Fallen Angel – a flash fiction story

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Fallen Angel

      Far away on Paradise’s horizon, an amber glow told Conah highlight was approaching. It was dark, although dark was relative here in the pearly glow that constituted lowlight. Conah’s eyes auto-adapted to the changing luminosity, catching the faint flash and sparkle of wings in the diffused light.
If you focused, he mused, you could make out the forms of other angels, flitting about on whatever purpose called them.
The heavens were full of the sparkling pinpoints, like fireflies at dusk on the Earth below. But fireflies existed on a different plane of existence, one that Conah could access at will until yesterday. Right now, he couldn’t join his kindred in flight because of a mistake he had made down on that other plane. A mistake resulting in his confinement here, in this garden without walls; an island here in Paradise. The garden had no tangible barriers, but he could not leave. His wings were bound so tight it felt like shards of glass were piercing his shoulders every time he forgot and tried to spread them.
He had not intended to do what he did. Assigned as an observer to a hospital on Earth, he was there to help the soul of a little girl transition from her ravaged body to the halls of Paradise’s first plane. The girl had terminal cancer and her time on Earth was ending. Conah could see she was suffering as she struggled to breathe, her fragile chest heaving with the effort of filling her collapsing lungs.
A nearby machine made strange rhythmic sounds as it breathed for the girl, making her eyelids appear to flutter in sync with the machine’s labors. Conah could not say why he did it, but materializing beside the laboring child he took her hand in his and breathed over her.
The girl’s eyes flew open and a smile lit her thin cracked lips as she saw Conah bending over her.
“Have you come to take me?” she said.
“No, little one,” he replied, placing his hand over her heart. “I have come to take away the thing that is destroying you.”
He leaned over and inhaled the breath from the girl’s mouth, exhaling a smoky cloud into the air around them. Pressing his mouth to hers he breathed into her, feeling his breath expand into her diseased airways, the tissue healing as he filled her with his essence. The girl’s eyes closed and she reached out to him. He took her hands in his and willed his spirit into her. As he concentrated, the girl’s pallor decreased and her face took on a rosy hue. Her body relaxed and she fell into a restful slumber. Conah placed her hands on her chest and leaned back to see Ruhiel standing on the other side of the hospital bed, shaking his head as he looked at him.
Conah stepped away from the sleeping girl and looked at his mentor. The concern in the ageless face and Ruhiel’s eyes told Conah the other knew what he had done.
“I’m not sorry,” he said. “Will you bring back her suffering?”
“No Conah, it’s too late for that,” Ruhiel said. “Neither you nor I can reverse what you have done here, but there will be consequences. You know that. For now, cloak yourself before you do any further damage.”
Conah realized that he was still materialized while Ruhiel was not. Any one of the dozens of people who attended on the child might walk in, compounding his offense. He re-assumed his non-corporeal form while Ruhiel made a series of strange gestures over the sleeping girl. The machines attached to her beeped and flashed, then settled down into a steady blinking rhythm.
“What did you do?” asked Conah, seeing the girl still breathing.
“She is still asleep, only deeper now, and she will not wake up,” Ruhiel said. “I cannot undo your action but I have tried to restore some of the balance you upset. The life you gave back to her she still has, but consciousness is far away and will remain so until her case is re-evaluated. But now,” he pointed upwards at the ceiling. “We have to go, Conah. I’m instructed to return with you. I’m sorry, but this is very bad. Not only for this poor soul but for you too. You knew the rules. Why?”
“She was suffering,” Conah said. The excuse was lame but he had no better answer to the question, even for himself. “I accept the consequences.”
“I know,” Ruhiel’s face was sad. “That’s what I’m afraid of. Time to go now, my friend.”
Retribution was swift. Shortly after his return, seven senior angels took Conah to a garden, and there, bound his wings with psychic spells. Conah knew they intended the binding to remind him of his offense at every discomforting turn. They left him there in lowlight’s seamless dusk, promising to return for him at next highlight. The implication was clear. His sentence was incomplete and Conah had an inking about what was coming.
He was not the first of his kind to make a similar mistake. It must be a flaw in angel makeup that caused angels to break this very rule so many times. The logical outcome was banishment to Earth for a human lifetime, something trivial by his own immortal lifespan. But he would be unable to communicate with others of his kind during that time, wouldn’t even be able to see and hear them. It was a far heavier burden than the pinioning of his wings.
Conah tried to contemplate the immensity of such a sentence and could not conceive it. No fellowship, no rhapsody, none of the glories of highlight or the subtle beauty of lowlight. He would not see his brothers and sisters unless they chose to reveal themselves to him, a forbidden action. He would fall behind his contemporaries along the sublimation path, returning a novice while they moved on to higher planes.
The only light at the end of his tunnel of misery was that his sentence was not permanent. There was no permanent sentence for an angel other than eternal banishment, and in all angelic history, only one had suffered that fate. He would return, diminished.
The susurration of many wings told him it was time. They had come for him. Around him, the seven elders materialized, their great pinions sweeping the air and folding into near invisibility as they took up positions around him. Geburatiel, the leader of the group spoke, his words shaping themselves inside Conah’s mind. Around him, he felt the agreement of the others.
“We have decided,” Geburatiel said. “Conah, you will return to Earth for a time to restore the balance you disturbed. You will exchange your immortal form for a human one and as a human, you will endure all mortal hopes and fears, losing all knowledge of your previous existence. This will prevail until you have redeemed yourself. Then, we will come for you, but, of the when and the where, you will have no knowledge or understanding.”
Conah felt numb, even though it was what he had been expecting. He bowed his head, even that small gesture sending stabbing pains through his shoulders. “When do I leave and who am I to be?” he asked.
“The who is not for you to know. The when is now,” Geburatiel said. “The ladder is ready. Come.”
Like a single entity, the seven elders surrounded Conah and he felt levitated amidst them as they rose as a group and departed the garden. Ahead, a rolling featureless plain ended in a bright line of light that was not the coming highlight. As they approached, Conah saw the head of an elaborate staircase looming at the edge of the plain. A radiance so bright that it washed out all visual perspective bathed the surrounding stairs. The stairs seemed to be floating in the light, disappearing down into it.
The group alighted at the head of the stairs and Geburatiel motioned for Conah to step forward.
Behind him, he felt a gentle push, although no-one actually touched him. He found himself on the first step as Geburatiel murmured something in his ear. A feeling of intense cold washed over him. It was an alien sensation in this place, at odds with the surrounding light and the warmth from the auras of the elder angels. Conah felt something falling away from him as if his garments were dissolving about him, though he wore none. Without any effort on his part, he found himself descending the stairs. The pain in his shoulders was gone. Around him, gossamer fragments materialized and disappeared. His wings were going too. Through the light, away from his kindred he descended, down into a soupy mist that seemed infused with sparkling dust motes. The feeling of downwardness disappeared as the luminescence around him thinned out. Below, he could discern features of a landscape.
He knew that landscape. He had left it with Ruhiel only the previous night. Disembodied and permeable, he drifted down towards a group of buildings set within manicured lawns. One building, in particular, seemed to be his destination. A feeling of dread came over him; a feeling outside his angelic experience; a mortal feeling.
The building was the very one from which Ruhiel had extracted him.
Unhindered, Conah slipped through the roof of the building, his permeable self sifting through the atoms and molecules of the building’s structure like water through a sieve. He passed through walls, floors, machinery and devices with the same ease as his entry into the building. Finally, he entered a room, feeling his form begin to coalesce. A bright stream of material from his core reached out like a tendril, extending towards a still form on a bed. Many machines connected to the figure and he knew her without having to look. It was the little girl he had wrenched back from destiny last night.
At last, he understood the irony of the balance the elders had spoken about. This was his doom then. To enter into this little girl, become her, endure her nothingness as the machines breathed and functioned for her until her cycle and his ran to completion. Only then would he be free again. Conah felt no regrets as he settled into the girl’s consciousness; became that consciousness. The infinite nothingness reached out to envelope him and Conah ceased to exist.

© Bryan Knower – May 2017

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THE LAST GREENHOUSE IN THE WORLD

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veryshortstories Gabriel looked with concern at the sapling in the corner. Its silver-gray leaves drooped and the plant, not more than four feet tall, projected an overall air of forlornness. Behind the ornate pot holding the plant the transparent panes of a wide bay window showed a murky red sky and rolling brown dunes denuded of vegetation, numbing in monotony. The dullness of the scene had no effect on Gabriel. His whole concern was focused on the plant before him.
Reaching out, he touched one of the leaves with his thumb and forefinger. It was the most delicate of touches but even that slight contact seemed too much for the sapling. It trembled and the leaf came away in his hand, leaving a stark white patch to mark the spot where it had detached from the trunk.
Gabriel inhaled sharply in dismay, examining the leaf in his hand. The top of the leaf was still a handsome silver gray but the underside showed mottled patches of brown and yellow and a spidery pattern of cracks covered the surface like a fine lattice. Even as he watched, the little tree seemed to sway, although no breeze stirred inside the building. Another of the lower leaves detached itself and floated down to join a small group of its fellows in the base of the pot.
Clutching the leaf in his hand Gabriel ran back up the long avenue leading back to his central office from this remote alcove on the edge of the building.
The office was hexagonal and glass-walled, providing a panoramic view of the interior of the building, which was large. From the central perspective, the six sides of the building were clearly evident, a macroscopic version of the office itself. Inside, machines and displays stood banked against the clear walls except for a small curtained alcove providing the only privacy in the entire building. The alcove contained Gabriel’s private quarters, although privacy never concerned him these days. Gabriel was the only occupant of the transparent building.
Hastily he dropped the leaf he was holding into the receptacle of a quietly humming machine and pressed some buttons. The leaf disappeared inside and the machine made quiet regular sounds as it analyzed its input. Less than a minute later a small screen popped up and data began to scroll down its surface. The receptacle popped open again but there was no sign of the leaf. Gabriel glanced quickly at the display and his shoulders sagged visibly.
Two days, he thought. That was all the time the sapling had left. The deterioration was irreversible and permanent. The tree was dying. Sadly he walked back out of the office and onto the wide plaza with its six broad avenues branching out precisely to the six sides of the building. Retracing his steps to the sapling, he stood looking at it, knowing he would have to take it out of the pot and destroy it before it infected any of the other plants nearby. But not yet. There were still two days and he could enjoy its company a little while longer.
Stepping to the clear wall, he pressed his face to the surface and looked outside. The building stood on a bare hilltop whose gentle slopes lead down to a shallow valley. The slopes were bare brown and dusty, the valley a continuation of the same. Beyond, other small hills rose up around him, similarly denuded and desolate, an endless procession stretching out into the distance. Gabriel knew that beyond the hills lay a great plain, equally dry and desolate, scoured by fierce winds that were gradually eroding the hills into dust. A world of perpetual dusk. He had not been outside in more than a century. There was nothing out there anymore. The machines that kept his building alive maintained him too, his circuits recharged and replenished as he rested in the nothing state he had come to call sleep.
But he never really slept. The term was a throwback to his long dead creators who had made him for a very specific purpose. He needed to stay vigilant. That was his imperative. He was the Keeper. The Keeper of the last greenhouse in the world.

© Bryan Knower 2015

The True Nature Of Father Time – a science fiction story

The True Nature Of Father TimeTHE TRUE NATURE OF FATHER TIME

Chron-OmiTar twitched with annoyance at the insistent warning tingle in his awareness. Overlaying his temporal display onto his main sensors he evaluated his track again. There it was. The cause of the alert. A discrepancy between his current and his projected position on the grid of his route. A difference of eleven discrete temporal elements. He was annoyed because he was partially to blame for it. On the temporal display his next waypoint pulsed green. It located a small blue world in a minor star system within one of the smaller arms of the great spiral galaxy that was his domain. Automatically he re-calculated velocities, set a new trajectory and adjusted his progress, thinking about the species on that world he was tasked to protect. They were the youngest, a late addition to the long list of those he had minded over the eons past.

That was what he was. A minder of the great spiral known to the blue world entities as the Milky Way. He found the name quaint. In fact, he found much of their nomenclature amusing, having absorbed all their collective knowledge as part of his ongoing task. The galaxy was anything but milky from his perspective, although it might appear an opaque smudge to something viewing it from a world in that system.They called their system Sol, and he adopted this name too for convenience, although he knew the system by a different name.

He himself was a creation of the Originators, who fashioned him and others like him upon discovering viable seed intelligences in the far-flung star clusters of the universe. On those selected worlds they embedded twinned energy crystals far beneath one of the magnetic poles and aligned them to keep that world tilted in relation to its star. Thus they could bring about a regular cycle of seasons. Chron-OmiTar and his like were designed to monitor and maintain the energy crystals on all the seed worlds and assigned different sectors of space and time that never overlapped.

His designated sector was the Milky Way galaxy and his task was to make an infinite round of the seed worlds on that track, adjusting the alignment of their crystals once every solar cycle. Right now he was headed for a blue world in the Sol system whose inhabitants celebrated his arrival at an annual festival marking the end of their seasonal cycle, although they were unaware of his true nature. At the winter solstice marking his passage, they celebrated and paid their respects to Father Time, by which name they venerated him. But they could neither see him nor know him. Even though he could take their form if he willed it, it was forbidden. There was no bridge spanning the vast gulf separating his kind from those they minded.

Chron-OmiTar had never met another minder. The nature of their task and their appointed galactic routes ensured this. Often, he let the power of his considerable awareness roam free as he traversed his path, casting a wide net among the edges of the far-flung star clusters he passed by. In all his travels over the eons he never discovered any sign of another until his searching had become a matter of rote. But now, the unthinkable had happened. One of his random scans returned a faint disturbance in the flow of his awareness, so faint that he might have missed it, except it was not supposed to be there. A brush against a kindred intelligence somewhere out in the neighboring Andromeda galaxy, just two and a half million light years from his position. It lingered briefly and then disappeared in the background chatter in spite of his best efforts at triangulating it. In vain he bent the interstices of his track in space-time, trying to glimpse the path of the other. He could not maintain the singularity he created long enough to probe further and his manipulations caused his own path to warp dangerously, putting him out of sync with his appointed course.

His temporal display showed that the blue world was diverging from the path of synchronicity as it approached perihelion. He would have to summon all his resources to make up the lost time. Concentrating, he poured his energies into a new intercept vector, wondering about the consequences of a failure to make his rendezvous with the planet’s crystals. Such an event had never happened. Not in all the history of the minders. No relevant data existed in his awareness but Chron-OmiTar knew by extrapolation that such a failure would undo all his patient work of many cycles as the seasons failed and synchronicity disappeared. It would mean the eventual end of the unfortunate species in question.

Continuously re-calculating his velocity and trajectory, he approached Sol system’s heliopause, vaulting easily over the swarm of interstellar debris of the Kuiper Belt. In his haste he tracked closer to the gas giants than he had ever ventured, causing huge vortices of atmospheric disturbance from Neptune to Jupiter. Like a glowing comet he flashed across the dark between the blue world’s moon and the magnetic polar region, compressing his vast bulk as he entered the planet’s atmosphere. Burning like a fireball he burrowed beneath the crust to his reference point. There, before his gaze, the enormous energy crystals glowed, bright and fierce, already almost vertical in their alignment to each other. If they became squared off, synchronicity would be lost forever.

Putting out his thought he grappled with the crystals, fighting against their natural tendency to come together. He was aware of the music of the crystals, a vast cosmic melody, slowly changing as he fought against their entropy. Within him a counterpoint rose to meet that melody, striving to bring harmony to a growing discordance within it. The two themes strove against each other and feeling his awareness beginning to splinter, he redoubled his efforts. Fragmentation was not an option. Collecting himself he channeled all of his essence into his thought, forcing the twin pillars of light apart with the sheer force of his will.

The cost was staggering. Chron-OmiTar felt his energies drain as he willed the crystals back to their designated angles of separation. Time seemed to stand still as the bright fires slowly separated. Gradually the music in his awareness became more harmonious until finally the crystals regained synchronicity in a great burst of energy and light. Chron-OmiTar rode the energy wave out of the planet’s crust, moving out far above the plane of the ecliptic. Pausing there he floated gently in the enfolding dark, waiting for cosmic energy to replenish him as it always did. Every synchronicity event he generated left him momentarily weakened but this time he had come perilously close to absolute emptiness. It took a long time for his energies to renew.

When he recovered, he reached out with his awareness, probing the results of his actions. Below him, two globes spun in sync around their star, one glittering blue, the other dark, locked together in the beginning of a new star cycle. On the blue world, the seasons would continue. Turning back to his track he cued up his next waypoint, thinking about the event that had delayed him. Something seemed amiss with the cosmic balance of this part of the universe. He had always believed he was the sole minder in this sector of space but against the probabilities he had sensed another.
Andromeda was approaching. The Milky Way, his home, seemed destined for change. He computed that soon, maybe in just a few billion years their tracks would intersect. Chron-OmiTar would encounter another.

© Bryan Knower 2015

A Short Story

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TO GLIMPSE THE WIND

The afternoon sun shone directly onto the upturned face of a young man leaning far back on the park bench, his eyes open and staring. Although he felt the heat, Tim Boyd saw not the faintest hint of light and dissatisfaction spread through him like a malaise, pushing back the surge of wellbeing the sunlight had initiated. He sat just inside the park entrance, in his Tuesday spot, feeling bored, and now he felt irritated too. Idly he slouched even lower on the bench, stretching out his arms to discourage others from sharing his seat. The fingers of his extended left hand encountered something flat and metallic. It was warm from the heat of the afternoon, or maybe it had recently been in someone’s hand. Absently he explored the object, turning it in his fingers.

A coin. An unfamiliar one.

He knew the contours of nickels, dimes and quarters intimately, and this wasn’t any of those. It wasn’t a dollar coin either. He knew those too. Something foreign. Exotic. On a whim, he slipped it into his pocket. It was his now, and maybe it was lucky. His lucky coin. God knew he was due for a change, so how about now?

He missed the excitement of his old life as an engineer at the Honeoye Falls test facility. Loved the rush of testing new components, pushing them to the limit and beyond, his daily routine like the thrill of a roller coaster until that early June day six years ago, when an exploding gasket shot a shower of hot metal shards into his face. They told him he was lucky none of those fragments reached his brain. He just wished they had. Years of extensive plastic surgery gave him back a semblance of his face but not his eyes. Those were gone forever, blinded by minute heated metal knives that shredded them beyond repair. The compensation settlement was more than generous. He would never want materially for the rest of his life, but it did nothing for him on the inside, couldn’t give him his old life back. He was a blind man.

He always knew. Instantly. The point at which people learned his disability. Their voices changed; a mixture of sympathy and a generous serving of pity, unsuccessfully hidden. Most people thought that because he couldn’t see them, he couldn’t read their expressions, but Tim became adept at sorting out the nuances in the human voice. He knew when people were sorry for him and he knew when his appearance repulsed them. In the early days, his anger burning magnesium bright at the injustice that had left him incapacitated at twenty-three, he took to walking about hatless, his scarred and battered face in plain view, unmitigated by shadow or hair. Later, as his anger cooled and he acknowledged his situation, he accepted the painful rounds of surgery that slowly re-constructed his features so that today the only external reminders of that horrific time were the scars above his eyebrows and on his cheekbones and jaw. These were what people noticed first. Some never ever realized that he had two glass eyes.

His mother said his scars gave him a rakish appearance, but her opinion didn’t really count. She was his mother. Patricia’s opinion might have counted. A lot. But Pat was gone. He had driven her away. She left within three months, unable to take his fits of depression and violent mood swings. He wanted her gone. She reminded him of the earlier days. So he deliberately hurt her, not physically, but emotionally, battering down her defenses and leaving her in tears, screaming at him, asking him what he wanted from her. Tim could not tell her, He didn’t know either. He just needed to lash out, hurt someone else; make them share his own consuming pain.

In half a year, he managed to alienate all of his close friends. They tried their best to tolerate his outbursts, then came around less frequently, and eventually stopped visiting altogether. By then, he had come to hate the Honeoye Falls house anyway. Built at the end of a tony cul-de-sac named Bridlewood Trail, he had designed it to fit his attitude and social lifestyle, and its sunken levels and open spaces became a nightmare of obstacles. He fell constantly, skinned his knees and elbows, screamed abuse at an endless stream of attendants, disobeyed their instructions and was so thoroughly miserable that when his mother proposed he come and live with her, he agreed, relishing the prospect of a new victim for his vitriol.

Like all mothers, she was over protective and his abuse rolled off her like raindrops on a newly waxed car. Eventually they established an uneasy camaraderie. He submitted to the therapists and others who molded and shaped him into a new Tim Boyd. Not improved, just different. He came to terms with his handicap too, learning to use his ears and nose in place of his eyes. He learned Braille, devoured audio books of all kinds, fiction, non-fiction, languages, philosophy, things he would not have dreamed of reading in his previous life. He learned to use a cane and stopped bumping into things. He learned to go outside and cross a street, to order food from a street vendor, making the correct payment with bills folded in different ways to identify them, dollar bills unfolded, fives folded in half, tens folded lengthwise, twenties with a corner bent down. Of course he had no way of knowing if the bills he received in return were the right denominations and it galled him that he needed to have his mother fold and categorize them for him when he got home.

His settlement secured them an apartment on the second floor at the corner of Central Park East and he quickly learned to make it across the corner plaza into the park. He loved the park. Loved walking in it, feeling the air on his face, enjoying the sounds of birds and insects as he sat on the park benches listening to the conversations of passersby. Sometimes they greeted him and he responded, but it was ephemeral contact and he yearned for something more tangible. He had lost touch with the baggage of his earlier life and he was lonely. He avoided the other blind people in the park. He suspected they avoided him too. A mutual unspoken agreement to stay out of each other’s way. They reminded each other of themselves, and Tim didn’t need reminding.

He felt around on the bench until he located his cane, then stood up and walked across the grass to the paved walkway, heading north, further into the park, feeling for the verge with his cane. His ears tuned in the different sounds of various passersby; the regular scrunch of purposeful feet, probably someone in the park for lunch and headed back to work, the soft whirr of an approaching bicycle, the stuttering buzz of the occasional skateboard. Tim knew them all, just as he knew most of the paths and byways in the park by now. Just ahead, a right turn onto a gravel path would take him up a small hill overlooking the conservatory water. There, a park bench faced west over the treetops, perfectly situated to catch the setting sun. He was still a few hours away from sunset however, and he planned to sit awhile and listen to the sound of the summer crickets and the chatter of birds arriving by the water below him.

The hill was steep but he took it briskly, anticipating the solitude at the top, striding out purposefully across the grass to where he knew the seat was located. Very few people came here. In all the time since finding this secluded nook, he had only encountered a couple of people, and they arrived to find him already established in the spot. From their voices, he figured they were couples looking for a hiding place. They were always surprised to see him, then apologetic when they noticed his cane. They always backed away, apologizing profusely, and Tim understood exactly why they were apologizing. He stayed silent, letting them retreat from the clearing and down the hill, leaving him alone with his thoughts and his little victory.

Today, his cane encountered something foreign as he felt for the edge of the seat. It felt soft and he rapped it harder with his cane, hearing a soft gasp in response.

A voice said, “Excuse me.”

There was someone already seated here. On his bench. He was confused and a little irritated. This had never happened before. “I beg your pardon,” he said, scrambling to regain his dignity. Then, with a note of exasperation in his voice, “You should have said something, you know. I can’t see you.”

“I know. I’m so sorry.” The voice was feminine. Youthful and vibrant, with a hint of humor. “I was so taken up with the way you came up the hill without using your cane that I forgot to make myself known. I do apologize.”

“That’s ok,” he said, although he didn’t feel okay. “It’s a great spot, and the setting sun is just perfect from here. Enjoy the view. I’ll be going now.”

“Oh, don’t go,” she was contrite now. “Please stay. You can share the seat with me.”

Tim hesitated. He wasn’t much of a conversationalist these days, but the voice intrigued him, and besides, he needed to stake his claim to the bench. This place. Otherwise, she might make it hers. “All right,” he said, feeling opposite her voice for the other end of the park bench.

Her sudden touch on his hand surprised him. Her grasp was gentle but firm and her touch tingled.

“Here, let me help you,” she said, guiding him with her hand on his arm.

He felt her other hand at his back, helping him to settle down in the corner of the seat. Her touch was comfortable, almost intimate and he felt regretful as she withdrew her hands and sat down opposite him. Nobody had touched him in a long while. Not like that anyway.

Get a grip, Tim, he thought as he struggled to compose himself. She was just being polite.

He shifted his position so that he was half facing her, or where he presumed she must be, and made an effort to be polite too.

It was no trouble at all.

The conversation flowed easily. He felt mesmerized, lulled by the sound of her voice, almost as if he was outside his body, observing himself in conversation with this stranger. Their conversation covered diverse topics, veering from the weather in New York to automobiles to travel to exploring and even horseback riding, which he had loved to do back at Honeoye Falls. The breadth of their shared interests seemed astounding and Tim, nowadays taciturn by nature, found himself animatedly discussing the merits of different kinds of honey in a slowly growing bubble of contentment, like drowning in a pool of molasses. For a while, he struggled to keep his head above the surface, but his charming companion seemed to know exactly what to say at exactly the right moment, and he gave up the effort to stay detached and went with the flow.

She was utterly enjoyable on so many different levels. Her voice, attentive, with a hint of laughter behind it, captivated him entirely. But he was also aware of her presence, the subtle perfume that she wore, a mixture of flowers and grasses perfectly appropriate to the setting and the time of year. And her touch. She kept touching his arm with her fingers to make a point, slim sensitive fingers that never pressed down or grasped, just brushed his forearm, almost accidentally. He found himself looking forward to those moments, leaning towards her to facilitate the contact.

In those times, he could feel her breath on his face, peppermint sweet, as if she had just finished a stick of gum. Maybe she had. Tim wanted to comment on how nice her breath smelled but thought it inappropriate. He wondered what she looked like. Wished he could see her, see what she was wearing, and for a while, the old anger at his injury flared up, but she blithely turned away his looming discontent, unaware she was doing so. It must have shown on his face. She commented on how expressive he was, and how his features changed when he became excited or involved with what he was saying or what she was saying. He didn’t realize the sun had sunk below the treetops until she shivered audibly and said it was getting cold. The hill was somewhat exposed and the wind off the water made the evenings sometimes chilly.

“I’m so sorry if I’ve kept you past your time in the park.” He mentally kicked himself for not being more attentive to the time and place, but he didn’t want this to end. Didn’t want the moment to end.

“Oh that’s no problem,” she said, “I live on the West side, and it’s just a short walk.” Her laughter was infectious. “Besides, there’s still enough light. Can you feel it?”

Tim could not, but he didn’t deny it. “Let me walk you to the park entrance,” he said, getting to his feet, hoping he’d bump into her by accident.

“That’s not necessary,” she protested. “I can find my way out of here easily. Let me get you down to the path.”

He insisted. It would be a long walk back through the park, but the thought of the imminent parting was suddenly painful. Surprisingly, she didn’t demur. She took his arm, slipping her hand between his elbow and his side in a gesture that seemed perfectly natural yet unbearably intimate. Tim was sublimely aware of her presence as they walked back down the hill together. She kept talking, describing little details for him as they went, their bodies leaning together, steps synchronized like old friends. They reached the West Gate far too quickly.

“Thank you,” he whispered as she disengaged her arm from his. “I enjoyed that very much.”

“Me too,” she said, then leaned closer and pressed her lips to his cheek. “Goodnight,” she whispered in his ear, then turned away.

He stood there a long time, listening to her receding footsteps, feeling like a ship adrift from its moorings. Before the sound faded entirely, he lifted his free hand and waved, hoping she had looked back. He didn’t know if she waved back. Then the sound of her was gone. Only the silence remained, rushing in to fill the void that she had occupied both physically and emotionally. The street sounds came back, the clip clop of horse’s hooves, a carriage passing by, going back to the stands on Central Park south. The blare of horns announced the impatience of drivers in a hurry to get home. He realized he needed to go home too.

He took the major park thoroughfare on his way back, walking briskly, replaying the past hours in his mind. He savored the best moments, luxuriating in the surfeit of his senses until he realized he didn’t have her name. He didn’t know who she was or if she would be back. Cursing himself, he turned around, walking a few paces before he realized the futility of his actions. He had no idea where she lived, or which way she had gone after she had left him, no idea if she came to the park frequently, no idea if he would ever see her again. The thought leeched all the good feeling out of him, and he walked the rest of the way home in a foul mood, cutting savagely at the edges of the road with his cane.

Waiting to cross the street back to his apartment, he put his hand into his pocket and discovered the coin he had found earlier was missing. It must have fallen out of his pocket on the hill. He felt irrationally disappointed by the loss and it soured him completely. He drank a fifth of scotch before going to bed but it did nothing for the hollow feeling in his stomach, and the gnawing thought that he had lost something precious.

That night the nightmares returned.

Bryan Knower 2014

Short short story post-

And The Day PassesAND THE DAY PASSES

The noonday sun scorched his bare head and perspiration trickled across Leon’s scalp, crawling inexorably towards his hairline. He scrubbed his sleeve across his forehead, catching beads of sweat just before they tumbled off his brow and fell into the bottom of his boat. The breeze was out of the northwest and the canvas shelter he had rigged to the cabin provided no shade. He looked at the meager catch in the bottom of his boat, trying to push down the feeling of despair creeping up over him. It was the third day with no major catch now, and he urgently needed something substantial to keep Martha going for the rest of the week
He tried not to think of Martha, lying sick in the little seaside cottage they called home. Even if he got back by early evening, it was an hour’s drive in the old Ford pickup to Puerto Vallejo, where he could sell his catch. The fancy restaurants there paid good money for the big table fish, but those fish were getting harder to find, especially for a lone operator like himself. The developers mushrooming along the once pristine beaches had polluted the bay, driving the big fish out into deeper waters. The ones he caught nowadays were scrawny and undersized. Not worth much on the market, and he was struggling.
In spite of the hardship, Leon liked the life. Lonely, but that suited him. He had come here with Martha twenty years ago to get away from city life and never regretted one moment of it until six months ago, until Martha’s illness. It was scary how she deteriorated before his eyes.
They went to the city to see the doctors, many of them. None of them could provide much comfort. Cancer, they said, and ordered all sorts of tests, keeping Martha confined to a small room, sedated and comatose. She hated the whole process, when she was aware of it, and soon she refused to continue. He agreed.
Six months, the doctors said. Maybe longer if they were allowed to treat her. But for what? A few more months of misery and pain?
So they loaded up on narcotics and drove back to Caravinho, Martha squeezing his hand all the way and the first month had been good again. The narcotics helped and Martha was pain free and full of laughter, like she had always been. But in the past few weeks, the pain came back, and with it the cramps. Leon hated it when he had to leave her in the mornings, motoring out gently past the moorings to head out past the bay looking for those elusive fish. One or two good days might let him stay home the rest of the week but the catch lining the bottom were nearly worthless. Not worth driving into Puerto Vallejo to sell. The restaurants were only interested in prize catch. This stuff was only good for the neighborhood diners, who did not pay. Also, he was not the only fisherman in the area feeling the pinch.
A sudden unreasoning rage swept through him and he kicked savagely at the glittering pile at his feet. Even the contact was insubstantial. They were too slippery to provide much of a target. A beep from his navigation unit caught his attention. He had reached the end of his daily circuit. Time to pull up the nets and see what he had caught. He throttled back and cut the power, turning the small boat into the swells so she would not swamp. Then he walked over to the winch, activating the mechanism that would raise the net, gather it and swing it aboard. The motor whined ground and brought up the gray skeins of nylon from the deep, the bottom bulging slightly with the fruit of his current efforts. Nothing looked substantial there, just more of the same he had brought up all morning.
Swinging the net into the boat, he lowered it to the floor, opening the beams of the winch so he could look into the net. Something bulky and brown, bigger that the rest of the struggling silvery mass caught his attention and he leaned over, hooking it out. It was an old battered suitcase, waterlogged and rotten, nearly falling apart in his hands. Intrigued, he placed it on the floor and pried the lid open. It came up easily, the locks tearing away from the rotted leather panels holding them. Inside was a small package wrapped in plastic, about the size of a paperback book and sealed with tape. It appeared watertight in spite of the state of its enclosure. Curious, he cut the sealing tape and stripped away the wrapping, revealing a small intricately carved box inlaid with many kinds of wood and shell.
Very pretty, he thought, as he stuck the tip of his knife under the lid and levered the box open.
Taken aback by what he saw, he nearly dropped the box. Putting it down carefully on the deck of the boat, he stared again. The contents glittered back at him, catching the refracted rays of the sun and throwing them back into his eyes; all the colors of the rainbow flashing in a prismatic kaleidoscope that dazzled him and made him blink. They were a small handful of beautiful scintillating stones, crystals that flared in the light and tumbled around gently in their bed of crumbling black velvet. All were cut and polished, radiant and glittering; a king’s ransom in the palm of his hand, delivered to him in his need. He looked at the gems for a long time, trying to discern their story, but they glimmered on inscrutably, bright and hard in the sunlight, their secrets trapped like the rays of light imprisoned in their faceted bodies.
He did not wait to roll up the nets as he normally did. Stuffing the gems into his pocket, he swung the boat around, gunning the motor as he sped back to the shore. He felt filled to the bursting with excitement, anticipating breaking this wonderful news to Martha. They could afford all those experimental treatments now; the one the specialist doctors offered; the ones costing so much money. In fifteen minutes, he was back at the little jetty in front of their house, scarcely aware of navigating the shoals at the head of the bay. Leaping out onto the wooden dock, he ran towards the front door, calling out Martha’s name.
It was only a few hundred yards to the door, but long before he reached it, Leon felt something amiss. He felt it in his bones, in the oppressive stillness that seemed to surround the little cottage. The door was open, as it always was, and he pushed through, blinking as his eyes adjusted from the bright sunlight outside to the dimness of the interior. Martha lay in her usual spot, stretched out on the cot under the window where she could watch the seagulls swoop down as they scavenged for food. She always turned to greet him, no matter how weak she was but now she did not move. Leon hurried to her side, his heart growing heavier as he approached.
Martha looked asleep, her face turned towards the sunlight. All the lines had disappeared from her features, as if the care and pain of the past weeks had suddenly left her body. As indeed, they had. She was not breathing. He took her hand in his, fumbling for her pulse, feeling her skin still warm under his touch. There was not even a flutter, although Leon stood there for long minutes, concentrating. Martha had left him. Gone while he was out on the water. Alone at her passing.
Leon broke down then, weeping and wailing in his grief. Then he lashed out with his fists and feet at everything in the cottage, venting his grief in anger. He raged for hours, pacing around the little room, screaming at everything and nothing, until the westering sun began to redden the interior of the room, giving Martha’s pale cheeks a last lingering blush. He paused then, drained and spent, and walked out of the cottage, back towards the beach and the water, which a short time ago had held out so much promise.
He stood at the water’s edge a long time, staring at the water as the sun sank in a flaming ball below the horizon and the afterglow painted infinite reflecting pathways on the darkening billows. The waves rolled endlessly towards him, breaking on the submerged rock mounts inside the mouth of the bay and marching with diminishing intensity to dissipate in froth at his feet. He could feel his former life slipping away with the eddies of the breakers, the shell of his world falling aside like a peeled plum, leaving him raw and bleeding, exposed to the universe. He groped in his pocket and brought out the handful of gems that had seemed the panacea to all his ills a few hours ago. In the fading twilight, the stones had lost much of their luster. They lay dull and quiescent in his palm, their inner fire extinguished.
He should go back inside, prepare for tomorrow, but he lingered. If he stayed where he was, stayed still, time might stand still too. Tomorrow could wait; a small delay in the inevitable of the darkening present.

MicroFiction #09

MicroFictionBAD ENDING (96 words)

Eddie only saw the bag because he sat on the park bench. He was alone, so he nudged the bag out with his foot and opened it.
The stacks of currency inside made him giddy. Savoring his fortune he dug deeper, feeling something under the bills. A gun!
This changed everything. Scared, he closed the bag just as two men turned the corner in the distance. They saw him, saw the bag in his hand and began to run towards him, making no sound. One drew a weapon.
Eddie ran, knowing it was already too late.

MicroFiction #08

MicroFictionCHOICE (99 words)

Tchusin watched, horrified, as first one then another Xurthu battle cruiser winked into existence around Thiele, the blue sun of his home world Taleen. He raised his first appendage and scratched his eye-ridge anxiously. He knew his duty. The enemy hadn’t detected him yet because of his cloaking device, but using his tight-beam to jump to Taleen orbit would dispel the shield and leave him defenseless.
He could do nothing.
Wait for the Xurthu to leave.
But when they were gone, Taleen would be gone too.
Game over.
Exhaling noisily, he extended his third appendage to the tight-beam node.