Saturday, August 21, 2010
He listened quietly to the soft heartbeats of Gatsby. He remembered times when the cat would run into the house, running from Justin. Fearful for it’s life the heart thumped rapidly, veins pulsing. Scared. Survival. Fearful. Sanctuary...the cats soul would scream. Usually cats had many interesting things to say, and like all animals in tune and enveloped in their instincts retained a savage hint of wildness, especially when threatened.
The neighbor boy Justin was feared by all animals on the lonely forest road. He was all smiles and laughs, but when you looked past the pale mask of greasy black hair you saw into eyes of pure intense hatred. You saw into a soul that enjoyed hurting and causing pain. A soul that liked to cause fear. Animals saw it even if most people didn’t. Harry saw it...and Justin hated him for it.
The cat wasn’t saying anything pithy, it wasn’t sending out beacons of beastly adrenaline. Gatsby’s heart beat softly and slowly as it’s blood seeped from its cuts. Harry sat against the ancient oak tree. His arms gaining rivulets of murky red as he cradled the cat. It was serene there. The sun was starting to set, giving the world it’s golden goodbye before nightfall claimed it’s throne of blackness and ungenerous light.
Most people are scared of death Harry. Usually Harry loved the old oaks timber voice. When it spoke it’s wisdom held the vastness of Lebanon, and the earthy smell of forest and life’s knowledge. But his attention was on his dying friend, and the tree’s voice held no more distraction then the rustling of leaves and the sun’s light dancing between them tickling the tree to laughter. He listened intensely, his eyes soaking up every detail, his soul open and eager ready for the barest of whispers before his friend slipped away into the river. The heart was barely beating at all anymore when he heard it. Don’t be afraid harry.....everyone must go to the river.
He should have cried. He should have felt anger. He should have felt something but he couldn’t anymore. Everything was overwhelming in his mind. The infinite mysteries of the beckoning river. Every answer a tree had given him merely spawned more questions. He didn’t understand people’s souls, and why they could live the way they did. He didn’t even know if he had a soul, as his mind raged like a sinking vessel in a perfect storm. The voice erupted with a rumbling boom of thunder and gravel, breaking Harry's fragile harbor.
“What have you done?”. His father stood stiffly, his fists shaking as he looked down with disgust at his son. He was an imposing figure. An expensive buttoned formal shirt. Trousers painstakingly stitched, and shiny shoes. His eyes were bloodshot with a wild fury. His muscles were tense with a murderous flex. Maybe Harry was tired of his father hiding from the truth, or perhaps it was the fragile state of his serenity. It could have even been fate that pushed harry to connect with the unwilling soul of his father. The tree would have told him that he just needed to be loved and understood. The oak would have told him he just needed comfort. Harry was in no mood to listen. When an animal is weak, they lash out...and a human is still an animal even if they try to forget it.
He pushed his mind into the river. The river was always the same when he traveled along it’s infinite meandering. The tree’s crowding around it laughing as tree’s do. The others in the distance black and burnt brooding in silent disapproval with no voices to call their own. He tried not to fly close to the inviting river. It was difficult fighting the pull. It swirled and rushed with colors that didn’t exist, and a cacophony of voices that you could only start to distinguish the closer you came. Harry tried not to get too close, he knew that if he was pulled into the river he would never be able to come out again. He saw Gatsby watching the fish with the eyes of a hunter. He could hear his old nan playing the piano and singing to him, but he had the eyes of a hunter too, and he had saw his prey. His father’s silhouette stood at rapt attention at the edge of the dead forest. Whiffs of pipe tobacco growing stronger as he sped towards him.
He had found people’s souls in that valley before. When he was younger he used to go to the nursing home. Everyone there was easily found, reluctantly making their way to the river. At the home there was a man who sat in a wheel chair saying in an old pleading voice, “God damn, god damn, god damn, god damn, god damn, god damn,”. It was a strange litany to the deity most turned to when facing the winter of their years, but Harry understood it. “Hey Harry”, the old man said, when he found him sitting idly on a rock by the river. His eyes were bright and sad, holding tears that would never fall. He was wearing a farmers patched overalls, and a worn black hat with wide brims slicing the sun in half across his face. He spoke his words like a man moving a massive weight, “I hate him you know...god.”
“The oak told me that hate and love exist with each other as night and day.” The old man listened to his words as he grasped a long piece of grass to chew between his teeth. His face looked like strong leather when he looked up at harry with forsaken eyes.
“I never listened to the tree’s much...I probably should have.” Their eyes connected and Harry fell gently into them. The iris was like a sea, his pupil an island. The enclave of ones soul. He stood on the island the horizon stretching out unbroken to meet the night sky illuminated with a million stars and a lonely moon. He walked up to the shore and saw the man’s memories reflecting in the waters. He saw him planting crops and living a simple life in his cabin with his wife. He saw the seasons change and the harvest come and go. He saw children born and time take it’s due. He saw winters were the farmer would eye his family with resentment and hostility, blaming them for a life of hardship and duress. He saw him leave to drink and forget all the while with the tree’s calling out to him fervently. He ignored them with force until it became second nature. He saw his children grow and leave to never return. He saw his wife grow frail until she left for the river willingly. The old farmer merely drank more and more, hating the world around him, and fearing to leave it.
He escaped from that dark ocean, an estranged island in the night. The old farmer sat chewing his grass. “I’m scared of the river”. “What if I am not meant to swim in it...what if I drown in it’s waters.” He let out a tired sigh,”It invites me with colors I have never seen before, but they remind me of the colors of my memories when I sit inside my soul looking at the shore of my island.” “I’m scared and lonely Harry”. He flew into the sky, until he met the sun, the warmth melting away the valley until the sickly smelling disinfectant filled his nostrils and he knew he was back. He heard the voice behind him. The soft mumbling prayer of god damn. He touched the old mans shoulder with gentleness and whispered in his ear. “Everything is going to be ok...we are all loved and missed.” The old man looked up at him with tears brimming in his grateful eyes. The truth was that harry didn’t know if that was true or not, he was just parroting what he heard when he was forced to go to church with his devout parents. If people knew what was going on in his own head he would probably be burned at the stake.
He went into people’s souls less and less. Usually it made him sad, and oftentimes he saw things that were terrible. He saw how people enjoyed destroying other people’s lives, and he could understand how they would fear the river. If Harry was swimming with them he would try to drown them. Can you even drown someone in that river? There were too many questions and not enough answers, his mind felt like a stone splashing into the ocean, disappearing in it’s unfathomable depths. Sinking until the light was gone, swallowed forever. Harry thought that he was very much afraid of the dark. He pressed his hands against the side of his head, forcing his mind to quiet. It was all too much, he couldn't handle it on his own. He was spinning wildly through the dark side of the valley, heading towards the silhouette of father and the smoke spiraling up lazily in front of him. The branches whipped across his face angrily. He was batted and smacked around while he held his target. In the distance he could hear the tree’s calling out in despair, but he had no ears to listen to their voice anymore. It was dark in this forest, he flew through it as fast as he could knowing if he stopped something terrible would happen. His father turned to meet him as he rushed forward with impossible speed. The pipe burned with a low red ember, lighting eyes without white. They were black with the barest pinpricks of red, he charged into it.
He crashed into an old house. The night sky was foreboding with tree branches naked of leaves smacking and scraping the windows in a disturbing caress. The house creaked and leaned to one side disorienting him. It was suffocated by brown vines and dead leaves swirling about suffocating it in a claustrophobic embrace. An old concrete fountain that had long ago forgotten water stood as a testament to abandonment, with cracks mating it with a crumbling courtyard. The derelict was so dark, the moons beams lighting a path through the windows signaling the only places harry was safe to travel. Movement and hustling could be heard in the recesses of the house, a flap of clothing hitting the wall, heavy boots thudding to meet him at alarming speed, only stopping where the light of the moon cut through the window. Harry could hear its unnatural breathing drawing slowly in and out. It sounded like a raspy chuckle. His heart beat with lurches...he was terrified of this place, he feared with all his instincts and all his heart that the thing in the darkness. He was unwelcome here. He made his way across the old rug, it’s patterns old, and faded victorian, like everything forgotten in this estranged house. The rug was his lifeline following the narrow beams of the moon. Rows and rows of tall slender windows. A sliver of protection with a blanket of stars woven throughout the sky. The rug came to a corner, with booming tone of a grandfather clock. He stopped and turned at this ancient proud ticking. The golden disk contained the shapes of memories long buried, with numbers cataloging a life of mysteries never spoken. He looked into the center where the hands were and saw people moving about. He fell into the reflective pool of gold as easy as slipping into a lonely soul. He remembered the clock in an old black and white picture his father had. It showed him and his mom and dad standing in front of it, a relic from an older time, from an even older memory. He saw the backs of them standing, moving slightly trying to hold still for the picture. A buried place that father tried to forget. So many memories and voices. Father growing up with wonder and love for his life. A dark resentment feeding like a cancer. A pride and respect for his dad reversing to derision and loathing. He saw the beauty of life replaced before his eyes, into a symphony of gears and cogs of industry. Love had collapsed into a small kernel. Swallowed by iron and stone. He was close to understanding, so close to illumination, but the images were growing dark. This intimate knowledge of sepia growing black with shadows of fangs and claws. The worst pain that harry had ever felt meet him with an impossible speed. Tearing and gnashing fury was ripping him apart. He lunged to the steps with it clawing down his legs. A shred of moon protected him growing so faint so quickly. How had the moon moved through the sky so fast. He had never gone into the burnt forest before. He had never rushed into a soul unwilling. He knew with all his heart, that he could die here. He crawled painfully up the middle of the steps. There was so much void around him. The moon showed red flakes floating in the pale. Like dust drifting past a window full of sunlight. A parade of blood marching merrily away feeding the evil place. Slender dagger fingers reached with promise through the gaps of the stairs rail. Just out of reach and keeping pace with his slow progression. The moon afforded him a break at the summit. He hauled himself up on the bannister, the hallway showing a flickering red towards it's end. Doors lined the hallway in perfect order. The dark wombs holding different figures. He heard the thudding boots and scrapings of frustration. He kept passing them making his way to beacon of red. A raucous coughing erupted from a room. It sounded like oil and sludge vomiting out of the dying. This entire house was alive with an evil that made harry's skin tingle with the fear a child possesses when he clutches his blankets alone in his bed. The red room was just before him. A small fire place crackled. The mischievous blaze teasing him with the sanctuary of light and throwing it away. He dived into the room as the hands reached hungrily towards him. He felt so tired. He knew what it was like to feel old just then. The fire gave him a fleeting warmth to his front while a cold chill crept along his back. Darkness had surrounded waiting patiently for the fire to go out. An old leather chair held the barest reflection of the fire's light. A well known shoulder could be seen lying against the side of it. Wisps of smoke trailing up into the pale flickers of light on the ceiling, the tell tale sign of his father. He looked up into the eyes of a father that was gray, wrinkled, and feeble. His eyes opened up slowly. They were rheumy and tired, with a head drooping onto his chest. He was wrapped in a warm robe like a swaddled baby.
“What happened to your house father?” He looked incredulously at this sad place for warmth and comfort. Father looked down at him with great loss.
“So many things can happen harry. Some things we cause ourselves, sometimes everything is out of control. People become afraid or jealous and let it consume them until it is too late.”
“How do you know it's too late?”
Father stared into the fire for a long time, as if all the answers he needed burned inside the dancing embers. Slow silent tears tracked down the deep lines in the old face. When he spoke it sounded like a burden.
“Because a house forgotten becomes swallowed by the forest, until ghosts and bones remain.” Harry realized how cold everything had become. His breath and his fathers gusted out in small evaporating clouds. The air sucked into his lungs felt like razors racing down his throat. The moon was gone, and the house was bending and groaning. The shadows swirled around them in anticipation. His father sat crying with remorse. “I let them all in harry.” He stood with a last bit of effort on shaky legs, parting his robe with trembling fingers. “I let them in harry...and they feasted on me.” His body was a field of missing skin and organs bleeding. Snake like intestines trying to slither out of large holes. Caked foul smelling blood oozed out of his body when the fire went out. The shadows erupted into a feeding frenzy ripping father from limb to limb with such a force he never even had a chance to drop to the ground. That's when harry screamed. A cry of anguish, rage, and despair. His eyes were clenched as tight as his fists until the pinpricks of light in his vision became eruptions from the night sky. The sky broke apart like a stone crashing into a lake, and the world turned white. Everything was breaking and burning. Harry had turned the midnight tomb into hell. He flew into the sun. He kept flying until he dared to open his eyes again. He was in the burnt forest. Father's silhouette had it's back turned to him. Smoke was billowing around it when it turned around. The silhouette burned like paper. Bright light shining out of it's eyes and its screaming mouth. Harry felt hate. So much hate. He left the forest, and he left the valley. He wanted to be anywhere but this place. When harry returned to the world, father stared at him with eyes that could no longer see. He turned around slowly, and moved slowly back to the house. His shoes dragging and stomping the earth. Harry reached out towards him, but all he couldn't feel anything. He followed his father silently, his feet moving without control. When father went inside to his study, his hands gripped things methodically, like a blind man in an unfamiliar place. He went to his desk and dropped heavily into his chair. The drawer slid open slowly and harry heard a click. The gunshot broke the spell that had carried harry's feet into the house. His father fell over, as the carpet became a red lake.
Thursday, August 12, 2010
by: S. J. Huffman
Harry was a rather nondescript fellow, easily forgotten. Everyone thought so. He was a portly and tall man, with slumped shoulders and bad posture. His immeadiate look was one people couldn't pinpoint. At the tavern people would talk about what was wrong with him after he left. He's depressed somebody would say, it's just loneliness. Another one would clamor that it was simpleness, he is just dumb, he just doesn't have enough pistons firing in the ol noggin. Sometimes a hard man with eyes like daggers would look up from his dirty glass and curse him for being a coward. The general consensus was that he was just crazy, with a childhood like his it can't be helped, poor broken bastard. He most likely would have had a much better life if he would've been born in in 19th century bohemian France , but we don't choose when our where we are born...or the the cards we are dealt. Harry was dealt spades...and had been folding most of his life.
He was a solemn boy from a very early age. His parents didn't pay much attention to his radical shift in attitude. Occasionally, there would be a passing moment or two when his father was reading his newspaper and smoking his cherry pipe he would abruptly stop. Lowering the paper slowly down on to his lap and think that there was something seriously wrong with his boy. The giggly curious kid had radically shifted to a serious withdrawn, solemn child. Who was quick to apologize and and help out with whatever that was needed. Father would just joggle his head abruptly, shaking the gnawing feelings away, to return to the life of humdrum that he was accustomed to, thanking god inwardly that he at least wasn't like the neighbor boy Justin.
Father rarely noticed harry at all if truth be told. Most of the time the skinny lad was so quiet and unobtrusive you barely knew he was there. But there were times when he would catch him doing the oddest things. He remembered a time one lazy summer evening. The kind he had as a child, where his father would sit on the porch drinking lemonade, with his mother knitting in a rocking chair. The old house sturdy yet smooth with years of living and the elements steady invasion. Everyone belonged there, everything was in its place and right with the world. Every imperfection whether it be a rounded stone on the old brick sidewalk, or the deep knots of wood spiraling along the columns belonged. He could tell the world was alive on those days, it was all one entity. Like a mosaic that you could only appreciate in brief magical moments, when you felt the living world all around you. Father remembered those fleeting times, but it seemed like Harry was living it each day. But instead of laughing and exhilarating at being alive, Harry seemed like he was looking at a the frightening power of the world growing dark and wretched before the storm. Harry's eyes were deep black pools, almost hollow in his face. Like a soldier who had seen the most terrifying things a man should never see, and was just trying to come to grips with it.
The sun was setting on the first day that his eyes opened to the changes he had always ignored about his son. The changes he knew deep down in his bones, the changes that made him fear and wake shivering in the night. The air seemed to hang around holding everything still. One of those days were the world had become a painting, and every person and every detail a stroke of an artist with the hand of god. He stood up stretching, having the whim to find his son. He wanted to give him a glass jar, so he could catch lightning bugs in the growing dusk. Harry was nowhere to be found. The basketball court was empty, and he could see no one through the open blinds of the guest house. But Father's mind was clear. On days like this he didn't want to slip into the drudgery...didn't need to. His mind was focused, and he knew what was important, and what wasn't. He wanted to spend time with his son. It was overpowering, his body lead him without conscious thought. Lost in the canvas of life on a magical day.
His mind clear without the weight moved fast to wear his son would be. The place where harry spent most of his time. Often accompanied by animals, where he would sit and talk to them for hours. He tried telling him once that animals couldn't understand what you were saying. That they were simple creatures, who only understood tone of voice. That he should try talking to people more, and children his own age. They had things to say back. Harry looked at him knowingly with his black eyes and said, "There are some animals you can't talk to". It was unnerving, and he couldn't admit why. He felt uncomfortable like he always did when trying to raise his subtlety willfull son. He was infuriating at times. Never shouting or arguing, always listening to what you had to say, and yet he seemed to never change his mind. Then it seemed like he never saw that harry again.
His quiet child. So solemn. He wondered what happened to the child that used to run to see him when he came home from work. On bad days he would sit in his chair, and harry would come running up brushing his shoulders off and patting his chest with his tiny hands. He used to say with an exulting voice of triumph, "Your slugs are off daddy!". He couldn't help but smile. Harry always was very sensitive to peoples moods. Always making them laugh and smile. Telling them they had to help him get the creatures he imagined swarming around them to go away. Catherine would play along laughing, shoooing away the fictious beasts playfully. All smiles and radiant she would proudly tell him. "We did it!" Father withdrew savagely from his nastalgia. He did not trust those memories. He tried not to even think about them. Down that path layed snares and traps of the mind. Men where not created to think abstractly without dangerous consequences. Time was an enemy that chafed your memory into a lie you believe if you dwell on it too often.
It was far better to avoid a battle with time you cannot win. It was an ally with the mysteries of the world you can never know and chase aimlessly until your life is forfeit. He was a dreamer like Harry once. Lost so much in imagination that all he wanted to do was dream whether he was sleeping or not. His patriarch took the time to snap him out of it, showing him the futility and dangers of dreaming. Had him talk to the beatniks at the local coffee shop and pointed out how threadbare their clothing was, and how most of them were homeless and lost in thought and intoxication. He taught him how a man must partition his mind, and only allow himself these idle thoughts after a days work is done, and only then to be imbibed as a luxury, like a cup of fine bourbon trickling down your throat. What does pursuing these idle philosophies indulge? Nothing but dissatisfaction. Your life will become one that inches along slowly painfully aware of every tick and tock, until you are catapolted violently into the distance where you find you hair has become gray, and the face in the mirror is one of a stranger. Harry seemed to be inevitably rushing towards the coffee house beatnik, and he would be damned if his son inherited such a fate. He was his son, and it was his duty to train the untrainable. His duty as a father to help him avoid a life of self destruction, and his love inevitable.
He made his way to the tree. Harry couldn't be seen, but father knew that he was behind its massive trunk, sitting on the top of the hill, with his back against the mammoth vastness. He was oftentimes sitting up there, gazing into that valley. It was a peaceful place, nestled in by forest on three sides, with a soft shallow brook quietly lapping at the smooth stones on its banks. The home father had created was beautiful. He had started with a house a little better then a shack, and through tenacity and strength had built a slice of paradise. He had a good family and life, and he knew his son Harry had everything needed to be saved.
What happened next is something that would stay in the minds of father and son alike for the rest of their lives. It was a pivotal moment of change, and nothing would ever be the same between them. It is funny how people's perceptions create or alter their reality. What two people see when staring at something, are often at odds with each other. It is why human beings wage war, or commit murder, or vent on blogs. We see what we fear to. We see what we want to. We see whatever is easist for our minds to form. Father saw Harry cradling a dead cat in his arms. Harry saw a misplaced disapproval and worry forming in his father's eyes. A chain of reaction forms because there are certain ingredients and forces working at the right place and right time. The pain of Harry losing his best friend made him react in a way that was only human. Father's fear of what Harry was made him react in a way...that was only human.
There wasn't any tears on Harry's face. He used to cry unabashed when grief was called for. At his grandparents funerals, when he was scared after a bad dream, when his parents were fighting. Something had changed in harry, so that he never cried anymore. His eyes showed pain, but only ever so slightly. Two black pools, in a pale caved in face, in which the emotions potrayed would go from pain to anger, and then animosity as his father approached that fateful day.