The crack of the pistol sets him free.
The blocks behind him a one time obstruction no longer holding sway. The pulsing of blood in his ears and the drum of his heart drowns out the crowd and footfalls behind him. He is a flash into the first turn. A gale force wind as he rounds the bend. A striding thoroughbred coming into the straightaway.
Born for this. Raised for it. Trained for it. This is his world. His life. Once threatened and now reclaimed. The others shouldn’t have even shown up. They might as well not exist. In this realm he is king, here to reclaim his throne, and no one will defeat him.
Then…the pops. The tears.
After we’ve returned home
From all the beers and BBQs
From all the well meaning “Thank Yous”
Misplaced yet appreciated
We place our keychains back on the hook
A single dog tag clanking against hardware
The KIA bracelet still sits on our wrist
Or upon a mantle
Next to a picture
The sun goes down on celebration
The next day rises but their memory remains
But ever present
No matter what the calendar says
Their presence is felt
When we heard
When we saw
When we held
When we lost
The rock hits the old man just above his eyebrow.
Elint stumbles backward from the force of the impact. His feet tangle in some pottery bowls stacked up in front of a merchant’s stand. Elint tries to steady himself on his cane but can’t find his balance in time. He goes over with a mighty crash, several of the dishes breaking in the process. His milk bladder, newly paid for and topped off, flings through the air as he tumbles over his back. It lands in the dirt a second after he does, the contents pulsing out and soaking into the ground.
Elint coughs, both to try and catch the breath knocked out of him and evacuate the dust he inhaled during his spill. Staring up into the sky, he lets out a low groan as the aches of his weathered body cry out in protest. As the sound tapers off a new one takes its place. Laughter.
The silver clinks on her fine china dishes.
The scents of a day’s worth of cooking waft into the air above the table. Wine. Lots of wine. Not the $13 a bottle nonsense that was prevalent in her house growing up. Not with Rachel’s mother in law here. Alice always ensures they drink the very best, even if it means bringing her own supply of what she considers best.
Julia, sitting across the table, happily sloshes the contents of her glass around before taking another mouthful. “Such a beautiful home Rachel. Really. You’ve outdone yourself with this meal.”
Her husband’s Aunt Julia, Alice’s sister, is at their house for the first time since they were married. Rachel’s own sister Kelly sits to her right, bouncing her toddler on her knees. The men are clustered around the other end of the table, discussing what sounds like another disappointing performance from the Detroit Lions. The older kids run amok through the house, occasionally darting into the dining room and conversation.
“I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself,” Rachel says as best as she is able to.
Julia chews on a mouthful of green bean casserole before taking another hefty gulp. “I am, and I have to tell you. Both of you. Your mother would be so proud of how you’ve kept her tradition going.”
The mention of their mother lifts Kelly’s head. Her eyes water and she bites her lip before looking back down. Rachel pushes out a smile. “Thank you. It means a lot to hear that.” She takes a hefty sip of her own glass.
Undeterred, Julia presses on. “You know, I never did hear about what happened to your father. Did he pass too?”
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.