He sat in his hovel, unaware that the world had ended as everyone else knew it. Yet, for him, the wind still blew, the sun did not stop shining, for he was there to see that it had not. Shadows danced in the field where he hermitted for these many seasons, and the clouds drifted slowly along the bluest skies.
He is The Human Endling, the last of his species, but he does not fret. His quotidian will not alter now that he is the last of his kind, and all he will leave behind is a bundle of bones haphazardly arranged wherever he fall without his mortal coil.
Days end and summers pass, the field dries and reinvigorates accordingly, and yet the hermit still sits in his hovel, whittling away his time. His eyes grow crows feet, deeper and darker each years end, and his hands grow ever so unsteady.
He is the last, and the first of us all. He is the first in the line and the last of all mankind.
But you may know him, or at least know of him, as do we all.
He has had many names through time, the hunter, the shadow, the dark, death, the bringer, the reaper. Yet he is none of these, for he simply is there to show when your time has come.
He is Father Time, and at last,
His time had finally come as well.
That’s what they recall when it happened. The brightness. The silence. Then nothing. I was not a witness to the flash, I felt it. It was like the feeling you get when you hit the water after jumping off the high dive. The water has yet to penetrate the forced air bubble that you create after the sudden impact. You’re not dry and not wet (yet), just somewhere stuck in the middle.
I was lucky enough to be a handyman for our little town. I wasn’t the only one, and there was still more than enough business. John Roberson, Gil Watts, Monty Jones, and Fred Wilmint were also the “handymen” within earshot that could be called if your Victorian two story caught a case of banging steam pipes, a dripping ceiling, or a warped door. If you haven’t noticed the connection between the problems that these houses have, then you have been blessed to live close enough to a metropolis where these issues have been taken care of by gutting these archaic home installations to provide room for modern marvels that are tenfold in capabilities and easier to repair (or replace). It would be great to have these but it would also kill my day job, and where would I work then? Pursuing evil-doers in my sleepy little town in the darkest shadows of the night? That would take all of five minutes to wrangle Old Man Dechlan from trying to scrap our spare parts at the local repair shop back shed. Done and done, justice reigns supreme, and again I find myself without work. I would need to find a racket like they have over there in Gotham, where they occasionally just let some baddies out for no good reason and let them wreak havoc for a bit. I guess it’d be like an evil work release program. God Bless the Justice system, a benefit for the good and bad alike (but I digress).
Mrs. O’Rourke is the local bat crazy old lady and holds the record for calling in for repairs on equipment that has never been installed in her home or used in the last few decades. I guess calling her bat crazy is a little much, since she did lose her husband in the war, which by that I mean he fell in love with a fellow serviceman and ran off to some tiny Pacific island where they enjoy tropical cocktails on sandy beaches, and she also has lived alone for the better part of her adult life and is probably just lonely. Most of the other handymen in town don’t respond to her trouble calls since she doesn’t have any money to pay for the service of the equipment she doesn’t even have, but I still pop in when I see her ticket on the bulletin board at the shop. Just because I was the only one to stop by and check on her didn’t mean she was benevolent to me. My usual experiences on the trip were being greeted with being smacked, lightly, with an old newspaper on the shoulder for being late, then an onslaught of complaints about how much better it was back in her day when a repairman came to visit, especially since she was a looker and that she could have then wrapped around her finger. I’m guessing from her stories that she wasn’t the patient and faithful type, but it takes all kinds to weather the storm that is World War. You can’t blame her for being how she is, you can only look at her and attempt to help make her remaining time here with us a little bit more comfortable by fluffing up the cushions on her couch, cleaning the rancid food in her ice box, and leaving her with a sense that someone still cares. It’s either you feel like you’re helping her or that she just likes to torment those who come near her, and I, being a benefit-of-the-doubt kind of guy, hope that it’s for the betterment of mankind. I, of course, could be absolutely wrong and just expose myself to her abuse. Let’s try to keep a positive spin to our outlook on life, why don’t we?
The rest of my day after a visit to Mrs. O’Rourke is full of thoughts and reasons why I shouldn’t go back there next time, but as I enjoy a round of beer with Monty and Gil at the watering hole in the evening, I know that the next time there’s a trouble call from her, I’ll end up going out there still. Monty is always ready to ask about my mistress, Mrs. O’Rourke, and how Kate would feel about me spending time and Gil would sip his beer and nod, a man of few words, even to his own wife, who happened to be the bartender at our local libation establishment.
“Jimmy, for the love of God man, just let that old bat cocoon into her couch. She takes time out of your day for a nothing call, and tries to tempt you with her crumbling feminine wiles. I don’t think Kate would be so grateful to hear that there’s another woman on this planet vying for your rugged mug.” He elbows my ribs as he drives home the point that I’m not earning as much I could be, and I know it. She does take away from a billable visit, but I know that Kate wouldn’t ever bring it up since she always has loved my “big heart”, as she put it, and puts in extra hours at the clinic to cover what I can’t. I’m lucky to have her and every other man in town knows it. “Now I’m not saying to stop seeing the old bat because you are leaving the primo jobs to the ilk that constitutes the remainder of the gentleman in our little circle of handy-dandy repairmen.” Monty, a rarely serious person, has the utmost sincerity in his eyes as he slams the rest of his beer and orders Gil to grab the next round.
I lay in bed for a few hours, waiting for Kate to come home, after her 24-hour shift at the clinic, and she’s always exhausted and smells of prescription grade antibiotics. She kicks off her shoes and crawls in bed next to me, and it isn’t long before she’s sawing logs louder than I could ever expect a human being could be capable of doing. There’s a quick, “Hello baby, I love you,” before she disappears behind her eyelids. Sometimes when she gets home, I stay up and just run my hands through her hair and thank my lucky stars that she chose me over anyone else. I know that she is smarter than me and works a million more hours than I do every year, and I know just how lucky I am to be her husband. Mornings with her aren’t what you would see in fairy tales, there’s a lot of snoring and attempts to stay in bed, but unfortunately, we both must rise from our slumber to take on another day.
This morning when I woke her from her profoundly deep sleep, it felt as something was different, her inner flame seemed to be doused and her will had been broken. She cried as I put on my boots, and I knew something had happened on her last shift. Her tears peppered the nightshirt she wears to bed, one of my old uniform undershirts. “What happened, honey?” I asked as she tried to pull herself together. “I haven’t told you about this dream I keep having, and I always have it when I take a nap at work. It’s just some silly thing.” Seeing how she avoided eye contact while telling me what was wrong made me see that it was about me, or us. I took her in my arms and held her tight. “It’s gonna be alright. It’s probably because of your work stress. I think you need to take some reduced hours this next week.” She nodded as she had her face buried in the crook of my neck. “I think you’re right. It’s a rather silly dream that I have had for the last week or so. It doesn’t seem so bad after I think about it, but there’s more to it than just what happens in it.” “What happens in the dream? Does Mrs. O’Rourke finally and successfully seduce me away?” She snorts as she laughs at the ridiculousness of it. “Yeah, that’s absolutely what happens, and then Old Man Dechlan woos me and we run away together.” I can feel her relaxing as we banter. I know she works so hard for us, all because I’m just a handyman and not some hotshot general contractor. I know I should try harder for her.
“The dream is about us,” She begins to sit upright and focus,” And we’re fixing up a house, I think our new house. You’re up on a ladder messing with the wiring, and I’m standing next to the switch on the wall, and you tell me to test it once you get the cover back on. You come down from the ladder and stand next to me and I flip the switch, then nothing happens. You start climbing up the ladder again and the light slowly comes on, but very dim. After a second of two it begins to get brighter, and then brighter and brighter; brighter than it should be. I start to yell for you to come down the ladder as I keep flipping the switch, which doesn’t do anything anymore. You don’t respond and I try to pull you down, and then everything turns white, and I wake up.” She curls up on the bed, trying to protect herself from her phantom terror. I can hear her gentle sobs as the reality of her dream sets in again and forces her back down into the deep dark of her own mind. I can only hold her and wait for it to pass, hoping that she can come back to our reality.
The drive to the hospital is tense. She had recovered quickly and was getting into the mindset of being at work, the place where she fights the cold grasp of death at every moment with each and every patient she has on her rounds. I can see that she is trying to hold it together so that she can get through this next 12, possibly 18, hour shift. As we pull off the main street onto the hospital grounds, and she puts on her work face, steeled against whatever the day may throw at her. “Thanks for the ride, and thanks for talking to me about my dream. It feels a little better to know how silly it actually sounds out loud.” She smiles, trying to keep her spirits up. “Of course, and it doesn’t sound silly. I’ll be sure to stay away from doing electrical work while you apprentice under me, okay?” She laughs as she slings her backpack over her shoulder. “Oh yeah? I’m glad to hear it. Don’t shy away from any electrical jobs though. I don’t want to you to get less calls just because I had some silly dream, okay?” My heart twists and drops into the pit of my stomach. “You got it, gorgeous.”
There aren’t many maintenance calls on the board when I arrive at the maintenance office, and there’s only one that didn’t already have a person on it. It’s for an old house just on the edge of town, built right next to the road, with the entire forest for a backyard. That house is older than most of the county, built by the original owner, and passed down to his son. Whatever the call is there, it must be urgent, since Mr. Crieghton doesn’t often ask for help. I force myself to mark the call with my number and set out to the old shack.
Kate’s words still rest heavily on my mind, and even in her dreams, she’s taking care of both of us. I know that I just can’t be a handyman, I need to get something more lucrative so that she doesn’t have to work so hard. My truck hums as it rolls on the asphalt, cruising at 65 miles per hour, as our town starts to disappear behind the rolling hills and pines trees. The thought of doing this job for the rest of my workable days sends a tremor down my nervous system. Could I do this forever? Would Kate be able to keep up with her work the way that it is now? Could I live with myself as she destroys herself overworking to keep us getting by? My thoughts begin to wander into the hypothetical, where money isn’t a worry, Kate can finally work in the field of her choice instead of being a general practitioner, and I can make a good living with my hands. There are afternoons where Kate visits my professional workshop and shares a bite to eat as she looks over my latest creation. Hand carved wood detailed as fine and smooth as marble, intricate designs that would baffle even most carpenters, and cleverly hidden joints and fasteners that make every piece look like they were all carved from one single piece of wood. Kate would glow as she smiled as I prattle on about the next few steps that I need to take to finish the next part of the project, and I wouldn’t ever feel as though she felt like I was a-- The truck had veered onto the shoulder as I daydreamed. The gravel bouncing off the bottom of the truck, giving the needed alarm to wake up from my fevered dream and back to the bitter reality I have found myself. My consciousness feels that much more of a burden, knowing that my daydream could have and should have been a reality that would be a few years old at this time and I wouldn’t have us stuck trying to keep up in this one horse town.
The rickety old screen door at the Creighton place didn’t rest in the door frame anymore. Decades of use and the old, rotting wood made it lean and rest just open enough that a pack of wild dogs could sneak in the house if the other door was open. There’s no use trying the rusted door knocker, I’m sure that it has been out of commission since before I was even born. I rap my worn knuckles on the peeling paint of the door, and almost immediately their footsteps are approaching. “Just a minute, it takes me a little longer to reach the door nowadays.” I smile and quietly laugh. Does that mean you’d answer the door before I could knock in your summer years? Could you smell me coming a mile out and be on the porch ready to welcome me with a cold beer and a blank check? I kept the smile and knocked off the smirk that attempted to remain as the door swung open. “Ah, Jimmy, glad to see you're the one that took my trouble call. I’m glad Wilmint is still keeping his distance from my property. That one is almost as sleazy as his father, and two pennies shorter to boot. I wouldn’t want to pull the old scattergun I got behind the door, but I would if he pulled up my driveway.” I just nod as he ushers me into his living room. Fred Wilmint mistakenly attempted to swap out the well pump here, and Bud Crieghton didn’t cotton to it very kindly. Bud thought he was a smackhead trying to get scrap metal to sell for more drugs. We try to scare Fred at the maintenance office with missed call notes supposedly from Bud Creighton requesting he stop by to check out his “dud of a scattergun” and bring his own tombstone, just to save Bud the trouble of making one. Fred doesn’t take to these pranks amicably, and usually turns a pale porcelain when he sees “Bud” in the stack of notes left near his locker.
“What’s giving you trouble, Bud? I sure hope it isn’t that water main coming off the well pump again. We just patched that last summer.” Bud ambled from the living room into the hall, and stopped just a bit before the dead center on the hallway. He pointed down to the wood panel floor that had begun to warp. “Looks like we got a steam leak on the piping going to the downstairs bath. It just popped up in the last day or so, and I wouldn’t have noticed if the damned thing hadn’t nearly killed me last night. I was making my way back from the garage with a bag of groceries and a flat of beer. I tripped on it and nearly dropped my beer, and that would have been the end of me.” Bud and I shared a chuckle as I inspected the floor. It had curled up about a half inch and was starting to part from the wall. “Well, Bud, you’re lucky you didn’t end up in the basement with your beer. This wood is nearly uninstalled itself.” Bud closes his eyes and laughs to himself. “If I could get to this steam pipe from the basement, I wouldn’t have called for some assistance. I would’ve just done it myself and tipped in beer. No, this pipe you have to be in the bomb shelter to get to, and it’s at an odd angle. My old arm just can’t bend like that no more.” I stood up and squinted at the old man leaning against the hallway wall with a half full beer can in his hand. “Bomb shelter? You mean you have a safe room in your basement?” Bud sips his beer and stares absently at the warped floor. “It was a different time, back then, I mean the Reds were gearing up and we were scared. Nearly everyone who could afford it either bought a ready to install kit or had a professional crew come from the big city to put it in for you. Not to mention that everyone bought all of the canning supplies and stock of seeds in this county and the one over. My Emma, bless her soul, canned nearly everything in the house, even small things like socks and underwear, and she would shake with nervousness after she ran out of things to can. I told her she should learn how to make a good beer and can that too, just to be sure. She sure was a serious little woman, she was, and she walloped me from across the room with a can of 3-in-1. Made me reconsider every word I said to her ever since.” “Okay Bud, I’m gonna grab my patch kit from the truck and I’ll meet you around back.” I could see that Bud was still trying to keep Emma alive as much as possible since she passed two years ago from a long bout with several chronic illnesses. His eyes would light up with every story and his voice would break a little when he said her name. I guess being married to someone for over seven decades will do that. The cellar doors were flung open and Bud was waddling his way down the stairs when I rounded the corner. There was a snap of a new beer can being opened as he descended. I smirked as I made my way down the stairs. Must’ve had a spare on him.
Bud was already in the fallout shelter by the time I made it down, and there was another empty beer can resting on an old table just near the center of the basement. “Now this is still fully functional. I’ve made upgrades to this puppy every time we elected a new president. I know it seems silly, but when I would think of putting a stop to the upgrades, some news cycle would get the best of Emma and she would order me down here to keep this thing up to date. I know that this house hasn’t kept up with it, but at least it kept Emma lucid when times got tough on the TV.” It looked like some futuristic space capsule was caught up in the basement, like some freak wormhole travel brought it here by accident. A bulk of layered steel and insulation, an airtight double door with a sterilization shower. This was a feat of fear mongering at it’s best. A testament of the fear that a bomb could be dropped on America’s heartland. Only, this wasn’t the heartland, just some backwoods town in the middle of nowhere, a very unsavory target for those who don’t like our way of life. “Jimmy, you’re gonna need a ladder. The access port is high up on the wall, and it isn’t too big around. I suppose I can drag these old bones back up to the garage to get the be-, I mean the ladder. Hell, I’m gonna get another beer too.” Bud said as he rattled the empty can in his hand and went up the stairs. Guess I can get started isolating that steam piping, Bud. It’s a good thing I’ve lived here for the entirety of my life.
The basement was well kept for being a century old. The old mortar stuck tough between the head sized round rocks that made up the wall. There were a few old workbenches all lined up on one wall, peppered with bench tools, some I couldn’t identify or even theorize their use. Each tool a bizarre mottled rust brown with wooden handles, attached to gears and oblong chains. The steam boiler is ancient, covered in gauges and riveted panels. Luckily, the piping was easy to trace and isolate the trouble section was simple. Bud was creaking down the stairs when I made my way back over to the shelter entrance. His ladder looked just as old as the house but sturdy enough for a five-minute job. Bud looked a little wobbly for the umpteenth beer of the day, and he staggered every few steps. “I almost forgot to tell you, Jimmy, the access panel is near the inside door of the shelter, which means the door has to be closed to use the ladder. I hope you aren’t afraid of tight spaces.” Bud’s eyes are red and glassy now, probably due to the constant recall of Emma, the bomb shelter, and the beer. I smile at him as he steadies himself with one hand on the wall and the other hand recalls a beer to his lips. “That won’t be a problem for me, Bud. Why don’t you head on up to the porch and I’ll get you if I need you. Otherwise, I’ll have to pay you for time worked if you keep hanging around.” Bud blinks a few times and smiles. “That sounds about right, Jimmy. I do believe I left a portacooler up there with a sixer. Better make sure that all of them are keeping cold.”
The shelter on the inside has stainless steel walls, a concrete floor, and few things more than just that. Two folding cots are set in one corner, and a stack of canned emergency food boxes just next to them. Big, industrial appliances take up one corner, giving the appearance of a professional restaurant kitchen, just all crammed into a few cubic feet. The ladder and I are out of place in this den of stainless steel framed emergency necessities, being of soft, organic matter. The door is too tall to try to get the rickety A-frame ladder over, so the door must close, just like Bud said. As the thick metal door shuts, it feels like being in a vacuum sealed bag. My ears try to pop in the difference in pressure, and the air begins to feel like it’s being forced down into my lungs. Now that the ladder is in my own hands, it feels like a bunch of matchsticks glued together. This is how I die, I think to myself, death by giant splinter to the brain. The ladder hinges are a little rusty and take some coaxing to open up and lock in place. Each step up on the ladder looks older and more willing to snap than the last. I decide to pocket the few hand tools so that my toolbox wouldn’t sit precariously on the narrow ladder top. Steadying my nerves to mount the ladder seemed harder and harder to do. The ladder creaked and leaned, but stayed upright, a blessing from on high. The walls in this place must’ve been at least a foot thick, making the access panel a hefty endeavor to open, and years of inactive hinges and handle, didn’t make the behemoth of a panel door any easier to open. Between worrying about the door dislodging and crushing me to death instantly, and the potential of being skewered on the old wood ladder, I lost my train of thought. Kate’s dream, our talk, my low level of income, all flooded back as I shook the door handle harder and harder as if the resolution lay just beyond. The stubbornness of the door to open didn’t help that I was frustrated already from everything else that went on already today. It only made me feel more helpless and my frustration welled up inside, and I began to wildly tear at the handle, making the ladder sway. The handle popped off and the ladder step gave way. I fell back and the lights went out.
I’m sorry, Kate. There wasn’t much I could do. It all flooded back from the dark as if it was happening all over again. I kept thinking about how I got us where we are. This was the only place that would take me. I don’t have any schooling or much experience. I’m so sorry. The drive up to our new apartment was quiet and uncomfortable. All of our belongings were stuffed to gills in the cheapest moving van we could get. I still needed to buy tools and my uniform for my new handyman job. The money we didn’t have. Kate gave me her wedding ring to hock, and I didn’t have the heart to tell her how much I got for it, or that we wouldn’t be able to get it back anytime soon. I just hope to God that I can work hard here, for us, for you. That was only a year ago, and it hasn’t gotten any better since.
There it is. There it stays. It's only so far away, but never closer. I have not been able to pass it. It remains unchallenged, still foreign territory uncharted. The quiver in my palm steadies as I stand at the portal. It twists and deepens with each gaze that rests upon it. It's trail littered with leaves of a fresh autumn, not yet devoid of their moisture as to crunch underfoot. Verdant boughs reign above, tingeing the light that filters through each layer with the fresh kiss of a damp spring. I stand before it, as it stands before me, daunting as the rotten maw of some felbeast. Black tendril shadows creep along the trunks, seductively swaying, beckoning my entrance. I temper my fear, honing it to keen assurance. I step forward as it beckons once more. It consumes the remaining tidbit of my shadow and retracts deep within itself.
A Paper; Loosed.
It wasn’t that he couldn’t or wouldn’t finish his book. It was the matter of waiting for his muse to come. The wine of the Gods should flow from the heavens, and drown his listlessness. Fact of the matter was that he was wasting his time, his money, and his deadline grew ever closer to this moment. His phone screen illuminated with an e-mail that read,“80 DAYS LEFT FOR FINALIZED SUBMISSIONS.”
His coffee grew colder and his pastry stale, as he sat in his favorite coffee shop. Another week has gone by, and he has yet to receive his golden goblet of musical intoxication. His story sits still at a dwindling precipice. A million letters lay in front of him, but they hadn’t reached his fingertips.
Every night, he retreats to his small apartment to steep in darkness and quiet music. His mind reels in inactivity. The words still don’t come to mind. Notebooks, the typewriter, and laptop all lay barren of his opus. Another day goes by as his book still rests incomplete. The early morning sunbeams dance along the stacks of paper that litter his coffee table, and the moonlight rests quietly on the blank white papers. Again, another cycle, another layer of dust, they accumulate. Mind empty, his hand still, and his eyes stay closed; Nothing continues to come in lieu of his muse.
63: days left. 0: pages written. $78.35: dollars spent on reams of paper for his printer and typewriter, red pens and sticky notes. The box of red pens has the factory sticker seal, unbroken. Sticky notes still crisp in their airtight plastic wrap. His hands unmarred by paper cuts or ink smear. Nowhere is there a thought, inkling, idea, or a scrap of concept. He is bereft of inspiration. A being devoid of purpose; A listless form resting in a paper nest.
The record player spins another album as He sits on his couch, looking down at the floor between his feet. The grain of the wood lays perpendicularly to his shoes, in an attempt to measure them in some primitive fashion. He keeps waiting for that click.
58 days remain, and still miles and miles of words to write. Another coffee grows cold in front of him at the corner coffee shop, and he is unable to write. He eyes the barista. She’s floating heavenly within the steam and coffee grinds emanating from the stainless steel espresso machine. Even her cold-brewed beauty couldn’t stir the wordsmith dwelling within him. He dumped the cold coffee in the gutter as he wandered out into the city.
He meanders past the closed storefronts. They glow dimly in the streetlights and reflect the puddles. At a corner, he catches his own line of sight and looks at himself. He removes his earbuds and tilts his head to the side, trying to catch whispered words. He soon begins nodding, understanding the words that no one is saying. A deal with the devil has been struck.
Write your story; (Perish).
So now his mind inundates with that gold tinged wine of the gods, and the muse kisses his brow, igniting the untended fire of his mind. He hurries home to stain his blank papers with the blessed blood of his creation.
A fury besets his old typewriter. The mechanical arms straining to stamp each letter. Pages of notes scribbled without a smear from his left-handed writing. His printer smoking from printing pages by the dozen. Each leaf coming out hot fresh from the oven. His words create stack upon stack of pages, and inching ever closer to a completed tome.
-7 days to deadline. His phone is on the counter, full of unanswered calls. His story rests in a neat stack on his coffee table. His living room window left ajar, and cool afternoon air wafts in. A set of knocks rings out into the quiet of his apartment, where they echo without an answer. A master key scrapes into the lock as the door opens. His hanged silhouette casts darkly onto floor opposite the door. Only a few hours gone, and his flesh still warm to the touch. A hand slides roughly for his completed book within an accordion folder.
The folder is placed on a table and slowly removed of its contents. The first few pages are legible enough even though his handwriting is never so clear. The story unfolds as every great story must, compelling and interesting, and sets its hooks deep in the reader. Page after page, the story blooms into a more beautiful tapestry. The reader cannot look away, gripped ever so tightly by each passing paragraph.
The last chapter begins, and the reader awaits the turn, that revelation of true love and a happy ending. The next page stops them dead. Each page a jumble of letters set by the arms of the typewriter, joined into nonsense covered in red ink scribbles that bleed deep and blot the pages. There is no closure, no release. It only ends, just as the writer had; Abrupt.
Blackstar: Part I
Tepid drops drip from a grey sky, plopping politely onto the worn concrete slabs of the sidewalk. As they settle and collect into damp stains, the hum of neon signs compete with the maelstrom that is this metropolis.
My toes are sore from slapping the pavement for so long, but another several hours lie ahead. As of this moment, my tie knot creeps under my adam's apple, giving every unconscious swallow of saliva feel as though my noose tightens evermore.
My briefcase is filled with nothing. Nothing that if not returned by the appointed time will surely release me from this quotidian; A blessing or curse, I'm not so sure.
Upon reaching an intersection, I yield to the cross traffic that sits as far as it can from here to there but does not seem to move. The moisture in the air above collected itself enough to precipitate onto the back of my hand. I looked down to see a peculiar shape that it has morphed into upon contacting the skin that still remains there. In the second that it might have taken to peer down upon my own flesh, people began to push ahead of me since I did not immediately begin to move as the light changed into our favor. I continued on my route along with them, trundling as cows do in a herd.
In the darkness of the entryway to the shop, I reached for the keys in my pocket, only to find that a stabbing pain has found purchase on my hand. I retracted it in a primal fashion from my garment pocket to see what damage had been done. No blood, no skin missing. The only thing that was there was a tiny black star. It almost resembled a tattoo in its nature, but I have never had an urge to mark my flesh with a reciprocating needle doused in ink. Yet this black star has appeared.
Upon a table
With nothing in it
Nothing anywhere close to it
But that box doesn't belong here
That is my box, and not yours
Don't even think to put yours there too
You know that it doesn't belong on that table
But the table is wide enough for many boxes
More boxes can go on there as well
Why isn't mine on there too?
Change doesn't change; It's the one thing that stays the same. A universal constant by which all other things can be judged. Time, age, season, temperature, emotion, all in a constant flux due to the remaining constant of change. It comes in many forms and from every direction imaginable.
The shrapnel pierced flesh,
I felt my mortal coil slack.
My last thought wasn't of home,
Or my family there;
It was that I couldn't protect my fellow soldiers anymore.
The keys are bone white; at least that's what the ad in the paper said. After about six months of use every night they've yellowed on the tops from the cigarette tar stained fingertips that stabbed at them. The water rings were beaten in to the top cover that it almost looked like the grain of the wood was spotted by sweating glasses of bourbon while still rooted. When it was played, it sounded like a haggard, old blues singer, dressed in a stained blue suit and muddy black dress shoes. It belted out any tune better than the finest grand, but sat silent in the back of the bar.
"I just have to have it get on outta here. It hurts to even think that it's still there and she ain't there in front of it." He said, the large handed man behind the bar with red rimmed eyes and a browned, sweaty collar. "Just roll it on out of here, and be quick about it, before I change my mind." The casters had worn a groove into the wooden floor below it, where it's weight had pushed down for so long, and it almost didn't budge. After some gentle rocking back and forth, it climbed up the minuscule incline with a rusted creak. It left a spotless rectangle with four divots where it had sat for the last twenty aught years. The pristine nature of that spot didn't last long as another of the cheap iron and wood tables was dragged over. The old upright seemed almost weightless as it was hefted onto the truck, like it had stopped fighting against its rapid exit and accepted its new fate. It was shipped off to be refurbished, with new guts and keys, and the finish was to be untouched.When it arrived at it's new home, there was an envelope tucked under the wooden key cover. It held a small tin embossed plate and a letter from where it had been refurbished.
Enclosed within is a personalized plate that was removed the inside of the body. It is from the original owner. We thought you may want to keep it or return it to the owner if you have bought it from them directly.
The plate had rounded edges, and the embossing was perfectly aligned, just what you would expect from something made with great skill and passion. It had a few lines of words and simply said:
The keys and chords you play so beautifully will always resonate in my heart, just as you do, my love. -Yours forever, John.
He held the plate delicately and flipped it over a few times in my hand as he wondered what to do. He decided to place it in a small wooden box so that it wouldn't be bent or broken, and placed it on the counter in the kitchen to be sent out with the mail the next day. The piano was placed in the living room, against a windowless wall. The keys were now a soft white and deep black and the finished still sported the deep rings that it had grown in the many years at the bar. He sat down on a newly cushioned wooden bench that was custom made to match, with water rings stained on it. He placed his hands gently on the keys and played a few chords, but it didn't sound right. He thought that maybe it wasn't in tune as it was supposed to be and tested a few keys. They struck perfect pitch and tone one by one as he played a scale. He then thought it was just a long time since he played and pulled out a simple chord book and studied it for a while. He placed his hands on the keys, once more, to hopefully tickle them into giving him the sound he desired. When the keys were pressed and the chord was struck, again they rung out sour and dissonant. Growing more and more irate, he pounded the keys over and over, hoping that the notes would ring true. He stopped, trembling at the weight of his fury, and slammed down the key cover and stormed off to release his anger.
There it sat, the upright piano, collecting dust and holding up an old guitar that leaned against it. No more was it played, for quite some time, only leered at by it's new owner, because of it's new found uselessness. The weeks piled on and on, accrued in dust and disuse. It only raised his ire as it stood silent. He decided to cover it with a sheet so that it wouldn't bother him as much. So there it now stood, much like a squared specter, gently floating just next to the wall. So soon it seems that the upright was just delivered and moved into it's resting place, but it had been more than a decade now, and the sheet that covered had become faded and sun worn. The corners and edges now grew definitive outlines, and the dust underneath had disappeared. It had grown down into the wooden floor again, just as it had in the bar, but these grooved roots were born of the weight of it's uselessness. the casters had rusted over and cracked deep. Again, it was rocked to and fro, wrestled from it's roots and rolled out onto another truck. It was strapped down tightly and rumbled as the trucked roared down the road to deliver it to another new home. The piano was rolled carefully along another wooden floor, and set up next to another wall, this one a dark crimson, that clashed with the bleach white trim that skirted it. It was wiped inside and out, removed any dust or cobwebs that it may have harbored for those long years it was not kept. Again it was to be tuned, but it did not sound as though it needed it. It's new owner sat in front of it, with her hands gently placed on top the keys, and pressed down. the notes burst forth bitterly as it had before. She sat there with her hands folded on her lap as she held a frown. She closed the key cover and left.
A few days after it had been delivered, she had returned home to find a small wooden box placed next to her doormat. She picked it up and gently unlatch the lock, and in the box was a small, discolored tin plate. It had lost its sheen and was left nearly brittle. She could make out some letters here and there on it, but it was mostly illegible. The only things on it that were intact were the grommet rimmed holes punched on it on both sides. She closed the box and brought it inside and placed it on her desk. Later that evening, she sat on her couch and stared at the piano. It seemed such a shame that it would not play the honeyed tones that she could coerce most pianos to play. It puzzled her as to why it sounded in tune but wouldn't play as she thought it would. She opened it up once more to investigate the source of it's sour notes. Inch by inch she inspected the piano, and she could find nothing that could cause it to sound so terrible. As she finished her inspection and let out a sigh and ran her hand across the the bottom of the cover as she gently closed it, she felt something. She swung the cover back open to see a set of small holes and a lighter colored square around it. It seemed so familiar in shape but she couldn't put a finger on it. She closed it and sat back down in defeat. Her glass had sweated out while she toiled away in the piano, and left a ring on her glass coffee table. She stared intently at it while she sipped at her drink. The ice shifted back to the bottom as she finished it off and headed into the kitchen to get another. On her return, she slipped on a small rug and her arm lashed out to grab onto something sturdy and she caught the side of her desk, dropping her drink. It shattered and spilled its contents on the wooden floor, leaving a dark red, cranberry and vodka scented puddle. She glanced over at her sturdy savior, her desk, and smiled. She was glad that it wasn't a weightless and lifeless fiberboard, build-it-yourself kind of desk. She regained her composure and went on to clean her puddle of shards and spirits. In her thoughts, she thanked herself for spending the large sum for her desk, and went straightaway into thoughts of what to do with her tuneless piano. She turned in for the evening to give it some time to ruminate in her subconscious, hoping that something would spark then.
The next morning was spent knee elbow deep in business correspondence and large cups of hot coffee at her desk. She pecked away at her last email, and leaned back to stretch her taut typing muscles. She closed her eyes and put her arms above her head for a few moments, pushed away from the desk with her feet, and yawned. She prepared herself to stand up when something on her desk caught her eye. She rolled forward back to the desk, and picked up the small wooden box that she had placed there the day before. She opened it up to reveal the rusting tin plate, and immediately recognized the shape. It looked as though it would perfectly fit in the piano where she had found those two small holes. She rushed into the kitchen the junk drawer and fished out two small screws, which fit neatly into the holes in the plate. She was careful not to slip on the small throw rug in her haste to get to the piano. She lifted the cover and lined up the rusty tin plate to cover the area with the two holes. It fit perfectly over the discolored area and hid it. She fastened it carefully so that it wouldn't crack the rusted plate. She gave it a quick wipe with her dish towel and the last few words became a little more legible. She closed the cover and placed her hands on the keys once again and timidly played a chord, and it quietly sang out without a single sour note. She smiled and began to play an etude, which grew more and more beautiful as she continued.
On the bookshelf rests a lamination of dust,
So fresh and fine that a spider would leave footprints in it,
Almost like a snow of dead skin, dirt, and dander,
Even the afternoon sun beams are strong enough to stir them,
Collecting them in motes to float about,
Dancing in the heated rays,
Only to settle once again on another surface,
When the day draws to close,
As they most often do.