poem

Creative Process

I was thinking about the creative process today. I’m always cautious of throwing around buzz words like this because, like I like to say, “something said often enough without feeling, loses any amount it once had”. For that reason if I am going to use a popular phrase for inspiration, I really want to know why. After a bit of thought I’ve decided to keep this one around the shop. My reason for doing so lies in the second word of the phrase: process.

I think creatively we make the mistake of thinking that before starting, all the ideas should be laid out, planned, organized. There’s room for that way of creating something. Certainly it’s the only way some people are willing to go ahead with an idea. But for some of us who attempt this route, and I think that’s a large demographic, it’s paralyzing. That word process which I believe is the heart of creativity, can’t get of the ground with all the red-tape (bureaucracy) of planning, surrounding it. I say forget the planning and go straight to process and by doing so you will have far greater success.

dead-end

To make the point I’ll talk about how I write outlines for stories. First it starts with staring at a blank page. Then a period of time where I bemoan why I suck at writing (this period usually feels longer than it actually is). Then, the first stupid idea that enters my head I jot down on the page , quick, as though it were the voice of god. This leaping off point usually occurs within fifteen minutes. From there, I notice a distinct ramping up of ideas and possible directions for the outline. Some thirty minutes later I’m usually shocked at what is coming out the end of whatever pen or pencil I am using: the ideas are strong and flowing freely. The ideas that are flowing so freely are a direct result of the utter garbage that preceded them. In this way we see that it is process which leads us to success. And the errors just as important as the final result.

Idea

If we only ever accept a brilliant starting point for an idea, I don’t think we’ll have that many. Hardly any of us wake up brilliant, we usually need a warm up, or coffee at the very least. On the other hand, if we treat our ideas indiscriminately and allow them to exist freely, good or bad, we enter that golden space of inspiration far quicker.

prisoner-atlas

I’d wager that if you asked most people who create which they prefer more, presenting their creation, or creating it, nine times out of ten you’d hear, “creating it!” blurted out quickly, without much thought, or planning… see what I did there? I believe the reason for an artist’s appreciation of process should be obvious. It is because that is when they are closest to an enlightened moment: when they had a good idea. And that idea is usually found somewhere in the middle of when they started thinking about what to make. The afterglow of course is lovely. We bask in the warmth of awesomeness and do enjoy observing it afterwards. But the glow is fleeting and a shadow of the original fiery passion we felt at the idea’s inception.

setting

And this ladies and gentlemen is why I’ve chosen to keep the old phrase, creative process, around. At any time we can pull it off the shelf and be reminded of what creating is all about. It reminds us that while all creations are fleeting, creating is not. And an eternity spent contemplating perfection is worthless, when compared with a million mistakes made honestly, in pursuit of pure art.

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When You Bleed You’re Beautiful

Approach and state your name

Did you come here to fight

Did you come here to blame

This road is not yours this house is not mine

You’re building castles in the sand this time

I’m so tired of drawing lines

We can, can fly above them

They’ll not matter when you see them far away

One more argument you bought and sold

I’m sorry to be the one who tells you, baby, when you bleed you’re beautiful

Fall into me, hold onto me, be there, fade away, say my name, let me know

Appear, what twists and takes all your fears

Knock, knocking you, get up fall down

That familiar feel of crumbling ground

I know you’re tired of endings and beginnings

Life’s long lists of what ifs and letting gos

Just remember when we bleed we’re beautiful

Fall into me, hold onto me, let me go, be there, fade away, let me know

Little Black Box

My body my mind, chiseled in, fading time.
Drawn to the brink, ever I sink, into you.
Carefully crafting sermons that teach, only me, to see.

I’m so thirsty for the flames

Something to burn away, a light so bright, you’d find me.

But I’m just a little black box four square corners of recorded thoughts
My story is the telling of truth
And it’s all just a lie, a little black box without its disguise

Still every day from the wreckage of hope I drag these tortured dreams

Defy what I know to be broken

Swear what I know can’t be spoken

If for just one moment for all to see, I’d be more than these four corners, I’d be more than just me

But I’m just a little black box four square corners of recorded thoughts
My story is the telling of truth
And it’s all just a lie, a little black box without its disguise

Free

And now it’s time for you to run without this time a starting gun
Is it not how they told you it would be
They were singing songs of innocence before you were free
And Now you know experience a tiger that stalks inside your house
He’s been there a while now tearing up your floors showing you all those hidden doors
It’s like floyd said it’s not what you expected to see
When I looked at the tiger the tiger was me

So I run run run can’t seem to catch up with the sun
And each day I grow older just a little bit colder
But after all I wanted this wanted to be free

Are we all just dreaming of life
I wake and it’s not real
A lonely place just filled with steel
Each face passes by a glimmer of something the same
Will we ever be more than just our names
I have always been looking for that greater plan
But all the time knowing the tiger will eat the lamb

So I run run run can’t seem to catch up with the sun
And each day I grow older just a little bit colder
But after all I wanted this wanted to be free

I can feel my pulse it’s never the same
But somehow in the end comes round again
When does it all stop can you see by the veil
This tiger feels old from eating his tail
His back is broke and his mind is gone
So maybe this time we sing the song.

So we run run run can’t seem to catch up with the sun
And each day we grow older just a little bit colder
But after all we wanted this wanted to be free

Not the First Nor the Last

March Roundup Contest Entry 2015

Prompt: In 250 words or fewer, pick a quote from a published author or book and write about it.

————

“Sometimes you have to do what’s wrong in order to do what’s right.”

Peter F. Hamilton, The Dreaming Void

———————–

“Hey, I’m so glad to see you.” My tone is a manic mix of light-hearted optimism and inconsolable fear.

I grip one hand with the other to stop the shaking. There is nothing I can do about my head. It irritates me endlessly. Whenever I’m stressed, there’s a slight vibration in my neck. I’m sure I’m not the only one who notices it.

She steps through the door and looks at me with hollow eyes. “Let’s sit down,” she says.

“Sure, of course.” I signal to my room. No roommate anymore and no more furniture leaves the place almost empty, just a bed and memories.

We both sit and I begin. I am a bursting fountain-head of cliché: “I love you. We can work. I’m begging you. You’re my soul-mate”. I’ve made it harder for her. In the end I hurt her more.

But her words are absolution: “I don’t. No we can’t. I don’t care. You’re not mine.”

Inside, whatever dignity I had is swept away. Grief strips me. I am nothing. Outside, my shell persists. Discontent with leaving any scrap behind, I negotiate my pride: trade reality for one last illusion. When she’s walking to the door, I’m almost optimistic. Maybe there’s a chance. Maybe it’s not over. Maybe when I leaned in for that last kiss before she left, those lips weren’t dead.

Forgive Me

Forgive me if I’ve forgotten what we argued for

We washed up here without our fear left it on the shore

It’s in each other’s arms we’re guilty wanting more

Like an old photograph you hold in your hands

Timeless till the waves melt what seemed like solid sand

Let me wake from just one more dream
Where the sun is rising and the light touches everything
An unending ending is it so much to ask
When all our time descending falls through an hour-glass

If I am no more than a blink of an eye let me fall a million ways let me feel before I die

All those friends who’ve come and gone loved ones whose memories may persist

Aren’t we all just the same leaving folded at the wrists

So please

Forgive what I am forgive what I am not forgive that I’m forgetting what should not have been forgot

Let me wake from just one more dream
Where the sun is rising and the light touches everything
An unending ending is it so much to ask
When all our time descending falls through an hour-glass

Chapter.5 Getting High

Daniel sat cross-legged with Lincoln’s head in his lap, back against the fridge, looking out through the kitchen window at the grey skies of the morning. The dog dozed in and out of consciousness, occasionally stirring from sleep to fix him with its thoughtful eyes. He took his time petting the animal’s head, enjoying the softness of the fine fur under his fingers.

“No walk today?” Kate asked, coming down the stairs.

“Not today.” Daniel never stopped looking out the window.

Kate went to the fridge and dug out two brown paper bags: their lunches, prepared by their mother the night before. “You don’t want to forget this.” She extended the bag to Daniel. “You keep forgetting it and taking mine when you’re hungry. I can’t afford the calories.” she patted her stomach, “I’m wasting away, look at me.” Daniel continued to stare out the window and her slight smile died. She placed the bag next to him. “Just please put it in your bag.”

Sighing, Daniel stood up. “Thanks, Kate.” Unzipping his bag, he stowed away the lunch for later.

“You won’t forget what you promised today?” Kate’s smile returned, hopeful, imploring.

“No way, Kate,” said Daniel ruefully, putting his arm around her and squeezing as they left the house. “Never.”

————-

Daniel caught himself looking at the empty desks of Thommy and Dean. He shouldn’t care. Why do I care? He scratched absentmindedly at a scab on his temple. The beating from weeks earlier still left its mark. Feeling a tap on his left shoulder Daniel turned. It was Milton.

“We still on today?” Milton asked.

“Yeah, for sure, man.”

“Nice.” Milton leaned back, balancing on the back two legs of his chair.

“What’s the plan, the usual?”

“What’s the plan everyday, Pinky? I try and take over the world.” Milton winked.

Daniel laughed. “Sounds good, Brain.”

The two boys exited the school together. Classes were boring as usual, but now that Daniel talked and joked with Milton through most of them, time passed quickly. As they approached the maple tree at the exit to the school, Milton started to lag behind. “You forget something?” said Daniel.

“Nope, just figure it’s your choice.” Milton took a pack of cigarettes out from the front pouch of his bag. After tapping it on the back of his hand he pulled one of its long cylinders from the packaging and placed it in his mouth.

“What?” Daniel stopped, confused. “What’s my choice?”

A lighter materialized in Milton’s hands. He lit his smoke and shrugged. “Everything,” he said between puffs of smoke, “just take your time.”

Daniel almost lost his footing as Kate collided with his lower half, hugging him around the waist.

“You ready?” Kate held tightly while looking up at him.

“Ready? Goddammit.” Daniel hated being confused. “Ready for what?”

Kate released him and stepped back. “You promised that today we’d walk together.” Kate’s expression was suspicious. “Daniel… I’ve been asking you for weeks. I asked you this morning. You promised. You forgot?”

“I didn’t forget!” Daniel answered angrily, loathing himself for forgetting. “I just forgot I had to do something today after school, Kate, otherwise I would, for sure.”

Kate looked for a moment like she wanted to hit him, but the frustration passed from her face leaving only a demoralized girl. “I see… well, tomorrow right. We’ll walk together tomorrow then?” She wouldn’t look at him, only the ground.

“Yeah, for sure. You know I will. Today is just a weird day. I totally forgot what I had to do.” He hugged her and kissed her head. He felt nothing: no connection.

“Okay, I’ll find Sandy. I don’t think she’s left yet.” Kate shuffled away leaving Daniel standing by himself. Why couldn’t she just hate me? It’d be so much easier.

“So you’ve got it right?” Urgency crept into Daniel’s voice.

“My good man, when have I ever not? I just wanted to go to a new place today.”

“A new place, why? What’s wrong with the park?”

Milton feigned a hurt expression. “Well pardon me for liking a little ambiance.” In an exaggerated girlish voice he continued, “I swear it’s like you just don’t care about us doing anything special together anymore.”

“Oh fuck off.” Daniel shoved Milton, feeling stupid for appearing needy. “So where’s this new place?”

“All in good time, my man, we aren’t far now.”

Much as he didn’t want to show it, Daniel was disappointed. He loved the park. Milton had introduced him to afternoons spent doing nothing more than wandering within its green borders. Walking on its paths where no one could see him, he felt a rare kind of peace. All he needed to do was step off the set trails and walk for a few feet then suddenly the city and all its constructs were gone: no businesses, schools or any other institution of memory reminding you of your place within, insisting on it.

“You want one?” Milton was lighting another cigarette.

“No, I’m alright. I don’t smoke.”

Milton made a sound. “Picky picky, bit of a double standard you got there.”

“That’s different,” Daniel defended.

“Suit yourself.” Milton took a long drag making overly contented sounds, like a restaurant patron who wanted everyone to know how expensive their dinner was.

“We gonna arrive soon?” Daniel tried to steer the conversation.

“You don’t recognize where we are… I thought you might?” Milton flicked the half smoked cigarette to the street and ground its smoldering ember with the heel of his shoe.

“Oh shit,” said Daniel, seeing the large structure rearing up in front of him. Lost in visions of the park he’d mentally pruned his awareness to a few feet in front of him.

“Yeah, pretty cool eh? I figured for what I got rolled up for us today we ought to head somewhere special. What do you think?”

“Of the church?” Daniel sputtered, “it’s cool, but there’s no way in. I’ve been by here dozens of times. The place is locked down.”

“Oh is it?” Milton gave a crooked smile. “Wait till you see, man. I know a way in and at the top is a view you wouldn’t believe. Come on. Let’s go.” Milton led them down the 7-Eleven’s alley adjacent to the church. Reaching a cross in the alleys they took a right which would led them behind the church.

“I’m telling you, it’s just a fence. I’ve been back here. You don’t think I wanted to climb up that construction work before?” Milton did not seem like he was listening. As they continued on their path his features tightened with intense concentration. “Even if you want to climb it, there’s razor wire at the top. I don’t care how good the view is, I’m not getting my wrists slit over it.”

“Would you shut-up,” Milton hissed. “I’m trying to focus.”

“Yeah sure… sorry.” Daniel quieted, not so much out of respect for his friend’s wishes, but surprise. Since they’d started to hang out Milton may have joked around with him, but never had he been rude.

“I’m looking for something. It was here the other day.” The boys walked next to the fence behind the church and Milton walked with his hand brushing the links. After a few more feet his eyes which had become slits popped open. “Ah yes, found it.” He smiled in satisfaction and gripped the fence.

“Found what?” asked Daniel.

“The door to Narnia. You’re lucky though—I’m not a satyr with pedophilic tendencies.” Daniel’s face told just how far the reference had sailed over his head. “Oh come on.” Milton waited a while longer for Daniel’s revelation. “Nothing—oh forget it, check this out.” Milton pulled a square section of the fence up and outwards. Someone had cut the fence with wire cutters and made an effort to conceal the opening.

Daniel’s eyes widened. “Would you look at that. This has been here for long?”

“Nope, I’ve come by often and it’s never been here. It was just the other day by chance I spotted it. Whoever made it had left it slightly ajar so I could tell it was there. Can’t be much older than a couple days, lucky us eh?” Milton hunched down and started to crawl through the open space, but Daniel grabbed at the back of his shirt.

“Hold on a second, aren’t you a little worried by that? I’ve met one of the weirdos who runs this place. What if they did this on purpose to catch people sneaking onto the grounds?”

Milton flopped over onto his back-side and sat on the other side of the fence. “Am I worried—if a church cut a hole in its fence—to catch teenagers who want to sneak into their non active construction site. No, Daniel, I’m not. That’s ridiculous.”

Daniel was already down on his knees crawling through the hole before Milton could finish. “Just seems suspicious,” he grumbled. Milton had a way of making Daniel feel many times younger than the two years that separated them.

Up and up they climbed, higher and higher, at first easily. The beginning levels of construction which Daniel had observed all those weeks ago with his sister were well established. Two-by-fours of wood laid across interlocked shells of rectangular girders all positioned against the side of the church provided comfortable walkways. Blue tarps shielded them from the wind. Steel ladders fastened at different intervals along each section allowed them to continue ascending. It was after the seventh or eighth that climbing became more difficult. Whatever they were doing to the side of the church, the work crews had only progressed up so far. The sections above the established areas were incomplete. Sometimes only half a level’s floor boards were put in place, and as they progressed further, sometimes one. It did not prevent them from reaching their destination: as high as they could go.

From above Daniel’s head on the ladder came Milton’s whistle. “Oh man, wait until you see this.”

“I’m sure it looks a hell of a lot better than your ass,” said Daniel, shielding his eyes from the falling flakes of particulate that Milton knocked loose from above.

“You love it.” Milton shook his buttocks.

The ladder rocked unsteadily, knocking even more rust flakes and wood dust into Daniel’s eyes. Suddenly it let out a groan and shifted positions, screeching as it scraped along the top bar that connected it to the next section. The boys’ banter abruptly ended in dead silence. After enough time passed to assure them they would not die, the two laughed nervously.

“Maybe I should just climb?” Milton joked.

“Maybe,” Daniel responded through clenched teeth, still hugging the ladder. Much good that it would have done him: if it fell, he’d have fallen with it. Shaken and elated by an energy that comes after a close call, the boys clambered up the last rungs of the ladder. They took a seat with their backs against the church on a single two-by-four that comprised the uppermost level.

“We did it!” Sitting next to Daniel, Milton raised a hand for a high-five. Daniel just looked at it. “You’re right, not that kind of moment.” He let the arm fall to his side. They sat silent and took in the city that stretched out before them.

It had rained earlier and now an unseasonal late day sun heated the air around them, evaporating the moisture. Sitting as high as they were the steam rose up to just below their dangling feet. Skyscrapers and radio towers poked out at various heights from the blanket. Their metal trim still beaded with condensation reflected back the light, glittering like gold-veined mountaintops. Looking out from their vantage point, Daniel mused, almost worth dying for—almost.

Daniel relaxed. He pulled the smoke deep into his lungs, then with another short inhalation deeper still. Holding it there he relished the feeling slowly diffusing throughout his physical extremities and mind. Bringing them to a singular center of focus and sensation. Or maybe feel was the wrong word. He enjoyed more what it stopped him from feeling: guilt, anger, frustration, in all their infinite forms. He blew out the long plume of smoke, thick and heavy. It drifted downwards, joining the swirling vapor below.

“You gonna pass that, you greedy bastard?” Milton made a gesture.

Daniel paused with the joint halfway between himself and Milton’s outstretched hand. “What’s your family like?” he asked. Since becoming friends they’d reached an unspoken consensus on discussing personal matters: they didn’t. It was enough that they liked each other, had common interests. But some compulsion in Daniel asked the question. He did not know why.

Milton sat thinking for a moment before he answered. “What, like brothers and sisters? I don’t have any.”

“Sure, but what about your mom and dad, what’s that like?”

Milton pushed out air, bulging his cheeks. “Typical I guess. They’re separated. I never met my mom. The way I remember my dad talking about her… I think he just didn’t like women. I hate him. He booted me out of the house early enough that I don’t remember much, just how angry he always was. I live in a foster home now.”

“That’s typical?” Daniel rubbed his eyes then patted his arms. The sun was beginning to set.

Finishing another rip on the joint, Milton passed it back. “In this world … I think so.”

“If you were so young, what ended up happening to you?”

“Oh stupid shit, typical again. I got into trouble and sent to a sort of detention center for rebellious children. Pretty brutal place, if I’m being honest.”

“Sounds like Hell.” Daniel was sympathetic.

Milton shook his head vehemently. “Not really, you learn pretty fast what it takes to survive in a place like that.”

“Which is?”

Milton pointed at his head. “That’s all, man. That’s all.”

Daniel laughed. “Oh yeah? Well I think you might be the exception, not the rule. Most kids aren’t like that.” He shook his head. “Man, I thought living with my dad was bad. Don’t know how I would handle something like that.”

“And you never will.” Milton’s voice hardened. “Can we talk about something else?” Milton looked at Daniel with an ironic smile. “You trying to depress me? Cuz you’re succeeding. That shit’s fucking depressing.”

“No, course not.” Daniel put up his hands in surrender. “Don’t even know why I asked.”

“Thank you…” Milton gazed out over the city. Minutes passed. “I scored us something special, if you want to see?”

Glad to be clear of the darker subject of family, annoyed he’d even brought it up, Daniel endorsed the distraction. “Yeah sure, what is it?” When Milton pulled from his backpack the increasingly worn pack of cigarettes, Daniel’s enthusiasm disappeared. “Dude, you know I don’t sm-”

Milton put up a hand. “Wait … please.” Popping open the pack he tapped it on his palm until four nondescript round pills bounced out. “Good things to those who wait, my friend.” Pinching one between his thumb and middle finger he raised it up in front of his eye, like a jeweler enjoying the beauty of a diamond.

“What’s it called?” Daniel asked curiously.

“My man, it does not matter so much what it’s called, but what it does. You’re asking the wrong question.”

“So what’s it do then?”

“Any of that depressing shit we just talked about, have one of these babies and it all goes bye-bye.”

Milton stretched out his hand. Daniel put out his own to catch the pill as Milton dropped it. Examining it revealed nothing exceptional. It could have been an aspirin.

“So?” said Milton.

“So what?” returned Daniel.

“You gonna try it or what? They’re free.”

“What’s it called? I want to know what it’s called.”

“Well it’s pretty new so it has a couple names, but the guys at school were saying it treats you like a fine lady. So, everybody just started calling it Lucy.

“That’s weird.” Daniel’s stomach did a back-flip. He handed it back to a surprised Milton. “I don’t want it.”

Milton looked at Daniel with a flat smile and raised inquiring brows. “Your choice, man, your choice.” Milton threw back his head and popped two.

I’d Rather Be Nowhere

All The Bright Places Contest Entry 2015

#BrightPlaces

The bright place that has most inspired me in life is paradoxically many yet one: with the people I love.

————

“They’re at it again.”

“Like clockwork eh?”

I tip my beer and smile. “Like clockwork. Come, join me for the show. It’s about to begin.”

Devon is sitting at his desk surrounded by mountains of high-end recording equipment. Taking a drag from his cigarette he ambles over the to the windowsill and takes a seat next to me on its generous ledge. Our view from his luxurious second story downtown apartment in Vancouver grants us a perfect vantage point from which to watch the city’s nighttime animals tear each other apart.

“The brightly coloured fat one looks about ready to pounce.” Smoke trails behind my hand as I gesture at two members of the inebriated nightlife.

“Think he’ll win?” says Devon.

“Only because he’s to drunk to know he’s already lost,” I laugh, pausing to take a swig of my beer. The fight is swift and fierce, and as with most real violence—lacking skill and over quickly. “Damn it.” I stub out my cigarette. “Bright colours in the wild usually indicate danger.”

Devon nods slowly. “So we gonna finish this tonight?”

“Of course.” I jump up. “Where are we?”

“The first verse,” Devon chuckles while taking his seat again and putting on one ear of his studio headphones.

I slap him on the shoulder. “We’re gonna change the world right?”

 

Sprawled on the leather sofa Lloyd steeples his fingers. “And why are they afraid of the rain?”

“It’s acid rain,” I answer quickly.

“And it’s acidic, why?”

“Because we destroyed the Earth’s atmosphere.”

Late day light pours through the slatted blinds of the studio apartment, brightening the opposite wall’s red to a crimson glow. A half eaten loaf of bread, (Lloyd’s baking) sits between us, along with a wisely chosen cheap bottle of red, (Lloyd’s purchasing). I break off a hunk of the fennel encrusted herbaceous loaf before leaning back in my weathered leather computer chair.

“The new society of course doesn’t know that,” I add while munching on the bread.

“I see, and you’re thinking they evolve a religion around this?” Lloyd leans forward to pour out the last four fingers of wine in our two glasses. He gives the empty bottle a rueful look before returning it to the table.

“That’s right, now keep going,” I say with a grin. “With your questions it writes itself.”

 

We both lie silent. A tangle of tired limbs and restive smiles. From the window I can hear the breeze. It blows just so, rustling the leaves and vines on trees nearby. Amidst strands of raven black hair, nestling my nose into the honey brown of Cristina’s exposed neck, I make contented sounds. I can feel her smiling. From upstairs the clatter of cookware and pleasant muffled chatter just barely reaches our ears. We’ll return to the mainland soon. The vacation at my old friend’s home draws to a close. I think of the days and all we have done: wonderful meals enjoyed together by those in attendance, fishing, wake-boarding. Cristina got up her first time out, That’s rare, I think. She rolls over to face me, her foreign dark eyes sparkling.

“Why are you laughing?” she demands playfully in the accented tone I’ve grown to love.

“Because … I’m happy.”

Cristina’s Song

I had thought this world a graceless place
Only ghosts that walked around in empty space
But instead I find, I’ve lost and found my mind,
On the bed of a friend the sound cranked to ten and only you in my eyes

Please won’t you sing to me
In that secret key that you brought from across the sea
It doesn’t need a language
It’s not like we ever did
Bliss comes to you from the bottom the sky looks beautiful from the abyss
My lover, my teacher, my savior
What a world I have seen
To leave you I have found you it’s the same as it’s always been

I would have turned my dreams to dust experience then rust
Oh how I tried to hate you better numbness than the pain
So I went to hell but you followed me all the same
And when I’d made my last denial twisted my heart made you as a rival
Where that empty space it should have been was your love your smile and a place that I could dream

Please won’t you sing to me
In that secret key that you brought from across the sea
It doesn’t need a language
It’s not like we ever did
Bliss comes to you from the bottom the sky looks beautiful from the abyss
My lover, my teacher, my savior
What a world I have seen
To leave you I have found you it’s the same as it’s always been

So thank you friend until we meet again I wait inside this dream
I can feel you there as angels prepare one day that place for you and me
Our time was short and the distance now long but forever I will find you
Just look in this song

Please won’t you sing to me
In that secret key that you brought from across the sea
It doesn’t need a language
It’s not like we ever did
Bliss comes to you from the bottom the sky looks beautiful from the abyss
My lover, my teacher, my savior
What a world I have seen
To leave you I have found you it’s the same as it’s always been

Chapter.4 Hiding in plain Sight

In the first weeks of his new school Daniel developed a routine. He would wake long before anyone in the house. After wishing the farm on his wall a good day, careful not to make any noise, he would rush a barely warm shower and get dressed. Then, tiptoeing lightly down the hall past his parent’s bedroom, he’d descend the old wooden stairs that led to the kitchen and receive there the warmest greeting he’d ever known. Lincoln waited for him each morning, in a bed they’d set up next to their ghoulishly coloured yellow refrigerator. Always awake, standing at attention. When Daniel entered, his tail would begin to wag in a steady beat—thump, thump, thump—hitting the side of the fridge, like a drum-beat summoning soldiers to war. Daniel would then invoke the ritualistic question which preceded all their walks: “Who’s a good boy?” Lincoln’s joyous reaction, wherein he leapt up on his owner nuzzling and licking his face affectionately, predicated the truism, he—most certainly was.

They’d lap the block once or twice, depending on Lincoln’s energy level, then return to the house to meet Kate sitting on the steps of their home, usually shaking her head in disbelief.

“You’re crazy,” yawned Kate.

Daniel ceased twirling Lincoln’s leash. A game which left the dog comically walking in a diagonal line at his side. “You know,” he said solemnly, stopping to strike a pose, chest puffed out like a Saturday-morning-hero from the nineties, “they say love is crazy.”

Kate rolled her eyes. “Well then, you’re madly in love.”

“Oh, I am, dear sister,” said Daniel. Pulling back Lincoln’s ears, he planted a kiss on the adoring animal’s head. Kate had a special name for this particular canine expression: bliss in a slipstream. “It’s alright though, I don’t expect you to perfectly understand what it’s like to love a beast.”

“I love you, don’t I?”

“You’re hilarious.” Daniel gave his sister a lop-sided grin. “Just wait a moment. I’ll be back. I’m gonna top off Lincoln’s food bowl before we leave.” Their morning ritual replete, critical banter and all complete, the two set off for school.

Bam!

Daniel jolted upright, hand pressed to his stinging forehead. The students were giggling; everyone turned in his direction. On the verge of sleep when he’d lost consciousness, his face had slid from its precariously balanced position on his palm to smack into his desk. Judging by his teacher’s sigh and head shake of resigned indifference, it might not have been the first time. He glowered round darkly at those who laughed. That was, until a gooey spit ball wetly smacked the side of his head.

“Don’t be so glum, chum. Trouble in paradise?” said Milton, a twice failed older classmate. In the first weeks of Daniel’s arrival Milton had tried unsuccessfully to acquaint himself. He’d mistakenly approached the friendship in a traditional way: too kindly and without expectations. Daniel never trusted those who offered kindness without weighing return on investment. That’s not how kindness worked.

“I’m fine, you dick, just bored.” Daniel peeled the sticky wad of paper off his cheek and flicked it back at his classmate who made a show of dodging the projectile.

Milton jabbed a confident thumb towards himself. “Well, you wouldn’t be bored if you’d hang out with me. If there’s one thing I understand, it’s a good time.”

“Right…” said Daniel cupping his face, this time in both hands. Daniel turned from the moronically beatific smile of Milton, attempting to take something from the lecture. It never did any good. The harder he focused, the more his teachers words became a blur. The more he just felt like going to sleep. He sighed. what’s wrong with me?

Bam!

Daniel’s face smashed against his locker.

“How’d that taste, loser?”

Daniel turned, the warm coppery tang of iron filling his mouth. With one arm he clutched his textbooks. The free hand he pressed against the backside of his weeping lip. Drawing it away slowly, examining the ruby-red that smeared it, he licked his lips. “Delicious,” he laconically answered the three boys standing over him at his locker. His unnerving reply caused their leader to screw his face up in disgust.

“You’re a freak, you know that right?” He shoved Daniel back into the lockers with a loud clang. Other students in the hall hurried past, heads down; hate and cruelty are always hidden in plain sight.

“I do,” came Daniel’s answer, equally terse.

“That’s good.” The leader made a show of nodding around at his compatriots, keeping up the bravado. But, Daniel could tell he’d rattled their hollow confidence.“Just here to remind you, it’s the usual deal.”

Daniel simply nodded. The boys departed giving Daniel a final shove. It sent him sprawling and the books taken from his locker skidding across the floor.

 

————————–

 

“I don’t get it?” Kate whined. “Why do we always have to take separate paths home?”

“Because, we have separate paths to walk in this life, young one.” Daniel deepened his voice and pretended to pull a cape in front of his body.

“You are a brutal nerd—seriously…” Kate bobbed along next to her brother laughing. “I hate walking home by myself, it’s dangerous; you’re failing to protect me.”

Daniel kept his voice deep and the cape held in front of him as he walked. “You—are an idiot, young one; you do not walk home alone; you walk with Sandy.”

“Stop talking like that!” Kate batted his arm down, destroying the imagined cape. “I do, but I would rather walk with you. Promise me one of these days we will walk together.”

Daniel acquiesced. “Sure, just not today, Okay?

“Okay,” said Kate.

The exit of the school was barely that, just a road that met another road. Its only semi-significant characteristic was a middling sized leafless maple tree. Before the two parted ways under its barren branches, Daniel gave his sister a kiss on the head, hugging her and wishing her well. Watching her leave he took a seat at the base of the tree on a serpentine thick root. One of many that emerged from the earth, like the coils of a sea monster. Resting his back against its ridged trunk, he waved perfunctorily at his sister in the distance as she met with her new friend, Sandy.

The girl wore an intractable smile plastered to her face at all times, like the personae of Greek theater. But her sad eyes belied that smile, and told the truth that lay behind them. Daniel wondered what drew his sister to a person like that—but perhaps not—he knew of nothing more seductive than a lie.

His sister and Sandy soon disappeared out of sight around the corner of the block. Daniel took that as his cue to stand up. He brushed off the dust and debris of the ground and grabbed his backpack. He’d lain it next to the tree. Throwing it over his shoulder he took from his pocket his Swiss army knife. When sitting next to the tree he’d noticed inscriptions carved into its trunk. Like any prophet of the school, he wanted to forge his own. Between the timeless wisdom of “Claires a slut!!!”—incorrectly punctuated he noted—and, “Brandon and Josh forever”, he added, “Daniel was here”, an epitaph worthy of a king. Finishing his work he blew on it, removing any last clinging wood-chips. A stubborn sliver of bark resisted his breath and disrupted the proper reading of “here”. To correct the offending chunk of wood, he dug in and leaned hard on the blade. It cut loose with a twang, but the sudden release of pressure popped the blade out of his hand. It fell bouncing down the tree trunk coming to land in the dirt with a plop. He bent over to pick it up; doing so brought his eyes level with an inscription unseen from any other angle: “What matter where if I be still the same”. He read it multiple times. Deep, he decided. Whoever said that had their shit figured out. Standing up to stretch, he pressed his knuckles into the small of his back. He groaned, enjoying the release of pressure. It was time to go.

Except for the main street entrance, the playground was waiting for him penned in on all sides by low-cost cement-grey residential towers. No one was playing on its grounds when Daniel arrived: no one ever was. The small area hosted several physical distractions: a rusting jungle gym for kids to climb and practice breaking limbs on; a set of drooping spring-loaded sea-animals with their paint flaking off for night-time drunks to ride, bend and wear out; and the feature Daniel most enjoyed using, a three-seater swing set. Whistling to himself Daniel took a seat on the middle swing and set his bag on the ground. He built up an arc pumping his legs. As he gained height, with each pass of the parabola’s bottom, he’d kick up a spray of bark mulch on his way to the sky. At the top, he’d smile.

As the three boys entered the park he slowed the swing to a stop by digging in his heels. Thommy Humphreys was an angry-faced, straight-haired, pear-shaped boy. His waist— grotesquely ballooning at such an early age—foreshadowed opponents to come; opponents he could not beat with fists.

Loping along at Thommy’s heels came Dean Beakman. A gangly, tall, back-woods boy with straw blond hair, moved from a place named after an animal’s body part to the city; Dean exemplified willful ignorance. He was fond of telling childhood stories, wherein inter-species relations passed for rites-of-passage. Born with a tin of chew in his cradle, Dean had developed a mild celebrity around the school for his digestive tract’s capabilities. His esophagus and bowels, inured by years of use, allowed the boy to munch on the acrid cud without spitting. Instead, he swallowed the acidic juice, like bitter medicine.

Rounding out the wayward trio was one of the school’s rich elite. Chris Branch, a neurotic tick ridden boy who, in another time, might have been referred to as “prosperously plump”. Not so fat as his companion, he lacked the certainty of a cardiac ward in his future. But soft easy living had molded the boy in its image: fragile and temperamental. All three boys belonged to a different social strata, and formed an uncommon alliance; anger, with its power to bind those of like-mind in common-cause, had brought them together. Surrounded by all three, sitting still on his swing. Daniel found himself the object of their inimical attention.

“Why do you always come here?” Thommy asked. He breathed heavily while gazing round the empty play-ground. “Looking for kids to fondle?”

“Ya disappointed, D? No kiddies today?” chirped Branch, snickering. He wore a glossy red chromatic t-shirt with the word “What” emblazoned across its front. Looking from Daniel and back to Thommy he itched at the exposed skin of his arms while shifting his weight nervously from foot to foot. Beakman on the opposite flank of Thommy stood silent and expressionless as a cow, the only audible impression of his presence, the constant grinding of teeth as he worked away at the protrusion of tobacco held in his cheek.

Daniel kicked his legs, causing the swing to sway slightly. “Maybe I enjoy irony?” he spoke to the blurred ground rushing under his feet. Wasting words on people who wished him harm was exhausting. Digging pointed toes into the mulch he stopped the rocking of the swing. Hopping off his seat he then picked up his bag and slung it over his shoulder. He kept a level eye on all the boys aside from Beakman who stood taller than himself. Taking his back-pack from his shoulders he held it in front of his chest with both hands and looked at it quizzically. The odd gesture drew everyone’s attention to its matte black shape. “You know, I never thought this brand was ever any good, but my sister kept insisting, it’s the best. Costs three times more than the no-name version that looks similar—did you know that?” Daniel looked round at the trio, holding out the bag.

Thommy’s brow furrowed. “The hell are you on about?”

“No really, it is,” said Daniel, holding out the bag with a salesman’s can-you-believe-it expression and tone, “and you know the dumbest thing?”

Branch’s eyes shifted from Daniel to Thommy and back. “Seriously the fuck are you on about? We don’t give a shit about-”

Daniel interrupted, “The dumbest thing is, I’m such a huge nerd, I checked up on the manufacturer, and would you believe—it’s actually the same bag? Here look.” Daniel lobbed the bag at Branch. Instinctively the boy raised his hands to catch the thrown object. With his hands up and his guard down, Daniel kicked, hard as he could, into the boy’s unprotected groin, sending his nuts—Daniel hoped—somewhere up near the back of his throat. The boy went down making a sound akin to a pinched balloon releasing air. Shaken by their fallen comrade’s demise the two standing boys looked at his curled form. Daniel just shook his head. “I know… It’s ridiculous…”

The sudden ferocity of Daniel’s attack had momentarily pacified his assailants, but once the initial shock had worn off, rage replaced complacency, and they pounced.

The blows fell and Daniel reflected on what had brought him here. It was strange how violence could—at times—make perfect sense. He didn’t blame them.

He’d fought Thommy but the boy had knocked him down and his excessive weight kept him pinned to the ground. This allowed Beakman to beat away at his unprotected face. Without needing to look, he could tell the mounting damage was something he wouldn’t be able to hide from his sister—this time. Another fist connected with the crown of his skull and it rebounded off the ground behind his head. Pain blossomed behind his eyes and he saw stars: flashes of light. With his vision blurring, he fully expected a final concussive impact. Daniel kept open his swollen eyes and waited for the final strike. He wanted to see the end coming. Wished for it to release him from misery, into black nothingness. But Dean paused, fist raised, his face overcome with an idea.

“I think our boy looks thirsty.” Humphreys grunted in acknowledgment from atop Daniel. “I think he needs a drink.”

“You’re sick!” spat Daniel. New fear sobered his mind and he thrashed and flailed under his heavier opponent’s rolls of flesh, but Thommy was immovable. He achieved nothing.

“Pinch his nose, Thommy,” Beakman commanded in his woodsy drawl. Humphrey’s fat fingers stinking of onions clamped Daniel’s nose. Beakman started making sounds at the back of his throat like a clogged sink draining the last of its water. “Hold him still,” said Beakman, through a mouth half of equal parts spit and chew juice.

The last burst of resistance had drained what little energy Daniel had left. Accepting the situation’s futility, he chose to lie still as possible extending how long he could hold his breath, but the urge to breathe became overwhelming. A fire soon burned in his lungs, desperate for air. Anticipating Daniel’s breaking point, a leering Beakman positioned over Daniel’s head drew one final disgusting pull of air through his nostrils.

“I got your drink ready, D, say-”

He never did finish his sentence. Daniel was just able to register in his vision’s periphery the swinging fist. It slammed hard into Beakman’s temple. The blow connected so fiercely Beakman’s head cranked to the side and the boy dropped unconscious. The light in his eyes extinguished. His head landed next to Daniel face down. No longer in control of his jaw the vile liquid intended for Daniel began to pool around his face, draining slowly from his mouth like an oil spill, soaking the mulch he’d passed out in and leaking into his blond hair. Thommy who’d until this point focused solely on keeping Daniel pinned, looked up.

“What the fu-” He was the second to not finish his sentence. The boot connected flat with his face. Daniel could hear the wet snapping of cartilage and breaking bone, watched as the boy’s nose exploded, felt the spray of blood sting his eyes. Thommy went tumbling backwards off him, clutching his ruined face. “Here little pig pig piggy pig, come ere boy.” Daniel identified the taunting voice of his savior. Milton. Stepping over Daniel he leapt on Thommy, who’d fallen on his back. Descending into a crouched position with a foot on either side of his victim, Milton grabbed a fistful of Thommy’s shirt, using it to pull the disoriented boy off the ground. He began swinging. Thommy feebly attempted to block the onslaught with an arm but Milton easily passed the guard and punched through it, again… and again… and again…

Daniel watched from propped elbows in disbelief as the older boy turned the other’s face into a horror show. Watching the carnage Daniel’s stomach churned. In no version of his desired revenge was there ever this level of ultra violence.

“Pu… Pu… Please,” a battered Thommy pleaded through blood and spittle. Milton’s face, which had remained chillingly impassive during the course of the beating, split into a wide toothy grin.

“You’ll have to speak up—what was that?” Milton took the boy’s stained shirt in both hands and pulled him upright. Cocking his head to the left he brought Thommy’s lips in line with his ear. “Again please, did you need something?” In a heart-beat Milton had transformed: remorseless reaper became attentive angel. Allowed enough time to catch his ragged intermittent breath, Thommy wept.

“We didn’t know,” he began to sob, “We’re-”

Milton savagely backhanded the boy, cutting him off. He then drew their faces closer still—nearly touching—and screamed.

Cringing, Daniel slammed his hands over his ears. The loss he felt when Milton cried out was terrible, like dreams, still-born. Overwhelmed, Thommy’s eyes bugged in their sockets and rolled back; he went limp. Holding the boy for a moment, no longer screaming, Milton then let the dead-weight slip from his fingers. The body hit the ground with a loud thwump.

The sound managed to pierce a paralyzing fog that had rendered Daniel’s brain a mute observer. He sharply inhaled, having forgotten to breathe somewhere amidst the madness. With his hands flopping from his ears to his sides, on his knees he took in the playground around him: Beakman face down, black tar oozing around him. Branch curled in a ball moaning, grasping his genitals. And Thommy, looking like several stacked bags of flour laid out on his back, blood running freely from his broken nose and ruined features.

“Need a hand? You look like hell.”

“Huh… what…?” Dazed, Daniel looked at the outstretched hand in front of him.

“Your face man, those bastards really laid a whooping on you before I showed up.”

“I… Yes, thank you.” Daniel touched a hand to his face and pulled it away fast. It hurt, badly. He took the bloodied slick hand of Milton and stood up. He felt strange, light-headed, grateful, horrified. A wave of nausea tossed his stomach and he pressed both hands to his knees. Hunched over he closed his eyes to stop the spinning. He did not wish to join the others on the ground. Speaking sideways he asked, “Why did you help me?”

Milton cracked another famous grin and smacked Daniel on his hunched over back. “Well, I’m just your guardian angel, buddy.”

Daniel raised his head, looked into Milton’s radiant smile—and threw up.