Work in Progress/ new fiction by Tom Evans

Trying something new, hoping to get some feedback (positive, negative, encouraging, discouraging, boring, interesting, give up, keep going, hopefully more than one word) for a longer fiction piece I’ve just begun, so here goes:

I walked down a street I didn’t know the name of wondering.

What was I wondering about you might ask?

As I looked around up and down the street, a question formed on my lips:

Where am I?

Before attempting an answer I spotted someone coming toward me, and as the person got closer, realized I knew her. It was Mary Williams, who I’d known in what seemed like another lifetime.

“Hello, Mary,” I ventured as she approached.

She passed by me with no sign of recognition.

Hmmmm, I thought, perhaps I was mistaken, but I don’t think so. Just like the Mary Williams I knew, she had long brown hair parted in the middle, pale skin, pink lips, was of average height, and wore what they used to call a peasant dress with flowers on it. And she smelled like patchouli, too. It was a big world out there, I supposed there might be a few women named Mary who fit her description, and wore patchouli, but I doubted it.

Still, it seemed to have helped me get my bearings, and I was able to continue on, though I knew not where. Hopefully I’d figure it out by the time I got there.

The street was empty, not unusual I suppose at the close of day, almost twilight, though every now and then a car or truck jounced by on the pot-hole ridden street. The sidewalks were pristine, though, smooth freshly-poured concrete. They’d get to the streets eventually, I figured, it was the longest day of the year, after all, plenty of time before winter came.  I didn’t know why I cared, but for some reason I did.

And where would I be when winter came? I wondered. Probably not here, wherever that was. Best not to think that far ahead, besides, one place was as good as another I’d come to learn, in my frequent travels. Maybe that was it, I thought, I’ve lived a vagabond life, and been so many different places they all seem the same to me after a while.

There was a bar on the corner that looked to be open. Before I entered, I looked around one last time, and realized that the street, the wind in the trees lining the street, and the smell in the air were all familiar, I just couldn’t quite place them.

As I entered it was difficult to see in the cool and dark, having been out in the bright sunshine. When my eyes adjusted, I could see that, aside from the bartender, there were only a few customers, a lone guy at the bar, and two guys playing pool under a dangling ceiling lamp above the pool table over in the adjacent room, past tables for two lined up against a half wall.

Distracted by the loud clicking of balls breaking the dead silence, I didn’t hear what the bartender said as I approached the bar.

What’ll it be, Mr. Houton? the bartender repeated.

Rather than being surprised to hear my name, I found myself vaguely recognizing the bartender’s face, although I couldn’t quite place it or his name, and, sitting on one of the stools nearest the door, replied, I’ll have my usual, wondering what that would be.

That was the way it had been for me lately, coming in from out of the blue, recognizing faces once I was inside a place, but still with no clue as to where I might be. I wasn’t sure why this was happening, and didn’t really want to know, as long as I was able to recognize faces sometimes and get where I needed to go, wherever that might be.

I had a sudden thought. Perhaps it was because I was outside Mary Williams failed to recognize me. The bartender had no problem, as you can see. I’ll have to test this theory further when I leave. Also should pick up a map if I can remember. That will tell me. I would never tell anyone what was happening to me, and, always having considered myself to be self-sufficient (although I was beginning to doubt that somewhat), had to find out for myself where I was.

As I quaffed my by now tepid draft, I noticed the bartender looking at me with what can only be described as a quizzical look on his face.

What’s with the look, I wondered out loud.

I’m just surprised you don’t recognize our friend down there, the bartender said, nodding toward the lone guy at the end of the bar.

I looked and again only vaguely recognized the face but couldn’t place the name. Not wanting to seem unfriendly or strangely out of place, I walked toward the man. As I did so, he raised his glass in salute. When I got closer I realized he was blind, but while his eyes were vacant, he was looking right at me.

Dom? Long time no see, he continued, chortling at his gallows humor.

I guess he’s entitled, I thought to myself, after I’d recovered from the shock of him recognizing me, and hearing my given name (nickname really, but that’s another story), which I heard so seldom it seemed strange when I did, almost as if I didn’t know who they were referring to. Self-conscious, I sat down next to him.

Get us two more, I said, nodding at the bartender, a draft for me and whatever Joe’s drinking.

Jim’s his name, Joe said, realizing I didn’t know who anyone was. I was grateful that he didn’t comment on it, figuring he must have had that experience before, being blind.

He was a talker, I realized almost immediately, but then, how could I not. He talked nonstop as though I were a stranger, filling me in on his life, even though he knew I’d probably heard it before, although if I had I didn’t remember any of it. He’d wanted to be a farrier, like his father, since he was a kid, but had contracted meningitis when he was eight, leaving him totally blind in the left eye, with only ten percent in the right. Built like a brick shit house, he still had the forearms for the job, that was for sure, and had still managed to make a living doing something he loved, training horses. I found myself admiring the hell out of him for that.

I heard everything he said, although I have to admit I was a bit preoccupied with trying to figure out where I was until I suddenly realized that, although I didn’t know, I somehow knew this was where I was supposed to be.

It must be a Friday night, I surmised, the place actually beginning to fill up ever so slowly, with the regulars filing in, one at a time.

As though sensing I was intently observing my surroundings but not quite knowing what to make of them, Joe nudged me and said, don’t worry Dom, I’ll be your eyes and ears until you get your bearings. How he would accomplish that I had no idea, but for some reason I had no doubt he would.

                First off, there’s Gator (given name Bob), a local cab driver, who, when sober, was as docile as could be, in fact, you barely heard a peep out of him until he started drinking, and then he started talking nonstop, a mile a minute, and loudly, emphasizing each point he was making to no one in particular with a raised index finger, smiling and laughing bemusedly with self-satisfaction to himself, in spite of the fact that most of it was garbled nonsense with no point whatsoever, an answer to a question that was never asked (in fact, no one dared asked him a question, for fear of getting him going). I’ve ridden in his taxi many times and can vouch as a good driver and human being when he’s sober, very ashamed and contrite about his drunken behavior, when he remembers or is reminded of it by someone.

                Then there’s Honest John (really, Dishonest John- go figure), a ruddy-cheeked gnome-like mystery man who carried a plastic bag of what could most closely be described as a form of pemmican, with a touch of Tourette’s that caused him to utter curious and inappropriate sounds now and then, these increasing the more he drank, after which he’d get an edge to him such that you had to be careful what you said or he was liable to go after his interlocutor with a knife (he’d been known to carry one) and have to be tossed out in the rain sleet snow or humidity, depending on the season, who lived no one knew where, but who had been spotted all over town (the name of which, if you’ll recall, I can’t remember), always outside, so it was assumed he lived on the street, which argument was further buttressed but his complexion, tattered clothes, and peculiar odor.

                Gee, some of that sounds a lot like me, I realized. Maybe not the crazy part and definitely not the Tourette’s, but the gist was enough to scare the crap out of me. But, so far, I didn’t remember any of this. What’s wrong with me and what happened to make me get this way? I hoped against hope Joe would enlighten me.

                Grover Roberts, he continued, was a piece of work cut from the same cloth as Gator, sweetest guy in the world sober but a holy terror when soused, laughing maniacally at people for no apparent reason, especially a poor soul he called The Poet. Grover was a newspaper reporter who it seems at one time had literary ambitions, but now laughed at himself to think he could have ever have written anything. So I drink instead, he’d say, raising his glass to toast whoever was around, laughing and mumbling at himself until it became an incoherent babble- dapper coming in, rumpled coming out, I’d listened to some of his literary discussions (which seemed to be the only ones he was interested in having), especially with the aforementioned soul he dubbed The Poet, even had some of these discussions with him myself, and they were quite stimulating, him talking about one particular writer I’d never heard of who became a favorite of mine after reading him on his say so (actually having to have it read to me by a lady friend, as with most lesser known writers it wasn’t available in Braille, but ultimately, his low opinion of himself was a downer, and I suspected if he didn’t have drinking he wouldn’t  have been long for this world.

                 Which brings me to The Poet, aptly named I suppose, as that was all he wanted to talk about or at the very least seemed capable of carrying out an intelligible conversation about he was so drunk most of the time, but he seemed to know and had read a lot of it, had even dabbled in it himself, although he was afraid to show anyone, most of all Mr. Roberts, who really seemed surprisingly supportive of him (when he wasn’t laughing uproariously at him), even believing him when he said he’d read Biographia Literaria in its entirety, which I highly doubted, though I never said as much as he wasn’t talking to me and I wasn’t one to interrupt, being impressed enough he even knew about it; seems he was a library clerk with a lot of access to books, which made sense, very down on his luck, or, as he put it, poor as a church mouse, who’d had a very bad childhood he would only hint at, until one day he came in with some of his poems and Mr. Roberts was actually impressed that he’d accomplished this much, certain more than he himself was capable of, although they eventually had a falling out over some short story he’d written (which, it turned out, Mr. Roberts had also reported on for the paper when it occurred) concerning the kidnapping and drowning of a little boy by a disturbed teenaged girl, with Mr. Roberts blowing up when he’d expressed sympathy for the perpetrator- what do you know about it! You didn’t see the parents! You didn’t see the boy’s body! which caused The Poet to stumble drunkenly out into a cold winter night, the last we saw of him.

                And lastly, Earl the Pearl, one of the few black guys who frequented the joint, a nice guy, even if he was a bullshitter par excellence, which everyone knew, so they cut him some slack, although he didn’t know they knew, which I figured someone should clue him in on so he wouldn’t keep sticking his foot in his mouth, but he wasn’t around all that much and it was very entertaining to hear him talk about all the cruises he’d been on all around the world, about his high school basketball days when he played on the best team in the city (what city I don’t know)…

                But he was around tonight, all the regulars were, these five, making seven total including Joe and I, a nice round number, bellied up to the bar, keeping Jim hopping with the herculean task of wetting their insatiable whistles. Everyone was here, no one was going anywhere, come what may.

As the night wore on, young people began arriving. This was very puzzling to me, as I’d figured it must be an old man’s neighborhood bar, the only places I ever did, or would, visit. That much I remembered, in addition to the fact that I was a creature of habit.

And even though it seemed things were becoming at least slightly clearer (I now knew it was Friday, having confirmed my suspicion with Joe, and I knew Jim the bartender’s name, Joe’s introduction of the regulars and the ever-increasing influx of young people, along with my inability to remember anything, was unsettling, to say the least.  And it was more than me not taking to drinking with strangers very well, which I didn’t. I had to start figuring some things out for myself pronto. It was all well and good to surmise what I could from what Joe told me, but I didn’t dare (nor did I want to) ask him anything more lest he think me barmier than he already did.

Still, in spite of my best intentions I found myself asking, What gives, Joe?

Oh, you know, Joe responded after a moment’s hesitation, same old, same old. The times they are a changin’, as the song says. Gotta go with the flow, get with it man, you know, that’s just the way things are these days.

Even more shocking than the mouthful he’d just uttered, and his dropping of a Bob Dylan reference, was the fact that I recognized the reference. Music, I suddenly remembered, that’s one thing I know! And books, too! I know I had a lot of both at one time, but where were they now? I’d have to think on that a while, but for now those revelations would have to do.

When I recovered from my initial surprise, I asked him (spontaneous as it was), yet again another question: Do you recognize any of them?

Now, you might think it strange to ask a blind man that, but I knew if anyone would, he would. You see, his sense of smell, hearing, and corporeal antennae were as preternaturally keen as any wild creature. He could take nothing for granted but be constantly on the alert. He didn’t give me the answer I was seeking (more names, one of which I might possibly remember), but instead noted the late arrival of a semi-regular named Casper Piver.

Casper? Casper, who’s named Casper these days? I responded.

What’s in a name? Joe said. Besides, if ever a name might be apt, it’s that one, for him, in that he doesn’t come in all that often, maybe once a week, if that, always at this time. Easy to miss, doesn’t say much. Mutters to himself a lot, like he’s trying to remember something he’d forgotten. Certainly lonely, searching for something he lost, or never had. In fact, like his more famous namesake, he kind of haunts the place when he’s here. That’s the impression I get anyway. Could be way off.

Impression, you say? I responded. Listen to you. Sounds like quite a lengthy dossier to me. How do you come up with this stuff? That being said, that could describe any of us, I thought to myself.

I watch, listen, and learn, my friend, Joe responded. The night has a thousand eyes, he interjected cryptically, as if anticipating the question I was about to ask.

For some unknown reason he’d piqued my interest. I looked down to the other end of the bar where I spotted a dapperly-dressed man wearing a dove-colored fedora, a tweed jacket, and a nice dress shirt with a bright emerald green cravat, something like you might only see worn once a year on St. Patrick’s Day, leaning with his elbows on the bar. When he doffed the fedora I saw he had thinning coal-black hair, a closely clipped yet bristly mustache matching his hair, and beady eyes peering through thick-lensed tortoise shell glasses that darted quickly around the bar as if he was indeed looking for something, then looking down at his hands. He could have been a professor the way he was dressed, but something told me he wasn’t, as he looked to have none of the arrogance of one.

What does he do? I asked. Why the cravat?

Whoa, Joe responded. What is this, twenty questions? Why the sudden interest?

You’re one to talk! I said. No big deal, it’s just for the sake of conversation, that’s all.

Joe smiled and said, I’m just jakin’ with ya. To answer your questions, he’s a bookkeeper, and a pretty good one I hear. As for the second, like I said, he’s probably lonely. Lotta that going around. Nurses a draft every now and then, shoots the bull with Jim, and leaves. And everyone here’s looking for something or someone, even me. That answer your question?

So whaddya think about that… It’s possible isn’t it?…

                Before I could respond I heard a loud THUD and when I looked toward the sound, saw the regulars gathered around something, blocking it out so I couldn’t see what it was.

Oh boy, I heard Joe say, Gator’s at it again. Wonder what he’s done now?

Before I could even ask how in the heck he knew it was Gator, the regulars parted like a wave and Gator himself stood up with a little help, his pants below his knees. They made him put them back on and several of them escorted him out the door, Gator laughing uncontrollably the entire time.

Tch, tch, tch, Joe said, shaking his head, looks like Gator’s finally lost it. Bound to happen when you can’t handle your liquor. Guy drinks too fast and doesn’t eat beforehand- bad combo. What exactly did he do?

Pleased to be able provide Joe with some info for once, I still hesitated. You don’t wanna know, I said.

That bad? Joe said. Come on, I’m a big boy, I can take it. Besides, nothing can surprise me anymore. I’ve seen it all.

I smiled wryly at that and when I told Joe what had happened he was wrong, I’d definitely surprised him.

Now that’s sad, Joe said. Don’t think he’s ever done that before, can’t imagine why he would in the first place.

Wonder if that’s the last we’ll see of him, I responded.

No way, Joe said immediately. Jim’s the forgiving sort. Once you’re in with him, you’re in for life. Kinda’ like the Hotel California.

Another rock reference. I never thought Joe had it in him. He’s full of surprises tonight.

Suddenly the place was inundated with young people, both sexes equally represented, at least that’s the way it looked.

It’s getting too crowded and loud in here, I thought to myself, and began to get antsy.

Whateryer so nervous about, Joe asked, again uncannily.

All these young kids, I said, too crowded and the noise- I hate it! Makes me feel old and claustrophobic, if you know what I mean.

Sure I know, Joe replied. Quit being such an old fuddy-duddy. Myself, I’m here for the nonce. I got this stool early and by god I’m gonna keep it. Besides, we can outlast ‘em. They’ll be leavin’ for their underage hotspots before long. They just come in here to get oiled up on cheap booze. You ain’t gonna leave me, are ya? You know how I hate to drink alone.

Of course not, I responded sheepishly, I wouldn’t desert you. Besides, you need a buffer from the rest of these hooligans. And I’m getting pleasantly lit myself, I thought, although I’d never admit that to Joe. But he probably already knew that.

Mmmmmmph… SHIT!

                Both of us knew who that was. Dishonest John. Even though he couldn’t help himself, it was amazing he could be heard above the roaring throng. We wondered if someone was engaging him, but it was hard to tell, as the wait at the bar was three-deep, even with Jim having set up more tables and rustled up more cocktail waitresses. Besides, he didn’t need anyone to converse with as he had no problem talking aloud to himself, in fact, from what little I’d seen, much preferred it. In addition, he was so unremarkable, no one ever seemed to notice him.

And remarkably, we noticed Mr. Piver was still there, long past his usual time, still scanning the crowd as closely as he would a ledger and nursing his beer, readjusting his cravat, which was becoming rather wilted in the smokily close atmosphere, wondering how he could be so focused, until Joe suggested they probably all looked like figures on an accounting ledger to him. Did I mention he was uncanny?

All of a sudden, I spotted the same green cravat on what looked to be a young man in the middle of the crowd! I mentioned this to Joe who already knew something was up.

That can’t be a coincidence, can it? I asked him. Two strange seldom-seen seldom-worn styles of tie, both the same color? And unless I’m mistaken, which I very well might be, it sure as hell’s not St. Patrick’s Day.

No, Joe said, rest assured, it’s not St. Patrick’s Day. Maybe they’re looking for each other, father and son reunion, or maybe they’re both light in the loafers, if you know what I mean. Casper Piver isn’t married, you know, and lives by himself, so either is possible, I suppose.

He looks just the right age to be his son, I said, not willing to even entertain the other option. Maybe I should go over and tell him, I said, before it’s too late. I hate the thought of two ships passing in the night, don’t you? But when he looked down the bar, Mr. Piver was gone, and when he looked into the crowd, the young man either had gone, or been absorbed by it, or they had left together, which I doubted.

Not much we can do about it now, Joe said. We’ll ask Jim if he knows anything about it later, after the place clears out. And from what I hear, it looks like that might take a while.

See how Joe did that, a juxta positioning of two senses worthy of Stephen Foster! He’s clever that way, though he pretends not to know that.

It was getting so raucous it was deafening, which in a way was good as it didn’t give me a chance to brood about not knowing my whereabouts, or where I was going to stay for the night, or what my future was. I had to believe things would fall into place, they always had, hadn’t they?

Well whaddya know, Joe suddenly announced, look who just walked in. I would’na believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, he continued, The Poet is back! Like I said, hasn’t been here in a coon’s age. Listen up, you might learn something after he and Grover get going.

I looked over toward a figure burrowing his way through the crowd. When he emerged near the center of the bar, I saw a painfully thin rather unremarkable kid with a baseball hat on, very long hair and round glasses, holding a book in his hand. He was standing next to Mr. Roberts, who had his head buried in a newspaper. He stood there, not moving a muscle, until Jim, giving no indication if he recognized him or not, walked up to him and asked what’ll it be?

I’ll have a Ballantine Ale, he said, upon which I heard Mr. Roberts say, without looking up, That’s on me, Jim. When his bottle of beer came, he saluted Mr. Roberts, who still hadn’t acknowledged his presence, with it, and said something I couldn’t quite pick up.

He’s a bit of a low talker, Joe said, and a mumbler, too. He mumbles. Not Grover, though.

Sure enough, I heard Mr. Roberts say, Can’t you see I’m reading, kid?

See what I mean? Joe said. Poor kid. Grover’s too rough on him. No wonder he hasn’t been here in so long. And I’ve never seen the kid talk to anyone else. Keeps to himself, orders a sandwich every now and then, plays a little pool, and, if you want to know the truth, Gets pretty shit-faced every time he comes in. He holds his liquor pretty good, you wouldn’t even know he was drunk. I heard he was jilted by a woman he’d been with for a while. Not that he talked about it that much. I just happened to overhear him tell Grover one time but he cut him off in mid-sentence, saying, Be glad, now you can be a poet! I’ve never talked to him, though. Quiet kid like that, doesn’t seem to want to be bothered, wait for him to come to me. But he hasn’t, so there you have it.

Just happened to hear? I kidded Joe. You always seem to be in the right place at the right time, I’ll give you that.

It’s my job, Joe responded. Hey, I got nothin’ else to do, don’t begrudge me my only pleasure.

Of course, Joe, I said, somewhat sheepishly. I was just kidding with you.

And I with you, Joe said, clapping me on the back. You think I’m as thin-skinned as all that? You should know better. But listen, it’s about to begin, and you might even learn something.

I had to take Joe’s word for it because I doubted his veracity about the learning something part, although, as he’d yet to be proven wrong, I was looking and listening intently. I saw Mr. Roberts suddenly raise the paper in front of him, shake it to straighten out the crimps in the crease, fold it vertically, put it flat on the bar, smooth it out, snap the fold lengthwise, and rest it there when he was finished.

I sensed I was in for a running commentary by Joe and I was right.

See how he treated that paper like it was a baby? Joe said. Now there’s a real newspaper man. Doesn’t even care about the newsprint all over his hands, probably loves it.

It only made him neat and dirty at the same time, I thought, but didn’t say anything. Next he turned to the poet and asked him if he’d written any poems lately, laughing peremptorily before The Poet responded, Yes I have, as a matter of fact, several.

Well, are you gonna show them to me or not? Mr. Roberts asked.

The Poet shook his head no emphatically with no hesitation.

Why not? Roberts asked. Every writer needs/wants an audience. And I have no doubt you’re a writer, although perhaps you might not have anything to say.

He’s right about that first part, Joe said. Don’t know about the second, haven’t had the pleasure.

Didn’t bring any with me, The Poet responded.

OK, Mr. Roberts said, I’ll take your word for it, although I don’t really believe you. Let’s see the book.

When The Poet showed some reluctance, Mr. Groves responded, Come on, what’s it gonna take? I’ll buy you another beer.

That’s not necessary, The Poet responded, and started to hand it to him when a sheaf of papers fell out of it to the floor. Mr. Roberts pounced on them, and holding the protesting unfortunate at bay with this right arm while perusing the fallen papers, proclaimed, You have been busy. Mind if I read them?

Might as well, The Poet said. Besides, what choice do I have now? I’m gonna take a leak. You can read them until I get back.

OK, kid, Mr. Roberts answered. Don’t fall in.

Mr. Roberts read while he drank his vodka and o.j., nodding his head, and pursing his lips as he did so.

Not long after, The Poet returned and asked for his poems back.

Hang on, kid, Mr. Grover said, these are good, I haven’t quite finished. Hey Jim, get The Poet here a drink, Mr. Roberts said, laughing a growly laugh, I’ll have another too.

Of course you will, Joe intoned.

By the time Jim got them their drinks, Mr. Roberts had finished reading and handed them back to him. You’ve got talent, kid. I envy you.

The Poet shrugged his shoulders and mouthed his thanks.

Now what’s that book? Mr. Roberts asked.

Oh this, The Poet said, showing him the book briefly, just something I picked up and am enjoying tremendously, a poet you’ve probably never heard of. away

I’ll be the judge of that, Mr. Roberts answered, snatching the book from him.

Hmmmm, The Selected Poems of Robinson Jeffers, you’re right, never heard of him. As you may por may not remember, I’m not much on poetry, he concluded, perusing the “Table of Contents,” then flipping through to something that must have caught his eye as The Poet watched nervously, ready to snatch it back should he attempt to harm or walk away with it.

“I’d sooner, except the penalties, kill a man than a hawk,” he read stentoriously, enabling everyone within earshot to eavesdrop, to The Poet’s (who obviously didn’t crave notoriety of any kind) great chagrin. Now that’s something I can get behind, Mr. Roberts cackled. Humans, a thoroughly detestable lot. Seems like a strange guy, nevertheless, looks pretty intense, like he had a bad breakfast or something. Again, he cackled, somewhat more manically this time, downed the rest of his called out exuberantly to Jim, Hey, barkeep, get yours truly and The Poet here another drink, and skip the o.j. this time!

The Poet, still eying him warily, attempted to dissuade him, but Mr. Roberts, who rarely took no for an answer, was having none of it. Come on, he said, we have something to celebrate!

What’s that? The Poet asked with a modicum of dread.

The fact that you got away from those foppy Brits, those Romantics, Mr. Roberts said, showing loyalty to your own country!

Not true, The Poet rejoined, while I’m enjoying Jeffers immensely, I still plan on doing a thorough reading of Wordsworth’s Prelude.”

See what I mean, Joe interjected. Fascinating, ain’t it?

Although I might have appeared to be listening intently, I had stopped entirely when I heard the name “Robinson Jeffers” mentioned. Robinson Jeffers! I exclaimed to myself. I know I’ve heard that name before- many times- but where? I thought and thought about it and had no idea, except that I came back to my original reaction, that I knew the name and that I’d heard it before. I was becoming increasingly worried about what was happening to my memory, although I still hoped to be able to figure it out.

Cat got your tongue? Joe asked.

Oh…no, I said, just thinking about something.

You certainly were, Joe said. You haven’t heard a word I’ve said.

Sorry, I said, I guess I haven’t.

I should be insulted, Joe said, but I’m not. I was just saying watch what happens now. One of them will leave very shortly, and one will continue to get very inebriated. My money’s on Grover.

For what? I asked. Leaving?

No, Joe said.

Shortly after, The Poet left with a brief wave, stumbling a bit. Mr. Roberts, if he noticed, didn’t give any indication.

It was getting on towards 11, and the place was beginning to clear out rapidly, so much so you could hear the regulars’ cacophony of their ongoing complaints against society in general, and more specific complaints of injustices perpetrated against them by various groups/members of that society: this country’s lost something, said one, my ex took me to the cleaners and I ain’t seen my kids since I left, fucking bitch, said another, Mmmmmph, Fuck! Who said that? said Dishonest John.

It was a sad litany, I admitted ruefully. But I don’t think any of them are homeless at least, which I might very well be if I don’t figure out where I’m going to sleep and soon. At least it isn’t the middle of winter, though. There’s that.

Last Call! Jim said, moving down the bar, looking each regular in the eye, receiving silent acquiescence as well as marching orders (this being a mere courtesy, as he really didn’t need them, knowing all their preferences in advance), as he did so, then turning around and snatching various bottles off the shelves and placing them strategically for quickest access as he made his way back to the other end of the bar, from whence he’d launch his return peregrination to fulfill said orders forthwith. This was the hardest part of the evening for Jim, already having had a long day, especially with his carpal tunnel acting up, and dreading that anyone interpret his hand shaking as a result as the DTs, so, as was his custom, he quickly took several shots of Hennessey to forestall both. He silently refilled the shot glasses as they were greedily extended to him- double shots for everyone, as it had been a money-making evening all around, even if thoroughly exhausting. If things kept going like this, he’d have to hire extra help for Fridays, which, even though it would be a pain, and something he’d never done before, was not a bad problem to have. He needed it, his place needed it.

When he got to me, Jim seemed to realize I didn’t drink shots.

What’ll it be? He asked. Another bottle of Ballantine?

I’d switched from drafts to bottles of Ballantine Ale (The Poet had jogged my memory about that) over the course of the evening, but decided to up the ante slightly.

You got any India Pale Ale, I asked Jim.

Of course I do, Jim responded. I keep it for you- you’re the only guy who drinks it.

Hiding my wonderment I responded, Then, by all means, I’ll have one of those, thanks.

Just then a someone burst loudly through the door with a couple of people in his wake.

It’s Big Mike, Joe said, watch this.

Jim groaned perceptibly and Mike asked, Am I too late? I can go elsewhere if you don’t want my business.

Of course not, Jim said, what on earth makes you think that?

Big Mike, black-haired with pale skin, and a perpetual sneer on his face, was an obese Boston Irish cook who came in at least once a week at last call, and it was quite the production.

How many? Jim asked.

Fifteen, Mike replied, line ‘em up. Jameson’s.

Mike watched greedily as Jim proceeded to line up 15 single-shot glasses and fill them neatly with the Irish nectar, not spilling a drop. Next to that he put a pitcher of ice water.

None of the regulars paid much attention but I, not having seen the spectacle before (or at least not remembering if I did), watched in rapt amazement as Mike, all business, proceeded to down each shot, chasing it with a gulp of ice water straight out of the pitcher. When finished, he smiled, tossed some money on the bar, said, For theirs too, keep the change, and wheeled around and marched back out into the night, his companions (acolytes obviously), not even having time to finish their drafts, following him out.

Did I just see what I think I saw? I asked Joe.

Yes indeedydo, Joe answered. Gluttony, pure gluttony. Not that I’m judging, mind you. Just sayin’. Did you see him sweating? He was drenched. Poor guys not long for this world, I’m afraid.

The time had come. Everyone had to leave. One by one the regulars, in various states of inebriation and mood, began to depart. It was getting awkward not knowing where I was going or what I was going to do.

Guess I’ll take off, Joe said.

Can I help you? I asked, sincerely wanting to help but also wanting to buy some time before I either had to leave or figured out what I was going to do.

No thanks, Joe responded. You know me, self-sufficient like always. Don’t have to depend on said anybody you’ll never be let down, I always say. How about you? You headed upstairs?

My first thought was I know not of what you think, which I almost blurted out, but instead said goodnight to Joe, figuring I’d reconnoiter for a bit until I absolutely had to depart the premises.

All right, Joe said, Don’t be a stranger, it’s been too long between drinks, if I may say so. Thought for a while you were back on the water wagon. Don’t forget, I know where you live, I’ll come and get you if I have to.

Joe reached out to shake my hand. Always good to see you, Dom, he said, chuckling briefly. I mean that.

Goodnight, Joe, I replied. See you again.

I watched as Joe ambled away, waving at Jim before he went out the door, wondering how does he do it, where does he go?

Shit, I thought, I better worry about my own self. Jim and I were the only ones left in the place. Headed upstairs? he’d said. Water wagon also. Looks like I’ll have to hang around Joe every day if I have any hope of regaining any semblance of my former self.

I looked around the room and spotted a staircase in the corner just past the pool room. I hadn’t even realized there was an upstairs, although I admittedly hadn’t thought much about it. I decided, here goes nothing. We’ll soon see if Joe’s barmy or not. Before I could move Jim said, I’m gonna lock up and leave in a minute. You gonna be all right?

Sure thing, I replied. I’ll head upstairs.

OK Dom, good night.

By the time I reached the staircase the place was in total darkness. There was a light switch on the wall by the foot of the stairs. I heard Jim close the door and the sound of the deadbolt when he locked it.

It’s now or never I said to my self as I looked at the dark tunnel heading upstairs. I switched on the light and proceeded up trepidatiously, having no idea what to expect once I got up there. I reached the landing and looked down a narrow hallway whose warped floor was covered with threadbare carpet. Not much different than I expected, I thought. I saw a doorway in the center and headed for it, smelling the faint odor of what I thought was sewage as I made my way. I reached the door and turned the handle only to find it locked. Shit, I said, slightly panicked. What do I do now? Instinctively, I put my hands in my pockets and found a key in the left one!

I put it in the lock, it fit perfectly, and the door opened into a dark room. I found the light switch and switched it on after a momentary nervous pause. When the single light in the ceiling went on, I was surprised if not shocked at what I saw. Surprise for the made bed and pillows, a lamp with a nightstand next to it, and what looked like a hotplate on it, carpeting of the same type as the hallway, and a small bathroom on the far end, with a sink and toilet. Shock at the wall to wall book cases, completely filled with books and record albums, and a small coffee table on top of which was a record player with attached fold-out speakers!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

`

 

 

I might as well tell you if you haven’t already figured it out by now that I had a great memory for faces, but not so much for places. I suppose this was due to my peripatetic life, my father having been a military man, and me an army brat. Between that, the drinking and massive amounts of acid I dropped (some of it bad) for a couple of decades, it was no wonder I didn’t know whether I was coming or going half the time, if not all the time. One place was as good as another as far as I was concerned. Don’t let anyone kid you, I was the original Space Cadet, Captain Trips, Narcotic Nomad, whatever. Ironic right? Having been dragged all over the world my exclusive method of travel now was the mind. I wouldn’t budge from my little room now that I knew where I was.

You see, while it may have started out as partying, tripping was serious business for me now, a quest you might call it, and I’ve seen some things over the years you wouldn’t believe, things I wouldn’t have either if I hadn’t seen them with my own eyes.

 

Ghost Riders / a short story by Tom Evans

It’s so stifling hot and I can’t escape. Even if I could there’s nowhere to go in this godforsaken place. No houses for miles around, at least I’ve never seen one and I’ve been here for a while. It’s flat you see, there’s no perspective in this barren land, no sound all day long (not even a bird or stray dog) unless it’s a solitary car or truck hauling ass through here.

That is until a few days ago when I heard a rumble in the distance and waited until it got closer, growing louder as it approached, and then nothing until all of a sudden a gang of motorcycle riders flashed by in a blur accompanied by a deafening roar.

I found out not too much later there was a nearby canyon and the motorcycle gang was supposedly holed up there. One of the other foster kids had heard the adults talking and I immediately knew I just had to see it for myself. I didn’t say a thing to anyone, just bided my time and began planning my escape, hoping nobody would find out in the meantime.

Lying in the crowded fetid bedroom one night I pretended I was asleep, as usual paying no attention to the nightly ruckus going on around me. Trying to be as still as possible I imagined I was camped out under the stars, a lonesome cowboy hoping to be part of my own hole-in-the-wall gang some day. I lay rigid, my hands straight by my side under the sheet like I was in a coffin, hoping the adults wouldn’t hear the commotion and come charging up the stairs to see what was going on.

I must have fallen asleep and been dreaming because next thing I knew I was looking over a ledge into a very deep canyon with a stream at the bottom so far away you couldn’t even tell it was moving, and what looked like ants crawling along its banks. Then all of a sudden I saw something hurtling through the sky so quickly it was upon me before I could even duck. I managed to catch a glimpse of a grungy biker with greasy hair, matted beard, and behind him a red-haired Bonnie Raitt lookalike who glanced back and beckoned me to follow with her crooked finger, her wild hair streaming behind her.

The roar of the bike in the dream was so real it must have woken me up. It took a while to get my bearings, but once I did remembered the dream I’d just had as clear as day, which was unusual because I never remembered my dreams or even if I had been dreaming in the first place.

I said nothing to anyone, but when the new girl came the next day, unannounced and unwelcome, it changed everything. You could tell there was something odd about her right away. Her face was fixed in a lopsided grin or sneer, it was hard to tell which. She looked to be about ten, which put her in the middle of all of us age wise, but that and it being only her first day there didn’t stop her from taking charge immediately after she was settled in.

First she went off on a wild tangent in the back yard about how her parents were movie stars and she had five or six siblings and they were a very loving tight-knit family, and this was just a temporary vacation for her, she wouldn’t be there long. Unlike most of you, she added, all prim and proper like.

When she finished no one quite knew how to respond. Then one of the smaller kids piped up that she was full of it and that’s when the trouble started. Somehow she immediately knew who had said it and she began chasing him around the picnic table screaming “I’ll get you! I’ll get you!”

The unfortunate miscreant went round and round it screaming bloody murder and then let out a painful yelp and held his hand up, a flap of skin hanging off his wrist, bleeding profusely, courtesy of a rusty nail sticking out from it. She went all white when she saw the blood and ran in the opposite direction as fast as she could.

The foster mother finally came out of the house at a leisurely pace considering the situation and walked up to the new girl and said, “Why did you do that?”

The new girl didn’t deny it, instead she immediately launched into her spiel again but didn’t get very far when the woman interrupted her.

“I’m gonna have to report this to county agency,” she said.

The new girl blanched and said, “No, please don’t. I have nowhere else to go.”

The woman was having none of it. “I’m sorry, but this has to be reported. Besides, I don’t want you here, I have enough on my hands with these others as it is. The county’ll send you somewhere else”

“Yes,” the new girl said, “you just do that. I don’t like it here anyway.”

Someone from The County came to take her back later that day. She seemed pretty calm about it all, when I halfway expected she’d have to be dragged off kicking and screaming. I had a feeling I hadn’t seen the last of her

Later that night I heard something bounce off the window by my bed, then again, and once more before I got out of bed as quietly as possible and looked out. I couldn’t make out who it was at first but when I cracked the window slightly I heard a voice say, “It’s me,” the girl from this afternoon. “Come outside. I have nowhere to go but maybe we can think of something fun to do.”

She didn’t have to ask twice, I was raring to go. No one else seemed to have heard it, everyone looked to still be asleep, so I put my clothes on, climbed out the window, and we were off.

I asked her how she had gotten away from the county people and back to here, and if she knew it’d be me who would come to the window.

“Never mind how I got here,” she said, “I just did. And, yes, I knew it would be you. I saw where your bed was when I put my things away. Boy, do you ask a lot of questions.”

I’d never done anything like this before but it turned out she had so I felt like I was in good hands. Seems she had run away from her idyllic home many times because they just didn’t understand her.

It was a beautiful evening, very warm but tolerable as there was a light breeze. All was quiet as we stuck close to the road, walking west, the house receding in the distance. Suddenly I remembered the motorcycle gang and my dream and mentioned it to the new girl.

She grabbed my wrist and I stopped in my tracks.

“There’s a motorcycle gang nearby?” she asked.

“That’s what I heard,” I said. “And I saw them  ride by the other day.”

She grew very quiet when I said that, her eyes opened wide. I could see she was very interested.

We continued on down the road for a bit, not saying anything, though I couldn’t help but wonder what she was thinking.

“Are we going to try and find them?” I finally asked her.

“Don’t see why not,” she replied. “It’ll be hard to avoid them if we keep walking this way. Probably run right into them.”

“Aren’t you scared?” I asked.

“Scared? Hardly,” she said. “My father was in a motorcycle gang. Besides, anything’s better than being where we are, isn’t it?”

She did make a lot of sense, I had to admit, even if she did act and look weird. I was going to tell her about my hole-in-the-wall gang fantasy but decided against it.

“OK,” she said, “let’s go.”

Almost before we knew it we were getting close, close enough to see hazy smoke and hear muted sounds. Then we were at the lip of a canyon looking down just as in my dream except that things were much closer this time. There were several dots of campfires and I could make out clearly the bikers and their “hogs”, but I didn’t see the red-haired woman, or any women, at least not yet, though it was probably too far away to tell.

At this point there seemed to be some hesitation on the new girl’s part. We sat there for a bit, so long the campfires below began to dwindle into faint flares.

“I thought you said there was a red-haired woman in the gang,” she said suddenly, startling me. “My mother has red hair, and if she’s there I’m not going down.”

She seemed to be growing angry now, more so by the minute. I didn’t dare remind her the Bonnie Raitt figure had been in my dream, but when I looked down again into the steep gorge, it didn’t seem to matter, there was no way we were going to get down there anyway.

“You go first,” she said, “see if she is.”

“I can’t go by myself!” I wailed, speaking up for the first time, “you have to come with me. There aren’t any women down there, look for yourself, and even if there were, why would your mother be?”

This must have somehow convinced her, because she seemed calmer.

“Shhhhh,” she said, “of course I’m going with you. Don’t blow our cover. I want to surprise them.”

Between her mercurial nature and my trepidation, our prospects for success didn’t look too favorable, but be that as it may, she said next, “Let’s look for a path so we can get closer.”

“Yes, let’s,” I said somewhat doubtfully, then, in spite of myself, immediately spotted an opening in the underbrush. “Over here!”

Feeling good that I was seemingly in command of the situation I motioned her to follow when she suddenly rushed up behind me and pushed me face first to the ground.

“Don’t you dare!” she said. “I’m first!”

She continued on as if I wasn’t there but I got up, dusted myself off, picked the small pieces of gravel out of my bleeding elbow and set out after her. It was a steep winding narrow trail faintly outlined through the underbrush and I soon caught up with her.

Just then she stumbled over a stone the size of a baseball that went tumbling down the rocky canyon slope, echoing, or so it seemed, like a monolith. The new girl looked at me with wide challenging eyes as if to say what are you going to do about it? I was surprised she didn’t try to blame it on me. It was difficult to tell if anyone had noticed it but we lay low for a while until things calmed down.

Soon all was quiet and totally dark, as the campfires spent and no discernible movement down below. We decided to make our way boulder by boulder until we were close enough to see the layout. After what seemed like several arduously painful hours we were final close enough to see. There appeared to be either five men or four men and one woman, whichever way you wanted to look at it, and the new girl and I looked at it in different ways, I assure you. What with it being dark and the scraggly nature of the five sleepers it was impossible to say, but the new girl wasn’t going anywhere until she was dead certain they were all men, or that the woman wasn’t her mother.

Again with the mother, I thought but not knowing what to say, didn’t say anything.

“Well, seems to me we’d be better off if they weren’t all men,” I finally said, “and besides, how are we going to figure that out before it’s too late?”

“You don’t know my mother if you think that,” the new girl replied. “Now get closer until you’re sure what’s what.”

Why me? I thought. Are you sure you trust me? I’m already satisfied one of them is a woman, I told you I saw her a couple of days ago, I said.

My conjecture hit the bullseye. The new girl’s eyes were bulging, she was fit to be tied. After a long moment she visibly contained herself and merely said, slowly and quietly, And I know its five men, so you just have to do is point out the woman to me and I’ll take care of the rest.

It seemed we were at an impasse, but regardless I had no intention of doing it.

“Why don’t we just wait until they’re asleep and then go look see? I suggested.

Before she could answer we saw someone stirring, and heard one of them call out in a man’s voice, “Who’s there?”

We both looked at each other in silence. Neither of us moved.

“Who’s there?” A grey figure said once more and got up to rouse the others.

Just then I heard some faint music and the sky grew lighter. Was it the music of the spheres I’d heard tell about? The music became more intelligible and I realized it was the theme song for “Sky King”, one of my favorite TV shows. All of sudden a vaguely familiar roar obliterated everything. I looked up in the sky and saw the bearded man and red-headed woman on their motorcycle blasting through the sky and yelled, “There she is, there she is!”

The new girl rushed up behind me and began pummeling me with her fists, screaming and crying, “NO NO NO! NO NO NO!” crumpling to the ground in a fainting fit.

I’d seen what I wanted to see, and was ready to turn back. Of course, I wish they’d taken me with them, but just seeing my dream come to life was enough for me at that time. And besides, I was certain that at some point they’d come back for me.

 

THE END

 

Apostle Paul / a story by Tom Evans

Everyone knew who Paul Brennan was, though I doubt anyone ever really knew him. Among other things, he was one of the Omegas, a quasi-high school fraternity who did nothing more than cause mayhem as far as I could tell that had morphed into a motorcycle gang after “graduation,” which most of them never did.

But even more than that, they were legends to us junior high kids, several of them having been the nucleus of the only undefeated high school football team in Wilsonville’s history.

This was in 1965.

            Swede Patrick, quarterback; John Strugglegear, center and middle guard; Joseph Pierre, scatback; and, last but not least, Paul Brennan, their 167 lb. pulling guard and middle linebacker. Their names were magic to us!

Paul Brennan was a workout demon, running up and down the bleachers at Billie stadium year round in work boots, with not an ounce of fat on him and the look of the zealot in his eye. Purportedly mild-mannered off the field, he was a silent assassin on it, flying around to make bone-jarring tackles (breaking several helmets in the process) and crushing blocks well down the field, picking off impediments one by one as Pierre or Swede tailed closely behind him, their escort to pay dirt. He was the quiet leader of the group, the most respected and feared, and the unquestioned captain of the team, though because of his size it seemed difficult to fathom why at first glance. When Coach Jenkins gave an order, Paul could be counted on to enforce it.

They went 9-0 that year, outscoring their opponents 450-27, the most dominant performance in the history of Western New York high school football to date. Sadly, none of them had much use for school so were seldom seen in the hallways, in spite of Coach Jenkins lowering the boom on them many times, but ultimately failing. They played football in the fall and were mostly gone by the spring, suspended or flunking out.

Rumor was they had a clubhouse near the school (though no one had ever seen it) and mostly went there to hang out, or at the nearby pool hall. Since they were such poor students, and too small to play college football, only one of them went on to college, John Strugglegear, who got a full ride to Nebraska, but flunked out after getting kicked off the freshman team for practically killing a man in a fight.

So, unlike the baby boomers, who in large part fueled the dispersal of a generation away from small town America into the big cities to seek fame and fortune, most of the Omegas stayed on in Wilsonville, working manual labor jobs, making failed marriages, drinking and fighting, their motorcycles roaring up and down Main Street, the townspeople avoiding them at all costs.

They often went on road trips looking for new blood to spill, as no one in the area would tangle with them more than once. Though the police often looked the other way over minor transgressions, several of them had to be hauled in on various charges of aggravated assault, trespassing, vagrancy, public intoxication, DWI, and spousal abuse over the years. It wasn’t a pretty picture, though none had as yet come to an untimely end, as was fully expected by anyone who knew them.

No one heard much from Paul after he graduated high school, though several rumors surfaced from time to time: that he was studying to be a doctor, that he’d entered a monastery in Kentucky, that he’d become a demolitions expert and was working in Alaska, finally, even joined a commune, all plausible scenarios.

The most recent rumors I had heard concerning him were that he’d memorized the Bible, dropped out of school, and become, of all things, a run-of-the-mill born-again Christian, working at the Central Post Office downtown. None of this could be verified, as no one in Wilsonville had actually seen him. As I was going through a sort of religious crisis at the time, I refused to believe he could be anything as prosaic as a born-again Christian, and instead, imagined him as a Stavrogin, or Aloysha, or some other wild-eyed prophet at least.

One night, however, as I sat in the Galaxy restaurant eating a hot fudge sundae, having gone inside to get out of the blizzard that was blanketing Wilsonville, I couldn’t help but notice a solitary figure incongruously pedaling a bike down Main Street. Even though it was difficult, almost impossible, to see outside, for some reason I thought it was Paul, and ran out on Main Street to get a better look, to no avail.

He rode with his head down, pedaling through the heavy slush, against the wind. Still, what I had seen, a lean rider with bushy hair and beard, wearing a sheep-herders coat, made me think it was he. It would make sense, him coming down Main Street from his job.

That was the last I saw or heard about him for quite some time, until I came across an announcement of his impending marriage in the Courier News. I was astounded to see it, as I sometimes doubted he even existed he was so seldom seen, and a cipher in such a close-knit community, where everyone seemingly knew everything about everyone. Not Paul, even though he now lived right on Main Street, practically across from the high school. We knew he had parents, of course, and even a brother, but that was about it. Yet there it was: Melissa Ash, daughter of Leo and Dorothy Ash of New Wake Hollow, will be wed to Paul Brennan, the son of Edward and Clara Brennan of  Wilsonville, Saturday morning, June 12, at 11 AM, at the House of Life Church, 675 Main St., New Wake Hollow, where Mr. Brennan is pastor.

Pastor? I couldn’t believe it. House of Life? New Wake Hollow? Sounded like some hippy-dippy commune to me. I obviously couldn’t show up uninvited to a wedding, but I was determined to see his church as unobtrusively as I could, as soon as possible. It only took a week until I got the courage to attempt it, and I asked around regarding where it was and when their services were. No one seemed to know, and it wasn’t on any map I consulted.

As determined as I was to go there I figured there had to be a way, I just had to find it. Finally I hit on an idea: I’d nose around the Omegas clubhouse and see if there was anything there that could point me in the general direction. This had to be done extremely carefully, as you might imagine, I don’t know what might happen if I got caught, but figured it wouldn’t be pretty, and certainly not worth risking until the coast was absolutely clear – if ever.

As luck would have it, the annual “convention” of the Western New York Bikers was being held in a downstate park that very week, and, keeping my ear to the ground, so to speak, I heard them roar out of town en masse at daybreak on a Friday morning in June. There was my opportunity, and I took it.

I wasn’t sure how to go about it exactly, and what I would do when I got there, but knew it had to be out in the open, during the middle of the afternoon, when things were pretty quiet around Wilsonville. At the appointed hour I headed over to the clubhouse, whose location was by then well known, thanks to the seemingly daily pilgrimage of the cops to it, for all kinds of reasons. Logically enough, it was above the bar they commandeered, Plaↄey’s at the end of a row of storefronts across from the high school.

I was hoping not to have to actually go inside the clubhouse, uncertain as to how I’d accomplish that in the first place, but figured I’d at least have to bite the bullet and go in the bar to see if there was anyone or anything inside that would point the way. As good luck would have it, shortly after I entered the bar, which was relatively empty (in spite of which, everyone there turned to see who had entered, from habit I guess), there was a bulletin board on the wall and on it I spied a hard-to-miss announcement in all shades of day-glo colors listing the time, place, and location of the House of Life services, complete with directions to New Wake Hollow! I didn’t let the swastika emblazoned on it with black magic-marker deter me, I ripped it right off the board and stuffed it in my pocket, hanging around to drink a draft as a subterfuge, quaffing it quickly and leaving when nobody seemed to have noticed.

Unfortunately, it seemed as I had no choice but to wait until mid-week to go, as their services were held on Wednesday evenings, of all things, so that next fine June Wednesday I got on my bike (I figured Paul would appreciate that) and rode straight out Route 5 toward New Wake Hollow, not telling a soul where I was going. After traversing some arduous hills the closer I got, I arrived two hours later and stopped at the Chamber of Commerce gazebo as I was entering the town and inquired where the House of Life might be. The man behind the glass gave me a funny look, but pointed straight down Main Street and said, the big white house on the left, a quarter mile down Main- you can’t miss it, you most certainly can’t.

I thanked him and continued on, then, as he said, spotted it immediately. He certainly was right, it was a big white house, a dilapidated Victorian replete with buttresses and gables like something out of Hawthorne, surrounded by dense foliage and what appeared to be a forest behind it.

There was no sign announcing services outside, and no one seemed to be around. I wondered if I had gotten the time wrong, and as I went up the steps noticed a chopper parked on the grass. The thought crossed my mind it was Paul’s, though I doubted that. The front door was unlocked and I opened it, and, entering the narthex, thought, it’s a real honest-to-goodness church, which surprised me a little for some reason. I immediately caught the scent of patchouli, which was more like it, and noticed it smelled a lot like the local co-op:  a combination of dried legumes, various unbleached flours and grains, aromatic spices, and Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap.

I paused at the threshold of the nave after immediately noticing two things: it was quite full, and there were an inordinate number of very comely females, many dressed in peasant dresses or blouses and jeans. Being quite shy and self-conscious, I almost turned right around and ran for my life. Several of the aforementioned young ladies had already noticed me, however, and beckoned me thither, so I steeled myself and entered, moving toward a metal chair (the pews were all filled) in the back indicated by a brown-haired girl who looked to be about my age.

Things were looking up, I thought to myself. Speaking of which, as I did so, I noticed there wasn’t anyone at the lectern I saw in the front yet. I looked into the luminous brown eyes of the young lady seated next to me and inquired as to when the pastor might arrive. Pastor, she replied, smiling at me all the while. You must be new here. We don’t call Paul anything as square as that. No, he’s just Paul to us, and I mean all of us. He should be here any time now.  Wait until he appears, you’ll see what I mean.

At least I was at the right place, at least I thought, as I had been beginning to have my doubts. It just didn’t seem like his scene, though I had no way of knowing what was. From what I knew of him he seemed like a pretty mercurial guy, so anything was possible, I supposed. Again, I wondered who the chopper belonged to. I scanned the crowd to see if I saw any of the Omegas, but, unless I missed my guess, none of them were there. The congregation looked to be young kids, mostly, jazzed on Christ or susceptible to cults if the soulless look in their eyes was any indication. There were a few older people in the crowd (it was never trust anyone over thirty days, remember), who didn’t seem related to any of the younger ones, trying to look hip in jeans and sandals, which they immediately foiled by wearing socks with them, the men exhibiting various styles of facial hair, the women sans makeup.

There was an expectant hum in the room, soon rewarded by the sudden appearance of the spitting image of the picture of Christ I had above my bed in childhood: white-robed, sandaled, tanned, leonine, with long locks and a beard- Paul Brennan in the flesh.

I blinked, and blinked again, then took another look. You’ve got to be kidding me, I thought. It can’t be him. This is too much. How dare he?  I scanned the congregation and saw nothing but enraptured faces gazing up at him, as though he were levitating above them. (I found out later this was at least in part courtesy of a footstool placed behind the lectern).

He still hadn’t spoken, and it seemed no one expected him to any time soon. He took what appeared to be a Bible with silver clasps off the lectern and held it first to his forehead and then to his lips and kissed it, then brandished it in the air, shaking it as you would the tablets with the Ten Commandments written on them. He set it back down, looked up at the ceiling, folded his hands then thrust them toward the sky, and began silently mouthing in earnest words I couldn’t quite make out, repeating them several times until I finally realized what it was: eloi eloi lema sabachthani.

Christ’s imprecation on the cross. Who does he think he is? I thought, dumbfounded. I looked at the young lady next to me and saw her lip-syncing the phrase, and again at the congregation, who were doing the same.

Once more I looked deeply into her limpid brown eyes and suddenly I wanted to settle down with her forever, raise a family, and try organic farming.

Who was I kidding? I bolted up from the chair, knocking it over in the process, breaking the silence with an awful clatter, then, looking back at the surprised girl one last time, immediately lit out running down the center aisle, feeling Paul’s eyes boring into my back as I did so. I tried to outrun his gaze, not quite believing he’d noticed me but knowing he had when I suddenly heard his voice calling out my name in a sonorous voice-

WESLEY BARNES

– transfixing me there.

What should I do? Turn around? How could he know my name I wondered? People all around me were holding out their hands in supplication. I was mortified yet wanted so badly to look back at the brown-haired girl I had been sitting next to, knowing if only she was doing the same I’d run back to her and never leave her side.

Not wanting to find out I kept on going instead, despite knowing I’d probably lost my one chance at happiness.

 

THE END