Sadie rushes back to the couch in the center of the living room.
Sitting down, she tries to pretend that she wasn’t watching for their car out the front window. Swallowing her feverish panic, Sadie picks up her book and flips it open. If anyone was paying attention they’d realize she couldn’t have read that far in the amount of time they were gone.
Car doors shut and a moment later, keys jostle and scrape in the locks. The front door opens, her Dad stepping in. His eyebrows jump upon seeing her sitting there. The man’s face, gentle but framed with nervous anger just a few hours prior, is now one of fatigue. He breaks eye contact with her and walks into the house.
Silence. It’s the silence that sends her anxiety into overdrive. No one is speaking. As her mother comes in she spares a similar glance for Sadie and then looks to her father. Aunt Amber and Uncle Burt file in behind after that. They stalk past the suitcases lined up next to the door and move to the couch in front of the living room window, just opposite her own. Uncle Burt sits down with a heavy sigh. Other than that, no one utters a sound.
The pack isn’t getting any lighter, and the hayseed it belongs to won’t shut the fuck up.
The redneck drones on and on about God knows what. Derrick had long since tuned him out, especially after he had started hauling the man’s bag for him. If Derrick hadn’t taken it when he did, the entire group would have lost ground, and he had to get them back in time. He spares a moment to glance at his watch. 12:15. Forty five minutes to his promised 1 p.m. conclusion. If they keep up this pace they should make it.
The Adventures of Killer Cain
“On the Gate!”
“Crack one five!”
“On the fucking gate!”
Clang. Clang. Clang. Clang.
All day. Everyday. Endlessly. Relentlessly. Every fifteen minutes guaranteed, with others interspersed between the quarter hours. The clanging of the gates. The barred doors being opened and closed. Crack them for meals. Clang. Crack them for showers. Clang. This guy’s going to medical. Clang. This guy is heading to court. Clang. The bars never stop. They slam and reverberate in their steel frames, a constant auditory reminder to those locked inside of HDM. You ain’t going nowhere. Not unless the C.O.’s let you. You belong to the City of New York. You’re locked in. You’re locked up. Your ass is ours.
They also resonate with many the officers. The constant clanging reminds them of the choices, or lack thereof, that led them to this job. A few are happy to even have a job. Most of the others wonder, “How in the hell did I end up here? Standing behind the same bars as the dregs of society?” The constant ringing is twisted and warped to them, the antithesis to melodious church bells singing their call to twelve o’clock mass.
The wind rustles the leaves on both shores, the branches swaying and cracking under the sustained breath.
An exhale that seems to go on long past when it should have ended. It is a deep sigh, foreboding, in many ways a lament. As if the very air shared in their mourning. The wind has a chill to it, the first bite of the upcoming winter. The promise of cold far deeper and greater than this. For now, it is enough for some of the men to pull their cloaks a little tighter. For others, it hardly seems to register.
Save for the shuffle of the trees the night is still, the only other sounds coming from the longship. It rocks gently on the placid water of the fjord, the surface reflecting the bright moon that hangs overhead, broken only by the nearly syncopated dip of the oars. The wood comes up dripping, the remnants of the river falling back into place, adding their echoes to the silence. The ship creaks and groans slightly as it pulls along under the power of the men propelling it, far fewer now than when they had left earlier in the spring.
At the mouth of the fjord they had struck the mainsail and bundled it to the yard. Perhaps it was foolhardy to row during the darkness, but Frode knew the river better than any of them, and they all knew it like their own lovers. The moon is a beacon save for the thin wisps of clouds streaking across it, like the last strands of hair clinging to an old crones scalp. It casts discomforting shadows on man and shore, yet it gives Frode ample enough light by which to guide them through the channel. The oars turn and tumble in their ports through the gunwale, the jarring sound at odds with the strange serenity around them. Another breeze whistles through, flapping a loose section of the sail above. The men pull on. They want to get home. They need to get home.
‘Twas the Write before Christmas, when all through the house
Two devices were stirring, my keyboard and mouse
My outlines spread out, before me with care
In hopes that ideas, soon would be there
The children were nestled
all snug in their beds,
So I wrote a huge battle scene
My hero lopping off heads
Sword flying, men crying, their blood being splattered
The peace of the kingdom I wrote being shattered
Shields splintered, limbs severed
Armor caved in with a crash
Perhaps later my hero, would earn the traitor’s lash
Head down, fingers flying, I write with such fury
Looking up, glasses off, the screen fuzzy and blurry
When what to my wondering eyes should appear
But eight fresh new pages, so crisp and so clear
The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills.
It’s cold tonight. The snow crunches underfoot with each step. The trees sway and creak amidst a steady northern wind, groaning against the movement given their frozen limbs. Plumes of breath escape me as I continue to push across the frontier, ragged given the lingering cough that has persisted since the last time I saw civilization some weeks ago. More and more I lean on the shaft of my modified lance, more a spear than the traditional mounted weapon, yet onward I move. Dispatches need to be delivered, warmth needs to be obtained. A man has to eat, and you don’t earn a wage by wasting time in the wilderness.
He sits down at the desk where they keep the family computer and powers it up.
His wife, loading dishes in the dishwasher, catches what he is doing and calls to him from across the kitchen, yelling over the music she has playing. “I know you’re not about to do more work right now.”
He smiles in response, not looking up from the screen, the glow illuminating his face with pale light while reflecting off his glasses. “Promotions are given for a reason dearest. I can’t slack off now.”
“Mmmhmm,” she mumbles disapprovingly. “Just don’t be too long. You’ve spent many a long night working towards this thing. Now that you’ve got it your little girl needs some of your time.”
“Chelsea’s not so little anymore darling.”
“Exactly. And don’t tell me what I already know. I’m the one dealing with her while you’re in cyberland or spreadsheet circus or wherever it is that you go when you’re on that thing.”
As if on cue he opens his latest spreadsheet. He smirks again at her playful banter. “Just a few minutes, promise. I need to have these financials ready for tomorrow morning.”
“Okay, but you promised her you’d help with her Chemistry studying too.”
“I will, I will…” he says but his clacking of keystrokes is already overcoming her clanging of dishes. He updates a few cells when a Direct Messenger window pops up. “What the…okay what’d I do now?”
“Hmmm?” Kim asks from the kitchen. “You say something hun?”
“No, it’s okay, just something of Chelsea’s she probably left running in the background. I must’ve hit a key that opened it is all.” He moves his mouse towards the top of the window, noticing that the name is Jamie Tellers. Probably a homework collaboration. Jamie and Chelsea are in the same grade, and the Tellers live just a few doors down. He works with Jamie’s father, although sparingly given their different departments. The families had known each other for years on account of the girls, even had each other over from time to time. He is about to close out the window when a new message pops up, and then several after it.
Can’t help feeling it’s just another Affirmative Action thing.
Seriously, you should have gotten that promotion, but given the choice.
They’re scared about that whole Charlottesville thing that happened. That’s why they gave it to Dave. Old bastards.
His sedan cruises along Interstate 10, heading towards Tucson. Somewhere out his driver side window is the Mexico border, while the good old USofA stretches for miles to the north on his passenger side. He’s surrounded by the serene beauty of the New Mexico desert, not a single man made structure in sight save for the hardball road he is on and the occasional exit sign. The tan and burnt orange soil is interspersed by patches of scrub brush and short, prickly bushes. Striking red rock formations sit in the distance backlit by a bright, blue sky. Why is the sky blue? Because God loves the Infantry, that’s why. He sighs. Those days are behind him now, in his rearview, as it were. His branch detail time done, his tracks pinned on, he makes his way towards Fort Huachuca to begin the second leg of his career in military intelligence school.
The scenery really is beautiful. He’s glad he can appreciate it. He never thought he would be able to enjoy a desert after his first deployment, yet here he is finding solace in one, even if it’s happening at eighty miles an hour. The isolation is comforting as well. He checks his mirrors again. Nope, not a single car behind him. None in front of him either. It’s been that way for the better part of an hour. Good, he could use some alone time.
One catch. The problem with isolated serenity is there’s no fucking bathrooms.
The clock under the cage says it’s 2:21 p.m. and the neon orange second hand just keeps winding. Any minute now.
On the schedule practice starts at 2:30, but Coach is always a few minutes early. The damn drill sergeant tries to squeeze every last minute out of the day, even though their practices are already three hours or more. Jesse isn’t feeling it today. As they straighten and bend back down into their stretch, he’s in a sour mood, brought on by soreness, self-imposed starvation, a massive pile of homework, an impossible to satisfy teenage obsession with the opposite sex, the fucking pimple on his forehead, lost matches, overall moodiness and frustration, and the impending onslaught of yet another of Coach Gillette’s infamous practices. Yup, not in the mood at all today.
The stone walls reverberate with the thrum of the crowd just above the gate tunnel he stands in.
They are already in a frenzy with anticipation, the first eleven combatants having been introduced. Up ahead the twelfth and final contestant argues with the tournament organizers, but Artinaz cannot hear what is being said over the roar in the arena. He looks up from his mop, (he always had to come down here to mop up after the participants entered, in case any fluids got left behind on the brick) and steals a glance.
The tall, willowy Spaesalnean gestures with his top arms while his lower arms sit perched on his hips with indignation. The officials in their flowing robes and chest sashes point at their scrolls and tablets, make reference to the thundering walls around them, wave their hands at the closed gate door. None of it seems to make any difference. The Spaesalnean is having none of it. When one of the officials gestures to the nearest arena guard, who dutifully steps next to the official, the tall being cocks an eyebrow. His arms lash out, the suddenness of the move making Artinaz and the officials alike jump in surprise. The bottom hands pin the gate guards’ arms to his torso, while the top left arm seizes control of the guard’s spear. The Spaesalnean draws one of the broad daggers he wears strapped to his leather jerkin and plunges it into the guard’s neck in violent, driving blows that come down in quick succession, one after another. The guard convulses from the piercings, his larynx severed so fast that all he can emit is a faint squeak mixed with the gurgle of his own blood. The four armed attacker keeps up his relentless mutilation even as the man oscillates into death and goes slack. The stabbings send blood spatters onto the walls, the floors, and the officials who recoil in utter disgust and horror. The Spaesalnean continues his butchery as the body slides down to the brick pavers. There he finishes it off with a few more stabs, his pace finally slowing. In grand spectacle the willowy being stands, wiping blood from his face with the back of a hand while returning his broad dagger to its sheath.