I’ll be in Kansas City this weekend for the launch party of Kansas City Voices. This is my first publication and I’ll be reading the story being published. The launch party is at The Writer’s Place (3607 Pennsylvania Ave, Kansas City, MO 64111) on Saturday, October 28th, from 5pm-7pm. It’s open to everyone so stop on by and check it out. It’d be great to meet you.
There is a place adjacent to us but never visible or palpable in any way, yet it is there. I know this because I am there, here, wherever this place is. Allow me to explain. I was stumbling home around two thirty this morning, more intoxicated than I should have been allowed to be, when I decided to cross the road. Drunk me failed to take in his surroundings and there is nothing more sobering that being struck by a Ford F-150 speeding at 47mph. The instant my flesh met metal, I, this form of me, popped out of my body like ink hitting water. I dissolved into this parallel that I assume many would believe is the place the ever-elusive “soul” resides even as it remains attached firmly to the meat and bone of the physical world.
I’m in Limbo. Purgatory. I only know this because as I stand here, I can see my fleshy counterpart lying on the pavement as blood pools underneath. I kick the side of myself but my toes simply evaporate around the dying meat only to return when I pull my foot back. I am nothing, but I’m still here. So, I wait for the only two outcomes I can think of. Either I die, or someone comes along and saves me. The latter of which would be preferable but the chances seem slim since the dickhead in the truck never stopped and is probably near the state line already.
So here I am. Some evanescent form simply waiting. The street is wet with a light misting that I try to catch in the palm of my phantom hand. It simply falls through, and I feel nothing. I look upon myself and try not to think of how I ended up here. Try not to think of the woman at the bar I was too afraid of speaking to despite the way she kept looking at me all night. I try not to think of all the women I chickened out of speaking to. Or the jobs I never applied for despite my friends urging me on so I wouldn’t have to keep digging ditches or hauling trash or cleaning offices overnight. They only wanted good things for me, but I never believed that I could have those things. Which is why, in some way, I know I deserve to be right here lying on the pavement as my blood, darker than the wet asphalt, begins to stain the grass on the side of the two-lane road just outside of town.
I see the lights before I hear anything. The red and blue of the patrol car as it slows to a stop about ten feet from my body with its headlights focus on my body. My final act has an audience. The lone officer steps out and calls over the radio for an ambulance. I stand there and wonder if he can see my ethereal body. I wave but get no reaction so I assume not. Secretly I hope that the ambulance will make it in time. I also am secretly grateful that I have something to turn my attention to besides my current self awkwardly stretched out on the road with what looks like at least one broken leg and a crushed rib cage. The officer kneels and checks my pulse and turns toward the radio on his shoulder. I’m half expecting him to call off the ambulance. That I’m done for, and I start to wonder if I’ll remain a specter if I were to expire in the cold, wet darkness.
Instead I hear a rough voice call, “He’s got a strong pulse, but make it quick.”
I look at the ocean of black and wonder what my heart could be pumping hard enough to register a strong pulse. A larger box of lights arrives and two paramedics drop bags by my broken body. They apply bandages after bracing my neck and sticking a tube down my throat. I winced and grabbed at my neck, but realized there was no feeling at all. The sight of it, however, caused my reaction which was based out of instinct. But it was an instinct meant for a different world entirely.
The medics put me on a stretcher and loaded me in the mobile hospital room. I followed them. A spectator to myself. I tried to climb in the back but, as before, I simply dissipate. Before they shut the door, a beeping punctures the silence and the paramedic who had hopped in the driver’s seat climbs in back to help the other medic. I’m flat-lining, but I still feel nothing. I stand beside the officer as the medics pull the defibrillator off the wall and charge it. They zap me once and my body flails like a fish. They zap me again and I feel nothing. The officer winces for me. They charge up and zap me a third time and I dissolve into the air like ink in water.
He sat on the park bench and, for the first time in his memory, his mind was truly blank. All was silent. All was dark. It was probably 3am but the clouds hid the moon and the stars and no light was nearby, but in the darkness his mind began to reel to life and his eyes projected into his mind the events that made him.
Though he could not see it, he felt the handle of the knife protruding from his chest. He dared not move for fear of shifting the blade. It was surely near its mark. If he removed it, he’d bleed out in seconds. If he left it in, he’d bleed out in several minutes. If he moved, he’d bleed out in one. Through all action and inaction, he would die. He was dying.
The nature of his work is testament to his death. There was no escaping this. He hoped to delay it as long as possible and fourteen years in the business was probably considered a long run. He tried to think of anyone who had gotten out, but he remembered the sand in the hourglass. The flowers for his wife were sprawled before him still half inside the brown bag that also held the new mitt for his boy and new flannel booties for his new baby girl. The first time he saw her face he knew he had to get out. But there was no getting out. He knew, but he still tried. Sometimes all a man can do is try.
He had assurances that he was out. He knew those assurances were false. Just lies hidden behind smiles. He knew. He’d told a few himself. He just thought he’d had more time. Perhaps if he hadn’t stopped by the store he may have made it home, but he wanted to get something for everyone before their impromptu cross-country trip. They may have been in Pennsylvania by now. But he was stuck on a park bench at the edge of winter looking out at the river on a moonless night just listening as the water trickled by, not yet frozen but lethal nonetheless. He wondered if Margaret was up worrying about him or sleeping soundly in bed expecting he’d be home by dawn. Maybe she was rocking Lilith to sleep. James was surely somewhere in dreamland. The kid could sleep through the apocalypse.
A faint smile flashed across his lips. A cold numbness crawled through him and he wasn’t sure if it was simply the prolonged exposure to the cold or if he was losing blood more quickly than before. Either way, he shivered involuntarily and felt the sting of the blade as it vibrated inside his chest. His time had come. His silent assassin had left him little time, but they also left him a choice with how to use it. He was sure the maestro of this final act hoped the ending would be more entertaining. That he’d run for help and bleed out before he’d find anyone so he’d be found sprawled out on the pavement down by fifth street, but he now held the power to at least choose his end. He could try to get help, but he knew once the knife had settled that he was done. There was no coming back from this. Even if he were on a gurney in the ICU before the knife found him, he wouldn’t have made it.
He had one last choice to make before the cold took him. He reached up and gripped the handle of the knife. A sharp pain ran through him, but he ignored it as he yanked the steel from his chest. Heat evaporated off the blade. Heat it had stolen from his blood. He dropped it but never heard the clank it made on the stone beneath him.
I picked up my first freelance writing job out of pure chance. I wasn’t seeking freelance work, but someone asked and I agreed (extra cash is always good when you’re poor). It’s a short job but hey, it’s always good to try new things, especially when it involves your craft. I’m not saying I’m open to accepting freelance requests, but I’m not saying I’m not open to such requests. Was that too ambiguous?
Anyway, I’ve created a Patreon page which you can find at: https://www.patreon.com/ryanyarber. If you like my stories enough to contribute, I am extremely grateful and humbled. I’ll still be posting here, but I’ll be posting any of my published works on the Patreon page only (sorry, I may change my mind about that later). My first story being published comes out at the end of this month. For now, all of the stories on the Patreon page are stories that have been posted on this blog, so you haven’t missed anything I promise. Though I will have some interactive stories on the Patreon page (aka, you can vote for what kind of flash fiction I write). At the very least, I hope you check it out.
I love writing and am very grateful to everyone who reads my work. I’ll continue writing and I hope you continue working on your passion as well.
“Let’s take the tree, for instance. The tree grows over the course of many years and continually adapts to its surroundings. I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of things growing into trees, or rather, the tree growing around said objects. Such as bikes or guns or railroad ties. My point is that trees are extremely adaptable. You can cut a tree in half vertically so it won’t grow into power lines, or trim them any shape and they will continue to grow as long as you don’t cut the roots. You can even transplant the largest of trees and they will persist as long as you keep the roots in good shape. They can withstand even the most severe storms if their roots dig deep. Some can even regrow after being felled. A new sapling emerging from the stump much like the phoenix in the flames. They’re versatile. They can acclimate to changing environments. Trees grow in frozen tundras and unbearably humid rain-forests. As long as they have sun and some form of moisture, they will grow. Or at least remain alive. Even in a nuclear winter, you will find trees. If they die, they will return.”
“Okay, I’ll agree, but how does this pertain to our current situation?”
“Because trees are an example of the Goldilocks Zone in terms of adaptability. They adjust just enough to survive, but not so much that they overcompensate and kill themselves. Granted there are some parasites that cause trees to overcompensate, but only in rare instances. Humans, on the other hand, adapt too quickly to biological threats, but are able to adapt at the perfect rate psychologically.”
“Have you ever read Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl?”
“I’ll admit I haven’t.”
“I’m surprised general. I thought it’d be required reading for all officers, but now’s not the time suggest changes to the curriculum. Perhaps you’ll still have a chance to read it in the future. In Frankl’s recount of his time confined to a concentration camp, he spoke of his ability to tell if a person would survive the trials ahead. To persist until they were rescued or ultimately their choice of survival was taken from them. He made a direct correlation between a man’s ability to survive with his will to live. That as long as he had a purpose or something to hold onto, a reason to live, then a man could endure any punishment. Frankl gave examples. One man’s reason was his family. Another man’s his academic work despite his only copy of his dissertation being burned at the gates of the camp. He had a need to recreate and share his work.”
“Nobody actively wants to die. Even the kamikaze’s in the Pacific.”
“True, but not everyone has that will to live either. Most do, yes, but many may lose that will if they begin to think that there is no escape. This is why we must continually remind everyone of the world above. To give them history and hope. Without it, they may deteriorate. Statistically, we will lose several over the course the years. That was the case before, even when everyone had everything. Down here, we will need to keep some dream of a future alive. Generations will be born without ever having seen the sun. Without ever breathing fresh air. Many may never believe that things such as trees ever existed. But if we show them how things used to be, they may hold onto that as their reason. The strings of the human heart are held together by a persons will. They swell in love and burn in hatred, but they remain because humans seek purpose. They strive to be better than their current selves. We must use that to our advantage. I encourage you to give them a reason to remain. Once they leave this place, if they survive up there, they will adapt to a world we will never know. At best, they will become beasts who breath the poison. Mindlessly wandering the toxic lands.”
“Alright doctor, your two minutes are up.”
“I just need you to know that hope is more flexible than fear. Even if it is a false hope.”
“I’ll take that into consideration.”