Thursday, October 28, 2010

week twenty-nine: coward in the rye

Warning: this week's story contains strong language.

911 Emergency.” “Oh, God, oh, God! Help, Help!” “All units dispatch to Grove University, we have a 245 in progress, shots fired! Repeat: shots fired!” “He’s got a gun and he’s shooting at all of us! Oh, God!” “Calm down, ma’am, try to stay-“ “Oh, God, he’s coming this way! No! NO!” “Uh, there’s only one and he’s got a gun- a pistol! A handgun!” “Unit 432 arriving on the scene, where the hell is everybody?!” “I don't know what he's screaming!" “I can hear them! I can hear the shots! They’re coming this- they’re coming this way!” “We’re heading westbound, we’re going as fast as we can!” “This is 432, I have confirmed shots fired, requesting permission to go in-“ “Negative! Negative! Wait on the SWAT team!” “Mom? Mom!” “Hold together, help is on the way!” “Mom… I’ve been shot. There’s a guy here and he- ah- mom, I just- Oh, God, no!” “SWAT team is inbound, ETA five minutes.” “I love you.” “This is 432. Fuck it. I’m going in.”

In his dorm room at just before eight in the morning, Scott Green stood before the mirror and worried about his hair. As is typical in college sophomore males, his hair's a mess; a dirty blond mess. At the same time, however, a calculated mess. He hoped his hair would offset the fact that he was a little overweight, so he paid it particular attention. After once again straightening his thick-rimmed glasses, he grabbed his tan messenger bag and stepped outside. His class is at 8:30 so he knows he has time. He always hopes to run into someone on the way, but no one is much for conversation at this hour in the morning. Thus, deciding that no one would say hi, Scott put in his earbuds and turned on his iPod. He put it on shuffle, he didn’t care what, but he needed some of kind of sound.

How It Ends – DeVotchka

Scott needed something to concentrate on besides either of two things: Class and his parents. He didn’t want to think about class because, well, it’s class. There’s little else to say about that. He could worry about his homework or fret over any upcoming quizzes or exams, but the point to that is nil. Having music in the ear deafens any apprehension. And of course, the latter of the two is the more complicated issue. Scott wanted nothing more than to be completely independent of his family. He loved them, but tired of them dangling money over his head like the proverbial carrot on a stick. As such, Scott didn’t talk to or call them much. He felt bad about that, but this is his way of convincing them that he can do life on his own.

His first class is the only class he really cares about: Postmodern Literature. Scott always enjoyed English classes, and especially enjoyed this one because it dealt with modern issues, perspectives, and emotions. In other words, it applied. Upon arriving in class, he turned off his music, sat down, and eagerly awaited continuing their ongoing discussion of The Catcher in the Rye. Although Scott had read it before more than once, hearing Doctor Spencer analyze and explain every detail never failed in yielding new insight. It was as if hearing speech, but for only the first time understanding the words.

They were at the part of the book where Holden reflects on his old friend, Jane Gallagher. Interestingly, Jane never appears in the actual narrative; she only shows up in reflective passages. For some reason, Scott found himself oddly connected to this passage. Scott felt Holden’s pain as he misses an old and dear friend, who, Scott felt, could be a romantic interest. There is definitely something anyone could relate to in this section, especially those with the proverbial teenage angst, however, Scott felt as though it spoke directly to him. He could never fully place it, though. Perhaps, however, the biggest parallel Scott drew to his own life is Holden's constant self-victimization.

Doctor Spencer always liked to end his lessons with some kind of life lesson or application. He tried so hard to make his class practical rather than merely informative. And so he told his students, and Scott listened carefully, “You’re reading Holden’s story here and I’ll bet a lot of you are thinking about how much it applies to you or how you can relate. I don’t think anyone can read Catcher and not relate in some way. That’s the beauty of it. But I want to encourage you not just to accept Holden’s little pity party. You need to look at it, reflect on it, and, most importantly, do something about it. Is your life as bad as Holden Caulfield’s? Well, that just sucks, doesn’t it?” The class laughed. “You can do something about that. Don’t run away to some hotel; don’t run away at all. If things are bad, then do something about it. Holden is a lesson on what not to be. Don’t be Holden.”

With a grandfatherly smile, Doctor Spencer ended his class, “I’ll see you all next week.”

Scott left the classroom and immediately realized he hadn’t eaten breakfast. His stomach cried for nourishment. He had gotten to the point where it didn’t exactly matter what he ate so long as he was fed. Fortunately, Grove University is a big school and the western campus has a smaller cafeteria with all of the necessities. Scott made his way there, grabbed a single-serving bowl of Fruit Loops, and filled it with milk. Scott was one of those people who liked a lot of milk in his cereal, his reasoning being that the milk afterward is the best part. Hoping to find someone to sit with, he stood there and looked over the morning faces. There was no one. Only somewhat disappointed, and not at all surprised, Scott resigned to sit by himself. As he sat, he felt his loneliness, but laughed only slightly when he realized it just made him feel more like Holden Caulfield.

“Don’t be Holden,” he remembered with a smirk.

That was when he smiled, looked around, and labeled everyone a phony. Everyone there in their own tight-knit circles with no time for Scott was officially a phony. That felt good. Oh, you bet it did. Phonies.

Now, let’s take a look at a real phony:

Police Sergeant Jack Maurice drove his patrol cruiser right past Grove University. It was just another morning with just another cup of coffee. There was nothing really planned except for work. Well, work, and Jack had a meeting to attend; a very shady meeting. On his left, is Grove University, but that isn’t his destination. No, his destination is on the right in a residential neighborhood.

And look, college kids do drugs. Or at least most of them, right? But how do they get them, you wonder?

Luce Montenegro.

Montenegro sold crack cocaine and needle heroin to Grove students and made a killing. Through comprehensive investigation, Jack uncovered no signs of drug dealers in this area. None at all. Grove students must have gotten their stuff elsewhere. People like Montenegro don’t exist around here. Well, that’s what the official report will tell you.

Unofficially, Jack knew exactly where Montenegro was and had enough hard evidence to put him away for life. So, what’s stopping him?

Ten thousand dollars every month, that’s what. That’s enough to set Jack for life; something his policeman’s salary could never do. It’s truly a sad state of affairs when the men in blue are barely paid enough. Of course, you never joined the force for money. You joined so you could “help people” and “make a difference.” Jack did that. He just took a little extra on the side, that's all.

Jack pulled up to Montenegro’s house and schlepped his way to the front door. With his fist, he pounded and soon a tall, lanky Hispanic man opened the door: Montenegro. “Ho, officer Jack! You’re a little early, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, I guess I am,” Jack replied shifting uncomfortably. But he stayed firm. “You boys still being good?”

“As good as you’ll let us be,” Montenegro laughed. “You know, officer, I just gotta say man, we really appreciate bent cops like you helpin’ us out like this.”

“Fuck you,” Jack sharply exhaled. “Just give me the money so I can go.”

“What? You scared more coppers like you are gonna show? Don’t worry about it, homie,” he must have been at least a little high. Jack always thought dealers never did their own stuff, but Montenegro was his own man. Let him be. “Hey, Paulie, get this man his dough.”

“Thanks,” Jack grunted as soon as Montenegro handed him a thick stack of hundred dollar bills.

“Look, man, you can come by any time and we’ll fix you up, man, okay?”

“No way, I don’t want to smell like you,” Jack turned and didn't lose any time making it back to his car. Right there he considered flaunting his badge and arresting them all. But no, not now.

“Real funny!”

When Jack looked back and rolled his eyes, Luce had already closed his door. The bent officer climbed back into his cruiser and resumed his patrol. Since his beat was in the area, he could keep other officers away from Montenegro. Ten grand a month is a good deal; no taxes to screw it up, even. Of course, Jack felt bad about it, but come on, Luce sells to college students. They’re gonna do drugs anyway, right? Not like anyone’s getting killed.


Well, Scott labeled everyone a phony except for that pretty girl sitting alone just a few tables down. He wasn’t sure, but he thought her name was Brittany. Ever since his first semester, Scott had admired Brittany, but couldn’t muster the courage to talk to her. He couldn’t even recall the sound of her voice. But to him, she was perfect: brunette and, though hidden by glasses, eyes green as spring. She was even in his literature class, evidence being the copy of Catcher she held in her hands.

As Scott enjoyed his Fruit Loops, he’d occasionally look up at Brittany. He loved the way she would subtly lick her upper lip before she turned the page or how she futilely tried to keep her bangs out of her eyes. But then, as she pushed her hair away once again, Brittany looked up and right at Scott. Man, she was pretty. She really was.

Stop staring, Scott.

His eyes locked with hers. He couldn’t look away. Brittany smiled patiently and might have even giggled a little before she returned to Holden’s world. Smiling, Scott returned to his cereal.

And then….



Screaming. Bloody, bloody screaming.



Everyone froze. The sounds and screams came from down the hall. No one dared move….

Someone finally cried, “Are those gunshots?!”

“Oh, God!”

Frantic screaming.

“Someone lock the doors!”

A young man ran to the doors and closed them. This was the only entrance. He cried, “There’s no lock!”

The shots and screams would not let up.

“Oh, no, oh, no… this doesn’t happen to me!”

Dude, someone call the cops!”

“I’m calling my mom!”

“But what if it’s something else?!”

“Do you really want to take that chance?!”

Scott fazed himself out of the chaos as he realized he didn’t have his cell phone. He couldn’t call his mom or anyone else. Scott looked down at this breakfast and wondered what to do. It was all of a sudden that no one but everyone mattered. Scott glanced back to Brittany and saw the horror in her eyes as she looked to him. For an instant, a powerful connection manifested. Scott jumped to his feet. What are you doing, Scott?

“I don’t know,” he would reply.

A couple of bigger guys, the football type, stood and started trying to take command, “Everybody find somewhere to hide! Turn tables over!”

“These windows don’t open!”

“Oh my God! We’re trapped! We’re going to die!”

“All units dispatch to Grove University, we have a 245 in progress, shots fired! Repeat: shots fired!”

Officer Maurice was the first man on the scene. Since his patrol was right next to Grove, he pulled in only an instant after the all-units call was given. Jack just couldn’t believe it. These school shootings happen; you hear about them on the news all the time, but it’s just one of those things that could never happen to you.

Or so you thought.

Jack pulled onto the fire lane at the western campus and radioed to dispatch, “Unit 432 arriving on the scene, where the hell is everybody?!” He drew his Beretta 9mm and took cover behind the car.

“On the way, 432, hold tight until backup arrives.”


Jack heard the bloodcurdling screams and shouts as the gunfire continued. There could be no mistake; all hell was breaking loose in there. “Goddammit, this is 432, I have confirmed shots fired, requesting permission to go in-“

“Negative, negative! Wait for the SWAT team!”

Jack slammed his fist onto the car. He stood there, listening to the piercing gunfire and harrowing death. There wasn’t even imagining the terror inside. How could he just sit there while this happened? You know what? He couldn’t. Before tossing his radio into the car, he said only three sentences:

“This is 432. Fuck it. I’m going in.”


Despite all best efforts, there was no organization, there was chaos. Most froze, while others frantically stumbled about. There was literally nowhere to go and nowhere to hide.

Scott pushed through the fray and on to Brittany. He ignored everything; the screaming, the terror, the sporadic gunshots.... For some reason, this one pretty girl mattered above all else. Scott knew very little about her, but in his naïveté, he loved her. And with that, nothing else matters.

But before he could reach her, the door burst open. Everything stopped as everyone gasped in horror. It was that one kid. Everyone knows who he is; or knew of him. He’s that kid you see around, but never say anything to. No one knew his name. Sweat engulfed his angered face, his nose ran, and his furious eyes were constricted. Blood spattered his clothes. And in his hand was a semiautomatic handgun.

Grunting, this kid surveyed the room, shouted slurred, unknown words, and then opened fire.

Scott watched with wide eyes as blood sprayed and people fell. Dead. So much screaming, the gun blaring, spent casings hitting the floor.... Scott looked to Brittany. He could see nothing more than confusion and absolute terror. And he could sense the lingering question, “Why?” Their eyes locked. Both felt as though this would be the last thing they would ever see.

Brittany was right.

Her temple burst in crimson. Scott watched with utmost shock, horror, and sorrow as she fell from her chair and hit the floor lifeless and limp. Her table obscured his view, but he heard both her body and her book hit the ground. Why?

Scott turned to the shooter, who screamed completely unintelligibly as he showered random death. The slide locked, then the killer ejected his magazine.


This is your chance.

The gunman pulled a fresh clip from his pocket and slapped it in. The slide racked forward.


You know what Professor Spencer told you: “Do something about it.”

So he did.

Officer Jack knew to follow his ears. Keeping his Beretta raised and ready, he ran the halls. For every shot he heard, he had to assume someone lost their life. This is too much.

As he ran, he saw hundreds of horrified faces. They all looked to him as most bled, some cowered, and others still were merely corpses. Jack looked to them as if to say, “It’s going to be alright.” But he had to push aside thoughts from his head that he could have saved them if he had acted sooner. If only he had acted sooner….

But in a situation like this, you can’t think like that. You just can’t. You can’t think at all; just do. Jack needs to find this shooter and take him out. That’s all that matters; lives hang in the balance.

That was when Jack made the conscious decision to shoot first and ask questions later. There was no way he could risk anything at all. So Jack flipped off his safety and put his finger firmly on the trigger. These are two things against everything the books taught. But this is no place for the books.

There: the west side cafeteria. Every gunshot and holler came from there. In all of his visits to Grove, Jack knew that the cafeteria was a dead-end. If the shooter is in there, he’s stuck. No way out. Get ready, Jack, no turning back now.

Scott mustered everything and bolted the shooter. Before the gunman could react, Scott slammed into his side, bringing them both to the ground. With fury, fear, and courage, Scott bashed the shooter’s neck not once, but twice. That was enough. The madman released the pistol as he gasped for air.

In a frenzy, Scott grabbed the gun and came to his feet. He kept it trained on the laying gunman and considered exacting revenge. He should pull the trigger. He should kill this- this phony! For everything he’s done, for the unknown number of people he’s just murdered… for Brittany. Scott readied himself.


Pain. Immeasurable pain.


Scott looked to his side and saw a lone policeman at the door, smoking gun raised. He tried to say something, but nothing came. His chest was pierced and bleeding. Scott’s lungs faltered and breath came not at all.

Limp, Scott fell to his knees and then the floor. As he lay there, life draining, he looked to his side and saw Brittany’s lifeless body looking to him. Next to her, he saw the sleeve of Catcher in the Rye. For a brief moment, he put himself in Holden’s shoes again and she was Sally Hayes. Could they run away together; leave this world of phonies? Yes, but not together. Scott, if he could, would have sworn he could see her smile just that one last time. He really did.

Jack holstered his pistol and, with a hint of triumph, asked aloud, “Is everyone alright?” From what he could tell, that was the only shooter. It’s over; it’s all over.

And then a chubby girl in the corner shouted to him, “You dick! That guy just took down the killer! He’s the hero! You just- you just killed him you stupid pig!”

There were no words.

Jack holstered his pistol and cut out any remorse. There’s no time for that. “Then who is it? Who’s the real killer?”

The girl pointed at the floored kid who still gasped for air, “It’s him, dumbass!”

Jack glared at her before rushing to the killer. With the utmost precision offered by his training, Jack slapped handcuffs on his man. As he was lifted, the kid shouted again. Jack couldn’t understand him, but as he looked into the kid’s eyes, he saw the tell-tale signs of heroine abuse: constricted eyes, slurred speech, runny nose…. Oh, God.

As he led the killer down the hall, some of the kids were cheering. Jack couldn’t stomach it. He didn’t do this; it was that kid lying dead in the cafeteria. He's the hero. What’s his name? Officer Maurice looked no one in the eye. Officer Maurice is a goddamn phony and he knows it.

The killer screamed the whole way. No one could understand him. Maybe it was some foreign language or something, but it was slurred. Either way, the kid needs help and not just for his apparent drug abuse. Jack could only pity him, but more so all those kids inside. Especially for whoever that “hero” was.

After throwing the killer into his car, Officer Maurice radioed dispatch, “I’ve got the suspect in custody. Situation is under control.”

“What?! You had orders not-“

Jack turned off his radio. He didn’t have time for that bullshit. Jack knew he had done the right thing; it just didn’t turn out so well. In fact, it turned out in the worst possible way. There will be hell to pay. As the SWAT teams, ambulances, and other officers arrived one by one, Jack could only think, about damned time.

The lovely young reporter broke the story, “Just hours ago in the building behind me, the western campus of Grove University, a massacre unfolded. A single gunman, who I am told is a student, armed with a single handgun, came to class and started shooting at random. Seventeen students and faculty were injured and twelve were killed. Remarkably, the perpetrator was captured alive by police Sergeant John Patrick Maurice, who is now being referred to by some as the hero of Grove University. There have, however, been conflicting reports that perhaps it was a student who took down the killer. Here with me is Police Chief Armin Williams to answer some questions. So, tell me, what really happened?”

“Officer Maurice is one of the best men on our force. He took total initiative and stormed the building alone. He went in, found the suspect, and took him down.”

“Some students have told us about how another student took the shooter down and Officer Maurice killed that heroic student. What do you have to say about that?”

“Those reports are inaccurate and probably conjured up by do-gooder hippies trying to make us look bad. Jack Maurice is a hero and should be treated as such.”

What a phony.


That night, Officer Maurice just couldn’t get the image of Scott Green out of his mind. Jack’s district head had decided to let Jack go home that night and rest it out. The full investigation would have to wait until tomorrow, where Jack was sure to face consequences. Sure, the police chief had decided to play this for the media, but justice, and the truth, would have to be served. They’d make this private and secret. Jack would probably be forced to retire or something. Either way, his badge is as good as gone.

After a long, cold shower, a shave, dinner, and an hour of contemplation, Jack found himself staring at the blued-steel of his Beretta 92FS 9mm semiautomatic handgun. He slapped a fresh magazine inside and chambered the first round. Jack knew he had to do something with it. Something.

Scott Green came back to his mind. He could see Scott down the sights. And then the muzzle flare: Once, twice. He remembered his momentary relief and the shattering when he found out he had just murdered the real hero. God, Jack, what have you done?

That was when suicide presented itself as an option. He could do it; take the coward’s way out. He is, after all, the real villain in all of this. If Montenegro had been put away, then that kid would never have gotten heroin and maybe this would never have happened. But no, that’s too easy. Any honor left in Jack would never have permitted it. And then he got it.


It’s time to do the right thing.

Officer Maurice grabbed his badge and his gun, put on his coat, and got in the car. That’s right: he’s going after that drug-dealing bastard. The drive was an easy one. It’s ten at night; there’s not much traffic. He passed by Grove and could see there were still emergency vehicles around; likely just to keep order. How do you go on after something like this?

Jack pounded on Montenegro’s door and drew his pistol; he kept it in his hand, but hidden behind his thigh. Luce, clearly high, opened the door, “Officer Jack? Yo, man, hella you doing here?”

“You’re under arrest.”

“Wait- what? Is this some kinda joke?”

“Yeah, it is.”


Jack blasted Luce all over the wall.

Satisfied, Jack dashed back to his car and grabbed a full jug of gasoline. He rushed inside the house and searched every room to make sure it was empty. Thank God it was. After spreading the gas around and taking samples of the drugs laying around for evidence, Jack flicked his lighter.

Flames, glorious flames.

The whole neighborhood looked on as Jack walked away from the blazing home. And as they watched, Jack drew his badge and a slip that read, “I’m not a hero.” Without any second’s hesitation, he put the barrel of his pistol into his mouth and pulled the trigger.

This is as much atonement as it is cowardice.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

week 28: train of soldiers

When soldiers die on the field of battle, they are not judged. As long as they remained true, that being that they did not betray or desert, all soldiers will go to the same place upon death. It does not matter on which side they fought; it only matters that they did their duty. All warriors are placed aboard the Train of Soldiers where they ride for the greatest battlefield of all.

They ride the Train of Soldiers bound for the gates of Hades, where they will join in the great siege. They are armed with what weapons they left the land of earth with and will fight the demons with them.

I am one such soldier. My name is Sir Frederick, and I fought for Jerusalem during the Great Crusade. I was killed by one of the Islamic soldiers. It was a stabbing right through my heart. My flesh is healed, but my armor still bears the wound. In my hand is my longsword and on my back is my shield. Curiously, I am not surprised by any of this. I sit on a bench in one of the cars of the Train of Soldiers. Somehow, I know all that I need to know. The car is made from steel and there are no windows and it is illuminated in a red color by a pair of overhanging lamps.

All around me are warriors from other times. I can recognize a Norse Viking from folklore and I spy a French soldier. And there are other men I cannot recognize with weapons I cannot identify. Next to me is a man wearing a strange cloth uniform, a helmet that looks like a pot, and a strange stick made from both wood and steel. I ask, “What is your name?”

“Private Nigel Turner of His Majesty’s Army,” he tells me with a proud grin.

“So, you are British?” I ask.

“I am.”

“And from when are you from?”

“1917, from what we keep calling ‘The Great War.’ You look like some kind of Crusader, is that right?”

“I am a Templar, yes.”

“Please to meet you- eh, what’s your name?”

“I am Sir Frederick,” I replied. I was unsure if I should trust him or not.

“Sir Frederick, then. Are you excited?”


“Well, about the battle! We’re going to storm hell itself!”

“I know not what to feel,” I replied truthfully. I looked at his… stick and then asked, “I am curious, what is that?”

“What, this?” He laughed, “Of course, how could you know! It’s a Lee-Enfield standard-issue rifle! It’s a bit like a bow that, eh, shoots small bits of metal at very high speeds. Very deadly and very long range.”

“Fascinating,” I stroked my beard as another man sat next to me. This man was dressed head to toe in cloth and he bore a great object of metal, not unlike Private Nigel Turner’s ‘rifle’. I assumed it was also a rifle of sorts, though this one was more fearsome. I asked, “Who are you?”

“I am Faddel bin Solamin, servant of Allah.”

Remarkably, I felt no hostility towards him. This man, somehow, seemed to be my comrade. So, I kept the conversation, “I am Sir Frederick, a Knight Templar. From when do you come?”

There was a nervousness to his voice, “To your western mind, I am from the beginning of the second millennium. I committed holy war against the Americans.”

“Americans?” I asked.

Turner answered, “From well after your time, Sir Frederick.”

“Ah,” I was unsure what to make of it. “Do you know when we will be arriving at Hades? I am eager to disembark.”

“Eh, I, uh, I don’t know,” Turner removed his helmet and scratched his head. “I suppose we should ask, but I haven’t got any idea who we should bother.”

I stood and looked around, but saw no one who looked as though they knew anything of use. “I don’t see anyone who could help us.”

“Perhaps we should be patient,” Faddel suggested.

“Yes, we should,” I agreed.

But this did not satisfy Turner, who stood and walked over to the wall, “Here, a ladder, we can climb up and look for answers!” He climbed and once he reached the trapdoor and pushed, he told us, “It’s bloody locked!”

“Then sit down,” I told him. “We will know soon enough.”

We sat there for a long time without talking. I cannot tell you how long and for some reason, it seemed as though more had joined us. There were no more from my time, though I saw a man dressed like Turner, but I could not tell if they were from the same time. Instead of satisfying my curiosity, I sharpened my blade. Until, finally, Turner broke the silence, “I had a thought.”


“Well, let’s think about this for a minute,” he licked his lip. “Time. Apparently, time has no meaning here, right? I mean, look around. You’ve got soldiers from every time period all waiting for the same thing and everyone knows exactly what they’re doing here; exactly what this is. There are even people who shouldn’t have any idea what a train is, but they aren’t questioning it.”

“This is true; I did not know what a 'train' was before I was here.”

“So, if time hasn’t got any meaning, what if there isn’t a question of ‘when’ we’ll arrive?”

“I am not sure that I follow.”

“Maybe it’s a question of ‘how’ or ‘why’.”

“I still do not understand.”

He scoffed, “Look, since time has no meaning, then waiting around won’t mean anything either.” That made more sense. I figure. “Well, I’m not waiting around. I’m going up there and I’m going to find some answers.”

“Did you not say that it was locked?”

“That’s why I’ve got this,” he flaunted his rifle at me. I only shrugged as I followed to try and discover just what it is he intended to do. Turned jogged his way to the hatch and pointed his rifle at the hinges. Without hesitation, he squeezed a switch on the rifle and the front end exploded. I recoiled in fear! And then he pulled a lever on the top, a small tube of brass flew from the rifle, and then he fired again. After again pulling the lever, he used the butt end of his weapon and forced open the hatch. “Got it! Come on, let’s go up!”

I watched as he climbed. The other soldiers watched us, but didn’t seem willing to follow. Before I could climb the ladder, Faddel got on before me. I let him climb and then followed. What I saw up there, I would not forget. All around was fire. There was a great wall beside us and looking to the distance, I could see another wall. It was then I noticed that we were surrounded by these great walls! There was such a smell of sulfur and burning flesh…. Turner looked to me and asked, “Look! We aren’t going to hell! We’re in it!”

“By Allah,” Faddel cried softly.

“This must be some sort of deception.”

“Look! I can see the front of the train! Let’s head up there and we’ll get this sorted right out,” Turner walked onwards. Faddel and I exchanged glances and then followed him.

“That man must be fearless,” Faddel said to me quietly.

“Fearless or foolish. Perhaps both.”

“Agreed, but I must know. I was promised many virgins as my eternal reward, not this. And especially not… hell.”

We had to jump over the car separations, but it was an easy journey. As we pressed on, I could see mineshafts and I thought that I could see souls in the distance, but I could not be sure. In my mind, I knew that we were in hell, but I did not want to believe it. The fires burning around us, however, said otherwise. At last, we arrived at the last car of the train. It appeared to be a steam locomotive, but how I knew that, I do not know.

Faddel was the first to jump down and then Turner. With hesitation, I followed. Something in me could sense that something dire was at stake. I was correct.

When I arrived down with them, I found both Faddel and Turner pointing their weapons at what could only be assumed was a demon. It was a red beast with great horns and a mouth full of snarling, flaming teeth. It laughed at us.

“So, this is hell!” Turner exclaimed.

“By Allah!”

I raised my sword, “What do you say, creature?”

It laughed, “Yes! Yes! This one is correct, you are in hell! You are here for your punishment, the only punishment fit for a soldier! You prepare and fear for a war you will never see and you are all confined as prisoners! But you don't know it! So perfect!”

“Then how did we escape?”

The demon laughed again, “Because you are chosen. You have come here to me where you are to accept a… greater fate.”

“Greater fate?” I asked.

“Yes. You are the bravest of the soldiers here. Does that not deserve some sort of reward?”

“Do not listen to him!” Faddel cried.

“Of course you do!”

“What is this reward?” I asked.

“Purpose,” the demon laughed.

“Purpose? I’ll show you purpose!” Turner pulled the trigger and Faddel quickly followed him.

The demon laughed, “You think your weapons can hurt me?! HA!!!”

“Then what are we doing here?”

“What did you think to do, kill me? And then escape?”

Turner threw his rifle to the ground and curled his fists, “Yeah, I intended to kill you and then maybe derail this train. After that, I’d free everyone on this cursed train.”

“You would fight for an impossible cause?” The demon mused. “Such a thing is noble. But foolish.”

“No, not foolish, merely right,” I told the demon. “But you would not know such things.”

“I know more of right than you could ever know!” The demon barked. “But you have passed the test.” The demon turned around and pulled a lever. The train suddenly stopped. I looked out and could see a barren plain. The fires, death, and suffering were gone.

“What is this?” I looked out. I saw blood and soldiers fighting in the distance. I watched as one was cut down, but then a great angel descended and took him away.

“This,” the demon laughed softly, “is Valhalla.”

“Valhalla? From Viking legends?” Turner asked.

“Yes, yes, indeed! Only the bravest and most noble of soldiers will go here after death. You have passed the test, have you not? Valhalla is yours to walk.”

“How do I know this isn’t some other test?” Turner asked as he picked up his rifle.

“You would prefer to ride my train for eternity?” The demon laughed. “This is no test. You will fight with purpose during the day and drink in the night. You will all fight in the most glorious eternal army. Now, go!”

I looked to the men with me and we mustered our courage together, just as we had on the train car. These are my comrades. We are brothers in arms in the eternal war. Together, we shout and charge to the front line. For glory!

As my brothers charge ahead, I stop and look behind me. The train is gone. I wonder still if perhaps this wasn't some other hell, yet at the same time, I cannot think of a better reward. Here will be eternal glory and never death. I look down upon my blade and then raise it to the air. This is my fate. So be it! Glory!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

week 27: what you don't know

It was a good day. i mean, i thought it was.
It was Tuesday. We had dinner. Everything was happy. We said our goodbyes with a smile, but hours later
i log in and you send me that message.
You send me a message.
A message.
It said that it has to be over. All of it. All five months. Poof. Gone. Like that. Just. Over.
It was no surprise, but it hit like a waiting

What you don't know is that i almost did it

i spent hours away from you in agony; debating
There was distance, coldness.
You seemed to stop caring. But that must
be my fault. i can change it.
i can change it. Can't i?
Can't i, please?

but i decided
i decided
that there was something worth saving
despite the animosity
i loved you
“i love you”
i wanted to keep the illusion
the illusion that fooled
oh gullible me

but that night
i insisted you had
to say it to my face
doesn't make sense
didn't make sense
i couldn't process until i saw you

it had been raining that night
i put on my hoodie and went out
to meet you
to face rejection
i'm no coward
was it still raining
as i walked to the car?

i don't know

i don't know
i remember shaking
shaking because i was scared
shaking because i didn't know
what to do
what to do?

And then you said it
i cried
i cried for so long
it hurt
it hurt so much
love saying “no”
not anymore
the mirror shatters

i remember
i remember the good face, the good sport; trying to make something positive out of it.
i promised to still be your friend.
What an idiot i was. i should have vowed never to see you again then and there.

i get back to my room
Where is solace?
i wanna scream
i want to scream
but i can't
i can't scream
i can barely stand. i can barely stand because my legs are shaking and i can barely think to even think. What does that even mean?

i get back to my room
i collapse on the floor.
the pain
it won't go away
i crawl up the couch and lay there. i can't think. straight can't i think.
All i see is your face.
And your rejection.
The inevitable has come.

And then two weeks later.
i asked to try again
and you said no
then it was over
i never tried again
and i'm glad

you promised we'd be friends
and we tried
and you failed
you failed
not me
i wanted to be with you
i liked you
but you're selfish


Who am i to you?
i hope i'm just a shadow in your life. i hope that something eclipses me in your life. i hope you never want to see me again. i hope that so very much because i hope that i never see you. You need to be gone. You need to be gone away from my thoughts.
go away
don't come back

part of me
still loves you
part of me
wants all that
Part of me
it had
Part of me

not for breaking my heart
i am glad to be
from you

not for turning
your back on me;
the man
you said

but for what
you turned
me into

you left
me broken
a million pieces
so much
so much


all the time
i go back to collapsing
onto my floor
in grief
in agony
in love

i look down at my broken self
i tell him to get up
“she's not worth it,”
i say.

But he doesn't listen.
He doesn't want to.
i can never go back.

And that's what you don't know.
You don't know that i still can't scream.
You don't know what i would scream.
And I hate what i would scream.
I hate what i feel.
I hate what it makes me.

i am a different person
after you.
am i better?

My one true fear is that the answer to that question is

i won't let
my fear
and you

i can't.

That's what you don't know.

Friday, October 8, 2010

week twenty-six: the space adventures of captain mark stargazer!

There he is! Screaming towards the ghostly planet of Genopia V in his majestic spaceship, the Quantum Albatross, Captain Mark Stargazer readies himself for a daring mission. But before he reaches the planet, he'll have to navigate the deadly maze of the asteroid belt! Will he make it?

Expertly working his controls, brave Captain Stargazer whooshes and blasts past even the largest of the asteroids! Not a single danger that the void of space can throw at him will keep him from his goal. Watch as he does barrel-rolls, loops, and dangerous turns to avoid the death. At last, Captain Stargazer gets through the rough and emerges victorious.

But! Just then, his instruments bleep and beep! The alarm klaxons roar to life! Captain Stargazer checks his instruments and sees why. It's evil Lord Xenobula and his fleet of Globulons, the deadliest aliens in the universe! Luckily, they are on the far side of the solar system and haven't seen Captain Stargazer, but there is no doubt that they intend to stop him from achieving his mission success.

Just what is Captain Stargazer's mission? To find and recover the Ancient Scroll of the Lost, a centuries sought-after priceless treasure! Lord Xenobula must want it for himself. Not to worry, Captain Stargazer is the best of them all. If anyone can beat evil Lord Xenobula and the Globulons, it's him! Besides being the very best, his ship, the Quantum Albatross, is the fastest and most maneuverable of all. Stargazer shall not be bested!

Flames engulf the Albatross as she breaches the polluted atmosphere of the once-illustrious city planet, Genopia V. But Stargazer, the very best pilot in the galaxy, takes his ship down and lands her just outside of the great temple. The scrolls must be inside. Stargazer puts on his space suit, snaps on his helmet, and charges his XJ-2000 ray gun, the finest ray gun ever constructed. He puts it on his belt and steps outside.

It's dark and frightening. Who knows what dangers lurk inside? It's no matter to Captain Stargazer. He is strong and he is brave. There is no peril that can stand in his way. He sees the entrance to the temple and he sees his challenge. So he faces it. Captain Mark Stargazer is a hero; a hero with unwavering courage.

Inside, he hears hollow screams and terrors unknown watch him from all around. Captain Stargazer keeps hand close to his gun. There is no telling what may lie between him and the scroll, but there is no stopping him from reaching it. Once Captain Stargazer has a mission, he cannot be stopped. The goal will be reached.

Finally, he arrives at the central chamber and the at the very middle is his prize: The Ancient Scroll of the Lost! Captain Stargazer smiles as he see it and approaches ever alert! With both of his cautious, expert hands he picks up the scrolls and experiences the thrill of finding something so old and so valuable.

But just as he turns to leave, he hears an all-too familiar laugh. It can only be evil Lord Xenobula! Captain Stargazer quickly draws his ray gun as lights illuminate the balcony above him. There must have been a dozen of Xenobula's Globulon soldiers, all pointing their laser rifles right at Captain Stargazer. At the center of the semicircle and just above the entrance is Lord Xenobula himself, who still laughs his wicked laugh.

“Lord Xenobula,” Captain Stargazer says with a heroic grin. “It's about time you showed up!”

“Captain Mark Stargazer,” Xenobula scoffs. “You have walked right into my trap!”

“Your trap?”

“Yes, my trap!” He laughs again. “Did you really think you could get the scroll on my watch? Ha! You are sorely mistaken!”

“I've got the scroll right here,” in his left hand, Stargazer subtly pulls a space grenade off his belt. “You've lost today, Xenobula.”

Xenobula's laugh is unstoppable, “You do? Look again! That is nothing but a replica I had made prior to your arrival. What you are looking for is this!” Xenobula holds up the real scroll.

Stargazer is embarrassed by his mistake, but not stopped. “You'll give me that scroll, Xenobula. You'll give it to me now or face death!”

“Face death? From you? Ha!” Xenobula beamed with laughter yet again.

“Yeah, from me,” Stargazer smugly said as he primed and threw his space grenade.

“You fool!” But before Xenobula could order his men to fire, Stargazer ran out of sight. The grenade exploded, bringing over half the balcony and most of the Globulons down with it.

Stargazer ran. He would have to get the scroll, but first he needed to plan his attack. His pistol would not be enough for an entire army of Globulons; he would need firepower! So he ran back through the darkness and to his majestic companion, the Quantum Albatross. Even seeing it docked was quite a sight, especially for our brave hero, Captain Mark Star-

All at once, the splendid ship exploded.

Stargazer cried, “No!!!”

“You fool!” Lord Xenobulon laughed from behind him. Stargazer turned around with his pistol drawn. There must have been fifteen Globulon soldiers flanking him, all armed to the teeth. “Do you actually think I would let you escape?”

“I didn't think you'd make it easy,” Stargazer put his smug grin on again. “Do your worst, Xenobulon.”

“So brave even when you cannot win. This time, you won't.”

“I wouldn't be so certain. You'll never kill me!”

“Kill you? No, I won't kill you,” Xenobulon laughed. “I am going to break you!”

Stargazer shot his eyebrow up.

“Bring her out!” Xenobulon shouted as a pair of Globulon warriors carried a woman out before them.

“No!” Stargazer's eyes widened as he realized who it was. It was his wife, Misty Stargazer, the most beautiful princess in the universe. Her dress was torn and bloody. Stargazer cried, “You've tortured her!”
“Yes! I have!” Xenobulon laughed. “And she cried your name as we tore her flesh. But where were you? Off on some adventure? Ha! You are a fool, Stargazer!” Xenobulon rapidly drew his pistol and blasted Misty through the heart.

NOOO!!!” Stargazer cried and turned his sorrow to anger. He pulled the trigger of his ray gun and blindly fired as his nemeses. Only Xenobulon returned fire, knocking the pistol out of Stargazer's hand. The hero fell to his knees. “What- what have you done?!”

“It's what you have done, Captain Stargazer!” Xenobulon angrily shouted as he pulled the scrolls out of his belt. “You want your scroll? Here!” He threw the scroll to the ground and blasted it to oblivion. “Now you have nothing!”

“Why? Why have you done this?”

“Because you're naïve, Stargazer. You claim you're a great hero, but there are no heroes. Not in this universe. In this universe, evil shall always triumph,” Xenobulon growled. He then blew holes in both of Stargazer's legs.

Captain Stargazer hollered in pain.

“And now, I leave you here to die,” Xenobulan told him. “Decide what you do next, Stargazer. I don't imagine your suit has more than few hours of air.”

Stargazer watched in tears as his nemeses walked away, leaving him there to die. He crawled over to his wife's body. She was dead. No returning. And the Quantum Albatross burned behind him. Very suddenly, Captain Stargazer had nothing; nothing at all.

He looked over to his side. There was his pistol. He should use it.

Gallant Captain Mark Stargazer picked up his XJ-2000 ray gun, the most powerful pistol in the galaxy, and brought it his temple. He breathed erratically, but bravely faced what would be his one last adventure....

Lord Xenobulon could not keep his smile hidden as he boarded his ship, but as he did, he heard the sound of Captain Stargazer's ray gun. His vengeance is complete.

Friday, October 1, 2010

week twenty-five: grandmothers and ghosts

The following story is only mostly true:

It's very safe to say that my grandmother and I didn't quite get along. We lived with her for a year when I was about nine, and I absolutely hated it. In fact, Granny J, as we called her, gets the prize for being the sole cause of the only run-away-from-home I ever attempted. I don't quite remember exactly why we didn't get along. Maybe it was her way of doing things, which was very old-fashioned, or maybe it was just because I was an obnoxious kid growing up. It's arguable that I still am, by the way. As I grew up, this animosity subsided, but you can imagine that having to spend a week with her didn't thrill me.

I think I was sixteen at the time. Mom and dad had to go off to some conference or another and they must not have thought I was quite old enough to handle the house on my own. I had the choice between staying with Granny J or my other grandma. My younger sister and even younger brother had already decided to stay with the other, so I chose Granny J. I guess I figured I could stay out of her hair and that I wouldn't have to worry about my siblings driving me crazy. Either way, there wasn't actually any winning in that situation for me. At least she had a TV, right?

This is one of those situations in life that either builds or breaks you. I'd like to say that I've always had an attitude of trying to make the best of things. I'd be mostly wrong, of course. This wasn't one of those situations. My only goal was to get through the week dead or alive; I didn't care. I didn't put my guard up or open myself up to new things, I just figured I'd go the course.

I'm not entirely sure Granny J was too thrilled with the whole thing either. I mean, it was certainly a sacrifice on her part to have me for the week, but I never really stopped to ask her. Oh well.

The first day was awkward. I got there and we got through the pleasantries. The usual how-are-you's and how's-school's, you know the drill I'm sure. Suffice to say, we didn't talk much. I spent most of time either locked away in my room reading or playing my Xbox on her TV. She was out a lot of the time, which is impressive for a woman in her mid-seventies. Granny J was an expert violin player and she taught and played as her profession. I never got the chance to really see her play.

The first time it happened was when I went to bed that night. Now, I've always been something of an insomniac. It's been worse recently, but I could lay awake in bed for hours on end. It sucks. So, I lay there in my room and there are no curtains on the windows. I was admittedly afraid the first time I saw the lights on an airplane coming towards me. They were low and it looked like it could almost hit me. It was eerie. But the interesting part about the airplane bit is how my imagination would fly. Now, if you haven't noticed that I have a morbid imagination by now, I question your observation skills. I would imagine that terrorists were targeting me and that they finally got me. Lucky shot for them; I had been hard to find up until now.

Or maybe the plane was crashing. In my mind, I readied myself to get out there and help. Infinite possibilities I probably would have explored if I were a writer then. Alas, I was not and any imaginings from then are second-hand now and not worth much. A pity.

Far freakier than the airplanes, however, was the tapping. It was rhythmic and bore not just a slight resemblance to a lady walking on heels. I could hear said lady walking towards me and then walking away. Back and forth; forth and back. It was strange because I wasn't sure exactly what was happening. The tapping happened only at night, so finding an explanation in the daytime didn't happen. But there it was.

Back then I had the strange notion that I wanted to be a filmmaker. More like a stupid notion, I would say now, but a notion nonetheless. I imagined a horror movie about an old house haunted by the waiting spirit of an old woman. I never fleshed out characters or anything, but there was a lead. And it's one I'm following right now, but we'll get back to that later.

I'd come downstairs around noon, let's not forget that I'm a teenager at this point and sleeping was my prerogative. It still is, from time to time. Granny J would usually be out, but she was nice enough to provide lunch. I half expected to fend for myself, but she's my grandmother! I wish I had remembered that sooner.

When she was home at night, there was only thing on the TV: Turner Classic Movies. Old movies. Of course, I'd sit in there to give her company, but I would be reading rather than watching. After all, these are old movies. They're stupid, right?

Now, look, it's been four years and I wasn't exactly trying to record these events. I can't say for sure this is exactly how it happened. We're going to put it this way for narrative's sake though, alright?

It was that second day that she took me to the public library. I had honestly never been to a good library before. I had been to my crappy school library before, but this library was several stories tall and had more than just books. There were CDs and DVDs even. I took a few books, Star Wars I think, and I do remember grabbing a copy of the extended Fellowship of the Ring soundtrack. My interests in books back then was strictly sci-fi. I read for entertainment, not thought. Don't you just hate looking back on yourself and noticing just how much of a total idiot you were?

I swear, I walked right past a copy of Catcher in the Rye. I could have changed my life early!

The return trip home was revelatory in my experience in getting to know my grandmother. She let me put in a disc of the soundtrack. It was the theme from the beginning of the movie with the hobbits; beautiful music and Granny J noted the beauty. I couldn't help but smile at having shared some interest. We didn't talk much in the trip to the library, but something was there. I drew just a touch closer to my grandmother.

That night, I heard the tapping again. Back and forth; forth and back. I even put my shirt on and went out to investigate. I crept upstairs to the attic and found nothing that would explain this peculiar sound. Out the window, there was nothing. In all honesty, I had a nagging sensation of fear.

The next two or three days were more of the same. I have to say, I was thankful for the opportunity to relax. The family was gone and I was liberated to a point. When Granny J was gone, the TV was mine to play video games on. What fun!

Finally on one of those nights, I went downstairs to investigate the heel-tapping. Back and forth; forth and back. There was nothing in the TV room and nothing in the kitchen; only darkness and shadows. The living room, however, is a different story completely. I could see a light from the hall, which I thought was merely light from an open window, but oh boy, I was wrong. I walked in to see an bright-blue and curiously shining old woman. She stood upright and carried her purse gallantly. She wore heels and paced the room. I froze in fear. Perhaps she wouldn't notice me.

Move, Wes. She hasn't seen you. Move. Turn around and run. You can make it go away.

“Who are you?” I feel the words escape my lips.

She sees me.

Her eyes widen.

“Address me properly, young man!”

My eyes bolt open, “Um, sorry, miss.”


“Uh, Mrs! Sorry, Mrs!”

“Now, that's better. Who are you?”

“Uh, I'm uh-”

“Speak quickly!”

“Wes, I'm Wes, I guess.”

“Come, sit down,” she lightened up as I did exactly as she instructed. There was a couch against the wall in the middle of the room. I sat. “What are you doing here?”

“I'm, uh, living here for a week,” I don't dare answer more than she's asked.

“And why is that?”

I explain everything to her.

“I see.”

“Well, uh, what are you doing here?”

“Well, I live here, you see.”

“My grandmother lives here.”

“Don't argue,” she sits down next to me. “But yes, she does, but I live here as well.”

“Ma'am, if you don't mind my asking... are you dead?”

“Why, yes, of course! Don't you know a ghost, a phantom, a spirit- when you see one?”

“Well, no, I've never seen a ghost before, sorry.”

“Dear boy, we shall have to educate you, won't we?”

I chuckled, “I guess, ma'am.”

“Well, I died quite some time ago. I died a very impatient old woman and this is why I am that way now. You will die as you are, young man.”

“Die as I am, what do you mean?”

She scoffed, “An example. Let's say that you die in love, yet the one you seek loves you not. You are desperate. You will die desperate for her affection. Simple as that.”

“So, if I die angry...?”

“You will be an angry ghost, of course!” she laughed.

“What is your name, spirit?”

“Hannah DuBois, what is yours?”


“Your full name, boy.”

“Julian, Wesley Julian, ma'am.”

“That's better,” she let out a hint of a smile. “What are you doing awake at this hour, shouldn't you be in bed?”

“I have trouble sleeping, ma'am.”

“I am sorry to hear that. Come here with me, we can do something about that,” she stands and approaches the dining room table. As if by miracle, there is a pot of tea with several teacups. “Sit at the table. I trust chamomile is to your liking.”

“Yes, it is,” I replied truthfully. I sat.

She poured tea into a pair of teacups and sipped very gently. It was delicious. “Chamomile tea will help you sleep, dear.”

“Thank you.”

“Now, I want to help you, young man. I want you to know what I did not.”

“Alright,” I sipped. “Tell me.”

“How do you wish to die?”

“Happy, I guess.”

“You can't achieve happiness, boy, happiness is a passing and a supplementary thing. Many seek it out, but none find it!”

I nodded.

“What you want is to die content. What you need to do is accept where you are, accept who you are, and accept why you are.”

“Why I am?”

“That is for you to discover,” she stood. “Now, it's off to bed with you. I'm afraid I've had enough conversation for the evening.”

I stood and thanked her again for the tea. It truly was delicious. When I lay back in bed, I didn't hear the tapping. She must have gone back to her world. I lay there and pondered. One nagging question remained, however: Why had she died impatient?

I slept.

Die content.

When I awoke, my attitude was changed. I decided to join my grandmother at one of her violin lessons. She was teaching a young girl, so I wasn't exactly seeing her play, but it was likely the most important piece in finally understanding my grandmother. What I saw there was a content woman. She had a gift with her violin and she could share it with others. That's when I knew what I wanted. I wanted to find my gift and share it with others. Granny J had found purpose to her life and in that, contentment and, I daresay, happiness.

I no longer put up with her. There was more to it. I wanted to know my grandmother. I want to see her life. What makes her tick? That night, I left the Star Wars upstairs and sat down to watch old movies with her. The first one I remember was The Bridge on the River Kwai, a war classic. My vision, back then, of a good war movie had big special effects and a lot of action. I recognized Alec Guinness in it, of course, and that's where my connection was drawn. Being the fairly intelligent person I am, I decided to find something besides eye-candy to enjoy. There was writing, acting, and cinematography. These things pulled the story, not cheap roller-coaster thrills.

That's when it hit me: old movies are awesome.

It was during the commercial that I burped. I forgot Granny J was behind me on her computer and I was embarrassed when I realized what I had done. And then, I remember it very clearly, I heard a thunderous rasp. I confess this here to you now: I was out-belched by my grandmother. She laughed and I joined her. It was one of those moments you'll never forget.

That night I didn't hear the tapping. Instead of being afraid, I was disturbed. Was Hannah alright? I went down the stairs to find her sitting there at the table with tea already poured. She smiled, “I was waiting for you, Wesley.”

“Oh, thank you, ma'am,” I sat down with her.

“I see you've considered what I said.”

“Yes, ma'am, it's good advice.”

She laughed, “When you get to be a in place like mine, you don't give advice. You tell. I know things you could not possibly know and you can either choose to trust me or not.”

“Well,” I sipped my tea. “I trust you, Mrs. DuBois.”

“Good,” she smiled.

I had to ask, “Mrs. DuBois, you mentioned that you had died impatient. What do you mean?”

Hannah sighed, “On your last night here, come and visit me. I will tell you then. Meanwhile, we need to work on you. Understand?”

“Yes, ma'am,” I finished the last drop.

“Tonight, I leave you with this,” she put down her teacup. “To die content, you can't die complacent. Things can be changed. Sometimes they will change for the better and sometimes they will change for the worse. Complacency is surest way to change them for worse. Look at your present situation. How can you make it better?”

I thought on this.

“Now, shoo, go on to bed. You need your rest to grow, young man!”

I laughed very softly as I climbed back up the stairs and back into bed. I fell asleep quickly this time. Her tea must work.

You can't die complacent.

There were two days left. I didn't know it then, but these days were the last days I had to get to know my grandmother. Nothing happened during the morning or the afternoon, but we had a planned a dinner that night. We were going to meet my siblings and other grandmother at a hamburger restaurant. A very good one, exclusive to Memphis, actually. It's called Huey's. Look it up.

When we got there, I could see that my sister was tired. My brother was in his usual overly talkative mood, which gets on my nerves fast. Insanely fast. I could tell Rachel, my sister, was tired. Michael was mostly her responsibility and it must have worn on her. But me? I was, well, content. I had the opportunity to explore one of my most fascinating relatives. Now, my other grandmother, Mamaw, we called her, we knew her quite well. We saw her the most often and she still is something of a constant, wonderful presence. Trips to Granny J's were always more of a rarity.

Anyway, it was there that I saw what I could have been. I could have let it wear down on me, but I made the best of it. That's not to say Rachel was doing anything wrong at all, just that I was finally doing something right. All thanks to Hannah DuBois. But who is she?

That night, I again found Mrs. DuBois at the table, tea and all. She awaited me with a much more approving look. I found it oddly soothing. I sat there with her and asked, “How are you, Mrs. DuBois?”

“I am as fine as an impatient spirit can ever be,” she answered briskly. “But yourself. I need not ask, but put it in your own words.”

“I'm,” I paused. “I'm content.”

“Are you?”

“More content than before.”

“Could you be more than you are now?”

“Always,” I sipped.

She grinned, “Now you're getting to the heart of it. Boy, we are in a world that is constantly getting worse. It's getting worse because people are getting complacent. There will always be things to fix, things to make better. You need to be one of the people who is content, but not complacent. Take you and your grandmother, for instance, you are content with your relationship with her. Be content with it, but make it better. Make it last.”

“I will,” I finished my tea.

“Now, tomorrow night is your last night. Let's not waste our last hours. What do you want to do with your life, boy?”

I explained my love of film for her. How I had edited videos and garnered praise in class for them. I liked that feeling. I loved sharing what I had made. She listened to me and obviously fought her impatient nature, but there was enthusiasm behind it. I could tell. This was a lonely spirit and a beautiful one. I wish I had known her living.

The next day, again, didn't really happen until the evening. Granny J cooked for me. She made roast beef, which isn't my favorite, but it was good. I didn't enjoy the food so much as sitting across from my grandmother and enjoying her company. There was a bond, not of necessity like before, but of love. I wish I had this before, but better late than never.

She also made cupcakes. They were peanut butter, I think. I can't tell you if they were good or not. They didn't look good and I was a picky eater. I still am. But I told her how much I loved the cupcakes, but I never ate them. I'm sure the neighbor's dog loved them though.

That night was also something special when she turned on the TCM. The movie was called They Shoot Horses, Don't They? and it's about a Great Depression-era dancing marathon. This isn't subject matter I care about, but I deeply enjoyed it. I loved the seeing the characters broken and tired. And finally, at the end, when he shoots the girl, I was gripping my seat. It was emotional and released when my parents were toddlers. Granny J hadn't seen it either, but we discussed the movie in length. It was one of the greatest conversations I've ever had.

I discovered then that I love old things. I have a bitter distrust of remakes and new movies. Things were done better in a time long ago. Hannah was right. The world is getting worse. Perhaps I can fix it. I got it set in my mind then that I wanted to make films the way they used to be made. I don't hold onto this dream anymore, but I do hold onto the way things were. The way they should be.

I found Hannah staring out the window this time. She looked as though she wants out, but is trapped. I approach her and I say, “Mrs. DuBois, you said you would tell why you died impatient.”

She smiled and sat back down at the table. I sat with her and sipped at my tea. She sighed and explained, “I was already old before I died. In fact, I died in old age. I died at a train station. My son told me to wait for him. I paced up and down. Back and forth; forth and back. But he never showed up. He was never there. I sat down at the bench and fell asleep. I was angry and impatient. I never awoke again.”

“Do you know why your son was late?”

“Don't you see? He abandoned me,” Hannah said. “He decided that in the rush of the modernizing world, his mother was less important than his business. Please, I beg you, have patience. People, especially relatives, are far more important than anything else. My son never learned his lesson, but you can, Wesley.”

I drank the last of my tea, “Mrs. DuBois, I'm sorry.”

She looked into my eyes and I could see a faint ghostly tear, “Thank you, dear boy.”

I don't remember going back up the stairs that night. I don't remember returning to my bed. I don't remember how I got there, but I woke up in my bed a changed man. Somehow, I understood the world. Not fully, but pieces I never knew before were present. I had little time the next morning with my grandmother, but I made the most of them. I wanted all the time in the world with my Granny J.

When my parents arrived to pick me up, I was ready. There was resolution. I hugged my grandmother and, with sincerity like never before, told her that I loved her. She never was a sentimental woman, but she was old-fashioned; she held onto things. I learned that from her. Hold onto the things you should value. I still wish I had more time with her. More solid, quality time.

I never got time to myself with her again. When my family returned to our home in Brazil, she passed away just a little while later. It's one of those things that didn't hit me though until I saw her empty house the next year. It was haunting. I had hoped to see Hannah DuBois again, but I don't think I was meant to. I learned all that I was to learn from that mysterious, impatient spirit. I've never told anyone about Hannah DuBois until now.

If you see her, tell her I said hello.