Keith Draws sent me a rough layout of the cover for “Countdown.” Countdown is a companion story to “Departure” and both will lead into “Arrival.” Cover art is still rough/work in progress, but it’s already looking awesome!
8 – Jeff
“Mr. Charles?” Becky asked. Jeff’s head jerked toward her. “Mr. Charles, Dr. Maser wishes to see you.”
“Thanks, Becky,” Jeff said, waving her off.
He’d been daydreaming. His concentration level was almost zero, and had been since he’d woken up after saving the girl’s life. Allyson’s life. For some reason, he felt drawn to her, as if some magnetic force kept trying to orient him toward her. It definitely wasn’t a sexual feeling, but it was somehow intimate. As if she’d left a piece of herself in him, and that piece had taken his body over and wouldn’t allow him to function as a normal human until reunited with her.
Jeff rose and grabbed his jacket, sliding his arms into it. He buttoned the front of it as he left his office and headed down the oak paneled hall to Dr. Theodore Walden Maser’s corner office. He stood outside, took a deep breath, then knocked on the door.
“Enter,” Dr. Maser’s muffled voice said.
Jeff opened the door and stepped in, closing it when Dr. Maser, Ted, he reminded himself now that he was a partner, waved at it. He stood between two chairs in front of Ted’s polished cherry desk. The older, graying man behind it waved again for him to sit down. Continue reading
7 – Allyson
“Full name?” Dr. Mahesh asked, her pen pressed to the sheet in the manila folder, eyes on Allyson.
“L’Tasha Allyson Mosley.”
“1126 North Clark Circle in Borah.”
“L’Tasha, do you know why you are here?”
“My name. It’s Allyson. No one here calls me L’Tasha.”
Dr. Mahesh frowned. “Why not?”
“Because it’s too black.”
“I see.” The doctor wrote notes on her intake sheet, glancing up every few seconds to gauge the teenage girl’s interest in what she was writing. Allyson stared ahead, but it wasn’t a glazed, fixed stare, the kind she’d seen too many times from patients who had threatened or attempted suicide.
Allyson finally looked over at the doctor behind the desk. “Do you?” she asked.
“Allyson, I’m an Indian doctor in southern Idaho. When I’m not at work, I wear a plain sari and receive odd and sometimes unpleasant stares from others. On special occasions, I wear a Paithani, a special, very colorful sari with little bits of cosmetic glass and beads. I imagine that even you would stare at such a sight.” Dr. Mahesh’s voice was soft, her accent very light, and her expression was one of genuine sympathy. “I’m too dark,” the doctor continued, looking down at her hand, “so I have a good idea of where that leaves you.” Continue reading
6 – Jeff
Jeff pulled the BMW into the garage, making sure he gave Karina’s Honda enough room to get the driver’s side door open. He shut the car off and punched the remote, barely hearing the garage door descend from within the silence his luxury sedan provided. Jeff tried to get his emotions under control, but his mind ran in a thousand directions at once. He felt as if he were spinning out of control and reached out to grab the steering wheel with both hands. When the world and his brain only slowed down a little, he gripped the steering wheel as hard as he could, his thoughts only slowing down long enough to marvel at how white his knuckles were.
The instant he felt a tear slide out of his left eye, he crashed, his emotions boiling over. Within seconds, Jefferson Taylor Charles was a complete wreck, his wracking sobs, snot, and tears making him feel as if he were having a seizure from an allergic reaction. A small part of his mind, the strange, darkly humorous part, let him know that he most certainly was having an allergic reaction. He’d never really wondered if he was allergic to attempted suicide, but the black humor that was rooted deep inside him assured him that he’d passed that allergy test with flying colors. And tears. And snot.
Jeff was so lost within his inner breakdown that he didn’t notice the door to laundry room open. Karina stood in the doorway staring at him. She thought at first he might be listening to an interesting story on the radio, even at one in the morning. They were both NPR junkies, and she’d had to deal with Jessica’s incessant complaints more than a few times after being forced to sit in the car for ten minutes longer than normal while a story on “All Things Considered” or “Fresh Air” wrapped up.
She took two steps into the garage, angry it had taken him another hour to get from The Rest to their home, less than six miles away. Her initial fear that something terrible had happened to him during the short drive home was quickly replaced by the typical annoyance that he’d most likely received a phone call and hadn’t paid attention to the time. For Jeff, for any lawyer (as she soon found out after talking with the spouses of Jeff’s co-workers), it was an unfortunate side effect of the job. Continue reading
5 – Jeff
Jefferson Charles was scared out of his mind. The strange girl clung precariously to the pole with nothing below her feet except an endless black void. The wind howled through the canyon in bursts that lasted up to a minute before dying back to a dead calm. He watched with dread fascination as it made Allyson’s jacket and pants ripple and flare when it blasted past her. He tried to block out the image in his mind of the wind ripping her from the pole and into the abyss.
“All right, well… I guess you have things to do, so I’ll leave you to them,” he called down and turned to walk away.
Jeff had no idea why he had just said that. He chalked it up to cracking under pressure enough to maybe try the same kind of reverse psychology that barely worked anymore on his daughter. And she was only nine and had, as far as he could judge, just about a perfect life so far.
“WAIT!” Allyson screamed as he was about to take a step toward his car. “My hair…” she said as he peered back over the guardrail at her. “I did it because I thought it looked cool.”
As Jeff talked, sometimes yelled down to where she clung to the bridge, he felt strange inside. The words he said seemed to form little pictures in his head as he spoke them. He’d never been in a situation this serious before. The fear in him over the fact that she could, probably would be swept out into the darkness by the wind was only slightly more terrifying than the fear that she would let go because of whatever nonsense spewed from his mouth. It felt like someone else was controlling him, as if he were a stage puppet. Continue reading
4 – Allyson
Whenever Allyson looked down as she continued along the walkway to the middle, she thought she would begin to have second thoughts. She wasn’t sure how far to the bottom it was, but it was far enough. In the daytime, the Snake River flowing through the canyon was easily visible, but hard to judge as to its precise location at the bottom. She wondered if it was the slight vertigo she got when looking down from this height.
The wind was much more forceful in the middle of the bridge. Allyson wasn’t sure if it was a good thing that it was late May and the weather was warm enough for shorts during the day, yet cool enough at night to need a jacket. If it were colder, she wouldn’t be able to hang on for very long. The steel would be freezing to the touch, and the wind would be like an icy dump truck crashing into her. That would give her less time to ponder things, less time to change her mind. As cool as it was, she knew she could probably hold on to the ledge and fend off the wind for a while.
Allyson had chosen to come at night so she wouldn’t spend too much time staring at the open space and into the black hole of nothingness below. She’d thought about it daily for the last month. With the worsening harassment online, the huge chasm between her and her mother, her inability to make any real friends in this conservative, white-dominated rural farmland, and her knowledge that no matter where she went she’d always be a nigger to anyone that didn’t have her skin color, she just couldn’t think of any alternative.
How long would she be able to put up with it before she or one of her tormentors snapped and went too far? It was more likely that she’d end up on the losing end if that ever happened. Rosie’s cousins and nephews and uncles might stick up for her, but only if shit went down in front of them. Allyson wasn’t family, and Rosie was almost not-family because of how weird she was in their eyes. She believed Rosie would throw a fit until someone in her family stepped up… and then backed away when he saw that the odds weren’t in his favor. Allyson wasn’t a martyr and didn’t want to be one. Continue reading
3 – Jeff
There was something about being on a thin piece of engineered concrete and steel that separated him from a four hundred foot plunge to an icy, rocky death below that made Jeff’s balls try to crawl up into his asshole. He wasn’t really afraid of heights, but for some reason, the first thing he thought of every single morning and every single evening as he crossed the canyon on the Borah Bridge, was that this time would be the time when the middle of the bridge would crumble and fall away seconds before he drove through the area it was supposed to be.
One of the reasons he loved his BMW so much was how it dampened road noise and vibration. The instant his tires left the blacktop and started across the bridge, the pitch and vibration changed. In his old rickety Toyota that he’d driven until two years ago, the shift made his fear even more pronounced. When he had gone shopping for a car, the first brand new car he would own, he made himself test drive it either across the Borah Bridge, or the Perrine Bridge that connected Twin Falls with the north side of the canyon and I-84, seven miles to the west. The BMW’s low noise and vibration, coupled with the killer stereo, had sealed the deal for him.
Cruising along the quarter-mile bridge with Zepplin cranked on the radio to drown out his fears, he saw someone near the halfway point. Crazy bastard was his first thought. Driving across the bridge was bad enough, but to stand in the middle of it with nothing except a guardrail holding him back from a vomit-inducing height was pure madness. As his car quickly approached the figure, high beams cutting through the blackness, he watched in fascinated, unbelieving horror as the body went over the side of the guardrail.
It took at least three seconds for his brain to register what he’d just witnessed. It took another three seconds for the anti-lock brakes to bring his European sports sedan to a complete stop. He almost threw open the door and made a run for the middle, but some rational part of his mind commanded him to drive the last hundred feet to the pull-out on the other side so no one would come flying through and not see his car in time to avoid crashing into it. The body going over the side fought with the sudden vision of another car careening into his, smashing through the concrete and metal railings, and plunging both cars into the abyss. Continue reading
2 – Allyson
L’Tasha Allyson Mosley trudged along SR50 toward the truck stop. Her arm still hurt from where her stepfather had nearly yanked it out of its socket. The sting from her mother slapping her face had faded twenty minutes ago, but the emotional sting was still raw and painful. Her mother never listened, never took her side. All she cared about was Steve, her stepfather. Steve was the most important person on the planet. Steve paid the bills. Steve was a good man and Allyson was an ungrateful little bitch. Steve was God and Allyson was shit. Lower than shit.
She kicked an empty beer can as hard as she could. The can plinked and bonked off the rocks in the barrow pit lining the road, but there was no satisfaction for her. Kicking a can didn’t fix the problems in her life. My problems are soon to be solved, she thought. Her eyes wanted to release tears again, but Allyson clenched her jaw as hard as she could and willed them away. She was done crying. That time was over.
Her feet led her off the highway and into the parking lot of the Snake Flats Oasis & Rest. She wondered if there was a more redneck place on earth than a truck stop saddling the freeway in a barren stretch of a conservative, religious state like Idaho. Her feet kicked a few pebbles and a stray plastic bottle cap as she made her way around the massive storefront. Allyson kept her head down as she approached the convenience store doors. The looks that followed her everywhere were old hat by now, but they always hurt, and she didn’t feel like dealing with it today. Her mother had warned her when she’d moved them both to Borah from Orlando that there was going to be a bit of culture shock. “A bit” was possibly the biggest understatement that Allyson had ever heard.
She was ten when they had packed up and moved in the middle of the night, escaping her real father and his fists. Maralyn, her mother, had met some guy on the internet, and he must have convinced her to bail without warning and head all the way to Idaho. Allyson had only heard of Idaho a couple times during school. It might as well have been Sweden. Except in Sweden she wouldn’t be stared at, teased, insulted, and even bullied like she had been since the day she set foot in what she called “Hillbilly North.” Continue reading
Exchange Rate: 1-Jeff
Exchange Rate: 2-Allyson
Exchange Rate: 3-Jeff
Exchange Rate: 4-Allyson
Exchange Rate: 5-Jeff
Exchange Rate: 6-Jeff
1 – Jeff
Maser, Franklin, Waters, & Charles. Jefferson Taylor Charles loved the sound of it. He said it out loud a few more times, each with a different accent or enunciation. He’d finally made full partner, and only seven years after joining the law offices of Maser, Franklin, & Waters. Karina was going to erupt with glee when he told her. Jeff thought about calling her from the car, but he wanted to surprise her.
He watched the glare of lights from the Snake Flats Oasis & Rest grow from a dim glow to the equivalent of a NASA launch pad in less than a minute as he drove south along SR50. “The Rest” was what the locals called it. Karina called it “the eternal eyesore,” since the lights never turned off, never dimmed, and typically had what seemed like a thousand other lights from cars and trucks orbiting it at all hours. Jeff was inclined to agree with Karina’s assessment, but it was incredibly convenient at times to have it anchoring I-84’s eastbound off-ramp. Not to mention he passed by it every night on his way to their new home on the south rim of the Snake River Canyon.
How many times had Karina called after he’d left the office in Borah and needed milk, eggs, even Diet Pepsi? Jeff Charles was a wise man, and a wise man didn’t deny the love of his life a one-liter, ice cold plastic bottle of her favorite soda when she asked for it. Besides, he might be an attorney, but he fancied himself an amateur sociologist, psychologist, and human geographer. The sheer amount of different types of human beings he had ended up in line with at The Rest was infinitely interesting considering that it was located on the Snake River Plain in rural southern Idaho. About as far from real civilization as one could get, according to Karina.
Jeff’s BMW pulled into an empty parking space in front of the convenience store section of The Rest. The party his new partners had thrown for him had left him full of shock, happiness, and triumph. It had also lasted until almost midnight. Karina had been slightly miffed at first because it would be another dinner Jeff wouldn’t get to share with her or Jessica, their nine year old daughter. His little girl was growing up and seeing less and less of her father. Continue reading