Eternity is Just Another Word For Freedom


It was the sweltering middle of summer. I was sitting on my porch in the shade lamenting this horrible season. I hate summer. For as long as I can remember I loathed the sun soaked days. Everything bad seems to happen during those months. Maybe that is just me making a self-fulfilling prophecy but regardless of that and much unknown to me; summer was about to rear its ugly head once again.

My brothers were coming in a couple of hours. We were supposed to be leaving on a trip to the old camping ground my father used to take us to. They had fond memories there. I had memories of finding shady spots to read books. Our father had been sick and my brothers thought that some pictures of our old stomping ground might cheer the old man up.

My mind was strangely empty. I stared at my computer screen trying to think of something to write but nothing came. The day felt ominous. There was no rain, barely a cloud in the sky. But the air had that strange quality that only happens in summer. Humidity coated my body like an oily second skin and there was a feeling in the air. An electric feeling. Like at any moment heat lightning would form followed by the glowing orb of the rarely seen ball lightning that would follow me insisting that it did exist. This made my oily skin crawl.

My phone sat next to me. I was lost in thought. The idea of finding something to write was mostly gone. Instead my brain was showing me old home movies. The lake that my brothers splashed in. The time one of them accidentally went skidding on a patch of sharp rocks and skinned his feet and knees but refused to go to the hospital. My father fishing and sharing his idea of wisdom with the boys as I sat close pretending not to listen. The nights where my complaining was endless. “It’s too dark! Why are there so many bugs? Who sleeps outside by choice? This is why we have houses!” Yet still I ate the s’mores, still I delighted when I caught a fish.

The ringtone on my phone began to blare loudly. I ignored it. It was simply background noise for my memories. It stopped briefly as it went to voice mail and then its shrill screaming began again. That was enough to snap me out of my reminiscing.

“Ketha’s phone. Ketha speaking. How may I help you?” I answered. Pretending I was my own secretary always amused me.

“Ketha?” questioned a shaky voice from the other end. It was my oldest sister. It was her turn to stay with my dad and by the sound of her voice something had gone wrong. But I tried to keep it light. My sister Jason was very emotional and she didn’t need me to make it worse.

“I hope it’s me.” I uttered with mirth. “It would be silly for someone to copy my voice considering I rarely get important calls on this phone. I use the burner phone the CIA gave me for those.”

I finished my little joke just in time to hear Jason sobbing.

“Jason, what’s wrong?” I questioned, all the likely answers running through my head.

“It’s dad.” She said followed by more sobbing.  I was filled with a strange sensation that was a mixture of bracing myself and wanting her to get to the point already.

“Ketha, he… he died this morning.”

If I am going to be honest what I felt at that moment was a sick relief. He had been sick for so long. A shell of the man he used to be. Since I was the youngest I could barely remember a time when he was not like this. I had a feeling that Jason called me because she knew this would affect me the least.

“Oh.”

I said lamely. More sniffling and quieter sobs from the other end.

“I have some things to take care of here. Is there any way that you could tell the boys for me?”

I knew she could call them. I also knew telling them in person would be better and I could easily spare Jason the pain as it seemed like my grief was not as powerful as my siblings.

“Yeah, I can do that sis. Just call me if you need anything.” I felt like this was very little comfort but her relief when she thanked me proved that I was at least slightly wrong. I pushed the end call button on my phone and quickly dialed my brothers.  I implored them to come over sooner and after much good natured brother complaining they agreed.

Viz, the younger of the two arrived first and quickly sought out my fridge and returned with a beer despite it being about noon at this point. We sat on the porch, him drinking and both of us smoking while I tried not to think about the fact that very soon I would be causing him heart shattering pain. Fifteen minutes later Asher arrived. His VW bug pulled into my driveway and an alarming amount of smoke was issuing from the engine. I would have commented on this but it happened so often it seemed silly to point it out. Asher joined us on the porch. I groaned internally and despite myself tears formed in my eyes. Asher had hero worshipped my father all our lives. Despite the fact that my dad had done a lot of wrong in his life he was a hero to Asher. My father had a huge beard, was covered in tattoos and rode a motorcycle. And those were the least of his transgressions against society. I noticed that Asher was carrying a mid-sized white box that had seen better days.

“Look what I found!” He held up the box as if it was a trophy.

“That’s great Asher, boxes make me happy too.” Viz said sarcastically.

“No, idiot. It’s what’s in the box.”

Asher opened the box and inside there must have been a hundred pictures. He started rifling through them.

“Look! Here we are at the lake. And look Ketha you are actually swimming. This must have been taken before you were a killjoy.”

I was about three in the picture. White blond hair and naked splashing in the water.

Viz was now looking through the pictures too.

“Here is the first big fish I caught. Man, Dad was so proud.”

“And look here is the sketch I drew of us around the campfire. Dad loves this one I am sure this will cheer him up.”

I looked at my shoes. I felt like I was in some kind of macabre NASA countdown. T-3 minutes before you ruin two lives. I sat silently while my brothers brought out what seemed like every memory caught on photograph in the box. When they finished Asher stood.

“Well we should probably get going. This is the time of day that dad is most active.”

“Sit down.” I muttered quietly.

“What?” Asher asked

“I said sit down” This time I was a little more forceful. I was gathering my courage. I was preparing myself for the inevitable fall out. Asher sat down and looked at me his head cocked to one side as if to ask “What the hell is going on?”

“I have something to tell you and it is not going to easy”

Concerned looks bloomed upon their faces. I could not tell if comprehension was there too. To my brothers no matter how sick he got my father was immortal. He would always get well and live to ride again. I paused. Trying to think of a kind or sensitive way to say this. Something to soften the blow. But really are there any words that would make this less painful? What was I supposed to do? Tell them that we sent my father to a farm where he could ride all day with other bikers? I opted for honesty. I opted to avoid the euphemisms my family never used anyway.

“Dad died this morning.”

I said it simply. Almost coldly. I did not want whatever small amount of grief I was feeling to intensify my brothers reactions. Asher sputtered “How?  W-when? What h-h-happened? Was he alone? Please tell me he wasn’t alone!” The many emotions Asher was feeling were beginning to spill from his eyes. “Jason was with him.” I spoke soothingly. “Call her and find out the details.”

As I said this I looked over at Viz. He was standing with his hands clenched. Ready for a fight. Viz was not used to fights that he could not win and it made me feel desperately sad for him because I knew in that moment he would have taken on death with his bare hands if given the chance. His eyes, normally a warm amber, were lakes of fire. Asher was frantically talking to the hospital staff because Jason had been sedated. It was surreal. Like a scene from a movie as if any moment one of the characters would fall to their knees and scream “Noooooooo!” until they had no breath left.

Asher had just hung up the phone and fell into the chair beside me. I think that between the shock and the grief his legs could no longer hold him. He was mumbling, something about an “aneurism” and repeating “I should have been there. I should have been there.” Lost in this train of thought I noticed Viz before he did. He had been clenching his fists so hard that they were bright red but his face was a ghostly white. I had seen this before.

I jumped to my feet and reached for his shoulder but it was too late. Viz was releasing his fury on the posts that held up my porch. Thankfully they were sturdy.

“He didn’t deserve this!” Viz shouted and punctuated it with another flurry of punches.

“Stupid idiot! Taking all those risks!” More battering of my post.

“And where are you now, huh?” Viz screamed at the sky. I knew this anger for what is was… terror. Who would guide him now? Who would show him who he was supposed to be? I tried to come closer to him to offer some comfort but with his chest heaving from effort and rage he turned those burning eyes upon me and I thought better of it.

Asher was still sitting. Oblivious. “I should have been there” was still on his lips. He stared at his hands as if maybe, just maybe there was a way to change all of this.

“Fuck this!” Viz shouted and punched the post as hard as he could. I noticed now that both the post and my brother were covered in blood. Asher followed my line on sight and seemed to snap out of his shock. He stood putting a hand on Viz’s shoulder. Something I had not been brave enough to do. This seemed to diffuse some of Viz’s rage. He looked down sadly. Deflated. I had never seen him look so vulnerable, so wounded. Asher pulled him into a hug and Viz started crying. Sometimes when the worst happens only a brother will do.

I sat back down and stared at my shoes. I may have only been the messenger but it would be my words that they remembered for the rest of their lives. My words that had broken their hearts in a way that could never be repaired.

My father was cremated. Some of his ashes were given to close friends so they could spread them while riding their bikes in his favorite places. It was beautiful in a way. My father would remain chasing the wind forever. My father had taught me that what society thought didn’t matter as long as you were true to yourself. He taught me that good and evil were shades of grey and rules were meant to be broken. He taught me how to laugh at tragedy and that any obstacle could be overcome even if you destroyed yourself in the process. If any man embody the ride or die philosophy it was him.

My brothers and I were given the rest of the ashes. My sister has a deep dislike of death rituals and chose not to participate but we gave her a small bottle to keep. We went to the camp grounds and I thought of all the lessons I had learned from this man who I held in my hands reduced to dust. We spread his ashes on the cliff that over looked the lake. Oldest to youngest.

“Heroes never die.” Asher said as the ashes fell

“I can’t believe you made me cry old man.” Viz said “I can still hear you saying “Man up” whenever I get tears in my eyes. Oh, and I broke three of my knuckles. You would have been so proud.” Viz grinned in a way that was both mournful and filled with love and admiration. He let the ashes fall and sighed a sound of downhearted acceptance that this was finally over.

I stepped up last. I chose a quote I had often heard my father say.

“Yea though I walk through the valley of the death I shall fear no evil… because I am the baddest motherfucker to ever walk through this goddamned valley.”

I let the ashes fall and the wind kicked up and carried them off the cliff. Down into the valley. At that moment I knew that we were all imaging my father as he had been long ago. As free and rebellious as the wind. As powerful as a storm. With hands that may have been stained but could still hold his children.  In some eternity somewhere he was riding again. Maybe Asher is right. Heroes never really die.

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A short story entitled The Drowning of 13


The Drowning of 13

I knew what was coming and in some way maybe she did too. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t find her at first. She had always been fleeting and mercurial an ethereal creature of light and shadows. 13 was the first to arise and the first to fall and sadly she was never the phoenix I thought she might be. She became a screaming creature of ash, pallid and terrified. She knows these dim halls better than I do and although I chase her footsteps she seems to out fox me at every turn. So many doors here. So many keys to be found. I sigh and it is as if the foundation of this place exhales with me. It is a lonely sound. I let myself stop for a moment, here I let myself rest sitting on the ground then I leaned against a door and it opened.

I stood up and peered inside but my eyes only met darkness. Could she be in there? She could be anywhere. I opened the door and it squeaked on its hinges as if it had not been opened in a long time. I looked behind me but suddenly I was no longer in some strange dark room I was in a post card from the past staring at a girl with eyes so dark, eyes that had already seen so much but still held so much promise. I was looking at 13. I didn’t want to be. I had no urge to see her for longer than I had to, I didn’t want to understand I just wanted to get this over with. But 13’s will was not easily overcome and as I said in some ways this place was more hers than mine.

The 13 of the past laughs and I see in front of her an older boy. I remember him, but his name is just out of reach. His hair is naturally red, blonde, and brown flowing together beautifully. In 13’s hand there is a worn out ball cap, he tries to snatch it from her but she’s too quick. Instead she grabs his shirt and brings him close to her. Their lips barely touch in a chaste kiss and then she frees him from her grip and runs away laughing. Then everything becomes dark and dusty again and the place where I stand is just a room, a dark and forgotten room. I look around my eyes trying to adjust to the lack of light. I search trying to catch any sign of her but there is none. “13 if you can hear me. Just be still. Please. Just be still.” I rub my hands together. Has this place become colder or do I simply feel the chill within myself?

Back in the hallways, back in the twisting ever changing hallways I stand. I look at the labyrinth before me and feel tired but I carry on. That is what I do after all. Unlike 13, I carry on. Always finding the next moment, always letting the nightmares come and the demons speak but still I carry on. If only I could find her, if only I could find silence. I heard footsteps and the chase begins again.

I ran. My breathing was heavy; my chest was beginning to burn. Still she eluded me, and these halls seemed to change as I ran through them. I thought it was just a trick of my tired eyes until out of nowhere a wall appeared before me and it was too late to stop. I ran into it barely able to brace myself, I bit my lip and fell to the ground. Shaking my dazed head I looked again and a door had appeared it was the color of blood, a sick claret too close to the color of blood. To say I was not thrilled to follow her through this door was an understatement. But she lured me, I could feel her in that room, I could hear her breathing. I wiped the blood from my mouth and took a deep breath. This time when I opened the door it made no noise, someone had been coming to this room and very often.

Again I was met with only darkness; I waited for the light that would show me the next scene that 13 had forcing upon me but that light never came. I heard a frightened sound, but I could not find its source, it seemed to come from nowhere, and everywhere. I shook my head, “Forget it” I thought. I was leaving I could find her some other way. But I was frozen in place, whether that was 13’s doing or mine I will never know. I only know that suddenly I was with her, I was almost inside of her as I felt the sensation of weight upon me. There was a horrible smell of sweat and fear. Then there was movement, unspeakable movement and a scream that never escaped 13’s terrified lips. Then thankfully just as suddenly as it had appeared it was gone. I stood in the empty room feeling sick, feeling scared. I was also managing to feel both pity and hatred for 13. “She should have screamed.” I thought to myself. She should have run. But she was so frightened, like a rabbit caught by the light she was frozen. Did I dare blame her? Did I dare judge her? I turned and threw up, unable to control the sickness within me, what did it matter? After all this room was filth, nothing but filth. Oh 13 why did you bring me here? No, these were questions for another time. Across the room another door opened a door that was that indigo of twilight and with the chill growing deeper inside of me I stepped through.

The room was dim but I could see 13, her hair unkempt, her sleeves pulled up, a razor in her hand. I knew what was coming I looked away. She laughed and it was such a sad sound  “Will you really look away like everyone else did?” I turned and I looked at her as blood was dripping down to her fingertips falling like macabre raindrops. I looked at my own arm and the tattoo there, the angel’s wing, the symbol that protects me now. She looked into my eyes. “I never made it that far. Should I apologize?” “No 13 I whispered no.” “One more,” She said and she was gone. I looked around and suddenly realized that I was trapped she had left no door for me to enter or exit. I stared around stupidly unsure of what to do next, and at that moment the floor beneath me collapsed and I fell, and I fell, and I fell.

As I fell I saw faces twisted by hatred anger. My siblings, my father crying tears of blood, each one their eyes closed refusing to look at me. Such pain grew in my heart, such pity, such empathy and the memory of the times that I had closed my eyes and cried those tears.

I reached the bottom with a soft thud and I groaned at the scene I saw before me. “13 why are you doing this? What’s the point?” She turned and looked at me and there was fire in her eyes. I knew that once again I had no choice. Her world. How I hated her world. I was in a plain room the walls were a dirty white the floor the same color. There was a rocking chair in the middle of the room. A rocking chair that I knew well. Sitting in that rocking chair was a mother thing. A thing that had birthed children and then left them in the darkness. Not a mother, a mother thing. 13 stood before it, her sleeves still pulled high, the blood now drying to a dark maroon. “I have nothing!” She screamed at the mother thing. She held her bloody hands out to it. “I have nothing.” Her voice was becoming wet with tears. “Why don’t you care?!” She screamed.”There is death inside if me and I am terrified.” The mother thing did not respond. 13 slapped her and still nothing. She fell to her knees and began to sob. I had never heard such pain before, such loneliness. And then we fell. But this time it was softly and there were no haunting pictures. We landed softly into a grey room. “Your favorite color.” 13 said. “The color of fog and rainy days, the color of the softness of your first kiss.” I went to her and placed my hand on her shoulder. Words escaped me. “Look.” She said. A pool had appeared in the middle of the room. Her dark eyes met mine. “Did you think I was stupid? No one has ever mistaken me for stupid before.” I gently stroked her hair, “No I don’t think you’re stupid.” I lifted her then. She weighed nothing; it was like carrying a ghost. I brought her to the pool and stepped into it with her. I laid her gently in the water. My tears fell onto her face and mixed with hers, I wiped them away. “I love you, you know. I always have.” “I know,” she replied. “I love you too. You grew up.” She raised her hand and touched my face. “And you are beautiful.” Still crying I said the only thing I could “I’m sorry.” She looked into my eyes. ‘I know.” She said and I lowered her into the water. She struggled only for a moment and then she was still. She was finally still. “I’m sorry.” I said again to a girl who couldn’t hear me. And then it was over