.”
“Don’t be sorry,” Allison’s mother reassured him, Christian shooting her a thankful look. “You’re the first hearing boyfriend she’s had that would even bother with sign language around us.”
“Really?” Christian asked, his eyebrows raising in surprise when Allison’s mother nodded. “Then, I hope you don’t mind me saying so, but those other hearing guys are jerks.”
Allison’s mother laughed, then turned to her daughter with a perplexed look on her face.
“What convinced you?” she asked, gesturing to her ears after she had finished.
“Christian,” Allison signed back, feeling Christian perk up beside her as she spelled out his name. She smiled over at him, then continued to sign. “He wanted me to hear myself play. He says it’s beautiful.”
“It really is. I don’t know how she does it,” said Christian, Allison catching his words out of the corner of her eye as he spoke.
“Carefully,” she responded, making him laugh.
“Um, you don’t mind giving us a minute alone, do you? I wanted to talk to Allison about something in private.”
Allison’s parents nodded and walked to the other side of the waiting room as Christian turned to Allison.
“So—” he began, stopping when he saw the worry etched on Allison’s face. “Hey. What’s wrong, Allie Cat?”
“Nervous,” she mumbled, fidgeting with her intertwined hands.
“That’s okay. This is just a simple surgery,” Christian reassured her. “You'll go in and they’ll put you under and you’ll just be sleeping while they do what they do. Then, when you wake up, your parents are gonna take you back to your house and they can take care of you, and you can spend your whole spring break with them. That sounds good, right?”
“Will you at least come visit?” Allison asked. Christian nodded, kissing her forehead.
“Whenever you want,” he told her.
Her worry subsiding somewhat, she laid her head on his shoulder, though she perked up when Christian tapped hers.
“Um, have you thought about your future much at all?” he asked, making Allison cock her head confusedly to the side.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“Um, just, you know, where you’re going after college.”
“Oh. Um…well, I thought I was going to be deaf coming out of college, so I was planning on going back to the school I went to growing up and teaching violin to the kids there that want to learn.”
“Mmhm. The world always needs more music, no matter who’s playing it. What about you?”
“I’ll probably go and work for some big company, but you’ll be there, I hope.”
“Of course I’ll be there,” Allison said with a laugh. “Is everything okay, Christian?”
“Yeah, it’s fine,” he assured her. “Why?”
“Well, why are you talking about all this right now?”
“Um, because I wanted to give you this,” said Christian, pulling a small box out of his pocket and flipping the top up. A silver infinity ring with a tiny, aquamarine stone nestled in the center sat inside.
“It’s a promise ring,” he explained quickly.
“I know what it is, Christian,” Allison told him, delight and curiosity mixing in her eyes as she watched him nervously respond.
“So?” he asked, his knee involuntarily bouncing speedily up and down as he waited on edge for an answer. “I’m not committing you to anything, this is just to say that I’m always gonna be there, whether we settle down together or not.”
Allison nodded, a smirk slowly replacing her thoughtful expression.
“You know, that whole ‘settling down together’ thing sounds pretty good,” she said, Christian’s face almost immediately lighting up in response.
“Really?” he said, his world suddenly seeming as clear as ever. “I mean, that’s what I wanted the ring to be for, but I didn’t want to pressure you and—”
“Christian, I want to settle down with you someday,” said Allison, a sense of assuredness to her voice that made Christian’s face brighten even more than she thought was possible. “Now, are you going to give me the ring or not?”
Christian laughed and pulled the ring out of its box, about to slip it on Allison’s left ring finger before a voice called her name, shifting his attention to the nurse standing at the door.
“You ready?” Christian asked, confusion filling Allison’s eyes at his question, though it quickly faded when she saw the nurse standing at the door.
She let out a shaky breath and nodded, then stood and made to walk towards the door, though she stopped when Christian grabbed her hand, turning to face him again as her parents walked back over to the two of them.
His chest moved slowly in and out as he took a breath, then raised his right hand up to her, making a fist, then holding up his thumb, pinkie and pointer finger as Allison gasped softly, a small grin forming on her face.
“I love you too,” she signed back, causing Christian to form a grin of his own as he let go of her hand and motioned towards the door.
“Don’t take too long,” he said, making her giggle before she walked off, soon disappearing through the door.
Christian gazed after her, then felt a few quick taps on his shoulder. He turned to see a young woman with a smile on her face, signing fluently to him, though she stopped when he put his hands up as a signal to wait.
“I don’t know much ASL. I’m hearing,” he responded, a slight apologetic look on his face.
“You’re good at signing,” she responded, Christian signing a quick “Thank you,” in response.
“My girlfriend teaches me,” he signed slowly, looking up from his hands only to receive an approving nod before she reached into her purse and pulled out a notepad and pen, hurriedly scribbling something onto it, then handing it to Christian. ‘In case you need it,’ it read.
“Thank you,” Christian signed, making her nod. “My name is Christian.”
“My name is Ella,” she responded, putting her palms together to start a sentence Christian could sign in his sleep: “Nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you too,” Christian signed with a smile.
Ella smiled back, then began to sign again, Christian switching back and forth from his hands to the notepad, which he passed to Ella at times so she could write down the sentences he had yet to understand, until he heard a voice call, “Family for Allison?” and he pointed the nurse out to Ella. She nodded, deftly signing “It was nice to meet you,” and giving him a wave. Christian returned it, signing “You too,” in response before following the nurse to Allison’s room in recovery, where she was only just beginning to blink awake.
Christian thanked the nurse, then gently took Allison’s hand, smiling when she turned towards him.
“Hey, sleepyhead,” he whispered, earning a soft chuckle from her.
“I’m tired,” she responded, Christian kissing the top of her head.
“I know. How about we get out of here and you can take a nap in your own bed, huh?” Christian said softly, making confusion fill Allison’s eyes.
“What about the surgery?” she asked groggily, Christian chuckling softly at her response.
“They already did it, Allie Cat. You’re waking up now,” he told her softly, brushing a hand over her forehead as a look of realization came over her face.
“Oh,” she said quietly. “Then, can we go home?”
“Mmhm.” Christian nodded. “Come on, let’s get you out of here.”
Allison smiled, stumbling slightly when Christian helped her up.
“Woah, careful,” he said softly, tightening his grip on her as she steadied herself. “You okay?”
“Mmhm. Just dizzy,” she responded, worry filling Christian’s eyes as he sat her back down.
“You think you can make it to the car, or do you need to sit here for a little bit?” he asked.
“We can go home. I’ll be fine,” Allison reassured him.
Christian gently kissed her cheek and carefully pulled her up, waiting until she gained her balance before slowly making his way out into the waiting room.
Allison smiled dazedly at her parents, reminding everyone once again that sleep was the first and only thing on her mind and earning a few soft laughs, then being led out into the parking lot.
“My parents are okay with this, right?” she asked sleepily once Christian had helped to buckle her in and was seated next to her.
“Mmhm. We asked them the day you said it was okay, remember?”
“Oh yeah. They’re here, right?” she said, causing Christian to stifle a laugh and kiss her cheek, giving her hand a squeeze.
“Mmhm. Hey, why don’t we put this where it belongs, huh?” he asked, pulling Allison’s promise ring out of its box and slipping it onto her finger when she nodded.
“Let’s get you home, babe,” he chuckled as he gave her hand a squeeze, Allison nodding woozily in response.
“I’m so tired,” she mumbled, letting off a quiet yawn.
“Then how about you can go to sleep, and I can be your pillow?” Christian suggested, making Allison nod and settle her head on his lap as she laughed sleepily.
“Don’t crash,” she muttered jokingly to her parents, Christian letting out a soft laugh as he kissed her forehead and saw her smirk.
“They won’t,” he assured her. “Sleep tight, Allie Cat.”
Allison mumbled something incoherent in response, then her eyes fluttered closed, her soft snores soon reaching Christian’s ears.
He gazed lovingly at her, soon shaking her awake as they pulled into her driveway.
“Hey,” he whispered softly when Allison turned her head. “We’re here. You just stay there, and I’ll help you out of the car, okay?”
She nodded and raised her arms up to stretch, slowly moving to unbuckle her seat belt as Christian went around to her side of the car, offering her his hand as she slowly got to her feet.
She yawned and laid her head on Christian’s shoulder, making him chuckle and rub her arm.
“Don’t fall asleep yet, baby, we have to get inside first,” he told her, laughing quietly when she grumbled, blearily blinking awake.
He slowly helped her inside and gently sat her on the couch, then Allison tapped him on the shoulder as he made to stand up.
“What’s up, Allie Cat?” he asked, smiling to himself when she pulled him back down and laid her head on his shoulder.
“Can you stay here? You’re comfortable,” she responded, making Christian laugh and nod as her parents came to sit in the room.
“How long have you been teaching Christian?” Allison’s mother asked her, her hands moving speedily as she signed.
“Since the start of the semester,” she responded as Christian put an arm around her. “He learned fast, didn’t he?”
Allison’s mother nodded.
“He plays violin, you know,” Allison told her, making her mother’s eyes light up.
“Really?” she asked Christian, who nodded.
“Mmhm. Not as well as Allison, but I still play.”
“I’m sure you’re amazing, honey,” Allison told him, making him give her a thankful look.
“Thanks, Allie Cat,” he said, pulling her closer and giving her a squeeze.
“We’re actually learning the same thing right now, so I said I’d play for her if everything works out,” said Christian, watching as Allison’s mother nodded.
“Chase was telling me the other day you’re playing the Tchaikovsky for some recital, or something?” said Allison after she had tapped him on the shoulder, receiving an affirming nod from Christian.
“Yeah, I am,” he told her. “For my junior recital, actually. You’re gonna be there, right?”
“Of course I am,” Allison said with a laugh. “I might be able to hear you too.”
“Mmhm.” Christian nodded. “You just might.”
“You ready?” Christian signed, his entire being brimming with excitement as Allison laughed.
“Christian, stop–” she began with a giggle, putting a hand on his knee in attempt to still it. “Stop bouncing, honey, I can't follow your hands.”
“Sorry,” he said quickly, smiling when Allison gave his lips a quick peck.
“It's okay,” she told him. “I'm excited too.”
Christian grinned back at her, then Allison's parents’ car came to a stop and they all walked into the audiologist’s office, Allison letting out an anxious sigh.
“Hey,” Christian said softly, putting a hand on her shoulder. “What's wrong, Allie Cat?”
“What if they don't work?” she whispered, looking almost helplessly up at Christian. “And–and if they do, what if I don’t like the way I play, or the way my voice sounds…or the way your voice sounds, or—”
“Hey. Hey, calm down,” said Christian, putting both of his hands on her shoulders. “Everything is gonna be fine, okay? They wouldn't have even scheduled the surgery if they didn’t think they were going to work.”
“Mmhm. And I know I’ve already told you this, but you sound amazing when you play and your voice, whether you like it or not, is something I’m never going to get tired of hearing.”
“What about you?”
“I think you liking the way my voice sounds is the least of my worries, babe,” he said with a soft laugh. “We both know you're not that shallow. And, look at it this way, if they do work, since you're turning twenty-one today, I’m taking you out for a drink, and if they don't work, since you're turning twenty-one today…”
“You're taking me out for a drink.” Allison laughed, thankfulness in her eyes as she smiled at him.
“Exactly,” said Christian, brightening at the look on Allison’s face.
“I love you,” she said softly.
“Me too, Allie,” Christian responded, pulling her into a hug as the audiologist walked into the room.
“Are you ready?” he signed to Allison, who nodded, smiling nervously over at Christian and her parents.
They smiled reassuringly back at her and the audiologist fit the sound processors, which looked much like hearing aids, though they felt much heavier, onto her ears.
“I can't hear anything,” Allison signed with a shake of her head, giving Christian’s hand a reassuring squeeze when worry seeped into his eyes.
The audiologist nodded and pressed a few keys on the computer in front of him, then looked back up at Allison.
“Now?” he signed, receiving another shake of Allison's head.
The audiologist looked up at Allison while he pressed a few more keys, smiling to himself when her eyes went wide.
“I heard something,” she signed, Christian giving her hand a tight, excited squeeze.
“Can you hear this?” the audiologist signed as he pressed another key, making a high-pitched beeping reach her ears. Allison nodded, a grin beginning to form on her face.
“I’m going to turn them on now,” the audiologist signed, Allison signing a quick “Okay,” in response.
The audiologist fit batteries into each of the processors, then shut the open compartments, each of them blending smoothly with the rest of the processors. He played another high-pitched beep and asked again if Allison could hear it, to which she responded with another nod, then he nodded to her parents, who smiled over at her.
“Hi, sweetie,” whispered Allison's mother, an expression of pure joy on her face as Allison gasped, her hands going up to cover her mouth. “Can you hear me?”
“Mmhm,” Allison responded shakily, nodding as she blinked back unshed tears. “That's your voice.”
Allison’s mother nodded, her eyes now brimming with joyful tears of her own.
“That–that's my voice,” she breathed in amazement, chuckling softly through her tears. “That's my voice, Mom.”
Allison's mother nodded again in response, a full-on grin glistening with tears of pure delight now stretching from ear to ear on her face.
Allison sat, amazed, in silence for a second or two, then let out a sound somewhere between a laugh and a sob and hugged her parents tightly.
“We love you so much, Allie,” her father whispered, making her face light up again at the strangely comforting change in pitch that reached her ears when he spoke.
“I love you too,” she whispered back, hugging them tightly again before Christian grabbed her hand.
She had long been accustomed to his touch, his smooth, wide hands, with fingers much like Perlman, encapsulating her smaller, more limber ones in his, more times than not making them disappear completely within his grasp except for the fingers that laced through his. However, when his lips moved, Allison saw just that, nothing but the movement of his lips alerting her of when he had begun to speak. So, when a warm, caring voice broke the silence – which was now accompanied by a soft buzzing from what Allison had been told was the air conditioner – she did not recognize at first that it was the boy who had learned sign language for her, even though, to him, it held no benefit. The boy who had befriended her, the spark they shared quickly igniting one of love. The boy who had stayed.
“Hey, Allie Cat,” he said softly, giving her hand a squeeze. “I love you.”
Allison laughed softly and sniffled, studying Christian with a newfound interest as her grin became plastered on her face.
“I love you too,” she whispered back, smiling when Christian reached forward to wipe away her tears. He grinned back at her and gave her a quick kiss, making her giggle.
“That makes a noise?” she asked, Christian nodding as he laughed.
“Mmhm,” he said, eliciting another giggle from her as he kissed her again, then turned back to the audiologist with a squeeze of Allison's hand.
“Your hearing will be a little sensitive for the first few weeks until your ears get used to hearing again, so no violin with those on until after that, okay?” he told her, making her nod, sticking out her bottom lip as Christian laughed, putting a hand on her shoulder.
“Hey, I’ll play for you as much as you want until you get a little more used to hearing. Does that sound okay?”
“That sounds great.” Allison nodded, a grin forming on her face again.
Christian grinned and hugged her tightly. Then, they all said their goodbyes to the audiologist, returning to Allison’s parents’ car and driving down the road back to her house.
“Keep talking,” she urged him excitedly as she buckled her seatbelt, lighting up at the sharp metallic click that reached her ears. He laughed.
“What do you want me to talk about?” he asked, Allison shrugging as she snuggled up against him, brightening again at the soft rustling that she heard when Christian’s shirt rubbed up against hers.
“Anything,” she responded. “Just talk. I like your voice.”
“Oh, really?” he said, making her nod, laughing when he smirked at her. “Well, then, I’m not gonna stop talking for a long, long time.”
“Yay,” said Allison. Christian laughed and kissed the top of her head, worry seeping into his eyes when Allison jumped.
“You okay?” he asked softly. Allison nodded, reassuringly squeezing his hand.
“That just scared me a little,” she told him, looking down in embarrassment as she fidgeted with her hands. “I, um, I forgot kisses made a noise.”
“That’s okay,” he assured her, taking her hands in his and running his thumbs over them. “You know, a lot of things make noise.”
“They do?” she asked, her eyes alight with curiosity when Christian nodded. “Like what?”
“Well, the car we’re in right now is making a noise. It’s kind of a buzz,” he said. “Can you hear it?”
Allison furrowed her brows in concentration for a minute or two, then nodded, slowly at first, though it eventually became more confident.
“What is that?” she asked.
“That’s the engine.”
“Oh,” Allison said. “What other things make a noise?”
“Uh…Chase. Chase makes noises.”
“Chase makes noises?” Allison asked, giving Christian a look as he chuckled.
“Yeah, all the time,” he said. “You should see him when there’s a game on. He gets really loud.”
Allison laughed, shaking her head, though she perked up at Christian’s next words.
“You make noises too, you know,” he said, earning a confused look from her.
“Like what?” she asked.
“You snore,” he said, Allison shaking her head in confusion.
“What does that sound like?”
“Um…” Chase fell silent, his chin perched on his hand as he thought, then his eyes brightened and he simply put his head back against his seat, mimicking the sound of snoring. Allison giggled and Christian opened an eye to see her making a face, her nose and eyes crinkling in slight disgust.
“It’s quieter when you do it,” he assured her, pulling her close again. “Cuter too.”
Allison sighed and shook her head, Christian simply humming in response as he pulled her closer, rubbing her arm as he kissed the top of her head.
“Happy birthday, Allie Cat.”
Christian yawned, flipping lazily through his phone as the thunderstorm that had started that evening raged on, smiling at the pictures of him and Allison that illuminated the screen. They had both begun, over the last few weeks, to become accustomed to Allison's newfound sense of hearing, Christian helping to explain new sounds, or put context to a few new words that had previously held no real meaning to her.
There were times, however, when it all would become too much and Christian was no longer an interpreter, but what he had been ever since the beginning: someone to talk to, and, on occasion, wipe away tears. And when a soft, hurried knock on the door of his and Chase’s apartment reached his ears, his head snapping up at the sound, he knew then it was one of those nights.
He sighed, standing with a stretch and making Chase, who was plucking experimentally on the strings of his guitar, look up at him.
“Everything okay?” he asked, Christian nodding in response as he ran a hand though his hair in an attempt to tame it.
“Yeah. I just think Allison's gonna crash here tonight,” he responded. “That okay?”
“Sure.” Chase shrugged.
Christian flashed him a thankful smile, then went to open the door, coming to face a shaking, teary-eyed Allison.
“Hey,” she said quietly, looking up at Christian with a halfhearted smile. He sighed, beckoning her inside, then pulling her into his arms as they sat on his bed.
“Allie, did you walk here?” he whispered, laying her head down on his shoulder.
“My roommate drove me,” she responded quietly, feeling Christian nod as he hugged her close.
“What’s wrong, baby?”
Allison took in a shaky breath, then opened her mouth to speak, only to close it again as she let out a whimper.
“Shh…shh, you're okay, I’ve got you,” Christian whispered.
“Use your hands, Allie Cat,” he signed, the simple sentence being one either of them could sign without thinking.
She gulped, taking a shaky breath, and nodded, gesturing to somewhere outside the dorm’s walls, then bringing her balled up hands to her ears and shaking them with another whimper.
Confusion filled Christian’s eyes as realization filled Chase’s, an apologetic smile on his face as he looked over at her.
“She’s saying the storm’s too loud,” he told Christian, who nodded in response. “She’s scared.”
“Come here, Allie,” he whispered, running his fingers through her waves and tracing the processors over her ears when his fingers got to them. “We can take these off, baby. You don’t have to have them on all the time.”
“No,” she whimpered, shaking her head. “Cause then we’ll have to go back to the hospital, and I’ll have to do another surgery and—”
“No, no, Allie, these can come off,” Christian explained with a soft laugh, running his fingers over the processors.
“They can?” she asked.
“Mmhm.” Christian nodded. “Here, I’ll show you.”
Slowly, Christian moved his hand to the back of her ear and slipped off the processor, Allison’s hand flying up to meet his at the introduction of the sudden quiet.
“Can I take off the other one?” he asked, his voice quieter than it had been before. Allison gave a slow nod and Christian slipped the other processor off her ear, holding them both in his open palm before setting them on the table on the room.
“Better?” he signed, brightening when Allison nodded, giving him a thankful, relieved smile.
She sniffled, Christian’s chest heaving as he let out a sigh and hugged her close again, laying down in his bed and pulling her to him while he rubbed her arm.
“You want to go to sleep?” he signed, Allison slowly nodding as she yawned, weaving her fingers into Christian’s.
“Good night, Allie Cat,” he whispered, gently kissing her temple. “I love you.”
“Christian, will you play for me?”
“In a minute, babe,” he responded as he quickly typed out another sentence to the essay he was writing on his computer, looking up at her when she gently set her violin and bow down on the chair next to Christian’s music stand.
“You’ve been doing that all day,” she told him softly, laying a hand on his. “Take a break.”
“But Allie, I have to finish this. I’ll play in a minute, I promise.”
“Honey, you’ve rewritten the same sentence three times,” said Allison, taking his hand off the keyboard of his computer and into hers. “Take a break.”
Christian sighed, running a hand tiredly through his hair and closing his computer with a drowsy smile towards Allison, brightening when she mirrored him.
“What do you want to hear?” he asked, a playful, mischievous smirk forming on her face.
“Tchaikovsky?” she said, making Christian let out an incredulous laugh.
“Seriously?” he asked, one look at Allison’s expression telling him that she was anything but kidding.
“You don’t have to play the whole thing,” she told him, a thankful look crossing his face. “Just the pretty part.”
“What’s the pretty part?” Christian asked softly, coming to sit beside her on his bed.
Allison opened her mouth to respond, then closed it again, letting out a groan of annoyance.
“I don’t know what it sounds like,” she grumbled, making Christian chuckle quietly.
“Can you describe it?” said Christian, Allison letting out a soft huff as she planted her chin in her hands and thought.
“Um, it’s at the end of the second page, after the 16th note runs, um…” she began, finally caving with a sigh, walking over to the chair she had set her violin and bow on and bringing her violin up to her shoulder. “This part.”
With her eyes glued on her fingers, Allison deftly drew her bow across her strings, making a warm, deep sound ring from the lower registers of her violin, eventually moving her fingers swiftly across all four strings until she lifted her bow into the air with a flourish, a grin spreading across her face as the sight of Christian’s applause caught her attention.
“Allie, that was beautiful,” he whispered, Allison meeting his awe filled eyes with ones of joy.
“Um, was it okay?” she asked as Christian walked up to her. “I don’t have the processors on.”
“Yeah.” He nodded, kissing her forehead. “Yeah, Allie Cat, that was amazing.”
Allison smiled, a slight blush climbing up her cheeks.
“Keep going,” Christian urged her, making her quickly shake her head as her eyes widened in realization.
“No, I’m…I’ll mess up,” she told him. Christian sighed, reassurance flooding into his loving gaze.
“You won’t. I promise,” he returned softly, walking over to his bedside table and grabbing Allison’s processors from their place the night before, then walking back over to her. “Do you want to try it with these?”
Allison pursed her lips in thought, then shrugged, nodding, and fit the processors onto her ears, her eyes brightening when Christian’s voice reached her.
“You ready?” he asked, Allison nodding as she put her violin up to her shoulder again.
“Where do you want me to start?”
“From where you were is good,” Christian responded, receiving a quick nod from Allison before she began to draw her bow across the strings again. Though, before she had even finished a measure, her violin fell from her shoulder and she shook her head, wincing.
“Too loud?” asked Christian, Allison nodding slowly as she took her hand away from her ear and set her violin and bow down, walking back over to Christian with a defeated sigh.
“Hey,” he said softly, putting a reassuring hand up to her face. “Don’t worry about it. You’ll get it eventually, Allie.”
“But it’s been weeks, Christian!” she said exasperatedly, flopping down onto his bed with a sigh.
“And the doctor said it might take weeks to get used to hearing everything,” he responded, sitting down next to her and placing a gentle hand on her knee. She brightened slightly, moving closer to him as her hands fidgeted distractedly with her promise ring.
“I just want to hear myself play, that’s all,” she said softly. “For the longest time, everyone’s said it’s amazing and I’m just…I’m sick of being the only one who doesn’t know what it sounds like.”
“Well, how about this?” began Christian, lacing his fingers through hers. “You play without the processors just like you always do, and I can record you, then you can listen to that while you get more used to hearing. Is that okay?”
“That sounds great.” Allison nodded, laying her head down on his shoulder.
Christian smiled to himself and gave Allison a tight, one-armed hug, then stood up, carefully taking his violin out of his case and tightening his bow, then turning to Allison with bright eyes.
“Where do you want me to start?” he asked.
“Can you go from the beginning?” Allison said, brightening when Christian nodded.
“Now, uh, I'm not as good as you, so I might mess up a little,” he told her, making her laugh, shaking her head.
“That doesn't matter,” she said softly. “This is just for fun.”
Christian threw a thankful look her way and let out a breath, finally setting his bow on his strings and drawing it across them in smooth, long strokes, closing his eyes while he played.
A content smile came over Allison's face and she closed her eyes, only listening, though she could tell Christian poured emotion into every bit of his playing without her even having to see it.
After a moment, she opened her eyes, having realized that Christian must have stopped playing, and raised her hands up to him, shaking them quickly back and forth in her form of applause. Christian smiled, letting out a soft chuckle as he came to sit over by her.
“So, you liked it?” he asked, making Allison nod enthusiastically.
“That was beautiful,” she assured him, giggling when he swooped in for a quick kiss. “I think you’re ready for that recital.”
Christian laughed, shaking his head.
“I’m not even close,” he told her.
“Well, I think you are, and I couldn’t even hear you until a few weeks ago, so I think that says a lot,” responded Allison, leaning in to kiss his cheek.
A thankful look crossed Christian’s face, then he sighed again, gently taking Allison’s hand.
“I love you, you know that?”
“I know. I love you too.”
A shaky, shallow breath left Christian’s lungs as he paced back and forth in the empty concert hall in the college’s fine arts building, gripping the neck of his violin tightly, as it had almost slipped from his grasp only moments ago.
“I can’t do this,” he muttered under his breath, shaking his head as the speed of his pacing practically doubled. “I can’t—I can’t go on stage in front of all those people and play. I’ll-I’ll mess up, I’m not—I’m not ready, I can’t—”
“Honey, calm down. You’ll be fine,” Allison said softly, though none of her words seemed to reach Christian’s ears as his dress shoes continued to make soft thumps on the carpeted floor.
“Christian,” she repeated, though he only continued to pace. “Christian!”
Finally, he stopped, looking up at Allison in slight surprise as he began to surface from his worry-induced haze.
“You’ll be just fine. Okay?” she said, Christian nodding slowly as Allison led him over to one of the many empty velvet chairs and sat him down. “You’ve had plenty of recitals, right?”
“Mmhm,” he answered quietly, lacing his fingers through Allison’s.
“This isn’t any different,” she said, running a gentle thumb over his hand. “And I’ll be up there with you, remember?”
“Oh, yeah.” Christian laughed, letting out a shaky breath as he stood and studied his violin before turning to Allison. “Um, can we run over Navarra one more time? I really don’t want to think about Tchaikovsky right now.”
“Mmhm!” Allison responded brightly, picking up her violin from the chair she had set it on and lifting it up to her shoulder. Christian did the same, watching closely as Allison cued him in with a sniff and a bob of her head, then they began to play, drawing their bows smoothly across the strings as they smiled at each other.
Locking eyes every occasionally as they played to make sure one followed the other, their bows shifted from gliding in smooth long strokes, to becoming quick and bouncy. A loving look passed between them, then Allison’s eyes darted to her fingers, her eyes glued on them as her bow moved once again in smooth, long strokes. Christian’s remained bouncy, hitting one string after another before both his and Allison’s bows returned to playing long and smooth, both players swaying to the music. Minutes upon minutes of sound filled the room until Christian and Allison’s fingers were simply floating above the strings, just barely touching them. They flashed each other a quick smile, Christian letting out a quick breath as their bows became light and bouncy once again, the tips of them just barely touching the strings on their respective violins as Allison and Christian’s left hands plucked the strings much like a guitarist would, then their fingers floated on the strings once more and, a measure or two later, they lifted their bows off their strings with a flourish, grins on both of their faces.
Christian laughed breathily and brought Allison into a tight, one-armed hug, his eyes bright as he let her go.
“Why aren’t you the soloist again?” he asked, Allison letting out a giggle.
“You’ll be fine,” she reassured him yet again. “Besides, I wouldn't want to steal your thunder.”
“What thunder?” Christian laughed, making Allison sigh as she flopped down into a chair.
“Play a little bit,” she urged him. “You’ll see.”
Christian opened his mouth to respond, then closed it with a soft sigh, putting his violin up to his shoulder and giving a sniff to cue himself in, then drawing his bow in smooth long strokes on the lower strings of his violin. A warm, rich sound filled the room and Allison closed her eyes to listen, a content expression on her face.
After a moment or two, Allison opened her eyes to see Christian with his eyes closed swaying to the music. She quietly picked up her violin and drew her bow across the strings, her part to the orchestral version of the piano accompaniment that would eventually back Christian filling the room.
His eyes fluttered open and he looked over at her, then continued to play, his sound and confidence growing as Allison accompanied him until he lifted his bow off the strings with a satisfied smile.
Allison let the final note ring out around the room before walking up to Christian and pressing her lips to his. She broke away with a loving look, gently running a thumb over the stubble trying to impersonate sideburns.
“That thunder right there,” she whispered.
A loving look crossed Christian’s face again and he brought his lips to hers for a brief but wonderful moment or two, a soft scratching reaching Allison’s ears as he brushed a piece of hair behind one of them, breaking away in surprise.
“You're wearing the processors,” he breathed, a grin slowly forming on his face.
Allison nodded, laughing joyously when Christian carefully set his violin in his open case, then picked her up, spinning her around in a circle before bringing her into a hug, her feet safely on the ground again.
“I love you so much, Allie Cat.”
“I love you too,” she whispered back, pulling away slightly to check the time on her phone. “We have to get backstage.”
Christian let out a breath and nodded, disappearing with Allison backstage just as the first few people attending the concert entered the previously empty recital hall.
“Are you sure you don’t want to just take my place up there?” he asked, Allison sighing as she walked forward and took his hands “I mean, you’re playing the same thing I am and you’re just so much better at it and—”
“No, I’m not.” Allison laughed. “I’m only just starting to hear how I play or what the different notes sound like again, so I have to figure it all out. You’ve done that for years. You’ll be just fine.”
A loving smile came over Christian’s face, then he peeked out into the almost half-filled hall, letting out a resolute huff.
“Um, I guess everybody’s here,” he said, receiving one last reassuring smile and a kiss from Allison before he turned to walk onstage.
“Good luck out there,” she said softly.
Christian nodded, then steeled himself one last time before walking towards the stage. Though, just before he made to step out onto the light hardwood floor and face the crowd, he turned to Allison with a smirk.
“See you on the other side,” he told her, making her giggle as she gave him a wave and he walked onstage.
In her perspective, out of the many others that had come to see him play, she had the best seat in the house, standing just offstage while she took in every minute of Christian’s playing. It was sometimes joyful, sometimes sad, though always full of emotion, whether it was Christian grinning, or simply the way he moved his bow in long, smooth strokes on the strings, pouring his heart and soul into every note.
However, occasionally, Allison would slip off her processors and simply watch Christian’s hands, or the way he swayed to the music, still evoking emotion even without the added sound. And music it was.
So, Allison kept her gaze fixed on Christian, whether it was with the processors on or off, determined to capture every movement of his fingers, every change of his bow, and every fading note as it withered away into the distance.
Then, someone tapped her shoulder.
She turned towards them, greeting the pianist that had accompanied Christian, who was none other than her roommate, Maria, with a friendly smile before realizing her hands were moving. Quickly signing “Wait,” she slipped the processors back on her ears – as she had taken them off for the time being – and motioned for her to continue.
“Sorry, I can’t see your hands,” she said apologetically. “I have the processors on, though. What’s up?”
“You ready to go onstage?” Maria asked, smiling to herself when Allison nodded excitedly.
“Christian’s amazing,” Maria told her, Allison nodding in agreement.
“I know,” she responded. “He even gives me a run for my money some days.”
Maria laughed, then took her place at the piano as Allison walked over to Christian, giving him a small smile in greeting.
“You were amazing,” she whispered to him before waving to the clapping crowd.
She winced, making both Christian and Maria look at her worriedly. She smiled at them both reassuringly, then took a bow and turned to Christian, raising her violin up to her shoulder.
He took a breath and nodded, mirroring the bob of Allison’s head when he cued her in and they both began to play, their last note filling the air a mere six minutes later as Christian and Allison took a bow and, one by one, the crowd stood, cheers filling the air around them.
A shaky, shallow breath left Allison’s lungs as she paced back and forth in front of the mirror in her and Christian’s bedroom, the memories of his junior recital filling her mind, though that had been almost two years ago. Since then, Christian had graduated, and he and Allison had moved in together in an apartment of his own Christian had bought just after he finished college. Now, on her graduation day, Allison paced inside that very apartment, only looking up when a soft knock reached her ears.
Her eyes locked onto Christian’s and she gave him a timid wave that he returned with a reassuring smile, walking up and kissing her cheek.
“Here. I know you were looking for it,” he said as he handed Allison her cap.
She looked thankfully at him, then grabbed his hand as he made to walk away, letting out a nervous sigh.
“What do I have to do again?” she asked, Christian leading her over to their bed and sitting her down.
“You're just gonna go out there and wait for your name to be called, then you get your diploma, shake some hands and then go have dinner with me and your parents.”
“Mmhm.” Christian nodded, gently lacing his fingers through hers.
Allison smiled, laying her head on Christian's shoulder and holding up her thumb, pointer finger and pinkie. Christian’s eyes brightened and he mirrored the sign Allison had held up, kissing her cheek.
The two of them sat in silence for a few minutes, then Allison sat up with a sigh, running her fingers over the slowly growing five-o-clock shadow on his face.
“Christian—” she began, a soft laugh cutting off her words.
“I know, I know, I can’t grow a beard,” he said, giving her a kiss. “I’ll go shave, then we can go, okay?”
Allison nodded, laughing softly as Christian stood, returning, clean shaven, a few minutes later and pulling Allison up. He adjusted the cap on her head with a smile, gazing lovingly into her eyes as he ran a thumb over her cheek.
“You look beautiful,” he whispered, making Allison shake her head, laughing breathily.
“Sure,” she said, gesturing to the graduation gown around her shoulders like a jacket. “Everyone will be wearing this, Christian.”
“I know.” Christian shrugged. “But I bet no one else has processors like you do.”
“They don’t need them,” Allison laughed.
“And you’re even more beautiful since you do,” Christian told her, Allison’s cheeks turning a deep shade of pink at his words.
“Thank you,” she whispered, leaning into Christian when he pulled her close.
“No problem, Allie Cat,” he whispered back, giving her hand a squeeze. “You ready to go?”
She nodded, her fingers laced through Christian’s as they walked out to his car and drove off to where that year’s graduation ceremony would be held.
Allison gave Christian’s hand a squeeze, which he happily returned as he parked, then he found his seat next to her parents while she waved to Maria, walking over to her with a smile.
“You ready?” she asked, brightening when Maria nodded, practically bouncing up and down with excitement.
“Okay, what’s going on?” Allison laughed. “You only get this jumpy when something big happened. What’s up?”
“Chase asked me to move in with him,” she blurted out, Allison’s eyebrows raising in surprise.
“That was fast. Hasn’t it only been six months?”
“Yeah, but it just feels right,” Maria told her, making Allison smile and hug her.
“Well, I’m happy for you guys,” she said, both women grinning when they let each other go.
“Me too,” said Maria, her eyes drifting down to Allison’s left hand. “Hey, you found your ring!”
“Yeah, Christian found it a few days ago. I actually can’t remember when I lost it. I always take it off in the same place.”
Allison shrugged, excitement painting her face as more and more graduating seniors joined the group of caps and gowns, the ceremony finally beginning. She and Maria threw each other a grin, then suddenly, Allison's name was called.
Letting out a shaky breath, she stepped forward, being handed her diploma and shaking a few hands just as Christian had told her, cheers from her family filling the air as she stepped off the stage, though Christian’s was by far the loudest.
Allison laughed, shaking her head as she flashed him a smile and a wave, then turned her attention back to the ceremony as the last few people stepped off the stage and Allison and the other new graduates fought to stay attentive through the few speeches that followed, though more than a few turned to their families, throwing excited glances back at them.
After the last speaker stepped off the podium, Allison gave one last tight hug to Maria, then hurried off to her parents and Christian, getting wrapped in his arms when she reached them.
“I'm so proud of you, Allie Cat,” he whispered.
Allison sighed contentedly while turning to hug her parents tightly, both of their faces beaming.
Christian watched, looking over at Allison with bright, prideful eyes, then he gently took her hand, making her turn.
“Can I ask you something?” he said, Allison nodding happily.
“Yeah, of course. What's up?”
“Um, actually, before I say anything, can you take off your ring for a minute?” he asked, making confusion fill Allison's eyes as her right hand drifted down to her ring.
“Sure…” she said slowly, cautiously slipping her ring off and putting it on her right hand, as her dress had no pockets to hold it. “You know, you could've at least waited until tomorrow to break up with me.”
“What?” Christian laughed, gently giving Allison's hand a squeeze. “Allie, I’m not breaking up with you. That's crazy.”
“You're not?” said Allison, taking a breath to stifle her panic as relief washed over her.
“No! Never.” Christian shook his head. “I just wanted to replace it with something a little better, that's all.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean I want to settle down with you,” Christian said softly. “I mean I want to spend the rest of my life with you by my side when I wake up every day. I mean I want you in my future and I hope you’ll let me in yours.”
Letting out a long, slow breath, Christian carefully reached a hand inside his pocket, pulling out a small jewelry box and bending down on one knee. Allison gasped, her hands flying to cover her mouth, though they just as quickly went up to wipe away the tears brimming in her eyes when Christian balanced the now open box– nestling a shimmering golden ring inside, a channel of diamonds on either side of the aquamarine stone set in the middle – on his knee and slowly raised his hands.
“Allison Wilde,” he signed slowly, his trembling hands causing him to resign a letter once or twice. “Will you marry me?”
Allison swallowed hard, gazing at Christian and his hopeful, anxious gaze. She took a breath. Was she, Allison, who had only in the last few years dropped her guard, going to allow herself to keep it there forever? Had she permitted herself to fall in love with someone who could hear the world around him out of sheer curiosity? Was she willing to trust that he would never desert her, like the others she had developed a romantic attachment to had?
Her mind continued to race at the thoughts whirling around in her head, until now, as she absorbed the vision of the man who knelt down in front of her with a ring held in one hand, gazing at her with all the love he had to give. Her whispered answer was clear as day, as she knew it would be for the rest of their lives…
More than writing, his passion lies in creating orginal music intertwined with short stories that he posts regularly on his youtube channel.
His age is unknown as well as his location.
He wishes you all to void the simulation.
T R I N I TY COLLECTION.
This story begins with a facile conversation at an undisclosed location. Time is unknown. The clandestine collector has captured conversations carried by cryptic cultures for centuries. He is a calculated, cunning and curious being.
"I've got a movie idea, I want you to picture all of this, you ready?"
"Certainly, amaze me, Scorsese" said the Collector with a curious grin.
The long-bearded man in the denim jacket paced before presenting his idea to an audience of one.
A little boy is observing a beetle unhurriedly crawling across the pavement. He was in awe and seemed to be studying the way the light reflected different prisms of color off the creatures back.
"Want to come over and play some VR?" Childhood friend asked enthusiastically as he admires his work of the now very much dead beautiful beetle.
"Sure" Little boy responded as he gets up to dust himself off using both his hands
As they are walking closer to Childhood-friend's house a [Time Change] will occur with each step. They are growing older until they reach the back door of Childhood-friends home, the next shot we see them both emerge from the front door of the house and the time skip is complete. They are teenagers on the first day of their junior year in High School and obviously some dope ass music is in the background setting the tone and emotion of the film.
"What do you think is the scariest thing that currently exists in the world?"
"Easy, the Camel Spider"
"What? not this again, this weird obsession of yours is starting to get creepy"
"Just think about it, statistics show that as much as five to seven percent of the current population would be certifiably diagnosed as a sociopath, that's a lot of people, dude, which brings us to this year's experiment"
"Here it comes"
"I want us to uncover a real sociopath that goes to our school"
“Of course, you do, it’s our Junior year and you want to hunt down a hypothetical sociopath, that’s completely normal”
The animated bearded man flicked his lighter twice. Chut! Chut!
"Can I use your lighter? Mine is Alll Outta FuelllLLL... I'm soOo Lost without YoUu" He sung
"Sure, nice remake to a classic" said the amused Collector
"Ok, so that sets up the story, from here it gets dark. I'll just summarize, you seem like a busy guy"
"Please continue, I still have the last scene in my head"
"So Teenage-boy and childhood-friend start their project innocently enough, watching random students at school, picking up any unusual characteristics they observe and taking copious notes on each subject. As time passes, more and more notes are being taken, it leads to Teenage-boy getting fully consumed by his obsession of finding this sociopath that may or may not exist at his school. Childhood-friend notices the changes in Teenage-boy but seems more amused by his behavior than being actually concerned. Teenage-boy escalates the stakes by starting to follow home some of the students he deems sociopath-subjects. Childhood-friend encourages him and often indulges him in his darker thoughts.
TIME SKIP. Teenage-boy has turned an empty warehouse room they often use to hang out at as a make shift headquarters space complete with charts and files now with red yarn lines attached to his walls like he is making a god damn conspiracy spy thriller except this is real life and Teenage-boy is out of touch with reality. So, Teenage-boy hasn't slept much in the last few months. Childhood-friend listens to his exposition and comes to find out that Teenage-boy thinks he has discovered the sociopath among them.
Dope ass creepy music plays throughout scenes
TIME SKIP. Both boys have been observing the sociopath-subject for some time now performing cruel acts and generally odd and bizarre behavior in which they come to agree that he is indeed a sociopath. Teenage-boy starts spiraling out of control to the point that he wants to murder the sociopath and comes up with a flawless plan to do it.
“He's not a real human if he can't feel empathy” Teenage boy thought to himself.
At the end, they lure and trap sociopath-subject in an empty classroom. Teenage-boy is about to leap and stab the sociopath-subject when suddenly Childhood-friend grabs teenage-boys head, leans it back and slits his throat open. Blood is spewed on the chalk board like a splatter artist flailing his arm with paint on a canvas. A beautiful mix of blood red on the black backdrop of the board.
Sociopath-subject faints. He was never a sociopath, it was Childhood-friend who had manipulated the scenes and indulged Teenage-boy's darker thoughts as he became more and more obsessed. Childhood-friend drops Teenage-boys limp dead body, walks over to the sociopath-subject as he lays unconscious, stabs him seven times in the torso area, cleans the blood off the blade of his hunting knife, walks towards the limp body of Teenage-boy and slides the knife into his hand and Places the notes that he has been taking inside of his backpack. He then just whistles and walks out the empty class room.
A voice over of Teenage-boys question plays in the head of Childhood-friend "What do you think is the scariest thing that currently exists in the world?" "A psychopath" Childhood-friend thinks to himself as he smiles.
The entertaining bearded man exhales smoke.
"It's a twist, right, cause as Teenage-boy is slowly descending into madness himself looking for a sociopath when the real horror is the psychopath that was his childhood-friend. His obsession was too blinding for him to see it, so what ya think?" Said the long-bearded denim jacket wearing man
"It’s certainly an interesting idea, especially considering the high school slasher movie is a staple in early horror cinema history, it would be a nice breath of fresh air in that genre if it was executed correctly. Although it’s quite the leap from your character squishing a beetle in the beginning to a cold-blooded psychopath at the climax of the story but nevertheless it could be quite the dark journey, I'd be willing to watch that, sure, so what can I get you?
"I’ll take one hundred in crimson Rosebud, Citizen Kane"
"What's up Collector, so get this, my mother wants to go to a psychic, crazy old bird, youse believe in the psychics? tarot cards or whatever the heck, it's all a scam I say" said the scraggly man in a pair of blue swede shoes.
"I do not believe in such an idea as pure psychic abilities somehow bestowed on individuals by birthright based on cosmic alignment of the stars, certainly not, on a macro cosmic scale I do believe that there could be a universal energy that we all share and could be connected to. It seems everyone can recall a time when they were reflecting on a friend or family member when suddenly that person will call you or reaches out to you and a small part of your brains gives you that abstract twilight zone feeling”
The Collector begin to sing the theme song from the popular science fiction show.
“Now was that a display of infinite cosmic psychic power bestowed unto you by a supernatural force? or just a universal connection that we all share? There is a certain social connection and energy being formed between human beings as social creatures. Perhaps we have that ability to feel that other worldly connection because we are all universally made by elements of the cosmos. So, what can I get you?"
The Collector sat at his modest wooden table; it could use some polishing up he thought. He glanced over his right shoulder to check the time. (although he did not believe in the current construct of time as we know it) It was more of an excuse for him to observe and appreciate the ancient craftsmanship of the grandfather clock that is possibly as old as the time it tells. The bronze pendant in the pendulum was said to have been forged from the fire of a dragon's breath. An Absurd fable of course, but nevertheless it was an intriguing back story to share with his visitors he thought.
A brown spider scurries across the Collectors table.
The man who entered was not one of his usual visitors, He was accompanied by two men and they moved instantaneously to the right and left of him. The collector could not see the faces of these men due to the long black hooded cloaks they were wearing for concealment. The man with the ostentatious hat stepped forward and pulled out the handcrafted solid blue chair that was in front of the Collectors modest wooden table, dusted it off with his hand and took a seat. He sat up straight, folded his hands on the table and looked into the eyes of the Collector.
The two cloaked combatants crawled up the walls to the right and left of the collector, pulling their swords as they bellowed out the sound of a battle cry.
The Collector leaped up from the table, He crossed his arms over his hips pulling out his silver jagged daggers and blocked each of the attacking swordsmen's swing with a loud CLINK! He pivoted swiftly and kicked the first attacker in the chest with such force that the sword he possessed propelled across the room and the attacker into a bookshelf that was demolished. The Collector shifted his head low narrowly avoiding the second assailants aerial blade swing, Swoosh! He dropped and swept the leg of the hooded swordsman who was not agile enough to execute his final swing. The swordsman fell on his back, the Collector kicked the luminous sword out of his hand, pinned his arm down and stabbed the warrior in the neck with his jagged dagger, he twisted the blade for a quick death. The swordsman's cloaked hood was now availed.
The second swordsman was swiftly back on his feet, he postured himself in a defensive position facing the Collector and slashed twice cutting through the air with his sword; SWISH! SWISH! The Men locked eyes; The Collector pulled his jagged dagger from the dead comrades' neck; the silver blade was now crimson. He stood and gave his blade a flip in his hand. The collector took one step forward and threw the dagger with miraculous velocity, the highly skilled swordsman deflected the dagger with his blade, with this brief moment of exposure, the Collector charged and pierced the swordsmen with three precise fatal blows to his torso then jumped back evasively to avoid the last swing from warrior's sword. WOOSH! The monk painfully dropped to one knee, with blood on his lips he looked at the Collector and slightly bowed before collapsing.
The man with the spirited hat and crooked smile at the table unfolded his hands and gestured to The Collector to have a seat with him.
The Collector put his daggers back in their sheaths, walked towards the overturned chair, placed it in the center of his modest wooden table and sat down. He looked into the eyes of the familiar face who had been patiently waiting.
"You owe me a 14th century handcrafted bookshelf" The Collector calmly claimed.
It was a cool night, the wind seemed to be howling at the moon as Burn Bunny Burn was sitting on a park bench. He was wearing black jeans, black tee with a white logo he created himself. A deformed bunny with eyes of black fire. He chose to wear his black and white Chuck Taylors. He looked at his watch that had a neon green strap no doubt manufactured from cheap plastic and a cartoonish colored aqua green face that gave him his answer. Nine forty-three. Soon he thought. Precisely two minutes had passed before the beautiful woman with auburn eyes walked over and sat beside him. She was wearing a red hoody with the top of the hood covering most of her face, silver skinny jeans with many rips and tears in them and a pair of low-cut tennis shoes with no socks.
“What is it Burn?” She asked as she stared straight ahead with no emotion in her tone.
“I need some, it helps me with my creative process”
“Does it now?” She said dryly, “look we have known each other a long time and you know I have always been there for you, long before who you are now. If you need it, I will get it for you, but we have to go together, I want you to meet the man who supplies me and maybe you can have a direct connect with him yourself. Honestly, Burn, I can’t keep watching you do this to yourself; you are asking for more and more each time and lately you have been completely isolated, People are looking for you, there are now theories on websites claiming you died for Christ sake!”
“Internet bullshit, it never gets old, people checking fakebook to post their new beauty filtered selfie not based in reality for the digital dopamine it creates with every new like, and you think I need help with my addiction? Look around you sweetheart, we are all addicts of ourselves”
“So what? People have an outlet now to boost their self-esteem, so be it, what’s the harm? You going to lecture me on social media when you have three and a half million people following your every word?
“That's exactly my point, these people think they have a right to my life and thoughts just because they signed up to an internet website? Fuck em! Besides I don’t even use it, I have a media consultant firm that does all that for me, Anyways, look I’m sorry I haven't been in touch, I've been out the loop working on a new book and I just needed some personal space away from it all to clear my thoughts, I just need some supply to get me through this creative process and I will be done with it”
“Fine Burn, I will take you to the guys spot but this stone is yours to carry now, my hands are washed clean... so what’s the subject of your new book?”
“It’s about a new author writing a story, who has no clue how he wants to end it, so he just continues adding storylines, characters and unique universes until eventually it drives the writer to inner madness as he searches for that perfect ending that eludes us all”
“Just two warriors? almost insulting if it were not for the bravery they displayed in their deaths” The Collector now spoke with his native language that is undefinable to describe and unattainable to grasp.
The man who sat across from The Collector had a slight grin that ran across his face.
“I thought you may have weakened after such a monotonous existence of collecting antique furniture and listening to tales from these humans for who knows how many centuries now” The man at the table replied with the same melodic pattern of dialect.
Burn pressed the button on the strange looking building, took a drag from his cigarette and observed both sides of the ally as he waited outside in the crisp cool air of the shadowy night with only the flickering of a yellow hue from the street light above as his company.
The man across from The Collector arose from his chair, with outstretched arms he began chanting the ancient passage from the book of Tibaal. Suddenly, A hue from the deceased warriors now emanated a beautiful vibrant shade of violet light as the bodies began to levitate. The eyes of the slain were now beaming radiant white light before they both vanished with only a translucent cloud of scarlet smoke that remained behind from the previous battle that had taken place.
The man adjusted his hat and waked towards the door, before opening it he turned to look back at The Collector.
“Now that I have found you, my next visit will not consist of a conversation, I will slit your throat with your pretty antique blades and end your light in this timeline”
“Then I would suggest you bring more warriors with you when that time happens to befall upon us, old friend” said The Collector in a calm cadence
The man with the colored cap closed the door.
The door suddenly opened and a tall man in an exorbitantly colored pin striped hat dressed in a suit with a long black coat walked briskly past him, Burn turned back to look at the oddly dressed man before walking into the building.
“who in the 1950s fuck was that” Burn thought to himself
The Collector greeted Burn with a firm hand shake and a friendly pat on the shoulder as he introduced himself and invited him to have a seat at the table.
“Thanks” Burn said quietly
“What the hell happened to your bookshelf?”
“Would you believe this was hand crafted in the sixteenth century?” The Collector said this as he knocked on the hardened wood surface with his knuckles before sitting down.
“Yea, it’s certainly very unique man, so uh, I was hoping to get maybe a thousand" Burn said a bit to anxiously as his knees rocked up and down underneath the table.
"That is quite the order, that much creativity at once concerns me as a supplier”
The Collector leaned in closer towards Burn.
“You haven't discovered that I have been sent here from an alternate timeline to gain knowledge of the true origin of our species and plan to tell the world, have you?” The Collector said this with a sardonic tone
Paul Gladstone nervously inhaled a drag of his cigarette, his first since he had quit smoking twenty-two years ago, among the many other vices he deemed unworthy to himself and to his God. He exhaled the smoke in the air and waited for a knock on his seedy motel room door, for now that’s all he could do. Wait. He knew his world would never be the same once that knock came. “so, this is how it ends” he thought. It was a particularly quiet night in the usually lively city of New Orleans and he couldn’t help but think the entire city was pondering this very same thought. When the knock came, he dared not to keep the man delayed. He put out his cigarette on the nightstand next to the bed without worry to the damage it may have caused to the decrepit wood, that was the least of his concerns. As He opened the door a young man wearing an immaculate tailored black suit that fit him so well it was as if the fine linen was part of his bone structure walked right past him towards the window. He opened it, stared down at the city over the balcony and inhaled deeply the oxygen of Louisiana like a bloodhound taking in the scent of a wounded animal.
“Destiny seeks us all, Mr. Gladstone, but very few people are willing to accept it”
He looked up to the clear dark sky to observe the stars as he talked quiet but methodically.
“Quiet night, isn’t it? Perhaps, he delayed, a little too quiet” He couldn’t help but let out a small smile after saying such a cliché line to Mr. Gladstone.
“My name is Aikur”
He turned and faced the bull of a man that was Paul Gladstone; If he had to kill him it would be no easy task to move the body. Paul looked quizzically at the young man in the black suit whose dark eyes seemed far colder and more intelligent than his ageless face was presenting.
“Relax Mr. Gladstone, if he wanted you dead, he would not have sent me, I am his messenger, not his mercenary, do you have what we seek?”
Paul nodded querulously to the briefcase laying on the bed.
“Excellent” Aikur said while adjusting his custom designed dragon cufflinks, one emerald green the other ivory white. “Open it” Paul walked anxiously to the briefcase; he couldn’t help but feel a sense of dread that seemed to consume the entire room. He unlatched the two steel clasps that guarded its precious contents, lifted the top and stepped away cautiously like it contained a deadly virus that would destroy all of humanity, and perhaps it would. Aikur stepped forward slowly and leered at the one item that rested inside the briefcase: A small rectangular box that was blood red in color with the image of a golden dragon inscribed on the top that was so artistically crafted it was as if the dragon were alive and served only to protect the contents hidden inside. Aikur closed the top, locked the clasps, grabbed the suitcase, looked directly in Paul’s eyes and gave him a slight nod. He exited the room just as expeditiously as he had entered.
Father Paul Gladstone felt weak as he nervously sat on the well-made bed close to the nightstand where his half-smoked cigarette had been crumpled. He gently opened the drawer that revealed a black King James version Bible; next to the holy book was a black pistol. He touched his priest collar, kissed his rosary that hung from his neck and soundlessly recited the Lord’s Prayer to himself hoping to be absolved from what he had just done, and for what he was about to do. He put the pistol in his mouth and squeezed the trigger.
Jonas Black finished off his third glass of Wild Turkey Tradition, aged fourteen years. The man indeed had expensive taste in bourbon “neat” He said to Keira, the stunningly beautiful bartender with olive skin and dark black hair which had a long streak of red in it.
“Why don’t I just hook it up to an I.V. for you” she said smiling as she winked one of her seductive hazel green eyes at him.
“There you go again, trying to get me drunk so you can take advantage of me later, story of my life” He said this with the confidence of a man who seemed to have had his fair share of beautiful women in his presence before. This earned him a small laugh from Keira.
“This one is on the house”
Jonas slightly raised his newly filled glass with the expensive bourbon as to accept her kind gesture.
“Must be my lucky night”
Jonas turned to listen to the live jazz music being masterfully performed on the stage adjacent to the bar. The bass guitarist was a known local legend whose real name was Carlo Dominique but here the locals called him “Badass Bass Brown” a fitting nickname if there ever was one. Badass was playing his guitar tonight as if he had been possessed by the spirit of Charlie Christian. The small Jazz bar was livelier than it should have been on a Monday night; filled with a crowd that seemed to come from all walks of life to be seduced willingly by the jazz music and party atmosphere that only New Orleans could fulfill. He unequivocally attributed this anomaly to the man playing the guitar on stage. Jonas instinctively noticed the man walking towards him long before he had arrived and sat next to him on the bar stool.
“You look like you could use a drink, Father”
“Whiskey” He said to the busy bartender.
“That was a joke, you know”
Keira returned quickly with a shot glass full of Johnny Walker Black.
“Have you heard the one where a priest walks into a bar” Jonas said to the curiously smiling Keira who was far too busy to stick around to hear the punch line. Without any hesitation, the Priest engulfed the fine tasting whiskey and carefully sat the empty shot glass in front of him. He spoke softly and with careful consideration to Jonas.
“Father Paul is dead” he said somberly, as he put his arm softly on Jonas’s shoulder “I am very sorry”
At that moment Jonas felt as if the world had suddenly stopped moving, the music was no longer playing in the background and time itself had frozen. Jonas simply looked at the kind priest directly in his eyes and uttered a one-word response:
The priest sighed deeply before delivering the somber answer “suicide”.
Jonas looked at him with a fire burning in his eyes as the priest continued “The artifact is missing; we believe Father Paul had it with him the night he” Jonas grabbed the priest by the throat with blinding speed before he could finish the sentence. “It. is. true” were the muffled words escaping from the red-faced priest’s lips as Jonas held firm to the grasp he had on his neck. “Jonas, p-please” he said as he struggled for oxygen. Jonas slowly released his grip on the priest’s neck and simply took another drink of his expensive bourbon as the priest nervously exhaled and straightened his collar.
“Jonas, we need you, we must find the artifact before it is too late”
Jonas did not look at the man as he gave his response “I will help find the artifact and return it, for Father Paul, not for the church and certainly not for your God”
The Priest stood up with a quick glance at Jonas, pulled out a ten-dollar bill, sat it on the counter and walked away.
“What was that about?” Keira said as she sat a bottle of Wild Turkey on the bar in front of him.
“Shooting the messenger” Jonas said as he swallowed the rest of bourbon in his glass.
“Well don’t shoot the bartender” Keira said as she smiled and walked towards an impatient man at the other end of the bar whom was desperately trying to get her attention to refill more shot glasses for him and his drunken companions. At nearly 3:00 AM the small jazz bar was closing up and people were stumbling towards the exit, the band on stage were packing up their instruments and Keira was wiping the top of the bar with a wet cloth and collecting empty beer bottles. Jonas remained seated as he poured himself another glass of fine Bourbon. Badass Bass Brown made his way towards the bar and sat next to him.
“You sounded good up there tonight, you still got some magic left in those old hands of yours” Jonas said as he slid the bottle of Wild Turkey towards him.
“Tis’ a gift and a curse” Badass said with a heavy Haitian accent as he held up one of his hands that showed his very calloused fingers from years of playing.
“I need to speak to him, Carlo”
“I thought you might say that, I will certainly let him know you are looking for him, it has been far too long, old friend, Good to see you back where you belong”
At that moment, Jonas wasn’t sure if he had meant New Orleans or the bar.
Aikur arrived at his destination that wasn’t found in any directory. It was a three-story building with what could only be described as modest architecture. He walked briskly with the black briefcase through the double doors and straight to the elevator. As he waited for the doors to open, he caught his reflection staring back at him, he used this opportunity to adjust his black tie. *Ding* The doors opened and he stepped inside. He pulled out a black sleek card and inserted it into a slot hidden to the right of the floor numbered buttons, suddenly the slot turned green and the elevator started its descent and Aikur couldn’t help but smile to himself as he looked down at the briefcase. The doors horizontally parted and he made his way down a long hallway in which the floor was immaculately polished and glossed like a barracks room ready to be inspected by a Marine Drill Sergeant at any moment's notice. The walls were a crimson red and lined with mirrors from top to bottom. At the end of the hallway stood two large doors with a black Bonsai Tree emblem that covered each side. The tree was soon split in two as the double doors slid open and he stepped inside. Waiting for him was his employer, Mr. Red. He was standing in front of a large red oak bookshelf that was filled from top to bottom with rare books in many different languages that any collector would surely give his first-born child to obtain. Mr. Red was in his late sixties, tall, lean, clean shaven and muscular. He was wearing a black suit, red boots, red bolo tie and his signature black Stenson ten-gallon cowboy hat to cover his neatly cropped grey hair.
“You have done well, Aikur” he spoke these words in fluent Japanese, Aikurs first language.
(the cadence and sound alone from this American cowboy seemed liked a living oxy-moron)
AIkur gave the man a slight nod and walked briskly to the middle of the room where a large glass table with the ancient symbol of the Yin and Yang engraved at its center stood. “Balance” Aikur thought to himself as he placed the briefcase directly on top. He released the two steel clasps and opened the case. He took a small step back with his head slightly nodded down in reverence to the man who stood before him. Mr. Red approached the table and looked at the contents in the briefcase, he reached to pick up the enchanting rectangular box with both hands and lifted it carefully. He marveled at the craftsmanship of the watchful dragon as he raised it to his eye level, the light from the room seemed to dance as it hit the edges as he examined it intimately.
“Destiny seeks us all, Aikur” He spoke this sentence in English with an inhibited tone as he placed the artifact back in the center of the briefcase, closed the top and fastened the clasps in sync. “click” He allowed his hand to rest atop the case for a brief moment before returning his eyes back to AIkur. “起死回生”Wake from death and return to life.
Aikur appreciated this Japanese idiom and gave the man a slight bow as Mr. Red exited the room with a “woosh” from the double sliding doors as the man departed.
The island of the yellow sun can only be seen by the black eyes of the wild heart. It is the dark mind that has access to the blue sky. The bright day does not exist in the realm of a quiet kingdom.
Jonas recited these words over and over in his head. He leaned back in his chair with his eyes closed deeply as if he were practicing deep meditation, it was a riddle that was given to him as a child to help ease his restless mind and rambunctious energy. The man who first told him this encrypted lexicon was now dead. Jonas needed to know why. He allowed himself to soberly contemplate on the man who had helped saved his life as a child and to reflect on his next move. Suddenly his eyes shot open, his head snapped forward, He reached to retrieve his white panama hat with a black band wrapped around the base and hastily exited the small motel room he was currently residing in.
Jimmy Wilcox was a lean tower of a man standing at 6 feet 5 inches tall, He had shaggy brown hair, dark eyes and a long beard that reached his chest. Everyone called the man “Slim”. Suddenly, He heard knocks on his door *knock* Knock* he slowly inhaled another drag of his joint and blew the smoke in the air, flicked the top then set it in the silver skull ashtray that was next to his table full of old newspapers. “Keep ya shirt on will ya” He casually walked to his door, gave a quick glance in the small peephole to reveal a fish-eyed visual of a familiar face standing there. He unlatched the top chain and swung it open. “Jonas Black!” He said with an enthusiastic smile and slapped the man on his shoulder as he ushered him in. “How the hell are you, man?”
“Doing well, Slim, I may need your help”
“Shit man, you don’t waste any time getting to the point do ya? you know you ain't gotta ask me twice... unless it’s a Sunday”
“Jesus, Slim, it smells like a weed dispensary in here”
“The devils lettuce man, got to eat healthy these days” he said this with an unwarranted hefty laugh.
“So, what’s on your mind valentine?”
“Well for starters, never say me that to me again” Jonas made his way to the old couch and reached for the pile of old vintage records Slim had stacked up occupying the space where he intended on sitting, He grabbed the collection with both hands and gently set them aside but not before taking a moment to appreciate the record that was atop of the pile; Miles Davis “Kind of Blues”
Jonas sat down and placed his white panama hat on his lap.
“Father Paul is dead” Jonas said with a serious tone.
“Damn man, that’s heavy, sorry to hear that brother” He reached for the half smoked joint in his ashtray, rested it on his lips, lit it up, inhaled and passed it to Jonas as a gesture.
“No, really, I’m sorry Jonas, I know he was like a father to you” He reached and grabbed Jonas by the shoulder with a soft grip as to let the man know he was indeed there for him as a brother would.
“I need my things, still holding them for me?”
“I got them man, only took her out once to give her a quick sharpening up and to clean the pistol, baby girl is as ready as ever”
Slim stood and walked to the far end of his apartment with urgency, no doubt his long lanky legs attributed to the speed at which he could move. He grabbed a dark gray lock box from atop of a cabinet, pulled it down and rested it on top of his granite counter. His fingers quickly pressed four numbers and a green light appeared with the sound of a mechanical lock being released. He opened the top of the box, looked inside to find one black Glock 45, a black clip loaded with GAP bullets and a sleek black carbon fiber knife as sharp as the tongue on a used car sales manager.
“She’s ready to see you now” Slim said with the tone of an announcement.
Jonas approached the kitchen and laid eyes on his girl “Beautiful” he said softly.
“Yea, I just got those granite tops installed like three weeks ago man” Slim said with another unearned chuckle to himself.
Jonas Grabbed the Glock, pulled the slide back, inserted the clip with one in the chamber, released the slide, switched the safety off, then back on and took aim at the stack of records to check the sights.
“Whoa man, take it easy, aiming at my prized collection there” Slim said as he took another long drag from his joint.
Jonas set the Glock aside then reached for his weapon of choice for most occasions.
“I missed you, baby girl” Jonas grabbed the blade flipped it in his hand and with blinding speed threw it to the far side of the wall sticking the blade right between the one and the three of Slims “Legalize it” calendar.
“What in the blue hell, Jonas! I’m telling you this as a friend, you got some real vandalism issues going on with you man”
Jonas walked to retrieve his blade, flipped it back and forth in his hand as he met Slim in the living room. He reached in his back pocket and pulled out a small silver phone and handed it to Slim.
“Just one number on there, untraceable, like I said, I may need your help”
“Jonas, you might as well call me fingers, you can count on me”
Jonas hung his head low and sighed, “Just be ready”
The two men shook hands and Jonas put the white panama hat he was holding back on and gave it a quick adjustment. He made his way to the door, he reached for the odd doorknob then turned around “oh and Slim, lay off the weed man, your jokes are getting worse and worse” He opened the door and exited into the hallway.
Slim closed the door, locked the chain atop and said under his breath as he watched Jonas leave through the peephole “Everyone's a critic”
Jonas sat in his car to look up at that building where his closest friend resides. He placed his panama hat low to the left side as the sun was cutting an angle like a laser over his left eye. He took a moment to contemplate before sliding the keys into the ignition. He threw on his black shades, fired her up and sped off the lot with tires screeching, not that he was in any rush, mostly he just thought it would look cool if Slim had been watching. His destination was to an old crab fishing shack located deep in the bayou that only a handful of the locals knew even existed and that was for a very good reason. The man who ran this place was as deadly as the gators who would frequently be seen in the swampy waters where it rested. As Jonas drove, his eyes were keen on looking for a very specific land marker. Mile 322. He made a sharp left after seeing this and slowed down on a dirt road, the back of his tires seemed to be creating an eerie sand storm left in its wake. Jonas approached the crab shack and he slowed to a stop. He adjusted his hat and hid his blade under his left jacket pocket. He stepped out of his car and slowly walked to saloon styled entrance door and swung it open.
“Jonas, I hear you have been looking for me”
Mr. White said this with a thick accent as he stood with his hands resting on his cane to assist him. The man made his way cautiously towards Jonas. He was wearing a white dress shirt, brown belt and white slacks with black gator dress shoes. The man certainly had style for his old age Jonas thought
“I need answers” Jonas said this with a serious tone.
“Don’t we all” Mr. White calmly exchanged back as he lifted his cane and pointed it directly in the eyes of Jonas.
“The briefcase is missing; Father Paul is dead.
Mr. White slammed his cane on the ground with such force Jonas thought he might tear a hole through the floor itself.
“You come to my establishment unannounced, alone, and dare to ask such questions in which you have the slightest understanding of!”
(dangers and opportunities)
“Checkmate” Akiur said proudly with a slight smile on his young face as he looked at Jonas who was still studying the board quizzically. Jonas looked up and gave a slight nod of approval to the younger Aikur, usually it was him who was being bested on the chess board. Jonas was playing white. Aikur Black. The teacher in white clothes was twirling his cane as he stood over the two young men with a warm smile as the very competitive game had finally come to an end with a surprising conclusion.
Mr. White offered Jonas a seat. Jonas Declined.
“Who has the artifact”
“Ah... The artifact, I do believe it is now in the safe hands of an old acquaintance of yours”
“Aikur” Jonas spoke the name softly
Jonas looked at Mr. White and gave a slight bow of honor for the information he needed and swiftly left the shack. As he looked back, he noticed the old crab shack was no longer there, just swamp, gators and dust.
Jonas sat in his car reached for his phone and punched just one number... #9. After a few rings a scruffy voice picked up.
“Slim I need you, it’s time, I’m sending you coordinates”
“Dude, am I going to die tonight? If so, I'd really like to finish my joint”
“Finish it, then move your ass” The line went dead
“Yep... I’m definitely going to die tonight” Slim Thought to him.
Jonas arrived at the destination, parked and waited for Slim to arrive. twenty minutes later he heard the loud red pickup truck slowly drive beside him and parked a few spots up from him. Jonas stepped out of his vehicle and approached the dirty red pickup truck and stepped inside from the passenger door.
“Jesus, Slim way to be inconspicuous”
“Hey man, this truck is a classic”
“Jonas, you ever feel like we are just characters being written for a story and maybe we don't even exist?”
“How high are you right now?” Jonas exclaimed.
“That’s the building, not much security, I've counted only two men we will have to take out, from there we will need every bit of our training to acquire the briefcase from a very dangerous and skilled adversary”
“Just another typical Friday night for me man”
Jonas and Slim carefully walked to the front of the building where two men stood outside guarding the door. Armed. As they approached closer, they began talking loudly and stumbling together.
“So, I told her I said what did you expect? steak and lobster? I’m a man on a budget” both men started laughing obnoxiously as Jonas stumbled and fell down.
“Hell man, learn how to control your liquor”
The two men guarding the entrance eyed them carefully and looked back at one another. As Slim reached to pick up Jonas, Slim pulled the silenced pistol and squeezed the trigger twice.
The second guard reached for his pistol under his belt; He was met with a blade in the eye with speed so fast the pistol was never even drawn as he fell to the ground. Jonas walked over to the now deceased and bleeding guard and looked at slim and gave a wink.
“Showoff” Slim responded
They drug the two men's bodies behind the ally, laid them down near a dumpster as Jonas reached in the pocket of one of the dead men and grabbed a black card from his jacket pocket then covered them up with bags of trash. They made their way forward to the entrance. They walked in and headed to the elevator. Jonas slide the sleek black card into the slot and it turned green. The descent began. Jonas looked at Slim “If this is just a novel, let's hope for a happy ending” *ding* the door opened and they moved quietly on either side of the long hallway towards the door at the end that seemed to be calling to them like a siren. Jonas reached to open the door. Slim grabbed his hand before he entered “Allow me” The door opened and Slim entered through cautiously. Jonas took a step back as the head of his closest friend rolled and laid beneath his feet as a look of horror and anger was painted on his face.
“Welcome Jonas, it has been a long time” Akiur said in the distance holding a sword with fresh blood dripping from its blade”
Jonas looked at the man with vengeance in his eyes.
“I’m unarmed, Akiur, I only seek that which does not belong to you”
“Come and get it” he said with a demented smile
Jonas lowered his arms and threw his knife that hit Aikur right in his shoulder where he held his sword. The sword fell to the ground. Jonas lunged at the weakened Aikur and caught him with a swift kick to his face that knocked him back a step. Aikur blocked the next kick and threw Jonas across the table with a strength he has has not felt before. The two stood locking eyes. Aikur fainted a high kick only to throw a left elbow as Jonas prepared to block the kick and was hit flush in the temple, he stumbled back. he then rushed forward, catching Aikur off guard as he was able to take him to the ground with a hard thud. The two skilled fighters tossed and turned for position on one another. Aikur got the best of the altercation with a fast elbow that caught Jonas off guard, Aikur slipped away making his way towards his sword at the front of the bookshelf. Jonas kicked Aikurs ribs and placed his finger in the wounded shoulder. He stumbled a step backwards in anguish as Jonas reached the sword and pointed it at Aikurs neck.
“This chapter ends now” Jonas Looked at the decapitated body of Slim on the floor and a rage grew across the man's face. He looked at Aikur and could only see the little boys face as he once remembered him. Jonas swung the sword with all the might he could muster in that moment. Aikur swiftly dodged the sword *whoosh* with perfect head movement, reached for the knife that Jonas used to puncture his shoulder and stabbed Jonas in his left armpit severing the axillary artery as the heavy blade tore into the red carpet. Jonas looked at Aikur, slowly dropped to his knees and gave a slight nod of reverence to the warrior he knew so long ago as a child. He collapsed to the floor bleeding out and writhing in pain.
“Checkmate” Aikur said while slowly approaching Jonas.
Aikur grabbed the sword that was lying on the red carpet. He walked towards the kneeling and fatally wounded Jonas. Aikur stood over his body before kneeling himself to look directly into the familiar eyes of an old foe. Aikur then pierced the blade into the dying man's heart.
The four men stepped forward in the building wearing crimson red ski masks, the overweight security guard at the entrance was now on his knees holding his bloody, broken nose mumbling curse words to himself. “That elbow was a result of his life decisions” Max pondered to himself as each man had their hands formed in the shape of a pistol with two fingers as the barrel as the thumb pointed up in the position as the trigger; much in the way a young child would pretend to be a bank robber in thier imagination. The people in the lobby were now all down on the ground, you could hear small cries of the frightened mass as the men began to move in positions of the lobby with clock like precision.
“Everybody be cool, stay on the fucking ground and go to your happy place”
The man speaking was Maximillion Charles, A.K.A. “Mad Max” the Defacto leader of the “Crimson Cowboys” as they were dubbed in the media. An eccentric, very skilled and certifiably insane character in the world where robbery was the top commodity.
“I’m sure you have all seen movies where a robbery is happening and there is always that one fucking guy on the ground... (Max began to get animated with his tone) fighting with his inner conscience to be a hero and save the day; This is not that movie that people, I will shoot you in the back of the fucking head if I so choose, So relax... be cool and this will all make one hell of a status update for your social media later”
Max began walking towards the front of the building when he noticed an amateur security guard approaching from the back of the lobby with his pistol drawn. Max tilted his head and gave a small smile as the two men locked eyes on one another. He pointed his hand gun at the bewildered man, moved his thumb down atop his index finger to simulate a shot *BANG* the security guard was suddenly thrown across the room with a large bloody hole in the center of the man's chest as blood and intestines were splattered against the white walls of the lobby.
“Max!” The short bald, bearded man in a slick blue and white suit with matching pocket square shouted as he was giving the details for the next rendezvous after the job was complete.
Suddenly Max was back at the warehouse leaning back in his chair with both of his feet on the large table with his right foot atop his left.
“And for God's sake don’t shoot anyone!”
The three other men sitting at the large table turned their heads almost in perfect sync to look at Max.
Max put both his hands up on his chest in a mock surrender to them.
Max stands from the table and suddenly starts screaming out a mumbled gibberish. JKHDJH DGUI:Ggukg;euguif ;88t;t7 f!!. It is an oddly terrifying scene... The scenario we just created is now being played in reverse like a movie in rewind as each part of the scene is now being deleted from the story.
Karick Church was now manically punching the keys of his keyboard out of anger and frustration; he then pressed and held the backspace key until every single word he just wrote was gone; Only a white screen with a blinking black cursor remained... “Taunting me to write” he thought to himself.
He opened the door of the small wooden cabin, bright, blinding white light greeted him as he covered his face with his hand like a shield against the intruder to his darkness. Karick then stepped outside to take the call.
“Hey Jimi” Karick said tiredly.
“My main man vitamin K! why do you always sound so depressed, cheer up you brilliant weirdo, I got some great news for you, it appears your script is a hit”
“What? Was the delayed response.
“I know you said you still had to write the ending but that didn’t stop me from taking this opportunity to shop my favorite client’s work around; hell, its ninety percent done; they love the idea! I’m talking big distributors, Karick, this story is going to make you famous! You get it now?” Jimi said enthusiastically
There was a pause on the line.
“Yea” Karick Interrupted. “That’s great, listen... He paused again. I am going to be out the loop for a bit until I finish writing okay? so only If it is an emergency... you know where to find me”
Karick ended the call, he looked up at the red wooden door frame of the cabin; a feeling of dread swept across him... or was it a rush of adrenaline. He slowly took a step forward and approached the door, Karick hesitated a brief moment before touching the bright blue door knob, giving it a twist. The door opened with a *swoosh* as wind came in with Karick like an un-welcome guest to a dinner party. Karick stepped inside and closed the door behind him.
An uncertain amount of time has passed.
Karick was walking in the pattern of an oblong circle on the red oak hard wooden floor of the cabin. he scratched his beard that was beginning to get a bit scruffy. He looked back to the computer on his desk, the light from the white blank screen was a haunting image to him. The cursor fading in and out over and over again. He turned away from the screen and walked towards the now crowded countertop of the kitchen island, it was littered with old apple cores and empty water bottles. He unlocked the black briefcase and looked at the contents inside, two custom black pens and an unopened ream of Green-Dragon Corp. writing paper (a rare and elusive company that specialized in high quality material sought out by many artists and authors)
He reached for the ream of paper and defiantly walked back to his desk, “Fuck you” Karick said to his computer as he closed the laptop and pushed it to the side. He placed the ream of high-quality paper in the center of his desk and frantically opened the finely detailed green and white packaging throwing aside the paper scraps and wrappings on the floor beside the desk. He held the now stacked paper with both hands before neatly squaring it up. Karick rested his hand atop the stack for a brief moment “I need my pen” he suddenly thought... he hurriedly rushed back to the open briefcase atop the island countertop and grabbed one of his prized pens; he gave it a quick twirl through his fingers as he walked back to his desk.
An odd-looking man in the corner of the cabin plays a loud G chord on an old organ that echoes throughout the cabin as a large brown spider scurries across the stack of paper in front of him.
Karick jumps back in his chair terrified! He quickly stands up and rushes away hitting himself all over with his hands screaming bloody murder out to nobody in particular “Fuck! WHAT... What?! The fuck in the UNHOLY nightmare fuel was that thing!!” He shudders to himself then quickly regains his confidence as he runs towards the countertop. “Nope. Nope, Nope!" He lectured to himself as he closes the black briefcase and holds it up with both hands almost as if it were a baseball bat. Karick now had his weapon, “It's on” he thought.
He maneuvered towards the desk very carefully lifting his feet as to not make any noise; as he gets closer to the desk, he quickly rushes forward as he lets out a screaming war cry before raising the briefcase to kill the horrid brown beast, but the spider had vanished. He looks around his desk frantically, Nothing. He looks behind the desk, under the desk, the walls above him, He checks under his lamp knocking it over in the process. He opens each drawer of the desk with one hand as he’s still holding the briefcase with the other; Nothing. It had disappeared. Karick sets the briefcase on the now disorganized desk and let out a defeated sigh. He turns to pick up the over turned chair, sets it in front of the desk and sits down slowly. “I’m losing my mind” he thought.
Karick looks at the blank sheets of paper scattered all over the desk. He leans forward and begins to organize the sheets in his hand, he re-stacks the ream and pounds the heavy paper twice, then places it in the center of his desk; The control over the paper seemed to calm him.
The odd-looking man in the corner of the cabin begins to laugh.
The light begins to flicker in the room adjacent to his desk. Karick turns his head slowly to the room as he sees bright patterns of light that seemed to be dancing in the dark shadows; the contrast made it feel like a broken strobe light with a low emanating buzzing sound.
The loud bang came from under the floor as Karick jumped back in his chair. He stood up slowly to just stare out into the dark abyss that once felt like a familiar place he knew. The dark abyss stared back. He began walking down the cold corridor of the cabin to where the buzzing light was still flickering. *flickerZzflickeZZrflicker* As he crept closer to the room, he notices a small crack in the wall, it seemed to be splintering the wood; He stops to trace the lines with his finger. *THUMP* The bang was even louder and closer now as Karick walked into and observed the room methodically from every angle. *THUMP* Karick flinches to himself as the loud bang was right beneath him now.
A shadow subtly moves in the corner of the room. He lifts up the corner of the large blue shaggy carpet and folds it over the top revealing a door underneath it with a blue crystal glass knob. He places his hand on the dazzling blue crystal knob and slowly twists it opens it revealing a descending dark staircase.
Karick’s view is now slowly being rotated upside down as he makes his was downward towards the bright red door at the bottom; the imagery reminiscent of a bat hanging upside down in a dark cave dwelling. He places his hand on the door for a moment, then placed his ear slowly against the now dark crimson red door to listen... to hear anything. Nothing. He opens the door slowly as dim crimson light fills the space in between.
“Get in here!” The man in the snazzy blue velvet suit with a horribly disfigured face shouted in an inhuman tone.
Karick slowly walked forward to the center of the room facing the disfigured man at the desk. He hunched his shoulders making his six-foot frame now seem much smaller as he kept his head lowered to the man as not to see his face. His reflection off the ruby red glass floor stared back at him.
“This is shit?! You’re pathetic! You think anyone is going to understand this...” the man was now speaking and waving his arms in a mocking tone “Oh, like, the cabin is just a metaphor for his mind knock off Charlie Kaufman-esqe Bullshit!... Where is the exciting climax? Where is the original ending!... You’re a hack!” The disfigured face man pounded the large wooden table with his fist at this last statement *THUMP*
“You... You are right” Karick said softly with his head still lowered.
The man with the horribly disfigured face stormed towards Karick and punched the man hard in his lower abdomen. Karick leaned over gasping for breath as he held his side. The man with the disfigured face was now making mocking breaths out loud to himself as he danced in a circle, he then leaned down next to Karick and whispered to him:
“come and see” He demanded
He grabbed Karick by the back of his hair as he lifted the man back straight, he walked him forward as Karick was still struggling to catch air in his lungs; The man slammed Karicks head into the large wooden table *THUMP* the impact left a deep gash on the left side of his forehead that was now pouring blood into his eyes as he lay on the ground struggling to breath now holding his head applying pressure to it.
The man in the blue swede tailored fitted suit danced around the room letting out an inhuman sound as if he were a professional wrestler taunting an imaginary crowd; He snatched a handful of Karicks shirt and lifted the bleeding man back to his feet.
“Get the hell out of my face, Imposter... You hack!!” The disfigured faced man said in a growl as he forcefully ushered Karick to the red entrance door then pushed him out causing him to fall on the bottom stair of the upside-down room.
Karick slowly climbs his way back up the dark stairs holding on to the stone wall for balance, he reaches the door atop and slowly opens it, he emerges from the bottom of his hard wood floor where the blue shaggy carpet was still folded over. He crawls out from the hidden door and falls to the side of his floor exhausted; He stares up at the flickering light that is now brighter and the pattern seems more chaotic; the low humming accompanying the broken light now sounds like a loud muffled fire alarm ricocheting its echo off the cabin walls. He touches his wounded bloody head with his hand, winces, and begins to laugh out loud. The flickering white strobe light in contrast to the darkness brings the rose-colored fog into sight as it slowly begins to fill the space around him.
Karick picks himself up; he is holding his side with one hand while applying pressure to his head wound with the other while he slowly moves forward towards his desk; Karick stops walking when he notices the crack in the wood has now splintered outwards and is much larger resembling the patterns of a broken spider web.
Karick then punches the wall, the cracks grow wider and the wood started splintering. He looked down at the dried blood patterns that had formed on his hands. He then started screaming and punching the wooden wall over and over again; the wall began to start cracking and the hole began to widen as the blood was now splattering all over the splintering wood. He jumped back suddenly! he saw a reflection of himself in the mirror that was hidden deep within the walls. He then screamed at the reflective image and punched the mirror shattering it, cutting his hand with the shards of broken glass. Fresh blood ran down his hand trickling drops of crimson red on the brown wooden floor. He stumbles towards his kitchen and opens a drawer; he reaches inside for the large sharp knife and slams close the wooden drawer as his bloody hand leaves an imprint on the knob. He wipes the sweat from his head and holds his side as the flickering light and loud muffled fire alarm sound grew louder and closer as he made his way back to the room with the hidden door. The walls of the room seemed to have moved closer in as the feeling of claustrophobia washed over him. He opened the door and stepped through the bottom of his floor. His equilibrium seemed unbalanced as he made his descent to the crimson colored door. He opened it again, this time a look of wide-eyed terror was on his face...
“No... “The horribly disfigured faced man screamed out as Karick entered.
Karick let out a wild scream as he ran forward to plunge the knife deep into the man's chest; He twisted the blade and began to slice upwards; He pulled the knife out and blood began to spray into his eyes. The disfigured faced man in the finely tailored blue velvet suit fell to the ground; The contrast in colors was beautiful to Karick thought. He dropped the knife on the ruby red glass floor then slowly walked out of the room towards the stairs. The disfigured faced man laid there writhing back and forth, making an inhuman crying sound. Karick made his way cautiously back up the stairs and fell through the hard-wooden floor of his cabin room. The smoke was now a thick smog that seemed to be covering the entire room, the alarm sounds were now blaring a scream; the white flickering strobe light was blinding to him. He covered his face from the light and stumbled out of the chaotic room. He stumbled and fell as he entered the cabins corridor leading back to his computer desk. He touched his throbbing head and noticed there was still blood pouring out from the wound as the red liquid raced down his hand. He grabbed the back of his chair then he positioned it in the center of his desk. He grabbed the neatly stacked paper and threw it aside leaving a bloody handprint on one of the blank pagesr; He grabbed his laptop and placed it on the desk, He opened it to reveal a blinding white screen with a cursor blinking off and on.
The odd-looking man in the corner of the cabin begins twinkling the ivory keys of his piano softly. The music being played is breath takingly beautiful.
Karick begins typing frantically on his keyboard, almost manically. He begins to laugh out loud as he continues to type faster and faster; the blood from his hands begin to heavily drip on the keyboard of his computer. The laughter grows louder as Karick looks with wide eyes at white screen now filling up with words; he was typing like he had been possessed by The Muse itself. Karick finishes typing the very last word of his story... his eyes now bloodshot as a tear rolls down his face; He saves his work then stands up closing the laptop shut; He reaches for the important flash drive and snatches it out of the computer. Karick now felt a stabbing pain shoot through his chest, He clutches it with his now blood-soaked hands. He stumbles to the black briefcase resting on top of the counter; He places the flash drive that is now covered in his own blood gently inside the briefcase, He closes it shut and snaps the silver clasps. *CLICK*
Karick Church collapses on the floor, closes his eyes and embraces the wave of blackness that was now consuming him. (The sound of typing on a keyboard can be heard in the distance)
A brown spider scurries across the hard-wooden floor where the collapsed body of Karick now rests.
AUSTIN E. OLSEN
BRIAN RB WILCOX
DAVID GILMAN FREDERICK
H. R. KEMP
IVO KISIC MERINO
JAMES ROBERT CAMPBELL
K. A. WILLIAMS
RAFAELITO V. SY
RUTH Z. DEMING
T. F. TURNER
WILLIAM KEVIN BURKE
W. LEE BROOKS
WRITER GO HYEE