short story

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.

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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.”

Chapter.3 Sins of the Father

The door slammed shut and the two siblings bounced down the steps. Books shifting in their backpacks, smacking their shoulders as they descended. Rushing away from the front door of the Victorian-style manor house, Daniel’s body shook with adrenaline. He would have stayed and defied Grant’s threat if not for the pleading of his mother that they go. The pair walked in hurried silence for three blocks before Kate spoke.

“That was brave of you.” She looked at Daniel intently and placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder before speaking again. “To stand up to him.”

Daniel rubbed at his throat. “Lincoln better be there when we get back.”

“I have a feeling he will. Grant won’t want to go through the effort of returning him himself and Mom will refuse to do it.”

“Yeah,” said Daniel, “he’ll just be a pain about it the whole time now won’t he?”

“Is he ever not?” said Kate, looking down at her shoes as they walked.

That made him smile. “No, he isn’t.” Kate could be such a comfort. Like him, melancholy struck her, but she always managed to somehow handle it better; she wore it like an accomplishment around her neck instead of added weight.

No matter how far back he went, in every memory the black cloud of Grant hung over the family, like a specter that clung to happiness, staining it. Grant, at his most harmless, had always enjoyed spouting tired profundities, with an awareness of his own failures absent. If Kate, their mom, or himself, committed the slightest error, he’d shake a finger in their face saying, “You reap what you sow. Gotta put in one hundred ten percent.” Daniel could bear the harassment personally, but not watching him inflict it on the rest of the family. Even before the wealth came and went, Grant’s rotten behavior stunk to the heavens.

Years ago, when Grant returned home triumphantly to declare that one of his anti-depressants had finally passed clinical studies, Daniel had thought maybe he would get better. They’d be rich after all. What ever went wrong for rich people? Money however, like any other horrible disease, infected the family. Prior to Grant’s monetary success, he had at least a sort of forced humbleness, brought about by many unsuccessful attempts to create something capable of passing testing. He’d even had a partner he’d worked with, a kind man: Sam.

Daniel had liked Sam, he represented a counterbalance. Sam could deflate Grant’s overblown ego like no one else. He would visit sometimes; he and Grant were drinking mates. After a few, Grant would call Daniel or Kate into the kitchen, eager to reprimand them for whatever fault, but Sam wouldn’t allow it. Instead, on these singular occasions, Sam would turn the criticism around. He’d cajole and tease, in a self-deprecating fashion, he and Grant’s impotent forays into pharmaceuticals. Sam was able to split the blame between the two of them; his humour cut just deep enough that Grant would yield, leaving the target of his cruel affections free to leave. After Grant’s drug got approved, Sam disappeared, and along with him any sense of humility—forced or otherwise—Grant ever had. After that, he had as much confidence as he did money; the prosperity’s bolstering effect on his warped self-worth redoubled his criticism of the family. The best way Daniel could describe his father was a frenzied drowning man; he could only ever breathe if someone were below him. Suffering in his place.

Human existence, so often referred to as—life, a funny delineation Daniel always thought, considering so much of it is death—would eventually take its karmic revenge. Grant had just enough time for a meteoric rise. Soon after, many people prescribed his wonder-cure for depression—ironically—started killing themselves. In the tragedy’s aftermath it wasn’t Grant’s company that was going to go under, it was him. The resulting backlash against Grant was severe: loss of his job, humiliation in the public sphere, fighting off jail-time, and all accumulated wealth consumed by legal fees. The trauma on Grant’s psyche evolved his base meanness. A predilection for bullying his wife and children became something more sinister, something violent.

 

——

 

“Well that’s an eye-opener.” Kate pointed at a building they approached at the end of the block. Large at a distance, it took a closer look to fully appreciate just how immense it was. Gothic and ancient looking, it stood anachronistically at odds with the tiny 7-eleven and dry cleaning shop huddled insignificantly next to it in the shadow of its western corner. A mess of construction scaffolding and support lines held up sail sized blue safety tarps. Ostensibly erected for renovations, they blocked much of its eastern side from view. The project’s scale reached many meters up and off the side of the building. Through a high fence running parallel along the side of the block, the siblings could see a lone rectangular temporary portable, set back from Escher like labourer paths. Likely a headquarters for engineers to coordinate the work crews efforts. It sat atop cinder blocks, above the mud and muck of the winter construction yard.

Daniel stepped up to the fence lacing his fingers through its links. “Shut down for the winter.”

“What do you think they’re actually doing?” said Kate.

“Just what it looks like I’m sure. Old buildings need repairs. Probably just taking longer than they thought it would. Sure would be fun to explore though. Look at that stuff. It’s a maze up there.”

Kate looked at her brother. “I won’t tell you not to get any stupid ideas—I know that’s impossible—please just try not to act on them.” Kate’s gaze was serious.

Daniel laughed. “No promises.”

“Are you kids alright?”

Kate and Daniel both jumped in surprise, turning to find a man stood behind them, hands crossed in front, resting at his waist, dressed in grey robes. While they’d spoken he’d walked up behind them after descending the white stone steps of the religious building.

“Christ, mister, you scared us.” Daniel put an arm around his sister pulling her to stand next to him. The man raised his arms, palms upwards, as if indicating he had nothing to hide.

“Terribly sorry, not my intention, did you two have any questions about our humble grounds? You seemed to have an interest in them?”

“Hell. Damn.” Daniel paused. “Well let me think.” He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. His sister cocked an eyebrow watching him bemusedly. “Now that you mention it, yes. What’s going on with all this construction? Looks like this project has gone on for a while.”

“Renovations, old building,” said the man in grey flatly. “We’d hoped to have it complete before the winter, but alas, the plans of mice and men.” He smiled invitingly.

“Of who?” Daniel looked confused.

“It’s from a book, oh wise brother.” Kate jabbed her brother’s ribs playfully causing him to keel over, loosing his protective grip on her shoulder. Kate stepped forward and looked up at the man who stood many heads taller than herself. “So what do you worship here?”

“The one true God of course,” replied the man.

“Which one?” Kate’s words cut quickly, she barely allowed the man time to finish speaking.

The man frowned, perturbed. “His name does not so much matter, young lady, as what he does.”

“And that is?”

“Why, free you from pain, from sorrow, all the sadness that this world heaps on you. Release from all those feelings, in a word, absolution.”

“I like my sorrow, it keeps me warm at night,” said Kate, crossing her arms.

“You’ve been hurt very badly, young one.” He put a hand on his heart. “I can see th-”

“You see nothing,” said Kate angrily. She did not let the man in grey continue. “Daniel, let’s go.” She tugged on the sleeve of his jacket.

“I didn’t mean to offend you, young lady.” The man gave a slight bow. “Please consider coming by to see us if you ever have more questions.”

Ignoring the offer, Kate pulled her protesting brother further down the block. The man in grey left waving pleasantly in their wake. Moved out of earshot, Daniel spoke, “What’s crawled up your ass and died, Kate? That was fun. How many more times do you think we could’ve blasphemed before he lost it?”

Kate never stopped looking straight ahead and walked with quick determined short strides. “I don’t think that’s the team he cheers for, Daniel.”

“Huh, what are you talking about? He’s some kind of Christian.” Kate did not respond. “Not a big deal anyways, he seemed nice enough.”

“Hitler was kind to dogs,” Kate mumbled.

“He really got to you eh? You’re usually a rock round people like that.”

“No one gets to say to they know me; they have no idea.”

Taking the hint, Daniel shut up. Three blocks later he and Kate arrived at their new school. As they did, the sun lifted high enough for its beams to flood down the city’s skyscraper lined corridors, unfurling like a blood-red carpet under their feet; they walked on light.